All Together Now? Educating high and low achievers in the same classroom

Michael Petrilli, via a kind reader’s email:

The greatest challenge facing America’s schools today isn’t the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or “teacher quality.” It’s the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. How we as a country handle this challenge says a lot about our values and priorities, for good and ill. Unfortunately, the issue has become enmeshed in polarizing arguments about race, class, excellence, and equity. What’s needed instead is some honest, frank discussion about the trade-offs associated with any possible solution.
U.S. students are all over the map in terms of achievement (see Figure 1). By the 4th grade, public-school children who score among the top 10 percent of students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are reading at least six grade levels above those in the bottom 10 percent. For a teacher with both types of students in her classroom, that means trying to challenge kids ready for middle-school work while at the same time helping others to decode. Even differences between students at the 25th and at the 75th percentiles are huge–at least three grade levels. So if you’re a teacher, how the heck do you deal with that?

Lots of related links:

Badger Rock charter school decision delayed after Madison School Board learns of cost errors

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board on Monday delayed approval of an agriculture-themed charter school by two weeks after learning the school could cost the district about $318,000 more than previously thought.
The board had been told Badger Rock Middle School, estimated to cost $596,000 in the 2011-12 school year, would be cost-neutral, but that prediction was based on erroneous information provided by district officials earlier this year. Superintendent Dan Nerad apologized for the error during Monday night’s board meeting.
Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services, said his staff told the planning team for Badger Rock in February that it could budget $596,000 for the school.
But the district failed to account for an additional $310,000 needed to create 3.9 new positions in the district to accommodate the new school. The district also determined the school’s proposed utilities budget was $8,000 too low.

Defining a Great University

Robert Sternberg

When I was a student, then faculty member, then administrator at private universities — a mere 40+ years — land-grant institutions were not front and center in my consciousness. Having now moved to a land-grant institution, I have concluded they are one of the most precious if not always most highly visible resources this nation has.
Our nation needs to broaden what “greatness” in a university means. At the very least, we need to expand our conception of greatness to a multidimensional notion, not just a notion of unidimensional rankings as appear in certain magazines. Land-grant institutions, contrary to some popular beliefs, are not merely about agricultural development, but rather, about changing the world in a positive, meaningful, and enduring way. Land-grant institutions perhaps best represent the very core of what greatness means in American society — namely, equal opportunity for all and, through it, the chance to make our society and the world a better place in which to live.


Common Curriculum

K-12 curricula needs to be less expensive and of higher quality. Nearly all curricula used in schools and adopted by school districts is print based. The cost of printing keeps open source and small, innovative, for-profit projects from being widely available in print and thus, widely adopted by school districts. The fixed, static nature of print means writers can’t get real time, detailed feedback on their work and can’t change it to meet teacher’s needs.
We make curricula free to create, drastically lowering the costs of production. We help developers make their curricula better by providing opportunities for teachers to give feedback on resources they use. By making curricula free to create and connecting developers to teachers, we lower costs and improve quality.

Wisconsin Representative Nass hopes to cap UW tuition hikes at 4 percent

Todd Finkelmeyer

Rep. Steve Nass plans to introduce legislation in the coming year which would cap the amount tuition and most mandatory fees can be raised for those attending the state’s public colleges and universities.
Nass on Tuesday was named chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee for the 2011-12 legislative session.
This proposal by the Republican from the Town of La Grange could put UW System officials in a tight bind. In addition, the tuition cap idea isn’t the only topic that came up in Campus Connection’s wide-ranging phone conversation with Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen that will likely ruffle the feathers of those with ties to higher education in the state.
Mikalsen also addressed: the famously poor relationship between Nass and UW System officials; “education” versus “indoctrination”; the potential for a “smart furlough” plan; and what the state’s massive budget hole might mean for universities in the state.
“The real rubber is going to meet the road when it comes to budget issues,” says Mikalsen. “If the UW System covers the table with ideas, it’s going to be very helpful. If they come to the table saying, ‘We’re the economic engine for the state and you need to give us more money,’ then it’s going to be a difficult time in the next two years.”
Perhaps most notably, Mikalsen says Nass plans to push for a measure which would cap — likely at 4 percent — the amount tuition and most fees could be raised at UW System schools.

In praise of cultivation

Harry Eyres:

t’s not often that Slow Lane can claim a scoop but I think I am the first to divulge the contents of a report that has just, rather mysteriously, arrived on my desk. It is called “The Future of BP” and it was commissioned by the UK government from Dr Stradivario Verdi, the noted entomologist and education tsar – until he was forced to step down from his position earlier this year because of damaging rumours about his relationship with a stag beetle.
Verdi calls not simply for a reorganisation of the company affected by a series of environmental and safety disasters culminating in the Deepwater Horizon spill but for a fundamental change in its philosophy. Amazingly, he suggests that BP in the future should be concerned not with making money for shareholders but with something he quaintly terms the public good. This would seem to imply a radical move away from environmentally damaging oil and gas exploration and refining into the development of renewable energy.
Only joking. This absurd caprice is, however, not really any more absurd, when you think about it, than the independent review of higher education and student finance commissioned by the UK government and chaired by the former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne – a businessman, not an educationalist.
How could he have spent much time in serious thought, research or discussion about the purposes of higher education when he was at the helm of one of the world’s biggest corporations?

How to Give Children the Gift of Investing

Jonnelle Marte

What present can you give a kid that will outlast the latest must-have toy or gadget? How about some stock in the company that makes it.
You can jump-start a young person’s finances by giving him or her the gift of investing with stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Throw in some lessons on how the markets work — and the common pitfalls investors face — and you could end up giving them some financial savviness as well.
Getting kids investing early “allows them to accumulate knowledge over time on what can be a complex topic,” says June Walbert, a certified financial planner based in San Antonio with financial-services firm USAA.
Individual Stocks. Does your 10-year-old nephew spend most of his free time playing videogames? Harness that interest by giving him stock in the videogame maker. A kid might be more interested in following a company’s stock if it’s linked to a brand he or she is familiar with, such as the company behind a favorite activity, toy, restaurant or snack food.

Evers defends Wisconsin school finance plan as “fairness issue”


State schools Superintendent Tony Evers (left) says his proposed funding plan is a matter of fairness and transparency.
“Every child in the state of Wisconsin should be supported by some level of general aid,” Evers said on Sunday’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” a statewide TV newsmagazine produced in conjunction with “That’s not the case now. It’s a pure fairness issue.”
His plan calls for a $420 million funding boost over two years that would allow the state to pitch in at least $3,000 for every student in each district.
Evers said the increase would represent the smallest bump in terms of dollars or percent that the department has asked for in the past decade. He disputed accounts that the plan was “dead on arrival” in next year’s Republican-run Legislature and said he’s gotten good response to at least talking about the concept.
He said the major concerns so far have been the price tag, but there has been support for the overall policy.
Evers said his goal with the plan is to reduce the complexity in the school funding formula, increase transparency in the way schools are funded and “nudge the system” away from using property values as the basis for funding schools.

Trying to steer strong teachers to weak schools

Alan Borsuk:

James Sonnenberg has a request for Gregory Thornton, the new superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools: “Give me the best you have, to work with the children who need the most.”
It’s a logical request. Most business leaders put the most capable employees in the most demanding situations.
But it’s also a very tough request, because, in general, that isn’t the way it works in education, where quality flows uphill, away from the lowest-performing schools and students. As teachers build up experience, seniority and, experts generally say, competence, they head for higher-performing kids, higher-performing schools and, frequently, the suburbs.
Sonnenberg is the highly regarded principal of West Side Academy, an MPS kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in a tough neighborhood, around N. 35th St. and W. Lisbon Ave. His pursuit of a strong teaching staff is one vignette in a story that runs deep in schools serving high-needs children all across the nation.
Sonnenberg has plenty of weight to put behind his quest for more star power on his teaching staff. Federal law calls for doing more to put good teachers in front of the kids most likely to falter. Research shows those children are likely to benefit the most from having star teachers. There is wide agreement that it is a worthy goal.

Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities

Alix Spiegel

The fight happened a long time ago when they were still in school. But for both Tom and Eric Hoebbel, the fight was a defining event — the kind of family story that gets trotted out for new acquaintances because it seems to convey something important.
Tom, as the story goes, was just back from college, and the two brothers were together in the kitchen late at night. They chatted aimlessly about school and sports. Then the conversation turned to money.
Tom’s position was that money was inconsequential. “I said, ‘I could just, you know, take out a dollar bill and burn it, and that wouldn’t really matter,’ ” Tom says. But this idea horrified his brother. “A dollar bill is very valuable,” says Eric. “Even if it’s only $1, you can still do stuff with it.”

Seattle Public Schools: A teachable moment – Inaccurate District Administration Data

Reuven Carlyle

It’s hard not to reflect carefully upon the Seattle Public School District’s dramatic acknowledgement that a major data point used by parents, educators, school board members and others to highlight the district’s quality is absolutely wrong. I have been thinking long and hard about this issue since it hit the newspaper last week. Without question, I have been one of the elected officials most guilty of perpetuating the (incorrect) data, and it doesn’t feel good.
While there are some who will see a more cynical conspiracy, I see a profoundly troubling mistake that needs to be discussed openly and courageously in all corners of our community.
The real issue is obviously not that a mistake was made. The district’s admission this week that a key piece of data is wildly inaccurate is more than an embarrassing glitch, it’s a symbolic reflection of a more systematic challenge facing many elected boards statewide that have fiduciary obligations to oversee billions in tax dollars and policy but lack access to the professional, independent staff to do the job.
School districts across the state and nation are well versed in the inconsistent arrangement by which part-time, unpaid community leaders (who campaign for the job) are then expected to volunteer thousands of hours without the ability to get the answers to their tough questions that may run counter to professional staff interests. The real issue is that the district’s administration didn’t strive to aggressively correct the inaccuracy from day one. They need to ask themselves why and, hopefully, share the truth with the community.

Building A New Culture Of Teaching And Learning

Dr. Tae

f you only watch one video on my site, make it this one.
Are schools designed to help people learn? Are colleges and universities really institutions of higher education? Do students actually learn any science in science classes? Can skateboarding give us a better model for teaching and learning? Watch this video to find out.

