Charter pros, foes sharpen knives

Daniel Massey:

Amid a sea of moms and dads wearing T-shirts declaring themselves “Proud charter parents” and kids waving handmade signs that read, “I am College Bound,” Daniel Clark grabbed a microphone at P.S. 92 in Harlem earlier this month and told the more than 150 people gathered for a Department of Education hearing that his son Daniel Jr. and four friends now proudly call themselves the “Geek Five.”
Mr. Clark says his son was a “super slacker” before he arrived at the Democracy Prep charter school two and half years ago. But the eighth grader “now goes around telling everyone he’s going to be mayor–and he believes it.”

Duncan’s staff kept list of politicians’ school requests

Azam Ahmed and Stephanie Banchero:

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.
Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.
The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

D.C. Schools Chanceller Rhee taps media adviser Anita Dunn to help improve image

Bill Turque:

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, whose image has been frayed by a series of high-profile news controversies, is turning to former White House communications director and veteran Democratic media consultant Anita Dunn for help.
A D.C. schools spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the agency is negotiating a contract with Dunn’s firm, Squier Knapp Dunn. The objective is to more effectively handle the heavy load of local and national news media attention that Rhee attracts and to help roll out major stories to greater strategic advantage. The spokeswoman said Dunn has devoted time to District school issues but would not elaborate.

RTI and Gifted – Revisited

Tamara Fisher:

A few months back, I wrote here at “Teacher Magazine” about RTI (“Response to Intervention”) and its possible implications for and adaptations for gifted students. The response to that post has been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed hearing from so many of you about how RTI is being adapted to included the gifted population in your schools. I wanted to take a moment today to post a couple updates for you regarding happenings since I last wrote about the topic.
First, ASCD contacted me a couple months ago wanting to interview me about RTI and Gifted Education. The transcript of the interview is now available online and includes some great new links at the bottom with relevant RTI/GT information.

Commentary: It’s change or die for the Detroit Public Schools

Nolan Finley:

Robert Bobb’s vision for radically restructuring Detroit’s failing education system is validated by the decision of Kansas City to shutter half of its schools.
Bobb intends to tear apart the Detroit Public Schools and rebuild the district on a foundation of small, nimble schools that are responsive to the needs of all children and fully accountable for how students perform. Everything will change, from how schools are managed to how teachers teach, and schools that don’t perform will be quickly shut down.
His proposals are raising howls from the special interests that benefit from keeping things as they are, as well as from some parents who aren’t willing to endure the sacrifice — closed schools and more rigorous standards — to make the changes possible.

Adult learning budgets to be slashed, further education colleges warn

Jessica Shepherd:

Further education colleges in England face 16% cuts to adult learning classes over the next academic year, it was claimed today, triggering fears that scores of courses will close.
Some 43 principals told a poll conducted by the Association of Colleges that their adult learning budgets would be slashed by 25%. On average, colleges said they would see a 16% reduction.
The association said the cuts equated to about £200m and could lead to dozens of basic numeracy and literacy courses, as well as A-level, GCSE and vocational classes for adults, being suspended.
The government has pledged to spend more than £3.5bn on further education and skills in 2010-11, but also said it would cut £340m from the sector in this period.

Understanding Teachers Contracts

Andrew Rotherham & Elena Silva:

Whether it’s the contentious multi-year negotiations over the teachers contract in Washington, D.C., or the debates in many states over competing for Race to the Top funds, teachers contracts are at the center of the education reform debate today. Once of interest only to education insiders, contract issues and calls for reform are now widespread. High profile editorial boards at major newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal regularly weigh-in on the topic. Articles in magazines like The New Yorker detail the effects of various contract provisions and processes.1 National voices as diverse as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are calling for more flexibility in how teachers are hired, fired, evaluated, and paid.
Despite increasing attention to contract reform, the public often has no idea what a typical teachers contract looks like. Although they are public documents, most contracts are not easily found on the Web sites of school districts or teachers unions; newspapers and local media do not publish them (and often offer only cursory coverage of the issues being discussed during collective bargaining negotiations).2 Meanwhile, those negotiations are often held out of public view, and the deals cut late at night. The documents themselves can be cumbersome, lawyerly, heavily influenced by side agreements and addendums, and generally hard for non-experts to figure out.

Math Puts a Decision from M.I.T. in Context

Erik Bates:

Knowing pi to 30 digits is not something I regularly brag about. In fact, a teacher told me the length to which one can recite pi is inversely related to one’s chances of obtaining a date. That may be true, but I thought it would at least increase my chances of receiving admission to M.I.T.
Befittingly, the university posted admission decisions on 3/14 at 1:59, the time of pi day universally enjoyed among fellow nerds.
Unfortunately, my logic proved incorrect, as I was not offered admittance into M.I.T.

British Students ‘Confused’ On Historic Facts

Morning Edition:

Queen Elizabeth may seem ancient to school children, but did she really invent the telephone? Ten percent of British students think so, according to a survey of science knowledge. They also believe Sir Isaac Newton discovered fire, and Luke Skywalker was the first person on the moon.

It’s not just the British. While on travel recently, a seatmate (probably 30) asked me where Denver and Chicago were on the map (we were flying to Denver). Another seatmate some time later mentioned that their retail business deals with many citizens who don’t know the difference between horizontal and vertical

Fixing No Child Left Behind

Wall Street Journal:

The Obama Administration wants to revise the No Child Left Behind education law, which is understandable because the law has flaws. But it’s too bad many of the proposed fixes would weaken the statute and undermine the Administration’s twin goal of raising state education standards.
Some of the White House proposals make sense, such as the push for more charter schools that can focus on the specific needs of their student populations by operating outside of collective bargaining agreements. We also like using student test scores to measure an instructor’s effectiveness and influence teacher pay. Both reforms are strongly opposed by the teachers unions, and Team Obama deserves credit for putting children ahead of the National Education Association.
Other parts of its proposal leave us scratching our heads. The Administration wants to junk NCLB’s requirement that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014 and replace it with an equally unrealistic goal of making all kids “college ready” by 2020. By this thinking, it’s impossible to teach every kid to read at grade level within the next three years, but getting all of them ready for higher education six years later is doable.

Obama’s Education Proposal Still a Bottomless Bag

Neal McCluskey:

This morning the Obama Administration officially released its proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka, No Child Left Behind). The proposal is a mixed bag, and still one with a gaping hole in the bottom.
Among some generally positive things, the proposal would eliminate NCLB’s ridiculous annual-yearly-progress and “proficiency” requirements, which have driven states to constantly change standards and tests to avoid having to help students achieve real proficiency. It would also end many of the myriad, wasteful categorical programs that infest the ESEA, though it’s a pipedream to think members of Congress will actually give up all of their pet, vote-buying programs.
On the negative side of the register, the proposed reauthorization would force all states to either sign onto national mathematics and language-arts standards, or get a state college to certify their standards as “college and career ready.” It would also set a goal of all students being college and career ready by 2020. But setting a single, national standard makes no logical sense because all kids have different needs and abilities; no one curriculum will ever optimally serve but a tiny minority of students.

Will Issaquah Pick Poor Math Books?

Charlie Mas:

Issaquah and Sammamish are home to a well educated population, many of which are employed in professional and high tech occupations. Thus, it is surprising that the Issaquah School District administration is doing everything possible to place very poor math books in its schools.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 24) night the Issaquah School Board will vote on the administration’s recommendation for the Discovering Math series in their high schools. These are very poor math texts:
(1) Found to be “unsound” by mathematicians hired the State Board of Education.
(2) Found to be inferior to a more traditional series (Holt) by pilot tests by the Bellevue School District
(3) That have been rejected by Bellevue, Lake Washington, North Shore, and Shoreline (to name only a few)
(4) Whose selection by the Seattle School District was found to be arbitrary and capricious by King County Judge Spector.
(5) That are classic, weak, inquiry or “reform” math textbooks that stress group work, student investigations, and calculator use over the acquisition of key math skills.

Madison School District Outbound Open Enrollment Applications 2010-2011 School Year; As of 3/18/2010

Complete Report 36k PDF, via a kind reader:

The pattern of an increasing number of open enrollment transfer applications continued this spring. As of March, 18, 2010 there were 765 unique resident MMSD students applying to attend non-MMSD districts and schools. The ratio of number of leaver applications to enterer applications is now 5:1.
It is important to note that not all applications result in students actually changing their district or school of enrollment. For example, for the 2009-10 school year although 402 new open enrollment students were approved by both MMSD and the non-resident districts to attend the non-resident district, only 199 actually were enrolled in the non-resident district on the third Friday September 2009 membership count date. Still, the trend has been upward in the number of students leaving the district.

Related: 2009 Madison School District Outbound Open Enrollment Parent Survey.
A school district’s student population affects its tax & spending authority.

“Anything But Knowledge”: “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach”

from The Burden of Bad Ideas Heather Mac Donald, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.
America’s nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation’s teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores–things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. “Let’s be honest,” darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University’s Teachers College last February. “What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?” It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.
The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)–self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity–but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in “constructing one’s own knowledge,” or “contextualized knowledge.” Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.
The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to “professionalize” teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats’ pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.
The course in “Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education” that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.
As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson’s course doesn’t give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn’t either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by “building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing.” On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be “getting the students to develop the subtext of what they’re doing.” I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.
“Developing the subtext” turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and–most admirably–quickly checking the students’ weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light “texts,” both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions; “What excites me about teaching?” “What concerns me about teaching?” and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: “What was it like to do this writing?”

Continue reading “Anything But Knowledge”: “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach”

10 things you won’t learn in school

Marty Abbott & Michael Fisher:

You can learn a lot of things in the classroom.
A lot of the knowledge you’ll glean comes in the form of facts (or “laws”) on how and why certain things work. A few lessons involve behaviors, such as team work. On very rare occasions, one learns a life lesson.
But there are some things you’ll never learn in the classroom. Hopefully, this will fill some of the gaps:
Ethical Challenges Occur More Frequently Than You Expect – Some engineering programs and a large number of business programs offer courses on ethics, but while these courses might expose the student to certain predicaments, they seldom help the student develop the muscle memory necessary to respond to ethical dilemmas.

At Compton school, teen tutors and adult students learn from each other

Nicole Santa Cruz:

As part of a Compton Adult School tutoring program, adults trying to pass the California High School Exit Examination get an assist from Palos Verdes High students.
Brandy Rice eyed the test question.
She thought of what her tutor directed her to do: Read the entire sentence. Read all the answers.
Instead of playing multiple-choice roulette with the answers as she had so many times before, she followed the directions.
Rice, 26, was one of 20 Compton Adult School students in a tutoring program for the California High School Exit Examination. The tutors weren’t teachers, but teenagers from Palos Verdes High School.
The tutors carpooled from the green, laid-back beach community on a hill to Compton every Saturday for five weeks. Most had never before been to Compton and weren’t used to getting up at 7 a.m. on a weekend.

