A Steppingstone to Better Teacher Evaluation

Terry Grier:

There are some questions every school leader should be able to answer: Are my teachers helping their students learn? Who are the outstanding teachers I need to fight hard to keep? Which teachers aren’t meeting my expectations? How can I help my good teachers become great?
As the superintendent of one of the nation’s largest school districts, I believe helping our campus leaders answer these questions is the most important part of my job. After all, decades of research show that nothing we can do to accelerate student learning matters more than ensuring a great teacher leads every classroom.
Unfortunately, the teacher-evaluation systems that should help principals answer such questions are often useless. Most evaluation systems rate nearly all teachers “satisfactory,” based on infrequent and cursory classroom observations, and they rarely consider how much students are actually learning.

A Vested Interest in the Traditional School Recipe

Larry Grau:

I recently read an editorial piece by Arlene Ackerman, former Philadelphia public schools superintendent and longtime educator, on how she came to the realization that our public education system will not improve on its own. I have come to the same realization, because among other reasons, there is no indication school districts are suddenly going to hold themselves accountable for elevating the academic achievement of all students; or take every step necessary to ensure all students only have effective teachers. There are also just too many people who have a vested interest in keeping the current system intact, who are resistant to even the smallest of changes – let alone the dramatic improvements most of us recognize must be made in order for the system to succeed.
The traditional school establishment and its supporters know if you change the ingredients, it likely changes the recipe. If you change the recipe, you get a different dish; and, there are no real internal motivators to change a system that has served a whole bunch of adults so well for such a long time.

The Educational Lottery: on the four kinds of heretics attacking the gospel of education

Steven Brint:

Education is as close to a secular religion as we have in the United States. In a time when Americans have lost faith in their government and economic institutions, millions of us still believe in its saving grace. National leaders, from Benjamin Rush on, oversaw plans for extending its benefits more broadly. In the 19th century, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie famously conceived of schools as ladders on which the industrious poor would ascend to a better life, and he spent a good bit of his fortune laying the foundations for such an education society. After World War II, policy makers who believed in the education gospel grew numerous enough to fill stadiums. One by one, the G.I. Bill, the Truman Commission report, and the War on Poverty singled out education as the way of national and personal advance. “The answer to all of our national problems,” as Lyndon Johnson put it in 1965, “comes down to one single word: education.”
The American education gospel is built around four core beliefs. First, it teaches that access to higher levels of education should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or previous academic performance. Every educational sinner should have a path to redemption. (Most of these paths now run through community colleges.) Second, the gospel teaches that opportunity for a better life is the goal of everyone and that education is the primary — and perhaps the only — road to opportunity. Third, it teaches that the country can solve its social problems — drugs, crime, poverty, and the rest — by providing more education to the poor. Education instills the knowledge, discipline, and the habits of life that lead to personal renewal and social mobility. And, finally, it teaches that higher levels of education for all will reduce social inequalities, as they will put everyone on a more equal footing. No wonder President Obama and Bill Gates want the country to double its college graduation rate over the next 10 years.

Forget Wall Street. Go Occupy Your Local School District

Andrew Rotherham:

It’s easy to get angry at banks and CEOs, especially as more Americans slip below the poverty line while the rich keep getting richer. But if the goal of Occupy Wall Street is improving social mobility in this country, then the movement really needs to focus as much on educational inequality as it does on income inequality. There is perhaps no better example of how the system is rigged against millions of Americans than the education our children receive.
Public schools are obviously not to blame for the mortgage crisis, over-leveraged investment banks or the other triggers of our current economic woes. But when it comes to giving Americans equal opportunity, our schools are demonstrably failing at their task. Today zip codes remain a better predictor of school quality and subsequent opportunities than smarts or hard work. When you think about it, that’s a lot more offensive to our values than a lightly regulated banking system.

School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era

Paul Hill, via a kind Deb Britt email:

America’s system for financing K-12 education is not neutral about innovation and the use of new technologies. Indeed, that system is stacked against them. To remedy this, our education-funding system needs to shift dramatically. Instead of today’s model which rigidly funds programs, staff positions, and administrative structures, instead of schools and students we need an approach in which funding follows the student. At present, America’s charter-school finance structure provides the best prototype, but even it does not go far enough. An appropriate school- finance system must also be able to defund ineffective schools and provide space and incentives for online providers to bring their products to the marketplace.

Teachers and test scores: A lawsuit spotlights the need for unions to work with school districts on effective evaluations.

The Los Angeles Times:

Smaller schools? More charters? Those are yesterday’s headlines in the world of school reform. The hot-button topic now is the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Yet as school administrators and the teachers union battle it out in current contract negotiations in Los Angeles, who would have guessed that state law addressed this issue long ago?
A lawsuit filed by a group of parents, aided by the reform group EdVoice, claims that the Los Angeles Unified School District must include standardized test scores or some other measure of student progress to comply with the 40-year-old Stull Act. Though filed only against the district, the suit has statewide implications.
The Stull Act mainly concerned itself with the appeals process for teachers who had been fired. But it included some common-sense language about teacher evaluations, instructing school districts to make student progress one of many factors in teachers’ performance reviews. In 1999, specifics were added to the law, requiring teacher evaluations to measure that progress in part through state-approved assessments.

Do Too Many or Too Few People Get Degrees? New Evidence.

Richard Vedder:

I have often written in this blog space about an important question: Should we be encouraging more persons to try to complete a college degree? Some new evidence, although far from authoritative, adds to my doubts about the advisability of promoting additional college attendance.
Let me point out we are almost at 1,000 days since President Obama said (on February 24, 2009) about higher education that “…it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it.” Not a right, not an entitlement, but a responsibility. The idea is that college graduation is vital to being a major player in the world economy, and patriotic Americans therefore must go to college.
Is it true that college graduation promotes economic growth? I divided the 34 nations on which we have consistent OECD data on adult degree attainment into two groups–the 17 High Attainment nations (including the U.S.), and the 17 Low Attainment nations. The High Attainment nations all have attainment rates between 28.8 percent and 45.5 percent (averaging around 34 percent), while the Low Attainment nations have rates between 15.3 percent and 25.7 percent (averaging around 21-22 percent).

Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin’s Don’t

Lydia Southwell

Before full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Florida is gathering information about how our students compare internationally in reading, mathematics and science. We are participating in Trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Adjustments to Florida standards will be made based on the results of these studies.

How does Wisconsin compare? Learn more at www.wisconsin2.org.

November 17, 2011 Madison, Wis. – Last night, by unanimous vote, the Board of Directors of Madison Preparatory Academy announced they would request that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education approve their proposal to establish it

The Urban League of Madison, via a kind Kaleem Caire email:

November 17, 2011
Madison, Wis. – Last night, by unanimous vote, the Board of Directors of Madison Preparatory Academy announced they would request that the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education approve their proposal to establish its all-boys and all-girls schools as non-instrumentality public charter schools. This means that Madison Preparatory Academy would employ all staff at both schools instead of MMSD, and that Madison Prep’s staff would not be members of the district’s collective bargaining units.
If approved, the Board of Education would retain oversight of both schools and likely require Madison Prep to submit to annual progress reviews and a five year performance review, both of which would determine if the school should be allowed to continue operating beyond its first five-year contract.
“We have worked for six months to reach agreement with MMSD’s administration and Madison Teachers Incorporated on how Madison Prep could operate as a part of the school district and its collective bargaining units while retaining the core elements of its program design and remain cost effective,” said Board Chair David Cagigal.
Cagigal further stated, “From the beginning, we were willing to change several aspects of our school design in order to find common ground with MMSD and MTI to operate Madison Prep as a school whose staff would be employed by the district. We achieved agreement on most positions being represented by local unions, including teachers, counselors, custodial staff and food service workers. However, we were not willing to compromise key elements of Madison Prep that were uniquely designed to meet the educational needs of our most at-risk students and close the achievement gap.”
During negotiations, MMSD, MTI and the Boards of Madison Prep and the Urban League were informed that Act 10, the state’s new law pertaining to collective bargaining, would prohibit MMSD and MTI from providing the flexibility and autonomy Madison Prep would need to effectively implement its model. This included, among other things:
Changing or excluding Madison Prep’s strategies for hiring, evaluating and rewarding its principals, faculty and staff for a job well done;
Excluding Madison Prep’s plans to contract with multiple providers of psychological and social work services to ensure students and their families receive culturally competent counseling and support, which is not sufficiently available through MMSD; and
Eliminating the school’s ability to offer a longer school day and year, which Madison Prep recently learned would prove to be too costly as an MMSD charter school.
On November 1, 2011, after Madison Prep’s proposal was submitted to the Board of Education, MMSD shared that operating under staffing and salary provisions listed in the district’s existing collective bargaining agreement would cost $13.1 million more in salaries and benefits over five years, as compared to the budget created by the Urban League for Madison Prep’s budget.
Cagigal shared, “The week after we submitted our business plan to the Board of Education for consideration, MMSD’s administration informed us that they were going to use district averages for salaries, wages and benefits in existing MMSD schools rather than our budget for a new start-up school to determine how much personnel would cost at both Madison Prep schools.”
Both MMSD and the Urban League used the same district salary schedule to write their budgets. However, MMSD budgets using salaries of district teachers with 14 years teaching experience and a master’s degree while the Urban League budgeted using salaries of teachers with 7 years’ experience and a master’s degree.
Gloria Ladson Billings, Vice Chair of Madison Prep’s Board and the Kellner Professor of Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that, “It has been clear to all parties involved that the Urban League is committed to offering comparable and competitive salaries to its teachers but that with limited resources as a new school, it would have to set salaries and wages at a level that would likely attract educators with less teaching experience than the average MMSD teacher. At the budget level we set, we believe we can accomplish our goal of hiring effective educators and provide them a fair wage for their level of experience.”
Madison Prep is also committed to offering bonuses to its entire staff, on top of their salaries, in recognition of their effort and success, as well as the success of their students. This also was not allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement.
Summarizing the decision of Madison Prep’s Board, Reverend Richard Jones, Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church and Madison Prep Board member shared, “Our Board has thought deep and hard about additional ways to compromise around the limitations that Act 10 places on our ability to partner with our teachers’ union. However, after consulting parents, community partners and the MMSD Board of Education, we ultimately decided that our children need what Madison Prep will offer, and they need it now. A dream deferred is a dream denied, and we must put the needs of our children first and get Madison Prep going right away. That said, we remain committed to finding creative ways to partner with MMSD and the teachers’ union, including having the superintendent of MMSD, or his designee, serve on the Board of Madison Prep so innovation and learning can be shared immediately.”
Cagigal further stated that, “It is important for the public to understand that our focus from the beginning has been improving the educational and life outcomes of our most vulnerable students. Forty-eight percent high school graduation and 47 percent incarceration rates are just not acceptable; not for one more day. It is unconscionable that only 1% of Black and 7% of Latino high school seniors are ready for college. We must break from the status quo and take bold steps to close the achievement gap, and be ready and willing to share our success and key learning with MMSD and other school districts so that we can positively impact the lives of all of our children.”
The Urban League has informed MMSD’s administration and Board of Education that it will share with them an updated version of its business plan this evening. The updated plan will request non-instrumentality status for Madison Prep and address key questions posed in MMSD’s administrative analysis of the plan that was shared publicly last week.
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the Madison Prep proposal in December 2011.
Copies of the updated plan will be available on the Urban League (www.ulgm.org) and Madison Prep (www.madison-prep) websites after 9pm CST this evening.
For more information, contact Laura DeRoche Perez at Lderoche@ulgm.org or 608.729.1230.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Matthew DeFour:

