A Madison West High School Team Won the American Rocketry Challenge

Team America Rocketry Challenge:

A team from Madison West High School in Madison, Wi., took first place at the Seventh Annual Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) Saturday, taking on the title of national champion.
“Hard work, perseverance, teamwork, and custom electronics are the reasons our rocket performed well today,” said Ben Winokur, team member.
The team, one of three from Madison West High School, logged the winning score of 20.54. The team won an opportunity to fly against the champions of UKayRoC in the Second Annual Transatlantic Rocket Fly-Off.


Schools aim to make lunches healthy, tasty

Amy Hetzner:

Before the first lunch period begins at Oconomowoc High School, students sidle up to see what chef Brian Shoemake is cooking.
“Chicken pasta broccoli bowl,” Shoemake says in answer to an inquiry. “I’ll get you to eat your broccoli.”
Well, maybe not that student. But in the 15 minutes that ensue, Shoemake manages to fill the bowls of at least 60 others with steaming rotini, strips of chicken breast, their choice of Alfredo sauce and, yes, freshly cooked broccoli spears.
The addition of Shoemake to the lunch lineup this school year is part of a larger effort at the school.
Like a number of schools throughout the state, Oconomowoc High School is trying to tackle that seemingly intractable barrier in the fight to improve childhood nutrition: the school lunch.
“Student tastes have changed so much in the last 10 years,” said Brenda Klamert, director of child nutrition services for the Oconomowoc Area School District. “They’re looking for healthy foods.”
Schools have been slow to meet the demand.
Sure, many have added salad bars. But most lunches remain high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fiber- and nutrient-rich food, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The Washington-based group advocates a more vegetarian approach.

One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck: Everyday Mathematics

Via a Barry Garelick email:

“The article describes my experience tutoring my daughter and her friend when they were in sixth grade, using Singapore Math in order to make up for the train wreck known as Everyday Math that she was getting in school. I doubt that the article will change the minds of the administrators who believe Everyday Math has merit, but it wasn’t written for that purpose. It was written for and dedicated to parents to let them know they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones who have shouted at their children, that there are others who have experienced the tears and the confusion and the frustration. Lastly it offers some hope and guidance in how to go about teaching their kids what they are not learning at school.”

The Ties That Bind

Jeffrey Zaslow:

They were 11 girls growing up together in Ames, Iowa. Now they are 10 women in their mid-40s, spread all over the country. And they remain the closest of friends.
Whenever “the Ames girls” get together, it’s as if they’ve stepped into a time machine. They feel like they are every age they ever were, because they see each other through thousands of shared memories.
As 12-year-olds, they’d sit in a circle, combing each other’s hair. As 17-year-olds, they’d go to parties together deep in the cornfields outside Ames. As 30-year-olds, they’d commiserate over the challenges of marriage and motherhood.
Like the Ames girls, millions of us have nurtured decades-long friendships, and we don’t always stop to recognize the power of these bonds. As we age, friendships can be crucial to our health and even our sanity. In fact, a host of scientific studies show that having a close group of friends helps people sleep better, improve their immune systems, stave off dementia and live longer.

Legacy enrollments offered in two top L.A.-area school districts

Seema Mehta:

Emulating a controversial practice at many colleges, two high-achieving public school districts in California are giving preference to the children of alumni.
The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District have adopted legacy admissions policies for children of former students who live outside their enrollment boundaries. The policies appear to be the first in the nation at public schools, education experts said.
The programs vary slightly, but leaders of both districts say they hope to raise money by forging closer ties with alumni who may be priced out of their hometowns as well as with grandparents who still live there. In each district, nonresident legacy students will make up a tiny percentage of the student population, officials said.
“I’m taking a page out of the university or college playbook,” said Steve Fenton, a Beverly Hills Unified trustee. “Alumni are the lifeline for any academic institution.”
Critics argue that such policies are antithetical to American public education.

Together we learn better: inclusive schools benefit all children

Michael Shoultz, writing in MMSD Today:

Inclusive schools are places where children and young adults of all abilities, races, and cultures share learning environments that build upon their strengths while supporting their diverse needs.
Utilizing inclusive practices, school staff create flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that accommodate the interests and needs of all of their learners. Inclusive schools also allow for the development of authentic relationships between students with and without identified differences.
The MMSD’s Dept. of Educational Services is committed to building the capacity of school district staff to provide inclusive educational practices. To address this departmental priority, school district staff have been provided with two unique opportunities to further develop their knowledge and skills in this area.
First of all, in honor of Inclusive Schools Week (December, 2008), the Department provided a year-long opportunity for schools to highlight the accomplishments of educators, families and communities in promoting inclusive schools.

Arts Education in America

Quincy Jones:

In 1943, the United States Armed Forces Institute published a second edition of War Department Education Manual EM 603 Discovering Music: A Course in Music Appreciation by Howard D. McKinney and W.R. Anderson. The material presented in the book was a reprint of educational material taken from existing standard textbook matter used in American schools and colleges at that time and is significant to this discussion because the text included the following when discussing jazz:

Some may start with an enthusiasm for music of the jazz type, but they cannot go far there, for jazz is peculiarly of an inbred, feeble-stock race, incapable of development. In any case, the people for whom it is meant could not understand it if it did develop. Jazz is sterile. It is all right for fun, or as a mild anodyne, like tobacco. But its lack of rhythmical variety (necessitated by its special purpose), its brevity, its repetitiveness and lack of sustained development, together with the fact that commercial reasons prevent its being, as a rule, very well written, all mark it as a side issue, having next to nothing to do with serious music; and consequently it has proved itself entirely useless as a basis for developing the taste of the amateur.

Attractiveness Enhances Income Prospects

Tom Jacobs:

Tina Fey is, as usual, ahead of us all. A recent episode of her sitcom 30 Rock titled “The Bubble” evolved around a ridiculously handsome man who had no idea he was something of an idiot. Everyone around him treated him so well that his self-esteem soared far beyond his actual capabilities.
The character was a comic exaggeration, of course, but a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests the episode was grounded in good science. It finds physical attractiveness has a significant positive influence on an individual’s self-confidence, income and financial well-being.
“This study finds that, even accounting for intelligence, one’s income prospects are enhanced by being good-looking,” report authors Timothy Judge, Charlice Hurst and Lauren Simon of the University of Florida Department of Management. One reason for this, they explain, is that “people who are attractive do think more highly of their worth and capabilities,” and this self-confidence “results in higher earnings and less financial stress.”

A Final Lesson: Repay Student Debt Quickly

Michelle Singletary:

The commencement speeches will soon be over. The graduation caps and gowns put away, the gift cards used.
The one thing that won’t go away is the tens of thousands of dollars graduates owe in student loans. For most college graduates, the cost of their educations will finally be a reality.
So now what?
With unemployment continuing to climb and good-paying jobs hard to find, many recent graduates will be looking for refuge from their loans.

Interactive instruction: classroom teaching enhanced with high-tech whiteboards at West High

MMSD Today:

Excitement, innovation, ingenuity, interaction, fun are ideals that teachers want to bring to their classrooms every day.
West High School teachers who work with high-tech whiteboards experience those ideals in new ways as they create novel learning environments for their students and each other.
Last year, West received a private, anonymous donation to support teaching students to think philanthropically. School staff and students established the Student Support Foundation, a student group created to find ways of using the gift that fit West’s goals for improving the lives of its students.
The donors contacted members of the foundation in the spring to gauge their interest in a new kind of whiteboard technology.
Initially the students seemed puzzled: they could only imagine handheld whiteboards and dry erase makers sometimes used in classes. They soon learned about an entirely different tool – the interactive electronic whiteboard.

State of Wisconsin to seek 5% cut in school, local aid

Steven Walters, Erin Richards & Larry Sandler:

Gov. Jim Doyle said Friday that falling tax collections will force him to propose new cuts of up to 5% in state spending for public schools and aid to local governments.

Aid to public schools has been Doyle’s top priority during his 6 1/2 years as governor, and Friday was the first time he said it will have to be reduced.

“There are going to have to be cuts in school aids,” Doyle said when he signed a bill rewriting state unemployment compensation laws so that the state can capture federal stimulus funds.

Aid cuts like those envisioned by Doyle could cost Milwaukee Public Schools – the state’s largest district – more than $20 million. The cut would cost other districts anywhere from several thousand dollars to several million dollars.

At the same time, Doyle said his plan would include levy limits on districts, which would prevent them from recouping all of the cuts through higher property taxes.

This year, state aid for public schools totals $5.17 billion, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. A 5% cut would cost schools about $258 million, although they are getting federal stimulus money, Doyle noted.

Related, WISTAX:

However, the state pledge to provide two-thirds of schools revenues in 1996-97 changed the budget landscape. By 2006-07, state-tax support for the UW System had almost doubled during Ihe 25 years prior. However, inflation (CPI, up 115%). school aids/credits (320%). and overall slate GPR expenditures (222%) rose more.

Community High School students debate sexting with teachers, others

Erin Richards:

It’s the last class of the day Friday at Community High School, but instead of a lot of fidgeting and clock-watching, 24 teenagers are engaged in a spirited discussion about sex and “sexting” with a lawyer and a former journalist.

It is a five-year-old course that aims to prepare students to “talk about social issues at a cocktail party with their boss,” according to Jason O’Brien, a co-teacher of the class at Community, a charter school in Milwaukee.

Students have a lot of questions for their professional visitors: Why is sexting, or sending sexually explicit photos of oneself over a mobile phone, a crime? Why shouldn’t adults face charges as well if they take and send similar nude material of themselves to their peers?

It’s a big diversion from your typical lecture environment, but O’Brien and co-teacher Roxane Mayeur believe in the value of exposing kids to multiple viewpoints on various topics through debate, essay writing and discussions with local experts.

After tough meeting, MPS board chief to keep pushing for changes

Alan Borsuk:

New Milwaukee School Board President Michael Bonds said Friday he will continue to push for major structural changes in the central office of Milwaukee Public Schools, despite the board balking at his plans.

A meeting on the budget for next year that ended at 2:45 a.m. Friday showed Bonds is nowhere near prevailing with his ideas – and that no major change in either specific matters or the culture of the organization is likely to come quickly or easily.

Things went so poorly for 20 amendments that Bonds had submitted to the $1.2 billion budget proposal from Superintendent William Andrekopoulos that even Bonds didn’t vote for one of his own proposals. On two others, his was the only vote in favor.

“We have a status quo board at this point,” Bonds said afterward. “I don’t think much was accomplished.”

But other board members clearly believed that a lot of Bonds’ ideas were wrong or counterproductive. Bonds has been calling for major change since he was elected board president April 28.

