Boycott backlash
Parents say Meeks’ plan for Chicago Public Schools’ kids to skip 1st day of classes isn’t answer to funding woes

Erica Green & Mary Wisniewski:

Parents at a Humboldt Park back-to-school festival Saturday said “no thanks” to the Rev. James Meeks’ planned student boycott of the Chicago Public Schools’ opening day of class Tuesday.
“The boycott is not good,” said Maybeline Juarez, who makes sure her 13-year-old daughter always attends school. “My daughter is in special education classes, and she needs all the help she can get. Colleges look at that.”
Angelo Valentin, who has five children in Chicago Public Schools, agreed that a boycott isn’t the answer to the schools’ money problems.
“The schools should get their money, but it shouldn’t be in the lap of the children,” said Valentin. “You can’t use them as pawns.”
Meeks, a state senator and pastor of the South Side Salem Baptist megachurch, wants to bus 2,000 students to wealthy Winnetka to protest school-funding inequities in Illinois. The children will try to register at New Trier High School’s Northfield Campus.

Better Education Through Innovation
Today, the shame of our cities isn’t bubonic plague; it’s ignorance

Cory Booker, John Doerr and Ted Mitchell:

In the summer of 1918, as tuberculosis, bubonic plague and a flu pandemic threatened America’s newly crowded cities, the chemist Charles Holmes Herty took a walk through New York City with his colleague J.R. Bailey. Herty posed a question: Suppose Bailey discovered an exceptionally powerful medicine. What institution would allow him to take his breakthrough from lab experiment to widespread cure?
Bailey replied, “I don’t know.”
That alarming answer moved Herty to propose a visionary solution — an institution that would encourage research and development throughout the country. It would find its value, Herty said, “in the stimulus which it gives” to research, thought and discovery by practitioners in the field.
Nearly a century later, that vision stands as the National Institutes of Health. Its record, from deciphering and mapping the human genome to finding the source of AIDS, leaves no doubt about the NIH’s ability to stimulate innovation.
Today, the shame of our cities isn’t bubonic plague; it’s ignorance. In our urban areas, only one child in five is proficient in reading. On international tests, we rank behind the Czech Republic and Latvia; our high school graduation rate barely makes the top 20 worldwide. As columnist David Brooks has noted, educational progress has been so slow that “America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited.” Under-education may not end lives the way infectious diseases do, but it just as surely wastes them. For all the hard work of our good teachers, our system is failing to keep pace with the demands of a new century.

Safety Climate: A look at Police Calls to Madison High Schools

Doug Erickson:

Total police calls to Madison’s four main high schools declined 38 percent from the fall semester of 2006 to last spring. But those figures tell only a partial story, and not a very meaningful one.
That’s because the numbers include all police calls, including ones for 911 disconnects, parking lot crashes and stranded baby ducks. (It happened at La Follette last May.)
The State Journal then looked at police calls in eight categories closely related to safety — aggravated batteries, batteries, weapons offenses, fights, bomb threats, disturbances, robberies and sexual assaults. Those calls are down 46 percent from fall 2006 to spring 2008.
The schools varied little last spring in the eight categories. Memorial and West each had 13 such calls, La Follette 14 and East 16.
School officials are relieved by the downward trend but careful not to read too much into the figures.
“We know there’s almost a cyclical nature to crime statistics and even to individual behavior,” said Luis Yudice, who is beginning his third year as district security coordinator.
Art Camosy, a veteran science teacher at Memorial, said he thinks the climate is improving at his school. Yet he views the police figures skeptically, in part because the numbers are “blips in time” but also because he wonders if the district’s central office is behind the drop.
“Are our building administrators being pressured not to call police as often?” he asks.
John Matthews, the longtime executive director of Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), the district’s teachers union, contends that the district’s leadership has indeed done this from time to time, directing building administrators to hold off on calling police so often.
Yudice, a former Madison police captain, said there was a time years ago when the district was extremely sensitive about appearing to have a large police presence at its schools. He rejects that notion now.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “We are more openly acknowledging that we have issues that need to be dealt with by the police. Since I’ve been working here, there has never been a directive to me or the school principals to minimize the involvement of police.”

All four Madison high schools feature an open campus. It appears that Erickson only reviewed calls to the High Schools, not those nearby. 1996-2006 police calls near Madison High Schools is worth a look along with the Gangs & School violence forum.
Finally, I hope that the Madison Police Department will begin publishing all police calls online, daily, so that the public can review and evaluate the information.

A time for heat – and light – on Milwaukee schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee School Board agree on this much: The community needs an accurate reading on the district’s finances.
Unfortunately, that may be the only thing they agree on.
Both are moving separately on plans to get the numbers. The School Board wants to spend $50,000 of taxpayers’ money to perform an audit to see where the Milwaukee Public Schools can be more efficient. Barrett is seeking funding from local foundations for an assessment of the struggling district’s financial and operational situation — a study that also could take the next step and recommend restructuring and how to best direct resources to the classroom where they can most help educate Milwaukee’s kids.
On paper, we believe Barrett’s plan goes beyond that of the School Board, because it will home in on a half-dozen or so top priorities that, when funded adequately, will improve MPS performance and increase the district’s credibility among parents, taxpayers and decision-makers in Madison.
For Barrett’s plan to have bite, he needs the support of foundations to retain a firm expert in urban school system finance and operations. Then the mayor needs to pressure the board and administration to get to work.

Another Milwaukee view: Voucher schools are part of the problem

Barbara Miner:

You want truly radical education reform in Milwaukee?
Form a countywide system so that Milwaukee children can, without restrictions, attend schools in Whitefish Bay and Greendale. Or launch a regional onslaught against the economic, housing and transportation disparities that, in the absence of locally owned breweries, now make Milwaukee famous.
Unfortunately, it’s not likely to happen. If you even mention the region’s divides, you are labeled as anti-suburban.
Luckily, the U.S. Census Bureau isn’t afraid of Milwaukee’s culture of silence about such realities. Once again (I’ve lost count of the many similar reports) Milwaukee made the news last week, for having the seventh-worst poverty rate of any major city. Waukesha County, in contrast, had the fifth-lowest poverty rate of any major county.

Milwaukee Schools to Reduce Busing

Dani McClain:

The Milwaukee School Board has voted to reduce busing at the high school level, which means a phasing out of district-funded busing for students living north of Capitol Drive who want to attend south side high schools.
The full board on Thursday unanimously supported the measure, which had stalled several times in the finance committee.
“The intent is to ensure that quality programs are available all over the city,” said finance committee chair Michael Bonds, who has proposed extensive transportation cuts that would reduce busing by $20 million.

A Watershed Teacher Labor Negotiation in Washington, DC

Steven Pearlstein:

As we head into the Labor Day weekend, it is only fitting that we consider what may be the country’s most significant contract negotiation, which happens to be going on right here in Washington between the teachers union and the District’s dynamic and determined new schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee.
Negotiations are stalled over Rhee’s proposal to give teachers the option of earning up to $131,000 during the 10-month school year in exchange for giving up absolute job security and a personnel-and-pay system based almost exclusively on years served.
If Rhee succeeds in ending tenure and seniority as we know them while introducing merit pay into one of the country’s most expensive and underperforming school systems, it would be a watershed event in U.S. labor history, on a par with President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981. It would trigger a national debate on why public employees continue to enjoy what amounts to ironclad job security without accountability while the taxpayers who fund their salaries have long since been forced to accept the realities of a performance-based global economy.
Union leaders from around the country, concerned about the attention the Rhee proposal has received and the precedent it could set, have been pressing the Washington local to resist. But Rhee clearly has the upper hand. The chancellor has the solid support of the mayor and city council, and should it come to a showdown, there is little doubt that the voters would stand behind her in a battle with a union already badly tarnished by an embezzlement scandal and deeply implicated in the school system’s chronic failure.

There are signs that things may be a bit different in Madison today, compared to past practices.

A Georgia School System Loses Its Accreditation

Robbie Brown:

A county school system in metropolitan Atlanta on Thursday became the nation’s first in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation, and the governor removed four of its school board members for ethics violations.
The school system in Clayton County, just south of the Atlanta city limits, was ruled unfit for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation’s six major private accrediting agencies, after school board members failed to meet the group’s standards for leading a school system.
An investigation by the agency found that county officials had not made sufficient progress toward establishing an effective school board, removing the influence of outside individuals on board decisions, enforcing an ethics policy or meeting other requirements for accreditation, Mark A. Elgart, the chief executive of the association, announced Thursday at a news conference.
County officials said they were planning to appeal the decision.

New York City Class Action Strips Teacher Parking Permits

David Seifman:

More than 50,000 teachers returning to school next month will get a tough lesson about parking in congested urban areas when the Bloomberg administration yanks their long-cherished parking permits, officials announced yesterday.
Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, assigned by the mayor to whittle down the school system’s permits by at least 20 percent as part of a citywide crackdown, discovered there were 63,390 school permits in circulation but only 10,007 reserved spaces around the schools.
As a result, Skyler reduced the number of parking permits by an astonishing 82 percent, to 11,150, which includes those for teachers and other school personnel.
Some 10,000 of them are good only in spots specifically reserved for school personnel; the others are universal, meaning they can be used wherever a vehicle on “official business” can park. That includes at expired meters and in no-parking zones.
“We found the amount of parking placards outweighed the number of parking spots for the agency as a whole by about 6, or so, to 1,” Skyler said.

School District Consolidation feasibility study grants

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

The Department of Public Instruction has awarded consolidation feasibility study grants for six consortiums (a total of 14 school districts). The grants, $10,000 to each consortium, are intended to provide funding for the identification of issues, data analysis, and the development of reports to inform the communities on the possibility of consolidation.
The grants went to consortiums consisting of: Chetek and Weyerhaeuser, Glidden and Park Falls, Bruce and Ladysmith-Hawkins; Benton, Cuba City, Southwestern, and Shullsburg; Montello and Westfield; and Prairie Du Chien and Wauzeka-Steuben.

Dane County schools outline policies for new academic year

Gena Kittner:

Stash the heelies in the closet, guzzle the energy drinks outside of school, and leave the toy weapons at home.
Those are a few of the new policies Dane County school districts will be enforcing this fall, as outlined in changes to student handbooks.
While most of the changes relate to mundane topics like student fees and attendance, rules about what students wear and can bring to school are getting more specific.
The new policies reflect how schools are trying to adapt to societal changes, said Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.
“It’s a delicate balance that districts walk in trying to ensure safety of students and the integrity of academic environment and students’ rights,” he said.
Some changes, especially in what clothing is acceptable, tend to be cyclical, with each generation looking for ways to push the limit.

Madison School District Goes to Court Over Athletic Directors

Andy Hall:

On June 19, Rainwater told the Wisconsin State Journal that the district wouldn’t appeal Flaten’s decision, saying, “The standard to overturn an arbitrator’s ruling is just really, really high.”
“It is,” Bob Nadler, the district’s executive director of human resources, agreed in an interview Friday.
The district, Nadler said, filed the suit because Friday was the deadline for filing a challenge to Flaten’s decision, and the district needed to preserve that option in case ongoing talks break down.
The district and union will continue to negotiate, outside of court and the WERC, to seek a settlement, Nadler said. The next session is Tuesday.
Nadler said the suit shouldn’t be viewed as a signal that Daniel Nerad, who succeeded Rainwater as superintendent on July 1, is taking a harder line with the union.
“I think this is just a very specific case that we feel we may have to challenge in the future,” Nadler said.
But John Matthews, executive director of the teachers union, called the filing of the suit “a stupid waste of money because there’s absolutely no way that they can succeed.

