Ineligible Players on Madison High School’s Basketball Teams, Madison West High’s Coach and Athletic Director is Out

Rob Schultz:

Last March, the Regents forfeited a WIAA tournament upset victory over Baraboo for using a player who had an unexcused absence prior to the game.
Hodge, 46, who was the boys basketball coach, athletic director and minority service coordinator at his alma mater, claimed West principal Ed Holmes and school district administrators used that instance to railroad him out of West. He said it was a retaliatory move for rebutting the district’s stance during a controversial arbitration hearing in 2008.
“It had nothing to do with my coaching,” said Hodge, who took the Regents to the WIAA state tournament twice, won six WIAA regional titles and two Big Eight Conference titles during his tenure. He had a 121-149 overall record.
“It was all about the theory of retaliating against me because I went public about how the district treats its employees if they have an issue.”
Data provided to The Capital Times and Hodge from an anonymous source showed there were 82 unexcused absences logged by players from his team that went unpunished.
Madison East had 117 unexcused absences that would have forced the Purgolders to relinquish 15 victories and a regional title, while Madison La Follette had 73 unexcused absences and Madison Memorial 12, according to the source’s data.
According to the data, Memorial — which won the WIAA Division 1 state title — had only one case of an ineligible player scoring in a game.
The source also has data that claimed that some of East’s unexcused absences were changed to excused absences after Hodge lodged a complaint about all the schools’ unexcused absences with the WIAA March 9.
Hodge gave the data he received before and after he lodged the complaint with the WIAA to John Matthews, the executive director of Madison Teachers, Inc. He said Matthews brought the data to the attention of MMSD superintendent Dan Nerad.
The district then investigated Hodge’s assertions and recently sent its conclusions to the WIAA, according to the WIAA’s Dave Anderson, “Their findings did not reveal substance to the allegations that were made,” said Anderson, who will begin duties as the WIAA’s executive director Monday.


Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
30 July 2009
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie:
He stuck in his thumb, and pulled out a plum
And said, “What a good boy am I!”

I publish history research papers by secondary students from around the world, and from time to time I get a paper submitted which includes quite a bit more opinion than historical research.
The other day I got a call from a prospective teenage author saying he had noticed on my website that most of the papers seemed to be history rather than opinion, and was it alright for him to submit a paper with his opinions?
I said that opinions were fine, if they were preceded and supported by a good deal of historical research for the paper, and that seemed to satisfy him. I don’t know if he will send in his paper or not, but I feel sure that like so many of our teenagers, he has received a good deal of support from his teachers for expressing his opinions, whether very well-informed or not.
From John Dewey forward, many Progressive educators seem to want our students to “step away from those school books, and no one gets hurt,” as long as they go out and get involved in the community and come back to express themselves with plenty of opinions on all the major social issues of the world today.
This sort of know-nothing policy-making was much encouraged in the 1960s in the United States, among the American Red Guards at least. In China, there was more emphasis on direct action to destroy the “Four Olds” and beat up and kill doctors, professors, teachers, and anyone else with an education. Mao had already done their theorizing for them and all they had to do was the violence.
Over here, however, from the Port Huron Statement to many other Youth Manifestos, it was considered important for college students evading the draft to announce their views on society at some length. Many years after the fact, it is interesting to note, as Diana West wrote about their philosophical posturing in The Death of the Grown-Up:
“What was it all about? New Left leader Todd Gitlin found such questions perplexing as far back as the mid-1960s, when he was asked ‘to write a statement of purpose for a New Republic series called ‘Thoughts of Young Radicals.’ In his 1978 memoir, The Sixties, Gitlin wrote: ‘I agonized for weeks about what it was, in fact, I wanted.’ This is a startling admission. Shouldn’t he have thought about all this before? He continued: “The movement’s all-purpose answer to ‘What do you want?’ and ‘How do you intend to get it?’ was: ‘Build the movement.’ By contrast, much of the counterculture’s appeal was its earthy answer: ‘We want to live like this, voila!'”
For those of the Paleo New Left who indulged in these essentially thoughtless protests, the Sixties are over, but for many students now in our social studies classrooms, their teachers still seem to want them to Stand Up on the Soapbox and be Counted, to voice their opinions on all sorts of matters about which they know almost nothing.
I have published research papers by high school students who have objected to eugenics, racism, China’s actions in Tibet, gender discrimination, and more. But I believe in each case such opinions came at the end of a fairly serious history research paper full of information and history the student author had taken the trouble to learn.
When I get teenage papers advising Secretary Clinton on how to deal with North Korea, or Timothy Geitner and Ben Bernanke on how to help the U.S. economy correct itself, or telling the President what to do about energy, if these papers substitute opinion for research into these exceedingly complex and difficult problems, I tend not to publish them.
My preference is for students to “step away from that soapbox and no one gets hurt,” that is, to encourage them, in their teen years, to read as many nonfiction books as they can, to learn how little they understand about the problems of the past and present, and to defer their pronouncements on easy solutions to them until they really know what they are talking about and have learned at least something about the mysterious workings of unintended consequences, just for a start.
Since 1987, I have published more than 860 exemplary history research papers by secondary students from 36 countries (see for examples), and I admire them for their work, but the ones I like best have had some well-earned modesty to go along with their serious scholarship.

COCKSURE Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence.

Malcolm Gladwell:

In 1996, an investor named Henry de Kwiatkowski sued Bear Stearns for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. De Kwiatkowski had made–and then lost–hundreds of millions of dollars by betting on the direction of the dollar, and he blamed his bankers for his reversals. The district court ruled in de Kwiatkowski’s favor, ultimately awarding him $164.5 million in damages. But Bear Stearns appealed–successfully–and in William D. Cohan’s engrossing account of the fall of Bear Stearns, “House of Cards,” the firm’s former chairman and C.E.O. Jimmy Cayne tells the story of what happened on the day of the hearing:
Their lead lawyer turned out to be about a 300-pound fag from Long Island . . . a really irritating guy who had cross-examined me and tried to kick the shit out of me in the lower court trial. Now when we walk into the courtroom for the appeal, they’re arguing another case and we have to wait until they’re finished. And I stopped this guy. I had to take a piss. I went into the bathroom to take a piss and came back and sat down. Then I see my blood enemy stand up and he’s going to the bathroom. So I wait till he passes and then I follow him in and it’s just he and I in the bathroom. And I said to him, “Today you’re going to get your ass kicked, big.” He ran out of the room. He thought I might have wanted to start it right there and then.
At the time Cayne said this, Bear Stearns had spectacularly collapsed. The eighty-five-year-old investment bank, with its shiny new billion-dollar headquarters and its storied history, was swallowed whole by J. P. Morgan Chase. Cayne himself had lost close to a billion dollars. His reputation–forty years in the making–was in ruins, especially when it came out that, during Bear’s final, critical months, he’d spent an inordinate amount of time on the golf course.

In Defense of the Play Date

Emily Bazelon:

One of the most biting scenes in The Group, Mary McCarthy’s acerbic sendup of female friendship and aspiration, takes place on a play date. Priss Crockett, the grind of the Vassar class of 1933 and now a doctor’s wife, is walking through Central Park with her toddler Stephen. She runs into a fellow alum, Norine Schmittlapp, and her 3-month-old baby, Ichabod. “Aren’t you afraid he’ll be called ‘Icky’ in school?” Priss asks before barely resisting the urge to tell Norine to raise the hood of the baby’s carriage, to shield his head from the sun.
The two women are off and running for an afternoon of sniping and clashing. Norine mentions letting Ichabod sleep in the bed with her at night. Priss can’t believe she doesn’t know that “under no circumstances, not even in a crowded slum home, should a baby be permitted to sleep with an adult.” Stephen sees Ichabod sucking on a pacifier and reaches up to touch the unknown object. Priss snatches his hand away. Norine brings up toilet training, the source of Priss’ most bitter shame, since Stephen is not performing properly. Norine’s theory is that children should train themselves. “Where in the world did you get such ideas?” Priss asks. The women repair to Norine’s apartment, where a butler whisks Stephen away. The butler later returns to whisper in Norine’s ear. “Stephen shat,” she casually reports, to Priss’ humiliation, even as she lets Stephen’s nursemaid clean up the mess.
In the last minutes in this strange apartment, Stephen plunges his hand into the neck of the nursemaid’s dress, and Priss, desperate to distract him, gives him a piece of chocolate cake. Stephen, a chocolate virgin, doesn’t now what to do with it. “Look! It’s good,” Priss tells him, chewing. McCarthy makes Stephen’s corruption complete with this last line of the chapter: “Soon he was greedily eating chocolate cake, from a Jewish bakery, with fudge frosting.”

Free Program Allows Single Parents to Develop Confidence as They Train for a Career

Emma Brown:

Two years ago, Taishia Jenerette was holding down two jobs, caring for her 6-year-old daughter and struggling as a single mother with too little time and too many bills. Then a friend told her about an unusual Fairfax County program that provides low-income single parents with career counseling and professional certificate courses — free.
“I would have never been able to go to school if not for the Education for Independence program,” said Jenerette, 32, who quit her part-time job at Macy’s to make time for night classes. “I had looked into it so many times, but I didn’t have the money.”
In a ceremony last week at the Fairfax County Government Center, Jenerette graduated with a medical assistant certificate that will help her qualify for a promotion, and a raise, at the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, where she prepares disability cases for review. But more important than the certificate, Jenerette said, the program has given her confidence.
“I was so scared to go back to school because I didn’t want to fail,” said Jenerette, of Centreville. “I said if I can get through this two years, I can do anything.”
That attitude is what Education for Independence is meant to engender, said Lorraine Obuchon, one of two career counselors who work with the program’s approximately 120 participants.

13 Schools In Washington, DC to Offer Specialty Programs

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, seeking to stanch declining enrollment and the exodus of students to the District’s fast-growing charter schools, announced Tuesday that 13 public schools will launch plans for specialized programs in science and technology, arts and languages.
Theme-based schools are a widely employed educational idea, and the District has several specialty high schools, including Duke Ellington School of the Arts, McKinley Technology High School and School Without Walls.
What makes Rhee’s proposal different is that the “catalyst schools” will remain neighborhood schools open to all eligible students without an application or other admissions requirements. Eaton Elementary, for example, will remain the school for its Northwest D.C. neighborhood but will also develop a Chinese language and culture program.
Rhee said D.C. families should not have to look far from home to find innovative school options for their children.

A Message from Wisconsin State Senate President Fred Risser on the K-12 Budget, the QEO and Tax Redistributions

Fred Risser, via a kind reader’s email:

July 30, 2009
Dear ________
Due to your interest in the public education, I am writing to update you on the outcome of the 2009 State Budget and how it will impact K-12 Education in Wisconsin.
Despite the financial difficulties that the state finds itself in, a number of programs in this budget will have a positive and lasting effect on public education.  The high point of the budget this year is the repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO). Since the QEO was passed, teacher pay has lost more than 7% to inflation and fallen even further behind in per capita income. Wisconsin has long prided itself in having a top-notch public education system, yet we have lost countless qualified educators over this law. The elimination of the QEO removes one obstacle toward ensuring that our children have access to the best educators possible.
Other items of note in this budget include additional funding for the expansion of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten programs; increases in aid for high-poverty districts; and additional grant funding to improve school safety efforts.
Unfortunately, the reduction in available state funding resulted in some cuts in school aids.  However, I was pleased that overall funding for public education was maintained at a reasonable level under current circumstances, ensuring that we are able to give Wisconsin students the best resources possible. Funding education is an investment in the future of Wisconsin.
Thank you for your continued support of public education in Wisconsin.  If I can ever be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Most sincerely,
Wisconsin State Senate

“How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?

Maria Karaivanova:

“How can I help to get these kids a Lapdesk?” – I get this question all the time from my friends and classmates. And I want to have a good answer. An actionable, simple answer such as: “Go to our website, choose a school from the database and buy a Lapdesk for them.”
So how can our company make this happen? One of my main goals this summer is to launch an online initiative and to develop a plan for scaling it up – creating a home for individual donors who will become “Lapdesk friends”.
While our current website is functional and rich in information, I want to take it to the next level: to turn it into a dynamic communications platform connecting Lapdesk’s partners, sponsors and beneficiaries. I want to enable individuals to donate Lapdesks to a school of their choice and to track our progress – all online.

Oregon Symphony’s outreach program falls silent

David Stabler, via a kind reader’s email:

The drums have gone quiet. The gongs no longer shimmer. The bells go unchimed. The instruments that kids in small towns around Oregon used to hit, rub and scrape as part of the Oregon Symphony’s award-winning outreach effort went quiet this summer.
Another victim of the economy.
The Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, the program’s primary funder, suffered losses to its endowment and declined to continue paying the program’s $150,000 annual cost, said Norm Smith, the foundation’s president.
Since 2002, the Oregon Symphony has “adopted” a different town each two years: Klamath Falls, North Bend, Redmond, Baker City, Estacada, La Grande, Cove, Tillamook. The idea was to flood the zone with repeated trips by symphony musicians. Break into tactical units and invade the schools, fill community centers, start a jazz band, launch a string orchestra. Then go back the next year to water the seeds.
What made the program unusual was the effort to make music a lasting presence. Unlike in other outreach efforts, the orchestra didn’t just show up, coach a few kids, play a concert and get back on the bus. The focus encouraged local teachers to design a music curriculum for years to come and involved arts groups in adding a concert series to bring performers to town, using Oregon Symphony staff for ideas and follow-up.

