Raised on a Farm, She Found her Calling in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Lawrence Sussman:

In her 11 years as a special education and second-grade teacher for the Milwaukee Public Schools, Pam Young started a Cub Scout pack at Clarke Street Elementary School and later formed Cub Scout Pack 22 at Starms Discovery Learning Center.
The Boy Scouts of America recently gave her its distinguished merit award.
“It’s a predominantly female profession, and they already had a Girl Scout troop and a Brownie pack at the schools,” her husband, James Young II, said Sunday. “But there was nobody to do the Cub Scouts, and she volunteered because the boys needed it.”
“She was one of the few people in my life who actually put all others ahead of herself,” Young said.
Pam Young died of brain cancer Thursday at Columbia St. Mary’s hospice unit. She was 37.

Ways to Measure Schools Without High-Stakes Testing

Jay Matthews:

Who is going to be our next education president? I know, but I’m not telling. Most of The Washington Post’s political reporters these days are young, strong and potentially dangerous. They have warned me about previous attempts to tread on their turf. So I am going to confine myself to helpful advice for our future chief executive, without revealing that person’s name.
I have gotten some astute assistance in this effort from Sharon L. Nichols, an educational psychologist who is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor of education at Arizona State University. Their 2007 book “Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools” is the latest selection to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column’s way of spotlighting good work that I really should have read when it appeared months, sometimes years, before.
Nichols and Berliner attack from all sides the state testing that we use to assess schools under the No Child Left Behind law. Their analysis is clear, their arguments strong. What particularly impressed me was their willingness to suggest viable alternatives to testing as a way for us voters, parents and taxpayers to know which of our schools are doing well and which are not, a service to which some critics of testing seem to think we are not entitled.

Western colleges find school mates in India

Indrajit Basu:

Last month, St Xavier’s College of Kolkata, one of the most orthodox educational institutions in India, announced collaboration with the University of Manitoba, Canada.
For St Xavier’s, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious educational institutions that has steadfastly stuck to its independent values, this collaboration is significant – it is its first partnership with any external institution in its 150-year history. Despite being affiliated with a local university, St Xavier’s resisted all types of external intervention and insisted on autonomy, which it finally gained two years back.
“It is significant because for one, St Xavier’s has become sufficiently flexible to make educational collaboration workable,” said Professor Michael Trevan, dean of the University of Manitoba, Canada. “[And also because] this bilateral agreement may be used in future to create multi-lateral pacts globally where St Xavier’s could be a part of such pacts.”
St Xavier’s is not alone. Over the past two years, India has seen an influx of many marquee names, including Harvard, Kellogg, Michigan University, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology (all in the US), Grenoble Ecole de Management (France), and Aston Business School (United Kingdom), while research-oriented institutions like the London Business School, Stanford University and University of California Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, and many others from the world over are working towards setting up bases in India.

‘A truly great man’: Milt McPike dies at 68


McPike Battled Rare Adenocystic Cancer. After battling cancer, popular former Madison East High School principal Milton McPike died on Saturday night.
The Madison Metropolitan School District said that McPike passed away overnight at a hospice care facility, WISC-TV reported.
Family, friends, former staff and students said that they’re remembering McPike as a man many called an educational hero.
For 40 years, McPike made his life educating youth. He spent 28 of those years in the Madison school district. For five years, he was an assistant principal at West High School, then as principal at East High School for 23 years.
“I’ve seen so much success through kids who everybody else has given up on,” McPike said in a 1992 interview.
He shared his secrets on building relationships with his students.

Samara Kalk Derby:

Milton McPike, a giant in the Madison educational community, died Saturday night at HospiceCare Center in Fitchburg, surrounded by his family. He was 68.
At 6-foot-4, the former San Francisco 49er cut an imposing figure at East High School, where he served as principal for 23 years.
McPike was diagnosed with adenocystic carcinoma, a rare cancer that attacked his sinus area.
Superintendent Art Rainwater called McPike “a truly great man” and “an icon in our community.”
“Milt was first of all a tremendous person. He was obviously extremely well respected and a talented educator,” Rainwater said. “He led East for 23 years and really and truly was not only important to East High School, but was also important to our community.”
Even after he retired from East in 2002, McPike continued to contribute to the community by being a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and recently heading a gang task force in Dane County, Rainwater said. “So his loss will be deeply felt.”

Clusty Search: Milt McPike.

Many Potential Leaders of Tomorrow Reject the Role

Laura Sessions Stepp:

A new nationwide survey of girls and boys found that a majority of children and youths in the United States have little or no interest with achieving leadership roles when they become adults, ranking “being a leader” behind other goals such as “fitting in,” “making a lot of money” and “helping animals or the environment.”
The study commissioned by the Girl Scouts of the USA and released today determined that three-quarters of African American girls and boys and Hispanic girls surveyed already identify themselves as leaders, a much larger group than white youths, about half of whom think of themselves this way.
The youths defined leaders as people who prize collaboration, stand up for their beliefs and values, and try to improve society. Girls in particular endorsed these approaches, although a majority of boys did, as well. Yet when asked in focus groups about leadership styles among adults, what they described was traditional top-down management.

Girls Scouts USA:

irl Scouts has always been about leadership. Even at the youngest ages, Girl Scouts gain leadership skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. The organizational focus on leadership shows girls that they are leaders in their everyday lives, and they will continue to be leaders as they get older.
In 2000, Girls Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) formed the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), which serves as a center for research and public policy information on the healthy development of girls. GSRI is a vital extension of GSUSA’s commitment to addressing the complex and ever-changing needs of girls.
The latest study from GSRI is Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. You may download the study, the press release, and a fact sheet about Girl Scouts of the USA below.

Madison program helps teens improve driving

Marv Balousek:

hen a car in front of him stopped suddenly, J.R. Acker, 17, of Madison slammed on the brakes of his GMC Envoy.
He stopped in time, but the red light on a camera mounted on his rearview mirror began flashing. He knew he’d have to explain the sudden stop to his mother, Sara, when she received an e-mail about the incident the following day.
A junior at Edgewood High School, J.R. is among about 3,000 young drivers participating in the Teen Safe Driver Program offered by Madison-based American Family Insurance.

It’s time to deal with students who cheat

Regan McMahon:

In late March and early April, anxious high school seniors wait for little white envelopes or big fat mailing packets indicating whether they gained admission to the college of their choice. They did everything they could to make the grade. And for 75 percent of them or more, according to a national study conducted by Duke University, that included some form of cheating.
Yet despite the prevalence of academic cheating – ranging from copying homework to plagiarizing off the Internet to purloining test answers – and the concern that without ethics you get Enron, there are no statewide or school-district wide academic integrity standards. Perhaps it’s time to make curbing cheating part of the public policy agenda.
Among the consequences of letting it go unchecked is student and teacher alienation. As I reported in the Chronicle Magazine last September, many students, under intense pressure to get good grades for college admission, believe they’re chumps if they don’t cheat. And many teachers report that when they catch cheaters red-handed, the administration doesn’t back them up.

California’s Content-Rich History “Framework”

American Educator:

Excerpt from the Framework for Grade Ten—World History, Culture, and Geography: The Modern World
World War I and Its Consequences
The growth of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism provides the backdrop for consideration of World War I, which permanently changed the map of Europe and deeply affected the rest of the world. Students should understand the political conditions that led to the outbreak of the war in Europe. Caused in large measure by nationalism, the war stimulated even greater nationalist impulses by dissolving old empires, unleashing irredentist movements, and promoting the spirit of selfdetermination. Within the context of human rights and genocide, students should learn of the Ottoman government’s planned mass deportation and systematic annihilation of the Armenian population in 1915. Students should also examine the reactions of other governments, including that of the United States, and world opinion during and after the Armenian genocide. They should examine the effects of the genocide on the remaining Armenian people, who were deprived of their historic homeland, and the ways in which it became a prototype of subsequent genocides.

Asperger’s: My life as an Earthbound alien


Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was “other,” not quite like everyone else. I searched for years for answers and found none, until an assignment at work required me to research autism. During that research, I found in the lives of other people with Asperger’s threads of similarity that led to the diagnosis. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the “otherness.” It only confirms it.
When I talk to people about this aspect of myself, they always want to know what it means to be an “Aspie,” as opposed to a “Neurotypical” (NT). Oh, dear, where to start . …
The one thing people seem to know about Asperger’s, if they know anything at all, is the geek factor. Bill Gates is rumored to be an Aspie. We tend to have specialized interests, and we will talk about them, ad infinitum, whether you are interested or not. Recognizing my tendency to soliloquize, I often choose silence, although perhaps not often enough. Due to our extensive vocabularies and uninflected manner of speaking, we are called “little professors,” or arrogant.

“Wisconsin School financing deserves an F”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

For more evidence of why Wisconsin residents should demand reform of the state ‘s school financing system, consider this:
On Tuesday, 41 school districts — nearly one of every 10 in the state — will be responding to a financial squeeze by asking voters for permission to spend more money.
That ‘s in addition to the 14 districts that did the same in last month ‘s primary election.
A few districts are requesting to borrow money to build or renovate or to buy land. But the majority are districts with leaky roofs to fix, outdated textbooks to replace, heating systems to repair and parking lots and athletic fields to maintain.
And they have no money to do it with because the state has boxed school boards, and the public they serve, into a no-win situation.
Whether these referendums deserve approval — or, even if they do, whether taxpayers can afford the cost — will be up to the voters.

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate notes that Wisconsin K-12 spending has increased by an average of 5.10% annually (Madison is 5.25%).

Texas English Teachers Fight Board Mandated Reading Lists

Terrence Stutz:

cores of English teachers urged the State Board of Education on Wednesday to reject proposed curriculum standards that would spell out what literary works their students should read, insisting they are best suited to make those decisions.
Educators from North Texas and across the state said board members should listen to teachers before they adopt curriculum standards for English that will remain in place for the next decade, influencing not only what is taught in the classroom but also providing the basis for state tests and textbooks used in public schools.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch English teacher Elsa Anderson said a board proposal to establish reading lists for English and reading classes is a mistake and would “tie teachers’ hands and deprive them of making decisions about books that are best for their students.”
Ms. Anderson, representing the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, said the book titles included in the board proposal — most of them classics — are “extremely limited in diversity” and would have a negative impact on the reading achievement of minority students.