Certainly a change from past practices.

Raising the Bar: How Parents Can Fix Education

Daniel Akst:

Everyone, it seems, has a complaint about the schools. Indifferent bureaucracy, change-averse unions, faddish curricula, soaring school taxes matched with mediocre student performance — the list is long and seemingly unchanging.
At the start of yet another school year, it’s time for some radical change in your local schools — a specific change that only parents can bring about. It’s a thing already being done in some far-off countries but that remains strangely rare here in America. It’s something I’ve tried — and, despite the skepticism of friends and neighbors, it seems to work.
What is this miracle that lies within the reach of nearly every family? It’s simple. All you have to do is to start insisting that your children fully apply themselves to their studies — and commit yourself to doing your part. That means making sure they do all the work expected of them as well as their abilities allow. It also means making sure everything at home stands behind these principles and supports the idea of learning.
These will sound like obvious ideas. In fact, given all the distractions of modern life, it is a radical departure from the normal order of things. Let’s face it: More than budgets or bureaucrats, more than textbooks or teachers, parents are the reason that kids perform as they do in school.

A Well-Rounded Education Doesn’t Have to Start with College

Charles Wheelan:

I’m going to step back from economics for a moment and write about teaching economics to both undergraduates and graduate students. Based on that experience, I have some advice for talented high school students: Don’t go to college.
And advice for talented college graduates: Don’t get a job.
A Complete Education
Of course there is a caveat. You should do both of them eventually, just not right away. Take a year off, either after high school or after college.
Use that year to do something interesting that you’ll likely never be able to do again: write a book, hike the Appalachian Trail, live with your grandparents, trek in Katmandu, volunteer at a health clinic in India, or serve your country in the military.
Just do something that will make you a more complete person. I suspect that it’ll also make you appreciate your education more (and, ironically, make you more attractive when you do apply for college or enter the job market).

The “War of Milwaukee Public Schools”

Bruce Murphy:

ast week all hell broke loose regarding the fate of Milwaukee Public Schools. Mayor Tom Barrett proposed an outside audit of the system. As a candidate for mayor, Barrett floated the idea of a mayoral takeover of the schools, so this looks like a first step toward establishing control – and a clear message the MPS ship is sinking.
Meanwhile, a new group called Milwaukee Quality Education was formed, led by Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy and former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller. Reforms tried in other cities were supposed to be discussed, with the obvious aim of dramatically changing MPS. “We have urgency coming out of our ears,” Sheehy declared.
Add to this the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s three-part series suggesting MPS wasted most of a $100 million effort to cut back busing, and the takeaway message is that a dysfunctional school system needs rescue.
Meanwhile, the Greater Milwaukee Committee has been engaged in an ongoing effort to improve MPS, creating a plan of “corrective action.” One insider tells me Sister Joel Read, former Alverno College president, was very influential in formulating the plan.

Why Doesn’t Plagiarism Matter?

Jonathan Beecher Field:

As David Horowitz would be quick to remind you, academics tend to skew to the left in their political outlook relative to the general population. I am no exception. Like so many of my colleagues, I have followed Barack Obama’s presidential campaign with interest and excitement. South Carolina had an early primary this year, and nearly all of the major candidates came to speak at Clemson University, where I teach. Obama spoke outdoors, on a chilly and gray afternoon, but the energy he shared with that crowd of teachers, staff, and students made the event the most compelling political spectacle I’ve witnessed personally. The sight of an integrated crowd cheering a black presidential candidate not far from a campus building named in honor of Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist, made politics seem exciting again.
Remembering this sense of exhilaration I sensed in seeing a new field of political possibilities makes the sense of betrayal I feel today even more powerful. By choosing Joe Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama has insulted academics — students and teachers alike — a constituency that was significant in bringing him the nomination of his party. Especially in a year that has seen two prominent political careers hamstrung by sex scandals, and in an era where choosing vice presidential candidates seems to be foremost an exercise in avoiding skeletons in the closet, it’s surprising that Biden’s record of plagiarism did not disqualify him from Obama’s consideration.
Joe Biden, you will remember, ran for president in 1988. He delivered a speech that presented the thoughts of British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock is if they were his own, and was slow to explain or apologize for this transgression. The ensuing scrutiny of Biden’s record revealed that he had also plagiarized in law school, failing a course for doing so. Shortly after these revelations, he dropped out of the race.

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray Sees “Serious Gang Connection” in Crime Hike

Kristin Czubkowski:

Making connections among various types of crimes and ways to remedy them was the theme of the night as Police Chief Noble Wray gave a talk on public safety in Madison to the City Council Wednesday night.
Statistically, crime in Madison was a mixed bag in 2007, Wray said. While overall crime was up 5.5 percent from 2006, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, that increase stemmed primarily from an 8.3 percent increase in property crimes such as burglary, theft and arson. By contrast, violent crime, which includes acts such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault, decreased 14.2 percent in 2007.
Wray explained that the rising rates of property crimes came from the increased theft of precious metals, in particular copper, as well as thefts of big-ticket items such as televisions from businesses, which were directly related to gang activity and the drug trade, he said.
“This is the first time that I’ve noticed this, and I’ve worked for the Madison department for 24 years, that there is a serious gang connection with these (burglaries),” he said. “We haven’t had that in the past.”



There is an old story about a worker, at one of the South African diamond mines, who would leave work once a week or so pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand. The guard would stop him and search the sand thoroughly, looking for any smuggled diamonds. When he found none, he would wave the worker through. This happened month after month, and finally the guard said, “Look, I know you are smuggling something, and I know it isn’t diamonds. If you tell me what it is, I won’t say anything, but I really want to know. The worker smiled, and said, “wheelbarrows.”
I think of this story when teachers find excuses for not letting their students see the exemplary history essays written by their high school peers for The Concord Review. Often they feel they cannot give their students copies unless they can “teach” the contents. Or they already teach the topic of one of the essays they see in the issue. Or they don’t know anything about one of the topics. Or they don’t have time to teach one of the topics they see, or they don’t think students have time to read one or more of the essays, or they worry about plagiarism, or something else. There are many reasons to keep this unique journal away from secondary students.
They are, to my mind, “searching the sand.” The most important reason to show their high school students the journal is to let them see the wheelbarrow itself, that is, to show them that there exists in the world a professional journal that takes the history research papers of high school students seriously enough to have published them on a quarterly basis for the last 21 years. Whether the students read all the essays, or one of them, or none of them, they will see that for some of their peers academic work is treated with respect. And that is a message worth letting through the guard post, whatever anyone may think about, or want to do something with, the diamonds inside.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
And of course some teachers are eager to show their students the work of their peers….
The Concord Review — Varsity Academics®

I am happy to send along this letter describing both “logistical” and pedagogical dimensions of how I have used The Concord Review in class since employing the first class sets in the 1988-1989 academic year. You know from the fact that we have expanded our class subscription “coverage” from all U.S. History classes to all U.S. History and World History since 1500 classes that we have been very satisfied with the Review. In fact, I am glad to say that, due to an expanding school enrollment, our class set for this year will number about 80 subscriptions.


SAT Comparison: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa

The average SAT scores for Wisconsin and the neighboring states are summarized below. The higher the percentage of students who take the test, the lower
the average score is likely to be.

State % Taking Test Critical Reading Math Writing
Minnesota 8 596 609 579
Illinois 7 583 601 578
Michigan 6 581 598 572
Wisconsin 5 587 604 577
Iowa 3 603 612 582
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Press Release [255K PDF] only compared Wisconsin to the National Average, below.
National Average 45 502 516 494

College Board 2008 SAT information.

New Orleans superintendent Paul Vallas occupies spotlight

Greg Toppo:

In a makeshift waiting room of the warehouse that serves as the headquarters for public schools, three young prospective teachers sit.
As superintendent, Paul Vallas could someday be their boss. As he passes through the room, he stops to shake hands. Then he tries to persuade them to teach someplace else.
He has more than enough teachers for the new school year, which began last week, he explains. Have they considered Baton Rouge?
“I know Baton Rouge doesn’t have the French Quarter,” he says. “That’s OK. It’s OK to be far from the French Quarter — keep you out of trouble.”
As Vallas begins his second and probably final year trying to rebuild the ailing public school system, he not only has more teachers than he needs. He has eye-popping funding, nearly unchecked administrative power and “a sea of goodwill” that stretches across the USA.
The biggest question isn’t whether he’ll be able to turn around the system, at least in the short term. It’s whether there’s anything standing in his way.
If Vallas succeeds, observers say, he’ll show that with a clean slate, extra cash and a few big ideas, a hard-charging reformer can fix an ailing system and create a template for other districts. If he doesn’t succeed, they worry, Americans’ faith in urban public schools could burn out for good.

Referendum Climate: “State Budget Keeps Getting Worse”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The house of cards known as the state budget is predictably collapsing.
A Dane County judge heard arguments this week on the legality of a $200 million raid state leaders made on a special fund that’s supposed to cover large medical malpractice awards.
Doctors pay into the fund to hold down their insurance rates. So the Wisconsin Medical Society, which represents about 60 percent of doctors, sued the state last year after the governor and Legislature raiding the fund to patch a state budget hole.
The state raid was just the latest in a series of poor financial moves that voters should remember when voting for legislative candidates this fall.
Voters should favor those candidates willing to scrutinize spending and resist expensive new programs. The accounting tricks and money raids need to stop. And the longer Wisconsin waits to get its financial house in order, the harder and more painful it will be to fix.

School Britannia: Familiar Worries, But With Classier Accents

John Kelly:

My Lovely Wife and I are great believers in public schools in the American sense of the word. Hey, we reason, if it was good enough for us. . . . And yet when we lived in Oxford we sent our daughters to public schools in the English sense of the word: that is, private, or as they say these days over in Blighty, “independent.” The state school in our neighborhood came highly recommended but was so oversubscribed that we couldn’t be sure there’d be room.
And so our then-14-year-old went to a private girls’ school, and our then-16-year-old was a day student at a boarding school. Both girls were at the tops of their classes, which at first worried all of us, so deeply entrenched is that anti-American prejudice.
Beatrice, our younger daughter, decided that the English are even more obsessed with teaching to the test than we are in the No Child Left Behind USA. Her classmates were gearing up for a standardized test called the GCSE, which they wouldn’t take till the following year. She spent much of her time bored by the slow rate they moved at, as teachers spent months on a single Shakespeare play and studied glaciers at a pace that can only be described as glacial.

