Zero tolerance for print

Nicholas Carr:

Politicians are usually sticks in the mud, technologywise, but that certainly wasn’t the case down in Tallahassee this week. Florida legislators closed their eyes, clicked their heals, and took a giant leap forward into the Information Age, passing a budget measure that bans printed textbooks from schools starting in the 2015-16 school year. That’s right: four years from now it will be against the law to give a kid a printed book in a Florida school. One lawmaker said the bill was intended to “meet the students where they are in their learning styles,” which means nothing but sounds warm and fuzzy.

A Different Kind of School Reform

Richard Tellier:

Gov. Brian Sandoval and former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee would have us believe that education reform is based on ending teacher tenure. We get rid of seniority, then magically, education will be fixed. That is a smoke screen, and it’s not real education reform.
If you truly want to reform education in Nevada, think outside the box. Why is the school year only 180 days, with a three-month vacation? No other major industrialized power in the world has such a schedule. That schedule has existed since the 1850s, when children provided much of the labor force for the family farm. Why not radically change the calendar, to better match what our competitors are doing?
Much of Europe and the Far East have school years of 200 to 220 days, with the longest break being one month. Ask teachers how much re-teaching they have to do to regain the skills lost over the summer.
Other countries have a longer school day as well. Why do we only have a day that requires students to be in school for less than seven hours?

Nead to Read

Chan Stroman:

The reading experts and government leaders on Wisconsin’s “Read to Lead” task force are taking a close look at student reading achievement in Wisconsin schools. The meetings of the task force are open to the public; my “live tweeted” notes from the April 25, 2011 inaugural meeting are here:

Much more on the Wisconsin Read to Lead task force, here.

Wisconsin’s tech college grads have higher employment rate and starting salaries than 4 year grads

Michael Rosen:

The New York Times reports that only half of four-year college grads are landing jobs that require a four-year degree and that starting salaries have fallen from $30,000 in 2006 to 2008 to only $27,000 in 2010-11.
And these are the lucky ones. Only 56% of four-year college grads even held a job.
These results makes a Wisconsin technical college education look quite attractive.
The Wisconsin Technical College System’s Graduate Follow-up Report indicates that 88 percent of 2009- 2010 technical college graduates were employed within six months of graduation, 71% in fields related to their field of study.

Former Foes Join Forces for Education Reform

Sam Dillon:

Michelle A. Rhee butted heads frequently during her three-year tenure as schools chancellor of Washington with the president of the local teachers’ union, George Parker, and eventually a voter backlash over the city’s school reform wars cost both of them their jobs.
Now, in a strange-bedfellows twist, Ms. Rhee has named Mr. Parker as the first senior fellow of Students First, the national group she formed after stepping down as chancellor last fall. She says she hopes Mr. Parker can be a compelling voice for change, especially in speaking to teachers’ union members around the country. He says Ms. Rhee hates teachers’ unions less than most people think.

Will Wisconsin, teachers union have smarts to act in kids’ interest?

Alan Borsuk:

Who loves the baby?
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett asked that at a forum of civic leaders last week.
In the biblical story, two women claiming to be the mother of the same baby take their dispute to King Solomon. He calls for a sword so he can split the baby in two and give each woman half. One woman tells him to go ahead. The second tells him to give the baby to the first so the child can live. Solomon, of course, awards the baby immediately to the second. A true mother would sacrifice just about anything, even maternal rights, to let her child live.
What does this have to do with the next couple of years for students in Milwaukee Public Schools?
This: If people act with wisdom, maturity and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of kids, there could be significant relief from cuts that will negatively affect just about all 75,000-plus students. The list could start with easing the looming big jumps in average class size.
The sacrifice part would fall largely on MPS teachers. But it would put them in line with what is almost surely going to happen to the large majority of teachers across the state.
The wisdom part would have to start with Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders. Willingness to budge on ideological points hasn’t been one of their most visible traits in recent months.

How Do Unions Affect State Budgets?

Eileen Norcross:

Many questions have arisen from recent political events about the power of unions. In a new working paper published today, Mercatus scholar Eileen Norcross, compiled research on unions and clears up some misconceptions about the difference between private and public sector unions and how they work.
“The main differences between public and private sector come from economics,” said Norcross. “Private sector unions can raise their wages, but not their employment. By contrast, public sector unions can increase both wage and employment outcomes.”
The result, says Norcross, is that public sector unions can grow the size of budgets, while private sector unions are constrained by the profitability of the firm.
“Unlike private sector unions, public sector unions rely not only on collective bargaining, but also leverage their political influence to achieve these gains,” said Norcross. “In fact, empirical studies indicate the political activity of unions may be more effective than collective bargaining at raising employment.”

New Jersey Governor Christie Alters Schools’ Per Student Spending

Lisa Fleisher:

The Christie administration has recalculated the amount it says New Jersey public school districts spend per pupil, increasing the state average rate by several thousand dollars to more than $17,800.
The figure, from the 2009-10 school year, has been adjusted to include costs such as transportation, federal funding, debt payments and legal judgments that can vary greatly from district to district. In the 2008-09 school year, using the previous calculation, the state average was $13,200 per student.
The Christie administration says the new figure is more transparent and complete.

The MIT factor: celebrating 150 years of maverick genius

Ed Pilkington:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led the world into the future for 150 years with scientific innovations. Its brainwaves keep the US a superpower. But what makes the university such a fertile ground for brilliant ideas?
Yo-Yo Ma’s cello may not be the obvious starting point for a journey into one of the world’s great universities. But, as you quickly realise when you step inside the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there’s precious little about the place that is obvious.
The cello is resting in a corner of MIT’s celebrated media lab, a hub of techy creativity. There’s a British red telephone kiosk standing in the middle of one of its laboratories, while another room is signposted: “Lego learning lab – Lifelong kindergarten.”
The cello is part of the Opera of the Future lab run by the infectiously energetic Tod Machover. A renaissance man for the 21st – or perhaps 22nd – century, Machover is a composer, inventor and teacher rolled into one. He sweeps into the office 10 minutes late, which is odd because his watch is permanently set 20 minutes ahead in a patently vain effort to be punctual. Then, with the urgency of the White Rabbit, he rushes me across the room to show me the cello. It looks like any other electric classical instrument, with a solid wood body and jack socket. But it is much more. Machover calls it a “hyperinstrument”, a sort of thinking machine that allows Ma and his cello to interact with one another and make music together.

Racine School officials: vouchers ‘morally wrong’

Lindsay Fiori:

Public school officials called vouchers “morally wrong” and potentially “crippling” for Racine at a press conference Thursday.
A school choice voucher program in Racine would cost taxpayers money while hurting the academic chances of public school students, officials said during the afternoon press conference at Walden middle and high school, 1012 Center St. The press conference was held in response to a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker to expand Milwaukee’s school choice voucher program, which allows low-income Milwaukee students to receive state-funded vouchers to attend participating private schools. Walker has proposed removing the low-income requirement while also expanding the program to other cities.
Public school officials who spoke in Racine Thursday think that’s a bad idea.
“School vouchers have been called ‘a dagger in the heart of public education’ and I think there’s some truth to that,” Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw said at the conference. He explained vouchers take needed funds away from public schools — when a child leaves a school with a voucher about $6,000 in per pupil state aid to that school leaves with them to pay for private school tuition.

Summary of Illinois Senate Bill 7

Chicago Teachers Union:

Strike Rights
Fact finding: The creation of a three panel board that will look at the final offers from the Board of Education and CTU, publish those offers and study the validity of the different claims. The fact finding process will take over 75 days to complete.
If fact finding does not produce a resolution, then CTU members can vote to strike. In order to authorize a strike 75% of all our bargaining unit members must vote for it.
Attainment of Tenure
Under last year’s PERA law, 4 ratings were established: excellent, proficient, needs improvement and unsatisfactory in a four-year probationary period. To achieve tenure, a teacher must have:
3 consecutive years of excellent ratings grants immediate tenure within 3 years.

Illinois General Assembly.

Woof! John Elder Robison, Living Boldly as a “Free-Range Aspergian”

Steve Silberman:

John Elder Robison would stand out in a crowd even if he didn’t have Asperger syndrome. A gruff, powerfully built, tirelessly curious, blue-eyed bear of a man, he hurtles down a San Diego sidewalk toward a promising Mexican restaurant like an unstoppable force of nature. “What’s keepin’ you stragglers?” he calls back to the shorter-legged ambulators dawdling in his wake.
As they catch up, Robison utters his all-purpose sound of approval — “Woof!” — which he utters often, being a man in his middle years who is finally at peace with himself after a difficult coming-of-age. For the acclaimed author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller Look Me in the Eye, a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in mid-life was liberating, giving a name to the nagging feeling that he was somehow different from nearly everyone around him.

UT regents seek more detail about faculty workloads

Ralph K.M. Hauriwitz:

On the same day that University of Texas System regents unanimously agreed to refrain from micromanaging the state’s largest university system, at least one regent seemed to do just that by requesting records on individual faculty members’ workloads, average grades for each undergraduate course and student evaluation scores of teachers, as well as a timeline for producing those materials, emails obtained by the American-Statesman show.
Regent Alex Cranberg requested the materials for each course taught in the 2009-10 academic year at the UT System’s nine academic campuses, according to the emails. One email said Regent Brenda Pejovich joined Cranberg in the request, but officials said in interviews that she had not done so.
Cranberg submitted his request to Sandra Woodley, a vice chancellor for the system, on Thursday afternoon, hours after Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa received an unqualified vote of support, including a standing ovation, from the Board of Regents following a speech in which he declared that universities “simply cannot be micromanaged.” Woodley had a staff member send the request to the campuses on Friday.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Surplus to deficit: How we got here

David Rogers:

George W. Bush X 2 = Barack Obama in both extra spending — and tax cuts.
It’s a crude but fair summary of the two presidents based on new data mapping how the nation moved from surpluses in 2001 to record deficits over the past decade. And it takes on special meaning given the turmoil these days in the Senate, whether in producing a budget, salvaging months of work by the bipartisan Gang of Six or expanding the Treasury’s borrowing authority to avert default.
For Republicans, the new numbers — compiled by the Congressional Budget Office — bolster the GOP’s argument that President Barack Obama has gone well past Bush’s hearty appetite for new spending. But for Democrats, the same equation underscores the fact that the growth in discretionary appropriations since 2001 has been matched almost dollar for dollar by a series of tax cuts that were also expanded under Obama.
“Starve the beast is the worst kind of diet,” an administration official joked when told of the numbers. “It shows the beast eats more.”
Indeed, from 2002 through 2011, CBO estimates that the combined tax cuts enacted by successive Congresses cost $2.8 trillion, even as increased appropriations added $2.95 trillion above projections for discretionary spending.