Commentary on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, a Charter School

Kaleem Caire, via email: Chris Rickert:

At some point in the next couple months, members of the Madison School Board are almost certain to be in the unlucky position of having to decide whether to admit what is most fairly characterized as a colossal failure.
Approving a charter for Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire’s all-boy, mostly black, non-union Madison Preparatory Academy will make it clear that, when it comes to many black schoolchildren, teachers have failed to teach, parents have failed to parent, and the rest of us have failed to do anything about either.
Reject the charter and risk the false hope that comes from thinking that all these children need is another program and more “outreach.” A tweak here and a tweak there and we can all just keep on keeping on. Never mind that the approach hasn’t seemed to work so far, and that if past is prologue, we already know this story’s end.
Caire’s model would be a radical departure for Madison. The district’s two existing charter schools — Wright Middle School and Nuestro Mundo — don’t exactly trample on hallowed educational ground. They employ union teachers and have the same number of school days and teaching hours as any other non-charter and “broadly follow our district policies in the vast majority of ways,” said district spokesman Ken Syke.

Amber Walker:

I want to thank Kaleem Caire for coming home to Madison and making positive changes. If anyone can make an all-male charter school happen here, he can. The statistics in the article may be alarming to some, but not as alarming to the students and parents who are living these statistics.
I support integration, but how can it be true integration when the education gaps are so large? Who is benefiting? In my eyes, true integration in the school system would support the same quality of education, the same achievement expectations, the same disciplinary measures and so on.
Numbers don’t lie, and what they tell us is that we need to go another route to ensure educational success for black males. If that means opening a charter school to intervene, then let’s do it!

Sally Martyniak:

Instead of the headline “All-male charter school a tough sell,” imagine this one, “Loss to society: Madison schools graduated only 52 percent of black male students in 2009.” Then the reaction to the Urban League’s plan to start a charter school intended to boost minority achievement might have been different.
Reaction in the article discussed all the reasons why people will or should oppose the idea of an all-male charter school, despite its benefits. Let’s not talk about why we should be aghast at the cultural performance disparities in Madison’s schools. And let’s not talk about what we lose as a society when almost half of all black males attending Madison schools fail to graduate.

Marshall Smith:

The comments of John Matthews, head of the Madison teachers union, on charter schools are hyperbole. Saying that the Madison School Board will have no control is a cover for the union not having control.
We can’t argue the importance of good teachers. But the idea that a degree in education, and a union membership, make you the only one capable of performing this role is specious. All of us are teachers, or have been taught meaningfully by individuals with teaching skills. Are we going to let successful teachers teach, or are we going to let their union dictate?
According to Carlo D’Este’s book “Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War,” Churchill, during a lull in his career, learned bricklaying. Hearing this, the British Trade Union Council, in a public relations gesture, offered him a Master’s card.

Douglas Alexander:

Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire applied for a charter school for males because only 52 percent of black males graduate in Madison schools, while black males are suspended significantly more than the majority white students.
Before anyone responds, they should answer two questions:

  • Are you concerned about these statistics?
  • What are you doing about it?

Much more on the proposed IB Charter school: Madison Preparatory Academy.

Emanuel Vows Fix For Chicago Math and English

Dan Mihalopoulos

Rahm Emanuel made a campaign promise last week that if elected mayor, he would install a new math and English language curriculum in Chicago’s public schools by the end of his first term.
Mr. Emanuel said the new curriculum would be geared toward equipping students with the skills to meet the “common core standards” that education officials in Illinois and more than 40 other states have adopted. In imposing the new standards, the state has left up to the districts the question of how to try to meet those standards.
“I want us, the city of Chicago, to be the first city to adopt the curriculum that teaches toward the common standards,” he said in an interview with the Chicago News Cooperative. “Nobody has taken on the initiative.”
The effort would better prepare high school graduates for college or the workplace, he said.

Schools in Ciudad Juarez targeted by extortionists

Associated Press

Authorities are beefing up security at schools in this border city after graffiti threatening attacks on students and teachers was scrawled on school grounds, state and local officials said Friday.
Officials have increased police patrols and are installing security cameras to prevent a repeat of last week’s spate of threats that targeted five or six primary and secondary schools, said Claudio Gonzalez Ruiz, head of public safety in Ciudad Juarez.
In the messages, extortionists threatened to harm teachers and students if school administrators, or in some cases the teachers themselves, failed to pay up.
At the Rafael Velarde Elementary School, extortionists demanded to be given the 50,000-peso (about $4,000) prize of a fundraising raffle, administrators said. At other schools, messages demanded teachers fork over their Christmas bonuses.
Javier Gonzalez Mocken, who heads the city’s education department, declined to provide any details about the exact nature of the threats. While some of the messages were written in graffiti on walls, others were scrawled on signs tacked up on school grounds or telephoned to officials, Gonzalez Mocken said.

Pasco County school menus

St. Petersburg Times

Elementary breakfasts
All elementary breakfasts include a choice of one main fare item, one fruit or 100 percent fruit juice and one milk choice plus an option for cereal with graham crackers.
Monday: Whole wheat cinnamon bun or yogurt with graham crackers.
Tuesday: Breakfast burrito or Zac Omega bar.
Wednesday: Breakfast pizza or muffin loaf with cheese.

Pasco County Schools.

Is it harder for affluent schools to have good character?

Jay Matthews

Samuel Casey Carter is, in a way, the Tom Paine of the movement to raise school achievement in low-income neighborhoods. He coined the term “no excuses schools” for those run by people who think that no matter how bad their students’ family lives, with great teaching they should be able to learn just as much as kids from affluent suburban homes.
His new book, “On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character,” puts this in an even wider context. He profiles a dozen schools that, he says, have set high expectations for personal attitudes and behavior and created both good people and good students.
This time, only four of the 12 schools Carter profiles are in low-income communities. Nearly all schools in all communities need some fixing, he says. They need to nourish student character if they want young intellects to grow.

No More A’s for Good Behavior

Peg Tyre

A few years ago, teachers at Ellis Middle School in Austin, Minn., might have said that their top students were easy to identify: they completed their homework and handed it in on time; were rarely tardy; sat in the front of the class; wrote legibly; and jumped at the chance to do extra-credit assignments.
But after poring over four years of data comparing semester grades with end-of-the-year test scores on state subject exams, the teachers at Ellis began to question whether they really knew who the smartest students were.
About 10 percent of the students who earned A’s and B’s in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C’s, D’s and even F’s — students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school — did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates.

Northville (Michigan) school board picks 5 superintendent candidates

Eric Larence, Christina Hall, Naomi Patton, Robin Erb and the Associated Press

The Northville school board named five finalists for its upcoming superintendent vacancy. Public interviews for the candidates will be at 6 and 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 6 p.m. Wednesday at Northville High School.
The candidates are Catherine Cost, assistant superintendent of Farmington Public Schools; William DeFrance, superintendent of Eaton Rapids Public Schools; Mary Kay Gallagher, assistant superintendent of Northville Public Schools; Shawn Lewis-Lakin, superintendent of Manchester Public Schools, and Joseph Redden, educational management consultant and former superintendent of Cobb County Schools in Georgia.
The candidates are vying to replace Leonard Rezmierski, who is retiring in June after 20 years as superintendent of the 7,300-student district.

Madison School District’s Proposed Innovative and Alternative Program Committee

Superintendent Dan Nerad

The Innovative and Alternative Program Committee is charged with identifying alternative education and program needs and developing a plan to expand alternative programs and educational options. This will allow the district to articulate a direction and a plan for these types of programs which will be presentedto the Board of Education.

An open approach to alternative education models – an area Madison lags – is a good thing. A simple first step would be to address Janet Mertz’s longstanding quest Credit for Non Madison School District Courses.
Related: A School Board Thinks Differently About Delivering Education, and spends less.

Waterloo East High School Dress Code

Staci Hupp

Students face a test as they walk in the doors of Waterloo East High School each morning.
Their clothes must meet the definition of a school uniform enforced by adults who stand guard at the building entrances.
No shirt collar? No dress pants or skirts? No entry.
The routine will be familiar to every public school student in Waterloo by next year, if district officials win a battle to become the first in Iowa to require school uniforms.

Vision for charter middle school project taking shape; Badger Rock Approval Materials for the Madison School Board

Dan Simmons

It will be a year-round middle school. And an urban farm. And a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. And a neighborhood center. And an office space. And a home for small business.
Planners of the Resilience Research Center development have firmed up their vision and timeline for the nearly 4-acre parcel planned to start taking shape in January on the South Side, near the intersection of East Badger and Rimrock roads.
Now they’re working with the city on a somewhat complicated task: Zone this!
“I don’t know of many other projects that have this type of mix with commercial uses and a school on one site,” said Heather Stouder of the city’s planning division.

Much more on the proposed Badger Rock Middle School here
Complete 6.3MB Badger Rock Proposal.

Madison School District Draft Superintendent Evaluation Documents

Beth Moss & James Howard 450K PDF

Attached is the final draft of the Superintendent evaluation document to be used for the summative or end -of-year evaluation to be voted on at the November 29 meeting. The document has two parts. The first part is the Superintendent of Schools Performance Expectations Standards Assessment, a rubric based on the following:

  1. The Superintendent Position Description, adopted Sept. 21, 2009; and
  2. Feedback from the formative (mid-year) evaluation for the Superintendent, July 2010

The second part of the evaluation involves feedback on the following elements:

  1. The Superintendent goals, approved December 15, 2009;
  2. Two elements from the additional evaluation framework identified by Mr. Howard: Diversity and Inclusion and Safety.

From the original draft sent to the Operational Support Committee on November 8, these are element numbers 3 and 4. In addition to approving a final version of the evaluation plan, the Board needs to discuss the date for evaluations to be submitted for compilation to the Board president and dates for a closed session meeting(s) to discuss the results. To complete the process by February, January 3, 2011 is the recommended date for submittal. January 10, 24, and 31 are possible meeting dates. During this period Board members also need to provide input on the Superintendent’s goals for 2011.
If you have any questions, please email James or Beth.

Much more on the Superintendent evaluation, here. A side note: the lack of annual, substantive evaluations of former Superintendent Art Rainwater was an issue in mid 2000’s school board races. Related: Who Does the Superintendent Work For?

