New High-School Elective: Put Off College

Toddi Gutner:

Like many motivated, focused high-school students, Lillian Kivel had worked hard academically and in community service in hopes that her efforts would win her acceptance into a good college. It did. Trouble was, Ms. Kivel’s focus was much less clear when she had to decide which college to attend — the Boston-area senior had applied to 38 schools because her interests were so varied.
At the suggestion of friends, Ms. Kivel decided to take a gap year — a year outside of academia between high-school graduation and college matriculation. It wasn’t rest and relaxation that Ms. Kivel sought, but rather an opportunity to gain life experience and focus her goals. Gappers, as they’re called, typically feel that taking a year off will give them a head start in college — and life. “I [have] the opportunity to explore my interests, like medicine and China, outside the classroom,” she says.
Ms. Kivel eventually decided to attend Harvard College, but deferred entrance until fall 2009. Ms. Kivel lived at home this fall and interned at the Boston branch of Partners of Health, a global health outreach nonprofit. She’s also serving as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse. And she’s auditing at anthropology class at Harvard.

Needy Schools Turn to Parents For Funding

Anne Marie Chaker:

Public schools across the country, hurt by state- and local-government cutbacks, are tapping an alternative source of cash: Mom and Dad.
Parent groups and local nonprofit organizations have long raised money for activities like class trips, school dances and after-school clubs. But many parents say they now are shelling out for core curricular items that were once publicly funded — from classroom supplies to teachers’ salaries.
This fall, a parent group in Columbia, S.C., bought 100 dictionaries for a middle-school teacher who had requested them. In Kentucky, the Middletown Elementary School parent-teacher association has been discussing helping to pay the salary of a teacher aide whose job might get cut. And in Sunrise, Fla., the Sawgrass Elementary School PTA is kicking in $3,000 for news magazines that the district used to buy for classroom use. The group also is considering eliminating funding for specialized after-school clubs to free up money for classroom study programs.

Related: A look at Wisconsin’s K-12 state spending growth.

On Detroit’s Union Work Rules

Logan Robinson:

The collective bargaining agreement with the UAW is a heavily negotiated document the size of a small telephone book. It is virtually identical for each of the Detroit Three, owing to “pattern” bargaining, but it doesn’t exist at all in their U.S. competition, the nonunionized transplants. Not only work rules, but fundamental business decisions to sell, close or spin-off plants are forbidden without permission. That permission may come, but only at a price, since everything that affects the workplace must be negotiated.
Both the UAW and the Detroit Three maintain large staffs of lawyers, contract administrators, and financial and human-resources representatives whose principal job is to negotiate with the other side. These staffs are at all levels, from the factory floor to corporate headquarters and the UAW’s “Solidarity House” in downtown Detroit.
The collective bargaining agreements are now renegotiated every four years; in each negotiation the power and penetration of the union grows. If the company asks to change the flow of work for any reason, from cost-savings to vehicle improvements, the local union president will listen politely, and then say something like, “We can help you with this, but what’s in it for my guys?”
Typically, he will have a list of things he wants, some understandable (better cafeterias) some questionable (hire my nephew), but there is always a quid pro quo. These mutually sustaining bureaucracies exist to negotiate with each other.
In an environment of downsizing, the problem is exacerbated, as the entrenched bargaining structure causes innumerable inefficiencies. Typically each plant or warehouse is a “bargaining unit” and has a union president, who has a staff. If the company consolidates facilities, there will be no need for two presidents and two staffs. Since neither president wants to play musical chairs, they will both point to the bargaining agreement and resist consolidation. As a result, unnecessary facilities are not sold, but kept open, lit and heated, just to preserve a redundant bargaining-unit president and his team.

Many teacher union agreements are patterned after the United Auto Workers. Here’s a look at several agreements:

Teacher Union’s “Exposed” looks at work rules and reform, among other topics.

Colorado School District Let’s Kids Skip Grades

Jeremy Meyer:

A school district in Westminster struggling with declining enrollment and falling test scores will try something revolutionary next year that many say never has been accomplished in the Lower 48.
Adams 50 will eliminate grade levels and instead group students based on what they know, allowing them to advance to the next level after they have proved proficiency.
“If they can pull this off, it will be a lighthouse for America’s challenged school districts,” said Richard DeLorenzo, the consultant who implemented a standards-based model in Alaska and is working with Adams 50. “It will change the face of American education.”
A district of 10,000 students and 21 schools, Adams 50 serves a working-class suburb north of Denver. Seventy-two percent of its students are poor enough for federal meal benefits, two-thirds are Latino, and 38 percent still are learning English.

Going to School Online: Georgia Virtual Academy

Laura Diamond:

When Janet Webber’s three youngest children head to school, they don’t meet up with the yellow buses rolling through their Cumming subdivision.
Instead Roni, the seventh-grader, spreads books across the kitchen table and logs onto the computer. Webber leads her other two children — a first- and third-grader — upstairs, to a sunny room with two desks, a laptop computer and bookcases filled with textbooks.
The three kids spend the next five hours or so completing lessons designed by the Georgia Virtual Academy. The online charter school started in 2007 and has quietly become one of the largest public schools in the state. It teaches about 4,400 elementary and middle school students from 163 of the state’s 180 school districts.
Internet-based schools have popped up across the country in the past few years because of improved technology and changing education laws. As of January, there were 173 virtual charter schools teaching about 92,000 students in 18 states, according to the North American Council for Online Learning.
Nationally, little research has been done on the effectiveness of such online schools. They’re just too new.
But Roni, 12, has no doubts about her school.
“I do everything else on the computer, so why not go to school that way?” she said.
For the Webber children, the computer is their classroom.

A look at Chicago’s School Reforms

Maria Glod:

At Cameron Elementary School west of downtown, most kids don’t know the alphabet when they start kindergarten, nearly all are poor, and one was jumped by a gang recently, just off campus. But the school this year posted its highest reading and math scores ever — a feat that earned cash bonuses for teachers, administrators, even janitors.
City schools chief executive Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for education secretary, pushed that performance-pay plan and a host of other innovations to transform a school system once regarded as one of the country’s worst. As Duncan heads to Washington, the lessons of Chicago could provide a model for fixing America’s schools.
“Obama chose Arne Duncan for a reason, and part of that reason is the experimentation that Duncan has done in Chicago and his real attention to data and outcomes,” said Elliot Weinbaum, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. “Duncan’s willing to try new things and see if they work, hopefully keep the ones that do and drop the ones that don’t. I expect that experimentation to continue on a national scale.”

Offer vouchers for special education: It would save money and improve quality

Marcus Winters:

About 13% of public school students in New York State are enrolled in special education. Educating each of them costs taxpayers many thousands of dollars more than it does to educate a regular student. With the financial crisis compelling Gov. Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg and other officials around the state to make cuts that have the least impact on services to which we have become accustomed, now is the time for them to give a special-education voucher program a second look. Aside from offering better educational outcomes, such a program would significantly reduce expenditures.
Contrary to popular belief, tuition charged by private schools, where vouchers can be used, is actually lower than public school per-pupil expenditures. Take Florida, which is home to the nation’s first voucher program for disabled students. Under the program, all disabled students are eligible for a voucher that is worth the lesser of the amount the public school would have spent on them or the tuition at a chosen private school. The value of the average voucher for disabled students there is $7,295. Not only is this far less than what the state spends to educate a disabled student in a public school, it is even below the state’s much lower average per-pupil cost of educating all students, both disabled and regular enrollment.
In other words, the public system actually saves money when it pays for students to attend private school, and even more money when those students are disabled.

Philadelphia Charter schools’ problems surfacing

Martha Woodall:

When an unusual coalition of Republicans and Philadelphia Democrats led by State Rep. Dwight Evans joined forces to pass a law bringing charter schools to Pennsylvania, they spoke in glowing terms about this “innovative” alternative to troubled public schools.
At that time – 11 years ago – few could have predicted the explosive growth – and controversy – that now surround the charter movement.
About 67,000 students are enrolled at 127 charter schools statewide, including several in Philadelphia that are now under criminal investigation.
The “innovation” most in evidence at the Philadelphia Academy Charter School in Northeast Philadelphia, as The Inquirer has reported, has led to allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest and financial mismanagement, all now under investigation by federal authorities.
Philadelphia Academy Charter is hardly alone.

Murders of Black Teens Are Up 39% Since 2000-01

Gary Fields:

Homicides in which blacks ages 14 to 17 years old were the victims rose to 927 over the two-year period of 2006-07, the last years for which statistics are available, compared with 666 during 2000-01, according to the study by criminal-justice professors at Boston’s Northeastern University. The 39% increase is much greater than the rise in overall homicides, which jumped 7.4% from 2000-01 to 2006-07.
Murders rose among black teens in 2006 and 2007 as overall homicides dropped compared with the previous year. And the 2000-07 rate of increase among black teens was more than twice the rate of increase among white teens, the study found.
The authors explained that they compared two-year periods to try to limit a statistical skewing of the numbers that might have occurred if they had simply looked at differences in 2000 and 2007.
The data confirm a pattern identified earlier this year by The Wall Street Journal, which found that while most communities in the U.S. were seeing a decline in homicides, many African-American neighborhoods were continuing to see an increase. The Northeastern University research shows that the pattern is more pronounced among juveniles.

Complete report 240K PDF.

High school IB programs becoming more popular


A growing number of Indiana high schools are offering rigorous International Baccalaureate programs that emphasize critical thinking and cultural awareness.
IB coordinators at Bosse High School and Signature School told the Evansville Courier & Press that the program helps create well-rounded students. Students in the challenging IB program study a foreign language, social sciences and the arts as well as math and experimental sciences.
When Bosse and Signature were approved as IB schools three years ago, they were only the eighth and ninth Indiana schools to offer the program. The number since has doubled, and 18 Indiana schools now offer IB programs.

Corruption in schools a big problem in Vietnam

Ben Stocking:

The thugs came after dark, as Do Viet Khoa and his family were getting ready for bed.
He says they punched him, kicked him, stole his camera and terrified his wife and children.
Khoa, a high school math and geography teacher, says the message was clear: Stop blowing the whistle on school corruption – or else.
For several years, Khoa has been fighting the petty bribery and cheating that plagues schools across Vietnam, where poorly paid teachers and administrators squeeze money out of even poorer parents.
Vietnam’s leaders approved a sweeping anti-corruption law in 2005, but implementation is uneven. The country still ranks poorly on global corruption surveys, and for ordinary Vietnamese, who treasure education, school corruption is perhaps the most infuriating of all.

K-8 or middle school? Which is better?

Alex Bloom:

As the Scottsdale Unified School District debated closing a school earlier this year, a parent group petitioned the district to let the school grow from providing pre-K through fifth grade into providing pre-K through eighth grade (K-8).
The group included one parent who said she was terrified to send her child to a middle school, which provides sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
K-8 schools have become the norm in the Valley in recent years, although research remains inconclusive on which school structure is better for students.
Regardless, educators agree that success in middle school is vital. A report released earlier this month by ACT Inc., which administers the content-based standardized college entrance exam, found the level of academic achievement students reached by eighth grade has the biggest impact on college and career success.
“By the time they leave eighth grade and go into high school, it’s too late,” said Al Summers, director of professional development for the National Middle School Association.

