Pass bill to boost science, math teachersPass bill to boost science, math teachers

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

: Public schools across Wisconsin expect a critical shortage of math and science teachers in the next few years. Supply is not keeping up with demand.

That’s why the Legislature should approve Senate Bill 175. This sensible proposal would lure more math and science professionals into classrooms by creating a shorter and less expensive route to a teaching license for anyone with a college degree.

SB 175 also could attract more black men into the teaching profession to serve as role models in urban schools — a key selling point for Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee, who is part of a bipartisan group of sponsors.

Primary schoolchildren will learn to read on Google in ‘slimmer’ curriculum

Graeme Paton:

Computing skills will be put on an equal footing with literacy and numeracy in an overhaul of primary education that aims to slim down the curriculum – but not lose the basics.

Children will be taught to read using internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo in the first few years of school, it is announced.

Pupils in English primary schools will learn to write with keyboards, use spellcheckers and insert internet “hyperlinks” into text before their 11th birthday under the most significant reform of timetables since the National Curriculum was introduced in 1988.

The review by Sir Jim Rose, former head of inspections at Ofsted, also recommends the use of Google Earth in geography lessons, spreadsheets to calculate budgets in maths, online archives to research local history and video conferencing software for joint language lessons with schools overseas.

Sir Jim insisted the changes would not replace come at the expense of traditional teaching, saying: “We cannot sidestep the basics”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve let the curriculum become too fat. We need to give teachers the opportunity to be more flexible.”

His report, which will be accepted in full by ministers, also proposes more IT training for teachers to keep them ahead of “computer savvy pupils”.

John Sutherland has more.

Google (and other search engine) users should be aware of the many privacy issues associated with these services. Willem Buiter:

Google is to privacy and respect for intellectual property rights what the Taliban are to women’s rights and civil liberties: a daunting threat that must be fought relentlessly by all those who value privacy and the right to exercise, within the limits of the law, control over the uses made by others of their intellectual property. The internet search engine company should be regulated rigorously, defanged and if necessary, broken up or put out of business. It would not be missed.

In a nutshell, Google promotes copyright theft and voyeurism and lays the foundations for corporate or even official Big Brotherism.

Google, with about 50 per cent of the global internet search market, is the latest in a distinguished line of IT abusive monopolists. The first was IBM, which was brought to heel partly by a forty-year long antitrust regulation (which ended in 1996) and partly by the rise of Microsoft.

We must also keep in mind the excesses of Powerpoint in the classroom.

Related: Democracy Now on a Google Anti-Trust investigation.


The Boston Globe has been publishing for 137 years, and the news that it may have to fold has distressed its many readers. Each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 14 pages or so, on notable local public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.
The latest Boston Globe’s Winter “ALL-SCHOLASTICS” section arrived, with the “ten moments that stood out among the countless athletic stories in Massachusetts.” There are reports on the best athletes and coaches in Skiing, Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Boys’ Hockey, Girls’ Hockey, Boys’ Track, Girls’ Track, Boys’ Swimming, Girls’ Swimming, Preps, Wrestling, and Gymnastics. The Preps and Gymnastics parts consolidate boys’ and girls’ accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).
Each full-page section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 30 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 “Prep” athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I didn’t see any “Prep” coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two “athletes of the year” identified, and all the coaches are “coaches of the year” in their sport.
There may be, at this time, some high school “students of the year” in English, math, Chinese, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, biology, and the like. There may also be high school “teachers of the year” in these and other academic subjects, but their names and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, perhaps the most well-known paper in the “Athens of America” (Boston).
It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the Winter “All-Scholastics” section today are also high school students of math, history, English, science, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all, cases, also be teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.
When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr., read: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice.” If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.
The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.
If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, and I will be sorry to see it fold, if it does, but I will not miss its attention to and recognition of the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no matter how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe editors (and I am sure The Globe is not alone in this) cares about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, from the evidence, that they do not.

Growing Pains in the Advanced Placement Program: Do Tough Trade-Offs Lie Ahead?

Ann Duffett & Steve Farkas:

In 2002-2003, 1 million students participated in AP by taking at least one exam. Five years later, nearly 1.6 million did—a 50+ percent increase. But is growth all good? Might there be a downside? Are ill prepared students eroding the quality of the program? Perhaps harming the best and brightest? To find out, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned the Farkas Duffett Research Group to survey AP teachers in public high schools across the country. Perhaps not surprisingly, the AP program remains very popular with its teachers. But there are signs that the move toward “open door” access to AP is starting to cause concern. Read the report to learn more.

Jacques Steinberg:

A survey of more than 1,000 teachers of Advanced Placement courses in American high schools has found that more than half are concerned that the program’s effectiveness is being threatened as districts loosen restrictions on who can take such rigorous courses and as students flock to them to polish their résumés.

The study, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an educational research and advocacy organization, noted the sharp growth in the A.P. program’s popularity. The number of high school students who took at least one college-level A.P. course increased by 45 percent, to 1.6 million from 1.1 million, from the school year ended 2004 to that ended 2008.

The number of A.P. exams those students took — with hopes, in part, of gaining exemption from some college class work, depending on how well they scored — increased by 50 percent, to 2.7 million.>Dane County, WI High School AP course offering comparison.

Mandated K-12 Testing in Wisconsin: A System in Need of Reform

Mark C. Schug, Ph.D., M. Scott Niederjohn, Ph.D.:

By law public schools in Wisconsin must administer a rigid, comprehensive set of tests. In the fall of every school year students are tested in reading, math, language, science and social studies. Test results from each district and each school are posted on the Internet, passed along to the federal government to comply with No Child Left Behind requirements and are made available to parents. In an era where measurable student performance is essential, it is expected that Wisconsin’s elaborate system of testing will tell us how Wisconsin students are performing. Unfortunately the testing required by Wisconsin state law is not very good.
The purpose of state standards and state-mandated testing is to increase academic achievement. Does Wisconsin’s elaborate system of testing advance this goal? From every quarter the answer is a clear no. That is the consensus of independent, third-party evaluators. Wisconsin’s massive testing program has come under fire from the U.S. Department of Education which said that Wisconsin testing failed to adequately evaluate the content laid out in the state’s own standards. Further, a joint report issued by the independent Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association performed a detailed evaluation of testing in every state and ranked Wisconsin 42nd in the nation. The Fordham Institute gave Wisconsin’s testing a grade of “D-minus.”
Perhaps even more troublesome is that many Wisconsin school districts find the testing system inadequate. Over 68% of Wisconsin school districts that responded to a survey said they purchase additional testing to do what the state testing is supposed to do. These districts are well ahead of the state in understanding the importance of timely, rigorous testing.
This report lays out the thirty-year history of testing in Wisconsin and the criticism of the current testing requirement. It is the first of two reports to be issued regarding Wisconsin’s testing program. The second report will show how a new approach to testing will not only meet the standards that parents, teachers and the public expect, but will also allow teachers and policy makers to use testing to actually increase the achievement of Wisconsin’s children.

WKCE Scores Document Decline in the Percentage of Madison’s Advanced Students

For many years now, parents and community members, including members of Madison United for Academic Excellence, have expressed concerns about the decline in rigor and the lack of adequate challenge in our district’s curriculum. The release this week of WKCE scores for the November 2008 testing led me to wonder about the performance of our district’s strongest students. While most analyses of WKCE scores focus on the percentages of students scoring at the Advanced and Proficient levels, these numbers do not tell us about changes in the percent of students at each particular level of performance. We can have large increases in the percent of students scoring at the Proficient and Advanced levels because we have improved the performance of students who were previously at the Basic level on the WKCE, but yet fail to have any effect on the performance of our district’s strongest students. This is the argument that we are improving the performance of our low ability students, but failing to increase the performance of our already successful students. An examination of the numbers of students who are performing at just the Advanced level on the WKCE provides us with some insight into the academic progress of our more successful students.
I decided to examine WKCE math scores for students across the district. While it is not possible to track the performance of individual students, it is possible to follow the performance of a cohort as they advance through the system. Thus students who are now in 10th grade, took the 8th grade WKCE in 2006 and the 4th grade test in 2002. Because there have been significant changes in the demographics of the district’s students, I split the data by socio-economic status to remove the possibility of declines in WKCE performance simply being the result of increased numbers of low income students. Although the WKCE has been criticized for not being a rigorous enough assessment tool, the data on our students’ math performance are not encouraging. The figures below indicate that the percent of students scoring at the Advanced level on the WKCE decreases as students progress through the system, and this decline is seen in both our low income students and in our Not Economically Disadvantaged students. The figures suggest that while there is some growth in the percent of Advanced performing students in elementary school, there is a significant decline in performance once students begin taking math in our middle schools and this decline continues through high school. I confess that I take no pleasure in sharing this data; in fact, it makes me sick.

Because it might be more useful to examine actual numbers, I have provided tables showing the data used in the figures above. Reading across a row shows the percent of students in a class cohort scoring at the Advanced level as they have taken the WKCE test as they progressed from grades 3 – 10.

Percent of Economically Disadvantaged Students Scoring at the Advanced Level on the WKCE Math Test Between 2002 and 2008

Graduation Year 3rd Grade 4th Grade 5th Grade 6th Grade 7th Grade 8th Grade 10th Grade


Some colleges checking out applicants’ social networking posts

Larry Gordon:

igh school students, beware! College admissions and financial aid officers in California and elsewhere may be peeking over your digital shoulder at the personal information you post on your Facebook or MySpace page.
And they might decide to toss out your application after reading what you wrote about that cool party last week or how you want to conduct your romantic life at college.
According to a new report by the National Assn. for College Admission Counseling, about a quarter of U.S. colleges reported doing some research about applicants on social networking sites or through Internet search engines. The study, which included 10 California colleges, did not specify which schools acknowledged the practice or how often scholarships or enrollment offers might be nixed because of online postings.
David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the counselors group, said the moral is clear: “Don’t post anything that you don’t want your mother or father or college admission officer to see,” he said.

Rejection: Some Colleges Do It Better Than Others

Sue Sehllenbarger:

Members of this year’s record-size high-school graduating class applied to more colleges than ever — and now, that’s resulting in a heavier than usual flurry of rejection letters.
Hundreds of students at high schools from Newton, Mass., to Palo Alto, Calif., have created cathartic “Wall of Shame” or “Rejection Wall” displays of college denial letters. On message boards at, students critique, attack and praise missives from various schools, elevating rejection-letter reviews to a sideline sport.
Even with impressive test scores and grades, abundant extracurricular activities, good recommendations and an admission essay into which “I poured myself heart and soul,” Daniel Beresford, 18, of Fair Oaks, Calif., netted 14 rejection letters from 17 applications, he says. Among the denials: Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago. (He’s bound for one of his top choices, Pepperdine University.) When he “realized it was going to be so much harder this year,” he started calling in reinforcements, asking teachers and friends to open the rejections for him.