The mythologizing of Arne Duncan

Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago):

The mythologizing of Arne Duncan is moving along at a pretty fast past. Bernie Noven alerted me to this adulatory article from the London Economist and urged me to respond using some of the recent data about Arne’s record here in Chicago, saying that people “out there” have no idea about the reaiity here in Chicago. Here’s what I sent.
“Golden Boy” Arne Duncan is a pleasant fellow who held the position of Chicago Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chicago Public Schools for seven years without losing his cool.
He’s so cool, in fact, that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
As a long-time Chicago public school parent advocate, I have had a front row seat at the Arne Duncan show. When Mayor Richard Daley appointed Mr. Duncan to replace Paul Vallas in 2001, there was a palpable sense of relief across the city. The new CEO’s Opie-from-Mayberry modesty was a soothing antidote to the previous six years spent with a CEO who could suck the oxygen out of a room.
We soon discovered, however, that Mr. Duncan simply provided a more complaisant and – more importantly – a more compliant cover for City Hall’s machinations.

Detroit Public Schools will not renew contracts of 33 principals

Oralander Brand-Williams:

The contracts of 33 principals will not be renewed, Detroit Public Schools officials announced this afternoon.The district also is reassigning more than two dozen school principals.
Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager, said additionally, the district will conduct a full scale national search for 10 principal positions, district officials said.
Bobb told The Detroit News Thursday that he plans to change the operation of the district’s school by giving its principals more autonomy and authority over finances and school budgets.

Monona Grove school leaders consider busing students to solve overcrowding

Gena Kittner:

The Monona Grove School District is considering busing some of Cottage Grove’s youngest students to Monona to help ease space problems in the district.
District leaders are quick to say such a change isn’t likely: Parents want to keep their children in their neighborhood schools, and busing students is costly.
But the possibility has been left in the mix to illustrate the breadth of options being considered to resolve crowding in Cottage Grove’s two elementary schools.
“This is something I was hoping to get off the table, but I think there was enough concern of the committee that the community have an understanding that we’re really looking outside the box,” said Monona Grove Superintendent Craig Gerlach. “This (option) is certainly outside the box.”

Middleton High School seniors share whole treasure with nonprofit group

Gayle Worland:

The Middleton High School Class of 2009 had quite a few ways to spend the $11,000 it raised over four years at the school. It could buy, for example, a souvenir key chain for every senior graduating. Or order a plaque for the school. Or host a big party.
Instead, the students decided to give every penny away.
A few liked the idea so much, they decided to raise even more — so far, $27,509 more.
Now totalling more than $37,509, the seniors’ cash gift is heading to Middleton Outreach Ministries, or MOM, a nonprofit that serves people in need from Madison west of Midvale Boulevard to across the Middleton-Cross Plains school district.
Though students have donated to MOM or run food drives — including helping the U.S. Postal Service’s drive last week — the largesse of the Class of 2009 is unique, executive director David Miller said.

Third Grade Mathematics in Hong Kong and Massachusetts
Why Massachusetts Students, the Best in the U.S., Lag Behind Best-in-the-World Students of Hong Kong

Steven Leinwand, American Institutes for Research and Alan Ginsburg, US Department of Education [2.5MB PDF] via a kind reader’s email:

Higher expectations for achievement and greater exposure to more difficult and complex mathematics are among the major difference between Hong Kong, home of the world’s top-performing 4th grade math students, and Massachusetts, which is the highest scoring state on the U.S. National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), according to a report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

While Massachusetts 4th grade students achieved a respectable fourth place when compared with countries taking the 2007 Grade 4 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS-4), Hong Kong students outperformed the Bay State 4th graders in numerous categories.

The Hong Kong performance advantage over Massachusetts was especially large in the percentage of its students achieving at the very highest level. For example, 40 percent of Hong Kong students achieved at the advanced TIMSS level, compared with only 22 percent of Massachusetts students.

To help understand why Hong Kong students outperform Massachusetts students, the AIR study identified differences between the items on Hong Kong’s and Massachusetts’ internal mathematics assessments administered in the spring of grade 3 in 2007 to gather insight into the relative mathematical expectations in Hong Kong and Massachusetts.

The AIR report found that the Hong Kong assessment contained more difficult items, especially in the core areas of numbers and measurement, than the Massachusetts assessment.

“The more rigorous problems on the Hong Kong assessment demonstrate that, even at Grade 3, deep conceptual understanding and the capacity to apply foundational mathematical concepts in multistep, real-world situations can be taught successfully,” said Steven Leinwand, Principal Research Analyst at AIR and co-author of the report.

AP and Honors in the Same Class

Jay Matthews:

As those of us in the newspaper business have discovered to our misfortune, productive original thinking is hard, and rare. Even after the Internet began nibble at our toes, we couldn’t come up with a way to do our jobs that would keep us from losing a leg or two, maybe more.

The same is true of original thought in education, but good ideas about schools are more common than people might imagine. My latest example is Sande Caton, a Delaware high school science teacher who has come up with a simple but smart solution to the ongoing battle between Advanced Placement and honors courses for our nation’s teenagers.

Caton revealed her method in an online comment to one of my recent columns on this blog. Her timing is good. In early June, newsweek.com will unveil the new Newsweek Top High Schools list, its annual ranking of the best 1,500 public high schools. Newsweek uses a rating formula I invented in the 1990s. Many readers think this method, called the Challenge Index, has helped AP push honors courses out of our schools. Here comes Caton with a way to make everyone happy.

Many high schools used to offer juniors and seniors a choice of a regular, an honors or an AP course in popular subjects like history or English. In recent years some have removed the honors options, saying they can’t staff three different courses. They feel honors students should be taking the more challenging AP courses anyway. My suggestion, offered with no hope of it ever being accepted, was to remove not the honors option, but the regular option. In my experience, regular students were capable of handling honors or even AP courses if well taught. Why confine them to a regular class taught to the lowest standard?

When Parents Don’t

The Economist:

Trying to make sure social workers are up to their thankless job
THE case of Baby P, a toddler tortured and killed by his supposed carers, shocked Britain after the conviction last year of his mother, her lover and a lodger. The grim tale now turns out to have a horrible coda. On May 1st verdicts were returned in the trial of the mother and her boyfriend for the rape of a two-year-old. The mother was acquitted of cruelty–the victim told police she had seen the rape, and failed to intervene. The boyfriend was convicted and may get a life sentence.
The case made legal history. The child, aged three at the time of the trial and cross-examined via video link, was the youngest ever to give evidence in a British court. Also unusual was the decision to use false names for the defendants, and to ban all reporting until after the verdict. The fear was that the defendants would not be tried fairly if the jury made the connection with Baby P–or Peter, as he can now be called after his father asked for him to be dignified with his name.

Foundation backs Teach for America program

Tom Held:

A $150,000 grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation will help support a corps of 90 teachers recruited for Milwaukee Public Schools through the Teach for America program.
The allocation is part of the $6.2 million in grants the community foundation distributed in the first quarter of 2009. Earlier in the year, the foundation awarded $362,500 from a Basic Needs fund it created to support food pantries and shelters struggling to meet an increasing demand for services.
The foundation’s education grant and support for a job training program are targeted to slow the growth of poverty that has strained the area’s emergency services.
More than 150 community leaders targeted those priorities in a series of recent interviews, said Doug Jansson, president of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

In Politics of School Reform, Transparency Doesn’t Equal Accountability

Andrew Rotherham:

Transparency is powerful and President Obama has rightly made it a pillar of his administration’s approach to policymaking. But transparency also offers the seductive promise of an easy way out for policymakers. It can trap proponents of various policy proposals in an intellectual cul de sac because it becomes easy to see information as sufficient to drive reform rather than just as a predicate for change. The risk is especially potent when proponents are convinced of the obviousness of the changes they seek.
We’ve seen this repeatedly with federal education policy. The Bush administration assumed the federal No Child Left Behind law would produce a tidal wave of student and school performance data that would swamp opposition to school improvement efforts. Seven years later the political resistance to education reform is as potent as ever and former Bush aides now acknowledge placing too much faith in the power of information.
In 1997, Congress tried unsuccessfully to increase accountability for colleges of education and teacher training programs by requiring them to report more data about outcomes. “Congress asked colleges of education to take stock of quality issues, but instead the colleges mostly whitewashed the problem,” says Ross Weiner, a senior adviser at The Education Trust. No Child Left Behind also required states and school districts to issue better report cards about educational performance. There, too, evasion rather than aggressive efforts are the norm.

Barrett, state, Milwaukee Public Schools play nice at meeting

Alan Borsuk:

No fireworks, lots of pledges to work together.
That summarizes a meeting Tuesday evening involving Mayor Tom Barrett, state Secretary of Administration Michael Morgan and the Milwaukee School Board on what to do in the aftermath of a consultant’s report that criticized the business culture of Milwaukee Public Schools and said MPS could save up to $103 million a year by changing practices.
All the participants agreed that MPS faces daunting financial problems, getting worse over the next several years, if there are not major changes in the way money comes in and is spent. There also was agreement that everyone – the state, the city, MPS and others – needs to work together to improve the financial picture and to improve academic outcomes overall.
Gov. Jim Doyle and Barrett sought the report after becoming concerned about trends in MPS, including continuing low test scores overall and large property tax increases in recent years.
A week ago, Barrett and Doyle did not come to meet with board members and did not send representatives, causing some members, particularly budget committee chairman Terry Falk, to criticize them. But for this special meeting of the board, Barrett was there, Doyle sent Morgan, and everyone acted diplomatically.

Drama king: Tom Hardin guides Madison Memorial’s Drama, Debate & Forensics Club

David Tenenbaum:

One by one, the students who will soon compete at the state forensics championship take the stage in the small theater at Memorial High School. Their timing is flawless, their gestures are fluid, their skill level is professional. Some of the performances, which last four to 12 minutes, make audience members laugh; some make them cry; a surprising number do both.
Dressed in black, deadly serious and totally in control, forensics coach Tom Hardin, an English teacher at Memorial, announces the program, then guards the door. As at any legitimate theater, stragglers are barred from entering during each act.
Sophomore Ben Mau performs a devastating roast of Oprah Winfrey.
“Oprah saved my life,” he testifies. “If not for her, I would not know about all the random crap that nobody cares about.”
Sophomore Naman Siad, the daughter of Somali immigrants, likens her head scarf to the traditional attire of nuns, and asks why Americans see the one as a sign of modesty and the other as an emblem of all we don’t like — or don’t understand — about Islam.