The Road to Education Reform

Wisconsin State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon):

As families across Wisconsin get ready to send their kids back to school, it is important to focus on how we are going to continue to improve student achievement for all our children. As chairman of the state Assembly Education Committee and having my son Will entering the ranks of pre-school, I understand the need to constantly look to improve our education system in Wisconsin so our kids and grandkids can compete in a competitive global economy and be productive citizens.
To increase student achievement in Wisconsin, I recently announced a comprehensive K-12 education improvement plan that I believe will reduce property taxes, make our school finance system more sensible, modernize student assessments, and direct more resources to classroom instruction. First, however, it is necessary to point out the current financial commitment to K-12 education in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has 426 school districts educating approximately 868,000 students. The current state budget will spend more than $12.3 billion during the next two years on K-12 education, the most amount of money ever spent on education in our state’s history. This amount represents 44 percent of our state’s general purpose revenue (our tax dollars) and appropriately is our number one state financial commitment. In 2008-09 it is estimated local school districts, primarily through property taxes, will spend another $5 billion. When all funding is combined, including the $600 million we receive from the federal government, we spend about $12,600 per student. In 2005-2006, our state spending level ranked Wisconsin 14th nationwide, according the US Census Bureau.

Related: Local, state, federal and global education spending charts.

Making new school year resolutions

Mary Bell, President of WEAC:

When I began my teaching career at Rhinelander High School 31 years ago, I started the school year by making resolutions the same way many of us do in early January. When you work in public education, you don’t just resolve to exercise more often or cut down on your caffeine, you resolve to monitor the cleanliness of your students’ desks (before it is too late), to not let your lesson plans cut into recess and lunch periods, to assign less (or more) homework, or to finish your master’s degree.
I made these resolutions at the start of every school year, long after I had gone from a first-year English teacher in Rhinelander to a veteran library media specialist in Wisconsin Rapids. Most educators I know make new school year resolutions, because every school year starts with a clean slate and a sense of unlimited possibility.
Great schools benefit everyone, and throughout Wisconsin it is not just educators but whole communities taking pride in the public schools they have created and sustained. This sense of ownership and investment has paid big dividends, as Wisconsin’s schools are the envy of the nation. We have one of the highest high school graduation rates. On the ACT college entrance exam, our high school seniors have ranked in the nation’s top three for 19 years in a row.

Related: Local, state, federal and global education spending charts.

Prosecutors begin looking into Milwaukee School Board Member’s Philadelphia trip

Daniel Bice:

County prosecutors have launched a probe to determine if School Board member Charlene Hardin broke the law when she took a taxpayer-funded junket to Philadelphia but then failed to attend a national conference on school safety.
“I would consider this to be at the fact-finding stage,” said Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern on Tuesday. “We’ll have to see where it leads.”
Lovern said the white-collar unit in his office is working with Milwaukee Public Schools auditors to find out what exactly happened — and didn’t happen — on Hardin’s trip to Philadelphia to attend the annual conference of the National Association of School Safety & Law Enforcement Officers on July 14-16.
Two officials with the organization told No Quarter this week that Hardin and Lolita Pearson, a data-processing secretary at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, spent no more than five minutes at the three-day event. They said the two attended no seminars or meetings.

Alexandria’s New Superintendent Urges Educators to Stop, Reflect, Act

Theresa Vargas:

“Part of what we’re going to be doing is writing the next chapter of the story of this school district,” Sherman, the school system’s new superintendent, said he told them.
Educators often spend their days running from decision to decision. Sherman said he thinks it is important for them to sometimes stop, find a quiet moment and reflect on what they are trying to achieve for the students.
Sherman, 58, is the Washington region’s newest superintendent, on contract for $250,000 a year through June 2012. A former superintendent in Tenafly, N.J., he replaces Rebecca L. Perry in heading the 10,600-student system.
Sherman said his first task involves being a “good anthropologist.”

‘New’ Voice Speaks About Teachers at Convention

Michele McNeil:

The teachers’ unions weren’t the only voices representing teachers on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
Enter Jon Schnur.
The CEO of the reform group New Leaders for New Schools, also an adviser to Barack Obama’s campaign, got a prime seat on the stage of the Democratic National Convention Monday night during the first of three American town halls.
The 15-minute town hall meeting managed to cram in issues including health care, tax reform, and education

More Minnesota Students Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Exams

Emily Johns:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests in Minnesota has increased, as well as the number of students getting scores worthy of college credit.
There was a 6 percent increase in the number of students taking the tests, which are taken near the end of an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit, according to information released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, .
Data show 27,605 students took 44,281 exams during the 2007-08 school year.
Almost 8 percent more tests also had a score of at least three out of five, meaning that 28,138 of the tests could be used by colleges to award credit to entering students.

Radical idea: Open the doors of affluent suburban schools to Chicago students

Richard Kahlenberg via a kind reader’s email:

Sen. James Meeks’ (D-Chicago) proposed student boycott of Chicago public schools next month has sparked furious controversy. Should students miss their first day of class for the worthy goal of promoting equity in public school spending? Leaders such as Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan are worried about the disruption involved as Meeks seeks to enroll Chicago students at New Trier High School in Winnetka.
Missing from the discussion is a bigger point: The main reason New Trier’s students achieve and graduate at much higher levels isn’t per-pupil expenditure; it’s differences in the socioeconomic status of the student bodies in Chicago and New Trier.
Decades of research have found that the biggest determinant of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from and the second biggest determinant is the socioeconomic status of the school she attends. The main problem with Chicago schools isn’t that too little is spent on students but that the school district has overwhelming concentrations of poverty.
In the 2005-06 school year, Chicago public schools spent $10,409 per pupil, much less than New Trier ($16,856), but slightly more than several high-performing suburban school districts, including ones in Naperville ($9,881) and Geneva ($9,807). The key difference is that while 84.9 percent of Chicago students come from low-income homes, New Trier has a low-income population of 1.9 percent, Naperville has 5 percent and Geneva 2.4percent.

Texas truant students to be tracked by GPS anklets

Elizabeth White:

Court authorities here will be able to track students with a history of skipping school under a new program requiring them to wear ankle bracelets with Global Positioning System monitoring.
But at least one group is worried the ankle bracelets will infringe on students’ privacy.
Linda Penn, a Bexar County justice of the peace, said she anticipates that about 50 students from four San Antonio-area school districts _ likely to be mostly high schoolers _ will wear the anklets during the six-month pilot program announced Friday. She said the time the students wear the anklets will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
“We are at a critical point in our time where we can either educate or incarcerate,” Penn said, linking truancy with juvenile delinquency and later criminal activity. “We can teach them now or run the risk of possible incarceration later on in life. I don’t want to see the latter.”

Groups: End physical discipline in school

Greg Toppo:

Saying corporal punishment disproportionately targets minority students and creates a “violent and degrading school environment,” two groups want federal and state lawmakers to ban it.
In a report being issued today, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union cite U.S. Education Department statistics that find school personnel in the 2006-07 school year reported disciplining 223,190 students by hitting, spanking or similar means. In interviews, Alice Farmer, the report’s author, found that children in Texas and Mississippi are routinely paddled for “minor infractions” such as chewing gum or violating school dress codes.

Maryland Charter School Growth

Liz Bowie:

When 850,000 Maryland students head back to classrooms this week, a tiny but growing percentage will be in public schools that had only been imagined a decade ago. There’s a primary school that lets children work at their own pace, an elementary school where 7-year-olds speak French a good portion of the day and a middle school where a sixth-grader can experience the outdoors.
In the first few years of Maryland’s experiment with charter schools, Baltimore led the way with an explosion of new schools of all varieties. More slowly and cautiously, county districts are following the city’s lead, allowing more of these publicly funded and privately operated schools to open as alternatives to the traditional public-school education.
Baltimore County’s first charter school expects to open Tuesday in the Woodlawn area, and charters already operate in Harford, Frederick, St. Mary’s and Anne Arundel counties. The newest additions this week will bring the statewide total to 34 schools and nearly 8,000 students.
Yet charters still face hurdles in getting started – from the local school officials who view them as competition to the pressure of construction costs. Of the 20 charter applications received statewide last school year, 16 were denied.

A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash

Amy Harmon:

David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.
He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.
“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”
In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state’s public schools to teach evolution, calling it “the organizing principle of life science.” Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

When Education is Unequal

Cheryl Jackson via a kind reader’s email:

his week, in a lawsuit brought against the State of Illinois and the State Board of Education, the Chicago Urban League and Quad County Urban League called on the courts to end the discriminatory and unconstitutional way public school education is funded in Illinois. This is not just an educational issue, but a civil rights issue, too, for thousands of African-American and Latino students whose social and economic future is being shortchanged by a flawed state policy.
After more than a decade of legislative gridlock on education funding reform, set against a bleak backdrop of crumbling schoolhouses, moldy books and shamefully low graduation rates–the time has come to dismantle the current property-based system of school financing.
That system is discriminatory in its impact, sustaining huge funding gaps between black and white schools.
It makes quality education nearly impossible for thousands of students of color. It confounds the best efforts of well-meaning parents, teachers and administrators. And it puts children on a pathway to lifelong poverty and social pathologies that squander their potential and exact enormous social costs.

Future of education is online, Web-school pioneer says

The Arizona Republic:

Damian Creamer, founder of Primavera Online High School, was the guest last week on Live Talk Wednesday, talking about secondary education via the computer.
Creamer formerly was an enrollment counselor at the University of Phoenix.
“Their (online) program was in its infancy and it was a unique opportunity to be involved with such a dynamic organization as they pioneered online education at the post-secondary level,” he said.
Afterward, he helped a small charter school in the West Valley found two additional charter schools.
Creamer opened Primavera Technical Learning Center (the predecessor to Primavera Online High School) in 2001.
” In its first year, Primavera had a few hundred students. Last year, I believe that we carried an average daily membership of 2,700 students,” Creamer said.
Last year, Primavera graduated 469 students, according to Creamer.

In Support of the November, 2008 Madison School District Referendum

Community and Schools Together:

We have a referendum!
Community and Schools Together (CAST) has been working to educate the public on the need to change the state finance system and support referendums that preserve and expand the good our schools do. We are eager to continue this work and help pass the referendum the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education approved on Monday, August 25, 2008.
“The support and interest from everyone has been great,” said Franklin and Wright parent and CAST member Thomas J. Mertz. “We’ve got a strong organization, lots of enthusiasm, and we’re ready to do everything we can to pass this referendum and move our schools beyond the painful annual cuts. Our community values education. It’s a good referendum and we are confident the community will support it.”
Community and Schools Together (CAST) strongly supports the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education’s decision to place a three-year recurring referendum on the November 4, 2008 ballot. This is the best way for the district to address the legislated structural deficit we will face over the next few years.

Much more on the November, 2008 Referendum here.


2008 SAT Scores Released


For the second consecutive year, SAT scores for the most recent high school graduating class remained at the lowest level in nearly a decade, according to results released Tuesday.
But the College Board, which owns the exam, attributes the lower averages of late to a more positive development: a broader array of students are taking the test, from more first-generation college students to a record number of students — nearly one in seven — whose family income qualifies them to take the test for free.
“More than ever, the SAT reflects the face of education in this country,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which owns the test and released the results.
The class of 2008 scored an average of 515 out of a possible 800 points on the math section of the college entrance exam, a performance identical to graduating seniors in the previous year. (See SAT stats.)
Scores in the critical reading component among last spring’s high-school seniors also held steady at 502, but the decline over time has been more dramatic: The past two years represent the lowest reading average since 1994, when graduating seniors scored 499.