Calling for Clear, Specific Content

American Educator:

Nearly 20 years ago, the nation coalesced around a sound idea for improving schools: standards-based reform. The standards were supposed to establish what students ought to know and be able to do and, as a result, offer clear guidance to teachers, curriculum writers, textbook and assessment developers, and professional development providers. They were supposed to result in a well-aligned system that provides teachers all the resources and supports they need—at least, that’s what we were promised.
Teachers know all too well just how broken that promise is. The typical state’s standards are nowhere near strong enough to serve as the foundation for a well-aligned, coherent educational system. The AFT has been reviewing state standards for more than a decade, and our findings—that state standards are, for the most part, either much too vague or much too long (and sometimes, oddly, both)—have been confirmed by many other reviewers.
We should be outraged. As readers of American Educator know, cognitive science has established that knowledge builds on knowledge-the more you know, the faster you learn.* And so it’s imperative that standards offer carefully sequenced content from the beginning of kindergarten through the end of high school. But they don’t. And as a result, we have some serious problems:

Creativity Step by Step: A Conversation with Choreographer Twyla Tharp

Diane Coutu:

The notion that some people are simply born artistic – and that there is a profile that can help organizations identify them – is quite firmly entrenched. All the talk of genetic determination nowadays undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. But the idea that creativity is a predetermined personality trait probably appeals at a psychological level because it gives people an excuse for not innovating or initiating change themselves, reducing the problem of creativity to a recruitment challenge.
Significantly, the people least likely to buy into the idea that creativity is preordained are the creative geniuses themselves. Choreographer Twyla Tharp, for one, doesn’t subscribe to any notion of effortless artistry. As someone who has changed the face of dance, she’s certainly qualified to have an opinion. The winner of a MacArthur fellowship (popularly called “the genius grant”), two Emmy awards, and a Tony award, she has written and directed television programs, created Broadway productions, and choreographed dances for the movies Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. Tharp, now 66, did all this while creating more than 130 dances—many of which have become classics—for her own company, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. The author of two books, she is now in the process of simultaneously developing new ballets for the Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
At her Manhattan home, Tharp met with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu to discuss what it takes to be a choreographer. In these pages, she shares what she has learned about fostering creativity, initiating change, and firing even top-notch performers when push comes to shove. In her suffer-no-fools way, she talks about her “monomaniacal absorption” with her work and the need to be tough, even ruthless, when that work is at stake. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.

Mississippi’s School Board Trainning Law

Shelia Byrd:

Gov. Haley Barbour has signed several bills into law, including one that would require additional training for school board members in low-performing districts.
The bill becomes law July 1. It would affect local school boards that serve in districts with one or more underperforming schools or in districts with serious financial problems.
The members would undergo training geared toward improving learning and promoting effective financial management. The training would be provided annually by the Mississippi School Boards Association.
Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, a former teacher and a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the bill doesn’t go far enough. She said the additional training should be required for school board members in all districts.
She said many of the state’s school board members are elected, and while they’re committed to supporting the district, “they don’t exactly understand their responsibilities.”
“What they do is set the philosophy of what a district should be doing,” Harden said Wednesday. “The teachers are teaching, the environment is conducive to learning and the school is up to par.”

Annual review rates state-funded preschool programs

Karen Uhlenhuth:

Although many states, including Kansas, are subsidizing public preschool for growing numbers of children, Missouri is serving fewer than it did five years ago.
The National Institute for Early Education Research on Wednesday released its yearly review of state-funded preschool. It found that more states are spending more money to enroll more children in higher-quality preschools. That’s important because children who attend good preschools on average do better on social and learning yardsticks.
Nationally, spending bumped to $3,642 per child, reversing four years of falling support. And for the first time, more than 1 million children nationwide were enrolled in state-funded preschool during the 2006-2007 school year.
Locally, the picture differs quite a bit between Kansas and Missouri.
Support for preschool is reflected in Kansas’ At-Risk Four-Year-Old Children Preschool Program. From the 2001-2002 school year, enrollment grew 168 percent to 5,971 in 2006-2007.
In Missouri, enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds in 2006-2007 was 4,972, a 12-percent increase over the year before, but a 12-percent drop from 2001-2002. One factor has been stagnant funding, said Jo Anne Ralston, director of Early Childhood Education for the state education department.
“Legislators have crafted bills to get more funding for preschool, but there has not been a lot of support,” she said. On the contrary, Ralston said, Missouri’s preschool program competes with veterans and other constituencies for fees from casinos.

8.4MB complete 2007 report.

Up Close, Typical State Biology Standards Don’t Have the Content or Coherence of the International Baccalaureate

Paul Gross:

Since the beginning of the standards movement, national and state science standards have been padded with politically correct matter having little to do with the substance of scientific knowledge. According to philosopher of science Noretta Koertge, this invasion can be traced to the 1996 National Science Education Standards. They were developed by the National Research Council and have served as a model for the states. Koertge doesn’t blame the national standards; she merely notes that they created the opportunity:

[The National Science Education Standards] note that learning about science as process is not enough. Understanding of content is also required…. But one of their goals opens wide a door [for] … political correctness [to] … intrude. This is the requirement to present Science in Personal and Social Perspectives. “An important purpose of science education is to give students a means to understand and act on personal and social issues.” What might this mean in practice?1

In practice, it could mean almost anything except the actual content of science. As she notes, the national science education standards do recognize content as important. But they don’t resist the politicized formulas and prescriptions for science, nor the sociological turn, that came into prominence during the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, many 18-wheelers, loaded with cargo other than science content, have barreled through the wide-open door.

Teachers Face Large & Growing Professional Pay Gap


Compared with workers in occupations that have similar education and skill requirements, public school teachers face a large and growing pay gap, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Over the last decade, the report shows, the teacher pay gap increased from 10.8 percent to 15.1 percent. That translates into weekly earnings that are about $154 lower than comparable workers’. (The report compares teachers to accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy and personnel officers.)
AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese notes that this is just the latest study to confirm the same discouraging trend. “Teachers continue to be vastly underpaid compared with similar workers,” she says in a prepared statement. “This makes recruitment and retention of the best and brightest increasingly difficult, even as the nation recognizes the growing need for high-quality teaching.”
For female teachers and for those with more seniority, the gap is especially striking. In 1960, women teachers were better paid than other similarly educated workers-by about 14.7 percent. By 2000, the situation had reversed to the point where female teachers faced a 13.2 percent annual wage deficit. The pay gap for teachers who are early in their careers has grown only slightly in the past 10 years, the EPI says. For senior female teachers (in the 45-54 age group), the deficit grew 18 percent during that same period.

Program Teaches the Power of the Pen

Jessica Blanchard:

The difference between the two stories is striking.
The first is two nearly bare pages, with two garbled sentences, illustrated by a single pencil drawing. The second, a tale about a little girl’s morning routine, has much more detail, the words and pictures filling three full pages. The cheery sketches are carefully labeled: house, flowers, fence, sun.
The author is a second-grader who is learning English as a second language — and the two stories were written just over two months apart.
“It’s so incredible to see the growth,” said Dan Coles, the literacy program manager for Seattle Public Schools.
Thanks to the Writer’s Workshop program, such rapid progress is becoming more common for Seattle students, he said.
The curriculum, developed by Columbia University Teachers College, has been in place in Seattle middle schools and in various grades at K-8 schools since fall 2006. Four elementary schools are testing out the Writer’s Workshop program this year: Coe, Olympic Hills, Madrona and Loyal Heights. District officials hope to eventually expand the program to all the elementary schools.
The basic format is the same at each school: A daily mini-lesson to introduce a new writing technique, followed by about 40 minutes of writing to help students hone their skills.

Young Authors Conference & Wisconsin Writes @ the Milwaukee Art Museum.

More on Generational Change, Education & Moore’s Law


Let’s consider for a moment what many readers will find to be a politically incorrect position: because of cheap computers and the Internet, the ability to solve problems ad hoc has become more efficient than teaching kids about problems and issues that will never face them. As a result, the United States has let itself become less competitive by putting so much money into a product (a kid) making both its cost and its ability globally uncompetitive. So, instead of putting more effort into making globally competitive products, we put more effort into blaming those who are smarter at using technology that was mostly invented here.
If the idea is to give everyone a nice comfortable pension, if the same money invested each year in a typical kid’s education was instead invested in an IRA, it would give that kid a very comfortable living upon reaching age 65.
Well this is a terrible position to take, don’t you think? It treats our children like capital goods and denies them any ability to excel, dooming them to mediocrity.
My Mom (Mrs. Cringely to you) once said, “I may not have been the best mother, but at least I got all my kids through school.”
“No you didn’t,” I replied (this is a true story, by the way). “We would have made it through school with or without you.” And we would have.
Not wanting to put too much of a Libertarian spin on it, because I am certainly not a Libertarian, this is a fact that is missed by so many people. There will always be achievers, whether they go to public schools, private schools, home schools, magnet schools, charter schools, or no schools at all. While it is fine for society to create opportunities for advancement, what’s more important is removing BARRIERS to advancement. And for the most part that’s not what we are about.
What we tend to be about as a society is building power structures and most of those power structures, including schools and governments, are decidedly reactive. This is not all bad. After all, the poster child for educational and government proactivity in the 20th century may have been the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Related: Moore’s Law, Culture & School Change.

Children, Technology, Risk Taking and the “Nanny State”

Dr. Tanya Byron [2.5MB PDF]:

When I was asked by the Prime Minister to carry out an independent review of the risks children face from the internet and video games, I realised two things.
First, how integral these new technologies have become to the lives of young people and second, how important it is that we educate ourselves about the benefits and dangers they bring.
As a clinical pyschologist specialising in child and adolescent mental health – and as the mother of two children – I wanted to understand how and why young people use the internet and video games.
Hardly a day goes by without a news report about children being brutalised and abused in the real world or its virtual counterpart. Some make links between what happens online or in a game, and what happens on the streets or at home.
These headlines have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. The resultant clamour distracts from the real issue and leads to children being cast as victims rather than participants in these new, interactive technologies.
It quickly became apparent that there was a big difference between what concerned parents understand and what their technologically savvy children know. The rapid pace at which new media are evolving has left adults and children stranded either side of a generational digital divide. Put bluntly, the world of video games has come a long way since the early days of Pac Man. And while change and innovation are undoubtedly exciting, they can also be challenging or just plain scary.
But panic or no panic, the virtual world and the real world do contain risks, and children left to navigate a solo path through either, face many dangers.
The trouble is that although as adults we instinctively know how to protect our children offline, we often assume that their greater technological expertise will ensure they can look after themselves online. But knowledge is not the same as wisdom.
This review is about the needs of children and young people. It is about preserving their right to take the risks that form an inherent part of their development by enabling them to play video games and surf the net in a safe and informed way.
By listening to children and young people and putting them at the heart of this review – and by replacing emotion with evidence – I hope I have provided some very necessary focus to what is a very necessary debate.

Slashdot discussion.

John Matthews has run Madison’s teachers union for 40 years. Is it time for a change?

Jason Shephard:

But while Matthews laments the failures of government to improve teaching and learning, he glosses over his own pivotal role in local educational leadership. That role includes standing in the way of programs like 4-year-old kindergarten that could help the district meet its educational objectives.
Beginning in the next few weeks, a school board made up mostly of rookies will begin to address the challenges ahead. A new superintendent starting July 1 — Daniel Nerad, formerly top dog in Green Bay — inspires hope of new solutions to nagging problems. But the third pillar of power is John Matthews. He’s been around the longest and arguably knows the most.
Already, Matthews has cemented his legacy from building a strong, tough union. But now, some are wondering if Matthews will also leave behind a legacy of obstructing key educational change.

Clusty Search: John Matthews.

