Education & Inequality

The Economist:

The education gap between the richest and poorest within developing countries
GLOBAL public spending on education rose from a median 4.5% of GDP in 1999 to 4.9% in 2006, according to a new report by UNESCO, the UN’s education agency. The poorest countries invested 3.5%, compared with 5.6% by the slightly richer middle income countries, and 5.3% by developed countries. But spending money wisely also matters. Huge inequalities exist between the richest and poorest within many countries. In India, a 17-22 year old in the richest quintile has had an average of 11.1 years in education, compared with only 4.4 years for those in the poorest quintile. This gap is also big in Peru and the Philippines. The difference in Bangladesh is similar to that in Nicargaua, a much richer country, showing it is using resources more effectively.

Elementary Students Turning East

Amy Hetzner:

The teacher’s marker flies across the whiteboard, drawing characters most Americans see only on menus.
“Ma ma,” “be be,” “ge ge,” the first-graders call out, often before teacher Hongmei Zhao has finished more than a few strokes with her pen.
“What’s ge ge?” Zhao asks.
“Big brother,” a girl answers.
While most elementary schools would consider themselves lucky to have any foreign language program, Meadowview Elementary School and this class of first-graders have scored what might be the ultimate coup: an elementary program in Mandarin.
For a half-hour every day, first- and second-graders at Meadowview receive instruction in China’s official language from Zhao, a private school teacher from Beijing.
The rare opportunity comes with the help of the Chinese government. Zhao and Xiaoman Song, who is teaching Chinese language classes at Oak Creek East Middle School and Oak Creek High School this school year, were provided to the district through a guest teacher program sponsored by Hanban – also known as China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International – and by the College Board.

Naval Communication

New York Times: Sunday, July 5, 1998
“News of the Week in Review” p. 7
What follows is a transcript of an actual radio conversation between a U.S. naval vessel and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland:
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees south to avoid a collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the captain of U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: No. I say again, divert your course.
Americans: This is the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied by three cruisers, three destroyers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that’s one five degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Should Teachers Ignore Poverty’s Impact?

Jay Matthews:

I received a message from a young woman named Erika Owens recently that was so honest and so important to our national argument about teachers that I decided to coax responses from smart people on both sides of the issue. It is an uncomfortable topic, making it all the more important that we pick at it a bit.
Owens described her effort to join the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program, and her reaction to the prevailing view in that organization that good teachers should be able to raise the achievement of even the poorest kids. That is my belief, and the belief of the educators I most admire. But most Americans, including Owens, think people like me are wrongly discounting the effects of poverty and thus hurting, rather than helping, the national movement to raise the level of instruction in impoverished neighborhoods.
The issue can get very personal, which might explain why I rarely hear discussions of it. It is too easy to make one side think they are being called racists and the other side think they are being called bullies. So this time, it is a debate at a distance, nobody in the same room, just sending e-mails to a nosy columnist. Owens is up first, then several people who know schools well, then me.

Private Schools Say They’re Thriving in Downturn

Winnie Hu & Alison Leigh Cowan:

Private schools across New York City say they are thriving this fall, with record numbers of applicants and no significant decline in donations. Yet almost daily, even brand-name schools are finding that they have to reassure jittery parents about shrinking endowments and dispel rumors that requests for financial aid are pouring in, and that economically squeezed families are pulling their children out and enrolling them in public schools.
Trinity’s interim head of school, Suellyn P. Scull, issued a letter taking issue with recent news reports that 45 families had given notice that they were leaving. Trinity, among the most competitive schools in the city, received 698 applications for the 60 kindergarten spots in this year’s class.
The school is not yet releasing admission numbers for next year’s class, but Ms. Scull wrote, “This year’s admissions season has been perhaps busier than usual, and to date we have had no reports of families planning to leave us.”
But the shrinking economy is taking a toll on investment returns at Trinity, whose endowment has fallen to $40 million from $50 million in July, and at other private schools, affecting what they can spend on programs and activities. “There’s no way of escaping it,” said Lawrence Buttenwieser, a former trustee at Dalton. “If it happens at Harvard, it will happen to everybody.”

Can She Save Our Schools? Michelle Rhee

Amanda Ripley:

In 11th grade, Allante Rhodes spent 50 minutes a day in a Microsoft Word class at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington. He was determined to go to college, and he figured that knowing Word was a prerequisite. But on a good day, only six of the school’s 14 computers worked. He never knew which ones until he sat down and searched for a flicker of life on the screen. “It was like Russian roulette,” says Rhodes, a tall young man with an older man’s steady gaze. If he picked the wrong computer, the teacher would give him a handout. He would spend the rest of the period learning to use Microsoft Word with a pencil and paper.
One day last fall, tired of this absurdity, Rhodes e-mailed Michelle Rhee, the new, bold-talking chancellor running the District of Columbia Public Schools system. His teacher had given him the address, which was on the chancellor’s home page. He was nervous when he hit SEND, but the words were reasonable. “Computers are slowly becoming something that we use every day,” he wrote. “And learning how to use them is a major factor in our lives. So I’m just bringing this to your attention.” He didn’t expect to hear back. Rhee answered the same day. It was the beginning of an unusual relationship.
The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation’s economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research. And Washington, which spends more money per pupil than the vast majority of large districts, is the problem writ extreme, a laboratory that failure made. (See pictures of a diverse group of American teens.)

Related: Nurith Aizenman:

“It was a very hard decision,” Rhee said of her vote. “I’m somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education.”
No word on whether the intermediary was Jason Kamras, a top Rhee aide who advised the Obama campaign on education issues.
Now that Obama has won office, Rhee has reasons for both hope and alarm.
Before clinching the nomination, Obama bucked the National Education Association to introduce a Senate bill that would reward teachers according to the sort of statistically-based rating system Rhee champions. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama also stressed the need for linking increased teacher pay to greater accountability. And in his last debate with McCain, Obama even praised Rhee, describing her as “a wonderful new superintendent … who’s working very hard with the young mayor … who initiated, actually supports, charters.” (Rhee said she slept through that moment.)

On Obama’s School Choice

Jonah Goldberg:

n Washington, we have these arguments every time a rich Democrat sends his kids to private schools, which is very often. The real issue is why the public schools are unacceptable to pretty much anyone, liberal or conservative, who has other options.
Most Washington public schools are hellholes. So parents here — including the first family — find hypocrisy a small price to pay for fulfilling their parental obligations.
According to data compiled by the Washington Post in 2007, of the 100 largest school districts in the country, D.C. ranks third in spending for each student, around $13,000 a pupil, but last in spending on instruction. More than half of every dollar of education spending goes to the salaries of administrators. Test scores are abysmal; the campuses are often unsafe.
Michelle Rhee, D.C.’s new school chancellor, in 17 months has already made meaningful improvements. But that’s grading on an enormous curve. The Post recently reported that on observing a bad teacher in a classroom, Rhee complained to the principal. “Would you put your grandchild in that class?” she asked. “If that’s the standard,” replied the principal, “we don’t have any effective teachers in my school.”
So if Obama and other politicians don’t want to send their kids to schools where even the principals have such views, that’s no scandal. The scandal is that these politicians tolerate such awful schools at all. For anyone.

Ari Kaufman:

It was reported last week that the Obamas have chosen the elite, $30,000 per year Sidwell Friends School for their daughters. On blogs, there are the predictable arguments about whether President-elect Obama should have chosen a public school instead, with reasonable ripostes about the daughters’ safety.
These arguments, overall, are mundane and avoid the point since the Obamas enjoy the same freedom of personal decision as everyone else in terms of choosing a school within the limits of their finances. Furthermore, no matter what school they attend, Malia and Sasha Obama have all of the advantages in the world. If they truly couldn’t be expected to turn out as decent, 18-year-old products of the District of Columbia School system, then the whole enterprise of public schooling should conceivably be scrapped.
I taught students the same age as Malia and Sasha for a few years in urban Los Angeles. My school was 100% racial minority: 75% Hispanic, 25% African-American. While Sidwell’s exhaustive website notes that the school’s missions include “prizing diversity” and “environmental stewardship,” our motto was simply, “Be respectful, responsible and safe.” I made sure my students abided by that credo, and I’ve lived to write a book and numerous articles about those experiences.

Schools Trim Service hours to Help Students Go For Quality, Not Quantity

Douglas Quenqua:

IT’S a rainy November Saturday in Yonkers, and all across town, high school students are engaged in the relentless pursuit of community service hours.
Five students from Horace Mann, a private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, are spackling and painting a half-gutted, partly bullet-riddled home on Porach Street so that a new family can move in. (Three hours.)
On the other side of town, students from Lincoln High School, a public school in Yonkers, are raucously demolishing the basement of a thrift store on Riverdale Avenue, to create space for storage. (Four hours.)
Meanwhile, on East 27th Street in Manhattan, a hostess at the upscale barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke is turning away the fifth person who showed up a day early looking to make crafts for underprivileged children. The restaurant’s Web site had the right date, she insists, but students these days seem pretty desperate to volunteer. (Come back tomorrow; two hours.)

Free us to fix schools

D. Aileen Dodd:

Gwinnett County Public Schools is seeking freedom from the state to overhaul its methods for improving student performance.
The proposal, which includes flexible teacher pay, increasing class sizes and using aides as stand-ins for teachers, is being crafted by Gwinnett school administrators to give the state’s largest school district the flexibility to opt out of restrictive state education mandates.
Some school officials view the mandates as hindering the system’s ability to significantly raise standardized test scores.
School administrators have submitted a 104-page draft proposal to the state that details how the system could restructure and reassign teachers with the goal of closing the achievement gap between white, black and Hispanic students by 10 percent annually and improving participation in high-level academic courses.
“We are looking at a number of factors that may be outside the box of what the current rules in the state say,” Gwinnett school board member Louise Radloff said. “The key is making sure students are more successful. Having flexibility would allow us to try some things differently.”

Montgomery County School Consortiums Assessed in Report

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County’s high school consortiums, set up partly as a tool for desegregation, have done little to reverse racial isolation or white flight, according to a new report from a government oversight group released this week.
But school system leaders say the programs have succeeded in giving students a measure of choice about their education and have allowed administrators to shift school populations without a painful exercise in redrawing school boundaries.
Eight of the county’s 25 high schools belong to two consortiums, which allow students to choose from a menu of programs and schools, rather than settle for a neighborhood school or compete for a selective magnet program.
“They do provide a lot of choice, and we get a lot of positive feedback from parents that they like having those options,” said Marty Creel, director of enriched and innovative programs for the school system.
But the consortium programs have not done much to erase socioeconomic inequities, according to the 64-page report, released Tuesday by the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight. It finds that “neither consortium reversed minority isolation nor improved socio-economic integration.” Poverty rates have continued to increase at schools in the programs, sometimes at a faster rate than in the county as a whole. The percen tage of white students has dwindled at all eight schools, as in the county generally.