Several New Jersey school districts to test new method of teacher evaluations

Angela Delli Santi:

The state Department of Education says a handful of public school districts will be picked to test new teacher evaluations beginning in September, with the bulk of New Jersey’s 616 districts implementing the achievement-based reviews the following year.
Gov. Chris Christie has been pushing for revisions that would center teacher evaluations on student performance and teaching practices. Under the new system, teachers will be rated on a four-tiered scale from highly effective to highly ineffective. They will be rewarded or remediated based on their ranking and could be fired after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings.

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds life without parole for young teen

Bruce Vielmetti:

Omer Ninham was just 14 when he was part of a gang that threw a 13-year-old Hmong boy to his death from the top of a Green Bay parking garage in 1998.
On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld his life-without-parole sentence over arguments that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and new science about adolescent brain development demand Ninham deserves at least a chance for release later in life.
Justice Annette Ziegler wrote the majority opinion; Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson dissented, joined by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
“Under the circumstances of this case, Ninham’s punishment is severe, but it is not disproportionately so,” Ziegler wrote.

Five myths about America’s schools

Paul Farhi:

The end of the school year and the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers are bringing more attention to reformers’ calls to remake public schools. Today’s school reform movement conflates the motivations and agendas of politicians seeking reelection, religious figures looking to spread the faith and bureaucrats trying to save a dime. Despite an often earnest desire to help our nation’s children, reformers have spread some fundamental misunderstandings about public education.
1. Our schools are failing.
It’s true that schools with large numbers of low-income and English-as-a-second-language students don’t perform as well as those with lots of middle- and upper-middle-class students who speak only English. But the demonization of some schools as “dropout factories” masks an important achievement: The percentage of Americans earning a high school diploma has been rising for 30 years. According to the Department of Education, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who were not enrolled in school and hadn’t earned a diploma or its equivalent fell to 8 percent in 2008.
Average SAT and ACT scores are also up, even with many more — and more diverse — test-takers. On international exams such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, U.S. elementary and middle school students have improved since 1995 and rank near the top among developed countries. Americans do lag behind students in Asian nations such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan on these tests, but so do Europeans. The gap in math and science scores may be an East-West divide.

Gift Card, Anyone? The Anatomy of a Fiasco

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

I am in favor of a less adversarial and more collaborative and forward-looking relationship between the school district and MTI. I think it is unfortunate that the union seems to perceive that it is in its best interests to portray the school district administration as hostile to teachers. I would like to see a world where the union views itself less in an adversarial role as a bulwark against the administration’s exploitation of teachers and more collaboratively as partners with the district in figuring out better ways to improve student learning.
From my perspective, my proposal – which, if adopted, would only have amounted to a gesture – wasn’t intended to help persuade teachers to abandon their union. Instead, I’d hope that it may convey the message that, even when the administration and School Board disagree with teachers’ positions and adopt policies that make their jobs harder, we are not the enemy. We want to work together collaboratively in pursuit of better results for our students.

Much more, here.

Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Trey Bundy
In October, after months of anxiety, Caroline Barwick and her husband, Russell Huerta, celebrated the arrival of their son Sebastian’s third birthday. It was the day the San Francisco Unified School District became legally responsible for addressing Sebastian’s severe autism.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta met with school clinicians to discuss their son’s education and treatment. But the meeting did not go as they had hoped — the district offered Sebastian fewer than half of the therapeutic services recommended by three private doctors and did not offer a choice of schools.
“You’re reeling from what’s already been a tragic diagnosis,” Ms. Barwick said, “then it’s almost like you’re slapped across the face.”
The couple took legal action against the district. Last week, an administrative law judge criticized the district for its handling of the case and ordered it to reimburse Sebastian’s parents for about $55,000 they spent on his therapy and education during the dispute.
Ms. Barwick and Mr. Huerta are part of a growing number of parents of special-needs children who are battling the school district over federally mandated support. The stakes are high. The district is facing a $25 million budget shortfall, and the types of intensive services in dispute can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.
There is not always agreement on what constitutes appropriate treatment. Disputes between the district and parents are initially addressed in Individualized Education Program meetings, and sometimes in hearings involving lawyers.

Continue reading Parents Battle School Districts for Special Support

Oregon Board of Education raises reading benchmarks despite concerns about the impact on instruction

Kimberly Melton:

The State Board of Education today approved higher reading benchmarks for elementary and middle school students beginning this September.
Four of the board’s seven members spent several minutes voicing concerns about becoming too focused on test scores and the dangers of raising standards without supporting increased classroom time, improved instruction and student engagement.
Yet, the new rates passed 6 to 0 with chairwoman Brenda Frank abstaining.
Board members say despite concerns, it’s critical to raise standards as states move towards a common curriculum and to give students and their parents a more honest assessment of whether the students are on track to graduate on time.
Right now, state leaders say meeting reading benchmarks in third or fourth grade doesn’t mean that a child is likely to be on track in high school as well.

Related: Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force.

Houghton Mifflin launches education challenge

Boston Globe:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it has launched the HMH Global Education Challenge, which is designed to encourage “game-changing ideas” for improving student outcomes in K-12 education.
A Boston company that has a long history in the textbook business, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said in a press release that entrants who submit proposals will be eligible to win from a pool of $250,000 in cash and prizes.

Food Is Political Says Outspoken Chef Alice Waters

The Wall Street Journal:

According to food revolutionary Alice Waters, what we choose to eat says as much about our values as the way we vote. In an interview with WSJ’s Alan Murray, the author and chef outlines her vision for thoughtful eating and sustainable farming, while accusing corporations of having little interest in health and nutrition.

Fund gifted education

The Marion Star:

Ohio lawmakers are prepared to cut gifted education by a whopping 89 percent within the state’s new education budget. Truly, today’s economy means we all have to cut back, but why are gifted students targeted to take the biggest hit? Why are they singled out as not deserving an equal and appropriate education?
We are fortunate in the Marion City School District. We have not fallen victim to this unfair budget cut. Superintendent Barney and the school board have chosen to continue to serve our gifted students next year. For that, I am thankful. I must, however, be realistic. With monies being cut so dramatically, for how long will our district be able to maintain this service? Now is the time to let our legislators in Columbus know how important gifted service is. After all, public education is education for all children. Cutting funding for one specific group more deeply than any other group is simply unfair and unacceptable.

L.A. Unified’s librarians on trial

Nora Murphy:

Soon after I became a school librarian, a teacher came to me about Mario, an eighth-grader who had never read an entire book. Mario struggled to read at all, and English was not his first language, but he was a bright kid whose teacher believed in him. I recommended a short, funny, mysterious book that appeals to reluctant boy readers. Mario took it home, read it in a week and came back with his friends in tow to check out the remaining titles in the series.
When he was ready to tackle more challenging content, I started him listening to audiobooks while following along in the text, a strategy helpful for building fluency and comprehension. Mario would come to the library even when his track was on vacation, and he’d sit for hours, headphones on, reading. Soon, he was able to transition into reading the books on his own. By the end of that one school year, Mario had read 42 books, exceeding the goal set by the state of California for eighth-graders. He was ready for high school.

Howard Dean: The Battle Between Unions and Charter Schools Is Over

Joe Williams:

We’re not entirely sure what he’s talking about, but former Gov. Howard Dean this morning, speaking on the subject of public charter schools declared “that battle is coming to an end.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the one-time presidential hopeful and DNC Chair said “charter schools are the future,” especially in inner cities, and praised the United Federation of Teachers in NYC for starting a charter school of their own.
To be sure, charter schools are an important part of the Democratic Party’s official education platform (see here), but even in NYC, where the union and its charter school are co-located in a traditional public school building, union leaders and activists continue to spend a lot of time and money trying to whack the bejesus out of their vulnerable charter school competitors.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Meredith Whitney Speaks, Muni Market Yawns

Mark Gongloff:

Professional scary person Meredith Whitney took to the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal this morning to sprinkle some more of her fear dust on the muni-bond market:

Municipal bond holders will experience their own form of contract renegotiation in the form of debt restructurings at the local level. These are just the facts.

She makes some good points, frankly, and offers some alarming numbers. State and local finances are plainly a mess, and off-balance sheet liabilities in the form of unfunded pension and other benefit obligations are a potential headache. That point is controversial, but it’s always important to listen to Cassandras like Ms. Whitney, who made her bones as a prognosticator before the financial crisis.
But, interestingly, muni-bond investors are not exactly heading for higher ground today on her words. Muni-bond ETFs such as the iShares S&P National AMT-Free Muni Bond fund, are basically unchanged on the day — at six-month highs.
Contrast that with last year, when Ms. Whitney’s warnings of multiple muni defaults contributed to a brutal selloff in muni debt.

Texas to Teach More Students With Less Money

Ana Campoy:

Education officials here are preparing to welcome 300 additional students in the next school year, on top of the 6,296 already enrolled. But a shrinking school budget in this Dallas exurb means there will be fewer teachers, aides, administrators and custodians.
School budgets are being cut across the country, but in Texas, which gained more residents than any other state during the past decade, school systems such as Little Elm Independent School District face the additional challenge of shedding costs while classrooms are bulging.
“It’s really changing how we do business,” said Lynne Leuthard, Little Elm’s school superintendent.
The district is canceling prekindergarten for 3-year-olds–though keeping it for 4-year-olds–and cutting about 80 positions out of 827 in total; the layoffs include 30 teachers, a speech pathologist, a computer aide and 11 special-education aides.
“You just have to take the resources you have and spend them in the best way possible,” Ms. Leuthard said.

Oakland schools among the first in California to track student absenteeism

Katy Murphy:

It’s a concept a kindergartner could understand: Children won’t learn if they miss too much school.
Few would disagree, yet most school districts don’t actually monitor the number of days that each child is absent. Schools track truancy (unexcused absences), and they count the number of children who show up each day. But they don’t report chronic absenteeism, or the percentage of children who miss at least 10 percent of the school year, excused or unexcused.
“You can have a kid in kindergarten rack up a ton of excused absences, but they’re missing a lot of school,” said Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, a national and state initiative to promote awareness of the issue.
Chang presented her research Friday at an education forum in Sacramento hosted by Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction.
The Oakland school district became one of the first in the state to actively monitor chronic absenteeism, and the results have been sobering. Chang’s analysis showed that 14 percent of all district students and more than 20 percent of African-American students missed at least 18 days of school last year. The report found the highest percentages of chronically absent children to be concentrated in West Oakland, an economically distressed area with high rates of violence, asthma and housing instability.