2009 USA Today College All-Stars

Mary Beth Marklein:

The nation’s most gifted college students rightly take pride in their academic achievements, be they in the area of environmental policy, medical research or the classics.
But give them the chance to talk about their proudest accomplishments, and a refreshingly eclectic set of extracurricular interests and talents slips into view.
Matthew Baum, a soon-to-be Yale University graduate whose research on Fragile X Syndrome may someday lead to better treatments for mental retardation, is a wrestler on the side and started a club for beer aficionados. Harvard chemistry major Allen Cheng, 20, who envisions a career as a physician-scientist, finds pleasure in kendo, a form of fencing based on the art of Japanese samurai swordsmanship. And when Aaron Krolikowski is not advocating for environmental justice, he just might be on stage with the Buffalo Chips, a collegiate male a cappella group.
“Music has always been an important part of who I am,” says Krolikowski, 22, who will graduate next month from the University at Buffalo and hopes to serve someday in state public office. Writing and arranging music is an escape, he says, and performing is “exhilarating.”

School Reform Talk Is Good, Now Let’s See the Walk

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tells us that “School Reform Means Doing What’s Best for Kids” (op-ed, April 22). His cry for “doing what’s best for kids” rings a bit hollow when he failed to do what is best for the 1,700 low-income kids in Washington, D.C. who were counting on him. Those kids were given a lifeline — a voucher to escape schools that continually failed them, schools in a district to which neither Mr. Duncan nor his boss would send their own children. When crunch time arrived, politics trumped educational freedom, at least when it came to poor, inner-city kids in the District of Columbia.
Mr. Duncan speaks eloquently about how the public education establishment must change. He correctly says “we need a culture of accountability in America’s education system if we want to be the best in the world.” But what greater accountability can there be than that which comes from customers exercising free choices? True accountability in education will only come about when all parents are empowered to choose what they deem is best for their own children, not just those, like President Obama, Mr. Duncan, and most readers of the Wall Street Journal, who have financial means. So my question is, “When will the Obamas, Duncans, et. al. stand up for low-income parents so that they, too, can make choices that are best for their kids?”

Waukesha to use child care centers for 4-K classes

Erin Richards:

bout 15 local child care centers are likely to host the Waukesha School District’s new half-day, 4-year-old kindergarten program next year, a district curriculum and instruction coordinator said.
Deb Wells, the district coordinator for the new 4-K program and coordinator for kindergarten and elementary social studies, said her staff is conducting site visits at 15 or 16 community child care sites in Waukesha to determine that they meet high standards for 4-K instruction.
Wells said that about 20 community sites applied to be a part of the program.
Of the 15 or 16 they’ve settled on, Wells said, the district will likely work with most if not all of them.

Colleges offer no-frills degrees

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Kaileen Crane was hardly interested in the hefty price tag that comes with the traditional college experience. So she’s paying $10,000 a year for the Advantage Program offered by Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private college.
Forget about campus housing. Or a meal plan, or a gym with a climbing wall. This program is about the basics – core courses at a bare-bones satellite campus. But the price is less than one-third of what it costs for tuition and room and board at the main campus in Manchester.
“It’s close to where I live, it’s close to where I work, and the cost is just so much cheaper than a lot of other places,” says Ms. Crane during a break from classes in an office building in Salem.

Selling Obesity At School

NY Times Editorial:

The federal school lunch program, which subsidizes meals for 30 million low-income children, was created more than half a century ago to combat malnutrition. A breakfast program was added during the 1960s, and both were retooled a decade ago in an attempt to improve the nutritional value of food served at school.
More must now be done to fight the childhood obesity epidemic, which has triggered a frightening spike in weight-related disorders like diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease among young people. And the place to start is the schools, where junk foods sold outside the federal meals programs — through snack bars, vending machines and à la carte food lines — has pretty much canceled out the benefits of all those healthy lunches and breakfasts.

China Faces a Grad Glut After Boom at Colleges

Ian Johnson:

Zhang Weidong has been making the rounds at this city’s weekend talent fair for more than a month now and can’t understand why he hasn’t landed a job.
“These companies are looking for employees, and I have a degree,” says the 22-year-old computer major, clutching a plastic organizer stuffed with résumés, business cards and company information. “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
Unemployed university graduates used to be rare in China. But now their ranks are ballooning to critical levels just as the country suffers its worst economic slump in two decades. Up to one-third of last year’s 5.6 million university graduates are still looking for work, and this year will see another 6.1 million hit the labor market. Finding jobs for graduates is suddenly a national priority: Earlier this month, the central government ordered local governments and state enterprises to hire more graduates to maintain China’s “general stability.”

Education Building Architecture Awards

World Architecture News:

In the first of WAN’s groundbreaking sector awards this year, educational buildings were submitted from across the globe with architects hoping their project would clutch the title of Education Building of the Year. A long list of 27 projects was reached by 31 March and following a tense jury session, a shortlist of six has now been reached.

WAN introduced the WAN International Sector Awards following the success of the WAN House of the Year Awards which have run for the past three years. Diversifying by sector has opened up a huge array of worldwide projects, delivered sustainably to the desktops of 127,000 architects via News Review every week. Acknowledging the ever-increasing need to address sustainability WAN makes extensive use of digital and internet technology to provide the information and some of the scoring electronically.

Breaking further ground, the Education Award formed a pioneering jury combining world-class talent in design and those in the know at ground level. Michael Hammond, chairman of the Education panel said, “At WAN, we pride ourselves in our ability to assemble top class juries, vital for the delivery of a rounded verdict. This principle was borne out by our Education panel, which comprised one of the UK’s top headmasters, two leading architects (from the US and Denmark), a director of the Government’s school procurem

Obviously, it is far more important to evaluate what goes on inside these buildings than simply their facade.

Wisconsin’s Latest State K-12 Test Results, and Related Criticism

Gayle Worland:

Across Wisconsin, educators like Hensgen are part of a growing chorus to reassess the way the state assesses students. Currently, teachers and districts wait five months for WKCE results, so they have little time to react to the findings and adjust their curriculum. The tests eat into a week of class time and are based on standards that, critics say, are too low to give parents and teachers a clear picture of how students measure up globally.
“It’s widely agreed that the WKCE is a really lousy test that measures lame standards,” said Phil McDade, a departing member of the Monona Grove School Board. “The bigger issue to me in Wisconsin is that there’s a sense of self-satisfaction with our school districts, that we’re doing fine, that we’re Lake Wobegon, that everybody here’s above average.”
The Department of Public Instruction commissioned a state task force on the issue last fall and is reviewing the group’s recommendations, said Michael Thompson, executive assistant to the state superintendent of schools. The state’s current testing contract lasts at least another two years.

Alan Borsuk has more.
“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”
The ACT Explore test was mentioned in Gayle Worland’s article.

No long-term plan, no research – fine-tuning of language policy reflects a lack of values

Jonathan Lai, principal, Lee Kau Yan Memorial School in San Po Kong:

This is an era of “NO Values” – that is confirmed! Ten years have passed since 1998 and the medium-of-instruction pendulum is swinging again. From one side to the other, or rather, back to square one, although the government refuses to admit the fact and gives the latest policy move a beautiful name: “fine-tuning”. Yet, who will feel fine? The Education Bureau? Parents? Teachers? Students?
While the community is deeply involved in the discussion about the so-called labelling effect that could be caused by the fine-tuning policy, what has made the pendulum swing back remains a complete mystery. No one will be interested in the mystery, they will be too busy getting their surfboards ready for the tide to turn again.
However, this mysterious force is pushing our community into an era without beliefs and values. The issue of teaching language should not be considered as something solely related to education, it should be viewed and discussed from a wider angle. It is, in fact, demonstrating how our government formulates and adjusts its public policies.
Let us have a look at the Education Bureau’s proposal. The officials are now suggesting that teachers hold a grade six in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), considered appropriate to be able to conduct a lesson in English in the future.
What is IELTS? According to the official webpage , it is an internationally recognised English test measuring the ability of a student to communicate in English across all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – for people who intend to study or work where English is the language of communication.
Just like TOEFL, this is an English benchmarking test for students who wish to further their studies overseas and for people who are applying for migration to an English-speaking country.


Court Weighs Funding For Special Education

Robert Barnes & Daniel de Vise:

The Supreme Court will consider a question this week that has riled parents, cost local school boards here and across the country hundreds of millions of dollars, and vexed the justices themselves: When must public school officials pay for private schooling for children with special needs?
The issue has emerged as one of the fastest-growing components of local education budgets, threatening to “seriously deplete public education funds,” which would then detract from the care of students with disabilities who remain in the system, according to a brief filed by the nation’s urban school districts.
It has also become one of the most emotional and litigious disagreements between frazzled parents and financially strapped school officials, with the battles often ending in court. District of Columbia schools allocated $7.5 million of this year’s $783 million budget just for such legal costs.

Are ‘No-Fail’ Grading Systems Hurting or Helping Students?

Joshua Rhett Miller via a kind reader’s email:

What’s a kid gotta do to get an “F” these days?
At a growing number of middle schools and high schools across the country, students no longer receive failing marks when they fail. Instead, they get an “H” — for “held” — on their report cards, and they’re given a chance to rectify their poor performance without tanking the entire semester.
Educators in schools from Costa Mesa, Calif., to Maynard, Mass., are also employing a policy known in school hallways as ZAP — or “Zeros Aren’t Permitted” — which gives students an opportunity to finish the homework they neglected to do on time.
While administrators and teachers say the policies provide hope for underperforming students, critics say that lowering or altering education standards is not the answer. They point to case studies in Grand Rapids, Mich., where public high schools are using the “H” grading system this year and, according to reports, only 16 percent of first-semester “H” grades became passing grades in the second semester.
Click here to see schools that implement some type of no-fail policy.

Much more on “standards based report cards“, here.

Senior Projects

Jay Matthews:

When Wakefield High School first required senior projects 12 years ago, students suspected it was a plot to drain the last precious drops of joy from their teenage years. “We were pretty disgruntled,” Shelby Sours, who was student government president, said at the time. “We felt abused and neglected.”
This school year, Wendy Ramirez and many classmates were similarly resentful. They could not believe such a wrong-headed effort to make their lives miserable had survived so long. But after finishing her report on forensic science, Ramirez had a change of heart. Now she sees her teachers as farsighted. “It’s an experience that I will never forget that will help me so much in my future,” she said.
That’s mushy and nice, but it doesn’t explain something odd. The program’s success at the Arlington County school shows senior projects are a good idea. So why are they so rare in area public schools?

Shorter Florida High School Sports Season

Chris Chmura:

Most high school athletes will spend fewer nights under the stadium lights next year, as the state’s athletic board shortens the season for many sports.
The Florida High School Athletic Association voted Monday to cut costs by reducing varsity seasons by 20 percent and junior varsity seasons by 40 percent. Football and cheerleading are exempt.
“Football is a moneymaker and most others are not,” said Lanness Robinson, Athletic Director for public schools in Hillsborough County.
FHSAA could not provide specifics for the estimated cost savings. A spokeswoman said the board had the backing of school districts and superintendents. She said an across-the-board schedule reduction would spare some sports from total elimination.

