Civil Rights Overreach Quotas for college prep courses?

Wall Street Journal:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that the Obama Administration will ramp up investigations of civil rights infractions in school districts, which might sound well and good. What it means in practice, however, is that his Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will revert to the Clinton Administration policy of equating statistical disparity with discrimination, which is troubling.
OCR oversees Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by race, color or national origin in public schools and colleges that receive federal funding. In a speech last week, Mr. Duncan said that “in the last decade”–that’s short for the Bush years–“the Office for Civil Rights has not been as vigilant as it should have been in combating racial and gender discrimination.” He cited statistics showing that white students are more likely than their black peers to take Advanced Placement classes and less likely to be expelled from school.
Therefore, Mr. Duncan said, OCR “will collect and monitor data on equity.” He added that the department will also conduct compliance reviews “to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunities” and to determine “whether districts and schools are disciplining students without regard to skin color.”

Unwelcome ‘Help’ from the Feds

Doug Lederman: 

WASHINGTON — These have not been times of peace, love and understanding between the federal government and higher education accreditors. For several years now, spanning two presidential administrations, the agencies charged with assuring that colleges meet an acceptable level of quality have felt buffeted by shifting, escalating and, in their view, sometimes inappropriate demands from federal policy makers.
The conflict — which in 2007 led Congress to block the Education Department from issuing accreditation regulations regarding student learning and blew up the department’s process for assessing the accreditors themselves — has cranked suspicion levels sky high, with accrediting officials on the lookout for signs of further encroachment into areas that have traditionally been off-limits for the government.

What Stuck? Key EdReformer Question

Tom Vander Ark:

What Stuck? What faded? As an EdReformer, it’s interesting to think about the investment of time and money with a little hindsight.
Seven years ago, Caprice Young chaired the LAUSD board. She went on to run the California charter association and is now CEO of KCDL, a leading virtual education provider. About her work as a board member in LA, Caprice observed that :

  • Buildings and charters stuck,
  • Reading and arts programs didn’t.

When Caprice was elected, LA was about 200,000 seats short. The board she chaired initiated one of the largest building projects in the world–a $19 billion ten year effort. Those buildings, for good or bad, will mark the LA landscape for a generation to come.

Research Reveals Early Signs of Autism in Some Kids

Bruce Bower:

Some infants headed for a diagnosis of autism, or autism spectrum disorder as it’s officially known, can be reliably identified at 14 months old based on the presence of five key behavior problems, according to an ongoing long-term study described March 11 at the International Conference on Infant Studies.
These social, communication and motor difficulties broadly align with psychiatric criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder in children at around age 3, said psychologist Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. In her investigation, the presence of all five behaviors at 14 months predicted an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in 15 of 16 children.
“That’s much better than clinical judgment at predicting autism,” Landa noted.
Her five predictors of autism spectrum disorders among 14-month-olds at high risk for developing this condition include a lack of response to others’ attempts to engage them in play, infrequent attempts to initiate joint activities, few types of consonants produced when trying to communicate vocally, problems in responding to vocal requests and a keen interest in repetitive acts, such as staring at a toy while twirling it

New Jersey Governor Proposes 2.5% Tax Increase Limits & Spending Cuts

Claire Heininger & Josh Margolin:

The governor’s $29.3 billion budget will shave $2.9 billion off state spending from last year, about a 9 percent drop. The cuts include reductions in aid to municipalities and school districts, said two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Unlike the current 4 percent limit, the new “hard” 2.5 percent cap on municipal, school and county property tax levies would be all-encompassing, without exceptions for such essentials as rising health insurance or debt payments. The tax could be raised higher only if local voters grant their approval in referendums. The state also would be constitutionally barred from increasing its own spending on direct state services by more than 2.5 percent per year.

Obama Flaw: Achievement Gap

Jay Matthews:

Also, I see a problem in the president using the achievement gap as a measure of schools in his suggested revisions. This could mean that a wonderfully diverse school like T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, a recent subject on this blog, would be motivated to ignore its best students, who want to get even better, and focus all its money and time on those at the bottom of the achievement scale so they can narrow the gap. That is not a good idea, and I hope the president will get it out of his proposal.

Many Nations Passing U.S. in Education, Expert Says

Sam Dillon:

One of the world’s foremost experts on comparing national school systems told lawmakers on Tuesday that many other countries were surpassing the United States in educational attainment, including Canada, where he said 15-year-old students were, on average, more than one school year ahead of American 15-year-olds.
America’s education advantage, unrivaled in the years after World War II, is eroding quickly as a greater proportion of students in more and more countries graduate from high school and college and score higher on achievement tests than students in the United States, said Andreas Schleicher, a senior education official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which helps coordinate policies for 30 of the world’s richest countries.
“Among O.E.C.D. countries, only New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and Mexico now have lower high school completion rates than the U.S.,” Mr. Schleicher said. About 7 in 10 American students get a high school diploma.

Monona Grove School District (WI) uses ACT-related tests to boost academic performance

Susan Troller:

Test early, test often, and make sure the results you get are meaningful to students, teachers and parents.
Although that may sound simple, in the last three years it’s become a mantra in the Monona Grove School District that’s helping all middle and high school students increase their skills, whether they’re heading to college or a career. The program, based on using ACT-related tests, is helping to establish the suburban Dane County district as a leader in educational innovation in Wisconsin.
In fact, Monona Grove recently hosted a half-day session for administrators and board members from Milwaukee and Madison who were interested in learning more about Monona Grove’s experiences and how the school community is responding to the program. In a pilot program this spring in Madison, students in eighth grade at Sherman Middle School will take ACT’s Explore test for younger students. At Memorial, freshmen will take the Explore test.
Known primarily as a college entrance examination, ACT Inc. also provides a battery of other tests for younger students. Monona Grove is using these tests — the Explore tests for grades 8 and 9, and the Plan tests for grades 10 and 11 — to paint an annual picture of each student’s academic skills and what he or she needs to focus on to be ready to take on the challenges of post-secondary education or the work force. The tests are given midway through the first semester, and results are ready a month later.
“We’re very, very interested in what Monona Grove is doing,” says Pam Nash, assistant superintendent for secondary education for the Madison district. “We’ve heard our state is looking at ACT as a possible replacement for the WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam), and the intrinsic reliability of the ACT is well known. The WKCE is so unrelated to the students. The scores come in so late, it’s not useful.

The Madison School District’s “Value Added Assessment” program uses data from the oft-criticized WKCE.

Students’ success in Milwaukee Public high school a matter of expectations

Alan Borsuk:

One key to the successful small high schools, almost without exception, is that they grew from the ground up. They weren’t created by some order from above. The people involved in launching the school knew what they wanted, were willing to do the hugely demanding work of making the school a reality and committed to continually working on improving what they did.
Montessori High fits that description. A charter school staffed by MPS employees, it is led by three teachers with no conventional principal. It is one of just a handful of Montessori high school programs in the U.S., and an even smaller number that combine the Montessori style of learning, with emphasis on individual development, with rigorous International Baccalaureate courses.
The environment in the school is somewhat casual, but serious. For example, 10 couches set the atmosphere for Chip Johnston’s history class, where the lively discussion on a recent morning dealt with reacting to the statement, “Liberty means responsibility.” Overall at the school, there is a strong emphasis on arts, on projects involving real-world issues, and on working with partners or in small groups.

Why is Obama Unafraid of the Teacher Unions?

Greg Forster:

Two extraordinary things happened in the world of education recently. Taken together, they’re powerful confirmation of just how precipitously the teachers’ unions are declining in power and influence. Yet I can see a very plausible outcome in which we conservatives fumble the ball on the one yard line — and hand them back their power.
First, a Rhode Island school district decided it was fed up with chronic failure at one of the state’s (and probably the country’s) worst schools, and announced it would fire every single teacher at the school. In an industry where pretty much nobody ever gets fired for anything, that was an earthquake.
Then something even more amazing occurred: President Obama gave the firings an unambiguous endorsement. Noting that only 7 percent of the school’s 11th graders pass the state math test, he remarked: “If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.”

A consolidation in the Dodgeland School district that may be paying dividends

Barry Adams:

Count the Dodgeland School District in central Dodge County as among those that have closed schools in outlying communities. Voters in 2001 approved a $17 million referendum to construct one school facility on Juneau’s south side to house all of the district’s students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
That meant closing a middle school in Reeseville and an elementary school in Lowell. An elementary school in Clyman had closed in the late 1990s, according to Superintendent Annette Thompson.
She said trying to adequately fund the previous school arrangement in today’s fiscal environment would be difficult. The change has been for the better.
“It was a hard transition, but we recognized that to be the most cost-effective, we needed a facility that meets the needs of all students,” Thompson said. “I think we’re moving in a really positive direction.”

The Push-Back on Charter Schools

Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Century Foundation, Jeffrey Henig and Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia, Michael Goldstein, Match Charter Public School:

Two recent New York Times articles have described opposition to the thriving charter school movement in Harlem. An influential state senator, Bill Perkins, whose district has nearly 20 charter schools, is trying to block their expansion. Some public schools in the neighborhood are also fighting back, marketing themselves to compete with the charters.
This is a New York battle, but charter schools — a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s education strategy — are facing resistance across the country, as they become more popular and as traditional public schools compete for money. The education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a booster of the movement, is now an outspoken critic.
What is causing the push-back on charter schools, beyond the local issues involved ? Critics say they are skimming off the best students, leaving the regular schools to deal with the rest? Is that a fair point?

UC ordered to refund $38 million to professional degree students

Larry Gordon:

The university violated a pledge that fees would not rise during students’ enrollments, a judge rules. The refunds will apply to students who began law, medicine, nursing and other programs in 2003.
The University of California must refund about $38 million to professional degree students who were illegally charged fee increases after they started school in 2003, a Superior Court judge in San Francisco ruled Friday.
UC is likely to appeal the decision, officials said.
In the ruling, Judge John E. Munter said that several thousand UC students in law, medicine, nursing and other programs were, in effect, promised that their professional school fees would not rise during their enrollments and that the university violated that pledge.

