New Berlin teen with Asperger’s finds he belongs on the stage

Laurel Walker:

When Judy Smith was looking for someone to play the central role of stage manager in “Our Town,” the classic Thornton Wilder play about life in small-town America, she wasn’t expecting to cast a boy with Asperger’s syndrome.
Yet when 14-year-old Clayton Mortl auditioned more than six weeks ago, Smith said she experienced a director’s “quintessential moment.” He was perfect for the role.
Legendary actors like Paul Newman have brought powerful performances to the play – a staple of Broadway, community theater and classrooms since its 1938 debut, said Smith, the performing arts center manager and theater arts adviser at New Berlin West Middle / High School.
But when the 18-member middle school cast takes the stage Thursday, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., Clay’s performance may be legendary in its own right.
Though everyone is different, people with Asperger’s – an autism spectrum disorder – have impaired ability to socially interact and communicate nonverbally. Their speech may sound different because of inflection or abnormal repetition. Body movements may not seem age appropriate. Interests may be narrowly focused to the extent that common interests aren’t shared.

Indiana Statehouse focus now on schools

Kevin Allen:

Labor bills and union protesters drew most of the attention at the Indiana Statehouse last week, as Democrats in the House of Representatives walked out and headed to Illinois to block Republicans from conducting business.
But the other half of the stalemate is over wide-ranging education reform that could change where Indiana children go to school, how their teachers are evaluated, and the formula for funding the system that uses about half of Hoosiers’ state tax dollars.
Democrats say Republicans are trying to dismantle public education. Republicans say Democrats are just protecting teachers unions.

Charter school effort stirs fight in N.Y. district

Fernanda Santos

The guests sipped wine and nibbled sushi, guacamole and Gruyere – lawyers, bankers, preschool teachers, managers and consultants of various kinds, bound together by the anxious decision they must confront in the months ahead: where their 4-year-olds will go to school in the fall.
Downstairs, a flyer by the doorman’s desk had greeted them with a provocative question: “Why should you have to spend college tuition on kindergarten?” Back upstairs, in the stylish apartment on West 99th Street, Eva S. Moskowitz, a former City Council member who runs a network of charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx, delivered a tantalizing sales talk.
“Middle-class families need options too,” she said.
But Moskowitz is trying to expand her chain into a whole new precinct of the city, the relatively well-off Upper West Side. And outside the parties she has organized to drum up interest, the reaction has been anything but warm from the neighborhood’s stridently anti-charter political establishment.

Craft your own Wisconsin budget

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

This is your chance, Wisconsin taxpayer, to cut the 2012 state budget to fix the deficit.
To answer, you need to know what are the most expensive programs. Once you know that, you can set your own priorities. Is aid to public schools more important than health care spending, for example, or aid to local governments?
On Tuesday, you can see how your cuts compare to those that Republican Gov. Scott Walker will recommend.
So, let’s start – and your budget cuts should total $1.3 billion. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the most state tax funds (not including federal and other funds) are spent on these programs.
No. 1: Aid to public schools: $5.3 billion in direct aid and $6.2 billion if you count tax credits paid property owners to hold down property taxes. Hint: Tuesday, Walker is expected to recommend a $450 million cut in aid to public schools next year. The governor signaled the size of this cut when he said that weakening collective bargaining laws for public employees would allow school districts to save even more – about $488 million – than the cut.
No. 2: Medicaid health care programs that now care for one in five Wisconsin residents: $1.55 billion from state taxes, although federal funds push the annual cost of this program to more than $6 billion. Hint: If you cut state tax funds for Medicaid, you will also be losing federal funds because about 60% of Medicaid funding comes from Washington. And if you cut state aid for Medicaid, you must also cut some care or pay less to medical professionals who provide that care, which could prompt them to no longer take Medicaid patients.

Related: Wisconsin’s redistributed state tax dollars for K-12 public schools has grown significantly over the past few decades.

Washington should stick to proven state math standards

Clifford Mass:

IF our state Legislature takes no action this session, Washington state will drop its new, improved math standards for an untested experiment: Common Core “national” standards that have never been used in the classroom and for which assessments have yet to be developed.
And there is a high price tag for such a switch, an expense our state can ill afford. Surprisingly, one of the most profound changes in U.S. education in decades has been virtually uncovered by the national media.
Until two years ago, our state had some of the worst math standards in the country, rated “F” by the Fordham Foundation, and lacking many of the essentials found in standards used by the highest-performing nations. That all changed in 2008, when under the impetus of the state Legislature, a new set of standards, based on world-class math requirements, was adopted.

‘Crazy U,’ by Andrew Ferguson, about his family’s college admissions experience

Steven Livingston:

My daughter’s college applications are all in, and now we can quietly go nuts while admissions fairies from coast to coast get busy, as Andrew Ferguson wonderfully puts it, “sprinkling pixie dust and waving wands, dashing dreams or making them come true.”
It’s an apt metaphor because, as anyone who’s been in it knows, the family caravan to collegeland is magical and terrifying: You begin wide-eyed and innocent, skipping along with outsized hopes, only to shrink before the fire-breathing ogres of the SAT, the essay, the deadlines, the costs. In “Crazy U,” Ferguson invites you to join him on the dream-mare that he and his son endured.
The book is both a hilarious narrative and an incisive guide to the college admissions process. Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, has done his research, poring over mountains of published material and interviewing admissions officers, college coaches, academics and the guy behind the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

Give public employees a stake in economic revival

Tom Still:

During his Tuesday night “fireside chat” about Wisconsin’s budget woes and his plan to dramatically curb the influence of public-sector unions, Gov. Scott Walker aptly referred to public employees as the state’s “partners in economic development.”
“We need them to help us put 250,000 people to work in the private sector over the next four years,” Walker told a statewide audience.
It was an important point, and it suggests a path out of Wisconsin’s nationally watched showdown between Walker, the Republican-led Legislature and the public-employee unions. Simply put, could public employees become fuller “partners” in Wisconsin’s economic revival if they had more skin in the game?
That question should be asked as the budget-repair bill moves to the Senate, where majority Republicans and boycotting Democrats should aspire to find at least a toehold of common ground.
The dominant private-sector view about unionized public employees is that they’re disconnected from the reality of the state and national economy. When times are good, public employees generally do well. When times are bad, most public employees still do pretty well, even if private-sector workers are taking pay cuts, benefit reductions or layoffs.
That view of insulated public employees isn’t limited to employers and non-unionized private workers. It is sometimes shared by the 7% of private workers who still belong to unions. It’s not uncommon to hear from workers in the auto industry or the construction trades who wonder why their fortunes ebb and flow with the economy, yet public-sector employees seem largely immune.

Indiana Informs Wisconsin’s Push

Steven Greenhouse:

Evaluating the success of the policy depends on where you sit.
“It’s helped us in a thousand ways. It was absolutely central to our turnaround here,” Mr. Daniels said in an interview. Without union contracts to slow him down, he said, it has been easy for him to merge the procurement operations of numerous state agencies, saving millions of dollars. One move alone — outsourcing and consolidating food service operations for Indiana’s 28 prisons — has saved the state $100 million since 2005, he said. Such moves led to hundreds losing their jobs.
For state workers in Indiana, the end of collective bargaining also meant a pay freeze in 2009 and 2010 and higher health insurance payments. Several state employees said they now paid $5,200 a year in premiums, $3,400 more than when Mr. Daniels took office, though there are cheaper plans available. Earlier in his tenure, Mr. Daniels adopted a merit pay system, with some employees receiving no raises and those deemed to be top performers getting up to 10 percent.
Andrea Helm, an employee at a children’s home in Knightstown, Ind., said that soon after collective bargaining was ended and the union contract expired, coveted seniority preferences disappeared. “I saw a lot of employees who had 20, 30 years on the job fired,” she said. “I think they were trying to cut the more expensive people on top to make their budget smaller.”

Day of reckoning on pensions

Los Angeles Times

he housing bubble and subsequent Wall Street collapse wreaked havoc on the nation’s retirement savings, as many pension funds and 401(k) plans suffered losses of 30% or more. State and local governments are now facing huge unfunded pension liabilities, prompting policymakers to scramble for ways to close the gap without slashing payrolls and services. But a new report from the Little Hoover Commission in Sacramento makes a more troubling point: Many state and local government employees have been promised pensions that the public couldn’t have afforded even had there been no crash.
The commission’s analysis of the problem is hotly disputed by union leaders, who contend that the financial woes of pension funds have been overblown. The commission’s recommendations are equally controversial: Among other things, it urges state lawmakers to roll back the future benefits that current public employees can accrue, raise the retirement age and require employees to cover more pension costs. Given that state courts have rejected previous attempts to alter the pensions already promised to current workers, the commission’s recommendation amounts to a Hail Mary pass. Yet it’s one worth throwing.
A bipartisan, independent agency that promotes efficiency in government, the Little Hoover Commission studied the public pension issue for 10 months before issuing its findings Thursday. Much of the 90-page report is devoted to making the case that, to use the commission’s blunt words, “pension costs will crush government.” Without a “miraculous” improvement in the funds’ investments, the commission states, “few government entities — especially at the local level — will be able to absorb the blow without severe cuts to services.”

Why America’s unions are not working any more

Christopher Caldwell:

During the holiday break this winter, a woman in my neighbourhood was at the supermarket with her son when they ran into the son’s teacher. “See you Monday,” the mother said. The teacher gaily informed her she would not be back until mid-month, as she had planned a vacation in Central America. Teachers used to content themselves with the months off they enjoy in summers and at holidays, but they have got used to more. One can understand why American public employees ardently defend their unions, and the benefits they win. But one can also understand why, in a time of straitened budgets, union-negotiated contracts might be among the first places to make savings.
A fierce budget battle has been running for more than a week in Madison, Wisconsin. It goes far beyond salaries and benefits, to touch on the deeper question of whether collective bargaining has any place in government employment. Governor Scott Walker, a Republican elected last autumn with support from the Tea Party movement, believes it does not. His “budget repair” bill not only requires state employees to contribute to their pension and health plans. It would also end collective bargaining for benefits. Democratic senators, lacking the votes to defeat the bill, fled the state, denying the quorum necessary to bring it to a vote.
Mr Walker is not making a mountain out of a molehill. Wisconsin has a $137m budget gap to fill this year and a $3.6bn deficit over the next two. The big year-on-year leap reflects, in part, the expiration of federal stimulus spending, much of which was used to avoid laying off government workers. Citizens of other advanced countries sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the US has a skeletal bureaucracy. That is wrong. Once you include state, county and city employees, it is a formidable workforce and an expensive one. State employees account for up to $6,000bn in coming pension costs. Wisconsin’s difficulties are milder than those elsewhere, which means that similar clashes are arising in other states, especially where Republicans rule.