End the University as We Know It

Mark Taylor:

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).
Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”
Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

Angling for attention: Teacher devised board game to make geometry fun

Samara Kalk Derby:

Chris Dyer’s students want to know if, when he becomes rich and famous, he’ll let them swim in his pool.
Dyer, an eighth-grade math teacher at Cherokee Middle School on Madison’s west side, developed a board game while student teaching at the school that was picked up by an international educational products manufacturer and has now sold more than 2,000 copies.
The game, Angleside School Adventure, teaches kids how to measure angles. While learning to play the game in class one recent afternoon, student Oscar Hernandez, 14, wondered aloud whether Dyer is a millionaire yet. Dyer laughed and assured his students that, if he becomes a millionaire, he’ll still be teaching them.
Many of Dyer’s students say he is the best math teacher they’ve had.
“He’s pretty good at explaining things to people who don’t know,” said 13-year-old Allison Ballard. “And for the people who do know, he just lets them go ahead.”

Raising Bill Gates

Robert Guth:

In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates Sr., Bill Gates and their family shared many details of the family’s story for the first time, including Bill Gates Jr.’s experience in counseling and how his early interest in computers came about partly as a result of a family crisis. The sometimes colliding forces of discipline and freedom within the clan shaped the entrepreneur’s character.
The relationship between father and son entered a new phase when the software mogul began working full-time seven months ago at the Gates Foundation. For the past 13 years, the father has been the sole Gates family member with a daily presence at the foundation, starting it from the basement of his home and minding it while his son finished up his final decade running Microsoft. They now work directly together for the first time.
At six-foot-six, Bill Gates Sr. is nearly a full head taller than his son. He’s known to be more social than the younger Bill Gates, but they share a sharp intellect and a bluntness that can come across to some as curt. He isn’t prone to introspection and he plays down his role in his son’s life.
“As a father, I never imagined that the argumentative, young boy who grew up in my house, eating my food and using my name would be my future employer,” Mr. Gates Sr. told a group of nonprofit leaders in a 2005 speech. “But that’s what happened.”

An Unschooling Manifesto

Dave Pollard via a kind reader:

In Grade 11, my second last year of high school, I was an average student, with marks in English in the mid 60% range, and in mathematics, my best subject, around 80%. Aptitude tests suggested I should be doing better, and this was a consistent message on my report cards. I hated school. As my blog bio explains, I was shy, socially inept, uncoordinated and self-conscious. My idea of fun was playing strategy games (Diplomacy and Acquire, for fellow geeks of that era — this was long before computer games or the Internet) and hanging around the drive-in restaurant.

Then in Grade 12, something remarkable happened: My school decided to pilot a program called “independent study”, that allowed any student maintaining at least an 80% average on term tests in any subject (that was an achievement in those days, when a C — 60% — really was the average grade given) to skip classes in that subject until/unless their grades fell below that threshold. There was a core group of ‘brainy’ students who enrolled immediately. Half of them were the usual boring group (the ‘keeners’) who did nothing but study to maintain high grades (usually at their parents’ behest); but the other half were creative, curious, independent thinkers with a natural talent for learning. The chance to spend my days with this latter group, unrestricted by school walls and school schedules, was what I dreamed of, so I poured my energies into self-study.

Charter School Rally Set for Massachusetts State House

Boston Globe:

Parents who want to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts are taking their case to the State House. More than 500 people are expected at a rally Wednesday to urge Governor Deval Patrick and state lawmakers to allow more charter schools. The state has 61 charter schools. Advocates say the schools do a better job of teaching children and engaging parents, and offer a necessary alternative to failing schools. Teacher unions oppose the schools. Patrick has long opposed lifting a cap on the number of charter schools, though this year, he has proposed lifting the cap in underperforming districts.

“Twitter” as a Teaching Tool……

Erica Perez:

Facebook may be the social medium of choice for college students, but the microblogging Web tool Twitter has found adherents among professors, many of whom are starting to experiment with it as a teaching device.

People use Twitter to broadcast bite-sized messages or Web links and to read messages or links posted by others. It can be used as a source of news, to listen to what people in certain groups are talking about, or to communicate with experts or leaders in certain fields.

Marquette University associate professor Gee Ekechai uses Twitter to discuss what she’s teaching in class with students and connect them with experts in the field of advertising and public relations.

Instructor Linda Menck, who also teaches at Marquette, encourages students to include social media as a strategy in marketing campaigns for clients.

Twitter is helping these professors build community in their classes in a way that appeals to some members of a Facebook-addicted generation. The phenomenon is certainly not ubiquitous, and some professors have found Twitter doesn’t do anything for them in the academic realm.

But others, particularly those who teach in communications fields, are finding that Twitter and other social media are key devices for students and faculty to include in their professional toolbox.

All of these things have their place, I suppose. However, much like the excesses of PowerPoint in the classroom, it is surely better to focus on sound reasoning and writing skills first.

He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects

Adam Bryant:

Q. What are you listening for as somebody describes their family, where they’re from, etc.?
A. You’re looking for a really strong set of values. You’re looking for a really good work ethic. Really good communication skills. More and more, the ability to speak well and write is important. You know, writing is not something that is taught as strongly as it should be in the educational curriculum. So you’re looking for communication skills.
You’re looking for adaptability to change. You’re looking at, do you get along well with people? And are you the sort of person that can be a part of a team and motivate people? You know, do you have the emotional I.Q.?
It’s not just enough to be able to just do a nice PowerPoint presentation. You’ve got to have the ability to pick people. You’ve got to have the ability to communicate. When you find really capable people, it’s amazing how they proliferate capable people all through your organization. So that’s what you’re hunting for.

Mayoral Control of Schools Unlikely in St. Paul

Emily Johns & Chris Havens:

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman often says that education is the key to many things that make a city successful, including economic development, crime fighting and neighborhood stability.
“Every mayor has to make education their Number 1 priority,” he says.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan takes it one step further — he wants more big-city mayors to follow the lead of Michael Bloomberg in New York City and take over their cities’ school systems to help improve their leadership and stability.
“Where you’ve seen real progress in the sense of innovation, guess what the common denominator is?” Duncan asked. “Mayoral control.”
That said, could the mayors take over the schools here?

Rancor Where Private-School Parents Make Public-School Decisions

Peter Applebome:

If you wanted to help a Martian understand this sliver of the planet in Rockland County, you might do two things.
First, you would take him (or her or it) to the cavernous Foodmart International on the main drag, Route 59.
The shoppers chatter in the broad, chilly aisles in every language under the sun. The wares include Cuban bread, Thai jasmine rice, Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce, Chinese kidney and liver herb extract, Haitian sugar, Salvadoran pickled vegetables, Honduran cream, Malaysian papaya pudding — like the provisions for some modern ark.
Then, you would head a mile or so down the road toward Monsey, where you would see gaggles of observant Jews in traditional garb walking on the street, pushing strollers, popping into shops offering kosher pizza, falafel and ice cream.
This would be helpful in understanding not just this area, but disputes along sensitive cultural fault lines that are playing out in several suburban communities. In fact, the East Ramapo school district here is going through the same drama as the district in Lawrence, on Long Island.

Moorpark High School wins National Academic Decathlon for fourth time

Seema Mehta:

Amid cheers and leaps of excitement, Moorpark High School had won the National Academic Decathlon, the fourth time the team has won the highest prize.
“There is joy, there is happiness and there is the academic decathalon,” said 17-year-old Zyed Ismailjee, who started sobbing when the results were announced during an awards luncheon in Memphis, Tenn., this afternoon.
Team mates hoisted each other into the air, and the coach lept on to his chair in celebration. Team members also won 30 medals in individual events, as well as several college scholarships.
Moorpark High School has long been among the strongest teams in state and national competitions. The school won a narrow national victory last year over Waukesha West High School of Wisconsin. Today’s win marks the fourth national title for Moorpark.

Doyle, Barrett warn Milwaukee Schools on tax increase

Alan Borsuk:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett warned Friday that it “defies common sense” to consider a large increase in property taxes for Milwaukee Public Schools for next year and said they will hold MPS leaders accountable if there is such an increase.
They did not spell out exactly what they meant by accountable, but their sharp statement came as the two consider supporting major changes in the way MPS is run, including a possible mayoral takeover of the system. It also came shortly before they name a commission to oversee putting into action a consultant’s report that said MPS could save millions of dollars if it operated like a well-run business.
The governor and mayor were reacting to Thursday’s release of a proposed budget for MPS by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. The proposal did not include a projection for property taxes for next year – that won’t come for months – but it did include a statement that it was likely there would be “a significant property tax increase.” Some MPS leaders have suggested it could be 10% or more.
The reaction also came the same day incoming state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers told the state Assembly’s Education Reform Committee that he intends to appoint a “federal funds trustee” to oversee how MPS spends tens of millions of dollars of federal economic stimulus money.
Doyle and Barrett jointly issued a brief statement about the MPS property tax picture:

Somewhat related: Joel McNally on the QEO.

Why do professional paths to the top vary so much?

The Economist:

WHEN Barack Obama met Hu Jintao, his Chinese counterpart, at the G20 summit in London, it was an encounter not just between two presidents, but also between two professions and mindsets. A lawyer, trained to argue from first principles and haggle over words, was speaking to an engineer, who knew how to build physical structures and keep them intact.
The prevalence of lawyers in America’s ruling elite (spotted by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1830s) is stronger than ever. Mr Obama went to Harvard Law School (1988-91); his cabinet contains Hillary Clinton (Yale Law, 1969-73) as secretary of state, Eric Holder (Columbia Law, 1973-76) as attorney-general, Joe Biden (Syracuse University law school, 1965-68) as vice-president and Leon Panetta (Santa Clara University law school, 1960-63) as director of the CIA. That’s the tip of the iceberg. Over half of America’s senators practised law. Mr Obama’s inner circle is sprinkled with classmates from Harvard Law: the dean of that school, Elena Kagan, is solicitor-general; Cass Sunstein, a professor there, is also in the administration.
President Hu, in contrast, is a hydraulic engineer (he worked for a state hydropower company). His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was an electrical engineer, who trained in Moscow at the Stalin Automobile Works. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, specialised in geological engineering. The senior body of China’s Communist Party is the Politburo’s standing committee. Making up its nine members are eight engineers, and one lawyer. This is not a relic of the past: 2007 saw the appointments of one petroleum and two chemical engineers. The last American president to train as an engineer was Herbert Hoover.

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update

The Madison School District’s Strategic Planning Group met this past week. Several documents were handed out, including:

This recent meeting was once again facilitated by Dr. Keith Marty, Superintendent of the Menomonee Falls school district. Non-MMSD attendance was somewhat lower than the initial 2.5 day session.

