Peter Schrag: The quick road to math success: Get a bigger whip

Peter Schrag:

There’ve been lots of complaints that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has neither much interest in education policy, nor the capacity to deal with it. But his precipitous plunge into the algebra wars last week and the state Board of Education’s sudden decision to bow to his demand makes you wish that that he had less interest or a lot more capacity.
The leap, in the form of a letter urging the board to require that every eighth-grader take beginning algebra and the board’s overnight agreement to mandate it within three years is like trying to make a scrawny horse pull a heavier load with a bigger whip. At best, it won’t work; at worst, it will kill the horse.
The state has for some years had an admirable “goal” that every eighth-grader take algebra, combined with a set of incentives for districts to get all students there. The incentives – essentially penalizing schools by reducing a school’s Academic Proficiency Index for each student who takes only general math – have worked. More than half of California’s eighth-graders now take either algebra or geometry.

Even background TV can impact kids’ attention

Greg Toppo:

Pediatricians have long said children younger than 2 shouldn’t watch any television. But in new findings from a small-scale study, researchers say that even having a TV on in the background could be “an environmental hazard” for children.
For the study, released today, researchers observed 50 children, ages 1 to 3, for an hour at a time as they played alone in a small room with a variety of toys. Parents sat nearby, and for half of each session (starting either at the beginning or 30 minutes in), a small TV broadcast a taped episode of Jeopardy.
After videotaping and carefully analyzing the children’s reactions, researchers found that kids watched the TV only in snippets but that it modestly shortened their playtime. TV decreased play’s intensity and cut by half the amount of time children focused on a given toy.
The researchers chose Jeopardy on the theory that it would be “nearly incomprehensible” to toddlers.

Back to School For a Penny

Tania Anderson:

Remember as a kid seeing stores put up those “Back to School Sale” signs? I truly hated those happy little announcements. This year kids are seeing those signs earlier than ever thanks to Staples and Office Depot. The two office supply stores officially launched the back to school season in the first week of July with sales on things like notebooks and pencils. For Staples, it was the first time declaring such an event. The date set by Staples was based on historic trends, feedback from parents and schools and the fact that some schools in the South and West start the new school year in July. Plus there has to be a little influence between the two office supply giants since they kicked off their back to school sales within a few days of each other.
But what’s so amazing about these sales is that they’re pawning off stuff for a mere penny. Both stores are advertising things like a 12-pack of pencil erasers, folders, protractors and No. 2 pencils for 1 cent each. Gee, you could probably go out into the parking lot and find a few pennies on the ground to take advantage of these deals.

Leaders explain schools’ gains

Gadi Dechter:

Middle school students at the Crossroads School near Fells Point were evaluated by teachers every single day last school year, with the results driving the next day’s instruction.
At East Baltimore’s Fort Worthington Elementary, about a quarter of the school’s parents turned out for MSA Family Fun Night and sampled questions from the Maryland School Assessments.
Alexander Hamilton Elementary, situated in a West Baltimore neighborhood that the principal calls “gang-infested,” started a gifted education program last year to challenge students to learn beyond their grade levels.
The principals of the three schools credit those and myriad other initiatives with making their schools among of the most improved in Baltimore, during a year in which the school system overall posted historic gains on the standardized tests administered under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Nerad Details His First-Year Vision To Madison School Board


For the past two weeks, Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendant Dan Nerad has been learning the ropes in Madison. He said he has been doing a lot of listening and learning.
On Monday, he officially brought his ideas to the Madison School Board, for the first time laying out a vision for his first year as superintendant.
“I guess my hope, over time, is that while I’m learning about the Madison Metropolitan School District that I can also help inform the school district of important new directions I hope we can take over time,” said Nerad.
One idea Nerad said he believes should be revisited in Madison is 4-year-old kindergarten.

TJ Mertz has more.
Much more on Madison & 4 Year Old Kindergarden here.

Cheating on ACT, SAT college entrance exams has few consequences

Carla Rivera:

If the testing firms suspect fraud, they simply cancel the student’s score — but they never tell schools why.
A group of students at a Los Angeles high school is suspected of cheating on the ACT college entrance exam by paying a former student, who used fraudulent identification, to take the tests. The testing agency recently began investigating the claims, which could result in cancellation of scores provided to colleges.
But those colleges will not be told why the scores are invalid, nor will the students’ high school be clued in.

On Being More Like Ted Widerski

I’ve been convinced that a comment I made on another thread about Ted Widerski deserves to be shared as a post. –LAF
“I’ll miss him” only begins to capture it for me. Ted was HUGELY important to the student advocacy work I do in the District. I think I/we won’t know — fully — what we’ve lost until the school year begins to unfold.
People have said that Ted was a tireless and “courageous” advocate for TAG students, and that he was. I couldn’t agree more. At the same time, I can’t help but think “why should it require boundless courage and limitless persistence simply to get smart kids’ educational needs met?” Sigh.
On a more positive note, it has occurred to me that there are two things each of us could do to honor Ted’s memory. The first is to donate to the “Ted Widerski Mathfest Fund.” There is no better way to honor Ted than to insure that the mathfests he worked so hard to create, implement and protect KEEP HAPPENING. Send your check — appropriately marked “Ted Widerski Mathfests” — to the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, 455 Science Drive, Madison, WI, 53711.
The second thing each of us could do to honor Ted’s memory is to approach the coming school year with the happy intention of becoming more like him. So much of what we are up against in our advocacy work is a matter of misunderstanding, misinformation and misguided attitude. With a change in all of that – and few, if any, more dollars – the situation for our students could be profoundly different.
Practically speaking, what might it mean to “become more like Ted?” Well, here are a few beginning thoughts about that. I’m sure some of you will have many more.

Continue reading On Being More Like Ted Widerski

Algebra Rules

SF Chronicle:

One thing both sides of the math-wars debate should agree on is this: Educators can set high standards, but the higher standards only help students if the students have a base of knowledge from which they can rise. In 1997, when the state board of education issued math standards that called for eighth graders to learn Algebra 1, they knew that California teens could not instantly meet that goal.
Rather than set a strict mandate for eighth grade Algebra 1, the board used other policies to set incentives for moving more students into higher-level math, and disincentives for failing to do so – with the goal of having all eighth graders learn Algebra 1 by 2014. The ratio of eighth graders who took Algebra 1 or even higher level math grew from 16 percent in 2000 to 52 percent today. Those 52 percent of students are in a strong position to make it through the college track. Supporters believe this progress – especially the doubling of African American students in eighth-grade Algebra 1 – represents a coup in the struggle to close the achievement gap.

Math Meltdown

Patrick Welsh:

Summertime means school for an increasing number of high school students who have struggled in their math courses. But the system could be contributing to the kids’ poor performances.
Sam Cooke once cooed: “It’s summertime, and the living is easy.”
Tell that to the increasing number of middle and high school students who will be sweating out summer school this year because of their meltdown in math.

Related: Math Forum.

Former Math Teacher’s Lesson of the Day

Claudia Ayers:

It isn’t absurd enough that we test high school students with a High School Exit Exam that is pretty much on a par with the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) required of teachers, but now we are all congratulating ourselves with a decision to test eighth graders for algebra. At least state schools chief Jack O’Connell has learned from his own past mistakes and opposed this decision. If only he had the guts to say he blew it on advocating for the exit exam, which is not only a complete waste of tens of millions of dollars, but sends more and more kids into the streets and trouble with the law when they fail to graduate because they do not test as well as others. (About 10 percent of high school students must “fail,” otherwise it isn’t a “test.”)
I tutored algebra to younger students when I myself was in high school. Later I taught it in public high schools for nearly 20 years, concurrently with other math courses, including geometry, pre-algebra and seventh and eighth grade math. I taught in some of the highest achieving, and some of the lowest achieving middle and high schools in the state. So, maybe my perspective is broader than the average citizen’s. Still, anyone who thinks it is a good idea to begin testing all eighth graders in algebra is simply delusional. It would be more PC to say uninformed, but I am at wit’s end.

School Testing Service Fiasco May Result in Firm Being Sacked

Nicola Woolcock:

The fiasco over delayed school test results affecting millions of children could result in the company responsible being sacked and forced to pay back tens of millions of pounds.
Ken Boston, the head of the exams regulator, said after an emergency hearing of MPs yesterday, that the testing system was under stress and needed modernising. He added that problems were unlikely to be resolved in time for next year’s tests.
Thousands of parents are expected to challenge the results, encouraged by the adverse publicity surrounding this year’s exams.
This week Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said schools were reporting “all kinds of problems” with marking, and told parents that they should not rely on SATs [national curriculum test] results as the sole indicator of their child’s progress. He urged schools to give parents teachers’ assessments of pupils, as well as SATs results, and advised that these be treated as “provisional”.