From the ACT report [341K PDF]:

However, the most recent results for the 2008 ACT-tested high school graduating class are alarming: only one in five ACT-tested 2008 high school graduates are prepared for entry-level college courses in English Composition, College Algebra, social science, and Biology, while one in four are not prepared for college-level coursework in any of the four subject areas (ACT, 2008).
Current international comparisons of academic achievement show students in the United States at a deficit compared to students in many other nations. According to the most recent results of the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), U.S. eighth graders rank fifteenth of forty-five countries in average mathematics score and ninth in average science score (Gonzales et al., 2004). The most recent results of the PISA (Programme forInternational Student Assessment) rank U.S. 15-year-olds twenty-eighth of forty countries in average mathematics performance, eighteenth in average reading performance, and twenty-second in average science performance (Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development, 2004).
Recent ACT research has investigated the multifaceted nature of college and career readiness. We first analyzed the low level of college and career readiness among U.S. high school graduates in Crisis at the Core (ACT, 2004). The critical role that high-level reading skills play in college and career readiness in all subject areas was the focus of Reading Between the Lines(ACT, 2006a). And when ACT data showed that many high school students were still not ready for college and career after taking a core curriculum, we examined the need for increased rigor in the high school core curriculum as an essential element of college and career readiness in Rigor at Risk (ACT, 2007b). The Forgotten Middleextends this research. This report examines the specific factors that influence college and career readiness and how these factors can have their greatest impact during a student’s educational development. This report suggests that, in the current educational environment, there is a critical defining point for students in the college and career readiness process–one so important that, if students are not on target for college and career readiness by the time they reach this point, the impact may be nearly irreversible.

Comparing College’s Athletic Admission Qualifications

Atlanta Journal Constitution:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gathered information about athletes’ admissions qualifications from 54 public universities nationwide. We surveyed the members of every Bowl Championship Series conference, plus the University of Memphis and the University of Hawaii, two other public schools that finished in the 2007-08 season’s football or men’s basketball Top 25s.
The information listed here was calculated from data contained in a report, called an NCAA certification self-study, that each school files once every 10 years. Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh refused to provide the information. The University of Kansas and West Virginia University said their most recent NCAA certification self-study did not include the information. Kansas State University deleted all of its sport-by-sport data.
The SAT scores are on the 1600-point scale that predates the addition of an SAT writing component. For schools that reported ACT scores, we derived comparable SAT scores using the NCAA’s conversion chart. Some schools refused to provide men’s basketball SAT scores on the grounds it would violate the privacy rights of individual athletes.

A few links:

10 Lessons of an MIT Education

Gian-Carlo Rota:

Lesson One: You can and will work at a desk for seven hours straight, routinely. For several years, I have been teaching 18.30, differential equation, the largest mathematics course at MIT, with more than 300 students. The lectures have been good training in dealing with mass behavior. Every sentence must be perfectly enunciated, preferably twice. Examples on the board must be relevant, if not downright fascinating. Every 15 minutes or so, the lecturer is expected to come up with an interesting aside, joke, historical anecdote, or unusual application of the concept at hand. When a lecturer fails to conform to these inexorable requirements, the students will signify their displeasure by picking by their books and leaving the classroom.
Despite the lecturer’s best efforts, however, it becomes more difficult to hold the attention of the students as the term wears on, and they start falling asleep in class under those circumstances should be a source of satisfaction for a teacher, since it confirms that they have been doing their jobs. There students have been up half the night-maybe all night-finishing problem sets and preparing for their midterm exams.
Four courses in science and engineering each term is a heavy workload for anyone; very few students fail to learn, first and foremost, the discipline of intensive and constant work.
Lesson Two: You learn what you don’t know you are learning. The second lesson is demonstrated, among other places, in 18.313, a course I teach in advanced probability theory. It is a difficult course, one that compresses the material typically taught in a year into one term, and it includes weekly problem sets that are hard, even by the standards of professional mathematicians. (How hard is that? Well, every few years a student taking the course discovers a new solution to a probability problem that merits publication as a research paper in a refereed journal.)
Students join forces on the problem sets, and some students benefit more than others from these weekly collective efforts. The most brilliant students will invariably work out all the problems and let other students copy, and I pretend to be annoyed when I learn that this has happened. But I know that by making the effort to understand the solution of a truly difficult problem discovered by one of their peers, students learn more than they would by working out some less demanding exercise.

Scientist sets High Expectations for Milwaukee High School

Alan Borsuk:

High expectations. High performance.
It’s been that way throughout Patricia Hoben‘s life.
A doctorate in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. Influential work as a science adviser in Washington.
And now: founder and head of a small high school on the south side, where low-income students are being pushed to commit themselves to two things: High expectations. High performance.
In its second year, many of the 140 students of Carmen High School of Science & Technology show signs they are making those commitments. And Hoben shows the traits that make schools like this succeed: Unrelenting dedication, clear vision, an ability to bring people together, and a positive outlook.
Hoben’s personal path to founding the charter school is definitely different from the personal paths, up to this point, of Carmen’s students, more than 90% of them Latino, almost 90% low-income.
That hasn’t stopped them from coming together. It’s too early to see definite results, but the school seems to have its act together more than many schools with such short histories.
Attendance is high, averaging 92%. There is a serious-minded feeling in classrooms and even (comparatively speaking) in the lunchroom. Kids appear to be on-task a high portion of the time. The dress code includes ties for the boys and buttoned shirts with collars for both boys and girls. The aim here is to give teens from an impoverished neighborhood something much like a private high school experience.

All’s Fair in the Middle School Scramble

Elissa Gootman:

In the quest to find the perfect middle school for her 10-year-old daughter, Aimée Margolis has zig-zagged across Manhattan for 11 school visits, grilled pre-teenagers at a school fair on music classes and the preferred attire at dances, and compiled a dog-eared folder full of notes.
After a 90-minute tour of the Clinton School for Writers and Artists in Chelsea, Ms. Margolis casually slipped away for what appeared to be a quick pit stop. She carefully occupied a stall, waited for a cluster of students to walk in, and listened.
“It gives you a glimpse behind the scenes,” Ms. Margolis explained of her sub rosa research. “At the tour everybody’s ready for you, everybody has a happy face. They say what they want to say, and you hear what they want you to hear.”
As the Bloomberg administration has created hundreds of new schools, centralized the admissions process and publicized the options, there is a wave of panic among many parents of fifth graders facing the next step. And throughout the country, middle school is increasingly seen as a kind of educational black hole where raging hormones, changes in how youngsters learn and a dearth of great teachers can collide to send test scores plummeting.

The Parent-Teacher Talk Gains a New Participant

Karen Ann Cullotta:

For years attendance was minimal at Tefft Middle School’s annual parent-teacher conferences, but the principal did not chalk up the poor response to apathetic or dysfunctional families. Instead, she blamed what she saw as the outmoded, irrelevant way the conferences were conducted.
Roughly 60 percent of the 850 students at Tefft, in this working-class suburb some 30 miles northwest of Chicago, are from low-income families. Many are immigrants, unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the tradition of parents perched in pint-size chairs, listening intently as a teacher delivers a 15-minute soliloquy on their child’s academic progress, or lack thereof.
“Five years ago, the most important person — the student — was left out of the parent-teacher conference,” Tefft’s principal, Lavonne Smiley, said. “The old conferences were such a negative thing, so we turned it around by removing all the barriers and obstacles,” including allowing students not only to attend but also to lead the gatherings instead of anxiously awaiting their parents’ return home with the teacher’s verdict on their classroom performance.

A Doctorate in the School of Life

Tony Barboza:

Rueben Martinez is known for his many callings: Barber. Longtime bookstore owner. MacArthur award winner. Speaker at high schools, colleges and universities across the country. Holder of more honorary degrees than he can count.
And now Martinez, 68, is a college professor. A presidential fellow, to be exact.
Starting next month, Martinez will be responsible for Chapman University’s efforts to recruit first-generation students, especially Latinos, into science and math programs.
University administrators said the fellowship is part of a twofold strategy of boosting its science enrollment while more aggressively recruiting students from such central Orange County communities as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange — where the 6,000-student campus is located.
Martinez said that during his visits to high schools, he likes to conduct one-on-one interviews with rapid-fire questions to find out about students’ interests and determine how serious they are about pursuing their education.
“What I tell these kids today is that a college degree can be a reality,” he said. “I tell them: ‘If you don’t like high school you’re going to dig college, man.’ “

Jamestown, ND starts women’s wrestling program

Eric Peterson:

Jamestown College athletic director Lawrie Paulson anticipated some would have a skewed view of his school’s first-year women’s wrestling program.
“I think for a lot of people who heard ‘women’s wrestling,’ they thought we were going to have a place with mud or Jell-O in there,” he said.
Paulson, a 1977 Jamestown College graduate, recalls his college days in the early Title IX years as a time when such women’s sports as basketball and volleyball were viewed with similar cynicism.
“This is never going to go; this is never going to go,” Paulson said in reference to what skeptics thought of those sports at that time.
Any doubts Paulson had about his school’s newest female athletic offering were answered swiftly.

Obama’s $10,000,000,000 Early Childhood Education Pledge

Sara Mead:

Advocates for early childhood education are understandably excited about their prospects under President-elect Barack Obama’s administration. During the campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to increase federal early education spending by $10 billion annually.
Currently, the two largest federal early childhood programs, Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, spend about $12 billion annually combined. A $10 billion increase would almost double that investment.
Just as remarkably, Mr. Obama deliberately singled out early education as an important investment he would prioritize even in tight economic times. Add in a potentially $1 trillion economic stimulus package that’s raising the prospects for even previously inconceivable public investments, and advocates are downright giddy.
It seems terribly Grinch-like to throw cold water on these hopes. But in fact this is a dangerous moment for both Mr. Obama and the early education movement.

Is Recess Necessary?

Jay Matthews:

I often spout opinions on matters about which I know nothing, so I understand when my favorite peer group — the American people — does the same. The latest example is a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults [931K PDF] by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which specializes in public health projects, and Sports4Kids, a national nonprofit organization that supports safe and healthy playtime in low-income elementary schools.
According to the survey’s press release, “seven out of 10 Americans disagree with schools’ policies of eliminating or reducing recess time for budgetary, safety or academic reasons.” I realize most people don’t know how poisonous recess can be for urban schools with severe academic needs, but I was surprised to see the news release fail to acknowledge this. It even suggests, without qualification, that “in low-income communities” recess time “offers one of our best chances to help children develop into healthy, active adults who know how to work together and resolve conflicts.”
Few Americans have an opportunity to experience what teaching in urban schools is like. The people I know who have done so have developed a well-reasoned antipathy for the typical half-hour, go-out-and-play-but-don’t-kill-anybody recess. In my forthcoming book, “Work Hard. Be Nice,” about the Knowledge Is Power Program, I describe the classroom and playground chaos KIPP co-founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin encountered before starting their first KIPP fifth grade in a Houston public elementary school, the beginning of their successful program:

CRG Network Posts Milwaukee Public Schools’ Expenditures Online

Alan Borsuk:

CRG Network, the citizen organization that emerged from the recall campaign against Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament in 2002, has come up with more than 432,000 answers to the question of how Milwaukee Public Schools spends its money.
The organization has posted a massive database with that many bills paid by MPS in 2006, 2007 and the first half of 2008.
Given that MPS is, among other things, a $1.2 billion-a-year business, there’s a lot of stuff there, ranging from payments for a few bucks to reimburse a principal for parking at a conference to six-figure amounts for contracts with University of Wisconsin researchers and millions of dollars in payments to bus companies.
Conservative talk show hosts and bloggers in recent weeks have targeted items in the database for attention, such as $16,958 in 49 invoices for Cousins Subs, many of them involving food for events involving teacher training.
Chris Kliesmet, executive administrator of CRG Network, said there have been more than 50,000 hits on the Web site with the database, some of them from foreign countries, including Iraq.