Special Education Vouchers

Jay Greene:

In 1975, Congress passed legislation giving students with disabilities the right to an appropriate education at public expense. But having a right is only as good as your ability to enforce it. In New York City and elsewhere, public schools regularly delay and frustrate disabled students seeking appropriate services–everything from tutoring to speech therapy to treatment of severe disabilities–making their federally protected right all but meaningless. Rather than compelling families with disabled children to contend with obstinate public school systems, we should give them the option of purchasing the services they need for their children from a private provider. That is, we should give them special-ed vouchers–good for the same amount of money that we already spend on them in the public school system–that they could then use to pay for private school. Not only would this bring better services to disabled New York students; it could also save the public money.
Many parents of disabled students have a lot of trouble ensuring that public schools give their kids an appropriate education. The parents have to know what they’re entitled to, and most do not. They must negotiate services from the local schools–but the schools are experienced in these negotiations, while the parents generally aren’t, so the schools often get away with minimizing their responsibilities. And even if parents win at the negotiating table, getting the schools actually to deliver on their promises is enormously difficult.

Education in Chicago: Why School Reform Won’t Happen

Bill Sweetland:

At the end of my last blog, I said that in my next post I would show why so-called “school reform” has become another empty abstraction, a slogan for politicians. I said I would demonstrate why there is no chance that real school reform will ever happen in Chicago. Here are half a dozen reasons:
(1) For 50 years we — the public, the critics of education, the education establishment itself — have known that schooling is in deep trouble, and not just public instruction in ghetto schools. Yet no substantive reforms have been carried out.
Everything has been proposed, everything tried — several times. The latest cure-all promises tough, real action and painless, revolutionary, unprecedented, serendipitous, timely benefits. Its results have proven to be mixed — and puny.
The more we talk, the greater the uncertainty about what to do grows. The more ideas put forward, the more difficult practical action becomes. The more we “innovate,” the more resistant and hardened the problems of removing ignorance become.

More on Wisconsin, California and New York’s Law Against Tying Teacher Pay to Class Performance

PBS NewsHour:

“If you set and enforce rigorous and challenging standards and assessments, if you put outstanding teachers at the front of the classroom, if you turn around failing schools, your state can win a ‘Race to the Top’ grant that will not only help students out-compete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential,” President Obama said.
Some reforms are controversial.
The reforms touted by the Obama administration have supporters and detractors.
California, New York and Wisconsin have laws against tying teacher pay to how their students perform in class. Teacher unions, which are organizations with teacher members that use collective bargaining to get better pay and benefits, are also wary of teacher pay reform.
“The devil really is in the details. On the issues where you have differences, you try to work those out,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Washington Post.
As head of schools in Chicago, Secretary Duncan started a program that paid some teachers according to how their students performed to see if it worked.

Chicago school reform is a real estate program to reverse white flight

Edward Hayes:

If Mayor Richard Daley walks into your office and tells you to remove your car from his parking space, you will do it. If he sends in one of his flunkeys to tell you to move your bloody car, you will do it. The only distinction between the two requests is how much you grovel, bow, and scrape before doing as you are told. Past Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO, Paul Vallas, walked into the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) president’s office in 1995 and told her to move her union out of his way because the mayor said so. She did. You would too. That was the whole of Chicago School Reform. It didn’t make any difference at all whether the messenger was Vallas, Arne Duncan, new CEO Ron Huberman, or Pee Wee Herman. When Mayor Daley says make a hole, you get out of the way, and you do it with a smile.
Non-educator Vallas did nothing to make schools better for struggling urban youth; non-educator Duncan did less, and the new non-educator Huberman after three months on the job is on paternity leave following his announcing that he and his male partner have a baby. Real educators who previously sat in the CPS superintendent’s office did not have direct backing from City Hall. They were weak administrators that chose not to fight the CTU. They may have tried, but not one of them did anything except appear to be busy.

A Race to the Bottom? Wisconsin’s Academic Standards & Teacher Accountability

Charles Barone:

One of the funnest and most instructive concepts in philosophy is the “logical fallacy.” Here’s an example:

  1. Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
  2. Eating a hamburger is better than nothing.
  3. Therefore, eating a hamburger is better than eternal happiness.

The arguments being advanced by the interest groups that are lining up in opposition to President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s call to tear down teacher-student data firewalls bear a striking similarity to hamburger eating and eternal happiness.

First up, the great state of New York:
1. The Race to the Top Guidance issued by Secretary Duncan on Friday states that:
“to be eligible under this program, a State must not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking student achievement or student growth data to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.”
2. New York law states that:
“The regents shall, prescribe rules for the manner in which the process for evaluation of a candidate for tenure is to be conducted. Such rules shall include a combination of the following minimum standards: a. evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data and other relevant information when providing instruction but the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data.”

Reactions in California and Wisconsin.

“What if it has all been a huge mistake?”

The Chronicle Review
July 27, 2009
A Rescue Plan for College Composition and High-School English
By Michael B. Prince:

The new administration in Washington promises fresh resources for our failing school systems. The need is great. Yet at a time when every penny counts, we had better be sure that new investments in education don’t chase after bad pedagogical ideas.
I propose a rescue plan for high-school English and college composition that costs little, apart from a shift in dominant ideas. For the sake of convenience and discussion, the rescue plan reduces complex matters to three concrete steps.
First, don’t trust the SAT Reasoning Test, especially the writing section of that test, as a college diagnostic, and don’t allow the writing test to influence the goals of high-school English.
The news last year that Baylor University paid its already admitted students to retake the SAT in order to raise the school’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report would be funny if it weren’t so sad. The test is a failure.
Even the manufacturer of the SAT admits that the new test, which includes writing, is no better than the old test, which didn’t. As The Boston Globe reported on June 18, 2008: “The New York-based College Board, which owns the test, released the study yesterday showing that the current SAT rated 0.53 on a measure of predictive ability, compared with 0.52 for the previous version. A result of 1 would mean the test perfectly predicts college performance. Revising the SAT ‘did not substantially change’ its capacity to foretell first-year college grades, the research found.”
How could this happen? College professors frequently ask their students to write. Shouldn’t a test that includes actual writing tell us more about scholastic aptitude than a test that doesn’t? Yes, unless the test asks students to do something categorically different from what college professors generally ask their students to do. Is that the problem with the SAT? You be the judge.
The following essay question appeared on the December 2007 SAT. It was reprinted on the College Board’s Web site as a model for high-school students to practice; it was subsequently disseminated by high schools and SAT-prep Web sites. The question runs as follows:
“Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
“‘Our determination to pursue truth by setting up a fight between two sides leads us to believe that every issue has two sides–no more, no less. If we know both sides of an issue, all of the relevant information will emerge, and the best case will be made for each side. But this process does not always lead to the truth. Often the truth is somewhere in the complex middle, not the oversimplified extremes.’
“[Adapted from Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture]


Join me at the REACH Awards Day next Wed 8/5; Education Reform’s Moon Shot; A $4B Push for Better Schools; Taken to school: Obama funding plan must force Legislature to accept education reforms; President Obama Discusses New ‘Race to the Top’ Program

1) I hope you can join me a week from Wednesday at the REACH Awards Day from 10-12:30 on Aug. 5th at the Chase branch on 39th and Broadway (see full invite at the end of this email).
REACH (Rewarding Achievement; is a pay-for-performance initiative that aims to improve the college readiness of low-income students at 31 inner-city high schools in New York by rewarding them with up to $1,000 for each Advanced Placement exam they pass. I founded it, with funding from the Pershing Square Foundation and support from the Council of Urban Professionals.
This past year was the first full year of the program and I’m delighted to report very substantial gains in the overall number of students passing AP exams at the 31 schools, and an even bigger gain among African-American and Latino students (exact numbers will be released at the event). As a result, more than 1,000 student have earned nearly $1 MILLION in REACH Scholar Awards! Next Wednesday, the students will come to pick up their checks, Joel Klein will be the highlight of the press conference at 11am, and there will be a ton of media. I hope to see you there! You can RSVP to
2) STOP THE PRESSES!!! Last Friday will go down in history, I believe, as a key tipping point moment in the decades-long effort to improve our K-12 educational system. President Obama and Sec. Duncan both appeared at a press conference to announce the formal launch of the Race to the Top fund (KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg also spoke and rocked the house!). Other than not being there on vouchers, Obama and Duncan are hitting ALL of the right notes, which, backed with HUGE dollars, will no doubt result in seismic shifts in educational policy across the country.
Here’s an excerpt from Arne Duncan’s Op Ed in the Washington Post from Friday (full text below — well worth reading):

Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core interconnected reforms.
— To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.
— To close the data gap — which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction — states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.
— To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals — and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren’t up to the job.
— Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.
The Race to the Top program marks a new federal partnership in education reform with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement. Yet the program is also a competition through which states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.


Humans prefer cockiness to expertise

Peter Aldhous:

EVER wondered why the pundits who failed to predict the current economic crisis are still being paid for their opinions? It’s a consequence of the way human psychology works in a free market, according to a study of how people’s self-confidence affects the way others respond to their advice.
The research, by Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.
In Moore’s experiment, volunteers were given cash for correctly guessing the weight of people from their photographs. In each of the eight rounds of the study, the guessers bought advice from one of four other volunteers. The guessers could see in advance how confident each of these advisers was (see table), but not which weights they had opted for.

Should Higher Education Be Free?

Max Page:

Andrew Delbanco effectively describes the tragedy that is unfolding at American universities: after a generation of expanding of opportunity, both private and public colleges are increasingly out of reach of the lower classes [“The Universities in Trouble,” NYR, May 14]. Unfortunately, Delbanco avoids the solution that is sitting right before him: free higher education. That’s the way most of the civilized world deals with the cost of higher education. And we have past and present examples in our own nation of providing free higher education–the GI Bill, CUNY, California’s community colleges, Georgia’s HOPE scholarships. My father went from immigrant to soldier to Ph.D. in the space of a decade, thanks to the GI Bill.
Would this be insanely expensive? The total cost of sending every single public university undergraduate to college for a year (that group makes up 75 percent of the total college enrollment) was $39.36 billion in 2006-2007. That’s not chicken feed, but it’s less than the bailout amount for two large banks, or the cost of three or four months in Iraq.

Nearly 75% of DC Residents Want Vouchers: Where Does Washington, DC Go in K-12 Education?

Paul DePerna & Dan Lips:

Historically, the District of Columbia has struggled to improve the educational opportunities available to students living in the nation’s capital. Over the past decade, District residents have witnessed signifi cant changes in the D.C. education system. New reforms have included the creation of nearly sixty public charter schools on approximately ninety campuses; Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s overhaul of the traditional public school system; and the creation of the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
As policymakers in District government and on Capitol Hill consider the future of these and other education reform initiatives, attention should be paid to the views of D.C. citizens. In July 2009, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice commissioned Braun Research, Inc. to conduct a statistically representative survey of 1,001 registered voters in the District of Columbia.
Why conduct a survey on education issues in the District of Columbia? Why now?
This is a critical moment for the District and its residents. With so many proposals being suggested in the public domain – to initiate, expand, scale back, or eliminate programs and policies – it can be dizzying to policy wonks and casual observers alike. We hope that this survey can bring a pause for perspective. Each of the organizations endorsing this survey’s fi eldwork felt it was important to take a step back and refl ect on the wishes of
D.C. citizens regarding their city’s education system.

Joanne has more.

Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research

Mark Bauerlein:

It was sometime in the 1980s, I think, that a basic transformation of the aims of literary criticism was complete. Not the spread of political themes and identity preoccupations, which struck outsiders and off-campus critics like William Bennett, a former secretary of education turned radio host, as the obvious change, but a deeper adjustment in the basic conception of what criticism does. It was, namely, the shift from criticism-as-explanation to criticism-as-performance. Instead of thinking of scholarship as the explication of the object–what a poem means or a painting represents–humanists cast criticism as an interpretative act, an analytical eye in process.
The old model of the critic as secondary, derivative, even parasitical gave way to the critic as creative and adventuresome. Wlad Godzich’s introduction to the second edition of Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight (1983) nicely caught the mood in its title: “Caution! Reader at Work!” People spoke of “doing a reading,” applying a theory, taking an approach, and they regarded the principle of fidelity to the object as tyranny. In a 1973 essay in New Literary History titled “The Interpreter: A Self-Analysis,” Geoffrey H. Hartman chastised the traditional critic for being “methodologically humble” by “subduing himself to commentary on work or writer”; then he declared, “We have entered an era that can challenge even the priority of literary to literary-critical texts.” A writer has a persona, he stated. “Should the interpreter not have personae?”
Older modes of criticism were a species of performance as well. But they claimed validity to the extent to which the object they regarded gave up to them its mystery. The result, the clarified meaning of the work, counted more than the execution that yielded it. By the late 1980s, though, the question “What does it mean?” lost out to “How can we read it?” The interpretation didn’t have to be right. It had to be nimble.

School spotlight: Apprenticeship provides taste of product engineering

Pamela Cotant:

In between summertime activities, recent Oregon High School graduate Erik VanderSanden is focusing on winter as he helps redesign a device that makes cross country skiing accessible to the disabled.
VanderSanden spent his senior year assisting in the design and redesign of parts and items for Isthmus Engineering and Manufacturing of Madison through the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program.
In Dane County, nearly 130 students have participated this school year and into the summer, said Diane Kraus, school to career coordinator for the Dane County consortium of 16 school districts. The county program offers 11 program areas and the most popular right now are health care, information technology, automotive and biotechnology, said Kraus, adding that her program is always looking for more businesses that want to participate.
One of the items VanderSanden worked on for his apprenticeship is a device that allows people to sit while skiing. VanderSanden is now being retained as needed to finish up a prototype, which will be used by Isthmus to manufacture 100 more. The unit was originally designed by UW-Madison mechanical engineering students under professor Jay Martin through the Center for Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology, which is also known as UW-CREATe.
“I tried to optimize what they had already done … and take it a step further than what they had time for in their class,” said VanderSanden said.

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update, with Links

Madison Board of Education President Arlene Silveira, via email:

TO: MMSD Strategic Planning Committee
Good afternoon,
I am writing to provide you with a Board update on the MMSD strategic plan. Before getting into details, I again want to thank you for all of the time and effort you put into development of the plan. It is appreciated.
On July 21, the Board of Education held our second meeting to review the strategic planning document that you, our community-based strategic planning committee, submitted. The Board unanimously approved the following components of the new strategic plan. The mission, beliefs and parameters were approved with no changes to the plan you submitted. Some language in the strategic objectives was modified for clarity and completeness.