American Teaching Standards: Don’t know much about history

The Economist:

Many states emphasise abstract concepts rather than history itself. In Delaware, for example, pupils “will not be expected to recall any specific event or person in history”. Other states teach children about early American history only once, when they are 11. Yet other states show scars from the culture wars. A steady, leftward lean has been followed by a violent lurch to the right. Standards for Texas, passed last year, urge pupils to question the separation of church and state and “evaluate efforts by global organisations to undermine US sovereignty through the use of treaties”.
Some states fare better. South Carolina has set impressive standards–for example, urging teachers to explain that colonists did not protest against taxation simply because taxes were too high. Other states, Mr Finn argues, would do well to follow South Carolina’s example. “Twenty-first century skills” may help pupils become better workers; learning history makes them better citizens.

Related: The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011: Wisconsin = F.

Wisconsin Ranks #4 in State & Local Tax Burden

The Tax Foundation:

For nearly two decades the Tax Foundation has published an estimate of the combined state-local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each of the 50 states. For each state, we calculate the total amount paid by the residents in taxes, then divide those taxes by the state’s total income to compute a “tax burden.” We make this calculation not only for the most recent year but also for earlier years because tax and income data are revised periodically by government agencies.
The goal is to focus not on the tax collectors but on the taxpayers. That is, we answer the question: What percentage of their income are the residents of this state paying in state and local taxes? We are not trying to answer the question: How much money have state and local governments collected? The Census Bureau publishes the definitive comparative data answering t hat question.

Can parents effectively reclaim duties after funding cuts?

Alan Borsuk:

This is a boom time for parental choice in education. Frankly, that’s pretty scary to me.
I’m not talking about the school voucher program or charter schools, or other things like that.
I’m talking about the choices parents make in how they raise their children – how they can do (or not do) things that maximize the chances of their children becoming well-educated, well-balanced, constructive adults.
Since, say, the 1960s, expectations have grown for schools to take care of an increasing range of children’s needs. That goes for academics, of course, but also for social development, recreation, mentoring and, in many cases, providing nutrition, clothing and some basics of health care. That’s especially true for schools serving low-income kids, but you’d be surprised how often it is true in all schools.
I believe that one of the things we are seeing in the continuing chaos in Madison is that the tide is cresting for schools to play such roles. Teachers and staff members are simply going to be unable to do some of the things they’ve done to make up for what parents aren’t doing.

Former D.C. Schools Chief Aims To Put ‘StudentsFirst’


It’s not only Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who are challenging unions. When it comes to teachers unions, increasingly it’s Democrats like Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the public school system in Washington, D.C.
Rhee led the school district for almost three years. While she was there, she tied pay increases to merit rather than tenure and fired hundreds of teachers who she said were underperforming.
Those moves angered teachers unions across the country and made Rhee one of the most controversial figures in education reform. Now, she’s heading up an education advocacy group based out of Sacramento, Calif., called StudentsFirst. With it, she tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz, she hopes to create a powerful lobby to push for education reform.

The Education Report: A breakdown of the Oakland school district’s budget

This is a sampling of The Education Report, Katy Murphy’s Oakland schools blog. Read more at Follow her at
Feb. 18
Oakland schools, rather than the district’s headquarters, might absorb almost all of the budget cuts coming from the state this year, district staff tell us. The rationale? That the central office took the brunt of the reductions last year, sustaining two-thirds of the cuts.
Do you buy it?
Before you answer, get the facts in a new financial report published by the district and posted on the blog. It’s fascinating (for a financial report) because it slices the current and past-year’s expenses in so many ways.
About half of the cuts to the school district’s “unrestricted,” or general-purpose, fund and 56 percent of the cuts to the total general fund came from central services, according to the report.
Note: This isn’t the full picture. Slide 2 suggests that adult education programs are not included in that breakdown. (Adult schools took a $7 million hit last year; that has been counted as a “central services” cut in past accounting, though it arguably is not.) Early childhood education, food services, construction dollars and self insurance don’t appear to factor in either.

At Madison’s All-City Spelling Bee, the winning word is a surprise but not a trick

Dean Mosiman:

After a morning of handling knotty words, Kira Zimmerman seemed almost stunned when asked to spell “peril” to win the All-City Spelling Bee on Saturday.
The defending champion, Vishal Narayanaswamy, had just narrowly missed on “receptacle,” which Zimmerman then spelled correctly, leaving her the final, five-letter challenge.
She asked the Bee’s pronouncer, Barry Adams, to repeat the word, paused almost like she suspected a trick, and then said, “Ohh, peril … p-e-r-i-l” and won the hefty traveling trophy for her school and the honor of representing Madison in the Badger State Spelling Bee on March 26 at Edgewood College.
As the Hamilton Middle School eighth-grader posed for pictures, her first thought was of getting a doughnut her father, David Zimmerman, had promised during a break if she won. Then she talked about winning and moving to the state championship.

A Simple Approach to Ending the State Budget Standoff

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here’s an idea for resolving the state’s budget repair bill crisis. Governor Walker’s budget repair bill is designed to eviscerate public employee unions. But with a few changes it could actually lead to an innovative and productive way of addressing the legitimate concerns with the collective bargaining process, while preserving the most important rights of teachers and other public employees.
Background: A Tale of Two Unions
First, some background that highlights the two sides of the issue for me as a member of the Madison School Board. Early on Friday morning, February 25, our board approved a contract extension with our AFSCME bargaining units, which include our custodians and food service workers. The agreement equips the school district with the flexibility to require the AFSCME workers to make the contributions toward their retirement accounts and any additional contributions toward their health care costs that are required by the budget repair bill, and also does not provide for any raises. But the agreement does preserve the other collective bargaining terms that we have arrived at over the years and that have generally worked well for us.
AFSCME has stated that its opposition to the Governor’s bill is not about the money, and our AFSCME bargaining units have walked that talk.
Our recent dealings with MTI, the union representing our teachers and some other bargaining units, have been less satisfying. Because of teacher walk outs, we have to make up the equivalent of four days of school. An obvious way to get started on this task would be to declare Friday, February 25, which has been scheduled as a no-instruction day so that teachers can attend the Southern Wisconsin Educational Inservice Organization (SWEIO) convention, as a regular school day.

Through a variety of circumstances, I’ve had an opportunity to recently visit with several Dane County (and Madison) businesses with significant blue collar manufacturing/distribution employment. In all cases, these firms face global price/cost challenges, things that affect their compensation & benefits. Likely reductions in redistributed State of Wisconsin tax dollars could lead to significantly higher property taxes during challenging economic times, if that’s the route our local school boards take.

More Flexibility to Raise Tuition?

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab:

Central to debates over the New Badger Partnership is the question of whether additional flexibilities that make it possible to raise tuition are desirable.
Evidence can and must be used to make these decisions. A robust, evidence-based debate on our campus is obviously needed but to date has not occurred. Instead, to many of us outside Bascom it seems as though administrators have mostly relied on the input of a few economists and some other folks who work in higher education but are not scholars of higher education. It also seems like seeking advice from those mostly likely to agree with you. (Please–correct me if I’m wrong–very happy to be corrected with evidence on this point.)
It would be wonderful to see a more thorough review of existing evidence and the development of an evaluation plan that will assess positive and negative impacts of any new policy in ways that allow for the identification of policy effects– not correlations. (Let’s be clear: comparing enrollment of Pell recipients before and after the implementation of a policy like the MIU does not count.)
A few years ago I blogged about studies on the effects of tuition and financial aid on individual decision-making. To summarize– effects of each are relatively small (especially when compared to effects of academic under-preparation, for example) but usually statistically significant. Also, what we call “small” reflects our value judgments, and we must recognize that.

Unions brought this on themselves

David Blaska:

Let’s face it: Teachers union president John Matthews decides when to open and when to close Madison schools; the superintendent can’t even get a court order to stop him. East High teachers marched half the student body up East Washington Avenue Tuesday last week. Indoctrination, anyone?
This Tuesday, those students began their first day back in class with the rhyming cadences of professional protester Jesse Jackson, fresh from exhorting unionists at the Capitol, blaring over the school’s loudspeakers. Indoctrination, anyone?
Madison Teachers Inc. has been behind every local referendum to blow apart spending restraints. Resist, as did elected school board member Ruth Robarts, and Matthews will brand you “Public Enemy Number One.”
When then-school board member Juan Jose Lopez would not feed out of the union’s hand, Matthews sent picketers to his place of business, which happened to be Briarpatch, a haven for troubled kids. Cross that line, kid!
The teachers union is the playground bully of state government. Wisconsin Education Association Council spent $1.5 million lobbying the Legislature in 2009, more than any other entity and three times the amount spent by WMC, the business lobby.
Under Gov. Doyle, teachers were allowed to blow apart measures to restrain spending and legislate the union message into the curriculum. Student test scores could be used to determine teacher pay — but only if the unions agreed.
The most liberal president since FDR came to a school in Madison to announce “Race to the Top” grants for education reform. How many millions of dollars did we lose when the statewide teachers union sandbagged the state’s application?

For the Love of Math!


You’ve heard this a million (10 to the power of 6) times, but it is frightening. In the 2009 (41 X 49) Program for International Student Assessment US 15-year-olds ranked 25th (4! + 1) among 34 (square root of 1156) countries in math falling behind Canada, New Zealand, Finland, and Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
To counter this sad trend, stop by The Math Salon at Mosaic Coffeehouse on February 28th from 4-6 PM:

Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies Visits Madison: Photos & a Panorama

Students from Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies visited Madison Saturday, 2/26/2011 in support of the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter school. A few photos can be viewed here.
David Blaska:

I have not seen the Madison business community step up to the plate like this since getting Monona Terrace built 20 years ago.
CUNA Mutual Foundation is backing Kaleem Caire’s proposal for a Madison Prep charter school. Steve Goldberg, president of the CUNA Foundation, made that announcement this Saturday morning. The occasion was a forum held at CUNA to rally support for the project. CUNA’s support will take the form of in-kind contributions, Goldberg said.
Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men would open in August 2012 — if the Madison school board agrees. School board president Maya Cole told me that she knows there is one vote opposed. That would be Marj Passman, a Madison teachers union-first absolutist.
The school board is scheduled to decide at its meeting on March 28. Mark that date on your calendars.
CUNA is a much-respected corporate citizen. We’ll see if that is enough to overcome the teachers union, which opposes Madison Prep because the charter school would be non-union.

Leader of Teachers’ Union Urges Dismissal Overhaul

Trip Gabriel, via a kind reader’s email:

Responding to criticism that tenure gives even poor teachers a job for life, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, announced a plan Thursday to overhaul how teachers are evaluated and dismissed.
It would give tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one school year to improve. If they did not, they could be fired within 100 days.
Teacher evaluations, long an obscure detail in an educator’s career, have moved front and center as school systems try to identify which teachers are best at improving student achievement, and to remove ineffective ones.
The issue has erupted recently, with many districts anticipating layoffs because of slashed budgets. Mayors including Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Cory A. Booker of Newark have attacked seniority laws, which require that teacher dismissals be based on length of experience rather than on competency.
Ms. Weingarten has sought to play a major role in changing evaluations and tenure, lest the issue be used against unions to strip their influence over work life in schools — just as Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Ohio are trying to do this week.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin Cities Must Wrestle with Reality

Willie L. Hines, Jr.