Bill targets school board standards

Jim Walls:

The fallout from Clayton County schools’ recent meltdown, in all likelihood, will drift down on Georgia’s 179 other boards of education this summer.
Lawmakers are nearing final approval of a bill that would set minimum ethics standards for local school boards and empower the governor, in some cases, to remove members who can’t adhere to them. It would take effect July 1.
The measure is a response to the Clayton school system being stripped of accreditation in 2008 over ethical breaches by several board members.
They met behind closed doors and berated staff in public. One worked behind the scenes to fire her son’s football coach. Several aligned themselves with competing teachers’ groups and voted along union lines.

Supercool School wants to be the Ning of online education

Paul Boutin:

Supercool School, which allows anyone to create an online learning environment for which they can charge students, says it has a $450 million dollar total addressable market opportunity in the U.S. alone, with over two million potential customers.
Supercool founder Steli Efti told me what he’s trying to create is the Ning of Education, allowing anyone to build their own educational site.
“We provide a white label platform that allows everyone to create and customize an online school,” he said in an email. “The platform allows for social learning and real-time virtual classrooms and can be turned into a business by monetizing content and courses online.”

K-12 Job Trends Amidst Stimulus Funds: Early Findings

Marguerite Roza, Chris Lozier & Cristina Sepe, via a Deb Britt email:

In February 2009, with some 600,000 education jobs threatened by the worst fiscal downturn in decades, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated about $100 billion to states. Topping the list of ARRA’s goals was saving and creating jobs. Since then, states have had to provide quarterly estimates of ARRA-funded jobs, and yet these reports stop far short of telling the whole story on whether the stimulus plan is meeting its job goals. Some have voiced methodological concerns, and many have acknowledged that identifying those jobs paid for by ARRA funds does not imply that the jobs were indeed saved or created.
The larger question that has been left unanswered, however, is whether ARRA has indeed worked to stabilize education employment from what otherwise might have been heavy losses in the current fiscal environment. Or for some, a parallel question is whether ARRA has prompted states to grow their education workforce, thereby making them more vulnerable to a “funding cliff” with larger layoffs when ARRA ends. Answering these questions requires evidence of the greater trend in total K-12 jobs, not just the trends in ARRA-funded jobs.

First choice for charters, second (or third) chance for players

Josh Barr:

Check out at the boys’ basketball rosters for Friendship Collegiate and the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers and the number of transfers on each team is striking. Nearly all of the players on both rosters started their high school careers elsewhere before transferring to one of the two D.C. public charter schools.
“We’re cleaning up, we’re the last stop,” KIMA Coach Levet Brown said. “Do you think I could get a Eugene McCrory if he was doing well somewhere else?”
Indeed, McCrory — who has committed to play for Seton Hall and was selected to play in the Capital Classic — attended C.H. Flowers and Parkdale in Prince George’s County and Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax during his first three years of high school.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate Obama (US Government) Pays More Than Buffett as U.S. Risks AAA Rating

Daniel Kruger & Bryan Keogh:

The bond market is saying that it’s safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.
Two-year notes sold by the billionaire’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in February yield 3.5 basis points less than Treasuries of similar maturity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Procter & Gamble Co., Johnson & Johnson and Lowe’s Cos. debt also traded at lower yields in recent weeks, a situation former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. chief fixed-income strategist Jack Malvey calls an “exceedingly rare” event in the history of the bond market.
The $2.59 trillion of Treasury Department sales since the start of 2009 have created a glut as the budget deficit swelled to a post-World War II-record 10 percent of the economy and raised concerns whether the U.S. deserves its AAA credit rating. The increased borrowing may also undermine the first-quarter rally in Treasuries as the economy improves.
“It’s a slap upside the head of the government,” said Mitchell Stapley, the chief fixed-income officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Fifth Third Asset Management, which oversees $22 billion. “It could be the moment where hopefully you realize that risk is beginning to creep into your credit profile and the costs associated with that can be pretty scary.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Moody’s fears social unrest as AAA states implement austerity plans

Ambrose Evens-Pritchard:

The world’s five biggest AAA-rated states are all at risk of soaring debt costs and will have to implement austerity plans that threaten “social cohnesion”, according to a report on sovereign debt by Moody’s.
The US rating agency said the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Spain are walking a tightrope as they try to bring public finances under control without nipping recovery in the bud. It warned of “substantial execution risk” in withdrawal of stimulus.
“Growth alone will not resolve an increasingly complicated debt equation. Preserving debt affordability at levels consistent with AAA ratings will invariably require fiscal adjustments of a magnitude that, in some cases, will test social cohesion,” said Pierre Cailleteau, the chief author.
“We are not talking about revolution, but the severity of the crisis will force governments to make painful choices that expose weaknesses in society,” he said.
If countries tighten too soon, they risk stifling recovery and making maters worse by eroding tax revenues: yet waiting too is “no less risky” as it would test market patience. “At the current elevated debt levels, a rise in the government’s cost of funding can very quickly render debt much less affordable.”

Seattle Math Group Update

Martha McLaren:

Thanks to all the people who have written, expressing your support and dedication to this effort, and also to those who have so generously made financial donations. We are many, many people nationwide standing in solidarity in our commitment to make effective math education accessible to all students.
I apologize to those who have looked for news recently on this blog: I’ve been following other math ed news, but little has been happening directly regarding our lawsuit, so I haven’t sat down to give updates.
In the last 6 weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for our lawsuit and its outcome, as well a surge of determination to deflect the tide of inquiry-based math instruction that has flooded so many of our schools. I’ve been very moved by letters from parents who have struggled (heroically, and often poignantly, it seems to me) to support their children in developing strong math skills despite curricula that they found confusing, unintelligible, and deeply discouraging. I strongly believe that, whether the Seattle School District’s appeal of Judge Spector’s decision succeeds or fails, the continuing legal action will only heighten public awareness of the tragic and devastating results of the nationwide inquiry-based math experiment. The public NEEDS TO KNOW about this debacle. I think/hope that our lawsuit and its aftermath are helping this to happen.

Eye-Opener: NCAA’s “Dirty Dozen” down to 4

Tom Weir:

Good morning. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan must be fairly pleased with the NCAA tournament results so far. Of the 12 teams he branded as unworthy of being in the tourney because of their graduation rates, eight have been knocked off.
Gone from the “Dirty Dozen” that didn’t meet Duncan’s standard of at least a 40% grad rate: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (29%), California (20%), Clemson (37%), Georgia Tech (38%), Louisville (38%), Maryland (8%), Missouri (36%), New Mexico State (36%).
Still alive in the Sweet 16: Baylor (36%), Kentucky (31%), Tennessee (30%), Washington (29%). Washington will be an underdog to West Virginia, as will be Tennessee to Ohio State. Baylor will be favored over St. Mary’s, and the most interesting matchup of the minds will be Kentucky, facing the Ivy League’s Cornell.

“Are you a PC or a Mac?”: an interview with Principal David Elliott on the tech focus of Seattle’s Queen Anne Elementary

Mary Cropp:

Among piles of paperwork and shelves crowded with books on edu-topics, David Elliott’s office at Coe Elementary is crammed with pictures of baseball teams he has coached, crayoned drawings, and letters with childish handwriting careening all over the page. There’s a lot of stuff that he is going to need to haul out of here at the end of June when he moves to become principal at Queen Anne Elementary.
Elliott concedes that a recent shift in focus at this soon-to-open school, coupled with a lack of publicity, has a lot of parents scratching their heads about whether or not to enroll their child in this so called “Option School.” And time is running out — the Open Enrollment period will come to a close on March 31st. To that end, Elliott sat down with me earlier this week (full disclosure: my kids go to Coe Elementary) to discuss this new venture he is heading up. Elliot’s answers to my questions are in italics.

At first Seattle Public Schools said that Queen Anne Elementary was going to be a Montessori school. Now it is going to have a “technology” focus. How did that change come about?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – Introduction

Online Gallery:

This manuscript – one of the British Library’s best – loved treasures – is the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.
Dodgson was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college, Christ Church. One summer’s day in 1862 he entertained them on a boat trip with a story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit-hole. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale – in a tiny, neat hand – and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to ‘a dear child, in memory of a summer day’, in November 1864.

School Districts Losing Public Support: Kansas City

Nicholas Riccardi:

The Kansas City, Mo., district is closing nearly half its campuses after 10 years of dwindling student population. It’s what happens when a district loses support of the public it is meant to serve.
During the warm months, when students at Westport High School got too hot, they cooled down by moving to one of the many vacant classrooms on campus. It was one of the advantages of having 400 students assigned to a school that could hold 1,200.
The downside became apparent last week, though, when the Kansas City school board voted to close Westport and 25 other schools — nearly half of the district’s campuses.
Big-city districts shutter schools all the time. Cities such as Denver and Portland, Ore., have seen childless young families repopulate their urban cores and have adjusted accordingly.
But what is happening in Kansas City is different in scale than anywhere else in the country. It’s an extreme example of what happens when a school system loses the support of the public it’s meant to serve.

The Decline in the Value of the British Pound Has Reduced the Cost of a Week at Oxford This Summer to $1,564

Arthur Frommer:

When the British Pound had a value of $2 and more (a couple of years ago), most American travelers — even those in love with everything British — found that they could no longer afford a week at Oxford University’s famous summer courses for foreign adults. Those weeks each cost at least $2,000 per person, plus the cost of trans-Atlantic airfare, and the overall tab was simply too steep to consider.
We’ve been reminded by the PR rep for Oxford in the United States that the sharp recent decline in the value of the Pound (it now sells for about $1.50) has sharply altered the cost of a week in Oxford. Such weeks, including tuition, accommodation and all meals (everything except private bathrooms and occasional countryside excursions), usually cost £1,050, and that amount currently converts to only $1,564. Where else, Oxford asks, can you get a choice of 50 fascinating courses, accommodations, three copious meals daily, and evening entertainment, for $1,564 — or little more than $200 a day?

With the Lure of Generous Aid, Oklahoma State Beckons

Erik Bates:

The challenges of the impending college application process made themselves far too evident when our ACT proctor instructed, “Now fill in the bubbles to select four schools to which you would like your scores sent.” It was March of my junior year, and I had scarcely seen four colleges in my life, let alone reviewed their application guidelines and exact mileage away from my front door.
Following standardized testing season, the deluge of information began flooding in — from counselors, from teachers, and from students. Though the many resources available to applicants are often quite useful, at times I would have rather received one, detailed e-mail than a thousand vague ones.

Principal, teacher clash on cheating

Jay Matthews:

Last week’s column, full of practical suggestions on how to limit cheating, did not seem controversial to me. Many teachers sent their own ideas. Many recommended small adjustments, such as having the questions in different order for different students, to hinder copying.
So I was surprised to hear from Erich Martel, an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Wilson High School in the District, that his principal, Peter Cahall, was critical of him doing that.
Martel’s classroom, 18 by 25 feet, feels like shoebox to him. Some days he squeezes in 30 students, plus himself. That is 15 square feet per student, which Martel has been told is well below the district standard of 25 square feet. The cramped conditions led to a disagreement when Cahall assessed Martel’s work under the school district’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system.

