I ain’t taking no deep breaths

Miss Brave:

THE TEST is almost upon us! Recently I met with my principal to discuss what grade I’d like to teach next year. After many, many hours of soul-searching I had listed second grade as my first choice on my preference sheet, but there may not be an opening, so I then spent many, many hours agonizing over whether I’d rather move to first grade or stay in third. My principal asked me to be “completely honest” about my reservations in third grade.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve never done test prep before, and I’ve never had a class like this before, so getting this class through test prep has been…”
He finished the sentence for me. “Get me the hell out of third grade?”

If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools: What if groceries were paid for by taxes, and you were assigned a store based on where you live?

Donald Boudreaux:

Teachers unions and their political allies argue that market forces can’t supply quality education. According to them, only our existing system–politicized and monopolistic–will do the trick. Yet Americans would find that approach ludicrous if applied to other vital goods or services.
Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries–“for free”–from its neighborhood public supermarket.
No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.
Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families’ choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.

Chicago Urban Prep charter school seniors get into Ivy League schools

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, via a kind reader’s email:

Urban Prep Academy will mark another first this year — the city’s all-male, all-African-American charter high school will be sending its first students to an Ivy League school in the fall.
Urban Prep Academy will mark another first this year — the city’s all-male, all-African-American charter high school will be sending its first students to an Ivy League school in the fall.
Seniors Matthew Williams and Julius Claybron have been accepted into Cornell University. Williams also has been accepted into Dartmouth College and wait-listed at Harvard and Yale, school officials said.
The students and 102 others in the Class of 2011 announced the colleges they will attend at a ceremony Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field. They put on baseball caps for their college picks, which included Morehouse, Oberlin, Grinnell and the University of Michigan.

Much more on Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy and the proposed Madison Prep IB Charter school here.

Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness

Thomas J. Kane, Eric S. Taylor, John H. Tyler and Amy L. Wooten:

The Widget Effect,” a widely read 2009 report from The New Teacher Project, surveyed the teacher evaluation systems in 14 large American school districts and concluded that status quo systems provide little information on how performance differs from teacher to teacher. The memorable statistic from that report: 98 percent of teachers were evaluated as “satisfactory.” Based on such findings, many have characterized classroom observation as a hopelessly flawed approach to assessing teacher effectiveness.
The ubiquity of “satisfactory” ratings stands in contrast to a rapidly growing body of research that examines differences in teachers’ effectiveness at raising student achievement. In recent years, school districts and states have compiled datasets that make it possible to track the achievement of individual students from one year to the next, and to compare the progress made by similar students assigned to different teachers. Careful statistical analysis of these new datasets confirms the long-held intuition of most teachers, students, and parents: teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student achievement growth.

White paper: The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

Heather Staker with contributions from Eric Chan, Matthew Clayton, Alex Hernandez, Michael B. Horn, and Katherine Mackey:

Some innovations change everything. The rise of personal computers in the 1970s decimated the mini-computer industry. TurboTax forever changed tax accounting, and MP3s made libraries of compact discs obsolete. Even venerable public institutions like the United States Postal Service, which reported an $8.5 billion loss in 2010, are not immune. It experienced a 6 billion piece decline in mail volume that fiscal year, thanks mostly, of course, to email.
These innovations bear the traits of what Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen terms a disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovations fundamentally transform a sector by replacing expensive, complicated, and inaccessible products or services with much less expensive, simpler, and more convenient alternatives. This pattern is as common in heavy industrials as in professional services, consumer packaged goods, and nonprofits. In one of its most recent manifestations, it is little by little changing the way people think about education.
Online learning appears to be a classic disruptive innovation with the potential not just to improve the current model of education delivery, but to transform it. Online learning started by serving students for whom there was no alternative for learning. It got its start in distance-learning environments, outside of a traditional school building, and it started small. In 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students took an online course. But by 2010, over 4 million students were participating in some kind of formal online-learning program. The preK-12 online population is now growing by a five-year compound annual growth rate of 43 percent–and that rate is accelerating.

For school districts across Wisconsin, life goes on — with or without budget ruling

Tom Still:

The topic of my speech was the continued value of local education in building Wisconsin’s “knowledge economy,” and the 50 or so school administrators in the room listened carefully to my message about preparing K-12 students for the rigors of a globally competitive 21st century.
It was hard, however, to ignore the elephant in the corner of my PowerPoint slides.
For most of the school superintendents, human resource directors and fiscal officers in the Green Bay audience, the most important thing on their minds was not to rush out and launch a program to improve science and engineering education.
Rather, the most pressing problem of the day for most school officials in Wisconsin is surviving an unsettled, contentious era in the relationship between local teachers, administrators and school boards.
While the legislative and legal battle lines have been drawn in Madison, the real struggles are being fought across the state, district by district, as the reality of budget cuts and the potential end of collective bargaining for unionized teachers sinks in.

DOJ: Miss. schools still segregated despite order

Shelia Byrd:

A public school district in Mississippi and the federal government are divided over whether the schools are complying with a desegregation order that dates back to the civil rights era.
The Justice Department has asked a judge to order the Cleveland Public School District “to devise and implement a desegregation plan that will immediately dismantle its one-race schools,” but an attorney for the district said it has been following the latest order and sends the federal government updates on its integration attempts.

University Nebraska-Lincoln tuition may vary by majors

Leslie Reed:

An engineering student likely will make significantly more money after college than an English major.
So the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is proposing a new tuition structure to allow it to charge engineering students significantly more for a bachelor’s degree than it charges English majors.
UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman is scheduled to present a “differential tuition” proposal to the NU Board of Regents Friday.
Specific details are being kept under wraps until Friday’s meeting. But the proposal is expected to allow UNL, for the first time, to charge more tuition for some undergraduate programs than for others.
It would be a watershed departure from the concept that all Nebraska resident undergraduates should pay the same tuition for their degrees — currently $198.25 per credit hour — no matter what they study.

SPECIAL NEEDS SCHOLARSHIPS: Myths and Facts about Wisconsin’s AB 110

Disability Rights Wisconsin (78K PDF), via a kind reader’s email:

Special interests in Washington DC have hired expensive lobbyists who also represent large corporate interests including, General Motors and Proctor & Gamble to try to pull the wool over the eyes ofparents ofchildren with disabilities. They allege that their interest is, “To advocate for parental options in education that empowers low and middle-income families to make choices in where they send their children to school.” (1) These high powered special interests have never approached Disability Rights Wisconsin or any other major Wisconsin disability group to learn from those of us who have been advocating for Wisconsin children with disabilities for over 30 years, to find out what really needs improvement Wisconsin’s special education system. Instead, they have set up a Facebook site which fails to tell the whole truth about the bill they promote.
This fact sheet tells the whole truth about AB 110 and its effort to dismantle special education as we know it and subsidize middle and upper income families who want to send their kids to private school ai taxpayer expense.
Myth# l-AB 110 allows parents the option to choose any other school they want their child to attend if they are unsatisfied with the special education being provided in their public school.
Fact-AB 110 has no requirement in it that forces any school to accept a child who has a special needs voucher.
Myth# 2-Since only children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) can receive a special needs scholarship, private schools who accept them must provide them with special education and implement the child’s IEP.
Facts-AB 110 makes no requirement that private schools which accept a special needs scholarship provide any special education or implement any IEP. In fact, AB II 0 does not even require that private schools which accept special needs scholarships have a single special education teacher or therapist on their staff!