Coverage of the Madison School Board Elections: 2008

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Just because they’re uncontested, you shouldn’t overlook the two races for the Madison school board on the April 1 ballot.
There isn’t a tougher job or a more important one in local politics than maintaining the high quality of the Madison schools and dealing with the serious problems that confront them.
Over the past five weeks, we’ve queried retired teacher Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, and attorney Ed Hughes, the lone candidate for Seat 7, on the important issues.
Here’s the week-by-week breakdown of our questions:

Numbers Don’t Tell Whole Story at Madison’s Glendale Elementary

Susan Troller:

Glendale Elementary may be failing by test-based standards, but it’s succeeding by human ones.
The question of how we recognize good schools and bad ones has become a pressing issue.
In Washington, Congress is debating the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Locally, Madison and Sun Prairie parents have recently been upset over boundary changes that some see as sending their children to less desirable schools.
At the same time, the movement toward inclusivity in special education, a growing minority population and increasing poverty rates throughout Dane County, particularly in Madison, have put a sharp point on some important questions:

  • Do advanced students suffer when they share a classroom with struggling students?
  • How should schools address the stresses of poverty?
  • Are test scores a reliable measure of a school’s effectiveness?

This story doesn’t attempt to answer those questions; educational researchers have been struggling with them for decades. Instead, it puts one Madison elementary school under the microscope where all those currents come together — a school that by No Child Left Behind’s test-based standards is clearing failing. Yet, by the assessment of a number of parents, volunteers and other fans, the school is succeeding beyond all expectations.
A closer look at Glendale Elementary, a 50-year-old Madison school within the noisy shadow of U.S. 51, shows a school where success is occurring in ways that test scores can’t measure and poverty rates don’t reveal.

For Marj Passman & Ed Hughes: Madison School Board Candidates

Capital Times Editorial:

For the first time in years, Madison has no contested School Board races this year.
On April 1, voters will elect two new members of the board. Traditionally, open seat contests have been intense, highlighting ideological, practical, geographic and stylistic divides not just between the candidates but within the community.
This year, there is no such competition.
Retired teacher Marj Passman is running without opposition for Seat 6.
Attorney and veteran community leader Ed Hughes is the sole contender for Seat 7.
They will be elected Tuesday and quickly join a board that faces serious budgeting, curriculum and structural challenges at a time when funding has been squeezed and the district superintendent, Art Rainwater, is retiring.
That does not mean that voters should take a pass on these races, however.

Ohio Governor’s Education Reform Outline

Scott Elliott:

“Summary of Education Reform Process” sketches out four phases designed to result in a plan to be implemented in March 2009 although it appears many of the ideas would require approval from the Republican-controlled legislature.
Strickland’s spokesman, Keith Dailey, cautioned that the document did not constitute a plan or proposal.
“The collection of ideas merged over the past year,” he said. “This isn’t the governor’s plan. This is a process that is geared toward ongoing discussion and through the conversation the governor believes consensus for reform will emerge.”
Among the ideas on the discussion list are:
—Junking the Ohio Graduation Test in favor of “portfolio” approach that would require students to complete a senior project, a community service project and both the ACT college entrance exam and end-of-course exams when the complete core high school subjects.

Tax credits for private-school grants a win-win

Erich Cochling:

Education spending has increased at a breakneck pace in Georgia over the past decade, outpacing inflation substantially. Since 1994 per-student spending has more than doubled, representing an increase in spending each year of nearly 10 percent. In 2007 per-student spending exceeded $10,000 for the first time in Georgia’s history.
But despite the high level of spending, Georgia was ranked 48th among the states in high school graduation rates in 2007. That is exactly where the state ranked in 2000. In some of the intervening years, Georgia dropped to 50th, managing to beat out only the District of Columbia and avoid the dishonorable title of “worst in the nation.” State SAT scores have remained stagnant for years in Georgia, with rankings hovering painfully close to 50th. While that trend seems to have changed in 2007, a positive thing no doubt, time will tell whether the improvement is based in real academic achievement or a redesigned exam.
These facts point to a sobering reality that demands our attention: Every four years a generation of students in failing schools graduates unprepared for higher education or the work force, if they graduate at all. To these students, the lack of a quality education can and likely will have devastating results. And requiring students to be subjects in a protracted experiment in education reform seems inhumane at the very least.
Fortunately, Gov. Sonny Perdue and the General Assembly have recognized the plight of these students and have championed legislation to give them hope through education choice.

States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School

Sam Dillon:

When it comes to high school graduation rates, Mississippi keeps two sets of books.
One team of statisticians working at the state education headquarters here recently calculated the official graduation rate at a respectable 87 percent, which Mississippi reported to Washington. But in another office piled with computer printouts, a second team of number crunchers came up with a different rate: a more sobering 63 percent.
The state schools superintendent, Hank Bounds, says the lower rate is more accurate and uses it in a campaign to combat a dropout crisis.
“We were losing about 13,000 dropouts a year, but publishing reports that said we had graduation rate percentages in the mid-80s,” Mr. Bounds said. “Mathematically, that just doesn’t work out.”
Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

South Dakota School Funding Increase Tied to Teacher Salary, Benefit Boosts


last week, with Gov. Michael Rounds’ March 17 signing of a $337 million school spending package—part of a state budget totaling $3.6 billion.
The Republican governor had argued for a 2.5 percent increase, well below a 4.25 percent hike that the Republican leader of the Senate, Dave Knudson, had pushed through that body.
Under the measure approved in the last minutes of the 2008 session, school districts must use the full increase for teacher salaries and benefits or see it trimmed by half a percentage point.

Multiculturalism is a sedative

Salim Mansur:

Perhaps the most apt manner to describe multiculturalism as an ideology and government policy in western liberal democracies would be what the incomparable English writer, journalist and non-conformist, Malcolm Muggeridge, wrote in his 1970 essay, The Great Liberal Death Wish.
Perhaps also no contemporary of Muggeridge (1903-90), nor anyone after him, made as incisive a dissection of the deepening liberal malaise in the 20th century as he provided. He also exposed apologists of liberalism and their untiring efforts to discredit and dissolve the West as a uniquely gifted civilization.
In every culture there are to be found some dissidents or skeptics questioning its legitimacy and moral authority as those in the former Soviet Union — Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others not as well known — did. They exposed the lies of a system that rationalized the organized effort of tyranny to extinguish freedom, and their sacrifice eventually contributed to its demise.
But the oddity about skeptics in the West, as Muggeridge wrote about them and their liberalism, is the death wish to undo a culture where freedom, having sunk deep roots, thrives. They would replace this culture with a pale shadow of one negating all that is noble, life affirming, uplifting and founded on the values celebrated by the Christian church.
This is the great liberal death wish, a twisted psychology of that intellectual class which willingly goes out to buy the lies of a culture that entombs freedom, as was done in the Soviet Union — and continues in places such as China and Saudi Arabia — and fashion these lies as a cure for manufactured ills in the West, with the purpose of undermining it.

Offering Teachers Incentives; and a Chance to Live Their Faith

Samuel Freedman:

Nearly every morning last September, his first month teaching at St. Patrick’s School here, Raymond Encarnacion arrived to find the same girl waiting outside his closed and darkened classroom. She stood with her backpack and coat, and sometimes she gave a joking groan when he showed up, because his presence meant there wouldn’t be some pushover of a substitute.
All Mr. Encarnacion initially knew about her from the roster of his sixth graders was that her name was Ashley. So he asked in perfect innocence why she was always at school so early. The answers trickled out. Her father had died, her mother worked a daybreak shift, and Ashley herself was responsible for waking, feeding, dressing and checking the homework of several younger cousins. She usually got up at 4 a.m.
Hearing her disclosures, so unpitying and matter-of-fact, Mr. Encarnacion thought back to his own year as a sixth grader. His family lived in Westfield, N.J., a prosperous suburb with renowned public schools. His mother, a nurse, was his alarm clock, his breakfast chef, his chauffeur to school. “Everything,” he put it recently, recalling the childhood comforts, “was right there for me.”

“Professor Strengthens Math, Science Education”

Madeline Fisher:

Talk with Terry Millar long enough and it’s bound to happen: The mathematics professor will begin drilling you in math. He’ll slip in a question such as “What is pi?” and before you know it you’re being coached to a whole new level of mathematical understanding.
Linda McQuillen refers to it as having Millar “attend to her mathematics” and as his long-time collaborator she’s well acquainted with the experience.
“Traveling with him [to meetings] and when we’d do presentations for various audiences, on the cab rides to and from the airport, we were always doing mathematics,” laughs McQuillen, a retired math teacher and a former leader of the Madison school district’s math goals. “The problem is, Terry can do it verbally and I can’t. He’s just amazing.”
If Millar’s enthusiasm for teaching math can be overwhelming, it’s also true he has put the energy to good use. For well over a decade, Millar has worked to improve math and science instruction for students at all levels by bringing together the knowledge of university mathematicians and scientists with the teaching and curricular expertise of educators.

Terry Millar and Linda McQuillen participated in the Math Forum. Check out the notes, audio and video here.

Delaware Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Education

Beth Miller:

No barbs were tossed, no snide remarks made, no mud slung.
Instead, the two men locked in what may be Delaware’s fiercest Democratic gubernatorial primary ever spent a full hour talking about public education to about 500 people at The Grand in Wilmington.
It was the first major debate of the 2008 election season for Lt. Gov. John Carney Jr. and State Treasurer Jack Markell and it drew teachers, businessmen, parents, policymakers, young and old, undecided voters and plenty of campaign workers.
The men talked about how to pay for schools, find good teachers, scrap the state’s testing program and make sure kids get the best shot they can at a good future, no matter what their present circumstances.
On many issues, their views were similar. Both support most recommendations of the Vision 2015 panel of experts, who have developed plans and pilot programs to give Delaware “world-class” schools by 2015. Both want more money to address Delaware’s high dropout rates, especially among Hispanic and black students.
Both were cautious about endorsing widespread expansion of Delaware’s charter school programs, urging an evaluation of that 10-year-old effort to bring innovation to the school system. Neither would commit to adding state money for charter school capital projects.

Common Ground: Clear, Specific Content Holds Teaching, Texts and Tests Together

Heidi Glidden 352K PDF:

Imagine for a moment that you are a new fourth-grade teacher with 25 children squirming in front of you. There’s a test at the end of the year, though you really aren’t sure what’s on it, and there are stacks of enormous textbooks— too enormous to tackle cover-to-cover—on the shelf. The one thing that is abundantly clear is that you are supposed to teach to the standards.

So, when you open up that standards document, do you hope to see something like this?
Analyze the style or structure of a text.
or something like this?
Describe the differences of various imaginative forms of literature, including fantasies, fables, myths, legends, and other tales.

Example: After reading some of the Greek or Norse myths found in such books as Book of Greek Myths or Book of Norse Myths, both by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, discuss how myths were sometimes used to explain physical phenomena like movement of the sun across the sky or the sound of thunder.
Both are from current state standards, but one, obviously, offers much more guidance as to what your fourth-graders need to learn. If your instruction is guided by the first standard, you may or may not adequately prepare students for the test—or for fifth grade. But if your instruction is guided by the second standard, your students have a much better chance of being on grade level. And we can imagine an even clearer, more specific standard that would give you greater confidence that your instruction was on target.
For example, instead of merely suggesting books to draw from, the latter standard could specify exactly which myths, fables, legends, etc. students should read and ensure that none of those selections is repeated in other grades.

