The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another

Rebecca Cox:

They’re not the students strolling across the bucolic liberal arts campuses where their grandfathers played football. They are first-generation college students–children of immigrants and blue-collar workers–who know that their hopes for success hinge on a degree.
But college is expensive, unfamiliar, and intimidating. Inexperienced students expect tough classes and demanding, remote faculty. They may not know what an assignment means, what a score indicates, or that a single grade is not a definitive measure of ability. And they certainly don’t feel entitled to be there. They do not presume success, and if they have a problem, they don’t expect to receive help or even a second chance.
Rebecca D. Cox draws on five years of interviews and observations at community colleges. She shows how students and their instructors misunderstand and ultimately fail one another, despite good intentions. Most memorably, she describes how easily students can feel defeated–by their real-world responsibilities and by the demands of college–and come to conclude that they just don’t belong there after all.
Eye-opening even for experienced faculty and administrators, The College Fear Factor reveals how the traditional college culture can actually pose obstacles to students’ success, and suggests strategies for effectively explaining academic expectations.

Charter schools: Two studies, two conclusions

Nick Anderson:

As President Obama pushes for more charter schools, the education world craves a report card on an experiment nearly two decades old. How are these independent public schools doing? The safest and perhaps most accurate reply — it depends — leaves many unsatisfied.
This year, two major studies offer contradictory conclusions on a movement that now counts more than 5,000 charter schools nationwide, including dozens in the District and Maryland and a handful in Virginia.
Margaret Raymond, director of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, reported in June that most charter schools deliver academic results that are worse or no better than student accomplishments in regular public schools. She relied on test data from 15 states (not including Maryland or Virginia) and the District.
Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economist, reported in September that charter school students are making much more progress than peers who sought entry to those schools by lottery but were turned down. She drew on test data from New York City.

“Helping Parents Better Understand Public Education”

Brittany Brown:

Parents for Public Schools is recruiting Pine Belt parents to attend a free, two-day leadership institute this spring designed to help parents better understand public education.
“Most of the time, they do not understand the language or acronyms used in education,” said Victoria Peters, a parent coach with the organization who works in the Pine Belt.
“We know parents have something to say, but the reason we don’t hear them is because they don’t know what to say to give feedback.”
The institute is sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, a national organization based in Jackson that promotes parent involvement and leadership in schools. It will be held Feb. 26-27, March 26-27 and April 16-17 at the Hilton in Jackson. The deadline to apply is Dec. 14.
Peters said 30 parents will be selected to attend a variety of interactive workshops and breakout sessions.
“We want a diverse group of parents,” she said.


Plano Schools’ Boundary Changes

Matthew Haag:

The redrawing of school attendance zones usually upsets some parents, but a set of proposed changes in the Plano school district triggered a war of words the likes of which the district hadn’t seen in years.
Parents not only lambasted the proposed changes, but they also turned on one another, accusing opponents of selfishly thinking only about their own children.
“This school-vs.-school and neighborhood-vs.-neighborhood thing saddened me,” trustee Brad Shanklin said at a board meeting this month.
District officials recently put forth a new set of changes partly designed to quell the anger. And they will find out Tuesday whether they have succeeded.
That’s when residents will have a chance to speak publicly about the latest proposal. The district will host a similar meeting the next night in Spanish. School board members are expected to vote on the boundary changes Dec. 15.
New boundaries are needed to balance student enrollment across Plano ISD after more families moved into the district’s eastern side.

Presentations on the proposed boundary changes: School Board 2.8MB PDF / Staff 1.7MB PDF.

Report finds wide disparities in gifted education


When Liz Fitzgerald realized her son and daughter were forced to read books in math class while the other children caught up, she had them moved into gifted classes at their suburban elementary school.
Just 100 miles down the road in Taliaferro County, that wouldn’t have been an option. All the gifted classes were canceled because of budget cuts.
Such disparities exist in every state, according to a new report by the National Association for Gifted Children that blames low federal funding and a focus on low-performing students.
The report, “State of the States in Gifted Education,” hits at a basic element of the federal government’s focus on education: Most of its money and effort goes into helping low-performing, poor and minority students achieve basic proficiency. It largely ignores the idea of helping gifted kids reach their highest potential, leaving those tasks to states and local school districts.

The masters of education With the Gates Foundation grant in hand, Memphis City Schools will funnel incentives to develop the best and brightest teachers and seed the system with role models

Jane Roberts:

Kimberly Hamilton arrives and leaves work in the dark so often, custodians at Winchester Elementary School are on alert not to lock her in or out.
“If I leave at 5 o’clock, someone’s putting a hand to my forehead to see if I have a fever,” she says, laughing at the absurdity, but serious about the hours it takes to move children from barely proficient to mastery.
She teaches her third-graders to get along with others, be good citizens, live in a violent society and dream for the future.
The $90 million grant the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded this month to Memphis City Schools to improve the effectiveness of its teachers offers Hamilton the biggest one-time raise she could ever hope for in public education, going from the $49,000 she earned last year to the $75,000 base pay proposed for the district’s most talented teachers.

Sorry, wisdom’s gone on furlough

David Shapiro:

There’s more drama than learning in local education as we “flASHback” on the week’s news that amused and confused:
• The Board of Education and teachers union question whether $50 million offered by Gov. Linda Lingle is enough to reopen public schools on “furlough Fridays.” That’s the old “no can do” spirit that made our schools what they are.
• U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is sending an aide to Hawai’i to meet state education leaders and visit schools. If he wants to visit on Friday, it’ll cost him $160 million to open the doors.
• Kids from lower-income families may lose out on preschool because of state plans to quadruple costs. They’ve left behind as many K-12 children as they can, so they’re moving down to the nursery schools.

The one-child policy has outlived its usefulness

South China Morning Post:

The mainland’s one-child policy has helped prevent a population explosion. This has been crucial amid the nation’s poverty relief efforts, rapid urbanisation and phenomenal economic growth. But it is a social policy soaked in blood.
By creating a gender imbalance that has produced an estimated 38 million more males since 1980, Nankai University population researcher Yuan Xin has observed that statistically, this must translate into a comparable loss in the number of females. The females are believed to have been lost either through abortion or killing after birth. The heavy price China will pay for this draconian policy will become increasingly apparent in coming years.
News headlines often focus on the dangers a male-heavy population pose to China. Experience from around the world has shown how frustrated young men are more prone to radical politics; they also contribute to higher crime rates. With no family to rely on in their old age, they become a heavy burden on social security.
But the toll on females is even heavier. A meticulous demographic study produced on the mainland in 1990 estimated that about 39,000 baby girls died annually because parents did not give them the same medical care and attention that boys received. And that was only in the first year of life. There is scant evidence that the situation has improved in the intervening two decades. A male-dominated culture has long favoured boys over girls, but the one-child policy has simply exacerbated the gender imbalance.

New York City’s Schools Share Space, And Bitterness, With Charters

Jennifer Medina:

Suzanne Tecza had spent a year redesigning the library at Middle School 126 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including colorful new furniture and elaborate murals of leafy trees. So when her principal decided this year to give the space to the charter high schools that share the building, Ms. Tecza was furious.
“It’s not fair to our students,” she said of the decision, which gives the charter students access to the room for most of the day. “It’s depriving them of a fully functioning library, something they deserve.”
In Red Hook, Brooklyn, teachers at Public School 15 said they avoid walking their students past rooms being used by the PAVE Academy Charter School, fearing that they will envy those students for their sparkling-clean classrooms and computers. On the Lower East Side, the Girls Preparatory Charter School was forced to turn away 50 students it had hoped to accept because it was unable to find more room in the Public School 188 building.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has made charter schools one of his third-term priorities, and that means that in New York, battles and resentment over space — already a way of life — will become even more common. He and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have allowed nearly two-thirds of the city’s 99 charter schools to move into public school buildings, officials expect two dozen charter schools to open next fall, and the mayor has said he will push the Legislature to allow him to add 100 more in the next four years.

Value-Added Education in the Race to the Top

David Davenport:

Bill Clinton may have invented triangulation – the art of finding a “third way” out of a policy dilemma – but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is practicing it to make desperately needed improvements in K-12 education. Unfortunately, his promotion of value-added education through “Race to the Top” grants to states could be thrown under the bus by powerful teachers’ unions that view reforms more for how they affect pay and job security than whether they improve student learning.
The traditional view of education holds that it is more process than product. Educators design a process, hire teachers and administrators to run it, put students through it and consider it a success. The focus is on the inputs – how much can we spend, what curriculum shall we use, what class size is best – with very little on measuring outputs, whether students actually learn. The popular surveys of America’s best schools and colleges reinforce this, measuring resources and reputation, not results. As they say, Harvard University has good graduates because it admits strong applicants, not necessarily because of what happens in the educational process.
In the last decade, the federal No Child Left Behind program has ushered in a new era of testing and accountability, seeking to shift the focus to outcomes. But this more businesslike approach does not always fit a people-centered field such as education. Some students test well, and others do not. Some schools serve a disproportionately high number of students who are not well prepared. Even in good schools, a system driven by testing and accountability incentivizes teaching to the test, neglecting other important and interesting ways to engage and educate students. As a result, policymakers and educators have been ambivalent, at best, about the No Child Left Behind regime.

Value Added Assessment” is underway in Madison, though the work is based in the oft-criticized state WKCE examinations.

Making the Home-School Connection

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools will spend some $4 million in federal stimulus money over two years to support a major parental involvement program in 35 schools
First of four parts
Lennise Crampton, a 40-year-old Milwaukee mother of eight, sometimes wonders how her children would have performed in school if she’d known how to be a better parent from the start.
A single mother until she married this year, Crampton usually managed decent meals and clothing and getting her kids to class. It was up to the school, she thought, to handle the education part.
Then in December of 2005, a representative from Lloyd Street School marched up to Crampton’s door and asked her to participate in a program that improves relationships between teachers, schools and families.
Crampton started coming to weekly meetings at Lloyd, where her two youngest attended. She learned about training she could get as a low-income parent. She learned how to engage in her children’s academics at home and how to advocate for their needs at school.
“These little ones get the best of the best now,” she said. “If it applies to my children’s academics, I’m on it.”

Job prospects drawing agriculture students

David Mercer:

Tristesse Jones will probably never drive a tractor or guide a combine through rows of soybeans at harvest time.
There isn’t a farm within miles of where she grew up on Chicago’s west side, but she’s set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in crop sciences from the University of Illinois’ agriculture school next spring.
“People ask me what is my major, and they say ‘What is that? So you want to grow plants?’ ” Jones said.
She is one of a growing number of students being drawn to ag schools around the country not by ties to a farm but by science, the job prospects for those who are good at it and, for some, an interest in the environment.
Enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture across the country grew by 21.8 percent from 2005 to 2008, from about 58,300 students to nearly 71,000, according to surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the numbers are likely higher – not all schools respond to the surveys.