As you have surely read, there’s a lot going on in Madison, Wis., these days. The tens of thousands of protesters currently storming the Capitol came about when our new governor, Scott Walker, called a special legislative session in order to introduce a “budget repair bill.” The stated purpose for this emergency session and this bill was that we have a short-term deficit that needs to be addressed.
Gov. Walker and Republican legislators have taken the liberty of extending their scope well beyond that original purpose. Instead of focusing on the short-term deficit as promised, they are using this emergency session as an opportunity to introduce dramatic, systematic changes to how local governments operate all over Wisconsin. The most controversial, which saves no money in the near future and perhaps no money ever unless policymakers make future decisions to cut benefits, is to eliminate collective bargaining for non-public safety employees.

Film: The Finland Phenomenon & A Counter View

Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System, via a kind reader’s email.
The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children’s mathematical skills:

The results of the PISA survey ( have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.
However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.
This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be – and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is – called “mathematical literacy”; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

Seattle Times Fights Back Against Citizen Journalist

Melissa Westbrook:

Below is an e-mail from David Boardman of the Times. (I had not written to him; he sent this on his own.)
My take on this issue of whether the Times held this story back – I think it’s possible. I say that because of the issues that Charlie has raised, namely, that embedded in the Times’ story of the internal auditor’s resignation were many possible questions about Silas Potter.
That they were trying to get their facts right is good and admirable but it certainly took them a longer time than I might of thought given their resources. I’m a just one person, a citizen journalist so it is harder for me to press people I call for information. (However, that doesn’t stop me from calling. Hey, I just left Fred Stephens a message to give me a ring. I won’t hold my breath but it never hurts to ask.)
Here is my take on the issue of a conspiracy at the Times to cover the district and in particular, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Do I think the Times and the Alliance and Stand and the district all sat down in a room and said, “Here’s what each of needs to do to move forward what we believe is best for public education in Seattle.” No, I don’t think that ever happened. I don’t think even two of those groups got together in a room and said that.

On Science Exams, New York’s Students Fall Short

Fernanda Santos:

Only 18 percent of the city’s public school fourth graders and 13 percent of its eighth graders demonstrated proficiency on the most recent national science exams, far below state and national achievement levels, according to results released Thursday.
Alan J. Friedman, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, the bipartisan group that oversees the tests, called the city’s results “a big disappointment,” particularly because New York has a number of cultural organizations devoted to science, like the Museum of Natural History and the New York Hall of Science in Queens, which he directed for 22 years.
The exam was given in 2009 to a sampling of 4,300 fourth and eighth graders in the city, or about 3 percent of students in those grades. Nationwide, 33 percent of fourth graders and 29 percent of eighth graders showed proficiency, and in New York State, those numbers were 30 and 31, respectively.

On teachers unions, the devil is in the details

Robert Maranto

Here are the fiscal facts. Unlike most employees, few Wisconsin teachers have to contribute more than marginally to their retirement and health care costs. My colleague Bob Costrell, who has done substantial work in Milwaukee, calculates that the city’s public school teachers get a remarkable package of benefits equal to 74% of salary, roughly double the normal benefits for workers calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics but in line with other Wisconsin teachers.
And that’s not all. By collective bargaining agreement, the Wisconsin Education Association Council has a lock on health insurance coverage for members, not necessarily a great service for teachers but a wonderful profit center for the union.
What explains this? As one who has served in government and taught public personnel management, the answers are three-fold, and in combination explain why allowing a broad scope for collective bargaining undermines transparency and, ultimately, democracy.
First, teachers unions play a big role in politics, meaning that, as Terry Moe writes in “Teacher Unions and School Board Elections” (published in a Brookings Institution book on school boards), “the fact that school boards are elected means that the teacher unions can actually participate in choosing – or even literally choose – the management they will be bargaining with.”
In the California school districts Moe studies, unions fund candidates and mobilize voters in (low-turnout) school board elections and often recruit the candidates. Unions thus control both sides of the collective bargaining table. Surveys of school board members suggest that business interests, in contrast, have little power.
I have not seen comparable research on Wisconsin, but I suspect similar dynamics.

A Look At Defined Benefit Pension Costs

The Economist:

FRESH from a duel with Free Exchange, I now find myself compelled to add some context to a Democracy in America post on the Wisconsin situation.
The problem with public sector/private sector pay comparisons is that pay comes in two forms; current and deferred (ie pensions). A pension promise from the government is a very valuable thing indeed; some states have made it constitutionally protected. So, unlike the typical private sector employee who is now in a DC scheme, the public sector employee has certainty about his or her pension entitlement. If the equity market falters, the DC plan member will suffer; the employer of the DB member will make up the shortfall. In effect, the employer has written the employee a put option on the market.
How valuable is this option? We can make a judgment by looking at the Bank of England scheme. It avoids all equity risk by buying index-linked bonds to cover its pension liability. This costs it 55% of payroll in the current year (the ratio varies with the level of real yields). The average contribution into a DC scheme (employer and employee) is 10%, in both Britain and America. In a room full of actuaries last week, I asked whether this was a fair basis of pay comparsion and the answer was yes.

How Chris Christie Did His Homework

Matt Bai:

Like a stand-up comedian working out-of-the-way clubs, Chris Christie travels the townships and boroughs of New Jersey , places like Hackettstown and Raritan and Scotch Plains, sharpening his riffs about the state’s public employees, whom he largely blames for plunging New Jersey into a fiscal death spiral. In one well-worn routine, for instance, the governor reminds his audiences that, until he passed a recent law that changed the system, most teachers in the state didn’t pay a dime for their health care coverage, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.
And so, Christie goes on, forced to cut more than $1 billion in local aid in order to balance the budget, he asked the teachers not only to accept a pay freeze for a year but also to begin contributing 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health care. The dominant teachers’ union in the state responded by spending millions of dollars in television and radio ads to attack him.
“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. ” ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. ” ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ “

Showdown in Madison: Labour Law in America

The Economist:

The fight to bring a little private-sector discipline to America’s public sector has begun at last
ELECTIONS, Barack Obama once said, have consequences. The Republicans’ triumph in last year’s mid-terms was seen by many as an instruction from the electorate to hack away at America’s sprawling government. In Washington, DC, that debate has gone nowhere. Both Mr Obama and his foes have produced fantastical budgets, full of illusory savings and ignoring the huge entitlement programmes. A government shutdown is looming. But look beyond the Beltway and something rather more promising is under way.
Unlike the federal government, which can borrow money to plug its budgetary gap, almost all the states are required to balance their budgets. Their revenues have been slashed by the recession; the stimulus funds that saw them through 2009 and 2010 have expired; medical costs are soaring. Tax rises remain unpopular, and so are deep cuts to important state-provided services like schools and the police. So governors are finally confronting the privileges that public-sector employees have managed to negotiate for themselves in recent decades.

New Mexico House scrutinizes school promotion

Barry Massey

School administrators and teachers raised questions Wednesday about the potential costs of a proposal backed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to stop promoting public school students who lack basic skills in reading.
Legislation under consideration by the House Education Committee will stop third-graders from moving to the fourth grade if they aren’t proficient in reading starting in the 2012-13 school year. A student could be held back one year and schools will be required to provide students with programs to improve their performance.
In testimony to the committee, educational groups suggested that school districts will need additional money for remedial and intensive instruction to help struggling students.
“We know that if we are going to do effective remediation, there are going to be costs associated with that,” said Tom Sullivan of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators.

A Payday for Your Kids?

Rachel Emma Silverman:

Giving kids’ allowances raises lots of questions for parents: How much to pay? Should the money be tied to chores – and if so, which ones? Can the kids spend the money freely, or must they save part of it?
One family I read about in the Journal of Financial Planning paid their kids $6 a week, but allowances weren’t tied to chores. The purpose of chores, said the parents (a financial planner and psychiatrist) was to develop a work ethic, while the purpose of an allowance was to help kids “learn to think, chose and consider alternatives when it comes to money.” The $6, though, was divvied up very specifically: $2 went directly to the kids, who could spend it however they chose; $2 went to a charity of the kids’ choice and $2 went to the bank. At the end of the year, the kids could withdraw half the money saved and spend it, leaving the other half to grow for longer. The purpose of the plan is to help the kids learn how to make smart decisions regarding finances and learn about the three main uses of money: spending, saving and giving.
I recently learned about another novel way to give allowance. One mom of a 4-year-old daughter, Alisa T. Weinstein, decided to forgo the traditional idea of paying for household chores. Instead, she compiled a list of careers and simple “kiddified” tasks associated with them. (A market researcher, for example, could do a small verbal survey of classmates’ favorite ice cream flavors, or a banker could give different denominations of change.) Each week or so, her daughter would take on the role of a certain profession and perform the associated work. At the end, Weinstein rewarded her daughter with a “payday,” according to the New York Times’ Bucks blog, which profiled Weinstein.

In Wisconsin’s long shadow, unions and tea partyers face off across US

Patrick Jonsson:

Protests sparked by a push from Wisconsin Republicans to gut collective bargaining for unions – in order to balance the state budget – continue to spread, with several state capitals witnessing vitriolic faceoffs between union protesters and tea party activists this week.
About 300 union protesters and about 100 tea party activists taunted one another in front of the gold-domed Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday, in a scene echoing similar standoffs earlier in the week in Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; and Denver, Colo.
Meanwhile, deadlock continues in Madison, Wis., ground zero of the debate over public-sector union benefits and their impact on deficit-burdened state coffers. Democratic senators there have decamped for Illinois in protest – and to thwart a quorum for a vote on the union-targeting legislation. A similar episode is playing out in Indiana, where the state legislature is also controlled by Republicans.

Unlike Wisconsin, ‘collective bargaining’ doesn’t exist for Arizona’s teachers

Michelle Reese:

As Wisconsin teachers and other public union workers take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his plans to end collective bargaining, Arizona teachers wonder: Could there be an impact here?
Unlike Wisconsin, Arizona is a right-to-work state, along with 21 other states. The National Education Association has an affiliate here – the Arizona Education Association – and most school districts have individual chapters. But Arizona doesn’t have collective bargaining, what public workers are arguing to keep intact in Wisconsin.
The education association represents teachers when lobbying Arizona lawmakers and in negotiation efforts, such as “meet and confer” or “interest based bargaining” with school district leadership.
“With collective bargaining, you’re a little more of a partner at the table than what we see here. In some regards we are a partner, but there are other issues we’re not always included on,” Mesa Education Association president Kirk Hinsey said, pointing out that a school district’s governing board ultimately makes the decisions.