The Changing of the Madison School Board

Jason Shephard:

A lawyer and former teacher will replace a lawyer and former teacher in the uncontested Madison school board elections on April 1. The result will be the most inexperienced board in years at a particularly important time for the city’s public schools.
The school board is perhaps the hardest-working body of local elected officials and, judging by the throngs that flock to public meetings on issues big and small, also the most democratic. While the board’s past effectiveness has been marred by infighting and grandstanding, the last two years have been much more congenial, under the presidencies of Johnny Winston Jr. and Arlene Silveira.
After the elections, the seven-member board will lose the inquisitive eye of Lawrie Kobza and the institutional memory of Carol Carstensen. Replacing them are Ed Hughes, a reserved but intriguing lawyer, and Marj Passman, a provocative and passionate retired teacher.
They will join rookies Beth Moss and Maya Cole, who are still struggling to master the issues. Silveira is likely to remain president, and Winston will be the most senior member. Rounding out the board is Lucy Mathiak, whose temper, colleagues say, has muted her effectiveness.

Kenya: No Equity in Learning, Says Former VC

Watoro Kamau:

Access to public secondary schools and universities by the poor has remained elusive despite government efforts to ensure equity in provision of education, a former university don has said.
Prof Ezra Maritim, a former Egerton University Vice-Chancellor, said the apparent stratification of secondary schools promotes inequality and inequity in access to higher education.
Prof Maritim said that despite tuition fee waiver in secondary schools, children from poor backgrounds had continued to be marginalised as some national schools charges are in excess of Sh60,000 annually.
Many children from poor families perform well in KCPE and are admitted to national schools but are locked out due to their inability to pay the high fees. The former vice-chancellor argued that while the government was committed in theory to equity in education in general, the achievement of that commitment at the university level remains elusive.
He said the categorisation of secondary schools into four classes; district, provincial, national and private has only helped in widening the gap and denying the poor access to higher education.

Spoilt Children Disrupt Schools

Hannah Goff:

Primary schoolchildren spoilt by their parents can cause disruption in the classroom by repeating manipulative behaviour used at home, a report says.
Research for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) suggested a minority of children threw tantrums, swore and were physically aggressive.
NUT boss Steve Sinnott is calling for more advice for parents who struggle to say “no” to their children.
The government says it recognises parents want more support.
Cambridge University held 60 interviews with staff and pupils in 10 schools.

There’s a Hole in State Standards And New Teachers Like Me Are Falling Through

A Second Year Teacher:

All states should have clear, specific, grade-by-grade, content-rich standards. When they don’t, it’s the students who miss out on a top-notch education and the teachers—especially the new teachers—who find more frustration than fulfillment. Below, we hear from a new teacher who laments the lack of direction she received in her first year on the job. We have withheld her name and school district to allow her to speak frankly and to emphasize that new teachers across the country are facing similar challenges.

First days are always nerve-racking—first days attending a new school, first days in a new neighborhood, and especially first days at a new job. My first day as a high school English teacher in a large, urban public school was no exception. It was my first “real” job after graduating college just three months earlier, and to add to my anxiety, I was hired just one day, precisely 24 hours, before my students would arrive. But my family and friends, mentors, and former professors all assured me that, like all other first days I had conquered, this day would be a successful start to a successful career. Unfortunately, this time they were wrong.
My first day on the job, I entered the building expecting to be greeted by the principal or chairperson, guided to my classrooms, and provided with what I considered to be the essentials: a schedule, a curriculum, rosters, and keys. Instead, the only things I received were a piece of paper on which two numerical codes were written, and a warning not to use the women’s bathroom on the second floor. After some frantic inquiring, I learned that the codes signified that I would be teaching ninthand tenth-grade regular English. As various colleagues pulled at my paper to get a glance, some nodded approvingly, while others sighed sympathetically. Eager to make a judgment of my own, I asked a question that, two years later, has yet to be answered: “What is taught in ninth- and tenth-grade regular English?” In response, I was given book lists containing over 20 books per grade, ranging from Robert Lipsyte’s The Contender to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew on the freshman list alone, and even greater disparities on the other three lists. I was told to select six books from the appropriate list for each grade I taught, and “teach a book for every six weeks of the school year.” Unsatisfied with this answer, yet slowly beginning to feel foolish for asking (Should I know the answers to these questions? Am I unqualified to be a teacher if I don’t know what ninth- and tenth-grade English means?), I gathered the courage to inquire further. “What concepts are we supposed to teach the students through these books?” Now growing visibly agitated, several colleagues responded, “Teach literary elements and techniques. They need to re-learn those every year, and prepare them for the state test, and teach them some grammar and vocabulary as well as whatever concepts each book calls for.”

Much more on Wisconsin’s standards here.

Plugging the Hole in State Standards

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. [300K pdf]:

Like other forward-looking organizations, the American Federation of Teachers believes that we need to have better state standards if we are truly going to improve K-12 education. I’ve earnestly stated that same view. That’s no doubt why I’ve been invited to write on this subject.
I’m genuinely flattered. But after living with this question for more than two decades, my views have become so definite (some might say extreme) that I decided to conceive of this piece as a guest editorial where no one should think I am speaking for anyone but myself. That will allow me to speak my mind, which will I hope be more useful to readers than an attempt to find and express a consensus view on behalf of American Educator and the AFT on this controversial subject.
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of many articles and books, including the bestselling Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need. He is a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. His most recent book is The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children.
The subject is controversial in part because some teachers do not like explicit subject-matter standards. In my own state of Virginia, some teachers are quite annoyed with me personally because many years back my writings influenced the Virginia Board of Education when they introduced the “Virginia Standards of Learning”—the much debated, often dreaded SoLs. But let me say to those teachers, and to other teachers, that the state did not pay attention to what my colleagues and I said back in 1988. We said that subject-matter standards and tests of them should be just two prongs of a four-pronged policy. Standards and tests needed to be accompanied by good teacher training in the subject matter specified in the standards and by good classroom materials that clearly indicate what to teach, but not how to teach it. The last two prongs have never come properly into existence in Virginia, nor to my knowledge in any other state. Moreover, the Virginia standards (not to mention the tests) are not nearly as good as they should be. other state standards are even worse. No wonder there is such dissatisfaction!
But many teachers I have talked to have agreed that they would very much prefer to work in a more coherent system, one that ensured that students who entered their classrooms were adequately prepared.

Thanks to a reader for mentioning this article.

Madison Shuffles Elementary Principals

Susan Troller:

Three Madison elementary school principals have been reassigned to new schools for the 2008/2009 school year.
They will begin their new duties on July 1.
John Burkholder, who is currently the principal at Midvale Elementary, will become principal at Leopold. He will be replaced at Midvale by Pam Wilson, who is currently the principal of Lindbergh.
Lindbergh’s new principal will be Mary Hyde, who is currently the principal at Leopold. Mary Manthey, the current assistant principal at Leopold, will be reassigned as assistant principal at Kennedy. This is a new position at Kennedy, the result of an increased student population at that school.

Demographic Boom & Bust

Elizabeth Redden:

A new national report projecting the size of high school graduating classes through 2022 finds that the rapid, sustained growth of graduates that began in the early 1990s ends this year, in 2007-8. A long-anticipated period of moderate declines in the number of graduates — and traditional-aged college applicants — is soon set to begin, which could increase competition among colleges and intensify financial pressures on tuition-dependent institutions.
“The second baby boom, if you will, it has come to an end this year,” said David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which on Wednesday released its seventh edition of Knocking at the College Door.
But the report also projects enrollment patterns that are distinctly regional and, in some cases, state-specific (individual state profiles are available online). Generally speaking, the report projects expansion in the numbers of high school graduates in the South and West, drops in the Northeast and Midwest, and, nationally, explosive growth among non-white graduates, especially Hispanics, as the number of white youth falls.

‘OPERATION SAFE PASSAGE’ | Parents keep kids home, fearing retaliation — so cops will escort them

Maudlyne Ihejirika:

“You got one of ours. We’re gonna get one of yours.”
That reality of gang life has kept nearly 200 Crane High School students from the ABLA Homes out of school since March 7, when a reputed gang member from ABLA gunned down another student who lived in rival gang territory. Their parents refuse to send them.
“You know they’re coming for somebody from ABLA, and it doesn’t have to be a gang member,” said a 16-year-old girl, a junior who was afraid to be identified.
So officials have come up with “Operation Safe Passage,” an unprecedented plan to protect students who fear they may be the next target.
Police to watch over buses
When spring break ends next week, Crane students from ABLA — also known as “the Village” — will gather at one central location each morning. CTA buses will pick them up after they’ve walked en masse to the bus stop.
Then a Chicago Police escort will follow the buses to a transfer point, where under the watchful eyes of even more officers, they will board second buses to Crane at 2245 W. Jackson. They will enter the school under police watch.

On Teen Driving Restrictions

USA Today Debate:

Graduated licensing saves lives. Why are some states slow to act?
Last month, a Minnesota teen drove through a stop sign and broadsided a tractor trailer, killing himself and leaving his passenger, also a teen, in critical condition.
The most remarkable thing about this accident, about 130 miles north of Minneapolis, is how unremarkable it was. Such tragedies happen all too often in Minnesota, which had the nation’s highest teen crash death rate from 2004 to 2006, and throughout the USA.
Why does Minnesota, a state with a reputation for good government, carry this unfortunate distinction? One key reason appears to be its weak licensing laws for teen drivers.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives only 28 states a “good” rating for enacting graduated licensing laws, which allow young drivers to take on more responsibilities one step at a time. Ten states, including Minnesota, get “marginal” ratings.

Allergies Alter Kids’ Sleep, Play and Concentration, Study Says

Nicole Ostrow:

The sneezing, wheezing and sinus congestion of allergies can affect children’s sleep, as well as their ability to compete in sports and concentrate in school, according to a survey involving more than 1,000 families.
Twice as many parents of children with allergies as those without the condition said it limited their child’s activities in research to be reported tomorrow at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Philadelphia. Almost half of parents surveyed said their children use prescription medicine to treat their allergies.
Allergic rhinitis affects about 40 million people in the U.S., including up to 40 percent of children, according to the researchers. The condition is most severe in the spring when plant and tree flowers fill the air with pollens that trigger immune responses. Severe allergies can lead to asthma, chronic sinus problems or ear infections, researchers said.
“Allergies are more than just a sneezing nose, running nose or itching. They have a major effect on children,” said study author Michael Blaiss, a Memphis, Tennessee, allergist who is a past president of the allergy group, in a March 14 phone interview. “One has to realize that allergic rhinitis is not a trivial condition. We see marked impairment in children.”