Over-Punishment in Schools

New York Times Editorial:

New York City joined a national trend in 1998 when it put the police in charge of school security. The consensus is that public schools are now safe. But juvenile justice advocates across the country are rightly worried about policies under which children are sometimes arrested and criminalized for behavior that once was dealt with by principals or guidance counselors working with a student’s parents.
Children who are singled out for arrest and suspension are at greater risk of dropping out and becoming permanently entangled with the criminal justice system. It is especially troubling that these children tend to be disproportionately black and Hispanic, and often have emotional problems or learning disabilities.
School officials in several cities have identified overpolicing as a problem in itself. The New York City Council has taken a first cut at the problem by drafting a bill, the Student Safety Act, that would bring badly needed accountability and transparency to the issue.
The draft bill would require police and education officials to file regular reports that would show how suspensions and other sanctions affect minority children, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Detailed reports from the Police Department would show which students were arrested or issued summonses and why, so that lawmakers could get a sense of where overpolicing might be a problem.

Pilot program adds finance to school curriculum

Jonathan Tamari:

With New Jersey high schools already facing a new mandate to teach students financial literacy, at least six school districts will be able to participate in a pilot program that establishes a class on the topic for seniors.
The state Department of Education in June added economics and financial literacy instruction to the state’s high school graduation requirements.
At the same time, a bill working its way through the Legislature aimed to create a financial literacy pilot program, establishing a course on the subject in six districts. Those schools would receive advice and support from the state in establishing those classes.
Gov. Corzine signed the pilot-program bill on Nov. 20. The program, which will set up courses for high school seniors, will cover topics such as budgeting, savings and investment, and credit-card debt.
“So many young New Jerseyans find out all too late that living in a credit-card culture carries a price,” said Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the law’s sponsors.

I would hope that essential financial calculations would be covered in Math class.

Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science

Trine Tsouderos & Patricia Callahan:

James Coman’s son has an unusual skill. The 7-year-old, his father says, can swallow six pills at once.
Diagnosed with autism as a toddler, the Chicago boy had been placed on an intense regimen of supplements and medications aimed at treating the disorder.
Besides taking many pills, the boy was injected with vitamin B12 and received intravenous infusions of a drug used to leach mercury and other metals from the body. He took megadoses of vitamin C, a hormone and a drug that suppresses testosterone.
This complex treatment regimen — documented in court records as part of a bitter custody battle between Coman, who opposes the therapies, and his wife — may sound unusual, but it isn’t.
Thousands of U.S. children undergo these therapies and many more at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat, or “recover,” children with autism, a disorder most physicians and scientists say they cannot yet explain or cure.

Lodi’s Internation Education Week broadens students’ horizons

Pamela Cotant:

When Max Love attended the annual International Education Week at Lodi High School as a student there, it fueled his interest in global learning and led to his desire to serve in the Peace Corps in Eastern Europe.
A 2009 Lodi High School graduate, he returned to the event this year as a guest speaker on multicultural and international education. Now a UW-Madison student in Middle Eastern studies, he received a scholarship to study Arabic and wanted to let students know about the opportunities that exist.
“It’s immeasurable,” said Love about the effect of International Education Week.
It’s the fourth year of the event, which just concluded after featuring more than 35 speakers from around the world, an international film festival, international cuisine, an Indian dance troupe and other activities.

Milwaukee School Choice Shapes Educational Landscape

Alan Borsuk:

Time for a status report on all the different ways Milwaukee children can use public money to pay for their kindergarten through 12th grade education:

  • Private school voucher program enrollment: Up almost 5% from a year ago, just as it has been up every year for more than a decade.
  • City kids going to suburban public schools using the state’s “open enrollment” law: Up almost 11%, just as it has been up every year for about a decade.
  • Enrollment in charter schools given permission to operate by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Milwaukee’s City Hall: Up more than 19% and up substantially from a few years ago.
  • Enrollment of minority students from the city into suburban schools using the state’s voluntary racial desegregation law, known as Chapter 220: Up almost 5%, although the long-term trend has been downward.
  • Enrollment in what you can think of as the conventional Milwaukee Public Schools system: Down, but by less than 1%, which is better than other recent years. Mainstream MPS enrollment has been slipping every year and went under 80,000 a year ago for the first time in many years.

With all the controversy in recent months around whether to overhaul the way MPS is run, the half dozen other routes that Milwaukee children have for getting publicly funded education have been almost entirely out of the spotlight. But Milwaukee remains a place where the term “school choice” shapes the educational landscape in hugely important ways.
How important?

Servant to Schoolgirl

David Pilling:

It was during the 1999 Maghi festival, whose revelries grip western Nepal in mid-January each year, that Asha Tharu’s parents sold her. Asha, who was then five years old, fetched $40. In return for the money, Asha was sent to work for a year as a bonded labourer at the house of her new owner in Gularia, a town near her village of Khairapur.
“I had to get up very early and I had to clean the pots, clean the rooms and wash the clothes,” recalls Asha, now a bright 15-year-old. “I worked all day and I didn’t get enough sleep.”
I have come along jolting, unmade roads from Nepalgunj in western Nepal to meet Asha at her sister-in-law’s hut, a rather beautiful dwelling of unbaked mustard-yellow bricks, more African in appearance than Asian. In the main living area are two large, exquisitely fashioned mud urns built into the walls for storing rice. In the unfurnished room where the family sleeps, Asha sits on the dirt floor and tells me about her new life. She says she is happy in school and that, on the weekends, she works in a brick factory, earning $1.30 for an eight-hour shift. That is enough to buy rice and to help her elder sister pay for school.
More than anything, Asha remembers the petty slights she endured during her eight years of servitude, which ended last year when her “master” agreed to release her. “They would give me scraps. I used to feel very hurt by that, receiving the left-overs of guests or the elder family,” she says, glancing occasionally at the dusty ground outside the mud hut where she now lives. “Sometimes I’d get rotten food, or half-stomach food, not enough to stop my hunger,” she says. “They would hit me or shout at me if I dared complain.”

New Jersey teachers’ union’s ‘Electile Dysfunction’ for Corzine explained

An interesting document found its way to my inbox over the weekend. It was a PowerPoint presentation of an analysis done by the New Jersey Education Association, regarding its efforts to re-elect Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.
The document can be found at
Citing “Electile Dysfunction,” meaning the polls were telling them that voters, including teachers, weren’t as enthusiastic about Corzine as they would like, the union’s Director of Government Relations, Ginger Gold Schnitzer, proposed a double-dose remedy: “A robust member-to-member campaign,” followed by “an independent communications campaign to inoculate the public.”
The first dose of the union’s plan was to appeal to its members. The radical community organizer Saul Alinsky taught the NEA that the trick to “organizing people is to appeal to their self-interest.” Thus, the union promoted Corzine’s pro-union “accomplishments,” like investing $3 billion into public pensions, increasing school funding, increasing school construction, expanded pre-kindergarten programs, opposition to vouchers, and free medical benefits for teacher for life.
Oddly, the union didn’t cite any accomplishment that actually helped students.

A pdf of the powerpoint presentation can be viewed here.

Networked Learners

Lee Rainie:

In the opening keynote, “Networked Learners,” Lee Rainie will discuss the latest findings of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project about how teenagers and young adults have embraced technology of all kinds — including broadband, cell phones, gaming devices and MP3 players. He will describe how technology has affected the way “digital natives” search for, gather and act on information.
The 2009 MVU Online Learning Symposium will explore how young people are using new media and communication tools to build social networks, create content and learn from their peers. This new environment has significant implications for learning and teaching, and it creates new challenges for students, parents, educators and policy makers.
New this year: The 2009 symposium is being offered in an alternative live Web-accessible format for those who cannot attend in person. Online attendees will see, via Mediasite simulcast, both keynotes, the closing panel discussion and three breakout sessions.

Calvert high school turns them lose at lunch

Jenna Johnson:

It’s lunchtime at Patuxent High School in Southern Maryland, but it looks and sounds more like recess.
Students lounge in hallways and classrooms with sack lunches and trays of food. They play Frisbee, get dating advice from teachers, hold club meetings, cram for afternoon quizzes, play video games or catch up on sleep.
Two years ago, Patuxent Principal Nancy Highsmith released students from the confines of the cafeteria and replaced the multiple 30-minute lunch periods with one hour-long, schoolwide lunch. With some creative scheduling class time has remained the same, she said, and the middle-of-the-day burst of freedom has increased club participation, taught time management skills and given stressed-out students time to chill.
But there’s an ulterior motive: raising test scores, grades and graduation rates.

School district negotiations with teachers moving slowly

Tom Weber:

School districts across Minnesota are agreeing to terms with teachers at a slower pace than during the last contract cycle.
State law requires every Minnesota school district to be on the same schedule for teachers contracts. The next contract deadline is January 15th, about seven weeks away.
Tom Dooher, president of the Education Minnesota teachers’ union, said 61 of the state’s 339 districts have reached agreements. At this time two years ago, 82 districts had deals in place. Dooher said the bad economy and uncertain state funding are slowing the pace.
“The teachers are very sensitive to the economy and understand,” Dooher said. “Each locality is different; they’ve got a little different amount of money. So I think the locals are very aware of that and they’re just trying to get a fair and equitable settlement. I don’t think they’re asking for anything outrageous, from what I’ve seen.”
Even with the economy, Dooher said all contracts approved so far either keep salaries flat or include increases – none have included salary cuts.

Michigan public schools could seek regional taxes

Dawson Bell:

Michigan public schools in financial straits and failing to make headway in their efforts to wring more revenue out of Lansing could consider this idea: asking local voters to approve a school operating millage.
Although seldom sought since voters approved the statewide school funding overhaul called Proposal A in 1994, public schools can legally seek more money from local property owners if they do so collectively. The limit they can ask for is 3 mills ($1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value), levied across an intermediate or regional school district. In most instances, that means countywide.
The reason that few so-called enhancement-millage elections have been held since ’94 is that getting countywide approval for a tax hike is difficult. Schools would share the revenue raised based on how many students their schools have.
Ron Fuller, superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, said schools won’t know if voters might go along unless they ask. He represents one of the very few areas to win an enhancement-millage election in 2005.

Nevada teachers union OK with using test scores for evaluations

James Haug:

In dropping their opposition to student test scores being used in teachers’ performance evaluations, Nevada’s teachers unions appear to be essentially adopting a compromise by the Obama administration.
While it earlier emphasized that student achievement data need to be linked with teacher performance evaluations, the Obama administration has since softened its tone after months of taking policy input from the public.
Student performance data, such as test scores, now should be considered along with as other performance measures, such as observation-based assessments and a teacher’s demonstration of leadership, according to a new policy announcement.
The U.S. Department of Education published its standards for teacher evaluations on Nov. 12 as part of the application criteria for the Race To the Top Funds, a $4 billion pool of competitive grants intended to spur educational reform at the local level.

Special education, for some, gets costly

Sarah Palermo:

Educating children with disabilities is expensive.
This year, the Keene School District will spend about $13.7 million for services ranging from special education teachers to speech and physical therapists.
That figure also includes funds for programs that serve children with severe disabilities, programs that are so specialized the district can’t run them in Keene.
As expensive as those programs can be — hundreds of thousands of dollars for one year, in some cases — the cost is more easily absorbed in a city the size of Keene than in some of the neighboring towns.
Sometimes, the annual school district meeting in a small town can sound like a game of “what if”:
What if a child with a severe disability moves into our town?
Paying for one student to attend a specialized program, like the school at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield, could double the special education budget of some districts.
Out-of-district placements this year range from $30,000 to $375,000 in the Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlow, Marlborough, Nelson and Westmoreland school districts, according to Timothy L. Ruehr, the districts’ business manager.