We have not yet approved any of the action plans.

Much more on the Strategic Planning Process here.

A story from the trenches — send me more!; DAVID STEINER ELECTED COMMISSIONER OF EDUC FOR NY; As Charter Schools Unionize; Must unions always block innovation in public schools?; NEA Discovers It Is a Labor Union; So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

1) If you read anything I send out this year, let this be it. One of my friends responded to the survey I sent around a couple of weeks ago by emailing me this story of his experience as a TFA teacher in the South Bronx a decade ago (though he’s no longer there, he is still (thankfully) very much involved with educating disadvantaged kids). It is one of the most powerful, heart-breaking, enraging things I have ever read — and perfectly captures what this education reform struggle is all about. Stories like this about what REALLY goes on in our failing public schools need to be told and publicized, so please share yours with me:

Thanks so much for putting this survey together. It brought back some memories well beyond the few questions about what it was like to teach in the South Bronx with TFA back in the late nineties. I want to emphasize here that I no longer teach in the Bronx, so I have little idea how things have changed and have seen the current Administration take a number of important steps that may be making a great impact. I’m not close enough to the ground to know, but my guess is that there are still plenty of schools in the Bronx and in every other low-income community in the country that reflect some of the miserable stuff I saw in my school. You should really start collecting a book of stories like these. Among all the people I know who’ve done TFA, these stories are just a few among many sad ones.
As I filled out the survey, I was first reminded of the art teacher in our school. She was truly a caricature of bad teaching. Like something out of the movies. She spent almost every minute of every day screaming at the top of her lungs in the faces of 5-8 year olds who had done horrible things like coloring outside the lines. The ART teacher! Screaming so loud you could hear her 2-3 floors away in a decades old, solid brick building. When she heard I was looking for an apt, she sent me to an apt broker friend of hers. I told the friend I wanted to live in Washington Heights. “Your mother would be very upset with me if I let you go live with THOSE PEOPLE. We fought with bricks and bats and bottles to keep them out of our neighborhoods. Do you see what they have done to this place?” This same attitude could be heard in the art teacher’s screams, the administration’s ambivalence towards the kids we were supposed to be educating and the sometimes overt racism of the people in charge. The assistant principal (who could not, as far as I could tell, do 4th grade math, but offered me stop-in math professional development for a few minutes every few months with gems like “these numbers you see here to the left of the zero are negative numbers. Like when it is very cold outside.”) once told me “I call them God’s stupidest people” referring to a Puerto Rican woman who was blocking our way as we drove to another school. She also once told me I needed to put together a bulletin board in the hallway about Veteran’s Day. I told her we were in the middle of assembling an Encyclopedia on great Dominican, Puerto Rican and Black leaders (all of my students were Dominican, Black or Puerto Rican). “Mr. ____, we had Cin-co de May-o, and Black History Month, and all that other stuff. It is time for the AMERICAN Americans.”
Not everyone in the school was a racist. There were many hard working teachers of all ethnicities who did not reflect this attitude at all. But the fact that the leadership of the school and a number of the most senior teachers was either utterly disdainful of the students they taught, or has completely given up on the educability of the kids, had a terrible effect on overall staff motivation. And many of the well-meaning teachers were extremely poorly prepared to make a dent in the needs of the students even if they had been well led. The Principal told more than one teacher there that “as long as they are quiet and in their seats, I don’t care what else you do.” This was on the day this person was HIRED. This was their first and probably last instruction. He never gave me a single instruction. Ever. And I was a new teacher with nothing but TFA’s Summer Institute under my belt. The Principal proceeded to get a law degree while sitting in his office ignoring the school. When we went to the Assistant Superintendent to report that the school was systematically cheating on the 3rd grade test (i.e., the third grade team met with the principal and APs, planned the cheating carefully, locked their doors and covered their windows and gave answers) she told the principal to watch his back. A few months later, inspectors came from the state. After observing our mostly horrible classes for a full day, they told us how wonderful we were doing and that they had just come down to see what they could replicate in other schools to produce scores like ours. And the list goes on and on.
Like when I asked the principal to bring in one of the district’s special education specialists to assess two of my lowest readers, both of whom had fewer than 25 sight-words (words they could recognize on paper) in the 3rd grade, he did. She proceeded to hand one of the students a list of words that the child couldn’t read and tell her to write them over again. Then she went to gossip with the Principal. After explaining to him in gory detail, IN FRONT OF THE STUDENT, that she had just been “dealing with a case where a father had jumped off a roof nearby and committed double-suicide with his 8 year old daughter in his arms”, she collected the sheet with no words on it, patted the child on the head and left. No IEP was filed nor was I allowed to pursue further action through official channels (I lobbied the mother extensively on my own). I never asked for her to come back to assess the other student.
Our Union Rep was said to have tried to push another teacher down a flight of stairs. The same Union Rep, while I was tutoring a child, cursed out a fellow teacher in the room next door at the top of her lungs so the child I was tutoring could hear every word. When I went to address her about it, the other teacher had to restrain the Rep as she threatened to physically attack me. And when the cheating allegations were finally take up by city investigators, the same Union Rep was sent to a cushy desk job in the district offices. I hear that most of the people I’m referencing here are long gone now, and some of them actually got pushed out of the system, but how rare can this story really be given the pitiful results we see from so many of our nation’s poorest schools and how far the system goes to protect horrible teachers and administrators like the ones I worked with?
At the same time as all of this was happening, by the way, the few good teachers in the building often became beaten down and disillusioned. One of the best in my building was consistenly punished for trying to make her corner of the school a better place for learning. They put her in a basement corner with no ventilation, no windows and nothing but a 6-foot-high cubicle-style partition separating her from the other 5 classrooms in the basement. After fighting the good fight she went to teach in the suburbs. When I got a financial firm to donate 20 computers, the principal said he didn’t have the resources to get them setup for use and refused to allow them into the school. When I had my students stage a writing campaign to get the vacant lot behind the building turned into a playground, the principal wanted me silenced.
The saddest thing about the whole damn mess was that our K-3 kids still REALLY WANTED TO LEARN. Every day they came eager for knowledge. And every day this cabal of cynicism, racism and laziness did everything within their powers to drain it out of them. It was unreal. Don’t get me wrong. There were some good teachers there. And some well meaning, but poor teachers. But in many classrooms, the main lesson learned was that school became something to dread, many adults thought you were capable of very little, and some adults couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger.
I hope if any of the good, hard-working teachers who fought so hard to rid the school of this mess read this, they’ll know I’m not lumping them in with the rest. But the problem was, when I addressed the worst practices in the school at a staff meeting, the bad teachers laughed and the good teachers took it the hardest and thought I was criticizing them.
Thanks again for the survey. Let’s make these stories known.


College Courses for High School Students: Bellevue, Washington

Bellevue College:

Running Start provides academically motivated students an opportunity to take college courses as part of their high school education.
Students may take just one class per quarter, or take all of their courses on the BC campus. If you are eligible for the program, you will earn both high school and college credit for the classes you take.
Classes taken on the college campus as part of the Running Start program are limited to “college level” courses (most classes numbered 100 or above qualify).
Tuition is paid for by the school district. Books, class related fees and transportation are the responsibility of the student.
Running Start was created by the Washington State Legislature in 1990 and is available at all community and technical colleges in the State of Washington.

Related: The ongoing battle: Credit for Non-MMSD Courses.

Online Education: Masters of Science in Engineering


The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (HSSEAS) at UCLA offers the Master of Science (M.S.) degree delivered On-Line, with the diploma designation “Master of Science in Engineering”.
Courses are now offered in 7 areas of study from 5 departments, with 2 new areas being introduced Fall 2009: Aerospace Engineering and Systems Engineering
The primary purpose of this Program is to enable employed engineers and computer scientists to enhance their technical education beyond the Bachelor of Science level and to enhance their value to the technical organizations in which they are employed. The training and education that the Master of Science in Engineering Program offers are of significant importance and usefulness to engineers, their employers, to California and to the nation. It is at the M.S. level that the engineer has the opportunity to learn a specialization in depth. It is at the M.S. level that those engineers with advanced degrees may also renew and update their knowledge of the technology advances that occur, and have been occurring, at a rapid rate.

Do You Know a High-Achieving Student Kept From College Because of Money?

Jay Matthews:

I try to stay away from the New York Review of Books. It is a trap for aimless readers like me. I may enjoy a piece on the last Khan of Mongolia. But that makes me want to sample a letter about derivatives or a review of what Titian thought of Tintoretto. Pretty soon it’s bedtime and I have forgotten to do important stuff like talk to my wife and watch “The Closer” on TNT.
Yet I couldn’t resist a piece in the May 14 issue by Columbia University humanities professor Andrew Delbanco about the sorry state of American higher education. In most respects, it was a splendid analysis of what ails our universities: bad investments, recession, elitism, etc. But on one crucial point he lost me. That was his conclusion that “a great many gifted and motivated young people are excluded from college for no other reason than their ability to pay, and we have failed seriously to confront the problem.”
I noticed he did not identify even one person to whom this had happened. Like many writers in the review, Delbanco was observing from the scholarly heights. His was a wide-angle view, full of national statistics and global analysis. That was one of the pleasures of reading the piece, to see all these issues in historical and social context.

WIBA’s Mitch Henck Discusses the Madison School District’s Budget with Don Severson

24MB mp3 audio file. Mitch and Don discuss the Madison School District’s $12M budget deficit, caused by a decline in redistributed tax dollars from the State of Wisconsin and generally flat enrollment. Topics include: Fund 80, health care costs, four year old kindergarten, staffing, property taxes (which may increase to make up for the reduced state tax dollar funding).
Madison School District Board President Arlene Silveira sent this message to local Alders Saturday:

Good afternoon,
Below is an update of the MMSD budget situation.
As you know, the biennial budget was signed into law at the end of June. The budget had numerous provisions that will effect the future of public education that include:

  • Repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO)
  • Decrease in funding for public education by the state of approximately $14720million
  • Decrease in the per pupil increase associated with revenue limits

The repeal of the QEO will potentially impact future settlements for salries and benefits. The decrease in funding for public education by the state creates the need for a tax increase conversation in order to sustain current programs. The decrease in the revenue limit formula will cause MMSD to face more reductions in programs and services for the next 2 years at a minimum.

  • Decrease in state aid: $9.2 million
  • Reduction in revenue: $2.8 million (decrease in the per pupil increase from $275 to $200/pupil)

Total decrease: projected to to be $12 million
Last May, the Madison Board of Education passed a preliminary 2009-10 budget that maintained programs and services with a modest property tax increase. The groundwork for our budget was laid last fall when the Board pledged our commitment to community partnership and the community responded by supporting a referendum that allowed us to exceed revenue caps to stabilize funding for our schools. Two months later, with programs and staff in place for next year, we find ourselves faced with State funding cuts far exceeding our worst fears.
We are in this position in part because Wisconsin’s school funding formulas are so complicated that the legislature and supporting agencies did not accurately predict the budget’s impact on school districts. State aid to Madison and many other districts was cut by 15%. In practical terms, coupled with additional State cuts of $2.8 million, MMSD is saddled with State budget reductions of $12 million this year.
This grim situation is a result of a poor economy, outdated information used by the legislature, and a Department of Public Instruction policy that penalizes the district for receiving one-time income (TIF closing in Madison). Federal stimulus funds will, at best, delay cuts for one year. We are left with a gaping budget deficit when many fiscal decisions for the upcoming school year cannot be reversed.
We are working on strategies and options and are looking carefully at the numbers to ensure our solutions do not create new problems. We will evaluate options for dealing with the budget in early August.
To repair our budget, we are working with legislators and the DPI to appeal decisions that have placed us in this position. We continue to look for changes in resource management to find additional cost reductions. We are seeking ways to offset the impact of school property tax increases if we need to increase our levy.
At the same time, we pledge that we will not pass the full cost of the cuts along as increased property taxes. We will not resort to massive layoffs of teachers and support staff, t he deadline having passed to legally reduce our staff under union contracts.
I will be back in touch after our August meeting when we have made decisions on our path forward.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Arlene Silveira
Madison Board of Education

Related: Sparks fly over Wisconsin Budget’s Labor Related Provisions.

Online classes: Convenient option or growing cash cow for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?

Erica Perez:

Students registering for fall classes this summer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will see a 30% increase in the number of online classes, but the convenience comes with a price: as much as $275 per course on top of regular tuition.

University officials say the increase is part of a strategy to boost enrollment and revenue by meeting a growing demand for the online format, which appeals to students who commute, work full time or have families.

But the move is also a way for UWM to pass more of its costs to students at a time when it faces a $20 million budget cut over the next two years that will be only partially offset by a tuition increase.

The trend toward online courses raises two key questions at a time when UWM students are registering for fall classes: Will the shift in scheduling mean more local students have to take the pricier online courses, and where does the money raised by the online fees go?

The pricing of online courses varies by college, but the fees particularly frustrate some undergraduates in the College of Letters and Science, which charges $275 above regular tuition for each online course.

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick’s part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.
Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

The Dad Who Holds Schools to the Rules

Emily Alpert:

David Page says the problem is that parents are on their own. Teachers have a union. So do principals. School board members get to vote plans up or down and top administrators make decisions in the salmon-pink offices of San Diego Unified.
But parents are often too intimidated to speak up or too star-struck with school staffers to question them, Page said. Education is a world loaded with its own numbing lingo — categorical funding, supplement not supplant, program improvement — and it seems overwhelming to understand it, let alone to fight it.
“They think, ‘They make six figures and they’re educated. Who am I to second guess them?'” Page said.
Yet Page has done just that. If parents at the poorer schools in San Diego Unified did have a union, he might be their leader, with all the fans and foes that entails. Seventeen years after the father of six first walked into a parents’ meeting at Ross Elementary in Kearny Mesa, unsure of his rights and unfamiliar with the jargon, Page has become a human encyclopedia on the rules that govern funds for disadvantaged kids and a dogged fighter for parents in communities sometimes left out of decisions.
He is one of the few parents across the state that jets to Sacramento for meetings of the state Board of Education, pores over complex regulations on education spending, and explains it all to befuddled parents at the school district committee that oversees funds for children in poverty, which he has led for six years. Page also leads the nonprofit California Association of Compensatory Education and sits on the board of the Family Area Network, which advises the state on parent involvement.