A Madison School Board vote to approve Madison Preparatory Academy has been delayed until at least December after the proposed charter school’s board decided to amend its proposal to use nonunion employees.
The Madison Prep board voted Wednesday night after an analysis by the school district found the pair of single-sex charter schools, geared toward low-income minority students, would cost $10.4 million more than previously estimated if it were to use union staff.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said the district would have to update its analysis based on the new proposal, which means a vote will not happen Nov. 28. A new time line for approval has not been established.
In announcing Wednesday’s decision, the Madison Prep board said the state’s new collective bargaining law made the school district and teachers union inflexible about how to pay for employing teachers for longer school days and a longer school year, among other issues.

Will Madison School Board go for non-union Madison Prep?

Susan Troller:

Backers of the Madison Preparatory Academy are now recommending establishing the proposed single-sex public charter school as what’s known as a “non-instrumentality” of the district.
Ultimately, that means the school’s staff would be non-union, and the Urban League-backed charter school would have an unprecedented degree of autonomy in its operations, free from district oversight.
With the recommendation, made at a meeting Wednesday, Madison Prep supporters, the school district and the local School Board wade into uncharted waters.
Because of the change, school officials will need to revise their administrative analysis of the charter school proposal in advance of a School Board vote on whether to approve the Madison Prep plan.

Related: Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes provides his perspective on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school.
Much more on Madison Prep, here.

The Two Year Window: The new science of babies and brains–and how it could revolutionize the fight against poverty.

Jonathan Cohn:

A decade ago, a neuroscientist named Charles Nelson traveled to Bucharest to visit Romania’s infamous orphanages. There, he saw a child whose brain had swelled to the size of a basketball because of an untreated infection and a malnourished one-year-old no bigger than a newborn. But what has stayed with him ever since was the eerie quiet of the infant wards. “It would be dead silent, all of [the babies] sitting on their backs and staring at the ceiling,” says Nelson, who is now at Harvard. “Why cry when nobody is going to pay attention to you?”
Nelson had traveled to Romania to take part in a cutting-edge experiment. It was ten years after the fall of the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, whose scheme for increasing the country’s population through bans on birth control and abortion had filled state-run institutions with children their parents couldn’t support. Images from the orphanages had prompted an outpouring of international aid and a rush from parents around the world to adopt the children. But ten years later, the new government remained convinced that the institutions were a good idea–and was still warehousing at least 60,000 kids, some of them born after the old regime’s fall, in facilities where many received almost no meaningful human interaction. With backing from the MacArthur Foundation, and help from a sympathetic Romanian official, Nelson and colleagues from Harvard, Tulane, and the University of Maryland prevailed upon the government to allow them to remove some of the children from the orphanages and place them with foster families. Then, the researchers would observe how they fared over time in comparison with the children still in the orphanages. They would also track a third set of children, who were with their original parents, as a control group.

School’s over. Now pay back the loan

Alex Lo:

If you’re late on your mortgage payment, you risk losing your flat. Default on your bank loan and scary collectors pay you a visit. But if you’re a university graduate and bail on your student loan, you get letters in the mailbox. If you move, the government administrator may lose track of you and you’ll no longer get bothersome mail.
The government has been excessively lenient in collecting student loans given by the Student Financial Assistance Agency. Up to the past academic year, about 13,000 students had failed to repay loans totalling HK$213 million. This sends a bad message to the young: be irresponsible; don’t pay back money you owe.
Now officials want to take action by transferring a student defaulter’s credit history to a credit reference agency. But the proposal has generated howls of protest from the usual suspects.

Evaluation system required to apply for No Child waiver

Marquita Brown:

It looked like a typical Friday reading block in Stephanie Jierski’s third-grade class at Van Winkle Elementary.
The students were divided into groups with some reading on their own, some paired to finish assignments and others working with the teachers. Those gathered by Jierski received remediation on compound words.
What a visitor to the Jackson school wouldn’t see – the related planning behind the scenes – helps explain why Principal Wanda Walker-Bowen says Jierski is a good teacher.

Mimicking the brain, in silicon

Anne Trafton:

For decades, scientists have dreamed of building computer systems that could replicate the human brain’s talent for learning new tasks.
MIT researchers have now taken a major step toward that goal by designing a computer chip that mimics how the brain’s neurons adapt in response to new information. This phenomenon, known as plasticity, is believed to underlie many brain functions, including learning and memory.
With about 400 transistors, the silicon chip can simulate the activity of a single brain synapse — a connection between two neurons that allows information to flow from one to the other. The researchers anticipate this chip will help neuroscientists learn much more about how the brain works, and could also be used in neural prosthetic devices such as artificial retinas, says Chi-Sang Poon, a principal research scientist in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

Teacher suspended for rejecting peer evaluator hopes for compromise

Marlene Sokol:

High School teacher Joseph Thomas, suspended for refusing to meet with a district-assigned peer evaluator, said he hopes for a compromise that will put him back in the classroom.
Thomas said he met with school district officials for more than an hour Monday and told them he would be willing to be evaluated by a middle school teacher with experience in grades 7 through 12. “As long as they’re playing by the rules, I fell that I should too,” said Thomas, an 18-year teacher.
If that cannot be arranged, Thomas was told he could be suspended without pay, fired and have 10 days to appeal. There was no comment Monday from the district, which suspended Thomas with pay pending an investigation into behavior officials are calling insubordinate.
News of Thomas’s suspension generated a variety of reactions.

Why Kids Can’t Search

Clive Thompson:

We’re often told that young people tend to be the most tech-savvy among us. But just how savvy are they? A group of researchers led by College of Charleston business professor Bing Pan tried to find out. Specifically, Pan wanted to know how skillful young folks are at online search. His team gathered a group of college students and asked them to look up the answers to a handful of questions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the students generally relied on the web pages at the top of Google’s results list.
But Pan pulled a trick: He changed the order of the results for some students. More often than not, those kids went for the bait and also used the (falsely) top-ranked pages. Pan grimly concluded that students aren’t assessing information sources on their own merit–they’re putting too much trust in the machine.

Stanford’s latest iPhone and iPad apps course now free to the world on iTunes U

Sarah Jane Keller:

Students may covet seats in Stanford’s popular iPhone and iPad application development course, but you don’t need to be in the classroom to take the course.
Anyone with app dreams can follow along online.
Stanford has just released the iOS 5 incarnation of iPhone Application Development on iTunes U, where the public can download course lectures and slides for free. Some of the most talked-about features of Apple’s latest operating system include iCloud, streamlined notifications and wireless syncing.
When Stanford’s first iPhone apps course appeared online in 2009, it made iTunes history by rocketing to a million downloads in just seven weeks.
Alberto Martín is an engineer and independent iOS developer in Salamanca, Spain. He has been a diligent student of the online app development class since it first appeared.

No Child Left Behind waiver could cost $2 billion, report says

Howard Blume:

It would cost cash-strapped California at least $2 billion to meet the requirements for relief from the federal No Child Left Behind law, state officials said.
Although the state Board of Education made no decision at its meeting in Sacramento, the clear implication of a staff report presentation was that California should spurn an opportunity to seek a waiver from federal rules that sanction schools for low test scores. The No Child Left Behind rules are widely unpopular here and elsewhere in the country.

Lawmakers Probe Law Schools’ Data

Ashby Jones:

U.S. Senate staff members are gathering a trove of information about legal education in the U.S., including figures on law school job placement and student-loan debt, in response to questions about whether the nation’s law schools have been luring students with bogus data.
The information could serve as a backdrop to hearings on legal education that U.S. senators are “strongly considering,” according to a congressional staffer.
So far this year, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.), has sent three letters to the American Bar Association, a section of which accredits law schools, urging the organization to do more “to increase its efforts to protect current and prospective law school students from misleading information.”

The New Physiocrats, or, Is There Value in the Humanities?