Action Needed, Please Sign on…. Math Teacher Hiring in the Madison School District

via a kind reader’s email: Janet Mertz and Gabi Meyer have written a letter about new math hires that they would like you to sign on to. Please send your name, your school(s), and any relevant identifying information or affiliation to:


Dear Superintendent Nerad and members of the Board of Education:

To address as quickly as possible the MMSD’s need for more middle school teachers with outstanding content knowledge of mathematics, we, the undersigned, urge you to consider filling any vacancies that occur in the District’s middle schools for the coming academic year with applicants who majored in the mathematical sciences or related fields (e.g., statistics, computer science, physics) in college, but may be currently deficient in teaching pedagogy. You might advertise nationally in appropriate places that applications from such candidates would be welcome. In recent years, many outstanding graduates with such backgrounds went into the computing, consulting, and financial industries. However, in the current economic climate, such jobs are much less available, especially to new college graduates. Thus, jobs in the teaching profession may be viewed much more favorably now by folks trained in the mathematical sciences despite the significantly lower salary. One indication of this is the fact that applications to Teach for America were up 42% this year. Teach for America had to reject over 30,000 applicants this spring, including hundreds of graduates from UW-Madison, due to the limited numbers they can train and place. Undoubtedly, some of these applicants were math majors who would be happy to live in Madison. Math for America, a similar program that only accepts people who majored in the mathematical sciences, likely also had to turn away large numbers of outstanding applicants. Possibly, the MMSD could contact Teach for America and Math for America inquiring whether there might be a mechanism by which your advertisement for middle school math teachers could be forwarded to some of the best of their rejects. As these programs do, the MMSD could provide these new hires with a crash course in teaching pedagogy over the summer before they commence work in the fall. They could be hired conditionally subject to completing all of the requirements for state teacher certification within 2 years and a commitment to teach in the MMSD for at least 3-5 years.

While the District’s proposal to provide additional content knowledge to dozens of its current middle school teachers of mathematics might gradually improve the delivery of mathematics to the District’s students, it would take numerous years to implement, involve considerable additional expense, and may still not totally solve the long-term need for math-qualified teachers, especially in view of the continuing wave of retirements. The coincidence of baby boomer retirements with the current severe economic recession provides a rare opportunity to fill our middle schools now with outstanding mathematics teachers for decades to come, doing so at much lower cost to the District since one would be hiring new, B.A.-level teachers rather than retraining experienced, M.A.-level ones. Thus, we urge you to act on this proposal within the next few weeks, in possible.


Ed Hughes comments over at Madison United for Academic Excellence:

It is interesting to note that state law provides that “A school board that employs a person who holds a professional teaching permit shall ensure that no regularly licensed teacher is removed from his or her position as a result of the employment of persons holding permits.”

With Critics Quiet, Hearing Praises D.C. School Voucher Program

Bill Turque:

The Senate’s most outspoken supporter of the D.C. voucher initiative orchestrated more than two hours of uniformly glowing testimony for the program at a committee hearing yesterday and said the dissenting voices he invited turned him down.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, is pushing for reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides up to $7,500 a year in federally funded tuition to 1,700 D.C. children from low-income families to attend private schools.

Congressional Democrats, supported by teachers unions and other liberal education groups that generally oppose using public money for private education, included language in the recent omnibus spending bill that would end the program in 2010. Last week, President Obama proposed continuing the scholarships so the students currently receiving money can finish high school. The program would be closed to new students.

Lieberman wants to fully revive the program and said yesterday that he has a commitment from Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the matter to the floor for debate and a vote this year.

New test scores promising at Madison’s first dual-language immersion school

Samara Kalk Derby:

Madison’s only dual-language immersion school, Nuestro Mundo, has been popular with parents and students, but initial low test scores have been a concern. New test results, however, show that students at the east side elementary school are quickly showing improvement in math and reading.

The improved scores are not only important within the confines of Nuestro Mundo, where Principal Javier Bolivar says the school’s biggest challenge is to prove that its students can learn proficiently while speaking two languages, but to the school district as a whole. Two more dual-language immersion programs have been approved and are due to open in the next year.

“We are gaining,” says Bolivar of the encouraging test scores. “Even if we are gaining one point, it means we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and we are closing the achievement gap.”

A public charter school inside Allis Elementary School at 4201 Buckeye Road, Nuestro Mundo started with a kindergarten class in 2004 and has added one grade per year. The school’s first kindergartners are now fourth-graders who took the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination for the first time last school year. Third grade is the first year for state testing.

U.S. education chief touts mayoral control of Detroit Public Schools

Jennifer Mrozowski & Santiago Esparza:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today advocated for Detroit’s new mayor to take over the city school system, saying strong change happens when good leaders are in control.
“I am strongly advocating for mayoral control,” he said at Detroit’s Cody High School, where he was conducting a listening tour to hear from students on how to improve schools.
Duncan, who headed Chicago Public Schools, reiterated his stance when addressing people gathered for the United Way’s national convention at Cobo Center.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who accompanied Duncan on his tour at Cody, said this year is the right time for mayoral control, but added that a ballot measure is preferable to legislative action.
“A lot of the leadership is perfectly aligned to make changes,” he said.
Bing, later addressing his first national convention since becoming mayor, said improving the district would be a top priority and that he would rely on partnerships to help get the job done.
Duncan said he hopes Detroit Public Schools can move from being a “national disgrace” to a “national model,” and he would like to commit significant federal resources to help the system.

More black lawmakers open to school vouchers

Greg Toppo:

Back when he was on the city council for the District of Columbia, attorney Kevin Chavous would occasionally run into fellow Democrats concerned about the state of the USA’s urban schools.
They were open to a lot of ideas, but most Democrats have historically rejected taxpayer-supported private-school vouchers, saying they drain precious cash from needy public schools. Chavous, who served from 1992 to 2005, openly supported vouchers. He would ask others why they didn’t.
“Several of them would whisper to me, ‘I’m with you, but I can’t come out in front,’ ” Chavous says.
That was then.
While vouchers will likely never be the clarion call of Democrats, they’re beginning to make inroads among a group of young black lawmakers, mayors and school officials who have split with party and teachers union orthodoxy on school reform. The group includes Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Washington, D.C., mayor Anthony Williams.

Canadian School Performance Report

The Fraser Institute:

Our School Report Cards include detailed tables for each school that show how it has done in academics over a number of years. This helps parents select a school for their children and evaluate a school’s ongoing performance.
More Informed Parents
By first studying a school’s report card, as a parent, you will be better prepared to ask relevant questions when you interview the principal and teachers at the schools you are considering.
You can also use the report cards to determine whether a school is improving over time.
Teachers and administrators can use the report card to compare results for their school with those of other schools whose students share personal or family characteristics. Seeing what other schools have accomplished can help each school’s ongoing improvement efforts

L.A. high school dropout rate climbs to 34.9%

Mitchell Landsberg:

The high school dropout rate improved slightly in California last year but rose in Los Angeles, where more than one-third of students are officially classified as dropouts, state officials said Tuesday.
Statewide, 68.3% of students graduated and 20.1% dropped out, according to data released by the state Department of Education. For the Los Angeles Unified School District, the dropout rate was 34.9%. Although the state dropout rate was down 1 percentage point from the previous year, the Los Angeles Unified rate was up by more than 3 percentage points.
The dropout rate is an estimate of how many students began ninth grade four years earlier and failed to graduate last spring. The dropout rate and graduation rate do not add up to 100% because they don’t count students who get high school equivalency degrees, are still in school after four years or die.
Critics of the way the state calculates the dropout rate say it significantly understates the problem by, among other things, not counting students who transfer to private schools and then drop out. It also excludes the students — more than 10,000 in California last year — who drop out of middle school. State officials said they would begin including middle school students in the dropout rate next year.

Financial literacy through video games

Jessica Bruder:

Heading west into a Texas sunset, the rented RV clatters along Interstate 20, rolling past cotton fields, windmills and oil derricks that glint gold in the last of the light. Tom Davidson is at the wheel, doing 80 and fighting fatigue.
The former three-term Maine legislator has spent the past two weeks barnstorming the country: schmoozing with economic development officials and community advocates in hardscrabble Trenton; donning a tuxedo for the National Black Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural ball at the French embassy in Washington, D.C.; and spending time in Alabama with families of the Tuskegee Airmen, who served in World War II as America’s first black fighter pilots.
Yesterday, Davidson presented commemorative certificates to a dozen high school kids in DeSoto, Texas. Tomorrow he’ll meet tribal officials at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation in El Paso. Back east, Davidson’s wife is eight months pregnant with their second child; he jokes that she’ll probably divorce him by the time he gets home. There’s still a week and more than 1,200 miles to go before he wraps up his whistle-stop tour in Long Beach, Calif.

Detroit Public Schools to Close 29 Schools

Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki:

Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb said the plan takes aim at more than just the district’s $305-million deficit and has the potential to boost student achievement. Many of the remaining buildings will be fixed up with federal funds.
Most of the closures were expected, although 10 buildings not on the list in April were added to the chopping block. Four schools once slated to close were spared.
Bobb made it clear that everything is on the table when it comes to fixing the 40 schools in need of restructuring. That means anything from replacing staff to changing curriculum to making them charter schools. He said some of the restructured schools could be turned over to a private school-management company.
“The students and the parents deserve better from the school district,” Bobb said. “We can no longer afford to let our children linger in underperforming schools.”

They Had it Made

David Brooks:

In the late 1930s, a group of 268 promising young men, including John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee, entered Harvard College. By any normal measure, they had it made. They tended to be bright, polished, affluent and ambitious. They had the benefit of the world’s most prestigious university. They had been selected even from among Harvard students as the most well adjusted.
And yet the categories of journalism and the stereotypes of normal conversation are paltry when it comes to predicting a life course. Their lives played out in ways that would defy any imagination save Dostoyevsky’s. A third of the men would suffer at least one bout of mental illness. Alcoholism would be a running plague. The most mundane personalities often produced the most solid success. One man couldn’t admit to himself that he was gay until he was in his late 70s.
The men were the subject of one of the century’s most fascinating longitudinal studies. They were selected when they were sophomores, and they have been probed, poked and measured ever since. Researchers visited their homes and investigated everything from early bed-wetting episodes to their body dimensions.
The results from the study, known as the Grant Study, have surfaced periodically in the years since. But they’ve never been so brilliantly captured as they are in an essay called “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the forthcoming issue of The Atlantic. (The essay is available online today.)