Verona charter school considers going green

Gena Kittner:

Facing possible closure because of flagging enrollment , Verona’s New Century charter school is proposing to become Dane County’s first “green,” or environmentally-focused, charter school.
The move, which must be approved by the district’s board, illustrates the challenges facing charter schools across the state: to find an academic niche that will continually attract students.
“Having a (charter school) choice means a lot to parents,” said Kristina Navarro-Haffner, who has a first-grader at New Century. “We really want to be that option for parents and help the Verona School District bring in more people.”
In the last two years, a few charter schools — public schools given autonomy from their district in exchange for strict accountability — have changed their focus to attract students, said John Gee, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. A lack of performance or non-compliance with state requirements to be a charter school led to the dissolution of 15 charter schools prior to this year, he said, leaving a total of 206 in the state and 10 in Dane County.

Verona’s Core Knowledge Charter School continues to have a waiting list.

Through Letters, a Family History Unveiled

Bob Davis:

A reporter’s seven-year correspondence with his 93-year-old cousin, illustrator Sam Fink, reveals a family’s past and the beauty in old-fashioned letter writing
Shortly before Christmas 2002, I received my first letter from Sam Fink. On the envelope, he had drawn an elephant and colored it with orange, yellow, brown and blue crayons. “Good to remember. Happy New Year,” he wrote above the address.
The letter was equally charming. He wrote about his son, David, who lived in Israel with a brood of grandchildren and great grandchildren. “When I visit my family in Jerusalem twice a year for a two-week stay, instead of asking about their lives, I share mine,” Sam wrote. “In most instances, young people do not know how to share with old people.” He signed it, “Your cousin, somehow, once removed, second, or whatever the term…Sam Fink.”
That letter marked the start of a seven-year correspondence I have had with Sam, who is a family success story — a noted illustrator who has drawn popular books about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was my father’s first cousin, and though I hadn’t seen him more than a dozen times in my life, a family photo my wife had mailed as a holiday card caught his interest and prompted him to write me.

Los Angeles Unified school choices are a confusing maze

Howard Blume:

Pamela Krys, who moved to Woodland Hills a year ago, made a confession during a school fair this month at Sutter Middle School in Canoga Park.
“I don’t understand the points,” she said, referring to one aspect of the application process for magnet programs. “They don’t do points in Florida.”
Understanding the points system is just one of the complications surrounding school choice in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although its “choices” website is improving, the school system provides no central location — online or off — to help parents manage all their options if they don’t want their children to attend their neighborhood school.
Separate programs have different application forms, processes and deadlines. Nor does the district supply some key information, such as student test scores for most magnets. Budget cuts led to the cancellation of districtwide magnet fairs, although some regional administrators have staged smaller events.

Should We Inflate Advanced Placement (AP) Grades?

Jay Matthews:

The Rochester, N.Y., public schools do a fine job. Their leaders often have great ideas. But according to Rochester school board member Mike Reno, they are talking about doing something to their Advanced Placement courses that could be troublesome, even though I once thought it was a good idea. (Some people who know me say that is the very definition of a bad idea.)
Here is what Reno revealed in an email to me:
“Our district, in an effort to increase AP participation, is proposing to lower the grading scale for AP classes. The idea is based on the notion that kids in Rochester don’t want to take AP classes because they are afraid that the tougher work will lead to a lower grade, and they don’t want to damage their GPA for fear it will harm their college entrance chances. The district’s logic suggests by that lowering the grading scale, students will have a better chance of getting a better grade, and therefore be more willing to take the class.
“This is not their brainchild. They claim other districts are doing it. They are calling it internal weighting. They believe this is a better approach than grade weighting, where an A in an AP class would be worth, say, 5.0 instead of 4.0. The district argues that colleges strip off weighted grades, whereas an internal weight benefits the student during college entrance. (I believe grade weighting has value when calculating class ranking, vals, sals, top scholars, etc, but think colleges are free to recalculate anything they’d like). Am a crazy to think this is a bunch of nonsense?”

Underground Psychology: Researchers have been spying on us on the subway. Here’s what they’ve learned.

Tom Vanderbilt:

Spend enough time riding the New York City subway–or any big-city metro–and you’ll find yourself on the tenure-track to an honorary degree in transit psychology. The subway–which keeps random people together in a contained, observable setting–is a perfect rolling laboratory for the study of human behavior. As the sociologists M.L. Fried and V.J. De Fazio once noted, “The subway is one of the few places in a large urban center where all races and religions and most social classes are confronted with one another and the same situation.”
Or situations. The subway presents any number of discrete, and repeatable, moments of interaction, opportunities to test how “situational factors” affect outcomes. A pregnant woman appears: Who will give up his seat first? A blind man slips and falls. Who helps? Someone appears out of the blue and asks you to mail a letter. Will you? In all these scenarios much depends on the parties involved, their location on the train and the location of the train itself, and the number of other people present, among other variables. And rush-hour changes everything.

Plain Talk: We’re failing the citizenship test

Dave Zweifel:

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been busy the past several months speaking about her pet peeve — the sad state of teaching civics in our public schools.
“Civics education has been all but removed from our schools,” she often remarks. “Too many people do not understand how our political system works. We are currently failing in that endeavor.”
O’Connor cites examples in which Americans could name a judge on “American Idol,” but couldn’t name a single justice on the Supreme Court or the three branches of government.
She’s calling attention to an extremely important problem in the U.S. All too many American citizens don’t understand the country’s democratic system and why it’s crucial to the future of that democracy to stay informed and participate. The Founding Fathers, after all, counted on the citizenry to be the republic’s caretaker and that’s a major reason why they felt so strongly about education.
Unfortunately, schools over the years have been saddled with teaching just about everything but civics, history and the arts. The heralded No Child Left Behind Act, for instance, has forced schools to drop meaningful civics classes so that teachers can “teach to the test,” consisting primarily of math and reading. And now that the Obama administration wants to tie teachers’ pay and promotions to those tests, classes on citizenship will continue to get the short end of the stick.

I’m glad Dave Zweifel raised this issue. I hope he remains active on curricular issues, which, in my view are not simply driven by No Child Left Behind.

Off the Shelf: Fear and Loathing in High School

Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

If you went to my high school and weren’t in attendance on the first day back from summer break — say, you had been on vacation with your parents an extra day, or you had come down with the flu — a rumor that you were pregnant and out getting an abortion went hastily through the locker-lined halls. In 10th grade, it happened to me (I had been sick), and, from then on, I wanted to write about a popular girl who is mistaken for pregnant by her schoolmates. The girl must hand in her homecoming crown, withdraw from student government, where she is president, and give up her football-captain/quarterback boyfriend.
Years went by, and I did become a writer — a screenwriter, not a novelist. I wrote this story to mixed reviews. “Interesting premise,” said one agent. “But not much story there.” I chalked it up to the particular necessities of those who buy and produce screenplays: They need shocking, cinematic events. They need things to blow up.
I decided to write the story as a young adult novel. I have always loved and admired YA novels, as much for their alternate themes of devastation and lightheartedness as for how influential they can be in their readers’ lives. I sat down to write the story and finished it in a couple of months. But before I sent it to an agent who was interested, I did something I never thought I could do: I deleted it.

Education salaries grow $8M in Louisiana’s ed department

Melinda Deslatte:

Salary costs have jumped in Louisiana’s education department, even as the number of full-time employees dropped, and the number of people drawing six-figure paychecks has more than doubled in the two years since Paul Pastorek took charge of the agency.
Payroll at the Department of Education grew by $8 million — 21 percent — after Pastorek became state superintendent of education in 2007, an Associated Press review of salary data shows.
Pastorek says the pay is needed to attract and keep the best talent. But with huge state budget shortfalls predicted for several years, the salary boosts have irked some lawmakers, already bristling about Pastorek’s own hefty pay increases.
“I just don’t, along with many of my colleagues, feel like we can put a lot of money into administration so this guy can go out and pay big salaries and not (put the money) into the classroom for the kids,” said state Rep. Jim Fannin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
A New Orleans lawyer and former general counsel for NASA, Pastorek had been on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for eight years when he was named superintendent in March 2007. He replaced Cecil Picard, who died after a decade in the post.
Salaries have grown markedly since then.

Alexandria rethinks gifted education: more diversity sought in classes Virginia also will study ways to boost minority enrollment

Michael Alison Chandler:

When Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman walks the halls of the city’s schools and peers into classrooms, he can often guess whether the class he’s watching is gifted.
“Standing at the door, looking through the glass, you can tell what kind of class it is” by looking at the colors of the students, he said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”
Alexandria is a majority-minority school system, except in its gifted program. White students, 25 percent of the total enrollment, are 58 percent of those labeled “gifted.” Hispanics and African Americans, 25 and 40 percent of enrollment, respectively, account for about 10 and 20 percent of those in gifted classes.
Sherman, at the helm for a little more than a year, is bringing fresh attention to equity issues that have long confounded the small urban school system, where half of the 11,000 students live in poverty.

All sitting comfortably?

David Pilling & Lionel Barber:

From a distance it sounds like the chanting of monks. Only as one approaches the building, set in the lush fields of a school playground, does it become apparent who is making the sound: dozens of girls quietly reading books.
Sat on rows of wooden chairs laid out in the library, they mouth the words as they trace a finger slowly along the text, breaking off only to admire the colourful pictures. Though each child is reading a different story, their words mingle to form a gentle hum, lending an almost sacred air to the bright little room.
In Laos, a school library is indeed sacred. Books are rare in the isolated villages where four-fifths of the landlocked nation’s 7m people eke out the slenderest of livings. The communist government has been slow in implementing its theoretical commitment to free education. Literacy rates have risen, though many people who have learnt to read soon forget because they lack reading materials. According to Room to Read, the charity that helped build and stock this library and hundreds of others like it, still only 60 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men can read and write.
Many schools, often ramshackle thatched structures with leaking roofs, cannot offer a full range of tuition. Sometimes teachers instruct two or three years of classes simultaneously – if they have not ditched their class to earn supplementary income elsewhere. Student dropout rates are high, especially for girls, who typically quit at around 13. Many parents would prefer a helping hand at home or in the paddy fields.

School Reform Retreat? Duncan eases the rules for states to get ‘Race to the Top’ cash.

Wall Street Journal:

The Obama Administration’s education rhetoric, with its emphasis on charter schools and evaluating teachers based on student performance, has won plaudits from school reformers–and from us. But this month the Department of Education laid out in detail the eligibility requirements for states seeking federal grant money, and it looks like the praise may have been premature.
In the spring, when the White House announced its $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” initiative to improve K-12 schooling, President Obama said, “Any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways to compete for a grant.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters, “states that don’t have charter school laws, or put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools, will jeopardize their application.”
The Administration appears to be retreating on both requirements. The final Race to the Top regulations allow states to use “multiple measures,” including peer reviews, to evaluate instructors. This means states that prohibit student test data from being used to measure a teacher’s performance may be eligible for the federal funds, even though the President clearly said that they wouldn’t be.