A great idea. Every school district should do this.

Geoffrey Canada Talks about Schools & Harlem

GEL Video:

In one of the all-time most popular Gel talks, Geoffrey Canada describes how his nonprofit, the Harlem Children’s Zone, works to help young people in inner-city Harlem. Canada issues a sober indictment of failing schools, then describes the solution he has created.
Canada was recently profiled in the book Whatever It Takes, on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and two years ago on 60 Minutes. If you don’t know about Geoffrey Canada, you should. This video is a good place to start.

In College, But Only Marginally

Globe Editorial
The Boston Globe
In college, but only marginally
December 23, 2008
MUCH SOUL-SEARCHING is taking place on local college campuses after a recent study showing that college was a bust for almost two-thirds of Boston high school graduates in the class of 2000. Students attending two-year community colleges–the least-expensive option–fared the worst in the survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, with an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.
Specific results for all public and private colleges in the study should be available shortly after Christmas. But some figures are trickling in. Roxbury Community College fell flat. Of the 101 students from the high school class of 2000 who enrolled in RCC shortly after high school, only 6 percent would go on to earn a diploma there–or anywhere else–by June 2007. Quincy College, a low-profile, two-year college on the South Shore, did comparatively well (but not good enough) by its 62 Boston students, posting a 19 percent graduation rate. Bunker Hill Community College, which drew 155 enrollees from Boston’s class of 2000, yielded a 14 percent graduation rate.
The study, which was funded by the Boston Foundation, strips away some of the hype about college attendance rates in Boston. Seven out of 10 public school graduates may get into college, but many lack the preparation to succeed. At Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent of the Boston students from the class of 2000 required a remedial math course. Wisely, Bunker Hill and Boston school officials are now introducing students at some city high schools to the placement exams they will face on campus in the coming year.
The study should put an end to common claims by community college officials that their graduation rates don’t reveal much because many of their students transfer to four-year colleges before earning associate degrees. In this study, a student merely needed to earn a diploma or certificate from any institution of higher education, not just the original college. And by providing at least a six-year window, the study made allowances for students who often juggle college with work or family obligations. Rationalizations are now off the table.

Continue reading In College, But Only Marginally

Striking Against Students Why Pennsylvania leads the nation in teacher walkouts

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Teachers unions routinely claim that the interests of students are their top priority. So we would be interested to hear how the Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Education Association explains the proliferation of teacher walkouts in the middle of the school year.
According to a recent study by the Allegheny Institute, Pennsylvania is once again the worst state in the country for teacher strikes. No less than 42% of all teacher walkouts nationwide occur in the Keystone State, leaving kids sidelined and parents scrambling to juggle work and family, potentially on as little as 48 hours notice required by state law.
The strikes take place despite the state’s ranking in the top 20% nationwide for teacher salaries in 2006-2007 — the most recent data available — with an average of $54,970. Those paychecks go even further when adjusted for the state’s cost of living compared to top-spending school districts in places like California.

How Not to Get Into College: Submit a Robotic Application

Sue Shellenbarger:

Swamped by a rise in early applications from the biggest class of high-school seniors ever, college admissions officials have some advice for the class of 2009: Be yourself.
Although this year’s applicant pool is by many measures the most highly qualified yet, admissions deans at a dozen top-tier colleges and universities said in interviews last week that they’re also seeing a disappointing trend: Too many students are submitting “professionalized” applications rendered all too slick by misguided attempts at perfection, parental meddling and what one admissions dean describes as the robotlike approach teens are taking in presenting themselves.
Among the symptoms: Too many formulaic, passionless personal essays. Too many voluminous résumés devoid of true commitment. And too many pointless emails and calls from overanxious students and parents — a trend one dean labels “admissions stalking.”
“We keep looking for authenticity and genuineness, for kids who are their true selves,” says Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Instead, anxious students, and the adults who help them overpolish their applications, “leach all the personality out” of them, she says.

Local, Fresh Lunches Would be a Tasty Change

Margaret Krome:

My friend gave a guest presentation at a local high school last week and was invited to stay for lunch. “Horrible,” was her description of the meal. “I appreciated the generous invitation, and I’m sure the lunch ladies worked hard, but it was awful. Pizza, totally tasteless chicken sandwiches and fried food — that’s what we offer our children at school.”
Any parent who has peered into their school cafeteria’s garbage can to see what children throw out knows my friend is right. But it’s not for lack of caring on the part of school nutritionists. The amount of funding they receive for school meals is ridiculously low and not been updated for years. Fruits and vegetables are reimbursed at 10 cents a day, and the state school meal reimbursement rates haven’t changed since 1981.
But panels of legislators, medical experts, school dieticians, educators, agency staff and others have been working this year to change the situation. They are motivated largely by the high and increasing rates of overweight and obese adults in Wisconsin.
Obesity’s significance for health is clear. Being obese or overweight increases one’s risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and osteoarthritis. Our state’s annual obesity-related medical costs were estimated in 2004 to be $1.5 billion.

UW commencement speech creates controversy

Kristin Czubkowski:

UW-Madison’s winter commencement ceremonies have passed, but one student’s speech has generated continuing controversy for giving parents and families a little too much detail about what their graduates may have been doing over the past four or more years.
UW-Madison graduate Savannah Ziegelbauer spoke on behalf of graduates at the 10 a.m. ceremony Sunday. While her speech’s focus was on three campus landmarks that symbolized the growth and achievements of graduates, it also made eight references to drinking or partying — including four in the first 30 seconds — which caused offense for some faculty and audience members.
Julie Mitchell, a professor of biochemistry and mathematics at UW, said the number of references were not as troubling as the visceral image that Ziegelbauer, a journalism and political science major who graduated with honors, was able to portray.

L.A.’s new arts school an expensive social experiment

Mitchell Landsberg:

The campus has long been intended as a local school, mostly serving students from surrounding neighborhoods. Critics say the district’s best resources shouldn’t be restricted geographically.
With just nine months left before it opens, a new arts high school in downtown Los Angeles still lacks a principal, a staff, a curriculum, a permanent name and a clearly articulated plan for how students will be selected — critical details for a school that aims to be one of the foremost arts education institutions in the United States.
Central High School No. 9 does have a completed campus, believed to be the second most expensive public high school ever built in the United States. But the very fact that it offers what may be the finest such facilities in the region has fueled a debate over the district’s plan to operate it primarily as a neighborhood school, with fewer than one-quarter of its slots allotted to students citywide.

Scientists discover gene that explains why naughty children are popular

Kate Devlin:

Researchers found that people find those who are more likely to break the rules more likeable, even after meeting them for just a short time.
They found that the people who achieve popularity by defying authority all tend to carry a specific “rebel” gene.
The findings could explain how Just William inspired the devotion of his bunch of Outlaws in the famous novels and why children labelled “teachers’ pets” have traditionally attracted the attention of bullies.
“The idea is that your genes predispose you to certain behaviours and those behaviours elicit different kinds of social reactions from others,” said Alexandra Burt, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.
“And so what’s happening is, your genes are to some extent driving your social experiences.
“So the gene predisposes (people) to rule-breaking behaviour and their rule-breaking behaviour made them more popular,” Burt said.

More here.

An Article Full of “Good Cheer” – Merry Christmas! Bringing the Power of Education to Children around the World

Knowledge @ Wharton via a kind reader’s email:

After a trek in the Himalayas brought him face-to-face with extreme poverty and illiteracy, John Wood left his position as a director of business development at Microsoft to found Room to Read, an award-winning international education organization. Under his leadership, more than 1.7 million children in the developing world now have access to enhanced educational opportunities. Room to Read to date has opened 725 schools and 7,000 bilingual libraries, and funded more than 7,000 scholarships for girls. Wood talked with Knowledge@Wharton about the launch of Room to Read, the book he wrote called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World and his personal definition of success.
Knowledge@Wharton: Our guest today is John Wood, founder of Room to Read. John, thank you so much for joining us.
John Wood: Thank you.
Knowledge@Wharton: I read your book back in 2006. You began it with the epiphany you had during your trip to Nepal which inspired you to do what you’re doing now and led to the creation of Room to Read. Can you tell us a little bit about that story?
Wood: Certainly. The book is called Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. The nice thing is I got that title before Bill Gates could get that title for his book, because, of course, Bill has now left Microsoft and is going to do amazing things to change the world through the Gates Foundation. My own personal journey to devoting my life to education was undertaken because, in so many places where I’ve traveled, whether it be post-Apartheid South Africa or post-Khymer Rouge Cambodia or the mountains of Nepal, you just find so many kids who have so little opportunity to gain the gift of education. To me, it just seemed like a very cruel Catch-22, that you would meet people who say, “We are too poor to afford education, but until we have education, how will we ever not be poor.” Throughout places I traveled, be it India, Nepal, Cambodia or Vietnam, I kept meeting kids who wanted to go to school but they couldn’t afford it. I would have kids ask me for a pencil. I thought, “How could something so basic be missing?”

Should voters pick School Board representatives?

Doug Hissom:

Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan apparently doesn’t have room for democracy, at least when it comes to the Milwaukee School Board.
Donovan wants an appointed School Board as opposed to letting the public choose their representatives. He calls it a priority on his Christmas wish list.
“To me (improvements and gains made under appointed boards) shows that the problems lie with bloated bureaucracy and poor governance that keep real improvements from happening in the classroom,” Donovan says.
“Sadly, this mayor (Tom Barrett) and this administration can’t seem to make up its mind on what to do, and so we continue to drift.”
Perhaps the timing is right for major changes at MPS, Donovan says, seemingly unaware that no one is actually calling for a wholesale sacking of the School Board and the MPS administration.
“The clock is ticking,” he says.

State superintendent rejects Detroit Public Schools’ bid to avoid finance manager

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

Michigan’s top school official today rejected Detroit Public Schools’ fight against a state takeover of the district’s $1.1-billion budget.
The decision comes after a Thursday hearing where Flanagan allowed school board attorneys to explain why the state should not take control over the deficit-ridden budget. The attorneys argued that the two-day lead time Flanagan gave was not enough time to prepare a case.
Flanagan was not moved by the argument.
“I confirm my previous determination that a financial emergency exists in the Detroit Public Schools,” Flanagan wrote in an 11-page letter to the school board on Tuesday.
School board officials offered no comment today.
“The Board has received the letter and is reviewing it at this time,” DPS spokesman Steve Wasko wrote in an e-mailed response today.

Some advice for the Detroit Public Schools

Detroit Free Press Editorial:

Now that Connie Calloway has been ousted as superintendent by the Detroit school board that hired her less than two years ago, a group of prominent local citizens is offering the DPS board some unsolicited advice about finding a good successor.
It won’t be easy, given the mess the district is in and especially given the board’s reputation as an employer and the state’s impending appointment of a powerful financial manager to get the DPS books in order. Here’s the text of a letter the group sent Tuesday to DPS Board President Carla Scott. The names of the signers are at the bottom.
Dear Honorable Carla D Scott, M.D.:
We are united in a fervent belief that a dynamic public education system is both imperative and possible here in Detroit. Because of that belief and our commitment to public education, we have conducted extensive research, both individually and collectively, to identify the dynamics that have enabled other urban districts to achieve turnarounds in the education they provide their students.
Clearly, a cornerstone of any successful school district, large or small, is aneffective superintendent who is focused on improving achievement scores, graduation rates and other critical indicators of performance.
Our kids need all of us working together to fix a broken system. Including these criteria in your selection process can help assure that we are working together with the single focus of improving the education that our children receive.