There Once Was a Wall of Shame

Edward Rothstein:

But the museum also reminds us that East Germany claimed to be engaged in a social experiment based on a utopian vision. A survey of mandated salaries demonstrates that ideological preferences were rewarded over rarefied achievement and training. A picture from a day care center shows children lined up on a “potty bench,” where “everyone remained seated until the last one was done.” This was more than toilet training, the museum tells us: “It also was the first step to social education.”
You can also see the effects of that social education, as its moralism was mixed with tyranny, individuality suppressed in favor of legislated social virtue. Such imposed uniformity could not have been alien to a culture that had nurtured enforced compliance earlier in the century under another regime; here its darkest side can be seen in displays of equipment and eavesdropping devices of the Stasi, the feared secret police. But you can also see evidence of rebellion against such constraints: the persistent interest in Western rock music and fashion and even an East German nudist movement.

The Grammar Cheat Sheet

Alexander Charchar:

When you know the correct way to structure a sentence, the world becomes a scary place – you start to notice how many people get it painfully wrong. The ease of content creation that the web now affords us is making the problem worse, so why not get a basic understanding to help make your text a little more professional?
Before we get into this, let’s establish two things.
1. A lot of these ‘rules’ are different country to country, decade to decade.
The way a proof reader or typesetter might lay out a page in Britain is different to how it might be done in America. How it’s done in 1985 is different than how it might be done in 2005. The styles of typesetting can change over time and throughout different regions.
2. Always be consistent, even if it might not be ‘correct’.

Toy Libraries

Joyce Siu:

The five-year-old flips back and forth, mulling over his choices before settling on a chess set.
Ho-hin and his mother Man Ting are among the crowd gathered outside a toy library at the weekend, eagerly waiting for it to open. The Love Pleasure Community Toy Library has been hugely popular since it opened last year in Prime View estate, Tuen Mun.
Man, a housewife, says her son looks forward to their visit to the library every week. “There are so many things to play with. To him, it’s just like a toy shop,” she says.
The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals set up the library as part of its neighbourhood services centre, with more than 500 toys donated by companies and individuals. Alerted in 2007 to a dearth of facilities for young families in the area, organisers aimed to give parents and children a chance to do things together while people whose homes are overflowing with toys can share them with families in need, says Heung Yin-kwan, a social worker at the Tuen Mun centre.

Memphis school district a finalist for Gates Foundation money

Memphis Appeal:

Memphis City Schools is one of 10 districts being considered for millions of dollars over five years to improve teacher quality, including exit strategies for those who don’t make the grade.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has set aside $500 million to study what makes an effective teacher, create ways to develop more and set up meaningful rewards, which could include merit pay.
Four winners will be announced in mid-August.
A delegation from Memphis, including Supt. Kriner Cash, school board president Tomeka Hart and Stephanie Fitzgerald, president of the Memphis Education Association, is in Atlanta discussing options with foundation members through today.
“The focus is very clear. The Gates are looking for how you keep excellent teachers and new ways to begin measuring their effectiveness,” Cash said. “The work will also include an exit strategy for teachers who are not as satisfactory.”
Gates — the biggest private source of money for education reform in the nation — invited 30 districts to submit applications. Memphis made the cut after foundation officials visited several days late this winter and invited district leaders to Atlanta as a semifinalist.

Recession gives ‘take your child to work day’ new tenor this year

Joel Dresang:

Thursday may have been “take your child to work” day, but Paul Holley couldn’t do that. He lost his job in December.
So Holley and fellow job seekers Andy Krumrai and Dotty Posto instead took their daughters along to the Barnes & Noble Café, where they meet each week with other unemployed professionals to encourage and advise one another as they look for new jobs.
It’s a new twist on the annual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which aims to expose young people to careers and help them make connections between the classroom and the workplace.
Since last year’s event, 4.5 million more Americans are out of work, according to the latest government numbers.
The scene at the café Thursday – amid Starbucks coffee, cappuccinos and cocoa – was a reminder that unemployment also rattles children.
Clare Posto, 9, said three or four of her friends have parents out of work; one is worried about the parents’ marriage. Clare’s mom, an organizational development manager who left Harley-Davidson as part of a downsizing in February, recently expanded her job search nationwide.
“I don’t really want to move, because I have a lot of friends here,” Clare said.

Private school enrollment in Wisconsin drops 11% in decade

Amy Hetzner:

Buffeted by the twin forces of a slumping economy and a decline in school-age children, enrollment in Wisconsin private schools dropped more than 11% over the past decade.
The decline is more than that suffered by the state’s public schools, which saw their enrollments decrease by less than 1%, according to state Department of Public Instruction reports.
The losses threaten the survival of some schools in the Milwaukee area.
St. Luke Parish School in Brookfield already has announced plans to close at the end of the school year. Holy Angels and St. Mary’s schools in West Bend are exploring a possible merger, although those involved with the discussions say enrollment drops at both are only one reason for the move.
“Part of it is financially driven, the other part is driven by this is a good idea,” said David Lodes, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese in Milwaukee, which operates schools in 10 southeastern Wisconsin counties. “We don’t need to be competing against each other. We need to be working together as Catholics in a community.”
Student enrollment shifts vary from school to school, but the declines have been especially hard on Milwaukee’s suburbs. Of the 21 Milwaukee-area private schools that have lost at least half of their enrollments since the 1998-’99 school year, 15 were located in suburban communities.

A Textbook Case of Renting Books

Peter King:

Oh, those text charges. No, not the fees for pecking out text messages on a cellphone, but the cost of every college student’s must-buy: textbooks.
Students spend about $1,000 a year on their texts, according to the College Board. And that most likely will increase: Over the past 20 years, textbook prices have increased at twice the inflation rate, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. One solution may be renting. Several companies offer textbook rentals that could save cash-poor college students more than 50% of the cost of a book.
To see how the process works, we ordered textbooks from three rental companies: Book Renter, Campus Book Rentals and Chegg; and one textbook seller,, which doesn’t rent books, but offers guaranteed buybacks on some texts, making those books a quasi-rental.

Do Good Looks Get High School Students Good Grades?

Science Daily:

Do personal traits predict success in school? If so, which dimension of one’s outward appearance can tell the most about academic achievement?
The answers to these questions are found in a new study by researchers from the University of Miami Health Economics Research Group. The study is the first to demonstrate that non-cognitive traits play an important role in the assignment of grades in high school.
Economists have examined the role that beauty plays on the type of employment, earnings, productivity and the likelihood of politicians being elected to office, and have wondered if “beauty premiums” and “plainness penalties” in the labor market come from an accumulation of differences in attention and rewards received from teachers throughout the school years. Findings from this peer-reviewed study titled: “Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School” will be published in the next issue of Labour Economics.

Clusty search.

Don’t boycott school lunch, district tells Nuestro Mundo

Mary Ellen Gabriel:

A group of fourth-graders at Nuestro Mundo Elementary School had planned to remain in their classroom through lunch and recess Friday, enjoying a meal of fresh fruit, vegetables and homemade pasta at cloth-covered tables with flower centerpieces.

The group from Joshua Forehand’s class, which calls itself BCSL (“Boycott School Lunch”) formed to protest what they see as unhealthy food offered in the school’s cafeteria, but they scrapped their plan to host a “Good Real Food” picnic after Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp called school administrators and parents to discourage it.

“There were too many obstacles,” Abplanalp said in an interview, citing the possibility of allergy-causing ingredients in shared homemade food, lack of adequate supervision, and the presence of the news media as major concerns.

“We want students’ voices to be heard. This just seemed to come together too fast, without various issues being addressed.”

When asked if the district feared negative publicity, Abplanalp said no. Instead she cited student privacy as a major concern.

“We have strict guidelines about the media interviewing students on school grounds. The principal maintains a list of kids whose parents have given permission for media exposure.”

Brain Gain: The underground world of “neuroenhancing” drugs.

Margaret Talbot:

young man I’ll call Alex recently graduated from Harvard. As a history major, Alex wrote about a dozen papers a semester. He also ran a student organization, for which he often worked more than forty hours a week; when he wasn’t on the job, he had classes. Weeknights were devoted to all the schoolwork that he couldn’t finish during the day, and weekend nights were spent drinking with friends and going to dance parties. “Trite as it sounds,” he told me, it seemed important to “maybe appreciate my own youth.” Since, in essence, this life was impossible, Alex began taking Adderall to make it possible.
Adderall, a stimulant composed of mixed amphetamine salts, is commonly prescribed for children and adults who have been given a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. But in recent years Adderall and Ritalin, another stimulant, have been adopted as cognitive enhancers: drugs that high-functioning, overcommitted people take to become higher-functioning and more overcommitted. (Such use is “off label,” meaning that it does not have the approval of either the drug’s manufacturer or the Food and Drug Administration.) College campuses have become laboratories for experimentation with neuroenhancement, and Alex was an ingenious experimenter. His brother had received a diagnosis of A.D.H.D., and in his freshman year Alex obtained an Adderall prescription for himself by describing to a doctor symptoms that he knew were typical of the disorder. During his college years, Alex took fifteen milligrams of Adderall most evenings, usually after dinner, guaranteeing that he would maintain intense focus while losing “any ability to sleep for approximately eight to ten hours.” In his sophomore year, he persuaded the doctor to add a thirty-milligram “extended release” capsule to his daily regimen.

Teach for (Some of) America

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Here’s a quiz: Which of the following rejected more than 30,000 of the nation’s top college seniors this month and put hundreds more on a waitlist? a) Harvard Law School; b) Goldman Sachs; or c) Teach for America.

If you’ve spent time on university campuses lately, you probably know the answer. Teach for America — the privately funded program that sends college grads into America’s poorest school districts for two years — received 35,000 applications this year, up 42% from 2008. More than 11% of Ivy League seniors applied, including 35% of African-American seniors at Harvard. Teach for America has been gaining applicants since it was founded in 1990, but its popularity has exploded this year amid a tight job market.

So poor urban and rural school districts must be rejoicing, right? Hardly. Union and bureaucratic opposition is so strong that Teach for America is allotted a mere 3,800 teaching slots nationwide, or a little more than one in 10 of this year’s applicants. Districts place a cap on the number of Teach for America teachers they will accept, typically between 10% and 30% of new hires. In the Washington area, that number is about 25% to 30%, but in Chicago, former home of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is an embarrassing 10%.

Minnesota House passes legislation to hold school funding flat

Tim Pugmire:

The Minnesota House has passed an education finance bill that would hold state funding for public schools flat over the next two years.
The vote Thursday night was 85-48. With the state facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit, House Democrats say the bill provides dependable funding in difficult times. But Republicans argue that schools need more.
The House K-12 bill maintains current state funding for education by using federal economic stimulus money, as well as delayed payments to school districts and property tax accounting shifts, to offset spending cuts.
DFL Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Division, said the bill holds the ship steady until the state reaches calmer economic waters. Greiling said the bill lays the groundwork for a new school finance system that would begin ramping up funding levels in 2014.
“Education is something that even in the hard times we should prioritize,” Greiling said. “And that’s what this bill does. Because building a workforce that’s ready to compete in a global economy has always been and must remain a Minnesota priority.

Staff Jobs on Campus Outpace Enrollment

Tamar Lewin:

Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.
During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.
The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.
Neither the report nor outside experts on college affordability went so far as to argue that the increase in support staff was directly responsible for spiraling tuition. Most experts say that the largest driver of tuition increases has been the decline in state financing for higher education.