Joel Klein’s Bad Faith Argument: The Misuse Of Al Shanker

Leo Casey:

(This is the first of two posts on Joel Klein’s essay, The Failure of American Schools, in the June issue of Atlantic Monthly.)
Last September, when Joel Klein was still at the helm of the New York City Department of Education, he delivered a luncheon talk for a business roundtable, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY). I attended on behalf of the UFT. In his spoken presentation, Klein attributed to the late UFT and AFT President Al Shanker the following phrase:

When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.

Long before Joel Klein worked this line into his stump speech, I had come across it on the far right precincts of the web, where it is a staple of feverish discussions of the ‘malevolence’ of teacher unions.* Given the lack of source citation and the way in which the words rung so hollow as something Shanker would say, I was more than a tad bit suspicious about its authenticity.† Over the course of time, I asked a number of people — some who had worked with Shanker for many years and others who had studied his life and career as scholars — if they knew of any instance when he had spoken or written these words. Without exception, every person consulted had no knowledge of such a statement.

Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks

We urge the Board of Education to approve and implement the initiatives and budget proposed for the school-wide literacy program [Public Appearance Remarks]. It is deplorable that heretofore there has been no systematic plan to address the reading and writing shortcomings of the District. These shortcomings are the most fundamental causative factor contributing to the poor achievement performance of our students. The proposed design of systemic changes to the curriculum, instructional strategies, engagement of teachers, support staff, students and parents/other adults and the realignment of financial and other resources will result in measurable student growth. Board adoption of the $650,000.00 2011-12 budget considerations is an absolute necessity of the very highest priority.
Our thanks and compliments to the Board and the administration for undertaking the assessment of literacy in the District. However, the Board must take a greatly increased leadership role in demanding the vigorous evaluation and assessment all programs, services and personnel throughout the District. There must be demonstrable commitment and evidence of the systematic implementation of the strategic objective of the five-year District Strategic Plan to address the woefully inadequate and insufficient data upon which to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and performance of students and staff.
The Board must not give any support for an increase in property taxes in finalizing the 2011-12 budget. Nor, is there any justification for using any amount of “under-levy carry-over” if such authorization should be re-instated by the state. There is no evidence to support an increase in taxes. We must be able to prioritize the expenditure of revenues available within the limits established. The Board has already demonstrated it cannot effectively manage its allocations to areas of highest need to strengthen the impact on curriculum, instruction and performance affecting student learning. Until and unless the Board can demonstrate a higher and more effective level of leadership with its decisions and priorities it cannot be trusted with more money that will only get the same results.
We support an increase in allocations for maintenance and electrical infrastructure up-grades conditional upon 1) re-allocation of existing funds to these areas; 2) clear and enumerated priorities, established in advance, for maintenance projects that are specifically related to safety issues; and 3) electrical infrastructure up-grades specifically related to priorities established for improvements and expansion of technology as identified in the Technology Plan for use in student learning, instruction, business services and communications with the public.
The Board must not give approval to the proposed amendment for providing staff with year-end bonuses. This is absolutely the wrong message, for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. It cannot be justified in ‘rewarding’ those staff who wrongfully abdicated their responsibilities in the classroom to the students; by insulting those staff who did attempt to fulfill their responsibilities; as well as insulting the parents and students harmed by those detrimental actions. It would be far better to allocate the ‘savings funds’ to resources actively and directly impacting student learning. The Board must make a commitment to providing leadership toward academic improvements and to creating a working culture of mutual trust and collaboration with employees and taxpayers.
For further information contact: Don Severson, 577-0851

How to destroy a school system

Ruth Conniff:

There is something horribly fascinating about watching Wisconsin Republicans discuss their plans for our state’s school system.
First, they swing the bloody ax:

  • The biggest budget cuts to our public schools in state history, nearly $900 million. Kerchunk.
  • A bill to create a statewide system of charter schools whose authorizing board is appointed by Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds, and which will funnel resources out of local schools and into cheapo online academies. Kerchunk.
  • Lifting income caps on private-school vouchers so taxpayers foot the bill to send middle- and upper-income families’ kids to private school. Kerchunk.
  • Then comes the really sick part. They candy-coat all this with banal statements about “reforms” that will “empower” parents and students and improve education.

Last week, Walker went to Washington, D.C., to give a speech to school-choice advocates at the American Federation for Children. He started off by reading a Dr. Seuss book, and talking about how “every kid deserves to have a great education.”

Related: Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force and Wisconsin needs two big goals.

A personal view: environmental education — its content and delivery

Paul R. Ehrlich, via a kind reader’s email:

Arguably, no challenge faced by humanity is more critical than generating an environmentally literate public. Otherwise the present “business as usual” course of human affairs will lead inevitably to a collapse of civilization. I list obvious topics that should be covered in education from kindergarten through college, and constantly updated by public education and the media. For instance, these include earth science (especially climatology), the importance of biodiversity, basic demogra- phy, the problems of overconsumption, the fact that the current economic system compels producers and consumers to do the wrong thing environmentally, and the I=PAT equation. I also summarize less well-recognized aspects of the environmental situation that are critical but are only rarely taught or discussed, such as the nonlinear effects of continued population growth, the impacts of climate disruption on agricultural production, and the basic issues of human behavior, including economic behavior. Finally, I suggest some of the ways that this material can be made a major focus of all education, ranging from using environmental examples in kindergarten stories and middle school math to establish an international discussion of the behavioral barriers to sustainability.
Global human society is challenged in a way never before seen in human history. For the first time, humanity is fundamentally altering global ecosystems in ways that can threaten the continuation of our social order. The struggle to develop appropriate modes of behavior compatible with maintaining vital ecological processes is the great challenge of the twenty-first century. Educational systems are pivotal to meeting this challenge by equipping people with the knowledge and values to understand and address the human predicament. Thus, environmental education needs to be a vital component of all educational processes in developed nations from kindergarten to doctoral studies and continuing through the use of mainstream and social media.
However, in my view, environmental education is given much too little attention in the school systems of the USA and other rich nations, and is often poorly timed and structured when it is delivered. The situation is only marginally better in colleges and universities, despite the good efforts of environmental educators. Perhaps the best evidence for the inadequacy of environmental education is that “out of the classroom, people have failed to make the link between their individual actions and the environmental condition” (Blumstein and Saylan 2007, 2011). A basic problem is educational systems for the young are designed to fill people with various packages of “tailored” knowledge, and then send them “out in the world” to use that knowledge, especially to make a living. There is too little systematic thought given to the ever-changing needs of responsible citizens facing the culture gap–the enormous and growing gulf between the non-genetic information possessed by each individual society and that possessed by society (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 2010).

Portland school bond: Hard-earned lessons in Portland’s bond nail-biter

Susan Nielsen:

Portland isn’t the kind of city to have nail-biting elections over school taxes. Levies “coast to victory” in the news headlines here. A special income tax will “pass easily by wide margins,” even during an economic downturn.
Bonds pass, too — until this week, when Portland voters narrowly rejected a $548 million capital bond and upended conventional wisdom about their loyalties and limits. This man-bites-dog result provides some invaluable lessons for the district and its campaign team as they regroup for the next bond effort.
Starting with this lesson: Never take voters for granted. Listen to what they’re saying now — not what they’ve said in the past.

Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It

Andrew Rotherham:

Lately it’s become fashionable — especially among the highly credentialed — to question whether it’s really “worth it” to go to college. A recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education proposed deemphasizing college as the primary goal of our education system in favor of “multiple pathways” for students. Earlier this month, New York Magazine devoted almost 4,000 words to profiling venture capitalists (and college graduates) James Altucher and Peter Thiel and their efforts convince Americans that they’d be better off skipping college. Thiel is even creating a $100,000 fellowship for young people who agree to delay going to college in favor of an internship.
Make no mistake, there is widespread dissatisfaction with higher education. According to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center, only 40 percent of Americans felt that colleges provided an “excellent” or “good” value for the money. At the same time, 86 percent of college graduates still felt the investment was a good one for them.

Crowdsourcing Education Innovation, For Cash

Neal Ungerleider:

One of the largest educational publishers in the world is offering cash prizes to the winners of a crowdsourced learning product innovation competition.
One of the world’s largest educational publishers is turning to crowdsourcing for their next great product idea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s (HMH) initiative–the HMH Global Education Challenge–is an Intel Science Fair-style competition for educators that is giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just one important caveat: HMH retains rights to the ideas.
The competition will be the first major attempt to develop for-market pedagogical materials via crowdsourcing. Participants will upload brief descriptions of their potential projects and then are able to view, comment, and vote on other proposals. A panel of judges, including former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and Bob Wise, the former governor of West Virginia, will decide on the winners from a pool of the 20 top-voted entries in September.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is offering a $100,000 grand prize for the winning entrant and a $25,000 second-place prize. Another $125,000 worth of prizes, including iPads, netbooks, and textbook donations, will be distributed to contestants and the schools of their choice.

New York Voters Pass 93% of School Budgets in State

Winnie Hu:

Voters across New York State approved more than 93 percent of school budgets on Tuesday, as administrators facing sharp reductions in state education aid offered plans to cut staff and programs, tap into reserves and keep tax increases relatively low.
Statewide, districts proposed an average budget-to-budget increase of 1.3 percent, the lowest in 15 years. (The five largest school districts — Buffalo, New York, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers — do not hold budget votes.) The average increase in local tax collections was 3.4 percent, up slightly from 3.2 percent last year, though 36 districts proposed no increase at all, and 20 reduced their tax collection.
Over all, 634 budgets passed and 44 were rejected, according to an analysis by the New York State School Boards Association. As of Wednesday evening, only partial results had been released by the State Education Department.

Mixed grades for ‘green’ Spokane school

Jim Camden:

Lincoln Heights Elementary School has lights that turn off when rooms are empty, thermostats that automatically set temperatures back at night and carbon dioxide sensors in the gym to circulate air only when it’s occupied.
It was constructed to “green” building standards, which cost Spokane Public Schools nearly $460,000 extra for the South Hill facility.
But the energy savings aren’t what the district thought they would be, a discovery that other owners of green buildings are making all over the state, a new report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee says. Seven of nine public buildings built to green standards and studied by committee staff fell short of the energy goals they were designed to meet.