We don’t know how to fix bad schools

Rod Dreher:

From Slate’s review of Dianne Ravitch’s new book, in which the former advocate of No Child Left Behind and charter schools admits they’ve failed. Excerpt:

The data, as Ravitch says, disappoints on other fronts, too–not least in failing to confirm high hopes for charter schools, whose freedom from union rules was supposed to make them success stories. To the shock of many (including Ravitch), they haven’t been. And this isn’t just according to researchers sympathetic to labor. A 2003 national study by the Department of Education (under George W. Bush) found that charter schools performed, on average, no better than traditional public schools. (The study was initially suppressed because it hadn’t reached the desired conclusions.) Another study by two Stanford economists, financed by the Walton Family and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations (staunch charter supporters), involved an enormous sample, 70 percent of all charter students. It found that an astonishing 83 percent of charter schools were either no better or actually worse than traditional public schools serving similar populations. Indeed, the authors concluded that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1.
Obviously, some high-visibility success stories exist, such as the chain run by the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which I’ve previously discussed here. But these are the decided exceptions, not the rule. And there’s no evidence that a majority of eligible families are taking advantage of charters, good or bad. “While advocates of choice”–again, Ravitch included–“were certain that most families wanted only the chance to escape their neighborhood school, the first five years of NCLB demonstrated the opposite,” she writes. In California, for example, less than 1 percent of students in failing schools actually sought a transfer. In Colorado, less than 2 percent did. If all this seems a little counterintuitive, Ravitch would be the first to agree. That’s why she supported charters in the first place. But the evidence in their favor, she insists, simply hasn’t materialized.

Biases Said to Hinder Women in Math, Science

Tamar Lewin:

A report on the underrepresentation of women in science and math by the American Association of University Women, to be released today, found that although women have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success.
The report, “Why So Few?” supported by the National Science Foundation, examined decades of research to gather recommendations for drawing more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.
“We scanned the literature for research with immediate applicability,” said Catherine Hill, the university women’s research director and lead author of the report. “We found a lot of small things can make a difference, like a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering, or teaching children that math ability is not fixed, but grows with effort.”

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Marc Eisen:

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town are “above average.” Well, in the School of Education they’re all A students.
The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.
This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW’s schools. Scrolling through the Registrar’s online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C’s and only the really high performers score A’s.
Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody’s a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that’s the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A’s and a handful of A/B’s. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.
A host of questions are prompted by the appearance of such brilliance. Can all these apprentice teachers really be that smart? Is there no difference in their abilities? Why do the grades of education majors far outstrip the grades of students in the physical sciences and mathematics? (Take a look at the chart below.)

The UW-Madison School of Education has no small amount of influence on the Madison School District.

The foibles of progressive schooling prompt a search for a better alternative

Warren Kozak:

Here’s how my formal education began: On a September morning in 1957, my mother and I walked the block and a half to 53rd Street School on Milwaukee’s northwest side. We went to the school office, she filled out some forms, said goodbye and “see you at lunch.” Here was another Kozak for the Milwaukee Public Schools to educate.
There was, of course, no choice, which made the entire process much simpler. Since we weren’t Catholic, the parochial alternative wasn’t an option, and if there were any private schools in Milwaukee at the time (there was one), I’m sure my parents never considered it.
There was good reason for my parents’ carefree attitude. The public school system in Milwaukee circa 1957 was first-rate. The teachers were committed professionals. The curriculum had not changed appreciably since my parents’ day. They were satisfied with their experience and found the public schools perfectly adequate for their children.

Preschool education: Should it be extended?

Laura Bruno:

One by one the preschoolers washed their hands after having their milk and snacks and sat on a rug, waiting for teacher Jill Dunlop 001 ? 0008.00 00001to introduce the letter of the day.
Using a Hippopotamus hand puppet, Dunlop sounded out the letter “h” and asked the five children, ages 3 to 5, to each identify words such as house, horse and hammer from various pictures on her easel. The abilities of the children ranged from 4-year-old Emma, who can write her name, to 3-year-old Kimberly, a native Spanish speaker who is so painfully shy she doesn’t speak a word during the 2 1/2 hour class.
At Butler’s Aaron Decker School, these preschoolers are learning to become students three days a week this year, down from five days last year. Local voters rejected the school budget last year, forcing cuts, including the preschool program. Federal stimulus funding was used to restore the limited program, so it’s unclear if the program will survive next year.
“We’re trying to hold on as much as we can. Three days is better than no days,” said Virginia Scala, Decker’s principal.

Meaningful Academic Work

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
22 March 2010
In Outliers [2008], Malcolm Gladwell writes [p. 149-159] that: “…three things–autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward–are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying…Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful.” (emphasis in the original)
One of the perennial complaints of students in our schools is that they will never make use of what they are learning, and as for the work they are asked to do, they often say: “Why do we have to learn/do/put up with this?” In short, they often see the homework/schoolwork they are given to do as not very fulfilling or meaningful.
In this article I will argue that reading good history books and writing serious history research papers provide the sort of work which students do find meaningful, worth doing, and not as hard to imagine as having some future use.
In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“…It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process–or better yet become involved in it–productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits–history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned–it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

His point has value twenty years later. Even the current CCSSO National Standards recommend merely snippets of readings, called “informational texts,” and “literacy skills” for our students, which, if that is all they get, will likely bore them and disengage them for the reasons that Mr. Shanker pointed out.
Students who read “little bits” of history books have nothing like the engagement and interest that comes from reading the whole book, just as students who “find the main idea” and write little “personal essays,” or five-paragraph essays, or short “college” essays, will have nothing comparable to the satisfaction that comes from working on and completing a serious history research paper.
Barbara McClay, a homescholar from Tennessee, while she was in high school, wrote a paper on the “Winter War” between Finland and the Soviet Union. In an interview she was asked why she chose that topic:

“I’ve been interested in Finland for four years or so, and I had read a book (William Trotter’s A Frozen Hell) that interested me greatly on the Winter War; after reading the book, I often asked people if they had ever heard of the Winter War. To my surprise, not only had few of them heard about it, but their whole impression of Finnish-Soviet relations was almost completely different from the one I had received from the book. So there was a sense of indignation alongside my interest in Finland in general and the Winter War in particular: here was this truly magnificent story, and no one cared about it. Or knew about it, at least.
“And it is a magnificent story, whether anyone cares about it or not; it’s the stuff legends are made of, really, even down to the fact that Finland lost. And a sad one, too, both for Finland and for the Soviet soldiers destroyed by Soviet incompetence. And there’s so much my paper couldn’t even begin to go into; the whole political angle, for instance, which is very interesting, but not really what I wanted to write about. But the story as a whole, with all of its heroes and villains and absurdities–it’s amazing. Even if it were as famous as Thermopylae, and not as relatively obscure an event as it is, it would still be worth writing about.
“So what interested me, really, was the drama, the pathos, the heroism, all from this little ignored country in Northern Europe. What keeps a country fighting against an enemy it has no hope of defeating? What makes us instantly feel a connection with it?”

Perhaps this will give a feeling for the degree of engagement a young student can find in reading a good nonfiction history book and writing a serious [8,500-word, plus endnotes and bibliography] history research paper. [The Concord Review, 17/3 Spring 2007]
Now, before I get a lot of messages informing me that our American public high school students, even Seniors, are incapable of reading nonfiction books and writing 8,500 words on any topic, allow me to suggest that, if true, it may be because we need to put in place our “Page Per Year Plan,” which would give students practice, every year in school, in writing about something other than themselves. Thus, a first grader could assemble a one-page paper with one source, a fifth grader a five-page paper with five sources, a ninth grade student a nine-page with nine sources, and so on, and in that way, each and every Senior in our high schools could write a twelve-page paper [or better] with twelve sources [or better] about some historical topic.
By the time that Senior finished that paper, she/he would probably know more about that topic than anyone else in the building, and that would indeed be a source of engagement and satisfaction, in addition to providing great “readiness” for college and career writing tasks.
As one of our authors wrote:

…Yet of all my assignments in high school, none has been so academically and intellectually rewarding as my research papers for history. As young mathematicians and scientists, we cannot hope to comprehend any material that approaches the cutting edge. As young literary scholars, we know that our interpretations will almost never be original. But as young historians, we see a scope of inquiry so vast that somewhere, we must be able to find an idea all our own.
In writing this paper, I read almanacs until my head hurt. I read journal articles and books. I thought and debated and analyzed my notes. And finally, I had a synthesis that I could call my own. That experience–extracting a polished, original work from a heap of history–is one without which no student should leave high school.”

This paper [5,500 words with endnotes and bibliography; Daniel Winik, The Concord Review, 12/4 Summer 2002] seems to have allowed this student to take a break from the boredom and disengagement which comes to so many whose school work is broken up into little bits and pieces and “informational texts” rather than actual books and term papers.
If I were made the U.S. Reading and Writing Czar at the Department of Education, I would ask students to read one complete history book [i.e. “cover-to-cover” as it was called back in the day] each year, too. When Jay Mathews of The Washington Post recently called for nonfiction book ideas for high school students, I suggested David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback, for Freshmen, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing for Sophomores, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom for Juniors, and David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas for all Seniors. Naturally there could be big fights over titles even if we decided to have our high schools students read nonfiction books, but it would be tragic if the result was that they continue to read none of them. Remember the high school English teacher in New York state who insisted that her students read a nonfiction book chosen from the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and a big group of her female students chose The Autobiography of Paris Hilton…
When I was teaching United States History to Sophomores at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, I used to assign a 5-7-page paper (at the time I did not know what high schools students could actually accomplish, if they were allowed to work hard) on the Presidents. My reasoning was that every President has just about every problem of the day arrive on his desk, and a paper on a President would be a way of learning about the history of that day. Students drew names, and one boy was lucky enough to draw John F. Kennedy, a real coup. He was quite bright, so, on a whim, I gave him my copy of Arthur Schleshinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. He looked at it, and said, “I can’t read this.” But, he took it with him and wrote a very good paper and gave the book back to me. Several years later, when he was a Junior at Yale, he wrote to thank me. He said he was very glad I had made him read that first complete history book, because it helped his confidence, etc. Now, I didn’t make him read it, he made himself read it. I would never have known if he read it or not. I didn’t ask him.
But it made me think about the possibility of assigning complete history books to our high school students.
After I began The Concord Review in 1987, I had occasion to write an article now and then, for Education Week and others, in which I argued for the value of having high school students read complete nonfiction books and write real history research papers, both for the intrinsic value of such efforts and for their contribution to the student’s preparation for “college and career.”
Then, in 2004, The National Endowment for the Arts spent $300,000 on a survey of the reading of fiction by Americans, including young Americans. They concluded that it was declining, but it made me wonder if anyone would fund a much smaller study of the reading of nonfiction by students in our high schools, and I wrote a Commentary in Education Week [“Bibliophobia” October 4, 2006] asking about that.
No funding was forthcoming and still no one seems to know (or care much) whether our students typically leave with their high school diploma in hand but never having read a single complete history book. We don’t know how many of our students have never had the chance to make themselves read such a book, so that when they get to college they can be glad they had that preparation, like my old student.
As E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have pointed out so often, it takes knowledge to enrich understanding and the less knowledge a student has the more difficult it is for her/him to understand what she/he is reading in school. Complete history books are a great source of knowledge, of course, and they naturally provide more background to help our students understand more and more difficult reading material as they are asked to become “college and career ready.”
Reading a complete history book is a challenge for a student who has never read one before, just as writing a history research paper is a challenge to a student who has never been asked to do one, but we might consider why we put off such challenges until students find themselves (more than one million a year now, according to the Diploma to Nowhere report) pushed into remedial courses when they arrive at college.
It may be argued that not every student will respond to such an academic challenge, and of course no student will if never given the challenge, but I have found several thousand high school students, from 44 states and 36 other countries, who did:

“Before, I had never been much of a history student, and I did not have much more than a passing interest for the subject. However, as I began writing the paper, the myriad of facts, the entanglement of human relations, and the general excitement of the subject fired my imagination and my mind. Knowing that to submit to The Concord Review, I would have to work towards an extremely high standard, I tried to channel my newly found interest into the paper. I deliberately chose a more fiery, contentious, and generally more engaging style of writing than I was normally used to, so that my paper would better suit my thesis. The draft, however, lacked proper flow and consistency, and so when I wrote the final copy, I restructured the entire paper, reordering the points, writing an entirely new introduction, refining the conclusion, and doing more research to cover areas of the paper that seemed lacking. I replaced almost half of the content with new writing, and managed to focus the thesis into a more sustained, more forceful argument. You received that final result, which was far better than the draft had been.
In the end, working on that history paper, [“Political Machines,” Erich Suh, The Concord Review, 12/4, Summer 2002, 5,800 words] inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident in my writing ability, and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly; instead I would have altered my paper only slightly, enough to make the final paper a low ‘A’, but nothing very great. Your Concord Review set forth a goal towards which I toiled, and it was a very fulfilling, life-changing experience.”

If this is such a great idea, and does so much good for students’ engagement and academic preparation, why don’t we do it? When I was teaching–again, back in the day 26 years ago–I noticed in one classroom a set of Profiles in Courage, and I asked my colleagues about them. They said they had bought the set and handed them out, but the students never read them, so they stopped handing them out.
This is a reminder of the death of the book report. If we do not require our students to read real books and write about them (with consequences for a failure to do so), they will not do that reading and writing, and, as a result, their learning will be diminished, their historical knowledge will be a topic for jokes, and they will not be able to write well enough either to handle college work or hold down a demanding new job.
As teachers and edupundits surrender on those requirements, students suffer. There is a saying outside the training facility for United States Marine Corps drill instructors, which says, in effect, “I will train my recruits with such diligence that if they are killed in combat, it will not be because I failed to prepare them.”
I do realize that college and good jobs are not combat (of course there are now many combat jobs too) but they do provide challenges for which too many of our high school graduates are clearly not ready.
Some teachers complain, with good reason, that they don’t have the time to monitor students as they read books, write book reports and work on serious history research papers, and that is why they can’t ask students to do those essential (and meaningful) tasks. Even after they realize that the great bulk of the time spent on complete nonfiction books and good long term papers is the student’s time, they still have a point about the demands on their time.
Many (with five classes) now do not have the time to guide such work and to assess it carefully for all their students, but I would ask them (and their administrators) to look at the time put aside each week at their high school for tackling and blocking practice in football or layup drills in basketball or for band rehearsal, etc., etc., and I suggest that perhaps reading books and writing serious term papers are worth some extra time as well, and that the administrators of the system, if they have an interest in the competence of our students in reading and writing, should consider making teacher time available during the school day, week, and year, for work on these tasks, which have to be almost as essential as blocking and tackling for our students’ futures.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

The World Needs All Kinds of Minds

Ted Talks:

Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works — sharing her ability to “think in pictures,” which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids.

Rules on Writing

Molly Young:

Deep down, we know the rules of writing. Or the rule, rather, which is that there are no rules. That’s it. That’s the takeaway point from any collection of advice, any Paris Review interview and any book on writing, whether it be Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Faith of a Writer” (both excellent, by the way, but only as useful as a reader chooses to make them).
Despite this fact, writers continue to write about writing and readers continue to read them. In honour of Elmore Leonard’s contribution to the genre, “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing”, the Guardian recently compiled a massive list of writing rules from Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Jeanette Winterson, Colm Tóibín and many other authors generous enough to add their voices to the chorus.
Among the most common bits of advice: write every day, rewrite often, read your work out loud, read a lot of books and don’t write for posterity. Standards aside, the advice generally breaks down into three categories: the practical, the idiosyncratic and the contradictory. From Margaret Atwood we learn to use pencils on airplanes because pens leak. From Elmore Leonard we learn that adverbs stink, prologues are annoying and the weather is boring. Jonathan Franzen advises us to write in the third person, usually.

Tweak Hartford’s Teacher Seniority System To Preserve School Strengths

Hartford Courant:

It is easy to get drawn into the union-management aspects of public education and forget that the schools are there for the kids. What the kids need are stars in the classroom: great teachers.
With that in mind, the public should support the effort by Hartford school leaders to change from a system of district-wide teacher seniority to one of school-based seniority.
The city’s Board of Education voted Tuesday to ask the State Board of Education to step in and change this contractual guarantee. The state board has the authority to intervene in low-achieving schools to alter a union contract, but to date has never done so.
Under the current rules, the least experienced teachers are the first to be laid off and can be “bumped” by more experienced teachers from any school in the district. This can result in a disruptive shuffle of teachers among various schools.
Supporters of the proposed change say this endangers the quality of specialty schools, where particular themes or methods require teachers to have special qualifications or training.

PCSB School Performance Reports

District of Columbia Public Charter School Board 2009:

The D.C. Public charter school board (Pcsb) has produced a detailed annual performance report for each school under its oversight since 1999. Each school report provides a school profile, including enrollment, attendance and discipline, demographic, graduation and college acceptance data; a review of the Pcsb’s evaluations of each school’s academic, financial, compliance and governance performance, as well as board actions; test data, and each school’s self- described unique accomplishments. the reports are intended to be a resource for consumer decision-making and public accountability. the notes on page 5 and 6 explain each section of the school performance report and the source of the data, as appropriate.
the 2009 school Performance reports include data collected during the 2008-2009 school year. as the sole chartering authority in Washington, D.C., the D.C. Public charter school board remains committed to its role as a partner in the city-wide effort to raise student academic achievement and improve public education in D.c., by providing families with quality public charter school options.

“Don’t blame teachers unions for our failing schools”

For the motion: Kate McLaughlin, Gary Smuts, Randi Weingarten Against the motion: Terry Moe, Rod Paige, Larry Sand Moderator: John Donvan:

Before the debate:
After the debate:
Robert Rozenkranz: Thank you all very much for coming. It’s my pleasure to welcome you. My job in these evenings is to frame the debate. And we thought this one would be interesting because it seems like unions would be acting in their own self interest and in the interest of their members. In the context of public education, this might mean fighting to have the highest number of dues paying members at the highest possible levels of pay and benefits. With the greatest possible jobs security. It implies resistance to technological innovation, to charter schools, to measuring and rewarding merit and to dismissals for almost any reason at all. Qualifications, defined as degrees from teacher’s colleges, trump subject matter expertise. Seniority trumps classroom performance. Individual teachers, perhaps the overwhelming majority of them do care about their students but the union’s job is to advocate for teachers, not for education. But is that a reason to blame teachers unions for failing schools? The right way to think about this is to hold all other variables constant. Failing schools are often in failing neighborhoods where crime and drugs are common and two parent families are rare. Children may not be taught at home to restrain their impulses or to work now for rewards in the future, or the value and importance of education. Even the most able students might find it hard to progress in classrooms dominated by students of lesser ability who may be disinterested at best and disruptive at worse. In these difficult conditions, maybe teachers know better than remote administrators what their students need and the unions give them an effective voice. Maybe unions do have their own agenda. But is that really the problem? Is there strong statistical evidence that incentive pay improves classroom performance? Or is that charter schools produce better results? Or that strong unions spell weak educational outcomes, holding everything else constant? That it seems to us is the correct way to frame tonight’s debate, why we expect it will give you ample reason to think twice.

Learning Without Schools: Four Points To Free Yourself From The Educational Get-Certified Mantra

Robin Good:

I guess we can agree: the world is changing at an increasingly faster pace, and the volume of information is growing at an explosive rate.
Change is the name of the game these days and who lives and works off the Internet knows how true this indeed is. But… how are we preparing and equipping our younger generations to live and to cope with such fast-paced scenario-changing realities and with the vast amount of information we drink-in and get exposed to without any crap-filtering skills?
Excerpted from my guest night at Teemu Arina’s Dicole OZ in Helsinski, here are some of my strong, uncensored thoughts about school and academic education in general.
In this four-point recipe I state what I think are the some of the key new attitudes we need to consider taking if we want to truly help some of your younger generations move to a higher level of intellectual and pragmatical acumen, beyond the one that most get from our present academic system.

Fall 2011 could be end for Alabama tuition plan

Phillip Rawls:

Alabama’s prepaid college tuition plan appears unable to pay tuition beyond the fall semester of 2011 and still have enough money to provide refunds to the 44,000 participants, administrators said.
For leaders of the Save Alabama PACT parents group, that creates the need for the Legislature to find a solution in the current legislative session.
Patti Lambert of Decatur, the group’s co-founder, said she would prefer a solution in the Statehouse rather than the courthouse, but members may have no choice but to join a handful of parents who have already sued the state to demand the program keep its promise of full tuition.
“I suspect we will be forced to. We are certainly not going to wait until we have no room to maneuver,” Lambert said in an interview Tuesday.

Incoming Milwaukee Public Schools’ chief Thornton gives clues to his priorities

Alan Borsuk:

Gregory Thornton wants to fly pretty much below the radar right now.
The incoming superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools says he doesn’t take over until July 1, he doesn’t want to interfere with the current superintendent, William Andrekopoulos, and he’s just beginning to know the people and issues in his visits to Milwaukee. So he doesn’t want to get too specific or out front with what he wants to do with his new job.
But talk to him for 75 minutes in a private room at a cafe and you begin to see where he wants to go, and it includes places that might please some who didn’t favor him being hired and displease some who did.
In short: If you like what Michael Bonds is doing as president of the School Board, there’s a strong chance you’ll like Thornton.
Bonds has become a strong force within MPS in the year since he became head of the nine-member board. He is assertive, firm and smart politically. He wants the board to have more power over MPS, and that’s happening. He was at the center of the fight to stop Gov. Jim Doyle and Mayor Tom Barrett’s bid to switch to mayoral control of MPS, and he’s winning.