No Education Silver Bullet

Dana Goldstein:

In the United States, the education debate has been framed as a zero-sum game. But a look at Finland, whose schools rank No. 1 in global surveys, shows that a national commitment to education can neutralize political debates over school reform.
Last spring, Timo Jaatinen, a Finnish high school teacher living in Virginia, was surfing Internet job boards looking for a position in his home country. After a few phone interviews, Jaatinen was offered a spot as an English and Swedish teacher at Alppila Upper Secondary School in Helsinki, a popular general education high school with a reputation for attracting students interested in the arts.
“The principal said, ‘This job is yours,'” remembered Jaatinen, one of those young, dynamic teachers who you’d guess teenagers instinctively respect. “And then she said, ‘Do you want to go to Rome?'”
Jaatinen was lucky. Alppila had scored well on the city of Helsinki’s educational benchmarks for the 2007-2008 school year, and all the school’s teachers were rewarded with modest salary bonuses and a free Italian vacation, to which new teachers were also invited. Jaatinen headed back to Finland to begin his new job and claim his trip.

Prizes for Innovation

The Cooney Prizes:

The goal of the Cooney Center Prizes for Innovation is to identify, inspire, nurture, and scale breakthrough ideas in children’s digital media and learning. The program will annually award cash prizes and provide ongoing business planning support and mentorship to a new generation of children’s media entrepreneurs and visionaries.

New data on how far boys are falling behind

Richard Whitmire:

Ask anyone about President Obama’s track record and you’ll hear the same: Not much movement on global warming, the domestic economy or health care. But there is one area in which Obama has already begun to move long-dormant mountains: education reform.
He has steered billions of dollars into education, which Education Secretary Arne Duncan has doled out in a carrot-and-stick approach that has forced states to promise reforms that were long thought impossible. For example, several state legislatures were “persuaded” — okay, legally bribed — into peeling back excessive teacher-protection laws.
Ultimately, however, Obama will be measured by his bottom line goal: for the United States to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by the year 2020. Translated, that means jumping from the middle of the rankings of developed nations to the top in just 10 years.

Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference in Madison March 22-23: many important keynote speakers, including politicians + important topics for education

Laurel Cavalluzzo 160K PDF:

Featured speakers at the conference include Greg Richmond, President and founding board member of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and establisher of the Chicago Public School District’s Charter Schools Office; Ursula Wright, the Chief Operating Officer for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Sarah Archibald of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at UW-Madison and the Value-Added Research Center; and Richard Halverson, an associate professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Also speaking at the Conference will be:

  • State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine), Chair Senate Education Committee
  • State Senator Luther Olsen (R-Berlin), Ranking Minority Member, Senate Education
  • State Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), Chair, Assembly Education Committee
  • State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon), Ranking Minority Member, Assembly Education

The Conference will feature interactive sessions; hands-on examples of innovative learning in classrooms; networking; a coaching room open throughout the conference; and keynote speakers that highlight the importance of quality in and around each classroom, and the impact that quality has on the learning of students everywhere. More details are attached.
Thank you for your consideration and your help in getting word out! If you would like to attend on a press pass, please let me know and I will have one in your name at the registration area.

Madison School District’s 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget Released ($421,333,692 Gross Expenditures, $370,287,471 Net); an Increase of $2,917,912 from the preliminary $418,415,780 2009-2010 Budget

Superintendent Dan Nerad 75K PDF:

Attached to this memorandum you will find the final version of the 2009-10 Citizen’s Budget. The Citizen’s Budget is intended to present financial information to the community in a format that is more easily understood. The first report groups expenditures into categories outlined as follows:

  • In-School Operations
  • Curriculum & Teacher Development & Support
  • Facilities, Other Than Debt Service
  • Transportation
  • Food Service
  • Business Services
  • Human Resources
  • General Administration
  • Debt Service
  • District-Wide
  • MSCR

The second report associates revenue sources with the specific expenditure area they are meant to support. In those areas where revenues are dedicated for a specific purpose(ie. Food Services) the actual amount is represented. In many areas of the budget, revenues had to be prorated to expenditures based on the percentage that each specific expenditure bears of the total expenditure budget. It is also important to explain that property tax funds made up the difference between expenditures and all other sources of revenues. The revenues were broken out into categories as follows:

  • Local Non-Tax Revenue
  • Equalized & Categorical State Aid
  • Direct Federal Aid
  • Direct State Aid
  • Property Taxes

Both reports combined represent the 2009-10 Citizen’s Budget.


I’m glad to see this useful document finally available for the 2009-2010 school year. Thanks to the Madison School Board members who pushed for its release.

Is Obama really dumping No Child Left Behind or just giving it a new name?

Maureen Downey:

President Obama outlined his own education vision Saturday, one that he hopes will replace the punitive elements of the sweeping No Child Left Behind Act and give schools more flexibility in bringing students up to speed. To convey the new focus, the law will get a new name, although it has not been announced. (I am sure a few of you will have some pithy suggestions.)
The president and Ed Secretary Arne Duncan have clearly heard the cries from the classrooms where teachers complained that they were teaching to the tests in a futile attempt to meet impossible and overly rigid standards. Details are few right now, but the president did outline a new direction that is supposed to be kinder, fairer and more realistic.
I am not sure that teachers will agree that the plan is more realistic and fairer as it still seems to have high expectations that schools will make strides with all students.

Nia-Malika Henderson:

President Barack Obama unveiled his plan for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s school system Saturday, proposing changes he says would shift emphasis from teaching to the test to a more nuanced assessment of judging school and student progress.
On Monday, Obama will submit his blueprint for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law to Congress, and he’s given lawmakers a powerful incentive to take up the bill this year–his budget proposal includes a $1 billion bonus should new legislation land on his desk this year.
Obama’s proposal would toss out the core of the Bush-era law, which calls for across-the-board proficiency from all students in reading and math by 2014, and instead emphasize revamped assessment tools that link teacher evaluations to student progress, and a goal of having students career and college ready upon graduation.

The Key To Saving American Education: Retrain or Replace Teachers?

Evan Thomas & Pat Wingert:

I’m excited for the opportunity to “debate.” The term violates my traditional sensibilities, but I’ll try to get over it. What resolution should we discuss? Resolved: “The problem with education is teachers,” as one online headline for your story read. Resolved: “The best way to deal with underperforming teachers is to fire them.” Resolved: “Much of the ability to teach is innate,” as the lead story in your package declares.
My reporting for The New York Times Magazine turned up counter-arguments to each of these declarations. But it also turned up many facts that appear in your story. Here are some premises we can probably agree on: The quality of teaching plays a major role in determining whether children learn. An upsetting number of teachers are not helping children learn as much as we want them to. A smaller group of teachers are actively impeding learning. It is insanely difficult to fire these bad teachers, and the teaching profession at large is an insanely isolated one in which it is not unusual for the only people who ever observe the professional at work to be 9 years old.
That said, the overwhelming conclusion of my reporting is that efforts to change this picture must go beyond simply firing the lowest performers. One reason is just plain money. Firing employees–in many professions, not just teaching–brings a lot of legal hurdles and therefore costs a lot of money. The bill is especially high for firing teachers; to fire underperforming teachers in New York City, Chancellor Joel Klein invested $1 million a year in a fleet of fancy attorneys tasked solely with this responsibility. In the two years the project has gone on so far, the city only fired three teachers charged with incompetence.

Harvard study: Are weighted AP grades fair?

Debra Viadero:

To encourage high school students to tackle tougher academic classes, many schools assign bonus points to grades in Advanced Placement or honors courses. But schools’ policies on whether students should receive a grade-point boost and by how much are all over the map.
My local public school district, for instance, used to add an extra third of a grade-point to students’ AP course grades while the private high school on the other side of town would bump up students’ grades by a full letter grade.
Since students from both schools would be applying to many of the same colleges, and essentially competing with one another, it didn’t seem fair to me that the private school kids should get such a generous grade boost.
That’s why I was heartened to come across a new study by a Harvard University researcher that takes a more systematic look at the practice of high school grade-weighting.
He found that for every increasing level of rigor in high school science, students’ college course grades rose by an average of 2.4 points on a 100- point scale, where an A is 95 points and a B is worth 85 points and so on. In other words, the college grade for the former AP chemistry student would be expected to be 2.4 points higher than that of the typical student who took honors chemistry in high school. And the honors students’ college grade, in turn, would be 2.4 points higher than that of the student who took regular chemistry.
Translating those numbers, and some other calculations, to a typical high school 1-to-4-point grade scale, Sadler estimates that students taking an honors science class in high school ought to get an extra half a point for their trouble, and that a B in an AP science course ought to be counted as an A for the purpose of high school grade-point averages.

DC high school football team gets female coach

Joseph White:

The football players at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Mayor Adrian Fenty and a room full of cheering staff needed only one word to describe her: coach.
Natalie Randolph, a 29-year-old biology and environmental sciences teacher, was introduced Friday as the coach of the school’s Coolidge Colts. She’s believed to be the nation’s only female head coach of a high school varsity football team.
“While I’m proud to be part of what this all means,” Randolph said, “being female has nothing to do with it. I love football. I love football, I love teaching, I love these kids. My being female has nothing to do with my support and respect for my players on the field and in the classroom.”
The news conference drew the kind of attention usually reserved for the Washington Redskins and was delayed nearly two hours so Fenty, who is up for re-election this year, could be there and proclaim “Natalie Randolph Day” in the city.

Duncan wants 3 ratings for schools in education overhaul

Greg Toppo:

The Obama administration will ask Congress to toss out the two-tiered pass/fail school rating system of the No Child Left Behind education law and replace it with one that labels schools one of three ways: high-performing, needs improvement or chronically low-performing, according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
President Obama announced the change Saturday during his weekly radio address, saying the administration plan sets “an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from. Achieving this goal will be difficult. It will take time. And it will require the skills, talents, and dedication of many: principals, teachers, parents, students. But this effort is essential for our children and for our country.”
In a briefing Friday, Duncan told reporters he will give the high performers both freedom and financial incentives to stay that way.
“We want to get out of their way,” Duncan said. “But we also want to learn from them.”

