On a Mission to Find an MBA Strategy

Della Bradshaw

Sally Blount is getting down to business. As the newly appointed dean of the Kellogg school at Northwestern University near Chicago, the chic 48-year-old professor is taking the school back to its roots as one of the few top US business schools that focuses on teaching management rather than finance and economics.
Fast-talking and forthright, and a specialist in negotiation and behavioural decision-making, Prof Blount says she is perplexed about how MBAs have been hijacked by the finance industry.

Madison School District Responds to DPI

Great Madison Schools

On November 29, 2010, the Madison School District responded to a request for information from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about Madison’s services for talented and gifted students.
The DPI initiated an audit of Madison’s talented and gifted programming after West High School area parents filed a complaint on September 20, 2010, arguing that West refuses to provide appropriate programs for ninth and tenth grade students gifted in language arts and social studies. West requires all freshmen and sophomores to take regular core English and history courses, regardless of learning level.
(All three of Madison’s other comprehensive high schools-East, LaFollette, and Memorial-provide advanced sections of core subjects before 11th grade. East and LaFollette offer advanced and/or honors sections starting in ninth grade, while Memorial offers English 10 honors and AP World History for tenth graders.)
As part of a Small Learning Community Initiative phased in over the past decade, West implemented a one-size-for-all English and social studies program to stop different groups of students from following different courses of study. Some groups had typically self-selected into rigorous, advanced levels while others seemed stuck in more basic or remedial levels. Administrators wanted to improve the quality of classroom experience and instruction for “all students” by mixing wide ranges of ability together in heterogeneous classrooms.

Surprisingly Predictive (you moron!): “…student feedback (surprisingly predictive of success in the classroom)”

Jonathan Alter

Bill Gates is raising his arm, bent at the elbow, in the direction of the ceiling. The point he’s making is so important that he wants me and the pair of Gates Foundation staffers sitting in the hotel conference room in Louisville, Ky., to recognize the space between this thought and every lower-ranking argument. “If there’s one thing that can be done for the country, one thing,” Gates says, his normally modulated voice rising, “improving education rises so far above everything else!” He doesn’t say what the “else” is–deficit reduction? containing Iran? free trade?–but they’re way down toward the floor compared with the arm above that multibillion-dollar head. With the U.S. tumbling since 1995 from second in the world to 16th in college-graduation rates and to 24th place in math (for 15-year-olds), it was hard to argue the point. Our economic destiny is at stake.
Gates had just finished giving a speech to the Council of Chief State School Officers in which he tried to explain how administrators could hope to raise student achievement in the face of tight budgets. The Microsoft founder went through what he sees as false solutions–furloughs, sharing textbooks–before focusing on the true “cost drivers”: seniority-based pay and benefits for teachers rising faster than state revenues.
Seniority is the two-headed monster of education–it’s expensive and harmful. Like master’s degrees for teachers and smaller class sizes, seniority pay, Gates says, has “little correlation to student achievement.” After exhaustive study, the Gates Foundation and other experts have learned that the only in-school factor that fully correlates is quality teaching, which seniority hardly guarantees. It’s a moral issue. Who can defend a system where top teachers are laid off in a budget crunch for no other reason than that they’re young?
In most states, pay and promotion of teachers are connected 100 percent to seniority. This is contrary to everything the world’s second-richest man believes about business: “Is there any other part of the economy where someone says, ‘Hey, how long have you been mowing lawns? … I want to pay you more for that reason alone.’ ” Gates favors a system where pay and promotion are determined not just by improvement in student test scores (an idea savaged by teachers’ unions) but by peer surveys, student feedback (surprisingly predictive of success in the classroom), video reviews, and evaluation by superiors. In this approach, seniority could be a factor, but not the only factor.
President Obama knows that guaranteed tenure and rigid seniority systems are a problem, but he’s not yet willing to speak out against them. Even so, Gates gives Obama an A on education. The Race to the Top program, Gates says, is “more catalytic than anyone expected it to be” in spurring accountability and higher standards.
Gates hardly has all the answers: he spent $2 billion a decade ago breaking up big high schools into smaller ones and didn’t get the results he’d hoped for. Today, he’s too enamored of handheld devices for tracking student performance. They could end up as just another expensive, high-tech gimmick. But you’ve got to give Gates credit for devoting so much of his brain and fortune to this challenge. [BIG BIAS ALERT HERE!] His biggest adversary now is Diane Ravitch, a jaundiced former Education Department official under George H.W. Bush, who changed sides in the debate and now attacks Gates-funded programs in books and articles. Ravitch, the Whittaker Chambers of school reform, gives intellectual heft to the National Education Association’s campaign to discredit even superb charter schools and trash intriguing reform ideas that may threaten its power. When I asked Gates about Ravitch, you could see the Micro-hard hombre who once steamrolled software competitors: “Does she like the status quo? Is she sticking up for decline? Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts? Does she think all those ‘dropout factories’ are lonely? If there’s some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we’re all ears.” Gates understands that charters aren’t a silver bullet, and that many don’t perform. But he doesn’t have patience for critics who spend their days tearing down KIPP schools and other models that produce results.
There’s a backlash against the rich taking on school reform as a cause. Some liberals figure they must have an angle and are scapegoating teachers. But most of the wealthy people underwriting this long-delayed social movement for better performance are on the right track. [BIG BIAS ALERT HERE!] Like the rest of us, they know that if we don’t fix education, we can kiss our future goodbye.
Jonathan Alter is also the author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One and The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.