The Harlem Miracle

David Brooks, via a kind reader’s email:

The fight against poverty produces great programs but disappointing results. You go visit an inner-city school, job-training program or community youth center and you meet incredible people doing wonderful things. Then you look at the results from the serious evaluations and you find that these inspiring places are only producing incremental gains.
That’s why I was startled when I received an e-mail message from Roland Fryer, a meticulous Harvard economist. It included this sentence: “The attached study has changed my life as a scientist.”
Fryer and his colleague Will Dobbie have just finished a rigorous assessment of the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children’s Zone. They compared students in these schools to students in New York City as a whole and to comparable students who entered the lottery to get into the Harlem Children’s Zone schools, but weren’t selected.
They found that the Harlem Children’s Zone schools produced “enormous” gains. The typical student entered the charter middle school, Promise Academy, in sixth grade and scored in the 39th percentile among New York City students in math. By the eighth grade, the typical student in the school was in the 74th percentile. The typical student entered the school scoring in the 39th percentile in English Language Arts (verbal ability). By eighth grade, the typical student was in the 53rd percentile.

More here.

Caring for your Introvert

Jonathan Rauch:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?
If so, do you tell this person he is “too serious,” or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?
If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands–and that you aren’t caring for him properly. Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone. Introverts may be common, but they are also among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in America, possibly the world.

Why I Give My 9-year-old Pot

Marie Myung-Ok Lee:

Question: why are we giving our nine-year-old a marijuana cookie?
Answer: because he can’t figure out how to use a bong. My son J has autism. He’s also had two serious surgeries for a spinal cord tumor and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them–“duck in the water, duck in the water”–don’t convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you’d probably want to hit someone, too.
Question: why are we giving our nine-year-old a marijuana cookie?
Answer: because he can’t figure out how to use a bong. My son J has autism. He’s also had two serious surgeries for a spinal cord tumor and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them–“duck in the water, duck in the water”–don’t convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you’d probably want to hit someone, too.

Parents are urged to demand more from L.A. schools

Howard Blume:

Green Dot charter operator Steve Barr wants to organize grass-roots power to improve public education.
Risk-taking charter school operator Steve Barr is launching an effort through which parents would wrest political control of the L.A. school system from unions, school bureaucrats and other entrenched interests.
The plan is for parents to form chapters all over town and improve schools, one by one, using the growing leverage of the charter school movement. The goal is to unite a city of overworked and isolated parents with a brash promise:
If more than half of the parents at a school sign up, Barr’s organizers say they will guarantee an excellent campus within three years. They call it the Parent Revolution.
With parents, they predict, they’ll have the clout to pressure the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve schools. They’ll also have petitions, which Barr and his allies will keep at the ready, to start charter schools. If the district doesn’t deliver, targeted neighborhoods could be flooded with charters, which aren’t run by the school district. L.A. Unified would lose enrollment, and the funding would go to the charters instead of to the district.

On Chinese Education

Jim Fallows here and here:

Recently we’ve had Chinese and non-Chinese perspectives on Chinese schools (background here). For balance, a Chinese and a non-Chinese view in the same post!
Reasons I’m offering such long first-hand testimony: (1) no one has to read it! (2) many things about life in China — and yes, life in other places — are conveyed not in theoretical summaries but in accumulations of day by day experiences, like those recounted here. Several more still in the queue. Also, bear in mind that the foreigners writing in are ones who generally came to Chinese schools to “do something good.” They’re not here for the big bucks or the easy life but because they thought it would be valuable as well as interesting to be part of China’s development at this stage.

Evolving Standards

Julie O’Shea:

Even teachers need a little bonding time, whether that be team-building exercises or specially designed lectures to discuss today’s rapidly evolving education standards.
The Prague British School (PBS) gave its teaching staff a chance to do just that during a two-day conference held last month titled “A Changing World: Challenges for Schools.” The event, held at the Prague school campus, was sponsored by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) and attracted educators from as far away as Malaysia and Brazil. Representatives from a few other British international schools in the Czech Republic also were in attendance.
“Teaching as a whole has just changed. … Just communication alone has changed so much,” notes John Bagust, the head of primary schools at PBS and the organizer of last month’s conference. “It’s important for schools to look toward the future.”

Take a Walk on the Wired Side

Rob Weir:

Summer is coming, a time in which many colleges seek instructors to teach online courses. These are cash cows for campuses, a way to enhance the revenue stream without having to keep facilities open. (Or better yet, making those facilities available for outside groups to rent.) Math, business, and computer science professors have blazed the trail, but online teaching remains problematic in word-heavy disciplines such as the humanities, and it has a mixed record in hands-on laboratory-based sciences. (Biologists often complain that computer simulations are, at best, simulacra.) Teaching online can be rewarding, but be wary before you agree to tackle such a course.
There are several seemingly counterintuitive experiences I’ve had with online courses. In summary:
* Older students generally perform better than younger ones.
* The range of achievement is much narrower.
* Online courses work best when they mirror live classes.
* Discussion is generally more robust online.
* An online course definitely will not run itself!
Younger students love the idea of online courses, but they are often the worst students — despite their greater facility with technology. Yahoo! runs ads for “Why online college is rocking,” and that’s part of the problem. Online education is being sold as if it’s for everyone, when those finding real success are those who are self-motivated, highly organized, and in possession of well-developed study habits. And how many of your young undergrads fit that profile? Younger students approach online classes as if they’re just another “cool” thing to do on the Web. Be prepared to badger them if you want them to get through your course.

School bullies are going high-tech

Martina Cermakova:

The video appeared on YouTube last June. Posted by a group of ninth-graders from a school in Železný Brod, a small town in northern Bohemia, it depicted a teacher requesting that a 15-year-old student clean the mess around his desk.
“Pick it up yourself, you piece of trash,” the boy snapped back. Within seconds, the teacher charged the student and slapped him in the face.
The mobile recording received widespread attention, including a snippet on BBC News. Although it wasn’t the cruelest and certainly not the only case of cyber-bullying in the Czech Republic, the video highlights how fast things have evolved in the past few years.

10 Things to Find Out Before Committing to a College

Lynn Jacobs & Jeremy Hyman:

Often we find that students, and their parents, tend to focus on bells and whistles when making their college selections. They fixate on things like the looks of the campus, the size of the library, the honors and study-abroad programs, even the quality of the football team. Hey, these are all fine and good. But we urge you to also think about some things that, while often overlooked, constitute the bread and butter of your college experience. Before you decide, here are 10 things you might not have thought to consider:
1. The number of requirements . These vary widely from school to school. And while it might look very impressive to see a long list of required courses, it’s not so great to find yourself mired in courses that don’t interest you, while you’re unable to take electives in areas that do. It’s even less great when you realize that some of these most unpleasant requirements were instituted by some legislator who insisted that everyone in the state needs to take State History 101. Or by some pushy department in 1950, which couldn’t get students to take its courses in any other way.
2. How flexible those requirements are . Schools that require specific courses, with no substitutions allowed, can really put you in a bind if you’d rather take more advanced courses–or need to take more remedial courses–to fulfill that requirement. So check to see that the school allows a choice of levels to satisfy the various requirements. Also, keep in mind that anytime a school needs to route hundreds or thousands of students through Course X, Course X is going to become a sort of factory that neither the students taking the course nor the teachers teaching the course are going to like much.

A Sixth Grader’s Take on My Life

Lisa Belkin:

One of my favorite parts of this job is being invited to speak at schools. I spent time at the Masters School earlier this year, with a group of sixth graders who were learning to interview as part of their writing curriculum. Turns out I was their interview subject for the day, and one student, Isis Bruno, wrote her final project based on that group interview.

What does this have to do with parenting? Only that it takes a village, and I am honored to have the chance to be that for other parents’ children once in a while.

Here is what Isis wrote about me for her class, just as she wrote it. (She kindly made me younger than I am; in fact I have been writing for the Times for more than 20 years.) Her guiding question was whether children her age should already know what they want to be when they grow up, and from where I sit she got the answer just right.

Our View: Teachers’ e-mails at work are public records

Wausau Daily Herald via a kind reader’s email:

Sometime in the spring of 2007, Don Bubolz of Vesper didn’t like what he heard at a meeting of the Wisconsin Rapids School Board.

He filed an open records request on April 16 of that year seeking the release of all e-mail messages sent to and from the accounts of five teachers in the district, for a period of about six weeks. At the time, he told the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune that he wanted to find out — and wanted school administrators to know — whether the teachers were “doing their job the way it’s supposed to be done.”

The district superintendent indicated he would release the e-mails. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, representing the five teachers, filed an injunction to block their release.

The case made its way through trial court, and last month the Appeals Court certified it for consideration by the state Supreme Court. The appeals court said that there is no existing legal guideline in Wisconsin about whether personal e-mails constitute public records. If it chooses to rule on the case, then, the Supreme Court’s decision would have far-reaching implications.

California Senate Approves Software as an Alternative to Textbooks

Patrick McGreevy:

California teenagers may be spared having to lug back-breaking loads of textbooks to school under a proposal that would make it easier for campuses to use electronic instructional material.

Allowing high schools greater freedom to spend state money on software to put textbooks on laptops and other electronic devices was backed by the Los Angeles Unified School District and approved Monday by the state Senate.

The Assembly will consider the proposal, drafted by state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara). “Today’s K-12 students represent the first generation to have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, video games, digital music players, video cameras, cellphones and all the other gadgets of the digital age,” Alquist said after the 36-0 Senate vote.

“Today’s students are no longer the students of blackboards and chalk.”

California law limits how school districts can use state funds for instructional materials, requiring them to purchase enough textbooks for all students before spending money on electronic material.

As a result, some districts have purchased materials in both book form and software or have refrained from buying software, Alquist said.

I’ve read a number of ebooks on my iPhone while on travel. The benefit: light and easy to carry. Downside: it is still quite a different experience, but the text is certainly readable. This is certainly the future, particularly as the small devices become more powerful.

Bullying, Thefts Persist Despite Drop in Violence

Valerie Strauss:

Even though spasms of intense violence erupt on campuses occasionally and linger in the social consciousness, violence at schools across the country has been decreasing for a number of years.
That doesn’t necessarily mean schools are safe havens. Consider:
— Eighty-six percent of public schools in 2005-06 reported that one or more violent incidents, thefts of items valued at $10 or greater or other crimes had occurred — a rate of 46 crimes per 1,000 enrolled students.
— Almost a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied inside school.
— Nearly a quarter of teenagers reported the presence of gangs at their schools.

Indicators of School Crime and Safety.

Duncan Wants Title I Dollars to Drive Reform


Education Secretary Arne Duncan today told a leading think tank that the Obama administration is changing the federal Title I program to aggressively drive reform in schools that need it the most.
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the proposed 2010 budget, the administration is shifting billions of dollars into the Title I School Improvement Fund (SIF), which allows for bold strategies to help turn around underperforming schools and advance other key reforms.
The $13 billion for Title I under the ARRA includes $10 billion that is distributed by formula to schools with significant low-income populations and $3 billion for the SIF. The proposed 2010 budget also includes $1.5 billion for the SIF — almost triple the amount in the SIF in the 2009 budget, not including ARRA.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Duncan said, “Title I was set up to correct funding inequities — and that is important. But it really should be more focused on correcting educational inequities.”
The administration is also using the transparency requirements under the ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to challenge states and districts to turn around low-performing schools using Title I dollars. Specifically, states must identify the bottom five percent of their schools and report on how many have undergone reconstitution.