Taking a Look at Poverty From an Affluent Chicago Suburb

James Warren:

DuPage County typifies our penchant for caricature: In the collective mind it’s white, homogeneous, middle class, well-to-do, Republican. But, as Elmhurst College is revealing with missionary zeal, it’s also a case study in the often-hidden poverty around us.
S. Alan Ray was clueless about the county and the college before he applied to be president of Elmhurst, a liberal arts institution affiliated with the United Church of Christ. But his due diligence and vision convinced the trustees, and as president at the helm of the battleship that is any college, Mr. Ray is trying to steer 3,360-student Elmhurst down a path of service.
“The tables can be turned at any time — it’s an understanding I try to inculcate on campus,” said Mr. Ray, a low-key, brainy and very focused former Roman Catholic seminarian with a doctorate in religion and a law degree.

National School Standards, at Last

New York Times Editorial:

The countries that have left the United States behind in math and science education have one thing in common: They offer the same high education standards — often the same curriculum — from one end of the nation to the other. The United States relies on a generally mediocre patchwork of standards that vary, not just from state to state, but often from district to district. A child’s education depends primarily on ZIP code.
That could eventually change if the states adopt the new rigorous standards proposed last week by the National Governors Association and a group representing state school superintendents. The proposal lays out clear, ambitious goals for what children should learn year to year and could change curriculums, tests and teacher training.

Obama’s contradictions on education

Valerie Strauss:

Among the 10 organizations to which President Obama donated his Nobel Prize Award are the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the American Indian College Fund, and the Posse Foundation.
What do those groups — each of which is receiving $125,000 of the total $1.4 million that he received — have in common?
They all work to help underserved populations of young people get ready to attend and be successful in college.
Obama has said repeatedly that his education goal is to make sure that every child has a quality education and the opportunity to graduate from college — and he displayed his commitment to that with his own award money.
Yet his education policies to this point cannot ever reach this goal. Nor can they do what he promised during the presidential campaign: Stop high-stakes standardized testing from driving our public education system.

Waukesha West wins Wisconsin academic decathlon

Amy Hetzner:

Waukesha West High School won its ninth straight title Friday at the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon in Wisconsin Dells, earning a trip to next month’s national competition.
The team scored 46,428.3 points out of a possible 60,000, placed first in the Super Quiz relay and earned the top team award for all 10 featured subjects, said decathlon director Molly Ritchie.
In academic decathlon, nine student teams go head to head in a series of tests on academic subjects, interviews and essays. Each team includes three students with A-grade averages, three with B averages and three C students.
Twenty teams competed in the state competition, based on their performance at local and regional events.

Obama’s plan for education reform: short on specifics, so far

Patrik Jonsson:

In Saturday’s address, Obama called for Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which in 2002 became known as the No Child Left Behind Act.
With a goal of having every child read at grade level by 2014, No Child Left Behind has been criticized by current Education Secretary Arne Duncan as “utopian” and as failing to properly reward schools for progress. One change under his proposed legislative blueprint, Obama said, would be that schools that perform well would be rewarded, while underperforming schools would face tough consequences.
A focus on education reform may be a politically astute move for the president and fellow Democrats in Congress, some of whom face difficult elections in the fall. Education reform, unlike financial regulatory reform or new environmental laws, is a kitchen-table issue that many Americans support.
“The announcement’s timing suggests Obama is looking beyond the health care proposal that still lingers in Congress, has delayed the president’s international trip next week, and threatens his party’s electoral prospects in November,” writes the Associated Press.

Where’s the school funding fix?

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

So much for school funding reform.
Gov. Jim Doyle has dropped his broad proposal, and state lawmakers aren’t forwarding any of their own ideas for fixing the system.
Once again our leaders have lobbed this festering problem onto the “too hard to fix” pile. Consequently, Wisconsin remains stuck with a funding system that’s outdated and unfair.
Wisconsin’s next governor needs to make this huge issue a priority during the fall campaign, with specific plans voters can assess.
The state’s “three-legged stool” of school financing — revenue caps, two-thirds state funding, and limits on teacher raises — has fallen over because state leaders kicked out two of the legs.

Our Stand on Standards

Jim Stergios:

Seems our report and the release of the common core standards draft have set off a lot of interest in Massachusetts’ view, and especially in Pioneer’s take on the national standards effort. See Jay Greene’s blog for a long string of comments. Here is a bit of a longish overview of some of the issues we see in this from the Massachusetts and the national perspective. First, the Mass perspective:

1. Standards are the lifeblood of student achievement in public schools; and that includes even those site-based managed schools that are based on parental choice. You all know the stories of charters and voucher programs that don’t deliver the kind of transformational improvement we all want. In MA, our charters for the most part are of a higher quality than elsewhere and far outperform their district counterparts. In part that is because of the great upfront business planning/vetting and accountability/closure processes (yes, regulation), but it is even more because MA has set really high academic standards, assessments, and teacher testing. Charters are effective at attaining goals but you have to set high academic goals for them to be good schools with high-achieving students. Arizona, with its numerous but too often lower quality charter schools, take note.

On the Barricades at Shimer

Emily Smith:

Are you going back to the wars?”
“Not a war . . . a family dispute.” So said Carson Holloway, a board member at Shimer College, responding to a student’s half-joking remark. At this unique college, which calls itself “the ‘Great Books’ school of Chicago,” a struggle over academic authority has been raging recently, rife with 1960s-style undertones. The school’s embattled president, Tom Lindsay, is facing ideological opposition from faculty and students. Yet he thinks that the resolution of tensions at Shimer could serve as a “bellwether” for colleges nationwide, where for the past 50 years political agendas have too often contaminated the quality of a liberal-arts education.
Everyone at Shimer believes in a great-books education, through which students study the profound questions of Western thought and civilization. The “family dispute” is over how to govern this great-books school. Should a community of scholars call the shots, as it has done over the past 30 years? Or should the school be run by a chief executive, as the college’s president thinks? Is Shimer a Greek-style polis, as many Shimerians believe? Or does it need to function more like a corporation, as the president contends?

Grier has opened door to system of great Houston schools

Chris Barbic & Mike Feinberg:

In his 2010 State of the Schools address, Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier commented on the district’s relationship with the public charter schools we founded more than a decade ago, YES Prep and KIPP. Grier referred to the relationship as a partnership as well as a competition, stating that HISD is ready to “get busy” in order to ensure parents are not leaving failing HISD schools to attend YES Prep, KIPP or other high-performing charters in Houston. We could not be more pleased to hear these comments from Grier. In fact, we’ve been hoping for many years that our existence would indeed result in this type of relationship with HISD and a superintendent ready to “get busy” and compete. The recent changes that Grier and the board have implemented regarding a longer calendar and focus on human capital show that they are committed to this idea.
YES Prep and KIPP were both born inside HISD in the mid-1990s when we were both classroom teachers in underserved communities in search of a better way to educate our students. We had a number of theories we wanted to test about what it would take to educate our students in a way that would allow them to compete with students from our city’s very best schools. What we learned in those early years was that for us to have the freedom to be experimental, nimble and fleet-footed, for us to be able to make sometimes unorthodox decisions in the best interest of our students, we would need to leave HISD’s political bureaucracy to operate as independent public charter schools.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 52 Million (36%) of Tax Returns Pay Zero Income Tax


A record number of the 142 million tax returns filed in 2008 resulted in no tax payment, according to a Tax Foundation analysis of IRS data. That means the tax filers got back every dollar that had been withheld from their paychecks, and often more. Roughly 51.6 million tax returns, or 36.3 percent, were filed by such “nonpayers,” people whose exemptions, deductions and credits wiped out any federal income tax due.
A family of four earning more than $50,000 can have no income tax liability after taking the standard deduction and the child tax credit.

A Turning Point on Education Reform

Chester Finn:

If the nation’s education system finally makes a meaningful turn for the better, March 10 may very well mark the turning point.
On Wednesday, two influential organizations of state leaders — the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — released drafts of new “common core” academic standards for American schools, covering English and math from kindergarten through 12th grade. The standards are intended — if states embrace them, teachers teach them and children study hard — to prepare tomorrow’s young people to be “college- and career-ready” by the end of high school and to help the U.S. become more internationally competitive.
A closely related development will soon occur, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveils a program that will let states compete for up to $350 million in federal funds to develop new tests “aligned” with the new standards.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin’s Lost Emoloyment Decade

Stateline Staff:

California has fewer people in its workforce today than it did in 1999. For Alabama and Indiana, 1993 is the last time the employment ranks were so thin. And for Michigan — unquestionably the nation’s hardest-hit state in terms of unemployment — 4.1 million people have jobs today. That’s the smallest total since August of 1987, when Ronald Reagan was president.
Those grim statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor are highlighted by The Christian Science Monitor in a notable item today (March 11) that takes a long-term look at the national unemployment crisis. In all, 12 states now have a smaller total workforce than they did a decade ago, The Monitor reports.

Madison School Leaders Consider Late Tuesday High School Start for Teacher Collaboration

Gayle Worland:

High school students would have an extra hour to sleep on Tuesday mornings next year under a plan being considered by the Madison School District and the teachers union.
Officials are in negotiations to make Tuesdays a “late start” day for students at East, West, Memorial and possibly La Follette High Schools in 2010-11 to give teachers a morning hour to collaborate with colleagues.
“Collaboration among professionals is like cross-fertilization,” John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said Thursday. The weekly sessions could give teachers a chance to discuss “what is a better way to approach a subject, a concept, what works with this kid and his individual learning style, etc.”