D.C. expose–one teacher’s evaluation

Jay Matthews:

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District’s new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn’t like the new system. He doesn’t like how it is being implemented by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

But he is willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. I think we learn more from small individual cases than big multi-variant studies. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.

The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is Master Educator) occurred on Sept 25. The evaluator had never taught the subject Goldfarb was teaching, Advanced Placement U.S. History. “My ‘Master Educator’ has taught AP Government,” Goldfarb said. “Is there a difference? I would think so.”

The fact that Goldbarb has an AP class at the city’s only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago he was a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

Too hard to pick the right high school

Jay Matthews:

Near the end of her struggle to find the right high school for a son who did not always share her tastes, Tracey Henley was overjoyed to discover that some of her son’s best friends had endorsed her choice, and his resistance had vanished. “So now we don’t have to forge his signature on the form, always a plus,” she said.
Where had this painful sifting of options occurred? Was it some struggling urban district? No, Henley lives in Montgomery County, like much of suburban Washington a mecca for those seeking the best in public education. Her story illustrates that in even the best possible circumstances, parents often have to work very hard to find the place that fits their child. I, like Henley, wonder if there is a better way to do this.
Henley’s son is an eighth grader at Sligo Middle School in Silver Spring. He has attention deficit disorder, but the meds have been effective and through elementary school he performed well above grade level in all subjects. Then he entered middle school and “we were really unprepared for just how much his already-poor executive management functions would collapse in the face of increased expectations,” Henley said.

The perils of trying to get down with the kids

Michael Skapinker:

London’s 2012 Olympics logo is in trouble again. The head of the company chosen to market the games struggled last week to find anything nice to say about the logo, which has been compared to crazy paving, graffiti or a broken swastika.
“For us, it is irrelevant whether we like it or not,” Brett Gosper, chief executive of McCann Worldgroup in Europe, told the Financial Times. Pressed on whether he would have designed a logo like that, he said: “Probably not.”
When the logo, dreamt up by brand company Wolff Olins, was unveiled in 2007, its defenders said it did not matter what the older generation thought. It was aimed at the irreverent, technology-loving young.
“Move over oldies. Who is doing the running anyway?” one defender of the logo wrote to the FT. “What has been delivered is a tag, to use the language of the street…If the logo appears sprayed on walls up and down the land, so be it.”
As someone who occasionally talks about journalism in schools, I find the logo useful. I show it to classes of teenagers, we discuss it and I then get them to write a column about it. They all recognise the logo – and they almost all loathe it.

Women’s Sports, Title IX And The Cheerleader Option

Frank Deford:

Purists love to play the game, “Is that a sport?” They’ll ask, is synchronized swimming really a sport? Is a dog show? Is poker? Is Ultimate Frisbee? And, the most controversial of all: Is cheerleading a sport?
But it isn’t just the usual arguments that are raised when cheerleading is the issue. Cheerleading, you see, is deeply embroiled in gender politics, and given the demographics of college attendance, cheerleading is surely going to remain a flashpoint.
It all traces back to Title IX, the 1972 law which mandates that, in sports, athletic representation on campus must mirror student enrollment. As the percentage of collegians tilts more and more female, this means, simply enough, that some men’s sports must be eliminated.
Today, at least 57 percent of all American college students are female, and that number is expected to rise. On average in college, there are already 8.7 women’s teams for every 7.8 men’s teams.

A lesson in incompetence: How 1 in 3 schools fails to provide adequate teaching Read more:

Laura Clark:

  • Half of academies are substandard
  • Countless school graduates start work without 3Rs
  • £5billion wasted on adult literacy classes

More than two million children are being taught in schools that are mediocre or failing, inspectors said yesterday.
A ‘stubborn core’ of incompetent teachers is holding pupils back and fuelling indiscipline and truancy, Ofsted warned.
Despite a raft of national initiatives, a third of schools still fail to offer a good education.

Schools Play to Virtual Orchestra


The Southbank Sinfonia in Bedale Primary School hold a workshop via video link with pupils 12 miles away in Richmond Primary School. The video was compiled from footage supplied by technology developer ANS Group.
Pupils in North Yorkshire have jammed with one of the UK’s leading orchestras, thanks to high-speed broadband lines.
The video-linked music workshop over 10Mbps (megabits per second) connections provided sessions with the Southbank Sinfonia.
The project was organised by NYnet, which has set up high-speed broadband in the area.
It demonstrates what could be achieved using video conferencing.

Rodin’s Sonnets in Stone

Lucy Farmer:

It was in the Musée Rodin that I first realised what Art was capable of. Trailing along behind Monsieur S., our strenuously Francophile teacher in his sadly unironic beret, we had already “done” Notre Dame. Then came a route march through the Louvre. Before its airy makeover with the glass pyramid, the Louvre felt like the worst kind of museum-punishingly vast, the walls of its interminable corridors lined with dukes with beards like spades and spoilt, mean-mouthed women in poodle wigs. After some hours, footsore and deafened by culture, we got to the “Mona Lisa”. I remember thinking how small she was. And how podgy. The famous smile hinted at embarrassment that all these people would bother coming so far to see her, when really she was nothing special. We adored Monsieur S. and we listened to him hold forth, complete with faux-Gallic gesticulations, about a turning point in the history of portraiture, the subtle handling of flesh tones, blah blah. But it was no good. The “Mona Lisa” was such a masterpiece, we could hardly see her. Or discover her secret for ourselves, as teenagers badly need to do, whether in love or art.
The last thing we wanted at the end of that day was another damned museum. But with the light fading to the freckled silver that makes the Parisian skyline look like an early photographic print, we found ourselves in rue de Varenne. You have to cross a cobbled yard to get to the front door of the Hotel Biron. The Biron is actually a perfect small chateau, like a doll’s house lowered from heaven into seven acres of exquisite formal gardens in Faubourg Saint-Germain. Built circa 1730, it was first a private house, then a school. By 1905 it was in disrepair and the rooms were let out to several tenants. At one point, they included Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, Isadora Duncan, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Rodin himself. The queue for the bathroom must have been quite something.

Appeals Court: School district can ban Christmas carols

Philadelphia Inquirer:

The federal appeals court in Philadelphia has upheld a New Jersey school district’s ban on religious songs during the Christmas holiday season.
In their ruling, three judges of the Third Circuit of Appeals noted that such songs were once common in public schools, but that times have changed.
Michael Stratechuk sued the Maplewood-South Orange School District in 2004, saying the ban violated his two children’s First Amendment’s freedom of worship rights.

Read the opinion here.

New York Mayor Bloomberg Finds Teacher Evaluation Education “loophole”

Beth Fertig:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the city has found a loophole to a state law enabling it to use student test scores to evaluate teachers. The mayor says the city will start using student test scores to evaluate teachers coming up for tenure this year. Speaking at an education event in Washington, DC today, Bloomberg said his lawyers have determined that a state law barring such evaluations only applies to teachers hired after July 2008. That means teachers hired in 2007, now coming up for tenure, can be evaluated with test scores.
Bloomberg took part in a panel discussion on education reform with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, sponsored by the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress. He urged the state legislature to lift the cap on charter schools and to end rules requiring principals to lay off the least senior teachers in times of budget cuts. He said these steps would make the state more competitive for federal grants rewarding school reforms.

Field Study: Just How Relevant Is Political Science?

Patricia Cohen:

After Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, this month proposed prohibiting the National Science Foundation from “wasting any federal research funding on political science projects,” political scientists rallied in opposition, pointing out that one of this year’s Nobel winners had been a frequent recipient of the very program now under attack.
Yet even some of the most vehement critics of the Coburn proposal acknowledge that political scientists themselves vigorously debate the field’s direction, what sort of questions it pursues, even how useful the research is.
Much of the political science work financed by the National Science Foundation is both rigorous and valuable, said Jeffrey C. Isaac, a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, where one new winner of the Nobel in economic science, the political scientist Elinor Ostrom, teaches. “But we’re kidding ourselves if we think this research typically has the obvious public benefit we claim for it,” he said. “We political scientists can and should do a better job of making the public relevance of our work clearer and of doing more relevant work.”

Faced with suit, Elmbrook now will allow girls to join hockey cooperative

Amy Hetzner:

Faced with a federal lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, the Elmbrook School District has reversed an earlier decision and will allow students from both its high schools to join a girls ice hockey cooperative.
Brookfield Central High School freshman Morgan Hollowell and her father, James, sued the School District last month after it refused to join a cooperative with other school districts to offer girls ice hockey, even though the district participates in a similar cooperative for boys ice hockey.
At the time, Elmbrook Superintendent Matt Gibson said the district chose not to join the girls cooperative because too few students were interested in playing the sport and it would be difficult for the district to supervise.

Gangs & 4th Generation War

William S. Lind:

The November 15 Washington Post had a story about gangs in Salinas, California, that deserves close attention from 4GW theorists. Salinas is reportedly overrun with Hispanic gangs. The Post wrote that its homicide rate is three times that of Los Angeles. It quoted a Salinas police officer, Sgt. Mark Lazzarini, on one of the classic results of state breakdown, chaos:

“Only half of our gangs are structured; the Norteños,” he said. “The southerners are completely unstructured. Half of our violence is kids who get into a car and go out and hunt. These kids don’t know their victims. How do you stop that? It’s very chaotic.”

Salinas’s new slogan might be, “Salinas: where even the lettuce has tattoos.”
But what is interesting in the Post’s article is not the gangs themselves. It is a new response to the gangs. Salinas has brought in the U.S. military to apply counter-insurgency doctrine to a situation on American soil. The Post reports that:

Seattle Curriculum Discussions

Charlie Mas:

How can we be sure that the students are learning the curriculum? If students who are working below grade level do not get any intervention, then they will not be ready and able to succeed with the grade level curriculum. There will be no vertical alignment for them. They will continue to just get passed along and they won’t do any better. Where are the interventions needed to make curricular alignment successful? You will be told that the District is working on them, but they are NOT in place. Without them, Curricular Alignment is doomed. Note that we have always needed these interventions. Needing these interventions is nothing new, yet we have not been able to reliably provide them. What has changed that assures us that we will be able to reliably do what we have never been able to do before? There will be references to the MAP testing to identify the under-performing students. Okay, good. But how can we be assured that the identified students will get the necessary services?

There are some interesting accountability comments to this post.

NCTE Presentation: College Readiness & The Research Paper

nctepa2009actual From the presentation

Preparation: John Robert Wooden, revered and very successful basketball coach at UCLA, used to tell his players: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Premise: The majority of U.S. public high school students now graduate without ever having read a single (1) complete nonfiction book, or written one (1) serious (e.g. 4,000+ words, with endnotes and bibliography) research paper.
Elitism” is making the best form of education available to only a few. The democratic ideal of education is to make the best form of education available to all. The democratic ideal is not achieved, and elitism is not defeated, by making the best form of education available to almost nobody.
Kieran Egan, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia

Download the 200K presentation PDF here.