Stephen Dubner has more.

Charter Schools’ Secret Weapon: Ivy Grads

Jay Matthews:

I am ignorant of many things, but I think I know charter schools, particularly what makes the best ones successful. I have a new book out on that subject. I discuss the issue often in this column. For instance, in a recent piece I sifted reader reaction and concluded the best name for our highest-achieving charters is No Excuses schools, because their teachers believe their students’ impoverished backgrounds are no barrier to learning.
But here comes Steven F. Wilson, one of the savviest of charter school scholars, making me look dumb. He has revealed an important facet of No Excuses schools that never occurred to me. I tried to cover my embarrassment when I read his American Enterprise Institute paper, “Success at Scale in Charter Schooling.”
“Oh, yeah, I knew that,” I said.

Obese primary school students are losing out when it comes to sports

Timothy Chui:

The Audit Commission did not spare the rod when it looked over the nutrition and exercise programs of primary schools and found things amiss.
Nearly a quarter of primary school children are obese – 120 percent heavier than the median weight for peers – compared with one-sixth in 1997, government statistics show.
Found wanting were better coordination and promotion from education, health and sports authorities to tackle obesity among primary school children.
According to the audit report released yesterday, students at nearly 100 primary schools were only managing 45 to 65 minutes of physical education a week, instead of the stipulated 70 minutes.
Compiled though 426 questionnaires and six school visits, the report revealed nearly one-third of 423 primary schools did not have physical activity policies compared with 42 which had undocumented polices and 28 percent with documented policies.

The “Most Failed” College Math Course: Math 111

Shanna Woodruff:

s there any hope for college algebra?
Math 111 has been rumored throughout campus to be one of the most failed classes at Oregon State. Many students go into class with that expectation.
“I heard from everyone that I talked to about Math 111, that it was the number one failed class in the university, so I got in the mindset that I was going to fail, and I did,” said Mark Stockhoff, a freshman in new media communications and business.
The issues relating to this rumor may be caused by the math placement test, poor math education before college, class size and student effort put into the class.
“We have a placement test, which we ask folks to take, and up until last year, only about 50 percent of entering freshmen placed into a college math course,” said Math 111 instructor Peter Argyres.
To address the poor scores, the math department worked to create an online test that wasn’t proctored to allow students to take the test in an easier environment and time frame, but the jump in scores was so significant that it was determined students had cheated on the math test.

Joanne has more.

Big Milwaukee School Tax Hike Likely

Alan Borsuk:

Even though a proposed Milwaukee Public Schools budget released Thursday calls for no increase in overall core spending next year, the property tax levy increase might still reach double digits – a year after a 14.6% jump.
The new budget proposal answers two big questions about MPS, and leaves two others unanswered.
Unanswered: How much will property taxes go up? Michael Bonds, chair of the School Board’s finance committee, said this week that he won’t vote for anything over 10%. But the board may find itself debating something in that range after the state budget is set and other factors play out. Or, as the budget documents say: “Despite the district’s efforts to contain costs, the budget likely will require a significant property tax increase.”
Unanswered: What about the nearly $100 million in federal economic stimulus money coming to MPS over the coming two years, according to an announcement by Gov. Jim Doyle on Thursday? Stay tuned – a second budget proposal will be made by mid-May, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said. It appears it won’t call for citywide use of the “year-round” school calendar and longer days for elementary students, but it is likely to make steps in those directions, along with other initiatives that would draw on stimulus money.
But that money is not expected to help with property taxes.

About The Dirksen Center’s Editorial Cartoon Collection

The Dirksen Center, via email:

Editorial cartoonists loved Everett Dirksen (1896-1969)–his position of influence as Minority Leader in the Senate (1959-69), his way with words, and, of course, his distinctive appearance. Over the years, Senator Dirksen’s staff compiled a scrapbook containing more than 300 editorial cartoons. Topics covered include Vietnam, civil rights, Republican Party politics, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, reapportionment, Taft-Hartley 14(b), school prayer, Dirksen’s recording career, Senate procedures, congressional pay, presidential appointments, and Dirksen’s legacy. Naturally, cartoonists also used these topics to depict Dirksen’s relationship with President Lyndon Johnson, with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and with the Supreme Court. In addition, cartoonists sent Dirksen between 50 and 60 original sketches on equally diverse topics.

9 Madison School District employees win grants

Wisconsin State Journal:

Nine Madison School District employees have won grants totalling $45,677 to carry out projects including having students sit on large balls, rather than chairs, and connecting Madison students with their Honduran counterparts via the Internet, the district announced.
The grants range from $462 to $9,820 and were given out by the Aristos Scholars Academy, which the district describes as a “think tank” of staff members who “explore district issues.”
Of the nine funded initiatives, three are at the high school level, four are at elementary schools and one is at a middle school. One — to connect Madison students with students in Honduras — will be carried out at Nuestro Mundo Community School, a bilingual charter school.
The balls-for-chairs project, at Allis Elementary, will give first- and fourth-graders the chance to sit on balls during class as a way to improve their attention and the appearance of their written work, among other benefits, according to a district news release.

On Wisconsin’s State K-12 Education Budget

Bob Godfrey:

Following several hours of impassioned testimony from administrators, parents, and staff from school districts throughout the state, both large and small, at this week’s School Finance Network Assembly Hearing, it ended, unfortunately, on what could be charitably characterized as a flat note. Despite the hard work of disparate leaders of education groups meeting constantly for the past couple of years to come up with a thoroughly conceptualized school finance reform plan to present to the legislature, a committee composed of organizations in the School Finance Network who have often been traditionally at odds with each other in the past (for example WEAC and WASB ), came to the hearing armed with numbers vetted by both economists at the UW-Madison and the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, including a number of suggestions for how to pay for this reform. However, the Committee on Education made it clear they were not going to take any action on this plan for the upcoming budget legislation hearings for the 2009-2011 budget. And most discouragingly there were, was, as far as I’m aware, no newspaper coverage of this event. I saw only one Madison tv crew present. They covered some of the personal testimony at the beginning but were not around to hear the actual presentation of the plan itself, which came late in the proceedings, too late to make it into the evening broadcast.

State schools to get $366 million in stimulus aid; Madison gets $11.7M

Gayle Worland:

The Madison School District will spend the next couple of months figuring out how best to spend a two-year, nearly $11.7 million windfall in federal stimulus money, Madison’s school superintendent said Thursday.
More money for early-learning programs, possibly including 4-year-old kindergarten, is one of many ideas on the table, Superintendent Dan Nerad said.
“We have to be deliberative about our planning,” he said. “If we had the benefit of more time, we could have a longer conversation. But we’re going to have a good conversation, with a lot of good ideas. We’ve been waiting for the regulations, to make sure that we weren’t putting things out there that couldn’t be included in the final package.”

Related: China increases gold reserves.

Education in New York: “The Excellence Charter School”

The Economist:

THE DAY starts in a small office in downtown Manhattan with Zeke Vanderhoek, the principal of The Equity Project, a charter school set to open in the Bronx this autumn. Already the school has attracted national attention—not for its pedagogy, but for its teachers’ salaries: $125,000 annually, plus a performance-related bonus. This pay, easily double or triple what most teachers make, will come out of the school’s grant from the city’s education department—which, as is standard for charter schools, is a good deal less than it spends on its own public schools.

How will he find the money? By hiring great teachers, says Zeke, which will allow him to cut back on everything else: the school will have hardly any non-teaching staff and no assistant principals, just a principal (himself) who earns less than classroom teachers. It will pay for no educational consultants or outside courses: these super-teachers will support each other’s professional development. They will work long, hard days: 8am to 6pm, and each will fill one of the roles normally assigned to support staff, such as chasing up truants. When one is absent, colleagues will cover, rather than the school paying for peripatetic substitutes.

We talk about money and waste in public schools: the programmes started and abandoned; the consultants and other hangers-on, both public-sector and private; the expensive remediation of mistakes made earlier in a child’s education; the even more expensive failure to remediate so that many children leave school having had a small fortune spent on them—and barely able to read.

Diversity Plans Lack Coherence, Shaft University

Ammar Al Marzouqi:

With the end of Plan 2008, which aimed to improve the diversity of our student body, we are once again facing some serious questions that demand thoughtful answers. And with a new initiative on the horizon, those answers gain an extra degree of importance, since they might very well have an effect on the futures of many prospective University of Wisconsin students.
There seems to be a consensus on the notion that Plan 2008 did not properly meet its goals. Minority student enrollment has risen by 64 percent, with only 12 percent of the current student population composed of minorities. This increase is hardly a departure from the natural increase of the enrollment of minority students. Yet are we really that superficial? One wonders what benefits this campus gains from diversity, if the only gauge of the success of initiatives such as Plan 2008 is the percentage of enrolled minority students.
Let’s not forget that we’re in Wisconsin — a state that is 90 percent white. And if anything, the composition of our current student population closely resembles that of the state population. So instead of trying to create an artificial sense of diversity, we must strive to achieve the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of race. When we look at it objectively, it is almost undeniable that there are disparities in educational opportunities between white and minority students.

New York U. Plans to Make ACT and SAT Scores Optional for Applicants

Eric Hoover:

Starting next year, New York University will no longer require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, the university announced today. NYU is not going “test-optional,” however. The university will continue to require all applicants to send scores from standardized exams, but the students will have more options.
Currently, applicants to NYU must submit either ACT scores or scores from the SAT and two SAT subject tests. As of next fall, applicants may choose instead to send scores from the SAT and two Advanced Placement examinations; or scores from three SAT subject tests, excluding language tests; or scores from three AP exams, also excluding language tests.
Students who can demonstrate “an extraordinary accomplishment,” such as publishing a book or winning a national competition, may submit only scores from the SAT, or two subject tests, or two AP exams.

California High school exit exam hinders female and non-white students, study says

Mitchell Landsberg:

California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys, according to a study released Tuesday. It also found that the exam, which became a graduation requirement in 2007, has “had no positive effect on student achievement.”
The study by researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis concluded that girls and non-whites were probably failing the exit exam more often than expected because of what is known as “stereotype threat,” a theory in social psychology that holds, essentially, that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling. In this case, researcher Sean Reardon said, girls and students of color may be tripped up by the expectation that they cannot do as well as white boys.
Reardon said there was no other apparent reason why girls and non-whites fail the exam more often than white boys, who are their equals in other, lower-stress academic assessments. Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, urged the state Department of Education to consider either scrapping the exit exam — one of the reforms for which state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has fought the hardest — or looking at ways of intervening to help students perform optimally. Reardon said the exam is keeping as many as 22,500 students a year from graduating who would otherwise fulfill all their requirements.