UW-Madison School of Education & Madison School District Contract for Professional Development School Supervisors/Coordinators

Susan Abplanalp & Brad Kose

MMSD has had a longstanding relationship with the University of Wisconsin- Madison in providing schools as sites for practicum and student teachers to learn throughout their two years in the School of Education. Each of these schools had an Instructional Resource Teacher who provided support to UW students as well as professional development for all school staff. The UW, school, and central office all shared costs of these positions.
Project Description: This agreement provides for the interchange of three teachers in an effort to further the goals of the Madison Professional Development School Partnership (PDS). The teachers will assume the duties and responsibilities of PDS Supervisors/ Coordinators for Memorial High School, West High School, and Midvale/Lincoln Elementary Schools. The teachers will provide assistance in curriculum development and evaluation to teachers at the identified schools; coordinate placement of practicum and student teachers assigned by UW-Madison; give workshops; hold regular seminars for practicum students, student teachers, and building teachers; and assist UW staff in research and curriculum development efforts involving the PDS program

Annual Enrollment Report- School Enrollments and Capacities 2010

Superintendent Dan Nerad

The first attachment is a one-page overview summary of the past five years of enrollment history, the current year enrollment, and five years of projected enrollment by grade level. Overall, enrollment is generally flat for the district as a whole. However, enrollment has increased slightly for the past two (2) years. We project that this increase will continue for the next two years through 2012-13. After 2012-13 District overall enrollment K-12 will begin to decline slightly. Overall District enrollment has been remarkably stable since 1992 (minimum= 23,556 in 1992, maximum= 24,962 in 1998, average of 24,426 over the past 20 years.
By level, we project that only middle schools will continue to see increases in enrollment during the next five years whereas high and elementary schools will decline in enrollment. Elementary enrollments five years out are based largely on births 5 years prior. Births were at historical highs from 2004 to 2007 (over 3100 births in the City of Madison in each of those years, the highest since the mid 1960’s). Births declined in 2008 (-8%) and 2009 (-13%) respectively from the 2007 high.
The second attachment shows the detailed K-12 enrollment history and projections for each school. Actual enrollment is displayed for 2006 to 2011. Projections are through 2015-16. Projection years are boldfaced. The precision of projections at a school level and for specific grade levels within a school are less accurate when compared to the district as a whole. Furthermore, projections are much less reliable for later years in the projection timeline. Also, the worksheet reflects various program and boundary changes that were implemented and this accounts for some large shifts within schools and programs from one year to the next.

Related: 11/2005: Where Have all The Students Gone, and Dane County Population Trends: 1990 –.

Who’s the Boss? Sorry, Kids. It Isn’t You.

Jeff Opdyke

I picked up my 14-year-old son from school two weeks ago. I smiled at him. He laughed…and then he got mad.
That morning, an orthodontist had slapped braces on my teeth. I smiled to show my son, who is just weeks away from getting his braces off. While at first he thought it was funny that Dad had braces too, he quickly realized I’d gotten the clear braces; his are full-metal jacket.
“How much extra was that?” he asked. I told him $500. “Why didn’t I get those? Why do I have to get the ugly braces and you get the ones that don’t look as bad?” He was miffed, and raised the topic again with his mom that night.
Later, as I thought more about it, I started to realize that something is wrong with this picture. Why does my son believe — no, assume — that he and I should spend the same amount of money on our respective braces?

Faiirfax County school redistricting plans draw protests from parents

Kevin Sieff:

Fairfax County is considering its most sweeping redistricting plan in several years as it seeks to balance booming enrollment at many elementary schools and the expected closure of one, Clifton Elementary.
The Southwestern Boundary Study, which the School Board authorized in September, contemplates four approaches to rebalancing populations within a school district that is growing swiftly but unevenly, with the heaviest growth along the Route 29 corridor through the heart of the county. The boundary changes, depending on what version of the plan is approved, could affect students in as many as 23 elementary schools.
“Some schools continue to be overcrowded and others are well under capacity. Neither is a good environment for learning,” said Denise James, director of facilities planning services for Fairfax public schools.

Wisconsin could learn a thing or two from Florida’s school grading system

Alan Borsuk

I heard Jeb Bush give a talk a few months ago in Milwaukee about education policies that he promoted while he was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. I should have taken notes, because I think I was listening to at least a few of the pages from the playbook that will be used by Scott Walker when he becomes governor of Wisconsin in about five weeks.
I’m betting that is particularly true for the system of giving every school in the state a grade – A to F – each year. It’s a centerpiece of the “A+ Schools” program that Bush championed in Florida. He credits the grading system with being a key driver of rising test scores over the last decade.
In his campaign platform, Walker called for launching a grading system for Wisconsin schools. He hasn’t spelled out details, but Florida is the primary example of such a system, and Walker is an admirer of Bush. Walker also will have strong Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and I can’t think of any reason he won’t succeed in turning what he said he would do into reality in the not-at-all-distant future.
So let’s look at Florida’s grading system on the assumption it is a lot like what will be used here.

Saturday Morning Classes at Des Moines East High School

Associated Press

There’s a new program at Des Moines East High School that requires students who skip classes to go to school on Saturday mornings.
The Des Moines Register reports that the new Saturday program started earlier this months. The program requires students to attend school from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturday if they have five or more unexcused absences. The goal is for the students to make up for time lost from the classroom. Principal Dan Conner says students who don’t come on Saturdays face discipline, including in-school suspension.

Much more, here: World Class Schools for Iowa?.

Rhee still a factor in teacher elections

Bill Turque

Michelle A. Rhee is no longer chancellor of D.C. schools, but her presence still looms large over a Washington Teachers’ Union election that is entering its final contentious days.
President George Parker faces a stiff reelection challenge from Nathan Saunders, the union’s general vice president, who contends that Parker was too pliant in his dealings with Rhee. He cites the collective bargaining agreement Parker negotiated with Rhee, one that weakens traditional seniority and other job protections for teachers. Union members approved the contract in June.
Saunders also pledges to pursue legal, legislative and lobbying efforts to undo Rhee’s signature initiative, the new IMPACT evaluation system that links some teacher appraisals to student test scores and can trigger dismissals for educators who don’t meet certain classroom performance criteria.

Mom, Dad, Can I Borrow $140,000?

The Wall Street Journal

Business is booming at the Bank of Mom and Dad.
As banks have tightened lending standards, growing numbers of families are stepping into the breach. But while intrafamily loans can yield significant financial rewards for lenders and borrowers, families must carefully assess the risks.
While many families handle the process in informal oral agreements, advisers urge clients to document such loans in written contracts, just as a bank would. This can also make it easier for families to comply with tax rules that require lenders to pay income tax on the interest they receive and allow borrowers with mortgages to deduct the interest payments they pay.
Some families choose to go through websites like Prosper and Lending Club, which match lenders and borrowers online–though they also set minimum interest rates.

Unions knocking on charter school doors

Steve Gunn

It’s become obvious in recent years that charter schools, with their unique and innovative approach to student instruction, are a source of great promise for our nation’s troubled public education system.
That’s why the recent decision by teachers at the Englewood on the Palisades Charter School to join the American Federation of Teachers is so frightening.
For years, our nation’s powerful school-employee unions, like the AFT and the National Education Association, opposed the very concept of charter schools and pressured state governments to cap their numbers or shut them down altogether.
They simply didn’t want the competition.

College Best Values in Private Colleges Our top 200 schools deliver a high-quality education at an affordable price


Incensed at the price of a private-college education? On the face of it, you have every reason to be. The average cost of a year at a four-year private school has lately run about $36,000, compared with $21,000 a decade ago, according to the College Board. Over the same ten-year period, family incomes have mostly stagnated. Many parents wonder whether a private-school education is attainable at all, much less worth the price.
Don’t grab the pitchforks yet, folks. Although the sticker price charged by private colleges may seem more suited to the Ancien Régime than to recession-weary families, the net price — the cost after financial aid — puts the total out-of-pocket cost, on average, closer to $22,000. And if you consider only tuition and fees, the net price (in inflation-adjusted dollars) is actually a bit less than it was a decade ago.

Some parents object to West Chester schools’ plan to cut busing costs

Dan Hardy

To save the West Chester Area School District a million dollars a year on transportation, some students will have to start the school day earlier next fall and many will have to walk farther to bus stops.
At one middle school, pupils will ride with high schoolers for the first time.
School board members and administrators defend the changes, approved this week, as needed to conserve money for classroom services. Some parents wonder whether the district is putting financial considerations ahead of children’s welfare.
Let the belt-tightening – and the debate over what to cut – begin again.
Even after cutting millions of dollars this school year, the 11,817-student district is projecting a $6 million budget gap for next fiscal year, which will start July 1.
So the board voted unanimously Tuesday to eliminate some buses and fill others closer to capacity. School times were changed, more than 900 bus stops were tentatively eliminated, and some nonpublic-school routes that the district covers were merged with those of public school students. More than 950 children who walk less than a tenth of a mile to a bus stop would have a longer walk under the changes.

The West Chester School District plans to spend $203,848.400 for nearly 12,000 students during the 2010-2011 school year ($16,987.37 per student). Madison spent $15,241 per student during the 2009-2010 school year.

The ‘highly qualified’ gap No Child Left Behind mandates such teachers in all U.S. schools. A new study shows that little progress has been made in meeting that requirement.

Los Angeles Times

While states and school districts hotly debate the issue of whether student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers, the nation has been virtually ignoring a more basic question: whether those teachers are even qualified in the first place. Too many of them aren’t.
The No Child Left Behind Act mandated that all students be taught by “highly qualified” teachers. And although we disagree with many elements of that 2001 federal school reform act — its rigidity, its use of the wrong measurements to assess student progress — this provision always made more sense.
Among other things, a highly qualified teacher in the secondary schools is supposed to have expertise in the subject he or she teaches, whether that means having majored in the subject in college or having a credential to teach it. Ample research has found that students learn better when their teachers have such formal expertise. Yet a new report by the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving the educational lot of poor and minority students, shows that the problem is widespread and that little progress has been made.

San Francisco considers full-time school board

Associated Press

Several San Francisco supervisors are proposing making members of the city’s school board full-time workers with health benefits, a pension and salary of $50,000 each.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the four supervisors have put forth an amendment to the City Charter that would change the position from what is currently largely a volunteer job.
San Francisco’s seven school board members get a $500 stipend, shared use of a district car and a life insurance policy, but no salary.

Teachers in the firing line again

The Guardian

Is it any wonder that the government is besieged on all sides by the educational establishment, for it is falling into the trap of all previous governments for the past 30 years: blaming the teachers and the students for the ills of the nation (Bad teachers out, social mobility in: Gove outlines goals, 25 November).
Having been in the field of education as a teacher, deputy head of a large and successful comprehensive school and now an administration manager in another, I weep for teaching staff and children in this country. Teachers and state schools have been forced to obey the whims of successive administrations because they thought they knew better. Despite continual central interference, and constant change in examination systems, teachers delivered time and time again. Standards have improved, and teachers are somehow vilified for it instead of congratulated.
Now we have another set of Harrow, Eton, Westminster and Oxbridge boys who know better than the sensible, pragmatic and logical majority of headteachers, teachers and teaching assistants working out there in state schools up and down the country. This group of privileged career politicians now have the nerve to take us back to the 1950s. All secondary schools will be measured against each other in five subjects: English, maths, science, a foreign language and history or geography. All modular exams will be abolished in favour of one set of exams at the end. Well, isn’t this progress! This is not suitable for all children; what about business, enterprise, design and technology skills? What about even giving a thought for the bottom 20%? What will happen to them? Do they care?