A Fund-Raiser Grown Wild

Shirene Saad:

The word “fund-raiser” evokes an image of endless speeches, bland evening gowns and even blander buffets, but Edible Schoolyard’s yearly benefit should veer a little more toward the wild side. With three fabulous hostesses (the food artist Jennifer Rubell, the fashion buyer Julie Gilhart and the 303 gallerist Lisa Spellman) and a storied downtown locale (the Odeon), the event promises to be more Studio 54 than Cipriani Ballroom. “It’s the kind of fund-raiser that I would love to attend, a fund-raiser that is not boring” says Rubell, just back from the opening of her “Engagement” show at the Stephen Friedman gallery in London. “My favorite women in the city will be there, including Lynn Wagenknecht” — the restaurant’s owner — “who came up with the idea.”
The $50 cover charge goes toward supporting Edible Schoolyard, the Alice Waters-founded organization that creates small farms in public schoolyards to reconnect children with the food-growing cycle. “I think kids should be exposed to the aesthetics of food from a very young age,” Rubell says. “And growing food is so exciting.”

Wisconsin Senate majority leader’s wife given layoff notice

Minnesota Public Radio:

The wife of the Wisconsin Senate majority leader is among school staff receiving preliminary layoff notices.
Lisa Fitzgerald is a counselor in the Hustisford school district and is married to Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald.
Superintendent Jeremy Biehl says the school board decided Wednesday night to send preliminary layoff slips to all 34 members of the teaching staff, including librarians and counselors. Biehl says the action was taken because of the uncertainty of the state budget bill.

Madison School District preparing hundreds of teacher layoff notices

Matthew DeFour & Gena Kittner:

The Madison School District and others across the state are scrambling to issue preliminary layoff notices to teachers by Monday due to confusion over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill and the delay of the state budget.
Madison may issue hundreds of preliminary layoff notices to teachers Monday if an agreement with its union can’t be reached to extend a state deadline, school officials said Thursday.
The School Board plans to meet at 7 a.m. Friday in closed session to discuss the matter.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards this week urged local school officials to decide on staff cuts by Monday or risk having potential layoffs challenged later in court.
“It’s hugely important and hugely upsetting to everyone,” said Craig Bender, superintendent of the Sauk Prairie School District, which will issue preliminary notices to 63 of its roughly 220 teachers. “It has a huge effect on how schools can function and how well we can continue to educate all kids.”
Bender said the preliminary notices reflected “a guess” about the number of teachers who could lose their jobs because the state budget has not been released.

Related: Providence plans to pink slip all teachers Due to Budget Deficit
Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

The first tremors of what could be coming when Gov. Scott Walker releases his 2011-’13 budget proposal next week are rippling through Wisconsin school districts, where officials are preparing for the worst possibilities and girding for fiscal fallouts.
“I’m completely nervous,” Cudahy School District Superintendent Jim Heiden said. “Walking into buildings and seeing teachers break into tears when they see you – I mean, that’s the level of anxiety that’s out there.”
For the past two weeks, protests in Madison have been the focus of a nation, as angry public-sector workers have descended on the Capitol to try to stop Walker’s proposal to roll back most of their collective bargaining rights, leaving them with the ability to negotiate only limited wage increases.
Next week, the demonstrations could move to many of the state’s 425 school districts, the first local entities that will have to hash out budgets for a fiscal year that starts July 1.

Susan Troller:

Gov. Scott Walker’s secrecy and rhetoric regarding his budget plans are fueling rumors and anxiety as well as a flurry of preliminary teacher layoff notices in school districts around the state.
In Dane County, the Belleville school board voted to send layoff notices to 19 staff members at a meeting on Monday. Both the Madison and Middleton Boards of Education will meet Friday to determine their options and if they will also need to send out layoff notices, given the dire predictions of the governor’s budget which will be announced March 1.
In Madison, hundreds of teachers could receive layoff notices, district officials confirmed. Superintendent Daniel Nerad called it an option that would provide “maximum flexibility under the worst case scenario” in an e-mail sent to board members Thursday evening.
Most districts are bracing, and planning, for that worst case scenario.

Why Has Google Been Collecting Kids’ Social Security Numbers Under the Guise of an Art Contest?

Bob Bowdon:

As the director of The Cartel documentary, one of the things I learned was how poorly the traditional news media cover issues pertaining to children, in that case corruption in public education. Since the film’s release, I often get contacted about other aspects of child protection that I would have never imagined — stories that don’t seem to get attention elsewhere. Like this.
What you’re about to read hasn’t been reported anywhere, and when it was brought to my attention, I could hardly believe it.
It turns out that the company sporting the motto “don’t be evil” has been asking parents nationwide to disclose their children’s personal information, including Social Security Numbers, and recruiting schools to help them do it — all under the guise of an art contest. It’s called, “Doodle-4-Google,” a rather catchy, kid-friendly name if I do say so myself. The company is even offering prize money to schools to enlist their help with the promotion. Doesn’t it sound like fun? Don’t you want your kid to enter too?

Cutting Tuition: A First Step?

Room for Debate:

Despite the outcry over high college costs, tuition rates are still going up. Princeton, Brown, Stanford and George Washington, for example, all announced increases in the last few weeks.
But a Tennessee college, the University of the South, better known as Sewanee, is reducing the cost to attend the school next year by 10 percent.
Tuition, fees, and room and board are all affected, with the overall cost falling from around $46,000 to about $41,500. The university said it will alter its student aid formula, but officials say no students will pay more next year than they pay now, and most will pay less.

Measure to give Utah Governor control over education advances

Lisa Schencker

A resolution that could give the governor control over Utah education moved one step closer to becoming law Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the sponsor of another resolution that sought to amend the state constitution to make it clear that the state school board’s control and supervision over education is “as provided by statute,” said he will likely no longer push that measure.
The Senate voted 23-6 to give preliminary approval to SJR9, which seeks to amend the state constitution to place public and higher education under the governor’s control. The Senate must now vote on the resolution one more time for it to advance to the House.
In order to take effect, SJR9 would ultimately have to pass the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority. The question would then be put to voters in the 2012 general election.

The Enormous Technological Challenges Facing Education


Advances in technology continue to change how adults view and interact with the world. Of course, those same advances are available to teachers and the youngsters who populate their classrooms.
These developments are leading to enormous challenges for teachers regarding the role digital devices can and should play in the learning process. For some educators, the view is that technology should only be utilized as a tool to help facilitate student understanding and mastery of the current curriculum. For other educators, technology is as fundamental to learning as reading and writing and therefore must become a separate segment of the school curriculum.

The Zen of Grading

Ruthann Robson:

As law professors, we spend a substantial amount of time engaged in the activity of reviewing exams, papers, and other “evaluative devices” with the purpose of assigning our students grades. Personally, I estimate that I have spent over four thousand hours (almost six months of days and nights, or a year of long summer days) hunched over student work during my teaching career. It can be difficult not to consider student exams as a mere obstacle, a chore of the most unpleasant type to endure, and the worst part of our otherwise usually rewarding work as professors. Grading law school exams has been declared a “deadening intimacy with ignorance and mental fog” which saps a professor’s pedagogical and scholarly energies.I It is a “terrible occupation,” a “cloud,” a task which we accomplish with less efficiency and more distaste as our teaching career advances.2 Professorial engagement with Blue Books, in which most law student exams continue to be written, is deemed tedious and boring, leading to a “corrosive negativity” regarding the intellectual abilities of our students as well as a destructive influence upon our own character.3

NEA to Double Member Dues Contribution to Political War Ches

Mike Antonucci:

Amid substantial membership losses and a $14 million shortfall in its general operating budget, the National Education Association plans to double each active member’s annual contribution to the national union’s political and media funds.
Currently, $10 of each active member’s NEA dues is allocated to these special accounts. The more than $20 million collected each year is then disbursed to state affiliates and political issue campaigns – such as last year’s SQ 744 in Oklahoma. A portion of the money also pays for state and national media buys to support the union’s agenda.
But the most recent numbers show NEA lost more than 54,000 active K-12 members since this time last year. Coupled with less-than-expected increases in the average teacher salary – upon which NEA dues are based – the union will find itself with $14 million less revenue than it had planned. This includes about $500,000 less in the political and media funds.

Oakland teachers, shaping school reforms

Katy Murphy:

These days, it sure seems like a radical idea: asking teachers, rather than telling them, what’s needed to improve their schools.
It’s happening in Oakland, though. You can read more about the purpose and the early work of a largely teacher-led project, the Effective Teaching Task Force, here. The story ran over the weekend.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: The task force makes a stop tomorrow (Wednesday) on its “Teachers Talking to Teachers” listening tour. This one is for high school and adult education teachers, and it takes place at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the gym of United for Success Academy (Calvin Simmons campus), 2101 35th Avenue. Another event, for pre-k through eighth-grade teachers, is scheduled on March 23, at the same time and place.
Want to represent your school at an Oakland teacher convention in Emeryville April 7-9? Delegate elections — two for each school — are scheduled to take place at faculty meetings the week of March 7-11.

Future of education? Droids teaching toddlers

Charles Choi:

Robots could one day help teach kids in classrooms, suggests research involving droids and toddlers in California.
A robot named RUBI has already shown that it can significantly improve how well infants learn words, and the latest version of the bot under development should also be able to wheel around classrooms, too.
The idea to develop RUBI came to Javier Movellan, director of the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, when he was in Japan for research involving robots and his kids were in a child care center.
“I thought, ‘Let’s bring robots to the child care center,’ and the children got really scared. It was a really horrible experience,” Movellan recalled. “But it showed that the robots really got their attention, and that if we got the experience right, it could be potentially very powerful at evoking the emotional responses we’d want.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Walker’s claim on health insurance savings for public schools questioned

David Wahlberg:

School districts required to offer health insurance through WEA Trust, a company created by the teachers’ union, would save $68 million a year if employees could switch to the state health plan, Gov. Scott Walker said this week, repeating a claim he made last year.
“That’s one of the many examples of why it’s so critically important to change collective bargaining,” Walker said at a news conference Monday before bringing up the issue again in his public address Tuesday.
Madison-based WEA Trust, created by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, disputes the claim. The insurer says it provides lower-cost choices, and districts can already join the state health plan.
“It’s been an option for them for some time,” said WEA Trust spokesman Steve Lyons.
About 65 percent of the state’s school districts contract with WEA Trust, covering about 35 percent of school employees. Several large districts, including Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee, don’t offer the plan.

The cost of providing WPS coverage to Madison teachers has long been controversial.