The School Board Job

Charlie Mas:

I don’t know what job the members of the school board came to do. I don’t know what job they think they are doing. But I do know what job they aren’t doing: they aren’t doing the Board job.
The Board job begins with serving as the elected representatives of the public. But the Board members aren’t representing the public’s voice in Seattle Public Schools. They certainly aren’t advocating for the public’s perspective. We know that they aren’t because if they were, we would hear them begin their sentences with the words: “My constituents want… ” and they don’t. We don’t hear them say “My constituents want equitable access to language immersion programs.” or “My constituents want equitable access to Montessori programs.” or “My constituents want access to a real Spectrum program for their Spectrum-eligible children.” or “My constituents want reduced class sizes.” We aren’t hearing that. And we sure aren’t hearing them follow these statements with “So let’s make it happen for them.”

Can you lead a school system if you can’t write a clear sentence?

Maureen Downey:

In a provocative Detroit News column, columnist Laura Berman describes the troubling case of Detroit school board president Otis Mathis. Mathis appears to be a decent man admired by his colleagues. He is fair and open. He can also barely construct a sentence, as Berman shows by sharing his e-mails.
One Mathis example that she provides:

If you saw Sunday’s Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason’s he gave for closing school to many empty seats.

Mathis does not deny his writing problems or his weak education record and speaks openly with Berman about them. He says his own struggles and deficiencies don’t disqualify him from leading a school system that shares many of those same struggles and shortcomings on an epic scale.

Does the Size of a School Matter?

Herbert J. Walberg, Don Soifer, Leonie Haimson, Valerie E. Lee, professor, Rudy Crew:

Facing low enrollment and a $50 million budget deficit, the Kansas City Board of Education announced on Wednesday that it would close almost half of the city’s public schools. The “Right-Size” plan will mean closing 28 of the city’s 61 schools and eliminating 700 out of 3,000 jobs.
National education experts have said that the Kansas City schools were not responding to demographic changes and academic failure. District officials say the closings will improve achievement by allowing the system to focus its resources.
How much does school size matter? And what are the lessons learned from Kansas City?

What’s next after K.C. school closures?

Barbara Shelley:

Faced with a deficit and troubled school system, Kansas City’s Board of Education voted to close 28 out of 61 schools. Barbara Shelley, columnist for the Kansas City Star, talks with Kai Ryssdal about what led to the decision and its impact.
KAI RYSSDAL: The board of education in Kansas City, Mo., took a vote last night on how to save their city’s long-troubled school system. It was close. But by the end of the evening a plan to shut down 28 of the district’s 61 schools and lay off 700 people did pass. The vote was 5-4. The district says the plan should cut $50 million from the budget.
Barbara Shelley is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. She’s been writing about schools there and the city itself for quite a while. Barb, it’s good to have you with us.
BARBARA SHELLEY: Good to be here.
RYSSDAL: What’s the reaction in town today after this announcement?
SHELLEY: Well, I think you have two different reactions. You have the reaction from people that are going to be directly affected. And that’s the families and the teachers and the students. And there’s a lot of anguish in that group. You have another reaction from I would say business types and people that see this as a hope that a smaller, more streamlined school district will mean better performance and a better academic potential for the district.


Andrew Rotherham:

Big front page story in the WaPo todayabout a debate over getting rid of congressional “earmarks” for for-profit entities. But is the problem that for-profits can get earmarks or that the earmark process is just not very meritorious in its selection regardless of the tax status of the recipient? Plenty of for-profits will continue to get federal money through a variety of avenues. Meanwhile, not every non-profit is a model of efficiency, virtue, or effectiveness.
In K-12, and education more generally, we have a similar problem when it comes to thinking about quality.

Obama-Care Meets Obama-Ed

Peter Wood:

Of President Obama’s three big takeovers–cap ‘n trade, health care, and higher ed–higher ed has garnered the least public attention. That may change now that the administration is attempting to impose its wishes by legislative trickery.
The health care bill that the Democrats hope to pass by “reconciliation” to avoid the normal Senatorial voting procedure is now being amended to include the administration’s Big Grab on federal student loans. If this works, we will have one bill in which the federal government not only takes primary control of American health care but also simultaneously takes practical control of American higher education.
Some background: last September, The Wall Street Journal (“The Quietest Trillion”) gave an early heads-up to the administration’s then-plan to move the Department of Education from a 20 percent to an 80 percent share of the student loan market. A bill passed the House that month that would have eliminated private lenders from the federally guaranteed student loan market by July 1, 2010. It came with a promise that taxpayers would save some $87 billion from substituting a government-run service for the rough-and-tumble of private lenders. In October, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to colleges and universities across the country advising them to get their institutions ready for a 2010 implementation of the new rules, dubbed “Direct Lending.” College officials, some House Democrats, and a few Republicans expressed their uneasiness at the new plan.

Teachers Union Tops List of California Political Spenders

Patrick McGreevy:

Fifteen special interest groups including casino operators, drug firms and unions for teachers and public employees spent more than $1 billion during the last decade trying to influence California public officials and voters, the state’s watchdog agency reported today.
The money went for lobbying, campaign contributions to state politicians and ballot measure campaigns to get voters to advance the groups’ agendas, according to the report by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
“This tsunami of special interest spending drowns out the voices of average voters, and intimidates political opponents and elected officials alike,” said Commission Chairman Ross Johnson, a former state senator.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council also tops the Badger State’s lobbying expenditures.

State-of-the-art sports facility is a boon for Sun Prairie High School

Jim Polzin:

The massive field house inside Sun Prairie’s new high school, which is scheduled to open in the fall, is a facility that can serve a great number of purposes.
As athletic director Jim McClowry is quick to point out, its primary benefit is that of a spacious classroom for physical education students that eliminates overcrowding and gives teachers myriad options of activities to include in the curriculum.
There’s also the obvious advantage to the school district’s student-athletes, who will have a breathtaking venue to call home.
But there’s an ancillary benefit to having a large facility with ample parking, and plenty of other bells and whistles, that has McClowry excited about the future.

School Districts vs. A Good Math Education

Charlie Mas:

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed–being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations–and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.
Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math “wars”, including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.
I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student’s “discovering” math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial “spiraling” of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn’t. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

Related: Math Forum audio / video.

Kansas City Adopts Plan to Close Nearly Half Its Schools

Susan Saulny:

The Kansas City Board of Education voted Wednesday night to close almost half of the city’s public schools, accepting a sweeping and contentious plan to shrink the system in the face of dwindling enrollment, budget cuts and a $50 million deficit.
In a 5-to-4 vote, the members endorsed the Right-Size plan, proposed by the schools superintendent, John Covington, to close 28 of the city’s 61 schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs, including those of 285 teachers. The closings are expected to save $50 million, erasing the deficit from the $300 million budget.
“We must make sacrifices,” said board member Joel Pelofsky, speaking in favor of the plan before the vote. “Unite in favor of our children.”

Gates Funds Aid University of Oregon’s College-Prep Efforts

University of Oregon:

Developing a set of core content standards to prepare high school students with the academic foundation and skills necessary to succeed on any college campus is the goal of a new initiative at the University of Oregon.
Specifically targeted are the subject areas of mathematics and English, as well as a set of career-oriented two-year certificate programs.
David T. Conley, a professor of education and founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), will lead the ambitious project, which is partially funded by a $794,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Seattle-based foundation announced in February a $19.5 million package of 15 grants to develop and launch new instructional tools and assessments to assure college readiness across the nation. Other support for the UO project comes from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Hillsborough teachers will soon be rated by their peers

Dong-Phuong Nguyen

Starting as early as this fall, every Hillsborough County schoolteacher will be subject to ratings by his or her peers.
The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved the move as part of a reform effort under way to improve schools through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The board’s vote dedicates $360,000 to an online training course for the peer evaluation system that, by 2013, will help determine whether teachers qualify for tenure or merit pay.
Within a month or so, teachers will be able to see how the system works in real life. The optional six-hour course by national teacher evaluation expert Charlotte Danielson includes an overview and video clips from actual classrooms where similar evaluations have been used.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US Sales Taxes Hit Record High

William P. Barrett:

Shopping blues: Top tax 12%. Chicago’s 10.25% highest big-city rate. More Internet tax fights loom.
While President Obama’s push to raise federal income taxes for the wealthy gets lots of attention, the continuing upward creep in the sales tax rates imposed by state and local governments has gotten less notice.
But Vertex Inc., which calculates sales tax for Internet sellers, reports that the average general sales tax rate nationwide reached 8.629% at the end of 2009, the highest since the Berwyn, Pa., company started tracking data in 1982. That was up a nickel on a taxable $100 purchase from a year earlier and up nearly 40 cents for the decade. The highest sales tax rate in the country now stands at 12%.
During 2009 seven states and the District of Columbia raised sales tax rates, with one jurisdiction–North Carolina–actually doing it twice. Only four states hiked rates in 2008 and only one in 2007. Given state budget problems, the 2009 state sales tax increases aren’t surprising. States have also been raising income tax rates on the wealthy and on corporations and boosting excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. With states now facing record budget shortfalls, more tax increases seem likely.

There has been discussion regarding the shift of school additional school spending to the sales tax.
Related: Federal Withholding Tax Revenues.

Feds examine LA schools’ English learner program

Associated Press:

The U.S. Education Department is planning to examine the Los Angeles Unified School District’s low achieving English-language learning program to determine whether those students are being denied a fair education.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether the nation’s second-largest school district is complying with federal civil rights laws with regard to English-language learners, who comprise about a third of the district’s 688,000 pupils, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The inquiry was sparked by the low academic achievement of the district’s English learners. Only 3 percent are proficient in high-school math and English.
Problems in LAUSD’s English-language learning program were highlighted last fall in a study by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers

The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation’s future. Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations. Within the United States, the achievement gap between white students and poor and minority students stubbornly persists–and as the population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue to sag.
For much of this time–roughly the last half century–professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language–but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.
Yet in recent years researchers have discovered something that may seem obvious, but for many reasons was overlooked or denied. What really makes a difference, what matters more than the class size or the textbook, the teaching method or the technology, or even the curriculum, is the quality of the teacher. Much of the ability to teach is innate–an ability to inspire young minds as well as control unruly classrooms that some people instinctively possess (and some people definitely do not). Teaching can be taught, to some degree, but not the way many graduate schools of education do it, with a lot of insipid or marginally relevant theorizing and pedagogy. In any case the research shows that within about five years, you can generally tell who is a good teacher and who is not

Draft US K-12 “Core Standards” Available for Comment

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers:

As part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the draft K-12 standards are now available for public comment. These draft standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.
Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. This is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback from national organizations representing, but not limited to teachers, postsecondary education (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. These standards are now open for public comment until Friday, April 2.