High Schools Fight Doping With Little Consensus

Jere Longman:

The sheriff of St. Landry Parish announced in July that an undercover investigation of area gyms had produced the largest anabolic steroid bust ever in this rural Cajun county.
In an investigation that has identified about 100 suspected steroid users and 15 dealers in the county, 10 people have been arrested, including two former high school football players, the sheriff said. He added that of those 100 suspected users, as many as 20 were high school athletes. That number stunned educators and law enforcement officials who had considered performance-enhancing drugs to be more of a big-city problem.
“I think there’s more steroid use, after talking to my investigators, in sports activities than originally thought,” said Bobby J. Guidroz, the sheriff of St. Landry Parish, population 90,000, about two hours west-northwest of New Orleans.

School Soda Ban Has Limited Effect Eliminating sugary beverages did not affect overall consumption, study finds


A new study suggests that cutting sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks from school cafeteria menus will have little effect on teens’ overall consumption of the beverages.
Because these drinks are believed to be a major contributor to increasing rates of childhood obesity in the United States, many schools across the nation are banning them or curbing their availability to students. To assess the impact of this strategy, researchers followed 456 students at seven schools in southern and central Maine over two school years. Four of the schools reduced the availability of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) for one school year (intervention schools), while the other three took no action (control schools).

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Academic Excellence and Writing

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

1) Will, you recently gave a talk in Madison, Wisconsin. What exactly did you speak about?
WF: A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.
The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.
I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.
2) “We believe that the pursuit of academic excellence in secondary schools should be given the same attention as the pursuit of excellence in sports and other extracurricular activities.” This is a quote from The Concord Review. Now, I am asking you to hypothesize here–why do you think high schools across America seem to be preoccupied with sports and not academics?
WF: In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to “sign” with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.
When Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a very tall high school senior at Power Memorial Academy in New York, he not only heard from the head coaches at 60 college basketball programs, he also got a personal letter from Jackie Robinson of baseball fame and from Ralph Bunche at the United Nations, urging him to go to UCLA, which he did. That same year, in the U.S., the top ten high school history students heard from no one, and it has been that way every year since.
The lobby of every public high school is full of trophies for sports, and there is usually nothing about academic achievement. For some odd reason, attention to exemplary work in academics is seen as elitist, while heaps of attention to athletic achievement is not seen in the same way. Strange…The Boston Globe has 150 pages on year on high school athletes and no pages on high school academic achievement. Do we somehow believe that our society needs good athletes far more than it needs good students, and that is why we are so reluctant to celebrate fine academic work?

Continue reading An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Academic Excellence and Writing

Bill and Melinda Gates go back to school
Their crusade to fix schools earned a “needs improvement,” so they have a new plan. The most surprising beneficiaries? Community colleges.

Claudio Wallis & Spencer Fellow:

ince 2000 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2 billion in public education, plus another $2 billion in scholarships. Most of it went into efforts to improve high schools that serve poor and minority students – mainly breaking up big, urban high schools and creating smaller, friendlier, and in theory more scholastically sound academies. (All told, the Gates Foundation gave money to 2,602 schools in 40 school districts.) Overall, it hasn’t worked. [Much more on Small Learning Communities]
“We had a high hope that just by changing the structure, we’d do something dramatic,” Gates concedes. “But it’s nowhere near enough.”
The results were a disappointing setback. So Gates and his $35 billion foundation went back to school on the issue. They spent more than a year analyzing what went wrong (and in some cases what went right). They hired new leaders for their education effort, while Gates turned his attention to philanthropy full-time after stepping away from his operating role at Microsoft last summer.
In mid-November, when Gates and his wife, Melinda, were finally ready to unveil their fresh direction, they delivered the news at a private forum at the Sheraton Seattle for America’s education elite, including New York City schools chief Joel Klein, his Washington, D.C., counterpart, Michelle Rhee, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and top advisors to President-elect Obama.
The upshot is that Education 2.0 is bolder and more aggressive in its goals, and it involves even more intensive investment – $3 billion over the next five years. This time the focus isn’t on the structure of public high schools but on what’s inside the classrooms: the quality of the teaching and the relevance of the curriculum. It steers smack into some of the biggest controversies in American education – tying teacher tenure and salaries to performance, and setting national standards for what is taught and tested.
And it looks beyond high school. “Our goal, with your help, is to double the number of low-income students who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials that let them earn a living wage,” declared Melinda French Gates at the Seattle gathering.

Feds, teachers differ on ‘highly qualified’

Laura Diamond:

Georgia teachers differ with the federal government as to how qualified they are, according to a national report released Tuesday.
While about 95 percent of Georgia’s middle and high school teachers met the federal requirement of “highly qualified,” only 65 percent of the teachers said in a survey that they had the appropriate certification, according to the study from the Education Trust, a child advocacy group.
The two percentages come from different reports completed during the 2003-04 school year, the last time the teacher survey was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The two reports also defined teacher quality differently.
The survey asked teachers to indicate whether they have full state certification in the subject they are assigned to teach.
The “highly qualified” label is mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to ensure that all students have effective teachers. Congress passed the law in 2001 and allowed each state to develop its own definition of what constitutes a “highly qualified” teacher.
Georgia teachers are “highly qualified” if they have an academic degree in the subject matter they’re teaching; or if their college course work is equivalent to a major in that area; or if they pass a state content test in the subject.

An Interview with Kathleen Chamberlain: New IEP’s in N.Y.

Michael Shaughnessy:

Kathleen Chamberlain is the president of East End Special Education Parents, a not for profit parent advocacy group. She is mother of a child with a disability and formed EESEP with other local parents whose children were also not getting the special education services they felt they were entitled to. In addition to advocating for children with disabilities, she owns her own financial services firm. She lives with her husband, and daughter on Eastern Long Island in New York.
1) First of all, you are President of EESEP. What exactly is EESEP and what are you trying to do?
East End Special Education Parents is a not for profit parent advocacy group.Our main goal is to teach parents how to advocate for their children with disabilities and we have been very effective doing so.So effective in fact that our members are routinely trashed at local Board of Education meetings and in the local papers by school district administrations because knowledge is power and the school districts have it and sped parents don’t and they want to keep it that way.It’s our goal to make sure that doesn’t happen.

How I Got Into College: 6 Stories

Ellen Gamerman:

Many seniors in the Class of ’09 — that’s more than 3.3 million students — are now applying to college. For many, it’s a time fraught with paperwork, essays, interviews and road trips. And after all that work, it comes down to a letter or an email: In or out?
Admissions are expected to be as competitive as ever, and many schools say even the economic downturn has not slowed the onslaught of early applications. At Cornell University, early applications are up 9% from what they were this time last year; at Amherst College, they are up 5%; and at Barnard College, the rise is 8%. The acceptance odds are still long; many highly selective schools accept fewer than 20% of applicants.
Counselors, admissions staff and parents can all provide useful advice for getting in, but some of the best tips can come from the most recent veterans of the application frenzy: college freshmen. We’ve asked a range of students to share what they’ve learned.
Dare to Dream
Matthew Crowley was set on going to Stanford University last fall, but all the signs told him he wouldn’t make the cut. He plugged his grades and test scores into a computer program that tracked college-acceptance statistics and came out on the low end of a graph for Stanford. Guidance counselors at Kent Denver, a private school he attended in Englewood, Colo., did not include Stanford on a list of suggested colleges. And he says a college adviser his family hired for $2,800 told him not to bother applying.

Letter to the College Board

Phoebe Smolin:

It’s over. My long-running battle with you and the numbers you seek to define me by is finished. As my final act of surrender, I seek to prove, once and for all, that your tests say nothing about me or any creative student who submits to them.
First of all, to assuage my terrible relationship with math, every day for one month last year I went to my math teacher at six o’clock in the morning to mend it. I go to one of the top and most intense magnet schools in Los Angeles, take challenging classes, and am in the top 10% of my class. I read because I love to read, not because I’m forced to. I respect my teachers and I am absolutely addicted to learning. I am in multiple clubs and hold several leadership positions. I voluntarily wake up early and stay out late on Saturdays to protest for equal rights. I do community service around my city and around the world. I’m highly curious about everything. I play three instruments and write my own music. I have amazing friends from multitudes of cultural backgrounds and I am simply and enthusiastically passionate about living — qualities that don’t amount to a College Board number.
High school trains us to find our own voices, to figure out in our own innovative ways how to make a difference. Colleges advertise themselves as wanting to accept individuals willing to challenge themselves and be involved in their communities. How, then, does it make sense to judge us each by the same exact test?

Study: Math teachers a chapter ahead of students

Libby Quaid:

Math can be hard enough, but imagine the difficulty when a teacher is just one chapter ahead of the students. It happens, and it happens more often to poor and minority students. Those children are about twice as likely to have math teachers who don’t know their subject, according to a report by the Education Trust, a children’s advocacy group.
Studies show the connection between teachers’ knowledge and student achievement is particularly strong in math.
“Individual teachers matter a tremendous amount in how much students learn,” said Ross Wiener, who oversees policy issues at the organization.
The report looked at teachers with neither an academic major nor certification in the subjects they teach.
Among the findings, which were based on Education Department data:
_In high-poverty schools, two in five math classes have teachers without a college major or certification in math.
_In schools with a greater share of African-American and Latino children, nearly one in three math classes is taught by such a teacher.
Math is important because it is considered a “gateway” course, one that leads to greater success in college and the workplace. Kids who finish Algebra II in high school are more likely to get bachelor’s degrees. And people with bachelor’s degrees earn substantially more than those with high school diplomas.

Students Dig Deep For Words’ Origins

Washington Post:

For a few hours every other afternoon, Latin and Greek roots rain on Phil Rosenthal’s etymology class at Park View High School in Sterling. Etymology — the study of the origin and evolution of words — might be considered the domain of tweedy types who reek of pipe smoke. But Rosenthal tries to give his 20-some students a sense of the stories and shades behind the words they use every day.
“Kids see a word that to them is foreign, and they run away from it,” Rosenthal says. He started the class with a group of other Loudoun County teachers in 1990, and it remains one of the few of its kind in the country.

Ability Grouping for Gifted Children Podcast

Prufrock Press:

Today’s topic is one that impacts gifted kids in schools on a regular basis. In the past, gifted children were often placed into special gifted classes or special, accelerated learning groups. The thinking went that gifted children learned at a faster pace than other kids, and if you could group gifted children together it was easier for those students and their teachers to move at a faster pace through a class’ subject matter.
However, the practice of grouping students by ability has become a controversial topic in many schools. As a result, during the last few years we have seen the dismantling of special gifted classes. We’ve seen teachers move away from the use of ability groups in their classrooms.
How are gifted students affected by this change and does it make sense to move away from ability grouping?

Schools of Hope project aims to improve Madison students’ algebra performance

Andy Hall:

Three weeks after its launch, the program at La Follette is operating smoothly, according to officials and students at the school.
Joe Gothard, who is in his second year as La Follette principal, said he sought to bring the tutoring program to the school to involve the community in raising achievement levels.
“We’re not going to settle for our students of color to be unsuccessful,” Gothard said.
Over the past several years, the school’s African American students have been less likely than their peers to complete algebra by 10th grade, although in some years the rate still exceeds the overall average for African American students in the Madison School District.
Gothard is troubled by the patterns on another measure of student achievement, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, which show that the proportion of 10th graders demonstrating math proficiency ranks lower at La Follette than at any other major high school in Dane County. Just 53 percent of La Follette students received ratings of proficient or advanced on the test, compared to 65 percent in the district and 69 percent in the state.
“Initially there’s that burning in your stomach,” Gothard said, describing his reaction to such data, which was followed by a vow: “We are not going to accept going anywhere but up.”