Glimmers of Progress at a Failing School

Winnie Hu:

THIRD grade has always been a hard year for Rahmana Muhammad’s children, and therefore for her. All of a sudden, it seems to this mother of four, their textbooks have fewer pictures, their homework lasts for hours, and their test scores plummet.
So Ms. Muhammad, 39, was not sure what to expect last month when she arrived at the Newton Street School in Newark to pick up a report card for her youngest child, Dyshirah, 9, who is in third grade. After climbing the concrete stairs to Dyshirah’s classroom, Ms. Muhammad greeted the teacher, Kevin Kilgore, and hunkered down at a low table with the report card. Opening it, she found a C in reading, and a D in math.
Ms. Muhammad looked over at Dyshirah, a slight girl with a head full of braids, who was tracing sentences in a book with her finger. Mr. Kilgore, 22, assured Ms. Muhammad that Dyshirah had made a lot of progress, earning an average of 51 percent on her class math tests compared with 17 percent at the beginning of the marking period.
“I’m not happy but I’m optimistic,” said Ms. Muhammad, a supermarket customer service representative who graduated from Newton in 1982. “I see the changes. Before, I couldn’t pay her to read anything, and now she’ll come in and say, ‘Can I read this to you?’ ”

Teachers Tap Video-Sharing in the Classroom

Joseph De Avila:

When Richard Colosi wanted to teach his first-grade class about insects, he turned to the Web for help. Mr. Colosi, who works at Canandaigua Primary School in upstate New York, went to his laptop and put on a video parody of “The Dating Game” that featured different types of insects. The video was produced by a teacher in another school district and posted on TeacherTube, a video-sharing site for students and educators.
Video in the classroom has evolved since the days when teachers wheeled in film projectors on carts. More teachers are using online video-sharing sites modeled after Google Inc.’s YouTube to engage with students. And video is no longer a one-way channel of communication; students are participating in the creation of videos, too.
On TeacherTube, educators share material, such as instructional math videos, with classrooms around the world. Another site, SchoolTube, mainly hosts videos produced by students in class with the help of their teachers.
Teachers who use the sites say they value the opportunity to see what other educators are doing in their classrooms, and students say they enjoy having an outlet to showcase their work. Also, “kids are becoming more technologically inclined,” says Mr. Colosi, and such video helps to hold their interest.

Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling

Neil MacFarquhar:

Like dozens of other Pakistani-American girls here, Hajra Bibi stopped attending the local public school when she reached puberty, and began studying at home.
Her family wanted her to clean and cook for her male relatives, and had also worried that other American children would mock both her Muslim religion and her traditional clothes.
“Some men don’t like it when you wear American clothes — they don’t think it is a good thing for girls,” said Miss Bibi, 17, now studying at the 12th-grade level in this agricultural center some 70 miles east of San Francisco. “You have to be respectable.”
Across the United States, Muslims who find that a public school education clashes with their religious or cultural traditions have turned to home schooling. That choice is intended partly as a way to build a solid Muslim identity away from the prejudices that their children, boys and girls alike, can face in schoolyards. But in some cases, as in Ms. Bibi’s, the intent is also to isolate their adolescent and teenage daughters from the corrupting influences that they see in much of American life.
About 40 percent of the Pakistani and other Southeast Asian girls of high school age who are enrolled in the district here are home-schooled, though broader statistics on the number of Muslim children being home-schooled, and how well they do academically, are elusive. Even estimates on the number of all American children being taught at home swing broadly, from one million to two million.
No matter what the faith, parents who make the choice are often inspired by a belief that public schools are havens for social ills like drugs and that they can do better with their children at home.

Stop Treating Parents Like ATM’s

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore:

I’ve heard a lot lately about my generation clinging financially to our parents. There are books, there are studies, there is a general groan from the sandwich generation – baby boomers caring for both their parents and their grown-up kids. What I don’t understand is how so many of my peers have failed to grasp the basics of a tight belt.
I was one of those teens who left the house at 18 – literally. The day after that birthday a decade ago, I loaded up my parents’ car with my precious few earthly belongings and we took off on an eight-hour drive to Evanston, Ill., for freshman orientation at Northwestern University.
Standing in the confines of my tiny dorm room that afternoon, shortly after meeting my roommate, my mom and I exchanged a long, quiet embrace. When we pulled apart, we both wiped away tears.
Then I turned to my dad. He gave me his signature bear hug, took me by the shoulders, and said: “You’re on your own now. We did what we could. The mistakes you make are your own; just do your best to learn from as many of them as you can.”

“Public Schools Expand Online Curriculum”

Larry Abramson @ NPR:

When senior Zack Jackson wanted to take a class in mythology, he wasn’t out of luck just because his small high school in rural Virginia didn’t offer it. Instead, he headed online.
The course comes courtesy of Virtual Virginia, a state program that offers dozens of online classes to middle and high school students. The program allows children to take classes that aren’t offered at their schools. Nationwide, programs like Virtual Virginia help hundreds of thousands of students take the kinds of unusual courses that make colleges sit up and take notice.
Most of the 3,000 students in the Virtual Virginia program enroll in online advanced placement courses. And thanks to the program, Zack’s school, Rappahannock County High, can offer more AP classes, allowing it to compete with local private schools, which often use AP courses as a selling point.
Principal Robyn Puryear says students have to be self-directed to succeed in an online class. Since online courses are self-paced, there’s a temptation to procrastinate — and that leads to trouble.

Related Links:

Abramson’s article includes a chat with online Mandarin teacher Susan Cox. Virtual courses would seem to be ideal for a number of subjects that are often sparsely offered. Mandarin for example, is only available at Madison’s Memorial High School.

Pennsylvania Plans to Boost Gifted Programs

Joe Smydo:

The state Board of Education today will consider a new process for identifying “gifted” children and beefing up the monitoring of gifted programs, steps advocates say would help provide a mind-stretching education for the state’s top students.
Under the current law, students are classified as gifted if they score at least 130 on an IQ test and meet other criteria, such as performing one or more years above grade level and excelling in one or more subject areas.
The proposed change would classify students as gifted if they meet the IQ threshold or meet multiple other criteria. Advocates said the change is needed because IQ tests don’t always flag gifted students, particularly those from disadvantaged homes, children with disabilities and deep-thinkers who don’t do well on timed tests.
“There are many school districts that will look at that and say, ‘If you do not have the magic number, you are not in,’ ” said David Mason, president of Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education and a retired York County school administrator.
Advocates said they didn’t consider the potential change a watering down of eligibility criteria or something that would swell the ranks of gifted students. About 70,000 of the state’s 1.8 million school-age children receive gifted services, according to the state board.

Schools embrace fingerprint scanning

Pauline Vu:

The lunch lines in West Virginia’s Wood County schools move much faster than they used to. After students fill their trays with food, they approach a small machine, push their thumbs against a touch pad — and with that small movement, they’ve paid for their meal.
For half the state’s school districts, as well as hundreds more across the country, the days of dealing with lost lunch cards or forgotten identification numbers are over.
“A student cannot forget their finger,” said Beverly Blough, the director of food service in Wood County School District, which in 2003 became the first district in West Virginia to use finger scanners.
But the emergence of finger scanning has also sparked a backlash from parents and civil libertarians worried about identity theft and violation of children’s privacy rights. In several cases when parents have objected, school districts have backed down, and some states have outlawed or limited the technology.

Saving the Children

Adam Taylor:

Killing himself was the only way the 11-year-old boy could think of to be with his mom, who died of cancer three years ago.
So he tried — twice. The first time was around two years ago, near the first anniversary of her death. He tried to strangle himself at home with rosary beads, even though his dad told him it was a mortal sin to take his own life.
The second attempt was near the second anniversary of his mom’s death, when he wrapped the straps of his bookbag around his neck in the coat room at his school.
In addition to the two suicide attempts, the boy had been soiling himself. His hygiene was poor. His grades were down. He was written up at school 40 times for various infractions.
After the coat room incident, Wilmington police got involved. When an officer responded and saw the marks on the boy’s neck, his training with the department’s Special Victims Unit of social workers kicked in.
He referred the boy’s father to a social worker and a grief counselor.
Now, a year later, the boy has made a complete turnaround. No more of the old problems. He has not been written up at all this year.

Unready Soon Quit College

Matt Krupnick:

It’s the second week of school, and Phil Farmer’s pre-algebra class at Diablo Valley College already has empty seats.
His roll call brings silence after several names. Call it a result of the January rain, or even of the agonizing early semester parking space hunt, but definitely call it a problem.
Statistically, it’s safe to say that only 30 percent to 40 percent of Farmer’s students will advance to basic algebra.
Community colleges nationwide labor under the weight of ill-prepared students. Some colleges estimate that nearly every student is unprepared in math, reading or writing — or all three.
Consider the sheer magnitude of California’s problem:

  • Nearly 670,000 California college students were enrolled in basic English and math courses last year, with additional students in remedial reading courses and English-as-a-second-language classes. It’s estimated that far more students need remedial work but don’t enroll, and half the remedial and second-language students leave school after their first year.
  • One in 10 students at the lowest remedial levels — community colleges sometimes have up to five courses below the lowest college-level course — reaches a college-level course in that subject. The numbers are worse for black and Latino students.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the students who take placement tests are directed to remedial math courses, compared with 9 percent being placed in college-level courses.

Texas panel nixes talk of school vouchers for dropouts

Terrence Stutz:

A special state committee on high school dropouts on Tuesday appeared to nix the idea of a private school voucher program for those students, but left open the possibility of the state contracting with private firms to help dropouts complete their education.
Before adopting its long-range plan to reduce the dropout rate and improve the college and workforce readiness of high school graduates in Texas, the nine-member state panel reacted to widespread criticism from education groups that it was opening the door to a limited voucher program.
Key members of the High School Completion and Success Initiative Council said they don’t believe a traditional school voucher program could be launched without approval of the Legislature. Under a voucher program, students can attend any school their parents choose – private or public – at state expense.
“I do not read this language in any way supporting a voucher program,” said Don McAdams, a member of the council and former president of the Houston school board.
His reference was to language in the council’s plan that states, “All students should have the opportunity to select from multiple pathways, including alternative delivery systems, to achieve postsecondary success.”

Fired Madison Teacher Fights Back


A fired Madison teacher cried foul about how district officials treated her and claimed there’s a double standard in evaluating the conduct of men and women staff members.
Hawthorne Elementary School fourth and fifth grade teacher Lynette Hansen was fired last month for crossing the boundaries of what’s appropriate in teacher-student interactions. Hansen was also fired six years ago from a middle school job because school board members determined her physical affection for students crossed a line into inappropriate contact. But an arbitrator reinstated Hansen, with conditions she refrain from displaying physical affection for students.
“(I was)Vindicated because even though I’d taken a hit, I prevailed,” Hansen told 27 News. “I’m a very good teacher.” Before Hansen’s 2002 dismisal, several school parents praised her teaching and doubted her affectionate-style with children amounted to a problem.
Hansen’s reinstatement at Hawthorne was interrupted in Feburary 2007 when district officials recommended she be dismissed again. In school district documents, officials cited Hansen’s inappropriate conduct with students at Hawthorne, including having a student sit on her lap, telling a student he had “luscious lips,” and getting a requested hug from a student. School Board members agreed with district officials and fired Hansen last month. Hansen said Superintendent Art Rainwater argued leniency for Hansen’s hug of a nine year old boy would represent a “double standard.”
“Rainwater said if he hugged a nine year old girl, it would be viewed seriously,” Hansen told 27 News.
Hansen told 27 News her actions were out in the open, brief and prompted by school situations.
District spokesperson Joe Quick has yet to return a call from 27 News seeking comment on Hansen’s firing. School Board President Arlene Silveira told 27 News she could not comment on a personnel matter.