Kenneth Anderson:

In general, I agree entirely with the many commentators who have argued that the United States needs to produce more STEM graduates. But I also take note of the many people who have written to me to argue that the only truly employable STEM fields at the moment are engineering and computer science, and only certain disciplines within those. (I.e., I take the point made by many commenters that STEM graduates are not doing all that well in this economy either — when we say STEM = employment, so commenters point out, we don’t mean scientists or mathematicians as such, we mean particular fields of engineering and computer science. I can’t vouch for that but do accept it.)
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the United States could easily produce an excess of engineers — yes, even engineers. The labor market of a complicated, division-of-labor society means many, many specializations, and most of them are not STEM. We need lawyers, human resources staff, janitors, communications specialists, and many things that too-reductionist a view might lead one to believe are purely frivolous intermediary occupations. Maybe they are parasitical, and maybe they will get squeezed out of existence over time. But there is a sometimes incorrect tendency these days to believe that since innovation is the heart of all increases in productivity and hence in long run growth and wealth, STEM must be responsible for it and that because STEM is the root of innovation, only STEM jobs are truly value added. I exaggerate for effect, but you see the point.

Concern Over Changing Teacher Evaluations

Rebecca Vevea:

For the first time next year, thousands of Chicago Public Schools teachers will be evaluated based partly on how well their students are doing academically. Many fear they will face dismissal if the standards are not applied fairly.
“It’s going to make people really angry,” said Ruth Resnick, a librarian at O’Keefe Elementary School, who spoke last week at a public forum about carrying out a new state law that changes how teachers, principals, librarians and other staff are graded.
But state and district leaders say the new evaluations will be better than the decades-old system now in use. They say more thoughtful and effective evaluations will not only increase student achievement, but also provide teachers with better feedback for how to improve.

MMAC Milwaukee Schools plan falls short

George Mitchell:

During the past three decades, Milwaukee no doubt has led the nation in the number of plans advanced to improve K-12 education. With another initiative announced last week, Journal Sentinel readers can be excused for feeling they’ve heard this story before.
New recommendations – from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – are encouraging in one important area. MMAC and its allies have convinced innovative educators from elsewhere to open schools in Milwaukee. Two years ago, I visited a Rocketship charter school in San Jose. It’s great news that impressive operation is coming here.
However, the worthwhile goal of adding high-quality charter schools stands in contrast to other aspects of the MMAC plan. Business leaders who will be asked to finance it should apply the kind of scrutiny required in the world where they operate.
The plan comes up short in two major areas. First, it relies on a dated, narrow and misleading description of the major problem. Second, it walks back from the organization’s historic commitment to creating a real education marketplace.

Parents applaud huge breakthrough as Gove’s great schools shake-up spreads to special needs children

Simon Walters:

A major breakthrough in Michael Gove’s education revolution will be heralded tomorrow with the launch of the first-ever ‘free schools’ for special needs children.pecial needs children Read more: http://www.dailym
And two of Britain’s oldest football clubs, Everton and Derby County, are to open free schools for children from difficult backgrounds.
Education Secretary Mr Gove believes the latest batch of establishments will silence critics who claim they are designed to be the elitist preserve of pupils of sharp-elbowed, middle-class parents.

Congress Backslides on School Reform

Kevin Chavous:

A funny thing happened on the way to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the sweeping school-reform law better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB): The debate over reauthorization has spawned a political alliance between the tea party and the teachers unions. These strange bedfellows have teamed up to push for turning teacher-evaluation standards over to the states–in other words, to turn back the clock on educational accountability.
On the right are tea party activists who want the federal government out of everything, including establishing teacher standards. On the left are teachers unions who bridle at the notion of anyone establishing enforceable teacher standards. And in the middle is another generation of American kids who are falling further and further behind their European and Asian counterparts.

Want More Parents? Make Them Want to Come

Stephen Slater:

Parent-teacher conferences for elementary-school children are scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and evening, and for middle-school children on Wednesday. One teacher explains how his school has been able to draw parents in.
Many teachers and schools are wondering how to get more parents to come to parent-teacher meetings. At my school, the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, where over 90 percent of parents come to the meetings, something seems to be working well.
What is the school doing to make them want to come? First it expends serious effort. A.M.S., as we call it, took responsibility for reaching out to the parents by making visits to the home of every new student before school started. So, come parent meetings, it is the parents’ turn to go out of their way to meet the teachers.

Occupy School Boards?

Mike Petrilli:

After its big referendum victory last week, Ohio teachers union vice president Bill Leibensperger said “There has always been room to talk. That’s what collective bargaining is about. You bring adults around a table to talk about serious issues.” He voiced an argument made by union supporters through the fight over Senate Bill 5 (and the similar battle in Wisconsin over public sector union rights): All employees want is the right to bargain; they are more than willing to make concessions during these difficult times.
If we want to win the fight for the more immediate future, we’re going to need to take on the unions directly, and take over the school boards.And to be sure, you can find examples of unions–of police, firefighters, even teachers–who have agreed to freeze wages or reduce benefits in order to protect the quality of services or keep colleagues from being laid off. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Are Quincy Schools Adequately Funded & Supported?

Edward Husar:

Several members of the audience joined in the discussion over the public’s relative support for Quincy schools. Among them was Larry Troxel, a local minister, who said the public has a desire to support education but has lost trust over the years in the School Board’s handling of finances.
“I’ve seen previous boards buy out the contracts of two previous superintendents so they could bring in their own local person to be superintendent,” Troxel said.
He also pointed to a previous board decision to build Lincoln Elementary School only to close it and sell it after a relatively short period of time.
“The boards over the last 30 years have lost the confidence of the taxpayers in this community,” he said. “And just this sort of argument — and especially saying that we don’t care about education — is dead wrong. We care. But we don’t trust the board that wants to always raise taxes and spend more money, because we’ve seen money wasted.”
Board member Steve Krause said “you can’t damn the current board in front of you for past indiscretions.”

Madison Math Circle gives young students a taste of higher math and science

Pamela Cotant:

Every week, middle and high school students are invited to the UW Madison campus to hear a talk designed to stimulate their interest in math and science and then to mingle with professors and their peers over pizza.
Called Madison Math Circle, the activity was started this fall as a replacement for the former High School Math Nights previously run on campus every other week. Organizer Gheorghe Craciun, associate professor in the math and biomolecular chemistry departments, said middle school students are now included because he found high school students are often too busy with other activities to attend.
Kevin Zamzow, who attended the Nov. 7 Madison Math Circle with his son, Noah Zamzow-Schmidt, approached the UW Madison math department about organizing the activity. Math circles are held at campuses around the country although Zamzow doesn’t know of another one in Wisconsin.
“I enjoy math,” said Noah, 12, a seventh grader at Edgewood Campus School who is taking 10th and 11th grade math classes at Edgewood High School. “I really enjoyed the topic tonight.”

Intrusion into SCU Student Grade Records

Fr. Engh:

I write to inform you that later today Santa Clara University will release the statement below to the media regarding an intrusion into the University’s computerized academic records system. Unauthorized access to the system took place between June 2010 and July 2011 and resulted in grades being altered, affecting a handful of current undergraduate students and approximately sixty former undergraduate students.
Upon learning of the computer intrusion, we notified the FBI and have continued to cooperate fully with its ongoing investigation. The FBI’s investigation has now reached a stage where they have permitted us to notify the community of this intrusion.
Under the direction of Dennis Jacobs, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, we have undertaken a comprehensive examination of all affected records and are taking steps to restore them to their proper form. This will include contacting individual faculty, students, and former students whose grades may have been altered. We have also enlisted the assistance of outside experts to review our internal processes and data security measures to enhance the integrity of our computer system.

Can Virtual Schools Really Replace Classrooms?

KJ Dellantonia:

If the home-schooling anarchist parents in the Sunday Magazine played to a fantasy of what home schooling could be — the traveling, the rebellion against the authority of the classroom, the rugged individualist children — then The Wall Street Journal’s counterpoint, “My Teacher Is an App,” is the disillusioning reality for many.
The article reports that an estimated 250,000 students in 2010-11 attend school online, sometimes in the form of full-time public cyberschools, sometimes in a cyber “hybrid” school. These children aren’t “home schooled” from a statistical point of view; they’re enrolled in schools with names that sound like online degree factories (Georgia Cyber Academy, Florida Virtual School), but are legitimately run by states and districts or outsourced to for-profit corporations. They’re going to school. At home.

In a time of crisis, Buffalo School Board must either lead or get out of the way

The Buffalo News:

The problems facing the children attending Buffalo’s public schools are supposed to be addressed by the School Board. The nine members ran for office because they felt they were the best able to take care of our kids.
The fact is they are not getting the job done; student achievement and graduation rates are both far too low. Board members need to act in new ways and not get bogged down with the same failed ideas. And if they are incapable of seeing that our kids get the education they are entitled to, the state must step in and take over.
The district faces many problems, but the most immediate one is how to turn around its seven failing schools. A total of $42 million is available — $2 million a year for each school for three years — to turn those schools around. But first the district must come up with a turnaround plan for each school that is acceptable to the state Education Department. The district must choose from three models outlined by the state. The state also says, for reasons never explained, that the same model can’t be used for all seven schools.

AI-Class Exams at the University of Freiburg

University of Freiburg:

Both exams, that is the midterm and final exam for the online course “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, can be taken at the University of Freiburg, supervised by Prof. Dr. Wolfram Burgard. For both exams, you will have to be physically present at the location mentioned below. If you should be unable to come to Freiburg for both exams, you cannot receive the certificate.
Why you would want to do that, if you can do it at home, too? Because if you will pass the exams, you will get a certificate (in German: Schein) signed by Prof. Wolfram Burgard that you have passed the exam of the course and that this is equivalent to the AI course at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Freiburg. Typically, German and many international Universities accept such a certificate.
If you would like to take part in the exams at the University of Freiburg, please write an e-mail to Prof. Dr. Burgard to enroll:
burgard@informatik.uni-freiburg.de. Please use the subject “Stanford AI Course Exam Registration” for your email.