Molly Peterson has more.

Shooting stars: Why highfliers flame out in new jobs

Don Sull:

In a downturn firms can acquire resources that would be too expensive or unavailable in a boom. This logic applies to human resources as well as brand or hard assets. A recent survey found that hiring stars is among the most effective ways to enhance a firm’s talent pool during a recession.
Research has consistently found that stars outperform average employees. For highly complex tasks, the top 1% of workers are more than twice as productive as the average employee. Top research scientists and software programmers are five to ten times more productive than average. Markets recognize the value of hiring stars. A study of twenty General Electric alumni appointed as CEOs between 1989 and 2001found the hiring company’s stock price increased in all but three cases when the company announced the new hire, boosting shareholder value more than $1 billion on average.
In a series of excellent studies, Professor Boris Groysberg (with colleagues including Nitin Nohria and Ashish Nanda) has demonstrated that a star’s performance often suffers after switching employers. Star equity analysts (i.e., those earning the highest rankings from Institutional Investor magazine) suffer an average decline in performance of 20% when they shift firms, and do not return to their previous form for five years. Groysberg, who also conducted the study on CEOs from GE, found that several of the new CEOs, including Paolo Fresco at Fiat and Gary Wendt at Conseco, failed to create shareholder value in their new firms.

Proposed Budget Cuts in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

With a wad of budget amendments, Michael Bonds, the new president of the Milwaukee School Board, will push this week for what he labels “a major restructuring” of the MPS central office.
“There’s a lot of fat and waste in the district – a lot,” Bonds said in an interview. He said approving his budget ideas would “signal to the public that the board is serious about addressing the finance issue.”
Action on Bonds’ proposals is likely to provide some of a list of major moments this week in the fast-moving drama over charting the way the school system is controlled and what direction it is headed.
Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are expected to announce early in the week the members of an advisory committee that they want to get involved in MPS matters. Although the group will have no legal authority, its creation may turn out to be a significant step toward Doyle and Barrett involving themselves in school issues in ways not seen before.
And Barrett and a representative of Doyle are expected to meet with the School Board in an open session Tuesday to discuss the repercussions of a consultant’s report the governor and mayor released last month that was strongly critical of the business culture of MPS. The report said as much as $103 million a year could be saved if MPS made better decisions.
Bonds has hit the ground running in less than two weeks as the board’s leader. He met last week with Barrett and the incoming state superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers, and he has said there will be big changes in the way the 85,000-student system is run, many of them in line with the consultant’s report.

‘Posion gas’ puts 50 Afghan schoolgirls in hospital


The students in the northern town of Charikar were rushed out of their classrooms by the headmaster when they smelt an unusual odour and started feeling nauseous and dizzy.
“I am pretty sure whoever has done this is against education for girls, but I strongly ask the parents not to be discouraged by such brutal action and send their children to school,” said Noor Jahan, a ninth grader at Ura Jalili Girls’ High School.

Students campaign for a voice on Madison School Board

Gayle Worland:

Call it the “student liaison whistle-stop tour.”
Four ambitious candidates will be making the rounds today at Madison high schools — giving stump speeches, outlining their platforms and extending a teenaged handshake to anyone who’s interested.
Jonathan Delgado, a sophomore at East High School, Sarah Maslin, a junior at West, and Nathan Powell, a junior at Memorial, are in a three-way race for the position of student liaison to the Madison School Board, a job that entails rounding up and representing the opinions of the district’s 25,000 students.

For Many Teachers, a Famously Fertile Market Dries Up Overnight

Javier Hernandez:

Larissa Patel dreamed of teaching English at a Brooklyn public school this fall, motivated by a desire to help low-income children. But instead, on Friday, Ms. Patel spent the day filling out applications for 30 jobs at private schools.
Ms. Patel’s abrupt change in plans was precipitated by a new citywide ban on hiring teachers from outside the school system.
“Suddenly, overnight, I am rethinking my entire career,” said Ms. Patel, 30, a student at St. John’s University who left a job in the digital imaging industry to work as a substitute teacher and pursue an education degree. “It’s a very bleak point in time. It’s forced me to sort of look in a new direction.”
In an effort to cut costs and avoid teacher layoffs, the Department of Education on Wednesday ordered principals to fill vacancies with internal candidates only. As a result, aspiring teachers at education schools and members of programs like Teach for America — a corps of recent college graduates — and the city’s Teaching Fellows — which trains career professionals to become teachers — are scrambling for jobs.

An Economist, an Academic Puzzle and a Lot of Promise

Steven Pearlstein, via a kind reader’s email:

Early in his career, Paul Romer helped solve one of the great puzzles of economics: What makes some economies grow faster than others? His “new growth theory” might one day earn him a Nobel prize.

Then a decade ago, Romer, by then a professor at Stanford University, decided to tackle what may be an even tougher puzzle: Why were so many of his students coming to class unprepared and disengaged?

Romer’s quest began with the proposition that the more time students put into their studies, the more they learn. As Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates in his new book, “Outliers,” that’s certainly true in many other areas of human endeavor — the more you practice scales or swing a club, the better you are at playing piano or hitting a decent golf shot. Why should learning economics be any different?

It took some noodling around, but two years later, Romer raised $10 million in venture capital to start a software company he called Aplia. The idea was to develop interactive exercises that students could do in conjunction with the most widely used college economics textbooks. Students would answer questions, then get immediate feedback on what they got right and wrong, along with some explanations that might help them get it right on a second and third try. Aplia’s team of young Ph.D. economists and software programmers also devised laboratory experiments in which the entire class could participate in simulated markets that give students a practical understanding of concepts like money supply and demand curves.

Locally, the Madison School Board is discussing a proposed technology plan this evening. Ideally, before any more is spent, the Infinite Campus system should be fully implemented, and used by teachers, staff and students. Once that is done, there are many possibilities, including this example.

America’s classroom equality battle

Clive Crook:

The most ambitious US presidency in living memory hardly needs to extend its list of tasks, you might think. Yet the country’s long-term economic prospects turn on something that is all too easy to neglect, just as it has been neglected in the past. The US is failing calamitously in primary and secondary education. The average quality of its workforce is falling, and its schools are adding to the problem rather than mitigating it.
Much of what ails the country – including growing economic inequality – can be traced to this source. Politicians recognise the fact, and prate about it endlessly. Barack Obama puts improving the schools alongside health reform and alternative energy whenever he lays out his long-term goals.
The trouble is, fixing the schools is not something that a crisis ever forces you to do. The consequences of a third-rate education system creep up on you and, experience shows, can be tolerated indefinitely. Many vested interests prefer it that way. Talk about the issue and move on is the line of least political resistance.
Just how badly is the US school system failing? A new study by McKinsey bravely attempts to come up with some numbers – and its estimates, though arrived at conservatively, are pretty startling*.
According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, a long-term comparison project from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the US lags far behind the industrial-country average in a standardised measure of maths and science skills among 15-year-olds. It sits among low-achievers such as Portugal and Italy, and way behind the best performers, such as South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. It scores worse than the UK, which is about average on both measures.

A $100 Billion Question: How Best to Fix the Schools?

Jay Matthews:

If you had $100 billion to fix our schools, what would you do? A surprisingly smart list of suggestions for the education portion of the federal stimulus money is circulating in the education policy world. A group of experts claims authorship. I don’t believe committees are capable of good ideas, so I doubt the alleged origins of the list. But let’s put that aside for a moment and see what they’ve got.
Better yet, why not come up with our own ideas? My column seeking cheap ways to improve education yielded interesting results. By contrast, think of what we could do if we had enough money to buy the contract of every great quarterback: guarantee the Redskins a Super Bowl victory. Many expensive school-fixing schemes proved just as insane and just as useless. But Barack Obama is president, and we are supposed to be hopeful.

The Dreaded Grade Appeal

Shari Dinkins:

During a routine conversation about the semester, curriculum, and student population, a colleague of mine burst in with a frustrated comment about grade appeals. He thinks that we’re seeing more formal grade complaints than in past years. A dozen contacts at community colleges and universities seem to agree; we’re seeing more and more students going to the administration to complain about individual assignment grades, course policies, and final course grades. On a bad week, I will see more students in my office wrangling over assignment grades than those truly hoping to improve their academic performance. It’s depressing. Like many of my academic friends, I want to blame the generational divide for what looks like an increase in the number of grade appeals. After watching “I Love the 80’s” every night in a week, I want to wail and cry, mumbling that this new generation just doesn’t understand. They have no sense of what’s appropriate. They don’t respect authority. And their sense of entitlement is overwhelming. That, my friend, is what’s causing this increase in grade appeals across the nation.

Kindergarten Cram

Peggy Orenstein
About a year ago, I made the circuit of kindergartens in my town. At each stop, after the pitch by the principal and the obligatory exhibit of art projects only a mother (the student’s own) could love, I asked the same question: “What is your policy on homework?”
And always, whether from the apple-cheeked teacher in the public school or the earnest administrator of the “child centered” private one, I was met with an eager nod. Oh, yes, each would explain: kindergartners are assigned homework every day.
Bzzzzzzt. Wrong answer.
When I was a child, in the increasingly olden days, kindergarten was a place to play. We danced the hokey­pokey, swooned in suspense over Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (that’s what Minnesotans stubbornly call Duck, Duck, Goose) and napped on our mats until the Wake-Up Fairy set us free.
No more. Instead of digging in sandboxes, today’s kindergartners prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests with cuddly names like Dibels (pronounced “dibbles”), a series of early-literacy measures administered to millions of kids; or toiling over reading curricula like Open Court — which features assessments every six weeks.
According to “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” a report recently released by the Alliance for Childhood, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, all that testing is wasted: it neither predicts nor improves young children’s educational outcomes. More disturbing, along with other academic demands, like assigning homework to 5-year-olds, it is crowding out the one thing that truly is vital to their future success: play.

What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement?

James Wollack & Michael Fish [280K PDF], via a kind reader’s email UW Center for Placement Testing [Link to Papers]:

Major Findings:

  • CORE-Plus students performed significantly less well on math placement test and ACT-M than did traditional students
  • Change in performance was observed immediately after switch
  • Score trends throughout CORE-Plus years actually decreased slightly – Inconsistent with a teacher learning-curve hypothesis
  • CORE-AP students fared much better, but not as well as the traditional – AP students – Both sample sizes were low


[280K PDF Complete Presentation]

China’s boxed itself in
Its emphasis on math and science has certainly fueled its rapid economic growth, but its lack of creative thinking could rob it of an innovative edge.