Madison school board candidates Hughes and Passman discuss the achievement gap

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

In one key way, the Madison school district is no different than any other urban school system in the country — poor kids and kids of color just aren’t learning as much as other students.
We asked the two Madison school board candidates on the April 1 ballot — Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 — how they would address the achievement gap.
Interestingly, both see early education as part of the solution, but both also stopped short of endorsing the introduction of 4-year-old kindergarten in Madison.
We ended our five-week series of questions for the candidates with an open-ended query on what they felt were an overlooked issue in the schools.
Both gave thoughtful responses.
Passman suggested the schools needed to do more about the pervasiveness of substance abuse among teenagers, while Hughes said the district needs to pay more attention to why parents pull their children out of the Madison schools.

AP Course Audits

Danie de Vise:

When the College Board announced last year that every high school Advanced Placement teacher would have to prove he or she was actually teaching a college-level course, there was widespread fear the process would purge worthy teachers from the program, weeding out good courses along with the bad.
They needn’t have worried. In the first quality-control audit of the AP program, no AP teacher or course was rejected in the Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s or District school systems, according to area education officials. Of the 146,671 AP courses submitted for review nationwide, 136,853, or 93 percent, were approved.
The year-long audit, which ended in January, addressed mounting concern that rapid expansion of the college-preparatory program over the past decade had brought about a decline in the rigor for which it is known and that some students were not learning material worthy of an introductory college course.
But the ease with which many teachers passed the audit has prompted some to question its value. Thousands of teachers submitted exact copies of course outlines from colleagues who had been previously audited and approved. The College Board condoned the practice, as long as everyone submitting the same syllabus vowed to teach more or less the same course.

Related: Dane County AP course offering comparison.

Author Works To Prevent Reading’s ‘Death Spiral’

Valerie Strauss:

He’s got a serious new title: the very first officially declared U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. But author Jon Scieszka is on a mission to get schools and parents to lighten up when it comes to selecting books for children.
It’s time, he said, for reading to be fun again.
Scieszka was picked recently by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to fill the newly created role, designed to raise the profiles of reading and good books for young people. He is traveling the country, talking to adults about how to get children to read more, especially those who find reading a chore.
Legions of children know him from his award-winning books, including “The Stinky Cheese Man,” and his GuysRead.com Web site, which promotes books for boys. He also has Trucktown, a new series for preschool and kindergarten students, who wouldn’t be at all surprised by his unorthodox views about reading, although some adults might.
The way he sees it, parents and teachers should:

What Books When?

Valerie Strauss:

Parents at Green Acres, a private school in Montgomery County, complained this month when a teacher read to a group of third-graders from a book containing gruesome descriptions of violence against enslaved Africans and the conditions on the ships that brought them to the United States. They said the children were too young for the difficult theme and graphic language.
At Deal Junior High School in the District, some parents wondered why their children were reading books this year that they considered too easy for advanced seventh-grade students (“Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson) or books without much literary merit (“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey.)
The episodes illustrate how difficult it is for librarians, teachers and parents to match children with the right book at the right age in an effort to turn young people into lovers of reading. And experts say that process is becoming increasingly complicated.

No-test option gives Lawrence a different look

Erica Perez:

Elizabeth Byers didn’t really worry about having the academic chops to get in to college.
She was a valedictorian at Reedsburg Area High School, had a 4.0 GPA and had a nice set of scores: a 29 on the ACT and a 1980 on the SAT.
Still, when Lawrence University in Appleton asked if she wanted her test scores to be considered, she checked the “no” box – and breathed a sigh of relief.
“I was just sort of, like, ‘Oh! That’s nice!’ ” Byers said. “So many kids are really great students and don’t have great test scores. I have good test scores, but if they were going to recognize me for what I did in school, I wanted to take advantage of that.”
Lawrence is among a growing list of more than 750 colleges and universities that have some kind of test-optional admissions, according to FairTest, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that opposes heavy reliance on the tests. The trend comes as standardized tests have faced increased scrutiny for possible bias against students who are the first in their family to go to college, minorities or non-native English speakers.

Madison’s Paul J. Olson Elementary School

Susan Troller:

Madison’s new elementary school on the far west side will bear the name of Paul J. Olson, a beloved Madison teacher, principal and ardent conservationist, following a vote at Monday night’s School Board meeting.
Olson, who was born in Mount Horeb and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent most of his life on crutches following a childhood bout with polio. He died in 1993 at age 84.
Three of Olson’s four children were at Monday’s meeting.
“The thing that always struck me most about my dad was his optimism. He believed in the art of the possible,” Tom Olson said following the meeting. He said his father’s focus on overcoming any obstacle was what he taught his students.
The younger Olson and his brother Jim attended the meeting with their sister, Karen Sullivan of Janesville. They noted their father loved the natural world and was a committed environmentalist, fisherman and outdoorsman. He enjoyed canoeing and navigated the Boundary Waters on crutches.

Michigan’s School Finance Plans

David Eggert:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s educational ideas are hitting roadblocks as lawmakers start working on how to spend the state’s money in the next budget year.
The Democratic governor’s proposals for making daylong kindergarten mandatory, offering two years of free community college tuition to laid-off workers and setting up smaller high schools all could face trouble in the Republican-led Senate, and some face changes in the Democratic-led House.
The reasons for the disagreements range from the practical to the ideological.
Some lawmakers are leery of spending as much as Gran-holm has proposed because of the economic uncertainty the state faces.
Granholm’s budget plan would raise spending by 2.9 percent, to $44.8 billion, in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
But the Senate now says the increase should be smaller because revenues may be less than expected.

Colorado School District Drops Grade System


One Colorado school district is going to shake things up by getting rid of grades.
The move includes traditional letter grades and grade levels.
The Adams County School District 50 school board approved a new system that lets students progress at their own pace.
Students will need to master 10 skill levels to graduate. They could end up graduating earlier, or later than fellow classmates. It just depends upon how long they need in order to master the skills.
District administrators says the new system will focus on students’ competence, rather than achievement for grades.
There are other school districts across the country that have adopted this type of system.
The district says it will put an explainer on transcripts for students applying to college, since the students will not have grade point averages or class rankings.

Related: Proposed Madison School District Report Card/Homework Changes.

California Resists Home School Ruling

Kristin Kloberdanz:

The parents of some 200,000 home-schooled kids in California were stunned last week when they learned that a judge had declared home schooling illegal unless conducted by a licensed teacher. For the moment, though, those parents can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a statement saying that the California Department of Education will not go after parents who do not have teaching credentials: “I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling,” O’Connell said in his statement. “Parents still have the right to home school in our state.”

Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?


High school junior Aliya Deri, from Pleasanton, Calif., has been crowned the National Vocabulary Champion in the second year of a contest that’s already attracting more than 100,000 kids for a spot at the title and $40,000 in scholarship money.


Are Hard-Working Chinese Kids A Model for American Students?

Li Yuan:

In November 2006, Jack Li’s father, a longtime Caterpillar employee in Beijing, was transferred to Peoria, Ill. Jack enrolled in high school as a ninth-grader. His parents, good friends of mine for almost a decade, weren’t particularly worried about their son adapting to a new school in a foreign country — at least not academically. They believed that China has better K-12 education than the U.S.
Jack didn’t disappoint them: Three months later, he scored high enough on the SATs to put him in the top 3% in math and well above-average in writing and reading. Last fall, he transferred to Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a college-prep program for Illinois students. He took advanced chemistry last semester and will study basic calculus next semester.
Chinese students like Jack are examples of why Microsoft’s Bill Gates asked Congress today to spend more to improve American education in math and science. Unless more students can be attracted to those subjects, Mr. Gates warned, the U.S.’s competitive advantage will erode and its ability to create high-paying jobs will suffer.
I know many Americans don’t believe him. They argue that American kids may not be as good at math and science as Chinese and Indian kids, but they’re more well-rounded. But that’s increasingly untrue. For example, Jack isn’t your stereotypical Chinese nerd. He’s the captain of IMSA’s sophomore basketball team and tried out for the tennis team today.

A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly

Dan Barry:

All lank and bone, the boy stands at the corner with his younger sister, waiting for the yellow bus that takes them to their respective schools. He is Billy Wolfe, high school sophomore, struggling.
Moments earlier he left the sanctuary that is his home, passing those framed photographs of himself as a carefree child, back when he was 5. And now he is at the bus stop, wearing a baseball cap, vulnerable at 15.
A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he’s going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.
The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.
The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It’s not yet 8 in the morning.

Norman Fried has more.

Are our children all above average? New study says no

Jeff Shelman:

Low graduation rates, high tuition and a disconcerting achievement gap at Minnesota colleges and universities, especially among minorities, are revealed in a new study.
Minnesotans pay twice as much as the national average to get a public college education, but they’re not getting double the results.
Fewer than 40 percent of students at Minnesota’s colleges and universities graduate in four years, according to a report released this week by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. In addition, students of color have less than a 50-50 chance of graduating at all.
For a state where high school students traditionally fare well on college entrance exams, that’s disconcerting to those in charge of assessing the quality of higher education in Minnesota.
“Part of our concern is that we start out so high, and then once the students get into school, our results tend to be really national average,” said Susan Heegaard, director of the Office of Higher Education. “The question for Minnesota as a state is, ‘Is this where we want to be?’ If we want to compete nationally and internationally, our argument is that we need to do better than average.”
Slow to graduate: For high school students who entered a four-year school in the fall of 2000, only 36.7 percent of them graduated in four years and 57.5 percent graduated in six years. Only five of the state’s 36 four-year schools — public or private — had a four year graduation rate of better than 70 percent.
Rates are particularly low at schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. According to the report, only 20.6 percent of MnSCU students graduated in four years, and fewer than half had graduated after six years.

Minnesota Higher Education Accountability Report.

School Cell Phone Policy

Samara Kalk Derby:

As it stands, Madison school district policy strictly forbids students from having cell phones in school. The Student Senate will recommend to the School Board next month that phones be allowed to be used before and after school and during lunch.
“I don’t know many teenagers who would like to be separated from their cell phone,” said Laura Checovich, 17, president of the Student Senate and a student at West High School.
“Right now, the current policy is that you could be expelled just for having one in your backpack or in your pocket. We thought that was pretty drastic and thought it needed to be looked at again,” she said.
Some students leave their cell phones in their lockers, but Checovich estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of students keep their phones in their pockets or backpacks, which is prohibited under current school policy.
The School Board directed the Student Senate in December to research and recommend potential changes to district policy on cell phone use in schools. The Senate’s recommendations will be confined to policy in the high schools. The Senate will present its findings to the board at a 5 p.m. meeting April 14 at La Follette High School.