As More Charter Schools Unionize, Educators Debate the Effect

Sam Dillon:

Dissatisfied with long hours, churning turnover and, in some cases, lower pay than instructors at other public schools, an increasing number of teachers at charter schools are unionizing.
Labor organizing that began two years ago at seven charter schools in Florida has proliferated over the last year to at least a dozen more charters from Massachusetts and New York to California and Oregon.
Charter schools, which are publicly financed but managed by groups separate from school districts, have been a mainstay of the education reform movement and widely embraced by parents. Because most of the nation’s 4,600 charter schools operate without unions, they have been freer to innovate, their advocates say, allowing them to lengthen the class day, dismiss underperforming teachers at will, and experiment with merit pay and other changes that are often banned by work rules governing traditional public schools.
“Charter schools have been too successful for the unions to ignore,” said Elizabeth D. Purvis, executive director of the Chicago International Charter School, where teachers voted last month to unionize 3 of its 12 campuses.
President Obama has been especially assertive in championing charter schools. On Friday, he and the education secretary, Arne Duncan, announced a competition for $4.35 billion in federal financing for states that ease restrictions on charter schools and adopt some charter-like standards for other schools — like linking teacher pay to student achievement.

An innovative British special needs school is setting new standards

Brendan O’Malley:

One side of Heron Road, south London, is lined with grey-brick, bay-windowed Victorian terraced houses. The other is dominated by a strikingly modern building.
Michael Tippett School stands within a frame of timber pillars spanned by orange and maroon louvres, its walls are covered with slats of chestnut cladding and its eco-roof is topped with a thin carpet of mauve plants.
Many schools for children with severe and complex special needs are designed to protect the children from the outside world and seem to hide them away.
But through the front doors of Michael Tippett you can see the social hub of the school, a double-storey atrium, the garden and the undulating landscape of a small community park beyond.
Situated in a part of Lambeth borough that is dominated by vast regimented blocks of flats and crammed terraces, this generous entrance is a bold statement about the value put on educating the least able in the community.
“It has to do with dignity and respect for the people we work with,” said head Jan Stogdon. “The building reflects the ethos of the school.”
Michael Tippett is named after the British composer whose music celebrated the resilience of the human spirit in the face of oppression. The 70 pupils, aged 11 to 19, have their own daily struggles against the limitations of their own complex needs and severe or profound learning difficulties. Some have sight or hearing impairments, a number have gastrotomy tubes and others are at various points on the autistic spectrum.

‘Fast Forwarding to Designer Baby Era’

David Washburn:

Beyond the celebration of the 40-year-old lunar landing, the big science news this week came Thursday from a group of Chinese researchers who figured out how to grow healthy mice from mouse stem cells.
The breakthrough is a huge step for research into induced pluripotent, or iPS, stem cells, which is taking adult stem cells and converting them into embryonic stem cells. But the Chinese discovery is causing some to worry that we’re a lot closer to human cloning than we should be.
This story in Friday’s Los Angeles Times frames the debate well.

Can Wisconsin go from ‘ridiculous’ to ‘impressive’ in education?

Alan Borsuk:

Simply ridiculous.
If you wanted to gain good standing with some guy giving away a mountain of money, you would probably be alarmed if you heard him use that language publicly about you.
You’d have choices at that point. You could get upset and tell him to keep his stupid money. You could try to convince him that you weren’t ridiculous without really changing your ways. Or you could change your ways.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is that guy right now. Wisconsin is who he’s talking about. And it’s certainly clear that only the third option is going to please him. He wants change.
The immediate subject is $4.35 billion that Duncan and the education department will be awarding to states this year and next. Called the Race to the Top program, the goal is to help states that are leading the way in innovation and commitment to improving achievement, particularly among low-income and minority students.
President Barack Obama and Duncan on Friday unveiled proposed rules on how the money will be awarded. One of the firmest: “To be eligible under this program, a state must not have any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking student achievement or student growth data to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.”
Wisconsin is one of the few states that have such a rule, right there in state law.
Or, as Duncan put it in a New York Times interview: “Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why.”

So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

Cecilia Capuzzi Simon:

At 50, Paula Lopez Crespin doesn’t fit the Teach for America demographic of high-achieving college senior. The program rarely draws adults eligible for AARP membership. In fact, just 2 percent of recruits are over 30.
But what Ms. Crespin lacks in youth, she makes up for in optimism, idealism and what those in Teach for America call “relentless pursuit of results.” Ms. Crespin beat out tens of thousands of applicants to get where she is: fresh off her first year teaching math and science at Cole Arts and Science Academy in a gang-riddled section of Denver.
Many friends thought she was crazy to give up a career in banking for a $32,000 pay cut teaching in an urban elementary school. But the real insanity, Ms. Crespin insists, would have been remaining in a job she “just couldn’t stomach anymore,” and surrendering a dream of doing “something meaningful with my life.”
These days, crazy never looked so normal. Teaching has always been a top choice for a second career. Of the 60,000 new teachers hired last year, more than half came from another line of work, according to the National Center for Education Information. Most bypassed traditional teacher education (for career changers, a two-year master’s degree) for fast-track programs like Teach for America. But unemployment, actual or feared, is now causing professionals who dismissed teaching early on to think better of its security, flexibility (summers off, the chance to be home with children) and pension. Four of Ms. Crespin’s colleagues at Cole are career changers, ages 46 to 54, including a former information technology executive and a psychologist.

Teach for America
, the teacher-training program that has evolved into a Peace Corps alternative for a generation bred on public service, is highly competitive and becoming more so: this year, a record 35,178 applied — a 42 percent increase over 2008 — to fill 4,100 slots. Eleven percent of all new Ivy League graduates applied.

Sparks fly over Wisconsin budget’s labor-related provisions

Steven Walters & Stacy Forster:

As the dust settles around the new state budget, partisan disagreement continues over the boost that unions – particularly education unions – got by making it easier for them to sign up thousands of new members and by repealing the 3.8% annual limit on teachers’ pay raises.
The provisions passed because Democrats, who got control of the Legislature for the first time in 14 years, partnered with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to advance changes the governor and unions had been pushing for years.
Unions traditionally help elect Democratic politicians. The largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent about $2.1 million before last November’s elections, with much of that backing Democrats.
Most of the labor-related provisions in the budget were added to provide people with “good, family-supporting jobs,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), co-chairman of the Legislature’s Finance Committee.
“The idea that we’re shifting back to the worker, rather than just big business and management, that’s part of what Democrats are about,” Pocan said.
It also helped that the two top Democratic legislators, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Weston, are veteran labor leaders.
Sheridan is the former president of a Janesville union for General Motors; Decker was a union bricklayer when he was elected president of the Central Wisconsin Building Trades.
In a statement, Sheridan said Assembly Democrats focused on giving workers struggling through the recession “an opportunity to negotiate for better working circumstances or wages.” They also made sure the budget included tax breaks to help businesses create and protect jobs, he said.
Republican leaders say taxpayers will be the ultimate losers, when they must pay public employees higher wages and better benefits.
Republicans also say Doyle and Democratic legislative leaders approved the changes to thank unions for their campaign cash and endorsements before last November’s elections. The Democrats also are laying groundwork to win support heading into the 2010 elections, GOP lawmakers say.

One striking example of lobbying effectiveness during challenging economic times: the budget includes a change to arbitration rules between school districts and teacher unions:

To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to
revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.

This is obviously the kind of thing frequently seen in Washington…. It would be interesting to see the players (and money) behind this legislation. In related local news, the Madison School District and the local teacher union have yet to agree to a new contract. Perhaps this arbitration change plays a role in the process?

In the Future, the Cost of Education Will Be Zero

Josh Catone:

The average cost of yearly tuition at a private, four-year college in the US this year was $25,143, and for public schools, students could expect to pay $6,585 on average for the 2008-09 school year, according to the College Board. That was up 5.9% and 6.4% respectively over the previous year, which is well ahead of the national average rate of inflation. What that means is that for many people, college is out of reach financially. But what if social media tools would allow the cost of an education to drop nearly all the way down to zero?
Of course, quality education will always have costs involved — professors and other experts need to be compensated for their time and efforts, for example, and certain disciplines require expensive, specialized equipment to train students (i.e., you can’t learn to be a surgeon without access to an operating theater). However, social media can drastically reduce much of the overhead involved with higher education — such as administrative costs and even the campus itself — and open source or reusable and adaptive learning materials can drive costs down even further.
One vision for the school of the future comes from the United Nations. Founded this year by the UN’s Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID), the University of the People is a not-for-profit institution that aims to offer higher education opportunities to people who generally couldn’t afford it by leveraging social media technologies and ideas.

AYP scores too extreme say school authorities

Larry Bowers:

Cleveland Director of Schools Dr. Rick Denning emphasized today the criteria for graduation rates required by No Child Left Behind are “too extreme,” challenging high schools locally, across the state and across the nation.
Cleveland and Bradley County schools received their annual Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores for the past year this week and a majority of schools in the two local education systems are in “Good Standing.”
These annual scores, released by the Tennessee Department of Education, are based on information provided by the state on district and school-level achievement.
All Bradley County elementary schools, middle schools and Walker Valley High School received marks of “Good Standing” by meeting federal benchmarks as defined by No Child Left Behind.
Cleveland Middle School was removed from “Target Status” with improvements in Special Education Math, for which the school was listed “At Risk” two years ago.

Bill Gates: Tough US immigration stance a ‘huge mistake’; Seeks More exceptions for ‘smart people’

Austin Modine:

Bill Gates called US immigration restrictions a “huge mistake” while on tour of India today, urging America to open its golden doors for more “smart people.”
The Microsoft billionaire spoke out on US immigration at a software CEO forum Monday in New Deli while visiting the country to receive the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development.
“I have been speaking about some of the immigration restrictions that the US has got involved in, and they are terrible for the US and also terrible for the world,” India’s national newspaper The Hindu quotes Gates saying. “The US Congress is very tough on immigration, in general. And my position has been, well, that is unfortunate, but what about making an exception for smart people, people with engineering degrees and letting such people come in.”
Adding that Microsoft has always been against tougher immigration laws, Gates said stricter US policy would be a “huge mistake.”

GAO Sees Progress, Problems After D.C. Schools Takeove

Bill Turque:

The District’s struggling public school system has made significant progress during two years of mayoral control, but lack of planning and transparency has hindered some reforms, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported Thursday.
The report, requested by the Senate subcommittee that oversees District affairs, praised Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee for “bold steps” taken to close under-enrolled schools, improve test scores and develop teachers’ skills and methods of monitoring their performance.
But Cornelia M. Ashby, director of education and workforce issues for GAO, told the Senate subcommittee that “some false steps” had hampered efforts to transform the system, which serves 45,000 students in 128 schools.

Now, colleges pay students who defer school for service

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

Colleges are thinking creatively these days about linking two priorities for students: financial aid and public service.
While loan forgiveness for graduates who take service jobs has been common for years, what’s catching on now is the idea of rewarding up front students who defer college to help others.
More than 80 colleges and universities have started offering some matching grants for students who earn tuition assistance through AmeriCorps. At least 1,165 have signed on to match new government grants for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And Princeton University and Dickinson College recently created programs to support public service, expecting that these students will bring a unique dimension to campus after spending time off the education track.
“We’re seeing an upsurge nationally in the number of students looking for alternatives immediately following high school graduation – whether it be a ‘gap year,’ … a two-year community college, or digging deeply into a service or job commitment that will allow them to … define an interest,” says Stephanie Balmer, dean of admissions at Dickinson in Carlisle, Penn.

At Foothill, a college-level program for middle school students lagging in math

Jessie Mangaliman:

Maria Mendoza is hunkered over her math workbook, diligently copying a work sheet, “Adding 3 & 4 Digit Numbers.” She had copied it once already, and completed the problems. But there were two minor errors and the math teacher, Agnes Kaiser, had returned it to be done over.
Mendoza, 13, happily complied.
“Now I get it,” she said, satisfied.
Maria, who will be in eighth grade this fall at Graham Middle School, was one of 81 students from Mountain View in the four-week summer math program that ended Friday at Foothill College in Los Altos.
This is no ordinary summer math camp for students behind many grades in their learning of math. The curriculum used to teach Maria and other students is Math My Way, the program the college has been using successfully for years to teach intensive, remedial math to incoming community college students with elementary-level math skills. The camp was funded with a $77,000 grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, part of an initiative to close the education achievement gap, a learning disparity among different racial groups.

Pursuing an Academic Edge at Home

Joseph de Avila:

Kimberly Kauer was worried about her 6-year-old daughter’s math skills. Her school doesn’t assign homework, and Ms. Kauer wasn’t sure which math concepts her daughter fully understood.
To quell her fears, Ms. Kauer started her daughter on an online educational program for young children called DreamBox Learning. DreamBox uses interactive games to teach math and analyzes users’ progress as they complete lessons.
“It was really well-geared to her age,” says Ms. Kauer, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom in Emerald Hills, Calif. “They really tailored their questions to meet her needs.” After monitoring her daughter’s progress, Ms. Kauer concluded that her daughter was up to par for her age.
DreamBox is one of a number of companies, with names like SmartyCard, Brightstorm and Grockit, that are pitching a new generation of online educational products aimed at supplementing students’ education at home. The programs, which parents pay for by subscription, target learners from kindergartners to high-school seniors. The companies hope their interactive programs will draw students wanting to get ahead at a lower cost than hiring a professional tutor.