Seattle School Board Staff Positions

Charlie Mas

The Seattle Public Schools Job Board has two jobs posted for people to work for the School Board.
Administrator, Board Office pays from $45,573.00 – $62,920.00
Manager, Board Office pays $68,474.00 – $94,578.00
Here’s the scoop on the Administrator job:

This position is designed to provide a high level of staff support for the School Board Directors and the School Board Office. This position provides both secretarial and administrative services including: serving as the public representation of the Board office; serving as a liaison between the Directors and staff; providing School Board Directors with documents and other information they need prior to Board or Committee meetings; creating and maintaining a variety of databases, including historical policy archives and meeting archives; creating and maintaining a tracking system for Board Director requests for information from staff; creating and maintaining a tracking system for constituent correspondence with the Board; creating and maintaining the School Board, Policy, and Government Relations internal and external web pages; and ensuring that School Board meetings run smoothly and on time.
Position reports to: Manager, Board Office

Stephanie Findley learned the hard way that while the public favors school reform, the political system is rigged to kill it.

Mike Nichols

Stephanie Findley was not just some carpetbagger looking for a job when she decided to run for the Assembly earlier this year.
She had a job — a few of them, actually. She worked as an office manager for Milwaukee District Council 48, a large and politically active labor group. She owned a small business, Fast & Accurate Business Solutions. She taught classes at the Spanish Center in Milwaukee and at Bryant & Stratton College.
A single mother who says she was already pregnant when she walked across the stage to get her Milwaukee Public High School degree some 20 years ago, Findley had overcome poverty and earned a master’s degree from Cardinal Stritch. She was also active in the Democratic Party, was head of the City of Milwaukee’s Election Commission and volunteered for too many organizations to count.
She was a 20-year resident of the 10th Assembly District, which has long been the province of retiring lawmaker Annette Polly Williams — a woman many still call “the mother of school choice” — when she decided to run for the seat herself. Findley, after all, had many of the same struggles and worries her neighbors did — including the high cost of health care, taxes, and the quality of MPS schools.

I, Reader

Alexander Chee

My books have moved with me from Maine to Connecticut to San Francisco to New York, to Iowa to New York to Los Angeles to Rochester to Amherst and now to New York once again. I’m a writer, also the child of two people who were each the ones in their family to leave and move far away, and the result is a life where I’ve moved regularly, and paid to ship most of my books so often I’m sure I’ve essentially repurchased them several times over. Each time I move, my books have grown in number. Collectively, they’re the autobiography of my reading life. Each time I pack and unpack them, I see The Phoenicians, a picture history book my father gave me as a child, and will never sell; the collection of Gordon Merrick paperbacks I shoplifted when I was a closeted teenager, stealing books no one would ever let me buy. The pages still retain the heat of that need, as does my copy of Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, bought when I was a star-struck college student at the Bennington Summer Writers’ Workshop 20 years ago. Each time they were all necessary, all differently necessary.
In the life of a New Yorker, a new book is a crisis the exact size of one new book. I spent three hours scrutinizing the shelves for weak links that could go to the used bookstore, projecting either into the past–When had I read this book and why?–or the future–Would I ever read this again, or even read it?–and filled three bags. I held my two mass-market paperback editions of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, bought at Church Street Books in San Francisco in 1990–one to own and one to lend–and after all this time, put the second into the bag. The one remaining now a reminder that I once had two.

Explaining autism

The Economist:

AUTISM is a puzzling phenomenon. In its pure form it is an inability to understand the emotional responses of others that is seen in people of otherwise normal–sometimes above normal–intelligence. However, it is often associated with other problems, and can also appear in mild and severe forms. This variability has led many people to think of it as a spectrum of symptoms rather than a single, clear-cut syndrome. And that variability makes it hard to work out what causes it.
There is evidence of genetic influence, but no clear pattern of inheritance. The thought that the underlying cause may be hereditary, though, is one reason for disbelieving the hypothesis, which gained traction a few years ago but is now discredited, that measles vaccinations cause autism.
One suggestion that does pop up from time to time is that the process which leads to autism involves faulty mitochondria. The mitochondria are a cell’s powerpacks. They disassemble sugar molecules and turn the energy thus liberated into a form that biochemical machinery can use. Mitochondrial faults could be caused by broken genes, by environmental effects, or by a combination of the two.