High school research papers: a dying breed

Jay Matthews:

Doris Burton taught U.S. history in Prince George’s County for 27 years. She had her students write 3,000-word term papers. She guided them step by step: first an outline, then note cards, a bibliography, a draft and then the final paper. They were graded at each stage.
A typical paper was often little more than what Burton describes as “a regurgitated version of the encyclopedia.” She stopped requiring them for her regular history students and assigned them just to seniors heading for college. The social studies and English departments tried to organize coordinated term paper assignments for all, but state and district course requirements left no room. “As time went by,” Burton said, “even the better seniors’ writing skills deteriorated, and the assignment was frustrating for them to write and torture for me to read.” Before her retirement in 1998, she said, “I dropped the long-paper assignment and went to shorter and shorter and, eventually, no paper at all.”
Rigorous research and writing instruction have never reached most high-schoolers. I thought I had terrific English and history teachers in the 1960s, but I just realized, counting up their writing assignments, that they, too, avoided anything very challenging. Only a few students, in public and private schools, ever get a chance to go deep and write long on a subject that intrigues them.
We are beginning to see, in the howls of exasperation from college introductory course professors and their students, how high a price we are paying for this. It isn’t just college students who are hurt. Studies show research skills are vital for high school graduates looking for good jobs or trade school slots.


Grading the teachers

Providence Journal:

News that a Rhode Island teachers union has won a $200,000 union-funded grant to develop teacher evaluations can’t help but stir fears that the fox wants to guard the henhouse. Public-employee unions, after all, are in the business of promoting their own economic interests, which do not always coincide with the interests of students.
Yet it appears to be welcome news that the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, under Marcia Reback, will be working to help develop some standards for weeding out sub-par teachers early on in their careers.
“The union is tired of being portrayed as a protector of bad teachers,” Ms. Reback said.
In a sense, the unions do have an economic interest in promoting higher standards in their profession, since that tends to build public support for giving teachers greater financial rewards. And early in their career is an excellent time to evaluate fairly whether teachers can truly cut the mustard. Under Ms. Reback’s proposal, unions would work closely with administrators to develop a proposed system of evaluations.

Fiscal Health of Colorado School Districts

Colorado State Auditor [270K PDF]:

This report provides information on the Fiscal Health Analysis of the State’s school districts performed by the Local Government Audit Division of the Office of the State Auditor (OSA). The Fiscal Health Analysis provides a set of financial indicators for each school district that may be used by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), school districts, local government officials, and citizens to evaluate the financial health of Colorado’s school districts. These financial indicators can warn of financial stress that may require examination and remedial action by the appropriate parties.
In Colorado, 178 school districts provide public education to more than 800,000 children enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12). Funding for each school district’s total program is provided first by local sources of revenue, primarily through a property tax levy to finance the district’s local share. The General Assembly provides additional funding to supplement local revenue in order to fully fund the district’s program. This additional funding is based on a formula that considers, in part, the school district’s annual pupil count, as well as the district’s local share of revenues. In Fiscal Year 2008, the General Assembly provided more than $3 billion to school districts as the state share of districts’ total program funding.

State must reveal, not conceal, school aptitude

Lance Izumi:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act, an early legislative triumph of then-Gov. Gray Davis. While some good things have come out of the law, the act has failed in its two key missions: to inform parents and the public about the true performance of schools and students, and to impose widespread tough consequences on failing or underperforming schools.
In contrast to funding-focused measures, such as Proposition 98, the act commendably sought to spotlight school and student outcomes, especially results on the state’s standardized tests. While many educators complain about this emphasis on student testing, the real problem turned out to be how the act uses test scores to measure school performance.
The act uses the Academic Performance Index, or API, to measure the performance of schools. Based on student results on the state’s California Standards Tests, the API calculates a score on a scale of 200 to 1,000 for every school, with the state designating 800 as the target to which all schools should strive to achieve.

Race to the Top in Education We can get real reform if the president resists pressure to dilute standards

Harold Ford, Jr., Louis V. Gerstner & Eli Broad:

For decades, policy makers have talked about significantly improving public education. The problem has been clear: one-third of public school children fail to graduate, there are embarrassing achievement gaps between middle-class children and poor and minority children, and the gap between our students and those in other countries threatens to undermine our economic competitiveness. Yet for the better part of a quarter century, urgent calls for change have seldom translated into improved public schools.
Now, however, President Barack Obama has launched “Race to the Top,” a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real reform. This program offers us an opportunity to finally move the ball forward.
To that end Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pushing states toward meaningful change. Mr. Duncan has even stumped for reform alongside former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet the administration must continue to hang tough on two critical issues: performance standards and competition.
Already the administration is being pressured to dilute the program’s requirement that states adopt performance pay for teachers and to weaken its support for charter schools. If the president does not remain firm on standards, the whole endeavor will be just another example of great rhetoric and poor reform.

Low school ratings are not acceptable

Greenwood Commonwealth:

The Mississippi Department of Education has been warning school districts and the public for months that the new, tougher accountability ratings were going to stun some people.
The previous accountability system had lulled schools and parents into thinking their students’ academic performance was better than it actually was. For the most part, the old system compared how Mississippi students performed academically in relation to students in other parts of the state. The new system compares how they perform in relation to students around the country.
As a result, there are a lot fewer superior schools and districts in Mississippi and a lot more that are failing or close to it. It’s not that the public schools in the state have gotten worse. It’s just that they and the public are getting a truer picture of really how they stack up nationally.
In Greenwood and Leflore County, the first year’s ratings, which were released Monday, are disappointing. Both districts have been listed as “At Risk of Failing,” the third lowest of the seven accountability levels. Although Greenwood officials say they feel their rating is undeservedly low and are pursuing an appeal, even if the district moves up a notch to “Academic Watch,” that’s still not good enough.
Between the two school districts, only three schools out of 13 are rated “Successful” (the third highest ranking) or better. One of those, T.Y. Fleming in Minter City, was shut down this year because of low enrollment.

Kay Bailey Hutchison unveils plan for Texas public education

Gromer Jeffers:

Speaking at Collin College in Plano, Hutchison said that her plan includes better use of technology in the classroom, recruiting and retaining quality teachers, curbing the state’s dropout rate and helping local school districts become more efficient.
“We need more innovation, more efficiency and more accountability,” Hutchison said.
Hutchison, who is battling Rick Perry the Republican nomination for governor in the March primary, tied improvements in Texas schools to the state’s economic fate.
“Our labor force in Texas stands to suffer the most by this stagnation,” she said. “If we decline to treat education investment as economic investment, then our foundation for job creation will erode within.”

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Madison School District over student transfer policy

Ed Treleven:

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a class-action lawsuit against the Madison School District over a student transfer policy the district has since re-written.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in a 36-page decision that the district was following state law – a law that was later determined to be unconstitutional – when it implemented its policy for assuring that open enrollment transfers did not create racial imbalances at schools.
Crabb wrote that a municipality like the school district cannot be held liable under federal law for trying to implement a state mandate when it has no other policy choices. State or federal law is responsible for any wrongdoing, she wrote.
Madison attorney Michael Fox, who is representing the class, which he estimated to be 200 to 300 people, said the decision will be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law in this area is unsettled, he said, and federal judicial circuits around the U.S. disagree on it.
In this case, a white East High School student, identified in court documents as “N.N.,” applied for transfer to either Waunakee or Monona Grove in 2007. The district denied her application because it said her departure from East would have caused the school’s minority student percentage to increase.

Student arrested for allegedly bringing gun into Madison West High School

Bill Novak:

A West High School student was arrested Monday afternoon after allegedly having a .22 caliber revolver in the waistband of his pants inside the school.
The incident is considered the first time in at least a decade that a student has been discovered with a firearm inside a Madison Metropolitan School District facility, said Luis Yudice, coordinator of school safety for the district.
The 16-year-old student, a sophomore at West, was tentatively charged with possession of a firearm in a school zone.
The incident was reported at about 3:30 p.m. at the school, 30 Ash St.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the revolver was missing its cylinder (which holds the bullets) and the student had no ammunition.
“He didn’t threaten anyone with the firearm,” DeSpain said. “He told the officer he was simply holding onto the gun for someone else.”

Related: Police Calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006 and the 2005 Gangs & School Violence Forum.

Milwaukee Public School (Rufus King) Rhodes Scholar

Sharif Durhams:

Eva Z. Lam, a graduate of Milwaukee’s Rufus King High School, notes that Harvard University is a distinguished place. There are a lot of serious-minded, busy students with weighty thoughts.
Here’s how Lam handles it: She procrastinates, since she works best under a deadline, she said. And she knows how to laugh at herself.
“If you can take your work seriously and not take yourself seriously, I think that’s the way I’ve tried to strike a balance,” Lam said.

How Connecticut Can Fix its Dysfunctional Education spending system to Reward success, Incentivize Choice and Boost Student Achievement

ConnCAN and education research firm Public Impact today (Nov. 23, 2009) released a groundbreaking report [1MB PDF] tracing the flow of funds through Connecticut’s public schools and offering a more rational system that will close that state’s yawning achievement gap.
Please visit ConnCAN’s website to download the report The Tab.
I was very fortunate to be provided an advance copy which I read over the weekend. It is truly groundbreaking in every sense of the word. I can not encourage you enough to please take the time to read this extremely well done, thorough report.
p.s. For your convenience, I’ve attached the PDF file of The Tab, but please also visit ConnCAN’s web site!
Alex Johnston:

ConnCAN runs on big ideas. We launched our organization almost five years ago with a mission to do nothing less than offer every Connecticut child access to a great public school.
Living in the state with the nation’s largest achievement gap is too unsettling to tolerate plodding, incremental change. When more than 90 percent of fifth graders in wealthy Ridgefield can read at or above grade level but only 31 percent of Bridgeport kids can, there’s no time to dally. We demand breakthrough success.
ConnCAN has grown into a force: an education advocacy group powered by thousands of advocates who share our impatience. We proved the power of our movement through our hugely successful 2009 ‘Mind the Gaps’ legislative campaign. The campaign made real gains in data transparency, teacher effectiveness and funding for Connecticut’s excellent public charter schools.
But the campaign also illustrated the unsustainable way we pay for our public schools. Consider this tale: In 2008, Hartford asked Achieve- ment First to bring one of its excellent charter schools to the city. The Achievement First Hartford Academy opened its doors to kindergarten, first and fifth grade students, with plans to add one grade each year as these students advanced until the school was completed. Because charter schools are funded on their own line item in the state budget, the school will need more money each year to support this natural grade growth. This jewel of a school became a growing line item in the midst of the Great Recession and an easy target.

What Does Youth Want?

Alan Borsuk:

The loser now will be later to win, the noted social commentator Bob Dylan predicted in 1964 in his generation-defining “The Times They Are A-changin.”
In Wisconsin, both Republicans and gay rights activists can take encouragement from those words.
And both can be encouraged by the results of a statewide public opinion poll conducted in September for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute by the UW-Madison Political Science Department.
Less than a year after Barack Obama won Wisconsin in the 2008 presidential race by 17 points and Democrats captured the state Assembly after 14 years of Republican control, favorable opinions on Obama have softened, and the political affiliation of the poll respondents suggests a modest swing to the Republicans.
Furthermore, while younger voters voted heavily for Obama and Democrats in 2008, the WPRI poll shows little substantial difference among younger, middle-aged and older voters on party affiliation. Democrats continued to draw more favorable responses than Republicans, but the results suggest Republicans are gaining ground.
For example, in the November 2008 exit polls, Wisconsin voters age 18 to 29 preferred Obama over Republican John McCain by 29 points, a 64%-35% margin. But in the WPRI poll, less than a year later, sentiment on Obama was remarkably similar across age groups.
Among the 700 randomly selected Wisconsin adults for the telephone survey, 57% said they strongly approved or somewhat approved of the presidents performance. And the comparable figures by age group were 59% for the younger group, 58% for those 36 to 64, and 54% for those 65 and over.