Georgia and California take opposite poles in the debate over illegal immigrants and higher education

The Economist

IT BEGAN with a traffic violation. Last March Jessica Colotl, a 21-year-old political-science major at Kennesaw State University, was arrested for “impeding the flow of traffic”. Cobb County authorities, who participate in a federal immigration-law enforcement programme, found that Ms Colotl was in the country illegally. She had entered with her parents when she was 10. She graduated from high school with an A average, and wanted to become a lawyer. Instead she will probably be deported in the spring, after she graduates.
And if Tom Rice gets his way, there will be no more Jessica Colotls. In October Georgia’s Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s public universities, banned illegal immigrants from the state’s five most popular universities, and said that they cannot be admitted to the other 30 ahead of qualified legal residents, having found 501 undocumented students among the 310,000 enrolled in Georgia’s public universities. For Mr Rice, a Republican state representative, this was not enough; he pre-filed a bill with the state’s Assembly that would ban all illegals from public universities. If it passes when the legislature convenes in January (and it stands a good chance), Georgia will join South Carolina as the only states with such a ban.

Statistical models may help school districts stretch their education dollars

Karel Holloway

Texas lawmakers, more than ever, are looking for a way to get the most bang for the buck in education.
And they may have found it.
Complex ratings have been developed by the state comptroller’s office and at least one private company that provide a look at how much money is really needed to provide Texas students with a good education.
Faced with a record budget shortfall, the state will most likely have to consider cuts to education spending. School superintendents say any reduction in funding will lead to teacher layoffs and cuts to instructional programs. They argue they need more money, not less.
That’s why looking at the data may become important in the debate. The systems show not only where students have the best academic performance but which districts spend the least to achieve those results.

Broad Alum Busted in Seattle Public School Scandal for Lying to Advance Corporate Ed Reform

Jim Horn, via a Den Dempsey email

Brad Bernatek began his Broad Residency in Urban Education Cohort 2006 with Seattle Public Schools and became the chief honcho for accountability in 2008. From the Broad website:

Brad Bernatek serves [for now] as Director of Research, Evaluation and Assessment for Seattle Public Schools. In this role, Bernatek runs the department responsible for student statistics including enrollment, demographics, evaluation and standardized testing. During his Residency, Bernatek served the district as interim manager for research, evaluation and assessment and as special assistant to the chief operations officer.

When a new strategic plan was being put together in 2008 with the new superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson (Broad Supt. Academy, Class of ’03), the Broadies needed some really embarrassing piece of information about SPS that could be used to leverage the changes they wanted to initiate: ending the remains of the school integration plan killed by the Roberts Court in 2007, more testing, closing more schools, opening more corporate charters, longer school days, teacher pay and evaluations based on test scores, working to end tenure, and the bringing in Teach for America to replace professional faculty. In short, the disaster capitalists needed a disaster to bring about change before anyone could regain their composure.

School Chief May Not Get Waiver

Barbara Martinez & Michael Howard Saul

David Steiner, the state education commissioner, has “serious concerns” about granting magazine executive Cathie Black the necessary waiver so that she can become the next New York City schools chancellor, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
The commissioner, however, would be more open to granting a waiver request if it includes a plan to pair Ms. Black with a strong deputy with educational experience, this person said.
Mr. Steiner “recognizes the leadership qualities” of Ms. Black, the person said, but education issues in New York City are so complex that when he “looks at this as a whole,” his “initial inclination is to say no to the current waiver request,” the person said.
A new poll released Tuesday from Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that 47% of city voters disapprove of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appointment of Ms. Black, with 29% supporting the selection and 25% saying they are undecided. Voters with children in public schools disapprove of the appointment by an even higher margin, 62% to 25%.

Indiana high schools struggle to improve

Lesley Stedman Weidenbener

More Hoosier schools are making progress toward state and federal student achievement standards, but high schools locally and across the state have failed to keep up with the gains made by elementary and middle schools, according to data released Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Education.
The problem with high schools boils down to “a combination of generally low performance and no significant improvement,” Jeff Zaring, the department’s chief of results and reform, told the State Board of Education.
As a result, the board voted to put three-quarters of Indiana’s high schools into “academic watch” and “academic probation” categories based in part on standardized test scores and how they’ve changed over the past three years. Locally, that includes Henryville, Silver Creek, Borden, Clarksville, Charlestown, Jeffersonville, New Albany, North Harrison, Corydon Central and South Central high schools.

UW chancellors call for civility on campuses

Sharif Durhams

Chancellors of the University of Wisconsin campuses released an open letter calling for civility Tuesday after a number of violent incidents on campuses this fall.
The incidents receiving the most media attention have included the death of a student at UW-Stout after an argument at a tavern. Two UW-Stout hockey players were charged with felony murder in that student’s death. Also, three incidents at UW-Whitewater – two involving apparent anti-gay violence and vandalism in which the letters “KKK” were spray painted on cars.
Here’s the text of the letter:

Cedarburg School District will contact families who opted out of sex ed

Becky Vevea

Over the next few weeks, the Cedarburg School District will contact 111 families that did not return opt-in forms to have their children participate in sensitive issues of the human growth and development curriculum.
Last year, only a handful of parents opted their children out of the sex education curriculum.
In a move that caused controversy among community members, the Cedarburg School Board voted to reverse the process – mandating that parents had to specifically opt their children into the programming by signing a permission slip by Nov. 1. If no form was returned, it was assumed they opted out.
That change in policy drew the attention of the state Department of Public Instruction, which notified the district in a letter that it could face a legal challenge if the board didn’t return to an opt-out policy. Since then the board has discussed the policy at its last two regular meetings.

Schools Find Achievement Gap Tough To Close


Despite ongoing research and theorizing, the educational achievement of black boys and young black men continues to lag behind their white peers, nationwide. James Earl Davis of Temple University’s College of Education and Pedro Noguera, author of The Trouble With Black Boys discuss.

Superintendent/Student Ratios

New Jersey Left Behind

Everyone’s talking about superintendent salary caps. The Record reports that the New Jersey Association of School Administrators filed a motion in State Superior Court claiming that just because Gov. Christie has proposed caps doesn’t mean he can enforce them right now. The association also argues that Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks “broke the law” by advising our 21 Executive County Superintendents to veto any contracts above the caps.
In other litigation, the Parsippany-Troy Hills School Board filed suit in the appellate division of Superior Court regarding the Morris County Executive County Superintendent’s refusal to approve the new contract for Superintendent Le Roy Seitz, which will pay him $234,065 by the fifth year of the 5-year contract.

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Matt Richtel

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?
By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.
He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

A new mess at Central Falls High in Rhode Island

Valeria Strauss

A new disciplinary program that stressed leniency has failed to rein in dozens of students who caused serious disruptions; kids who come to school or class late, or who have even threatened teachers, received minimal or no punishment, said a number of teachers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Some teachers have reported being assaulted by students.
Teachers have made hundreds of referrals of students for disciplinary measures, but, some teachers said, the administration does little if anything in the way of punishment.
After first denying any problem, school officials have said part of the program would be reviewed. This admission occurred after a meeting with the Central Falls police chief, Capt. Col. Joseph Moran III, who is also head of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association.
Some teachers also said they are some of their colleagues have been threatened and/or disciplined by administrators for merely disagreeing with policy, and that they believe the administrators are using some of the cameras installed in the school to monitor them.

Evanston Township High seeks to diversify advanced classes

Diane Rado, via a kind reader’s email:

When he scans the faces in his honors science courses at Evanston Township High School, chemistry teacher William Farmer can easily see who’s missing: minority kids.
“Out of 26, you might have three nonwhite students,” he said.
One of the most racially mixed high schools in Illinois, Evanston has a mission of embracing diversity and promoting equity and excellence for all students. But its own data show that few minority students make it into the school’s most rigorous courses that will best prepare them for college and the future.
Honors classrooms dominated by white students have been common in Illinois and across the nation, a byproduct of a century-old and controversial tradition of tracking, or sorting, students into different levels of classes.

Madison schools working with Metro to curb bad bus behavior

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to safety concerns about bullying, fights and unruly behavior on student bus routes, Metro Transit is working with the Madison School District to impose sanctions against disruptive students.
Starting as early as mid-January, Metro officials may limit bus access for students who misbehave in ways that don’t currently result in penalties — such as vandalism, throwing objects, horseplay, and loud or vulgar language.
Unruly students with unlimited bus passes could receive a limited pass that would only cover travel to and from school. Currently, those passes allow students to ride buses throughout the city at any time.
Though Metro now has cameras on all of its buses, students, particularly those in middle school, are still misbehaving, school district security coordinator Luis Yudice said. Some students are bullied to the point that they arm themselves with knives or join gangs for protection, he said.

Madison Preparatory Academy School Board Presentation 12/6/2010

Kaleem Caire, via email:

The initial proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men will be presented to the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education’s Planning and Development Committee on MONDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2010 at 6:00pm in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building (545 West Dayton St., Madison 53703). The committee is chaired by Ms. Arlene Silveira ( The Madison Prep proposal is the first agenda item for that evening’s committee meeting so please be there at 6pm sharp. If you plan to provide public comment, please show up 15 minutes early (5:45pm) to sign-up!
Please show your support for Madison Prep by attending this meeting. Your presence in the audience is vital to demonstrating to the Board of Education the broad community support for Madison Prep. We look forward to you joining us for the very important milestone in Madison history!
The Mission
Madison Prep will provide a world class secondary education for young men that prepares them to think critically, communicate effectively, identify their purpose, and succeed in college, 21st century careers, leadership and life. For more information, see the attachments or contact Ms. Laura DeRoche at
Get Involved with Madison Prep

  • Curriculum & Instruction Team. This design team will develop a thorough understanding of the IB curriculum and define the curriculum of the school, including the core and non-core curriculum. They will also develop a thorough understanding of the Harkness teaching method, outline instructional best practices, and address teacher expectations and evaluation. Both teams will address special education and English Language Learners (ELL).
  • Governance, Leadership & Operation Team. This design team will help develop the school’s operations plan, define the governing structure, and address the characteristics and expectations of the schools Head of School.
  • Facility Team. This team will be responsible for identify, planning, and securing a suitable facility for Madison Prep.
  • Budget, Finance & Fundraising Team. This team will be involved with developing Madison Prep’s budget and fundraising plans, and will explore financing options for start-up, implementation, and the first four years of the school’s operation.”
  • Community Engagement & Support Team. This team will develop strategies and work to establish broad community support for Madison Prep, develop criteria for partnering with others, and establish partnerships that support teaching, learning, leadership, and community engagement.