Teaching quality and bargaining

The Economist:

SCOTT LEMIEUX passes along a pretty useful point to keep in mind, courtesy of his friend Ken Sherrill.
Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:South Carolina – 50th
North Carolina – 49th
Georgia – 48th
Texas – 47th
Virginia – 44thIf you are wondering, Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is ranked 2nd in the country.
As Mr Lemieux says, this doesn’t show that collective bargaining makes school systems better. But it makes it pretty hard to argue the converse.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: When Pretending Fails to Hide Bankruptcy

Laurence Kotlikoff:

Our country is bankrupt. It’s not bankrupt in 30 years or five years. It’s bankrupt today.
Want proof? Look at President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget. It showed a massive fiscal gap over the next 75 years, the closure of which requires immediate tax increases, spending cuts, or some combination totaling 8 percent of gross domestic product. To put 8 percent of GDP in perspective, this year’s employee and employer payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare will amount to just 5 percent of GDP.
Actually, the picture is much worse. Nothing in economics says we should look out just 75 years when considering the present-value difference between future spending and future taxes. Over the full long-term, we need an extra 12 percent, not 8 percent, of GDP annually.
Seventy-five years seems like a long enough time to plan. It’s not. Had the Greenspan Commission, which “fixed” Social Security back in 1983, focused on the true long term we wouldn’t be sitting here now with Social Security 26 percent underfunded. The Social Security trustees, at least, have learned a lesson. The 26 percent figure is based on their infinite horizon fiscal- gap calculation.

Providence plans to pink slip all teachers Due to Budget Deficit

Linda Borg:

The school district plans to send out dismissal notices to every one of its 1,926 teachers, an unprecedented move that has union leaders up in arms.
In a letter sent to all teachers Tuesday, Supt. Tom Brady wrote that the Providence School Board on Thursday will vote on a resolution to dismiss every teacher, effective the last day of school.
In an e-mail sent to all teachers and School Department staff, Brady said, “We are forced to take this precautionary action by the March 1 deadline given the dire budget outline for the 2011-2012 school year in which we are projecting a near $40 million deficit for the district,” Brady wrote. “Since the full extent of the potential cuts to the school budget have yet to be determined, issuing a dismissal letter to all teachers was necessary to give the mayor, the School Board and the district maximum flexibility to consider every cost savings option, including reductions in staff.” State law requires that teachers be notified about potential changes to their employment status by March 1.
“To be clear about what this means,” Brady wrote, “this action gives the School Board the right to dismiss teachers as necessary, but not all teachers will actually be dismissed at the end of the school year.”

Providence’s 2010-2011 budget is $405,838,878 for 23,715 students ($17,113.17 per student). Locally, Madison’s per student spending this year is 15,490.13.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards PDF:

The layoff clauses and the later deadlines for issuing layoff notices that are established by many of the layoff provisions in teacher collective bargaining agreements may be unavailable to districts if the budget repair bill passes in its current form. If this happens, the only way to reduce staff size for 2011-12 in some districts may be through the nonrenewal provisions of Wisconsin Statute 118.22. The absolute latest deadline for giving preliminary notice of nonrenewal to teachers for 2011-2012 would be February 28, 2011, but it would be preferable to have such notices issued by the 25th. Further, school districts that have always adhered to the section 118.22 nonrenewal deadlines to enact staff reductions must consider whether there is a need to issue additional preliminary notices of nonrenewal/staff reduction by the statutory deadline.
ACTION: WASB’s Employment and Labor Law Staff encourages all school districts to give public notice of a special school board meeting for Thursday February 25, 2011 (or Friday February 26th if meeting on the 25th is not possible).

WASB website.

Pennsylvania’s Unaccountable Voucher Bill

Lawrence Feinberg:

In support of Pennsylvania’s Senate Bill 1, which would provide taxpayer-funded vouchers to private schools, voucher evangelists have been citing a report by the Foundation for Educational Choice, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools.” However, a review of the report by the National Education Policy Center finds no credible evidence that vouchers have improved student achievement.
Located at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the National Education Policy Center aims to provide high-quality information on education policy. Its review found that the “Win-Win” report, “based on a review of 17 studies, selectively reads the evidence in some of those studies, the majority of which were produced by voucher advocacy organizations.
“Moreover, the report can’t decide whether or not to acknowledge the impact of factors other than vouchers on public schools. It attempts to show that public school gains were caused by the presence of vouchers alone, but then argues that the lack of overall gains for districts with vouchers should be ignored because too many other factors are at play.” The review goes on to note that “existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question.”

Your Life Torn Open, essay 1: Sharing is a trap

Andrew Keen:

The author of The Cult Of The Amateur argues that if we lose our privacy we sacrifice a fundamental part of our humanity.
Every so often, when I’m in Amsterdam, I visit the Rijksmuseum to remind myself about the history of privacy. I go there to gaze at a picture called The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, which was painted by Jan Vermeer in 1663. It is of an unidentified Dutch woman avidly reading a letter. Vermeer’s picture, to borrow a phrase from privacy advocates Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, is a celebration of the “sacred precincts of private and domestic life”. It’s as if the artist had kept his distance in order to capture the young woman, cocooned in her private world, at her least socially visible.
Today, as social media continues radically to transform how we communicate and interact, I can’t help thinking with a heavy heart about The Woman in Blue. You see, in the networking age of Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, the social invisibility that Vermeer so memorably captured is, to excuse the pun, disappearing. That’s because, as every Silicon Valley notable, from Eric Schmidt to Mark Zuckerberg, has publicly acknowledged, privacy is dead: a casualty of the cult of the social. Everything and everyone on the internet is becoming collaborative. The future is, in a word, social.

Detroit Schools’ Cuts Plan Approved

Matthew Dolan:

The state of Michigan approved a plan for Detroit to close about half of its public schools and increase the average size of high-school classrooms to 60 students over the next four years to eliminate a $327 million deficit.
The plan was submitted in January by Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, as a last-ditch scenario if the district couldn’t find new revenue sources, which it hasn’t so far. Final approval came after Mike Flanagan, the state superintendent of public instruction, cleared Mr. Bobb’s initial plan with some new requirements, including that the district not file for bankruptcy protection during Mr. Bobb’s remaining months in office.
The state approved the plan in a Feb. 8 letter, which the Detroit public-schools district released Monday.
Mr. Bobb said the deep cuts were necessary if the district hoped to be solvent again without additional state aid. But he said the strategy was ultimately ill-advised because it will likely drive even more students away, depriving the district of needed state funds, which Michigan apportions on the basis of enrollment.

Teachers in Fort to be docked pay

Ryan Whisner:

Teachers in the School District of Fort Atkinson will not be paid for time taken off to participate in the ongoing protests at the State Capitol in Madison.
Fort Atkinson was among districts that were forced to cancel classes Friday in response to the number of teachers who failed to report for class, apparently opting to attend the protests on the governor’s budget-repair bill. No Jefferson County schools were closed today due to either weather or the protests.
Following the adverse public reactions to teachers’ departures causing school closures, the head of Wisconsin’s teachers’ union called upon educators to return to classrooms today and Tuesday rather than continue being absent to protest the anti-union bill in Madison.

2010-2011 Madison School District Citizen’s Budget

Superintendent Dan Nerad, 74K PDF:

Attached to this memorandum you will find the Fall Revised Budget version of the 2010-11 Citizen’s Budget. The Citizen’s Budget is intended to present financial information to the community in a format that is more easily understood. The first report includes 2009-10 Revised Budget, 2010-11 Revised Budget and groups expenditures into categories outlined as follows:

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

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

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

Both reports combined represent the 2010-11 Fall Revised Citizens Budget. This report can also be found on the District’s web site.

New Way to Check Out eBooks

Katherine Boehret:

Get out your library cards: Now you can wirelessly download electronic books from your local library using the Apple iPad or an Android tablet.
Last week, OverDrive Inc. released OverDrive Media Console for the iPad, a free app from Apple’s App Store. With the app, you can now borrow eBooks for reading on the go with a tablet.
You can already borrow an eBook from a library using an eReader, including the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook, but you’ll need a PC and a USB cable for downloading and synching. Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t allow borrowing eBooks from libraries.
For the past week, I borrowed and wirelessly downloaded digital books onto tablets primarily using OverDrive, the largest distributor of eBooks for libraries. I tested the OverDrive Media Console for the iPad. I also used the Dell Streak 7 tablet to test the app on the Android operating system; this app also works on Android smartphones. An iPhone app is available.

A review of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

Barton Swaim:

The third edition of the work of the brilliant and cantankerous Englishman H. W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1996, signaled the triumph of the descriptivist view of language–the view, that is, that the lexicographer’s duty is merely to describe the language as it’s used, not to make pronouncements about how it ought to be used. It also signaled the triumph of tedium over enjoyment, and of abstract truth over utility. Edited by the late R. W. Burchfield, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, as the third edition was titled, addressed all the significant questions about English grammar and usage and explained with sufficient clarity the ways in which those questions have been addressed in the past.
But it only gave unambiguous counsel if there were some practical reason for it, and then only in the mildest terms: “this use should probably be eschewed.” If you wanted to know whether “their” may refer to singular antecedents, for example (If someone isn’t doing their job, they should be fired), Burchfield told you that “the issue is unresolved, but it begins to look as if the use . . . is now passing unnoticed.” Maybe the issue is “unresolved,” one thought, but could you please resolve it and tell me whether I should write “they” or “he” or “he or she” and so avoid sounding like an ignoramus to an educated audience? For his part, Fowler–the original Fowler–had called this use of the plural pronoun a “mistake.” He acknowledged rare instances of the use in Fielding and Thackeray, but suggested that “few good writers” could get away with it.

Final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming Education in Kentucky

11.5MB PDF

The keys to success lie beyond K-12 education. It is critical to ensure that the earliest learners – those birth to age 5 – come to school prepared for learning in a school setting and that college students not only enter college but also succeed.
The recommendations made in this report align with and support these values. In addition to initiatives already underway, the task force recommends the following priorities, as well as the complete recommendations found in the full report:

  • Reorganize the Early Childhood Development Authority; create a system of support, including parent education, for students at all levels of kindergarten readiness; and create common school readiness standards and instruments.
  • Include sufficient funding in the state budget to improve access to effective, high-quality preschool programs.
  • Require, beginning in 2012-2013, collaboration among state-funded preschool, Head Start, and qualified child care programs in order to access state funding.
  • Create family literacy programs dedicating new state resources to provide comprehensive family engagement in all schools, especially the Commonwealth’s lowest achieving schools.
  • Raise the compulsory school age, effective in 2016, from 16 to 18 with state-funded supports for students at risk of dropping out.
  • Create an advisory council, the Advanced Credit Advisory Council, to recommend policies, legislation, and a comprehensive funding model for advanced secondary coursework, college credit during high school, and early graduation options for the 2012 General Assembly.
  • Establish a steering committee to develop a comprehensive statewide plan for implementing a new model of secondary career and technical education with an emphasis on innovation, integration of core academics, 21st-century skills, project-based learning, and the establishment of full-time CTE programs, for implementation in the 2012 General Assembly.
  • Implement policies to enhance and expand virtual and blended learning, including funding options to ensure equitable access to students across the Commonwealth.
  • Include funding in the state budget to expand programs in Kentucky to recruit high-quality teacher candidates, including those who may enter through alternative certification routes.
  • Ensure school districts incorporate a balance of technology-enhanced formative and summative assessments that measure student mastery of 21st-century skills.