Business brings etiquette training to urban schools

Erin Richards

On the way to their new elective class, the seventh- and eighth-graders walked under the fluorescent cafeteria lights and past bagged lunches on tables, awaiting the first lunch shift.
What they saw on the other side of the wall at Concordia University School made many whisper and cast surprised looks at their friends: candles amid a 15-piece table setting, white tablecloth, silver platters and fine china, soup bowls and a centerpiece.
Presentation is everything in Camille Monk’s etiquette class. The 29-year-old has started a business bringing classic social training to urban schools, in the hopes that teaching tolerance and respect will help the students successfully navigate future social situations. The payoff for students who complete the class: a formal five-course lunch or dinner at Bacchus restaurant downtown.
But at a time when budget cuts have eliminated long-established specials such as gym, art and music in many school buildings, financial support for manners training is a struggle, even though experts say soft skills – from properly eating at a dinner table to managing a Facebook page – are critical for today’s students.

How Milton schools saved a bundle – of your money

Patrick McIlheran

Bernie Nikolay should be happy. His school district – he’s the superintendent in Milton – had a good November.
The girls swim team won the state title, a first for Milton girls athletics. And an arbitrator said the district could switch health coverage away from the insurer owned by the teachers union. That’ll save the district as much as a million bucks a year.
For a district with a $33 million budget, that’s cheery. For the rest of the state, it means a tide may have turned.
It could mean the end to the costly market dominance of WEA Trust, the health insurer owned by the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Just under two-thirds of Wisconsin districts use WEA Trust, a puzzling preference since its coverage is so costly.
Districts that buy WEA Trust plans average $1,665 a month for family premiums, according to their state association, while those choosing other carriers average $1,466. The difference is greatest where taxpayers cover the whole premium.

Chicago Public Schools report card shows many schools struggling

Azam S. Ahmed

By Chicago Public Schools’ own reckoning, about a quarter of its elementary schools and more than 40 percent of its high schools are failing, according to internal documents obtained by the Tribune.
Each year, district officials score each school based on academic performance. Last year, they assigned grades A through F based on the numeric scores, and schools chief Ron Huberman talked of publicly releasing them so school and community members would know where they stood. But he never did.
An analysis of the grades shows that a disproportionate number of schools scored in the D range or worse, including 48 percent of elementaries and 68 percent of high schools.

Milwaukee group looks into free college tuition for MPS graduates

Erin Richards

In Kalamazoo, Mich., a program supported by a group of anonymous donors ensures that graduates of the city’s public schools can attend college for free or at a big discount, depending on how many years they’ve spent in Kalamazoo Public Schools.
Now, a group of volunteers in Milwaukee is trying to replicate the Kalamazoo Promise, which has helped send 1,250 Kalamazoo graduates to college since the program was unveiled in 2005, according to the nonprofit’s executive director.
The Milwaukee Promise initiative, which aims to provide post-secondary tuition for graduates of Milwaukee Public Schools, is at the beginning stages of its journey. Milwaukee Promise Inc. just became a nonprofit in August, and it still needs a permanent board of directors, a full-time director and funding.
But organizers said they’ve come far enough in the planning process to present the idea to stakeholders Monday at the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension offices, 9501 W. Watertown Plank Road, Wauwatosa.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men: Initial Proposal to Establish a Charter School

1.1MB PDF; via a Kaleem Caire email:

Based on current education and social conditions, the fate of boys of color is uncertain.
African American and Latino boys are grossly over-represented among youth failing to achieve academic success, are at grave risk of dropping out of school before they reach 10th grade, are disproportionately represented among adjudicated and incarcerated youth, and are far less likely than their peers in other subgroups to achieve to their dreams and aspirations. Likewise, boys in general lag behind girls in most indicators of student achievement.
Research indicates that although boys of color have high aspirations for academic and career success, their underperformance in school and lack of educational attainment undermine their career pursuits and the success they desire. This misalignment of aspirations and achievement is fueled by and perpetuates a set of social conditions wherein men of color find themselves disproportionately represented among the unemployed and incarcerated. Without meaningful, targeted, and sustainable interventions and support systems, hundreds of thousands of young men of color will never realize their true potential and the cycle of high unemployment, fatherless homes, overcrowded jails, incarcerated talent, deferred dreams, and high rates of school failure will continue.
Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (Madison Prep) will be established to serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men, particularly young men of color and those who desire a nurturing educational experience for young men.
Madison Prep’s founders understand that poverty, isolation, structural discrimination, lack of access to positive male role models and achievement-oriented peer groups, limited exposure to opportunity and culture outside their neighborhood or city, and a general lack of understanding – and in some cases fear – of Black and Latino boys among adults are major contributing factors to why so many young men are failing to achieve to their full potential. However, the Urban League of Greater Madison – the “founders” of Madison Prep – also understand that these issues can be addressed by directly countering each issue with a positive, exciting, engaging, enriching, challenging, affirming and structured learning community designed to exclusively benefit boys.
Madison Prep will be a non-instrumentality charter school – authorized by the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education – that serves an all-male student body in grades 6-12. It will be open to all males residing in Dane County who apply, regardless of previous academic performance. The school will provide a world class secondary education for young men that prepares them for leadership, service, and success at a four-year college or university.
Madison Prep will employ seven Educational Strategies to achieve this mission: an all-male student body, the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a College Preparatory educational program, Harkness Teaching, an extended school day and year, mentoring and community support, and the “Prep Year.”
Madison Prep will also use four key Operational Strategies in order to support the educational strategies: adequate staffing, target student population, appropriate facilities/location, and sufficient funding.
Eight Core Values and Four Leadership Dimensions will additionally serve as underpinnings for the success of Madison Prep and Madison Prep students. These Core Values – Excellence & Achievement, Accountability, Teamwork, Innovation, Global Perspective, Perseverance, Leading with Purpose, and Serving Others – will also root Madison Prep in the Educational Framework of the Madison Metropolitan School District. The Four Leadership Dimensions – Personal, Team, Thought, and Results Leadership – will serve as criteria for student and staff evaluations.
Madison Prep’s educational program will be bolstered by partnerships with businesses, government agencies, professional and membership associations, colleges and universities, and scholarship-providing organizations that have the capacity to bring talent, expertise and resources into the school community to benefit Madison Prep students, faculty, staff, and parents. Madison Prep will also host special activities to engage parents, family members, and the community in the education of their young men. Invitations will be extended to parents, community leaders, and experts to join young men at the Harkness Table to add to their learning and to learn with them.
Seed funding for the establishment of Madison Prep will come from public and private sources, including planning and implementation grants from charter school investment funds, charitable foundations, government agencies, and individuals. Ideally, Madison Prep will be located in a business or higher education environment with access to quality classroom, athletic and laboratory facilities or the ability to create such facilities.
The Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM or Urban League) will submit a Detailed Proposal for Madison Prep in 2011 to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education to receive approval to open the school in 2012. If approved, the school will open in August 2012 serving 90 boys in grades 6 and 7. The school will grow by one grade level each year until it offers a full complement of secondary grades (6 -12). At maturity, Madison Prep will serve 315 students and graduate its first class of seniors in 2017-18.

Links: Madison Preparatory Academy and Kaleem Caire (interview).
This plan will be presented at the 12/6/2010 Madison School Board meeting.
In many ways, the outcome of this initiative will be a defining moment for our local public schools, particularly in terms of diffused governance, choice, a different curricular approach (potentially a movement away from the one size fits all model), economics and community engagement. If it does not happen in Madison, I suspect it will with a neighboring district.
Page 45:

The Madison Prep Difference
Although it is clear that Madison Prep can and will support MMSD objectives, there is no doubt that Madison Prep will be unique. Madison Prep will be the only all-male public school option in Dane County serving young men when it opens in 2012. Furthermore, the school will be the only IB school in the city offering the full continuum of the IB Programme at the secondary level. Young men enrolled in Madison Prep in 6th grade will begin their education in the IB Middle Years Programme and continue in the curriculum until they move into the rigorous two- year Diploma Programme beginning in 11th grade, thereby increasing their likeliness of success. Finally, while MMSD offers after school activities and care, no school in the district offers a significant amount of additional instructional time through an extended school day and extended school year, as Madison Prep will.

Classroom Collaboration Supports Mathematical Generalizations

Amy Ellis

In mathematics classrooms, generalization is an important part of the curriculum.
When students know how to generalize they can identify commonality across cases, extend their reasoning beyond the range in which it originated, and derive broader results from particular cases. But generalization remains difficult for students to do, and for teachers to support.
UW-Madison education professor Amy Ellis studies the processes that support students’ productive generalizing in their math classrooms. She considers generalization a dynamic social process as well as an individual cognitive activity.
In a recent study she studied an 8th-grade math class during a 3-week unit on quadratic growth. The class sessions focused on relationships between the height and area of growing rectangles (see illustration). As they grew, the rectangles retained the same height-to-length ratio.