Fast food + nearby schools = fat kids

Julie Steenhuysen:

Youth who study just a short walk from a fast-food outlet eat fewer fruit and vegetables, drink more soda and are more likely to be obese than students at other schools, according to research published Tuesday.
The study, which involved more than 500,000 adolescents at middle schools and high schools in California, lends new fuel to a growing backlash against the fast-food industry as studies suggest they contribute to the rising obesity epidemic in the United States.
“We’ve basically discovered that kids who are going to a school that is near a fast-food restaurant have a higher chance of being overweight and obese than kids who are at a school that is not near a fast-food restaurant,” said Brennan Davis of Azusa Pacific University in California, whose study appears in the American Journal of Public Health.
U.S. youth obesity rates have tripled since 1980, although they leveled off this decade. The government says 32 percent of U.S. children are overweight and 16 percent are obese.

Madison’s Foundation for Public Schools

Melanie Conklin:

In the woodworking shop at Memorial High School, senior Taylor Trummer configures the toe-kick on a three-dimensional computer model of a bookshelf.
He’s designing an “instant library” for mass production as a special project. The class will then make the shelves to distribute books to families in need.
Nearby, in a biology classroom, Dan Wise cradles a corn snake as it attempts to wrap around the sunglasses tucked into his sweater, while Brooke Ferrell extends her arm as a walking stick strolls up it.

Much more on the Foundation for Madison Public Schools here.

University Applications in Britain

The Economist:

FOR the 300,000 or so British youngsters putting the finishing touches to university-application forms over the Christmas holidays, it is decision time. Which institutions to choose? Which of the myriad alluringly (and sometimes improbably) titled degree courses? Weighty decisions, no doubt, but evidence is mounting that the more crucial choices were made two years earlier, when students picked which three or four subjects they would continue to study until leaving school.
According to research published earlier this month, many may have chosen the wrong ones, and damaged their chances of getting into a highly regarded university. Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank, looked at the A-levels offered by successful applicants to a group of 27 very selective universities–some ancient, some modern–and concluded that, despite the fact that all subjects are notionally equal, in reality admissions tutors think more of some than of others.
A tenth of all A-levels are in art and design, or drama, film and media studies–but only a twentieth of those taken by students who gained places at top universities. They were also less likely than the average A-level candidate to have studied psychology or sociology, and more likely to have studied maths or a science. The think-tank concluded that although only two universities, Cambridge and the London School of Economics (LSE), openly list the A-levels they are less keen on, others have similar, unstated, biases. They should come clean, it said, in order to avoid penalising students whose schools (or parents) are not wise to the unwritten distinction between “hard” and “soft” A-levels.

Hawaii attempts random drug tests of teachers

Mark Niesse:

Hawaii public school teachers signed off on first-in-the-nation statewide random drug testing in exchange for pay raises, but now the state claims the educators are trying to take the money and run.
Since the teachers’ union approved the pact nearly two years ago, they’ve accepted the 11 percent boost in pay while fighting the random tests as an illegal violation of their privacy rights. No teacher has been tested.
The showdown over teacher drug testing arose from the highly publicized arrests of six state Education Department employees in unrelated drug cases over a six-month period. One, special education teacher Lee Anzai at Leilehua High School, pleaded guilty to selling more than $40,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

L.A. can use race as factor in ‘magnet schools’

Bob Egelko:

Los Angeles can continue to seek racial balance in assigning tens of thousands of students to specialized “magnet schools” despite California’s voter-approved ban on race preferences in government programs, a state appeals court has ruled.
Friday’s decision by the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles preserves the long-standing desegregation program in the state’s largest school district in the face of a challenge by backers of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure. Lawyers in the case disagreed on whether the ruling could also affect a lawsuit against the use of race in Berkeley school enrollments.
The court said a judge’s order in 1981 that required the district to consider the race of students applying to magnet schools in Los Angeles – the culmination of a discrimination case that began in 1963 – remains in effect and allows the program to continue under an express exemption in Prop. 209.

Judge Blocks California’s 8th Grade Algebra Plans

Samantha Young:

A judge on Friday blocked a plan to make California the first state in the nation to require algebra testing for all eighth-graders.
The ruling sidelines an ambitious mandate approved by the state Board of Education in July after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended it over the concerns of California’s school superintendent and education groups.
The board pushed through the effort in order for the state to meet federal testing requirements or face losing up to $4.1 million in funding. The mandate would have affected students in the 2011-12 school year.
But the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators sued in September to overturn the requirement. They questioned whether the state had the money, staff and training to comply with the state board’s decision.

2008 Geograph Quiz

John Flinn:

Don’t despair if you can’t get all, or most, or even more than a few, of them right. Anyone who has all this arcane knowledge cluttering up his brain is immediately eligible for a grant from the Get-A-Life Foundation.
As in years past, there are no prizes at stake, only the smug satisfaction that you probably know more about the world than a would-be vice president.
In a week or two, I’ll print the inevitable corrections and clarifications.
1. Little Diomede Island was discussed constantly during the recent presidential election, although almost never by name. What is its claim to fame?
2. It’s officially known as the Archipelago of Ecuador. What do we more commonly call it?
3. If you’re in Windsor, Ontario, but would rather be in Detroit, which direction should you head?

Special education teachers refocus strategies to passing Wisconsin tests

Amy Hetzner:

Main point. Topic sentences. Supporting paragraphs. Organization.
Arrowhead High School teacher Kathy Kopp ticked through her lesson on essay construction. Then she gave her sophomores one more tip for their upcoming language arts test from the state.
“Please, don’t panic and say, ‘I can’t write,’ ” she called out. “Your ideas are good enough to put down on paper and have someone else read.”
Part educators, part cheerleaders, Kopp and her colleagues in Arrowhead’s special education department cajole students to finish their math homework, help them learn new reading strategies and prepare them for the state’s annual testing regimen.
Last year, the school’s 10th-graders with disabilities fell short of the state’s reading proficiency standard under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under President George W. Bush’s signature change to federal education law, schools are evaluated based on how their students perform on state tests in math and reading.

Free Maryland Teachers from Unions

Tom Neumark:

Though some teachers may not realize it, Maryland’s laws infringe on their freedoms, place the interests of unions over individual teachers and restrict the ability of teachers to become entrepreneurs.
Teachers ought to have the right to be represented by a union. But they should also have the right to not be represented. Maryland forces teachers to be represented by unions, which violates teachers’ rights and has negative consequences for teachers and students.
There is an important distinction between being “represented” by a union and being a “member” of a union. Maryland law – like that in many other states – does not require that teachers be members of a union, but it does require them to be represented. This means that individual teachers are not permitted to negotiate their own salaries, benefits and working conditions, even if they want to. Forbidding workers from negotiating on their own behalf and requiring that a third party be involved serves no public purpose, but it does benefit unions.

Loretta Johnson responds

2005-2007 US County Property Tax Comparison

Tax Foundation:

Interestingly, while local property taxes have remained relatively flat, taxpayers have supported a large increase in State of Wisconsin taxes spent on K-12 public school districts. Of course these funds largely come from the same wallets that support property taxes.

Shared School Buildings: Looking for Common Ground

Elissa Gootman:

Ben Sherman, principal of the new East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, Queens, was mortified one morning when a fire drill unexpectedly interrupted a cultural program, sending students and visitors from Korea scurrying outside.
The drill had been planned by the principal of Intermediate School 237, whose building Mr. Sherman’s school shares and who was unaware of the performance because of what both now say was poor communication.
Relations were difficult. “He expected us to throw up our arms and welcome him,” I.S. 237’s longtime principal, Joseph D. Cantara, said of Mr. Sherman. “I didn’t like the idea of another school coming into my building.”
But after a tense year, Mr. Sherman said he swallowed his ego and started popping by Mr. Cantara’s office for daily advice. Over dinner, they found that Mr. Cantara had been a student teacher at Mr. Sherman’s elementary school. Lately, when their monthly meeting arrives, “there’s almost nothing to talk about,” Mr. Sherman said.

Illinois Ripples Reach Vallas

Sarah Carr:

The sudden rise of one Chicagoan and fall of another in recent days holds a unique significance for New Orleans’ Recovery School District superintendent, Paul Vallas.
Arne Duncan, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of education, was among Vallas’ trusted deputies when Vallas led the Chicago Public Schools.
Rod Blagojevich, the scandal-ridden Illinois governor, edged out Vallas to secure the Democratic Party nomination in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Vallas’ former protege in urban education has made a name for himself in use of innovations such as a financial reward system for successful teachers, a pay-for-performance strategy. His former political rival, on the other hand, has become a household name because of pay-to-play allegations.
Shortly after his loss to Blagojevich, Vallas left his native city to lead the Philadelphia school system. A year-and-a-half ago, he moved to New Orleans to take over the recovery schools position.

On Nashville School Demographics

Chris Echegaray:

Her father, Tim Clo, was asked if he would send her to a public school in East Nashville, a working-class neighborhood that over the past decade has attracted legions of young professionals and their families.
The oddity was that East Nashville parents and neighbors seemed as interested in Kenya’s education as her parents, Clo said. Parents were adamant that Clo should send his daughter to Lockeland Design Center elementary school.
“It was word of mouth more than anything,” Clo said, as he waited for Kenya, now 5, outside the school. “We had these conversations in parks, by the pool, with people asking where we were going to go for kindergarten. In general, at first, what we heard was that public schools were not that good. We thought about private school.”
For years, many white parents like Clo would choose private schools over Metro public schools for their children.
Lockeland enrollment figures show that parents of white students have bucked that trend.
The student population is 60 percent white and 35 percent African-American, with the rest divided between Asians and Hispanics. The removal of two pre-kindergarten classes, which were predominantly black, helped boost the numbers.

“Educating children is not the same as directly funding school systems”

Brian Gottlob @ the Buckeye Institute, via a kind reader’s email 1.1MB PDF:

A child-centered school finance policy that supports the choices of parents can create higher-quality schools and more equality in the educational opportunities available to children. The only way to ensure that all children have the same educational opportunities and equal resources to obtain them and at the same time create powerful incentives to improve school performance, is to adopt a student-centered school funding system.
Public schools are nominally “free,” but pricing, which implicitly occurs through housing markets, fundamentally limits access to better schools and consigns less wealthy families to less desirable schools. The subsequent separation of students along class lines also means that the non-financial inputs critical to good schools, such as peer and family influences, can be even more unevenly distributed than financial resources. The unequal distribution of opportunity remains even when state aid is targeted at the “neediest” schools. state money that simply equalizes financial resources will have limited effects on the root causes of education inequities.
This report outlines an alternative approach that seeks to overcome the limits of past attempts to equalize opportunities. It investigates the combined policies of open enrollment (in public, charter, and private schools) with financial support that follows the child. such a system will make the differences in local resources for education funding largely irrelevant. We limit our report to the mechanics and implementation issues of such a system, but to highlight how key policy choices would affect its implementation and costs. The report and demonstrate its fiscal impacts. our purpose is not to argue for particular policies within such a systeis an introduction to and not the final word on a fundamental shift in school finance policy in Ohio. As such, it will invite many questions and concerns that will deserve further research.
The report:

  • highlights the need for a reform of ohio’s school finance system.
  • Documents ohio’s level of financial support and compares it to other states.
  • Discusses the role of property taxes in funding schools.
  • outlines the basic structure of a child-centered school finance system.
  • Presents a basic weighted system of per-pupil financial support and creates a matrix of students in ohio schools to estimate the expenditures required to fund each child under a child-centered finance system.
  • Presents a model to calculate the expenditures required to fund a child-centered system at different levels of per-pupil financial support and under various policy choices.
  • Analyzes the implications for property taxes within communities under different policy choices within a child-centered funding system.
  • Estimates how much money businesses and individuals would contribute towards the education of deserving, needy students after the introduction of a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

Intellectual Combat

Shawn Briscoe:

In the fall of 1990, I somewhat reluctantly joined my high school debate team. My first debate focused on whether the United States should increase manned space exploration. I was completely lost; it seemed I had forgotten how to speak. Thankfully, I had a supportive community in my hometown of Nevada, Missouri, and a talented coach by the name of Tim Gore. I quickly found there is nothing quite like watching the faces in the audience as people realize you have taken control of the debate. I admit I became intrigued by the idea of intellectual combat.
As an educator today, I draw on the writings of University of Washington political science and education professor Walter Parker, who has noted that “engaged citizens do not materialize out of thin air. They do not naturally grasp such knotty principles as tolerance, impartial justice, the separation of church and state, the needs for limits on majority power, or the difference between liberty and license.” If our students are to understand the pressing issues of the day, they must be exposed to myriad viewpoints and able to synthesize information from multiple sources.
Forensics challenges students through events in both speech and debate. In the discipline of platform speaking, students select a controversial subject and conduct extensive research before trying to persuade the audience. Competitors in extemporaneous speaking have 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute response to a question, complete with source citations. Topics the National Federation of State High School Associations developed for extemporaneous speaking contests in 2008 included, Should public schools be allowed to segregate along gender lines? Should phone companies that aided in illegal wiretaps by the government be immune from prosecution? Should China relax its one-child policy?