Tennessee vs. the Teacher’s Union

John Carney:

State Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has said in a letter that he supports teachers but that teachers unions “are in the business of protecting membership and power, not serving the best interests of students or the teachers they represent.”
Tracy also said teachers are receiving misinformation about some of the current proposals.
Tracy released the letter after news stories quoting his comments from a recent committee meeting. Gov. Bill Haslam’s first legislative agenda includes proposals to make it more difficult for teachers to gain tenure.
“This is not at all about pointing fingers at the teachers,” Haslam said. “It’s about raising standards for all of us.”
The governor said he’s not taking a position on a bill that would eliminate teachers’ collective bargaining rights that was advanced to a full Senate vote earlier this week.

Charter school says it’s private, though it gets millions in tax dollars

Joel Hood:

A Chicago charter school that has received more than $23 million in public money since opening in 2004 is arguing that it is a private institution, a move teachers say is designed to block them from forming a union.
In papers filed with the National Labor Relations Board, attorneys for the Chicago Math and Science Academy on the city’s North Side say the school should be exempt from an Illinois law that grants employees of all public schools the right to form unions for contract negotiations.
The school of about 600 students is appealing an unfavorable decision by a regional director of the national labor board. Academy officials say charter schools don’t have the governmental ties that characterize public schools, such as government-appointed leadership or controls over wages, hours and working conditions. In other words, they say, the same freedoms over personnel and policy that many credit to charter schools’ success are also indicative of their independence.

NJ schools superintendents’ pay cap debated

Bob Jordan:

Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial salary cap on new contracts for New Jersey public school superintendents is on track to cut about 10 percent from the combined $100 million currently paid to school chiefs throughout the state.
The pay ceiling went into effect Feb. 7, despite challenges from a superintendents’ association, which says the cap will lead to massive turnover and discourage rising administrators from seeking the jobs.

Michigan’s Planned K-12 Budget Reductions

Associated Press:

State schools superintendent Mike Flanagan is urging Michigan educators and parents not to “panic” over Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget plan that calls for spending cuts for cash-strapped public schools.
Flanagan said Friday in a podcast that Snyder is calling “for sacrifices from all of us, including schools” and urges school officials to remain calm despite the call for education cuts, The Grand Rapids Press reports.
“I’m asking all of us to hear this budget message and not do something I did as a superintendent 20 years ago and panic,” he said.
Snyder’s budget plan released Thursday proposes cutting public school funding by $470 per student, while intermediate school districts would be cut 5 percent.

Why does college cost so much?

Tyler Cowen:

David Leonhardt serves up a dialogue with Robert B. Archibald, and also David H. Feldman. Archibald starts by citing the cost disease and also the heavy use of skilled labor in the sector. I don’t think they get to the heart of the matter, as there is no mention of entry barriers, whether legal, cultural, or economic. The price of higher education is rising — rapidly — and yet a) individual universities do not have strong incentives to take in larger classes, and b) it is hard to start a new, good college or university. The key question is how much a) and b) are remediable in the longer run and if so then there is some chance that the current structure of higher education is a bubble of sorts.
I never see the authors utter the sentence: “There are plenty wanna-bee professors discarded on the compost heap of academic history.” Yet the best discard should not be much worse, and may even be better, than the marginally accepted professor. Such a large pool of surplus labor would play a significant role in an economic analysis of virtually any other sector.

Back to school for kids, teachers — But back to normal? Not quite

Matthew DeFour & Gena Kittner:

Madison schools will open Tuesday for the first time in a week, but it won’t be just any other school day.
Civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson will greet East High School students over the loudspeaker in the morning. Students have made posters in support of their teachers. And classrooms likely will be buzzing with discussion over the four-day teacher walkout prompted by Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining.
With that backdrop, district officials have been preparing principals and staff for what could be a dramatic day.
“We know that there’s a lot of emotion here and we need to recognize that there’s a lot of upset and upset in the parent community as well,” Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad said.

Meanwhile: Jesse Jackson to Address Madison East High School Students Tuesday.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal, state and local debt hits post-WWII levels

Steven Mufson:

The daunting tower of national, state and local debt in the United States will reach a level this year unmatched just after World War II and already exceeds the size of the entire economy, according to government estimates.
But any similarity between 1946 and now ends there. The U.S. debt levels tumbled in the years after World War II, but today they are still climbing and even deep cuts in spending won’t completely change that for several years.
As President Obama and Republicans squabble over whose programs to cut and which taxes to raise, slow growth and a rising tide of interest payments – largely beyond their control – are making the job of fixing the budget much harder than in the past. Statehouses and governors face similar challenges.

You can lead kids to broccoli, but you can’t make them eat

Monica Eng:

Anyone who has ever tried to sneak healthy food into kids’ lunches knows what Chicago Public Schools is going through.
Sometimes kids openly embrace the new food. Sometimes they eat it without realizing the difference. And sometimes they refuse it altogether.
CPS has met with all three reactions this school year, when it stopped serving daily nachos, Pop-Tarts and doughnuts and introduced healthier options at breakfast and lunch. But in a sign of how challenging this transition can be for schools, district figures show that lunch sales for September through December dropped by about 5 percentage points since the previous year, or more than 20,000 lunches a day.

Schools can’t hide from Washington state budget ax

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

The Washington Constitution makes education the highest priority of state government, but that doesn’t stop lawmakers from cutting the money they spend on schools.
In fact, education spending as a percentage of the state budget has been declining for years.
In the past decade, education spending has gone from close to 50 percent to just above 40 percent of the state budget, despite the fact that some education spending is protected by the constitution.
The key to understanding state spending on education lies in knowing what qualifies as basic education and what does not. The definitions – some obvious, some less so – have been crafted over the years by state lawmakers, with pressure from the Washington Supreme Court.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?

Matt Taibbi:

Financial crooks brought down the world’s economy — but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them
Instead, federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements — whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice. “If the allegations in these settlements are true,” says Jed Rakoff, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, “it’s management buying its way off cheap, from the pockets of their victims.”
To understand the significance of this, one has to think carefully about the efficacy of fines as a punishment for a defendant pool that includes the richest people on earth — people who simply get their companies to pay their fines for them. Conversely, one has to consider the powerful deterrent to further wrongdoing that the state is missing by not introducing this particular class of people to the experience of incarceration. “You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street,” says a former congressional aide. “That’s all it would take. Just once.”
But that hasn’t happened. Because the entire system set up to monitor and regulate Wall Street is fucked up.
Just ask the people who tried to do the right thing.

State Workers in Wisconsin See a Fraying of Union Bonds

AG Sulzberger & Monica Davey:

Among the top five employers here are the county, the schools and the city. And that was enough to make Mr. Hahan, a union man from a union town, a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin, a plan that has set off a firestorm of debate and protests at the state Capitol. He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations.
“Something needs to be done,” he said, “and quickly.”
Across Wisconsin, residents like Mr. Hahan have fumed in recent years as tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs have vanished, and as some of the state’s best-known corporations have pressured workers to accept benefit cuts.
Wisconsin’s financial problems are not as dire as those of many other states. But a simmering resentment over those lost jobs and lost benefits in private industry — combined with the state’s history of highly polarized politics — may explain why Wisconsin, once a pioneer in supporting organized labor, has set off a debate that is spreading to other states over public workers, unions and budget woes.

Ed Hughes on Madison Teacher Absences & Protest

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, via email:

It’s been a non-quiet week here in Madison. Everyone has his or her own take on the events. Since I’m a member of the Madison School Board, mine is necessarily a management perspective. Here’s what the week’s been like for me.
Nearly as soon as the governor’s budget repair bill was released last Friday, I had a chance to look at a summary and saw what it did to collective bargaining rights. Basically, the bill is designed to gut public employee unions, including teacher unions. While it does not outlaw such unions outright, it eliminates just about all their functions.
Our collective bargaining agreement with MTI is currently about 165 pages, which I think is way too long. If the bill passes, our next collective bargaining agreement can be one paragraph — way, way, way too short.
On Monday, Board members collaborated on a statement condemning the legislation and the rush to push it through. All Board members signed the statement on Monday evening and it was distributed to all MMSD staff on Tuesday.

There will be peace in the Valley. But anger in Wisconsin

Brian S. Hall:

It is no coincidence that the night President Obama sat down for a lovely dinner with a dozen of America’s richest executives in Silicon Valley this week, that protests in Wisconsin over budget cuts and union worker rights reached a fever pitch. Though the President paid lip service to the protesters, a well-heeled, well-funded voting bloc he will no doubt rely on heavily for the 2012 presidential race, he understood what mattered most — to him and America.

  • Technology
  • Innovation
  • Globalization
  • Education — as offered by highly competitive colleges and universities that have little to no monopoly power
  • Entrepreneurialism – unshackled from government regulations, free from unionized labor and unfettered by legacy depictions of work and economy and business

Politics may force President Obama to become more actively, more visibly involved in the events of Wisconsin, where public worker unions, essentially America’s last remaining unions, fight for de facto guarantees of job security, lifetime healthcare, lifetime benefits, sanctioned limits on hours worked and on responsibilities blurred. But the President is acutely aware that, as protests in Egypt offered a glimpse into the future, protests in Madison, Wisconsinwere a reminder of America’s past.
This is Tea Party Redux. The Union Strikes Back. Yet just as with the angry tea party protests from two years ago, the song remains the same. Large swaths of Americans, having been party to an unspoken agreement that they would have a guaranteed middle class life, filled with highly targeted government benefits — which they repeatedy insisted they “earned” and which they knew could not survive should they be spread throughout the wider population — so too is it with the government worker unions. Unlike the entirety of the US population, they have a unique sanctuary within the American economy. Just like those in the Tea Party voiced their angry over policies that diminished their unique standing, in America and the world, so too do the protests in Wisconsin reflect anger and fear over exactly the same concerns. Both groups, of course, argued, believed perhaps, that what was good for them was good for workers, good for the middle class, good for America.

Unions vs. The Common Good

The Chicago Tribune via The Milwaukee Drum:

America’s labor movement can claim historic victories that have served the common good. Safer workplaces. Laws to protect children from workplace exploitation. The eight-hour workday. Those who are in unions can justifiably be proud of those and other accomplishments.
But how proud are they that the children of Madison, Wis., have missed school the last two days because so many of their teachers abandoned their classrooms and joined a mass demonstration? Joined a mass demonstration to intimidate the members of the Wisconsin Legislature, who are trying to close a $3 billion deficit they face over the next two years?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has demanded that state workers contribute roughly 5.8 percent of their wages toward their retirement. He wants them to pay for 12 percent of their health-care premiums. Those modest employee contributions would be the envy of many workers in the private sector.
Walker wants government officials to have authority to reshape public-employee benefits without collective bargaining. Walker wouldn’t remove the right of unions to bargain for wages.