U.S. Schools Make Progress, But ‘Dropout Factories’ Persist

NewsHour

In the decade since educators launched a nationwide campaign to improve schools and stop students from dropping out, progress has been made, according to a new report, but more than 1 million public high school students failed to graduate with their class this year and 2 million attend so-called “dropout factory” schools where their chance of graduating is only 50-50.
Being able to read in third grade is an early indicator of whether a student will stay in school.
In the first half of the decade, at least one out of every four public high school students and almost 40 percent of minority students (defined as African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians) did not successfully graduate with their class. In 2008, the high school graduation rate was about 75 percent, a three-point increase from 2001.
Students can lose interest in school early, according to education experts. Studies show that you can tell who is most at risk for dropping out from third grade reading scores. Half of all low-income fourth-graders who could not read on grade level were put on a “drop out” track, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The Role of Education Faculty in Reform Debates

Shaun Johnson

As soon as a doctor, lawyer, or plumber walks into any social setting, it seems as if they are the sole representatives of their respective professions. Can you help me treat this sore shoulder, sue the person that injured it, and unplug the drain under my sink? With all the press lately on education reform, most of which related to the hoopla enveloping the “Superman” film, I certainly become the local representative of both teachers and higher education most everywhere I go. Questions arise. What did you think of that latest Friedman column in The New York Times? How can my child transfer to a different public school? The kicker: What is wrong with our education system anyway?
The more questions I’m asked, the fewer answers reached than expected by both myself and others. It’s fitting that I’m bringing this up around the holiday season because this is the time families are visited and new acquaintances are made. So, what do you do for a living? I teach teachers. Ah, so how do we get rid of all these crap teachers?

Boston-area Catholic schools, hit by shrinking enrollment, find a surging demand for classes for 3- and 4-year-olds

Lisa Wangsness

Enrollment in local Catholic preschool classes this year is up nearly 14 percent over last year and 22 percent over five years ago, as elementary schools in the Boston Archdiocese have added programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and freestanding Catholic preschools have sprung up in response to surging demand.
Principals and administrators say the preschools are attracting working parents, including many non-Catholics, by providing high-quality programs for a lower price than full-time day care, which can easily run more than $10,000 a year.
“For working parents, there is going to be a cost, regardless of whether it’s an academic program or a child-care program,” said Russ W. Wilson, regional director of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, which offers prekindergarten through eighth grade at multiple campuses in Dorchester and Mattapan. “So parents are doing some simple math and realizing that, for an affordable price, they are able to send their child to . . . a full day of academics, socialization, computer skills.”

Incoming county executive supports longer school days for younger Prince George’s County students

Miranda S. Spivack

Prince George’s County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III endorsed longer school days for the county’s elementary and middle school students, who now have among the shortest instruction times in the state.
“You extend the days, we will talk about [funding] it,” Baker told a gathering of school officials and incoming County Council members at Prince George’s Community College Monday. “As a parent, I support this.”
The average school day in Maryland is seven hours for elementary and middle schools, State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said. In Prince George’s, the school day is six hours and 15 minutes.
Neither Baker nor any of the officials estimated the cost of extending the school day in the county’s 131 elementary schools, 29 middle schools and sevencombined elementary-middle schools.

As 1L Ponders Cost-Benefit Ratio of Dropping Out Now, ATL Survey Says: Do It

Martha Neil:

As an unidentified first-year law student comes to grips with the reality of his situation–a likely $150,000 in debt by the time he graduates, with no guarantee of a legal job that will make it easy for him to repay this money–he is thinking about dropping out now.
Owing only $21,000 in law school debt at this point, he tells Above the Law, he would probably be better off to call it quits now. That way, he will not only be better off financially, with far less to repay, but happier, since he won’t have to work as hard.
About four out of five responders to an ATL reader survey seeking input about what the 1L should do agree that dropping out is the best option.
But his focus on finances in analyzing the situation shows exactly what the problem is, says Brian Tannebaum in a response to the ATL post on his My Law License blog:

Some find that GEDs earned online aren’t what they claim to be

Laurel Walker

Becky Ploense’s job was eliminated in 2002, so she figured it was a good time to raise her chances of re-employment and get the high school diploma she never finished.
As the mother of a teenager, she liked the convenience of an online program that allowed her to work from her Hartland home. She enrolled with her credit card, was assessed monthly payments totaling about $500, was sent study materials by mail and completed her work online. It took her about four months to finish the courses in math, reading, social studies, science and English.
But she did not get what she thought she had paid for – her GED, or General Educational Development credential.
She went back to work for another seven years but, last December, lost her job as a team leader when Maysteel LLC in Menomonee Falls closed. Ploense, now 44, approached Anthem College, formerly High-Tech Institute, in Brookfield with hopes of studying massage therapy.