Close bad charters faster

Jay Matthews:

The D.C. Public Charter School Board might soon close the Ideal Academy Public Charter School, more than a year and a half after I told it to.
When I made that suggestion in a December 2009 column, Ideal was a prime example of a charter school overdue for termination. Its high school, after four years, had shown that most of its students would be better off elsewhere.
“Of the 31 sophomores who took the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test in math last spring,” I said then, “only 25.8 percent scored at the proficient level or above. Only 38.7 percent reached that level in reading. Among secondary schools [in the District], only six regular schools and two charter schools had lower math proficiency rates. Only 11 regular schools and three charters were worse in reading proficiency.”

California Governor Puts the Testing Juggernaut On Ice

Anthony Cody:

California Governor Jerry Brown has taken a big step towards reducing the testing mania in the nation’s most populous state. Up until his administration we have been on an accelerated path towards the comprehensive data-driven system that test publishers and corporate reformers have convinced leaders is needed to improve schools. But in the May budget outline from Brown’s office, he makes it clear he is putting on the brakes.
From the Thoughts on Public Education blog comes this:

Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to suspend funding for CALPADS, the state student longitudinal data system, and to stop further planning for CALTIDES, the teacher data base that was to be joined at the hip with CALPADS.

What is even more encouraging is the explanation Brown offers, which shows a great deal of understanding of these issues. The document states:

Minnesota charter schools get 1-year extension on new rules

Tom Weber:

Charter schools in Minnesota are getting a one-year reprieve from a deadline that threatened to close dozens of schools.
Those schools’ sponsors were facing a summer deadline to continue sponsoring schools under a new system created two years ago. Schools without a sponsor, or authorizer, by this July would have had to close.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation into law Wednesday that extends that deadline until next summer.
Eugene Piccolo with the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools said the deadline worried many schools.

Numbers don’t hold up for tighter school security measures

Chris Rickert:

I was surprised to learn this week that my high school occasionally brought in drug-sniffing dogs when I was a student there some 25 years ago.
That might be because they were only used after school hours. It also might be because the dogs weren’t very effective, given that I never felt discouraged from engaging in the kinds of behaviors during school hours that the dogs are presumably meant to discourage.
Neither were many of my classmates, whose on-school-property, school-hours transgressions often made my own drug-related rebelliousness look pretty lame.
But it’s not only questions about the effectiveness of siccing Fido on schools that make me wonder about a package of Madison School District security proposals sparked by new concerns over drug, gang and other criminal activity in and around schools.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go To Grad School

Erin Joyce:

More than 41 million Americans over the age of 18 have earned their college degrees, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. But once that hard-earned diploma has been handed over, many grads are faced with the decision of continuing their education with graduate school. Attaining a masters or PhD is an incredible achievement – one that comes with a high cost to a personal life, work experience and the pocketbook.
Before you pack up for another degree, consider these scenarios, in which grad school may not be the best choice.

Ranking America’s High Schools; Challenging All Students

The Washington Post:

Since 1998, The Post’s Jay Mathews has ranked Washington-area public high schools using the Challenge Index, his measure of how effectively a school prepares its students for college. In 2011, the Post expanded its research to high schools across the United States.
The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors. While not a measure of the overall quality of the school, the rating can reveal the level of a high school’s commitment to preparing average students for college.

Jay Matthews: Behold the power of challenging all high school students — not just the A team

West Potomac High School in Fairfax County and Oakland Mills High School in Howard County are as close as schools come to being twins. Both are in affluent counties and serve ethnically and economically diverse populations. Forty-seven percent of West Potomac students and 52 percent of Oakland Mills students are black or Hispanic. Thirty-eight percent at West Potomac and 31 percent at Oakland Mills are from low-income families.
But when I indulge in my obsessive comparison of schools by their college-level course programs, significant differences emerge. Oakland Mills often bars students from taking Advanced Placement classes if they don’t have B’s in previous courses. West Potomac lets in everyone who signs up and pays the test fees. The AP test participation rate at West Potomac is three times what it is at Oakland Mills, but the passing rate on tests at the Fairfax school is lower: 61 percent, compared with 78 percent at Oakland Mills.

Middleton is the only Madison area high school to make the list.

Did I hear you raht?

The Economist:

ON A call with a bank call center, I was just given a little dialect-identification practice. I had just given the attendant my full name. She then asked me “What’s your last name?”, or so I thought. I repeated it, slightly unsure why she’d asked me to repeat my last name (it’s pretty ordinary). But I misheard her. She’d asked “what’s your wife’s name?” I asked her where her office was located. Any idea where in America a person has to come from to make “wife” sound remotely similar to “last”? Take a guess before reading on.
The office was in Dallas, Texas, which is very close to the borderline of the dialect region known as “Inland South”, as you can see on this map. What makes the inland south different from the lowland south? One of the chief things is glide deletion in the [ai] sound before unvoiced consonants. Glide deletion is what turns “ride” into “rahd”, where a diphthong (two vowels, one gliding into the other) becomes a monophthong or single vowel. This goes on all around the south. What makes an inland southern accent inland and not lowland is that the glide deletion happens before voiceless consonants (like f, t and s) as well as their voiced equivalents (v, d and z). Around the south, “ride” comes out “rahd”. But if someone’s “wife” comes out “wahf”, chances are that person is from the inland south.

School board member Ed Hughes wants to give some docked pay back to Madison teachers (Proposal Withdrawn Later in the Day)

Matthew DeFour:

Hughes is making the proposal [56K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment] as an amendment to the district’s budget.
Funding would come from the $1.3 million windfall the district will get from docking the pay of 1,769 teachers who were absent without an excuse on one or more days between Feb. 16-18 and 21.
The district closed school during those four days because of the high number of staff members who called in sick to attend protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed changes to public sector collective bargaining.
“Under the circumstances it seemed to me the school district shouldn’t necessarily profit from that, because the teachers agreed to make up the time in a way that took away planning time for them,” said Hughes, who is considering a run for school board president when new officers are elected Monday.
Hughes is also proposing increasing the district’s proposed property tax levy for next year by about $2 million to pay for maintenance and technology projects and any costs associated with the district’s implementation of a state-imposed talented-and-gifted education plan.
“It seems goofy that we give away $1 million and then raise property taxes [50K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment],” board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Jay Sorgi:

If a school board member in Madison gets his way, the district would used money it saved when teachers forced schools to shut down during the budget debate to award end of the year bonuses to teachers.
WTMJ partner station WIBA Radio in Madison says that teachers in Madison would receive $200 gift cards as year-end bonuses.
“Whenever we can, we need to show some kind of tangible appreciation for the extremely hard work our teachers and staff do,” said Ed Hughes, a member of the Madison school board.
“They’ve had a particularly tough year as you know, given that they kind of became political footballs in the legislature. We’re ending up slashing their take home pay by a substantial amount, pretty much because we have to.”

Additional links:

Related: 5/26/2005 MTI & The Madison School Board by Ed Hughes.

Oakland Unified’s strategic plan: It’s here.

Katy Murphy:

I plowed through a draft of the Oakland school district’s strategic plan today — all 50 pages of it. It’ll be discussed at a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday (tomorrow) at the district headquarters. You’ll find links to the report below.
I won’t be surprised if long-time observers of the school system remind us all of the Five-Year Plans of OUSD Past — enthusiastically presented, but long since forgotten. I wonder how this plan compares to former superintendents’ visions for Oakland Unified. It certainly contains some provocative ideas, such as “risk screens” for African American male students at certain transitional points, and school quality reviews that go far beyond the API score.
The plan describes various school funding formulas that the district might adopt — but it doesn’t recommend any. The current system, Results-Based Budgeting, allocates funding based on each school’s average attendance. And unlike schools in most other districts, Oakland schools must cover the actual salaries and benefits of their teachers out of that budget. Schools with lots of teachers who are high on the pay scale typically have a harder time making ends meet in this system, as do those with low attendance rates and/or declining enrollment.
Those schools might find the below statement interesting:

The critical factors of enrollment and teacher salary and benefits do not universally allow for a balanced budget, requiring subsidies based on school size and salary/benefit costs, rather than student needs. While the definition of an adequate core program may change as district‐wide priorities and financial position change, it is the main responsibility of the school district to provide a basic educational program to all students.

The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning

Kevin Carey:

In the late days of March 2010, Congressional negotiators dealt President Obama’s community-college reform agenda what seemed like a fatal blow. A year later, it appears that, remarkably, the administration has fashioned the ashes of that defeat into one of the most innovative federal higher-education programs ever conceived. Hardly anyone has noticed.
Obama originally called for $12-billion in new spending on community-college infrastructure and degree completion. The money was to come from eliminating public subsidies to for-profit banks that made student loans. But late in the process, some lawmakers insisted that savings that had already occurred, because of colleges’ switching into the federal direct-loan program in anticipation of the new law, didn’t count as savings. Billions were pulled off the table, and the community-college plan was shelved.
Two days later, negotiators found $2-billion. But they could spend it only on a U.S. Department of Labor program restricted to workers who had lost their jobs because of shifts in global trade. The fit with the president’s expansive agenda seemed awkward, and the amount was pennies on the original dollar. Cynical commentators called it a “consolation prize.”

Brazil May Buy Education Tablets to Lure Manufacturers

Mario Sergio Lima and Iuri Dantas:

Brazil’s government may purchase tablet computers for public schools in a bid to lure manufacturers such as Foxconn Technology Group to build the devices in the country, Science and Technology Minister Aloizio Mercadante said.
Brazil may add tablets to the government’s One Laptop per Child program and cut taxes on devices produced locally to reduce costs and encourage local manufacturing, Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel said. Brazil bought 217,200 laptops for the program in the last three years, according to figures posted on the Education Ministry’s website.
“The inclusion of tablets in the program has an important role to play in helping increase the potential of investments aimed at the production of tablets in Brazil,” Mercadante said in an April 27 interview in Brasilia. “We can find tablets at $150 abroad, that’s a very reasonable price for the device.”

Yale Restricts a Fraternity for Five Years

Lisa Foderaro, via a kind reader’s email:

A Yale fraternity whose alumni include both President Bushes has been banned from conducting any activities on campus for five years, including recruiting, as punishment for an episode last October in which members led pledges in chants offensive to women, the university announced on Tuesday.
Yale’s publicizing of its disciplinary actions is highly unusual, but officials said their move followed a remarkably public and far-reaching episode. After the chanting in a residential quadrangle by members of the fraternity chapter, Delta Kappa Epsilon, 16 students and alumnae filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights accusing the university of failing to eliminate a hostile sexual environment on campus. The department confirmed last month that it had started an investigation.