Referendum Climate: Madison Mayor Orders 5% Cut in 2009 City Budget

A possible Fall 2008 Madison School District Referendum may occur amid changes in City spending (and property taxes). Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s Memo to City Managers includes this [PDF]:

This is the most challenging budget year I have seen in six years and it appears to be among the most challenging in two decades or more. High fuel prices combined with lagging revenues associated with the economic downturn and increases in debt service and other costs will force us to work hard just to maintain current services. Other typical cost increases in areas such as health insurance and wages will create additional pressure on our budget situation.
Based on current estimates, our “cost to continue” budget would result in an unacceptably high increase of about 10% for taxes on the average home and a levy increase of around 15%.

Via Isthmus.

One would hope that a referendum initiative would address a number of simmering issues, including math, curriculum reduction, expanded charter options, a look at the cost and effectiveness of reading recovery, perhaps a reduction in the local curriculum creation department and the elimination of the controversial report card initiative. Or, will we see the now decades old “same service approach” to MMSD spending growth?

Priorities for the Harford County School Board

Madison Park:

Patrick L. Hess, a lifelong Fallston resident, has assumed leadership of the Harford County Board of Education after the resignation of Vice President Salina M. Williams.
Hess graduated from North Harford High School and is the sixth generation of his family to live in Harford County. His wife, Lynn, is a kindergarten teacher at Jarrettsville Elementary School, and his three children have graduated from Harford County public schools.
Hess was named to the board in 2004, after board member Karen L. Wolf resigned. He was tapped to finish the remaining two years of Wolf’s term. Hess was reappointed in 2006 by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to serve a full five-year term on the board.
Hess is chief executive officer of Operations Management Inc., a restaurant management company that oversees Denny’s franchises. He recently sat for an interview with The Su

California’s algebra fracas symbolizes bigger mess

Dan Walters:

This week’s dust-up over whether all of California’s eighth-graders should be taking algebra encapsulates one of the state’s overarching educational dilemmas: Is it wise to set educational standards that apply to all students, even though they have an astonishing and ever-widening array of innate abilities and cultural, economic, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds?
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and advocates of educational rigor are hailing the state Board of Education’s vote to impose the algebra requirement in response to pressure from federal officials about creating more uniformity in standards and testing.
However, state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell, who wanted to modify the decade-old state policy of introducing eighth-graders to algebra to comply with the federal demands, claims that the decree will leave many kids behind because the state is unprepared, educationally and financially, to implement it.
The conflict echoes, ironically, the controversy over the decree that high-schoolers must pass an exit exam before being awarded graduation diplomas – a standard that O’Connell vigorously championed as legislator and state schools chief.

Beyond Games and the Future of Learning

Brainy Gamer:

James Gee kicked off the 4th Games, Learning, and Society Conference with a talk entitled “Beyond Games & the Future of Learning.” Gee is Professor of Literacy at Arizona State University and the author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003) and Why Video Games Are Good For Your Soul (2005).
Gee sees the current U.S. educational system as inadequate to the task of addressing the problems of an increasingly complex world. He stated that “21st century learning must be about understanding complex systems,” and he believes many video games do a better job at this than the antiquated sender-receiver teaching model that dominates American classrooms.
“We’re at the point where we must make choices. What do we want to be about?” Gee sees two separate educational systems operating today: one a traditional approach to learning; the other what Gee calls “passion communities.” In Gee’s view, the latter produce real knowledge. Video games, virtual worlds and online social networks provide environments in which theses passion communities can form and thrive.

Forget About the Achievement Gap: High Achieving Students in the Era of No Child Left Behind

Jay Matthews:

“The narrowing of test score gaps, although an important accomplishment,” Loveless writes, should not “overshadow the languid performance trends of high-achieving students.” He adds: “Their test scores are not being harmed during the NCLB era, but they are not flourishing either. Gaps are narrowing because the gains of low-achieving students are outstripping those of high achievers by a factor of two or three to one. The nation has a strong interest in developing the talents of its best students to their fullest to foster the kind of growth at the top end of the achievement distribution that has been occurring at the bottom end.”

Ann Duffett, Steve Farkas & Tom Loveless on the “Robin Hood Effect”:

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

Part I: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.

Part II: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers’ own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

Kids Urged to Walk, Bike to School

Melissa Kossler Dutton:

Megan Schroeder rides her bike or walks to school to do her part to help the planet.
She also likes the incentives that her school, Bear Creek Elementary, uses to reward kids who ditch mom or dad’s car in favor of biking or walking.
“You get treats, too — usually some kind of food. I won a bike at the awards ceremony,” said Megan, 8, of Boulder, Colo. “Since I like animals, I want to save the environment.”
Across the country, schools are encouraging families to forgo their cars to promote healthy habits, relieve traffic congestion around school buildings and reduce auto emissions. Students who live too far to walk or bike are asked to form car pools, use public transportation or walk part of the way.

Madison School Board Update

Hi all,
I hope you are enjoying you summer. Below is the school board update. Please let me know if you have any questions.
1. Our new superintendent, Dan Nerad, took over on July 1. Dan has spent a great deal of time meeting with board members, staff and community members. The transition has gone really well. One of the reasons for the seamless transition is that Dan committed 10 days prior to starting in Madison, to visit the district and meet people and learn about many of the programs/plans. He also spent a few weekends in Madison attending school and neighborhood events.
2. You will start to hear talk of a referendum in November as there is a community group starting to form in support of this action. At this point in time, the Board has not had any discussions on a future referendum. We will have a meeting on July 28 to start the discussion on this topic. The budget gap for the 09/10 school year is projected to be approximately $9.2M. Dan Nerad has our business office reviewing numbers in preparation for our discussion. IF, after our discussions and public hearing, we vote to go to referendum in November, the question(s) are due to the clerk’s office in early September. There will be an opportunity for public input. There is quite a bit of discussion that will take place in a short period of time. If you have any questions/comments, please let me know.

Continue reading Madison School Board Update

Students likely to fail high school exit exam can be identified as early as 4th grade, study says

Seema Mehta, via a kind reader’s email:

As early as fourth grade, students who will be at risk of failing the high school exit exam – a state requirement to earn a diploma – can be identified based on grades, classroom behavior and test scores, according to a new study released Tuesday.
The findings, based on an extensive study of student achievement in San Diego schools, call into question the effectiveness of aiming significant efforts and tens of millions of dollars at struggling high school seniors and older students to help them pass the exam.
“From a political standpoint, such spending seems necessary. However, our results strongly suggest that these 11th-hour interventions by themselves are unlikely to yield the intended results,” according to the report by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Instead, the authors suggested, “moving a portion of these tutoring dollars to struggling students in earlier grades – when the students are still in school – could be a wise choice. An ounce of prevention could indeed be worth a pound of cure.”

Catch ‘Em Young

James J. Heckman, via a reader’s email:

It is a rare public policy initiative that promotes fairness and social justice and, at the same time, promotes productivity in the economy and in society at large. Investing in disadvantaged young children is such a policy. The traditional argument for providing enriched environments for disadvantaged young children is based on considerations of fairness and social justice. But another argument can be made that complements and strengthens the first one. It is based on economic efficiency, and it is more compelling than the equity argument, in part because the gains from such investment can be quantified—and they are large.
There are many reasons why investing in disadvantaged young children has a high economic return. Early interventions for disadvantaged children promote schooling, raise the quality of the work force, enhance the productivity of schools, and reduce crime, teenage pregnancy and welfare dependency. They raise earnings and promote social attachment. Focusing solely on earnings gains, returns to dollars invested are as high as 15 percent to 17 percent.
The equity-efficiency trade-off that plagues so many public policies can be avoided because of the importance of skills in the modern economy and the dynamic nature of the skill-acquisition process. A large body of research in social science, psychology and neuroscience shows that skill begets skill; that learning begets learning. There is also substantial evidence of critical or sensitive periods in the lives of young children. Environments that do not cultivate both cognitive and noncognitive abilities (such as motivation, perseverance and self-restraint) place children at an early disadvantage. Once a child falls behind in these fundamental skills, he is likely to remain behind. Remediation for impoverished early environments becomes progressively more costly the later it is attempted.

The Wrong Education Fix

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

President Bush has often spoken about education reform as a civil rights issue. So we’re not entirely surprised to see civil rights groups now defending the No Child Left Behind law against attempts to gut its most effective provisions.
Last month, Representative Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, introduced the NCLB Recess Until Reauthorization Act, which would essentially suspend the law’s accountability provisions but not the funding. Under Mr. Graves’s bill, schools would no longer have to file progress reports that expose achievement gaps between kids of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.