Governors, state school superintendents to propose common academic standards

Nick Anderson:

The nation’s governors and state school chiefs will propose standards Wednesday for what students should learn in English and math, from kindergarten through high school, a crucial step in President Obama’s campaign to raise academic standards across the country.
The blueprint aims to replace a hodgepodge of state benchmarks with common standards. The president has aggressively encouraged the states’ action as a key to improving troubled schools and keeping the nation competitive. Instituting new academic standards would reverberate in textbooks, curriculum, teacher training and student learning from coast to coast.
Fourth-graders, for example, would be expected to explain major differences between poetry and prose and to refer to such elements as stanza, verse, rhythm and meter when writing or speaking about a poem. Eighth-graders would be expected to use linear equations to solve for an unknown and explain a proof of the Pythagorean theorem on properties of a right triangle — cornerstones of algebra and geometry.
“It’s hugely significant,” said Michael Cohen, a former Clinton education official, who is president of the standards advocacy organization Achieve. “The states recognize they ought to have very consistent expectations for what their students should learn.”

Jordan, Utah school board looks to rein in time spent on comments

Rosemary Winters:

After a rowdy, four-hour meeting last month, the Jordan School District Board is considering tightening its policy on public comments.
A proposal for tonight’s Board of Education meeting would make a number of changes to the district’s rules regarding public participation at board meetings, including limiting the time spent on comments. At the last board meeting, hundreds of people showed up to protest a proposal to lay off 500 workers, including 250 teachers. The board’s regular agenda was suspended to make time for four hours of comment.
“It cannot continue to do that every meeting, or the district will come to a halt,” Jordan spokeswoman Melinda Colton wrote in an e-mail, noting that people also can chime in via letters, e-mails and phone calls. “The board feels it needs to restore decorum to its board meetings. Their meetings are meetings held in public, not public hearings.”
Robin Frodge, president of the Jordan Education Association, said she hopes the board keeps in mind the importance of public input. “One of the primary purposes for public meetings is to conduct business in front of the public and to also take public response on board actions,” Frodge said.

Spending at Co-Located New York Schools

Kim Gittleson:

Buried on the Department of Education’s website is a page that lists per pupil spending on a school-wide, district-wide, and system-wide basis. Using this information, as well as expense data from the 2007-2008 audits and the recent Independent Budget Office report, we compared spending by charter schools and traditional public schools that are located in the same building.
We found that charter schools spent $365 less per pupil than their co-located traditional public schools in 2007-2008. You can see our calculations in a workbook here.
Some notes on our methodology:

List of California’s lowest-performing schools released

Katy Murphy:

Five schools in Oakland, five in Hayward and one in San Lorenzo are among 188 statewide that have been deemed “persistently lowest-achieving” on a preliminary list released Monday by state education officials.
The unwelcome distinction was given to schools that posted low scores on reading and math tests in the past three years and that have shown little improvement, based on the state education department’s analysis.
In Hayward, that includes all three of the city’s high schools.
The schools will eventually be required to make one of four interventions set forth by the federal government, including the replacement of the principal and staff, closure and charter conversion, state officials said Monday. Those who wish to receive federal school improvement grant funds must do so by this fall; otherwise, the timeline is unspecified.

We must right-size KC School District, now

Airick Leonard West:

At first glance, the right-sizing of the Kansas City School District just feels wrong.
It feels wrong to close more schools in struggling neighborhoods, to punish scholars with longer bus rides home, to let teachers go with little more than “we wish we didn’t have to,” to take beautiful buildings that stood for community and put boards in their windows, to ask families to bear the burden of a solution after years of school boards — which now include myself — failing to fix the problems. In the storm of controversy, it is easy to overlook what is right in the journey we are on.
Beyond all that may feel wrong, there is so much that is right in our district and with the right-sizing plan. We should celebrate that our superintendent has led a thoughtful, data-driven, six-month, three-stage process to arrive at the plan.

Notes on the Alliance for Education Teacher Quality Survey

Melissa Westbrook:

just finally got around to looking over the Alliance for Education survey called “Teaching Quality Community Survey”. What were they thinking? (Sorry to be a little late to this party but I was out of town last week.) I’m not going to even provide a link. I answered every question “don’t know” so I could read through the whole thing.
Just from a survey standpoint, it’s a mess. There are multiple values in questions starting with the very first one. It’s about (1) redesigning the salary schedule AND (2) eliminating coursework incentives AND (3) “reallocating pay to target the district’s challenges and priorities.” What?!? You can’t write a survey question like that.
Question two has a classic “leading the reader” form using phrases like “redouble efforts” and “as attempted by the current superintendent”. How does the reader know this actually DID happen? Also, the “latest” negotiations haven’t even formally started; is the district showing its hand here?
And it goes on and on. “Gather teacher data so that teachers are equitably distributed among schools.” So elsewhere they want to eliminate pay for more education for teachers but at the same time in this question they want to spread the number of teachers who do have more education more equitably among the schools?

School cuts: Size matters

Savannah Morning News:

Savannah-Chatham school board should consider temporary increases to class size.
LOCAL SCHOOL officials say everything is on the table when it comes to cutting the budget, but there are some measures that would be a bit less painful.
For instance, the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education should consider a temporary increase in class sizes.
While the state last year increased class size regulations marginally, the local system remains, on average, about two or three students below those limits. There is more leeway in elementary schools, with class sizes closer to state limits in the middle and upper grades.
More students per class will likely mean more stress on educators. However, this move can be easily undone when the economy (and school tax revenue) improves.
Superintendent Thomas Lockamy said that out of the system’s roughly 3,200 teaching positions, some 300 to 400 come vacant at the end of each year through resignations or retirement.

Pressed by Charters, Public Schools Try Marketing

Jennifer Medina:

Rafaela Espinal held her first poolside chat last summer, offering cheese, crackers and apple cider to draw people to hear her pitch.
She keeps a handful of brochures in her purse, and also gives a few to her daughter before she leaves for school each morning. She painted signs on the windows of her Chrysler minivan, turning it into a mobile advertisement.
It is all an effort to build awareness for her product, which is not new, but is in need of an image makeover: a public school in Harlem.
As charter schools have grown around the country, both in number and in popularity, public school principals like Ms. Espinal are being forced to compete for bodies or risk having their schools closed. So among their many challenges, some of these principals, who had never given much thought to attracting students, have been spending considerable time toiling over ways to market their schools. They are revamping school logos, encouraging students and teachers to wear T-shirts emblazoned with the new designs. They emphasize their after-school programs as an alternative to the extended days at many charter schools. A few have worked with professional marketing firms to create sophisticated Web sites and blogs.

Making Tough Choices for Higher Education

James Warren:

Faculty and staff members at the University of Illinois at Chicago will take an anger-fueled field trip on Monday to visit a growing, bedeviled species: financially beleaguered politicians. One can predict the topics of discussion — and those likely to be avoided.
Several hundred people from the university will fan out and both rally and lobby local and state officials, including Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, about the state budget mess and against the near certainty of more cuts and increased tuition.
They’re calling it “A Day of Education in Defense of Public Education,” and participants will make virtue out of necessity, venting on one of four furlough days mandated for the rest of the school year. Central topics include the $500 million that the state owes the University of Illinois for a fiscal year that’s almost over.
Dick Simpson, the decidedly sober but deceptively passionate head of the U.I.C. political science department, said he had not seen this much on-campus emotion and faculty mobilization since the campus was closed after the 1970 shootings of students at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard.

10th Annual Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference, March 22-23 at the Monona Terrace in Madison.

via an Ingrid Beamsley email:

Attendees will glean new ideas and insights from those who are part of charter schools. Charter schools work as “learning laboratories” and are anxious to share insights and best practices that can be applied to traditional public schools. Whether you’re looking to network at our larger sessions, or if you prefer to sit down one-on-one in a more private setting with someone who can answer your questions, we can make it happen for you at this year’s conference.

Wisconsin Governor Doyle drops plan on school funding

Jason Stein:

The reason, spokesman Adam Collins said Monday, is that focus shifted to pursuing federal stimulus money for education and a lack of interest from state lawmakers in the proposal.
But the top leaders of the Senate and Assembly and the chairs of their education committees said Doyle never put forward a bill or detailed specifics for them to evaluate and that the last contact from his aides on the issue was about a year ago.
“More finger-pointing on education reforms from the administration without a proposal that has strong public support isn’t going to help Wisconsin students,” Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) said in a statement.
The news amounts to the latest setback for the Democratic governor as he seeks to build on his legacy before the Legislature finishes its regular business April 22. Fellow Democrats in the Legislature already have rejected Doyle’s plans to put the mayor in charge of the Milwaukee Public Schools and have called for changes to a sweeping proposal to limit greenhouse gases and boost renewable energy.

Schools’ New Math: the Four-Day Week

Chris Herring:

A small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students’ education.
State legislators and local school boards are giving administrators greater flexibility to set their academic calendars, making the four-day slate possible. But education experts say little research exists to show the impact of shortened weeks on learning. The missed hours are typically made up by lengthening remaining school days.
Of the nearly 15,000-plus districts nationwide, more than 100 in at least 17 states currently use the four-day system, according to data culled from the Education Commission of the States. Dozens of other districts are contemplating making the change in the next year–a shift that is apt to create new challenges for working parents as well as thousands of school employees.
The heightened interest in an abbreviated school week comes as the Obama administration prepares to plow $4.35 billion in extra federal funds into underperforming schools. The administration has been advocating for a stronger school system in a bid to make the U.S. more academically competitive on a global basis.