Steering Capital: Optimizing Financial Support for Innovation in Public Education

Kim Smith and Julie Petersen:

Public education has reached a moment of rare consensus: something must be done about the sorry state of our public schools, particularly in urban and low-income areas, and that the solution must deliver better results at scale – and without significant additional resources. Other fields like medicine and communications have embraced innovation – a new approach that achieves a better result – as the best means to this end. But education innovation has not yet lived up to its promise. In this paper, education entrepreneur Kim Smith and innovation writer Julie Petersen chart a path forward for how the public, private and nonprofit sectors can work together to advance education innovation by steering capital toward products, services and approaches that improve educators’ productivity and students’ learning outcomes.
Today, the educational ecosystem is not set up to support meaningful and widespread innovation. The policy and investment context that defines the flow of capital in education can either encourage or inhibit this innovation, and today it does much more of the latter than the former. Public policies and regulations favor compliance over excellence, rarely allow state or district buyers to choose flexibly between a range of high-quality product or service options, inhibit the flow of information that would allow buyers to anticipate or measure performance improvements, and offering few meaningful incentives for these buyers to adopt better products and services. The philanthropic capital market similarly provides few mechanisms for rewarding dramatically improved outcomes (including little funding for the scale-up of successful organizations), instead favoring small doses of funding across many organizations. Private investors shy away from fueling education innovation, intimidated by policies that restrict the work of for-profit providers in education, frequent policy volatility at the local level, market domination by a few large publishers that feel little pressure from competition or from their customers to really innovate, and a slow, relationship-based sales cycle that rarely measures or rewards quality.

Strange Advice for Parents of Bright Kids

Tamara Fisher:

Awhile back, I posted here my “Strange Advice for Bright Kids.” Today I offer the same gems again, but tweaked to fit the parents of remarkably bright kids. I am once again calling it “strange” advice because I like to look at things from unusual angles and this advice comes from perspectives others may not consider.
1) Ask for help. As you have likely discovered, being the parent of a gifted child isn’t always the cakewalk that a lot of teachers, friends, and parents of average intelligence kids sometimes think it is. These bright lil’ buggers can be INTENSE, which means keeping up with them can be exhausting. They can debate you into a corner, even at a very young age, rationalizing their way into controlling the conversation. Some gifted children have extremely high energy levels and may not need naps at an age when other kids still do. Their sensitivity can catch you off guard as seemingly nonchalant moments turn out to be the impetus that causes a meltdown. Their keen sense of justice means they’re interested in causes beyond their years – and they enlist you to help them save the world. With remarkable focus, they become so immersed in the interesting task at hand that they are impervious to you struggling to tell them it’s time for dinner. And your ten-year-old is having a mid-life crisis, exhibiting his existential depression by asking you questions you haven’t even considered yourself yet (“Why am I here? Why is the world so cruel? What if I can’t make a difference? What’s the point if we’re all going to die someday anyway?”). Plus you know that if you tell your friends you’re worried about your seven-year-old because she’s reading four grade levels above but only being given grade-level material and instruction – that their reaction will be a cynical snort.

Burying the Bias in Teacher Data Reports, Part II

Jackie Bennett:

A few weeks ago I posted a report on Edwize about biases in last year’s Teacher Data Reports. Teachers of high performing math students are 35 times more likely to fall at the bottom of the teacher ranking than at the top. [1]
Shortly after that, the DOE placed a document on its website that asserts that “…teachers of high-performing students are as likely to have high value-added scores as low value-added scores.”
To me, call me crazy, this is unlikely to be true. First of all DOE charts found in the very same document seem to contradict that (more on that in a minute). What’s more, DOE used a broad definition of “teachers of high-performing students,” and also included some reports that were so unreliable they were not issued to teachers. Let’s go through this step by step.

An Open Letter to Wisconsin Governor Walker about His School Choice Speech to the American Federation for Children

Kim Grimmer:

Dear Governor Walker:
I visited the McIver Institute website to view the speech on your plans to expand school choice in Wisconsin which you gave to the American Federation for Children on May 9th. I have a few questions. If you want to just post your responses below in the comments section of this blog, that would be super! Thanks in advance.
1. Did you use a teleprompter? I don’t think I saw you look at your notes more than once or twice in the thirty-three minute speech. If you gave that speech just winging it, I am very impressed. (When you ate David Gregory’s lunch in his interview of you, I also gave you credit where it was deserved.) My one (very small) constructive criticism of your speaking style is to suggest that you cut back on nodding your head up and down “yes” when applause is washing over the podium. It makes you look a little bit like Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers, and a little too self-congratulatory. On the other hand, if you make it to the presidency some day, and Mr. Aykroyd can lose some weight, he will probably be all set for a return gig on SNL.

Democrats Want to Direct Additional Wisconsin Taxes to K-12 Spending

Andy Szal:

Assembly Democrats today proposed using more than half of the new money in last week’s bolstered revenue projections to increase K-12 funding in the state budget, charging that Republicans have failed to distinguish between priorities that can wait and those that cannot.
“We are actually fighting for the very future of public education,” Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said at a press conference outside the Capitol this morning. Clark is running against GOP Sen. Luther Olsen in a potential recall election.
Dems proposed directing $356 million more toward school aids in the budget after LFB projections added $636 million to state coffers over the next biennium last week. Their proposal would also reserve $200 million of that revenue to repay the Patients Compensation Fund, $100 million to pay down some state debt and $20 million to increase aid to technical colleges.

Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
Understanding UW Debate: Relative State Support Down, State Regs Remain.

Thornton: More follow through needed on Milwaukee Public School reforms

Steve Schultze:

Plenty of talk, not enough action.
That was the blunt message Wednesday from Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton, at a forum on how to fix what ails MPS, local government and the city as a whole in an era of declining public resources.
He said while rhetoric about change has been good, with a series of reforms laid out over the years, the focus and follow through have been lacking.
“We have an ‘execution gap,’ ” Thornton said at the forum on Milwaukee’s future with top city, civic and business leaders at Marquette University. “The problem is, we are not playing very well together.”
He said greater effort at partnerships was needed and that the foundation for some solutions was already in place. MPS has vast libraries that might be put to greater use by the community, for example, he said.

Know Your Madisonian: 40-year teacher has seen many changes

Matthew DeFour:

Of the six Madison School District principals retiring this year, Cathy McMillan has logged the most years of service with the district at 39 years.
Her 40-year career in education began as a sixth-grade teacher in Baltimore. Since moving to Madison in 1972, she has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, worked in district administration, and served as principal at Hawthorne Elementary School and for the past four years at Franklin Elementary School.
Q: Why did you decide to become an educator?
A: I remember my sixth-grade and first male teacher, Mr. Wiskita, inspired me to pursue my interest in math and science. Once I got into the classroom I was hooked. I wanted to see that all students enjoyed learning — especially math. I wanted girls to love math and consider math-related careers.

Helping Kids Beat Depression… by Treating Mom

Melinda Beck:

Successfully treating a mother with depression isn’t just good for the mom; it also can provide long-lasting benefits for her children’s mental health, new research shows.
About 1 in 8 women can expect to develop depression at some point in her life. Incidences peak in the childbearing years, with as many as 24% of women becoming depressed during or after pregnancy. More than 400,000 infants are born to depressed mothers each year in the U.S.
And decades of research have borne out the old expression “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” About half of kids with depressed mothers develop the condition–three times the typical risk.
Sadness isn’t the only symptom. Children of depressed mothers are more likely to be anxious, irritable and disruptive than other kids.

Is Your Religion Your Financial Destiny?

David Leonhardt, via a Rick Kiley email:

The economic differences among the country’s various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among states and even larger than those among racial groups.
The most affluent of the major religions — including secularism — is Reform Judaism. Sixty-seven percent of Reform Jewish households made more than $75,000 a year at the time the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life collected the data, compared with only 31 percent of the population as a whole. Hindus were second, at 65 percent, and Conservative Jews were third, at 57 percent.
On the other end are Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists. In each case, 20 percent or fewer of followers made at least $75,000. Remarkably, the share of Baptist households making $40,000 or less is roughly the same as the share of Reform Jews making $100,000 or more. Overall, Protestants, who together are the country’s largest religious group, are poorer than average and poorer than Catholics. That stands in contrast to the long history, made famous by Max Weber, of Protestant nations generally being richer than Catholic nations.

Top 10 Questions/Comments Made By My Third Graders During Their First Ever Set of ELA and Math State Exams

Miss Brave:

(aka “Why Teaching In a Testing Grade May Cause Premature Aging,” or “Why I Have Band-Aids On All My Fingers From Nervously Picking Off the Cuticles While Proctoring”)
10. “Why do we have to use a #2 pencil?”
9. (Directions read by me: “You may not speak to each other while the test is being administered.” Student:) “What does ‘administered’ mean?”
8. “I don’t get how to show my work for this part.”
7. (The test directs students to continue working when they see the words GO ON at the bottom of the page and to stop working when they see the word STOP. On the ELA, students get ten minutes per passage and have to STOP before being directed to move on. On the math exam, they get 60 minutes to do all 40 questions, no STOPping. On the math exam, one student asked:) “When is it gonna say STOP?!”
6. “But none of these choices are right.”
5. “But both of these choices are right.”
4. “Can I look this word up in the dictionary?”

Seattle’s Ingraham parents 1, Seattle Schools 0

Linda Thomas:

Parents, teachers and students have been in shock since the Seattle School District’s interim Superintendent decided to fire a popular principal for little reason, they thought. They fought. They won.
This afternoon Superintendent Susan Enfield reversed her decision about dismissing Ingraham Principal Martin Floe, and sent the high school’s staff this letter:

When I was appointed Interim Superintendent, it was with the clear charge to strengthen opportunities for all students to learn. You asked me to bring high levels of transparency and accountability to this effort. The decision I made last Tuesday about the leadership of Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe reflects my efforts to realize these commitments.
However, I also know that a good leader listens. After extensive conversations with Ingraham High School staff and the community, I have decided to renew Mr. Floe’s contact for the 2011-12 school year, under the condition that he continue on a plan of improvement, which I, along with his Executive Director, will monitor throughout the year.