College Board Cancels One School’s AP Scores After Cheating Scandal

Eddy Ramirez:

A cheating scandal at one Southern California high school has prompted the College Board to invalidate the scores of 690 Advanced Placement exams. Now, hundreds of students from Trabuco Hills High School in Orange County are protesting the decision. The Los Angeles Times is calling the imbroglio “perhaps the most memorable in Southern California since 1982, when the scores of more than a dozen students in Jaime Escalante’s AP calculus class at Garfield High School were invalidated because of suspected cheating. The students retook the exams and passed, and the events were later turned into the film Stand and Deliver.”

Much more, here.

Boston Considers 2 Pilot High Schools

James Vaznis:

The Boston School Committee will soon weigh proposals to open two new pilot schools, reinvigorating a more than decade-old Boston school program that Governor Deval Patrick is using as a model for statewide improvements.
The leaders of the two high schools would be able to exercise greater control over budget, staffing, curriculum, and governance, while working under fewer restraints from teachers unions.
Pilot schools, along with the governor’s proposed readiness schools, are similar to charter schools, except that charter schools function as independent school districts, while pilot and readiness schools are, or would be, overseen by local school committees. Patrick recently proposed creating 40 readiness schools across the state, drawing upon the pilot school model.
Boston’s two proposed schools, Harbor Pilot High School and Mary Lyon Pilot High School, draw on the popularity of two lower-grade schools, one of which is a pilot school, Harbor School in Dorchester. The other school is Mary Lyon K-8 School in Brighton. Collectively, the two new schools would serve about 600 students.

India plans massive technical education push


The government is launching a three-year initiative to boost technical education.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development will head the effort designed to overhaul India’s education system, which lags other developing countries. Officials said the effort aims to improve the quality of Indian education by expanding the capacity of institutions and creating new ones.
Regional, social and gender disparities in higher and technical education are also being addressed in the new strategy, which is being bolstered by a nine-fold budget increase for technical education. At the same time, the ministry said, regional governments need to do more to support technical education.
The federal government plans to establish eight new Indian Institutes of Technology, known for producing top researchers for global technology firms. Also planned are two more Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research. Twenty new Indian Institutes of Information Technology are also planned.

Economy Takes Toll On Education Funding

Larry Abramson:

Twenty-two Michigan districts are facing deficits. Don Wotruba of the Michigan Association of School Boards says that as operating costs go up, there’s only one way to cut staff.
“A lot of our younger teachers are the ones who get laid off, because they are the lowest on the pay scale as far as the union goes,” he says. “And then those [teachers] leave the state to go work somewhere else. So we are having the problem of eating our young a little bit.”
The irony is that Michigan legislators this year approved a small increase in per pupil spending, but it’s not enough to keep up with the cost of education. Combine that with the fact that enrollment is declining rapidly in places like Detroit, and you can see why educators are running out of hair to pull out.

Teacher’s Pay: Better marks, more money

The Economist

BAD schools, the left insists, are bad because they do not have enough money. The nation’s capital somewhat undermines this theory. Spending per pupil in Washington, DC, is a whopping 50% higher than the national average, yet the city’s public schools are atrocious. If it were a state, its pupils’ test scores would rank dead last.
Some schools struggle with the basics, such as discipline. Until last year, for example, the Johnson Middle School “had a nightclub on every floor”, says Clarence Burrell, a youth adviser at the school. There would be dozens of kids hanging out on each corridor during classes, schoolboys “with their shirts off getting massages” from female classmates and fights “all the time”, he says.
Mr Burrell, a tough-looking reformed convict, was hired by LifeSTARTS, a local charity, to help restore order. With his four colleagues, he pays attention to the most disruptive kids. He listens to them. He nudges them to pipe down and study. He offers his own “hectic” life as a cautionary tale. “Jail is ten times worse than school,” he warns young troublemakers. “It’s a long time, just you in that cell with a bunch of dudes.”

School districts misled on risks of investments, lawyer says

Amy Hetzner & Avrum Lank:

In 2006, the five districts – Kenosha Unified, Kimberly Area, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay – purchased complex financial vehicles called collateralized debt obligations through district-run trusts. The value of the CDOs has plummeted over the last year, triggering calls for the districts to contribute millions more dollars in collateral to avoid a drop in income from quarterly dividends.
Kantas declined to name which of the districts had hired his firm.
But officials with the Waukesha and Kimberly districts said they had hired the law firm, Houston-based Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas, although they did not know how many of the other districts also are involved.
Waukesha School Board member Joseph Como declined to say how the district was paying the law firm. But Gary Kvasnica, director of business services for the Kimberly district, said his district is paying the law firm a fee of “a few thousand dollars” for its investigation of the investment.

Teachers learn principles to pass on to in-demand students

Kathleen Gallagher:

How many teachers does it take to make a pingpong ball launcher?
More than one, 84 high school and middle school teachers participating in a two-week training class at the Milwaukee School of Engineering found out.
On Friday, they finished learning how to work cooperatively to make pingpong ball launchers and marble sorters, and to rip apart everything from flashlights to strap hinges so they could remake them to work better.
As a result, each is now certified to teach one Project Lead the Way class in digital electronics, civil engineering and architecture, or another engineering topic.
The Project Lead the Way-trained teachers are part of a push that powerful forces in the state have gotten behind.

Commuter College Goes Residential

Dorie Turner:

The neighborhood around Georgia State University was for years a maze of boarded up storefronts, aging buildings and parking lots that emptied at the close of each day.
But the downtown Atlanta campus is shedding its sleepy commuter school image thanks to plush new dorms, gleaming classroom buildings, Greek life and, yes, even football.
Georgia State and other former night schools across the country are transforming into more traditional college campuses to boost enrollment and gain prestige. And each is creating a thriving community that spills over into surrounding neighborhoods, drawing restaurants and retail into once empty streets.

Taking Aim at Youth Gun Violence

Rodrigo Zamith:

A new initiative for Minneapolis and Hennepin County will increase penalties for juveniles caught with firearms, both replica and real.
Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials hope to reduce juvenile gun crime this summer by stiffening penalties for youths caught with BB guns, real guns or replicas.
The new Juvenile Gun Offender Initiative was announced Tuesday by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman and others. It will also increase enforcement of youth curfew laws, replica firearms ordinances and supervision of juveniles on probation for gun offenses.
The new rules apply to offenders between 10 and 17 years old. First-time offenders with a real gun will be given probation, four to six weeks of out-of-home placement and 40 hours of education on the dangers and effects of guns. If the requirements aren’t met, youths will be given four to six months of out-of-home placement.

Gangs & School Violence Forum.


Ben Arnoldy:

Half of courses in Grades 9 to 12 will be delivered online by 2019, predicts a new report.
Rather than send her kids off on the yellow bus, Briana LeClaire has school come to her home. Her kids attend a virtual public school, connecting online to teachers and coursework. Everything from books to microscopes to radish seeds arrives via brown trucks.
Mrs. LeClaire describes it as the 21st-century, middle-class version of the private tutor. Her 6th-grader can move quickly through her strong subjects, such as literature, and spend more time on her weaker areas, like math.
Enrollment in online classes last year reached the 1 million mark, growing 22 times the level seen in 2000, according to the North American Council for Online Learning. That’s just the start, says a new paper by the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. Its authors predict that by 2019 half of courses in Grades 9 to 12 will be delivered online.

Related: Virtual Courses Rile Teachers Union by Susan Troller.

Madison teacher’s impact fondly recalled

Tamira Madsen
In his job as an educator, Ted Widerski left an indelible imprint on the lives of many Madison Metropolitan School District students. Friends and family are remembering Widerski as an exemplary teacher and person as they come to terms with his unexpected death at age 56 on June 29. Widerski suffered a massive heart attack at his Cambridge home.
Widerski was so influential to Bailey Wundrow during her prep years at La Follette High School that she followed in his footsteps and became a math teacher. Besides being Wundrow’s homeroom teacher for four years, Widerski laid a strong foundation for Wundrow with math as she prepared to pursue an education degree at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wundrow, a 2002 La Follette graduate, recently completed her second year teaching math at Verona High School. She said Widerski set an example she wanted to follow. “He enjoyed what he did every day,” Wundrow said. “He sold me on that end of teaching. He wrote me a letter of recommendation for (UW) Madison and I told him I wanted to teach. He always joked, ‘I’ll wait and when I retire and you graduate, you can have my job.’ ”
Widerski got a bachelor’s degree in 1973 from UW-Madison and received a master’s degree in math education from UW-Milwaukee in 1976. He taught in Green Bay and Waterloo and eventually became a school principal in Waterloo before starting in Madison 12 years ago. Widerski taught at La Follette for seven years and joined the school district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program three years ago as a resource teacher. Widerski oversaw programming for talented students at the middle and high school levels.
He also was instrumental in creating the district’s first MathFests, events that gave students the opportunity to compete individually and in groups to decipher math problems. Welda Simousek, who will retire in August as coordinator of the Talented and Gifted program, said her staff will create a fund in Widerski’s name so the MathFest competition can be held on an annual basis.