Schools Invest in Athlete’s Degrees

Christ Talbott:

From the moment he stepped on campus, 320-pound tackle Michael Oher seemed destined to be a star on Mississippi’s football team and a failure in its classrooms.
Oher was the son of a crack-addicted single mom, and as a teen could barely read. His educational record – 11 schools in nine years as he moved from home to home in Memphis – read like an indictment of a failed education system.
But four years later, at a school that graduates fewer than 60 percent of all students within six years, Oher has cleared every hurdle and nearly earned his degree – all that stands between him and graduation are a final semester and workouts for the NFL draft.
“I haven’t struggled a bit in college,” the All-American offensive lineman says. “It’s been a breeze.”
It’s a tribute to Oher’s determination and character, to be sure.
His story also says something about the state of big-time college athletics.
Like a lot of other athletes at Ole Miss and elsewhere, Oher got not only tutoring help but a full range of academic support services throughout his career. At Ole Miss, 14 full-time staffers line up tutors for student-athletes, help them choose classes, monitor study halls and check attendance. More than 60 percent of the Rebels’ 390 athletes receive at least some tutoring, and together they averaged about 1,000 sessions a week this fall.
Such services are not unusual.

Oher was featured in the recent book “Blindside“.

Home Schooling Goes Mainstream

Milton Gaither:

“I never really told anybody about my music at school, only my really close friends,” Cheyenne Kimball told People Magazine in 2006. “Then [school officials] actually aired the show around the whole entire school, and that caused a lot of problems. I was a straight-A student and all of a sudden I didn’t want to go to school anymore because of the things people were saying. That’s why I’m homeschooled now.” Cheyenne, winner of NBC’s America’s Most Talented Kid at age 12, recording artist, and star of her own MTV show, is just one of many high-profile Americans whose educational choice is home schooling. Movie stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, married in 1997, home school their two children along with Will’s nephew. Why? “For flexibility,” Pinkett Smith told an Essence reporter, “so they can stay with us when we travel, and also because the school system in this country–public and private–is designed for the industrial age. We’re in a technological age. We don’t want our kids to memorize. We want them to learn.” While home schooling may have particular appeal to celebrities, over the last decade families of all kinds have embraced the practice for widely varying reasons: no longer is home schooling exclusive to Christian fundamentalism and the countercultural Left. Along with growing acceptance of home schooling nationally has come increasing diversification of who home schools and of what home schooling actually means.
Though parents and tutors have been teaching children in the home for centuries, in the late 1960s and 1970s there emerged for the first time in the United States a political movement that adopted this practice as a radical, countercultural critique of the public education system. Conservatives who felt the public schools had sold out to secularism and progressivism joined with progressives who felt the public schools were bastions of conservative conformity to challenge the notion that all children should attend them. By the early 1990s they had won the right to home school in every state. Some home-school advocacy groups have attempted to secure a federal law or Supreme Court ruling that would establish uniform national guidelines grounded in First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, but to date such efforts have failed (to the great relief of home-school advocacy groups that oppose this strategy). Home schooling thus falls under state law, and these laws vary widely. A complex matrix of specific statutory language and judicial interpretations emerged out of the maelstrom of political activism over the issue that started in the late 1970s. In Indiana and Michigan, for example, there are virtually no restrictions on home schoolers and very little accountability to government. Home-schooling parents are not even required to register. In Pennsylvania and New York, state agencies oversee and regulate home schooling in a number of ways, from curricular requirements to parental qualifications to mandatory home visits by certified personnel to obligatory standardized testing.

The Big U-Turn: How to bring schools from the brink of doom to stellar success

Emily Ayscue Hassel & Bryan Hassel:

In the 1990s Continental Airlines was struggling, even more than its troubled U.S. airline peers. As the company’s then-president Greg Brenneman explained in a 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), “Continental ranked tenth out of the ten largest U.S. airlines in all key customer service areas as measured by the Department of Transportation: on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer complaints, and involuntary denied boardings.” The airline had already been in bankruptcy twice, and was headed for a third round as its cash dried up.
In 1994, Gordon Bethune took the helm, with Brenneman becoming president and chief operating officer. They staved off bankruptcy by renegotiating with their creditors. And they launched an organizational turnaround that proved remarkably successful, catapulting Continental from worst to best among big U.S. carriers.
By 1995, Continental was moving up on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) performance measures (see Figure 1). Its stock price was soaring. And the turnaround stuck. The latest rankings by Consumer Reports place Continental first among the seven big U.S. airlines. Zagat’s 2007 survey of frequent flyers found overall ratings for the big airlines were low and declining, with the “notable exception” of Continental. Continental was the only big airline, and one of only five overall, to be a Zagat Top Spot.

Geoffrey Canada and Education’s Future

Jay Matthews:

I have devoted many years to writing about schools, but much of the time I am really writing about poverty. Paul Tough has devoted several years to writing about poverty, but much of the time he is really writing about schools.
This is apparent in his insightful book “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America.” You don’t see the words “schools” or “education” in the title, but be assured this is one of the best books ever written about how poverty influences learning, and vice versa.
As usual, I am late reviewing the book because I took my time reading it. I got a copy in September, when it came out. Books like this I like to absorb slowly and carefully. I keep them in a small room in my house where I know I will be alone, at least for short periods of time. It makes for great concentration, even if my reviews always miss their deadlines.
I have institutionalized this personal failing by creating the Better Late Than Never Book Club, of which Tough’s book is the latest featured selection. The club — which sells no books and offers no discounts, sorry — celebrates volumes I consider so important that I review them even if they are months, and in some cases years, past their publication dates.

Obama’s Education Secretary is a “Diplomatic Reformer”

The Economist:

DURING the election campaign the economy submerged most talk of education. But beneath the surface, a debate churned between the self-proclaimed reformers and the teachers’ unions. By choosing Arne Duncan, Chicago’s schools chief and one of his own basketball buddies, Barack Obama this week has managed to please both sides.
School reformers had been edgy for weeks, noting that Mr Obama’s transition team included Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University. Ms Darling-Hammond is a vocal critic of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal law that promotes testing and accountability. Many feared that she would nudge Mr Obama towards the unions or even become education secretary herself.
If Ms Darling-Hammond represented one end of the debate, at the other extreme were Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, chancellors of the school systems of New York and Washington, DC, respectively. Both have supported charter (independently-run but government-funded) schools and paying teachers by results. Both have championed tough accountability. But both have infuriated unions, and Mr Obama has opted not to pick a fight.

A Doomed Crusade for More Diverse Schools

Peter Applebome:

Dick Hubert’s one-man campaign to desegregate, however slightly, the Blind Brook school district thudded to its inevitable close at 10:55 p.m. Monday, at the end of a long school board meeting.
The auditorium where the meeting took place was virtually empty. The board members, so animated earlier about the cost of glue sticks and the intricacies of earth science curriculum, seemed to make a point of looking as uninterested as possible as he read his statement.
“At this point, there is nothing more for me to add to this dialogue,” Mr. Hubert concluded. “The United States will be a majority nonwhite country in the adult lifetime of the children in your care. The only question is: How well will you have prepared them for being citizen leaders in this society?”
The board members barely looked up. He left the building and walked out into the cold rain.
Mr. Hubert, a 70-year-old retired television journalist who runs a small video production company, may not have made the most adroit case for his argument that Blind Brook, which is wealthy and 93 percent white, should make it a priority to merge some services and build links with its neighboring school district in Port Chester, which is largely poor and working class and 80 percent minorities.

Do It Yourself Athletic Scholarship

Matthew Futterman:

Kirsten Bladek had a problem.
Three weeks into her senior season on the Monarch High School volleyball team in Colorado, the 5-feet, 10-inch setter found herself warming the bench. Her dream of an athletic scholarship seemed dead — especially since her family couldn’t afford the $1,000 or so that many parents pay these days to hire a private athletic-recruiting counselor.
But then in September, Ms. Bladek spent $39.99 to post her athletic résumé and pictures of her playing on the Web site The shots, combined with videos posted later, highlighted her ability to set the ball from in front of her forehead, with arms thrust out like Superman in flight. That display, combined with some telephone campaigning by Kirsten and her mother, got college coaches to start paying attention.

Wisconsin Virtual Schools Leader Running For State Post


The leader of an independent coalition for families of students who attend virtual schools wants to become the Wisconsin state superintendent.
Rose Fernandez announced her candidacy for education secretary on Wednesday.
She joins three other announced candidates. They are Beloit schools superintendent Lowell Holtz, Concordia University professor Van Mobley and deputy state superintendent Tony Evers.

No Democrat Left Behind

RiShawn Biddle:

There wasn’t much celebration yesterday for Barack Obama’s nomination of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education from either the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (who praised Duncan for helping “students with the greatest needs”) or from National Education Association honcho Van Roekel (who said nothing at all). The unions, long used to getting their way with Democratic Party leaders, were more disappointed that their favorite pick — Obama adviser and No Child Left Behind Act critic Linda Darling-Hammond — didn’t get the nod.
But the real celebration came from another corner of the Democratic National Committee — the motley crew of centrist city officials and liberal activists who have long-championed (and helped pass) No Child in the first place. Declared former Daily News reporter, Joe Williams, who runs the New York-based Democrats For Education Reform: “[Duncan] will lead the charge of breaking the existing ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas in education.”

Texas Teacher Merit Pay

Stella Chavez:

It remains unclear whether the merit pay program for teachers in Texas is yielding the results its proponents have advocated – higher student achievement.
But a two-year evaluation of the Texas Educator Excellence Grant program released Thursday shows that 90 percent of the eligible schools have participated in the voluntary initiative. That means teachers and schools are interested in the concept, said Matthew Springer, the lead author of the report and director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.
The study also found that turnover is lower among teachers who received bonus pay than those who did not.
The report said the greatest problem two years into the new system is that too many schools have to discontinue the program too quickly. A majority of the schools eligible to participate one year did not return the following year because they failed to meet eligibility requirements.
To be eligible, schools must have a high percentage of low-income students. They must also earn a recognized or exemplary state rating, or passing rates on the state math and reading tests must rank in the top quarter of Texas schools.