Kaiser Permanente puts millions in Oakland schools

Jill Tucker

Kaiser Permanente will pour $7.5 million into Oakland schools over the next three years, a donation aimed at expanding health care and other school-based programs, district and Kaiser officials announced Monday.
The amount offered was “extraordinary,” Superintendent Tony Smith said.
The grant will pay for new wellness centers in middle schools and a vision program, including exams and much-needed glasses for elementary school children, among other things, he said.
In addition, some of the funding will be used to support the district’s African-American Male Achievement Program, which helps address the needs of the district’s most at-risk students.

Is Federal Government Meddling Into Schools With Child Nutrition Bill?

Huma Khan

The House of Representatives today delayed a vote on the $4.5 billion child nutrition bill that would ban greasy food and sugary soft drinks from schools. The legislation has triggered criticism for its hefty price tag and new nutritional requirements that some say shouldn’t come from the federal government.
The bill is expected to be brought up later this week.
The legislation has the support of the White House and first lady Michelle Obama, who has made childhood obesity a central focus.
The Senate bill, which passed with unanimous bipartisan consent in August, would expand eligibility for school lunch programs, establish nutrition standards for all school meals, and encourage schools to use locally produced food. It would also raise the reimbursement rate to six cents per meal, marking the first time in over 30 years that Congress has increased funding for school lunch programs.

The Middle School Mess: If you love bungee jumping, you’re the middle school type

Peter Meyer

“Caught in the hurricane of hormones,” the Toronto Star began a 2008 story about students in the Canadian capital’s middle schools. Suspended “between childhood and the adult world, pre-teens have been called the toughest to teach.”
“The Bermuda triangle of education,” former Louisiana superintendent Cecil Picard once termed middle schools. “Hormones are flying all over the place.”
Indeed, you can’t touch middle school without hearing about “raging hormones.”
Says Diane Ross, a middle-school teacher for 17 years and for 13 more a teacher of education courses for licensure in Ohio, “If you are the warm, nurturing, motherly, grandmotherly type, you are made for early childhood education. If you love math or science or English, then you are the high school type. If you love bungee jumping, then you are the middle school type.”
Even in professional journals you catch the drift of “middle-school madness.” Mayhem in the Middle was a particularly provocative study by Cheri Pierson Yecke published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2005. American middle schools have become the places “where academic achievement goes to die,” wrote Yecke.

Your Child Left Behind

Amanda Ripley, via two kind readers:

FOR YEARS, POOR PERFORMANCE BY STUDENTS IN AMERICA RELATIVE TO THOSE IN OTHER COUNTRIES HAS BEEN EXPLAINED AWAY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF OUR NATIONWIDE DIVERSITY. BUT WHAT IF YOU LOOKED MORE CLOSELY, BREAKING DOWN OUR RESULTS BY STATE AND SEARCHING NOT FOR AN AVERAGE, BUT FOR EXCELLENCE?
Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and two colleagues recently conducted an experiment to answer just such questions, ranking American states and foreign countries side by side. Like our recruiter, they looked specifically at the best and brightest in each place–the kids most likely to get good jobs in the future–using scores on standardized math tests as a proxy for educational achievement.
We’ve known for some time how this story ends nationwide: only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan. But what happens when we break down the results? Do any individual U.S. states wind up near the top?
Incredibly, no. Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list. The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17. Minnesota also makes it into the upper-middle tier, followed by Vermont, New Jersey, and Washington. And down it goes from there, all the way to Mississippi, whose students–by this measure at least–might as well be attending school in Thailand or Serbia.
ANUSHEK, WHO GREW UP outside Cleveland and graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1965, has the gentle voice and manner of Mr. Rogers, but he has spent the past 40 years calmly butchering conventional wisdom on education. In study after study, he has demonstrated that our assumptions about what works are almost always wrong. More money does not tend to lead to better results; smaller class sizes do not tend to improve learning. “Historically,” he says, “reporters call me [when] the editor asks, ‘What is the other side of this story?'”

Emphasis added.

The $500 million Question: Charter School Management Organizations

Kevin Hall and Robin Lake

Charter school management organizations (CMOs) have emerged as a popular means for bringing charter schooling to scale. Advocates credit CMOs with delivering a coherent model of charter schooling to a growing number of children across numerous sites. Skeptics have wondered whether CMOs constitute an effective management approach, whether they won’t merely re-create the pathologies of school districts as they grow in size and scale, and whether they are well-suited to make use of new technological tools. In this forum, Robin Lake of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) CEO Kevin Hall discuss what we know about the strengths and frailties of CMOs, what the future holds, and what promising alternatives might be.