Madison School Board’s DIFI (District Identified for Improvement) Plan Discussion Documents

Wisconsin DPI:

The federal Elementary/Secondary Education Act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires that districts and schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward state-established benchmarks in four areas: test participation, reading proficiency, math proficiency, and the other academic indicator: attendance or high school graduation.
This letter is to inform you that your district, or one or more of your schools, has either missed AYP; is identified for improvement; is no longer identified for improvement status; or missed AYP in the prior school year bnt remains in satisfactory status by meeting AYP for the current school year: 2010-11.
The enclosed Preliminary Annual Review of Performance report(s) are color coded according to the following:

Sanctions Document.
DIFI by subgroup.
District Identified for Improvement (DIFI)- Documentation for DPI (306 pages)

via a kind reader’s email.
The School Board discussed these documents earlier this evening.

Cost for union teachers could be game changer for Madison Prep deal

Nathan Comp:

A new analysis (PDF) by the Madison school district shows that the budget submitted by the Urban League of Greater Madison for a pair of sex-segregated charter schools could potentially cost the district an additional $13 million over the schools’ first five years.
The new numbers came as a shock to Urban League president Kaleem Caire, who says that Madison Prep may pull out of a tentative agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc., that would require Madison Prep to hire mostly union staff.
“It’s become clear to us that the most reasonable path to ensure the success of these kids is as a non-instrumentality,” says Caire. “Others on our board want to look at a couple of other options, so we’re looking at those before we make that final determination.”
One of those options would be to scale back the program, including the proposed longer school days and extended school year.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Spokane Public Schools is a “tale of two cities” – and I live in the other one

Laurie Rogers:

On Nov. 10, Spokane Public Schools hosted a lovely “Breakfast for Community Leaders.” The district’s goal was to assure well-connected and like-minded folks in the city that – as the district put it – it’s “better preparing all students for success after graduation.” A few students also were brought in to “share their stories about the effectiveness of that preparation and what high school is like today.”

Superintendent Nancy Stowell began the breakfast by saying she wanted to “put to rest” the “fingerpointing and blame” the district faced during the 2011 board election. Here are a few examples of how she put things to rest.

  • Stowell praised the district for higher graduation rates, saying the next challenge is college readiness. Wasn’t college readiness always the goal? Most parents think so. So, the district is letting more of the kids leave, and at some point, they’ll start getting them ready for postsecondary life? How does that work?
  • Stowell showed us how enrollment is increasing in Advanced Placement classes. Had she shown AP pass rates — we also would have seen a precipitous drop in the percentage passing, and an alarming drop in the average AP grade.

Understanding Wisconsin’s Charter School Landscape

Mike Ford:

WPRI polling shows that more Wisconsinites support charter schools than oppose them (42% vs. 32%). But what exactly are charter schools?

The concept of charter schools is all the more confusing in Wisconsin because we have three types operating in the state. However, all three types do have some basic similarities.

The Wisconsin Charter Schools Association has additional basic information on Wisconsin Charters on their FAQ site worth checking out.

The “21st Century Skills” Every Teacher Should Have

Educational Technology:

In one of my previous post entitled what every teacher should know about google. reference was made to the notions of the 21st century learner and how these learners depend wholly on media and social networking to live in this fast_paced world. In today’s post i will present two short videos that will hopefully change what some think about teaching. The following videos are among the top educative videos online .
With the advance of technological innovations into our lives , education has been radically transformed and teachers who do not use social media and educational technology in thier teaching no longer fit in the new system.That’s why every educator and teacher should reconsider certain values and principles . watch this first one minute 40 seconds video to see the negative side that every teacher must not have

Britain’s elite colleges look East for funds

Ng Yuk-hang:

Some of England’s most prestigious universities, strapped for cash after deep cuts in government subsidies, are to step up fund-raising drives in Hong Kong and the mainland.
While Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics say government grants will still make up the bulk of their income, these elite institutes are increasingly looking eastward to diversify funding.
And the amount donated by Hong Kong philanthropists is expected to rise this year, with new scholarships and projects to be announced.
“Oxford University has put an increasing emphasis on our relationship with China and Hong Kong,” a spokesman for the English-speaking world’s oldest university said. “We are looking more to philanthropy.”

Sixth-Grade Developer Teaches Students How to Make Apps

Liz Dwyer:

Where can today’s students go to learn how to make an app? That’s the question Thomas Suarez, a sixth-grader from suburban Los Angeles, asked himself after realizing that most of his peers like to play games and use apps, but schools don’t teach the basic programming skills needed to make them. So Suarez, who taught himself how to make apps using the iPhone software development kit–he created the anti-Justin Bieber, Whac-a-Mole-style game “Bustin Jieber“–decided to start an app club at school.
Suarez has been a technophile since kindergarten, and he already knows several programming languages. At a recent TEDx conference, he explained how students in the app club get the opportunity to learn and share their app making with each other. The club even asked the school’s teachers what kinds of apps they could use in the classroom and then set out to design them.

Mandarin & The Sun Prairie Schools


Not the food. That would be just fine. The course is the problem.
It passed the committee level this past Monday and on the 14th it goes to the full board.
Problem #1
Here’s our first problem. This is a major shift; an introduction of a whole new language. One with a plan to offer II,III, and IV plus AP all in the next several years. Yet, it’s lumped in with 7 other courses within the agenda heading, where you vote Yes/No on the entire suite: 2012-2013 New Courses: AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination); Chinese I; Arts of Industry; African Literature; Native American/Latin American Literature; Science of Motion; Weather and Climate
Solution: It takes a board member motion to pull out the Chinese I for a separate discussion/vote.

Anger at transfer by elite Hong Kong school

Dennis Chong:

A plan to move hundreds of pupils at a top international school to temporary premises inside a public housing estate has angered their well-off parents.
The Hong Kong International School proposes to demolish its lower primary school building in Repulse Bay and redevelop it into what it says will be a first-class facility.
During the three-year project – the first major redevelopment of the Repulse Bay campus since the school started in 1966 – about 500 pupils aged five to eight would be taught in a disused school building in Chai Wan, a 25-minute drive away.
The plan has ignited debate ahead of a meeting today of the Town Planning Board, which will be asked to approve it.

My Teacher Is an App

Stephanie Banchero & Stephanie Simon:

It was nearing lunchtime on a recent Thursday, and ninth-grader Noah Schnacky of Windermere, Fla., really did not want to go to algebra. So he didn’t.
Tipping back his chair, he studied a computer screen listing the lessons he was supposed to complete that week for his public high school–a high school conducted entirely online. Noah clicked on his global-studies course. A lengthy article on resource shortages popped up. He gave it a quick scan and clicked ahead to the quiz, flipping between the article and multiple-choice questions until he got restless and wandered into the kitchen for a snack.
Noah would finish the quiz later, within the three-hour time frame that he sets aside each day for school. He also listened to most of an online lecture given by his English teacher; he could hear but not see her as she explained the concept of a protagonist to 126 ninth graders logged in from across the state. He never got to the algebra.

Real answer to poverty, and poor schools, has to be the power to chose

Chuck Mikkelsen:

The Star article, “Poverty tightens its grip in cities,” described a recent Brookings Institution study on the increasing concentration of poverty in cities, including Kansas City.
Poor public schools, such as the Kansas City School District, are a major factor in creating pockets of poverty. Those with enough resources move out of underperforming districts leaving the poorest of the poor behind.
Reversing this trend requires, among other things, fixing the school district problem. A number of solutions have been proposed, most of which will be as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Real change requires something more fundamental: What the left calls giving “power to the people” and what the right calls being “free to choose.”

Educational diversity is essential to progress.

Madison School District placed on College Board’s AP® District Honor Roll for significant gains in Advanced Placement® access and student performance

The Madison School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is one of fewer than 400 public school districts in the nation being honored by the College Board with a place on the 2nd Annual AP® Honor Roll, for simultaneously increasing access to Advanced Placement coursework while maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP exams. Achieving both of these goals is the ideal scenario for a district’s Advanced Placement program, because it indicates that the district is successfully identifying motivated, academically-prepared students who are likely to benefit most from AP coursework.
Since 2009, the MMSD increased the number of students participating in AP from 692 to 824 (up 19 percent), while maintaining the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher above the 70 percent criteria threshold (87% in 2009, 79% in 2011). The majority of U.S. colleges and universities grant college credit or advanced placement for a score of 3 or above on AP exams.
“We are thrilled with this recognition for AP access and student performance,” said Superintendent Dan Nerad. “Obviously, credit goes to the students who score well on AP Exams, and parents and guardians, teachers and other MMSD staff share in this Honor Roll placement. This shows that the Madison School District is on the right path with our work to elevate the performance of all students, but we have much more work to do.”

Related: 2008 Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison.

Special Tax Deductions for Special Education

Laura Sanders:

More than six million children in the U.S. fall into the “special needs” category, and their ranks are expanding. The number of those affected by one developmental disability alone–autism–grew more than 70% between 2005 and 2010.
The tax code can help–if you know where to look.
There are numerous tax breaks for education, but the most important one for many special-needs students isn’t an education break per se. Instead, it falls under the medical-expense category.
Although students with disabilities have a right to a “free and appropriate” public education by law, some families opt out and others pay for a range of supplemental therapies.

Rethinking How Kids Learn Science

Ira Flatow:

How important are museums, TV shows and after school clubs to teaching kids science? Ira Flatow and guests look at “informal science education” and what researchers are learning about learning science. Plus, what’s the best way to keep undergraduate science majors in science?
IRA FLATOW, host: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I’m Ira Flatow. We’re going to be hearing President Obama talking about the need to help kids learn science in places other than the classroom.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotic competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent, to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.
FLATOW: And we keep hearing about how American students are falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to math and science, but new studies are showing that the places to teach science, places where kids will soak up science, are not in the classrooms, but museum trips, TV shows, afterschool clubs, even radio shows about science. Has that been your experience, too? What do you think? How much of what you know about science comes from your experience outside of a classroom?