School Choice Group Recruits 10,000 New Supporters in Just Five Weeks


More than 10,000 people signed up to join a coalition supporting school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs over the past five weeks, the Alliance for School Choice announced today. The Alliance, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., had anticipated reaching its goal of recruiting 10,000 new supporters by the end of January.
The new supporters are members of the School Choice Works campaign, which officially launched in mid-November. Membership in School Choice Works is free. School Choice Works is the first national interactive and social media campaign launched by the coordinated school choice movement. More information is available at
The Alliance, which is the nation’s largest organization promoting school choice, provides members with free bumper stickers, e-mail action updates, free news magazines, and information on how they can help promote education reform in their states.
“The quick and overwhelming success of this campaign is testament to the strength of support for school choice across the country,” said Andrew Campanella, national campaign director for the School Choice Works project. “We look forward to continuing to recruit individuals who want to make a difference in education reform in their states.”

Obama Education Pick Backs Test-Heavy Regime

John Hechinger, Janet Adamy & Robert Tomsho:

The Obama administration’s selection of Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as education secretary signals an intent to maintain a rigorous system of standardized tests in public schools, while experimenting with reforms disliked by unions, such as teacher merit pay.
In announcing the appointment Tuesday at a Chicago news conference, President-elect Barack Obama said he and Mr. Duncan share a “deep pragmatism” and a willingness to tap ideas often associated with conservatives. “Let’s not be clouded by ideology when it comes to figuring out what helps our kids,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Duncan’s “strength is really his openness to ideas and a real interest in data and how things are working,” said John Easton, executive director of the Consortium of Chicago School Research, a University of Chicago program that has studied the city’s schools.
One of Mr. Duncan’s first tasks will be deciding what to do about the federal No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, and now due for reauthorization. The statute, which has divided educators, requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that don’t make adequate progress on tests measuring student achievement face sanctions.

Obama’s Education Choice:

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Barack Obama has chosen Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan to be his Secretary of Education. As scarred veterans of the school-reform wars, we applaud the choice with great caution.
We’ve long said there is no more urgent domestic issue than the collapsed state of inner-city education. Going back to the Clinton Presidency, we have argued on behalf of vouchers that would let parents of students in the poorest public schools have the same shot at a sound education as do more affluent children, such as those of Mr. Obama. The opposition from public teachers’ unions to this or almost any significant reform is legendary. Thus, we listened closely when Senator Obama said nearly nothing during the campaign that would offend the unions, mostly urging more spending on preschool and after-school programs.
We now read that Mr. Duncan is an ardent proponent of public charter schools, though probably not of vouchers for private schools. Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a frequent contributor to this page on school reform, likes Mr. Duncan. “He’s a proven and committed and inventive education reformer,” Mr. Finn wrote yesterday on the Institute’s blog, “not tethered to the public-school establishment and its infinite interest groups.”

College Students Using ADHD Drugs to Study for Exams


It’s final exam week for thousands of UW students on campus.
For years, some students have quietly taken drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them focus and prepare for exams.
The drugs are widely prescribed by physicians to help school children focus longer and perform better in school.
College students told WISC-TV it’s no secret that students use the medicines and get them illegally
An opinion article in Nature Magazine on Sunday suggested there is a responsible way for the “healthy to use the drugs without an ADHD diagnosis” – but many medical doctors disagree.
UW student Jonathan Roffee has been studying all weekend.
“Ten to twelve hours a day, takes a toll after a while,” said Roffee.

Charter Schools Make Gains On Tests

Dan Keating & Theola Labbe-DeBose:

Students in the District’s charter schools have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools, adding momentum to a movement that is recasting public education in the city.
The gains show up on national standardized tests and the city’s own tests in reading and math, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Charters have been particularly successful with low-income children, who make up two-thirds of D.C. public school students.
A dozen years after it was created by Congress, the city’s charter system has taken shape as a fast-growing network of schools, whose ability to tap into private donors, bankers and developers has made it possible to fund impressive facilities, expand programs and reduce class sizes.
With freedom to experiment, the independent, nonprofit charters have emphasized strategies known to help poor children learn — longer school days, summer and Saturday classes, parent involvement and a cohesive, disciplined culture among staff members and students.

Science or Garbage?

John Tierney:

If we want our children to be scientifically literate and get good jobs in the future, why are we spending precious hours in school teaching them to be garbage collectors?
That’s the question that occurred to me after reading about the second-graders in West Virginia who fought for the right to keep recycling trash even after it became so uneconomical that public officials tried to stop the program. As my colleague Kate Galbraith reports, their teacher was proud of them for all the time they spent campaigning to keep the recycling program alive.
My colleague Andy Revkin suggests that the West Virginia students might be learning something useful about the interplay of economics and ecology, but I fear they and their teacher have missed the lesson. The reason that public officials cut back the program, as Matt Richtel and Kate reported, is the market for recyclables has collapsed because the supply vastly exceeds the demand. This could be a valuable learning experience for the students about markets and about the long-term tendency of prices of natural resources to fall while the cost of people’s time rises.

Most Textbooks Should Just Stay On the Shelf

Jay Matthews:

Most people think textbooks are important. Schools that don’t have all of theirs might find themselves accused of dereliction of duty. The Washington Post, for instance, was aghast last year that several thousand D.C. schoolbooks hadn’t yet left the warehouse when classes began.
My colleague Michael Alison Chandler underlined this in her story two weeks ago about an effort by some Virginia teachers to break the $8 billion-a-year textbook industry’s tight grip on science instruction, which often stops abruptly about the time Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity in 1905.
The fact that such obsolescence is tolerated shows how much faith we put in textbooks. So does our acceptance of the difficulty most students have reading through a standard textbook without falling asleep. Reid Saaris, founder of the D.C.-based Equal Opportunity Schools Organization, remembers teaching 12th-grade history in Beaufort, S.C., with a particularly tedious required text. The few seniors who chose his class usually did so for inappropriate reasons. One year, five boys showed up, gave Saaris disappointed looks and said they had enrolled only “because of the hot lady who was supposed to be teaching the class.”

Milwaukee Schools Likely to Require more Math & Science

Alan Borsuk:

Three years of math, three years of science – start getting ready, all you sixth-graders in Milwaukee Public Schools.
A School Board committee voted 3-0 Monday night to increase the requirements for graduating from MPS from two years each of math and science to three, effective with the class of 2014-’15, members of which are currently sixth-graders.
In addition, students would need to complete a half-year’s worth of either an online course, community service or a service-learning project.
The proposal will go to the full board tonight and is expected to be approved.

Obama Chooses Duncan for Education Secretary

John Hechinger & Laura Meckler:

President-elect Barack Obama named Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as his education secretary on Tuesday — choosing a hometown friend who has introduced some education reforms popular with conservatives without alienating teachers unions.
As Chicago’s top school official for seven years, Mr. Duncan has overseen the closure of struggling schools, advocated merit pay for better teachers, and adopted a program to use private money to reward children for better grades.
“When it comes to school reform, Arne is the most hands-on of hands-on practitioners,” Mr. Obama said, making the announcement at a school that he said has made remarkable progress under Mr. Duncan’s leadership.
“He’s not beholden to any one ideology, and he’s worked tirelessly to improve teacher quality,” Mr. Obama said.

Wall Street Journal live blog.
Sam Dillon has more:

Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation’s third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results.
He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years.
In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.
Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.

Much more here

Milwaukee Schools to consider future of busing, middle schools

Alan Borsuk:

The Milwaukee School Board on Tuesday night will face a serving of a stew with many of the ingredients that make life complicated in Milwaukee Public Schools. How it decides what parts to eat or not eat will say a lot about the prospects for change in the system.
The board will take up a multi-part proposal from north side member Michael Bonds to realign a cluster of schools in the vicinity of W. Hampton and W. Silver Spring avenues from N. Green Bay Ave. to N. 35th St.
Included in the proposals are closing Carleton School, converting McNair Academy to a middle school with an emphasis on arts and science, and attempting for the first time to provide short-distance bus service to nearby schools as an alternative to busing to distant parts of town. For families living in the affected area, busing options to schools elsewhere would be restricted as a way of encouraging enrollment in the local schools.
Bonds’ proposal is one of the boldest attempts in years to reduce busing and invigorate the idea of attending schools near home. It comes after the board agreed in principle to make major cuts in busing – a stand that has not been translated into action yet.
But two School Board committee meetings last week brought out how many factors are at play. Among them:
Busing: Do people put their kids on buses to distant schools because they want to or because they don’t have much choice? Milwaukee has one of the most expansive busing policies in the country. The $102 million neighborhood school plan in recent years failed to persuade parents to take their kids off buses. Is anything different now?
K-8 vs. middle schools: Middle schools have been in sharp decline in MPS as schools offering kindergarten through eighth grade programs have increased rapidly. Is that because parents really want K-8s or because they haven’t been given quality choices in middle schools? The prevailing thinking in MPS has been that K-8s are popular, but there appears to be a growing counter-movement, with Bonds as a leading voice for middle schools.

An Update on Madison’s Small Learning Community / High School “Redesign” Plans

The Madison School Board recently received a presentation (25mb mp3 file) from the Administration on its plans for High School “redesign” and the use of the $5,500,000 Small Learning Community grant funded by our federal tax dollars. Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash along with representatives from the four large high schools participated in the discussion. The Board asked some interesting questions. President Arlene Silveira asked how this initiative relates to the District’s “Strategic Planning Process”? Vice President Lucy Mathiak asked about opportunities for advanced students.

The interesting question in all of this is: does the money drive strategy or is it the other way around? In addition, what is the budget impact after 5 years? A friend mentioned several years ago, during the proposed East High School curriculum change controversy, that these initiatives fail to address the real issue: lack of elementary and middle school preparation.

In Praise of Facts or avoiding “Fact Free” education

The Economist:

The British government’s latest crack at reforming schools is yet another step towards contentless learning
“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” How horrible for the pupils at Professor Gradgrind’s school; Charles Dickens pulled out all the grim stops in describing it. No one today really thinks that school, especially in the early years, should consist of nothing but dreary rote learning.
But children do love learning real things–why trees have leaves, how two minuses make a plus, the number of wives’ heads Henry VIII removed. Only if they begin to build up a core of knowledge can they develop the habits of mental discipline that must last them a lifetime. You cannot look up on Google something you do not know exists; and the ability to hold facts in your head is a prerequisite for many careers–the law, say, or engineering. It is not enough in primary school to learn about learning; children need to learn actual stuff.
So it is a particular disappointment that the interim version of the biggest review of British primary schooling in decades nudges the country a little further down its path toward factfree education (see article). The existing curriculum is not without its faults: repeatedly re-engineered since it was set in place 20 years ago, it is now cluttered and prescriptive. And Sir Jim Rose, once Britain’s chief inspector of primary schools, was dealt some marked cards for his review: computer skills had to be ranked alongside literacy and numeracy (though employers complain not that young job-seekers are clueless online but that they are illiterate); room had to be made to teach a modern foreign language (thank heavens); and a gaggle of personal-development goals (learning not to set fire to your friends or trash the classroom) were to be emphasised.

Menomonee Falls Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty to Facilitate Madison’s “Strategic Planning Process”

A recent Madison School Board meeting discussed the planned “Strategic Review” 10MB mp3 audio. Superintendent Dan Nerad mentioned that he planned to retain Menomonee Falls Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty to facilitate the process. Links:

Board members asked the Superintendent about committee staffing (public & staff names), timing and funding.