Related: an interview with Kaleem Caire.
Madison Preparatory Academy Overview 600K PDF and executive summary.

Bloomberg: Abolish Requirements for Schools Chancellor

Michael Howard Saul

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the state should abolish a law requiring that all school chiefs in New York have at least three years’ experience in schools and hold a professional certificate in educational leadership. These background requirements can’t adequately assess whether a candidate is poised to lead the nation’s largest school system, he said Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg selected Cathie Black, a media executive with no education experience or credentials, to succeed Joel Klein as the city’s schools chancellor. The mayor is seeking a waiver for Black’s appointment from David Steiner, the state’s education commissioner.
A panel advising Steiner on the decision was slated to meet Tuesday to discuss Black’s qualifications and come up with a recommendation. The education commissioner is empowered to grant a waiver for “exceptionally qualified persons,” according to state law.

Make college cost more

Shirley V. Svorny

Recent decisions by the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California regents to increase student fees have been attacked by critics who insist that higher education subsidies are critical for California’s economic growth and prosperity.
This is not true; the state’s prosperity rests on public policies that encourage economic activity, not on heavy subsidies to higher education.
Moreover, artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university. Ultimately, the presence of these lower-achieving students hurts those who are more academically inclined, as they end up in watered-down courses in which professors have to focus on bringing the low achievers along.

Let each high school decide how to motivate students

Jay Matthews

Two demographically similar and academically impressive local high schools – Northwood in Montgomery County and West Potomac in Fairfax County – have been debating grades. Both schools have been accused of letting too many students pass their courses without learning the material.
This is in line with what millions of Americans say about schools in general. But they disagree over whom to blame. Unmotivated students? Lazy teachers? Cowardly administrators? Short-sighted parents?
I wonder if there isn’t a way for all of these people to resolve the dispute by offering school choices that would approach grading and teaching in different ways. I know it sounds chaotic, but bear with me.
Last week in this column, Northwood math teacher Dan Stephens said he can’t motivate his students if his school district lets them pass his course even when they flunk the final exam, written by the county to set a standard for all schools. Contradictory county rules say the test may count as only 25 percent of the final grade.

How to help African-American males in school: Treat them like gifted students

Yvette Jackson

I wanted to cry when I read about the recent widely publicized report from the Council of Great City Schools about the underachievement of African-American males in our schools. Its findings bear repeating: African-American boys drop out at nearly twice the rate of white boys; their SAT scores are on average 104 points lower; and black men represented just 5 percent of college students in 2008.
When I was the executive director of instruction and professional development for the New York City Public Schools, I grew keenly aware of the challenges schools face in educating African-American males. For many reasons, far too many boys don’t get the support at home or in the community they need to thrive as adults. Instead, that job falls almost completely on their schools. And that means it comes down to their teachers.
Driven by the intense focus on accountability, schools and teachers used standardized test scores to help identify and address student weaknesses. Over time, these deficits began to define far too many students so that all we saw were their deficits – particularly for African-American males. As a result, we began losing sight of these young boys’ gifts and, as a consequence, stifled their talents.

The Insanity Virus

Douglas Fox

Steven and David Elmore were born identical twins, but their first days in this world could not have been more different. David came home from the hospital after a week. Steven, born four minutes later, stayed behind in the ICU. For a month he hovered near death in an incubator, wracked with fever from what doctors called a dangerous viral infection. Even after Steven recovered, he lagged behind his twin. He lay awake but rarely cried. When his mother smiled at him, he stared back with blank eyes rather than mirroring her smiles as David did. And for several years after the boys began walking, it was Steven who often lost his balance, falling against tables or smashing his lip.
Those early differences might have faded into distant memory, but they gained new significance in light of the twins’ subsequent lives. By the time Steven entered grade school, it appeared that he had hit his stride. The twins seemed to have equalized into the genetic carbon copies that they were: They wore the same shoulder-length, sandy-blond hair. They were both B+ students. They played basketball with the same friends. Steven Elmore had seemingly overcome his rough start. But then, at the age of 17, he began hearing voices.
The voices called from passing cars as Steven drove to work. They ridiculed his failure to find a girlfriend. Rolling up the car windows and blasting the radio did nothing to silence them. Other voices pursued Steven at home. Three voices called through the windows of his house: two angry men and one woman who begged the men to stop arguing. Another voice thrummed out of the stereo speakers, giving a running commentary on the songs of Steely Dan or Led Zeppelin, which Steven played at night after work. His nerves frayed and he broke down. Within weeks his outbursts landed him in a psychiatric hospital, where doctors determined he had schizophrenia.

UK Teacher training reform is vital to Michael Gove’s plans

Telegraph View

The Government’s determination to repair Britain’s educational system is becoming clearer by the day. This week, a White Paper will propose scrapping “bite-sized” GCSE examinations, which chop the qualification into modules that pupils can re-take in order to boost their grades. This move will cut the number of exams pupils have to sit – and, in doing so, increase academic rigour. That fact alone tells us something about Labour’s wretched education policies: in the rest of the world, exams actually raise standards. In place of the dumbed-down courses will come GCSEs in which, to quote Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, pupils will be “examined on everything they have learnt at one time”.
The White Paper will also address the gross devaluation of A-levels by cutting the number of modules; Ofsted inspections will focus more sharply on teaching standards; and trainee teachers will spend more time in the classroom and less in teacher training colleges in which tired, Left-wing theories of education hold sway.
This last proposal is extremely significant. Mr Gove’s plans to improve education extend far beyond his championing of Free Schools. He aims to increase parental choice, restore discipline and ensure that lessons are devoted to academic subjects rather than politically correct children’s entertainment. But introducing these reforms will be a huge challenge. They will not take root without the co-operation of this generation of teachers and the next.

News Corp buys education software company

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Rupert Murdoch is making his first significant foray into school rooms with the $360m acquisition of Wireless Generation, a US education technology company, just days after the chief of New York’s schools announced he would join News Corp to scout for education deals.
News Corp, whose interests range from its 20th Century Fox film studio to a planned iPad-only newspaper, will buy 90 per cent of the privately-held New York-based company in cash from its founders, who will retain the remaining 10 per cent.

Gov. Christie faces opposition from N.J. public school advocates in superintendent salary cap measure

Bob Braun

He was the very model of a modern Morris County Republican. He wore a dark suit under a gray Chesterfield overcoat with a black velvet collar. Hair, cropped military style. When he flipped open his cell phone, its backlit screen broadcast the familiar, stylized symbol of the GOP elephant.
Yet Joseph Ricca, the young schools superintendent in East Hanover, had just told Gov. Chris Christie, a rising Republican star, to back off.
“I don’t think any level of government, whether in Washington or Trenton, has the right to dictate what someone can and cannot earn,” said Ricca after testifying before a state hearing on the governor’s plan to cap the salaries of school chiefs.

Madison School District to shut access to East High stairwell where alleged assault took place

Matthew DeFour

The stairwell at East High School where an alleged sexual assault took place last week will soon be off limits to students except in emergencies, a Madison School District official said Tuesday.
The door at the top of the stairwell, which leads to a building exit, will be labeled as an emergency exit, and an alarm will sound if it is opened, security coordinator Luis Yudice said.
“We’re talking about a comprehensive reassessment of building security at East,” Yudice said. “This incident served as a reminder to other schools that we always need to be vigilant and alert.”
The district also plans to add a sixth security officer to the school (other high schools have five), extra surveillance cameras and a visitor welcome center by January, as well as asking school staff to help patrol hallways.

Poorest would have to travel furthest in Madison schools’ 4K plan

Matthew DeFour

“It would be completely crazy to roll out this 4K plan that is supposed to really, fundamentally be about preparing children, especially underprivileged, and not have the centers in the neighborhoods that most need the service,” School Board member Lucy Mathiak said.
Deputy superintendent Sue Abplanalp, who is coordinating implementation of the program, acknowledged some students will have to travel outside their school attendance areas to attend the nearest 4K program, “but it’s not a long drive, especially if they’re in contiguous areas.”
“We will make it work,” Abplanalp said. “We’re very creative.”
The school district is conducting its own analysis of how the distribution of day care providers and existing elementary school space will mesh under the new program. Some alternative programs may have to move to other schools to make room, but no final decisions have been made, Abplanalp said.
Detailed information has not been shared with the Madison School Board and is not expected to be ready before the board votes Monday on granting final funding approval for the program. The approval must happen then because the district plans to share information with the public in December before enrollment starts in February, Abplanalp said.

Much more on Madison’s proposed 4K program, here. The District has a number of irons in the fire, as it were, including high school curricular changes, challenging reading results and 4K, among many others. Can 4K lift off effectively (both in terms of academics and costs)?

Oakland leads self-help answer to blacks’ crisis

Brenda Payton

Oakland will host the launch of an ambitious national initiative in two weeks to address the multifaceted crisis facing African American children, particularly boys.
Called “A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America,” it reflects growing alarm in the African American community over the dismal realities of too many African American children. A program to recruit mentors, it adopts a self-help approach that has a long tradition in the community. Yet, there is a conundrum here. As many of the ills are systemic – inadequate education, poverty, joblessness – how can the community heal itself?
The initiative cites disturbing, though known, statistics. Eighty percent of black fourth-graders read below grade level, and 56 percent are functionally illiterate. In some cities, 80 percent of African American young men drop out before finishing high school. Each day, 1,000 black children are arrested. One in eight African American males between 25 and 29 is incarcerated. It’s an emergency of violence, chronic unemployment, deteriorating health, skyrocketing incarceration and increasing dropout rates.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Poll shows misperceptions about Wisconsin budget

Karen Herzog

Four out of 10 Wisconsin residents want state aid to elementary and secondary schools to be protected from spending cuts, but most don’t realize school aid is the biggest expense in the state budget, according to a new poll.
The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute telephone survey of 615 randomly selected Wisconsin adults last Monday through Wednesday revealed misperceptions about the state budget, which officials may need to correct as they grapple with the upcoming two-year budget, said George Lightbourn, president of the conservative think tank.
Thirty percent of those polled said they thought Medicaid insurance for lower income households was the top expense in the state budget; it actually ranks second by a large margin. Twenty-one percent picked the correct answer: aid for elementary and secondary schools.
Others who guessed the top expense incorrectly included 13% who picked transportation, 12% who picked aid to local government (shared revenue), and 10% who guessed higher education, all of which are considerably less expensive than aid to elementary and secondary schools.
The state faces a projected deficit of at least $2.2 billion in its upcoming two-year budget, assuming Governor-elect Scott Walker and lawmakers make spending cuts that have yet to happen – two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs, the Journal Sentinel reported Saturday.
Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the shortfall is projected at $3.3 billion.