Va. Math Standards’ Bar Might Be Raised

Michael Birnbaum:

Kindergartners would be expected to be able to count to 100, not just to 30. Perimeter and area would be introduced and explored in third grade, instead of in second grade.
Those are among many proposed revisions to Virginia’s math standards that are part of a national movement to strengthen and streamline math education to prepare all students to learn algebra and higher concepts.
The standards prescribe in detail concepts students are expected to learn in each grade, and the state verifies whether those expectations are met each year through the Standards of Learning tests. Now the standards are being revised for the second time since their introduction in 1995.

Become an AP Exam Reader

The College Board, via email:

In June, AP teachers and college faculty members from around the world gather in the United States for the annual AP Reading. There they evaluate and score the free-response sections of the AP Exams. AP Exam Readers are led by a Chief Reader, a college professor who has the responsibility of ensuring that students receive grades that accurately reflect college-level achievement. Readers describe the experience as an intensive collegial exchange, in which they can receive professional support and training. More than 10,000 teachers and college faculty participated in the 2008 Reading. Secondary school Readers can receive certificates rewarding professional development hours and Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for their participation in the AP Reading. In addition, Readers are provided an honorarium of $1,555 and their travel expenses, lodging, and meals are reimbursed.
Readers are particularly needed for the following AP courses:
Chinese Language and Culture
Japanese Language and Culture
World History

Janesville’s Craig High School Considers Closing Campus

According to Dr. Mike Kuehne, the principal of Craig High School, the reasons for keeping students has to do with the fact that some students who leave for lunch don’t come back.
“What we’re really trying to do is look out for the best interest of our students,” Kuehne said.
Safety is another concern for Kuehne. School officials said that they can’t control who visits students off school property.
“They hang around young adults — 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds — many of them not from our community and they’re just hanging there to associate with the kids who are going to lunch,” Kuehne said. “It’s not an environment that we think is safe for some of our students.”
So far, if the campus is closed next year it would only affect incoming students.

The Poetry of Pain: Slam poet Gayle Danley teaches children how words can soothe their wounds

Christina Ianzito:

She starts off with a poem titled “Round Like Bubbles”: “Round like a big fat green birthday balloon kissing the sky,” Gayle Danley begins, then turns her backside to the audience of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Laurel and adds, “Why can’t I have a round one like J. Lo?”
The 275 students giggle nervously, immediately certain that this rather loud 43-year-old woman, a nationally renowned slam poet in jeans and a green maternity blouse, isn’t going to be teaching them any kind of poetry they’ve ever heard before. This stuff doesn’t rhyme. And, what? Did she just mention Jennifer Lopez in a poem?
“How come I don’t look like J. Lo?” the poet nearly shouts, plaintively stressing the word “I,” with a Southern accent, as the children titter. “You ever look in the mirror and go, ‘How come I don’t have hair that sings down my spine? How come?’ ” A few lines later, she switches gears: “I don’t need to be Halle Berry, I don’t need to be Alicia Keys, I don’t need to be bald-headed Britney” — they really crack up at that one — “I have it going on, because I have you.”

Change Our Public Schools Need

Terry Moe:

Can Barack Obama bring change to American education? The answer is: Yes he can. The question, however, is whether he actually will. Our president-elect has the potential to be an extraordinary leader, and that’s why I’ve supported him since the beginning of his campaign. But on public education, he and the Democrats are faced with a dilemma that has boxed in the party for decades.
Democrats are fervent supporters of public education, and the party genuinely wants to help disadvantaged kids stuck in bad schools. But it resists bold action. It is immobilized. Impotent. The explanation lies in its longstanding alliance with the teachers’ unions — which, with more than three million members, tons of money and legions of activists, are among the most powerful groups in American politics. The Democrats benefit enormously from all this firepower, and they know what they need to do to keep it. They need to stay inside the box.
And they have done just that. Democrats favor educational “change” — as long as it doesn’t affect anyone’s job, reallocate resources, or otherwise threaten the occupational interests of the adults running the system. Most changes of real consequence are therefore off the table. The party specializes instead in proposals that involve spending more money and hiring more teachers — such as reductions in class size, across-the-board raises and huge new programs like universal preschool. These efforts probably have some benefits for kids. But they come at an exorbitant price, both in dollars and opportunities foregone, and purposely ignore the fundamentals that need to be addressed.
What should the Democrats be doing? Above all, they should be guided by a single overarching principle: Do what is best for children. As for specifics, here are a few that deserve priority.

APEC leaders pledge to expand co-op on education, health issues


The leaders supported the efforts of APEC Education Ministers to strengthen education systems in the region including ongoing support to the APEC Education Network.
They welcomed the research-based steps taken by APEC in the areas of mathematics and sciences, language learning, career and technical education, information and communication technologies and systemic reform.
They pledged to facilitate international exchanges, working towards reciprocal exchanges of talented students, graduates and researchers.


Dane County Youth Entrepreneurs in Science Contest

Wisconsin Technology Council:

What is Dane County YES?
Youth Entrepreneurs in Science, or Dane County YES, is a youth version of the successful Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which recently completed its fifth year. YES will bring Dane County youth, educators and people working in the region’s commercial tech sectors together in a contest forum. Contestants will be challenged to develop innovative tech-based business solutions across a broad range of technologies.
What’s the goal of a business plan contest for young people?
It will help young people learn how science and technology innovations can be developed into solid business plans. This multi-stage, primarily online contest will help middle- and/or high-school students to better envision careers in science and technology, and especially where those disciplines intersect with the creation and growth of businesses.
We’ll interpret a tech-based business plan broadly. For example, a web-based business may qualify.

Children Who Live in Public Housing Suffer in School, Study Says

Manny Fernandez
New York City children who live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing, according to a study by New York University researchers.
The study, which is being released on Monday, found that students living in public housing are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate in four years than those who do not live in public housing.
It also showed that fifth graders living in public housing did worse on standardized math and reading tests than fifth graders who lived elsewhere. Researchers found this disparity in fifth-grade test scores even when comparing students at the same school who shared similar demographics, like race, gender and poverty status.
The report is the first large-scale study of the academic performance of children growing up in the city’s 343 public housing complexes, researchers said. They suggest that those children face social and economic hurdles at home that affect their success in the classroom and illustrate the often-overlooked role that housing can play in education. The report was done by the university’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy and its Institute for Education and Social Policy.

College student sets ambitious goals

Caille Millner:

UPSHOT: For three years, the editorial page has followed Sade Daniels, a driven former foster child from Oakland, as she navigated the pitfalls of California’s foster care system in a heroic effort to graduate from high school and go on to college. Daniels is now a sophomore at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. She’s just started a blog, which makes it easy for everyone in the Bay Area to cheer her on.
SUBJECT MATTER: The title says it all: Daniels is all about having goals. Some of those goals are very serious (getting good grades is No. 1), some less so (growing her hair out).
TONE: If only I felt this excited about my to-do list. Daniels discusses everything with irrepressible charm and enthusiasm. Goals sound like fun, not work.

Will Fitzhugh’s Madison Talk – Audio

Author, publisher, entrepreneur and good guy Will Fitzhugh recently visited Madison. Listen to the 90 minute event via this 41MB mp3 audio file [CTRL-Click to Download]. (Please note that the audio level varies a bit during the talk – sorry). Video version is available here.
I’d like to thank, and supporters who wish to remain anonymous for making Will’s visit a reality.

Anything but Knowledge

Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach” (1998)
from The Burden of Bad Ideas
Heather Mac Donald
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.
America’s nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation’s teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores–things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. “Let’s be honest,” darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University’s Teachers College last February. “What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?” It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.
The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)–self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity–but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in “constructing one’s own knowledge,” or “contextualized knowledge.” Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.
The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to “professionalize” teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats’ pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.
The course in “Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education” that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.

Continue reading Anything but Knowledge

Pros, cons of kids missing school for vacation

Bonnie Wach:

When my son, Rowan, was little, the idea that anything on his schedule would ever take priority over my expiring frequent-flier miles, or the opportunity to go on a vacation when the rest of the child-rearing hordes were in school, seemed to me like giving in.
It was like admitting I was one of Them – those overly involved, rule-abiding parents whose world revolved around PTA and soccer schedules, and crafting elaborate dioramas of Indian pueblos. After all, I reasoned, wasn’t the experience of seeing the Duomo in Florence or hiking Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast state park with your family as valuable as reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”
Part of my nonchalance, I think, stemmed from the fact that when I was in school, summer vacation stretched for three languorous months, winter break for three weeks, and we had both a ski week and an Easter week.

Those who have led now choose to teach

Kerry Hill
Neither man set out to be an educational leader. One did research and taught electrical engineering. The other coached high school football.
Circumstances, opportunities, new interests and inspiration led both from their roots in Evansville, Ind., and Charleston, Ark., to two of the most visible education posts in Madison — chancellor of the state’s flagship university and superintendent of the state’s second- largest public school district.
As leaders, neither shied away from controversy. And, as they stepped down from those posts in mid-2008, accolades far outnumbered criticisms.
Now, John Wiley and Art Rainwater — the former UW-Madison chancellor and Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent, respectively — are sharing their experience and knowledge with current and future leaders through the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (ELPA).

Continue reading Those who have led now choose to teach

The Sidwell Choice: The Obama Family Leads by Example

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Michelle and Barack Obama have settled on a Washington, D.C., school for their daughters, and you will not be surprised to learn it is not a public institution. Malia, age 10, and seven-year-old Sasha will attend the Sidwell Friends School, the private academy that educates the children of much of Washington’s elite.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s grandchildren attend Sidwell — as did Chelsea Clinton — where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. The Obama girls have been students at the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where tuition runs above $21,000. “A number of great schools were considered,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. “In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now.”
Note the word “selected,” as in made a choice. The Obamas are fortunate to have the means to send their daughters to private school, and no one begrudges them that choice given that Washington’s public schools are among the worst in America.

Critical Thinking

The Pioneer Institute [April 2006]
A Review of E.D. Hirsch’s The Knowledge Deficit (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who published Cultural Literacy in 1987, arguing that there was knowledge which every student ought to have, has now published another book, The Knowledge Deficit, (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) suggesting that the bankruptcy of the “transfer of thinking skills” position has lead to preventing most U.S. schoolchildren, and especially the disadvantaged ones who really depend on the schools to teach them, from acquiring the ability to read well.
Not too long after the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. mental measurement community convinced itself, and many others, that the cognitive skills acquired in the study of Latin in school did not “transfer” to other important tasks, one of which at the time was teaching students “worthy home membership.”
As a result, not only was the study of the Latin language abandoned for many students, but at the same time the “baby”–of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Tacitus, Virgil and others–was thrown out with the “bathwater.” In losing the language, we also lost Roman history, law, poetry, and prose.
In place of this classical knowledge which had been thought essential for two thousand years, the mental measurement community offered “thinking skills,” which they claimed could be applied to any content.