Controversial Hebrew-immersion charter school in Bergen County may finally open

Associated Press

A controversial plan to open a Hebrew-immersion charter school in Bergen County might have its best chance at state approval this year as the Christie administration looks to expand school choice throughout the state.
The application for Shalom Academy — thrice rejected by the state and opposed by local school administrators — is also buoyed by the opening this year of a similar school in East Brunswick, which already has a waiting list for the next school year.

South Carolina survey positive on single-gender classes

Reuters

Single-gender classes in public schools have had a positive effect on students’ performance, attitude and ambitions, according to a survey released Tuesday by the South Carolina Department of Education.
Two-thirds of about 7,000 students in South Carolina’s single-gender programs who responded to the annual survey said the classes have improved their academic performance and classroom attitude, 79 percent reported increases in their classroom effort, and 83 percent said they were more likely to finish high school.
The survey also included responses from 1,120 of their parents and 760 teachers in 119 elementary, middle and high schools. Ninety-four percent of parents said their children were more likely to graduate from high school, and 85 percent of teachers saw increases in effort with school work.

War veteran barred from CCBC campus for frank words on killing

Childs Walker

After publishing essay on addiction to war, Charles Whittington must obtain psychological evaluation before returning to classes
By writing the paper, Charles Whittington thought he would confront the anxieties that had tormented him since he returned from war.
He knew it wasn’t normal to dwell on the pleasure of sticking his knife between an enemy soldier’s ribs. But by recording his words, maybe he’d begin to purge the fixation.
So Whittington, an Iraq veteran, submitted an essay on the allure of combat for his English class at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville. He called war a drug and wrote that killing “is something that I do not just want but something I really need so I can feel like myself.”

Predicting Heart Health in Children

Ron Winslow

Has your kid had a checkup for heart disease lately?
The vast majority of heart attacks happen to people well past middle age, so a potential problem a half-century away may not be high on your list of child health-care worries. But it is well-established that heart disease begins to develop in childhood. Now, two new studies add to a burgeoning body of evidence that developing heart-healthy habits as a youngster or adolescent may have lasting benefits in adulthood.
One of the reports, based on a pooling of data from four major studies that tracked people from early childhood into their 30s and 40s, suggests that the presence of such risk factors as high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol by about age 9 strongly predicts a thickening of the walls in the carotid or neck arteries in early adulthood. Experts consider this condition, called carotid intima media thickness, a precursor to heart attacks and strokes.

Seattle Public Schools superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson stands firm, even as her teachers lose faith in her leadership.

Matthew Halverson

SEVEN YEARS AGO, Maria Goodloe-Johnson declined to apply for the job as superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and instead took the same job with the Charleston County School District in South Carolina. “The [Seattle] school board was very confused,” she says. “And I wasn’t interested in confusion.” She won’t get more specific than that when describing the district circa 2003, but it couldn’t have been drastically different than the situation she inherited when she accepted the Seattle school district’s top spot in 2007.
Attendance at South Seattle schools was sinking. The school board had adopted a new student assignment plan without any idea of how to implement it. Schools were teaching to vastly different standards. Heck, the district’s computer system was so outdated, prospective teachers had no means for applying online for jobs at multiple schools at once. SPS lacked accountability and administrative oversight, and Goodloe-Johnson whipped out her ruler and started rapping knuckles almost immediately.

Melissa Westbrook has more.

Charter schools benefit struggling students: Madison Prep charter school will help underachieving Madison students

Matt Beatty

My high school alma mater, Waubonsie Valley High School, was diverse in every sense of the term, but the most striking difference I noticed was the vast disparity in achievement that existed within each classroom.
While some students graduated and went to top universities like MIT, Brown and UW-Madison, others continued to struggle with writing complete sentences or finishing an algebra test in their senior year. A handful of students did not receive the learning experience they needed to prepare them for the future.
This glaring achievement gap is present in the city of Madison–most notably in the African-American population–where only 52 percent of students graduated from high school in 2009.
Fortunately, Kaleem Caire of the Urban League is stepping up and proposing a way to increase graduation rates and overall academic achievement among Madison students.
Caire plans to build an all-male, mostly African-American charter school called Madison Prep for sixth through 12th graders. Madison Prep will take several departures from the normal school model that many students find sufficient, but will focus additional attention on students who need extra help–a necessary resource that is often lacking in Madison schools.

Hiding Online Footprints Makers of Firefox Browser Explore Do-Not-Track Tool After Scrapping Earlier Effort

JULIA ANGWIN And SPENCER E. ANTE

The makers of the popular Firefox Web browser are exploring ways to create a do-not-track mechanism that could offer Internet users a way to avoid being monitored online.
The effort comes just months after Firefox’s creator, Mozilla Corp., killed a powerful and new tool to limit tracking under pressure from an ad-industry executive, The Wall Street Journal has learned. Mozilla says it didn’t scrap the tool because of pressure, but rather out of concern it would force advertisers to use even sneakier techniques and could slow down the performance of some websites.