Charter schools need a shout-out in Madison action plans

Scott Milfred:

Yet try to find any mention of charter schools in the Madison School District’s new strategic plan and you’ll feel like you’re reading a “Where’s Waldo?” book. You almost need a magnifying lens to find the one fleeting reference in the entire 85-page document. And the words “charter school” are completely absent from the strategic plan’s lengthy and important calls for action.
It’s more evidence that much of liberal Madison clings to an outdated phobia of charter schools. And that attitude needs to change.
Nearly 10 percent of Wisconsin’s public schools are charters. That ranks Wisconsin among the top five states. Yet Madison is below the national average of 5 percent.
Charter schools are public schools free from many regulations to try new things. Parents also tend to have more say.
Yet charters are held accountable for achievement and can easily be shut down by sponsoring districts if they don’t produce results within a handful of years.
One well-known Madison charter school is Nuestro Mundo, meaning “Our World” in Spanish. It immerses kindergartners, no matter their native language, in Spanish. English is slowly added until, by fifth grade, all students are bilingual. My daughter attends Nuestro Mundo.
It was a battle to get this charter school approved. But Nuestro Mundo’s popularity and success have led the district to replicate its dual-language curriculum at a second school without a charter.
The School Board has shot down at least two charter school proposals in recent years, including one for a “Studio School” emphasizing arts and technology.
Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira told me Friday she supports adding charter schools to the district’s action plans in at least two places: under a call for more “innovative school structures,” and as part of a similar goal seeking heightened attention to “diverse learning styles.”

I agree. I believe that diffused governance, in other words a substantive move away from the current top down, largely “one size fits all” governance model within the Madison public schools is essential.


Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago
June 2009
Most of Chicago’s students drop out or fail. The vast majority of Chicago’s elementary
and high schools do not prepare their students for success in college and beyond.
There is a general perception that Chicago’s public schools have been gradually
improving over time. However, recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS
elementary students who meet standards on State assessments appear to be due to
changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real
improvements in student learning
At the elementary level, State assessment standards have been so weakened that most
of the 8th graders who “meet” these standards have little chance to succeed in high
school or to be ready for college
. While there has been modest improvement in real
student learning in Chicago’s elementary schools, these gains dissipate in high school.
The performance of Chicago’s high schools is abysmalwith about half the students
dropping out of the non-selective-enrollment schools, and more than 70% of 11th
grade students failing to meet State standards
. The trend has remained essentially flat
over the past several years. The relatively high-performing students are concentrated
in a few magnet/selective enrollment high schools. In the regular neighborhood high
schools, which serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are
prepared to succeed in college
In order to drive real improvement in CPS and fairly report performance to the public,
a credible source of information on student achievement is essential. Within CPS
today, no such source exists. CPS and the State should use rigorous national
standardized tests. Also, the Board of Education should designate an independent
auditor with responsibility for ensuring that published reports regarding student
achievement in CPS are accurate, timely and distributed to families and stakeholders
in an easily understood format.
Efforts to provide meaningful school choices to Chicago’s families must be aggressively
pursued–including expanding the number of charter and contract schools in
Chicago. Most of these schools outperform the traditional schools that their students
would otherwise have attended; and the choices that they offer parents will help spur
all schools in CPS to improve.

Politically Correct Speech at the Stanford Graduate School of Education

Jay Matthews:

Michele Kerr (she tells me it is pronounced “cur”) is a hard-working educator and Web surfer who is often mean to me. This is probably a good thing. When I post something stupid, Kerr–using her nom de Internet, “Cal Lanier“–is on me like my cat chasing a vole in the backyard.
Her acidic humor is so entertaining, however, and her command of the facts so complete, that I have come to look forward to her critiques. She tends to eviscerate me whenever I embrace anti-tracking or other progressive gospel preached in education schools these days, but I learn something each time.
I wish the supervisors of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) at that university’s School of Education had checked with me before they decided Kerr’s views and her blogging were inappropriate for a student in their program. They appeared to have decided her anti-progressive views were disrupting their classes, alienating other students and proving that she and Stanford were a bad fit. Kerr says they tried to stifle both her opinions and her blog, and threatened to withhold the Masters in Education she was working toward, based on their expressed fear that she was “unsuited for the practice of teaching.”
Kerr’s eventual triumph over such embarrassingly wrong-headed political correctness is a complicated story, but worth telling. In her struggle with STEP, she exposed serious problems in the way Stanford and, I suspect, other education schools, treat independent thinkers, particularly those who blog.
STEP retains the right to decide if a student is suited to teaching, and can deny even someone as smart and dedicated as Kerr, who has a splendid record as a tutor, a chance to work in the public schools.

Detroit’s Schools Are Going Bankrupt, Too

Paul Kersey & Michael Van Beek:

Am I optimistic that they can avoid it . . . ? I am not.” That’s what retired judge Ray Graves said this week when asked whether the Detroit public schools, which he is advising, would be forced into bankruptcy. Facing violence, a shrinking student body, and graduating just one out of every four students who enter the ninth grade on time, the city’s schools have been stumbling for years. Now they face a seemingly insurmountable deficit and are expected to file for bankruptcy protection at about the time that students should be settling down in a new school year.
As embarrassing as such a filing would be, it also may be the only thing that can force the kinds of changes Detroit schools need–as the financial turmoil is just the latest manifestation of a system in terminal decline.
Detroit is like many urban school districts–large, unwieldy and bureaucratic, with a powerful union that makes the system unable to adapt to changing circumstances and that until very recently had an indulgent political class that insulated it from reform. That insulation came in two forms. The first was neglect. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent several years distracted by a scandal stemming from his affair with a staffer. He resigned last year, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to four months in jail. Had he been an effective mayor, he might have also been a powerful advocate for students.

Private Schools as Charities: The war against fee-paying schools takes on new life

The Economist:

EVEN among left-wingers, few talk about banning independent schools nowadays. There are craftier ways of overhauling the education system to fight privilege. One of them hit the headlines this week when the Charity Commission published its first “public-benefit” assessment, including five private schools among its chosen charitable specimens. Two–Highfield Priory in Lancashire and S. Anselm’s in Derbyshire–failed the tough new requirement to show that they are helping the general public. The schools have a year to come up with a plan to get on track, or risk being taken over or closed down.
For centuries education has been considered a charitable activity, with no questions asked. In 2006 the rules were changed. Under the Charities Act of that year, schools are no longer entitled to the tax breaks that charitable status confers simply because they provide teaching. Instead, they have to demonstrate that they are actively benefiting the public. It has fallen to the regulator to interpret and apply the law: the commission says charities that charge fees, such as private schools, must ensure that “people in poverty” can use their services. The two schools that the commission flunked did not provide those who cannot afford the fees “sufficient opportunity to benefit”.

Encouraging Competitiveness: The fewer the competitors, the harder they try

The Economist:

WHAT relationship there is between the number of participants in a competition and the motivation of the competitors has long eluded researchers. Does the presence of a lot of rivals stimulate action or lead someone to give up hope? It is more than an academic question. Or, rather, it is a very academic question indeed, for it may affect the way that examinations are conducted if they are to be a fair test for all.
To investigate the matter two behavioural researchers, Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan and Avishalom Tor at the University of Haifa in Israel, looked at the results of the SAT university entrance examination in America in 2005. This test generates a score supposedly based on the test-taker’s verbal and analytical prowess.
The two researchers used data on the number of test-takers in each state of the union and the number of test-taking venues in that state to calculate the average number of test-takers per venue in the state in question. They found that test scores fell as the number of people in the examination hall increased. And they discovered that this pattern was also true for the Cognitive Reflection Test, another analytical exam.

California threatened with loss of funds if it doesn’t use test scores in evaluating teachers

Jason Felch & Jason Song:

U.S. education secretary is expected to withhold millions of dollars in education stimulus money if the state doesn’t comply with his demand.
California could lose out on millions of federal education dollars unless legislators change a law that prevents it from using student test scores to measure teachers’ performance, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is expected to announce in a speech today.
California has among the worst records of any state in collecting and using data to evaluate teachers and schools.
Moreover, a 2006 law that created a teacher database explicitly prohibited the use of student test scores to hold teachers accountable on a statewide basis, although it did not mention local districts.
Only a few of the state’s nearly 1,000 districts evaluate teachers by using their students’ scores, though a dozen more are considering such moves, according to state officials. Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest, does not grade teachers based on student performance.
Data-driven school reform is a major focus of the Obama administration’s education policies.

Obama to unveil $4 billion school improvement plan


President Barack Obama is set to announce on Friday a competition for $4 billion in federal grants to improve academic achievement in U.S. schools, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Obama wants states to use funds from the competition, dubbed the “Race to the Top,” to ease limits on so-called charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement and move toward common U.S. academic standards, the Post said.
Charter schools receive public funding but generally are exempt from some state or local rules and regulations. They are operated as an alternative to traditional public schools.
“What we’re saying here is, if you can’t decide to change these practices, we’re not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we’re not going to send those dollars there,” Obama told the Post in an interview.

Michael Shear and Nick Anderson have more.

A Research Article On “flexible grouping”

Via a kind reader’s email:

“States and Provinces and curricula around the world track students by age. This practice is so common that we do not think of it as tracking. With few exceptions, a six year old must go into first grade even if that six year old is not ready or was ready for the grade one year earlier” (Usiskin 98)
One of the many challenges facing schools is the decision on how to allocate students to classrooms. Research confirms the empirical observations of many parents and educators that students learn at greatly varying rates (Walberg 1988). These different learning rates are explained by (among other things) differing learning styles, aptitudes and levels of motivation (NECTL 1994). Unfortunately for visions of “equal outcomes,” due to differences in understanding, among other things, these differences in learning rates tend to increase as the child moves through the educational system (Arlin, 1984, P. 67). Given the wide variations in knowledge, motivation, and aptitude, schools must choose methods of allocating students to classes, and curriculum to classes and students.
Unfortunately, school administrators face not only conflicting messages in regard to the educational implications of various decisions, but significant pressure to base decisions either partly or mainly on nonacademic factors(1) (Oakes 1994 a, b and Hastings, 1992 for example). Hastings declares ability grouping to be wrong as a “philosophic absolute” and declares its use to be “totally unacceptable.” The National Education Commission on Time and Learning, on the other hand, labels the act of providing the same amount of learning time to students who need varying amounts “inherently unequal” (94). They state “If we provide all students with the same amount of instructional time, we virtually guarantee inequality of achievement” (emphasis in original). The Draft for “Standards 2000′ from the NCTM (NCTM 98) calls for increased equity by exposing all students, not just the elite, to challenging mathematics. There is no apparent awareness that many students do not find existing materials, whether consistent with the 1989 standards or not, challenging.

Proposed “Common Core Standards”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in partnership with Achieve, ACT and the College Board [10MB PDF]:

Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills. The NGA Center and CCSSO are coordinating the process to develop these standards and have created an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as the grade-by-grade standards. The college and career ready standards are expected to be completed in July 2009. The grade-by-grade standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009.

“>10MB Proposed standards pdf document.

An Apple for Your Teacher

Anne Marie Chaker:

It’s shaping up to be a grim year for the Spokane Public School district in Washington state. Like so many others, it is making deep cuts in everything from teaching staff to school supplies this coming school year. But there’s one bright spot for the district: The amount of federal dollars to incorporate technology in the classroom–and to train teachers to use it–is expected to double to about $160,000 from the previous year.
At the same time school districts around the nation are bracing for a round of severe belt-tightening as a result of strained state and local budgets, they’re also getting a significant bump in federal funding to make their classrooms more tech-savvy, which they hope will help improve student performance.
Students at North Carolina’s Greene Central High School use their school-issued laptops to collaborate on a social-studies project: Some school districts have seen increased funding for technology as staff and other programs are suffering substantial cuts.
The only problem: Districts are prohibited from using the money for any other purpose–which can mean that they have to cut staff and other programs while spending lavishly on computers.
The Enhancing Education Through Technology program was authorized in 2002 as part of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. But the level of funding steadily declined to $267.5 million in 2008 from $700.5 million six years earlier–a 62% drop. The economic-stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama in February restored $650 million in funding to the program, to be used over the course of the next two school years. States are expected to receive those funds this week to distribute to their school districts.

Weighing School Backpacks

Tara Parker-Pope:

Last year, my daughter’s school backpack got so heavy, she would sometimes just drag it behind her rather than hoist it onto her shoulders. Backpacks with wheels are too bulky for her locker, so next year I’m thinking about buying an extra set of textbooks to keep at home.
In its latest rating of the most durable school backpacks, Consumer Reports has conducted its own survey to determine how much weight kids are carrying as a result of overloaded packs. The researchers visited three New York City schools and weighed more than 50 children’s backpacks. They found that kids in the 2nd and 4th grades are carrying about 5 pounds worth of homework and books. But once kids reach the 6th grade, the homework load gets heavier. On average, 6th graders in the study were carrying backpacks weighting 18.4 pounds, although some backpacks weighed as much as 30 pounds.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight. Consumer Reports recommends keeping the weight closer to 10 percent of a child’s weight. But one Texas study found that most parents don’t check the weight of their child’s backpack. According to Consumer Reports:

Detroit Schools Official On State Of System


Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called Detroit’s schools a “national disgrace.” The system suffers from budget deficits, corruption and a falling student population. Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, the official who will decide whether the school system will file for bankruptcy protection by the end of the summer, discusses the financial state of the Detroit Public School system.

Kai Ryssdal interviews Detroit’s emergency financial manager Robert Bobb.

Cleveland schools planning more buildings in areas where enrollment is dropping, study shows

Thomas Ott:

The Cleveland school district continues to plan for new elementary schools in blighted neighborhoods where enrollment has plunged, threatening to chew up state construction money that could be used in more stable parts of town, an analysis shows.
Enrollment is dropping faster than projected in some neighborhoods, primarily on the East Side. If construction continues, taxpayers could wind up paying for more school space than is needed, according to a report released today by the Bond Accountability Commission. The group monitors the one-third local share of a $1.5 billion construction and renovation program.
The analysis by commission administrator James Darr assumes that more than 25 schools not scheduled for work will close. If the buildings remain open, the surplus of space will soar, he said.
Darr called on the district to promptly shrink or eliminate schools where necessary.