Ed chief: Agency to review equal access at schools

Bob Johnson:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday the federal government will become more vigilant to make sure students have equal access and opportunity to everything ranging from college prep classes to science and engineering programs.
“We are going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement,” Duncan said on a historic Selma bridge to commemorate the 45th anniversary of a bloody confrontation between voting rights demonstrators and state troopers.
Duncan said the department also will issue a series of guidelines to public schools and colleges addressing fairness and equity issues.
“The truth is that, in the last decade, the office for civil rights has not been as vigilant as it should be. That is about to change,” Duncan said.
Duncan spoke to a crowd about 400 people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in observance of “Bloody Sunday,” the day in 1965 when several hundred civil rights protesters were beaten by state troopers as they crossed the span over the Alabama River, bound for Montgomery.

Carl Dorvil: A Great American Story

Tom Vander Ark:

Carl Dorvil started Group Excellence in his SMU dorm room. The son of Haitian immigrants, Carl never took his education for granted. He was the first African American president of his high school and balanced four jobs while completing a triple major and starting a business as an undergraduate.
Some good advice from the founder of Macaroni Grill led Carl to pursue an MBA. But when his professor saw the revenue projection for Group Excellence, he suggested a semester off to work on the business.
Carl finished his MBA in 2008, but the break allowed him to build a great business. Today Group Excellence (GE) employs 500 people in four cities and serves over 10,000 Texas students. GE provides tutoring services to struggling low-income students. Dorvil says, “The knowledge that I gained from business school propelled GE into becoming one of the most respected tutoring companies under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.”
In one Dallas middle school, math scores shot up from 12% to more than 60% passing the state test only 8 months after activating the GE program.

Loud noises pose hearing-loss risk to kids

Joyce Cohen:

For football fans, the indelible image of last month’s Super Bowl might have been quarterback Drew Brees’ fourth-quarter touchdown pass that put the New Orleans Saints ahead for good. But for audiologists around the nation, the highlight came after the game – when Brees, in a shower of confetti, held aloft his 1-year-old son, Baylen.
The boy was wearing what looked like the headphones worn by his father’s coaches on the sideline, but they were actually low-cost, low-tech earmuffs meant to protect his hearing from the stadium’s roar.
Specialists say such safeguards are critical for young ears in a deafening world. Hearing loss from exposure to loud noises is cumulative and irreversible; if such exposure starts in infancy, children can live “half their lives with hearing loss,” said Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Home schooling: Why some countries welcome children being taught at home and others don’t

The Economist:

UNLIKE many of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that have sought refuge in America, the Romeike family comes from a comfortable place: Bissingen an der Teck, a town in south-western Germany. Yet on January 26th an American immigration judge granted the Romeikes–a piano teacher, his wife and five children–political asylum, accepting their case that difficulties with home schooling their children created a reasonable fear of persecution.
Under Germany’s stringent rules, home schooling is allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Before emigrating, Mr and Mrs Romeike had been fined some €12,000 ($17,000); policemen had arrived at their house and forcibly taken their children to school. The Romeikes feared that the youngsters might soon be removed by the state.
In September 2006 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Germany was within its rights to follow this approach. Schools represented society, it judged, and it was in the children’s interest to become part of that society. The parents’ right to raise their offspring did not go as far as depriving their children of the social experience of school.

War on Soft Drinks Bubbles out of Schools

Michelle Miller:

When former President Bill Clinton enlisted the beverage industries in fighting childhood obesity, he did not expect so much progress in just four years.
“I have to admit I’m stunned by the results,” Clinton said. “There has been an 88 percent reduction in the total beveraged calories shipped to schools.”
CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller report the industry is now selling healthier – instead of high calorie – drinks to students. Still not good enough, say public health officials.
A growing number of cities and states want to reduce adult consumption of sugary drinks by taxing them. New York has revived a proposal to impose a penny per ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Colorado has already levied such as tax. So has Illinois. California is considering it.

The Legal Requirement of Public Input

Charlie Mas:

Dan has been working hard snooping around in the RCW. It’s pretty amazing what you can find in there if you look.
Here’s what he found: RCW 28A.320.015

School boards of directors — Powers — Notice of adoption of policy.
(1) The board of directors of each school district may exercise the following:
(a) The broad discretionary power to determine and adopt written policies not in conflict with other law that provide for the development and implementation of programs, activities, services, or practices that the board determines will:
(i) Promote the education and daily physical activity of kindergarten through twelfth grade students in the public schools; or
(ii) Promote the effective, efficient, or safe management and operation of the school district;
(b) Such powers as are expressly authorized by law; and
(c) Such powers as are necessarily or fairly implied in the powers expressly authorized by law.
(2) Before adopting a policy under subsection (1)(a) of this section, the school district board of directors shall comply with the notice requirements of the open public meetings act, chapter 42.30 RCW, and shall in addition include in that notice a statement that sets forth or reasonably describes the proposed policy. The board of directors shall provide a reasonable opportunity for public written and oral comment and consideration of the comment by the board of directors.

That Other Government Takeover: Higher Education Act

Wall Street Journal:

Everyone knows Democrats are planning to use the budget reconciliation process to get ObamaCare through the Senate. Less well known is that Democrats are plotting add-ons to that bill to get other liberal priorities enacted–programs that could never attract 60 votes.
One of these controversial measures rewrites the Higher Education Act to ban private companies from offering federally guaranteed student loans as of this July. Congress has already passed laws in recent years discouraging private lenders from making loans without a federal guarantee. But most college financial-aid departments still want private companies to originate and service the guaranteed loans. That’s because the alternative–a public option run by the Department of Education–has been distinguished by its Soviet-style customer service.
The Democratic plan is to make this public option the only option mere days before colleges send out their financial aid packages to incoming students. The House and Senate budget committees issued instructions last year to look for savings in the student-lending program, so the Democrats have prepared in advance their excuse to jam these changes through the reconciliation process.

Teachers union rips Florida Senator Thrasher’s education bill

Brandon Larrabee:

The state’s largest teachers union ripped into a proposed overhaul of teacher contracts Monday, saying the bill represented an effort to score political points instead of serious education reform.
“It attacks the very people who work in our school system each and every day as opposed to giving them the resources that are needed to succeed,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, at a news conference called to slam the proposal from Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
Thrasher’s bill, filed last week, would base half of a teacher’s salary on student performance while extending to five years the period during which a new teacher can be fired at the end of each school year without cause.
It would also dismantle teacher tenure in the three counties, including Duval County, where it exists as well as other employment protections in other parts of the state. In most parts of the state, teachers can obtain a “professional service contract” after three or four years and can only be fired for cause.

Algebra in Wonderland

Melanie Bayley:

SINCE “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice’s sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo (“Do-Do-Dodgson”).
But Alice’s adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children — and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose “Alice in Wonderland” opened on Friday.
Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice’s search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.
In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

Officials Allow Sex Offender to Live Near School

Gerry Shih:

A convicted sex offender has moved into a home across the street from Wildwood Elementary School in Piedmont, infuriating parents, who are asking school officials and the police why the 2006 state law mandating a minimum distance of 2,000 feet between schools and the residences of sex offenders is not being enforced.
But the Piedmont police, on the advice of county and state law enforcement officials, say there is nothing they can do.
On Feb. 12, James F. Donnelly, 71, a convicted sex offender, registered his new address as 256 Wildwood Avenue, where a blue-hued house overlooks Piedmont, Oakland’s upscale, uphill neighbor.
Shortly after Mr. Donnelly filed his registration, Chief John Hunt of the Piedmont police realized that the house was almost directly across from the school.
“We said, Wait, this can’t be, somebody dropped the ball,” Chief Hunt said in an interview.

Patricia Travers, Violinist Who Vanished, Dies at 82

Margalit Fox:

At 11, the violinist Patricia Travers made her first solo appearance with the New York Philharmonic, playing Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with “a purity of tone, breadth of line and immersion in her task,” as a critic for The New York Times wrote in 1939.
At 13, she appeared in “There’s Magic in Music,” a Hollywood comedy set in a music camp. Released in 1941 and starring Allan Jones, the film features Patricia, chosen by audition from hundreds of child performers, playing with passionate intensity.
In her early 20s, for the Columbia label, she made the first complete recording of Charles Ives’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, a modern American work requiring a mature musical intelligence.
Not long afterward, she disappeared.
Between the ages of 10 and 23, Ms. Travers appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York, London and Berlin Philharmonics and the Boston and Chicago Symphonies. She performed on national radio broadcasts, gave premieres of music written expressly for her and made several well-received records.

Interpol called in to investigate kidnapping of British schoolboy

Dean Nelson, Farzana Fiaz & Ben Leach:

Sahil Saeed, five, was seized by gunmen on Thursday hours before he was due to fly home to Oldham with his father after visiting his sick grandmother in Jhelum, Punjab
His father, RajaNaqqash Saeed, claimed he had been tortured by four armed men who left with his son and demanded a £100,000 ransom.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said that Interpol had been asked to help with the investigation but warned the kidnappers that police were closing in.
His comments came after four Pakistani police officers were suspended after initially failing to respond to the family’s emergency call. Police in the city have said they have made no progress with the case.
Rehman Malik also gave his backing to claims that the kidnapping was an “inside job” by disgruntled relations.

Parents love it, but Wisconsin’s open enrollment option puts school districts on edge during tough economic times

Appleton Post-Crescent:

Zachary Dupland was a kindergartner at Menasha’s Gegan Elementary School when his parents split up. His dad, Eric Dupland, moved to Appleton. His mom, Tauna Carson, moved to Neenah.
As part of their custody agreement, however, they opted to keep Zachary, now a third-grader, at a school in Menasha by applying for open enrollment.
His parents felt no reason existed to uproot him from his friends and teachers, at least until middle school.
“We wanted to avoid any more dramatic changes in his life,” Eric Dupland said.
“This option has been wonderful for us,” Carson said. “It has allowed us to do just what we need to do for Zachary.”