MPS juniors get school day to take free ACT college entrance exam

Alan Borsuk:

Earth Day is one thing, but for Milwaukee Public Schools high school students, Wednesday was also ACT day.
For the first time, every junior in MPS was given the opportunity to take the ACT college entrance exam for free and on a normal school day. MPS officials said indications were that a very large percentage of them did that.
Terry Falk, the School Board member who initiated the plan, said his goal was to get more students, teachers and administrators to take college-readiness more seriously.
“In the long run, it’s about holding kids to higher standards,” he said.
Falk said he also hoped the step would lead state and local school officials to pay more attention to the performance of students beyond the point early in 10th grade when they take the last round of state standardized tests.
Falk and other MPS officials said the testing Wednesday went smoothly.

The roots of Thailand’s tension

Charles Morrison:

The Thai political crisis reflects powerful forces that are reshaping the political landscape of parts of Southeast Asia. Increased levels of education and awareness, economic development, and new technologies are all helping to bring demanding new voices into politics, often threatening established elites and traditional power-sharing arrangements.
Although true reforms have eluded the Philippines, and Myanmar has remained mired under military rule, Indonesia has already undergone a major – and so far quite successful – democratic transformation, and Malaysia seems poised for change.

A Visit to KIPP Schools in New York City

The Economist:

I AM in Newark, New Jersey’s largest town and long a byword for urban decay. I’ve been invited by KIPP (the “Knowledge is Power Programme”), the biggest and best known of America’s charter-school chains, which has three schools in Newark, with a fourth to open this autumn. Founded by two Teach for America alumni (how familiar that story is getting) in 1994, there are now 66 KIPP schools nationwide, mostly middle schools (ie, with students between 10 and 14 years old). Oddly, none of Newark’s KIPP schools are called that: under the state’s charter law “brand” names are banned, which reflects early fears that big chains would come in and take over. Those fears have dissipated, and Cory Booker, Newark’s mayor since 2006, is a good friend of charters, and wants to see more of them.
I’m actually a bit nervous. KIPP has a fearsome and to my mind not entirely attractive reputation in England for a zero-tolerance approach to discipline–insisting that children keep their gaze on teachers who are speaking, and nod and say “yes” in response to teachers’ requests; giving detentions for minor transgressions; and “benching”–that is, seating naughty children separately in class and forbidding other pupils to speak to them during breaks. A certain type of English politician practically drools when talking about KIPP–the ones who, like many of their compatriots, dislike and fear children, and love all talk of treating them harshly. I’m half-expecting to find dead-eyed Marine-sergeant types with crewcuts barking orders at children one-third their size. If it turns out that the only way to maintain order and calm in a tough urban school is to run it like a boot camp, it will make me very sad.

Seattle School Board Delays New Math Program

Nick Eaton:

Divided on whether to adopt a recommended new high school textbook program Wednesday, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors postponed voting on the issue until next month.

The reason? The attending directors, indicating how they planned to vote, split 3-3 on Wednesday. Director Cheryl Chow, who was absent while traveling, could be the tie-breaker at the board’s May 6 meeting.

“This is one of the few times when we have the opportunity to change the direction when it comes to the school district’s instruction,” board President Michael DeBell said.

No official vote took place, but DeBell said he planned to vote against the math-adoption motion.

Up for approval was a policy that would overhaul the Seattle school district’s math program by adopting new textbooks, standardizing its curriculum and renaming its classes. The Integrated Math 2 classes, for example, would become Advanced Algebra, said Anna-Maria de la Fuente, the district’s K-12 mathematics program coordinator.

A Seattle Public Schools math committee, after about six months of investigation and debate, recommended a textbook program called Discovering Mathematics for all of the district’s math classes, except for statistics.

Much more on math here.

How Members of the 111th Congress Practice Private School Choice

Lindsey Burke:

Policies that give parents the ability to exercise private-school choice continue to proliferate across the country. In 2009, 14 states and Washington, D.C., are offering school voucher or education tax-credit programs that help parents send their children to private schools. During the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, 44 states introduced school-choice legislation.[1] In 2008, private-school-choice policies were enacted or expanded in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Utah[2]–made possible by increasing bipartisan support for school choice.[3]

On Capitol Hill, however, progress in expanding parental choice in education remains slow. Recent Congresses have not implemented policies to expand private-school choice. In 2009, the 111th Congress has already approved legislative action that threatens to phase out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a federal initiative that currently helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools in the nation’s capital.

Congress’s Own School Choices

At the same time, many Members of Congress who oppose private-school-choice policies for their fellow citizens exercise school choice in their own lives. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), the chief architect of the language that threatens to end the OSP, for instance, sends his children to private school[4] and attended private school himself.[5]

Washington Post editorial: “Only for the Privileged Few?“:

NEW SURVEY shows that 38 percent of members of Congress have sent their children to private school. About 20 percent themselves attended private school, nearly twice the rate of the general public. Nothing wrong with those numbers; no one should be faulted for personal decisions made in the best interests of loved ones. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if Congress extended similar consideration to low-income D.C. parents desperate to keep their sons and daughters in good schools?

The latest Heritage Foundation study of lawmakers’ educational choices comes amid escalating efforts to kill the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that helps 1,700 disadvantaged children attend private schools. Congress cut funding beyond the 2009-10 school year unless the program, which provides vouchers of up to $7,500, gets new federal and local approvals. Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited that uncertainty as the reason for his recent decision to rescind scholarship offers to 200 new students. Senate hearings on the program’s future are set for this spring, and opponents — chiefly school union officials — are pulling out all the stops as they lobby their Democratic allies.

Educator offers a radical approach

Jeremy Meyer:

Michelle Rhee, a national firebrand for education reform, urged Colorado educators and lawmakers Thursday night to continue their efforts to change the state of education.
Rhee — chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools who closed 23 schools in her first year, fired 36 principals and proposed paying more money to good teachers and firing the bad ones — spoke at a meeting of the Democrats for Education Reform in the auditorium of the Denver Newspaper Agency building.
The standing-room-only crowd included Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, state Senate President Peter Groff and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.
“We have public schools so that every kid can have an equal shot in life,” Rhee said. “That is not the reality for children in Washington, D.C., today or many children in urban cities today. That is the biggest social injustice imaginable.”
Rhee said radical changes are necessary. “Unless we do something massive about this right now, unless we are willing to turn the system on its head . . . then all of the ideals of this country are actually hollow,” she said.

Charter Schools Face High Demand, but Few Seats
Obama Wants to Expand the Alternative Program, but Laws, Labor Unions Will Make That Hard to Achieve

Robert Tomsho:

The waiting lists for charter schools, already notoriously long, look like they are about to get longer.
President Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, his new education secretary, are trying to entice states into opening more of the alternative schools. But despite brisk enrollment growth and long waiting lines for many existing charter schools, states appear to be in no hurry to oblige.
With 1.4 million students in 4,600 schools, charters are by far the most significant achievement of the “choice” movement that strives to promote educational gains through school competition. Enrollment in charter schools, which are publicly funded, has more than doubled in the last six years.
But obstacles loom to accommodating more charter-school students. The recession has intensified school districts’ concerns about competing for public funds with charter schools. Some charter-school supporters say such schools need more oversight. But unions are using any missteps at charter schools, which aren’t typically unionized, to oppose their expansion.

New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel

John Hechinger:

Financially strapped colleges are angering their benefactors by selling school radio stations, auctioning Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and dipping into endowments for purposes their donors may not have intended.
In one previously undisclosed fight, Trinity College in Connecticut is facing government scrutiny for its plan to spend part of a $9 million endowment from Wall Street investing legend Shelby Cullom Davis.
Trinity’s Davis professor of business, Gerald Gunderson, says he believed the plan, which would have funded scholarships for international students, violated the wishes of the late Mr. Davis. He alerted the Connecticut attorney general’s office. Then, Mr. Gunderson said in notes submitted to the agency, Trinity’s president summoned him to the school’s cavernous Gothic conference room, where he called the professor a “scoundrel” and threatened not to reappoint him.
Trinity said some of Mr. Davis’s family approved of the plan but it is now coming up with a new one, and declined to discuss the meeting.

Crib Worries Spur Retailer, Agency to Act

Melanie Trottman:

Concerns about the safety of popular crib designs have led to 21 recalls of 4.2 million cribs over the past two years because of hazardous defects. Products involved in the recalls have been linked to at least five infant deaths and 16 cases in which babies were trapped by parts of a crib, said the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Drop-side cribs, popular because sliding down one side of the crib makes it easier for a parent to pick up a baby, have proved to be particularly problematic.
“There are enough concerns raised about drop-side cribs that we’re moving forward and we’re going to phase them out,” Mr. Storch said in an interview. While Mr. Storch said he doesn’t necessarily believe newer drop-side cribs are dangerous, he’s concerned about the amount of time consumers are keeping their cribs, especially in this economy. “It adds in an element of risk that we don’t want to take, particularly over time,” he said. “It seems that the strongest cribs are ones where the four sides attach to each other and have less complicated hardware.”

Taking School Choice for Granted

Lindsey Burke & Dan Lips:

President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and most members of Congress have never known the sense of desperation that LaTasha Bennett feels.
Bennett is one of hundreds of Washington, D.C., parents who recently opened a letter from the U.S. Department of Education with devastating news: Her child was no longer eligible to receive a private-school scholarship for the upcoming school year. This sent Bennett and other parents scrambling to find their children spots in good public schools — a challenge in a city where few students read at grade level and barely half graduate from high school.
President and Mrs. Obama faced the same problem when they moved to the District in January, but they were able to afford a private school for their daughters. And for Secretary Duncan and his wife, finding a good school was a top concern when deciding where to live in the D.C. area. They wound up choosing Arlington, Va., a community with good public schools. Duncan recently told Science magazine: “My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education.”

George Will has more:

He has ladled a trillion or so dollars (“or so” is today’s shorthand for “give or take a few hundreds of billions”) hither and yon, but while ladling he has, or thinks he has, saved about $15 million by killing, or trying to kill, a tiny program that this year is enabling about 1,715 D.C. children (90 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic) to escape from the District’s failing public schools and enroll in private schools.

The District’s mayor and school superintendent support the program. But the president has vowed to kill programs that “don’t work.” He has looked high and low and — lo and behold — has found one. By uncanny coincidence, it is detested by the teachers unions that gave approximately four times $15 million to Democratic candidates and liberal causes last year.

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago’s school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

Open Education 2009

Vancouver, BC:

For the first time in its six year history, the international Open Education Conference is moving! After five years at the historic Utah State University campus, this year’s conference will be held in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, hosted by the University of British Columbia.
The Call for Papers is now available!
Read about this year’s incredible Keynote Speakers!

A Crisis of Ethic Proportions

John Bogle:

I recently received a letter from a Vanguard shareholder who described the global financial crisis as “a crisis of ethic proportions.” Substituting “ethic” for “epic” is a fine turn of phrase, and it accurately places a heavy responsibility for the meltdown on a broad deterioration in traditional ethical standards.
Commerce, business and finance have hardly been exempt from this trend. Relying on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” through which our self-interest advances the interests of society, we have depended on the marketplace and competition to create prosperity and well-being.
But self-interest got out of hand. It created a bottom-line society in which success is measured in monetary terms. Dollars became the coin of the new realm. Unchecked market forces overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries.
The result is a shift from moral absolutism to moral relativism. We’ve moved from a society in which “there are some things that one simply does not do” to one in which “if everyone else is doing it, I can too.” Business ethics and professional standards were lost in the shuffle.