Teacher Runs into the Power of “Teach for America”

A Baltimore Teacher

I am writing simply to express my gratitude for your challenge of TFA. As a young teacher, committed to the teaching profession, hoping to make a career out of teaching in geographical areas where need is high, I had significant trouble finding a job in Baltimore City.
Even though I was fully certified, degreed in education, had student taught, and had ample years of educational experience under my belt, schools in one of America’s most challenged school districts could not or would not hire me because I was not associated with a cohort program like TFA or our local Baltimore City Teacher Residency.
Because of the generosity of a caring and understanding principal, I was fortunate to find a job, though I had to fight for it. I am succeeding now and helping to close the achievement gap [in my classes] mostly due to my training and the fact that my commitment is to my students and to the profession and not to Wendy Kopp [founder of Teach for America].

UK School sports cash plans criticised


Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to end ring-fenced funding for school sports “quite frankly flew in the face” of the UK’s commitment to a lasting sports legacy after the 2012 Olympic Games, Labour has claimed.
Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said there was widespread disbelief over Mr Gove’s £162 million cut in sports funding for English state schools.
And he seized on an Observer report that suggested Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley had expressed concerns in Cabinet over the decision.
Mr Gove has insisted that overall spending in schools has increased and it is up to headteachers to decide their own priorities.
But Mr Burnham told Sky News’ Sunday Live: “I remember the 1980s when school sports dried up and when I worked in government I was on a mission to rebuild it and that’s what we’ve done in the last 10 years.

Teachers’ degree bonuses under fire

Donna Gordon Blankinship

Every year, American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees, even though the idea that a higher degree makes a teacher more effective has been mostly debunked.
Despite more than a decade of research showing the money has little impact on student achievement, state lawmakers and other officials have been reluctant to tackle this popular way for teachers to earn more money.
That could soon change, as local school districts around the country grapple with shrinking budgets.
Just last week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the economy has given the nation an opportunity to make dramatic improvements in the productivity of its education system and to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master’s degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn’t work.
On Friday, billionaire Bill Gates took aim at school budgets and the master’s degree bonus.

Professors sent back to school to brush up skills

Elaine Yau

More professors are being sent back to school to improve their teaching skills or have their promotion prospects linked to their classroom performance.
A new mandatory 30-hour course on teaching was launched by the University of Science and Technology for junior faculty in their first three years at the university.
And Baptist University has new assessment criteria that recognise teaching abilities, to break away from the tradition of using mostly research output as a yardstick for promotion. “Despite not having any formal training in education, academics can take up teaching in Hong Kong,” said Professor Edmond Ko Inq-ming, a course facilitator at HKUST.
There is a need to improve the teaching qualification of academics, said Ko, who is a professor in chemical and bio-molecular engineering and an adviser to the University Grants Committee. “While senior faculty might not want to change, junior faculty is more responsive to changes,” he said. “We want to better prepare them for their future job.

Strife strains Atlanta school board

Kristina Torres and Heather Vogell

Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall’s announcement that she will step aside when her contract ends June 30 comes at a time when the district is facing uncertainty on multiple fronts.
Feuding among city school board members, in which one faction of the board has sued the other over leadership changes, has caused the system’s accrediting agency to say the board’s capacity to govern is “in serious jeopardy.”
The two sides have a court date Tuesday.
The system also faces two inquiries — one by federal prosecutors, the other by special investigators appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue — into test cheating allegations that could bring criminal charges against school officials.
As the result of a related investigation, local officials reported more than 100 city educators to the state teacher certification body, although their cases are on hold until state investigators wrap up their work. That is expected to happen early next year.

West Bend Charter school proposal at crossroads

A publicly funded school proposed by a Baptist pastor has gained support among School Board members despite objections by the district’s administrators over the school’s use of “a standard parochial curriculum with evangelical leanings.”
The School Board is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to enter into contract negotiations with First Baptist Church Pastor Bruce Dunford over his plans to open Crossroads Academy as a charter school next school year.
The school would teach a traditional curriculum that includes more classical readings and would have a more structured discipline system than other public schools, Dunford said. The school also would support the values of a majority of the West Bend community, he said, in response to concerns that he’s heard about bullying and a lack of modesty and morality in the public schools.
He said the school would be operated separately and not on the grounds of his church, where West Bend School Board member Tim Stepanski is a deacon. Unlike most charter schools in which staff is employed by the chartering district, Crossroads would be a so-called non-instrumentality charter school – one that employs its own staff and has more independence from the School Board on its curriculum and how it runs its day-to-day operations.
“I just simply believe the taxpayers, the parents of the community, should have options available to them,” Dunford said. “There should be a quality education that conforms to the value standards, convictions, whatever you want to call it, of a large part of our community.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Answer Is No

Jason Zengerle

His battle with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), over a proposed pay freeze and an increase in employee contributions to health benefits, has been particularly epic. “I came to Trenton … and it’s like coming to a new schoolyard,” he says. “I looked around, and there were a bunch of people on the ground, all bloody and moaning, all beat up, and there was one person on the schoolyard standing … When you see that one person standing up, that’s the bully. And in New Jersey, that’s the New Jersey teachers union.” He has accused teachers of “ripping off” the state and treating their pupils like “drug mules” after some were sent home tasked with asking their parents how they would vote on the school budget. And the demonizing has worked. A November poll put Christie’s in-state approval rating at 51 percent–30 points higher than the NJEA’s.
Less than a year into his tenure, Christie is no longer just a popular governor; he has become a national Republican star. His focus on fiscal issues and his reluctance to wade into the culture wars–during his gubernatorial campaign, he declined Palin’s offer to stump for him–have endeared him to members of the GOP’s sane wing. “The breakthrough he’s scoring in New Jersey is hugely promising,” says David Frum, a conservative writer who fears that the Republican Party is being swallowed by the tea party. At the same time, Christie’s combativeness has made him a popular figure with the tea party in a way that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels–who’s fought some of the same fiscal battles in his state but with the mien of an accountant–can only dream of. More than anything, Christie fills the longing, currently felt in all corners of the GOP (and beyond), for a stern taskmaster. “People just want to be treated like adults,” Christie says. “They just want to be told the truth. They know we’re in tough times, and they’re willing to sacrifice. But they want shared sacrifice.”

African-centered education has a strong backer

Eugene Kane

Milwaukee educator Taki Raton sees the problem with failing black students in very stark terms.
For him, the issues are black and white with very little gray.
“Black people are the only ones who can teach black children, it’s as simple as that,” he told me, in no uncertain tones.
Raton, currently a writer and lecturer who runs an educational consulting firm, also founded Blyden Delany Academy, a well-respected private school, which operated under Milwaukee’s choice program for 10 years. Raton closed the school a few years ago because of financial concerns, but while Blyden Delany was open, it was consistently praised by black parents in Milwaukee with children enrolled in the institution.
Raton doesn’t think that was anything out of the ordinary. Blyden Delany was African-centered – some call it Afrocentric – in its approach to teaching black students. Raton and a legion of similarly minded black educators in Milwaukee and across the nation believe that distinction makes all the difference.
“We know what we’re doing,” he said, referring to African-centered schools in general. “We don’t have the kind of problems other schools have because we’re following a classical model for African-centered education.”

UW-Madison School of Education Lecture Series: Diane Ravitch, Daniel Nerad, Howard Fuller, Gregory Thornton, Michael Thompson, Adam Gamoran

Wisconsin Academy

t has been said that universal education for every citizen is a cornerstone of American democracy. The importance we attach to schooling and the attention we pay to educational issues are in evidence daily–from what we tell our children when they bring home their report cards to how we vote on school funding matters. Not a day goes by without accounts of perceived successes at “model schools,” of remarkable teachers who made a difference, and of new public policy initiatives designed to deliver better results. But not a day goes by without reports about failures in education–poor test scores, questions surrounding teacher performance, and inadequate funding.
In “Education Is Fundamental,” a special three-part Academy Evenings series brought to you in conjunction with the UW-Madison School of Education, leading historians, researchers, and administrators in the field of education come together to discuss the most important educational challenges facing Wisconsin–a picture of dysfunction but also innovation–and offer their ideas for repair.

Related: Adam Gamoran interview.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: We can’t afford deep budget cuts in Asheville education (11,631.37/student in 2009-2010)

Asheville Citizen Times

The North Carolina budget for the upcoming year is looming like a menacing storm cloud approaching on the horizon.
A funding hole of between $3 billion and $4 billion is anticipated.
Short of a rapid (and unexpected) economic turnaround that pumps more tax dollars into state coffers, it’s a hole that will have to be closed.
It’s how that hole will be closed, and the very nature of the state budget, that worries educators.
It ought to worry all of us.
For decades, North Carolina has made a quality public education system a priority, and indeed it’s been the foundation of the state’s economic policy as well. An educated citizenry is an educated work force, the coin of the realm for employers.
Education makes up the bulk of the state’s budget. K-12 funding alone is the single biggest chunk of the budget, representing 35 percent of spending.

Buncombe County Schools’ 2009-2010 budget was $290,784,230 for their 25,000 students. ($11,631.37 per student). Locally, Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009-2010.

Beyond Understanding

Andy Martin

I ought to have known better than to have lunch with a psychologist.
“Take you, for example,” he said. “You are definitely autistic.”
“I rest my case,” he shot back. “Q.E.D.”
His ironic point seemed to be that if I didn’t instantly grasp his point — which clearly I didn’t — then, at some level, I was exhibiting autistic tendencies.
Simon Baron-Cohen, for example, in his book “Mindblindness,” argues that the whole raison d’être of consciousness is to be able to read other people’s minds; autism, in this context, can be defined as an inability to “get” other people, hence “mindblind.”

Teaching for America

Melissa Westbrook

Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’ ”
Duncan’s view is that challenging teachers to rise to new levels — by using student achievement data in calculating salaries, by increasing competition through innovation and charters — is not anti-teacher. It’s taking the profession much more seriously and elevating it to where it should be. There are 3.2 million active teachers in America today. In the next decade, half (the baby boomers) will retire. How we recruit, train, support, evaluate and compensate their successors “is going to shape public education for the next 30 years,” said Duncan. We have to get this right.
BUT he ends saying we also need…better parents. Turn off the tv, restrict the video and the phone and most important “elevate learning as the most important life skill.” It’s funny because some people might say teaching children empathy or kindness or honesty is more important but really those all relate to learning.