Professor Hirsch reaches back beyond the mental measurement folks to Thomas Jefferson, for someone who shares his view of the value of the knowledge in books:
“In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift. Jefferson’s plan of book learning was modest compared to the Puritan education of the seventeenth century as advocated by John Milton.” (p. 9)

Continue reading Critical Thinking

Gifted and challenged: When enlightening has to strike twice

Sarah Lemagie
Tyler Lehmann could read “Harry Potter” books before he started first grade, yet an anxiety disorder left him unable to speak to his teacher and all but one of his classmates in Woodbury. Simon Fink attends a school for gifted students in St. Paul, but Asperger’s syndrome can make it hard for him to interact with peers and focus on lessons.
School can be tough for kids with challenges ranging from emotional disorders to ADHD or dyslexia. For gifted students, too, it’s not always a cakewalk, between boredom and the sense of isolation that can result from being a “brainiac.”
Then there are students such as Tyler and Simon, who fall into both categories.
Raising children with learning barriers is a task in itself, “but when they’re bright and gifted and have a high IQ, it’s even more frustrating, because the teachers just don’t understand how to work with these kids,” said Bloomington parent Chelle Woolley, whose 17-year-old son, Matt, was in fifth grade when he tested out for both giftedness and attention deficit disorder.
A growing awareness of so-called “twice-exceptional” or “2X” students, many of whom qualify for both gifted and special education services, is prompting some researchers to take a closer look at their needs. This fall, educators at the University of St. Thomas and four metro-area school districts are using a $490,000 federal grant to launch a five-year project aimed at developing better ways to teach 2X children, helping schools identify them and training teachers to work with them.

Education remains the elephant in the room

Lori Sturdevant:

You know that line about “the best-laid plans”? It came to mind earlier this month as I sat in on a west-metro League of Women Voters briefing on big plans to tidy up the mess that’s been made of Minnesota’s school-funding system.
A “New Minnesota Miracle.” That idea was supposed to be the big issue in state House races this summer and fall. It was supposed to be top-tier policy stuff at the 2009 Legislature. The studies have been done; the proposal drafted; the stakeholders’ coalition built, and the hearings held around the state.
And the state senator who led the briefing, Minnetonka DFLer Terri Bonoff — well, according to her plan last winter, she wasn’t even going to be in the Legislature in 2009. She aimed to be off to Congress as the newly elected successor to Third District Rep. Jim Ramstad.
Plans go awry. Bonoff is still in the state Senate. The education issue is being eclipsed by economic distress and — temporarily, let us pray — by the Coleman-Franken recount.

Ecuador exchange enhances Madison Country Day School

Pamela Cotant:

A recent visit by six exchange students from Ecuador enhanced the global view embraced by Madison Country Day School.
The students stayed for two weeks, attending classes at the private school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the town of Westport and staying with students’ families.
They also shared aspects of their culture, in part by dancing at the school’s weekly assembly.
“It’s just one facet of the whole international program here,” said Fabian Fernandez, a sophomore at Madison Country Day School. “The whole culture exchange — it really shakes you out of a routine … . You can really become a member of the global community.”
Some students from the school here have visited Colegio Britanico Internacional, a school in Quito, Ecuador.

Allen family’s costs pile up for kids’ education

Matthew Haag:

Parents know putting three kids through public school can be expensive.
The Swiateks in Allen know exactly how much.
At The Dallas Morning News’ request, the family agreed to keep a tab on how much they spend on school-related expenses for their three children.
tually look at the numbers and add it up,” said Beth Swiatek, who says she takes pride in spending money wisely.
Rachael is a high school senior, Erin is a high school freshman and Joel is in sixth grade.
Before the school year had even begun, the Swiateks paid nearly $2,800 to ready their children for the school year. That total did not include school clothes, but it did pull in the first payments for the two oldest children to go on a band trip. That trip to Hawaii will cost $2,200 per child.

On Australian Education Reform

The Herald Sun:

TEACHERS will need to be better trained and good teachers could be rewarded for working in the most difficult schools, Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said.
As well, schools’ education performances will be published and they will have to explain where all their funding comes from.
Outlining the key elements of the Government’s education reform program, Ms Gillard said Australia still ranked well in international studies.
But performance was not as good as it could be and at the highest levels it was static or declining while there was a persistent tail of low achievement.
Presenting the keynote speech to an education forum in Melbourne, Ms Gillard said the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was to meet on Saturday to finalise the new $28 billion National Education Agreement.

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review. Varsity Academics®

QT Video
The video of this presentation is about 1 1/2 hours long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download. MP3 Audio is available here.

We are pleased to have William Fitzhugh, Editor of The Concord Review, present this lecture on history research and publication of original papers by high school students.
From an interview with Education News, William Fitzhugh summarizes some items from his Madison presentation:
“A group of professors, teachers, business people, lawyers and community people invited me to speak at the University of Wisconsin in Madison about the work of The Concord Review since 1987, and about the problems of college readiness and academic writing for high school students.
The Boston Public Schools just reported that 67% of the graduating class of 2000 who had gone on to higher education had failed to earn a certificate, an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree by 2008. Also, the Strong American Schools program just reported that more than a million of our high school graduates are in remedial education in college each year.
I recommend their report: Diploma to Nowhere, which came out last summer. While many foundations, such as Gates, and others, have focused on getting our students into college, too little attention has been paid to how few are ready for college work and how many drop out without any degree.
In Madison I also had a chance to speak about the huge imbalance in our attention to scholars and athletes at the high school level. I had recently seen a nationally televised high school football game in which, at breaks in the action, an athlete would come to the sidelines, and announce, to the national audience, which college he had decided to “sign” with. This is a far cry from what happens for high school scholars. High school coaches get a lot of attention for their best athletes, but if the coach also happens to be a history teacher, he or she will hear nothing from a college in the way of interest in his or her most outstanding history student.

Continue reading William Fitzhugh, Editor of Concord Review Presentation

Community Input on Math Task Force Recommendations – SAVE THE DATES!

Hi – there will be 2 community input forums to gather input from the community on the recommendations of the Math Task Force. The report of the MTF can be found at:
The forums are scheduled for:
Monday, December 8 from 6:00-8:00pm at Memorial High School
Tuesday, December 9 from 6:00-8:00pm at LaFollette High School
I am not sure of the format yet but know this is a busy time of year so wanted to give you an opportunity to mark your calendars if you plan on attending on of the forums. I’ll send more information when available.

“The Obamas Walk Away from Public Schools” and a Look at Sidwell Friends

Andrew Coulson:

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it’s wonderful that the Obamas had such a broad range of public and private school choices available to them. What’s puzzling is that the president-elect opposes programs that would bring that same easy choice of schools within reach of families who lack his personal wealth. By his actions, Senator Obama is demonstrating that he is not willing to wait for his own policy prescriptions to “fix and improve” public schools, but he expects folks with less ample bank accounts to patiently await his hoped-for change.
And while many reports will no doubt trumpet the $25,000+ tuition at Sidwell Friends, implying that this is extravagantly beyond what is spent in D.C. public schools, they will be mistaken. As I wrote in the Washington Post and on this blog, D.C. public schools also spent about $25,000 per child in the 2007-08 school year.
It’s not that president-elect Obama is against spending a lot of money on other people’s kids — he’s just against letting their parents choose where that money is spent.

Michael Binyon:

It is the Quaker ethos that is the most striking feature of Sidwell Friends School, the one chosen by President-elect Obama for his daughters Sasha and Malia. A sense of community, equality and friendship runs through every classroom: children are encouraged to strive for their best, but to value above all their relations with each other and their place in the school family.
For any president trying to ensure that his children enjoy as normal an education as possible, such an ethos is invaluable. However rich, influential or politically important the parents – as many at Sidwell are – what matters is the “inner light” in every child. Pupils are not ranked by academic scores, and Sidwell never releases its SAT scores or college admission list. In race, wealth and nationality and in all else, all are treated the same. The two Obama girls will find their White House address is officially all but irrelevant.
Sidwell, founded in 1883 and now enrolling more than 1,000 children from kindergarten to 18, was a committed pioneer of integration and coeducation. More than one third of its intake belongs to ethnic minorities and one fifth receives financial assistance to help with the fees. The only preference is to those with Quaker connections. Since my wife and I went to Quaker schools, our daughter spent three happy primary years there during my time as bureau chief in Washington.

US officials flunk test of Amerian history, economics, civics

2008-2009 American Civic Liberty Report:

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.
Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).
“It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI’s civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned,” said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.
“How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don’t understand the American experience?” he added.
The exam questions covered American history, the workings of the US government and economics.
Among the questions asked of some 2,500 people who were randomly selected to take the test, including “self-identified elected officials,” was one which asked respondents to “name two countries that were our enemies during World War II.”

Take the quiz.

The Battle over State Tax Dollar K-12 Funding in NY State

New York Times Editorial:

Lost in all the noise of this week’s budget fight in Albany was a proposal from Gov. David Paterson that could fundamentally change the unfair way in which school aid is apportioned across New York State.
The change, which would benefit needier districts like New York City, is long overdue. It also is bound to face strong political resistance. Mr. Paterson should stick to his guns in December when he presents his budget for the next fiscal year.
Over the years, school aid in New York has been calculated with dozens of mind-bending formulas — income levels, taxing powers and so on. But year after year, no matter what numbers were plugged into the formulas, New York City invariably received about 39 percent of any increases in school spending, Long Island (championed by powerful state senators) got between 12 percent and 13 percent and the rest of the state the balance.

Are Tennessee schools too easy? ACT scores show lack of readiness

Jaime Sarrio:

Only four Tennessee public high schools are preparing students to pass basic academic courses when they go on to college, if their ACT entrance exams are the indicator.
The ACT is one of the most high-profile, high-stakes tests in the country. In Tennessee, a score of 21 out of a perfect 36 is one of the requirements to earn a lottery scholarship.
Students from Hume-Fogg and Martin Luther King magnet schools in Metro Nashville, Merrol Hyde Magnet in Hendersonville and Gatlinburg-Pittman in East Tennessee averaged ACT scores high enough over a three-year period to be considered ready for basic college coursework. Only 18 percent of Tennessee’s class of 2008 students who took the test met that standard, compared with about 22 percent of students nationally.
Education experts in the state and region say that’s more evidence of what they’ve been saying about Tennessee’s high school curriculum: It’s too easy.
“We see high school valedictorians who are forced to take remedial courses,” said Alan Richard, spokesman for the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit network that focuses on learning in the South. “That means there’s a gulf between what high schools teach and what colleges expect.”

Obama’s Education Transition Team

Nanette Asimov:

Darling-Hammond, a teacher-friendly educator, has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to head his transition team on education policy.
Her name appears on some – not all – of the guessing-game lists put out by education observers speculating about who Obama will pick to head the huge U.S. Department of Education. And she is the subject of an online petition begun by a teacher in Hawaii that’s attracted thousands of people – many of them teachers – urging the president-elect to choose her.
“I have no idea who it will be,” says Darling-Hammond, switching the topic to what she described as an education agenda “more bold and ambitious than anything we’ve seen since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 … and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act” a decade later.
At this point, it’s still all about big money and big concepts: $10 billion to develop preschool programs for all children; $8 billion to narrow the achievement gap in elementary and secondary schools; $11 billion to send more students to college.