A Lawyer, Some Teens and a Fight Over ‘Sexting’

Dionne Searcey:

The group of anxious parents crowded around District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. as he sat behind a table in a courtroom here and presented them with an ultimatum.
Photos of their semi-nude or scantily clad teenage daughters were stacked before him. Mr. Skumanick said the images had been discovered on cellphones confiscated at the local high school. They could either enlist their kids in an education program or have the teens face felony charges of child pornography. “We could have just arrested them but we didn’t,” said Mr. Skumanick in an interview.
View Full Image
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
Mustafah Abdulaziz for the Wall Street Journal
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
The tactics of District Attorney George Skumanick Jr., left, in the county courthouse, prompted the family of 15-year-old Marissa Miller to sue him.
The practice of teens taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to friends via cellphones, called “sexting,” has alarmed parents, school officials and prosecutors nationwide, who fear the photos could end up on the Internet or in the hands of sexual predators. In a handful of cases, authorities have resorted to what one parent here called “the nuclear weapon of sex charges” — child pornography.
But some legal experts say that here in Wyoming County, Pa., Mr. Skumanick has expanded the definition of sexting to such an extent he could be setting a dangerous precedent. He has threatened to charge kids who appeared in photos, but who didn’t send them, as well as at least one girl who was photographed wearing a bathing suit. One of the accused is 11 years old.

Financial Manager Targets Detroit Schools

Noah Ovshinsky:

Detroit’s public schools are under the microscope — and a new state-appointed emergency financial manger is addressing a $300 million deficit. In the month Robert Bobb has been on the job, he has proposed closing up to 50 schools in the next two years.

How to Raise the Standard in America’s Schools

Walter Isaacson:

National standards have long been the third rail of education politics. The right chokes on the word national, with its implication that the feds will trample on the states’ traditional authority over public schools. And the left chokes on the word standards, with the intimations of assessments and testing that accompany it. The result is a K-12 education system in the U.S. that is burdened by an incoherent jumble of state and local curriculum standards, assessment tools, tests, texts and teaching materials. Even worse, many states have bumbled into a race to the bottom as they define their local standards downward in order to pretend to satisfy federal demands by showing that their students are proficient.
It’s time to take another look. Without national standards for what our students should learn, it will be hard for the U.S. to succeed in the 21st century economy. Today’s wacky patchwork makes it difficult to assess which methods work best or how to hold teachers and schools accountable. Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope that the politics surrounding national standards has become a little less contentious. A growing coalition of reformers — from civil rights activist Al Sharpton to Georgia Republican governor Sonny Perdue — believe that some form of common standards is necessary to achieve a wide array of other education reforms, including merit pay for good teachers and the expansion of the role of public charter schools. (See pictures of inside a public boarding school.)
The idea of “common schools” that adopt the same curriculum and standards isn’t new. It first arose in the 1840s, largely owing to the influence of the reformer Horace Mann. But the U.S. Constitution leaves public education to the states, and the states devolve much of the authority to local school districts, of which there are now more than 13,000 in the U.S. The Federal Government provides less than 9% of the funding for K-12 schools. That is why it has proved impossible thus far to create common curriculum standards nationwide. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush summoned the nation’s governors to Charlottesville, Va., to attempt a standards-based approach to school reform. The result was only a vague endorsement of “voluntary national standards,” which never gained much traction. In 1994, President Bill Clinton got federal money for standards-based reform, but the effort remained in the hands of the states, leading to a wildly varying hodgepodge of expectations for — as well as ideological battles over — math and English curriculums.

Basketball Prospect Leaving High School to Play in Europe

Pete Thamel:

Jeremy Tyler, a 6-foot-11 high school junior whom some consider the best American big man since Greg Oden, says he will be taking a new path to the N.B.A. He has left San Diego High School and said this week that he would skip his senior year to play professionally in Europe.

Tyler, 17, would become the first United States-born player to leave high school early to play professionally overseas. He is expected to return in two years, when he is projected to be a top pick, if not the No. 1 pick, in the 2011 N.B.A. draft.

Tyler, who had orally committed to play for Rick Pitino at Louisville, has yet to sign with an agent or a professional team. His likely destination is Spain, though teams from other European leagues have shown interest. A spokesman for Louisville said the university could not comment about Tyler.

“Nowadays people look to college for more off-the-court stuff versus being in the gym and getting better,” Tyler said. “If you’re really focused on getting better, you go play pro somewhere. Pro guys will get you way better than playing against college guys.”

Three Madison Students Among Presidential Scholar Finalists

Three Madison high school seniors are among 12 statewide to be named semifinalists in the 2009 Presidential Scholars program, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.
Suvai Gunasekaran and Hannah Postel, both Memorial High School students, and Chelli Riddiough, a student at West, will compete with close to 500 other U.S. semifinalists for the Presidential Scholar title.
The Commission on Presidential Scholars makes the final selection of the 121 academic scholars — one male and one female from each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and from families of U.S. citizens living abroad. Up to 20 Presidential Scholars in the Arts also are chosen.
Other Wisconsin semifinalists include: Joseph Balistreri, Fox Point; Nicholas Blecha, De Pere; Wyatt Brothers, Oshkosh; Sean Conley, Milwaukee; Anthony Hoffman, Menomonie; Elizabeth Huston, Stevens Point; Evan Liang, Oneida; Philip Streich, Platteville; and Amy Yin, Onalaska.

Education in New York: Off to School

The Economist:

QUITE a few Economist journalists have children in private schools, and whenever I write about the astronomical fees they read my articles with keen interest. More than one has asked me, hopefully and with a certain Schadenfreude, whether the global recession means that schools finally have to start cutting their fees? In London, that’s doubtful; I want to find out whether Manhattan is any different.
One reason fees in both places have been so high is limited supply: opening a new school in either of these crowded, pricey cities is difficult. So my first stop is Claremont Prep, one of the rare ones that has managed it. It opened just five years ago, in an old Bank of America building just off Wall Street. P.D. Cagliastro, the school’s flack, shows me around.
It cost $28m just to open the doors, Ms Cagliastro tells me, and another $7m has been spent since–and I can easily believe it. The former banking hall, its murals carefully restored, is now a grand auditorium; in the student cafeteria the old vault door is still visible, protected behind glass. There is an indoor swimming pool, and a basketball court on the 9th floor. The rooftop garden is surreal–an adventure playground on Astroturf, surrounded by skyscrapers and overlooked by the New York Stock Exchange.

Science the theme for all-school event at Wingra

Pamela Cotant:

Kindergartner Sylvia Bazsali and eighth-grader Ally Marckesano stood side-by-side as they learned about the formation of earthquakes and mountains by experimenting with frosting, graham crackers and fruit roll-ups.
Marckesano helped Bazsali with the lesson, which ended with a taste test — the evidence still on Bazsali’s lips.
“We’ve been kind of buddy-buddies lately,” said Marckesano, who has four younger siblings.
The activity was part of Wingra School’s annual all-school unit when students in kindergarten through eighth grade learn together. The two-week event had a science theme under a camp-like structure this year.
“It energizes the school in a way that’s incredible,” said Mary Campbell, director of education at the private school at 3200 Monroe St.

Cornell ’69 And What It Did

Donald Downs:

Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. “Cornell,” wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, “was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity.”
In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.
Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.


School Reform Means Doing What’s Best for Kids

Arne Duncan:

As states and school districts across America begin drawing down the first $44 billion in education funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they should bear in mind the core levers of change under the law. In order to drive reform, we will require an honest assessment by states of key issues like teacher quality, student performance, college-readiness and the number of charter schools. We’ll also have a strategy to address low-performing schools and provide incentives to compel improvement.

When stakeholders — from parents and business leaders to elected officials — understand that standards vary dramatically across states and many high-school graduates are unprepared for college or work, they will demand change. In fact, dozens of states are already independently working toward higher standards in education. Union leaders have also signed on.

When parents recognize which schools are failing to educate their children, they will demand more effective options for their kids. They won’t care whether they are charters, non-charters or some other model. As President Barack Obama has called for, states should eliminate restrictions that limit the growth of excellent charter schools, move forward in improving or restructuring chronically failing schools, and hold all schools accountable for results.

The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools

McKinsey [772K PDF]:

McKinsey’s report, The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools, examines the dimensions and economic impact of the education achievement gap. While much controversy exists on the causes of the gap and on what the nation should do to address it, the full range of the achievement gap’s character and consequences has been poorly understood.

This report examines the dimensions of four distinct gaps in education: (1) between the United States and other nations, (2) between black and Latino students and white students, (3) between students of different income levels, and (4) between similar students schooled in different systems or regions.

The report finds that the underutilization of human potential as reflected in the achievement gap is extremely costly. Existing gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession—one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing. For individuals, avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences via lower earnings, poor health, and higher rates of incarceration.

Chinese Learn English the Disney Way

James Areddy & Peter Sanders:

Mickey Mouse has a new job in China: teaching kids how to speak English at new schools owned by Walt Disney Co. popping up in this bustling city.
The company says the initiative is primarily about teaching language skills to children, not extending its brand in the world’s most populous nation. But from the oversize Mickey Mouse sculpture in the foyer to diction lessons starring Lilo and Stitch, the company’s flagship school here is filled with Disney references.
Classroom names recall Disney movies, such as “Andy’s Bedroom,” the setting of the “Toy Story” films. To hold the attention of children as young as two years old, there is the Disney Magic Theater, which combines functions of a computer, television and chalkboard and is the main teaching tool.
Disney’s foray into English-language instruction in China comes as the niche industry is booming. McKinsey & Co. estimates that China’s foreign-language business is worth $2.1 billion annually. More than 300 million Chinese are studying English, according to a speech delivered in January by Premier Wen Jiabao.

50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice

Geoffrey Pullum:

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won’t be celebrating.
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
The authors won’t be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte’s Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.


Tim Harford:

Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting By Joshua Gans
What happens when Mr Spock meets Dr Spock? The answer is Parentonomics, an autobiographical account of how an economist used his professional training in game theory to bring up his three children.
Joshua Gans describes his experiences in the labour wards, changing nappies and dealing with tantrums, spousal absences and sibling rivalry – all the while explaining what he did or did not do, the economic principles involved, and whether any of it worked as a parenting strategy.
The obvious question is whether this is supposed to be good advice or some kind of joke. There is no ambiguity in Parentonomics: Gans is not joking. Thankfully, he can be very funny. Although he is an academic – a professor at Melbourne Business School – his writing has a professional snap. While the advice is intended to be useful, readers will come to their own conclusions about that. It does at least tend to be thought-provoking.

Abolish Local School Districts?