Related: Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship.

The University Has No Clothes

Daniel Smith:

The notion that a college degree is essentially worthless has become one of the year’s most fashionable ideas, with two prominent venture capitalists (Cornell ’89 and Stanford ’89, by the way) leading the charge.
Pity the American parent! Already beleaguered by depleted 401(k)s and gutted real-estate values, Ponzi schemes and toxic paper, burst bubbles and bear markets, he is now being asked to contend with a new specter: that college, the perennial hope for the next generation, may not be worth the price of the sheepskin on which it prints its degrees.
As long as there have been colleges, there’s been an individualist, anti-college strain in American culture–an affinity for the bootstrap. But it is hard to think of a time when skepticism of the value of higher education has been more prominent than it is right now. Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax. The specter, it seems, has materialized.
It’s no surprise, given how the Great Recession has corroded public faith in other once-unassailable American institutions, that college should come in for a drubbing. But inevitability is just another word for opportunity, and the two most vocal critics are easy to identify and strikingly similar in entrepreneurial self-­image. In the past year or so, James Altucher, a New York-based venture capitalist and finance writer, has emerged through frequent media appearances as something of a poster boy, and his column “8 Alternatives to College” something of an essential text, for the anti-college crusade. The father of two young girls, Altucher has a very personal perspective on college: He doesn’t think he should pay for it. “What am I going to do?” he asked last March on Tech Ticker, a popular investment show on Yahoo. “When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that?” To Altucher, higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam–college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt. “The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.”

The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work

Jason Riley:

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.
School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.
When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Destruction of Economic Facts

Hernando de Soto:

During the second half of the 19th century, the world’s biggest economies endured a series of brutal recessions. At the time, most forms of reliable economic knowledge were organized within feudal, patrimonial, and tribal relationships. If you wanted to know who owned land or owed a debt, it was a fact recorded locally–and most likely shielded from outsiders. At the same time, the world was expanding. Travel between cities and countries became more common and global trade increased. The result was a huge rift between the old, fragmented social order and the needs of a rising, globalizing market economy.
To prevent the breakdown of industrial and commercial progress, hundreds of creative reformers concluded that the world needed a shared set of facts. Knowledge had to be gathered, organized, standardized, recorded, continually updated, and easily accessible–so that all players in the world’s widening markets could, in the words of France’s free-banking champion Charles Coquelin, “pick up the thousands of filaments that businesses are creating between themselves.”

The School I’d Like: here is what you wanted

Dea Birkett:

What makes the ideal school? After entries from all over the country, Dea Birkett reveals the Children’s Manifesto of ideas, from comfy beanbags to soothing music and pets
In January we launched the School I’d Like, asking schoolchildren what would make their perfect school. Hundreds of young people let us know in emails, essays, poems and pictures. From these ideas, we’ve compiled the Children’s Manifesto for the school we’d like, overseen and edited by a panel of 10 children. Some of the ideas are blue-sky thinking: horses and sheep in playgrounds may never be the norm. But many are small and easy to implement. First-aid lessons, a choice of uniform and music instead of bells at break time involve little cost or effort.
Behind these specific, modest requests lie big ideas. The most important aspect of education children want changed is the timetable. They wanted their educational experience to be tailored to them. Sausage-machine schooling, with a one-size-fits-all schedule, is their biggest complaint. They don’t want to do less work (although Friday afternoons off was a popular request). They just want work that enthuses and means something to them.

Sen. Vinehout Says Wisconsin “Can’t Afford” Expanded Voucher Program, Despite a Net Savings of $46.7m to the State in FY 2010

Christian D’Andrea:

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout suggests that we can’t afford expanded school choice in Wisconsin – but history shows that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars, especially in areas like Vinehout’s hometown of Alma.
Vinehout’s recent op-ed in the La Crosse Tribune suggested several changes to the proposed 2011 Wisconsin State Budget in order to accommodate potential shifts in fiscal projections over the next two years. One of the Senator’s ideas is to cut any proposed expansions to charter school and MPCP. Her emphasis is clearly worded: “Get rid of the charter school expansion and new private school “choice” vouchers. We can’t afford them.”

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)


The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a consortium of 25 states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers. These new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.
PARCC received an $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system.

Christie Picks Newark Schools Chief

Lisa Fleisher & Barbara Martinez:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has selected Cami Anderson, a top New York City schools official, to lead the state-run Newark Public School system, according to several people with knowledge of the selection.
Ms. Anderson, 39 years old, will attempt to reform the largest and one of the most troubled public school systems in the state, a district that is the focal point for Mr. Christie’s education policy. Newark has about 38,000 students, and only half of them graduate from high school in four years.

An Oakland Unified School District survey on working conditions

Katy Murphy:

Oakland teachers, counselors, principals and other credentialed school-based staff: Friday is the deadline for completing an anonymous online survey about what it’s like to work at each school in the district.
How much time do you spend on various tasks during the school day? Outside of the regular school day? Are efforts made at your school to minimize interruptions, or routine paperwork? How much time do you have to collaborate with other teachers?
The results will be published online, by school, in June — that is, as long as the response rate is at least 50 percent for a given school. If not, those schools will be omitted from the results.So far, roughly one-third have responded, said Ash Solar, who is facilitating the Effective Teaching Task Force. The goal is at least 80 percent. (You can tell how many people from each school have responded by going here.)

Idea for Discussion: Change the (Seattle School Board) Campaign

Charlie Mas

I’m thinking of making a web site called “Change the Board” in which I – and others – would advocate for the replacement of the school board majority elected in 2007. The site would have a general argument for replacing the board majority in general and would also have specific arguments for replacing each of the four individual board members.
The web site would be just one part of a whole campaign. There would be other parts than just the web site. It would include press efforts, rallies, truth-squads (to critically examine board campaign claims), online ads, and maybe even some yard signs. I’m thinking that we could promote “Change the Board” as an independent effort separate from each of the individual challenger campaigns. I’d like to try to build some momentum behind “Change the Board” that could support all challengers.
The costs on something like this could be pretty minimal.