Former Monona School Board Member Mary Possin on Teacher Unions

Mary Possin

To the Monona Grove School Board,
The group of people in this school district who have sat across the bargaining table from the MGEA is rather small, and I am one of them. Bargaining with the MGEA was, hands down, the most bizarre and surreal trip through the looking glass I have ever experienced. I could drone on about a myriad of frustrations, but all else aside, I could never understand their complete and utter failure to realize the MG school board was not only not their enemy, but we also lacked the statutory power to improve their wages and benefits. While we could partake in rearranging the deck chairs on our own little Titanic, purchasing additional life boats was not within our power. Simply put, they directed a whole lot of energy toward a group who was essentially powerless all the while engaging in job actions that did little but harm students, demoralize many of their own members and generate ill will among the public. At times my own children were targeted, so please understand what I say next comes within this context.

Dawn of the dumbest school data

Mr. Teachbad:

Dawn of the dumbest data … data-driven dementia… data: It keeps teachers busy. Take your pick. But these cats at my school really have to be stopped.
As you may suspect, we here at my school are “data-driven.” That’s right. There is no substitute for data. And the best thing about it, from an administrator’s point of view, is that you don’t have to worry about how long it takes teachers to collect the data or if it is really of any value in the first place. Just collect that data and tell everybody that you are collecting it and using it to make data-driven decisions … for the kids. The rest, my friend, will fall into place. No worries.
Here is our scenario:

Why do great school systems fear charters?

Jay Matthews:

I admire the erudite and public-spirited members of the Montgomery County Board of Education. Their superintendent, Jerry D. Weast, is one of the best in the business, a national leader with a smart staff.
So why are they so frightened of two little charter schools?
The Maryland State Department of Education shares my puzzlement. It looked carefully at the two most recent Montgomery charter applicants, Global Garden Public Charter School and Crossway Montessori Charter School, and promised them a $550,000 grant each once they got their charter approved. The charter groups had fresh ideas, energetic supporters and experienced educators, including two members of the Global Garden board who worked in Montgomery schools.
That was not enough to quell the fears of Weast’s staff and an assortment of internal and external advisers. Weast’s nine-page summary of their worries reads like a neurotic mother’s letter to her son at summer camp, bemoaning all the terrible things that might happen to him.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Thanks for flying Air USA. Please ignore the exits

Spencer Jakab:

Perhaps this comes from too much time spent on airplanes but this week’s White House budget projections reminded me of nothing more than a pre-flight safety video. The voiceover tells passengers to “stay calm and listen for instructions from the cabin crew in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure” as eerily placid actors carefully strap on their oxygen masks or inflate their underseat life vests before attending to their children.
Of course this bears no resemblance to the unbridled panic that would ensue if a hole opened up in the fuselage at 35,000 feet. Perhaps US government economists operate on the same principle as airlines who refrain from showing videos of passengers trampling one another underfoot as the cabin fills with smoke. On the current fiscal trajectory, investors in America’s Treasury market will rush madly for the emergency exits one of these days, but official forecasts assume they will never even break a sweat.
Of all the variables in any budget projection – economic growth, taxes, foreign military engagements – the thorniest is what Treasury investors will do. Discretionary items and even entitlements like social security can be cut but interest must be paid no matter what and, in the absence of perpetual quantitative easing, the government must pay what the market deems fair.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Enough with trickery; just fix the problem

The Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel:

Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis is real – not something ginned up by Gov. Scott Walker as a way to punish political opponents. The numbers don’t lie. Like many other states, Wisconsin is in a fiscal quagmire, and not one of Walker’s making.
The state has a budget hole of $3.6 billion for the 2011-’13 period. The budget must be balanced. But this time, it must not be “balanced” through trickery and gimmicks. This time, it should be balanced in fact as well as in theory. Walker intends to do that.
Walker is scheduled to deliver his budget address on Tuesday, although he may not release the budget document until later. We encourage the governor to show not only fiscal prudence but also ideological restraint. And we urge Walker to take special care with programs that help Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens. Fairness and compassion should not take a holiday.
Walker’s tough approach with state public employee unions in his budget repair bill is justified; their benefits for too long have been exempt from scrutiny. The governor’s proposals would save $300 million over the next two years, he says.

Why school zero tolerance policies make no sense

Valerie Strauss:

The discipline policy in Fairfax County public schools failed Nick Stuban.
Stuban was a 15-year-old football player at W.T. Woodson High School who committed suicide during a disciplinary process that he was forced to undergo after he purchased a capsule of a legal substance.
According to a story by my colleague Donna St. George, he was kept out of school for seven weeks and not allowed on the school grounds to attend weekly Boy Scout meetings, sports events, or driver’s education sessions. He killed himself Jan. 20.
This is not say the disciplinary system drove him to kill himself, or another boy before him in 2009. Suicide is complicated, and the reasons someone decides to take his/her own life are complex and often unknowable.

More schools convert to charters as California education funds dip

Associated Press:

More traditional neighborhood schools are looking to operate as charters because they can get huge increases in funding as well as flexibility in how they use it.
The latest example is El Camino Real High School, one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s star schools.
Although conversions are holding steady at about 10 percent of new charters nationally, in California they’re on the rise. Long a forerunner in the charter school movement, the Golden State saw a jump in the number of conversions from six in 2009 to 16 in 2010, according to the California Charter School Association.
It’s a troubling pattern for school districts — every student enrolled in a charter means a funding loss, and defections of their own schools and principals are a blow to district esteem.

Milwaukee & Madison Public Schools to be Closed Monday, 2/21/2011 Due to Teacher Absences

Tom Kertscher:

Milwaukee Public Schools is closed Monday for Presidents Day, according to a statement on the home page of the district’s website.
Superintendent Gregory Thornton said in the statement he wants to “assure families that we intend to have classes on Tuesday as scheduled.”
The home page also includes a “fact sheet for families” about the demonstrations in Madison. It says MPS closed schools Friday because more than 1,000 MPS teachers attended the demonstrations. Another day of school will be added to make up for Friday, and teachers who were absent without leave face possible disciplinary action ranging from pay deductions to termination, according the fact sheet.
Members of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union plan to participate in demonstrations in Madison on Monday.
The Madison Metropolitan School District, which was scheduled to be open for Presidents Day, will close because of “substantial concerns about significant staff absences,” according to a statement issues Sunday evening by the district.
However, classes are scheduled to resume Tuesday because the district “received assurances” that teachers would return then, the statement said.

Why the world’s youth is in a revolting state of mind

Martin Wolf:

In Tunisia and Egypt, the young are rebelling against old rulers. In Britain, they are in revolt against tuition fees. What do these young people have in common? They are suffering, albeit in different ways, from what David Willetts, the UK government’s minister of higher education, called the “pinch” in a book published last year.
In some countries, the challenge is an excess of young people; in others, it is that the young are too few. But where the young outnumber the old, they can hope to secure a better fate through the ballot box. Where the old outnumber the young, they can use the ballot box to their advantage, instead. In both cases, powerful destabilising forces are at work, bringing opportunity to some and disappointment to others.
Demography is destiny. Humanity is in the grip of three profound transformations: first, a far greater proportion of children reaches adulthood; second, women have far fewer children; and, third, adults live far longer. These changes are now working through the world, in sequence. The impact of the first has been to raise the proportion of the population that is young. The impact of the second is the reverse, decreasing the proportion of young people. The third, in turn, increases the proportion of the population that is very old. The impact of the entire process is first to expand the population and, later on, to shrink it once again.

Gifted Programs Go on Block as Schools Must Do With Less

Jennifer Gollan:

When she was just 3, Teela Huff understood how to add numbers. By third grade, she was tutoring her peers.
“She can explain the problems to you without making you feel stupid,” one of Teela’s classmates wrote of her, according to her father, Tom.
But Teela’s quick mind — she is now a 10-year-old fifth grader but reads at a 12th-grade level — meant her classes at Silver Oak Elementary in San Jose were often boring and frustrating. She finally enrolled in a program for gifted children, where students wrestled with things like mind-bending math riddles and thought-provoking questions like how to survive on a desert island. And she loved it.
Her new adventures in learning ended in September, however, when the Evergreen School District eliminated all programs for its 790 or so gifted children. The move was part of a statewide wave of cuts in a program known as Gifted and Talented Education.

California School District Uses GPS to Track Truant Students

David Murphy:

Not even Ferris Bueller himself could have gotten around this one: A six-week pilot program by California’s Anaheim Union High School District is testing the use of technology to combat tardiness amongst the district’s seventh- and eighth-grade population.
How it works is fairly simple. Students with four or more unexcused absences in a year–approximately 75 are enrolled in the Anaheim test–are given handheld GPS devices instead of detentions or prosecutions. To make sure that said students are in school when they should be, the students are required to check in using the devices during five preset intervals: When they leave for school in the morning, when they arrive at school, lunchtime, when they leave school, and at 8 p.m. each day.
And if that’s not enough, students in the program also receive a phone call each and every day to tell them that it’s time to get up and get to school. An adult coach also calls the students three times per week to check up and discuss different methods the students can employ to ensure that they’re where they should be at any given point during the day.

Jeopardy is just the start for Watson

Christopher Caldwell:

Americans must be either very excited about the artificial intelligence that IBM has built into a new computer called “Watson” or very scared. This week, when Watson competed on ABC’s Jeopardy against two of the best players in the quiz show’s history, the network got its highest ratings in six years. Crammed full of data from reference books and trained to understand questions in regular human speech, Watson wiped its human rivals out, correctly answering questions on everything from who wrote the Études-Tableaux for piano (Sergei Rachmaninoff) to who designed the Emmanuel College chapel at Cambridge (Christopher Wren).
The feat has been compared to the 1997 victory of IBM’s chess-playing computer, Deep Blue, over Garry Kasparov, the world’s champion at the time. But for a computer to master language is a far more unsettling encroachment on the sanctum of uniquely human behaviours than superiority in a game played on an 8-by-8 grid. Outside the walls of IBM headquarters, Watson has provoked mostly anxiety – over the practical question of what jobs it will destroy, and the metaphysical question of whether talking machines will erode our sense of what it means to be human.
To some extent, this is a misunderstanding. Watson is not a smart machine that has shown its intelligence by winning at Jeopardy. It is a Jeopardy-playing machine which, after years of tinkering by dozens of IBM’s top scientists, now works reasonably well. As big as a room, it combines a supercharged version of the grammar check on your word-processing software with a supercharged version of Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button.

The standoff in Madison and the fallout for 2012

Craig Gilbert:

The explosive budget debate in Madison, like the explosive budget debate in Washington, is setting the table for 2012.
Part of the same struggle, the two battles are now feeding off each other, defining the parties and a broader political argument that both sides hope to somehow “settle” in the next election.
Some political consequences of the stand-off in Wisconsin are hard to predict, such as which side will win the fight for public opinion and where else the battle will “spread.”
Others are more immediate. One obvious consequence of Gov. Scott Walker’s push to curtail bargaining rights for public employees is the fire he has lighted under Democrats, labor and the left. While there are many ways the issue could play out over the coming months, this fact alone has significance for 2012, since by any measure Democratic voters were less motivated in 2010 than their GOP counterparts.
“Gov. Walker has done more to galvanize progressives and working people than anyone possibly could have done … By going at people’s throats and trying to destroy their rights, he has not only galvanized people in Wisconsin but across the country,” former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said in an interview Thursday, a day after launching a new political action committee.