The ABCs of Online Schools

Stephanie Simon:

The growing popularity of online public schools lets states and local school districts effectively outsource some teaching functions–to parents.
Students enrolled in an online school full-time are required to work closely with a “learning coach,” usually mom or dad, to ensure that they are staying on track in their studies.
For younger students, the learning coach becomes the primary teacher. A typical first-grade language arts lesson, for instance, asks the student to brainstorm a list of words about her favorite place, then write three complete sentences. Parents go online to certify that their child has done the work and to answer questions about its quality–for instance, did the child use proper punctuation?
“It’s not about just putting them in front of a computer and saying, ‘Here, get this work done,'” says Allison Brown, who has three young children attending Georgia Cyber Academy, a statewide online charter school run by the private firm K12 Inc.

Seattle School Board presses on, minus a solid contributor

The Seattle Times:

SEATTLE School Board President Steve Sundquist’s re-election defeat underscores the axiom that no good deed goes unpunished.
A good board member is exiting.
The Seattle Times endorsed Sundquist, inspired by his background as a proven business leader with deep roots of volunteerism in our local schools. Sundquist was a calm and able presence during some of the district’s most contentious times. He did not hesitate to move the board toward firing Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and her financial chief in the wake of a small-business-contracting scandal. City Hall and state legislators found him someone they could work with.
Perhaps Sundquist’s defeat to retired teacher Marty McLaren was to be expected. The election was the first after a year of financial and management upheaval in the Seattle Public Schools. Indeed, a big story last week was the arrest of the former district employee facing felony theft charges connected to the scandal.

Generation Jobless: What Hedge Funds Can Teach College Students

Matt Wirz:

Ask hedge fund manager Daniel Ades about the future for recent college graduates and he likes to draw a picture, a very ugly picture. He sketches out a bell curve mapping the historical default rate on student loans – then he draws another curve much higher to show the likely default rate for the Class of 2011.
Mr. Ades has become an expert in the $242 billion market for bonds backed by bundles of student loans, delivering consistently strong returns by trading hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the debt over the past four years. “We know all these deals inside out and we know their default rates,” he said.
But when it comes to the loans banks made to students who graduated in 2010 and 2011, the 31-year-old investor is steering well clear, “because we can’t quantify the risk,” he said.

California school districts have inconsistent cellphone policies, ACLU report finds

Rick Rojas:

A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that school districts across California have inconsistent policies regarding a school’s ability to search the contents of a student’s cellphone, often encroaching on a student’s right to privacy.
The ACLU of California said searches have become a bigger, and more common, issue as cellphones have become pervasive among students. The report’s authors — Brendan Hamme and Hector O. Villagra of the ACLU of Southern California — contend that searching phones could be a serious invasion of privacy, considering the amount of personal data a device could contain, including financial information, photos, videos and text messages with intimate conversations.

Political Protest 101: Indoctrinating fourth graders in Wisconsin

Gary Larson:

“What did you learn in school today, dear?” a mother asks her fourth grader.
“Oh, mom, it was so exciting! We learned to chant slogans and clap and sing protest songs,” says her nine-year old after a school field trip to the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.
The field trip got mixed up somehow in the on-going political protest of Governor Scott Walker’s budget reform law. You know, that hotly-contested-by-unions law curbing certain collective bargaining privileges of entitlement-minded Wisconsin public employees? Yeah, that one. It created quite a a stir in February, causing Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois on behalf of their generous gift-giving friends in, yes, those same public employee unions igniting the protests and the recall elections.
Who knew kids from Portage, Wisconsin, 40 miles north of Madison, would be thrust into the hornets’ nest of political protesters, mostly teachers, doing battle with a duly-elected governor and those mean and nasty budget-minded Republicans? Who knew? Not parents, certainly.
Instead of a lesson in state government, the kids got an impromptu lesson in raucous, union-driven, leftist power politics at the State Capitol, still strewn with placards of the February protests against budget reforms to erase a $3.5 billion shortfall. Most of the physical damage to the Capitol done by February protesters occupying it had been repaired, at a cost to taxpayers in the low millions. Despoiling public property is apparently what they do?

Wisconsin’s annual school test (WKCE) still gets lots of attention, but it seems less useful each year

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin (and just about every other state) is involved in developing new state tests. That work is one of the requirements of getting a waiver and, if a bill ever emerges form Congress, it will almost certainly continue to require every state to do testing.
But the new tests aren’t scheduled to be in place for three years – in the fall of 2014. So this fall and for at least the next two, Wisconsin’s school children and schools will go through the elaborate process of taking a test that still gets lots of attention but seems to be less useful each year it lives on.

The oft-criticized WKCE often provides grist for “successes”. Sometimes, rarely, the truth about its low standards is quietly mentioned.
I remember a conversation with a well educated Madison parent earlier this year. “My child is doing well, the WKCE reports him scoring in the 95th percentile in math”……
www.wisconsin2.org is worth a visit.

Madison School District Administrative Analysis of the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School; WKCE Rhetoric

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad:

Critique of the District (MMSD)
Page # 23: MPA – No College Going Culture among Madison’s New Student Population
The data on student performance and course-taking patterns among students in MMSD paint a clear picture. There is not a prevalent college going culture among Black, Hispanic and some Asian student populations enrolled in MMSD. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. The majority of these students are failing to complete a rigorous curriculum that would adequately prepare them for college and 21st century jobs. Far too many are also failing to complete college requirements, such as the ACT, or failing to graduate from high school.
Page # 23: No College Going Culture among Madison’s New Student Population –
MMSD Response
MMSD has taken many steps towards ensuring college attendance eligibility and readiness for our students of color. Efforts include:
East High School became the first MMSD school to implement AVID in the 2007-2008 school year. Teens of Promise or TOPS became synonymous with AVID as the Boys and Girls Club committed to an active partnership to support our program. AVID/TOPS students are defined as:
“AVID targets students in the academic middle – B, C, and even D students – who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard. These are students who are capable of completing rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their
potential. Typically, they will be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from low-income or minority families. AVID pulls these students out of their unchallenging courses and puts them on the college track: acceleration instead of remediation.”
Source: http://www.avid.org/abo_whatisavid.html
The MMSD has 491 students currently enrolled in AVID/TOPS. Of that total, 380 or 77% of students are minority students (27% African-American, 30% Latino, 10% Asian, 10% Multiracial). 67% of MMSD AVID/TOPS students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The 2010- 2011 school year marked an important step in the District’s implementation of AVID/TOPS. East High School celebrated its first cohort of AVID/TOPS graduates. East Highs AVID/TOPS class of 2011 had a 100% graduation rate and all of the students are enrolled in a 2-year or 4- year college. East High is also in the beginning stages of planning to become a national demonstration site based on the success of their program. This distinction, determined by the AVID regional site team, would allow high schools from around the country to visit East High School and learn how to plan and implement AVID programs in their schools.
MMSD has a partnership with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) and they are conducting a controlled study of the effects of AVID/TOPS students when compared to a comparison groups of students. Early analysis of the study reveals positive gains in nearly every category studied.
AVID pilot studies are underway at two MMSD middle schools and support staff has been allocated in all eleven middle schools to begin building capacity towards a 2012-2013 AVID Middle School experience. The program design is still underway and will take form this summer when school based site teams participate in the AVID Summer Institute training.

I found this commentary on the oft criticized WKCE exams fascinating (one day, wkce results are useful, another day – this document – WKCE’s low benchmark is a problem)” (page 7):

Page # 28: MPA – Student Performance Measures:
85% of Madison Prep’s Scholars will score at proficient or advanced levels in reading, math, and science on criterion referenced achievement tests after three years of enrollment.
90% of Scholars will graduate on time.
100% of students will complete the SAT and ACT assessments before graduation with 75% achieving a composite score of 22 or higher on the ACT and 1100 on the SAT (composite verbal and math).
100% of students will complete a Destination Plan before graduation.
100% of graduates will qualify for admissions to a four-year college after graduation.
100% of graduates will enroll in postsecondary education after graduation.
Page # 28: Student Performance Measures – MMSD Response:
WKCE scores of proficient are not adequate to predict success for college and career readiness. Cut scores equated with advanced are needed due to the low benchmark of Wisconsin’s current state assessment system. What specific steps or actions will be provided for students that are far below proficiency and/or require specialized support services to meet the rigorous requirements of IB?
No Child Left Behind requires 100% proficiency by 2014. Madison Prep must be held to the same accountability standards as MMSD.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school, here.
Madison School District links & notes on Madison Prep.
TJ Mertz comments, here.

Why the ACLU is targeting the Proposed Madison Prep IB Charter School

Susan Troller:

Single-gender classrooms, and, to a lesser degree, single-gender schools, are a hot trend in education circles. In less than a decade, Wisconsin has gone from zero classrooms segregated by gender to more than a dozen scattered across the state. That mirrors increasing numbers throughout the country.
But there’s growing pushback from researchers, who claim the desire to separate boys from girls in school is based on what they call “pseudoscience.”
In September, the prestigious journal, Science, published results of a study that showed sex segregation did not contribute to increased academic performance and harmed students by making sex stereotypes acceptable. Seven well-regarded researchers, including UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, write in the article, “A new curriculum, like a new drug or factory production method, often yields a short-term gain because people are motivated by novelty and belief in the innovation. Novelty-based enthusiasm, sample bias and anecdotes account for much of the glowing characterization of (single-sex) education in the media.”
In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union has successfully sued on the basis of sex discrimination, recently forcing a public high school in Pittsburgh to abandon its single-sex classrooms and a school board in Louisiana to end its practice of separating boys and girls at a middle schoo

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Panel Urges Cholesterol Testing for Kids

Ron Winslow & Jennifer Corbett Dooren:

Government health experts recommended Friday that all children be tested for high cholesterol before they reach puberty, in an effort to get an early start in preventing cardiovascular disease.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said a child’s first cholesterol check should occur between ages 9 and 11 and the test should be repeated between ages 17 and 21. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the guideline.
The recommendation reflects growing evidence the biological processes that underlie heart attacks and other consequences of cardiovascular disease begin in childhood, even though manifestations of the diseases generally don’t strike until middle age or later.
The guidelines also come amid broad concern about growing numbers of American children who are overweight or obese and thus potentially on course for diabetes, high blood pressure and other abnormalities. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17% of American children are obese, triple the level three decades ago.