Academic Decathlon faces coach shortages

Erin Richards:

It’s early in the season for Academic Decathlon, but several previously successful Milwaukee-area schools are already out of the game.
The problem isn’t a lack of smarts for the battle of the brains between school teams – it’s a lack of coaches.
Wisconsin Academic Decathlon last week announced the 60 schools that advanced to the regional competition on Jan. 9. Officials from previously successful institutions that failed to make the list – Nicolet, Wauwatosa West, Bay View and Kettle Moraine high schools – said they didn’t field teams because they couldn’t find coaches to lead the groups.
“Funding has been easier to get than teachers,” state Academic Decathlon Director Mollie Ritchie said. “Usually a school drops its program because a coach left or retired.”
For schools around Milwaukee, and Rhinelander High School in northern Wisconsin, filling the shoes of a coach who left or gave up the position has posed problems because of the nature of the job – a time consuming, seven-month commitment if the team is successful, not counting hours inevitably spent fund raising.

With Democrats in charge, Wisconsin teacher pay cap could bite the dust

Jason Stein:

I don’t think it’s any secret that we think the QEO should be eliminated,” said Bell, whose union spent more than $2 million to help Democrats win control of the Assembly this fall. “It’s not productive for our school districts or my members.”
The union appears to have found a willing partner in the next Legislature. Already, state schools superintendent Libby Burmaster has included repealing the QEO in her budget request to Doyle. Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said Decker supports a repeal, and Senate Democrats voted for it in the last budget. Assembly Speaker-elect Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said Democrats in his house would be “looking at it very closely.”
But Beloit homeowner Dwight Brass said he feared school boards would end up allowing teachers’ pay to rise too much, and with it property taxes. “The trend would be the school board would want to avoid conflict” with the union, he said.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said removing the QEO while leaving revenue caps in place would mean disaster for schools. Their main expense — teacher salaries — would grow much faster than their revenues would be permitted to grow, he said.
“It’s certainly going to mean cuts in teachers’ positions if it does go away,” he said of the QEO.

Milwaukee Schools Change Teaching, Reading & Writing Strategies; Search for New Teaching & Learning Director

Alan Borsuk:

Major changes in how Milwaukee Public Schools teaches reading and writing are coming soon, according to school Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.
He said a team of outside experts has been evaluating MPS literacy efforts and he expects to get its report in December. He said he has been given indications of what the experts will recommend.
“I think you will see this report turning things upside down, changing some past practices, and making some bold changes that we hope will improve the performance of our kids,” he said earlier this week.
He said the state Department of Public Instruction had put together the expert team and was paying for the study as part of plans aimed at bringing MPS into compliance with goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
“We’re going to take it to heart, what’s in that report,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable. . . . We realize if we just continue to do the same thing, we’re going to get the same results.”
He did not provide details of what is expected to be in the report.

A Surprisingly Sensible 21st-Century Report

Jay Matthews:

Only six weeks have passed since my last cranky diatribe about teaching what are called “21st-century skills” in our schools. I think the 21st-century skills movement is mostly a pipe dream, promoted by well-meaning people who embrace the idea of modernity but fail to consider how these allegedly new and important lessons can be taught by the usual victims of such schemes, classroom teachers.
Now I am forced to calm down, take a breath and consider the possibility that I was wrong about this, because a scholar whose work I admire has produced the first sensible report on 21st-century skills I have read. “Measuring Skills for the 21st Century” was written by Elena Silva, senior policy analyst at the Education Sector think tank in Washington. It is available at It suggests that this idea is vital, important and ought to be pursued, no matter what I say.
I telephoned Silva to express my concern that we differ on this issue, since she always knows what she is talking about and I sometimes don’t. Our conversation reassured me. She has the same doubts I do about the loose and overheated way the 21st-century skills concept has been marketed, and the failure to give teachers useful guidance on what to do with it. She agrees with me that much of what is labeled 21st-century learning is not new, but represents what our best educators have been teaching for several centuries.

Putting the Student Before the Athlete

Michael Wilbon:

I’m dropping the pretense of having no rooting interest this week. I’m rooting for Myron Rolle as if he’s a blood relative. I’m rooting for his flight from Birmingham, Ala., to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport to be on time. I’m rooting for him to make it to Byrd Stadium by halftime at the very latest, for him to get into uniform and play as many snaps as possible for Florida State. Most of all, I’m rooting for him to wow the panelists in his Rhodes Scholarship interview earlier in the day.
Texas Tech and Oklahoma will get the majority of the college football attention this weekend, but Rolle is the best story. He’s not the first football player up for one of 32 Rhodes Scholarships. In fact, a Yale defensive back, Casey Gerald, will be in Houston today as one of 13 region finalists. But while Yale is as much a part of college football’s history as Florida State, let nobody suggest that the football pressures in the Ivy League match those at a school such as Florida State, where Rolle’s defensive coordinator once suggested the kid might be devoting too much time to academics and not enough to football.

Public School Parents, Unite!

Sandra Tsing Loh:

Now that we’ve made history by electing our first African-American president, what has changed? On first blush, not much, especially when it comes to our schools. Indeed, as the spiraling United States economy takes precedence, education is moving to the back burner, though sadly it was never really on the front burner during the campaign. Meanwhile Washington high society is swooning as chatty lifestyle stories document the courtship of Barack Obama’s daughters by a bevy of exclusive private schools. Am I the only one who is outraged here?
Again, I feel compelled to point out, one last time: Sarah Palin was taken tirelessly to the mat for every detail of her personal life — her mothering skills, hunting proclivities, reading habits (such as they were), the wacky names of her children, her pricey outfits and even the height of her heels. By contrast, the Obama family’s move from toney Chicago private school (chosen before presidential security was an issue) to toney Washington private school draws little national commentary. Why? Because for the ruling American political and professional class, not to mention the news media, sending one’s child to public school is unthinkable; and has nothing to do with public education policy. (Love that Teach for America, though! And universal preschool — it’s great! Computers! Innovation! Stimulation! Richard Branson! Aspen Technology Conference! Blah, blah blah.)
Meanwhile, as the fall days darken earlier, in my own Los Angeles Unified school district, citizens here have just passed a $7 billion construction bond — not because we need more new schools (we’ve already approved $20 billion via four previous bond issues), but because a consulting firm deduced that $7 billion was the size of a blank check most likely to be approved by voters.

Much more on Sandra Tsing Loh.

Abandoned Wal-Marts Become Schools & Churches

Julia Christensen:

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren’t many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it’s not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools–even churches.

Academic Credit for Sports in Texas

Terrence Stutz:

The proposal, which could go into effect as early as next school year, would allow four years of sports to count as elective credits toward graduation instead of the current maximum of two years.
The board’s 10-5 vote followed often emotional debate, with both Dallas members – Republican Geraldine Miller and Democrat Mavis Knight – voting no.
Supporters said the move would keep kids in school and spur them to do well in academic courses. Critics charged that the plan would de-emphasize academics and return to the days of “football comes first.”
Ms. Miller was among the most vocal opponents, insisting the plan would “completely dismantle” many of the education reforms enacted in Texas over the last two decades.
“This takes us back to the way things used to be,” she said. “Our school reform movement put everything in perspective, with academics coming first. Now, we are opening the door to water down all the efforts we have made to strengthen standards in our schools.”
But Craig Agnew, the Brenham High School coach and teacher who petitioned the board to adopt the rule, said an “unfair burden” exists for student athletes who must meet stringent course requirements to retain their athletic eligibility.

Reform Teacher Training & Education Research

David Moltz:

Bryk said, noting that less than 0.25 percent of the overall education budget — an estimate based on education as a $500 billion a year industry in the United States — is allocated to research and development. By contrast, he noted, in fields such as medicine and engineering, 5 to 15 percent of the total budget is spent on R&D.
Bryk expressed, moreover, concern that most research is being conducted in the university setting where, as he wrote, “new theory development is more valued than practical solutions.” This environment, he said, is not conducive to the creation of workable solutions in education reform — not as long as scholarly articles in journals are considered the acme of accomplishment in educational research.

The Test Passes, Colleges Fail

Peter Salins:

FOR some years now, many elite American colleges have been downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT in deciding which applicants are admitted, or have even discarded their use altogether. While some institutions justify this move primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students, an increasing number claim that the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college, especially compared with high school grade-point averages.
Are they correct? To get an answer, we need to first decide on a good measure of “academic success.” Given inconsistent grading standards for college courses, the most easily comparable metric is the graduation rate. Students’ families and society both want college entrants to graduate, and we all know that having a college degree translates into higher income. Further, graduation rates among students and institutions vary much more widely than do college grades, making them a clearer indicator of how students are faring.
So, here is the question: do SATs predict graduation rates more accurately than high school grade-point averages? If we look merely at studies that statistically correlate SAT scores and high school grades with graduation rates, we find that, indeed, the two standards are roughly equivalent, meaning that the better that applicants do on either of these indicators the more likely they are to graduate from college. However, since students with high SAT scores tend to have better high school grade-point averages, this data doesn’t tell us which of the indicators — independent of the other — is a better predictor of college success.

At Transition High, teens leave past behind

Dani McClain:

From the corner of N. 27th St. and North Ave., Transition High School looks more like a strip mall than a place where teenagers are turning their lives around.
The Milwaukee public school, which opened in March, is home to students working through challenges beyond the scope of what most traditional high schools can handle. Some have been expelled. Others have served sentences in the House of Correction or a youth facility. Some have been truant for more than a year.
But on a recent day, as they wrapped up online coursework and got ready for an afternoon of off-campus rock climbing, students talked about how safe they felt.
“This is a non-violent place,” said Charles Banster, 16, and a sophomore. “Nobody has problems here.”
Another student, who said he had spent time in a large school on the city’s south side, agreed. The small environment makes him feel like he’s among family.
“I don’t like too many people around me,” said 14-year-old Tim Owens-Rice. “I just feel paranoid.” In the past, that need to define and defend his personal space has led to fights, he said.

Study Abroad Flourishes, With China a Hot Spot

Julia Christensen:

The big-box aesthetic does not immediately lend itself to any other use. The buildings are often upward of 150,000 square feet. There simply aren’t many enterprises that need that much space, and because the buildings are built for a single-use purpose, it’s not so easy to break them up into smaller units. Yet all over the country, resourceful communities are finding ways to reuse these buildings, turning them into flea markets, museums, schools–even churches.

“>Tamar Lewin:

Record numbers of American students are studying abroad, with especially strong growth in educational exchanges with China, the annual report by the Institute on International Education found.
The number of Americans studying in China increased by 25 percent, and the number of Chinese students studying at American universities increased by 20 percent last year, according to the report, “Open Doors 2008.”
“Interest in China is growing dramatically, and I think we’ll see even sharper increases in next year’s report,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the institute. “People used to go to China to study the history and language, and many still do, but with China looming so large in all our futures, there’s been a real shift, and more students go for an understanding of what’s happening economically and politically.”