Madison to Finalized Elementary School Name Tonight

Susan Troller:

The long saga of naming Madison’s newest elementary school will end tonight as the School Board makes its selection from four final choices.
The names are Jeffrey Erlanger, an advocate for people with disabilities; Paul J. Olson, a conservationist and well-known Madison educator; Howard Temin, a Nobel Prize-winning UW cancer researcher; and Ilda Thomas, a community activist who helped found Centro Hispano.
The Erlanger and Olson names have received the most community support to date.
“We have the school, the principal, the boundaries. We are looking forward to having a name,” School Board President Arlene Silveira said this morning.
The four final names were recommended to the board by a citizen committee which met extensively in January and early February, winnowing a pool of 87 names submitted by the public down to four.

Charter advocates rethink school reform

Amber Arellano:

Die-hard charter school advocates are rethinking their approach to school reform and the ability of competition and charter schools alone to transform American urban schools and their awful student achievement rates.
It’s a surprising change and it’s hardly common, particularly at the grassroots level.
Still, in recent weeks a number of the country’s leading pro-charter think-tanks and leaders have published pieces, announced policies or made statements indicating their reconsideration — and it likely will have an enormous impact on policymaking and Republican politics.
From New York City to Detroit to Atlanta, charter advocates have echoed writer Sol Stern, an important conservative voice on education reform, when he wrote in a recent edition of the City Journal: “education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don’t produce verifiable results in the classroom.”

A Home-Grown Solution to Bad Schools

Gregory Millman:

“It’s hard to generalize about home-schoolers, but if there’s one thing we know, it’s that we are changing the world, or at least the world of education choices. Others, though, see us as either misguided or a threat — and probably cheered last month’s California appeals court ruling that all children in the state must be taught by credentialed teachers. … Nonetheless, home-schooling is booming. In 2003 the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the home-schooled population nationwide was 1.1 million. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that it may be growing at double-digit rates. … The results? Studies have shown that home-schooled children outperform the conventionally schooled not only on standardized academic tests but also on tests of social skills.”
Gregory J. Millman, co-author of the forthcoming “Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey,” will be online Monday, March 24 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article about home-schooling and the ways it improves upon conventional public education.

A Decade of the Challenge Index: Send Me Your School and Your Opinion

Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index, my device for assessing high schools on college-level course participation, was born 10 years ago this month in The Post and Newsweek. At the beginning it was mostly a way to draw attention to a book I had written, “Class Struggle: What’s Wrong (and Right) with America’s Best Public High Schools.” I feared that my prose was far too stuck in the minutiae of classroom life to win much of an audience but hoped that a list of schools ranked in a new way might tweak some curiosity.
In May, Newsweek will again publish its annual Top High Schools list, using the Challenge Index rating method, just as The Post published its annual Challenge Index list of D.C. area schools in December. These lists have taken on a life of their own. Newsweek’s Top High Schools was the most visited feature on the Newsweek.com Web site last year. The Post’s local list is also popular, and both are targets of controversy, producing by far the most questions and comments coming to my e-mail boxes.
Is this good? I would like you to tell me. These past 10 years I have been quoting regularly from the lists’ most acidic critics, as well as their warmest friends. But the arguments on both sides have grown stale and predictable. I have a new idea for advancing the debate.
First, I would like to ask all high schools that have strong Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge programs and have NOT gotten the Newsweek list entry form to e-mail highschools@newsweek.com right away and request one. If you gave at least as many AP, IB or Cambridge exams last May as you had graduating seniors last year, you should qualify for the Newsweek list. We gather all of our information for the list directly from the qualifying high schools. We have sent out thousands of forms, but we don’t want to miss anybody. If you know of a high school that you think has been overlooked, please forward this column to the principal. I figure the more schools on the list, the more varied and interesting the opinions of the list.

“Why Our Children Isn’t Learning”

Radley Balko:

Because their educators waste time on crap like this:

To soothe the bruised egos of educators and children in lackluster schools, Massachusetts officials are now pushing for kinder, gentler euphemisms for failure.
Instead of calling these schools “underperforming,” the Board of Education is considering labeling them as “Commonwealth priority,” to avoid poisoning teacher and student morale.
Schools in the direst straits, now known as “chronically underperforming,” would get the more urgent but still vague label of “priority one.”
The board has spent parts of more than three meetings in recent months debating the linguistic merits and tone set by the terms after a handful of superintendents from across the state complained that the label underperforming unfairly casts blame on educators, hinders the recruitment of talented teachers, and erodes students’ self-esteem.

Quality Time Seems Stacked In Favor of Firstborns

Donna St. George:

When her oldest child was in kindergarten, Laura Haggerty-Lacalle sat down with her every day to review reading or math, intent on providing that most precious commodity of all: parent time. “Oh my God, it’s the most important thing you can do,” she said.
But when her second child hit the same age, life was more hectic. Now, with a third child, Haggerty-Lacalle, 37, feels good when she gets five minutes to stack blocks or build Legos in her Oak Hill home. “When you have three kids,” she says, “you’re just trying to survive.”
Within this familiar progression of family life, new research has confirmed what some parents recognize and others quietly fear: Their firstborn children get more of their time than others in the family — on average, 3,000 extra “quality” hours from ages 4 to 13, when sisters and brothers are in the picture.
That’s 25 extra minutes a day with mothers on average and 20 extra minutes a day with fathers across a nine-year span of childhood, according to a study by economist Joseph Price of Brigham Young University.

Senate Backs Bill to Keep Students in School Until 17

Lisa Rein:

Maryland high school students would have to stay in school until they turn 17, a year later than current law requires, under a bill that won preliminary approval yesterday in the state Senate.
Lawmakers representing struggling school districts in Prince George’s County and the city of Baltimore have pushed the General Assembly for five years to raise the compulsory attendance age to reduce rising dropout rates. The effort has been stymied by estimates that keeping more students in school would cost millions of dollars.
Under the legislation, which passed a preliminary test on a 28 to 16 vote yesterday, the attendance age would rise in the 2010-2011 school year. An amendment would allow it to go up only if the governor set aside at least $45 million a year in the state budget to compensate school districts.
Students who are home-schooled, ill, in the military or considered by school officials to be disruptive or violent would be exempt from the bill.

Carstensen Poised to Move on From Madison School Board

Doug Erickson:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen has handed out enough high school diplomas to know that, eventually, everyone must move on.
It is her turn now. After six terms and 18 years on the board, she will step down following the April 1 elections.
Some say it’s too soon; others say it’s about time.
A steadfast liberal, Carstensen, 65, can exasperate conservatives. Perhaps no one is more responsible for higher school property taxes in Madison in recent years — she supported all 14 referendum questions during her tenure and instigated several of them.
Yet she never lost a board election, even after enraging some constituents by supposedly disrespecting the Pledge of Allegiance. As she leaves, there is apt symbolism in the years she has served.
“At 18, you get to graduate,” she says.

Madison School Board Candidate Take Home test: Taxes & Military Recruitment

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s policy on military recruitment in schools, along with advertisements for the armed forces, is one issue that has generated significant comment to the school board recently.
Marj Passman and Ed Hughes, who are running unopposed for Seats 6 and 7 on the board, respectively, differ on this policy. Both also discuss the perennially contentious topic of school financing.
Here’s what we asked the two candidates this week.

Invitation to HOPE/SIS Forum on Educational Equity – April 3

You are all enthusiastically invited to attend a public forum on Educational Equity on April 3, 2008 at 6:30pm at Centro Hispano of Dane County [Map] organized by HOPE (Having Options in Public Education) and SIS (School Info System). Rafael Gomez will be leading a panel discussion on the topic of Equity in Public Education followed by an audience Q & A that will focus on the following questions:

  1. Are equal programs the same as equitable programs?
  2. How do recent Board decisions (e.g., attendance boundaries and high school design) ensure equity and/or address the achievement gap?
  3. Have other recent decisions/changes been made that will positively impact closing the achievement gaps?
  4. How are we addressing the issue of ensuring equity in education in a diverse urban population?

Other panelists will include a member of the MMSD Board of Education, a representative from the Urban League, a representative from Centro Hispano, and a former member of the MMSD Equity Task Force. (The Equity Task Force’s final report from March 2007 is attached.)
Thank you for your commitment to quality in our public schools and we sincerely hope you will be able to join us for this interesting and informative conversation.
Nancy Donahue, HOPE Organizer

2008 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference

Ingrid Beamsley:

April 21-22 at the Madison Concourse Hotel [map].
Wisconsin State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster will open the conference with her keynote presentation on Monday morning.
Dean Kern, Director of the Charter Schools Program at the U.S. Department of Education will also be speaking on Monday.
Speakers and Schedule.
Howard Fuller, Founder & Director at the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University will provide a keynote presentation Monday during lunch. See an on-line video interview with Howard Fuller by Alan Borsuk of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Be sure not to miss these presentations.
Remember to Register!
Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
PO Box 1704
Madison, WI 53701-1704
Phone: 608-661-6946

Moore’s Law, Culture & School Change


Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.
I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn’t hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege.
I started writing educational software in 1978. The role of instructional technology has changed since then from a gimmick to a novelty to an effort to an essential component of any curriculum. Kids can’t go to school today without working on computers. But having said that, in the last five years more and more technical resources have been turned to how to keep technology OUT of our schools. Keeping kids from instant messaging, then text messaging or using their phones in class is a big issue as is how to minimize plagiarism from the Internet. These defensive measures are based on the idea that unbound use of these communication and information technologies is bad, that it keeps students from learning what they must, and hurts their ability to later succeed as adults.
But does it?
These are kids who have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. But far more important, there is emerging a class of students whose PARENTS have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. The Big Kahuna in educational discipline isn’t the school, it is the parent. Ward Cleaver rules. But what if Ward puts down his pipe and starts texting? Well he has.
Andy Hertzfeld said Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I’m sure today Dave wouldn’t bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we’re moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what’s wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?
This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained – a view that doesn’t work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we’re getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.

There’s no question that revolution is in the air. The education process is ripe for change for a number of reasons, including those mentioned by Cringely. We’ve seen substantial education spending increases over the past decade, which are unlikely to continue growing at the same pace, given other spending priorities such as health care and infrastructure. The ongoing flap over the proposed Madison report card changes is another example of change in the air. Links:

Cringely has posted a followup article here.

DC School Budget Transfers Some High Cost Programs to the City

V. Dion Haynes:

The D.C. schools’ proposed $773 million fiscal 2009 budget is garnering attention not only for the millions added for art and music classes, but for what it doesn’t have — money for special education tuition, transportation and attorney’s fees, which annually created huge shortfalls.
Under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s takeover of the 49,600-student school system, city officials have shifted to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education a total of $231.5 million in costs associated with educating about 2,000 disabled students in private schools. For years, severe overspending on tuition, transportation and attorney’s fees has contributed to budget gaps, forcing the system to lay off teachers and shift as much as $54 million from classroom instruction.
Previously, the system assumed the duties of a state and a local district, essentially overseeing itself. That structure led to the mismanagement of millions of dollars in federal funds, according to the Department of Education, which designated the system a “high risk” grantee.
In the new structure, all oversight responsibilities and other duties associated with a state were transferred to the state superintendent. Another problem area — school construction and maintenance — was shifted to the new Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.