I Won’t Buy Toys. Unless I Really Want Them.

Stephen Kreider Yoder, Isaac Yoder & Levi Yoder:

This is uncomfortable for me, but it’s time we talked about adult toys.
The kind we can talk about, I mean: the nonessentials in our golf bags and cellphone cases, in our kitchens and garages.
Grown-ups’ toys are a parent-teen money issue, I’d argue, because we send signals to our children about financial behavior when we buy big-screen TVs or iPhones or new cars.
It’s an uncomfortable issue because I’m conflicted: My upbringing makes frugality my dominant instinct, but I also like gadgets, tools, cameras and other indefensibles.

Public Education Reform: Still Separate But Not Equal in 2010

Tamara Holder:

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka) ruled that separate was not equal. The ruling allowed for the integration of students from all races and socio-economic status to receive an equal education under the same roof. But now, America’s public school system is in shambles, and the poorest kids are the only ones underneath the rubble. (For example, Chicago’s public schools have dwindled from 75,000 students to 25,000 students, thanks to charter schools and private schools.)
No Child Left Behind was a complete failure.
Now, it is the duty of the administration to fix America’s destroyed public education system.

The Case for Saturday School

Chester Finn:

Kids in China already attend school 41 days a year more than students in the U.S. Now, schools across the country are cutting back to four-day weeks. Chester E. Finn Jr. on how to build a smarter education system.
“He who labors diligently need never despair, for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor.” –Menander
How many days a year did the future Alexander the Great study with Aristotle? Did Socrates teach Plato on Saturdays as well as weekdays? During summer’s heat and winter’s chill?
Though such details remain shrouded in mystery, historians have unearthed some information about education in ancient times. Spartans famously put their children through a rigorous public education system, although the focus was on military training rather than reading and writing. Students in Mesopotamia attended their schools from sunrise to sunset.
In the face of budget shortfalls, school districts in many parts of the United States today are moving toward four-day weeks. This is despite evidence that longer school weeks and years can improve academic performance. Schoolchildren in China attend school 41 days a year more than most young Americans–and receive 30% more hours of instruction. Schools in Singapore operate 40 weeks a year. Saturday classes are the norm in Korea and other Asian countries–and Japanese authorities are having second thoughts about their 1998 decision to cease Saturday-morning instruction. This additional time spent learning is one big reason that youngsters from many Asian nations routinely out-score their American counterparts on international tests of science and math.

The New Public Option

Michael Bendetson:

How has the United States responded to this global challenge in education? We continue to lower our standards. While No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a major step in education reform, it has inadvertently created a system where states continue to lower the expectations bar. In 2007, only 18% of Mississippi students scored proficient in the standardized national reading test. However, 88% scored proficient in the standardized state reading test. While Mississippi can be considered an extreme, a Department of Education report acknowledged, “state-defined proficiency standards are often far lower than proficiency standards on the NAEP.” While under this system test scores have improved slightly, our student’s education level has remained constant. As states are under enormous pressure to show improvements in test scores, standards are lowered. While politicians avoid future trouble, our children inherit it.
Even our once seemingly monopoly on higher education has eroded in recent years. While ranking 2nd in the world in older adults with a college diploma, the U.S. has slipped to 8th in the world in young adults with a college diploma. As other countries continue to provide numerous incentives for their students to attend universities, the United States seems content in allowing higher education to climb ever higher out of the reach of ordinary Americans. Furthermore, China and other Asian countries have created a higher education system that is far more useful in equipping its students with the needs to survive in a 21st century economy. More than 50 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in China are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, compared to just 16 percent in the United States. While we are focused on creating litigators and lawyers, China and our competitors are creating the entrepreneurs and engineers of the future.

British boy receives pioneering stem cell surgery – from his own cells


British and Italian doctors have carried out groundbreaking surgery to rebuild the windpipe of a 10-year-old British boy using stem cells developed within his own body, they said.
In an operation Monday lasting nearly nine hours, doctors at London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital implanted the boy with a donor trachea, or windpipe, that had been stripped of its cells and injected with his own.
Over the next month, doctors expect the boy’s bone marrow stem cells to begin transforming themselves within his body into tracheal cells — a process that, if successful, could lead to a revolution in regenerative medicine.
The new organ should not be rejected by the boy’s immune system, a risk in traditional transplants, because the cells are derived from his own tissue.
“This procedure is different in a number of ways, and we believe it’s a real milestone,” said Professor Martin Birchall, head of translational regenerative medicine at University College London.

Academics and state wealth

David Shaffer & David Wright:

Even before the current recession hit, the competitive challenges of a global economy were putting ever more pressure on the economic development efforts mounted by state governments across the country.
States that once could dangle their low costs of doing business to lure industry from other states have suddenly faced competition from even lower-cost places such as China and Southeast Asia. Many have been scrambling to catch up with ever-growing packages of tax incentives and grants – so much so that critics have fretted about “an economic war between the states,” as the organization Good Jobs Now calls it.
But while states scramble, the ground has shifted beneath them. The economic development contest is changing.
Traditional economic development efforts have focused on leveraging money, in one guise or another. Some states had lower costs and lower taxes to brag about – money. Some emphasized helping new industry by improving roads and water and sewers – money. Some tried to make up for high costs by offering various grants and tax breaks – in other words, money.

Despite Gains, Albany Charter School Is Told to Close

Trip Gabriel:

ccountability is a mantra of the charter school movement. Students sign pledges at some schools to do their homework, and teachers owe their jobs to students’ gains on tests.
Attrition rates have been criticized, but Mr. Jean-Baptiste said, “We attract more than the amount of students we lose.”
But as New York State moves to shut down an 11-year-old charter school in Albany, whose test scores it acknowledges beat the city’s public schools last year, it is apparent that holding schools themselves accountable is not always so easy, or bloodless, as numbers on a page.
The principal, teachers and families of the New Covenant school have mounted a furious defense, citing rising achievement as well as their fears for the loss of a safe harbor from chaotic homes and streets, where teachers deliver homework to parents who are in jail to keep them involved, and the dean of students chases gang members from a nearby park.

Should schools use seclusion rooms, restraints?

Shawn Doherty:

By age 2 Donovan Richards was kicked out of day care for hitting. At age 3, he was obsessed with dinosaurs and utterly uninterested in other children. At 4, he was hospitalized for mania after he threatened to kill himself with his toy sword. And by 5, he was on medicine for bipolar and autism spectrum disorders. One doctor told Paula Buege her son would end up in an institution. Buege vowed to help him remain at home and go to public school in Middleton instead.
He was a handful there. School records from a grim stretch in November 2001 show Donovan, then 7, was given frequent timeouts and suspended several days in a row. “Donovan was being escorted to the calming room. When the special education aide tried to remove a ball from the room, Donovan lay on the ball and bit the EA on the wrist. He also hit her arm with the door when she was trying to get out of the room,” read one report. The next school day, Donovan threw wood chips in a classmate’s face and was put into the “quiet” room again. “He repeatedly kicked the wall and slammed the window with great force, spit on walls and shouted profanity,” his teacher wrote.

Followup article here.

Teenager is Tasered at Madison Memorial High School

Wisconsin State Journal:

A 16-year-old Madison boy hiding in a bathroom at Memorial High School was Tasered and arrested Friday morning after he acted combative toward police.
The teenage student, who was not supposed to be inside the school at 201 S. Gammon Road, was found just before noon in the bathroom and was non-compliant and confrontational toward an assistant principal and a Madison Police Department educational resource officer, police said.

University Finances: The posh, the poor and the pushed

The Economist:

TREASURE the things that are difficult to attain, urges a Chinese motto. It is sage advice that the body which distributes money to English universities seems to be following. On March 17th it said that, although there was less cash in the pot than last year, it would spend less on shiny new buildings (and propping up ancient ones) so that it could afford more for first-rate research and the harder sorts of teaching.
Like other public services, universities have enjoyed a funding boom for more than a decade. Their total income doubled between 1997 and 2009, whereas student numbers increased by just 20%. Academic pay rose and spending on the stuff that motivates many of them–that is, research–rocketed. Wise financial officers squirrelled away money into physical assets such as student accommodation.
Now the public coffers are empty and deals must be done. Excellent research will be funded and mediocre work left to fend for itself. Science, technology, engineering and medicine will prosper at the expense of other subjects. Universities that attract students from poor families who are hard to recruit and liable to drop out will be rewarded for their efforts, albeit not enough to cover their full cost. All this will allow excellence to flourish but choke those in the middle.

Need Help with an article on Cyber Bullying

Via a Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz email:

Families and/or kids needed to discuss personal experience with cyber bullying. A reporter for a local print publication is putting together an in-depth look at electronic aggression and kids/teens. She is looking for real stories that go beyond the statistics. First names only (unless you’re comfortable giving more), along with some general information like age and area (for example, “12-year-old John from Verona”). Unfortunately, time is crunched. If you have a personal experience with harassment, humiliation, or bullying on MySpace, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, text messaging, or something similar, please contact Maggie at 608-437-4659 or as soon as possible.

Detroit Plan Would Close 45 Schools

Susan Saulny:

In a continuing overhaul of one of the most troubled school systems in the nation, officials in Detroit on Wednesday announced a plan to close 45 of 172 public schools at the end of the academic year. The move is the latest in a string of efforts aimed at rescuing an academically failing district in the midst of a financial crisis.
Detroit has closed more than 100 schools since 2004, yet still has more than 50,000 excess seats throughout the system.
Robert C. Bobb, the emergency manager appointed last year by Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm to take control of the schools, proposed the closings, which would eliminate as many as 2,100 jobs, in the face of a deficit expected to peak at $316.6 million and a dwindling student population.
Only 3 percent of Detroit fourth graders were proficient in math on the last National Assessment of Educational Progress, an annual test of basic skills. The district is the largest in Michigan, with 87,000 students, most of whom are poor and black.

One Classroom, From Sea to Shining Sea

Susan Jacoby:

AMERICAN public education, a perennial whipping boy for both the political right and left, is once again making news in ways that show how difficult it will be to cure what ails the nation’s schools.
Only last week, President Obama declared that every high school graduate must be fully prepared for college or a job (who knew?) and called for significant changes in the No Child Left Behind law. In Kansas City, Mo., officials voted to close nearly half the public schools there to save money. And the Texas Board of Education approved a new social studies curriculum playing down the separation of church and state and even eliminating Thomas Jefferson — the author of that malignant phrase, “wall of separation” — from a list of revolutionary writers.
Each of these seemingly unrelated developments is part of a crazy quilt created by one of America’s most cherished and unexamined traditions: local and state control of public education. Schooling had been naturally decentralized in the Colonial era — with Puritan New England having a huge head start on the other colonies by the late 1600s — and, in deference to the de facto system of community control already in place, the Constitution made no mention of education. No one in either party today has the courage to say it, but what made sense for a sparsely settled continent at the dawn of the Republic is ill suited to the needs of a 21st-century nation competing in a global economy.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin tax collections fall again

Mike Ivey:

An increase in tobacco and corporate tax collections early in 2010 has helped Wisconsin stay out of an even bigger budget hole.
New figures from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue show that overall tax collections continue to fall because of the recession, although there are some positive trends.
Income taxes, the largest single source of revenue for the state, fell 8.7 percent on an adjusted basis for January and February 2010 compared to the same two months in 2009. The state is reporting $878 million in income tax collections so far in 2010 vs. $962 million in 2009.
Sales tax, the second largest source of revenue, fell 5.3 percent in the first two months of 2010 to $648 million vs. $684 million in 2009.