At Fairfax High, a new dance before the prom

Avis Thomas-Lester:

For weeks, Samantha Cormode’s friends at Fairfax High School had been racking up invitations to prom, but she hadn’t been asked.
Samantha, a senior who is headed to Virginia Tech with hopes of earning a spot on the women’s soccer team, had been busy studying for finals, preparing for AP exams and making sure she stayed on top of everything she needed to do for college.
She’d been without a steady boyfriend since September, when she and last year’s boyfriend/prom date had gone their separate ways. She had opted not to go to this year’s event with a group of her friends because last year’s boyfriend/prom date would be among the revelers with his new girlfriend.
That would be too weird.

Teachers Swap Recipes

Bill Tucker:

In every school in America, in three-ring binders and file folders, sit lesson plans–the recipes that guide everyday teaching in the classroom. Like the secrets of talented cooks, the instructional plans of the best teachers have much to offer their creators’ colleagues. But while the plans are increasingly digital, they are still not easily shared across classrooms, nor, especially, across districts or states. Even when these plans are accessible, they are often not organized in a way that makes them easy to use, understand, or customize.
Now, a host of new web sites, from A to Z Teacher Stuff to Lesson Planet to Lessonopoly, are trying to solve that problem and make it easier for teachers to share, find, and make better use of lesson plans and accompanying materials. One, TeachersPayTeachers, a sort of Craigslist for educators, says it has paid more than $1 million in commissions to teachers, who have sold everything from classroom hand puppets to lesson plans on the Civil War. The site even hosts a “lesson plan on demand” auction, in which teachers advertise for, say, 4th-grade materials on Texas history and other teachers bid to fulfill the request.

Your So-Called Education

Richard Arum & Josipa Roksa:

COMMENCEMENT is a special time on college campuses: an occasion for students, families, faculty and administrators to come together to celebrate a job well done. And perhaps there is reason to be pleased. In recent surveys of college seniors, more than 90 percent report gaining subject-specific knowledge and developing the ability to think critically and analytically. Almost 9 out of 10 report that overall, they were satisfied with their collegiate experiences.
We would be happy to join in the celebrations if it weren’t for our recent research, which raises doubts about the quality of undergraduate learning in the United States. Over four years, we followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse four-year colleges and universities. We found that large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.

China closes stem-cell gap with the West

Fiona Tam:

China’s aggressive drive to close the gap with the West in stem-cell research is paying off after five years of heavy investment in a branch of science free of the tight regulatory constraints and intense debate over moral issues that hamper experimental work elsewhere.
A decade ago, China had 37 stem-cell research papers published by reputable journals. By 2008, it was 1,116, the China Medical Tribune said. It now ranks fifth in the world in both the number of stem-cell patents filed and research papers published. And its numbers are growing faster than in any other nation.

Single Standard vs. Multiple Standards (Or Checker vs. Shanker)

Ze’ev Wurman & Bill Evers:

ome people who favor national standards have pointed to the variability among states as making comparisons difficult and have been quick to point to national standards and tests as a consistent, nationwide, uniform system to judge all schools in the same way. No one has been more outspoken on those points than the Fordham Institute, whose 2007 The Proficiency Illusion report was touted far and wide. It was followed in 2009 by another Fordham report, The Accountability Illusion, that took states to task not only for having distinct definitions of proficiency, but also with fuzzing the issue even more by playing with other NCLB accountability rules. Checker Finn came out on its publication declaring:
“This report’s crucial finding is that – contrary to what the average American likely believes – there is no common, nationwide accountability system for measuring school performance under NCLB. The AYP system is idiosyncratic, even random and opaque. Without a common standard to help determine whether a given school is successful or not, its fate under NCLB is determined by a set of arcane rules created by each state…”

Madison schools ‘don’t want to wait’ for a crisis

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to an increase in violence, drugs and gang activity in and around schools, the Madison School District is considering a broad effort to improve building security, including the use of drug-sniffing dogs in high schools next year.
The district also is proposing to lock the main entrances of middle school buildings during the day. Other recommendations include redesigning main entrances at West and Memorial high schools and adding surveillance cameras to all elementary and middle schools, district security coordinator Luis Yudice said.
“We are not doing this because we believe we have severe problems in our schools (or) because we experienced a tragedy in our schools,” Yudice said. “We don’t want to wait until there’s a crisis. We want to get ahead of the game.”

School choice advocates spend freely on politics, WEAC Spending

Susan Troller

A rural legislator who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from out-of-state school choice advocates took flak back home for supporting expansion of a Milwaukee voucher program when his own school district is struggling financially.
According to a story in the Sauk Prairie Eagle last week, an aide to Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, had to use a gavel to bring order back to a budget listening session at Sauk Prairie Memorial Hospital on May 6.
Marklein, a freshman Republican legislator, was asked if campaign contributions were influencing his support for two pieces of recent school choice legislation which provide public tax dollars for families to spend in private schools in Milwaukee. This, at the same time that the River Valley School District, which Marklein represents, has been forced to cut programs and staff and is facing more cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators by Steven Walters:

How much do election-year firewalls cost to build? For the state’s largest teachers union, $1.57 million.
That’s how much the Wisconsin Education Association Council said last week it will spend trying to make sure four Democratic state senators are re-elected – enough, WEAC hopes, to keep a Democratic majority in the 33-member state body.
Although there are 15 Democratic candidates running for the state Senate, and 80 Democrats running for the state Assembly, the latest WEAC report shows that the teachers union is placing what amounts to an “all in” bet on saving just four Democratic senators who are finishing their first terms.

Wisconsin Teachers Union Tops Lobbying Expenditures in 2009, more than Double #2

Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting

Betheny Gross, Robin Lake, via a Deb Britt email:

In February 2011, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) convened a conference to help districts implementing school choice under the U.S. Department of Education’s Voluntary Public School Choice program. The conference, sponsored by the Department of Education, provided grantees access to the most current knowledge from district and charter leaders and school choice researchers on how to effectively implement public school choice.
The conference focused on the most pressing issues faced by localities committed to public school choice. Panelists addressed how choice districts can
actively manage the supply of schools in the district,
make careful decisions about the allocation of resources across these now independent schools,
build fair and transparent enrollment systems,
effectively communicate to all parents about their choices, and
invoke creative solutions to ensure that students with special needs are well served in these diverse schools.

Is College Worth It? College Presidents, Public Assess Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education

Pew Research Center:

This report is based on findings from a pair of Pew Research Center surveys conducted this spring. One is a telephone survey taken among a nationally representative sample of 2,142 adults ages 18 and older. The other is an online survey, done in association with the Chronicle of Higher Education, among the presidents of 1,055 two-year and four-year private, public and for-profit colleges and universities. (See the our survey methodology for more information.)
Here is a summary of key findings from the full report:
Survey of the General Public
Cost and Value. A majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority (75%) says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86%) say that college has been a good investment for them personally.

Valerie Strauss has more.

Madison East High assistant coach arrested for alleged sexual relationship with 16-year-old

Ed Treleven:

A Madison East High School assistant girls basketball coach was arrested Friday for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old female student.
A search warrant filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court — seeking a DNA sample from Jason L. Hairston, 29 — states that the girl and Hairston began a relationship shortly after winter break, which ended Jan. 3.
Hairston remained in the Dane County Jail on Monday, where he is tentatively charged with sexual assault of a student by staff.
According to the search warrant, the girl told police that she knew Hairston through her involvement with the team. She said they had sex at a number of locations, including his home and her home, several motels, a parking lot on the North Side and the garage of a North Side home.

Letter to East High School Parents, via a kind reader’s email.

Guest Commentary: An education agenda for Denver’s next mayor

Van Schoales:

The Denver mayoral race has been remarkable in its focus on education reform. Never before has there been so much discussion, debate and even television ads on this critical issue in the city’s mayoral race. We are fortunate to have two candidates, Michael Hancock and Chris Romer, who are both education reformers.
Some point to the Denver mayor’s lack of direct authority over the city’s schools to argue that the candidates’ rhetoric is better suited for the upcoming school board race. This misses the point: Denver’s next mayor is sure to have a significant impact on public education in our city. And as President Obama and Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are demonstrating on the national level, serious and much-needed education reforms require strong leadership.
Hancock and Romer have their differences when it comes to education policy, but both realize the central importance of high-quality public education to bringing growth and prosperity to Denver. There are some truly great public schools in our city, but when the district schools as a whole are struggling to sufficiently prepare one-fifth of their students for college, work and civic participation, fundamental reform is required.

Lawmakers and Others Discuss Changes to Education Programs for Prisoners

Brandi Grissom:

As state lawmakers combed the budget this year for cuts to close a multibillion-dollar shortfall, some leaders focused on a line item that usually draws little attention: the Windham School District, which received more than $128 million in 2010-11 to provide education to inmates in the state’s sprawling prison system.
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Lawmakers will most likely cut that number significantly in the 2012-13 budget, and that could be just the beginning of big changes to come.
“The structure itself screams out for change, screams out for renovation and innovation,” said State Senator Florence Shapiro, Republican of Plano and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.
The Windham School District is financed by the Texas Education Agency and overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In the 2009-10 school year, about 77,500 offenders participated in some type of Windham program. The school district operates much like a regular public school system, with a superintendent, principals and teachers at campuses across the state. It provides basic adult education, vocational training, life-skills programs and college-level courses.

Four Degrees of New Jersey Education Association

New Jersey Left Behind:

Question: how many degrees of separation are there between the broadening coalition opposing the expansion of charter schools in New Jersey and the National Education Association?

First, a news hook and a bit of back story. On Saturday morning New Jersey School Boards Association’s Delegate Assembly overwhelming approved an emergency resolution put forth by the Princeton Board of Education that would require voter approval for the authorization of any new public charter school. The approval implicitly supports a pending bill sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (and, as NJ Spotlight reports, complicates prospects for a more carefully crafted bill that would expand authorizers beyond the DOE, sponsored by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey).

NJSBA’s disapprobation of charter school expansion is right in line with the political agendae of other education groups like Education Law Center, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and a new group called Save Our Schools NJ (SOS NJ). Their well-coordinated message is simple: taxpayers cough up the dough for public education so taxpayers should have veto power within their communities regarding the opening of any taxpayer-supported charter school. Anything else is taxation without representation, right? If a potential charter school wants to open, then it can put the question to a vote during election season.

Jeb Bush’s education ideas draw national attention

Lesley Clark:

Jeb Bush left the Florida governor’s office in 2007, but his influence still holds sway in Tallahassee, and now is felt in state capitals from New Jersey to Oregon, where lawmakers are eager to adopt his ideas on how to improve education.
Since leaving Tallahassee, the popular former Florida governor has developed a national reputation as an education powerhouse and champion of vouchers and charter schools. His latest recognition: the Bradley Foundation, a conservative group that says it shies away from lauding politicians. Last week, it gave the Republican its Bradley Prize, a distinction that carries a $250,000 stipend.
“The reforms that he put in place during his two terms as Florida governor in many ways lead the country in elementary and secondary education,” said Michael W. Grebe, the president and chief executive officer of the Bradley Foundation, which has spent more than $40 million over the last 20 years in support of charter schools and voucher programs, including as a donor to Bush’s education foundation. “He put in place programs that have clearly raised academic standards. It’s measurable, demonstrable. We’re also really impressed by what he continues to do as a private citizen. When he left office, he didn’t leave behind his work.”

NEA Gives Friend of Education Award to 14 Fugitive Wisconsin Democrats

Mike Antonucci:

NEA Gives Friend of Education Award to 14 Fugitive Wisconsin Democrats. Each year the National Education Association issues a “Friend of Education” award to some liberal worthy known for toeing the union line. Last year’s award went to Diane Ravitch, and previous winners are Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.
This year the union decided to honor the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who fled the state rather than debate and vote on the governor’s collective bargaining bill.
It is believed to be the first multi-week sojourn to the Tilted Kilt ever to result in an award from a major national organization.

Fairfax teacher Sean Lanigan still suffering from false molestation allegations

Tom Jackman:

Sean Lanigan’s nightmare began in January 2010, when the principal at Centre Ridge Elementary School pulled him out of the physical education class he was teaching and quietly walked him into an interrogation with two Fairfax County police detectives.
He had no warning that a 12-year-old girl at the Centreville school had accused him of groping and molesting her in the gym.
The girl, angry at Lanigan about something else entirely, had made the whole thing up. But her accusations launched a soul-sapping rollercoaster ride that still hasn’t ended.
“Emotionally, a part of me has died inside,” Lanigan said in a recent interview. “I’m physically and mentally exhausted all the time, how the whole process has been dragged out to this date. It certainly has affected the quality of life for me and my family at home.”

Test scores could end a Wisconsin teacher’s job

Erin Richards:

School boards across Wisconsin could use teacher evaluations – which rely in part on the results of students’ standardized state test scores – as part of the reason for dismissing and disciplining educators, according to legislation considered by the Assembly and Senate education committees Monday.
Senate Bill 95 proposes modifying 10 state mandates so that local school districts have more flexibility to decide what’s best for their communities, said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), a co-sponsor of the bill with Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).
The legislation covers a wide berth of areas – from allowing school boards to offer physical education credit to high school students who participate in one season of an extracurricular sport, to changing the way a state-funded class-size reduction program is implemented in the elementary grades – but was criticized by some legislators who thought it was too hastily brought to a hearing Monday.
Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) noted that details about the bill were released only one business day earlier, on Friday, by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
“I’m pretty sure if there had been more notice on this, this room would have been packed,” she said, looking at the meager crowd of about 30 people.

Wisconsin Senate Bill 95 Testimony

TJ Mertz:

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Senate Bill 95.

Due to time limitations — both the time allotted here and the very, very short time between the release of the Bill on Friday and the scheduling of this hearing for today — I will be confining myself to only two of the topics covered in this wide ranging measure. Those are the dilution of the Student Achievement Guaranty in Education (SAGE) and the use of student standardized test scores as a determinant of educator employment conditions. I will note that I believe every section of this Bill should be thoroughly sifted and winnowed.

Before directly addressing the proposals on SAGE and the use of student standardized test scores, I’d like to say a few things about the broader trend in educational thinking and policy in Wisconsin.

Not too long ago Senator Olson chaired a Special Committee on Review of State School Aid Formula. I sat though most of the meetings of that committee. Although little came of it, there was a sense of optimism and ambition in the work of that committee, a sense that we can and should do better. This spirit was captured in the title of the presentation by Professor Alan Odden “Moving From Good to Great in Wisconsin: Funding Schools Adequately and Doubling Student Performance,” (paper of the same title here) . It should be added that Doctor Sarah Archibald, who is anow dvising Senator Olson, was part of that work.

Much more on Wisconsin Senate Bill 95, here.

Madison Edgewood High closed after student’s death; school also deals with unrelated security issue

Matthew DeFour:

Edgewood High School closed Monday as students and parents grieved the unexpected death of a student Sunday, and school officials and police dealt with what they said was an unrelated security concern.
The death occurred the same day school officials met with parents to discuss concerns related to graffiti found in a bathroom Friday, according to emails Edgewood High School President Judd Schemmel sent to parents over the weekend.
“We don’t have any reason to believe the two are connected,” Madison Police Capt. Joe Balles said Monday, referring to the death and the security issue.
School officials did not tell parents that they decided to close school until late Sunday after learning of the student’s death, according to emails sent to parents.

Rahm’s Education Promise

The Wall Street Journal:

Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in today as mayor of Chicago, having campaigned on promises to fix a school system that graduates only half its students. The veteran Democrat talks a good game and has appointed a schools CEO with strong reform credentials. But Mr. Emanuel has miles to go before he proves that his famous political toughness is a match for the unions and bureaucrats who will oppose any reform worthy of the name.
In addressing Chicagoans today, Mr. Emanuel will likely celebrate Illinois Senate Bill 7, which last week passed the state legislature and awaits Governor Pat Quinn’s signature. The law is certainly welcome, and Mr. Emanuel was right to support it. But its provisions say less about the boldness of lawmakers than about the implacability of the status quo.
On the plus side, the law ties teacher tenure and layoffs to student performance, not just to seniority. The law also makes it easier to fire ineffective teachers–easier, that is, than the traditional process that in Chicago can include more than 25 distinct steps. And while it’s good that the law makes it harder for the Chicago Teachers Union to strike, Illinois remains one of only 11 states to allow teachers to strike at all.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men’s Website

Madison Preparatory Academy, via a Kaleem Caire email:

ased on current educational and social conditions, the fate of boys of color is uncertain. African American and Latino boys are grossly over-represented among young men failing to achieve academic success and are at greater risk of dropping out of school. Boys in general lag behind girls on most indicators of student achievement.
In 2009, just 52% of African American boys and 52% of Latino boys graduated on-time from Madison Metropolitan School District compared to 81% of Asian boys and 88% of White boys.
In the class of 2010, just 7% of African American seniors and 18% of Latino seniors were deemed “college-ready” by ACT, makers of the standardized college entrance exam required for all Wisconsin universities.
Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (Madison Prep) is a public charter school being developed by the Urban League of Greater Madison. Madison Prep will serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity, particularly young men of color. Its mission is to prepare scholars for success at a four year college by instilling excellence, pride, leadership and service. A proposed non-instrumentality charter school located in Madison, Wisconsin and to be authorized by the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison Prep will serve 420 students in grades 6 through 12 when it reaches full enrollment in 2017-2018.

Schools ‘should teach how to save a life’, says charity


A heart charity is calling on the government to include the teaching of life-saving skills in the national curriculum.
In a survey carried out by the British Heart Foundation, 73% of schoolchildren wanted to learn how to resuscitate someone and give first aid.
More than 75% of teachers and parents also agreed it should be taught in schools.
The survey questioned 2,000 parents, 1,000 children and 500 teachers.
The BHF wants emergency life support skills (ELS) to be taught as part of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) lessons and alongside physical education, citizenship and science.
Life-saving skills include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which can help someone who’s had a cardiac arrest.

What do teachers want?

John Merrow:

Readers of this blog or of my book, The Influence of Teachers, know that I believe that the harsh criticism of teachers and their unions is largely undeserved. I also believe it is hurting public education.
In the clamor, the voices of regular classroom teachers are difficult to hear, which is why I am devoting this blog to them. With apologies to Sigmund Freud, “What do teachers want?”
Some answers to that question can be found in recent surveys by Met Life and the Gates Foundation/Scholastic. I include some of those findings below.
Renee Moore, a veteran teacher who is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, says it’s all about respect. “Highest on my list,” she wrote, “would be more respect for the professional expertise of teachers, particularly for those of us who have shown consistently, year-after-year that we are highly accomplished teachers.”
That seems to be consistent with a Met Life finding that most teachers feel they are being ignored. “A majority of teachers do not believe that teachers’ voices are being heard. Seven in ten teachers (69%) disagree with the statement that “thinking about the current debate on education, teachers’ voices in general have been adequately heard.”

Grading teachers

Elizabeth Ling & Jocelyn Huber:

Gov. Cuomo yesterday wrote Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, urging a drastic change of direction as the state Education Department develops a new teacher-evaluation system. The governor’s right: The first draft of that system deserves an F.
It seems Tisch got the message. Soon after the governor’s letter went public, she released a statement committing to an overhaul of the evaluation system.
Cuomo’s recommendations address many of the problems and offer a good starting point to build upon. Now it’s up to Tisch and the Regents to adopt them in earnest when they meet Monday.

Wisconsin Voucher expansion is threat to public education

Appleton Post-Crescent:

here’s a train coming, folks. And, unlike the proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail, this train really is high-speed.
If we’re not paying attention, it could end up crippling public education in Wisconsin.
Gov. Scott Walker had already included in his 2011-13 budget proposal a plan to change the Milwaukee school voucher program, which allows low-income students to attend private schools on the taxpayers’ dime.
It would eliminate the enrollment caps; expand it to include schools in all of Milwaukee County, not just the city; and phase out income limits, opening the program to middle- and high-income families.
The Assembly last week passed a separate bill that eliminated the caps and the Milwaukee-only school requirement.

New Jersey School Board President Calls Charter Schools “Bad Public Policy”

Natalie Davis:

Speaking before the Board of Education during its meeting Thursday night, President Jack Lyness expressed strong feelings in opposition to the nation’s burgeoning “charter school movement.”
Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that are funded by government but operate independently from local boards of education in exchange for meeting academic standards stipulated by the state Commissioner of Education. Unlike private schools, charter schools are not permitted to charge tuition, and they are considered part of the public school system.
Many parents of New Jersey school children are considering charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. As of January, there are 73 charter schools in New Jersey-the state is the fourth largest charter authorizer in the U.S.-and the state Department of Education website predicts there will be more than 100 by the fall. This year, more than 22,000 children in grades pre-K through 12 throughout the state are enrolled in a charter school. According to the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, 66 percent of the state’s charter schools achieved adequate yearly progress in 2008-09 compared to 44 percent of their local district schools.