Milwaukee Mayor Advocates teacher Healthcare Cost Reform

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is calling on Milwaukee Public Schools and union leaders to work quickly on ways to get more MPS employees to take less expensive health insurance.
In an interview, Barrett said, “I’m calling on the school district, on the School Board, on the representatives of the employees, to meet as quickly as possible to see if they can find a solution to stave off” what lies ahead for MPS, including projections of cuts in hundreds of teaching jobs and increases in average class size.
“I believe a big component of that is putting more people into the lower cost health care plan,” he said. MPS offers two health plans, and about 80% of employees take one that costs $7,380 a year more for a family than the other plan.

Fixing US STEM education is possible, but will take money

Todd Morton:

The state of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the United States has seen some unflattering appraisals in recent years, and deservedly so. In early February, the House of Representatives heard testimony on undergraduate and graduate education. The message from the panel, which included experts from academia, STEM-based industries, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), was clear: the problems in STEM education are well-known, and it’s time to take action.
Both the hearing’s charter and its chair, Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), pointed out the obvious problem in higher education: students start out interested, but the STEM programs are driving them away. As the National Academies described in its 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, successful STEM education is not just an academic pursuit–it’s a necessity for competing in the knowledge-based economy that the United States had a key role in creating.
The potential for action comes thanks to the fact that the America COMPETES Act of 2007 is up for reauthorization. Its initial focus was on STEM education at the K-12 levels, but efforts at the undergraduate and graduate levels are needed to retain students to fill the jobs left vacant as baby boomers retire.

From his sickbed, Jaime Escalante is still delivering

Esmeralda Bermudez:

There was a time in East Los Angeles when el maestro’s el maestro’s gruff voice bounced off his classroom walls. He roamed the aisles, he juggled oranges, he dressed in costumes, he punched the air; he called you names, he called your mom, he kicked you out, he lured you in; he danced, he boxed, he screamed, he whispered. He would do anything to get your attention.
“Ganas,” he would say. “That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”
Nearly three decades later, Jaime Escalante finds himself far from Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, the place that made him internationally famous for turning a generation of low-income students into calculus whizzes. Twenty-two years have passed since his classroom exploits were captured in the film “Stand and Deliver.”
He is 79 and hunched in a wheelchair at a cancer treatment center in Reno. It is cold outside, and the snow-capped mountains that crown the city where his son brought him three weeks ago on a bed in the back of an old van remind him of his native Bolivia.

Soft-Drink Sales Drop in Schools, Group Says

Betsy McKay:

The main trade association representing Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., and other beverage companies plans to release a report Monday showing that sales of soda and other drinks in U.S. secondary schools have dropped sharply since 2004, in a sign that efforts to improve nutrition in schools are progressing.
The report comes as first lady Michelle Obama is leading a campaign to combat childhood obesity and as Congress is poised to consider regulating the drinks allowed in school-vending machines.
Sales volume of beverages shipped to schools from bottlers fell 72% between the first semester of the 2004-05 school year and the first semester of the current academic year, according to the report, which was compiled for the American Beverage Association by economic research firm Keybridge Research LLC. The report showed a 95% decline in sales volume of full-calorie soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, and a 94% decline in juice drinks. Full-calorie soft drinks accounted for just 6.8% of beverage volume shipped to schools last semester, while they made up 40% of the product mix in 2004.

Education reformers making progress

Charles Davenport, Jr.:

ittle Johnny can’t read or write because, in government schools, the interests of teachers’ unions prevail over the interests of children. Unions may be beneficial to educators, but they are indifferent — if not hostile — to the intellectual development of children.
But education reformers nationwide are celebrating a rare victory for the kids. Last month in Rhode Island, Superintendant Frances Gallo fired the entire staff of Central Falls High School — a total of 93 people. The grateful citizens of Central Falls have erected a billboard in Gallo’s honor. Rightly so. Gallo, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Central Falls school board (which approved the firings on a 5-2 vote) are an inspiration to the public school reform movement.
Central Falls High is one of the worst schools in Rhode Island. Only 45 percent of the students are proficient in reading, 29 percent in writing and, incredibly, only 4 percent in math. Compare those abysmal numbers to Rhode Island’s (somewhat less embarrassing) statewide averages in the same subjects: 69, 42 and 27 percent, respectively. Furthermore, half of the students at Central Falls are failing every subject, and the school’s graduation rate is 48 percent.
Only teachers’ unions could defend such a spectacular failure. Several hundred bused-in, placard-waving educators and their union representatives showed up in Central Falls hours before the firings. “We are behind Central Falls teachers,” proclaimed Mark Bostic of the American Federation of Teachers, “and we will be here as long as it takes to get justice.” But on Tuesday, the Central Falls union publicly pledged to support Gallo’s reforms, and she said she’s willing to negotiate.

In Harlem, Epicenter for Charter Schools, a Senator Wars Against Them

Jennifer Medina:

When hundreds of parents went to Albany last month to rally for charter schools, they were greeted by a parade of politicians offering encouragement and promises.
But when Bill Perkins, the state senator from Harlem who represents many of the parents, took the stage, they drowned him out with boos.
Some parents confronted him later in the vestibule outside the Senate chamber, demanding that he meet with them that afternoon and chanting “Move Bill, get out the way, get out the way,” before he could even speak.
As advocates of charter schools, including the Bloomberg administration, try to persuade legislators to lift the limit on the number of such schools in the state, no one is as likely to stand in their way as Mr. Perkins, whose district encompasses nearly 20 charter schools. Several more are planned next year.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: What’s Wrong with the Public Sector?

Charlie Mas:

I read this comment on Crosscut and I just have to share it.
Here is a link to the original article. It was about the (lack of a) Republican party alternative to the state budget.
The comment came from Stuka at 8:44pm on Thursday, March 4. I won’t quote all of it, but I absolutely want to share this part:

The fundamental problem with the public sector is not lack of taxes but lack of performance monitoring and improvement over time. Witness the public school system for evidence of the failure to monitor the quality of teachers, of teaching performance, of student performance, and of school performance. Same with the criminal-justice system: who is monitoring the quality of inmates produced by our prisons? The quality of justice by our judges and prosecutors? and the quality of policing by our police departments?
Unfortunately, we don’t pay for outcomes, but for staffing levels at fixed salary levels. A secondary effect of good government seems to be sometimes adequate government. Maybe we ought to reward for performance instead. That will happen only when compensation is tied to performance and not taking up space in a bureaucracy until the bureaucrat can collect a pension for enduring the bureaucracy, a feat that may be quite difficult and challenging, but in and of itself, produces no output that citizens value.
I highly value the services that government intends to provide (unlike many Republicans), but am unwilling to pay (unlike many Democrats) for monopolistic and ineffective government bureaucracies that have no handle on how to be effective and efficient in what they’re doing. This leaves me in a quandry since the demand for services is unceasing and the inertia of ineffective government is entrenched. Mostly I try to vote for anything that smacks of actual reward for performance, and vote against anything that looks like hoggish behavior (as in pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered).

Bill Ayers and friends eat their young

Mike Petrilli:

Amidst the Race to the Top excitement this week, an important story may have gotten lost in the buzz. On Wednesday, my colleague Jamie Davies O’Leary, a 27 year-old Princeton grad, liberal Democrat, and Teach For America alumna described her surprise bookshop encounter with former Weatherman and lefty school reformer Bill Ayers.
If Bill Ayers and Fred and Mike Klonsky were 22 again, they would be signing up for Teach For America. The whole thing is worth reading (it’s a great story) but note this passage in particular, about Ayers’ talk:

[Ayers] answered a young woman’s question about New York Teaching Fellows and Teach For America with a diatribe about how such programs can’t fix public education and consist of a bunch of ivy leaguers and white missionaries more interested in a resume boost than in helping students. Whoa.
As someone who read Savage Inequalities years ago and attribute my decision to become a teacher partially to the social justice message, I almost felt embarrassed. But that was before I learned a bit of context, nuance, data, and evidence surrounding education policy debates. It’s as if Bill Ayers hasn’t been on the planet for the last two decades.

Almost as soon as Jamie’s essay was posted, the Klonsky brothers (Fred and Mike–both longtime friends and associates of Ayers, both involved in progressive education causes) went after her. Fred posted a missive titled, “File under misguided sense of one’s own importance.” Mike tweeted that her depiction of the encounter was a “fantasy.”

Grades continue to climb, but does it matter?

Todd Findelmeyer:

Grades awarded to undergraduates attending college in the United States have gone up significantly in the past couple decades according to a report titled “Grading in American Colleges and Universities,” which was published in the Teachers College Record.
The article was written by UW-Madison graduate Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, an associate professor of computer science at Furman University. Rojstaczer is a retired professor of geophysics at Duke University and the creator of, a website that tracks grading trends.
Rojstaczer has posted a free copy of the article on his Forty Questions blog.
The report analyzes decades of grading patters at American four-year institutions and notes that “grading has evolved in an ad hoc way into identifiable patterns at the national level. The mean grade point average of a school is highly dependent on the average quality of its student body and whether it is public or private. Relative to other schools, public commuter and engineering schools grade harshly. Superimposed on these trends is a nationwide rise in grades over time of roughly 0.1 change in GPA per decade.”