Grand jury: We would abolish inept School Board

Megan O’Matz:

A statewide grand jury investigating the Broward School District issued a scathing final report Friday evening, saying there was evidence of such widespread “malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance” by school board members and senior managers alike that only “corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists” could explain it.
Leadership in the district is so lacking, the jurors said, they would move to abolish the whole School Board if only the state constitution would allow it.
The panel met in secret for a year, reviewed hundreds of documents and took widespread testimony reaching from past and current School Board members to school principals and secretaries. The conclusion: The district suffers from “gross mismanagement and apparent ineptitude” on a grand scale.

Idealism, confidence about schools’ future seems to run short

Alan Borsuk:

What do we want in the schools our children attend? People have a lot more in common in answering that than you might think.
A warm, caring environment, one where teachers, staff, parents and especially children feel like they count.
Good teachers. Beyond all the debate about how to improve teacher quality, anyone who ever went to school knows there are people who are really good teachers and people who aren’t, because we had them both. And we want our kids to have good ones.
Small classes, or at least ones of reasonable size. The research on class size paints a somewhat mixed picture of how important it really is. A top flight teacher with a few more kids in the class is better than someone who is not very good with fewer kids. That said, show me parents who want larger classes for their kids and I’ll show you really rare parents.
Enriching programs. They come in a lot of different, very good forms, but in every case, these are programs in which children become good at reading and reasonably good at math. Students gain a grasp of science, social studies, history. They get exposure to music and art and physical education. They learn how to learn. Positive character traits and habits are built and reinforced. Students work hard but have fun, too.

Report: Public employees make less, including benefits, than private workers

Steven Verburg:

Gov. Scott Walker argues that public employees can sacrifice more of their paychecks for health insurance and retirement because they pay so little for those benefits compared to workers at private companies.
Walker is correct about the disparity, but a new report by the liberal Economic Policy Institute suggests that looking at benefits alone is misleading.
The study looks at total compensation – pay and benefits together – and found that public workers earn 4.8 percent less than private sector employees with the same qualifications and traits doing similar jobs.
Average compensation for public workers is higher because the jobs they do – such as teaching – require a relatively high level of education, and a higher education is one of the main factors that drives wages up, said Ethan Pollack, a senior policy analyst at the institute.

Average Milwaukee Public Schools Teacher Salary Plus Benefits Tops $100,000; Ramifications

MacIver Institute:

For the first time in history, the average annual compensation for a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School system will exceed $100,000.
That staggering figure was revealed last night at a meeting of the MPS School Board.
The average salary for an MPS teacher is $56,500. When fringe benefits are factored in, the annual compensation will be $100,005 in 2011.
MacIver’s Bill Osmulski has more in this video report.

Related Links:

Finally, the economic and political issue in a nutshell: Wisconsin’s taxbase is not keeping up with other states:

Madison School District’s “K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation”

Prepared by the Literacy Advisory Committee with support from the Hanover Research Council, 6MB PDF Recommendations and Costs pages 129-140, via a kind reader’s email:

1. Intensify reading instruction in Kindergarten in order to ensure all No additional costs. Professional development provided by central students are proficient in oral reading and comprehension as office and building-based literacy staff must focus on Kindergarten. measured by valid and reliable assessments by 2011-2012. Instruction and assessment will be bench marked to ensure Kindergarten proficiency is at readinQ levels 3-7 {PLAA, 2009).
2. Fully implement Balanced Literacy in 2011-12 using clearly defined, Comprehensive Literacy Model (Linda Dorn), the MMSD Primary Literacy Notebook and the MMSD 3-5 Literacy Notebook.
a. Explore research-based reading curricula using the Board of Education Evaluation of Learning Materials Policy 3611 with particular focus on targeted and explicit instruction, to develop readers in Kindergarten.
b. Pilot the new reading curricula in volunteer schools during 2011-12.
c. Analyze Kindergarten reading proficiency scores from Kindergarten students in fully implemented Balanced Literacy schools and Kindergarten students in the volunteer schools piloting the new reading curricula incorporated into a
Balanced Literacy framework to inform next steps.
d. Continue pilot in volunteer schools in Grade 1 during 2012-13 and Grade 2 durino 2013-14. 2011-12 Budget Addition Request $250,000
3. Incorporate explicit reading instruction and literacy curricula into 6th grade instruction.
3. Review previous Reading Recovery recommendations, with Additional Reading considerations to:

  • Place Reading Recovery Teachers in buildings as needed to (displaced rate when new teacher is hired).reflect the needs of 20% of our District’s lowest performing first graders, regardless of what elementary school they may attend;
  • Analyze the other instructional assignments given to Reading Recovery teachers in order to maximize their expertise as highly skilled reading interventionists
  • Ensure standard case load for each Reading Recovery teacher at National Reading Recovery standards and guidelines (e.g. 8 students/year).
  • Place interventionists in buildings without Reading Recovery. Interventionists would receive professional development to lift the quality of interventions for students who need additional support in literacy.

Additional Reading Recovery and/or Interventionist FTE costs. 1 FTE-$79,915 (average rate when teacher is re-assigned). 1 new FTE-$61,180 (displaced rate when new teacher is hired).


The Wisconsin Teachers’ Crisis: Who’s Really to Blame?

Andy Rotherham:

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened hundreds of teachers’-union leaders and school-district leaders in Denver to discuss ways management and labor could work together better. Kumbaya!
Two days later, all hell broke loose in Madison, Wis. The flash point was Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to address the state’s budget gap by making public employees contribute more to health care coverage, coupled with a proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees — including teachers. Democratic state legislators went into hiding to thwart a vote on the measure, and schools closed as thousands of teachers left their classrooms to descend on the state capital.
The two episodes vividly illustrate the hope — and the reality — of labor-management issues in education today. As Madison becomes ground zero for the debate over government spending and public-sector reform, some hard questions are getting lost in political theatrics and overwrought rhetoric. Here are questions Wisconsin’s governor, labor leaders and President Obama should have good answers for but so far don’t:

Reno’s IB High School

Wooster IB High School: Reno, NV

# Design and implement strategies to meet high expectations while providing the support necessary to maintain student engaegment. (RIGOR)
# Embrace the teaching and learning of the core academic skills that build on foundations, connect to real-world applications, and ensure success beyond the classroom. (RELEVANCE)
# Encourage individuals to be self-advocating and responsible by promoting a positive, safe and accepting environment. (RELATIONSHIPS)
# Act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and high expectations for the diginty of the individual, group and community. (RESPECT).

Wooster’s website includes a course syllabus.

Nevade School District School District preparing to face difficult decisions

Robert Perea:

Cuts in its 2011-12 fiscal year budget figure to be painful for the Lyon County School District, but District officials hope to make sure those cuts have as little effect on students as possible.
District officials began brainstorming sessions last week, with the input from the members of the Board of Trustees’ Budget Committee, to begin to identify and list priorities for which programs they are willing to cut.
LCSD Director of Finance Wade Johnson said the District’s administration and the Board of Trustees will work to create a priority list of cuts and how much each cut could potentially save the District.
Then, when the District receives its actual budget figures, it will make whatever cuts have been prioritized to get down to the actual budget figure (listed for expenditures).
“Making concrete plans is premature, but we do need to start planning,” Johnson said.

The Lyon County School District supports 8,730 students with an annual budget of $92,147,208 ($10,555,24/student). Locally, the 2011 State of the Madison School District reports $379,058,945 in planned 2010-2011 spending for 24,471 students. Madison’s per student spending this year is $15,490.13.

Charter schools are the Justin Bieber of education reform – a fad gone too far

Sam Gill:

President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal earlier this week to a fanfare of predictable criticism from the right and a few cries from the left. In a budget that saw cuts to many cherished programs, one of the big winners was education – with an 11 percent boost in total funding. Within education spending, however, the popular charter school movement wound up as a slight loser – with proposed funding reduced to $372 million after a pledge of $490 million in last year’s budget.
While some charter school advocates may wring their hands over the slight reduction in proposed funding, the rest of us should be asking whether charter schools have been adequately scrutinized as part of a “tough choices” budget.

A tale of three teachers: Checking in with protesters inside the Wisconsin Capitol

Bill Lueders:

There are as many stories to tell about the ongoing protests at the state Capitol are there are protesters – tens of thousands. This is a story about three protesters I spoke to today. I noticed them because of their sign: “Sauk Prairie teachers.” On the back was another message: “Stop GOP Class War.”
All three teach at Sauk Prairie High School. This is the second day in a row that they’ve come to Madison to protest Scott Walker’s move to strip them of their collective bargaining rights and undercut their unions. It probably won’t be the last.
Their names are Betty Koehl, Alison Turner and Lynn Frick. Betty has taught at Sauk Prairie High for nearly 30 years; she’s a Sauk Prairie native and a graduate of that school. Alison has taught for eight years. It is her second career. From 1993, she worked “in this building as a legislative aide,” for state Reps. Mark Meyer and Gwen Moore. Lynn has been a teacher for 26 years, 21 of them at Sauk Prairie.
I ask each of them why they are here, and what they hope to accomplish.
Responds Betty, “I taught social studies for 30 years and, as a citizen and worker, I have to stand up for my rights and show my students that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: University of Wisconsin Athletic department’s budget is increased 6.3% (!) to $88.368 million for 2011-12

Andy Baggot:

The University of Wisconsin Athletic Department had its operating budget request of $88.368 million for 2011-12 approved without rancor or debate Friday.
Members of the UW Athletic Board voted unanimously to allow the department to spend $5.29 million more than its current operating budget of $83.219 million, an increase designed primarily to address two major capital projects.
The matter-of-fact process and calm pulse of the meeting was in contrast to the mood at the Capitol, where protesters, controversy and edgy rhetoric defined a state budget crisis.
Asked to weigh the two developments, UW athletic director Barry Alvarez acknowledged that sooner or later they will become one.

Nampa police: Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna threatened, vehicle vandalized

Idaho Press Tribune:

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s vehicle was vandalized overnight at his Nampa home and he and his family have received threats, he told police.
“Yes, he has made us aware of threats to him and family members and we are looking into those, and we are aware of those, and we are doing what we can to provide protection,” Nampa Police Deputy Chief Craig Kingsbury said.
On Saturday night, a man who identified himself as a teacher reportedly showed up at Luna’s mother’s home in Nampa in order to speak with her about the superintendent’s contentious education reform plan. Luna happened to be at his mother’s house at the time, Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.
“The man was very angry… the superintendent did feel threatened,” she said. The man eventually left after Luna spoke to him for several minutes. Luna told the man it was an inappropriate place and time, and later filed a police report, McGrath said.