The Economist:

Today is the conference for which I’ve travelled to New York. It’s at the Rubin Museum, a small, new venue devoted to Himalayan art, which certainly beats the usual hotel. We see the galleries at each coffee break, and at the end of the day there is a guided tour for those inspired to learn more about the art.
The conference features a stellar cast of speakers: educators, researchers and some hard-headed business types too. Lou Gerstner, an ex-CEO of IBM, enthusiastically pitches his plan for school reform: he wants the 15,000 local school districts abolished and replaced by around 70 (the states plus a couple of dozen big cities), national standards in core subjects introduced, with all children tested against them, and teachers paid much, much more.
Jim Rohr of PNC Financial Services talks about “Grow Up Great“, the bank’s $100m, 10-year investment in early-childhood education, which gives grants to non-profit school-readiness programmes, and sponsors employees to volunteer their time and services. One delegate asks about the lessons learned; Mr Rohr gets a laugh of recognition when he says that the main one is that volunteers face a hideous maze of bureaucratic regulations and permissions–and all because they wanted to help.

How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write

Steven Johnson:

Every genuinely revolutionary technology implants some kind of “aha” moment in your memory — the moment where you flip a switch and something magical happens, something that tells you in an instant that the rules have changed forever.
I still have vivid memories of many such moments: clicking on my first Web hyperlink in 1994 and instantly transporting to a page hosted on a server in Australia; using Google Earth to zoom in from space directly to the satellite image of my house; watching my 14-month-old master the page-flipping gesture on the iPhone’s touch interface.
The latest such moment came courtesy of the Kindle, Inc.’s e-book reader. A few weeks after I bought the device, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I’d bought and downloaded Zadie Smith’s novel “On Beauty.” By the time the check arrived, I’d finished the first chapter.

The State of Education in New York City

The Economist:

As The Economist’s education correspondent, I’ve been invited by Economist Conferences, one of the businesses in the Economist group, to chair a conference in New York entitled “Global Education 2020“. It’s just one day, but if I’m going to make the trip from London, I may as well stay longer and visit some schools. Those in the city’s poor neighbourhoods have long been known for having serious problems–violence, astronomical drop-out rates and abysmal standards of achievement–but in the last few years exciting things have been happening under Joel Klein, the chancellor of the city ‘s department of education, and I want to see some of the success stories with my own eyes.
Monday morning, and I’m off to Starbucks on 93rd and Broadway to meet Wendy Kopp, the Princeton graduate who in 1990 founded Teach for America (TFA), a non-profit organisation that recruits top-notch graduates from elite institutions and gets them to teach for two years in struggling state schools in poor areas. I know the basics already–TFA been widely copied, including in England. But I quickly realise that I’ve misunderstood TFA’s true purpose.
All three are tired. Their classrooms are not much like the rest of the school where they work, and their heroic efforts are only supported by Chester and each other, not by their co-workers. “The first year was unbelievably bad,” one tells me. “So many years with low expectations meant a lot of resistance from the kids. Eventually they saw the power and the growth they were capable of–but during the first few months we were just butting heads every day.”

World Digital Library Home

The World Digital Library (WDL) makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.
The principal objectives of the WDL are to:

  • Promote international and intercultural understanding;
  • Expand the volume and variety of cultural content on the Internet;
  • Provide resources for educators, scholars, and general audiences;
  • Build capacity in partner institutions to narrow the digital divide within and between countries.

Schools May Pass High Stakes Tests, But Fail Low Performing Students

Jay Matthews:

Sarah Fine, a 25-year-old English teacher at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School on Capitol Hill, vividly recalls a conference with the mother of a 10th-grader who read at a third-grade level.
“Shawn is a real asset to our class because he’s so well behaved,” Fine told her, “but I think he might need some extra support to get him up to speed in reading.”
The mother said she had heard that before. Shawn had received help in middle school through special education. “But let me tell you, it don’t do no good, because the problem is that he’s plain lazy,” Fine quoted her as saying. “He’s failing every one of his classes. You got a solution to that?”
In an essay for Teacher Magazine last month, Fine said the mother’s response made her want to squirm. “Shawn’s problem is not that he is lazy,” she wrote. “To the contrary, when I ask him to read in class he sits quietly, moves his eyes over the words, and laboriously tries to answer whatever writing prompt follows — despite the fact that the text makes no sense to him. The real issue is that Shawn’s deficits make it impossible for him to pass the DC-CAS test given to 10th-graders in April, and so my school, consumed by the imperative to make ‘adequate yearly progress,’ has few resources to devote to him. He does not qualify for our English Academy program, which targets students whose reading scores indicate that a ‘push’ might enable them to pass the test, and we do not have a reading specialist because there is no funding for one.”

Dave Cullen: The Lessons of Columbine

Lynn Neary:

Ten years ago Monday, news started trickling out of Colorado about a shooting at a high school called Columbine. It didn’t take long for the news media to descend, and reporter Dave Cullen was one of the first journalists on the story.
Cullen would go on to spend another nine years delving deeper into the massacre than perhaps any other journalist. He presents his account of the tragedy — and examines some of the myths and mistakes surrounding the shootings — in his new book, Columbine.
The book walks readers through the events of that day, laying out Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s murderous plan, which left 15 people dead (including the killers) and 23 injured.

Billions “Wasted” on Scottish Education

Lorraine Davidson:

“It is clear from the research that the extra spending is simply not delivering value for money,” Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said. “Put another way, billions of pounds have been spent in the last decade to little or no effect.”
While spending per pupil has risen from £2,092 to £4,638 at primary level and from £3,194 to £6,326 at secondary schools, the proportion of those gaining five good grades at the end of fourth year has fallen from 47 per cent to 46 per cent.
Reform Scotland also claimed that data it had obtained showed that pupils in England who had been lagging behind Scotland in 1998 are now ahead, with the number achieving equivalent grades rising from 36 per cent to 48 per cent.
The Scottish education system has long been regarded as among the best in the world, but the report claims that this view is now a myth.
Mr Mawdsley called on the Scottish government to publish more information about pupils’ performance. “Using the measure of the pupils attaining five good grades by S4, including maths and English, would be a good start,” he said.

A Proposal to Separate Fast Food and Schools

Cara Buckley:

Just in from the department of not-so-surprising news: a study has found that young teenagers tend to be fatter when there are fast-food restaurants within one block of their schools.
The report found an increased obesity rate of at least 5.2 percent among teenagers at schools where fast-food outlets were a tenth of a mile — roughly one city block — or less away.
To remedy that, Eric N. Gioia, a city councilman from Queens, wants to stop fast-food restaurants from opening so close to the city’s schools.
“With the proliferation of fast-food restaurants directly around schools, it’s a clear and present danger to our children’s health,” said Mr. Gioia, who proposed the ban at a news conference at a school opposite a McDonald’s in TriBeCa on Sunday.
“A fast-food restaurant on the corner can have a terrible impact on a child’s life,” he said. “Obesity, diabetes, hypertension — it’s a step toward a less healthy life.”

Madison School Board Rejects Teaching & Learning Expansion; an Interesting Discussion

One of the most interesting things I’ve observed in my years of local school interaction is the extensive amount of pedagogical and content development that taxpayers fund within the Madison School District. I’ve always found this unusual, given the proximity of the University of Wisconsin, MATC and Edgewood College, among other, nearby Institutions of Higher Education.

The recent Math Task Force, a process set in motion by several school board elections, has succeeded in bringing more attention to the District’s math curriculum. Math rigor has long been a simmering issue, as evidenced by this April, 2004 letter from West High School Math Teachers to Isthmus:

Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined “success” as merely producing “fewer failures.” Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?

The fact the Madison’s Teaching & Learning Department did not get what they want tonight is significant, perhaps the first time this has ever happened with respect to Math. I appreciate and am proud of the Madison School Board’s willingness to consider and discuss these important issues. Each Board member offered comments on this matter including: Lucy Mathiak, who pointed out that it would be far less expensive to simply take courses at the UW-Madison (about 1000 for three credits plus books) than spend $150K annually in Teaching & Learning. Marj Passman noted that the Math Task Force report emphasized content knowledge improvement and that is where the focus should be while Maya Cole noted that teacher participation is voluntary. Voluntary participation is a problem, as we’ve seen with the deployment of an online grading and scheduling system for teachers, students and parents.

Much more on math here, including a 2006 Forum (audio / video).

Several years ago, the late Ted Widerski introduced himself at an event. He mentioned that he learned something every week from this site and the weekly eNewsletter. I was (and am) surprised at Ted’s comments. I asked if the MMSD had an internal “Knowledge Network”, like, but oriented around curriculum for teachers? “No”.

It would seem that, given the tremendous local and online resources available today, Teaching & Learning’s sole reason for existence should be to organize and communicate information and opportunities for our teaching staff via the web, email, sms, videoconference, blogs, newsletters and the like. There is certainly no need to spend money on curriculum creation.

Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.”

Listen to tonight’s nearly 50 minute Madison School Board math discussion via this 22MB mp3 audio file.

Android ABC’s

Miwa Suzuki:

A child robot, or CB2, has been made in a laboratory at Osaka University in Japan. A scientific team is trying to teach the robot to think and act like a baby.
A bald, child-like creature dangles its legs from a chair as its shoulders rise and fall with rhythmic breathing and its black eyes follow movements across the room.
It’s not human — but it is paying attention.
Below the soft silicon skin of one of Japan’s most sophisticated robots, processors record and evaluate information. The 130-centimetre humanoid is designed to learn just like a human infant.
The creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body, or CB2, say it’s slowly developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching their facial expressions, mimicking a mother-baby relationship.
“Babies and infants have very, very limited programs. But they have room to learn more,” said Osaka University professor Minoru Asada, as his team’s 33-kilogram invention kept its eyes glued to him.

How to Raise Our IQ

Nicholas Kristof:

Poor people have I.Q.’s significantly lower than those of rich people, and the awkward conventional wisdom has been that this is in large part a function of genetics.
After all, a series of studies seemed to indicate that I.Q. is largely inherited. Identical twins raised apart, for example, have I.Q.’s that are remarkably similar. They are even closer on average than those of fraternal twins who grow up together.
If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, “Intelligence and How to Get It,” which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.

With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

Steve Lohr:

In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war Communist challenge. Yes, the jobs beckoned and the pay was good. But those careers, in their day, had other perks: respect and self-esteem.
Big shifts in the flow of talent can ripple through the nation and the economy for decades with lasting effect. The engineers of the Depression built everything from inter-city roads to the Hoover Dam, while the Sputnik-inspired scientists would go on, often with research funding from the Pentagon, to create the building-block innovations behind modern computing and the Internet.
Today, the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years. The contours of the shift are still in flux, in part because there is so much uncertainty about the shape of the economic landscape and the job market ahead.

Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some

Benedict Carey:

Some seventh graders who were struggling in class did significantly better after performing a series of brief confidence-building writing exercises, and the improvements continued through eighth grade, researchers reported Thursday.
The students who benefited most were blacks who were doing poorly, the study found; the exercises made no difference for white students, or for black ones who were already doing well.
Experts cautioned that the writing was hardly transforming. Those who benefited were still barely getting C’s, on average, by the end of middle school.