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update

On July 21, the Board unanimously approved the following components of the new strategic plan.

  • Mission
  • Beliefs
  • Parameters
  • Strategic Objectives

We have not yet approved any of the action plans.
New Mission: Our mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.
Strategic Objectives:

We will ensure that all students reach their highest potential and we will eliminate achievement gaps where they exist. To do this, we will prepare every student for kindergarten, raise the bar for all students, create meaningful student-adult relationships, and provide student-centered programs and supports that lead to prepared graduates.
To improve academic outcomes for all students and to ensure student engagement and student support, we will strengthen comprehensive curriculum, instruction and assessment systems in the District.
We will implement a formal system to support and inspire continuous development of effective teaching and leadership skills of all staff who serve to engage and support our diverse student body while furthering development of programs that target the recruitment and retention of staff members who reflect the cultural composition of our student body.
We will rigorously evaluate programs, services and personnel through a collaborative, data-driven process to prioritize and allocate resources effectively and equitably, and rigorously pursue the resources necessary to achieve our mission.
We will promote, encourage, and maintain systems of practice that will create safe and productive learning and work environments that will unify and strengthen our schools, programs, departments and services as well as the District as a whole.

Next steps:
We did not approve any action plans. We went around the table and listed our priority areas and the Administration will develop action plans to support those areas and bring them back to the Board in August. There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion around the action plans brought forward. We have structured our process this way to ensure we keep moving forward as the plan is Important for setting the future direction of the District.

School districts struggle to pay retirees’ health benefits

Bob Kelleher:

Some Minnesota school districts may have to go into debt to pay for the rising cost of health care for their retired employees.
Local Minnesota governments have until October to sell bonds — without a public referendum — to help pay for retired employees’ health care. But with the economy in the tank, some people are unhappy about paying higher property taxes to fund someone else’s health benefits.
The retirees’ health policy costs fall under something accountants call OPEB — Other than Pension Employee Benefits. OPEB obligations, especially for health care, are really starting to put the squeeze on school districts statewide.
“We’re actually paying for a larger number of retirees, from a pot that is generated by a smaller number of students,” said Robert Belluzzo, superintendent of the Hibbing school district.
In that district, $1 of every $5 of its budget goes to retiree benefits, primarily for health care. Meanwhile, Belluzzo says the retiree pool keeps growing.
“The number of retiree health insurance plans is more than the number of active insurance plans that we have,” said Belluzzo.

Are teenagers more business savvy than 40-year-olds?

Financial Times:

Don Williams
It is a rare joy to see such a stir caused by a document written by someone who resides in the real world and that isn’t based on ubiquitous, spurious statistics. It is terrifying that the glimpse of the bleeding obvious that is Matthew Robson’s report has senior executives going into meltdown. “Teenagers see adverts on websites as extremely annoying and pointless.” I’m gobsmacked! I thought we all went into rapture when screen infestations do their best to disrupt what you’re trying to do. Low price (or no price) seems to be critical to all aspects of teenage consumption . . . really? “Teenagers don’t use Twitter . . . tweets are pointless” – well actually, not just pointless, a smidgeon tragic unless you don’t have anything resembling a life. The near panic caused by Mr Robson beautifully demonstrates that industry is awash with people who try to impose old-world thinking, methods and tools on new-world technology and lifestyles. To make even basic decisions they surround themselves with reports, advisers, consultants and, scariest of all, research. The 15-year-old’s work proves there is a canyonesque gap in the market for a “common sense” consultancy.

Who Will Congress Put First? Children or Teachers Unions?; Testing Tactics Helped Fuel D.C. School Gains; Why Cory Booker Likes Being Mayor of Newark; No Ordinary Success; Gates Says He Is Outraged by Arrest at Cambridge Home

1 & 2 here
3) A wise comment in response to one of my recent emails:

Petrilli is right on the money – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard certain reformers denigrate “higher order thinking” and “problem solving” as just more union code words for an anti-accountability agenda. The problem is, when they insist that all that matters is basic skills and proficiency tests, they sound ridiculous to parents and teachers, and that limits their effectiveness. Basic skills, just because they’re easily tested, are NOT all that matter, and our pursuit of more and more accountability needs to not be accompanied by a dumbing down of the accountability systems so we can have an easier time measuring and can make an argument against those who inappropriately assert that everything is unmeasurable.

4) A great blog post following the recent death of Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes, who taught in NYC public schools for decades before becoming an author:

Frank McCourt was my English teacher in my senior year at Stuyvesant (class of ’74). He introduced us to African literature such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which sounded even more dramatic in his thick brogue.
When one student asked why we should read this book, what possible use would it be to us in our lives, he answered, “You will read it for the same reason your parents waste their money on your piano lessons. So you won’t be a boring little shyte the rest of your life.”
It was the most honest answer to such a question I ever heard from any teacher. Whenever the question came to my head about any subject thereafter I fondly remembered Mr. McCourt and resolved not to be a boring little shyte.


Aiming for College, Seeking an Edge

Letters to the NY Times Editor:

Re “Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In” (front page, July 19):
Reading this article made me extremely angry. I cannot believe that people have no shame in charging so much for college counseling. It’s too bad that we live in a society whose culture dictates such crazed behavior to get kids into certain schools.
The only necessary ingredients to get into a good school are passion, dedication and good old hard work. There is nothing magical about these counselors other than the spell they cast on bank accounts.
Students should find something, or several things, that they love and care about and work hard to become the best they can be. Kids have gotten into top colleges writing about buying milk, Barbies and, for me, my perseverance with piano. Study hard, maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay positive. That’s it.
S. Susan Zhu
Paris, July 19, 2009

For Difficult Kids, Choice Of Care Can Bring Rewards

Sue Shellenbarger:

Dorothy Flint knew soon after her son William was born that she had a difficult child. He cried often and nursed nonstop. He slept so poorly that Ms. Flint took him on midnight drives in the car to calm him. He had separation anxiety so severe that she rarely left him. “He was really a tough baby,” says the Crofton, Md., mother.
Later she found a silver lining. Ms. Flint took pains to choose an excellent child-care center for William, now 4, and he quickly surpassed other kids, sharing his toys and learning classroom rules. He wins praise from his teacher for his social skills. As high-maintenance as William was, Ms. Flint says, he has also been high-reward.
Working parents struggling with difficult children–marked by excessive crying, fussiness, emotional volatility, fear of strangers and clinginess–often worry about how they will fare in child care. Research has shown that sensitive, vulnerable kids can be at higher risk of problems later if they’re mistreated or face other adversity early.
But new studies are discovering an upside: these difficult babies also have a significantly higher chance of surpassing other kids later if placed in the right kind of child care. The findings offer new guidance for parents in predicting how child care is likely to affect a child.

Islamic schools seed fresh fears of terror

Farhan Bokhari:

As Pakistan basks in the praise of western officials over its offensive against Islamist militants, concerns are mounting that Islamic madrassa schools in the populous provinces of Sindh and Punjab may provide a beachhead for radicalism.
Security officials last year counted more than 560 madrassas in and around Karachi, the country’s largest city and financial centre and the capital of Sindh province, according to a report seen by the Financial Times. Schools in the report were noted for “training for arms and pupils sent to Afghanistan and Kashmir”, “famous for extremist teachings and armed students”, “arms on site” and “foreign armed students”.
Pervez Musharraf, then president, promised in 2002 to address links between Islamic schools and militant groups, but made little headway in establishing authority over the madrassas.
The schools have since been linked to terrorist incidents, such as the 2005 London bombings.
The Karachi madrassa schools “are in danger of becoming a watering hole for militants leaving places like Swat [the valley that was briefly controlled by the Taliban this year before the army launched an offensive to restore control] and seeking refuge if they can reach Karachi”, said a western diplomat.

Education 101: Taking charge of your child’s middle school education

Andrea Hermitt:

Middle School is where parents begin to lose touch with what is going in in their child’s education. The child is old enough to manage his or her own assignments, and also mature enough to suffer the consequences should they not follow through. There really is no need for the parent to continue to manage the students education, right? Wrong.
Middle school is also where students become more interested in having a social life and less interested in getting an education. Without the watchful eye of the parents, the student can begin a downhill spiral that the parents won’t be able to control.
Here are some things parents must do to take charge of a middle school child’s education:
Make your presence known in the school. Speak to teachers and administrators to find where they can use your talents within the school. Whether you have a job or not, make it a point to spend at least one day a month at the school, or perhaps a couple of long lunch breaks a month.

OP hopefuls meet for first time, critique Jim Doyle’s tenure, make their cases to be governor.

Marc Eisen & Charlie Sykes via a kind reader’s email:

Sykes: The Milwaukee Public Schools have been an educational and fiscal disaster for a long time. Is it time to blow up MPS? Is it time to consider a state takeover?
Walker: It’s time to do something dramatic. Whether or not it’s a state takeover–Tommy Thompson talked about that a decade ago. An alternative would be to break it up into smaller districts. When you start talking about anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 kids, it becomes very difficult for anybody to get their hands around it.
I would lift the lid entirely on school choice. I would allow schools throughout the county to [participate]. Take Thomas Moore, which has a very successful program, but can’t currently operate [as a choice school] because part of its property is in St. Francis. I would allow for expansion, and I would lift some of the limits on charter schools,
Neumann: There is dramatic change needed in education. What’s going on in policy in Madison right now is that more rules, regulations and red tape are being thrown at our choice and charter schools so that less and less dollars get to the classroom. They’re tying the hands of the innovative people in education. We need to expand the opportunity in choice and charter schools.

K-12 Wisconsin Tax & Spending Climate: A look at Wisconsin’s Economic Base

Thomas Hefty & John Torinus, Jr:

Our state motto is “Forward,” but Wisconsin is falling behind in the economic race to create jobs and raise family incomes.
As we’ll show here, Wisconsin is lagging its own economic performance of the 1990s and losing ground to other states–especially to other upper Midwest states like Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. It is even failing to meet its own goals–established in 1997 with much fanfare by a blue ribbon commission–for ramping up the state economy.
Although our political and media leaders ignore these failings, Wisconsin residents intuitively understand how our economic anemia has sapped their incomes and diminished their opportunities.
Since 2005, Wisconsin has experienced growing out-migration. Our citizens have voted with their feet, moving to states where they foresee a better future.
In the end, gauging economic success is really pretty simple for most people. Is Wisconsin gaining jobs? Are family incomes rising? Are wages increasing? In a word: No. Yet our state officials go out of their way (perhaps understandably) to emphasize the good news about Wisconsin business while ignoring the bad.
Consider how officials in the Doyle administration have massaged the unemployment rate to make Wisconsin job performance look better than it really is.

End tenure, improve teaching

John D. Marshall
Over the past 70 years, public education has been a catalyst for America’s rise to global leadership. Public schools are a gateway to opportunity for everyone and offer the best hope for lifting a child out of poverty, giving him an opportunity for a better life.
As conscientious citizens, we must invest significantly more time and resources in our public schools, and specifically in our best teachers. On most standardized and norm-referenced tests, American students score in the middle of the pack or worse, and far below the developed countries in Europe and Asia.
We read about increasing class sizes, reduction of teachers’ aides and extracurricular activities, elimination of special ed programs, and “virtual” education replacing the traditional classroom teacher — all as a result of the current economic downturn.
However, this recession may provide the leverage to make fundamental changes to our education system and specifically, to enhance the teaching profession, whose reputation has suffered for the past 30 years.
The most important factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher. Recent research indicates overwhelmingly that, with the exception of the family’s role, the capabilities of the classroom teacher are more important than any other school factor in a student’s learning. It is more important than class size, facilities, curriculum, the number of computers in a school, and per-pupil funding.
The difference in what students learn from a good teacher compared to a poor teacher is vast. We are better off having our child in a class of 25 with a great teacher than in a class of five with a mediocre teacher.
But how do we identify promising teacher candidates? It turns out that identifying the good teachers before they enter the field is surprisingly difficult. Research indicates that a college graduate’s grades, test scores, graduate degrees and teaching certifications have little predictive value in determining effectiveness. The many intangibles make it almost impossible to predict someone’s ability to connect with kids. In fact, many experts believe that teachers’ character, integrity and personality may be more important than their content knowledge.
However, what everyone in the field can agree on is that becoming a really good teacher takes time. And by the time the school system is able to determine who is a good teacher — and who is not — everyone in the profession has achieved tenure. This is a problem.

My Totally Unscientific Teacher Quality Survey

My survey:

Based on your experience working in a traditional public school serving primarily low-income and/or minority students, what percentage of the teachers you worked with were (the numbers in the three boxes must add up to 100):

  • Good/great (you would be happy to have your child in the class)
  • Fair, but improvement is possible (you would have reservations having your child in the class)
  • Horrible and unlikely to ever improve (you would NEVER permit your child to be in the class)

46 people responded and here were the results:
Good/great: 20%
Fair: 35%
Horrible: 45%
This is obviously a very skewed group of mostly TFA teachers in the worst schools, but nevertheless I’m shocked that the horrible number is so high. If this figure is even close to being right, then the problem is even bigger than I thought. I’ll have to think about the implications of this, but one obvious one is the enormous importance of changing union contracts (and other factors) that make it impossible to remove horrible teachers — and let’s be clear, everyone knows who they are. There may be some tough calls regarding whether to keep certain teachers in the “fair” category, but horrible ones who are unlikely to ever improve need to find another line of work — but, esp in this economy, they will fight to the death to keep their very nice jobs…
2) Here’s a comment from one person who responded to the survey:
Good/great: 50%
Fair: 30%
Horrible: 20%

I taught in NYC for 5 years, from 2002-2007; I taught 5th grade, all subjects, and I was not TFA, but was NYCTF. One quibble with your survey and its framing: I would not want my daughter in any classroom in my school, regardless of the teacher quality. The curriculum (Teacher’s College reading and writing; Everyday Math, virtually zero science, social studies, art and music) was either bad or nonexistent, and the social environment (harsh, chaotic) was not fit for any child. I agree that teacher quality is huge, but it’s not enough to overcome all other problems. Great schools are great schools when all or most of the moving parts (teachers, administrators, curriculum, accountability, environment, seriousness of purpose, parental involvement, et al) are working. Planes can fly if they lose an engine, even two. They can’t fly on one. At least not for very long.