9th Circuit: Parents Cannot Deduct Payments to Their Children’s Religious Schools


The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed the Tax Court (125 T.C. 281 (2005)) in holding that a couple’s tuition and fee payments to their children’s Jewish day schools do not qualify for the charitable deduction because they received a substantial benefit from their payments and lacked charitable intent. Sklar v. Commissioner, No. 06-72961 (9th Cir. Dec. 12, 2008). From the DOJ press release:

The Sklars sought charitable deductions under § 170 for portions of their tuition payments made to the religious day schools their children attended, asserting that those portions of the tuition payments were for “intangible religious benefits.” The Sklars made three arguments in support of their position, each of which was rejected by the Ninth Circuit.
First, the Sklars argued that their tuition and fee payments to exclusively religious schools were deductible under a “dual payment analysis” to the extent the payments exceeded the value of the secular education their children received. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the Sklars had not shown that the payment exceeded the fair market value of the benefit received for their payments (i.e., an education for their children), and they had not shown that any excess payment was made with the intent of making a gift.

Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison

The College Board recently updated their AP Course Audit data. Dane County offerings are noted below, including changes from 2007-2008:

  • Abundant Life Christian School: 3 Courses in 2007/2008 and 3 in 2008/2009
  • Cambridge High School: 1 Course in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009
  • De Forest High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Madison East High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 12 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Edgewood High School: 11 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009 (11 are on offer this year. There’s been a paperwork delay for the 11th course, AP Biology due to a new teacher)
  • Madison LaFollette High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Memorial High School: 18 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Madison West High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009 (I’m told that West has 6, but the College Board has a paperwork problem)
  • Marshall High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • McFarland High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Middleton-Cross Plains High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Monona Grove High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Mt. Horeb High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • Oregon High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 9 in 2008/2009
  • Sauk Prairie High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Stoughton High School: 7 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Sun Prairie High School: 15 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Verona High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 11 in 2008/2009
  • Waunakee High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Wisconsin Heights High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009

Related: Dual Enrollment, Small Learning Communities and Part and Full Time Wisconsin Open Enrollment.

Some K-12 Schools Cutting Costs

Anne Marie Chaker:

As state governors warn of significant shortfalls in their budgets, many schools districts are facing the biggest cutbacks they’ve seen in decades. And in some cases, they’re already slashing.
In Virginia, the Fairfax County school district is considering everything from increasing class sizes to eliminating certain high-school sports starting next fall. In Florida, the Broward County School District is looking at thousands of layoffs and eliminating certain courses and activities. The Seattle School District is even considering shuttering certain schools. This year, the Los Angeles Unified School District has already reduced 600 administrative jobs at headquarters and delayed textbook purchases.
These moves have fired up parents. Julie Jackson, the parent of a fourth-grader at Kettering Elementary School in Long Beach, Calif., says parents there have for several years been raising money for salaries, supplies and programs that the state should be paying for in the first place. She and other parents are petitioning the governor and members of the state legislature to stop any further cuts. “The parents are now at a breaking point,” the petition states.
Among the forces behind the shortfalls: Job losses are cutting into state income-tax revenue; the erosion of home values is hurting property-tax revenue; and the drop in consumer spending reduces revenue from sales tax. As a result, 37 states are projecting midyear shortfalls this fiscal year, according to a survey by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That is compared with only seven a year ago. Based on how things are going, the center estimates that total state budget gaps for next fiscal year will likely be around $100 billion, almost 10 times what it was last fiscal year, according to Elizabeth McNichol, senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based center.

A Look at Stephen Strachan: Principal of LA’s Jordan High School

Sandy Banks:

Under Stephen Strachan, students wear uniforms, it takes a C to pass and a ‘fifth-year senior’ program is bringing dropouts back.
You can blame the failure of Los Angeles’ latest school superintendent on racial politics, an incompetent school board or a bureaucracy impervious to reform.
But you can’t sell that to Stephen Strachan.
Strachan is the principal at Jordan High in Watts. Like Supt. David Brewer, Strachan thinks big and is brimming with self-confidence.
But unlike Brewer, Strachan has managed to move beyond summits and slogans to remake a high school long considered one of the district’s worst.
I met Strachan two years ago — about the time Brewer arrived in Los Angeles. I visited Jordan High because I wanted to know what it was like running a school that bordered one of the city’s most dangerous housing projects.

My Daughters/My Self

Judith Warner:

There was something about last week’s column that left me dissatisfied. I wrote about the difficulty of helping my 8-year-old daughter Emilie process disturbing news, particularly when she tends to over-focus on life’s ugliness.
But what I really wanted to discuss – via the vehicle of our obsessive replaying of the death of the trampled Wal-Mart worker Jdimytai Damour – was emotional enmeshment.
I find myself these days, to a surprising degree, dealing with the problem of enmeshment. This surprises me because not so long ago I wrote a book that was largely a polemic against enmeshment: against the boundary collapsing that I think is the signature characteristic of motherhood (and parenthood) in our time.

Clusty search: Judith Warner.

Uncertainty on Obama Education Plans

Sam Dillon:

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect.
Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.
Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers’ unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?
The debate has sometimes been nasty.
“People are saying things now that they may regret saying in a couple of months,” said Jack Jennings, a Democrat who is president and chief executive of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. “Unfortunately, they’re all friends of mine, which makes it awkward.”

Madison West’s Natalia Thompson earns top Girl Scout honors

The Capital Times:

Awards continue for Natalia Thompson of Madison, who was named as one of the Girl Scouts of USA top 10 Girl Scout Gold Award recipients, which makes her one of the nation’s 2008 Young Women of Distinction for extraordinary leadership through the recipients’ remarkable community action projects.
Only 5 percent to 6 percent of girls involved in the Scouts receive the award, considered the organization’s highest achievement. Thompson and the other nine winners were honored at the 2008 Girl Scout National Council Session in Indianapolis.
Kathy Cloninger, who heads the Girl Scouts of USA, said Thompson and the other award winners are “outstanding examples of the kind of leadership Girl Scouts are capable of.”

The New Examined Life

Jamin Brophy-Warren:

In the first week of January, New York graphic designer Nicholas Felton will boil down everything he did in 2008 into charts, graphs, maps and lists.
The 2007 edition of his yearly retrospective notes that he received 13 postcards, lost six games of pool and read 4,736 book pages. He tracked every New York street he walked and sorted the 632 beers he consumed by country of origin.
Part experimentation, part self-help, such “personal informatics” projects, as they are known, are gathering steam thanks to people like Mr. Felton who find meaning in the mundane. At their disposal are a host of virtual tools to help them become their own forensic accountants, including Web sites such as Dopplr, which allows people to manage and share travel itineraries, and Mon.thly.Info, for tracking menstrual cycles. Parents can document infant feeding schedules with Trixie Tracker. And couples can go from between the sheets to spreadsheets with Bedpost, which helps users keep track of their amorous activities.
The objective for Mr. Felton and others is to seize data back from the statisticians and the scientists and incorporate it into our daily lives. Everyone creates data — every smile, conversation and car ride is a potential datapoint. These quotidan aggregators believe that the compilation of our daily activities can reveal the secret patterns that govern the way we live. For students of personal informatics, the practice is liberating because it shows that our lives aren’t random, and are more orderly than some might expect.

More Families Move to Lock In Tuition Rates

Jane Kim & Melissa Korn:

As the stock market swoons and tuition costs soar, more families are deciding to pay for college in advance through their 529 plans.
For years, families have preferred the savings type of 529 plan — named for the relevant section of the tax code — salting away after-tax dollars, investing them in mutual funds and other investments, and then taking the money out, tax-free, when the time comes to pay for school. But as many of these accounts have been savaged by the market’s plunge this year, families are now turning to the prepaid variety of 529.
Prepaid plans allow families to lock in current tuition rates by making an upfront cash payment in exchange for tuition contracts or credits tied to current rates. They can prepay either the full tuition bill or a portion of it, typically based on the average tuition costs in the state. States usually manage the money, and when a student finally enrolls, he won’t have to pay more — no matter how much tuition costs have risen.
If investors buy only a portion, that same amount is credited toward future tuition bills. In general, the tuition guarantee applies only to state schools within that state, though you can use the money to pay for out-of-state schools. If a beneficiary elects not to attend a college covered by the plan, the investor can withdraw his contributions, usually with interest.

The “Certified” Teacher Myth

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Like all unions, teachers unions have a vested interest in restricting the labor supply to reduce job competition. Traditional state certification rules help to limit the supply of “certified” teachers. But a new study suggests that such requirements also hinder student learning.
Harvard researchers Paul Peterson and Daniel Nadler compared states that have genuine alternative certification with those that have it in name only. And they found that between 2003 and 2007 students in states with a real alternative pathway to teaching gained more on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a federal standardized test) than did students in other states.
“In states that had genuine alternative certification, test-score gains on the NAEP exceeded those in the other states by 4.8 points and 7.6 points in 4th- and 8th-grade math, respectively,” report the authors in the current issue of Education Next. “In reading, the additional gains in the states with genuine alternative certification were 10.6 points and 3.9 points for the two grade levels respectively.”
The study undermines the arguments from colleges of education and teachers unions, which say that traditional certification, which they control, is the only process that can produce quality teachers. The findings hold up even after controlling for race, ethnicity, free-lunch eligibility, class size and per-pupil state spending.

From the report:

Forty-seven states have adopted a pathway to teaching, alternative to the standard state certification otherwise required. Is this new pathway genuine or merely symbolic? Does it open the classroom door to teachers of minority background? Does it help–or hinder–learning in the classroom? Claims about all of these questions have arisen in public discourse. Recently, data have become available that allow us to check their validity.
To receive a standard state certification in most states, prospective teachers not only must be college graduates but also must have taken a specific set of education-related courses that comprise approximately 30 credit hours of coursework. Prospective teachers are well advised to pursue studies at a college or university within the state where they expect to teach, because it is often only within that state that students can get the courses required for state certification in the subject area and for the grade levels that they will be teaching.
Such certification requirements limit the supply of certified teachers, and as a result, serious teaching shortages are regularly observed. For example, in California, one-third of the entire teacher work force, about 100,000 teachers, will retire over the next decade and need to be replaced, compounding what the governor’s office calls a “severe” current teacher shortage. Other states are facing a similar situation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics projects a shortfall of 280,000 qualified math and science teachers by 2015. As former National Education Association president Reg Weaver put it, “At the start of every school year, we read in the newspaper…stories about schools scrambling to hire teachers.”

State of the Art

Olive Garden’s 13th-annual Pasta Tales essay contest begins October 6, 2008
Kids and teens lead the digital revolution, sharing their ideas online every day. Now Olive Garden wants them to channel that knowledge and creativity to make a difference in their local communities. This year, Olive Garden’s 13th-annual Pasta Tales essay writing contest asks students in first through 12th-grade: “How would you use the Internet to change your community for the better?” The grand prize winning essay is worth a three-day trip to New York and a $2,500 savings bond.
Beginning Monday, Oct. 6 through Friday, Dec. 19, Olive Garden will accept essays of 50 to 250 words from students in the U.S. and Canada. Entry forms and complete rules will be available beginning Oct. 6 at local Olive Garden restaurants or by logging on to
The grand prize is a trip to New York, dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square and a $2,500 savings bond. A winner also will be chosen in each grade category and will receive a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden.