Washington DC Schools’ Chancellor Michelle Rhee Proposes Parent Academy, Better Security

Bill Turque:

Revamped security and discipline policies, more specialized schools, a “Parent Academy” to help District parents take charge of their children’s education and the possibility of more school closures are part of the long-term vision proposed by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in a new document.
The 79-page “action plan,” which Rhee will present to the D.C. Council tomorrow, pulls together a broad variety of ideas that have been only hinted at publicly, including a possible end to out-of-school suspensions and an increase in the number of “theme” schools, focusing on high technology, language immersion, or gifted and talented students.
Other goals in the draft document — the need for new and better-paid teachers, higher test scores, closing the achievement gap between white and minority students — are ones she has frequently articulated. Taken together, they provide the most detailed picture of Rhee’s aspirations for the 120-school system, which is affected by declining enrollment and poor academic performance.

You are Invited: Varsity Academics in Madison Tonight, 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008; 7:00p.m. in Madison. [PDF Flyer]
Lecture Hall 1345
Health Sciences Learning Center (HSLC)
750 Highland Avenue Madison, WI [Map]

We hope that Mr. Fitzhugh’s appearance will create new academic opportunities for Wisconsin students.


Metered parking is available at the University Hospital (UWHC) Patient/Visitor Lot [Map], just south of the HSLC. Free parking is available in Lot 85, across the street from the HSLC and next to the Pharmacy Building at 2245 Observatory Drive [Map].

About the Speaker:

Low standards led Will Fitzhugh to quit his job as a history teacher in 1987 and begin publishing the journal [The Concord Review] out of his home in Concord, Mass.

Concerned that schools were becoming anti-intellectual and holding students to low standards, he thought the venture could fuel a national–even international–interest in student research and writing in the humanities.
“As a teacher, it is not uncommon to have your consciousness end at the classroom wall. But I came to realize that there was a national concern about students’ ignorance of history and inability to write,” he said.
During his 10 years of teaching at Concord-Carlisle High School, the 62-year-old educator said in a recent interview, he always had a handful of students who did more than he asked, and whose papers reflected serious research.

Those students “just had higher standards, and I was always impressed by that,” Mr. Fitzhugh said. “I figured there have got to be some wonderful essays just sitting out there. I wanted to recognize and encourage kids who are already working hard, and to challenge the kids who are not.”

Fitzhugh will discuss the problems of reading, writing and college readiness at the high school level. There will be an extended discussion period.

For more information, or to schedule some time with Mr. Fitzhugh during
his visit, contact Jim Zellmer (608 213-0434 or, Lauren Cunningham (608 469-4474) or Laurie Frost (608 238-6375).

Wisconsin Poll on Public Education:
A Slight Majority Believe They Received a Better Education than Students Do Today
Residents Support Major Reforms in Teacher Compensation

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute:

There are some issues that seemingly never change. Twenty years ago 49% of Wisconsin residents thought they had received a better education in elementary and secondary schools than students today. In 2008, 47% of Wisconsin residents had the same view. Twenty years ago 70% of our residents rated their local schools as excellent or very good. Today, 69% rated their local schools as excellent or good.
Twenty years ago 76% of our residents supported merit pay for teachers; today 77% of our residents support merit pay for teachers. Twenty years ago 58% of our residents thought that discipline in our public schools was too lenient; today 60% hold this view.
These are among the key findings about statewide policy issues from the most recent survey of 600 Wisconsin residents conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. and Diversified Research between November 9 and 10, 2008.
The Overall Quality Of Education
47% of the respondents in this survey thought that they had received a better education at the elementary and secondary level than students do today; 44% disagreed. Twenty years ago 49% thought they had received a better education and 45% thought they had not. Demographically there is a large gap in this response based on race–46% of Whites in 2008 thought they had received a better education, but 90% of Black respondents thought they had received a better education and only 10% thought that students today received a better education.

Alan Borsuk has more.

Head of Teachers’ Union Offers to Talk on Tenure and Merit Pay

Sam Dillon:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Monday that given the economic crisis, her union would be willing to discuss new approaches to issues like teacher tenure and merit pay.
“Faced with declining tax revenues, state and local governments are cutting” education budgets nationwide, Ms. Weingarten said in a speech to education policy makers in Washington.
“In the spirit of this extraordinary moment, and as a pledge of shared responsibility, I’ll take the first step,” she said. “With the exception of vouchers, which siphon scarce resources from public schools, no issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair to teachers.”
It is unclear how much practical effect Ms. Weingarten’s speech will have on the stance her 1.4-million-member union and its locals take in negotiations with school districts or in lobbying state legislatures.

My Son Was Autistic. Is He Still?

Jayne Lytel:

Paging through 176 MRI scans of my 9-year-old’s brain on my home computer, I discovered a button that let me play them as a movie. Gray swirls burst onto the screen, dissolving into one another and revealing a new set of patterns. Beams of light faded in and out, some curving and traveling around the different regions of his brain. I saw the squiggly folds of his cerebral cortex, the gray matter that is the center of human intelligence.
These scans, the most intimate pictures I had ever seen of my son, Leo, may help researchers understand what’s going on in his head — and relieve him of a diagnosis that I have devoted several years to helping him overcome.
Leo, identified as No. C1059, underwent the scans as part of a research study at the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. He was thrilled to earn $200 for taking part. I smiled along with him, because I could remember the days when he had a limited range of emotions, and pride was not one of them.

Charter schools to buy three Minneapolis district buildings

Tom Weber:

The Minneapolis School District is close to finalizing the sale of three of its shuttered buildings. But unlike previous real estate deals, the district this time entertained offers from charter schools.
St. Paul, Minn. — Minneapolis School Board member Pam Costain calls the sale of Franklin, Putnam, and Morris Park Schools “uncharted territory.” That’s because, even though the district has leased space to private schools before, there used to be a policy banning the sale of any of district buildings to charter schools — with the idea that they’re the competition.
But that’s exactly who’s in line to move into these buildings, in North, Northeast, and South Minneapolis.

On College Choice

Stephen Kreider Yorder & Isaac Yoder:

When we get lots of reader email, we know we’ve struck a chord. College choice is clearly a chord.
After our column discussing how much college is worth — and my plan to narrow my search to small liberal-arts schools — many readers agreed with us that getting the best-fitting education is the top priority.
Marina E. Marra from Tucson, Ariz., writes that her son, like me, “was very concerned about spending his parents’ money for a degree that can be purchased for less elsewhere. I, too, advised him that it is his job to be accepted at the best school possible with the best education and it is my job to figure out how to pay for it.” She adds: “There is an intangible element that isn’t apparent in a cost/benefit comparison among colleges, something that can be found only at smaller liberal-arts colleges.”
Others held that price should be a top consideration. “YES — Price DOES Matter!,” writes Pat Diamond, also of Tucson. “I can’t understand why either of you would consider going into debt for a college education when there’s the option of a perfectly good state university system that would provide an education equal to that of a small expensive elite liberal-arts college.”
An expensive education is fine if I know what I plan to do with it, writes Robert Lowrie of Georgetown, Texas. “To spend $48,000/year, and then not know what he’s going to do with the B.A. degree after four years, is insanity,” he says, suggesting that I “look into getting [my] bachelor’s degree at a less expensive state university, and then enter a small, probably more prestigious and expensive school for [my] graduate studies.”

Not Everyone Wants to Move Toward Rating Educators by Student Progress

Jay Matthews:

For a while, the fight over how to improve public schools seemed to be quieting down. During the presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic education advisers happily finished each other’s sentences on such issues as expanding charter schools, recruiting better teachers and, in particular, rating schools by how much students improve.
Moving to the growth model for school assessment, by measuring each student’s progress, seems to be the favorite education reform of the incoming Obama administration. Up till now, we have measured schools by comparing the average student score one year with the average for the previous year’s students. It was like rating pumpkin farmers by comparing this year’s crop with last year’s rather than by how much growth they managed to coax out of each pumpkin.
The growth model appeals to parents because it focuses on each child. It gives researchers a clearer picture of what affects student achievement and what does not. Officials throughout the Washington area have joined the growth model (sometimes called “value-added”) fan club. The next step would be to use the same data to see which teachers add the most value to their students each year.

Keeping Notes Afloat in Class

Michael Alison Chandler:

Third-graders at Hunters Woods Elementary School are required to learn the fundamentals of the violin. They know how to stand up straight, how to hold their instruments and how to use the tippy tips of their fingers when they press on the strings so they don’t make what their teacher calls “an icky sound.”
After learning a grand total of eight notes, they also know how to make music. Their repertoire one fall morning included pieces from a range of cultures and styles: “Caribbean Island,” “Seminole Chant,” “Good King Wenceslas.”
In Fairfax County and elsewhere, students often begin studying violin in fourth grade. Hunters Woods, an arts and science magnet school in Reston, gives them a one-year head start. Experts say the earlier children begin, the more likely they are to succeed in music.
Hunters Woods, with 950 students, is one of more than a dozen local schools in which teachers are trained through the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to infuse arts education into other subjects. For instance, students might build instruments from recycled materials, learn science through lessons on sound and vibration or study math through measurement and patterning. Some also compose songs with lyrics inspired by Virginia history.
But music programs and the rest of the education budget are under scrutiny as the county School Board seeks to close a $220 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July. One proposal to save about $850,000 would trim band and strings teaching positions, making it tough to keep such programs in third and fourth grades, said Roger Tomhave, fine arts coordinator for Fairfax schools.

This tune sounds familiar. Madison formerly offered a 4th grade strings program (now only in 5th).

Another Look at the Madison School District’s Use of “Value Added Assessment”

Andy Hall:

The analysis of data from 27 elementary schools and 11 middle schools is based on scores from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), a state test required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Madison is the second Wisconsin district, after Milwaukee, to make a major push toward value-added systems, which are gaining support nationally as an improved way of measuring school performance.
Advocates say it’s better to track specific students’ gains over time than the current system, which holds schools accountable for how many students at a single point in time are rated proficient on state tests.
“This is very important,” Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad said. “We think it’s a particularly fair way … because it’s looking at the growth in that school and ascertaining the influence that the school is having on that outcome.”
The findings will be used to pinpoint effective teaching methods and classroom design strategies, officials said. But they won’t be used to evaluate teachers: That’s forbidden by state law.
The district paid about $60,000 for the study.

Much more on “Value Added Assessment” here.
Ironically, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction stated the following:

“… The WKCE is a large-scale assessment designed to provide a snapshot of how well a district or school is doing at helping all students reach proficiency on state standards, with a focus on school and district-level accountability. A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum.”


Teachers union talks of big goals in Washington

Greg Toppo:

The head of the American Federation of Teachers signaled the union’s willingness Monday to work broadly on education reform with the incoming Obama administration. It said that, with the exception of school vouchers, “no issue should be off the table.”
AFT president Randi Weingarten cautioned lawmakers nationwide against a “disinvestment in education” in the face of the economic meltdown. She warned that cutting aid to schools “places our economy in a race to the bottom for years to come.”
Weingarten already has told Congress that schools must be included in economic stimulus plans. She testified last month that lawmakers should add $20 billion to a social-services block grant to help state and local governments balance budgets without cutting education. She also said schools need $286 billion for buildings improvements.