Education: Where’s the Pride; Where’s the Shame?

William Falzett III
I live in a small town, the kind of town many parents seek out in an effort to raise their children away from the precocious material culture of the suburbs, and the tough third world neighborhoods in and around the cities. We have successfully escaped most of that stuff in our small town, but we have not been able to escape the creeping clutches of political correctness.
My daughter is in the third grade, and recently came home with an assignment to prepare a presentation about a famous historical figure. One of her favorite films “A Night at the Museum” includes a part about Sacajawea, the famous native American, working mother, and guide of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We suggested Sacajawea would be a good choice for her project. She worked on it over a two week period, researching on the Internet, reading a book we bought, and preparing visual aids. She was very excited about the project, and practiced the presentation over and over again at home. After her open house event, I asked what kind of grade she got on it, to which she flatly replied she had gotten 102, an A+. I was surprised by her lack of enthusiasm, so I asked how her grade compared to the other kids. She told me she did not know, because kids are not allowed to share their grades with other students.
A little probing exposed this as a politically correct “don’t ask; don’t tell” rule I have encountered many other times in speaking to the kids about school. Very simply it has no purpose but to ensure no one gets hurt feelings or diminished self-esteem over poor performance. The children are taught that expressions of pride for performance are bad, and there is no shame in performing poorly. Poor performance, mediocrity, and outright failure are all treated the same. Little or no effort is equivalent to diligence, and there is therefore little incentive in the system to perform. Kids learn they can get by doing the bare minimum. Curiously there seems to be no similar treatment of performance when it comes to school sports. The poorest performers are often cut from the team, while the gifted advance, often accompanied by extreme celebration, aggressive coaching, poor sportsmanship and in-your-face trash-talking. The message seems to be that to be good in sports is serious and worth bragging about, but being excellent in academics is not.

Tennessee 2nd in U.S. for texting and driving

Marti Davis:

Almost nine of 10 Americans agree that texting while driving spells trouble, yet South Carolina and Tennessee lead the nation in those who admit to sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel.
A national survey of nearly 5,000 cell-phone users, released this week by Common Knowledge Research Services for the Vlingo Corp., revealed that Tennessee’s text-messaging motorists are topped only by those in South Carolina.
A bill that would have made driving while texting, or DWT, illegal failed to pass the Tennessee Legislature in March. So for now, at least, Tennessee’s text messengers can go on typing with their thumbs while steering with their pinkies, perhaps assisted by their knees.
“Clearly it’s an enormous danger for anybody to be texting while driving,” said Don Lindsey, longtime safety expert for AAA of East Tennessee. “Not only do you have the distraction of somebody thinking about what you’re going to say, you either have to either feel with your thumbs those little itty-bitty buttons or, worse, look down on the phone and do it.”

Girl Becomes Teen Driving Statistic

Brian Hicks:

When she got her permit on Monday, Cushire Akabidavis had license to drive on some of the most dangerous roads in the nation, governed by a state with some of the weakest teen driving laws.
Within minutes she became another young victim of that volatile mix.
Drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 were involved in 64 traffic fatalities and more than 8,400 injuries in 2006, according to a study by the motorist club AAA.
Those accidents cost taxpayers $629 million, roughly the price of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
“South Carolina is in the top three worst states in the country for driving, and they have some of the worst laws in dealing with teen driving,” said Tom Crosby, vice president for communications at AAA Carolinas.
“This is the state that would not even pass a law to prevent teens from texting while driving.

Teacher Mentoring & Student Achievement

Jonah Rockoff:

As a first-year TFA teacher in Charlotte, it sounds like Guarino experienced some sporadic and haphazard mentoring. It’s an experience from which we can learn. She references four different mentors giving her advice with four different visions of what their roles were. Four mentors?!?! Egads! That might sound like an embarrassment of riches, but certainly it isn’t if the mentors are operating at cross-purposes and if they haven’t been trained for the role.
Guarino is correct in saying that “Mentoring is more complicated than it seems.” That’s a lesson that policymakers and district leaders need to learn. It is not enough simply to require mentoring. It’s not enough merely to assign a mentor to every new teacher. There’s much more that goes into designing induction and mentoring programs to produce the desired impact on teaching and learning.

Illinois’ Early Childhood Asset Map

Lorne Leonard:

Young people benefit greatly from high-quality early education, a fact that prompted the State of Illinois to enact Preschool for All (PFA) legislation two years ago. Signed into law by governor Rod R. Blagojevich, PFA aims to make preschool available for all the state’s three- and four-year-olds by 2011.
To help agencies equitably plan services and allocate monies for PFA based on where needs are greatest, the Illinois Early Learning Council requested the creation of an interactive, Web-based tool to compile the relevant data on early care and education services. The result: the Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM), a GIS Web application developed by the Early Childhood and Parenting (ECAP) Collaborative and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). ECAP worked on the project with Chicago Metropolis 2020, a business-backed civic organization.

Mystery illness fells young man

Beth Walton:

But to get her son’s mysterious malady diagnosed, a mother must battle some of the area’s top hospitals.
School had just started for the year and Cole Haakana could hardly sit still in his fifth-grade classroom. Today, he was going to a friend’s house and they were going to walk into town and get ice cream.
But when school let out later that day and the two boys walked the winding neighborhood roads that follow Lake Minnetonka’s shoreline, Cole needed to stop and rest. The 10-year-old boy—who spent nearly all his free time riding his BMX bike, fishing, and playing baseball—suddenly felt weak.
He was wracked by a cough so scary that his friend’s mother called Cole’s mom.
Carrie Halvorson wasn’t worried at first. It was September 2005, the kids were back in school, and Cole had probably just picked up some type of bug. They’d wait it out over the weekend.

Advertisers in Touch with Teen’s Cellphones

Alana Semuels:

McGraw receives daily text messages from Seventeen magazine about fashion, including tips about what to wear to the prom. She planned to take the magazine’s suggestion to wear a brightly colored outfit and be prepared for “dress malfunctions.” “When the texts recommend a certain look that sounds good, I will try it out, but it doesn’t always mean buying something,” the 17-year-old Laguna Niguel resident said.
Yakking teens and phones have been inseparable for decades. The difference today is that teens use their cellphones for a lot more than just talking. It has become a palm-size entertainment and information center increasingly consuming their time and attention. Advertisers are realizing that if they want to reach teens, they need their number — literally.
“They’re not watching TV, you’re not reaching them in other places,” said Andrew Miller, chief executive of Quattro Wireless, a mobile advertising network. “Mobile is where they congregate.”
This year, shy escorts can buy (for 99 cents) a preproduced video of a guy asking a girl to the prom (“We’d take amazing prom pictures together,” he says) and then send it via mobile phone to ask a girl out, thanks to Venice-based Mogreet Inc.His nervous date can visit Cosmo Girl’s mobile phone site and look at the prom section to find out how to say “No” to alcohol. And she can go to to download a widget that lets her browse for prom dresses on her phone without burning up valuable Internet minutes.

Continue reading Advertisers in Touch with Teen’s Cellphones

Attention Goes a Long Way at a School, Small by Design

Jennifer Medina:

They sighed with relief when the college applications were completed, and celebrated when the acceptance letters poured in. But even after graduation on Thursday, one more job remained for the high school’s college counselor and principal: hound their students to make sure they have completed every last task to enroll in their college classes in the fall.
So it goes at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where many in the school’s first graduating class of 79 seniors are from the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and have struggled academically for years. Yet they received the kind of personal attention more commonly associated with the priciest prep schools.
Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has made new small high schools like Law and Justice a centerpiece of his effort to overhaul the system, saying students who get more personal attention will have more success in the classroom. But many of these schools have struggled with problems of high faculty turnover or of sharing space with other schools. Still, when Education Department officials say the strategy is working, they point to examples like Thursday’s graduation at Law and Justice, where 93 percent of the senior class — nearly all collegebound — collected their diplomas, far higher than the city’s graduation rate of roughly 50 percent.