More Than 40 Detroit Schools to Close in June

Associated Press:

Doors are expected to shut on more than a quarter of Detroit’s 172 public schools in June as the district fights through steadily declining enrollment and a budget deficit of more than $219 million, an emergency financial manager said Wednesday.
Three aging, traditional and underpopulated high schools would be among the 44 proposed closures. Another six schools are to be closed in June 2011, followed by seven more a year later, emergency financial manager Robert Bobb said Wednesday. This summer’s closings also include a support building.
The proposed closures are part of a $1 billion, five-year plan to shrink a struggling school district while improving education, test scores and student safety in a city whose population has declined with each decade. The 2010 U.S. Census is expected to show that fewer than 900,000 people now live in Detroit.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Highest & Lowest States for Property Taxes: Dane County, WI (Madison) is ranked 53rd as a % of Income

AOL Real Estate:

Hoping for lower property taxes? Head south. A 2009 Tax Foundation ranking shows that the 10 states with the lowest property taxes are all in the South. The homeowners there pay, on average, less than $1,000 a year in property taxes, while those in the East can pay more than six times as much.
A Tax Foundation map of states (pictured) shows 16 states, highlighted in blue, where residents pay in property taxes 1.2% or greater of their home’s value. The 19 white states fall between 0.65% and 1.20%, while the 15 yellow states pay the least.a

A Setback for Educational Civil Rights

Theodore Hesburgh:

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice of killing D.C. vouchers stand.
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked me to become one of the founding members of the newly formed U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, African-Americans drank at separate water fountains and our schools were segregated. A decade later, when people came together to march against these injustices, the idea that a black man could ever be elected president of the United States was still something for dreamers. My experience with that great movement gives me a particular appreciation for the historic importance of the presidency of Barack Obama–and the new dreams that his example will inspire in our young.
If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country’s race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the “civil rights issue of our generation.” Millions of our children–disproportionately poor and minority–remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.

Why Isn’t Everybody Learning Online?

Tom Vander Ark:

Pretty good free online K-12 learning options exist in most states, so why aren’t more students learning online? There are more than 2 million students learning online and that’s growing by more than 30% annually, but there are five significant barriers to more rapid adoption:

  1. Babysitting: Don’t underestimate the custodial aspect of school–it’s nice to have a place to send the kids every day. Homeschooling continues to grow aided by online learning but will never exceed 10% because most folks don’t want their kids around all day every day or just can’t afford to stay home.
  2. Money & Jobs: At the request of employee groups, the Louisiana state board recently rejected three high quality virtual charter applications. Districts don’t want to lose enrollment revenue and unions don’t want to lose jobs.
  3. Tradition: Layers of policies stand in the way of learning online starting with seat time requirements–butts in seats for 180 hours with a locally certificated teacher plowing through an adopted textbook.

There are likely many opportunities to offer online learning options for our students, particularly in tight budget times.

High schools should dare to measure success differently

Jay Matthews:

On my blog,, I gush over my many genius ideas, worthy of the Nobel Prize for education writing if there was one. Here is a sample from last month:
“Why not take the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a new essay exam that measures analysis and critical thinking, and apply it to high schools? Some colleges give it to all of their freshmen, and then again to that class when they are seniors, and see how much value their professors at that college have added. We could do the same for high schools, with maybe a somewhat less strenuous version.”
Readers usually ignore these eruptions of ego. But after I posted that idea, a young man named Chris Jackson e-mailed me that his organization had thought of it four years ago and had it up and running. Very cheeky, I thought, but also intriguing. I never thought anyone would try such a daring concept. If your high school’s seniors didn’t score much better than your freshmen, what would you do? What schools would have the courage to put themselves to that test or, even worse, quantify the level of their failure, as the program does?

The education president

Chicago Tribune:

Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School faces a world of problems. Not quite half of the freshmen class of 2005 went on to graduate last year. A little more than half of the juniors passed a state reading test. In math, just 7 percent passed.
Superintendent Frances Gallo asked her teachers to step up, to help her turn around their failing school. She asked them to teach 25 minutes more each day. She asked them to tutor the kids, to eat lunch once a week with the kids, to spend more time learning how to teach effectively.
She also offered to increase their pay. Teachers at Central Falls do well: $72,000 to $78,000 a year. Gallo offered them a $3,400 bump.
The teachers union said no.

West Virginia To Turn School Buses Into Ticket Machines

The Newspaper:

Faced with a $120 million budget deficit, West Virginia lawmakers are turning to school buses to bring in desperately needed revenue. The House of Delegates voted 98-0 Saturday to give final approval to House Bill 4223 which allows county school boards to deploy buses to issue $500 automated tickets. The proposal becomes law with the signature of Governor Joe Manchin (D).
“Every county board of education is hereby authorized to mount a camera on any school bus for the purpose of enforcing this section or for any other lawful purpose,” House Bill 4223 states.
Private companies have been traveling to school boards around the country offering to install the cameras at no cost. The company would then issue tickets, collect on the fines and deposit a significant cut of the profits into the school board’s bank account with no work required on the school’s part. The Italian firm Elsag, for example, ran a test of the system in New York state last year. West Virginia’s law, however, would require photographing the driver when issuing the citations. For the first ticket, a thirty-day license suspension is mandatory, with a judge having discretion to impose a six-month jail sentence. After a third ticket is mailed, jail time is mandatory. Arizona currently is the only state that jails vehicle owners based solely on the evidence provided by a ticket camera.

Education Reform: Has Obama Found a Bipartisan Issue?

Alex Altman:

When the bare-knuckled brawl over health-care reform finally wraps up, and the Obama Administration pivots to less divisive topics, education reform may be one of the few issues capable of drawing bipartisan support. The Obama Administration’s proposed overhaul of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) could resonate with Republicans, many of whom have been disappointed with the results of George W. Bush’s signature education initiative. Obama’s blueprint, which was sent to Congress March 15, sets forth an ambitious national standard –that by 2020, all students graduate high school ready for college or a career — but leaves the specifics on how to achieve this goal up to state and local authorities. “Yes, we set a high bar,” President Obama said in his weekly radio address. “But we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it.”
With more than 1 million high school students dropping out every year and the U.S. lagging behind many of its competitors on achievement benchmarks, no one can argue with the need to better prepare students for college and beyond. NCLB, which earned broad bipartisan majorities when the legislation passed in 2002, has drawn praise for shining a light on achievement gaps by forcing the nation’s 99,000 public schools to disaggregate student data. But the legislation’s emphasis on accountability and standardized testing has had some unintended results. By requiring schools to demonstrate adequate yearly progress — toward a goal of 100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014 — Bush’s landmark bill has led many districts to narrow their curricula and some states to lower their standards in order to meet annual targets.

State & Local Tax Increases vs Teacher Union Pay Increases: New Jersey

New Jersey Left Behind:

Here’s the bottom line: it is now mathematically impossible for school districts to sustain annual salary increases of 4-5% and fully subsidized health benefits, historically the proud mantle swaddling NJEA’s wide shoulders. Call it a sea change, call it a paradigm shift, call it a zero-sum game, call it (if you’re Barbara Keshishian, NJEA Pres.) a “political vendetta.” The times they have a-changed.
Where does this leave local school boards and NJEA affiliates? So much depends on whether local bargaining units are able to exercise some autonomy and collaborate with school district officials on producing agreements that are fair to teachers and within legislative fiscal constraints. Will locals be able to disentangle themselves from the lockstep of NJEA’s directives? Is there hope that public education in Jersey can have a relatively healthy adjustment to a new fiscal austerity, a shared vision, a new kind of calculus in assessing appropriate compensation?

These calculations are not limited to New Jersey.
It’s important to remember how much Wisconsin State K-12 spending has grown over the past 25 years, as this chart illustrates:

Many organizations, public and private, are using this period of change to evaluate their major services and determine the effectiveness of all expenditures. Public school districts are no different. It will be interesting to see how this plays out locally.

Madison’s $30M Spending Increase & Tax Gap Rhetoric Dissected

School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak:

So what does this mean? Well, assuming that the board will use its levying authority under the referendum and the state funding formula, the gap is smaller than the reported (and internalized) $30 million. It is probably more like the $17 million in state aid cuts plus the $1.2 million in budget items for which there is no funding source. Or, by higher math, c. $18.2 million BEFORE the board makes its budget adjustments and amendments. (This process will take place between now and the final vote on May 4, and will likely involve a combination of cuts recommended by administration and cuts proposed by the board.)
This means that the draconian school closings and massive staff layoffs reported earlier are unlikely to happen. Indeed, the board added one cut to the list at Monday’s meeting when it voted to cut $43,000 in funding budgeted to produce a communication plan.

Tiny school’s fate roils rural California district

Louis Sahagun:

Class divisions fuel furor over a plan to close college-prep academy in the eastern Sierra Nevada. ‘The situation has unleashed pandemonium,’ says the district’s superintendent.
When Eastern Sierra Unified School District Supt. Don Clark stared down a projected budget deficit, he did what school administrators across the nation have had to do: consider laying off teachers and closing campuses.
But that decision, in a rural district sprawled along U.S. 395 between the snowy Sierra and the deserts of Nevada, has exposed deep resentments between parents of students in traditional high schools and those with teenagers in a college-prep academy designed for high achievers.
The trouble started a week ago when Clark announced that the district, facing a budget shortfall of $1.8 million, was considering laying off more than a dozen teachers and closing the 15-year-old Eastern Sierra Academy, among other measures.

Princeton School District’s Budget Math: Cajole Teacher Unions into Accepting Contract Concessions

New Jersey Left Behind:

Princeton Township Public Schools offers a template on what will most likely occur across many districts on the heels of Gov. Christie’s budget: an effort by school boards to cajole local unions into accepting contract concessions. With cuts of up to 5% of total school budgets, increases in health benefits, and annual salary increases ranging in the mid-4%, there’s no other way to find the money. Other costs – supplies, utilities, transportation – are not fungible.
A few quick facts about Princeton, a 3,500-student school district with sky-high test scores. The annual cost per pupil there is $18,340 compared to a state average of $15,168. (These are 2008-2009 figures from the state database.) The median teacher salary is $69,829 plus benefits. The state median salary is $59,545 plus benefits. Costs of benefits in Princeton come to 23% of each teacher’s salary.