The College Board:

The SAT’s writing section has proven to be the most predictive section of the test for determining first-year college performance, as evidenced by recent studies by the College Board and independent studies by the University of California and the University of Georgia. The College Board analysis, which evaluated data from about 150,000 students at 110 four-year colleges and universities, also found the writing section to be the most predictive for all students and therefore across all racial/ethnic minority groups.
Of all three sections of the SAT, the writing section is the most predictive of students’ freshman year college performance for all students, demonstrating that writing is a critical skill and an excellent indicator of academic success in college.
The writing section is also the most predictive section for all racial/ethnic minority groups, which demonstrates that the SAT is a fair and valid test for all students.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Wisconsin’s 2008 graduates posted an average score of 604 points in mathematics on the SAT college admissions test, an increase of six points from last year and 89 points above the national mean score of 515. Along with solid SAT results, preliminary data on the College Board’s Advanced Placement program showed continued growth of the program in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin had 3,522 public and private school graduates who took the SAT during high school. They represent about 5 percent of the state’s graduates. Their critical reading score averaged 587, the same as last year; mathematics was 604, up six points from last year; and writing was 577, up two points. Nationally, 1.5 million graduates, about 45 percent of all graduates, took the SAT. The national overall mean scores were the same as in 2007: critical reading, 502; mathematics, 515; and writing, 494. On the ACT college admissions tests, more popular in Midwestern states, 67 percent of Wisconsin’s 2008 graduates took the exams. Their scores also were well above national averages.

For Better Schools, Raise Expectations

Steve Barr & Kai Ryssdal @ Marketplace:

KAI RYSSDAL: The Democrats have gathered in Denver. They’ll be partying and schmoozing and, yes, talking policy for the rest of the week. While the convention’s in session, we’ve asked some prominent Democratic policy types to complain. That is, tell us where they think the party has gone astray on key issues. Today, commentator and education reformer Steve Barr says Democrats are behind the curve on education.
STEVE BARR: Check out any national poll on issues important to Americans, and they’ll tell you the same thing: On education, voters trust Democrats more than they do Republicans. And it’s been that way for decades.
But my fellow Democrats haven’t done much in recent years to earn that trust. Party leaders aren’t addressing education in a real way. And when they do, it’s usually to condemn No Child Left Behind or to make a vague appeal for better schools. Rarely do Democratic party leaders offer a clear vision for what a 21st century education should look like.
Now, the Dems don’t have it easy. There are two warring tribes in their ranks — teachers unions and school-reform advocates who are wary of teachers unions.
So, let me offer a new progressive vision to my beloved party, so it can challenge these tribes to come together: Community-based, decentralized school districts composed of small schools.
Study after study shows that a smaller school gives a kid the best chance to succeed. A decentralized district would streamline money to school sites, where each school would control its own budget. School leaders, including teachers, would make the hires.

Clusty Search: Steve Barr. Green Dot Public Schools

The Impact of Educational Quality on the Community: A Literature Review

Stephen Carroll & Ethan Scherer [328K PDF]:

This briefing synthesizes the empirical research on the effects of educational quality on the community. First, please note the word “empirical.” RAND reviewed empirical studies — studies in which some evidence was offered in support of the arguments. In the course of the literature review, we ran across books and articles in which the authors put forth logical arguments about the relationship between educational quality and the community, but did not offer any empirical evidence in support of those arguments. We do not suggest that these arguments are wrong, but we did not include them in this review because no evidence was offered in support of them.
This briefing focuses on results reported in the literature that apply to K-12 education, public and private. In our review, we generally did not consider studies that examined the effects of educational quality in either post-secondary education or early childhood education on the community.
We excluded studies that we considered of low quality, either because the methodology or the data were inadequate and which, therefore, reported findings that we thought were not well supported by empirical evidence. We also excluded studies that reported findings not adequately supported by the analysis, even if the study used accepted methodologies and substantial data.
Also, our review did not include research on how to improve quality or the cost of doing so. We looked at how educational quality affected the community, but not at what might be done to improve quality, or what that might cost.


It’s not a tax. It’s a fee — for school sports and a whole lot more

David Dahl:

Schools throughout greater Boston are raising fees for sports and other activities. While it’s not a property tax increase, the school fees are yet another way local governments are reaching into the pockets of parents to raise money.
North of Boston, for example, Hamilton-Wenham football games will cost close to $100 a pop this fall. That’s not for seats on the 50-yard line, but what players who suit up for the Generals pay to play: a $969 user fee, the highest for football in communities north of Boston.

Madison School Board OKs Nov. referendum

Tamira Madsen:

Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.
The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.
Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.
One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Andy Hall:

Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.
Nerad said the district would work “day and night” to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.


“I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We’re going to do our best to provide good information,” said Nerad.
Some citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.
“Our schools are already underfunded,” said one man.
However, others spoke against the plan. “This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.


Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.
“I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions,” said Nerad. “But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids.”
The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.
“This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison’s taxpayers’ checkbooks,” said Madison resident David Glomp. “It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving.”

NBC 15:

“We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn’t mean they’re anti-school or anti-kids,” says board member Ed Hughes.
Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.
“What’s a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that’s the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. “How much longer can we do this?”
The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.
The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.

Much more on the planned November, 2008 referendum here.
TJ Mertz on the “blank check“.

DC Teachers Torn as Rhee Tries to Allay Fears About Pay Plan

Bill Turque:

The morning began with the buoyant spirit of a pep rally — all cheers, prizes and inspirational words from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other officials to launch the District’s teachers into the fall term that starts Monday.
Before it ended, however, the “welcome back” assembly at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center yesterday took a more anxious turn. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker each seized the opportunity to speak to the audience of 4,000 teachers about Rhee’s pay package proposal, which has roiled and divided them.
Rhee was there to win hearts and minds. Parker was there to count them.
Rhee is offering teachers a “green tier” plan that would boost many of them over the $100,000 mark in salary and performance bonuses. In exchange, they must surrender tenure protections for a year and risk dismissal by going on probation. Teachers who want to retain tenure can opt for the “red tier,” which would offer lower, but still significant, raises and bonuses.

On Nevada State K-12 Funding

Clark County Superintendent Walt Ruffles:

As a former chief financial officer in both public and private organizations, I recognize the gravity of Nevada’s current financial condition and the need to cut costs where possible. But, as your current superintendent, I also recognize the disservice being done to Nevada’s next generation of adults.
Make no mistake about it, education in Nevada is hurting. Clark County receives the lowest per-pupil funding in the state, and the state funds its students at one of the lowest rates in the nation. That puts the Clark County School District near the bottom of the nation in per-pupil funding. Cuts of the magnitude we are experiencing are making a bad situation worse.


Education Officials Predict More Iowa School District Consolidation


State and school leaders say there is a new wave of school district consolidation that could alter the landscape of education in Iowa.
The consolidation is happening in school districts that are facing budget crunches because of shrinking enrollment, skyrocketing expenses and troubles cutting back. And the cash-strapped schools aren’t getting the same type of help they used to from the state.
“They’re in a real balancing act,” said Judy Jeffrey, director of the Iowa Department of Education. “I think there’s going to be another wave of consolidation.”
Just how many Iowa school districts will consolidate depends on whether some can dig themselves out of a financial hole.

Give students the choice to attend charter schools where kids perform well

Collin Hitt via a kind reader’s email:

In protest of Chicago’s failing school system, Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) is staging a field trip of sorts. He’s urging kids from his legislative district to skip the first day of school, board buses, travel to Winnetka, and attempt to enroll in New Trier High School.
One can understand why Meeks would want better educational options for Chicago kids. But on his way to Winnetka, the senator might want to take a look out the window where there are already many Chicago public schools–charter schools–that are performing on par with top-notch suburban and downstate schools. One such school, Chicago International Charter School, graduates its students 86 percent of the time–comparing quite favorably with public schools Downstate and suburban Chicago, which have an average graduation rate of 84 percent. Overall, charter public schools in Chicago graduate 77 percent of their students, compared with a citywide average of 51 percent.
Why aren’t there more charter schools in Chicago? Because state law caps the number of charters in the city at 30. Today, approximately 13,000 Chicago public school children are on a waiting list to get into charters–schools that have offered a proven formula for success. To give inner-city kids the opportunities they deserve, the charter-school cap should be lifted.

Education Reformers call for Longer School Days, Performance-Driven Teacher Pay & Expanded School Choice


America’s leading voices on education reform joined in Denver to call on Democratic leaders to steer public education in a new direction. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, more than two dozen progressive elected officials, education reform advocates, school leaders and civil rights groups from across the country gathered at the Denver Art Museum to release the Ed Challenge for Change, which highlights new ideas for closing America’s devastating achievement gap.
“An entrepreneurial explosion has occurred over the last few years in public education,” said Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization responsible for conceiving the Ed Challenge for Change. “The creativity exhibited by this new group of educators is helping raise student achievement, empower teachers, close the minority learning gap, and bring hope to places where it’s been in very short supply. It’s a movement that we believe Sen. Obama and other Democrats have taken to heart, and we hope to see these reforms increase in schools across America during the Obama Administration.”

Nancy Mitchell:

An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman – former Gov. Roy Romer – are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.
“It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party,” said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J.
“We have been wrong in education,” Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. “It’s time to get right.”
Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.
In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party’s often- cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support – financially and otherwise – Democratic candidates.

Mickey Kaus:

One panelist–I think it was Peter Groff, president of the Colorado State Senate, got the ball rolling by complaining that when the children’s agenda meets the adult agenda, the “adult agenda wins too often.” Then Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically–and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! “The politics are so vicious,” Booker complained, remembering how he’d been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he’d gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats.

Madison’s City Budget & Education

TJ Mertz:

I’ve been so tied up with life and the referendum stuff that I haven’t been much paying attention to the city budget process. A story in today’s Wisconsin State Journal got my attention, this graphic in particular. Two items on the possible cut list will directly impact the school district budget and at least three more will make things harder for our schools to do their job.
These possible cuts have been identified early in the budget process. Mayor Cieslewicz asked all departments to list what they would propose in the way of a 5% budget cut. If things go as the Mayor envisions, about 37% of these cuts will need to be enacted. Nothing is set in stone at this point. The Mayor will propose his budget in October and the Common Council will act in November.

Referendum Climate: Charts – Enrollment; Local, State, Federal and Global Education Spending

Variations of this question are often asked: “Are we spending too much, too little or just the right amount on education?” I thought it might be useful to have a look at some local, state, federal and global information. Click to view the charts in detail:

Madison School District Enrollment: 1994-2007 (the demographics have changed during this time)

Madison School District Budgets: 1995-2009

Percentage of Wisconsin General Purpose State Tax Revenue Spent on K-12 School Districts: 1972-2007

Wisconsin State Tax Dollars Spent on K-12 School Districts: 1972-2007

US Government Tax Revenue, by Source: 1965-2005

Composition of US Government Spending: 1965-2005

Total US Governement Debt, as a percentage of GDP

Wisconsin General Purpose Revenue Tax Receipts by Category: 1971-2007

Global Distribution of public expenditure on Education: ages 5 to 25

Data via the Madison School District (various budget documents and statistics), The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, I.O.U.S.A: One Nation, Under Stress, in Debt and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics Database.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index. $1000 in 1995 requires $1443.33 according to their inflation calculator, while $1000 in 1972 requires $5,262.30 in 2008.
November Madison School District Planned November, 2008 Referendum notes & links. Tax climate notes & links: When is a Tax Cut Really a Tax Hike by Gene Epstein, 20 Reasons to Kill Corporate Taxes by James Pethokoukis, I.O.U.S.A the Movie, the Economist: Inflation’s Last Hurrah and Dave Blaska on the proposed referendum.