Tom Friedman:

Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, “They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
Duncan disputes the notion that teachers’ unions will always resist such changes. He points to the new “breakthrough” contracts in Washington, D.C., New Haven and Hillsborough County, Fla., where teachers have embraced higher performance standards in return for higher pay for the best performers.
“We have to reward excellence,” he said. “We’ve been scared in education to talk about excellence. We treated everyone like interchangeable widgets. Just throw a kid in a class and throw a teacher in a class.” This ignored the variation between teachers who were changing students’ lives, and those who were not. “If you’re doing a great job with students,” he said, “we can’t pay you enough.”

School districts evaluate merits of merit pay

They call it the War Room.
It looks like any other classroom inside Carrick High School, a sprawling structure that towers like a stone fortress over this working-class neighborhood on the city’s south side. It’s still dark out as 16 teachers and counselors – some clutching coffee or energy bars – sit in a circle, dissecting with brutal candor their students’ performance.
In addition to their classroom duties, these teachers serve as advisers to every ninth- and 10th-grader in the school, and they show up 45 minutes before school starts each day to talk about where their students need to be. No punches are pulled; no feelings are spared.
As part of the Promise Readiness Corps, these teachers are eligible for financial bonuses.
In Pittsburgh, the Corps is one element of a new plan that overhauls the way the district hires, trains, evaluates, pays and dismisses teachers. Under a new performance-pay system, incoming district teachers whose students learn, on average, at 1.3 times their grade level can earn $100,000 a year within seven years of being hired.
Raising the quality of teaching in America has been a priority of President Barack Obama’s administration, and reforms receiving the most attention right now include stronger teacher evaluation systems and financial incentives to attract, reward and retain quality educators.

Dissecting change in Milwaukee School enrollments

Alan Borsuk

Like a glacier in a warming world, Milwaukee Public Schools keeps melting bit by bit.
But this year, don’t blame the private school voucher program as the reason MPS lost another notch when it comes to attendance.
In fact, for the first time since 1997, the number of voucher students in the city is down from a year ago, although only by a small amount.
Look to charter schools not staffed by MPS teachers and to public schools in the suburbs if you want to find the growth markets for Milwaukee students getting publicly funded educations this year.
Milwaukee is one of the places in the nation where the definition of public education is getting reshaped the most. The voucher program, which allows more than 20,000 students to attend private schools, the vast majority of them religious, remains the biggest cause.

Real problem with schools is the gap between rich and poor

Kenneth Davidson

Money for a populist ”boot camp” is far better spent on teachers.
THERE is a crisis in public education and the policies of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Premier John Brumby are making it worse. Both think that the growth of private schooling is a good thing because it promotes competition, which will improve the standards of state schools.
To this end, Gillard as education minister introduced the listing online of results of national student tests. This is designed to show up the poorest performing schools, which will motivate parents of government school students to select better performing schools for their children and pressure the teachers and the principals of the schools to shape up or ship out.
Politically, this approach presses the right button. It is popular because it targets state school teachers and their union, who are scapegoated for perceived failures in state education.

Modern Parenting

Kate Rophie:

Last year, a friend of mine sent a shipment of green rubber flooring, at great impractical expense, to a villa in the south of France because she was worried that over the summer holiday her toddler would fall on the stone floor. Generations of French children may have made their way safely to adulthood, walking and falling and playing and dreaming on these very same stone floors, but that did not deter her in her determination to be safe. This was, I think, an extreme articulation of our generation’s common fantasy: that we can control and perfect our children’s environment. And lurking somewhere behind this strange and hopeless desire to create a perfect environment lies the even stranger and more hopeless idea of creating the perfect child.
Of course, for most of us, this perfect, safe, perpetually educational environment is unobtainable; an ineffable dream we can browse through in Dwell, or some other beautiful magazine, with the starkly perfect Oeuf toddler bed, the spotless nursery. Most of us do not raise our children amidst a sea of lovely and instructive wooden toys and soft cushiony rubber floors and healthy organic snacks, but the ideal exists and exerts its dubious influence.

Crimes Rattle Madison Schools

Susan Troller, via a kind reader’s email:

It’s been a rough week in Madison schools, with the first degree sexual assault of a student in a stairwell at East High School and an alleged mugging at Jefferson Middle School.
The sexual assault occurred on Thursday afternoon, according to police reports. The 15-year-old victim knew the alleged assailant, also 15, and he was arrested and charged at school.
On Wednesday, two 13-year-old students at Jefferson allegedly mugged another student at his locker, grabbing him from behind and using force to try to steal his wallet. The police report noted that all three students fell to the floor. According to a letter sent to Jefferson parents on Friday, “the student yelled loudly, resisted the attempt and went immediately to report the incident. The students involved in the attempted theft were immediately identified and detained in the office.”
The mugging was not reported to police until Thursday morning and Jefferson parents did not learn about the incident until two days after the incident. When police arrived at school on Thursday, they arrested two students in the attempted theft.
Parents at East were notified Thursday of the sexual assault.
Luis Yudice, Madison public schools safety chief, said it was unusual for police not to be notified as soon as the alleged strong arm robbery was reported to school officials.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

Teen Accused Of Sexual Assault At Madison’s East High School

Channel3000, via a kind reader’s email:

A Madison East High School student has been arrested and charged on suspicion of sexually assaulting another student on school grounds this week.
Madison police said the 15-year-old boy was arrested on a charge of first-degree sexual assault on Thursday after a 15-year-old girl reported the incident.
Dan Nerad, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, said while these cases are rare, they happen and it forces district officials to take a step back and look how this could have been prevented. Officials sent a letter home to parents to explain the incident and the district’s next steps.
“We’re going to work real hard to deal with it, we’re going to work real hard to learn from it. We’re going to work real hard to make any necessary changes after we have a change to review what all of these facts and circumstances are,” Nerad said.
Nerad said that while there are things the district can do to prevent such incidents, he believes much more help is needed from the community. He said the fact that this type of activity has entered the school door should be a wake up call to society.

Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

Rhode Island’s 3-tiered high school diploma system described

Jennifer Jordan, via a kind reader’s email:

State education officials appear ready to move forward with their plan to establish a three-tier high school diploma system tied to student performance on state tests, and will start drafting changes to the regulations.
At a well-attended work session Thursday, the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education discussed the details of the plan, which differs significantly from the regulations the Regents approved in 2008.
Regent Colleen Callahan expressed concerns with the proposal, saying it places too much weight on the standardized tests, which were not designed to be high-stakes or to determine what kind of diploma a student receives.
“I’m worried about tests being the determining factor, as opposed to other parts of the system,” Callahan said, a reference to grades and student portfolios or projects.

What Ready to Learn Really Means

Alfie Kohn

The phrase “ready to learn,” frequently applied to young children, is rather odd when you stop to think about it, because the implication is that some kids aren’t. Have you ever met a child who wasn’t ready to learn — or, for that matter, already learning like crazy? The term must mean something much more specific — namely, that some children aren’t yet able (or willing) to learn certain things or learn them in a certain way.
Specifically, it seems to be code for “prepared for traditional instruction.” And yes, we’d have to concede that some kids are not ready to memorize their letters, numbers, and colors, or to practice academic skills on command. In fact, some children continue to resist for years since they’d rather be doing other kinds of learning. Can you blame them?
Then there’s the question of when we expect children to be ready. Even if we narrow the notion of readiness to the acquisition of “phonemic awareness” as a prerequisite to reading in kindergarten or first grade, the concept is still iffy, but for different reasons.

Colleges’ own recruiting may push students to spread applications around

Daniel de Vise

A new analysis of college admissions trends confirms what most high school seniors already know: Colleges are receiving thousands more applications than ever before, and each student is applying to more schools.
“Application inflation” is one of the most widely discussed but poorly documented trends in college admissions. Applications rose 47 percent at public colleges and 70 percent at private colleges between fall 2001 and fall 2008, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Arlington County.
In a new report, “Putting the College Admissions ‘Arms Race’ in Context,” the group attempts to explain the unprecedented jump. Admissions officers point to a steady increase in the number of students applying to eight, 10 or 15 schools, particularly among top students courting selective colleges.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: $2.2 billion Wisconsin deficit balloons to $3.3 billion without assumed spending cuts

Jason Stein

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration on Friday told Republican Governor-elect Scott Walker that he would have to cope with a $2.2 billion deficit in the state’s upcoming two-year budget, but this brighter-than-expected forecast contained more than $1 billion in hidden pain.
To arrive at the favorable estimate, the Doyle administration’s estimate assumed that Walker and lawmakers would make spending cuts that have yet to actually happen – two more years of state employee furloughs, no pay raises, a virtual hiring freeze and belt tightening in state health programs. Without that $1.1 billion in savings, the state’s projected shortfall rises to $3.3 billion – a significant increase over previous estimates that put the gap at between $2.7 billion and $3.1 billion.
The shortfall and the efforts to close it could affect everything from schools and health care to local governments and taxpayers.
The “revenue projections released Friday underscore what Governor-elect Walker has said for months – the state of Wisconsin is facing very serious budget challenges,” Walker transition director John Hiller said in a statement. “Further, we believe that the true budget shortfall is much higher than indicated by the projections released today.”

Atlanta Newspaper files complaint with state over school cheating scandal

Heather Vogell:

The AJC asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to determine whether the district’s denial in July of a request for the report was a criminal violation of the Georgia Open Records Act.
The newspaper’s complaint calls the district’s refusal to produce the report a “willful and premeditated violation.”
“The purpose of the Open Records Act is to prevent government officials from burying information in this way,” said Tom Clyde, an AJC attorney.
District spokesman Keith Bromery said Friday that officials were reviewing the complaint and would not comment.
The complaint comes amid federal and state probes into the falsification of hundreds of Atlanta students’ scores, with dozens of GBI agents questioning teachers and administrators at schools across the district.

A Dilemma For Schools Seeking To Reform

Sarah Karp:

On the eve of a Board of Education meeting in February where the death knell was to sound for five schools, Ron Huberman, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, granted an 11th-hour reprieve.
The low enrollment and poor academic record at Paderewski Elementary had made the South Side school a target for closing, and its students were being sent to Mason Elementary, the only nearby school that had higher test scores. Mr. Huberman said he changed his mind after walking from Paderewski to Mason and discovering that students would have to cross a wide intersection of four streets, a situation he concluded was too dangerous.
Although the pardon for Paderewski might have been a relief for some teachers, parents and students, it did not address the problems at a low-performing, underutilized school. Other poorly performing schools are also being spared as resistance to closing them has grown, confronting the next mayor with a longstanding question: What can be done with neighborhood schools where enrollment is shrinking and academic improvement is slow?