Randy Pollock:

Which country — the United States or China — will make the 21st century its own?
When President Obama recently called for American young people “to be makers of things” and focus on subjects such as science and engineering, it was partly a nod to China’s rapid growth. Had he lived, taught and consulted in China for the last 33 months, as I have, he might have urged American students first to follow his example and study the liberal arts. Only technical knowledge complemented by well-honed critical and creative thinking skills can help us regain our innovative edge. China’s traditional lack of emphasis on teaching these skills could undermine its efforts to develop its own innovative economy.
I once challenged my Chinese MBA students to brainstorm “two-hour business plans.” I divided them into six groups, gave them detailed instructions and an example: a restaurant chain. The more original their idea, the better, I stressed — and we’d vote for a prize winner. The word “prize” energized the room. Laptops flew open. Fingers pounded. Voices roared. Packs of cookies were ripped open and shared. Not a single person text-messaged. I’d touched a nerve.
In the end, five of the six groups presented plans for, you guessed it, restaurant chains. The sixth proposed a catering service. Why risk a unique solution when the instructor has let it slip he likes the food business?

Asia Seeks Its Own Brand of Business Schools

Moon Ihlwan:

Business major Lee Sun Kee is happy that he attended Korea University in Seoul. Lee, a senior, took four courses at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School last fall as an exchange student and feels that his university in Korea offers business programs just as good as those at Ivy League schools. “At Wharton, I met talented students and a couple of star professors whose lectures were impressive,” says Lee. “But for other classes, I thought I could have learned better in Korea at one-tenth of Wharton’s tuition.”
Lee is one of a growing number of students appreciating a drastic makeover undertaken at business schools in Korea. Under a campaign to globalize curricula, faculty, and ways of thinking by students, top universities in the country have rebuilt their programs by modeling themselves largely on leading business schools in the U.S. “Globalization is our new mission,” says Jang Hasung, dean of Korea University Business School. While Korean multinationals like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor have been expanding worldwide for years, Jang says his school long had focused too much on national issues and Korean perspectives.

Liberian president drops in on Fla. schoolchildren

Christine Armario:

Fidgety boys and girls in school uniforms gawked as the sport utility vehicles rolled up. Teachers snapped pictures, bodyguards stood watch and Liberia’s female president stepped out of a car at a Tampa preparatory school.
Florida is not a hub for Liberian immigrants and most students at Berkeley Preparatory School knew little about the West African nation weeks ago. But they began studying up on the country after learning Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, would visit.
On Friday, a school chorus sang “Let there be peace on Earth” as the smiling leader clapped and posed for photographs in her traditional green dress and shawl.

Neutral Milk Hotel Album Transformed For Stage

Avishay Artsy:

The scene is a restaurant. Anne Frank sits at a table.
The actress says, “We have duck a l’orange, saffron couscous and steak. Or would you like to try some of our fine wines? Helga, darling? Please? Answer me?”
This is all in Frank’s imagination. In fact, she’s in a death camp, dying of typhus and losing her grasp on reality. Emma Feinberg plays Anne Frank. She’s a freshman at Lexington High School in Massachusetts and the play is called With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart. It’s about Frank’s final months at Bergen-Belsen. Faced with horror and brutality, she escapes into a world where prisoners and Nazi officers become circus performers.

Winning the money game

Beth Kowitt:

The economic downturn has made financial aid an even more urgent concern for many families. Reporter Beth Kowitt talked with education financing expert Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of FinAid.org, about how the system works and how to get the most out of it.
Q: How is the recession affecting the availability of financial aid?
A: Colleges recognize that a time of economic distress is the worst time to be cutting student aid. On the other hand, there are many more people applying for aid – applications are up 20% this year. Schools are trying to protect their student aid budgets – they’ve been doing things like laying off faculty and freezing salaries to avoid cutting aid. Some schools that offer both merit- and need-based aid are reducing the academic scholarships and redirecting that money into need-based aid. And they are focusing on the families that need it most. If your 529 plan went down 40% last year, you’re probably not going to get an increase in financial aid, because everybody’s went down 40%. The schools are more likely to offer additional help to parents who lost a job.

Unions sue governor over schools funding

Nanette Asimov:

Two of California’s smaller education unions, unwilling to wait for voters to decide May 19 whether to authorize more than $9 billion in education funds, sued the governor Friday to force the state to pay money they say is owed to schools and to clarify the law so schools can count on funds in the future.
“We’re filing this suit to make it clear that the state owes this money to schools and community colleges,” said Marty Hittleman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, representing about 100,000 educators in schools and community colleges.
The 37,000-member Service Employees International Union local that represents janitors, clerks, bus drivers, and other school workers also joined the suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

An Education

Esther Duflo:

FOR millions of girls around the world, motherhood comes too early. Those who bear children as adolescents suffer higher maternal mortality and morbidity rates, and their children are more likely to die in infancy. One reliable way to solve this problem is through education. The more affordable it is, the longer girls will stay in school and delay pregnancy.
I advise a nonprofit foundation called Innovation for Poverty Action that focuses on keeping girls in school. (We aren’t alone; lots of other terrific organizations do this, too.) In a pilot program we ran in Kenya a few years ago, around 5,000 sixth-grade girls in 163 primary schools were given a $6 school uniform free. If they stayed in school, they received a second uniform after 18 months. The dropout rate over the next three years decreased by a third, to 12 percent, and the pregnancy rate fell to 8 percent from 12 percent. Of every 50 girls given free uniforms, then, three stayed in school as a result of the uniforms alone, and two delayed pregnancy.

Many Views on Obama and Vouchers

Washington Post:

The Post asked education and political experts to assess the president’s plan for D.C. students. Below are contributions from Andrew J. Rotherham, Dick Durbin, Tom Davis, Randi Weingarten, Michelle Rhee, Michael Bennet, Lanny J. Davis, Margaret Spellings, Andrew J. Coulson, Ed Rogers, Michael J. Petrilli, Anthony A. Williams, Joseph E. Robert Jr., Harold Ford Jr. and Lisa Schiffren.

Oregon, WI Schools to Consider Virtual Classroom Integration

Gena Kittner:

Fresh air and sunshine stream from large windows into the brightly painted basement of Jennifer Schmitt’s two-story home where she teaches seven students ranging from first to seventh grade a geometry lesson. Later the students scatter to separate whiteboard-topped tables to work puzzles or to pillow-padded nooks to read.

“Scholars, listen up!” Schmitt said as she gathered the students back together after a break to resume their studies.

It’s 8:30 a.m. and the “Schmitt Academy” is in full swing.

Schmitt’s students are either home schooled or take classes online through one of the state’s several “virtual schools.” They go to Schmitt — a certified teacher whose two youngest children attend a virtual school — for lessons in math and language arts.

Her operation, now in its fifth year, demonstrates the growing popularity of classrooms that go beyond the traditional brick and mortar.

Milwaukee teachers reject longer day for more pay

Alan Borsuk:

The Milwaukee Public Schools teachers union has rejected a proposal that would lengthen the school day and pay teachers for the extra time with federal economic stimulus money, says Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.

The MPS chief said Thursday night that the union rejected adding 25 minutes to the school day for teaching math at all elementary and kindergarten-through-eighth grade schools. The union also rejected a proposal that would give all teachers six additional hours a month to work on improving programs in their schools. In both cases, teachers would have been paid for the additional time in line with their hourly rate of pay.

Tom Morgan, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, insisted Friday that there are better ways to improve education than lengthening the school day.

“We’ve taken a consistent view that doing the same thing longer is going to produce the same results,” said Morgan of the idea to add 25 minutes a day.

Speaking to School Board members at a budget meeting Thursday night, Andrekopoulos called the union decisions “unfortunate” and “disturbing.”

Earlier this week, MPS budget officials painted a picture for School Board members that is fast getting uglier when it comes to the $1.2 billion MPS budget and in which there is a dispute over how best to spend tens of millions of dollars in stimulus money.

The Curse of the Class of 2009

Sara Murray:

The bad news for this spring’s college graduates is that they’re entering the toughest labor market in at least 25 years.
The worse news: Even those who land jobs will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times, studies show.
Andrew Friedson graduated last year from the University of Maryland with a degree in government and politics and a stint as student-body president on his résumé. After working on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign for a few months, Mr. Friedson hoped to get a position in the new administration. When that didn’t pan out he looked for jobs on Capitol Hill. No luck there, either.
So now, instead of learning about policymaking and legislation, he’s earning about $1,250 a month as a high-school tutor and a part-time fundraiser for Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. To save money, he’s living with his parents.

Radical idea: Ask what we get for the money

Daniel Weintraub:

No matter what happens in the special election May 19, California’s government finances will remain a mess. It took years of mismanagement and economic misfortune for the state to dig itself into this hole, and it is going to take many years to climb out of it.
As the climbing begins, the state needs to make fundamental changes in the way it collects and spends the taxpayers’ money. Otherwise, the next generation of lawmakers will repeat the same old mistakes as their predecessors.
Proposition 1A, with its rainy-day fund, would be one improvement, requiring lawmakers to set money aside in good times to cushion the blow of the next downturn. A bipartisan commission that has been studying the tax system will soon release its recommendations on how to make California’s revenue collections fairer and more stable. That could also improve things.

The Next Age of Discovery

Alexandra Alter:

In a 21st-century version of the age of discovery, teams of computer scientists, conservationists and scholars are fanning out across the globe in a race to digitize crumbling literary treasures.
In the process, they’re uncovering unexpected troves of new finds, including never-before-seen versions of the Christian Gospels, fragments of Greek poetry and commentaries on Aristotle. Improved technology is allowing researchers to scan ancient texts that were once unreadable — blackened in fires or by chemical erosion, painted over or simply too fragile to unroll. Now, scholars are studying these works with X-ray fluorescence, multispectral imaging used by NASA to photograph Mars and CAT scans used by medical technicians.
A Benedictine monk from Minnesota is scouring libraries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Georgia for rare, ancient Christian manuscripts that are threatened by wars and black-market looters; so far, more than 16,500 of his finds have been digitized. This summer, a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky plans to test 3-D X-ray scanning on two papyrus scrolls from Pompeii that were charred by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. Scholars have never before been able to read or even open the scrolls, which now sit in the French National Institute in Paris.

Boring Within or Simply Boring?