In Arizona, charter school movement flourishes

Nick Anderson:

Here, where suburb meets desert, students are clambering amid the cacti to dig soil samples and take notes on flora and fauna. In an old movie complex in nearby Chandler, others are dissecting a Renaissance tract on human nature. On a South Phoenix campus with a National Football League connection, still others are learning how to pass a basket of bread and help a lady into her chair.
These are just three charter schools among a multitude in the most wide-open public education market in America.
Arizona’s flourishing charter school movement underscores the popular appeal of unfettered school choice and the creativity of some educational entrepreneurs. But the state also offers a cautionary lesson as President Obama pushes to dismantle barriers to charter schools elsewhere: It is difficult to promote quantity and quality at the same time.
Under a 1994 law that strongly favors charter schools, 500 of them operate in this state, teaching more than 100,000 students. Those totals account for a quarter of Arizona’s public schools and a tenth of its public school enrollment, giving charters here a larger market share than in any other state.

White House Plans Campaign to Promote Science and Math Education

Kenneth Chang:

To improve science and mathematics education for American children, the White House is recruiting Elmo and Big Bird, video game programmers and thousands of scientists.
President Obama will announce a campaign Monday to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to spend money, time and volunteer effort to encourage students, especially in middle and high school, to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, officials say.
The campaign, called Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom. For example, Discovery Communications has promised to use two hours of the afternoon schedule on its Science Channel cable network for commercial-free programming geared toward middle school students.
Science and engineering societies are promising to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom, culminating in a National Lab Day in May.

It’s time to evaluate the evaluation

Jay Matthews:

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District’s new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn’t like the new system or how Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is implementing it.
He was willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.
The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is “master educator”) occurred Sept. 25. The fact that Goldfarb has an AP class at the city’s only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago that he is a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

“Fast Track” Teacher Certification in Waukesha

Amy Hetzner:

Omar Masis doesn’t want to get a teaching license just for himself. He also wants to do it for the preschoolers he sees every day at Blair Elementary School in Waukesha.
For two years now, he has been leading a class full of youngsters through lessons that focus on building their vocabularies and improving motor skills. But, with a background in agricultural engineering instead of education, he has been doing so on an emergency teaching permit sustained by six credits of education classes a year.
Now he’s ready to make the leap to become a credentialed teacher.
“There’s something in me that tells me I need a formal education so I can help these kids and improve my teaching style,” said Masis, a native of Nicaragua who also has worked as a teacher’s aide in Waukesha. “I can do better.”
Before, Masis might have had to go elsewhere to fulfill his new dream.
But a recent decision by the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center, one of the largest certification programs in the state for college graduates who want to become teachers, means he can stay in Waukesha.
After more than a dozen years of working to place teachers in hard-to-fill classrooms in Milwaukee Public Schools, MTEC has opened its program to work with other public school districts.

How Teachers Learn to be Radicals

Sol Stern:

Imagine you are a parent with a child in fifth grade in an inner-city public school. One day your child comes home and reports that the teacher taught a lesson in class about the evils of U.S. military intervention in Latin America.
You also learn that after school the teacher took the children to a rally protesting U.S. military aid to the Contras, who were then opposing the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The children made placards with slogans such as:
“Let them run their land!” “Help Central America, dont kill them.” “Give the Nicaraguans their freedom.”
Your child reports that the teacher encouraged the students to write about their day of protest in the class magazine and had high praise for the child who wrote the following description of the rally:
“On a rainy Tuesday in April some of the students from our class went to protest against the contras. The people in Central America are poor and bombed on their heads.”
A fantasy? An invention of some conspiracy-minded right-wing organization? Not at all. It happened exactly as described at a bilingual Milwaukee public school called La Escuela Fratney. The teacher who took the fifth-graders to the protest rally and indoctrinated them in international leftist politics is Robert Peterson.

Advocating Virtual Schools

Sunny Schubert:

Virtual schools, viewed skeptically by the educational establishment, have a champion in this veteran teacher.
Kathy Hennings starts her day like any other Wisconsin public school teacher: She’s up, coiffed, appropriately dressed and ready to go.
And then she starts her commute: down the hall in her Cedarburg home from the kitchen to her office. She sits down in front of a bank of two linked computers, and starts going through the 20-plus emails she receives each day from the parents of her students.
Then she and her students settle down for another day of learning–21st-century style–in the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, one of 14 Internet-based online charter schools in Wisconsin.
Hennings has 75 students: 30 first-graders and 45 second-graders. They live in rural areas, villages, towns and big cities all across Wisconsin, from Superior to Stevens Point, from Hudson to Milwaukee.

West Virginia must embrace 21st-century education reform

Mark Bugher:

I recently was invited to attend a presentation in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of its 2009 education “Leaders and Laggards” report to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
This report was a cooperative effort of the U.S. Chamber, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. The report is a state-by-state “report card” on education innovation. Education innovation is described by the report as “Discarding policies that no longer serve students while creating opportunities for smart, entrepreneurial problem-solvers to help children learn.”
The report graded state schools on seven criteria: school management, finance, hiring and evaluation of staff, removing ineffective teachers, data collection, pipeline to post-secondary education, and technology. West Virginia received an overall grade of D+, however, ranked first in the nation on technology, measured by student per Internet-connected computer.
No state received an overall grade higher than a C+, and although West Virginia was ranked in the bottom quarter of states, there were 11 states ranked below us. Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas ranked overall the highest, and Kansas, Montana and Nebraska were at the bottom of the rankings.

Milwaukee Public Schools aim to even out special ed distribution

Erin Richards:

As principal of Custer High School, Kathy Bonds often faces criticism for having one of the most notoriously rough schools in the city.
Many of her students live in poverty, return at night to homeless shelters, commit severe crimes or deal with a staggering number of mental, emotional and physical disabilities.
Look at the numbers, Bonds says: 30.8% of her students are classified as special education, a main reason that performance at her school continues to suffer.
The Milwaukee School Board appeared to agree with the spirit of that assessment last week when it voted to even out the distribution of special education students within the city’s high schools.
As part of the approved recommendation, the board directed the administration to immediately begin making sure all schools are equipped to serve a wide range of student needs. Members also directed the administration to establish a target range of special education students, and to help schools with very high or low special education populations come closer to that target range.

The difficulty of diagnosing dyslexia
Bills would require state schools to test and train more

Anita Weier:

Keith Ripp and other Madison-area parents have spent thousands of dollars to test and tutor their children for dyslexia. They think this is something Wisconsin school districts should more aggressively pursue.
But Ripp has a better-than-average ability to do something about it. A Republican state assemblyman from Lodi, he has authored a bill to require that schools perform dyslexia screening on pupils in kindergarten through second grade, as well as those from grades three to five who score low on reading tests.
Another Ripp bill would require the Department of Public Instruction to ensure that reading specialists, special education teachers and elementary school reading instructors are trained and tested in dyslexic instruction techniques.
“My youngest son, who is 13, has severe dyslexia,” says Ripp. “My wife and I knew something was going on before second grade. We hired tutors. We tried to work with the school system to come up with something. We had his hearing and eyesight checked. He was very intelligent but was struggling a lot with reading.”
The couple paid for the testing on their own, as well as some tutoring, at an estimated cost of about $8,000.

At U (of Minnesota), future teachers may be reeducated They must denounce exclusionary biases and embrace the vision. (Or else.)

Katherine Kertsen:

Do you believe in the American dream — the idea that in this country, hardworking people of every race, color and creed can get ahead on their own merits? If so, that belief may soon bar you from getting a license to teach in Minnesota public schools — at least if you plan to get your teaching degree at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.
In a report compiled last summer, the Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U’s College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of “the American Dream” in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace — and be prepared to teach our state’s kids — the task force’s own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.
The task group is part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, a multiyear project to change the way future teachers are trained at the U’s flagship campus. The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers’ lack of “cultural competence” contributes to the poor academic performance of the state’s minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed.

Better Letters Handrwiting App for iPhone & iPod Touch

Better Letters Website:

Better Letters was created to improve handwriting. It was inspired by the instructional handwriting font work of UK handwriting specialist Christopher Jarman. The app provides instructional lectures, both audio and written, along with practice fonts providing choices of writing style, guidelines, and directional arrows.
With Better Letters, your iPhone or iPod Touch becomes a personal handwriting trainer.
Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters join some letters, not all of them: making the easiest joins and skipping the rest. Also, the fastest and clearest writers tend to use the simplest letter shapes, avoiding the complex and accident-prone letter formations of conventional cursive.
In fact, the earliest published handwriting books (half a millennium ago) taught a semi-joined style of this type – called “Italic” in reference to the style’s origins in Renaissance Italy – well before today’s more complicated cursive came along.

; via a Kate Gladstone email, who notes:

Better Letters is a multi-featured suite of handwriting instruction/improvement resources, developed by — of all places — a medical software company, Deep Pocket Series, which describes this app as a “personal handwriting trainer.” (In addition to MDs, the company is also marketing this app to teachers, administrators, teens, and parents of elementary/middle school children.)
In addition to MDs, the company is also marketing this app to teachers, administrators, teens, and parents of elementary/middle school children

The cost of a good education: Are teachers overpaid or worth every penny?

Rickeena Richards:

When times get tough, teachers’ salaries are the last thing school districts should cut, local educators say.
“If you’re going to recruit and maintain the best, then you have to provide that environment. That includes compensation to some degree that supports that,” Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said. “We’re going to hire the best of the best and create an environment that supports them while they’re here.”
Educators argue that quality instruction comes at a cost, but that cost is an investment in the community’s future since teachers are responsible for preparing our young people for the future. They said school districts look at several factors to determine that cost when hiring teachers, all the while trying to remain competitive with neighboring districts’ offers.
But critics say that school administrators sometimes throw more money at teachers than necessary.
For example, figures obtained by the News-Democrat for nine local school districts that signed new teachers contracts this summer show:
* A Belleville District 118 social studies teacher makes almost $80,000 a year.
* An O’Fallon District 203 family and consumer sciences teacher makes more than $100,000.
* A Granite City gym teacher makes $86,000.
* An East St. Louis first-grade teacher makes nearly $76,000 this school year.