Princeton University Acceptance Letter

Edward Tufte:

Source: Howard Wainer, “Clear Thinking Made Visible: Redesigning Score Reports for Students,” Chance 15 (Winter 2002), pp. 56-58. Howard Wainer (Distinguished Research Scientist at the National Board of Examiners, Philadelphia) discusses Princeton’s admission letter and also the forms for reporting SAT scores in his interesting article in Chance.
Perhaps the rejection letter should be less blunt. In fact, applicants can detect their fate by whether they get the thick or the thin envelope.

My Parents Were Home-Schooling Anarchists

Margaret Heidenry:

Tired of the constraints of the 40-hour workweek, my father, in 1972, quit his job in publishing. My parents were in their early 30s, and they had four children under 7. “But we still wanted to explore the world,” my father recalled recently. They bought six one-way tickets to Europe, leaving only a laughable $3,000 to subsist on. Young and idealistic, they thought they could easily educate us along the way. “Life itself would become a portable classroom.”
For the next four years, my parents embarked on an uncharted “free-form existence.” We traipsed to Nerja, Spain; Dorset, England; a Midwestern farm; and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, before settling in St. Louis. My father worked on his novel. The task of teaching the children — Mary, James, John and me — fell to my mother.
For much of this time, I was an educational tag-along. Yet I clearly remember San Miguel, where we spent six months in 1975, when I was 4. Art class was held outside in the jardin. When we giggled and chatted among ourselves, Mom never shushed us, but calmly told us to pick a subject. Why not draw idling mariachis, or the dog drooling at a vendor’s feet? she’d suggest. Or maybe the kids our age who sold gum to make ends meet? I’d invariably copy what my brothers drew, usually just a car.

Union, UNO Clash Over School

Rebecca Vevea:

More than 100 people turned out for a community meeting on a new charter school proposal Tuesday night on the city’s far Northwest Side, with public school teachers pressing freshman Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th Ward) to block the plan put forward by one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staunch allies.
At the urging of Chicago Teachers Union organizers, teachers and union representatives packed the meeting room to oppose the proposal from the United Neighborhood Organization, the city’s most prominent Latino community group.
UNO wants to buy a parcel in the ward, at 2102 N. Natchez Ave., for a new school that would open next year. But the proposal for the site in the Galewood neighborhood first needs a zoning change, so Sposato called the meeting to gather feedback from constituents.

Reforming Higher Education: Incentives, STEM Majors, and Liberal Arts Majors — the Education versus Credential Tradeoff

Kenneth Anderson:

The Wall Street Journal’s excellent series on jobless young people features an article today on why students study liberal arts in college over STEM subjects, and why so many would-be STEM majors shift to liberal arts, despite the apparent loss of career prospects. Larry Ribstein follows up with commentary suggesting that law school becomes a logical option for students who were badly guided in their choices of majors — leading them to liberal arts with few skills and few prospects in today’s world.
I want to reiterate something I wrote about a few weeks ago about the incentive structures for students. I’m basing this on my current experience as a law professor who talks a lot with students at a mid-tier law school and what led them there, as well as my experience as a parent of a student who will be doing humanities as her major at Rice, a school with world class STEM and world class humanities.
There are a lot of smart students out there who will nonetheless not be able to compete in world class institutions in STEM. Why? They might have, say, near 800s in verbal and writing, and mid 600s in math on the SAT. (This matches up, btw, to Gene Expression blog’s mapping of the GRE scores of various college majors for the highest testing of the humanities majors — the philosophy students, who have about exactly those scores. I’ll put up the charts in a later post, but very roughly the verbal and math scores flip for the highest scoring of the sciences — physics, and are somewhere in the middle for the highest scoring of the social sciences, economics.) At a school like Rice — and any university ranked above it — specialization has already taken place, sorting by subject area. A tiny handful of students can be true polymaths, but that’s hardly the norm. Instead, the STEM students are sought competitively on a world-wide basis, and it will be academic suicide and frankly impossible for a student who is not at the top of those competitive areas even to pass the classes.

U. of I. probe of law school reveals intense culture, falsified data

Jodi Cohen:

When the University of Illinois law school announced a new early entrance program in 2008, the stated reason was to recruit top U. of I. undergraduates and give them “the first shot at the limited number of seats” at their school.
But behind the scenes, now-disgraced College of Law admissions dean Paul Pless revealed another motive was at play. By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students’ high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.

Students of Professor Who Didn’t Show Up Keep Their A’s and Get Refunds, Too

Katherine Mangan:

Students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences who received A’s for two courses that were never taught will get their money back, but they’ll still get to keep the academic credit, an administrator reported on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the university is investigating what it referred to as “egregious breaches of professional ethics and academic standards” that led to last month’s resignation of Venetia L. Orcutt, department chair and director of the physician-assistant-studies program.
According to a statement released by the university on Wednesday, Ms. Orcutt had been assigned to teach a sequence of three one-credit courses in evidence-based medicine over three semesters last year. The first semester of the required course was face to face, and she showed up for that. But according to three students who complained to the university’s provost last month, Ms. Orcutt went missing when the course sequence shifted online.

The Toll on Parents When Kids Return Home

Joanna Lublin:

Many young adults find themselves still tethered to the Bank of Mom and Dad, and that dependence is taking a toll.
Kevin Davis moved back home last December after receiving a business finance degree from the University of North Carolina. He has yet to land a full-time job.
The 25-year-old often commiserates with his father, John, an information-technology professional who was laid off as a project manager in October 2010 for the second time since 2007. “At times, it’s hard for me to keep up my own spirits as well as Kevin’s,” admits John Davis, a resident of Winston-Salem, N.C., who currently receives unemployment insurance.
As recent college graduates scramble to find full-time jobs, numerous parents are helping their children pay bills or letting them live at home again. About 59% of parents provide or recently provided financial assistance to children aged 18 to 39 who weren’t students, concluded a May survey of nearly 1,100 people by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Inclusion: The Right Thing for All Students

Cheryl Jorgensen:

It’s time to restructure all of our schools to become inclusive of all of our children.
We have reached the tipping point where it is no longer educationally or morally defensible to continue to segregate students with disabilities. We shouldn’t be striving to educate children in the least restrictive environment but rather in the most inclusive one.
Inclusion is founded on social justice principles in which all students are presumed competent and welcomed as valued members of all general education classes and extra-curricular activities in their local schools — participating and learning alongside their same-age peers in general education instruction based on the general curriculum, and experiencing meaningful social relationships.

Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., is a member of the affiliate faculty with the National Center on Inclusive Education at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. In 2008 she received the National Down Syndrome Congress Education Award for her leadership and pioneering research supporting the inclusion of students with Down syndrome. She has written this open letter to Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for New York City schools.

Teacher evaluations should not be watered down

Jocelyn Huber:

Excellent teachers and excellent education are inseparable. In fact, teacher quality is one of the most important determinants of whether a child succeeds in school and continues to college.
A handful of states have been working hard to recruit and nurture great teachers — starting with strong, effective evaluation systems. Tennessee has led the charge.
When it comes to improving public schools, ideas can only take us so far. It’s effective implementation of those ideas that yields results. Last year, the state passed bold, bipartisan legislation, the First to the Top Act, to create a rigorous teacher and principal evaluation system that has the potential to set an example for the rest of the country. The legislation was supported by the teachers’ union, the business community and a wide range of education stakeholders.

Related: Teacher evaluation system a good start, but seems not to go far enough by Chris Rickert:

It was encouraging to see the state Department of Public Instruction release a framework for evaluating public school teachers that is the product of much time and thought by a broad array of smart people.
I can even ignore that it took until now to devise such a framework when the quality of public school teachers and, indeed, public education itself have been among the hottest of public policy topics since, well, forever.
Harder to ignore is that while the state took a decidedly top-down approach to grading teachers, it’s taking a decidedly hands-off approach to how districts use the grades.
DPI’s 17-page “preliminary report and recommendations” employs plenty of euphemisms and academia-speak to go into great detail about technical aspects of the proposed evaluation system without saying how the evaluations should be used when it comes to paying teachers — or dismissing bad ones.

Girls Just Want to Go to School

Nick Kristof:

Sometimes you see your own country more sharply from a distance. That’s how I felt as I dropped in on a shack in this remote area of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
The head of the impoverished household during the week is a malnourished 14-year-old girl, Dao Ngoc Phung. She’s tiny, standing just 4 feet 11 inches and weighing 97 pounds.
Yet if Phung is achingly fragile, she’s also breathtakingly strong. You appreciate the challenges that America faces in global competitiveness when you learn that Phung is so obsessed with schoolwork that she sets her alarm for 3 a.m. each day.
She rises quietly so as not to wake her younger brother and sister, who both share her bed, and she then cooks rice for breakfast while reviewing her books.

Tantrum Tamer: New Ways Parents Can Stop Bad Behavior

Shirley Wang:

Forget everything you may have read about coping with children’s temper tantrums. Time-outs, sticker charts, television denial–for many, none of these measures will actually result in long-term behavior change, according to researchers at two academic institutions.
Instead, a set of techniques known as “parent management training” is proving so helpful to families struggling with a child’s unmanageable behavior that clinicians in the U.S. and the U.K. are starting to adopt them.
Aimed at teaching parents to encourage sustained behavior change, it was developed in part at parenting research clinics at Yale University and King’s College London.
Even violent tantrums, or clinging to the point of riding on a parent’s leg, can be curbed, researchers say.