Value-added evaluation being tried in Ohio schools

Scott Stephens
Tests measure what students know. Like a Polaroid, they give a snapshot of knowledge frozen at one moment in time. But what if you could measure how much a child learns over the course of a school year? What if you could gauge what a school actually adds to a child’s learning experience?
In Ohio, you can. This year’s district and school report cards, which will be released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education, for the first time will include a measurement known as value-added. The revolutionary formula, designed more than two decades ago by a homespun statistical guru from the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, has rocked the education world. Put simply, value-added tracks whether a year’s worth of learning is actually happening in the course of a school year — regardless of whether a child passes a test at the end of that year.

Another view: MPS analysis must address all the issues

Karen Royster:

Milwaukee’s children are the city’s future, and their education is a profound concern to all of us. Milwaukee Public Schools is responsible for ensuring students have the knowledge and skills to be capable workers and good citizens.
Like other urban school districts in the country, MPS struggles against mighty odds to fulfill this mission. There are major successes and many problems. Trying to overcome these problems is crucial, and there is room for all sectors of the city and region to share in the work.
A new initiative to audit or otherwise examine MPS could be very helpful if the analysis addresses all the fundamental issues at play, including the following:
• The households MPS students come from are in increasing economic distress, and almost one in five students come to the classroom with special needs — emotional, physical and cognitive — that require additional personnel and resources.

Karen Royster is executive director of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future; Jack Norman is the institute’s research director. The institute is funded by national foundations and does not receive money from state or local teachers unions.

Verona High School’s new AP moves in

Lisa Nunez:

New Verona Area High School (VAHS) Associate Principal Otistine Tracey Williams approaches her students with a strong attitude. “I will listen to you,” she says. “I have high expectations, and I want you to reach them. I will be your biggest cheerleader. But, I will hold you accountable.”
As one of three associate principals at VAHS, Williams supports approximately 450 students, their families, and their teachers through grades 10, 11, and 12. “The associate principals manage the day-to-day ins and outs of the school — primarily discipline, attendance, and staff issues,” says Williams. “We also work with the parents.”
Williams envisions her new position as a conduit, “working with students who may not connect with the school and finding ways to get them connected,” she says. “I love that. Now [at VAHS] I can do it on a larger scale.”

For many Milwaukee parents, the nearby school never entered their reckoning

Alan Borsuk:

Auer Avenue Elementary School was “the poster child,” as one school official put it, for why Milwaukee Public Schools needed a Neighborhood Schools Initiative.
The reason was obvious: In the fall of 1999, kids from the attendance area for the school at N. 24th St. and W. Auer Ave. were enrolled in more than 90 schools all over Milwaukee, many of them no better than Auer Avenue.
So MPS spent $2 million to improve facilities for the school’s students, added sixth-, seventh- and eight-grade classes and added before- and after-school services, all to encourage neighborhood enrollment.
The result? Today, students in the area attend more than 90 schools elsewhere in Milwaukee. The percentage of students in Auer Avenue who are from the neighborhood has actually gone down, as has total enrollment in the school.
Those facts tells you an awful lot about how little impact the $102 million neighborhood school plan has had.

100 Black Men of Madison give away backpacks, supplies

Dean Mosiman:

After getting her free, new backback stuffed with notebooks, markers and other supplies, Yisela Gonzales said she’s ready to start the sixth grade in the Madison School District.
Gonzales was among more than 1,500 children from across Dane County to get a free backpack and supplies at 100 Black Men of Madison’s annual back-to-school picnic Saturday at Demetral Park on the North Side.
“It’s nice,” said Yisela’s mother, Maria. “Everything is so expensive nowadays. It helps.”
More than 2,500 children, parents and other family members were also treated to free hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, cookies and beverages and got a chance to socialize. Madison Police gave out baseball cards.

UW Diversity Plan at age 10

Deborah Ziff:

It’s been 10 years since the UW System launched its major diversity initiative — Plan 2008 — and in that time administrators have successfully recruited hundreds of students of color and faculty to come to UW-Madison.
In that same 10 years, UW-Madison has made news for photoshopping a photo of a black student into a crowd of white students on a brochure and for a law school professor’s remarks about the Hmong that some considered racist.
Now in the plan’s final year, the numbers of minorities at the state’s flagship have been stubbornly budging upward, but students and administrators say there is still more work to be done, especially when it comes to creating a welcoming campus environment for people of color.

Student Control

Thomas Crocker:

In a world of increased occasions for forms of social control, the university is extending its reach. In an AP story today we learn that universities are broadening the scope of their campus behavior codes to apply to student conduct off campus, in an effort to cultivate humanity, to borrow from Martha Nussbaum. One purpose is to make students better citizens within the community. From the article:

We have a responsibility to educate our students about being responsible citizens,” said Elizabeth A. Higgins, Washington’s director of community standards and student conduct, whose office has ‘educated’ 19 students since the extended code of conduct took effect in January.
The scope of these codes can be quite broad, as the article reports that the University of Colorado code “regulates any conduct that ”affects the health, safety or security of any member of the university community or the mission of the university.” The article further reports that Seattle University “has put its students on notice that cyber-patrolling will continue this year.”

Tangentially, this is one of the issues worth looking into around local high schools: given the open campus, how much undesirable activity occurs near those facilities, and who has jurisdiction? This data: Madison police calls near local high schools: 1996-2006.

Dissolve the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett must act to bring radical change to the city school district. Everything must be on the table this time — even dissolution.
For years, the Journal Sentinel has chided, prodded and coaxed the administrators and the School Board of Milwaukee Public Schools. We’ve backed plan after plan to “fix” MPS. Time after time, we’ve been disappointed.
Now Journal Sentinel reporters have laid bare the mind-numbing incompetence of those who implemented the Neighborhood Schools Initiative. This $102 million building plan was forced on the city’s parents and taxpayers, and then many of those millions were thrown to the gentle wind, even after it was clear that the plan was failing.
For the sake of the thousands of kids MPS is leaving behind, fundamental change is a necessity. It might even be time to dissolve MPS and start over.

Large organizations (public or private) rarely make significant changes.
Related: Starting from scratch in the New Orleans public schools.

Schools As Social Service Centers?

Greg Forster:

Believe it or not, that more or less sums up the big new marketing campaign the teachers’ unions are using to try to lure you into giving them more money. It’s actually called “Broader, Bolder.” If you’ve ever seen a title that sounded more like a gimmick to sucker people out of their money, you’ve seen more marketing gimmicks than I have.
The argument runs like this: kids do better in school when they’re well fed, healthy, and so forth. Therefore schools should be transformed into social-service centers that will not only teach students, but also provide health care and lots of other services. Schools would be open all day and provide a wide variety of community programs.
This will, of course, cost a ton of money and entail a huge expansion of the government educational bureaucracy. Which has nothing to do with why the unions want it.

Madison’s superintendent seeking balance, gaining fans

Andy Hall:

One of the biggest differences between Nerad and Rainwater, according to School Board members, is that Nerad provides the board with more information about what’s happening in the district. Silveira said Nerad’s weekly memos help board members feel engaged, and she’s hopeful that after the current financial questions are settled, the board can turn its focus to improving student achievement.
Mathiak said she was thrilled last week after hearing Nerad’s plan. “I think there is a honeymoon period and I think we’re still in it.”
Winston said after watching Nerad at work, “I’m convinced we made the right choice. I think he’s here for the long haul, too.”

Notes and links on Dan Nerad, the planned November, 2008 referendum and Active Citizens for Education Memo: Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!.

L.A. teacher goes to Washington to the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship

Steven Hicks:

hat would you say if you were given the opportunity to tell the Department of Education how the policies and programs that the federal government supported were affecting the students and teachers in our schools? Well, that is exactly what I will be doing for the next year along with 24 colleagues from around the country.
I am a kindergarten/first grade teacher in Los Angeles, but have a one-year appointment to work with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. This is the first time that the department has formally involved teacher input into the policies and programs that affect our children. The program is called the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program. There are five Washington ambassadors that work in the department offices and 20 classroom ambassadors who work from their classrooms for the year.
We want to get the word out about how policies are made and how teachers can have an impact as leaders. Another teacher, Jocelyn Pickford, brought the idea to Secretary Margaret Spellings, who loved it. The teacher ambassadors represent urban, rural and suburban communities and K-12 levels. These are teachers who have dedicated themselves to make a real difference in public education. We want to share our stories and be part of the solution.

In China, Jocks Don’t Rule School; But the Smart Kids, They’re Cool

Gordon Fairclough:

An enormous red-and-gold banner stretches down the gray masonry front of the No. 19 High School in this northern Chinese city, proclaiming its proudest achievement: Ninety-two percent of this year’s graduates won admission to universities.
Like most Chinese high schools, No. 19 has no sports teams and no gymnasium. On the pavement outside, there are a handful of basketball hoops and a set of rusty metal parallel bars. The playground was completely empty on a recent summer afternoon.
“The cool kids are the ones who do best at their studies,” says Niu Shibin, 18. Mr. Niu, who will be a junior in September, says he likes to play basketball, but his nearly 12 hours a day of school work leave him little time.
China’s elite young athletes may be winning a lot of medals at the Olympics. But in China, organized sports still aren’t really something for regular kids.
Less than 3% of Chinese secondary-school students attend schools with sports teams. Children with exceptional athletic prowess or physical attributes are pulled out of ordinary schools early on and sent to the special academies that train the country’s sporting elite.

Unwrapping the Gifted

Tamara Fisher:

Varsity Academics
Hello from the Ice Cream Capital of the World!
On the morning of July 7, I had my TV on in the other room while I was getting ready for the day. I overheard an interview on the Today Show that Matt Lauer did with swimmer Dara Torres. The day before, she had managed to qualify for her fifth Olympics at the age of 41, even breaking an American record (for the ninth time in that event!) in the qualifying process.
Near the end of the interview, Matt asked Dara how she did it, noting his age and noting hers. (They know each other off-camera, it might be important to mention.) “When I turned 40,” he said, “I had trouble going up stairs. I was winded more easily.”
After describing her workout regimen and then outlining how she was proactively being regularly blood-tested to prove that she was doing all this cleanly, she said to Matt, good-naturedly and with a twinkle in her eye,
“And besides, you know, maybe I’m a little more athletically gifted than you are.”

Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

Active Citizens for Education (ACE) calls for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to delay making specific decisions for the presentation of a recurring referendum to the taxpayers for a vote on the November election ballot.
Passage of a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would allow the board and school administration to permanently exceed the state mandated revenue spending caps. Such a move to fix a so-called current “budget gap” would allow the board and administration to exceed annual spending caps permanently, every year into the future. This would virtually give the board a “blank check” from district taxpayers to plug future budget gaps or shortfalls. It could prevent the board and administration from having to carefully and thoughtfully budget, like every taxpayer must do when their household budget faces tough economic times and shortfalls.
The plans and communications presented in recent weeks by the board and administration provide greater hope for more effective decision-making now and in the future. The recommendations for changes in policy and accountability options in community services, transportation, lease contracts, fund balances and capital expansion (maintenance) will have positive impacts on reducing the so-called “budget gap.”
The Board must earn the trust of the taxpayers by clearly showing that they can be “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars. Past experience has not earned that trust! If a referendum is ultimately required to fix upcoming budgets, it should be a non-recurring referendum, thereby preventing ‘mortgaging’ the future with year-after-year, permanent increases in spending authority.
The Board and administration must correct the absence of specific processes and strategies for analysis and evaluation of business and educational services, programs, practices and policies. Urgent and substantial investments of time and work are critical for these processes to evolve into hard evidence. This evidence is absolutely necessary to show the public that serious steps are under way to provide clear, concrete data and options for identifying the most effective and efficient results-oriented management of the financial resources of the district. It must be shown that the resources will be directly applied to improvements in student learning and achievement.


A Promise of Pre-K for All Is Still Far Off in New York

Winnie Hu:

More than 10 years after New York’s political and education leaders promised to work toward providing access to pre-kindergarten classes to every 4-year-old across the state, more than a third of the 677 local school districts have no such programs. Last year, fewer than 91,000 children attended state-financed pre-kindergarten classes — 38 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.
The early promise of universal pre-kindergarten programs was undermined by state budget problems, especially after 9/11, and local districts were never required to offer them. But even as funding dedicated to pre-kindergarten has more than doubled over the last three years, hundreds of mainly suburban and rural districts have rejected the state money, with many saying they would have to cut other things or raise taxes to establish the programs.
Last year, local districts passed up $67.5 million of the $438 million the state set aside for pre-K.
“Universal pre-K is an idea that looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work for a district of this size,” said Superintendent Edward Ehmann of the Smithtown school district on Long Island, which turned down $459,000 in state aid because, he said, it would cover only a quarter of the cost of providing pre-kindergarten to 750 children.

Five school districts consider lawsuit in investment downturn

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts could face combined losses of tens of millions of dollars in a complex investment scheme to help fund employee retirement benefits, according to investigators hired by the districts.
The value of district investments has declined by $120 million – or 60% – since the transactions were undertaken within the last two years, according to a news release from a public relations firm for the attorneys who examined the deals.
School district officials released statements accompanying the news release Wednesday, saying they were misled by a financial adviser, and that the investments were much riskier than they had been told.

GE volunteers spruce up Bay View High School for new year

Dani McClain:

First, the 16-year-old could expect a new principal when he returned to Bay View High School in the fall. Second, hundreds of volunteers from GE Healthcare would be there in August for a massive, daylong cleanup, and he was invited to join them.
Jones jumped at the chance to be part of a fresh start.
“The school needed the help,” he said Wednesday. He added that he liked being able to support Bay View’s staff.

Connecticut Faces a School Tax Revolt: Distinguishing Between Needs and Wants

Lewis Andrews:

On June 30, the board of education and the town council in Enfield, Conn., convened to hear the results of a citizen cost-cutting committee. Among its other recommendations, the 17 residents recommended replacing some public school teachers with low-cost college interns, restricting the use of school vehicles, and increasing employee contributions to benefit plans.
These may seem modest steps toward fiscal responsibility — but they are emblematic of a significant change in this very blue state: growing disenchantment with the price of government, especially of public education.
Over the past two and a half decades, the student population in Connecticut has increased only 10%. Yet the cost of schooling more than doubled — to $8.8 billion in 2006, up from $3.4 billion in 1981. Seventeen years ago, the state enacted an income tax with promises to cut other taxes. Instead, real-estate assessments soared, creating a massive income transfer from the private to the public sector, fueled in part by a state cost-sharing formula that uses taxes on residents in the suburbs to subsidize urban schools. Helping to soak up all that money were binding arbitration laws, skewed to give teacher unions an advantage in collective bargaining negotiations.

Non-Partisan Action for a Better Redding:

Redding is a fabulous place. And Connecticut is a great state. Our goal is to help make Redding even better!
Since about three-quarters of our budget supports our schools, we explored ways to get a bigger bang for the education buck while simultaneously improving the quality of education. So we developed The School Choice Plan. Not only does it save money for all taxpayers, it also empowers parents with choice and improves education. The Plan is summarized in our School Choice Plan brochure as is the School Grants Calculator we developed. Take a look at the brochure.

Yankee Institute.

“Protect Our Kids from Preschool”

Shikha Dalmia & Lisa Snell:

Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he’s elected president he’ll pump “billions of dollars into early childhood education.” Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country — including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia — have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states.
But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.
“Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes,” says James Heckman, a University of Chicago Noble laureate in economics whose work Mr. Obama and preschool activists routinely cite. “But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations.”
Mr. Obama asserted in the Las Vegas debate on Jan. 15 that every dollar spent on preschool will produce a 10-fold return by improving academic performance, which will supposedly lower juvenile delinquency and welfare use — and raise wages and tax contributions. Such claims are wildly exaggerated at best.

A Tax Revolt Is Quietly Brewing In Some States

Tom Herman:

And to think they used to call it “Taxachusetts.”
On Election Day, Massachusetts will vote on whether to eliminate its state income tax. Advocates hope victory in a place long thought of as a free-spending liberal bastion will pave the way for similar initiatives in other states over the next few years. Critics insist a yes vote would lead to fiscal disaster.
While Americans are focusing on the presidential and congressional races, voters in Massachusetts and other states will decide the fate of dozens of state and local tax and spending issues.
It’s still unclear precisely how many of these issues will be on ballots on Nov. 4. Some still haven’t received final approval from state officials or may face challenges in court. But Kristina Rasmussen, director of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria, Va., estimates there are more than 60 ballot measures that would have “some significant impact” on taxpayers.

Independent Group Seeks Change in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Dani McClain:

A new group calling itself the Milwaukee Quality Education Initiative has joined the accelerating, behind-the-scenes conversations about the future of the city’s schools, and is hosting a retreat this weekend at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine.
The group’s goal is to brainstorm ways to improve K-12 education in the city, including public, voucher and charter schools, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said Friday.
“We didn’t come down here to blow up MPS,” he said Friday when reached at Wingspread. “We came down here to figure out what action steps we might take to reach a starting point to a broader conversation in the city.”
Sheehy, voucher school advocate and former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller and former state Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles launched the group several months ago but hadn’t made their efforts known to the larger public, Fuller said. He added that their work hasn’t been particularly influenced by events this week such as Mayor Tom Barrett’s call for an independent audit of MPS or a Journal Sentinel investigation of the district’s Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

Cash Incentives and Achievement in School

Zubin Jelveh:

In the second half of the 1990’s, student grades in Ecuador started to fall. In response, the government set up a conditional cash transfer program for poor families which would pay parents for making sure their children attended school for a predefined number of days.
While most research has shown that the cash payment program has indeed increased attendance levels, there’s little known about how students performed.
Now, Ecuadorian economist Juan Ponce and Arjun Bedi of the Institute for the Study of Labor have run the numbers and conclude that there was no positive (or negative) impact on grades from the incentive pay program.

Outsourcing Refugee Education

Nurit Wurgaft:

The children of the Sudanese refugees living in Eilat were astonished to learn last week that this year, too, they will be studying outside the city, in separate classes for Sudanese children only. Their classrooms were built last year in the Ayalot vacation village near Eilat, located within the jurisdiction of the Ayalot regional council. When the parents, most of whom work in Eilat hotels, complained, they were told that this was a temporary arrangement, for one year only, which would allow the children to study Hebrew ahead of enrolling in the Israeli school system. Whereas those children who live in Ayalot will be studying in the regional school, the refugee kids from Eilat will continue to study in classes for Sudanese only.
“I don’t believe that what you’re saying is true,” said A., a 12-year-old boy who lives in Eilat. “How can it be that my friends will go to a real school and I won’t? I’ve already learned Hebrew and I know a little English. I want to study in a school and take exams, like the Israelis.”
For several refugee children this is a situation of ongoing discrimination, since they did not study in an orderly fashion during the years when they wandered with their families from one refugee camp to another in Sudan. In Egypt they also had trouble being accepted into regular schools. Some of them studied in United Nations frameworks for Sudanese only, held during the summer months, while some did not study at all. Some of the kids aged between 12 to 15 only last year learned how to read and write in their own language (Arabic).

Millionaire Patriot Offers to Train Every Teacher in Texas School District at Front Sight Firearms Training Institute

Market Wire:

Dr. Ignatius Piazza — founder and director of Front Sight Firearms Training Institute near Las Vegas, NV is referred to as the Millionaire Patriot by the hundreds of thousands of students who have attended Front Sight Firearms Training courses because he has given away tens of millions of dollars in training so law abiding Americans can enjoy what he refers to as the “Comfort of Skill at Arms.”
Dr. Piazza has offered to provide a $2,000 Four Day Defensive Handgun course to every school teacher in the entire Harrold Independent School District to thank Harrold School District administrators for their progressive and rational decision to allow school teachers to carry concealed handguns to protect students against violent attack.
With more than 50 teachers and administrators within the Harrold, Texas School District, Dr. Piazza’s commitment represents over $100,000 in training to the Harrold Independent School District.

Chicago Urban League Lawsuit makes school funding a civil rights matter

via a kind reader’s email. Matt Arado:

Illinois courts refused twice in the 1990s to enter the school-funding debate, saying the matter belonged with state lawmakers, not the judiciary.
The Chicago Urban League, which filed a new school-funding lawsuit against the state this week, believes it can make the courts rethink that position.
The lawsuit characterizes the school-funding question as a civil rights matter, alleging that the current system, which uses property taxes to fund schools, discriminates against low-income minority students, especially blacks and Hispanics.
Using civil rights law should ensure that the courts will hear the case this time around, Urban League Executive Vice President Sharon Jones said.
“Courts have been deciding racial discrimination cases for years,” she said, adding that the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 didn’t exist during earlier school-funding cases.

Maudlyne Ihejirika:

A day after a civil rights lawsuit called the state’s school funding system discriminatory, those who have been battling inequities in the Chicago Public Schools were optimistic, pointing to a historic win in New York.
“The New York suit was successful, and very similar, so we’re hoping that case will set precedent,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.
As in Illinois, previous suits challenging New York State’s school funding system had failed. But in 1993, a coalition there filed suit alleging for the first time that the system had a “disparate racial impact” based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
After 10 years and several appeals, New York’s highest court ruled in 2003 in favor of the plaintiffs. Further appeals by New York’s governor ended with the Court of Appeals upholding the ruling in 2006 and ordering the state to meet a minimum funding figure. That new funding level was finally enacted in April 2007.
Those involved in two previous lawsuits in Illinois said that without the new “disparate impact” claim, the Chicago Urban League’s suit would face bleak prospects.


Notes and links on funding and education from Kansas City (where a judge ordered a massive spending increase during the early 1990’s and Texas.