School Choice: Is Milwaukee still state-of-the-art

Anneliese Dickman:

Milwaukee has long been called “ground zero” of education reform in America, due mostly to our nearly two-decade-long “experiment” with publicly-funded private school vouchers. Now New Orleans, LA (NOLA) threatens to revoke our title as the epicenter of school choice by heeding the lessons learned here in Milwaukee and advancing the policy design with its new voucher program.
Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana is set to sign the nation’s fifth voucher program into law, allowing impoverished students in under-performing New Orleans public schools to leave for other options. The NOLA program’s legislation looks designed to avoid many of the failings of Milwaukee’s program: it borrows certain elements of our program, building on Milwaukee’s strengths, yet limits our deficiencies.

The Two Worlds of Advanced Placement

Jay Matthews:

Arguing about Advanced Placement, the college-level program found in most U.S. high schools, can be confusing. Some critics say AP courses and tests, like the similar but smaller International Baccalaureate and Cambridge programs, are too deep for most high school students. Other critics say they are too shallow. Some say AP teachers follow a boring, trivia-filled script. Others say AP teachers are the most creative and engaging instructors they know.
Two well-crafted op-ed pieces, by Chicago high school student Tom Stanley-Becker in the Los Angeles Times and by Stanford University graduate fellow Jack Schneider in the Christian Science Monitor, have recently illuminated this split. They point toward a more intelligent way of seeing AP and other college-level high school courses as a useful whole, rather than as large and clumsy devices with contrary parts.

An Interview with San Diego Superintendent Terry Grier: On New Endeavors

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

1) Terry, you have just taken over as Superintendent of San Diego Public School. How did this come about?
Late last year, I was conducted by the search firm conducing the San Diego Unified School District’s Superintendent search to determine my interest.I had served as Superintendent of the 71,000 student Guilford County School District, Greensboro, NC, for the past eight years.I was in ‘good standing’ with the GCS school board, enjoyed my job, and had many friends in the Guilford County community.After reviewing the San Diego job description and researching the district’s history, challenges, and opportunities, I thought my experiences and background would be a good match.I flew to San Diego and met with the board of education and was impressed with their passion for educating all children to much higher levels.Following an initial interview, the process gained speed. My wife Nancy and I were invited back to a second interview the following week.Two days later, we were notified that SDUSD board members wanted to visit Guilford County the following weekend.Following their visit, we began contract negotiations.

Much more on Terry Grier here.

State curriculum on legalities of parenting coming to Texas high schools this fall

Karen Ayres Smith:

Do you know the difference between an “alleged father” and a “presumed father?” Your child soon will.
The Texas attorney general’s office has created a new parenting curriculum that will be required in every public high school this fall. It will cover everything from the legalese of paternity to dealing with relationship violence.
State officials say the goal is twofold: They want to teach teenage parents their legal rights and they want to show other students the difficulties of being a parent in hopes that they’ll wait to have children.
The program, which has already drawn some skepticism, promises to bring personal and family values out of the home and into the classroom.
“The purpose is to help young people make responsible decisions about their futures,” said Janece Rolfe of the attorney general’s child support division. “What we’re hoping to do is prevent children from having to enter the child support system.”

O Father, Where Art Thou?

Joshua Alston:

Ta-Nehisi Coates grew up in the type of family unit that causes census takers to develop stomach ulcers. His father, Paul, was a bit of a free spirit, which is how it came to be that he fathered Coates and his six siblings with four different women. Despite this peculiar scenario, Paul was an active, present father in all his kids’ lives. Coates certainly had his share of issues growing up in a tumultuous corner of Baltimore, but as he writes in his new memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle,” his father was a source of security and stability in a neighborhood subject to rampant, random violence. “I don’t know if there’s an environmental explanation for why my father was the way he was,” says Coates, 33. “For some reason, he just took being a father really seriously.”
The engaged black father is an elusive character in popular culture. The percentage of black children living in fatherless homes—roughly 50 percent—has perpetuated an orthodoxy that black men are irresponsible and indifferent to fatherhood. Authors such as Coates are in a position to change that. In addition to “Struggle,” last year saw the release of two photo-essay books, Carol Ross’s “Pop” and Rachel Vassel’s “Daughters of Men,” which aimed to show black men celebrating their love for their children.

Fake Residency

Amy Merrick & Joe Barrett:

Some school districts, hoping to control costs and prevent overcrowding, are intensifying efforts to make sure students actually live where they are registered.
Districts from Florida to California are hiring private investigators, creating anonymous tip lines and imposing penalties when they believe people have registered at false addresses. The measures often are spurred by parents who feel they pay a premium in property taxes to get their children into good schools.

Bar to Hit No Child Law Rising

Crystal Owens:

Georgia is one 23 states that likely will be hard-pressed to make needed improvements under the No Child Left Behind Act before the law’s 2014 achievement deadline, according to a report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy.
The center issued its report at the midway point of the 2002 NCLB law, which requires states to bring all students to grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2014 and allows each state to set up its own track to get there.
Georgia opted for the backloaded approach, which requires less progress in the early years followed by substantially higher gains closer to the deadline.
Now, some states will need to increase the percentage of students reaching proficiency on state assessments by 10 points or more each year in the six years left to meet the NCLB goals, the report said.
“Many states may have originally set lower achievement goals for the first few years under NCLB in hopes of getting systems into place or gaining some flexibility from Washington later on,” Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy, said in a statement released Tuesday. “But right now, they are still on the hook for the academic equivalent of a mortgage payment that is about to balloon far beyond their current ability to pay.”
But even those states that took an incremental approach to hitting achievement targets also will face difficulties in reaching 100 percent proficiency, the report said.

Related: 156 Wisconsin Schools Fail to Meet No Child Left Behind Standards.

Crime & College: Off-Campus Incidents aren’t always reported

Marc Parry:

That rape made headlines. But if you’re a UAlbany student or parent, chances are you wouldn’t know about many other crimes. Most don’t appear in the data UAlbany reports to the federal government. Records show many failed to trigger e-mail alerts to students.
A Times Union investigation of the UAlbany off-campus crime problem spotlights a gap in the federal law that forces colleges nationwide to disclose crime data. That law, the Clery Act, holds schools accountable only for campuses, noncampus buildings such as fraternity houses, and adjacent public property like sidewalks.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 93 percent of violent crimes against college students occurred off campus. But even if students are repeatedly robbed and assaulted blocks from the college, a school has no legal obligation to report the crimes or warn students.

Holding Back Young Students: Is Program a Gift or a Stigma?


With the increasing emphasis on standardized testing over the past decade, large urban school systems have famously declared an end to so-called social promotion among youngsters lacking basic skills. Last year, New York flunked 6 percent of its first graders, and Chicago 7.7 percent.
Now the 8,400-student East Ramapo school district in this verdant stretch west of the Palisades is going further, having revived a controversial retention practice widely denounced in the 1980s to not only hold back nearly 12 percent of its first graders this spring but to segregate them in a separate classroom come fall.
The special classes, which are limited to 15 students and follow a pared-down curriculum of reading, writing and arithmetic, are called the Gift of Time and come with extras like tutoring and field trips to a local farm.

Pressures Mount for Chief Of Prince William Schools

Ian Shapira:

After a school year marked by academic and administrative controversy, Prince William County Superintendent Steven L. Walts retains rock-solid School Board support as he seeks to raise the reputation of Virginia’s second-largest school system. But his relationships with many parents have fractured, and some local officials wonder when, if ever, test scores will rise to levels found among the county’s neighbors.
Hundreds of parents protested an elementary math program Walts championed, prompting board members to reevaluate it. Two of the county’s top-performing high schools and a third of its elementary schools remain overcrowded. Teachers in Prince William continue to earn less than those in neighboring counties.
Test scores from Walts’s third year are not yet public. But results from the first two after his 2005 arrival were uneven: SAT and state test scores remained among Northern Virginia’s lowest. The decline in the county’s average SAT score — from 1504 to 1486, by far the steepest drop among the area’s major districts — meant that Prince William continued to lose ground to Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties.

Detroit School Officials OK Budget, Avoid Shutdown

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

The Detroit Board of Education averted a possible shutdown in its operations by voting 9-2 shortly after 7:30 tonight to approve a two-year budget that includes nearly $522 million in spending cuts intended to get the district out of deficit.
But many specifics of how the savings would be realized — particularly $70 million in union concessions and an undetermined number of school closings — still must be addressed by Detroit Public Schools officials.
Under the plan, DPS would lay off about 818 teachers and 900 other workers, in addition to eliminating 142 vacant administrative jobs and cutting $81 million in non salary spending.
Recommendations to privatize social workers and psychologists were abandoned, but 30 of the 257 social workers will be laid off and 4 of 101 psychologists, according to a budget summary. That recommendation had set off a hail storm of complaints from the ranks and some parents who do not want to see a reduction in services to the special education and troubled students.