Class size hike spells trouble Impact of increase to 34 in K-8 will be negative

Alan Borsuk:

There are people who have been making a splash nationally by spreading word that judgment day will be May 21, and by fall, the earth will no longer exist.
If so, we don’t need to be so alarmed about the future of Milwaukee Public Schools. Or a list of other school districts that aren’t in quite as bad shape. Yet.
But in case we remain in this vale of tears a bit longer, let’s talk about what is expected to happen to class sizes in MPS. This won’t be pleasant.
MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton used a number last week in a talk before civic leaders and, later, in comments to the School Board: 34. That’s going to be the average class size next year, he said.
For kindergarten through 12th grade? No, he told me, for kindergarten through eighth grade. There’s no estimate for high schools yet, he said. (As a general matter, high school classes are larger than younger grades.)
“Class sizes will increase,” Thornton said. “That’s just a reality. . . . This is a community that needs learning to be personalized and customized.” In other words, it needs at least reasonable class sizes.
So 34 compared to what this year? Thornton estimated 28 to 29.

Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten?

Kate Zernike:

ON command, Eze Schupfer reads aloud the numbers on a worksheet in front of her: “42, 43, 12, 13.” Then she begins to trace them.
“Is that how we write a 12?” her instructor, Maria Rivas, asks. “Erase it.”
“This is a sloppy 12, Eze,” she says. “Go ahead: a one and a two. Smaller. Much better.”
Eze moves to 13.
“Neater,” Ms. Rivas insists. “Come on, you can do it.” Finally, she resorts to the kind of incentive that Eze, her pink glitter sneaker barely grazing the ground, can appreciate: “You’ll get an extra sticker if you can do a perfect 13.”
Eze is 3. She is neither problem child nor prodigy. And her mother, Gina Goldman, who watches through a glass window from the waiting room, says drilling numbers and letters into the head of a 3-year-old defies all the warmth and coziness of her parenting philosophy — as well as the ethos of Eze’s progressive preschool. But she began bringing Eze and her older brother to these tutoring sessions nearly a year ago on the advice of a friend, and has since become the kind of believer who is fueling a rapid expansion of Junior Kumon preschool enrichment programs like this one, a block from the toddler-swollen playgrounds of Battery Park City.


Ian Stewart:

Biology used to be about plants, animals and insects, but five great revolutions have changed the way that scientists think about life: the invention of the microscope, the systematic classification of the planet’s living creatures, evolution, the discovery of the gene and the structure of DNA. Now, a sixth is on its way – mathematics.
Maths has played a leading role in the physical sciences for centuries, but in the life sciences it was little more than a bit player, a routine tool for analysing data. However, it is moving towards centre stage, providing new understanding of the complex processes of life.
The ideas involved are varied and novel; they range from pattern formation to chaos theory. They are helping us to understand not just what life is made from, but how it works, on every scale from molecules to the entire planet – and possibly beyond.
The biggest revolution in modern biology was the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, which turned genetics into a branch of chemistry, centred on a creature’s genes – sequences of DNA code that specify the proteins from which the gene is made. But when attention shifted to what genes do in an organism, the true depth of the problem of life became ever more apparent. Listing the proteins that make up a cat does not tell us everything we want to know about cats.

Wisconsin Voucher program needs accountability

Tony Evers and Howard Fuller:

The children of Milwaukee deserve a quality education regardless of whether they attend Milwaukee Public Schools, a charter school or a private school through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
A key element to support quality is transparency. Clear, easy to understand and readily available information, including test score results, helps parents and the public evaluate their schools. Traditional public and charter schools throughout the state have been using publicly reported test score results and other data to drive school improvement for years. This transparency was extended to the voucher program through laws enacted in the 2009-’11 budget.
This fall, for the first time, students attending private schools through the state’s voucher program had their academic progress assessed with the same statewide tests as their public school peers. Results reported this spring showed that some public, charter and private schools in Milwaukee are doing very well, but too many are not providing the education our children need and deserve.
We believe that students in the voucher program, receiving taxpayer support to attend private Milwaukee schools, must continue to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. Standardized tests, including the WKCE, do not paint an entire picture of a student, and many private schools participating in the voucher program take other quality tests. We need to put all the schools in MPS, charter and choice programs on a common report card.

Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media

Trip Gabriel:

Wasn’t it just the other day that teachers confiscated cellphones and principals warned about oversharing on MySpace?
Now, Erin Olson, an English teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa, is among a small but growing cadre of educators trying to exploit Twitter-like technology to enhance classroom discussion. Last Friday, as some of her 11th graders read aloud from a poem called “To the Lady,” which ponders why bystanders do not intervene to stop injustice, others kept up a running commentary on their laptops.
The poet “says that people cried out and tried but nothing was done,” one student typed, her words posted in cyberspace.
“She is giving raw proof,” another student offered, “that we are slaves to our society.”

Yale in Singapore: Lost in Translation

Christopher L. Miller:

On March 31, Yale University announced final plans to open its first joint campus, in partnership with the National University of Singapore, to be known as Yale-NUS College. The Web site of the new, yet-to-be-built campus was launched immediately. It features Potemkin-village photographs of smiling students, presumably posing as future Yale-NUS students. So as of now, for the first time since 1701, there will be two Yales. (The old one should henceforth be called “Yale-New Haven,” to avoid confusion.)
On April 11, in Singapore, President Richard C. Levin of Yale, along with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the president of the National University of Singapore, signed the agreement establishing the Yale campus in the city-state, and they unveiled architectural plans for the new campus. In New Haven, faculty recruitment has begun, reportedly in an atmosphere of “enthralled” enthusiasm. But the Yale-NUS venture raises troubling questions about the translation of academic values and freedoms into a repressive environment.

NYC Charter School Stalls in Court

Barbara Martinez:

The Upper West Side could lose its first charter school before it even opens.
A judge has slapped the Department of Education with a temporary restraining order that halted the start of renovations necessary on the school building on 84th Street where Upper West Success Academy Charter School plans to open in August.
The city downplayed the restraining order.
“While we do not believe the stay was warranted, it is not unusual for judges to preserve the status quo for a short period of time while they consider the legal issues before them,” said Chlarens Orsland, assistant corporation counsel for the New York City law department.
The school, founded by former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, has been the subject of heated opposition since the DOE announced it would be allowed to take root in the old Brandeis High School building, where there are now five small high schools.

Four Questions About Creative Writing

Mark McGurl:

1. Why do people hate creative writing programs so much?
Well they don’t really, not everyone, or there wouldn’t be so many of them–hundreds. From modest beginnings in Iowa in the 1930’s, MFA programs have spread out across the land, coast to coast, sinking roots in the soil like an improbably invasive species of corn. Now, leaping the oceans, stalks have begun to sprout in countries all around the world, feeding the insatiable desire to be that mythical thing, a writer. Somebody must think they’re worth founding, funding, attending, teaching at.
But partly in reaction to their very numerousness, which runs afoul of traditional ideas about the necessary exclusivity of literary achievement, contempt for writing programs is pervasive, at least among the kind of people who think about them at all. In fact, I would say they are objects of their own Derangement Syndrome. Logically, any large-scale human endeavor will be the scene of a certain amount of mediocrity, and creative writing is no different, but here that mediocrity is taken as a sign of some profounder failure, some horrible and scandalous wrong turn in literary history. Under its spell, a set of otherwise fair questions about creative writing are not so much asked as always-already answered. No, writing cannot be taught. Yes, writing programs are a scam–a kind of Ponzi scheme. Yes, writing programs make all writers sound alike. Yes, they turn writers away from the “real world,” where the real stories are, fastening their gazes to their navels. No, MFA students do not learn anything truly valuable.

Why NYC Kids Rule the Chess World

Jill Caryl Weiner:

When 10-year-old Drew French slid his rook down the center of the board to checkmate his opponent, it sealed the victory for his team from P.S. 166 during last weekend’s National Elementary School Chess Championships here. And the Manhattan school wasn’t the only one to bring chess trophies back to the five boroughs: city schools finished on top in five out of nine sections.
“New York teams are so dominant, they might as well call this the state championships,” Matthew Noble, a chess coach at a school in Tucson, Ariz., said during the tournament in Dallas.
The city’s chess prowess extends to all grades. At the junior high championships in April, New York City schools claimed first and third in the top level and won three of the remaining five sections. When high schools from across the country faced off in Nashville earlier this month, traditional chess powerhouses Hunter College High School, Brooklyn’s I.S. 318 and the Bronx High School of Science took all three top spots in the tournament’s highest level of play.

On “Parents with Options”

Patrick McIlheran:

A “dagger,” said the well-meaning man, “in the heart of public education.” That man, who superintends Green Bay’s public school system, was reacting to word that Gov. Scott Walker proposed letting parents statewide have the same option poor Milwaukeeans now have – to take their state school aid to a private school, if they choose it.
Parents with options: That was the violence that Greg Maass, that superintendent, was talking about. I don’t mean to single out Maass. He colorfully phrased the apocalyptic view that many others had toward Walker’s idea. A writer for The Progressive, the left-wing Madison magazine that figures we peaked in about 1938, tiresomely said it was “war on education.”
Right: To increase options is to war on education. Actually, though, that is the heart of the complaint of the public school establishment. Giving families more control over where they can get a publicly funded education necessarily means less control for those in charge of what had been the only place you could get one.
But will Walker’s idea kill off public education? Unlikely: Incumbent school systems already live with publicly funded competition.

Free Science, One Paper at a Time

David Dobbs:

On Father’s Day three years ago, biologist Jonathan Eisen decided he’d like to republish all his father’s papers. His father, Howard Eisen, a biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, had published 40-some-odd papers by the time that he died by suicide at age 45. That had been in Febuary 1987, while Jonathan, a sophomore at college, was on the verge of discovering his own love of biology. At the time, virtually all scientific papers were just on paper. Now, of course, everything happens online, and Jonathan, who in addition to researching and teaching also serves as an editor for the open-access, online-only journal PLoS Biology, knows this well. So three years ago, Jonathan decided to reclaim his father’s papers from print limbo and make them freely available online. He wanted to make them part of the scientific record. He also wanted, he says, “to leave a more positive presence” — to ensure his father had a public legacy first and foremost as a scientist.