A remarkable legacy as education champion

Des Moines Register:

Marvin Pomerantz will be remembered for many accomplishments: successful self-made businessman, powerhouse in Iowa politics, generous philanthropist. But his greatest public achievement is his longstanding commitment to improving the quality of education for all Iowa youngsters.
Pomerantz, a Des Moines resident who died Thursday at age 78, was one of nine children of Polish Jewish immigrants. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines and the University of Iowa, and wanted others to benefit from getting an outstanding education, just as he had.

Jump in US measles cases linked to vaccine fears

Mike Stobbe:

Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.
Worried doctors are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that’s only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year.
“We’re seeing a lot more spread. That is concerning to us,” said Dr. Jane Seward, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

D.C. Tries Cash as a Motivator In School

V. Dion Haynes & Michael Birnbaum:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced plans yesterday to boost dismal achievement at half the city’s middle schools by offering students an unusual incentive: cash.
For years, school officials have used detention, remedial classes, summer school and suspensions to turn around poorly behaved, underachieving middle school students, with little results. Now they are introducing a program that will pay students up to $100 per month for displaying good behavior.
Beginning in October, 3,000 students at 14 middle schools will be eligible to earn up to 50 points per month and be paid $2 per point for attending class regularly and on time, turning in homework, displaying manners and earning high marks. A maximum of $2.7 million has been set aside for the program, and the money students earn will be deposited every two weeks into bank accounts the system plans to open for them.
The system has 28 middle-grade schools. Rhee will select the schools to participate in the pilot program.
“We believe this is the time for radical intervention,” Rhee said at a news conference outside Hardy Middle School in Northwest Washington. “We’re very excited about this particular program.”

Not a promising trend.

When Learning Has a Limit

Ben Wildavsky:

Since the release of “A Nation at Risk” 25 years ago, we have seen the introduction of top-down standards (including the No Child Behind Act), the spread of a bottom-up school-choice movement (including vouchers and charter schools), and the advent of entrepreneurial programs, like Teach for America, that combine a market-oriented approach with a focus on academic results.
Meanwhile, record numbers of students aspire to higher education, not least because the economic returns to a college degree are, despite a recent leveling off, indisputable. Thus all sorts of people are busy trying to make sure that more high-school grads get a shot not only at enrolling in college but at finishing it.
None of this much impresses Charles Murray. In “Real Education,” he suggests that teachers, students and reformers are all suffering from a case of false consciousness. “The education system,” he says, “is living a lie.”
The problem with American education, according to Mr. Murray, is not what President Bush termed the “soft bigotry of low expectations” but rather the opposite: Far too many young people with inherent intellectual limitations are being pushed to advance academically when, Mr. Murray says, they are “just not smart enough” to improve much at all. It is “a triumph of hope over experience,” he says, to believe that school reform can make meaningful improvements in the academic performance of below-average students. (He might have noted, but doesn’t, that such students are disproportionately black and Hispanic.)

Real Education by Charles Murray.

Milwaukee Mayor Seeks Private Funds for Public School Financial Audit

Dave Umhoefer & Dani McClain:

He downplayed his previously stated interest in mayoral control of the district, but said all options for control of the district should be explored.
“I’m not interested in a power grab,” Barrett said. “I’m interested in MPS performance. But confidence is not high right now.”
Barrett made his comments after a Journal Sentinel investigation this week of the district’s neighborhood schools plan. Despite spending $102 million to expand schools, MPS failed to reduce busing as hoped or attract more students to local schools, leaving a trail of empty or severely underused building additions. Many of the schools that got new classrooms and other improvements also have seen a decline in student test scores.
Two School Board leaders, reacting to the mayor Thursday night, said a study would merely duplicate one soon to get under way.
The mayor said that in recent months, he has stepped up his behind-the-scenes efforts regarding the “very stressed” district. He said he has been talking with a firm that specializes in financial and operational reviews of urban school systems

Related Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial:

And now, thanks to the in-depth reporting this week by the Journal Sentinel’s Alan J. Borsuk and Dave Umhoefer, we know that the district has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on the failed Neighborhood Schools Initiative.
What isn’t known precisely is how bad things are.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Thursday he wants to hire a consultant to do an audit of the district. The audit would be paid for, he hopes, by local foundations. Previously, the School Board had ordered a “long-term stability” audit to be performed by Robert W. Baird & Co., the district told reporters.

Fort Wayne wants schools reorganized into magnets


School officials hope to reorganize the city’s six public high schools into specialty magnet schools designed to connect students with real-world experiences and increase their chances for success after graduation.
The proposal presented to the community on Friday calls for partnering with businesses, increasing the number of rigorous classes and strengthening existing programs.
“Our high schools aren’t broken,” said Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson. “They’re just not as good as they need to be.”
Officials plan to have public meetings to solicit input from the community and to meet with business leaders about possibly funding portions of the plan. Each high school will offer a different program of study, and students can take courses based around the subject to give them a taste of the career path.

Math scores at Metro schools jump

Natalia Mielczarek:

Metro high school students did something last year that most school districts only dream of — 80 percent reached math proficiency, or better, as compared with 69 percent the year before.
Definitions of proficiency aside, some testing experts call the 11-percentage-point jump unprecedented.
“If the numbers are accurate and represent the change in learning, that’s a tremendous gain,” said David Silver, a statistician at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA.
“For comparison, over the past five years in California, we saw a total increase of eight points in mathematics in grades 2 to 7,” he said. “The biggest gain we ever saw in that time from year-to-year was four percentage points.”

Welcome to the Nerad era
Madison’s new school chief seems ready for a tough job

Marc Eisen:

Nerad is earnest, diplomatic and clear spoken. It’s a good bet that most anybody who hears him talk will find something they like in his message. Whether that adds up to support for a coherent educational program remains to be seen.
He faces huge challenges: not just closing the achievement gap while maintaining programs that attract middle-class families, but doing it while state fiscal controls continually squeeze his budget.
Equally hard will be overcoming the district’s own organizational stasis — it’s tendency to stick with the status quo. For all of Madison’s reputation as a progressive community, Madison schools are conservatively run and seriously resistant to change.
Authoritarian, top-down management grew under Nerad’s predecessor, Art Rainwater. Innovations like charter schools are still viewed skeptically, including by Nerad. Four-year-old kindergarten, which could be key to narrowing the achievement gap, is still seen as a problem. The middle school redesign project of a few years ago has been judged by insiders as pretty much a non-event. The high school redesign effort that Nerad inherited seems intent on embracing a program that is still unproven at West and Memorial.

Much more on Dan Nerad here, including his January, 2008 public appearance video.

When Schools Offer Money As a Motivator
More Districts Use Incentives To Reward Top Test Scores; So Far, Results Are Mixed

Jeremy Singer-Vine:

In the latest study of student-incentive programs, researchers examining a 12-year-old program in Texas found that rewarding pupils for achieving high scores on tough tests can work. A handful of earlier studies of programs in Ohio, Israel and Canada have had mixed conclusions; results of a New York City initiative are expected in October. Comparing results is further complicated by the fact that districts across the country have implemented the programs differently.
Still, school administrators and philanthropists have pushed to launch pay-for-performance programs at hundreds of schools in the past two years. Advocates say incentives are an effective way to motivate learning — especially among poor and minority students — and reward teaching skills. Critics argue that the programs don’t fix underlying problems, such as crowded classrooms or subpar schools.
In Texas, high-school students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes who got top scores on math, science and English tests were paid up to $500. (AP classes are considered more difficult than traditional high school curricula, and some colleges award credit for AP coursework.) The research, by C. Kirabo Jackson, an economics professor at Cornell University, found that over time, more students took Advanced Placement courses and tests, and that more graduating seniors attended college. Most of the gains came from minority students in the 40 high schools studied, accounting for about 70,000 students in all. The study, set for release on Thursday, will appear in the fall issue of Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Seeking Greater High School Rigor:
Wisconsin ACT Scores Show College Readiness Gap

Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance [156K PDF Report]:

Wisconsin high school seniors have the second-highest average ACT scores in the U.S. However, ACT finds that only 29% of those tested have a 50% chance of earning a B or a 75% chance of earning a C in each of four college freshman courses: English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology. Among African-American students, that chance is 4%.
In studying 2007 high school graduates, ACT found that only 29% (boxed in table below) of 46,430 Wisconsin students tested met college-readiness benchmarks in four core subject areas; the national percentage was even lower (23%). In its report “College Readiness: Rigor at Risk,” the ACT testing service concluded that “our high school graduates are in danger of entering college or the workforce without sufficient academic preparation.”

The ACT testing service has urged high schools to offer–and students to pursue–core curricula of sufficient depth and rigor to ensure college success. The minimum core (detailed in the table above, col. 1) includes four years of English and three years each of social studies, math, and science. Unfortunately, ACT has found that the current “quality and intensity–inother words rigor–of the high school curriculum” is not adequate to prepare students for college unless they take courses beyond the core. Calling that “neither realistic nor justifiable,” ACT says it is “essential” that we “improve the quality of core courses that really matter in preparing students for college and work.”
The testing firm goes onto observe that much of the loss in momentum toward college readiness “appears to be occurring during the last two years of high school.” Data in the table support ACT’s concern. The first four columns show the “core” curriculum, as well as a maximal course load (“core plus”) that includes math through calculus. The final two show the percentages of Wisconsin-tested students who met the readiness benchmarks, having pursued one of the two curricula. The need for rigor in all high school courses is reflected in the “collegeready” percentages of Wisconsin students taking four or more years of classes in all areas (“core +”).

Madison Property Tax History: 2001-2007

via the City of Madison Assessor’s office: “The 2008 Property Tax Base of the City of Madison (52K PDF)”. The City’s tax base continues to expand. There are 71,939 parcels in Madison, up from 40,069 in 1990. The Total 2008 assessed value is 21,496,000,000, up from $13,791,000,000 in 2002. Such growth provides great latidude in easing mill rates. Of course, as valuations flatten or decline, the mill rate may dramatically increase, depending on the magnitude of government/school spending increases.

How to Write With Style

Kurt Vonnegut:

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.
These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful– ? And on and on.
Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead — or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The 2008 Education Next-PEPG Survey of Public Opinion

William G. Howell, Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson:

Americans clearly have had their fill of a sluggish economy and an unpopular war. Their frustration now may also extend to public education. In this, the second annual national survey of U.S. adults conducted under the auspices of Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University, we observe a public that takes an increasingly critical view both of public schools as they exist today and, perhaps ironically, of many prominent reforms designed to improve them.
Local public schools receive lower marks than they did a year ago. More significantly, perhaps, survey respondents claim that their local post offices and police forces outperform their local schools. Meanwhile, support for the most far-reaching federal effort to reform public schools–the No Child Left Behind Act–has slipped. A considerable portion of the public remains undecided about charter schools. And the poll found no enthusiasm for the use of income rather than race as a basis for assigning students to schools.
This does not mean that Americans are unwilling to explore alternate ways of educating young people. A large majority of Americans would let their child take some high school courses for credit over the Internet. An equally large majority favor the education of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in separate classrooms rather than “mainstreaming” them, as is common practice. A plurality support giving parents the option of sending their child to an all-boys or all-girls public school. And a rising number of Americans know someone who is home schooling a child.
These and other findings appear in the 2008 Education Next -PEPG survey, which once again examines the views of U.S. adults taken as a whole, as well as those of white, African American, and Hispanic subgroups. In addition to the opinions of respondents from different ethnic backgrounds, we
take a special look at those of public school teachers. Responses for the public as a whole and for the subgroups are reported at the bottom of each of the pages that follow. We have also posted responses to additional questions not discussed in this essay.