Princeton’s “User Friendly Budget“.

Pepsi Says No To Full Calorie Soda Sales in Schools, by 2012

Associated Press:

PepsiCo Inc. said Tuesday it will remove full-calorie sweetened drinks from schools in more than 200 countries by 2012, marking the first such move by a major soft-drink producer.
PepsiCo announced its plan the same day first lady Michelle Obama urged major companies to put less fat, salt and sugar in foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children. Pepsi, the world’s second-biggest soft-drink maker, and Coca-Cola Co., the biggest, adopted guidelines to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools in 2006.
The World Heart Federation has been urging soft-drink makers for the past year to remove sugary beverages from schools. The group is looking to fight a rise in childhood obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other ailments.
PepsiCo’s move is what the group had been seeking because it affects students through age 18, said Pekka Puska, president of the World Heart Federation, made up of heart associations around the world. In an interview from Finland, Dr. Puska said he hopes other companies feel pressured to take similar steps. “It may be not so well known in the U.S. how intensive the marketing of soft drinks is in so many countries,” he said. Developing countries such as Mexico are particularly affected, he added.

Quality Schools

Charlie Mas:

It has been, for some time now, the District’s contention that they are working to “make every school a quality school”. This is a significant goal of the Strategic Plan, “Excellence for All”, and a pre-requisite for the New Student Assignment Plan.
So one might wonder how the District defines a “quality school”. In fact, many more than one might wonder about it. The entire freakin’ city might wonder about it. Well, they can just go on wondering because the District doesn’t have an answer.
That’s right. They have been ostensibly working for two years now towards a goal that they have not defined. Although the District defines accountability as having objectively measurable goals and insists that everyone is accountable, there are no objectively measurable goals tied to the definition of a “quality school”. This would appear to be an intentional effort to evade accountability. Not only are there no objectively measurable goals, there are no metrics, no benchmarks, and no assessments. Nice, eh?

It starts with good teachers

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

Congratulations to the panel of teachers, administrators and parents who put together groundbreaking proposals on smarter ways to hire, pay, evaluate and fire teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Improbable as it is that many of the proposals will be adopted by the school board, which is heavily influenced by the teachers union, they have opened a conversation sought by parents and school reformers, and that conversation is unlikely to be silenced until major changes are made.
We have long supported some of these recommendations: Not allowing seniority to rule which teachers are laid off. Expanding the probationary period before teachers get tenure. Including test scores and parent and student opinions in teacher evaluations. Paying more for excellent teachers who are willing to work in low-performing schools.

Education magic bullets are often blanks

Joseph Staub:

Those who wonder why California was excluded from the first round of federal Race to the Top grants would do well to examine their own commentary for clues. It is typical of editorials and other articles on this topic to speak in general terms — to throw out noble-sounding phrases that, in the end, don’t offer specifics. The Times’ March 4 editorial, “Another setback for California schools,” reflects this kind of commentary.
Take, for example, The Times’ assertion that “district administrators, not union contracts,” should determine teacher assignments in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Really? If you were a teacher, would you completely trust administrators to always make good assignment decisions? The same people who inspired the term “dance of the lemons” as incompetent (and sometimes criminal) administrators were transferred from one school to another by their downtown buddies? Would you want to be forced to an overcrowded school terrorized by crime and violence, hobbled by a lack of supplies and a crumbling infrastructure, in a neighborhood beset by a multitude of social ills, with only a district administrator to count on for support and security? Most administrators are talented, committed and fair, but too many are none of those things.

New MIT study on student cheating

Valerie Strauss:

What surprised me most about a new study on cheating at MIT–which concludes that copying homework can lead to lower grades–was that students cheat at the prestigious school, which only admits brainy kids who don’t need to.
But of course, students cheat everywhere, even at the best schools; witness the recent grade-changing scandal at high-achieving Churchill High School, and, for that matter, the computer hacking scandal at high-achieving Whitman High School last year. Both are in Montgomery County and both are among the best secondary schools in the country.
In fact, according to the book, “Cheating in School: What we Know and What We Can Do,” by Stephen F. David, Patrick F. Drinan and Tricia Bertram Gallant, there are students cheating everywhere–from elementary to graduate school, rich and poor schools, public and private.
The authors define cheating as “acts committed by students that deceive, mislead or fool the teacher into thinking that the academic work submitted by the student was a student’s own work.”

Obama Retreats on Education Reform

Karl Rove:

In a week dominated by health care, President Barack Obama released a set of education proposals that break with ideals once articulated by Robert F. Kennedy.
Kennedy’s view was that accountability is essential to educating every child. He expressed this view in 1965, while supporting an education reform initiative, saying “I do not think money in and of itself is necessarily the answer” to educational excellence. Instead, he hailed “good faith . . . effort to hold educators responsive to their constituencies and to make educational achievement the touchstone of success.”
But rather than raising standards, the Obama administration is now proposing to gut No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability framework. Enacted in 2002, NCLB requires that every school be held responsible for student achievement. Under the new proposal, up to 90% of schools can escape responsibility. Only 5% of the lowest-performing schools will be required to take action to raise poor test scores. And another 5% will be given a vague “warning” to shape up, but it is not yet clear what will happen if they don’t.

What Values Are Apparent in Your School Textbooks?

Holly Epstein Ojalvo:

Students: Take a look at some of the changes to the Texas curriculum, and then at a passage from your own American history or government textbook. Considering word choice and the inclusion and treatment of leaders and movements, what values and ideas do you think it conveys? What connotations do the terms used have for you? Tell us what ideas you think are expressed in how your textbook is written.
Adults, please note: Though, of course, anyone can be a “student” at any age, we ask that adults respect the intent of the Student Opinion question and refrain from posting here. There are many other places on the site for adults to post, while this is the only place that explicitly invites the voices of young people.

Math textbooks are an area ripe for this type of inquiry.

Textbooks in Texas: Jefferson v Board of Education

The Economist:

THE good news is that more Texans are paying attention to social-studies lessons than ever before. The bad news is that they suddenly have cause. On March 12th, the state board of education voted for a series of changes to the state’s history and social-sciences curricula. The changes look small enough–a word here and there, a new name included, maybe a different way of phrasing an issue. But the overall effect, if the changes are approved in May, will to be to yank public education to the right.
The board alluded to the controversial amendments in a polite press release: “All those who died at the Alamo will be discussed in seventh grade Texas history classes. Hip hop will not be part of the official curriculum standards.” The most dramatic change is that Thomas Jefferson has gotten the boot. The conservatives on the board deemed him to be a suspiciously secular figure. The new guidelines would pay more fond attention to their favoured presidents, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Phyllis Schlafly and the National Rifle Association are in. So are the Black Panthers.
Some of the oddest changes concern economics. Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek will join Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, and Karl Marx. And the board decided that references to “capitalism” and the “free market” should be changed to say “free enterprise”, because capitalism has a bad reputation at the moment. That decision is almost inexplicable. Capitalism has been through a rough patch, but surely the term itself is no more inflammatory than free enterprise.

Madison School Board Candidate Issue Essays

Tom Farley School district must shift philosophy:

an Madison afford a new School Board member who requires time to understand the issues, study the research, or develop a good relationship with board members and union leaders? These are all certainly desirable objectives, and over time it is important that they occur. Yet these are exceptional times for Madison and its public school system.
The federal government has demanded that educational leaders in every community must start demonstrating a willingness to challenge the status quo, seek innovative solutions, and begin executing change management efforts. Only those school districts that show a willingness to radically alter their approaches to education, in order to achieve real results, will be supported and funded. The time has come to bring that level of leadership to the Madison School Board.
Management of the Madison School District cannot continue operating in its present form, or under its current philosophies. We have called for additional funding and referendums to increase taxes, and this has not produced the promised results. Clearly, it is not lack of money that hinders our education system; it is the system itself. That needs to change.

James Howard: We must make cuts, but not in classroom

As parents, teachers, taxpayers and voters evaluate the financial woes our Madison public schools face, there are several key points to keep in mind.
First, the taxpayers in our district have been very generous by passing several referendums that have helped close the gap between what schools can spend and what it really costs to educate our kids. However, due to the depressed economy voters are focused on direct family financial impacts and less on the indirect costs that result from any decline in quality of our public schools. Since the district is currently operating under a three-year recurring referendum, it would be a lot to ask of taxpayers to vote yes on a new referendum.
That means we must look elsewhere for answers on how to close what might be a gap of as much as $30 million. Let me be very clear as to where I wouldn’t look: the classroom. We need to protect learning by keeping class sizes small; by funding initiatives that help at-risk children perform up to grade level in basic subjects; and by funding those things that make Madison schools so special, like programs in the arts and athletics.

A $30 Million Puzzle ‘Solution’? What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Like many citizens, journalists, and some of my fellow board members, I have been struggling to make sense of the projected $30 million budget or tax gap. Like others who have tried to understand how we got to the number “$30,” I have tried several approaches to see if I could come to the same conclusion. Some of them focused on an unexpected major rise in spending, or, an unexpected or unexplained loss of revenue beyond the $17 million in state cuts. (See Susan Troller’s Madison School’s ‘Budget Gap’ is Really a Tax Gap, for example.)
The answers for the portion of the gap that I could not understand or explain kept coming back to the tax levy. District staff were patient and helpful in trying to answer my questions, but we still didn’t understand each other. The shortest version of the tax levy explanation comes from the district’s Budget Questions and Answers handout.
To recap, the MMSD $30 million budget gap has been explained thusly by
administration. There are two parts to the gap, $1.2 million in expenses that cannot be met, and $28.6 million shortfall from a combination of state funding cuts and tax levy. To date, administration has explained the gap thusly:
This gap is $28.6 million. This total is composed of three parts:
* $9.2 million cut in state aid the MMSD sustained this year;
* $7.8 million cut in state aid the district will sustain next year;
* $11.6 million of increased costs that come with levying authority – broken out in two parts:
— $7.6 million of increased costs in order to deliver the same services next year that the MMSD is delivering this year, and which the state funding formula allows;
— $4.0 million of increased costs and with levying authority from the approved 2008 referendum)
$28.6 million Tax Shortfall Total
For me, and for others, the sticking point has been the idea that additional levying authority through the referendum and the state funding formula, would add to the shortfall in funds to run our schools. That is, how could more funds turn into a funding loss? Or, put in mathematical terms, how could -17 + 11.6 become -28.6? My math is rusty, and I don’t understand connected math, but it did seem to me that it was unlikely that a negative number would get larger after adding a positive number to it.
Full post on-line at

Another Madison High School Option? Learn more on 3/25/2010 @ 7:00p.m.

via a Michelle Sharpswain email:

A group of parents is gathering information from Madison-area community members about whether or not parents would like to see another high school option in the area and, if so, what it might look like. Would it be an independent school or a charter school? Would it be a math and science academy, a performing arts school, an Expeditionary Learning school, or something else?
If you would like to share your ideas, wish list, or perspective, please join us for what is likely to be a stimulating conversation about possibilities. A discussion will take place Thursday evening, March 25th, at 7 p.m. at Wingra School (3200 Monroe St.). Please feel welcome to bring neighbors, family members, etc. who would like to participate.
Note: Wingra has very generously offered space for this conversation to take place. This is not a Wingra-sponsored event, nor is it a discussion about Wingra starting a high school.