Continue reading State of the Art

Please, sir, what’s history?
A missed chance to make hard choices about what children should learn

The Economist:

IF YOU are in your 40s and British, it is quite possible that your spelling is an embarrassment. You may never have been taught the distinction between “there”, “their” and “they’re”, or perhaps even your times tables. If you moved house during your primary years you may have entirely missed some vital topic–joined-up writing, say. And you may have struggled to learn to read using the “initial teaching alphabet”, a concoction of 40 letters that was supposed to provide a stepping stone to literacy but tripped up many children when they had to switch to the standard 26.
Those days of swivel-eyed theorising and untrammelled experimentation–or, as the schools inspectorate put it at the time, “markedly individual decisions about what is to be taught”–ended in 1988 with the introduction of a national curriculum. But though that brought rigour and uniformity, it also created an unwieldy–and unworldly–blueprint for the Renaissance Child. Schools have struggled to fit it all in ever since. Now, 20 years later, the primary curriculum is to be cut down.

Flirting goes high-tech with racy photos shared on cellphones, Web

Sharon Jayson:

Passing a flirtatious note to get someone’s attention is so yesterday. These days, young people use technology instead.
About a third of young adults 20-26 and 20% of teens say they’ve sent or posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves, mostly to be “fun or flirtatious,” a survey finds.
A third of teen boys and 40% of young men say they’ve seen nude or semi-nude images sent to someone else; about a quarter of teen girls and young adult women have. And 39% of teens and 59% of those ages 20-26 say they’ve sent suggestive text messages.
“One of the reasons we wanted to do the survey was to put some sort of structure around the anecdotes,” says Marisa Nightingale of the non-profit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which commissioned the survey with the Hearst Digital Media site Chicago-based market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited surveyed 1,280 teens and young adults online Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.

Montgomery County Schools Seek 2% Budget Increase

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast released a budget request yesterday that seeks almost level funding for the coming school year, a gesture of fiscal restraint likely to be repeated across the region’s school systems in coming months.
The $2.1 billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins in July reflects a net increase of $40 million, or 2 percent, the smallest year-to-year bump Weast has requested in nine years as Montgomery superintendent. The budget assumes just $20 million in new local funds, all cost savings from this year that Weast would carry over as revenue for next year, and $20 million from the state, chiefly to cover enrollment growth.
“It’s a flat budget,” Weast said. It is the first formal fiscal 2010 spending plan for a major local school system.
Weast said he had to close a $176 million revenue gap to balance the budget. He did that by eliminating contracted cost-of-living increases for all school system employees and by cutting $36 million in projected spending across the 139,000-student system, shedding 300 jobs.

Painful Choices as College Bills Wallop Families

Philip Shishkin:

The day after Thanksgiving, Glen O’Brien had bad news for his two children, who were visiting from college. With his electronics business pummeled by weak demand, he told them he couldn’t afford to keep paying their bills at New York University.
“We were both completely in shock,” recalls his daughter Caitlin, a junior majoring in Spanish. She was looking forward to spending her spring semester abroad in Chile. Instead, she is planning to move back to California, get a job and take cheaper courses at a state college. She hopes to return to NYU next fall. The school costs about $50,000 a year for tuition, room and board, and fees.
As the economy shrinks, joblessness expands and small-business owners lose income, many students and their parents are struggling to make payments for the second half of the academic year, which are typically due this month or in January. Midyear applications for financial aid, typically rare, are up at a number of colleges, as families who believed they wouldn’t need help earlier in the year are now feeling squeezed. Michigan State University, where students have been hit hard by the woes of the auto industry, last month set up a $500,000 fund for families hurt by the economy’s slide.

Madison High School students Could Get On-Campus Banking

Tamira Madsen:

As soon as next year, if La Follette or Memorial high school students reach into their wallets and find they’re short on cash for lunch, they might step up to an in-school teller window and withdraw money from their own savings account.
Business teachers Darrin Graham and Dave Thomas presented a proposal last week to the Madison School Board that could bring on-campus financial institutions to the two high schools as early as the 2009-10 school year, and they got an enthusiastic response. The board gave the teachers a green light to send out request for qualification materials to potential banks and credit unions, and they plan to bring back a proposal in February.
Graham and Thomas would like to get branches running by September, but the timetable will depend on the financial institution.

On Changing the High School “Challenge Index”

Jay Matthews:

The minute I saw that Coolidge High School in the District had given a startling 750 Advanced Placement tests last May, and that only 2 percent of those exams had received passing scores, I knew I was in trouble.
For 10 years I have been ranking high schools based on participation in AP, International Baccalaureate and other college-level exams. I call this the Challenge Index. It is the system used by Newsweek in its annual list of top high schools and by The Washington Post in its annual ratings of all Washington area schools, published today in The Post Extra sections and on
Every year I receive thousands of e-mails about these lists, and my refusal to include test scores in the ranking calculations. Some readers praise me for recognizing schools that work hard to prepare students from poor families for college-level courses and tests, even if their scores aren’t good. Others denounce me for giving high ratings to schools full of such students, because many people think low scores should disqualify a school from appearing on anybody’s best schools list.

TIMSS-07 comment

In the comments on TIMSS-07 math scores, one important aspect
has not been mentioned.

Grade 8 US



Number 510 537 583 597
Algebra 501 515 596 579
Geometry 480 505 587 578
Data and Chance 531 560 580 574

Korea and Singapore have balanced scores, the US and Minnesota do not. The first three areas are the core areas of mathematics on which otherthings are built. We have to improve on them.
Dick Askey
John Hechinger has more:

U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders improved their math scores in a closely watched international test, but continued to lag well behind peers from top-performing Asian countries. U.S. students also failed to show measurable gains in science.
The U.S. and other governments on Tuesday released the results of the test, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the world’s largest assessment of international achievement. Some 425,000 students in almost 60 countries took the exam, administered every four years, starting in 1995.

Ira David Socol on Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Reforming Education


Today we present readers an in-depth interview with Ira David Socol, author of “The Drool Room” and the web site “SpeEdChange.” Our interest in talking with Ira centered upon three critical factors.
First, there is little doubt that Ira is passionate about education and the process of learning. More importantly, that passion is relentlessly focused on creating a learning process that is responsive to the needs of learners.
Second, to be frank, Ira shares some of our views on how best to reform education. He notes that there are a multitude of ways to create positive learning opportunities for students but our current school structures prevent the flexibility necessary to provide alternate paths. Like, he is also a strong proponent of the use of technology yet does not buy into the “digital natives” nonsense.

Blueprint for Change

The Wisconsin Way 686K PDF:

Even more troubling are two sobering facts. First, Wisconsin continues to experience a net loss of college degree earning workers, leaving our work force trailing the national average in terms of the number of people in our work force with a college degree. Second, of the 10 fastest growing jobs in Wisconsin, nine only require a high school degree or less. All of which makes clear that, unless we can take steps now to change these trends, future revenue streams from the existing income tax structure will be limited by a comparatively smaller work force earning comparatively less robust wages.

Steven Elbow & J.E. Espino have more.

WEAC Wisconsin 2008 Legislature Campaign Expenditures in Five Districts: About $2M

David Blaska:

Through Oct. 20, WEAC spent:

  • $539,660 on into the 43rd Assembly District to support freshman Dem Rep. Kim Hixson in his re-match with Republican Debi Towns.
  • The 47th Assembly District north of metro Madison, where it spent $513,132 supporting Dem Trish O’Neil and opposing Republican Keith Ripp.
  • The 68th Assembly District in Eau Claire, where it spent $406,322 supporting Dem Kristen Dexter and opposing GOP Rep. Terry Moulton.

Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2008

Robin Lake, via email:

Over the last three years, Hopes, Fears, & Reality has provided new evidence and analysis about what is going on in charter schools, how well they are doing, where they need to improve, and what can be learned from the research on these types of public schools. Past volumes have outlined how achievement studies should be conducted and interpreted, suggested how to achieve more effective public oversight of charter schools and how to eliminate barriers to growth, and presented nationwide trends in the number of charters opened and closed and the characteristics of these schools.
In this year’s edition, the National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) brings new evidence to some of these past questions and turns to some new ones.
What is striking throughout this year’s essays is that charter schools are more different than alike, not only in terms of the populations they serve, the academic missions they pursue, and the results they produce, but also in their response to local need and capacity.
The essays in this volume show, for example, that:
National charter school achievement is promising overall, but highly varied

Informational and Community Discussion Sessions on the Madison Mathematics Task Force

Date: January 6th, 2009

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: LaFollette High School – LMC

Date: January 7th, 2009

Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: Memorial High School – Wisconsin Neighborhood Center

You are cordially invited to attend an information session and discussion about the findings and recommendations of the Math Task Force which recently completed a review of the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program. Please also share this information with others who may be interested in attending.
At each session, there will be a brief informational presentation followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete Task Force Report can be found at
We are looking forward to sharing this information with you and learning about your reactions to the research and recommendations included in the report. Your thoughts are important to us as we work to improve the MMSD K-12 Mathematics program.
Questions/comments? Please contact Brian Sniff at
Looking forward to seeing you on January 6th or 7th.

High School Elites (no HS history scholars need apply)

Wen Chyan of Denton, Texas, Wins Individual Grand Prize;
Sajith M. Wickramasekara of Raleigh, North Carolina and Andrew Y. Guo of Cary, North Carolina, Win Team Grand Prize
NEW YORK, NY, December 8, 2008 – The nation’s brightest minds and the innovators of tomorrow bravely took on groundbreaking research of life-threatening infections and deadly side effects of chemotherapeutics. As a result, Wen Chyan and the team of Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo were named $100,000 Grand Prize winners in the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. The prestigious Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board. The annual awards were presented this morning at New York University, host of the Siemens Competition National Finals.
Wen Chyan, a senior at Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science in Denton, Texas, won the $100,000 scholarship in the individual category for chemistry research on combating hospital-related infections. Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo, both seniors at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina, won the $100,000 prize in the team category, which they will share equally, for genetics research of chemotherapy. The three science superstars have an exciting journey ahead; they will ring The Closing Bell™ at the New York Stock Exchange in February among other honors.
“These remarkable students have achieved the most coveted and competitive high school science recognition in the nation,” said Thomas McCausland, Chairman of the Siemens Foundation. “There is no doubt that these scholars will change the world, starting right now, with their passion for math and science,” he said.
The national finals were judged by a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Dr. Joseph Taylor, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Princeton University. Eighteen national finalists competed in this year’s national finals, including six individuals and six teams. The finalists previously competed at one of six regional competitions held at leading research universities throughout the month of November.

Continue reading High School Elites (no HS history scholars need apply)

Gangs in Dane County? Yes, they’re everywhere, detective says

Karyn Saemann:

Gangs are everywhere in Dane County, from the largest Madison high schools to the smallest rural hamlets.
In the latest of a series of informational meetings led by a Dane County detective who monitors local gang activity, Sun Prairie parents were told their help is needed.
Detective Joel Wagner estimated that 3 to 4 percent of Dane County youths are involved in a gang. Recruiting begins in the fourth grade, he said; gang members can be of any race and socioeconomic status, but are primarily kids who have fallen away from school and family and are looking for a group to belong to.
“The best thing is prevention,” Wagner said. “We need to get back to eyes and ears.”
“Know your children’s friends. Know them well,” he said. “Know your children’s friends’ parents. Know them better.”
Wednesday night’s meeting at Sun Prairie High School stretched more than two hours and included disturbing video of gang fights and other violence from Dane County and across the nation as well as online photos of gang members who identify themselves as being from Sun Prairie and other Dane County communities.
Particularly disturbing was video — not from Dane County — of a gang initiation in which a teen’s head was smashed into a cement curb and into a florescent light tube. In another video, a teen was beaten in a bathroom as part of an initiation.