Digital Badges for 21st Century Learning

Kris Amundson:

Over the past few years, a new approach to signaling individual skills and competencies has emerged the cutting edge of the education sector. Badges, already used successfully in games, social networking sites and youth development groups such as the Girl Scouts and 4-H, are now being developed in digital form to represent the wide range of non-traditional learning experiences critical to success in a global society.
Digital badges can showcase learning that takes place outside of traditional school structures, such as that of a high school student studying physics via MIT’s OpenCourseWare or a middle schooler that has taught himself how to design and program educational games. What’s more, so many of the skills that we rely upon for success in our global knowledge economy are not captured well by a traditional resume.
Kevin Carey has written here and elsewhere about the importance of expanding systems that rely on open education resources. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said, “Today’s technology-enabled, information-rich, deeply interconnected world means learning not only can – but should – happen anywhere, anytime. We need to recognize these experiences, whether the environments are physical or online, and whether learning takes place in schools, colleges or adult education centers, or in afterschool, workplace, military or community settings.”

Making Common Core Standards Mean Something

Richard Lee Colvin:

This week the Montana Board of Education voted to become the 45th state to adopt the national Common Core standards. Standards, of course, don’t matter at all if they just sit on shelves. If they’re serious about ensuring that more students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college or postsecondary training programs, states and school districts have to see them, and the curriculum associated with them, as the organizing principle of public education. Decisions about accountability, teacher preparation, professional development, instructional materials, technology, teacher evaluations, class size, how to use time and even how money is spent have to be made with the standards in mind. They aren’t a program. They are the program.
Except, apparently, in California. There the standards, which the state board of education voted to adopt in August of 2010, are being treated as an add-on, an unfunded mandate, an optional program.

Survey finds school districts have taken hits; Walker touts reforms

Tom Tolan:

A new survey of the majority of the state’s school districts shows many of them were forced to make staff reductions and increase class sizes as a result of school aid cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget, according to the state Department of Public Instruction and a school administrators association.
But the governor’s office, briefed Wednesday afternoon on the survey to be announced at a Thursday news conference, says the Walker administration’s reforms are working and points out that the majority of teacher layoffs have been in districts that didn’t adopt the reforms – notably in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville.
The survey, by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, was conducted in the early fall of the current school year, after the state Legislature passed a two-year budget that trimmed $749 million in aid to public school districts, in addition to reductions in the limits of what districts can levy in property taxes.
The survey was sent to administrators in all 424 state school districts, and 83% of the districts responded.

Wisconsin shed about 3,400 education positions this year, triple the number from last year. At least one-third of the state’s districts increased elementary class sizes. And at least four in 10 districts are using one-time federal stimulus funds to balance their budgets.
But there have been no widespread reductions in course offerings, and the number of students per teacher, librarian and counselor remained about the same.
Those are the findings of a statewide survey of school superintendents about their 2011-12 budgets. Two-thirds of those responding to the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators survey anticipate next year’s staff cuts will be as bad or worse than this year.
The survey didn’t ask about property taxes, but the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has projected an average increase of just 0.6 percent on the December tax bills, far less than the average 4.84 percent annual increase over the previous decade.

Wisconsin Governor Walker:

Today the Department of Public Instruction released the data for a survey done by the Wisconsin Association of Schools District Administrators. The administrators for 353 school districts responded, which accounts for 83% of Wisconsin school districts. The median student to teacher ratio in Wisconsin this year is 13.5 to 1. Attached is a copy of the survey questions, and the raw data responses.

Vouchers and Low-Income: Reality Check

Jay Greene:

Have school vouchers moved away from their historic focus on low-income students? The political hacks at the Center on Education Policy think so. And as we know, whenever CEP weighs in, that’s reason enough to check the facts.
Paul DiPerna of the Friedman Foundation did a headcount and found that as of now:
11 of 17 existing voucher programs have no income limits
7 of these are statewide special-needs programs (FL, GA, LA, OHx2, OK & UT), 3 have geographic caps (ME, VT & OH) and one has a numeric cap (CO)
Of the 6 programs with income limits, 5 have limits that are above 200% of the poverty line
What do you know? CEP is right!

Madison School Board’s DIFI (District Identified for Improvement) Plan Discussion

The Madison School Board (the discussion begins at about 58 minutes) video archives (11.7.2011) is worth a watch.
Related: Madison School District Identified for Improvement (DIFI); Documentation for the Wisconsin DPI

1. Develop or Revise a District Improvement Plan
Address the fundamental teaching and learning needs of schools in the Local Education Agency (LEA), especially the academic problems o f low-achieving students.
MMSD has been identified by the State of Wisconsin as a District Identified for Improvement, or DIFI. We entered into this status based on District WKCE assessment scores. The data indicates that sub-groups of students-African American students, English Language Learner Students with Disabilities or Economically Disadvantaged -did not score high enough on the WKCE in one or more areas of reading, math or test participation to meet state criteria.
Under No Child Left Behind, 100% of students are expected to achieve proficient or advanced on the WKCE in four areas by 2014. Student performance goals have been raised every year on a regular schedule since 2001, making targets more and more difficult to reach each year. In addition to the curriculum changes being implemented, the following assessments are also new or being implemented during the 2011-12 school year (see Attachment 1):

Perhaps the No Child Left Behind requirement waivers that Education Secretary Duncan has discussed remove the urgency to address these issues. Of course, the benchmark used to measure student progress is the oft-criticized WKCE “Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times”.
Related: Comparing Wisconsin & Texas: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.

Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”

Peter Theron via a kind Don Severson email:

Earlier this year Wisconsin teachers and their supporters compared Wisconsin and Texas academically and claimed that Wisconsin had better achievement because it ranked higher on ACT/SAT scores. The fact that this claim ignored the ethnic composition of the states, prompted David Burge to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) to compare educational achievement within the same ethnic groups. His conclusion, based on the 2009 NAEP in Reading, Mathematics, and Science (3 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 18 comparisons), was Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1.
The 2011 NAEP results are now available for Reading and
Mathematics. The updated conclusion (2 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 12 comparisons) is Longhorns 12 – Badgers 0. Not only did Texas students outperform Wisconsin students in every one of the twelve ethnicity-controlled comparisons, but Texas students exceeded the national average in all 12 comparisons. Wisconsin students were above the average 3 times, below the average 8 times, and tied the average once.
Again, as in 2009, the achievement gaps were smaller in Texas than in Wisconsin.
2011 Data from http://nationsreportcard.gov/
2011 4th Grade Math
White students: Texas 253, Wisconsin 251 (national average 249)
Black students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 217 (national 224)
Hispanic students: Texas 235, Wisconsin 228 (national 229)
2011 8th Grade Math
White students: Texas 304, Wisconsin 295 (national 293)
Black students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 256 (national 262)
Hispanic students: Texas 283, Wisconsin 270 (national 269)
2011 4th Grade Reading
White students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 227 (national 230)
Black students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 196 (national 205)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 205)
2011 8th Grade Reading
White students: Texas 274, Wisconsin 272 (national 272)
Black students: Texas 252, Wisconsin 240 (national 248)
Hispanic students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 248 (national 251)
2009 data compiled by David Burge from NAEP
2009 4th Grade Math
White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)
2009 8th Grade Math
White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 294)
Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 260)
2009 4th Grade Reading
White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)
2009 8th Grade Reading
White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)
2009 4th Grade Science
White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)
2009 8th Grade Science
White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

Related: Comparing Madison, Wisconsin & College Station, Texas.
Thrive released its “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report,” which compares the Madison Region to competitors Austin, TX, Des Moines, IA, and Lincoln, NE, across the major areas of People, Prosperity and Place, 3MB PDF via a kind Kaleem Caire email.
Finally, www.wisconsin2.org is worth a visit.

Charter Schools: Getting Your Child on the List

Gene Maddaus:

On a weekday evening in early spring, about 40 parents crammed into a classroom at Larchmont Charter elementary school. They perched on kindergarten chairs, or sat on the floor, or stood in the hallway, craning their necks.
Larchmont is one of the most desirable schools in Los Angeles. It’s also nearly impossible to get into. At that moment, 500 kids were on the waiting list. Admission is by lottery, so it comes down to luck.
Unless you can find a way around the lottery.
That’s why these parents came to Larchmont. They were looking for a way to cut to the front of the line.
School officials explained how it would work. Parents who agreed up front to make an extraordinary volunteer commitment to the school could get admissions priority. They would be called “founding parents.”

Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid

Andrew Biggs & Jason Richwine:

A common story line in American education policy is that public school teachers are underpaid–“desperately underpaid,” according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a recent speech. As former first lady Laura Bush put it: “Salaries are too low. We all know that. We need to figure out a way to pay teachers more.”
Good teachers are crucial to a strong economy and a healthy civil society, and they should be paid at a level commensurate with their skills. But the evidence shows that public school teachers’ total compensation amounts to roughly $1.50 for every $1 that their skills could garner in a private sector job.
How could that be? First, consider salaries. Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. However, a majority of public school teachers were education majors in college, and more than two in three received their highest degree (typically a master’s) in an education-related field. A salary comparison that controls only for years spent in school makes no distinction between degrees in education and those in biology, mathematics, history or other demanding fields.