The Long Tail of Teaching Talent

Joshua Kim:

The tail of teaching talent in your institution is longer then generally recognized, and it extends to your librarians and technologists. Perhaps this long tail of teaching talent encompasses others as well, such as the professionals in institutional research, human resources, building operations, and many more.
The idea that the only qualification for developing and teaching a college course is a Ph.D. is stunningly counterproductive. The knowledge necessary to design a course is not the exclusive property of the terminally credentialed. The passion necessary to teach, which really means to co-learn, does not co-vary with years spent in school. How can we recognize that staff have the ability and background to teach, and that the work they do often lends itself to translation into courses? How can we set up systems, processes, incentives and rewards to enlarge the pool of instructors to include staff?
At many colleges and universities staff have been brought into the teaching process with great success. I’ve seen this occur most notably in freshman seminar classes. These small courses, led by faculty and staff partners, often focus on the ethical and behavior issues (or sometimes study and interpersonal skills) essential for new students to engage with but often not covered in the regular curriculum. Community building freshman seminars can reduce the risk of attrition by connecting new students with a supportive group of adults working at the college and peers early in their college career. Since these courses are often new offerings, and they are instructor intensive to design and run, there seems to be a great flexibility in enlarging the pool of acceptable instructors to the large staff population.

All sitting comfortably?

David Pilling:

From a distance it sounds like the chanting of monks. Only as one approaches the building, set in the lush fields of a school playground, does it become apparent who is making the sound: dozens of girls quietly reading books.
Sat on rows of wooden chairs laid out in the library, they mouth the words as they trace a finger slowly along the text, breaking off only to admire the colourful pictures. Though each child is reading a different story, their words mingle to form a gentle hum, lending an almost sacred air to the bright little room.
In Laos, a school library is indeed sacred. Books are rare in the isolated villages where four-fifths of the landlocked nation’s 7m people eke out the slenderest of livings. The communist government has been slow in implementing its theoretical commitment to free education. Literacy rates have risen, though many people who have learnt to read soon forget because they lack reading materials. According to Room to Read, the charity that helped build and stock this library and hundreds of others like it, still only 60 per cent of women and 77 per cent of men can read and write.
Many schools, often ramshackle thatched structures with leaking roofs, cannot offer a full range of tuition. Sometimes teachers instruct two or three years of classes simultaneously – if they have not ditched their class to earn supplementary income elsewhere. Student dropout rates are high, especially for girls, who typically quit at around 13. Many parents would prefer a helping hand at home or in the paddy fields.

2009 SAT Male / Female Ratio Test Scores

Mark Perry:

The chart above shows the male-female test score ratio for the 2009 SAT math test (data here). For example, for perfect scores of 800, males (6,928) outnumbered females (3,124) by a ratio of 2.22 to 1. In other words, 69% of test-takers who got perfect math scores were males vs. 31% of perfect scores by females. Or we could also say that there 222 high school boys who got perfect SAT math scores for every 100 high school girls.
The graph further shows that boys outperformed girls at all 23 math test scores between 580-800 (10 point intervals, with male-female ratios of 1.0 or above), and then for math test scores between 200 points and 570, girls outnumbered boys (male-female ratio below 1.0).

100 Coolest Science Videos on YouTube

Online School:

Just about everybody can find a YouTube video they appreciate these days, whether they love animals, practical jokes, dance, politics, or academia-even science. From evolution to the future of medicine, the following videos encompass nearly every aspect of science a student would need to know. Some are 90 minutes long, while others are 20 seconds, but all of them are full of valuable information for the modern scientist.

Youths see all parental control negatively when there’s a lot of it

Science Codex:

A new study has found that young people feel differently about two types of parental control, generally viewing a type of control that’s thought to be better for their development more positively. However, when parents are very controlling, young people no longer make this distinction and view both types of parental control negatively.
The study, conducted in the United States by researchers at Örebro University in Sweden, appears in the November/December 2009 issue of the journal Child Development. Unlike a lot of prior research on parenting that’s focused on control, this study looked at how adolescents view and react to parental control.
Scholars tell us that parental control falls into two categories: behavioral control (when parents help their children regulate themselves and feel competent by providing supervision, setting limits, and establishing rules) and psychological control (when parents are manipulative in their behavior, often resulting in feelings of guilt, rejection, or not being loved). It’s thought that behavioral control is better for youngsters’ development.

Gateses Give $290 Million for Teacher Evaluation, Effectivness and Tenure

Sam Dillon:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced its biggest education donation in a decade, $290 million, in support of three school districts and five charter groups working to transform how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure.
A separate $45 million research initiative will study 3,700 classroom teachers in six cities, including New York, seeking to answer the question that has puzzled investigators for decades: What, exactly, makes a good teacher effective?
The twin projects represent a rethinking of the foundation’s education strategy, previously focused largely on smaller grants intended to remake troubled American high schools. With these new, larger grants, the foundation is seeking to transform teacher management policies in four cities in hopes that the innovations can spread.
The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools.

Now that the Gates foundation is “rethinking” its previous “small learning community” grants, will local thinking change on the same?
In my view, we as a community should do everything we can to hire (and pay) the best teachers. That does, as the Gates Foundation recognizes via this grant, require changes to the current UAW teacher union model…..

Educational exchanges can help Michigan grow

Muskegon Chronicle Editorial:

A lot of phrases come to mind when you think about Michigan these days, but leader in international education probably isn’t at the top of the list.
A new report, released during International Education Week, says the University of Michigan and Michigan State University are among the national leaders for educational exchange.
The Institute of International Education report, “Open Doors 2009,” listed the University of Michigan as sixth in the nation in the number of international students attending the university in 2008-09. U-M had 5,790 foreign students. The University of Southern California led with 7,482. MSU was 10th with 4,757 foreign students.
The state is ranked eighth in the nation with 23,617 foreign students studying at our colleges and universities, an increase of 3.3 percent. Joining U-M and MSU as leading host campuses are Wayne State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan universities.
The foreign students spent about $592.4 million in Michigan on tuition and living expenses in 2008-09 — a half-billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.
Overall, 671,616 international students attended U.S. colleges, up 8 percent from a year ago. The foreign students mainly chose business and engineering courses and California and New York City were their top destinations.
Most of the foreign students come from India followed by China, South Korea, Canada and Japan. But in Michigan, Chinese students make up 18 percent of the foreign students followed by India at 16.5 percent; South Korea, 12.5 percent; Canada, 12 percent; and Taiwan, 3.9 percent.

Tips for the Admissions Test … to Kindergarten

Sharon Otterman:

Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, a leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.
But then came something she had never seen before: a visual analogy showing a picture of a whole cake next to a slice of cake. What picture went with a loaf of bread in the same way?
Kayla, who will be 4 in December, held her tiny pointer finger still as she inspected the four choices. “Too hard,” she peeped.
Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.

The Providence Effect in Action

Mark Bauerlein:

Fifty minutes into The Providence Effect, a documentary profile of Providence-St. Mel School in Chicago, an extraordinary episode unfolds.
The school principal, Jeannette M. DiBella, strolls down the hall and peeks inside a math classroom. All is quiet. The teacher sits at his desk at the back of the room looking down at his notes. Each students sits at a desk at work on books and papers (they look like 8th or 9th Graders). Everything appears orderly and proper.
DiBella doesn’t move on, though.
“Are they taking a test?” she whispers.
The teacher answers that the students are doing independent study to ensure that they are “ready for the next week.” DiBella begins to wander the rows, asking the teacher with a grin, “Are you sure that’s what they’re doing?”
One student turns to look up at her as she approaches–a sure sign of uncertainty.

Portfolio exams–wave of the future or big cop-out?

Jay Matthews:

Today’s ed page has a startling story by my colleague Michael Alison Chandler on the rapid spread—and resulting score inflation—of portfolio exams in Virginia. These are collections of classwork of students with learning disabilities or insufficient English. They substitute for the usual state multiple choice tests in assessing those students’ progress, and the progress of their school. At one Fairfax County elementary school, Chandler reports, the reading passing rate for English learners has gone from 52 to 94 percent and for special education students 34 to 100 percent in the two years this system has been in place. Sound fishy to you? It does to me, but I think it is going to force some interesting and likely beneficial changes.
I am NOT saying the teachers who compile their students’ portfolios and the educators (who don’t usually know the students) who grade them are trying to deceive us. I am sure they are doing their best to be fair and accurate. But it is difficult for empathetic human beings like educators to resist the temptation to err on the side of generosity when assessing students, particularly when we are talking about those struggling with disadvantages.
It is clear to me, and I suspect to most readers, that this system inflates achievement scores. Of course, so has the assessment system we have been using in schools since the beginning of public education—teachers grading their own students’ work. We seem to have prospered as a nation despite giving many struggling students a break on their report cards. I don’t think portfolios used in this limited way are going to ruin the effort to set strong national standards, but I think it is going to give a big push to the idea of introducing independent inspectors to assess the effectiveness of schools and teachers.

Teacher Union Chief Paul Hubbert says he’ll battle to keep charter schools out of Alabama

Rena Havner Philips:

Calling charter schools a “fad” that takes money away from public schools, teachers union boss Paul Hubbert said he will fight Gov. Bob Riley’s proposal to bring them to Alabama.
Riley told the Press-Register on Tuesday that he would like the Alabama Legislature to pass a law enabling the creation of charter schools. It’s the only way, he said, that Alabama will be able to compete against other states for $4.35 billion in education funds that President Barack Obama is giving out as part of his Race to the Top campaign.
But Hubbert, who holds influence as executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said Thursday that he’ll fight any charter proposal.
“I intend to oppose it strongly,” Hubbert said. “I think it’s wrong and I think it will hurt far more than help.
“It would absolutely take money from the public schools and put it in a charter school, which basically operates like a private school,” Hubbert said.

New national study finds more than half of cheerleading injuries in US due to stunts

Science Codex:

Whether rallying the crowd at a sporting event or participating in competition, cheerleading can be both fun and physically demanding. Although integral to cheerleading routines, performing stunts can lead to injury. Stunt-related injuries accounted for more than half (60 percent) of U.S. cheerleading injuries from June 2006 through June 2007, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Published as a series of four separate articles on cheerleading-related injuries in the November issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, the study focused on general cheerleading-related injuries, cheerleading stunt-related injuries, cheerleading fall-related injuries and surfaces used by cheerleaders. Data from the study showed that nearly all (96 percent) of the reported concussions and closed-head injuries were preceded by the cheerleader performing a stunt.
“In our study, stunts were defined as cradles, elevators, extensions, pyramids, single-based stunts, single-leg stunts, stunt-cradle combinations, transitions and miscellaneous partner and group stunts,” said author Brenda Shields, research coordinator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Teaching the Golden Rules

Alina Dizik:

Creating a course to teach corporate social responsibility isn’t as easy to do as, say, honing a curriculum for Finance 101.
After all, integrating public and societal interests into corporate decision-making strategies is tricky. Teaching students to become socially responsible managers first requires dispelling previous notions about where personal values fit in the workplace, says Daylian Cain, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. Acting on your values is more complex than it might seem.
In an interview, Mr. Cain, who specializes in conflict of interest issues, spoke about imparting these ideals.