What’s News: Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of Obama’s education plans

Chris Murphy:

Monday’s story from Susan Troller about standardized tests explains how large school districts like Madison and Milwaukee are interested in what small Monona Grove is doing because its program offers much more detailed results than the standard Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) and delivers them far more quickly. But it’s also interesting to consider how Monona Grove might be in the vanguard of national changes in how students are taught and tested.
On Monday, President Barack Obama sent a blueprint to Congress for an overhaul of No Child Left Behind, the 2001 law pushed by President George W. Bush that ties federal funding to students’ standardized test results. Annual testing would still be required under Obama’s plan, but one major focus would change from meeting narrow grade-by-grade benchmarks and move toward achieving a common set of skills needed for life after high school, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Edu-Innovation, an Oxymoron?

Tom Vander Ark:

In preparation for the New Schools Summit, following are a few thoughts for a great group.
Acknowledging the difficulty of penetrating the complex decentralized maze of US public education, a New Schools regular asked a dinner gathering of notable reformers last week if education innovation was an oxymoron.
After a few laughs and couple hopeful responses, a former urban deputy superintendent dampened enthusiasm by reminding us not to underestimate the power of resistance from elaborate political bulwarks. Barriers to edupreneurs clearly deflect talent and investment from the sector.
Charter schools emerged in the 90’s as an entry point that allowed edupreneurs to open mission-designed new schools, then to create mission-designed school networks. Kim Smith created New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) to create an edupreneurial ecoysystem around schools, tools, and talent. NSVF supported the most important work in education over the last decade.

Senate votes against reopening D.C. voucher program

Michael Birnbaum:

The D.C. voucher program’s future appeared limited Tuesday after the Senate voted down a measure that would have reopened the initiative to new students.
The voucher program, which since 2004 has provided low-income D.C. students with as much as $7,500 in scholarships to attend private schools, has foundered in the Democratic-controlled Congress. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have signaled their opposition to the program, instead advocating charter schools as alternatives to poorly performing conventional public schools.
Tuesday’s 55 to 42 vote was widely seen as one of the final chances for the program to be extended beyond the students who are already currently enrolled. Funding will continue for current students until they graduate high school, but has been cut off to new students for a year.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced an amendment to a reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that would have extended the voucher program for five years and funded it at $20 million a year, opening it to new students. The Senate killed Lieberman’s attempt to amend a different bill earlier this month.

MPS cuts list – though unlikely – includes eliminating athletics, early kindergarten

Erin Richards:

Instead of cutting what could be almost 400 teaching positions in Milwaukee Public Schools next year to balance the budget, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors could instead eliminate all athletics, the entire 3- and 4-year-old kindergarten program or all the school nurses, according to a new list of non-mandatory programs released by the district’s central office.
Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he has not recommended that the board cut any of the attention-grabbing, discretionary programs on the list – such as the $10 million the district spends to bus high school students around the city, or the $12 million it spends to fund art, music, foreign language and class-size reduction programs at the high schools. But, he said, it’s important to make the board aware of non-mandatory areas it can trim or cut altogether.
The School Board will discuss the list of items included on the superintendent’s informational report at a budget work session Thursday. Some of the items on the list include

Are ‘Early College’ High Schools A Good Idea?

Eliza Krigman:

In recent years, high schools that are configured to provide students the opportunity to earn both a high-school diploma and a college associate’s degree or up two years of credit toward a bachelor’s degree have grown in popularity. The Early College High School Initiative, a private partnership made up of 13 member organizations, has started or redesigned more than 200 such schools since 2002. In addition, the National Center on Education and the Economy is spearheading a similar initiative. Dozens of public schools in eight states next fall will adopt a program that lets 10th-grade students test out of high school and go to community college. The first generation of these schools targeted low-income, minority students who were likely to be the first in their family to attend college.

Pleasantville Blast

New Jersey Left Behind:

We looked at Pleasantville High School last week in the context of Diane Ravitch’s new book, chosen at random among the cohort of segregated, impoverished, and failing Jersey schools. Coincidentally this challenged Abbott district made non-bloggy headlines s a day later because at that week’s Board meeting Pleasantville Superintendent Gloria Grantham blasted away at teachers to the consternation of her Board, The Press of Atlantic City reports,

Grantham spoke at length Tuesday night about the benefits teachers get – vacation days, free health coverage, free professional development – and the effort they owe their students.
“This is not to hurt anyone, this is just to present the facts. We have got to do a better balancing act between what our students receive and what our adults receive,” Grantham said. “They’re benefiting pretty well from the opportunity to teach in our high school.”

Formula for better schools

Providence Journal:

For years, many people, including politicians and unions, have complained that Rhode Island is the only state without a school-funding formula. The public’s distrust of the legislature, however, has made it difficult to proceed. Not without reason, people feared that vast amounts of money would be simply siphoned away, without accountability, to benefit teachers unions and other powerful interests, not students.
But now there seems hope that Rhode Island can move beyond such cynicism. State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the state Board of Regents have approved a plan more focused on students. The formula is now before the General Assembly.
Under their plan, state school-aid dollars would “follow the students” — even to charter schools, public institutions that operate outside the red tape of standard schools and are sometimes anathema to teachers unions.

The Academic Performance Tournament

David Motz:

For the fifth consecutive year, Inside Higher Ed presents its Academic Performance Tournament – a unique look at what the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament would look like if teams advanced based solely on their outcomes in the classroom.
The winners were determined using the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose players stay in good academic standing and remain enrolled from semester to semester. When teams had the same Academic Progress Rates, the tie was broken using the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate – which, unlike the federal rate, considers transfers and does not punish teams whose athletes leave college before graduation if they leave in good academic standing.

Colleges don’t like senior slump in high school

Beth Harpaz:

OK, mom and dad. Remember your last semester of high school? Chances are you weren’t freaking out about your AP chem class. Your prom plans may have mattered more than your 12th-grade GPA. And if you were headed to college, you were probably waiting to hear from just a couple of schools.
It’s not like that today for college-bound high school seniors. They’re cramming in AP classes for college credit. They’re waiting to hear from 10 or 12 schools. And they can’t shrug off homework, because many colleges make admission contingent on decent final grades.
“We have a policy to do 100 percent verification to ensure that final high school transcripts are received and reviewed,” said Matt Whelan, assistant provost for admissions and financial aid at Stony Brook University in New York. “While it has been the exception, unfortunately, I have had the experience of sending letters to students informing them that because they did not successfully complete high school, they could were no longer admitted, and we rescinded both admission and financial aid.”
College administrators around the country echoed Whelan’s sentiments, from the University of Southern California, to Abilene Christian University in Texas, to Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in New Hampshire.
Not only do 12th graders feel pressure to keep up academically, but many also dedicate themselves to beloved teams, clubs and the performing arts.

SFU pursues American accreditation

Erin Millar:

Simon Fraser University has applied for accreditation from the U.S. quality assurance board Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Being the first large research university in Canada to look south of the border for accreditation, the university’s move highlights the fact that Canada lacks any national mechanism for assuring quality of post-secondary institutions.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) academic planning and budgeting director Glynn Nicholls, who is also accreditation project manager, explained that SFU’s need for accreditation is related to its joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The university became the first non-U.S. school to be a member of the 100-year-old sports organization when it was accepted as a member in July 2009. SFU’s varsity teams will compete in the Great Northern Athletic Conference, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.

The $2 Trillion Hole: Promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.

Jonathan Laing:

LIKE A CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE, populist rage burns over bloated executive compensation and unrepentant avarice on Wall Street.
Deserving as these targets may or may not be, most Americans have ignored at their own peril a far bigger pocket of privilege — the lush pensions that the 23 million active and retired state and local public employees, from cops and garbage collectors to city managers and teachers, have wangled from taxpayers.
Some 80% of these public employees are beneficiaries of defined-benefit plans under which monthly pension payments are guaranteed, no matter how stocks and other volatile assets backing the retirement plans perform. In contrast, most of the taxpayers footing the bill for these public-employee benefits (participants’ contributions to these plans are typically modest) have been pushed by their employers into far less munificent defined-contribution plans and suffered the additional indignity of seeing their 401(k) accounts shrivel in the recent bear market in stocks.
And defined-contribution plans, unlike public pensions, have no protection against inflation. It’s just too bad: Maybe some seniors will have to switch from filet mignon to dog food.

Cheaters never prosper when teachers get in the way

Jay Matthews:

What should we do about the computer hackers at Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County who changed dozens of grades? What is the solution to student cheating in general?
Research suggests that rising pressure to get into good colleges has led students to cut corners. One study cited by the Educational Testing Service said only about 20 percent of college students in the 1940s said they had cheated in high school, and the proportion is four times as large today.
Deemphasize the college race, some experts say, and much of this nonsense will go away. I have written for many years about research showing that adult success really doesn’t depend on the prestige of one’s alma mater. But that approach to easing cheating isn’t going to get us far. Competition is too much a part of American culture. Also, college pressure tends to affect only the top 20 percent of students who seek selective schools (it’s a higher percentage in the affluent Washington area) and not students who cheat for other reasons, such as laziness or boredom.

They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools

Adam Schaeffer:

Although public schools are usually the biggest item in state and local budgets, spending figures provided by public school officials and reported in the media often leave out major costs of education and thus understate what is actually spent.
To document the phenomenon, this paper reviews district budgets and state records for the nation’s five largest metro areas and the District of Columbia. It reveals that, on average, per-pupil spending in these areas is 44 percent higher than officially reported.
Real spending per pupil ranges from a low of nearly $12,000 in the Phoenix area schools to a high of nearly $27,000 in the New York metro area. The gap between real and reported per-pupil spending ranges from a low of 23 percent in the Chicago area to a high of 90 percent in the Los Angeles metro region.
To put public school spending in perspective, we compare it to estimated total expenditures in local private schools. We find that, in the areas studied, public schools are spending 93 percent more than the estimated median private school.

Madison spends $15,241.30 per student, according to the 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:

Chris Giles & David Oakley:

Moody’s Investor Service, the credit rating agency, will fire a warning shot at the US on Monday, saying that unless the country gets public finances into better shape than the Obama administration projects there would be “downward pressure” on its triple A credit rating.
Examining the administration’s outlook for the federal budget deficit, the agency said: “If such a trajectory were to materialise, there would at some point be downward pressure on the triple A rating of the federal government.”
It projects that the federal borrowing is so high that the interest payments on government debt will grow to more than 15 per cent of government revenues, about the same by the end of the decade as the previous 1980s peak.
This time the servicing burden would be harder to reverse, however, because it would not be caused by high interest rates but by high debt levels.