Governance & Change

Wall Street Journal:

The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you’ve never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado.
Mr. Brown took over as interim president in April 2005 when the school of 50,000 was in turmoil. This was a couple of months after CU professor Ward Churchill had become infamous, and a year after the school’s athletic department was accused of offering alcohol and sex to recruit football players. A former U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown was reappointed in 2006 in a permanent capacity.
Mr. Brown proceeded to oversee a complete examination of Mr. Churchill’s work, and the ethnic studies professor was eventually fired because of fraudulent scholarship, not his politics. Mr. Brown then initiated a complete review of CU’s tenure policies, making it easier for his successors to get rid of deadwood. He also took on the equally sensitive subject of grade inflation, insisting that the university disclose student class rank on transcripts. If a B average puts a student at the bottom of his class, future employers will know it.
Frederick Hess, who researches higher education at the American Enterprise Institute, says there may be plenty of other people who know how to fix a university. But the reason there are so few Hank Browns goes back to Machiavelli. “When a leader tries to wrestle with these things,” Mr. Hess notes, “there are influential constituencies that he upsets. It’s much easier to manage the status quo than to enforce change.”

Schools give extra as top leaders leave: Retirement packages go beyond contracts

Tom Kertscher:

Some Milwaukee-area school boards have given cash and insurance benefits worth tens of thousands of dollars to departing superintendents that are above and beyond what
Buy a link here
In Germantown, where a $16.5 million school referendum is on the April 1 ballot, Superintendent Victor Rossetti’s contract was set to expire at the end of this school year. But the School Board decided to give him early retirement benefits for which he had not qualified.
Rossetti, who has worked for the district for seven years, will retire June 30 with an additional $54,000 in cash and insurance benefits, including $15,000 for severance pay and two weeks of unused vacation.
Germantown School Board President Michael Erdmann could not be reached for comment on why the board in January approved the retirement package. Vice President Michael Schultz referred questions to Erdmann. were called for in the superintendents’ contracts.

Interview for College, Be Accepted to College: Programs Give Immediate Offers

Julie Rasicot:

Rockville High School senior Saba Gongbay was ready for her college admission interview with Morgan State University — she had copies of her high school transcript, SAT scores and even a letter of recommendation.
When it was her turn, she sat down opposite college admissions officer Lee Ann Lewis. After a few questions about Gongbay’s interest in the university and a quick glance at her records, Lewis gave the 18-year-old the good news.
“Welcome to Morgan,” Lewis said after handing Gongbay a letter of acceptance.
As she walked out of the guidance center at Springbrook High School, Gongbay had a lightness in her step. “I’m happy, relieved,” she said. “At least I’m going to college.”

Teaching Economics


Resources for teaching economics to students is not something we hear a lot about and yet knowledge in this area is something that is vital for one’s entire life. Strategies for teaching this are available for all ages. As a teacher, parent, or student, here are some you might want to investigate.
There’s an article in The Duke Gifted Letter that reviews two board games for parents who are interested in teaching their children the complexities of the stock market: Bull Market, by the Great Canadian Game Company Inc. for ages 8 to adult, and Stock Market Tycoon, by Vida Games LLC for ages 12 to adult.

The State of Mediocrity: A Look at Wisconsin’s State Budget

Bruce Murphy:

Wisconsin is not one of the nation’s best-managed states. Such is the conclusion of Governing Magazine in its March cover story. The magazine’s annual report card, done in conjunction with the Pew Center on the States, gives Wisconsin a B-minus, ranking it above just 19 states, including big loser New Hampshire (D-plus).
But 30 states ranked above Wisconsin, including such paragons as Utah and Virginia, which both got an A-minus.
The report ranked states on money (including budget and finances), people (hiring, training, retaining employees), infrastructure (maintenance, capital planning) and information (auditing and evaluation, etc.).
Wisconsin got a black eye for how it is handling state employees. “Hiring freezes, ongoing budget disputes and lagging pay scale help explain why Wisconsin has the second-highest turnover rate in the country for veteran employees,” the story noted.
Readers of this column will recall my questioning whether Gov. Jim Doyle has been cutting state employees at all costs to live up to his campaign promise to slash the total payroll by 10,000 employees. The approach seems to be creating problems. “The state is contracting out for all sorts of things without monitoring them sufficiently,” one high-level state employee told the magazine. Had this sort of thing happened under a Republican governor, Democrats would be crying foul.
The magazine also notes the saga of civil-service employee Georgia Thompson, whose life was made a hell because of an unnecessary prosecution by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic. True enough, but I question whether this anomaly of a case, which was thrown out on appeal, has led to any turnover.
The story also notes the state’s continuing structural deficit, which has been around forever, probably since Jim Doyle had hair, and was estimated at $2.4 billion at the end of fiscal 2007.

It is difficult to see state school spending materially changing in the near term.

Harvard Law, Hoping Students Will Consider Public Service, Offers Tuition Break

Jonathan Glater:

Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government.
The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition and follows by scant months the announcement of a sharp increase in financial aid to Harvard’s undergraduates. The law school, which already has a loan forgiveness program for students choosing public service, said it knew of no other law school offering such a tuition incentive.
“We know that debt is a big issue,” said Elena Kagan, dean of the law school. “We have tried to address that over the years with a very generous loan forgiveness program, but we started to think that we could do better.”
For years, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers in traditionally low-paying areas of the law have argued that financial pressures were pushing graduates toward corporate law and away from the kind of careers that they would pursue in the absence of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

Mathematics: Let’s Talk About Figures

The Economist:

The eternal language of numbers is reborn as a form of communication that people all over the world can use—and, increasingly, must use
BRILLIANCE with numbers is a curious thing. Paul Erdos, a Hungarian who died in 1996, used to travel the world and stop briefly at the offices and homes of fellow mathematicians. “My brain is open,” he would announce as, with uncanny intuition, he suggested a problem that, without realising it, his host was already half-way to solving. Together they would find the solution.
In a discipline-wide joke, grateful mathematicians still use “Erdos numbers” to indicate how close they were to contact with the great man: “Erdos 1” describes his co-authors, “Erdos 2” indicates their co-authors, and so on. And in all seriousness, the fruits of Erdos’s 83-year life include more than 1,500 jointly authored publications, and a network that extends via his collaborators not only into most areas of mathematics but into many other fields—physics, biology, linguistics and more.

Making Physics Fun

Jay Rath:

When I was little, I wanted to be an inventor. Not the next Edison, perhaps, but at least Caractacus Potts, who built “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or Bernie in the “Sugar and Spike” comic books.
Alas, unlike those fictional whizzes, I have never been able to fashion a teleportation device from an eggbeater and flashlight, or create a flying car. It’s the 21st century and I really want a flying car. Maybe if I had visited the UW-Madison’s physics museum as a child, I could have one by now.
As public school break draws to a close, a trip to the museum might encourage your own budding inventors, and demonstrate that science can be as much fun as vacation — at least when presented the right way.
The L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum occupies room 2130 of Chamberlin Hall. It’s a long, gold-colored chamber of hands-on exhibits overlooking University Avenue. The physics department’s original pendulum clock ticks ponderously as busts of Newton, Tesla and Einstein glower over candy-colored amusements whose names sound as if they were drawn straight from a magic show.

In Sisters, Love and an Urge to Wring Her Neck

Tara Parker-Pope:

The publishing world was shocked to learn that the gang-life memoir “Love and Consequences” was a fake. But even more startling was how that came to light.
The author, Margaret Seltzer, was exposed by her own sister.
While it isn’t clear why Ms. Seltzer’s older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, took on the role of whistleblower (neither sister returned phone calls), the incident throws a spotlight on society’s conflicted expectations of sisterhood. Even while criticizing Ms. Seltzer for her fabrication, some blog writers turned their ire on Ms. Hoffman, calling her a “tattletale” and speculating that she must have been jealous of her sister’s success.
“People were almost as fascinated by the fact that it was her sister as they were with the whole story,” said Marcia Millman, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “The Perfect Sister: What Draws Us Together, What Drives Us Apart.”

Home Unschooling: Practice

David Friedman:

One point I should have made at the beginning of the previous post is the distinction between unschooling and homeschooling. Most home schooling is not unschooling–the parents have a curriculum and are following something closer to the conventional model than we are. And one can do unschooling in a school. Our kids were in a very small private school modeled on Sudbury Valley School for some years. Eventually problems arose, we switched from school unschooling to home unschooling, and on the whole found it more satisfactory. Hence the titles of these posts.
When our daughter was five, she was going to a local Montessori school. Her mother thought she was ready to learn to read; they didn’t. So Betty taught her to read, using Doctor Seuss books. Our son, three years younger, observed the process and taught himself. We heard about the local Sudbury school, new that year, brought our daughter over to visit. She decided she preferred it to the Montessori school, so we shifted her. A few years later we added her brother, a few years after that shifted to home schooling.
The Sudbury model includes classes if students want them. When our daughter was about ten there was a class, lasting somewhat over a year, in math. It started assuming the students knew nothing, ended with the early stages of algebra. That is pretty much all of the formal instruction either of them had. In addition, we required them to learn the multiplication tables, which are useful to know but boring to learn. That, I think, was the closest thing to compulsory learning in their education.

Living in a Post-National Math Panel World

Barry Garelick:

The British mathematician J. E. Littlewood once began a math class for freshmen with the following statement: “I’ve been giving this lecture to first-year classes for over twenty-five years. You’d think they would begin to understand it by now.”
People involved in the debate about how math is best taught in grades K-12, must feel a bit like Littlewood in front of yet another first year class. Every year as objectionable math programs are introduced into schools, parents are alarmed at what isn’t being taught. The new “first-year class” of parents is then indoctrinated into what has come to be known as the math wars as the veterans – mathematicians, frustrated teachers, experienced parents, and pundits – start the laborious process of explanation once more.
It was therefore a watershed event when the President’s National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP) held its final meeting on March 13, 2008 and voted unanimously to approve its report: Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

National Math Panel.

Teachers Union Gives Backing to Slot Machine Initiative

Philip Rucker:

Bolstering the campaign to expand legal gambling in Maryland, the state’s powerful teachers union announced its endorsement yesterday of the November referendum to legalize slot machine gambling.
After fierce lobbying from proponents and opponents, the Maryland State Teachers Association board of directors voted to support legalizing slots, taking a stance for the first time on an issue that has long divided politicians in Annapolis. The 70,000-member union said it would soon launch an independent campaign to convince voters that expanded gambling revenue is critical to funding education priorities.
The blessing from teachers is no small victory for slots supporters, who are planning to link the referendum to the needs of public schools. The union’s 14 board members deliberated more than five hours into the night Friday, debating whether to take a position or follow the pleas of some local affiliates, including the Montgomery County teachers union, to remain neutral.

How Can the Achievement Gap Be Closed? A Freakonomics Quorum

Stephen Dubner:

The black-white gap in U.S. education is an issue that continues to occupy the efforts of a great many scholars. Roland Fryer and Steve Levitt have poked at the issue repeatedly; a recent study by Spyros Konstantopoulos looked at class size as a possible culprit, to little avail.
We gathered a group of people with wisdom and experience in this area — Caroline Hoxby, Daniel Hurley, Richard J. Murnane, and Andrew Rotherham — and asked them the following question:
How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?
Here are their responses: