Put a Little Science in Your Life

Brian Greene:

A COUPLE of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we’ve all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I’d written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists’ search for nature’s deepest laws — the soldier’s letter might strike you as, well, odd.
Brian Greene:

A COUPLE of years ago I received a letter from an American soldier in Iraq. The letter began by saying that, as we’ve all become painfully aware, serving on the front lines is physically exhausting and emotionally debilitating. But the reason for his writing was to tell me that in that hostile and lonely environment, a book I’d written had become a kind of lifeline. As the book is about science — one that traces physicists’ search for nature’s deepest laws — the soldier’s letter might strike you as, well, odd.

But it’s not. Rather, it speaks to the powerful role science can play in giving life context and meaning. At the same time, the soldier’s letter emphasized something I’ve increasingly come to believe: our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives.
Allow me a moment to explain.

Find Answer to Achievement Gap

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Test scores released last week clearly show one of the primary tasks confronting Madison School District ‘s incoming superintendent, Daniel Nerad:
The district should find more effective ways to educate its rapidly growing populations of foreign-speaking students and lower-income students.
Students from immigrant families and students from lower-income families continue to score low on the annual tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
That ‘s the chief reason the Madison district fell below the state average in 22 of 23 scores.

Many notes and links on the latest Wisconsin scores here.

Two Finalists for Waukesha Superintendent

Amy Hetzner:

The finalists – Cudahy Superintendent James Heiden and Oshkosh Deputy Superintendent for Business Services Todd Gray – will each spend a full day this week touring the district and speaking with staff and community members. The board could make its choice on a replacement for Superintendent David Schmidt by the end of the week, School Board President Daniel Warren said.
Schmidt, who has been with the Waukesha School District since the 1998-’99 school year, is scheduled to retire at the end of June.
The district received applications from nearly 20 candidates for the job. Consultants from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates winnowed those down to six semi-finalists, who were interviewed by board members over three nights last week.
The board deliberated until about 12:45 a.m. Friday before deciding on their final candidates, Warren said.

Special Japanese school established for Harvard wannabes

The Yomiuri Shimbun:

Benesse Corp., the nation’s largest correspondence study company, launched Friday a preparatory school in Tokyo for high school students aiming to get into Harvard University in the United States.
The move came in response to an increasing demand from high school students keen to attend prestigious overseas colleges.
The preparatory school, named Route H, offers a course on the SAT Reasoning Test–a standardized college admission test in the United States–and includes lessons on how to write a statement of purpose and an essay in English, as well as how to make a good impression during an interview. All the lessons are especially tailored for people striving to enter Harvard.
Harvard University, established in 1936, is known for its excellent research programs. It topped The Times-QS World University Ranking 2007 list, published by The Times Higher Education.
Due to the small number of applicants from Japan, information on admission procedures for prestigious overseas colleges is scarce, according to a Benesse official. But in recent years, the company has received an increasing number of inquiries regarding admission to top-notch colleges abroad, with 30 schools across the nation making inquiries in the last academic year.

Why Free Markets Have Little to Do with Inequality

Philip Whyte:

Many Europeans believe liberal economic reforms are incompatible with social justice. The US and the UK, they point out, have more liberal markets for products and labour than in continental Europe – but also higher levels of poverty and income inequality. European countries therefore face a choice. They can either free their product and labour markets and accept the downsides or they can protect social solidarity by resisting Anglo-American neo-liberalism.
But the belief that market liberalisation increases social inequalities is not borne out by the evidence. The UK certainly has higher levels of poverty and inequality than France or Germany. But pointing this out is just selective use of evidence to support a predetermined conclusion. If there were a strong correlation between levels of market liberalisation and social outcomes, one would expect to see the pattern replicated across the European Union – not just in a carefully selected group of countries.
Is such a pattern discernible? No. The nation with the lowest levels of poverty and income inequality in the EU, as well as the lowest rate of long-term unemployment, is Denmark – a country with competitive product markets and some of the least restrictive labour laws. Countries with the worst social outcomes (Greece, Italy and Portugal) all have restrictive product and labour market laws. Liberalisation, it seems, no more threatens social justice than regulation guarantees it.
So what explains these differences in social outcomes? The answer, one might think, must be differences in spending by governments. Social spending is certainly high in egalitarian countries such as the Nordics. But it is just as high in France, where social inequalities are more marked. Likewise, it is as high in the supposedly heartless UK as it is in the egalitarian Netherlands. Contrary to popular belief, the UK is not governed by a callous minimal state.

Somewhat related: local discussion on Madison’s Equity Task Force.

Georgia Teacher Group Re-Writes Social Studies Standards

Laura Diamond:

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox threw out this year’s results, citing a disconnect between test questions, what the state expects students to learn and what teachers taught. About 71 percent of sixth-graders and 76 percent of seventh-graders failed the tests, according to preliminary results.
Middle schools began using the new social studies curriculum this year. The CRCT exams were based on the more rigorous standards.
Cox convened the teachers’ panel to recommend improvements to the social studies standards, which she said were too vague. Once the revisions are approved, other committees will revise the social studies CRCT for sixth and seventh grades — a lengthy process that takes between one to two years.

Private vs. Public Schools

The lawn is meticulously manicured, as if the groundskeeper’s tools include a cuticle scissors. Classic brick buildings, a bell tolling the hour and concrete lion statues almost convince me that I’m at an East Coast college. But this is Lakeside School in Northeast Seattle.
This is where super-achievers went to school – Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Craig McCaw to name a few. Many of Seattle’s affluent families send their kids here for a challenging private education. With an acceptance rate of 24 percent, Lakeside is the most elite private high school in the Northwest. So what am I doing here?
Just wandering, and wondering if my children would have a better start in life if they went to private schools.
“As someone who has experienced both public schooling and private schooling, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind: sending your child to a private school is one of the best decisions you can make for him or her,” says Peter Rasmussen, a recent Lakeside alumnus. “In retrospect, if my parents made me pay my tuition all by myself, I would have. That’s how valuable a Lakeside education is.”
Words from an e-mail conversation with Rasmussen scroll across my brain as I glance around Lakeside: “Absolutely no doubt … one of the best decisions … that’s how valuable.”
A lot of families are like the Rasmussens. In Seattle, almost one out of four students attends private schools, according to an estimate from Seattle Public Schools. The national average is one in 10.
I’ve talked with the president of Seattle Preparatory School, the mom of a Holy Names Academy student, researchers at the Center on Education Policy and a local education author. They’ve given me a better understanding of why private education is extraordinary and also what public schools do well. Which is better for my kids? For your kids?
Related Links:

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Discipline comes first and frequent at boot-camp-style academy

Dan Benson & Alan Borsuk:

Keith Shields says he needed tough love.
He got it, and in big doses.
Hours of physical training and military drills every day. Orders, sometimes given in nose-to-nose style, for what he was supposed to do every moment. Strict codes of conduct and dress – no cussing, no talking back, most everything done at double time, books carried with your left arm so you can salute with your right at any moment.
Last fall, when his mother brought him for the first time to Right Step, a military-style boot camp school for high school kids who generally have been failures in every other setting they’ve been in, Shields, now 16, said to himself, “Can’t nobody change me.”
The first day, he says, he mouthed off to a drill sergeant and found himself on his knees, with his arms pinned behind his back.
It was the start of a happy relationship – a process that, in Shields’ description, turned him from being a street tough who had been into every form of wrongdoing into something he is proud to call himself: a cadet

School Shopping, Part IV

Jan Eyer:

I think we’ve decided where Belle is going to kindergarten. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, she’ll be attending our neighborhood school in the fall.
When I last wrote on this subject, we were really torn between the two options, the neighborhood school and the public “Open” school. Since that writing, I did a classroom observation at the Open school, which was required as part of the application process, and liked what I saw overall. I did wish that they hadn’t put me in a student teacher classroom, but I suppose that’s a reality that is good to observe, too.
We went ahead with being entered in the lottery, and we drew number 45. The lottery was in the end of March, and as of now they are at number 38 on the list. Historically, people who draw numbers in the 40s usually get in, but it can be as late as July or August. So all through April and May, Kevin and I put off discussing the issue because we figured we’d hash it out if/when we got in and there was a decision to make. (Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting opinions on both schools from anyone and everyone I could.) We told Belle that there were two schools we were considering for her, and she was OK with it being up in the air.

Eyer recently wrote about the Ann Arbor School District’s use of “Everyday Math”.

An Interview with a Detroit High School Principal

Esther Allweiss Ingber:

Mumford High principal Linda Spight, recently selected for a MetLife Foundation Ambassadors in Education Award, oversees her school’s engagement with the surrounding Wyoming-7 Mile neighborhood.
She and winning public school principals in 25 cities will each receive a $5,000 grant toward a joint project with community partners.
“The MetLife award acknowledges the importance of having a good relationship with a community and working collaboratively,” said Spight, 59, of Detroit, leader of Mumford’s 2,100 students. “Things should improve when you’re on the same page.”

Back to school for cities: Solutions to urban problems begin with improving schools

Detroit Free Press:

Big city school boards and superintendents have generally failed to provide the accountability and leadership needed to educate the many disadvantaged children they serve. Mayors and the federal government must take stronger roles in improving urban schools.
In an increasingly global and knowledge-based economy, nothing is more important to the future of cities and to the nation as a whole than education.
America’s beleaguered cities cannot rebound without good public schools, now plagued by lack of money, unresponsive bureaucracies, declining enrollments, high dropout and poverty rates, and low academic standards. State and federal contributions to school budgets have not made up for huge inequities in local support.
At their best, public schools give the most disadvantaged children a chance to succeed, but rarely the clear path that children find in affluent districts. More than 50 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case declared segregation unconstitutional, the nation’s schools remain practically as unequal as ever — and in places such as metro Detroit, nearly as segregated as they were in 1950.

Madison schools to end agriculture program

Andy Hall:

When students return to classes in the fall, it’ll mark the first time in six decades the Madison School District hasn’t offered a program in agricultural education.
And that leaves Mary Klecker, who is retiring after three decades of leading the program, feeling angry.
“As I retire, I feel a strong sense of betrayal by this School District,” Klecker wrote in a letter last week to members of the School Board and top state officials.
“It will be a sad end to a wonderful program that provides our students learning and career opportunities for a lifetime.”
Fifty-three students are enrolled in agricultural education courses this year at East High School.
The program, which has included courses in introduction to agriculture, animal science, conservation and environmental science, leadership skills with the FFA, and horticulture, attracted more than 200 students at three high schools during its heyday in the mid-1990s.
In her letter and an interview, Klecker railed against district leaders, whom she said “lack a grasp of our state’s agricultural heritage” and the importance of agribusiness and “are totally clueless” about related, outstanding programs at Madison Area Technical College and UW-Madison.

It’s time to open the doors to out-of-state school models

Former Providence School Board Member Julie Steiny:

Across the nation, charter laws have spawned certain schools that are so successful they’re being replicated in other towns and states.
Nonprofit providers of these nationally acclaimed schools have been wooed and welcomed into communities hungry for better, more-effective options. The best of these models can prove their strategies’ merits with lots of encouraging data, testimonies from happy parents and impressive stories about their successful students.
These networks include the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), Achievement First and the Green Dot Schools, among others. Pop down to New Haven, Conn., to see the thing of beauty that is the Amistad Academy run by Achievement First. Or drive up to Lynn, Mass., to take in a KIPP.
Can Rhode Island benefit from these proven successes? In a word, no.
Our laws fiercely protect Rhode Island’s educational status quo, as though it were a real treasure like Narragansett Bay or our historical architecture. The protectionist laws make it impossible for outside providers to do business in the state. (One could argue that the state laws make it impossible even for local schools to do business effectively. Certain Rhode Island charter schools are now being crushed by our protectionist culture.)
Take as only one example Rhode Island’s General Law 16-13-6 which cements teacher tenure, seniority and “bumping” into place, leaving Rhode Island administrators little if any control over the quality of their staff. No school providers from saner states can possibly assure us that they can be successful here if they can’t retain the stability of their staff and let ineffective teachers go, when necessary. Longtime Rhode Island residents have been drinking the protectionist Kool-Aid for so long they forget what effective school governance might look like.


Fifteen years into education reform, we are still failing to fix the most troubled schools. Now there’s no excuse.

Michael Jonas:

SCHOOL LEADERS IN Holyoke are no strangers to finger-wagging state reports on student achievement at the Lynch Middle School. It was eight years ago this month that the state education department first declared the Holyoke school, which has a student-poverty rate of 84 percent, “underperforming.” In the years since then, state officials have paid visit after visit to Holyoke, documenting shortcomings in written reports and recording the steps the school was taking to try to address them.
The Lynch was one of the first schools in Massachusetts to earn that unenviable distinction, which is part of the accountability system established by the landmark education reform bill passed in 1993. And today it is still among the 114 schools in the state – nearly all of them serving high-poverty populations – that are officially “underperforming.” Of all the schools that have made this list, only nine have been able to climb off of it. Lynch, and many other schools, land on the list and tend to stay there.
Fifteen years into education reform, a growing number of critics charge that the effort has hit a wall. With MCAS, the sometimes controversial achievement test, the state has become quite good at identifying schools where performance is lagging. But it has failed at the crucial next step: fixing the schools.

The resegregation of Seattle’s schools

Linda Shaw:

Nearly three decades after Seattle Public Schools integrated almost all its schools through busing, that racial balance is long gone.
Leschi Elementary, about evenly divided between white and minority students in 1980, has a nearly all-minority population once again. The same is true for Brighton Elementary, Dunlap Elementary, Van Asselt Elementary — and all but two of the 26 schools that, the year before busing started, were considered racially imbalanced. Today, a total of 30 schools — close to a third of the district’s buildings — have nonwhite populations that far exceed the district’s average of 58 percent. In 20 of them, nonwhite enrollment is 90 percent or more.
Seattle schools don’t look exactly like they did before districtwide busing began in 1978. There are fewer nearly all-white schools. Minority students are not as concentrated as they once were in the central part of the city.

Another Look at High School Performance Assessments

Bill Tucker:

Just returned from Providence where I spent two days learning about Rhode Island’s diploma system, which includes a number of performance-based assessment requirements. Today at Portsmouth High School I saw students present their senior projects to groups of teachers, classmates, and outside community judges. Beginning this year, to graduate, all 200+ seniors at Portsmouth are required to complete a year-long senior project, consisting of the “4Ps” — a research paper, a tangible product, a process portfolio, and today’s oral presentation. Students select their projects, submit a letter of intent, and work closely with a school or community mentor. And, the projects really are diverse. The first student I saw today presented the stage set she’d designed for the school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Another student’s project consisted of running a marathon and fundraising to support leukemia research.
The students were, of course, outstanding. But, what surprised me most were my conversations with the principal, teachers, and state officials about the cultural changes that were emerging from the senior project requirement. Roy Seitsinger, Director of RI High School Redesign, was emphatic that this work was “about transformative cultural change.”

Perfect school attendance earns teen a brand-new car


Andria Baker has pretty much always been present.
From the first day of kindergarten through her last day of high school, Baker somehow made it to school for every day of classes, despite colds and sports injuries. Why? If she kept it up, her father promised her a car.
Baker kept up her end of the bargain, willing herself to go to school on those days when she felt under the weather. She notched her 13th year of uninterrupted classroom attendance with her final day at Constantine High School on Friday.

Zeum: An Arts & Technology Museum for Kids & Families


Zeum is a non-profit multimedia arts and technology museum with a mission to foster creativity and innovation in young people of all backgrounds, communities and learning styles. By providing hands-on experiences in four core creative processes (animation, sound and video production, live performance and visual arts), we encourage youth to share their stories, build their voices, and use multimedia tools for creative self-expression.