Public vs. Private Schooling: Is There A Wrong Answer?


As the Obama family prepares to transition into the White House, one of the most pressing matters is choosing a school for their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Mary Lord, of D.C. State Board of Education; Mark Gooden, an education professor and Jay Matthews, education columnist for the Washington Post talk about the sometimes complicated choice between public or private schooling for children.

New York City’s School Grades

Jennifer Medina:

The A-through-F grading system for New York City schools is billed as a public information tool, helping people sort out which schools are teaching children and which schools are just moving them along. Instead of inscrutable education jargon and endless score charts, the letter grades act like billboards broadcasting achievements and failures.
But for parents shopping for the best schools, the letter grades can obscure some of the most salient information, because they are determined largely by how much progress students make year to year rather than how well their skills stand up against objective standards.
While the question of how effective teachers are at moving students forward is a critical one for their bosses, many parents are equally interested in which schools are most likely to, say, have students reading at grade level or ensure that sophomores are mastering algebra. The heavy emphasis on peer comparisons to schools serving similar populations is clearly a fairer yardstick for educators, but it can hide schools burdened by particularly challenging demographics.

Obama and the War on Brains

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.
We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.
Yet times may be changing. How else do we explain the election in 2008 of an Ivy League-educated law professor who has favorite philosophers and poets?
Granted, Mr. Obama may have been protected from accusations of excessive intelligence by his race. That distracted everyone, and as a black man he didn’t fit the stereotype of a pointy-head ivory tower elitist.
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions….

Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

James Vaznis:

About two-thirds of the city’s high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of-its-kind study being released today.
The findings represent a major setback for a city school system that made significant strides in recent years with percentages of graduates enrolling in college consistently higher than national averages, according to the report by the Boston Private Industry Council and the School Department.
However, the study shows that the number who went on to graduate is lower than the national average.
The low number of students who were able to earn college degrees or post-secondary certificates in a city known as a center of American higher education points to the enormous barriers facing urban high school graduates – many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. While the study did not address reasons for the low graduation rates, these students often have financial problems, some are raising children, and others are held back by a need to retake high school courses in college because they lack basic skills.
The students’ failure to complete college could exacerbate the fiscal problems in the state’s economy, which requires a highly skilled workforce, say business leaders and educators. While tens of thousands of students around the globe flock to the region’s colleges each fall, many of them leave once receiving their degrees.

Continue reading Incompletes
Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

Bill Gates: “breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success”

Via a kind reader’s email:

Excerpt: “A main strategy of the schools, breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success, Gates said.
He said the New York City small schools were an example of successes in raising high school graduation rates — but a disappointment in that their graduates were no likelier than any city student to be prepared to go onto college.
Gates said the small number of successful schools did well not because they were structured as small schools, but because they enacted many different innovations: improved teaching quality, a longer school day, innovative instructional tools, a focus on tracking student achievement data.”

The implementation of “Small Learning Communities” in Madison has not been without controversy.

“Good News isn’t News”: Addressing Health Care Costs

FoxPolitics via a Steve Loehrke email:

Fremont School District Board of Education and FoxPolitics reader, wrote to update me with positive (!!) financial news from a school district. Refreshing!
In early March, 2007, the Post-Crescent, striving to illustrate the Freedom of Information Act for readers, requested invoices for legal charges from Weyauwega Fremont (W-F), a 1000-student school district west of Appleton. Per one of the newspaper’s articles at the time:

Using the state’s Open Records law, the newspaper fought for 10 months to see detailed invoices for attorney services after the district released heavily redacted copies ….

(P-C, March 11, 2007. The articles are no longer linkable. You can pay the P-C for an archived copy, or access articles from 1999 and later, free with your library card via Newsbank on the Appleton Public Library website.)
Loehrke objected to carte blanche (unredacted) release of the information and the P/C suit ended up costing district taxpayers about $25,000.
Quoting again from the March 11, 2007 P/C article:

District officials maintain they have not broken the law nor spent money irresponsibly, that the media is hyping the issue, and a handful of antagonistic residents are digging for dirt where none exists.
“We have willingly and openly responded promptly to more than 30 open records requests in the last year,” school board president Steve Loehrke wrote in an e-mail to The P-C this past week.

Much of the legal work paid for by W-F and questioned by the P-C, was in response to actions by district retirees unhappy with health insurance changes the board and administration were considering – changes which ultimately led to substantial savings for the District.
Loehrke is proud of his school district and concerned that good news isn’t reported.

To update you, our school district changed to a self-funded insurance plan and got rid of the WEAC owned insurance carrier. This year the school district put $800,000 (8%) of our budget into the Fund Balance. Tax rate is lowest of all surrounding school districts. Test scores are up. Permanently fixed the OPEB [Other Post-Employment Benefits] problem. Balanced the next year’s budget. Many things the newspaper could have and should have reported. Instead they wanted a whipping boy to help them sell papers. They never showed up at this year’s annual meeting. News silence. Good news isn’t news.

I talked with W-F District Administrator Jim Harlan to confirm Loehrke’s claims, and if accurate, to get the low-down on how the district achieved all this good stuff.
It seems to me the primary story is one of doggedly doing everything they can to reduce costs – to reduce costs that don’t impact learning in the classroom. Lo and behold, one way W-F reduced costs was by controlling – surprise, surprise – health insurance costs.

Continue reading “Good News isn’t News”: Addressing Health Care Costs

Research scientist helps Edgewood eighth-graders explore biochemistry

Pamela Cotant:

Students at Edgewood Campus School are learning with the help of a research scientist.
This is the third year Edgewood is participating in the SMART (Students Modeling A Research Topic) Team program where students learn what active research scientists investigate in their labs. Along the way, students learn hands-on molecular modeling to better understand biochemistry and what happens when diseases occur.
“It tries to show students what research science is like,” said Edgewood Campus School teacher Dan Toomey. “Science is not a collection of facts.”
Toomey’s three eighth-grade science classes are participating in the program, which was integrated into his classroom after he first ran it as an after-school program.
For one activity this year, the students created a three-dimensional model of amino acids to learn how they interact.
“It’s a lot easier than, like, seeing a picture,” said eighth-grader Anna Heffernan.

Fenty, Rhee Look for Ways Around DC Teacher’s Union
Proposals Would Set Stage For School System Rebuild

Bill Turque:

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee are discussing a dramatic expansion of their effort to remove ineffective teachers by restoring the District’s power to create nonunionized charter schools and seeking federal legislation declaring the school system in a “state of emergency,” a move that would eliminate the need to bargain with the Washington Teachers’ Union.
If adopted, the measures would essentially allow the District to begin building a new school system. Such an effort would be similar to one underway in New Orleans, where a state takeover after Hurricane Katrina placed most of the city’s 78 public schools in a special Recovery School District. About half of the district’s schools are charters, and it has no union contract.
Pursuit of the ideas would intensify the considerable national attention that Washington has drawn as a staging ground for school reforms. The moves could force a major confrontation with the union and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, which has denounced the changes in New Orleans. The proposals also could place Fenty (D) and Rhee at odds with President-elect Barack Obama, who has praised their reform efforts but who also counts federation President Randi Weingarten as a major supporter in the labor movement.
Fenty and Rhee referred questions about the proposals to mayoral spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.

Social Security Administration looks at Dallas schools’ practice of issuing fake numbers

Tawnell Hobbs:

he Social Security Administration is looking into DISD’s practice of issuing fake Social Security numbers to employees hired from foreign countries and will determine whether a formal investigation is needed, Wes Davis, the agency’s spokesman in Dallas, said Friday.
Mr. Davis said the review would look at whether there was any criminal intent by the Dallas Independent School District and whether further investigation or prosecution is called for by the U.S. attorney’s office. He said he hasn’t heard of any other school districts issuing false Social Security numbers.
Richard Roper, U.S. attorney in Dallas, said he could not comment on whether his agency would investigate the matter.
DISD had been issuing the fake numbers – some of which had already been assigned to people elsewhere – for several years before ending the practice this past summer. The false numbers were issued to get the foreign citizens – mostly teachers brought in on visas to teach bilingual classes – on the payroll quickly.

Milwaukee’s neighborhood schools’ troubles go unaddressed

Dave Umhoefer:

A slight improvement in enrollment this fall – equal to about one student per building – is about all that has changed for 25 schools that were at the heart of a troubled $102 million construction program for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Officials have taken no major steps to change the situation at schools where enrollment is far below the goals set when the Neighborhood Schools Initiative was launched in 2000. A series of stories in the Journal Sentinel in August described how millions of dollars of building projects had brought little visible gain.
The lack of action has at least one School Board member unhappy.
“I see waste in the district, but no one wants to cut,” said Michael Bonds, chair of the board’s finance committee. “We have to reduce the number of buildings we have. It’s almost a mockery.”
No serious proposals related to the neighborhood project have been discussed publicly this fall to close schools or take other steps aimed at getting more bang from the $102 million.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Jonah Raskin:

Still, “Outliers” is unabashedly inspiring. Education is at its vital heart; teachers and parents ought to put it on Christmas lists and bring it to PTA meetings. The students in my own classes, many of whom never seize opportunities, and blame others for failures, would benefit greatly by reading Gladwell’s provocative and practical book about the landscape of success.

Gladwell’s website. Jeffrey Trachtenberg has more.

A Fascinating Look at Wisconsin’s K-12 and Higher Ed Finance Battles

Much continues to be written about Wisconsin’s K-12 and Higher Education spending growth, an issue that will be front and center as the State grapples with a structural deficit and slowing tax revenue growth. Following is a recent roundup of rhetoric on this matter:

We’ll certainly see many more articles on this topic as the Governor and Legislature address the state’s spending difficulties.

High School Rugby Team Breaks Down Barriers

Will Bardenwerper:

The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born. It is more brown than green, and sirens sometimes drown out the shouts of players. Then there are the occasional interruptions, like when play was briefly halted during a recent practice as a man darted about wildly on a nearby street, calling football plays and evading imaginary tacklers.
But this patch of mud and grass is more than the home of what is believed to be the nation’s first all-African-American high school rugby team. It is also where a growing number of students have been exposed to a sport they once knew nothing about and to parts of society that once seemed closed to them.
Hyde players have a hard time explaining rugby to friends who do not attend their school and who do not know much about the sport. Others say things like, “You’re crazy, that’s a white person’s sport,” said Lawrenn Lee, a senior on the team. One parent, Clifford Lancaster, recalled his reaction when his son Salim announced he was going to play: “My eyes got this big. I said, ‘That’s a wild sport.’ “

Putting education — not unions — first

Ben DeGrow:

This year brought the biggest electoral Democratic wave in more than three decades. Yet Colorado teachers union officials may have lost, rather than gained, political ground.
Sometimes, the interests of the Democratic Party and teachers union officials align closely. The Colorado Education Association and Colorado Federation of Teachers together give Democrats about $50 in contributions for every $1 they give Republicans.
Of course, not all Democratic legislators are in the pockets of the teachers union hierarchy. It is remarkable, though, to see not one but two legislators without union connections assume the highest positions at our state Capitol. Peter Groff’s Democratic peers voted to re-elect him as state Senate president, and Rep. Terrance Carroll was selected to become the new speaker of the House.
Supporters of public school parental choice could find no better friends in the Democratic caucus than Groff and Carroll. Both men have a strong record of protecting charter schools against union-backed legislative attacks, even attacks launched by other Democrats.