Cops vs Kids

Bob Herbert:

If you don’t think the police in New York City need to be reined in, consider the way the cops and their agents are treating youngsters in the city’s schools.
In March 2009, a girl and a boy in the sixth grade at the Hunts Point School in the Bronx were fooling around and each drew a line on the other’s desk with an erasable marker. The teacher told them to erase the lines, and the kids went to get tissues. This blew up into a major offense when school safety officers became involved.
The safety officers, who have been accused in many instances of mistreating children, are peace officers assigned to the schools. They wear uniforms, work for the New York Police Department and have the power to detain, search, handcuff and arrest students. They do not carry guns.
In this case, the officers seized the two pupils and handcuffed them. Before long, an armed police officer showed up to question the youngsters. The girl asked for her mother and began to cry. Tears were no defense in the minds of the brave New York City law enforcers surrounding this errant child. They were determined to keep the city safe from sixth graders armed with Magic Markers.

Building a Better Teacher

Elizabeth Green:

ON A WINTER DAY five years ago, Doug Lemov realized he had a problem. After a successful career as a teacher, a principal and a charter-school founder, he was working as a consultant, hired by troubled schools eager — desperate, in some cases — for Lemov to tell them what to do to get better. There was no shortage of prescriptions at the time for how to cure the poor performance that plagued so many American schools. Proponents of No Child Left Behind saw standardized testing as a solution. President Bush also championed a billion-dollar program to encourage schools to adopt reading curriculums with an emphasis on phonics. Others argued for smaller classes or more parental involvement or more state financing.
Lemov himself pushed for data-driven programs that would diagnose individual students’ strengths and weaknesses. But as he went from school to school that winter, he was getting the sinking feeling that there was something deeper he wasn’t reaching. On that particular day, he made a depressing visit to a school in Syracuse, N.Y., that was like so many he’d seen before: “a dispiriting exercise in good people failing,” as he described it to me recently. Sometimes Lemov could diagnose problems as soon as he walked in the door. But not here. Student test scores had dipped so low that administrators worried the state might close down the school. But the teachers seemed to care about their students. They sat down with them on the floor to read and picked activities that should have engaged them. The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculums and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.
But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: More on the Battle Between Public Sector Compensation/Benefits and Tax Increases

David Warren:

Yet when we speak of “entitlements,” or more precisely, against them, the first thing we face is public sector entitlements — in Canada as in every other western or quasi-western country. The troubles the Greeks are now experiencing with their civil service, which is in a position to bring the country to a halt, is a warning for the road ahead.
And forget Greece, look at California. There one may see in clear North American daylight what a vast unspeakable public bankruptcy looks like. It was not an inevitable thing. Gentle reader need only compare, candidly, California with Texas — which is flourishing, and whose voters know why. Economic decline is a choice, not a fate, and it has everything to do with big, intrusive government.
Said reader and I could argue till death about the numbers, playing selectively with the statistics; yet what is obvious remains obvious. Among the games at which I am most inclined to sneer, is the percentage of almost any published budget that is assigned to “administrative costs” — in departments that are essentially all administration.

OxyContin and youth

Ed Treleven:

When a Verona High School student had a headache last month, he asked his friends for Tylenol or Advil to relieve the pain. But what he unwittingly took was an OxyContin pill that one of his friends slipped him.
The prescription painkiller sent the student to the school nurse’s office, and his friend received what Verona School District Superintendent Dean Gorrell will only call “appropriate disciplinary action.”
The story, disclosed in a recent note from the district to parents, underscores the cavalier attitude some teens take toward the powerful and addictive drug.
The consequences can be tragic. A 14-year-old girl in Rock County faces a possible reckless homicide charge for giving her grandmother’s oxycodone– the generic form of OxyContin — to a friend, who died last month from an overdose of the drug.

Get back in bid for better schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

To no great surprise, Wisconsin will not be one of the handful of states leading a national push to transform public education.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Wisconsin failed to survive even a preliminary round of competition for billions of dollars in federal innovation grants.
It’s a huge disappointment – especially since Obama came to Madison last fall to officially launch the nationwide effort, which he calls a “Race to the Top.”
It’s not yet clear why Wisconsin didn’t make the cut. That’s because the U.S. Department of Education hasn’t released our state’s scores and comments from the judges.
Yet Gov. Jim Doyle’s criticism Thursday of the entrenched Milwaukee School Board and reform-averse state lawmakers was dead-on. The Legislature’s failure to shake up the failing Milwaukee public school district had to hurt our state’s bid for as much as $254 million in Race to the Top funds.
At the same time, Rep. Brett Davis’ criticism of Doyle and the Democratic-run Legislature for kowtowing to the big teachers union was equally apt. The Wisconsin Education Association Council has long resisted big changes in public education, including pay for performance. And the teachers union spent more – by far – on lobbying last year than any other special interest group at the state Capitol.

Public School District Referendum Marketing

One of the reasons I place Google ads on this site (they generate very little money) is to periodically observe what type of advertisements their algorithms place around the content. I found this ad supporting a Brodhead referendum interesting, in that it links directly to the District’s website. The link includesdoubleclick” tracking logic.
Perhaps the District is paying for the ad campaign from their operating funds, or an advocacy group is funding it?

Teacher Unions Trade High Health Care Costs for Members: “Simple Change Could Ease Milwaukee Public Schools’ Budget Crunch”

Alan Borsuk:

But changing benefits is, of course, a matter for labor negotiations, and the unions, particularly the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, don’t want to change what they have.
Union’s response
Mike Langyel, president of the MTEA, said in a lengthy telephone conversation that the union just does not accept that there would be any savings by shifting more, if not all, employees to the lower cost plan. He called the notion that money could be saved this way “a fantasy” and accused Bonds and Superintendent William Andrekopoulos of engaging in “a theatrical production” aimed at making teachers scapegoats for MPS’ problems.
He said teachers earned their health insurance by accepting lower wage increases, going back more than 20 years, and members feel strongly about the Aetna plan. Langyel also questioned the honesty of the administration’s cost figures, although he did not give any specific instance that he believed was wrong.
“This is a calculated attempt by this administration to provide false choices,” Langyel said. “This will not solve the funding problems of this district one bit. . . .  The needs of this district are not going to be met on the backs of those people who are already sacrificing to be Milwaukee teachers.”
Langyel said that if all MPS employees were on the HMO plan, that would drive up the costs of that plan to a point that might eliminate the claimed savings. MPS administrators agree that the actual results of such a switch are not known and most likely would be less than the simple calculation that yielded the $47 million figure. Many older employees with higher health care costs are now on the Aetna plan, for one thing. But they do not agree there would be no savings.

This strategy is not unique to Milwaukee.

Seattle Public Schools Appeal Discovery Math Implementation Court Loss

Martha McLaren:

Today we received notice of the Seattle School District’s decision to appeal the Decision of Judge Spector which required the SPS board to reconsider its high school math text adoption vote.
I am deeply disappointed that SPS will funnel more resources into this appeal, which, I suspect, will be more costly than following the judge’s instruction to reconsider.
Our attorney tells me: “…. I’ll put in a notice of appearance, and then we wait for the District to complete the record by having the documents and transcripts transmitted to the Court of Appeals. They write the first brief, due 45 days after the record is complete.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal pay ahead of private industry

Dennis Cauchon:

Federal employees earn higher average salaries than private-sector workers in more than eight out of 10 occupations, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data finds.
Accountants, nurses, chemists, surveyors, cooks, clerks and janitors are among the wide range of jobs that get paid more on average in the federal government than in the private sector.
Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.
These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Rhode Island teacher firings, a Race to the Top case study

Bridgette Wallis:

One of the first high-profile examples of President Obama’s public education reforms comes from Rhode Island, a participant in Race to the Top (RttT).
Superintendent Frances Gallo, overseeing the persistently failing Central Falls High School, decided to fire all the school’s teachers after the teacher union proved to be the road block to reform. The superintendent was set to initiate an intervention program at the high school which involved many changes including a longer school day, lunch with the students, and more after school tutoring. The union rejected the proposal because there was not enough monetary compensation attached. Because the intervention plan was refused, the superintendent had to resort to a different model of school reform – the turnaround model — which involves firing the majority of the faculty and staff. Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s new education commissioner approved the turnaround model for the school.

A Charter Friendly Superintendent

Jay Matthews:

Zina McGowan-Thomas, the energetic public information officer for St. Mary’s County public schools, sends me many announcements and news releases that I am tempted to delete, as I do most e-mails from local school districts. I know this is a bad idea, because sometimes you will find, in the smallest bulletin, something astonishing, like such as the e-mail she sent me a few weeks ago about the Chesapeake Public Charter School.
She told me and her long list of contacts that the school was about to have an open house. Ho-hum. All schools have open houses. Wait a minute: McGowan-Thomas works for a public school district with 27 schools and 17,000 students. Her job is to spread information about them, not a charter school. To most public school employees in the United States, charter schools are the enemy. Finding McGowan-Thomas promoting a charter school event is like seeing your local post office displaying a FedEx poster.
Charter schools are independent public schools that use tax dollars but do not have to follow a lot of school district rules. They can have different hours, different textbooks, different teaching methods and whatever else appeals to the teachers and parents who have gotten permission to set them up.

40,000 Teachers Give Their Views on Education Reform in “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools”

Sarah Trabucci:

Teachers call for engaging curriculum, supportive leadership, clear standards common across states in survey by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today released Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools, a landmark report presenting the results of a national survey of more than 40,000 public school teachers in grades pre-K to 12. The survey reveals that, while teachers have high expectations for their students, they overwhelmingly agree that too many students are leaving unprepared for success beyond high school. Primary Sources reveals teachers’ thoughtful, nuanced views on issues at the heart of education reform – from performance pay and standardized tests to academic standards and teacher evaluation. Teacher responses reveal five powerful solutions to raise student achievement.
“Teachers are a critical part of preparing our children for the future, and their voices are an essential addition to the national debate on education,” said Margery Mayer, Executive Vice President and President, Scholastic Education. “At Scholastic, we work daily with teachers and we know that they have powerful ideas on how best to tackle the challenges facing our schools. Since teachers are the frontline of delivering education in the classroom, the reform movement will not succeed without their active support. Primary Sources is a step in ensuring that teachers’ voices are a part of this important conversation.”

Jay Matthews has more.