Rob Weir:

In the age of computer-based learning, lecturing gets treated like Model-T Ford. Don’t be deceived; lecturing remains a staple of the academy and it’s likely to remain so for quite some time. University class sizes have swelled in the wake of budget cuts that have delayed (or canceled) faculty searches. A recent study of eleven Ohio four-year colleges reveals that 25 percent of introductory classes have more than 120 students and only a shortage of teaching assistants has kept the percentage that low. At the University of Massachusetts, 12 percent of all classes have enrollments of over 50 and lectures of over 200 are quite common. As long as universities operate on the assembly-line model, lecturing will remain integral to the educational process.
But even if enormous class sizes aren’t the norm at your college, lecturing is still an art you should master. It doesn’t matter how technologically adroit one is or how many non-instructor-directed whistles and bells get crammed into a course, at some point every professor lectures, even if it’s just giving instructions or recapping a completed exercise. (I’ll address online classes in the future, but let’s just say that you’d be wise to incorporate lecture-like components into these as well.)
Lots of new professors harbor anxiety about lecturing, which is understandable, given that it shows up in most top-10 lists of American phobias. The ability to give an engaging lecture doesn’t come shrink-wrapped with your graduate diploma. Nor does it necessarily come with experience; some of the smartest and most seasoned professors I’ve ever encountered are horrible lecturers. That said, lecturing is so integral to successful college teaching that it’s a form of masochism and sadism to not become good at it.

Education Critic to Obama: Tell the Truth

Jay Matthews:

If there was any doubt that education analyst Gerald W. Bracey doesn’t play favorites, that’s gone now. After excoriating the Bush administration and its education officials for eight years, after canvassing his neighborhood, donating his own money and voting for Barack Obama for president, Bracey is giving the new president just what he gave the old one — unrelenting grief.
In a speech to the American Educational Research Association in San Diego last month on “countering the fearmongers about American public schools,” Bracey added to his list of non-truthtellers President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Obama and Duncan seem to be following the long-established line that you can get away with saying just about anything you choose about public schools and no one will call you on it,” Bracey said. “People will believe anything you say about public education as long as it’s bad.”
Bracey and I disagree on many issues, but I have long been one of his most appreciative readers, dating back to the days when I knew him only as a sharp-witted writer whose pieces occasionally appeared in The Washington Post’s Outlook section. When I came back to Washington to cover local schools, I introduced myself to Bracey, who was then living in Northern Virginia, and wrote a piece about him and his long battle to persuade policymakers, political candidates and journalists to stop exaggerating our educational problems to win themselves appropriations, votes and attention. He lost at least one job because of his writing. Instead of using his doctorate in educational psychology to get a cushy university or think tank job, he has devoted his life to setting us straight, in his less financially secure role as freelance writer, author and speaker.

The Instigator: Steve Barr

Douglas McGray:

Steve Barr stood in the breezeway at Alain Leroy Locke High School, at the edge of the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, on a February morning. He’s more than six feet tall, with white-gray hair that’s perpetually unkempt, and the bulk of an ex-jock. Beside him was Ramon Cortines–neat, in a trim suit–the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new superintendent. Cortines had to be thinking about last May, when, as a senior deputy superintendent, he had visited under very different circumstances. That was when a tangle between two rival cliques near an outdoor vending machine turned into a fight that spread to every corner of the schoolyard. Police sent more than a dozen squad cars and surged across the campus in riot gear, as teachers grabbed kids on the margins and whisked them into locked classrooms.
The school’s test scores had been among the worst in the state. In recent years, seventy-five per cent of incoming freshmen had dropped out. Only about three per cent graduated with enough credits to apply to a California state university. Two years ago, Barr had asked L.A.U.S.D. to give his charter-school-management organization, Green Dot Public Schools, control of Locke, and let him help the district turn it around. When the district refused, Green Dot became the first charter group in the country to seize a high school in a hostile takeover. (“He’s a revolutionary,” Nelson Smith, the president and C.E.O. of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said.) Locke reopened in September, four months after the riot, as a half-dozen Green Dot schools.

So Long, Washington, DC School Choice…..

The Economist:

FOR all of the hype that preceded the Tea Parties, the first protest to win some sort of concession from Barack Obama’s administration may have been the protests against the end of Washington’s school-voucher programme. A month ago, the programme’s funding was shamefully struck from the president’s proposed budget. This prompted libertarian and liberal groups to fight back, culminating in a protest yesterday. And today comes news of a compromise of sorts:

President Obama will propose setting aside enough money for all 1,716 students in the District’s voucher program to continue receiving grants for private school tuition until they graduate from high school, but he would allow no new students to join the program.

Actually, that’s not much of a compromise. That’s more of a cover-up. Let’s remember that Mr Obama, who sends his own children to private school, made the following promise during his inaugural address:

Is Barack Obama’s education secretary too good to be true?

The Economist:

IT IS hard to find anybody with a bad word to say about Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s young education secretary. Margaret Spellings, his predecessor in the Bush administration, calls him “a visionary leader and fellow reformer”. During his confirmation hearings Lamar Alexander, a senator from Tennessee and himself a former education secretary, sounded more like a lovesick schoolgirl than a member of the opposition party: “I think you’re the best.” Enthusiastic without being over-the-top, pragmatic without being a pushover, he is also the perfect embodiment of mens sana in corpore sano–tall and lean, clean-cut and athletic, a Thomas Arnold for the digital age.
Since moving to the Education Department a couple of months ago he has been a tireless preacher of the reform gospel. He supports charter schools and merit pay, accountability and transparency, but also litters his speeches with more unfamiliar ideas. He argues that one of the biggest problems in education is how to attract and use talent. All too often the education system allocates the best teachers to the cushiest schools rather than the toughest. Mr Duncan also stresses the importance of “replicating” success. His department, he says, should promote winning ideas (such as “Teach for America”, a programme that sends high-flying university graduates to teach in underserved schools) rather than merely enforcing the status quo.
Nor is this just talk. Mr Duncan did much to consolidate his reputation as a reformer on May 6th, when the White House announced that it will try to extend Washington, DC’s voucher programme until all 1,716 children taking part have graduated from high school. The Democrat-controlled Congress has been trying to smother the programme by removing funding. But Mr Duncan has vigorously argued that it does not make sense “to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning”. He and Mr Obama will now try to persuade Congress not to kill the programme.

No choice in D.C.
Congress supports vouchers for cars but not schools

Washington Times Editorial:

Fighting to save the District’s popular school-voucher program, some 1,000 parents, pupils and politicians gathered near Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office on Wednesday to protest Congress’ plans to end school choice in Washington.
That same day, the Senate approved a $4,500 voucher for cars, encouraging citizens to trade in their old automobiles for newer ones that burn less fuel.
So, Congress thinks that vouchers for schools are bad, but vouchers for cars are good.
Slashing school vouchers spares teachers’ unions from competition. On the other hand, car vouchers are supposed to boost demand for cars built by the United Auto Workers. The obvious explanation for this schizophrenia: Congress does whatever helps unions.
A closer look reveals that Congress has it wrong in both cases – which is what happens when lawmakers let interest groups trump common sense.

Budget Outlines Funding for Teacher Merit Pay Programs

Maria Glod:

President Obama is seeking to add hundreds of millions for teacher merit pay programs, an investment in a reform that has often drawn criticism from teachers unions.
Even as education officials have eliminated 12 programs they say are not proven to benefit students — a savings of $550 million — the department is seeking $517 million for performance pay grants, up from $97 million in last year’s budget. In addition, the stimulus law included an additional $200 million for such programs.
Throughout his campaign, Obama repeatedly endorsed performance pay plans, so long as they are developed with the blessing of teachers. But the budget provides one of the first glimpses of the administration’s commitment to dramatically expand the smattering of merit pay experiments in schools across the country.

Cry for Freedom

Gong Yidong writing in state controlled China Daily:

He is hard of hearing and his right hand shakes. But Liu Daoyu, in his seventies, still works four hours a day, offering his thoughts on the weaknesses of higher education in China. His latest bombshell was a 7,000-word thesis in China’s most influential newspaper, Southern Weekend, in which he called for an overhaul of the country’s growing number of universities.
The former president of Wuhan University, or Wuda, is convinced that education should be based on mankind’s ultimate values and stripped of bureaucratic interference. “China’s education awaits a movement of enlightenment,” he says, sitting in his humble university residence.
Born in a village in northern Hubei province, Liu studied chemistry in Wuda in 1953, aspiring to become China’s Alfred Nobel. “Nobel’s story implanted a seed of innovation in me when I was just 14,” he recalls.
Before 1949, Wuda was ranked as one of the top five universities in China, on a par with the universities of Peking, Tsinghua, National Central (Nanjing) and Zhejiang. But a fast decline set in after 1953, in the wake of Left dominance. “Professors were caught with a sense of terror, some of them sent to the gymnasium to receive physical punishment, and nobody was in the mood to pursue research,” Liu recalls.
In the next few years, Wuda became a hotbed of factionalism, “a cart pulled by an old ox”, as Liu puts it. It slid to the 22nd of the 23 universities under the supervision of Ministry of Education (MoE). After graduating in 1957, Liu became a chemistry lecturer. The university sent him to pursue organic fluorine studies at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the spring of 1962.

Five MBA students face up to the economic realities

The Economist:

Over the course of one week, Which MBA? followed the fortunes of five MBA students from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, graduating into one of the toughest jobs markets in memory.
Day one: Daianna
Last summer, The Economist called business schools “ports in a storm,” (see article) such was the surge in applications from prospective students seeking to ride out the recession. Almost a year on, students have seen an economy that looked bad when they first applied grow much, much worse. As the spring term comes to an end, rumour has it that nearly half of my fellow MBAs are still without summer internships or full-time offers. Fierce headwinds face us as we sail back out into the world.
Whatever the initial motives for enrolling, few go to business school without the belief that an MBA will put them on a fast-track to bigger and better things upon graduation. That’s certainly what I had in mind when I left my job, salary and friends to move to Chicago to pursue a two-year, full-time MBA at Kellogg. I wanted to expand my business skills at a top-ranked school in order to change from a career primarily at non-profit organisations to a more traditional role at a prominent company in the private sector.

‘Housed’ Los Angeles teacher tells his side of the story

Jason Song:

The teacher whom the Los Angeles school district has spent seven years and nearly $2 million trying to fire spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, saying he did not sexually harass students and is the target of discrimination.
Matthew Kim, a former special education teacher at Grant High School in Van Nuys, had declined to speak to The Times numerous times over the last several months. But his mother, Cecilia, contacted the newspaper Wednesday after publication of a story that highlighted her son’s case. Family members were angry and charged that the article has embarrassed them, and they wanted to tell their side of the story.