ADHD Primer for Parents Part I

Susan Crum:

Although called Attention Deficit Disorder, and thus many parents and teachers believe that the primary problem is distractibility or poor attention, in reality this disorder is primarily a disorder of impaired executive function. When an individual has ADHD, executive functions are not emerging or unfolding as expected for the child chronological age. By executive functions I refer to a wide range of central control process of the brain that temporaneously connect, prioritize and integrate cognitive functions in the same manner that a conductor directs a band. Clearly, this does not refer to a single task at a given point in time such as focusing on getting a hamburger when hungry, or pushing a button at a given moment in order to stop a character is a video game from going forward. But, it does mean there is impairment in the ability to sustain concentrated focus on a task that requires constant monitoring and adjustment, as well as intermediate and long-term projection into the future such as driving a car, following a complicate classroom lecture or interacting with others and anticipating their reactions and the long-term outcomes of my statements or actions. In short, impaired executive functions negatively impact the real stuff of day to day life.

Should Schools Tackle Poverty?
Yeah, let’s add that between recess and lunch.

Alexander Russo:

Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more from teachers and board members about “out of school” social issues and programs this year. Chatter about more daring and wider-ranging approaches to school improvement is all the rage right now, as part of a longer-term pushback against accountability-based reform like NCLB.
Jumping into efforts to reach children in their home lives, however, may stretch schools’ abilities to make a real difference–and may take you and your team’s eyes off quality classroom instruction and academic improvement.
Over the past few months, there has been a slew of ideas and proposals to move beyond reform efforts that are primarily school-based. Just as the Democratic primary was wrapping up, a coalition of educators put out a call for a “broader, bolder” approach to education reform. Later in the summer, aft president-elect Randi Weingarten called for “community schools” that would provide social services as well as education. Early in the fall, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama began touting a proposal to create “Promise Neighborhoods” around the country, in which low-income children and their parents would receive a comprehensive set of medical and social services in addition to a quality education. About a third of states have recently embarked on new antipoverty programs, according to .

Top national honor goes to Simpson Street Free Press

The Capital Times
Madison’s Simpson Street Free Press, the newspaper written and produced by young people for other young people, was recognized Thursday in a White House ceremony as one of the country’s best youth programs.
The paper, which was founded in 1992 to help struggling students on the south side of Madison improve their writing and academic skills, received the 2008 “Coming Up Taller” award, an initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities that is designed to recognize the nation’s best and most innovative youth programs.
The national honor is one of several awards the paper has earned in recent years for its effective methods of engaging and building the skills of young people.
The Free Press’ first headquarters was a makeshift community center in the old Simpson Street apartments on the city’s southeast side and involved just a handful of students. It now has its office and newsroom in nearby South Towne Mall and has a staff of nearly 40 student reporters who come from diverse backgrounds and neighborhoods. Young people apply for jobs at the paper and, once hired, meet assignment deadlines and attendance and school performance guidelines while they produce regular issues of the newspaper.
The staff, which ranges in age from 11 to 18, writes and produces the content of the Free Press. They research and produce articles on history, geography, science, literary criticism and the arts. Some write sports stories, and others write regular columns. The young reporters all work in an authentic newsroom environment. They write and rewrite articles several times before they are accepted for publication.
The paper is circulated at numerous outlets in the Madison area, including in all city schools. The Free Press provides lesson plans to teachers who want to use the paper in their classroom. Currently about 23,000 copies of each issue are printed. Subscription information is available online.

Competing for Grammar School

Lisa Freedman:

It’s a brisk Friday morning and a skinny little boy in a large blazer stands shivering by locked school gates. Close beside him are his mother, his father and his two grandmothers, both in saris. The trembling child is right to be anxious. He is about to sit the entrance tests for Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet, north London, one of England’s leading grammar schools, and the odds against him passing through this narrow gateway to academic success are extremely slim. There are just 180 places available in the school’s Year Seven each year and 1,200 boys hoping to fill them.
Grammar schools have always been popular but with the financial meltdown affecting many affluent families, a free education in a traditional environment is looking highly attractive to parents of bright 10-year-olds. Fees for three children at independent secondary schools cost £50,000 or more a year, and four out of five parents pay those fees out of income.
Jenny Jones, secretary of the National Grammar Schools Association, a non-political body of parents, teachers and heads promoting grammar schools, confirms that “there have definitely been more applications from families who would normally go to independent schools”.

Universal preK brings new challenges for public elementary schools

David McKay Wilson:

In 2005, when Boston mayor Thomas Menino announced his plan to make prekindergarten available to all four-year-olds in the city, parents and early childhood advocates applauded this initiative to add a 14th year to the city’s public school system.
Three years later, after preK classrooms were established in 50 of the city’s 67 elementary schools, educators say implementing the mayor’s vision has proved to be a major challenge. There were facility issues: none of the classrooms had running water or bathrooms, so administrators lobbied to build toilet facilities in the rooms–at the cost of $35,000 each. There were oversight issues: many of the elementary school principals weren’t sensitive to the needs of four-year-olds, so Boston established a professional development academy for administrators faced with the prospect of educating preschoolers.
Then there was the impact on the elementary schools where those four-year-olds were getting ready for kindergarten. When those students turned five, they were so well prepared that the district had to retool its kindergarten curriculum to keep pace with children much more ready to learn.

AP Students Forced to Accept Less

Jay Matthews:

A teacher with the sign-on name of pfelcher posted a provocative comment on the Web version of my Nov. 3 column for the Post’s Metro section. I was repeating for the 4,897th time my view that even low-income students who have not performed well in school can learn in a college-level high school course, like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, if given extra time and encouragement.
Pfelcher would have none of my argument. To support his opinion, he cited a personal experience in his classroom. I always find first-person accounts helpful when debating this issue. I decided to send his comment to a few other AP teachers I knew, and see what they had to say.
Here is the post from pfelcher, whom I do not know and cannot identify further, followed by the reactions of three teachers, plus a student who sent me his view. If we want to make our high schools better, we have to work this out. I think such exchanges help us figure out what to do:
It’s not about who wins in a class of students with such disparate preparation and skill; it’s about who loses. The students ready to march ahead are forced instead to grind to a halt as the other students have to be taught the basics with which they should have entered the class.
At the end of the year, those unprepared students who might have gained from my class but who still had too far to go to attain the literacy and competence the test requires, failed miserably on the AP exam. So, did these lower-end students gain from the experience? Yes, they did to some degree, even though egos that had never really been tried suffered when they saw how they compared to the nation.

Madison School Board Update

Board President Arlene Silveira:

Thank You: On behalf of the BOE, I would like to thank the community for their support in the recent referendum vote. Your support of our students and schools is appreciated. Because of your support, you have maintained our foundation and provided us three years to focus on ways to improve our schools without the constant specter of compulsory budget slashing. We are committed to continuing the “Partnership Plan” that was at the heart of the referendum. We look forward to working together, with each other and with the community. More information on our future plans is below.
Governance: As we have stated, the referendum was only a piece of a bigger plan for the district. This week the Board and the Superintendent have continued discussions on governance models which will allow us to focus our energies and attention on student achievement. We plan on starting the implementation of a new governance model in December. Community engagement will be a key part of any model we pursue. More details will be available after our November 24 BOE meeting.

Vouchers in Texas, A Worthy Experiment

The Economist:

THE Edgewood independent school district covers an unassuming part of west San Antonio, a district of fast-food joints and car-body shops, with houses that run from modest to ramshackle. It is mostly poor and mostly Hispanic, and in 1968 its government-funded public schools were so bad that a parents’ group sued the state, prompting a debate over school funding that lasted for decades. By 1998 the situation had improved. The National Education Association, America’s largest teachers’ union, said that Edgewood could be a model for other urban school districts.
Then its voucher programme started. In 1998 the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation, a private group, announced that it would put up $50m over the next ten years to provide vouchers for private education to any low-income Edgewood student who wanted one. The “Horizon” plan was meant to show legislators that vouchers could help students and motivate schools through competition.
Critics said the programme would take money from a school district that was poor already. One teacher wrote an angry editorial comparing Horizon to Napoleons invasion of Russia“>Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, destined for “history’s trash heap of bad ideas”.
But a report published in September [3.5MB PDF Report] by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think-tank, argues that the programme was a hit over its ten-year span. More than 4,000 students claimed the vouchers; their test scores jumped, and only two dropped out.

The Best Places in the USA to Raise Your Children

Prashant Gopal:

A Chicago suburb beats out thousands of other communities around the U.S. as the best, most affordable place to raise kids.
Mount Prospect, Ill., is a quiet Chicago suburb with a population of just over 56,000. It is a tight-knit town where over the past eight years Prospect High School’s football team won three state championships, its Marching Knights picked up their 26th straight grand champion title at the annual state marching band festival, and just last month the school itself ranked 12th among all state high schools. Now the town is also the winner of Businessweek’s second annual roundup of the Best Places in America to Raise Kids.
Founded by German immigrants and incorporated in 1917, Mount Prospect hasn’t strayed far from its values of fiscal conservatism and community involvement, even as it has expanded to include new immigrants from Poland, Mexico, Korea, and India. It is a middle-class community with low crime, affordable homes, award-winning schools, ethnic restaurants, a major regional mall, and a small-town charm that makes the big city less than an hour away seem much farther away.

Other cities mentioned include: Euless, TX, Murfreesboro, TN, Huntsville, AL and Eau Claire, WI.

Tempe High relishes chance to become IB school

Georgann Yara:

A 3.7 grade-point average and a schedule stacked with honors classes may be enough for Tempe High School sophomore Fabian De La Cruz to attain his goal of attending Harvard University.
A new program slated for implementation at his school next year could only help the aspiring surgeon reach his dream and become the first person in his family to go to college.
The International Baccalaureate program comprises a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes an international perspective and critical and creative thinking skills.

Arts Integration Aids Students’ Grasp of Academics

Julie Rasicot:

Teacher Karen McKiernan’s science class at Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School seemed more like a lesson in art appreciation than the laws of physics as students focused on a poster of an abstract painting propped against the blackboard.
The room buzzed with questions as the fifth-graders at the Silver Spring school queried each other about the piece, “People and Dog in the Sun,” by Joan Miró.
“What would this painting look like if it was not abstract?” 10-year-old Annesha Goswami asked her classmates.
“Why do you think there are so many dark colors and only one bright color?” asked Elizabeth Iduma, 10.
The students, participants in the school’s talented and gifted magnet program, were practicing a thinking routine called “creative questions” which was designed to help them “think outside the box,” McKiernan said. For the class’s next meeting, McKiernan said, she planned to have students relate their thoughts about the artwork to the concepts of force, motion and energy that the fifth-graders had been studying.