A School Board Thinks Differently About Delivering Education, and spends less

Stephanie Simon

The school board in a wealthy suburban county south of Denver is considering letting parents use public funds to send their children to private schools–or take classes with private teachers–in a bid to rethink public education.
The proposals on the table in Douglas County constitute a bold step toward outsourcing a segment of public education, and also raise questions about whether the district can afford to lose any public funds to private educators.
Already hit hard by state cutbacks, the local board has cut $90 million from the budget over three years, leaving some principals pleading for family donations to buy math workbooks and copy paper.
“This is novel and interesting–and bound to be controversial,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative, educational think tank in Washington, D.C.

Douglas County School District board members are also considering letting students enrolled in public schools opt out of some classes in favor of district-approved alternatives offered at for-profit schools or by private-sector instructors. Students might skip high-school Spanish, for example, to take an advanced seminar in Chinese, or bypass physics to study with a rocket scientist, in person or online.
Another proposal under review calls for expanding publicly-funded services for families that home-school their children.
Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen said she is not sure which proposals she might support. But in a recent letter to parents of the district’s 56,000 students, she said her leadership team “did not find the ideas alarming” and pledged the district would “set the stage for new thinking in education.”
“These days, you can build a custom computer. You can get a custom latte at Starbucks,” said board member Meghann Silverthorn. “Parents expect the same out of their educational system.”

Related: The ongoing struggle for credit for non Madison School District courses.
Colorado’s Douglas County School District spends $8512.74 per student ($476,977,336 for 56,031 students in 2009). Madison spent $15,241 per student in 2009, a whopping $6,728.26, 79% more than the “wealthy Denver suburbs”.

Bay State 12th-graders top nation in NAEP test results

Stewart Bishop

High school seniors in Massachusetts are ranked highest in the nation in reading and math ability, according to new test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The first state-specific results for Grade 12 in 2009 showed that Massachusetts students had the highest scaled score in both the reading and math exams. The Bay State was one of 11 states to participate in the pilot program for states to receive state-specific Grade 12 results.
In a ceremony at Medford High School, Governor Deval Patrick, surrounded by state education officials and hundreds of students, heralded the results as proof of the state’s position as a leader in public education.

The Shadow Education System

Douglas Crets

Entrepreneurs are working very hard to build education systems outside of the formal higher ed and public ed systems. One day, they will merge with the increasingly archaic structures of public ed, but for now, they will remain outside.
Is it possible that companies like this will form partnerships with or Facebook? University of Phoenix made $3.7 billion in 2009 [the source I used this morning was off by just a bit, this page says that the University of Phoenix made $3.9 billion in revenue, and a net income of US$598 million. The entire Apollo Group’s revenue was $5 billion. Hat tip to Tom Vander Ark for the specifics and the links.], and that was during a recession. Facebook’s revenue was only, ONLY, $800 million. Can you imagine what happens when Facebook puts a learning curriculum into its platform? Could they make more money than University of Phoenix? Could they offer a more adaptive and successful learning system than Duke University? If you think that knowledge and skills needed usually need to be utilized in the shorter term, then maybe. Maybe. If we truly live in a knowledge economy, then it will be our social value online that measures our ability to rise first to a challenge, be the first to be relied upon to fix the problem, and it will have less to do with our degree, than with how we treated someone in our day to day life.
That’s why relationships are so important. That’s why online and working out in the open is so important. You can exchange knowledge with strangers, send them contact lists, and if you don’t use other people’s knowledge for selfish benefit, and include people in your circle, then you will increase your social value among others.

On the American Federation of Teachers president Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten’s Compensation

J.P. Freire

American Federation of Teachers president Rhonda “Randi” Weingarten has issued a statement slamming proposed cuts from the congressional deficit commission for not pushing shared sacrifice among the wealthy, but an AFT spokesman has told The Examiner that Weingarten will not be taking a paycut from the total $428,284 she received in salary and benefits during fiscal year 2010.
Weingarten wrote of the proposed budget cuts from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform:n

Gates Urges School Budget Overhauls

Sam Dillon

Bill Gates, the founder and former chairman of Microsoft, has made education-related philanthropy a major focus since stepping down from his day-to-day role in the company in 2008.
His new area of interest: helping solve schools’ money problems. In a speech on Friday, Mr. Gates — who is gaining considerable clout in education circles — plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn.
He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.
“Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive” — but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday.

Future Teachers Most Likely to Cheat in College?

Andrew J. Coulson

This is of course the weakest of anecdotal evidence and no one should take it as gospel (particularly the seminary students who apparently also contract out papers to the same ghost writer). But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s true–that ed school students are the most common consumers of fraudulent papers. How could we explain that?
There’s no reason to believe that future teachers are any more ethically deficient than their peers in other fields, so that’s an unlikely explanation. Could it be that ed school students are less well prepared for college? Certainly it’s an uncomfortable truth that the SAT scores of those applying to ed school (both undergraduate and graduate) consistently rank below those of applicants to most other college programs. But it is also widely acknowledged that the academic standards of ed schools are commensurately below those of other college disciplines, so future teachers shouldn’t have any more difficulty completing their assignments than students in other fields.

On Mark Zuckerberg & Newark Schools

Marc Oestreich

When you set out to create Facebook (then “The Facebook”) you didn’t work within the confines of what was already there. You built what should be there.
You could easily have volunteered to work with the powers at Myspace, or funnel your venture capital into their infrastructure. After all, they had already built the full site, found an audience, and created a monopoly of sorts in the market for social networking. You could have simply recognized their dominance and bowed before it, but you didn’t. You, my friend, are an inventor. You have been endowed with a natural affinity for understanding what the public needs… even when that doesn’t yet exist. This is why its so surprising to see what you’ve done with your charitable giving.
What about the current public school system made you think an injection of $100 million would be beneficial? School spending per pupil has risen dramatically over the last 25 years with almost no resulting gain in achievement. Non-teacher staff positions in public schools have grown by almost 200 percent while enrollment has pushed up no more than 9 percent. Public schools are increasingly bureaucratic, increasingly resistant to change, and decreasingly useful.

15-year-old boy arrested in sexual assault at Madison East High School had been arrested four times

Matthew DeFour & Ed Treleven, via a kind reader

The 15-year-old boy arrested Thursday for the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl at Madison East High School had been arrested four other times since March 2009, according to a county official.
The boy, who isn’t being identified because he is a juvenile, was charged in a delinquency petition Friday with the adult equivalent of first-degree sexual assault of a child for the incident, which allegedly happened Wednesday in a stairwell at East.
Dane County Court Commissioner Marjorie Schuett on Friday ordered the boy kept at the juvenile jail for now, citing the “very serious allegations” he faces.
Juvenile Court Administrator John Bauman said the boy has been arrested in the past for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, battery and disorderly conduct while armed.
“He’s a young man who has significant issues,” Bauman said.

More Young Kids See Orthodontists, But Treatment Is No Guarantee of Teen Years Without Braces

Nancy Keates

Kids still getting visits from the Tooth Fairy are getting braces.
The number of children 17 and younger getting orthodontic treatment has grown 46% over the past decade to 3.8 million in 2008, the latest figure available from the American Association of Orthodontists. The association doesn’t break the number down further by age, but Lee W. Graber, the Association’s president, estimates that in his own practice 15% to 20% of the 7- to 10-year-olds he sees get treatment.
Parents’ hope is that the more early treatment a child gets–that is, before all the adult teeth have come in–the less treatment the child will need later on. While that’s true in some cases, what many parents don’t realize is that for some of the most common orthodontic problems, early treatment offers no guarantees against a second round of treatment in the teenage years and may not save time or money.

‘Defend the Humanities’–a Dishonest Slogan

John Ellis

College foreign language and literature programs have been in decline for some time, first shrinking, then being consolidated with other departments, and now in a growing number of cases actually closed down. But the recent decision to eliminate French, Italian, Russian and Classics at SUNY Albany appears to have struck a nerve, and caused an outcry: “Defend the Humanities!”
It’s a cry that has been heard many times in the past. As the segment of the university that has no direct link to a career-providing profession, the humanities have regularly been called upon to justify their usefulness, but the justification is easy to make, and it is an honorable one that instantly commands respect.
The case generally goes like this: exposure to the best of our civilization’s achievements and thought gives us the trained minds of broadly educated people. We learn about ourselves by studying our history, and understanding how it has shaped us and the institutions we live by. As European civilization developed it produced a range of extraordinary thinkers who grappled memorably with questions that will always be with us, leaving a rich and varied legacy of outstanding thought on philosophical, ethical, religious, social and political matters. Its creative writers left a record of inspired reflection on human life and its challenges. Studying the humanities make us better prepared for civic life and for living itself, and better citizens.

Where is the accountability for the Conn. State Dept. of Education?

Dr. Joseph A. Ricciotti:

Now that the mid-term elections are over and we will have a new governor in Hartford, the question of what impact this will have on the Connecticut State Department of Education in terms of its leadership and direction for the future looms larger than ever.
At a time when public education is attempting to survive from the misguided principles of educational leaders who are not educators, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former chancellor Michelle Rhee of Washington, D.C, and Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City Public Schools, there appears to be a paucity of leadership from the Connecticut State Department of Education. We hear very little, for example, from State Department of Education officials concerning what is the appropriate role of testing in the education of Connecticut children. There is massive abuse from the high-stakes standardized testing mania in the country including in the State of Connecticut where standardized testing is being used to evaluate school districts and now it is being taken a step further to include the evaluation of teacher performance as well. It is a well known fact that politicians’ use of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and now Race To The Top (RTTT) for political gain has become rampant. Yet, our own State Department of Education responsible for the education and well being of all students in Connecticut public schools remains mysteriously quiet on this crucial topic.

Math and reading test scores: Massachusetts excels, West Virginia lags

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

For the first time, the “Nation’s Report Card” includes rich state-level data on the math and reading skills of America’s 12th-graders.
Eleven states volunteered to have their results itemized in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), allowing for comparisons across state lines and over time. Beyond the overall test scores, the state results also look at everything from achievement gaps between racial groups to the amount of reading the students do on a daily basis.
The data come at a time when the majority of states are trying to move toward a common set of reading and math standards, aimed at better ensuring that students graduate from high school with the skills they need for higher education or job training.