Washington School Superintendent Calls for Delay on Math and Science Requirements

Teodora Popescu:

Yesterday, at the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) conference at the Westin in downtown Seattle, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced his new plans for math and science graduation requirements to an audience of over 1,000 statewide school board members.
Dorn, elected as a reformer last year, said it was necessary to postpone stricter graduation requirements for math until the class of 2015, and all graduation requirements for science until the class of 2017, to give students and teachers appropriate time to adjust to pending reforms.
For math graduation requirements until 2015, Dorn is okay with giving students a fall back option of earning two credits of math after tenth grade in order to graduate (a choice that is set to disappear in 2013) in place of passing a set of exams. Reformers want the scheduled changes–getting rid of the additional course work graduation option–to kick in for the class of 2013. They want students to have to pass either a state exam or two end-of-course exams to graduate starting in 2013–without Dorn’s fallback.
For 2015 and onward, Dorn offered a two-tier proposal: Students either meet the proficiency level in two end-of-course exams or students meet the basic level in the exams and earn four math credits. Students who don’t meet the basic level in the exams have the option of retesting with a comprehensive exam or using state-approved alternatives such as the SAT.
As far as the science graduation requirement, Dorn proposed postponing any requirements until the class of 2017, and replacing the current comprehensive assessment with end-of-course assessments in physical and life sciences. The 2010 legislature (starting this January) is supposed to define the science requirements.

The problem with ‘Oprah as Teacher’

Valerie Strauss:

Oprah Winfrey seems to love to teach–on her top-rated television show, through commencement speeches, in her successful magazine.
But in an era where educators say the one thing students need to learn is so-called “critical thinking skills”–or the ability to deeply analyze problems–Winfrey does very little to help on several levels.
Winfrey’s mantra is self-empowerment, and that, of course, can be a very good thing–but only to a point. She goes well past that point way too often.
I’ve watched her show over the 23 years it has been televised (it was just announced that she is giving it up in 2011, and listened to speeches she has given, including one at Howard University’s graduation in 2007. Her message is loud and clear. As she told the Howard graduates:
“I’m here to tell you today, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t worry about it. Relax. . . . All you have to know is who you are.’ ”
Well, actually, no, that is not all people have to know to succeed. Furthermore, failure in this view means that you just aren’t good enough to get where you want to go, as if there were no real roadblocks in your way. Life, simply, is not that simple.

Now is the Time to Overhaul the Milwaukee Public Schools – Brown Professor Kenneth Wong

Alan Borsuk:

nter professor Kenneth K. Wong of Brown University in Providence, R.I., lead author of the 2007 book “The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools.” It was the fullest examination to date of the range of ways mayors have become involved in school governance in dozens of cities across the United States.
The book was generally favorable to well-executed mayoral involvement, broadly saying mayoral control creates a political environment for stronger decision making about improving schools. But the conclusions on academic impact were more tepid – Wong and his associates said there were improvements in reading and in math in many cases, but that, overall, getting the mayor involved didn’t help and sometimes harmed efforts to close the achievement gaps between have and have-not students.
Both supporters and critics of mayoral control have cited things in the book as supporting their side.
Wong spent three days in Madison and Milwaukee, guest of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, both based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wong was more assertive about the merits of mayoral control than he was in the book. “Mayoral control has a statistically significant positive effect on student achievement in reading and math at both elementary and high school grades,” he said.
Mayoral control, he said, eliminates the “nobody’s in charge culture” that leads to many school systems just keeping on doing things the way they’ve been done, even though they aren’t succeeding overall. With a clear point of power, there is clear accountability and motivation to make needed changes, he said.

From Oxford to Wall Street

Elliot Gerson:

Tonight, 32 young Americans will win Rhodes Scholarships. Their tenures at Oxford are funded by the legacy of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, a man whose life would not be honored today were it not for his vision that young people of outstanding intellect, leadership and ambition could make the world a better place.
For more than a century Rhodes scholars have left Oxford with virtually any job available to them. For much of this time, they have overwhelmingly chosen paths in scholarship, teaching, writing, medicine, scientific research, law, the military and public service. They have reached the highest levels in virtually all fields.
In the 1980s, however, the pattern of career choices began to change. Until then, even though business ambitions and management degrees have not been disfavored in our competition, business careers attracted relatively few Rhodes scholars. No one suggested this was an unfit domain; it was simply the rare scholar who went to Wall Street, finance and general business management. Only three American Rhodes scholars in the 1970s (out of 320) went directly into business from Oxford; by the late 1980s the number grew to that many in a year. Recently, more than twice as many went into business in just one year than did in the entire 1970s.

The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

Nancy Gibbs

The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old’s “pencil-holding deficiency,” hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field — “helicopter parents,” teachers christened us, a phenomenon that spread to parents of all ages, races and regions. Stores began marketing stove-knob covers and “Kinderkords” (also known as leashes; they allow “three full feet of freedom for both you and your child”) and Baby Kneepads (as if babies don’t come prepadded). The mayor of a Connecticut town agreed to chop down three hickory trees on one block after a woman worried that a stray nut might drop into her new swimming pool, where her nut-allergic grandson occasionally swam. A Texas school required parents wanting to help with the second-grade holiday party to have a background check first. Schools auctioned off the right to cut the carpool line and drop a child directly in front of the building — a spot that in other settings is known as handicapped parking.
We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it’s never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as “crispies,” who arrived at college already burned out, and “teacups,” who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.
This is what parenting had come to look like at the dawn of the 21st century — just one more extravagance, the Bubble Wrap waiting to burst.
All great rebellions are born of private acts of civil disobedience that inspire rebel bands to plot together. And so there is now a new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads. The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they’ll fly higher. We’re often the ones who hold them down.

Read more about “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.”

D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee Targets Teacher Tenure

Neil King, Jr. & John Hechinger:

The Obama administration says it wants to remake public education around the principle that the best teachers should be promoted and rewarded, regardless of seniority.
And a brawl over just that idea is now playing out in the shadow of the White House.
The chancellor of Washington’s school system, Michelle Rhee, is wrestling with one of the most expensive, worst performing school systems in the country. The dropout rate has hit 40%, and the cost per student is $14,000 a year. Buildings are crumbling and thousands of parents have abandoned the system, which serves about 45,000 students.
Ms. Rhee is trying to reduce what she believes to be a bloated school management and wrest more control over the district’s affairs from the powerful local teachers’ union. She has replaced principals, laid off teachers and closed underperforming schools.
She has also challenged what she feels is one of the biggest impediments to improvement: tenure, or strong job protections for teachers. The idea is to promise teachers much richer salaries, as well as performance bonuses, if they give up tenure. Good performers would be rewarded, poor performers gotten rid of.

German Students Fret Over Accelerated Degrees

Judy Dempsey:

Andrea Ballarin, 23, is a self-confident student hoping to graduate soon from Humboldt University in Berlin. But when she starts talking about getting a job once she graduates, her mood changes. The prospects, she said, are slim.
It is not because of the economic crisis facing Germany. Ms. Ballarin, who will graduate in Slavic studies, said the reason for such poor job prospects had more to do with the new higher-education policies the government recently introduced.
“It is not that I think the reforms are bad,” Ms. Ballarin said. “They are needed, but they are so ill-thought out in the way they are being introduced.”
In the past week, those changes have led to student demonstrations and sit-ins in many universities in Germany, which last year turned out over 309,000 graduates. Adding to the students’ anger, several universities have introduced tuition fees, €200 to €500 a semester, or about $300 to $750, to a previously free system.

Cal & Budget Cuts

Tamar Lewin:

As the University of California struggles to absorb its sharpest drop in state financing since the Great Depression, every professor, administrator and clerical worker has been put on furlough amounting to an average pay cut of 8 percent.
In chemistry laboratories that have produced Nobel Prize-winning research, wastebaskets are stuffed to the brim on the new reduced cleaning schedule. Many students are frozen out of required classes as course sections are trimmed.
And on Thursday, to top it all off, the Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate fees — the equivalent of tuition — by 32 percent next fall, to more than $10,000. The university will cost about three times as much as it did a decade ago, and what was once an educational bargain will be one of the nation’s higher-priced public universities.
Among students and faculty alike, there is a pervasive sense that the increases and the deep budget cuts are pushing the university into decline.
The budget cuts in California, topping $30 billion over the last two years, have touched all aspects of state government, including health care, welfare, corrections and recreation. They have led to a retrenchment in state services not seen in modern times, and for many institutions, including the state university system, have created a watershed moment.

Formation of China’s Ivy League hailed

China Daily:

China’s Ministry of Education voiced on Monday its support for the formation of C9, an academic conference comprising nine domestic prestigious universities and referred to as China’s Ivy League by some experts.
Xu Mei, the ministry’s spokeswoman, said the establishment of the conference is a “helpful attempt that is conducive to the country’s construction of high-quality colleges, cultivation of top-notch innovative talents and enhanced cooperation and exchanges between Chinese universities and their foreign counterparts.”
On October 12, nine institutions of higher learning including the elite Peking University and Tsinghua Univerisity signed cooperative agreements that featured flexible student exchange programs, deepened cooperation on the training of postgraduates, and establishment of a credit system that allows students to win credits through attending classes in member universities of C9.

University of Calif. approves big fee hikes

Michael Blood:

The governing board of the University of California approved a $2,500 student fee increase Thursday after two days of tense campus protests across the state.
The vote by the Board of Regents in a windowless University of California, Los Angeles, meeting room took place as the drone of protesters could be heard from a plaza outside. Scores of police in riot gear guarded the building.
The 32 percent increase will push the cost of an undergraduate education at California’s premier public schools to over $10,000 a year by next fall, about triple the cost of a decade ago. The fees, the equivalent of tuition, do not include the cost of housing, board and books.
“Our hand has been forced,” UC President Mark Yudof told reporters after the vote. “When you don’t have any money, you don’t have any money.”

Idaho urged to beef up public education

Bill Roberts:

More Idaho high school students should go to college.
They need more rigorous math and science instruction.
And the state needs to find more highly qualified teachers — those who have degrees in the subjects they are teaching.
Those are among several recommendations expected to be unveiled Wednesday by a group of Idaho business leaders, parents and educators as a way for Idaho to provide a high-quality, cost-effective education.
The group, called the Education Alliance of Idaho, was formed after Gov. Butch Otter challenged business leaders in 2007 to look for ways to improve education in Idaho. Otter will introduce the alliance and the report at a news conference Wednesday morning.
The four broad goals and 17 recommendations are aimed at improving Idaho’s educational quality as compared to the rest of the country, said Guy Hurlbutt, Alliance chairman.
A proposal that high school students graduate with up to 30 college credits goes back to plans offered by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna since he took office in 2007 to increase availability of college credits in high schools as a way to help kids get a leg up on higher education and save some money.
Demanding more rigor in high school math and science dates back to high school reform pushed by the State Board of Education earlier this decade. Then, the board succeeded in adding an additional year of math and science to high school graduation credits, beginning with the class of 2013.
Nor is the alliance’s work the first shot at reform in Idaho public schools.

IBCEE press release.

Minorities in gifted classes studied

Michael Alison Chandler:

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced Tuesday that the Virginia Education Department has launched a study of minority students’ low participation in gifted education programs statewide.
African Americans represent 26 percent of the state’s 1.2 million students but 12 percent of those in gifted education programs. Hispanics are 9 percent of the state’s schoolchildren, but 5 percent of gifted students.
“Virginia is proud of both the high standards of our educational system and the wealth of diversity in our communities. . . . It’s critical we assess any disproportionate barriers . . . so we can ensure students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate,” Kaine said in a release.
NAACP officials have urged Kaine in recent months to address racial and ethnic disparities in new regulations for gifted education that he is expected to sign in the next few weeks. Some said a study does not go far enough to address their concerns.

Related: ““They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!