Our view paying for college: To stretch education dollars, cut out the middleman

USA Today Opinion:

Obama seeks student aid hike, falls short on cost control.
To look at higher education these days, it seems that no one cares about financially strapped students.
On the one hand, colleges have long been raising tuition at a rate faster than the cost of living. On the other, lenders have treated families’ increased borrowing needs as an invitation to easy profits.
To address this, President Obama wants to expand federal Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students. The expansion would be financed by ending the private, scandal-plagued Federal Family Education Loan Program and replacing it with direct government lending.
The obvious question is: Will all this actually make college more affordable? In the past, universities have driven up costs through lavish building, money-losing sports, swelling bureaucracies and a tolerance of professors who barely teach. Simply throwing more money at them isn’t going to prompt necessary belt-tightening.

2009-2010 MMSD Budget

We passed the 2009-2010 Madison public school district budget last night. This was the second year in a row that we were able to reallocate to avoid ugly ugly cuts.
This was the first year that we moved to undo damage by reallocating money to put back beginning of the year “Ready Set Goal” parent-teacher conferences AND stop doubling up our art, music, gym, and computer classes through “class and a half.” Both items were cuts from past years that were absolute disasters for elementary students.
We expect to receive the strategic planning report in June, and it will inform planning for the 2010-11 budget as we move forward this coming year. In the meantime, we are waiting to hear how the state budget will impact school finance. And we are continuing work to modernize and refine the ways that we work with resources to find additional ways to strengthen our schools.

Writing in Trouble

For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions“:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,
“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

Continue reading Writing in Trouble

LA teachers banned from class still getting paid


As the nation’s second-largest school district considers mass layoffs to deal with a budget deficit, it continues to pay about $10 million a year to about 160 instructors and others who are forbidden to enter a classroom.
The Los Angeles Unified School District employees earn salaries while misconduct complaints against them are reviewed.
Last month, the school board voted to lay off as many as 2,400 teachers and 2,000 other personnel to deal with a $596 million budget shortfall for the upcoming school year.
Matthew Kim, a special education teacher, was removed from Grant High School in Van Nuys in 2002 amid allegations that he improperly touched female students. The board voted to fire him in 2003 but he has challenged the decision in both administrative hearings and court.

Charter Schools: Experiment or Solution

Valerie Visconti, Tania McKeown and David Wald:

Is a change in management enough to transform some of the worst schools in the country? Paul Vallas seems to think so, which might explain why the New Orleans superintendent is one of the biggest cheerleaders for charter schools. Because charter schools are free from district control and often from teacher unions, they have the power to hire and fire, choose the curriculum, and set student rules.
Over half of Vallas’ schools are now charters, and most of them are outperforming traditionally-run schools in New Orleans. But Vallas wants to ‘charterize’ the entire district, even though there’s evidence that charters may be abusing their freedom.

Don’t let ideology block education reforms that work

Torrey Jaeckle:

A report last week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — widely known as the “Nation’s Report Card” — shows that total education spending per pupil has doubled since 1971.
Yet overall test results for our high school seniors remain unchanged.
In effect, we’re spending twice as much money to achieve the same results as more than 35 years ago.
If that isn’t sad enough, consider these additional facts gleaned from various news stories over the past few weeks:
• A headline from the Wall Street Journal on April 23: “Demand for Charter Schools is High, Seats are Few.”

Obama to Eliminate New Washington, DC Voucher Students, Continue Current Students

Bill Turque & Shailagh Murray:

President Obama will propose setting aside enough money for all 1,716 students in the District’s voucher program to continue receiving grants for private school tuition until they graduate from high school, but he would allow no new students to join the program, administration officials said yesterday.
The proposal, to be released in budget documents today, is an attempt to navigate a middle way on a contentious issue. School choice advocates, including Republicans and many low-income families, say the program gives poor children better access to quality education. Teachers unions and other education groups active in the Democratic Party regard vouchers as a drain on public education that benefits relatively few students, and they say the students don’t achieve at appreciably higher levels at their new schools.

Holding College Chiefs to Their Words

Ellen Gamerman:

Reed College President Colin Diver suffered writer’s block. Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, wrote quickly but then toiled for hours to cut an essay that was twice as long as it was supposed to be. The assignment loomed over Wesleyan University President Michael Roth’s family vacation to Disney World.
The university presidents were struggling with a task that tortures high-school seniors around the country every year: writing the college admissions essay. In a particularly competitive year for college admissions, The Wall Street Journal turned the tables on the presidents of 10 top colleges and universities with an unusual assignment: answer an essay question from their own school’s application.
The “applicants” were told not to exceed 500 words (though most did), and to accept no help from public-relations people or speechwriters. Friends and family could advise but not rewrite. The Journal selected the question from each application so presidents wouldn’t pick the easy ones. They had about three weeks to write their essays.
The exercise showed just how challenging it is to write a college essay that stands out from the pack, yet doesn’t sound overly self-promotional or phony. Even some presidents say they grappled with the challenge and had second thoughts about the topics they chose. Several shared tips about writing a good essay: Stop trying to come up with the perfect topic, write about personally meaningful themes rather than flashy ones, and don’t force a subject to be dramatic when it isn’t.

Jolly Madison: Why life is still good for business school students … in Wisconsin.

Daniel Gross:

Living and working in the New York region’s financial-media complex in 2009 means daily, compulsory attendance at a gathering of the glum. The economy may be shrinking at a 6 percent annual rate, but finance and media have contracted by about 30 percent. For the past year, the daily routine has meant sitting in a depopulated office (assuming you still have a job); following the latest grim news of magazine closings, buyouts, and layoffs; and commiserating with friends, family, and neighbors. And, of course, the angst extends far beyond directly affected companies. Finance dominates the area’s economy to such a degree that everybody–lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers, waiters, retailers, and cab drivers–have all been affected.
Of course, one can try to get away to sunnier, more mellow climes. But the usual havens aren’t offering much succor. Florida–like New York, except the catastrophe is real estate. Mexico? Um, not now. But last month, I found an unexpected haven: the Midwest. Each semester, the University of Wisconsin School of Business brings in a journalist-in-residence for a week, usually from New York. The theory: Students and professors benefit from the perspective of someone who is chronicling the workings of the world they are studying remotely.
But the benefit was greater for me than for the students. The four days in Madison functioned as a kind of detox. I left thinking the university should turn the Fluno Center for Executive Education into a sort of clinic. It could do for stressed-out financial and media types what Minneapolis’ Hazelden does for the drugged-out: offer a safe, friendly (if chilly) place to escape the toxic influence of New York.

Five Money Lessons for New College Grads

Karen Blumenthal:

This spring’s college grads are heading out into a world where jobs are tough to come by. The economic outlook is uncertain and all the older people they know are feeling the pain of stock-market losses.
Worse, there are all kinds of nitty-gritty details to deal with: opening bank accounts, choosing health insurance, finding an apartment, lining up transportation and figuring out how to invest. How is a young person supposed to get ahead in this environment?
It’s not easy to master money management during the best times and it’s especially hard to navigate the challenges of a recession. Still, many of the same basic principles apply in good times and bad. And getting a taste of a downturn at the start may make current graduates smarter and more thoughtful than those who graduate during boom times.
Here are five broad financial lessons that can pay dividends for a lifetime:

Reason Foundation’s New Weighted Student Formula Yearbook

Lisa Snell:

Much of our education funding is wasted on bureaucracy. The money never actually makes it into the classroom in the form of books, computers, supplies, or even salaries for better teachers. Weighted student formula changes that. Using weighted student formula’s decentralized system, education funds are attached to each student and the students can take that money directly to the public school of their choice.
At least 15 major school districts have moved to this system of backpack funding. Reason Foundation’s new Weighted Student Formula Yearbook examines how the budgeting system is being implemented in each of these places and, based on the real-world data, offers a series of “best practices” that other districts and states can follow to improve the quality of their schools.
In places where parents have school choice and districts empower their principals and teachers we are seeing increased learning and better test scores. The results from districts using student-based funding are very promising. Prior to 2008, less than half of Hartford, Connecticut’s education money made it to the classroom. Now, over 70 percent makes it there. As a result, the district’s schools posted the largest gains, over three times the average increase, on the state’s Mastery Tests in 2007-08.

Rare Alliance May Signal Ebb In Union’s Charter Opposition

Jay Matthews:

I didn’t see many other reporters Tuesday in the narrow, second-floor meeting room of the Phoenix Park Hotel in the District. A U.S. senator’s party switch and new National Assessment of Educational Progress data were a bigger draw. But in the long term, the news conference at the hotel might prove a milestone in public education. It isn’t often you see a leading teachers union announce it is taking money from what many of its members consider the enemy: corporate billionaires who have been bankrolling the largely nonunion charter school movement.
Of course, it might turn out to be just another publicity stunt. But the people gathered, and what they said, impressed me.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, unveiled the first union-led, private foundation-supported effort to provide grants to AFT unions nationwide to develop and implement what she called “bold education innovations in public schools.” The advisory board of the AFT Innovation Fund includes celebrities of my education wonk world: former Cleveland schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Harvard professor Susan Moore Johnson and even Caroline Kennedy, well known for other reasons but identified at the conference as an important fundraiser for New York schools.

World-Class Knowledge
Annual Geography Bee Tests Students’ Grasp of the Globe

Maria Glod:

Politicians fret these days about how U.S. students stack up in math and science compared with peers in India, China, Singapore and elsewhere. Some of them wonder how many American children could find those countries on a globe. Such talk is driving an effort in Congress to ensure that students learn more about other countries and cultures.
Critics of the No Child Left Behind law, which requires annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school, say it has pushed subjects including geography, history and art to the side.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and other lawmakers are trying to change that with a bill called the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act. The legislation would provide funds for teacher training, research and development of instructional materials.
Van Hollen said he has been distressed by surveys showing that students in the United States have a poor grasp of geography. He said the bill has bipartisan support and 70 co-sponsors.

Arne Duncan tells Education Writers Association: NCLB has to go (the name, not the law)

Dale Mezzacappa:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed the annual convention of the Education Writers Association in Washington, DC Thursday night, and he said that the name “No Child Left Behind” has to go.
“The name ‘No Child Left Behind’ is toxic,” he said.
Duncan doesn’t want to scrap NCLB by a long shot, but he wants to see some changes, especially in how schools are evaluated. He called himself a big fan of value-added methods of judging school progress — in other words, looking at growth in test scores — rather than relying on a basic proficiency rate.
On testing, Duncan said he realizes the limits of standardized tests, but doesn’t want to get rid of them. “Test scores don’t tell us everything, but they tell us some things. We must use what we have until we come up with something better.”
One other indicator he wants to add to NCLB — or whatever it will be called — is a measure for high schools of how well they keep ninth graders on track.