Being Upfront about Teacher pay

Michael Rice:

There has been much gnashing of teeth and consternation going on about teacher pay and a 3% pay cut teachers may be forced to swallow. What gets to me more than anything else is the vile comments that get posted afterward when an article is posted on teacher pay in the local newspapers. Given the comments, one would think that teachers were getting rich and not doing much to earn the vast sums of money they make. I have to say I look at that with bemusement. I guess it is time to put my cards on the table.
For regular readers of the SSS blog, you already know my story. However, many of you don’t. I switched careers in my mid 40’s to become a teacher. I am honored to teach math at Rainier Beach HS. I am in my 6th year. I love my job and I love teaching math to students. I think I have a great job. However, here are the facts of my situation.
I hold an undergrad in Accounting and a Masters in Finance. Before I decided to become a teacher, I worked for a bank in investment accounting. In 2003 (my last full year there), I made $75,000 (that included my bonus), had a defined benefit pension plan that my employer fully funded that would make it possible to retire comfortably after 25 years of service with basically with what I would be making in my last year of working, a 401k that the employer matched dollar for dollar up to 4% of my salary. On top of that, my health care was fully paid for and my wife was on the plan at no charge to me also. The plan was a top notch Blue Cross plan with no co-pays and a very, very large network of doctors, dentists, vision and mental health providers available to us. I also had 4 weeks vacation and every holiday off. I also was given a yearly bus pass, so I did not have to drive downtown.

Why College Is Not A Bubble (Except For The University Of Phoenix)

Anya Kamenetz:

The college-is-a-bubble meme just keeps growing. Student-loan debt surpassed credit-card debt for the first time in history last year. Tuition is rising at three times the rate of inflation, and there are growing concerns about the quality of education offered at even our nation’s fanciest schools. Meanwhile, prominent venture capitalist Peter Thiel is paying young entrepreneurs to drop out of school. It’s become more fashionable than ever to equate higher education with homeownership: once a rock-solid piece of the American Dream, now a fool’s bet and a sad reminder of overinflated expectations.
But in reality, demand for an American-style college education, and the long-term value of said degree, is unlikely to decline any time soon. Here’s why:

Public given look at Morristown budget

Matt McAllister:

The Board of Education’s budget proposal — which the district wouldn’t release to the public after discussing much of it in an illegal closed-door session in late March — has been outlined in a newsletter mailed last week to district taxpayers.
The Board of Education proposes an $8,637,708 budget with a 5 percent increase in the levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, for the 2011-12 school year. The budget calls for a levy of $3,247,066, up from $3,092,444.
At a meeting in late March, board members went into a 90-minute executive session, purportedly to discuss “personnel” issues. Instead, board members — returning from their closed session once members of the public had left — announced they had adopted the framework for a budget. The board said it would cap increases in the tax levy at 5 percent.
In discussing the budget in private, board members broke state law.

The Shock Doctrine Case Study: Pennsylvania Public Schools

Timothy D. Slekar:

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein pushes the concept of how the public can be manipulated during times of catastrophe or perceived crisis. Lately, it has been argued that the “financial crisis” is being used by market-driven reformers to undermine the public services sector. Specifically, if we look at public education, lawmakers are explicitly telling public schools that they will need to deal with less in the future because of state budget deficits. All of this is done with large support from the citizens because they are “shocked” and believe there is an economic crisis and that any publicly-supported service should be drastically cut to help bring back balanced budgets. Simultaneously, “the shockers” offer rewards in corporate tax cuts and in some cases implement new programs that end up costing the taxpayer more than the proposed cuts.
The citizenry is repeatedly told that the only way out of this budget crisis is to cut spending and that individual citizens (taxpayers) should not take on any of the burden. In fact, the propaganda leveled at the taxpayers also paints them as helpless victims that have been milked by greedy public-sector unions. In turn, the general public becomes very supportive of any promise to lift their burden and somewhat celebratory in watching their neighbors (public sector employees) lose, at a minimum, basic benefits.

Whose school is it anyway? Under proposal, taxpayers could pay for experimental charter schools

Susan Troller

Kaleem Caire has spent much of the last year making a passionate, personal and controversial pitch for a publicly funded male-only charter school called Madison Preparatory that would operate independently of the Madison Metropolitan School District. It aims to serve primarily minority boys in grades six through 12 and their families.
Caire, a Madison native and the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, has mustered a great deal of community support by highlighting the struggles of and grim statistics surrounding black and Hispanic young boys and men in Dane County, and through telling his own powerful story of underachievement in Madison’s public schools.
“I learned about racism and lower expectations for minority kids when I arrived the first day at Cherokee Middle School, and all the black boys and a few other minorities sat at tables in the back. I was assigned to remedial math, and even when I showed the teacher I already knew how to do those worksheets, that’s where I was stuck,” Caire says.
With its emphasis on discipline, family involvement, preppy-looking uniforms and a non-negotiable stance on being a union-free school, Caire’s proposal for the boys-only middle and high school has won hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, including a number of prominent conservatives who, surprisingly, don’t seem particularly troubled by the school’s price tag.

Some might argue that certain programs within “traditional” public schools are experimental, such as Connected Math and Small Learning Communities among others.

Delaware schools: Christina board rescinds vote on reform

Nichole Dobo:

It came down to one interview.
Christina School District teachers at two of the state’s lowest-achieving schools had 20 minutes to prove their worth.
Each was asked the same questions by a panel that included fellow teachers, district administrators and one state Department of Education official. Their answers were the only factors that determined whether each teacher would remain at Glasgow High School or Stubbs Elementary as part of the district’s Race to the Top reforms.
Nineteen were not asked to stay. They will get a job at another district school.

Official: Mercedes-Benz USA launching its first teen driving school in Los Angeles

Noah Joseph:

Last month we brought you initial news of Mercedes-Benz’s plan to open a teen driving program in the United States, and with the annual California State PTA Convention kicking off in Long Beach, the German automaker’s American subsidiary has confirmed its plans and revealed a few details along the way.
The first such program will open in Los Angeles before similar initiatives are launched across the country. The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy aims to make new drivers better drivers by integrating their advanced curriculum with the mandated state accreditation process to make for one, all-encompassing program that will take teens from theory through practice and on to their driver’s permit.
Other custom-tailored programs will be offered as well, and Mercedes is also teaming up with Impact Teen Drivers, unfortunately named though it is, to deliver free two-hour parent/teen workshops at 20 schools across the city beginning late this summer. MBUSA is in the process of recruiting the best driving instructors it can get its hands on with a plan to officially open the program this coming October. Details in the press release after the jump, with photos in the gallery below.

Higher Education Bubble Updates

Mark Perry:

Updates on the higher education bubble (see chart above):
1. Wikipedia now has an entire entry dedicated to the “Higher Education Bubble.”
2. The Harvard Business Review blog has a new post on “The Business School Tuition Bubble.”
3. The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy has a new article on “The Cost of the College Bubble.”

NEA Affiliates in California and Wisconsin Approach Lean Years Differently.

Mike Antonucci:

Falling enrollment, budget cuts and layoff have led to corresponding declines in membership for most National Education Association state affiliates. Without compensatory action, fewer members mean less dues revenue – a situation these unions have not had to face in recent memory.
As the numbers show quite clearly, even lean times do not mean NEA’s affiliates will become destitute. There is an awful lot of cash flowing through union headquarters around the country. But union officers and representatives are quick to find ways to spend it, particularly on their own employees. Adjusting budgets downwards is not their strong suit.
NEA itself had to revise its budget to account for membership loss and a smaller-than-planned increase in dues. It also froze the pay of its executive officers for the 2011-12 school year.
Two NEA state affiliates – California and Wisconsin – have different troubles to face in different political environments, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they are applying different measures to their fiscal problems.
The California Teachers Association sets its dues level by a formula that involves the average teacher salary over the last three years. With layoffs occurring almost exclusively at the bottom of the salary scale, it actually has the effect of driving up the state’s average teacher salary, and thus the dues level. With fewer members, CTA will raise its dues $8 next fall, to $647. This will mitigate the money lost, but not cover it entirely.
WEAC announced the cancellation of its fall convention, citing the uncertainty of whether it will be allowed to bargain the time off for its members. However, holding these events each year is also a budgetary drain, one that other NEA state affiliates have been forced to face.
Despite the serious state of financial affairs, WEAC is allocating up to $2 million for lobbying, legal action and internal communications in order to turn the political tide. It has, and will continue to receive, monetary and manpower assistance from NEA and other affiliates, including California.
These early signs indicate that the likely outcome of the collective bargaining battles in statehouses across the country is financially weaker teachers’ unions – but only relatively. Overall, there may be fewer members and fewer staffers. The unions may require special assessments or higher dues increases just to restore former revenues. But $1.5 billion annually is still an awful lot of money. We may see it applied in concentrated form on the unions’ existential issues, not diffused among feel-good projects.

DFER and the Ultra-Conservative Money Behind the Voucher Movement

Christina Collins:

If you’ve been wondering what’s behind the recent resurgence of voucher bills in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Wisconsin and other states, researcher Rachel Tabachnick has done a remarkable job following the money — some of which leads back to Democrats for Education Reform, a group familiar to those who follow school choice debates here in New York. According to her recent two-part series (which can be read here and here), much of the money and support for the voucher movement has come from groups linked to Betsy DeVos,

a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party; daughter of the late Edgar Prince and Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen; sister of Blackwater-founder Erik Prince; and wife of Dick DeVos (son of Richard and Helen DeVos). The Devos side of the family fortune comes from Amway/Alticor, the controversial, multi-tiered home products business. A Center for Public Integrity Report showed that the DeVos family and business interests were the fifth largest contributors in the 2003 -2004 election cycle, with 100% of the donations going to Republicans. Dick and Betsy DeVos have been credited with helping to finance the Citizens United case which allows Super PACs to raise unlimited funds and conceal the donors, meaning that we will no longer know who provides the millions of dollars for the big media campaigns, or reveal the information that I have in this article on the Pennsylvania campaign. The Prince and Devos families have also funded the Family Research Council, Focus on Family, and the ministries of the late D. James Kennedy, all warriors against separation of church and state.

California Prison Academy: Better Than a Harvard Degree; Prison guards can retire at the age of 55 and earn 85% of their final year’s salary for the rest of their lives. They also continue to receive medical benefits.

Allysia Finley:

Roughly 2,000 students have to decide by Sunday whether to accept a spot at Harvard. Here’s some advice: Forget Harvard. If you want to earn big bucks and retire young, you’re better off becoming a California prison guard.
The job might not sound glamorous, but a brochure from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations boasts that it “has been called ‘the greatest entry-level job in California’–and for good reason. Our officers earn a great salary, and a retirement package you just can’t find in private industry. We even pay you to attend our academy.” That’s right–instead of paying more than $200,000 to attend Harvard, you could earn $3,050 a month at cadet academy.
It gets better.
Training only takes four months, and upon graduating you can look forward to a job with great health, dental and vision benefits and a starting base salary between $45,288 and $65,364. By comparison, Harvard grads can expect to earn $49,897 fresh out of college and $124,759 after 20 years.

Combining exercise with school lessons could boost brain power

Jeannine Stein:

Physical education classes may be scarce in some schools, but an activity program combined with school lessons could boost academic performance, a study finds.
Research presented recently at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver looked at the effects of a 40-minute-a-day, five-day-a-week physical activity program on test scores of first- through sixth-graders at a public school. This program was a little different from most, since it incorporated academic lessons along with exercise.
For example, younger children hopped through ladders while naming colors found on each rung. Older children climbed on a rock wall outfitted with numbers that challenged their math skills. The students normally spent 40 minutes a week in PE class.

Outsourcing an American Education

Sameer Pandya:

India is considering allowing Western universities to plant satellite campuses directly in the subcontinent’s fertile soil.
There is a bill currently making its way through the Indian parliament — The Foreign Educational Institutions Bill — that would open up for universities in the West, particularly in the U.S., a massive English-speaking market. Massive is the key word. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of Indian students reaching college age who are interested in an education that would allow them to better participate in a globalizing economy.
At first glance, the passage of the bill, which is being pushed ahead by Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, benefits Western universities by providing them with a growth opportunity and allowing access to a well-educated student population interested in an education whose brand is recognized across the world.

Cory Doctorow Predicts the Future in Makers

Jonathan Liu:

Perry and Lester are two guys living in an abandoned mall outside of Miami. They’re the sort of guys who, to borrow a phrase from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, can think up six impossible things before breakfast — and then build them in their workshop out of stuff they’ve found in the junkyard.
In short, they’re makers.
Cory Doctorow’s Makers: A Novel of the Whirlwind Changes to Come is jam-packed with cool ideas. In the book, a lot of these come from Perry and Lester, like a toast-making robot made of seashells or the Distributed Boogie Woogie Elmo Motor Vehicle Operation Cluster, which uses a gaggle of discarded toys to drive a Smart car via voice commands. Now these two examples are pretty silly — something you do just to prove you can, but there’s also some stuff that shows up later in the book that made me think, “Hey, I’d buy one of those!” Parts of the book read like a “Best of Kickstarter” highlights reel.

State investigation finds problems with Madison talented and gifted program

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District is under added pressure to improve how it identifies and educates talented and gifted students after state officials found its program does not comply with state law.
In revealing shortcomings in the district’s offerings for talented and gifted (TAG) students, the Department of Public Instruction challenges the approach some schools, particularly West High School, have used in which all students learn together.
“The district is going to have to face (the question): ‘How do they reconcile their policy of inclusion with honors classes?’?” said Carole Trone, director of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth at UW-Madison. “If parents see the other districts are challenging their students more, they might send their students there.”
Developing a comprehensive system to identify TAG students — including testing and staff training — can be expensive, Trone said. Moreover, districts that don’t identify students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds open themselves up to discrimination lawsuits, she said.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said it’s unclear how much such a revamped program will cost.

Much more on the talented & gifted complaint, here.

Teachers Bring Science to Life, Sponsored by Rayovac

Science & Technology Institute, via a kind reader’s email:

Do you know a teacher who brings learning to life? Whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or school administrator, you can nominate your K-6 teacher for a chance to win an all-expense paid trip to Science in the Rockies, Steve Spangler’s three-day hands-on science teacher training in Denver.

Good golly, our schools desperately need new leadership

Laurie Rogers, via email:

When our school administrators speak to the public, we often hear one or more of the following:

  • Blaming of others – Typical targets include teachers, parents, students, poverty, and a (fake) lack of money.

  • Deceitful presentation of student outcomes – They’ll speak glowingly of some stray statistic that supposedly shows them in a slightly more positive light, but which also depends on the public not knowing the entire truth of it.
  • Astonishing ignorance or accidental honesty. Sometimes the truth comes out of them – in shocking or comical ways.
  • Requests for more money, on the heels of low student achievement. As pass rates go down, the expense per student continues to increase.
  • New policy that will serve their ulterior purpose, but which will make life more difficult for students, parents and teachers.

And so it went, at two recent gatherings for Spokane Public Schools. Teachers were blamed. Administrators praised themselves. The superintendent’s comments caused a stir. And the school board voted to increase class sizes and cut 90 teachers.
Increased expense for unproved programs
Taxpayers pay for scads of district and community programs devoted to reducing dropout rates and increasing on-time graduation rates. As district expenditures skyrocket, parents are still staring at students’ low pass rates, high dropout rates, high rates of college remediation, and low levels of basic skills.
Dr. Stowell praised the district for obtaining a multi-million-dollar grant for Rogers High School, which suffers from particularly low graduation rates. (Please note the illogic of awarding grants to failing programs because they are failing. Failure thus results in more money.) Dr. Stowell said the grant will pay for longer school days, extra teacher pay, a homework center, and – you knew it was coming – a pilot evaluation for teachers.

Learning from Data on Ohio E-Schools

Bill Tucker:

Part I of a new blog series exploring data from Ohio e-schools. While online learning is still new to the vast majority of K-12 students and schools, Ohio has operated “e-schools,” public charter schools that operate entirely online and which students “attend” on a full-time basis, for a decade. As policy debates around online learning grow, what do we know about these schools-who do they enroll and how well do they perform-and what can we learn from Ohio’s e-school experience?
In 2001, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio’s first charter ‘e-school’, opened its doors. Soon there were 27 e-schools across the state. And, despite a moratorium that has prevented any new schools from opening since 2005, total e-school enrollment has skyrocketed to over 29,000 students.

Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year

Mike Hughlett:

Katy Smith of Winona won Minnesota Teacher of the Year honors Sunday, the first time the 47-year-old award has been bestowed on a teacher who specializes in Early Childhood Family Education.
Smith, 51, a native of the Twin Cities’ western suburbs, has taught in the Winona school district since 1993 and works out of Goodview School. She has long specialized in Early Childhood Family Education, a program available in almost all Minnesota public school districts. The state is a leader nationally in the field, authorities say.
The program is based on the idea that the family provides a child’s first and most significant learning environment and parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, according to the Minnesota Department of Education’s website.
Parents and children from infancy to pre-kindergarten together attend childhood-family education classes.

School Choice and Urban Diversity: Many more middle-class parents would live in big cities if they could pick the schools their kids attend.

John Norquist:

With several new GOP governors taking power, shock if not awe pervades the Midwest, particularly among those of us who are Democratic urban dwellers. Perhaps the wave of corporate tax breaks, service cuts to the needy, and transfer of school aid from poor to wealthy districts will be undone with the next swing of the political pendulum. Yet there is one GOP budget provision in Wisconsin that I hope survives.
For 20 years there’s been debate about parental school choice, but only a few places actually have it. Milwaukee has had choice since 1991. At first it was very limited–no religious schools, the program restricted to families with very low incomes, and a cap on total enrollment of 1,000. But parents are now able to choose religious schools, the income limit has been raised to 175% of the federal poverty line ($39,113), and the cap has increased to 22,500 students.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed allowing any Milwaukee parent, regardless of income, to enroll their children in private and parochial schools. This will address two problems with the current choice program. One, the cap on total enrollment has forced parents onto waiting lists and into lotteries. Two, the income limit has the effect of isolating low-income students from other more affluent students.
Other jurisdictions, including Florida, Arizona and Cleveland, have choice programs. In Washington, D.C., choice was implemented under President George W. Bush and frozen under President Barack Obama. But Florida’s program requires a public school to fail, with failure measured by the state, not by parents. And all choice programs have limitations that undermine the desire of parents to have their children attend a school in which they have confidence. Yet if you think about it, America already has a school choice program in large metro areas. It’s a system that segregates the poor from the rich and works against Americans who want to live in cities. Here’s how it works.

Clusty Search: John Norquist.

Macau private teachers demand more pay

Chloe Lai:

Hundreds of private school teachers marched in Macau yesterday to demand the same wages paid by the city’s handful of government schools.
They formed just part of Macau’s May Day protest. Other marchers included construction workers upset at the hiring of illegal workers because of the property boom.
Around 2,000 protesters took part in what has become an annual show of social discontent in the past few years. The 3,000 patacas cash handout announced by Macau Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on last month appeared to have little bearing on their complaints.
The protest yesterday marked the first time teachers took part as an organised group. There were about 500 and included students marching in support. Most complained about the wage differences between private and government schools – some 40 per cent less, teachers’ leader Choi Leong said.

Corporations to give Minneapolis Public Schools $13.8 million

Brandt Williams:

Four major Minnesota-based corporations announced Monday they will give nearly $14 million to Minneapolis Public Schools.
Target, Cargill, Medtronic and General Mills have pledged to spend the money over the next three years to fund academic and personnel development programs.
Nearly half of the $13.8 million will be donated by Target. Target Foundation President Laysha Ward said the company will focus its contributions on early literacy programs.
“When a recent study at the Annie Casey Foundation shows that one in six students who do not read proficiently by the third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater when compared to proficient readers, we’re compelled to do more,” Ward said.

A New Measure for Classroom Quality

P. Barker Bausell:

OF all the goals of the education reform movement, none is more elusive than developing an objective method to assess teachers. Studies show that over time, test scores do not provide a consistent means of separating good from bad instructors.
Test scores are an inadequate proxy for quality because too many factors outside of the teachers’ control can influence student performance from year to year — or even from classroom to classroom during the same year. Often, more than half of those teachers identified as the poorest performers one year will be judged average or above average the next, and the results are almost as bad for teachers with multiple classes during the same year.
Fortunately, there’s a far more direct approach: measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction — in other words, how much teaching a teacher actually gets done in a school day.

San Francisco gives parents what they really want: school choice.

Bill Jackson:

GreatSchools is headquartered in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). And it just so happens that San Francisco Unified is on the vanguard of school choice, allowing and encouraging all parents to make a proactive choice about which of the districts’ approximately 160 schools they would like their children to attend.
SFUSD recently completed the “first round” of its school selection process for the 2011-12 school year, and released some interesting information about the process.
Like most districts, SFUSD has the concept of an “attendance area” for elementary schools. Perhaps the most interesting piece of data is that only 23 percent of kindergarten applicants listed their attendance-area school as a first choice. The remainder: 24 percent listed a city-wide school, and 53 percent listed another attendance area school as their first choice.
Other findings:

Ed Secretary encourages educators to challenge the status quo

Margaret Reist:

The U.S. Secretary of Education said Friday he was impressed with Nebraska’s P-16 initiative — a coalition of state education, business and government leaders — and a sense of cohesion and commitment to education.
“To see all these leaders from across the state come together to really challenge the status quo and drive the state to new heights actually is extraordinarily encouraging to me,” said Arne Duncan, who met Friday with state and local education leaders at the governor’s mansion.
In a short news conference after a closed-door meeting with education leaders, Duncan touched on the No Child Left Behind law and the cost of college education. He said the Obama administration will invest in community colleges and in early education.
“At the end of the day, my goal and (the) president’s goal is to again lead the world in college graduates,” he said.

Wisconsin Public Hearing on Special Needs Scholarship

Brian Pleva Government Affairs Associate: American Federation for Children-Wisconsin, via a kind reader’s email:

Does contain the info you need?Good afternoon!
I am writing to you because you recently expressed an interest in the bipartisan Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Act (Assembly Bill 110).
As you may know, the bill would allow parents to enroll their special needs children in the public or private school of their choice with the education dollars following the child to the new school. The bill, introduced by Representatives Michelle Litjens, Jason Fields & Evan Wynn, and Senators Leah Vukmir & Terry Moulton, has impressive momentum:
-AB 110 has attracted Republican, Democrat, and Independent cosponsors
-32 members of the Assembly have signed on to AB 110, which is over one-third of that house’s current membership
-5 members of the Assembly Committee on Education have signed-on to AB 110, which is almost half of the 11-member committee
Fortunately, Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Steve Kestell decided today to schedule a Public Hearing on the Special Needs Scholarship Act for 10:00 am, next Tuesday, May 3rd.
This opportunity can pave the way toward making Special Needs Scholarships in Wisconsin a reality. It is crucial that as many affected families and school leaders as possible attend this public hearing and tell committee members, in their own words, what these scholarships would mean to them.
Please respond to this email and confirm whether you would be able to advocate for this legislation at the public hearing.
One parent wrote on our Facebook page, “It’s so important! Why doesn’t EVERYBODY get that???!!” It may be difficult to comprehend, but there are powerful, special interest groups that don’t get it and will be working to defeat this bipartisan legislation.
While an impressive list of parents who wish to testify is growing, we know that opponents of education reform are always represented at these hearings. Therefore, please forward this email to friends, family, and colleagues who you think will be supportive. The momentum is encouraging, but we must keep it up!
If you have any questions about the bill or public hearing, please feel free to contact me, and check out our website: http://www.specialneedsscholarshipswi.org/.
Thank you!
Brian Pleva
Government Affairs Associate
American Federation for Children-Wisconsin
(608) 279-9484
Committee on Education
The committee will hold a public hearing on the following items at the time specified below:
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)
State Capitol
Assembly Bill 110
Relating to: creating the Special Needs Scholarship Program for disabled pupils, granting rule-making authority, and making an appropriation.
By Representatives Litjens, Fields, Wynn, Knudson, Nass, Pridemore, Thiesfeldt, Vos, Kleefisch, LeMahieu, Nygren, Strachota, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Endsley, Farrow, Honadel, Jacque, Knilans, Kooyenga, Kramer, Krug, Kuglitsch, T. Larson, Mursau, Petryk, Rivard, Severson, Spanbauer, Tiffany and Ziegelbauer; cosponsored by Senators Vukmir, Moulton, Galloway and Darling.
An Executive Session may be held on AB 71 at the conclusion of the public hearing.
Representative Steve Kestell

Wisconsin Special Needs Scholarship Assembly Bill 110 Summary (PDF).

Parents need to learn cyberbullying is a real and serious threat to youngsters, not just some silly, minor issue

Ken Chan:

Members of the younger generation in today’s Hong Kong are different from their parents, who grew up watching only television. Technology, in the form of the internet, has given them a more interactive medium, with two-way communication and an ability to have a say in things and express opinions. However, this new environment that young people take completely for granted has hidden dangers in the form of bullying and intimidation.
Online, people can persecute or harass others behind a shield of anonymity. It is a world where the bullies may not see the impact of their work; they may think what they are doing is funny, or they may not realise the consequences of their behaviour. Incriminating or embarrassing words or pictures placed online by others may come back to haunt people later when they apply for college or a job.

Berkeley struggles to keep guns out of schools

Jill Tucker:

On the morning of March 21, shortly after school began, a Berkeley High School student snuck into a bathroom stall with a gun to show it to a friend.
Suddenly the weapon fired, the bullet ripping through the bathroom’s thin outer wall and across a busy downtown street. Had the boys been facing the other direction, the bullet would have flown into a classroom full of students.
No one was injured, but it was the fifth gun discovered at the district’s two high schools since January, a cluster of incidents that has sent parents into a panic and district administrators scrambling to address the new and disturbing trend.
The presence of guns on campus is not just Berkeley’s problem.
According to state and national surveys, 6 percent of high school students say they have brought a gun to school at least once. That’s the equivalent of at least 210 guns at Berkeley High School with its enrollment of 3,500 students.

What Computer Game Design can Teach us for Lesson Design

Kirsten Winkler:

One of the core features of computer games besides the graphics, sounds and story is something you don’t notice immediately. Some games do not do it very well but some became famous for it: Game Artificial Intelligence.
From the humble beginnings in games like Pacman to the great successes we know today like the Halo series, Game AI showed generations of kids that a computer can be pretty smart and sometimes even mean. Some of the better computer games adapt to the way the player reacts and then find new ways to compete. The aim is of course to keep the player interested in the game and engaged in the sense to make it just as difficult to challenge the player’s skills but on the other hand not to make it too frustrating or impossible to win.
Another part of good game design is that the controls are self explanatory and most gamers won’t be bothered with reading a manual before starting the game. If something is boring and thus means the player understood a strategy or principle of the game there needs to be a way to skip it and move on.

The Michigan proposals and their prospects

Detroit Free Press:

The plan:
• School districts where students show an average of one year academic growth per year of instruction would get bonus money, on top of per-pupil state aid. Some individual schools might qualify. In the 2012-13 School Aid Fund, $300 million would be set aside for rewards.
• Some funding for all districts would be tied to achievement, not enrollment.
• Tougher standards for individual schools to ensure academic progress.
• Require all districts to develop online dashboard that shows funding and academic progress. Prohibit districts from paying more than 80% of employee health care; those that fail would lose some state per-pupil funding.

Tennessee House Republicans clear way to end collective bargaining for teachers

Richard Locker:

House Republican leaders have backed away from an earlier stand that teachers be allowed to continue collective bargaining on base salaries and benefits, clearing the way for total repeal of bargaining between teachers and school boards.
The Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 of the state’s 65,000 public classroom teachers, plans to continue lobbying House members before Tuesday’s key committee vote in hopes of a last-ditch compromise. But TEA spokesman Jerry Winters said teacher morale “is horrible” and warned that if the negotiations law is repealed, “we’re going to make sure that they go before these school boards and wear them out on some of these issues.”
The Senate will likely approve the repeal bill Monday, after deferring its planned vote Thursday to give members time to review another new amendment by the bill’s sponsor. Minutes later, House Speaker Beth Harwell endorsed the Senate version, which she said resulted from talks with House Republican leaders.