How Well Are They Really Doing? Criticism for State’s “Weak Student Tests”

NY Times Editorial:

Congress has several concerns as it moves toward reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Whatever else they do, lawmakers need to strengthen the requirement that states document student performance in yearly tests in exchange for federal aid.
The states have made a mockery of that provision, using weak tests, setting passing scores low or rewriting tests from year to year, making it impossible to compare progress — or its absence — over time.
The country will have difficulty moving ahead educationally until that changes.
Most states that report strong performances on their own tests do poorly on the more rigorous and respected National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often referred to as NAEP and is also known as the nation’s report card. That test is periodically given to a sample of students in designated grades in both public and private schools. States are resisting the idea of replacing their own tests with the NAEP, arguing that the national test is not aligned to state standards. But the problem is that state standards are generally weak, especially in math and science.

Letters, in response to this editorial:

In discussing how some states game their student test results, you state, “The federal government could actually embarrass the laggard states by naming the ones that cling to weak tests.” The evidence on these states has been available for some time.
In 2005, Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math and found 87 percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, test indicated only 21 percent of Tennessee’s eighth graders proficient in math.
In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on the state reading test, while only 18 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. In Alabama, 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state’s reading test, while only 22 percent were proficient on the NAEP test.
Other states were also found guilty in their determinations of proficient when compared with the federal NAEP test.
The No Child Left Behind Act will never be able to realize its potential as long as entire states are left behind because of the duplicitous efforts of their state officials. If Congress adopted national standards with a corresponding set of national exams in its reauthorization of the law, it could effectively minimize or eliminate these individual state shenanigans.
Paul Hoss
Marshfield, Mass., Aug.

Locally, the Madison School District’s Value Added Assessment Program is based on the State Department of Instruction’s Standards.

Dalles Eases Grading Policies in an Effort to Limit Dropouts

Jeffrey Ball:

As students prepare to return to school here Monday, teachers and parents criticized the relaxation of the district’s grading policies in a state that helped trigger national testing requirements.
The Dallas Independent School District’s new policies give students who do poorly more chances to improve their grades. Among the changes: High-school students who fail major tests can retake them within five school days, and only the higher scores count.
School officials say the changes are designed to reduce one of the highest dropout rates in the state. According to the Texas Education Agency, 25.8% of students in the Dallas district who enrolled as ninth-graders in 2003 dropped out before their class’s scheduled 2007 graduation.
But the policies have sparked criticism since the Dallas Morning News reported them last week, with angry parents and teachers contending that the district is watering down educational standards for its more than 160,000 students.

Locally, the ongoing implementation of a one size fits all curriculum has been rather controversial.
Links: Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Buildings rise, test scores fall
Spate of school expansions is no tonic for student proficiency

Alan Borsuk & Dave Umhoefer:

The $102 million spent on reviving the concept of the neighborhood school in Milwaukee hasn’t improved academic success at most of the schools where the money was used, a Journal Sentinel investigation found.
With a few exceptions, student achievement has shown little improvement – and in some cases it has fallen dramatically – at 22 schools that were among the largest beneficiaries of the district’s school construction program.
The district’s Neighborhood Schools Initiative was conceived as a way to get children off buses and into their local schools – which MPS officials hoped to improve with new classrooms, before-school and after-school services, and such things as state-of-the-art science labs and libraries.
But bricks and mortar have not raised student performance, testing data shows.
In 16 of the 22 schools, the percentage of fourth-graders rated as proficient or better in reading was lower last year than it was in 2002 – the year the school building initiative hit high gear. Nine schools saw their math scores drop.
Overall, combined fourth-grade reading and math scores have declined sharply at a half dozen of the22 schools where more than $1 million was spent on improvements. Only five schools have had major increases in their combined reading and math performance.

Beth Moss, Arlene Silveira & Lucy Mathiak on the Fall, 2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum

Tamira Madsen:

But Silveira also said the 2005 referendum campaign suffered because the School Board itself was divided on it, “and it was a pretty split community speaking out on both sides in favor and being opposed.
“We are on the same page now. We’re really changing our focus to one of really spending more time on student achievement.”
For board member Lucy Mathiak, a key difference between Nerad’s proposal and past ones are the measures he has taken to cut costs already.

Free digital texts begin to challenge costly college textbooks in California

Gale Holland:

Would-be reformers are trying to beat the high cost — and, they say, the dumbing down — of college materials by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost online texts.
The annual college textbook rush starts this month, a time of reckoning for many students who will struggle to cover eye-popping costs of $128, $156, even $198 a volume.
Caltech economics professor R. Preston McAfee finds it annoying that students and faculty haven’t looked harder for alternatives to the exorbitant prices. McAfee wrote a well-regarded open-source economics textbook and gave it away — online. But although the text, released in 2007, has been adopted at several prestigious colleges, including Harvard and Claremont-McKenna, it has yet to make a dent in the wider textbook market.
“I was disappointed in the uptake,” McAfee said recently at an outdoor campus cafe. “But I couldn’t continue assigning idiotic books that are starting to break $200.”
McAfee is one of a band of would-be reformers who are trying to beat the high cost — and, they say, the dumbing down — of college textbooks by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost digital texts.

Yian Mui & Susan Kinzie:

The rising cost of college textbooks has driven Congress and nearly three dozen states — including Maryland and Virginia — to attempt to curtail prices and controversial publishing practices through legislation. But as the fall semester begins, students are unlikely to see much relief.
Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks range from $700 to $1,100 annually, and the market for new books is estimated at $3.6 billion this year. Between 1986 and 2004, the price of textbooks nearly tripled, rising an average of 6 percent a year while inflation rose 3 percent, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. In California, the state auditor reported last week that prices have skyrocketed 30 percent in four years.
“It’s really hard just paying for tuition alone,” said Annaiis Wilkinson, 19 and a student at Trinity Washington University who spends about $500 a semester on books. “It really sets people back.

Well worth looking into, including in the K-12 world.

(Madison) School Referendum News

I have appreciated having the opportunity to talk about our schools with you and value your insights, so I wanted to let you know where matters stand on the possibility of a school spending referendum on the November ballot.
As you probably know, Superintendent Dan Nerad submitted his recommendations to the Board at a School Board meeting Monday night (1MB PDF, 3 year financial forecast PDF). In summary, the structural deficit the school funding law imposes on districts as well as increased fixed costs result in a projected budget deficit of $8.1 million for the 2009-2010 school year, $4.4 million for the 2010-2011 school year, and $4.3 million for the 2011-2012 school year, calculated on a same-service basis.
To meet these gaps, the superintendent recommends that the Board approve a referendum asking the voters to authorize the district to exceed our spending limits by $5 million next year, and $4 million in each of the following two years. This would be a recurring referendum, meaning that the authorization for the increased spending in the specified amounts would continue indefinitely.
The amount of extra spending authority we would seek is less than the projected budget gaps. The idea is that this a shared-sacrifice sort of proposal – we would be asking the community to permit us to erase some of the gap through additional taxes while we pledge to address the remainder through seeking out savings and efficiencies that will not have a detrimental impact on classroom learning. As is probably apparent, the referendum is not designed to allow us to restore in a significant way any of the painful cuts we have made in previous years.


Dan Nerad gets it!
Madison’s new superintendent is serious about listening to students

Natalia Thompson:

Last month, I wrote about the potential for the Madison school district’s new superintendent, Dr. Daniel Nerad, to make Madison schools more receptive to students’ voices (“Daniel Nerad, Stop Shutting Out Student Input,” 7/24/08).
When the piece was published in Isthmus, I was traveling in central Mexico. The day after it appeared, I sat down in front of a computer at an Internet cafe in Mexico City, half expecting a barrage of messages criticizing my naiveté and idealism.
After all, how many people would take seriously a high school student who suggests not only “holding a series of listening sessions [for students] at several of the district’s middle and high schools,” but also “advancing students [on school advisory boards and task forces] from the confines of tokenism to a position of shared power”?
When I opened an email from my mom relating that Dr. Nerad had called our home shortly after my column was printed, I almost thought she was joking. He wants to meet with you, she wrote, to hear more about your ideas on student engagement.
She wasn’t kidding — and neither is Nerad, whom I met with recently at the Doyle Building, the school district’s administrative headquarters. As he told me, “When I read your article, this first thing I wanted to know was, ‘What’s her phone number?”

It appears that Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad has taken a much different approach to community engagement than previous administrations. As always, the proof is in the pudding (or was it “Trust but Verify”); we’ll see how these interactions play out in terms of rigorous curriculum, discipline policy, budget transparency, program effectiveness, expanded educational options and ultimately, growing enrollment after decades of stagnant numbers.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Guy Billout:

Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial »
brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going–so far as I can tell–but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

Referendum Discussion: Vicki McKenna & Don Severson

Download or listen to this 15MB mp3 audio file.

  • $367M+ Budget notes and links
  • Don Severson’s memo to the Madison School Board on the current financial situation.
  • Marj Passman and Don Severson discuss school finance with Mitch Henck.
  • Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s budget and recommendations memorandum to the School board (1MB PDF):

    In 1993, three pieces of legislation were enacted by the State of Wisconsin directly affecting school districts throughout the state. These pieces of legislation created revenue limits, created the state’s commitment to two·thirds funding, and created the qualified economic offer (QEO) in Wisconsin. Since 1993 revenue limits in Wisconsin have allowed the Madison Metropolitan School District to increase revenues annually by 2.2% on average. Conversely the QEO requires school boards to offer a comprehensive salary and benefit package to certified teaching staff of not less than 3.8% annually to avoid binding arbitration. Recognizing that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s budget is comprised of 84% salary and benefits, it must be recognized that while our revenues increase annually by 2.2%, the largest portion of our budget is mandated to minimally increase by 3.8%. Due to these competing pieces of legislation, the Board of Education since 1993 has reduced program and services by over $60 million to comply with state mandated revenue limits, of which $35 million has occurred within the past five years.
    Since the 1992·93 School Year the Madison Metropolitan School District has increased the total tax levy by $74,944,431 through the projected 2008·09 property tax levy. This amounts to an average annual increase of 2.56% since the 1992·93 School Year (see Attachment A). During that same time frame from 1992·93 through the projections for the 2008·09 property tax rate, the Madison Metropolitan School District has decreased the total tax rate from $20.69 to a projected rate of $9.92 for the 2008·09 School Year (see Attachment B).

    Nerad also posted a 3 year financial forecast (250K PDF)

  • City of Madison Assessor: 2008 Madison Property Tax base (PDF)
  • A look at the growth in Madison’s tax base: In 1990, the City of Madison included 40,069 parcels, a number that grew to 64,976 in 2005. Assessment and parcel growth mitigates tax levy increases, or allows it to decline (though this of course, depends on the real estate market along with tax policies).