Teaching in schools: Michael Gove wants to change how and what schools teach, as well as how they are organised

The Economist

ALLOWING teachers, parents, charities and religious groups to open new schools funded by the state, but independent of local authorities, is a central plank of the government’s plans for improving education in England. Despite the enthusiasm of the education secretary, Michael Gove, for such radical reform, take-up has been lacklustre: he has approved just 25 “free-school” proposals so far. Likewise his bid to encourage existing state schools to become academies–again, funded by the state but independent of local authorities–has failed to take off.
On November 24th Mr Gove unveiled his latest plan for curing ailing schools, this time by changing what is taught in them, and who does the teaching. He is thus revisiting the policy terrain on which the previous Labour government focused (arguing that “standards, not structures” were what mattered) until its final term in office.
Britain’s best independent schools attract pupils from around the world. But most British families cannot afford the steep fees such schools charge. Just 7% of British children are educated privately; the rest attend state schools, where standards are generally much lower. The Labour government doubled school spending in real terms during its 13 years in power; despite the splurge, the attainment gap between the two systems has widened.

Businesses + Schools = Successful Students

One day after MPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton said that Milwaukee businesses and schools need to partner together to improve the success of students, business leaders sat down to discuss how that can come to fruition.
Teach for America Milwaukee director Garrett Bucks and Schools That Can Milwaukee Co-chair Abby Ramirez brought the education side to the table while Mike Mervis, Vice-President of Zilber, Ltd. and Eileen Walter, Director of Global Community Relation at Rockwell Industrial Automation discussed the business perspective on education.
The discussion was hosted by TEMPO Milwaukee, a professional women’s networking group. The women are in leadership positions at businesses and non-profit organizations through Southeastern Wisconsin and feel education is one of the most important issues facing Milwaukee’s business community.
Although the mood was decidedly positive, all of the panelists agreed that the partnership between businesses and schools desperately needs to be rebuilt, and that this discussion is long overdue.

More Evidence that Florida’s Education Reforms Succeeding

Christian D’ Andrea

Eleven years ago, Florida chose sweeping reforms to improve the dire state of education affecting their children. Today, these changes are still paying dividends, and don’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Florida’s graduation rate, once amongst the worst in America, has risen steadily over the past five years, capping off at 79 percent for the 2009-2010 school year. This is over ten percentage points more than in 2005-2006, when the rate held at 68.9, and a 20-point increase from Manhattan Institute estimates of the rate in 2000-2001. Over this span, the state has gone from straggling behind the national average to becoming an above-average performer when it comes to graduating their high school students.
Most encouraging, however, are the state’s results when it comes to the matriculation of minority students. African-American and Hispanic students have made the strongest gains of any group since 2005-2006. These two groups have improved their rates by 13.1 and 13.3 percent, respectively, to become the driving force behind Florida’s overall improvement. Comparatively, white students have only bettered their graduation rate by eight percent over the same time frame. Through the past decade, Florida has proven that the achievement gap can be conquered through dynamic solutions in the classroom.

Milwaukee Public Schools Failure to Properly Use Data

Bruce Thompson

There has been surprisingly little discussion about why Wisconsin did not win a Race to the Top grant. A look at the points awarded for each section of Wisconsin’s application and the accompanying reviewer comments makes it clear that the failure to use student achievement data to inform decisions was the most important contributor to Wisconsin’s loss. More aggressive use of these data would have put Wisconsin within striking distance of winning.
The irony of Wisconsin’s loss is that its largest district, Milwaukee Public Schools, was one of the pioneers of the value-added movement. Ten years ago, it started work on a value-added model that has since spread to other cities and states, including some Race to the Top winners.
This reluctance to use data seems deeply ingrained in Wisconsin’s education culture.
For example, the state defines “highly qualified teachers” in very traditional terms, such as degrees, certifications, courses taken, and years of experience. Unfortunately, most research has found little correlation between these traditional measures and student achievement gains, which Wisconsin ignores.

Why Gossiping Is Killing Your Soul

Cindy Platt:

Remember that telephone game we played as children?
We all sat in a circle and the first person whispered a simple statement such as, “She is a girl” into a person’s ear. By the time the phrase was whispered to everyone in the circle it would turn into “She is a nice gorilla.”
It was funny at the time, but now when our friends say, “Did you hear about ____” our ears perk up and an audience is born.
Gossip hurts people, but most of us love to hear it anyway. Tabloids make a mint writing about celebrities and people getting their hearts smashed to smithereens. Gossip tends to hold a bottomless well of interest, yet when you are talking about someone when they are not around, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable sharing the same information if they were standing right in front of you?