Seat Assignment? Check. Student Playlist? Check. School of the Future? Check.

Jennifer Medina:

The seating arrangements are compared to airport traffic patterns. The student schedules are called playlists. And lesson plans are generated by a complicated computer algorithm for the 80 students in the class.
This could be the school of the future, according to the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who visited Middle School 131 in Chinatown on Tuesday to promote a pilot program called School of One.
The program, which is being held in a converted library, consists mainly of students working individually or in small groups on laptop computers to complete math lessons in the form of quizzes, games and worksheets. Each student must take a quiz at the end of every day, and the results are fed into a computer program to determine whether they will move on to a new topic the next day.
Mr. Klein said the program would allow learning in a way that no traditional classroom can, because it tailors each lesson to a student’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the child’s interests.
“The model we are using throughout the United States in kindergarten to 12th-grade education is fundamentally the same as it was 100 years ago,” Mr. Klein said.

New York City Comptroller Questions Graduation Statistics

Javier Hernandez:

he New York City comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., released a report on Tuesday suggesting that the city’s graduation rates were inflated, saying he had found instances where it appeared schools had wrongly changed student grades and improperly awarded credit.
But Mr. Thompson, a candidate for mayor, did not point to any conclusive evidence of manipulation, saying only that a lack of oversight coupled with intense pressure to push up graduation rates created the potential for abuse. And he acknowledged that, by and large, the schools examined in his audit were awarding diplomas only to students who had met graduation requirements.
Still, Mr. Thompson cautioned, the city was not monitoring students records scrupulously enough, and the record-keeping system was disorganized and prone to inaccuracy.
“The mayor’s managerial style has created an incentive for schools to graduate students whether or not they have met the requirements,” Mr. Thompson said at a news conference on Tuesday. “A New York City high school diploma is supposed to represent one standard.”

India makes education compulsory and free under landmark law

Dean Nelson:

The Indian parliament has passed a bill to provide universal, free and compulsory education for all children aged between six and 14.
The law, passed more than 60 years after India won independence, has been hailed by children’s rights campaigners and educationalists as a landmark in the country’s history.
India’s failure to fund universal education until now, and its focus on higher education, have been cited as factors in its low literacy rates. More than 35 per cent of Indians are illiterate, and more than 50 per cent of its female population cannot read.
Official figures record that 50 per cent of Indian children do not go to school, and that more than 50 per cent of those who do drop out before reaching class five at the age of 11 or 12.
Campaigners say children from poor families are often discouraged by parents who need them to work, while financial obstacles are put in the way of families who would like their children to be educated. Families are often deterred by the cost of school books and uniforms.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill will now guarantee 25 per cent of places in private schools are reserved for poor children, establish a three-year neighbourhood school-building programme, and end civil servants’ discretion in deciding which children will be given places.

Bill Gates: Better data mean better schools

Kathy Matheson:

The U.S. must improve its educational standing in the world by rewarding effective teaching and by developing better, universal measures of performance for students and teachers, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday.
Speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual legislative summit, Gates told hundreds of lawmakers how federal stimulus money should be used to spark educational innovation, spread best practices and improve accountability.
Gates, one of the world’s richest men, has been a longtime critic of American public schools and has used philanthropy to advocate for a better educational system.
U.S. schools lag their international counterparts because of “old beliefs and bad habits,” and it’s not clear how to get them back on track without uniform achievement standards, he said.

6 Lessons From Montgomery County Public Schools That Mostly Missed the Point

Jay Matthews:

If you don’t like Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, do not take the new book “Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools” to the beach for your summer reading. Your resulting heart attack will frighten other vacationers and bring sorrow to your family.
Still, for those of us who like Weast, or take a neutral stance toward the aggressive school leader, it is a fascinating read. The authors, Harvard Business School experts Stacey M. Childress and David A. Thomas and national business and education authority Denis P. Doyle, look at Montgomery’s remarkable success in raising student achievement as if they were analyzing Wal-Mart’s marketing triumphs. It is all about process. People who deal with this sort of stuff in their own jobs will be intrigued.
I, however, write about teachers, and I am not quite as thrilled with the book as the folks hanging around the business school’s soda machine might be. Let me take you through its key chapter, “Six Lessons from the Montgomery County Journey and a New Call to Action,” to show what I mean.
I pause here for a brief pep talk. Please, please read the summary titles of the six lessons below without giving up and moving over to John Kelly’s column. I realize that Kelly is always good, and these titles are almost impenetrable. But that is part of my point.

Just 3 new Milwaukee voucher schools approved

Alan Borsuk:

A board authorized by the state Legislature to control the entry of schools into Milwaukee’s controversial private school voucher program is beginning its life with a powerful statement that it will stop any school it doesn’t think is prepared to provide a quality education from getting off the ground.
The New Schools Approval Board, part of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, voted last week to give a green light to only three new voucher schools for this fall. Each of them involves an existing education program that has not received public voucher payments previously.
The board stopped 16 schools from opening, generally start-up operations that were on track to meet the requirements for opening that existed prior to this year.
Leaders of some of those organizations were angered by the decisions and say they will meet soon to consider further action, such as a lawsuit. The new state law provides no appeals process for decisions by the New Schools Approval Board.
Three schools will be the smallest number of new voucher participants in years. In the past five years, there have been between eight and 15 new schools in the voucher program each September. Combined with the closing of other schools, the total number of participating schools has stayed in the range of 120 to 125.

Singapore Math Workbook Only Purchase Discussion (No textbooks or teacher guides) at the Madison School Board

26MB mp3 audio file. Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole raised a number of questions regarding the purchase of $69K worth of Singapore Math Workbooks (using Federal tax dollars via “Title 1“) without textbooks or teacher’s guides at Monday evening’s Board Meeting. The purchase proceeded, via a 5-2 vote. Ed Hughes and Beth Moss supported the Administration’s request, along with three other board members.
Related Links:

The Madison Math Task Force Report [3.9MB PDF] found that local elementary school teachers used the following curricular materials (page 166):

What, if anything has the Math Task Force report addressed?

Parent-Paid Aides Ordered Out of New York City Schools

Winnie Hu:

For years, top Manhattan public schools have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from parents to independently hire assistants to help teachers with reading, writing, tying shoelaces or supervising recess. But after a complaint by the city’s powerful teachers union, the Bloomberg administration has ordered an end to the makeshift practice.
Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in official school budgets.
But such employees can command nearly double the pay of the independently hired assistants, and several schools on the Upper East Side either have told current employees they will probably not have jobs in the fall or have put off hiring new employees. That has incensed many parents, who see the aides less as a perk than as a necessity to cope with growing class sizes in well-regarded schools like the Lower Lab School for gifted children, where the average class size is now 28, and Public School 290, where broom closets are used as offices and the cafeteria doubles as a gym.
“The reason the teaching assistants are here is because they’ve been stuffing so many kids in these classes,” said Patrick J. Sullivan, co-president of the Parent-Teacher Association at the Lower Lab School (P.S. 77), where parents spend $250,000 a year on the teaching assistants. “Nobody wants to break any rules, but 28 is just too many kids for one teacher.”

Detroit Schools on the Brink Shrinking District Heads Toward Bankruptcy to Gain Control of Its Costs

Alex Kellogg:

Detroit’s public-school system, beset by massive deficits and widespread corruption, is on the brink of following local icons GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy court.
A decision on whether to file for protection under federal bankruptcy laws will be made by the end of summer, according to Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager. Such a filing would be unprecedented in the U.S. Although a few major urban school districts have come close, none has gone through with a bankruptcy, according to legal and education experts.
But in Detroit — where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan dubbed the school system a “national disgrace” this spring — lawmakers and bankruptcy experts see few alternatives, given the deep financial challenges confronting the district and the state.
“Am I optimistic that they can avoid it…? I am not,” says Ray Graves, a retired bankruptcy judge who has been advising Mr. Bobb in recent weeks.
As with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, bankruptcy may not be the worst thing for Detroit’s schools. A filing under Chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code, which covers public entities like school districts and municipalities, would allow the district to put major creditors such as textbook publishers, private bus operators and DTE Energy, the local gas-and-electric utility, in line for payment. It also would give Mr. Bobb broad latitude to tear up union contracts without protracted negotiations.
But a filing also could hurt the district’s debt rating and ability to float bonds.

Within you, without you

Harry Eyres:

Michel de Montaigne, inventor of the essay, could also be seen as the begetter of the contemporary curse of self-absorption. Montaigne (1533-1592) made a move, nearly five hundred years ago, that still seems modern and revolutionary. He reversed the whole direction of study, research, investigation; he turned the lens from the observed to the observer. “For many years now the target of my thoughts has been myself alone; I examine nothing, I study nothing, but me; and if I do study anything else, it is so as to apply it at once to myself, or more correctly, within myself.”
Now you could see this (like other French revolutions) as profoundly dangerous. You could blame Montaigne for the culture of narcissism, the world of endlessly proliferating self-help books, whose sheer number betrays a sense of desperation. Montaigne is indeed the patron saint of self-help books: “You should not blame me for publishing; what helps me can perhaps help someone else.”
Now go back to that first quotation, and pause on the subtle but all-important distinction Montaigne makes at the end of it. What is the difference between applying something to yourself and applying it within yourself? When you apply something to yourself, the two entities involved, the something and yourself, don’t really change; they may work in tandem for a while, but they can be decoupled. But when you apply something within yourself, that implies a profound transformation from within – a more organic, less violent and more permanent process, a silent but momentous shift in the whole machinery of the self.

In search of a modern-day Mozart

Richard Fairman:

The premiere of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan on December 26 1770, must have been a memorable occasion. Six hours long, the opera was an immediate hit, and its run extended to 21 performances. “Every evening the theatre is full, much to the astonishment of everyone,” the young composer wrote in a letter to his sister. “People say that since they have been in Milan they have never seen such crowds at a first opera.” Mozart was 14 at the time.
He is far from being the only teenage genius in musical history; a recent poll to decide music’s greatest prodigy in BBC Music Magazine didn’t even manage to place Mozart in the top 10. Mendelssohn, who was the winner, composed his brilliant Octet when he was just 16. In second place, Schubert set German song alight by penning “Gretchen am Spinnrade” at 17. Korngold, placed third, completed his sexually saturated opera Violanta at the same age.
More from Arts – Nov-24
Where are the equivalents to these prodigies today? There is plenty of evidence that young people are as busy composing as ever – the recent Channel 4 television series about 16-year-old British composer Alexander Prior will have alerted the world to that – but very few music-lovers are likely to be aware of them. Spend a year going to concerts in any cultural capital and it would be quite normal not to hear a note of music by a single composer as yet untroubled by middle-aged spread.
If there is one place where youth really has a hold, it is the BBC Proms. The 2009 season opens on Friday and promises the usual admirable spotlight on youth. Young audiences, teenage soloists, family days, youth orchestras all have their place. But what of young composers? Search through the season programme and the score here looks rather different. The youngest living composer in the main evening concerts is 28. There are only three others under 30 out of the 128 composers altogether. By that age Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Bizet had already turned out masterpieces by the armful (and, tragically, each only had a few more years to live).

Mayoral Control of Schools: The New Tyranny

Gerald Bracey:

Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on a “listening tour” where he’s done most of the talking. He advocates, repeatedly, that mayors should take control of urban schools. Obviously he cannot take an honest look at his own accomplishments under this governance system or–he’d have to shut up.
The usual rationale a mayoral power grab is it brings more accountability and a clear line of authority. School boards are generally elected in off years and few people vote, allowing special interest groups (usually education unions, some claim) to essentially rig the elections. School boards are fractious and try to micromanage. They are amateurs and prisoners of deeply rooted school bureaucracies.
But do mayors do better? Depends on how you feel about democracy. The Spring 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools, said that, as Daley’s man, Duncan “has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers.”
The most important corporate involvement involves the 132-year-old Commercial Club of Chicago. Yet that organization recently published Still Left Behind, slamming Chicago’s public schools as awful and that the reforms they’ve endured were designed to make the adults running the schools look good, not improve the lives of children. You could say the Club stabbed Arne in the back except that they did it upfront in the open, without once mentioning Duncan’s name. The Club report backs up its case with many data.

Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Democrat State Senator Mark Miller on the recent Budget

Christian Schneider @ WPRI:

Over the weekend, Democrat State Senator Mark Miller took to the airwaves to explain what happened. Here is Miller’s (albeit clumsy) explanation of why Madison area districts are taking a big hit in this budget, from the “Here and Now” show:
Now, the pages of this blog have not been very friendly to Miller and his cohorts during the budget process. But on this one, I think he’s getting a bad rap – and explaining why helps illustrate the constant struggle the state has with the school finance formula.
(CAUTION: What follows is an attempt at explaining school aids, and may be dreadfully boring. If it gets too bad, feel free to go over and read the Dogs With Mustaches blog and come back in 15 minutes.)
Let’s look at the purpose of the school aid equalization formula. As its name suggests, it exists to “equalize” the relative wealth of districts. The theory behind the formula is that kids in property poor districts should have access to the same resources as kids in property rich districts (like Madison), even if the local district doesn’t have the same property values on which to draw. Thus (and this is a substantial generalization), the state grants more money to property poor districts and less money to property rich districts.
(For a full explanation of the complexities of the school aid formula, take about four caffeine pills and read this.)
For example, take a school district like Peshtigo, with per pupil property values of $275,466. Peshtigo receives about 81.6% of their budget from the state. On the other end of the scale, the Madison Metropolitan School District boasts property values of $844,000 per student, and thus receive about 41.25% of their budget in state aid. (Since you were wondering, the Geneva J4 school district, with per pupil property values of $3.3 million, receive the lowest in state aid, at 16.9%. Beloit gets 85.1% of their budget paid for by the state, since apparently nobody there has discovered indoor plumbing.)