Indiana Governor signs teacher quality bill, part of sweeping education reforms


Governor Mitch Daniels signed Senate Enrolled Act 1 Saturday, a key measure in his comprehensive education reform package that changes the way teachers are evaluated and paid.
According to the governor’s office, for the first time in Indiana, teacher effectiveness will be part of decisions for hiring, salary and promotions.
“Among all the things we can do to make more successful the children of this state, nothing comes close to a better teacher. We are so glad that Indiana has leaped to the forefront by saying to people of all backgrounds and all walks of life, ‘come and teach,'” Daniels said, surrounded by Hoosier teachers from such organizations as Stand for Children, Students First and Teach for America.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was the author of the bill; Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis was the sponsor.
Among provisions, the measure:

Seattle Schools confirms grade tampering at Ingraham

Brittany Wong:

Grade tampering suspected at three Seattle high schools has been confirmed only at Ingraham High School, according to Seattle Public Schools.
It’s the only school “that we’ve been able to verify that a grade has been changed so far,” spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.
Earlier in the week, a school-district official said it was possible there had been grade tampering at Ballard and Chief Sealth high schools, too.

New Jersey Gov. Christie calls NJEA a ‘political thuggery operation’ in speech at Harvard

Ginger Gibson:

Gov. Chris Christie took his fight with the state’s largest teacher’s union to Harvard on Friday, repeating his claims that the New Jersey Education Association is the source of most education problems and calling them a “political thuggery operation.”
The governor also acknowledged he has thought about the tough rhetoric he uses when describing the union, but said he would only stop if he is convinced the NJEA is willing to help change “the failed system.”
Speaking to about 250 students and professors at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, Christie said his battle with the NJEA “is the only fight worth having,” drawing applause.
“They’re there to protect the lowest performers, to protect a system of post-production compensation,” Christie said of the union. “For you to believe that’s for the kids, you have to believe that a child will learn better under the warm comforting knowledge that a teacher pays nothing for their health benefits.”

Richard Perez-Pena:

Conservatives may see Harvard as the heart of liberal darkness, but on Friday it gave a warm, even enthusiastic reception to Gov. Chris Christie and his ideas on education overhaul.
Speaking to almost 200 students and staff members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the New Jersey governor drew rounds of applause with his talk of sharply limiting teacher tenure, rigorously evaluating teachers and administrators, curbing the power of teachers’ unions and pledging to appoint more-conservative justices to the State Supreme Court.
Mr. Christie’s first ovation came when he said, “The reason I’m engaging in this battle with the teachers’ union is because it’s the only fight worth having.”
he ground he covered would be familiar to anyone who has watched the town hall-style forums in New Jersey that have made Mr. Christie a YouTube star. There, at least a few detractors usually show up to question him, and his policies and pugnacious statements can make even some supporters uncomfortable.
But here, during Mr. Christie’s 40-minute opening talk and a question-and-answer session of the same length, the response was less equivocal.

UW-Milwaukee holds its 12 charter schools accountable and is getting promising results

Alan Borsuk:

The doorbell wasn’t working when Bob Kattman visited a school recently. Kattman sent the principal an email afterward saying that he expected that wouldn’t be the case the next time he arrived.
Kattman isn’t particularly meddlesome or picky – in fact, his reputation is the opposite. But he has expectations for what he wants to see in a school. An orderly, functioning atmosphere where things like doorbells work is part of the recipe.
Other critical ingredients: strong school leadership, a united and energized staff, a clear academic program (although what the program is can vary widely), a focus on achievement, skillful use of data, an effective character education program for students and a climate in which everyone from the principal to the students is continuously asks how to do things better.
The success overall of the dozen schools in Milwaukee that Kattman oversees as head of the charter school office at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is one of the most important and promising developments on the education scene in Milwaukee and perhaps well beyond.

Education in Turkey: Inspiring or insidious

Delphine Strauss:

In one corner of the courtyard, green-painted railings enclose the tomb of a saint. In another, a pair of 12-year-old boys in spotless white shirts and neatly pressed trousers politely answer visitors’ questions. In Diyarbakir, a city in Turkey’s Kurdish south-east where many children work on the streets or land in jail for throwing stones at security forces, these two have come to prepare for high school entrance exams. Asked what they want to do later, one says “doctor” and the other, grinning, declares “police”.
They are attending a study house run by supporters of Fethullah Gulen – a preacher who has inspired the creation of a vast network of schools and student dormitories that blend academic rigour, especially in the sciences, with a moral education based on Islamic principles.
“It’s not just explaining English or maths – it’s explaining what it means to be a good or bad person,” says the director of Diyarbakir’s 20 study houses. “In this system teachers come to school earlier, become friends with students and care about the relationship….In none of our schools do we teach religion. We tell them what’s right and wrong. We show them good and bad practice, and they decide.”
But in Turkey, opinion is sharply divided between those who see Mr Gulen as a force for social mobility and tolerance, and those who suspect he is insidiously undermining the country’s secular foundations. His followers have been described as “Islamic Jesuits” – and as Turkey’s equivalent of Opus Dei. Yet there is little doubt that the movement he inspires is now an important force shaping Turkish society, part of a broader evolution in which leaders emerging from a religious, business-minded middle class are gradually eclipsing older, fiercely secular, elites.


State looks at home schooling pay plan: Schools chief suggests districts pay bills directly – not reimburse

Jordan Schrader:

It’s not home schooling, but it’s not traditional school either: There is a range of arrangements parents can make to enroll kids in public schools while keeping them at home.
With help from the Internet and oversight by teachers, parents in many of the so-called Alternative Learning Experiences, or ALEs, have wide authority to chart their children’s course. But state officials are taking steps to rein in activities seen as inappropriate for taxpayers to fund.
A rule Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn’s office has developed would stop school districts from reimbursing parents of at-home enrolled students for what they buy. Instead, districts would pay directly for equipment and activities.
Reimbursements, also called stipends or parent accounts, can be used to pay for textbooks and basic supplies or for instruction in areas such as fine arts and physical education. A 2005 state audit found it was common for schools to pay for opportunities most students don’t have: private gym memberships; music or horseback-riding lessons; ski rentals, lessons and lift tickets.
“Stipends can give the impression that ALE programs are essentially publicly financed home schooling,” the superintendent’s office said in a February description of concerns about the present rules.

KIPP criticizes its college graduation record

Jay Matthews:

Many people, including commenters on this blog, say the people running the KIPP charter school network—the best known and most successful in the country—don’t explain themselves enough. That may be, but KIPP provides more information about its efforts to raise student achievement than any other charter network, or most school districts for that matter.
One example is its report, just released, on how many KIPP graduates have so far graduated from college: “The Promise of College Completion: KIPP’s Early Successes and Challenges.
The report is a bit of a stretch in terms of KIPP taking credit or blame, since the students surveyed left KIPP more than a decade ago at the end of eighth grade. But KIPP co-founders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg made preparing kids for college their chief goal when they started the first KIPP middle schools in Houston and the South Bronx in 1995. That is still their main target. They say they are determined to report how that effort is going no matter what statistical qualms they may hear from people like me.

Research Uncovers Raised Rate of Autism

Claudia Wallis:

An ambitious six-year effort to gauge the rate of childhood autism in a middle-class South Korean city has yielded a figure that stunned experts and is likely to influence the way the disorder’s prevalence is measured around the world, scientists reported on Monday.
The figure, 2.6 percent of all children aged 7 to 12 in the Ilsan district of the city of Goyang, is more than twice the rate usually reported in the developed world. Even that rate, about 1 percent, has been climbing rapidly in recent years — from 0.6 percent in the United States in 2007, for example.
But experts said the findings did not mean that the actual numbers of children with autism were rising, simply that the study was more comprehensive than previous ones.

The Story of a Successful Non-Charter School in New York City

A thought-provoking article about a successful district middle school in the Bronx in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine has led to some interesting public responses from charter advocates in New York. As the article notes, this school’s principal and teachers combine innovative teaching and learning (such as a dual-language immersion program for its high proportion of English Language Learners) with a firm commitment to serving all students who want to come — even if, unlike at charters, those students arrive in the middle of the year or as transfers in upper grades.
One of the most negative reactions to the piece has come from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who (in an email exchange with the reporter) responded defensively to the article’s implied criticism of his own administration’s support for charters:

A thought-provoking article about a successful district middle school in the Bronx in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine has led to some interesting public responses from charter advocates in New York. As the article notes, this school’s principal and teachers combine innovative teaching and learning (such as a dual-language immersion program for its high proportion of English Language Learners) with a firm commitment to serving all students who want to come — even if, unlike at charters, those students arrive in the middle of the year or as transfers in upper grades.
One of the most negative reactions to the piece has come from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who (in an email exchange with the reporter) responded defensively to the article’s implied criticism of his own administration’s support for charters:

The more things change: School finance edition

Steve Prestegard:

Several media outlets, including the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster (the first newspaper I worked for, back when Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush were president) and the Wisconsin State Journal, are reporting an unprecedented number of teacher retirements as the latest consequence of Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to defang public employee unions.
The Herald Independent’s story (to which I can’t post since the Herald Independent is not online, so you’ll have to trust me) includes a number of teachers from not just my days at the Herald Independent, but from my wife’s days as a Lancaster High School student.
That is big news. It would be unprecedented big news if your memory includes only years that begin with the number 2. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and possibly before that), the state would occasionally encourage early retirements as, yes, a way to reduce spending on employee compensation, since the teachers in the classroom the longest were the highest paid given how teachers’ pay is set.
In those days, the “rule of 85” applied — if your age and years as a teacher (or other government employee, although I don’t recall covering other government employee retirements) totaled 85 (for instance, you were 55 years old and you had taught for 30 years), you could retire with full benefits. The “rule of 85” appears to have been replaced by “the rule of 30” — full retirement benefits kick in for anyone in the Wisconsin Retirement System with 30 years’ service, although retiring employees younger than 57 have reduced benefits until their 57th birthday.

McDonnell’s Progressive Agenda: Teacher Performance-Pay

Krystal Ball:

This week Governor McDonnell announced, as part of his “Opportunity to Learn” education reform agenda, an initiative to institute performance-pay at Virginia schools that are designated as “hard to staff.”
While performance-pay is supported by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, many Democrats side with teachers unions in opposing performance-pay. I have been critical of many aspects of Governor McDonnell’s education policy including his lack of adequate funding and partisan decision not to participate in Race to the Top. This latest initiative however, is worthy of support.

Indiana OKs broadest private school voucher system in US, as governor mulls White House bid

Associated Press:

Indiana will create the nation’s broadest private school voucher system and enact other sweeping education changes, making the state a showcase of conservative ideas just as Gov. Mitch Daniels nears an announcement on whether he will make a 2012 presidential run.
The Republican-controlled state legislature handed Daniels a huge victory Wednesday when the House voted 55-43 to give final approval to a bill creating the voucher program that would allow even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: T he Great Recession’s Impact on State Pension and Retiree Health Care Costs

Pew Center on the States:

In the midst of the Great Recession and severe investment declines, the gap between the promises states made for employees’ retirement benefits and the money they set aside to pay for them grew to at least $1.26 trillion in fiscal year 2009, resulting in a 26 percent increase in one year.
State pension plans represented slightly more than half of this shortfall, with $2.28 trillion stowed away to cover $2.94 trillion in long-term liabilities–leaving about a $660 billion gap, according to an analysis by the Pew Center on the States. Retiree health care and other benefits accounted for the remaining $604 billion, with assets totaling $31 billion to pay for $635 billion in liabilities. Pension funding shortfalls surpassed funding gaps for retiree health care and other benefits for the first time since states began reporting liabilities for the latter in fiscal year 2006.
Precipitous revenue declines in fiscal year 2009 severely depleted state coffers and constrained their ability to pay their annual retirement bills. States’ own actuaries recommended that they contribute nearly $115 billion to build up enough assets to fully fund their promises over the long term, but they contributed only $73 billion–or 64 percent of the total annual bill. This 2009 payment represents a three percentage point decline from the previous fiscal year’s contribution, when they set aside just under $72 billion toward a $108 billion requirement.

Few hear how Sheboygan Area School District budget will be cut

Janet Ortegon:

If people are upset about the Sheboygan Area School District’s proposed $13.8 million in cuts to balance the 2011-12 budget, they didn’t come to Tuesday’s school board meeting to say so.
At the board’s regular meeting, Superintendent Joe Sheehan took the members through the proposed cuts quickly, fielded a few questions and didn’t elaborate at all on more than $73,000 in cuts in co-curricular activities.
The meeting was held at the North High School Commons, but the roughly 40-person crowd didn’t come close to filling it up. No one other than school officials or board members spoke about the cuts.

The pressure’s on for Texas, California teams at Academic Decathlon

Rick Rojas:

For weeks leading up to the national Academic Decathlon, two teams — from California and Texas — have been sizing each other up from afar, rekindling a rivalry nearly as old as the competition itself.
Each team has something to prove: Granada Hills Charter High School wants to maintain California’s winning streak for the ninth consecutive year; Dobie High School, on the outskirts of Houston, wants to show that Texas, dormant as a frontrunner since 2000, is ready to be a contender again.
On Friday, Dobie upped the ante when it narrowly beat Granada Hills in the Super Quiz, the only public portion of the intense, two-day competition. (They’ll find out who won overall here Saturday.)
The pressure has been on since the recent state-level competitions, when Dobie won in Texas with a score only 300 points lower than Granada Hills’ winning score in California. In a competition where good teams score more than 50,000 points, that kind of margin is akin to, according to one description, a football game with a score of 20 to 20.4.

Waukesha South High School scored 37,477.