Police, sheriff’s units tackle growing Seattle-area gang problem

Jennifer Sullivan & Lauren Vane:

Tearing through the winding streets of the Central Area and Rainier Valley at 70 mph last Friday night, Seattle gang detectives Jim Dyment and Tom Mooney experienced an unsettling déjà vu — it was the third shooting they had responded to in a week.
As they drew near the scene of a drive-by shooting, Dyment and Mooney saw a group of officers gathered around five teens who sat handcuffed on a sidewalk in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. The hands of two teens were eventually wrapped in brown-paper sacks to protect any telltale gunpowder residue.
Dyment, a sergeant who has spent years investigating drugs, prostitutes and youth violence, muttered to no one in particular: “Being a gangster is a young man’s sport.”
And chasing gang members is becoming a full-time priority for police officers and sheriff’s deputies throughout the Puget Sound region, where authorities say gang membership is surging. From graffiti spray-painted on a mailbox in Kent’s West Hill neighborhood to recent shootings at area shopping malls, police say crimes associated with gangs appear to be on the upswing.

Gangs & School Violence Forum.

School Is Out, and Nutrition Takes a Hike

Tara Parker-Pope:

As my 9-year-old daughter began summer day camp last week, we talked about swimming rules, sunscreen and … cheese fries.
It was at summer camp a few years ago that she first experienced the culinary joy of cheese fries, which can pack 800 or more calories in a serving. Her camp is typical of those around the country: days packed with archery, swimming and adventure climbing; menus packed with soft drinks, burgers, chicken nuggets and, once a week, cheese fries.
Camp food is just one of the summertime nutrition challenges for parents these days. While childhood health advocates often blame schools for poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity, the problem often gets worse in the summer. Last year, The American Journal of Public Health published a provocative study showing that schools may be taking too much of the blame for the childhood obesity epidemic.
Data from kindergarteners and first graders found that body mass index increased two to three times as fast in summer as during the regular school year. Minority children were especially vulnerable, as were children who were already overweight.

Georgia notifies parents before releasing awful test scores

Laura Diamond:

Parents whose children failed the math test will be notified by local schools. The state requires eighth-graders to pass the reading and math exams to move to high school.
Students who failed math exams — as well as those who might have failed reading — can retake the exam this summer. Schools will provide optional free classes to get them ready. Students who failed the social studies exam don’t face any consequences under Georgia law.
State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said test scores in both subjects dropped because students took harder tests to match the state’s tougher and more rigorous curriculum.
“When you raise standards and expectations, it is not unusual to see a temporary dip in the percent of students who are meeting those expectations,” Cox wrote in a statement released Monday afternoon. “We have seen this in other grades and other areas of the curriculum.”

The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a “college of last resort” explains why.

Professor X:

I work part-time in the evenings as an adjunct instructor of English. I teach two courses, Introduction to College Writing (English 101) and Introduction to College Literature (English 102), at a small private college and at a community college. The campuses are physically lovely—quiet havens of ornate stonework and columns, Gothic Revival archways, sweeping quads, and tidy Victorian scalloping. Students chat or examine their cell phones or study languidly under spreading trees. Balls click faintly against »
bats on the athletic fields. Inside the arts and humanities building, my students and I discuss Shakespeare, Dubliners, poetic rhythms, and Edward Said. We might seem, at first glance, to be enacting some sort of college idyll. We could be at Harvard. But this is not Harvard, and our classes are no idyll. Beneath the surface of this serene and scholarly mise-en-scène roil waters of frustration and bad feeling, for these colleges teem with students who are in over their heads.
I work at colleges of last resort. For many of my students, college was not a goal they spent years preparing for, but a place they landed in. Those I teach don’t come up in the debates about adolescent overachievers and cutthroat college admissions. Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go. They chose their college based not on the U.S. News & World Report rankings but on MapQuest; in their ideal academic geometry, college is located at a convenient spot between work and home. I can relate, for it was exactly this line of thinking that dictated where I sent my teaching résumé.

Waukesha Mulls Closing Elementary Schools

Erin Richards:

The committee detailed each of the seven schools in its report and the pros and cons of closing the selected five. Another unexpected finding in the text: 23% of Waukesha students attend a school outside their attendance area, either for program purposes or by way of school choice.
Haessly said the School Board will receive a hard copy of the report this week and will likely choose a date to talk about the report in one or more special sessions at the board meeting next week.
After that, the administration and the School Board will likely form their own recommendations about which school or schools to close.

Anti-Gang Education for Third & Fourth Graders

Katie Wang:

In a second floor classroom at St. Lima School in Newark today, 22 pupils were mulling over questions about anger.
What, they were asked, do they do if they are angry?
What makes them angry?
And what can they do to control their anger?
“Go to anger management class,” suggested Sean Smart, a fourth-grader.
The real lesson, though, was about a topic that was never mentioned in class yesterday: gangs.
With street gangs recruiting at a younger age, law enforcement officials are trying to get to them sooner through the federally-funded Gang Resistance Education and Training program. The state parole board’s gang unit began working with sixth graders two years ago, but then expanded it to third and fourth-graders this year.

Juvenile courts can confuse kids, parents, report says

Hans Laetz:

Two years in the making, a report on California’s juvenile courts warns that children and parents are often bewildered by what happens in courtrooms, and judges and attorneys don’t always have access to all the information they need to make decisions.
The California Judicial Council’s stem-to-stern inspection is the first full-scale examination of court procedures and effectiveness. Juvenile courts were established statewide in 1961.
Many courts are failing in their basic responsibility to make sure children and parents know what is happening to them, according to the report, which was released in April.
“A lot of it is as basic as a kid who doesn’t understand what the word allegation’ means,” said Judge Brian John Back, who headed the examination. “And when we have a room full of prosecutors, defense lawyers all using numbers from penal codes, shorthand and jargon, the kids just cannot comprehend what has just happened to them,” said Back, who spent six years as presiding judge at Ventura County’s Juvenile Court. “Juveniles uniformly said, We have no idea what just happened in court.’ There is an inability for them to know what judges and attorneys do.”

Welcome to Max’s World

Mary Carmichael:

Bipolar disorder is a mystery and a subject of medical debate. But for the Blakes, it’s just reality.
Max Blake was 7 the first time he tried to kill himself. He wrote a four-page will bequeathing his toys to his friends and jumped out his ground-floor bedroom window, falling six feet into his backyard, bruised but in one piece. Children don’t really know what death is, as the last page of Max’s will made clear: “If I’m still alive when I have grandchildren,” it began. But they know what unhappiness is and what it means to suffer. On a recent Monday afternoon, Max, now 10, was supposed to come home on the schoolbus, but a counselor summoned his mother at 2:15. When Amy Blake arrived at school, her son gave her the note that had prompted the call. “Dear Mommy & Daddy,” it read, “I am really feeling sad and depressed and lousy about myself. I love you but I still feel like I want to kill myself. I am really sad but I just want help to feel happy again. The reason I feel so bad is because I can’t sleep at night. And dad yells at me to just sleep at night. But, I can’t control it. It is not me that does control it. I don’t know what controls it, but it is not me. I really really need some help, love Max!!!!! I Love you Mommy I Love you Daddy.”

The Third World Challenge

Bob Compton, via a kind reader’s email:

ersonally, I know that China and India are not “Third World” countries, but that is because I’ve traveled to those countries and I deeply admire their cultures and their people.
The inspiration for the name “Third World Challenge” came a statement made to me by a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education when I showed my film Two Million Minutes for the HGSE faulty. “We have nothing to learn from education systems in Third World countries,” he intoned with much gravitas, “Much less a Third World country that lacks freedom of speech.” To my surprise, no other faculty member rose to challenge that statement.
While I certainly expected a more open-minded and globally aware audience at Harvard, I have now screened my film around the country and a surprisingly large segment of the American population believes India and China’s K-12 education systems are inferior to that of the United States. While no American makes the statement with the boundless hubris of a Harvard professor, the conclusion often is the same – America is number one in education and always will be.
This of course is not true. American students’ academic achievement has been declining vis-à-vis other developed countries for more than 20 years. What is now surprising and worrisome is US students are even lagging the developing world.

Superintendent: Bad tenured teachers hard to fire

Frank Eltman:

Few people know better than school superintendent Allan Gerstenlauer that disciplining a tenured teacher can be a long and expensive process.
An English teacher in his Long Island district remains on the payroll, earning an annual salary of $113,559, even after pleading guilty earlier this month to drunken driving charges _ her fifth DWI arrest in seven years.
The teacher will remain on paid leave at least until a disciplinary hearing in August, and it will be up to an impartial arbitrator to decide whether she needs to be fired as she faces a likely prison sentence.
“It is very frustrating that the process takes so long,” Gerstenlauer conceded.

State funding helps fuel preschool boom

Greg Toppo:

Lisa Downs Henry’s father and stepmother opened Downs Preschool in 1984 as a private day care center in Watkinsville, Ga. Business was good, but it really took off in 1995 after the state approved state lottery receipts to pay for pre-kindergarten classes.
The family converted the day care center into a preschool, which has since become a kind of institution in Oconee County, an hour’s drive east of Atlanta. Of 12 preschool classes countywide, Downs boasts seven.
Each fall, Henry, the school’s director, welcomes a new class of 140 children, all 4-year-olds, all attending tuition-free.
“Since it’s state-funded, you just don’t have to hound parents about money,” she says.

Related: Missed opportunity for 4K. I’ve heard that there has been some discussion regarding 4K and a potential fall, 2008 Madison School spending referendum. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, given the short amount of time between now and November.

Swedish school cites discrimination in seizing birthday party invitations


Officials at a school in Sweden have confiscated birthday invitations handed out in class by an eight-year-old boy.
The reason: they see it as a matter of discrimination.
A Swedish newspaper says the school in Lund, southern Sweden, seized the invitations because the boy failed to invited two boys because they were not his friends.
The newspaper Sydsvenskan quotes officials as saying they had a duty to prevent discrimination.

Education board swings into action after 900 schools record less than 30% results

Shubhlakshmi Shukla:

Committees comprising DEOs inspect schools to find out the exact reason behind poor performance.
For the first time, the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary School Education Board (GSHSEB) has initiated a third party inspection of its schools in every districts. The move comes after 900-odd granted secondary schools reported 0 to 30 per cent results in the recent board exams.
To ensure fairness, committees comprising district education officers are checking on the schools of other districts to find out the exact reason for their poor performance. The lack of infrastructure, bad teaching quality and economic background of the students are being seen as the possible reasons for the poor results. The committee will submit its report to the GSHSEB.

Education formula helps rich schools get richer

Lynn Moore:

She wakes up in her suburban home, has breakfast and jumps into her mom’s car for a ride to school each morning.
He struggles to rouse himself off a bed of blankets on the floor, grabs the same clothes he wore yesterday and, with an empty stomach, starts his walk to school.
When she sits in her seat in her third-grade classroom, she brings a wealth of life experiences: soccer games and ballet; spring breaks in Florida; summers at a cottage on the lake; weekends spent at the zoo or museum.
He brings experiences, too: baby-sitting for his siblings; worrying about whether this will be the night the landlord kicks his family out; dreading the summer when he can’t rely on regular meals like the ones his school provides.
Two children. Two different worlds.
And two entirely different schools. Hers gets more than $12,000 per student in funding. His gets $5,000 per student less.

This is a powerful issue. Incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s former district, Green Bay spends $11,269 per student while Madison spends $13,201 according to a recent Isthmus article. More here.

Sent home: The suspension gap

James Walsh:

Black students are far more likely to be suspended from school than are their white classmates — and Minnesota’s disparity in suspensions is twice the national average. Why? What are the consequences?
Keenan Hooper likes to joke around and admits he has a motormouth. He also admits to getting into trouble again and again with teachers weary of his antics. School officials have sent him home more times than Keenan or his mom can count. ¶ So often, in fact, during his past couple years at Jackson Middle School in Champlin that he was referred to special education for a “behavioral disability” and saw his grades plummet.
This is not what Keisha Hooper wants for her son, who is black. She said she has asked how sending him away is helping.
“Teachers need order in the classroom, I agree,” Keisha Hooper said. “I think where we part ways is that they seem to lose patience with the black kids more than they do the white.”

An Interview with Janie Feinberg and Delia Stafford: On-going research stresses that the single most important factor in the classroom is ….

Michael Shaughnessy:

On-going research stresses that the single most important factor in the classroom is the quality of the teacher. Teachers being the most important variable, have a major impact on a student’s success or their failure. Delia Stafford and Janie Feinberg have spent the majority of their professional lives ensuring that students get the best teachers.Ms. Stafford, president of the Haberman Educational Foundation, teaches research-based strategies to assist school districts identify teachers and principals of excellence. Ms. Feinberg, president of JP Associates,provides ongoing staff support in classrooms to assist teachers via her exemplary coaching strategies.In this interview, they respond to a number of questions about teacher quality, teacher evaluation and alternative certification.

Bringing Potential Dropouts Back From the Brink

Juli Charkes:

ON the morning of her Regents Exam in English language arts earlier this month, Sheile Echie-Davis, an 11th grader at Roosevelt High School, pointed to a blemish just below the swirls of pink and purple polish that covered her long fingernails and explained its meaning. “I’ve been writing so much, I’m getting bruises from holding my pencils,” she said, her tone conveying pride rather than concern that the results of weeks of intense studying were so visible.
Sheile, 16, expected to do well on the exam, judging by her past results: She scored 88 percent on her Regents Exam in United States history last year, even though the subject is her least favorite.
Three years ago, Sheile was an unlikely candidate for academic success given her chronic truancy from school. Skipping class regularly led to her having to repeat eighth grade in her Brooklyn middle school. Parental pressure and visits from truancy officers did little to budge her belief that the classroom was not where she belonged. Dropping out, she said, was a foregone conclusion.

Related: a look at Madison dropout data, including those with advanced abilities.

Marquette’s new engineering school will focus on creating a collaborative culture and produce grads and marketable ideas.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The spark plug igniting this creative combustion is engineering school Dean Stan Jaskolski, who returned to his alma mater five years ago after retiring as chief technology officer at Eaton Corp. and a stint on the board of the National Science Foundation.
Jaskolski is re-engineering the engineering program with money, innovation and collaboration. The new engineering complex will link up faculty and students from all levels and disciplines, along with sales and marketing students and labs. Out of this intellectual stew, Jaskolski believes, will come a better prepared, more innovative engineering graduate. The school has raised $60 million out of the $100 million needed to build the complex.

Wisconsin’s improved performance on a noted ranking of science and technology is a plus. But the state still must work harder to turn good ideas into jobs.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial:

Wisconsin is far better positioned in the knowledge economy than it was four years ago, with larger pools of risk capital and better coordination of the state’s best research.
That’s one way to read a new report from the well-respected Milken Institute. The state finished five spots higher at No. 22 in Milken’s State Technology and Science Index (
But the state’s policy-makers and business leaders must figure out how to turn more of the state’s best ideas into jobs across the state, not just in Madison. And perhaps how better to tap the wealth of intellectual property in southeastern Wisconsin.
While Wisconsin moved up five notches, it still ranks only middling overall and still lags far behind on some of the measures. Furthermore, it’s arguable how much such state-by-state rankings tell us in a world where the competitor as easily could be in Bangalore as in Buffalo.

A $53 trillion problem
The nation’s failure to address runaway spending on Medicare and Social Security is threatening our standard of living.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Imagine taking out a mortgage for a whopping $455,000 but getting no house in exchange. Just a monthly payment.
Who would do such a thing? The federal government would — to you.
Federal commitments — mostly for Medicare and Social Security — totaled $53 trillion as of Sept. 30, or $455,000 for every U.S. household, and those commitments will grow rapidly over the next few years as more baby boomers retire and begin to draw benefits.
In 20 years, all of the government’s revenues will be needed just to pay for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the national debt. Unchecked, government profligacy will put more pressure on the slumping dollar, could lead to sharply higher interest rates and could result in higher prices for oil and food. As our debt grows — half of it now is held by foreign creditors such as China — the nation’s fiscal defenses are weakened.

John Schmid has more:

“Congress does not require itself to tell you what the long-term picture is,” said Stuart Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Butler and three other think tank analysts from across the ideological spectrum appeared in Milwaukee on Monday on the latest leg of their Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, addressing a crowd of over 200 business leaders and students. Their message: America is accumulating a dangerous level of national debt with little debate by its elected leaders on its consequences.
The tour started more than two years ago and has visited 40 cities. The stop in Milwaukee was meant to bring the message to a key battleground state in the 2008 presidential election.
An uninformed populace makes it easy to blame scapegoats and create distractions, with candidates saying they’ll eliminate budget waste and make the problem go away, Butler said. All concur that the U.S. mathematically cannot grow its way out of difficult budget choices.
Both John McCain and Barack Obama are well aware of the numbers even if neither addresses the underlying problems, the speakers agreed.

Stats show alarming growth in violent racial and girl-on-girl incidents, including Blair’s ‘Day of Six Fights’

Andre Coleman:

The expulsion of four elementary school students for bringing knives onto campus and a rise in violence involving female African-American students have left city and school officials scrambling for solutions.
Records obtained by the Pasadena Weekly show that more than half of the 31 students expelled from the start of the school year through March were African American, and 11 of those 17 kids were girls, including five former students of Blair International Baccalaureate Magnet School who were involved in what has come to be known by teachers, students and administrators as “The Day of Six Fights” on Feb 18.
Although all those incidents involved weapons or violence or both, and a multijurisdictional board had been working since October on combating instances of youth- and gang-related violence, that information was not shared with the former 14-member Committee on Youth Development and Violence Prevention — even though that board included two sitting members of the Board
of Education, which ultimately approved all of the expulsions.
Further, the Pasadena Unified School District has few programs in place to address the rise in violence and no facilities available to help with the increase in expulsions from the district’s elementary schools.

The Madison School District’s Security Coordinator, Luis Yudice mentioned increased school violence involving girls during meeting on West High School / Regent area neighborhood crime last fall.

School Questions Rarely Answered, or Even Asked

David Kirkpatrick:

WHY is it that significant reform is opposed with the claim that research is needed, yet proposals to conduct such research are also opposed?
WHY does the present system not only lack a research base but much of it functions in direct contradiction to research findings?
WHY, for example, do we educate students by building a box called a school, inside of which are little boxes called classrooms, occupied by students in rows facing the front of the room, where an adult talks 75-80% of the time;
that is, the adult talks three to four times as much as all of the students combined?
WHY does secondary schooling use arbitrary time blocks after each of which students move to another room for a separate subject of instruction?

Schools Promote Students Despite Widespread Failure

Arizona Daily Star:

Thousands of Tucson-area middle and high school students who fail key subjects continue to progress through Pima County’s largest school districts every year toward graduation, a 10-month investigation by the Arizona Daily Star has found.
In the 2006-07 school year alone, nine in 10 students were moved to the next grade level, but data show that nearly a third of them failed basic courses in English, math, science or social studies. At least 94,000 students failed essential classes during the past six years.
The analysis confirms what has essentially been an open secret in education for years, what critics call social promotion, and shows it is pervasive throughout Tucson’s schools.
The practice is not only causing major academic problems now, but is setting up what could be a major blow to the region’s economy.
The underlying problem, experts say, is low student achievement compounded by the lack of concrete promotion policies and systemic pressure not to flunk children.
The Star’s analysis found, that because grade inflation is likely occurring in Tucson-area schools, not only are thousands of children being socially promoted every year, but many other students are receiving passing grades they may not deserve.

Audit: Praise for Minnesota charter schools’ finances but pause on academics

Norman Draper:

A report from the Minnesota legislative auditor’s office says test scores are lower than average and the schools can use more oversight. It urged legislators to tighten the controls.
Minnesota’s charter schools need more oversight and post poorer test scores than their regular district school brethren, but have made big strides toward financial health, according to a report released Monday by the office of the legislative auditor.
The report offered a mixed bag of pluses and minuses for Minnesota’s 143 charter schools, which have higher turnover and much higher populations of minority and low-income students than regular schools. The report’s authors termed oversight of charter school operations and finances “unclear and often quite complicated,” and called for legislation to tighten controls.

Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor:

We evaluated the performance, oversight, and accountability of charter schools. We found that, in general, charter schools do not perform as well as district schools; however, after accounting for relevant demographic factors and student mobility rates, the differences in student performance were minimal. Additionally, we found that charter school oversight responsibilities are not clear, leading to duplication and gaps in oversight. We recommend the Legislature clarify the roles of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and sponsors (organizations that authorize, monitor, and evaluate charter schools) and that MDE implement standards for sponsors. We also recommend that the Legislature strengthen conflict of interest laws for charter school boards.

American High Schools “Not Properly Preparing Kids For Life”

Nicolette Kuff:

A poll conducted by the Associated Press has found that more than half of people polled claim that U.S. high schools are falling short when it comes to readying students for adulthood. In addition, the same number of American’s polled believe that schools are focusing too much on some subjects and neglecting others, leading to an unbalanced education and a lack of “survival skills” needed for life after high school.
“When you get out of high school, what are you educated to do?” Mused California firefighter Jamie Norton. “A lot of kids, when they get out of school, are kind of lost.”
The AP poll revealed that parents from a minority group tend to believe that their children are receiving an education than they actually are. Three-fourths of adults polled also claimed that their children’s schools were emphasizing the wrong subjects – music, art, English – and not spending enough time on “important” subjects, such as math or biology. Parents are also frustrated by the seeming lack of assistance available during school hours for children who may be struggling with math, and are often unwilling to dedicate time at home to work on their children’s math homework.
Most individuals polled claimed that the U.S. is far behind other world countries when it comes to education. In reality, U.S. students fall somewhere in the middle when compared to students from other countries.

Art Rainwater Retires


Madison school Superintendent Art Rainwater is officially off the clock. After 14 years of work in Madison, Rainwater stepped down from his post at noon on Monday.
“This will be the first year that I haven’t been involved with school since 1948, so it’s been my whole life,” Rainwater told WISC-TV.
Rainwater came to Madison in 1994 as deputy Superintendent.
He said all it took was a visit to the farmers’ market on the Saturday before his interview for him to realize he was home.
He took the helm as superintendent in 1999.
“I always felt it was a position that I could do the most, with the most children,” said Rainwater. “I think that’s certainly what drove me to be a superintendent.”

Much more on Art Rainwater here.

School system retirees ‘double dip’ with waiver

Tracy Jan:

Nearly 100 retired educators in the Commonwealth were allowed to earn their full salaries while collecting full pensions in the past school year, a growing practice critics call state-sanctioned “double dipping.”
The retirees collectively made more than $5 million on the job while taking home $5.5 million in pension payments, according to information obtained by the Globe.
The Globe review found that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education routinely approved these special arrangements and frequently ignored its own guidelines that require school districts to provide proof that they advertised for the position and were unable to find other qualified candidates.
Critics say the practice, which was designed to make it easier for districts to fill hard-to-staff positions, leaves the door open for abuse, enticing a pool of well-connected retirees to move from one job to the next or stay indefinitely in a position that should have been filled by a nonretiree. In some cases, school districts have been allowed to continue rehiring the same retiree rather than readvertising for the position each year and providing fresh proof that they could find no one else to fill the spot, another state requirement.

Education Reform: How to learn the right lessons from other countries’ schools

The Economist:

THE children at Kulosaari primary school, in a suburb of Helsinki, seem unfazed by the stream of foreign visitors wandering through their classrooms. The head teacher and her staff find it commonplace too—and no wonder. The world is beating a path to Finland to find out what made this unostentatious Nordic country top of international education league tables. Finland’s education ministry has three full-time staff handling school visits by foreign politicians, officials and journalists. The schools in the shop window rotate each year; currently, Kulosaari is on call, along with around 15 others. Pirkko Kotilainen, one of the three officials, says her busiest period was during Finland’s European Union presidency, when she had to arrange school visits for 300 foreign journalists in just six months of 2006.
Finland’s status as an education-tourism hot spot is a result of the hot fashion in education policy: to look abroad for lessons in schooling. Some destinations appeal to niche markets: Sweden’s “voucher” system draws school choice aficionados; New Zealand’s skinny education bureaucracy appeals to decentralisers. Policymakers who regard the stick as mightier than the carrot admire the hard-hitting schools inspectorate and high-stakes mandatory tests in England (other bits of Britain have different systems).

Ho-Chunk Miss Gambling Payment to the State of Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Journal:

The Ho-Chunk tribe missed an initial deadline Monday to pay an estimated $72 million in gambling money that state officials are counting on to help balance an already stressed state budget.
It’s now been more than two years since the tribe, locked in a legal battle with the state over its gambling compact, has made any payments on its casino operations.
The lingering dispute raises the question of whether the state will receive nearly $100 million in estimated payments expected by June 2009 in time to prevent a gaping hole in a budget that could force lawmakers to raise taxes, cut services or borrow money to make up the difference.

Patrick Marley & Stacy Forster:

The tribe continues to offer expanded games such as poker and roulette that were agreed to in the 2003 compact, but it has stopped making the payments that were also required under that deal.
Doyle said the tribe owes the payments and that state officials will continue to pursue enforcement efforts in federal court — the only recourse available to Wisconsin under federal Indian gaming laws.
“Every other tribe in the state has paid it, and the fact (is) the Ho-Chunk just haven’t, but we believe it’s owed,” Doyle said.
Thomas Springer, a lobbyist for the tribe, said the Ho-Chunk have been trying to resolve the matter ever since the Supreme Court ruled on another tribe’s casino agreement. That decision in effect invalidated the Ho-Chunk’s agreement with the state, he said.

Another item to ponder with respect to potential changes in redistributed state tax dollars for education.