Related by Lucy Mathiak: Mark Miller “explains” how State budget isn’t all that bad

Pay bump for teachers with master’s degrees could be put to better use

The Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Debra Britt email:

Seattle, WA, July 20, 2009 — In this recessionary climate of depressed revenues and budget cuts for education, school districts across the U.S. “would be foolhardy” not to rethink paying teachers for master’s degrees, according to a new report out today.
“On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement,” say education researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in their short paper, Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master’s Degrees.
The brief was produced jointly by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.
“During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates such large sums of the average per-pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement,” say the authors.
In hard dollars, this means New York state spends an extra $416 per student (for a total of $1.121 billion a year) just because 78 percent of its teachers hold master’s degrees. In Washington state, the analogous numbers are $319 per pupil (or $330 million a year total) for the 56 percent of its teachers with a master’s. These expenditures, respectively, represent 2.78 percent and 3.30 percent of the total federal, state, and local money devoted to education in each state.
Roza and Miller chart these numbers for each state and suggest that the money now committed to the master’s bump in pay could be better spent, writing that: “Teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master’s degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else being equal. A master’s degree in engineering, for example, should be construed as evidence that a candidate possesses a deep understanding of a subject matter that is relevant to teaching mathematics or science.”


My Full Set of Questions on the Strategic Plan

First, thank you Jim Z for posting the responses to our questions. I should note that we did not get answers to ALL of our questions. I am uploading the PDF that I sent with my questions in case you are interested in the full set. I apologize for the size of the document – I took the PDF, added notes and highlighting where I was requesting answers, and saved only the pages that were marked up. There are 25 pages in all.
Also, I found the following text while looking for something on the web in my day job. I liked the formulation, so am passing it along:

To meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, our students need not only knowledge, but also the skills to use that knowledge, the responsibilities associated with using it and practice in the integration of that knowledge in new and complex ways.


How states like Illinois rig school tests to hype phony achievement

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

When President Obama chose Arne Duncan to lead the Education Department, he cited Mr. Duncan’s success as head of Chicago’s public school system from 2001 to 2008. But a new education study suggests that those academic gains aren’t what they seemed. The study also helps explain why big-city education reform is unlikely to occur without school choice.
Mr. Obama noted in December that “in just seven years, Arne’s boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38% of students meeting the standard to 67%” and that “the dropout rate has gone down every year he’s been in charge.” But according to “Still Left Behind,” a report [158K PDF] by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a majority of Chicago public school students still drop out or fail to graduate with their class. Moreover, “recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on state assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests . . . rather than real improvements in student learning.”
Our point here isn’t to pick on Mr. Duncan, but to illuminate the ease with which tests can give the illusion of achievement. Under the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, states must test annually in grades 3 through 8 and achieve 100% proficiency by 2014. But the law gives states wide latitude to craft their own exams and to define math and reading proficiency. So state tests vary widely in rigor, and some have lowered passing scores and made other changes that give a false impression of academic success.
The new Chicago report explains that most of the improvement in elementary test scores came after the Illinois Standards Achievement Test was altered in 2006 to comply with NCLB. “State and local school officials knew that the new test and procedures made it easier for students throughout the state — and throughout Chicago — to obtain higher marks,” says the report.

Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No.

Tom Friedman:

I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.
But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand. This week it was something very powerful. I watched Greg Mortenson, the famed author of “Three Cups of Tea,” open one of his schools for girls in this remote Afghan village in the Hindu Kush mountains. I must say, after witnessing the delight in the faces of those little Afghan girls crowded three to a desk waiting to learn, I found it very hard to write, “Let’s just get out of here.”
Indeed, Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the “war on terrorism” is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam — a war between religious zealots who glorify martyrdom and want to keep Islam untouched by modernity and isolated from other faiths, with its women disempowered, and those who want to embrace modernity, open Islam to new ideas and empower Muslim women as much as men. America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.

An unsentimental education

Christopher Caldwell:

Long before the US began shedding millions of jobs last year, American politicians were obsessed with retraining people cast off by the global economy. “The average worker will change jobs six or seven times in a lifetime,” Bill Clinton said in an address to the Cleveland City Club in 1994. That was not much help: how do you train people for tomorrow’s jobs if you do not know what tomorrow’s jobs will be?
President Barack Obama’s call for $12bn (£7.4bn, €8.5bn) of investment in “community colleges” is evidence that the flux Mr Clinton alluded to is ending. Community colleges offer a range of short-term credentialing courses along with two-year and four-year degrees. They are where you go to become a dental hygienist, a cyber-security expert, a nurse or a solar-energy technician. If job-specific training is making more sense, then the job market is probably growing more predictable. The economy may be in a terrible rut, but we are, to a degree, re-entering the world of stable, credentialed work.
Community colleges now accommodate half the nation’s undergraduates. Enrolment has leapt by a million students in the past decade, to more than 6m. Most are funded by individual states, which have had to cut their budgets even as demand for spaces has risen, and no one has picked up the slack. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that “community colleges receive less than one-third the level of federal support per full-time-equivalent student ($790) that public four-year colleges do ($2,600).”

Intern in the News: Matthew Robson

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

Two weeks ago, Mr Robson was pretty pleased at being one of half a dozen London schoolchildren to secure a work experience placement at Morgan Stanley’s Canary Wharf offices.
Such positions usually go to the friends and family members of well-connected bankers. In Mr Robson’s case, the networking was done by his whippet, Rudy, who dragged his mother into conversation with the wife of one of Morgan Stanley’s media analysts while both walked their dogs in Greenwich Park.
After a week of presentations by senior staff, the Kidbrooke comprehensive school pupil felt he had grasped the basics of banking, and was looking forward to a secondment to the European media research desk.
Many a teenage internship has been spent fetching Starbucks orders and being otherwise ignored. But Mr Robson struck lucky when Edward Hill-Wood, the head of the team, asked him to spend a few days pulling together an account of his friends’ media and communications habits. Mr Hill-Wood’s decision to publish the three- page report Mr Robson handed in has made the 15-year-old the world’s most famous intern since Monica Lewinsky.
The report made for stark reading for the bank’s clientele. His peers see advertising, the struggling sector’s congealing lifeblood, as “extremely annoying and pointless”. They “cannot be bothered” to read a newspaper, never buy CDs or use yellow pages directories, and generally try to avoid paying for anything other than concerts and cinema tickets.
While mobile phones are central to their social lives, the friends he canvassed (by text message) avoid expensive handsets for fear of losing them, do not use the mobile internet as it costs too much and prefer games consoles for free chat.

Madison School District Budget Update: Wisconsin K-12 State Budget Changes

Superintendent Dan Nerad [184K PDF]:

Every two years the State of Wisconsin goes through a process to finalize a two year budget for all governmental programs. This biennial budget process is the source of the State’s commitment to public education here in Wisconsin, historically driven by legislative guidance to adhere to two-thirds funding.
The two-thirds funding has changed over recent years, but for the most part the State of Wisconsin was able to continue annual increases to public education in an attempt to keep up with rising costs within this sector.
The biennial budget was sigued into law near the end of June by Governor Jim Doyle after various proposals and with relatively few vetoes. This budget has numerous provisions that will effect the future of public education that include:

  • Repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO)
  • Decrease in funding for public education by the state of approximately $147 million
  • Decrease in the per pupil increase associated with revenue limits

Each of these provisions can and Will have a very unique impact on :MMSD over the years to come. The repeal of the QEO will potentially impact future settlements for salaries and benefits. The decrease in funding for public education by the state is projected to create the need for a tax increase conversation in order to sustain current programs. The decrease in the revenue limit formula will cause MMSD to face more reductions in programs and services fur the next two years at a minimum.
Many public and private organizations are dealing with this issue. It is perhaps a time to make lemonade out of lemons. In the MMSD’s case, getting out of the curriculum creation business (teaching & learning) and placing a renewed focus on hiring the most qualified teachers and letting them run.

Arne Duncan Public School System has biggest black-white achievement gap in USA

Edward Hayes:

A phony interpretation of Chicago Public Schools’ academic progress isn’t the only beast threatening your local schools. For decades now, in every school district with a fireplug, a Walgreens, and a crooked alderman, the test scores of white children have been higher than those of black youngsters. The monster is called the achievement GAP. It slithers into your school even when the black and white students are sitting right next to each other in the same classroom. Furthermore, black middle-class students cannot escape its wrath because the GAP tracks them down even when their parents escape to the suburbs or move uptown.
Boring but important: The stupidly named National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) exams, administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education (whew!), reports that the national GAP has narrowed for 9 to 13 year olds in math and reading since 1978, but remains unchanged for the last ten years. But there are isolated pockets of small success where the gap narrowed a bit.
4th Grade Reading: Three states reduced the GAP (1990-2007) -Delaware, Florida, & New Jersey.

Are Obama and Duncan attacking teachers and local control?

Jesse ALred:

Since Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 victory, working familes have been the heart of the Democratic Party. Except for African-Americans, Obama did not win the party’s heart in his primary contest with Hillary Clinton. He won with the support of affluent social liberals, well-educated youthful volunteers and superior financial support from the corporate sector.
The public schools’ policies of President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan so far suggest this middle-class feeling that in spite of all his gifts Mr. Obama may lack the common touch or grounding in everyday reality may be right.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s agenda seems designed to alienate middle-class teachers and parents who depend on public schools. His school reform proposals lack a well-grounded sense of why schools fail. His agenda includes the following:

Proposed Madison Schools’ Strategic Plan: School Board Written Questions

Madison School Board 1.1MB PDF:

4) Curriculum Action Plan – Flexible Instruction (page 44)
Arlene Silveira Is “flexible Instruction” the latest term for differentiation or differentiated teaching/team teaching? If so, we have been doing this for a while in the district. Do we have any evaluation of how this is working?
Lucy Mathiak
Please define “flexible instruction (and in civilian terms vs. eduspeak, please).
Ed Hughes
To what extent, if at all, does the “flexible instruction” action plan contemplate less “pull out” instruction for special ed students?

Madison School District Administration’s response:

Flexible instruction is similar to other terms, such as differentiation and universal design. All of these terms mean that teachers begin with explicit standards and/or curricular goals for a unit or course. Teachers then design multiple ways to teach and multiple learning experiences for students for all core standards and/or curricular goals. Flexible instruction is best planned in teams composed of regular education, special education, and ESL teachers so that many aspects of diverse learners, including options for students abovelbelow grade level, are addressed in the original design of lessons. In classrooms with flexible instruction, various groups of students can work together, share and leam from each other even when the different groups of students might be working on slightly different types of experiences.
Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working, one of the highest priorities of teachers is the time to engage in this type of collaborative professional work.

The last paragraph states “Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working” gets to the heart of curricular issues raised by a number of board members, parents and those discussed in the recent outbound parent survey.
This document is a must read for all public school stakeholders. It provides a detailed window into School Board governance and the current state of our public school Administration.
Related Links:

UPDATE: Lucy Mathiak posted her full set of questions here.

Reading Strategies and Cargo Cult Science

Robert Pondiscio:

The idea that it’s enough to simply “find what works, adopt it, and spread it around,” notes scientist/blogger Allison over at Kitchen Table Math is an example of what physicist Richard Feynman called “Cargo Cult Science“:

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

“Cargo Cult education seems to be all the rage in lots of communities,” Allison notes. “Sure, districts could just start grabbing lessons from high performing schools but that won’t make the students suddenly read or write. Unless they understand what’s underneath the ‘lessons of the high performing school’ then it won’t matter.”

An unsentimental education

Christopher Caldwell:

Long before the US began shedding millions of jobs last year, American politicians were obsessed with retraining people cast off by the global economy. “The average worker will change jobs six or seven times in a lifetime,” Bill Clinton said in an address to the Cleveland City Club in 1994. That was not much help: how do you train people for tomorrow’s jobs if you do not know what tomorrow’s jobs will be?
President Barack Obama’s call for $12bn (£7.4bn, €8.5bn) of investment in “community colleges” is evidence that the flux Mr Clinton alluded to is ending. Community colleges offer a range of short-term credentialing courses along with two-year and four-year degrees. They are where you go to become a dental hygienist, a cyber-security expert, a nurse or a solar-energy technician. If job-specific training is making more sense, then the job market is probably growing more predictable. The economy may be in a terrible rut, but we are, to a degree, re-entering the world of stable, credentialed work.
Community colleges now accommodate half the nation’s undergraduates. Enrolment has leapt by a million students in the past decade, to more than 6m. Most are funded by individual states, which have had to cut their budgets even as demand for spaces has risen, and no one has picked up the slack. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that “community colleges receive less than one-third the level of federal support per full-time-equivalent student ($790) that public four-year colleges do ($2,600).”

Duncan to Principals: Release Your Inner Warrior!

Lesli Maxwell:

In his campaign for turning around the nation’s worst public schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning called for a cadre of “warrior principals.”
Speaking to principals from across the country, Mr. Duncan said that without strong leaders, any effort to dramatically transform the thousands of public schools that have failed for decades would be futile. He challenged the leaders to “take on the toughest job in America.”
“We need a team of warrior principals to leave the easier places and go into the most underserved communities with a chance to build a new team,” Mr. Duncan said to the roughly 350 principals who are in Washington this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals. Mr. Duncan said he would need to enlist about 1,000 principals a year, over the next five years.
The secretary has been pushing hard for turning around thousands of failing schools, and has already implored other groups of educators, including the charter school movement, to get involved in that work. Mr. Duncan also asked the principals to work on fixing the “broken” teacher evaluation system by developing evaluations that are “fair, thoughtful, but meaningful.”