Reading, Writing And Roasting: Schools Bring Cooking Back Into The Classroom

Allison Aubrey:

Lots of kids have tried lentils. But what about Ethiopian-style lentils, accompanied by injera bread, couscous and cucumber salad?
Fourth graders in Santa Fe, N.M. prepared this lunch feast themselves as part of a nutrition education program called Cooking with Kids. And nutrition experts say programs like this one are not just about expanding timid kids’ palates.
Even as home economics classes have been phased out in recent years, some schools are bringing cooking back. And a new study that evaluates cooking curriculum says these hands-on classes do more than just prepare students to cook a decent meal.
“Teachers and principals are seeing how the classroom cooking experience helps support critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills,” says study author Leslie Cunningham-Sabo, a nutrition researcher at Colorado State University. The study appears this week in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Teaching With the Enemy

Joe Nocera:

Last month, Randi Weingarten held a book party for Steven Brill, the veteran journalist and entrepreneur who had just published “Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools,” his vivid account of the rise of the school reform movement. When Brill told me this recently, I nearly fell out of my chair. Weingarten, you see, is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and for much of his book, Brill treats Weingarten the way reformers always treat her and her union: as the enemy.
“Class Warfare” takes us into the classrooms of the Harlem Success Academy and other successful charter schools, where the teaching is first-rate and those students lucky enough to be admitted are genuinely learning. It charts the transformation of the Democratic elite, starting with President Obama, from knee-jerk defenders of the status quo to full-throated reform advocates. It recounts the efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to increase the effectiveness of public school teaching. And it tells the stories of the country’s two best-known reformers, Joel Klein in New York City and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., as they push to establish performance measures that will allow them to reward good teachers — and fire bad ones. (Klein and Rhee left their posts as school department heads last year.)

U. of Texas at Arlington Proposes a Tuition Freeze

Beckie Supiano:

As president of the Student Congress, Jennifer Fox knew in advance that the University of Texas at Arlington was going to propose a tuition freeze for the 2012-13 academic year.
When Ms. Fox, a senior accounting major, was told of the plan by the university’s president, James Spaniolo, a couple of weeks ago, “my initial reaction was shock,” she says. Student leaders had assumed tuition would go up, Ms. Fox says, especially in light of state budget cuts.
Ms. Fox was not alone in her response. On Tuesday, Mr. Spaniolo presented the plan to the Tuition Review Committee, which includes students representing each of the university’s colleges, as well as representatives of other groups, like faculty and alumni, and is chaired by Ms. Fox. “I think there was a little bit of surprise,” Mr. Spaniolo says.
Under the plan, UT-Arlington would not raise undergraduate or graduate tuition and fees, or the price of room and board, for the coming year. Currently, undergraduate tuition and fees average $9,292 for full-time students (the price varies depending on which college students are in), and room and board costs $7,554. Nearly all of the university’s students are Texas residents.

Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay

Joe Light & Rachel Emma Silverman:

Biyan Zhou wanted to major in engineering. Her mother and her academic adviser also wanted her to major in it, given the apparent career opportunities for engineers in a tough job market.
Robert Pizzo
But during her sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Zhou switched her major from electrical and computer engineering to a double major in psychology and policy management. Workers who majored in psychology have median earnings that are $38,000 below those of computer engineering majors, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Georgetown University.
“My ability level was just not there,” says Ms. Zhou of her decision. She now plans to look for jobs in public relations or human resources.
Ms. Zhou’s dilemma is one that educators, politicians and companies have been trying to solve for decades amid fears that U.S. science and technology training may be trailing other countries. The weak economy is putting those fears into deeper relief.

Are We Deluding Ourselves About Our Schools?

Jon Schnur:

Today, I walked my first-grade son to our neighborhood public school before joining over 500 leaders converging on New York City to make tangible commitments to promote economic mobility in America at the Opportunity Nation summit. I told Matthew that people were coming virtually every sector — business, education, non-profit and community organizations, religious institutions and the military — to focus on how to provide him and his peers from every background a great education and a shot at the American dream. When I dropped Matthew off at his school’s front door, he looked at me and warned me with a big smile not to follow him inside — something I occasionally do partly to make him laugh and partly out of that desire to support him wherever he goes.
I didn’t follow my son inside that schoolhouse door. But I have been working hard to determine what commitments I can personally make to provide our kids and all of America’s children with tools they can use to create opportunity once they walk as young adults out of our sight-line into America’s future.
One must know where one is in order to determine where to go and how to get there, but today’s parents face significant challenges in that regard.

Autism Linked to Excess Neurons

Crystal Phend, via a kind Larry Winkler email:

Children with autism appear to have bigger brains with more neurons than normal for their age, a small preliminary study affirmed.
Postmortem examinations of seven boys with autism showed 67% more neurons in the prefrontal cortex (1.94 billion), which controls social and emotional development as well as communication, compared with six controls (1.16 billion, P=0.002), Eric Courchesne, PhD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues found.
Autistic brains also weighed 17.6% above normal for age (P=0.001), the group reported in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Point out that the brains from autistic boys in this study were 17.6% above what is considered normal brain weight based on age.
Neuron counts in the autistic children should have been accompanied by brain weights of 29.4% versus the observed 17.6% enlargement, they said. “Thus, the size of the autistic brain, overlarge though it is, might actually underestimate the pathology of excess neuron numbers,” the group explained.

XIAO HUA Interview; Chinese International School, Hong Kong

William Hughes Fitzhugh, Founder & Publisher, The Concord Review
1. Please tell us about yourself. What inspired you to start The Concord Review?
Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a column in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of history among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a recent study of 7,000 students, and as a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem. I did have a few students at my high school who did more than they had to in history, and when I began a sabbatical leave in 1986, I began to think about these issues. In March 1987, it occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing history papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. In June of 1987, I incorporated The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in history. In August 1987, I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the Fall of 1988 I was able to publish the first issue (of now 89 issues) of The Concord Review.
2. What makes for a great history research essay?
In order to write a great history essay it is first necessary to know a lot of history. Students who read as much as they can about a historical topic have a better chance of writing an exemplary history paper. Of course they must make an effort to write so that readers can understand what they are saying and so they will be interested in what they are writing, and they must re-write their papers, but without knowing a good deal about their topic, their paper will probably not be very interesting or very good.
3. Please tell us about some of the most outstanding essays you have received. What made them special?
In 1995, I as able to begin awarding the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes for the best few papers from the 44 published in each volume year of The Concord Review. Many of these papers are now on our website at www.tcr.org, and students and teachers who are interested may read some there. I have several favorites and would be glad to send some to anyone who asks me at fitzhugh@tcr.org.
4. Please tell us about some of your most interesting authors. Where did they go to college, what did they study, and what are they doing now?
About 30% of our authors have gone to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and Yale, and many have gone to other good colleges, such as those at Cambridge and Oxford. Three, that I know of, have been named Rhodes Scholars. I work alone, so that I am not able to follow up on authors very well. I know that many are doctors and lawyers and some are professors and entrepreneurs, but I have lost track of almost all of them, for lack of funding and staff to help me keep in touch with them.
5. Please tell us how you evaluate and select essays for publication in The Concord Review.
The purpose of The Concord Review is two-fold. We want to recognize exemplary work in history by secondary students (from 39 countries so far) but we also want to distribute their work to inspire their peers to read more history and work harder on their own research papers, because being able to read nonfiction and write term papers are important skills for future success in college and beyond, and also because students should know more history if they want to be educated. So I look for papers that are historically accurate, well-researched, serious and worth reading.
6. What are your favorite books and why?
I was an English Literature major at Harvard College and I read English Literature at Cambridge for one year, and I still enjoy Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and so on, but I also have a number of favorite historians, such as Martin Gilbert, David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, G.M. Trevelyan, John Prebble, Max Hastings, and others. I also read a fair number of books on education and contemporary intellectual culture.
7. Do you have any advice on how to write well?
As I suggested, there is no substitute for knowing a lot about the subject you are writing about. I think it helps to read your drafts to a friend or family member as you go along as well. You will find all sorts of things you want to improve or correct as you offer what you write to another person. So, read (study), write, and re-write…that is about it. And read the good writing of other authors.
8. Do you have advice on how students can best prepare themselves to do well in college?
There is a great deal of emphasis, at least in the United States, on math and science, but, in my view, there is much too little attention here on the importance for secondary students of being able to read complete nonfiction books and to write serious (e.g. 6,000-word) research papers. I have heard from a few of my authors that they are mobbed when they get to college by their peers who never had to write a research paper when they were in high school and so have no idea how to do it. Students who write Extended Essays for the International Baccalaureate Diploma have an advantage, as do the many students from all over the world who write history research papers on their own as independent studies and send them to The Concord Review.
Chinese International Schools’ website, Hong Kong.

Merger of Memphis and County School Districts Revives Race and Class Challenges

Sam Dillon:

When thousands of white students abandoned the Memphis schools 38 years ago rather than attend classes with blacks under a desegregation plan fueled by busing, Joseph A. Clayton went with them. He quit his job as a public school principal to head an all-white private school and later won election to the board of the mostly white suburban district next door.
Now, as the overwhelmingly black Memphis school district is being dissolved into the majority-white Shelby County schools, Mr. Clayton is on the new combined 23-member school board overseeing the marriage. And he warns that the pattern of white flight could repeat itself, with the suburban towns trying to secede and start their own districts.
“There’s the same element of fear,” said Mr. Clayton, 79. “In the 1970s, it was a physical, personal fear. Today the fear is about the academic decline of the Shelby schools.”

Much more, here.

What other school districts are doing (security) around the country

Susan Snyder:

Of the nation’s 10 largest cities, eight use armed police in some form. And in the ninth city, New York, officers receive far more training and scrutiny prior to hiring.
Five of those city school districts – San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio – employ their own police officers, who receive comparable training to regular city police.
Chicago, Phoenix, and the San Jose Unified School District base city police officers in some of their buildings. In the case of San Jose, the officers are not in uniform, but rather dress casually in polo shirts and conceal their weapons.
In New York – the nation’s largest school system – the city police department’s school-safety division staffs the schools with unarmed officers who receive 14 weeks of training, intensive background scrutiny, and drug and character screening. (Armed precinct-based officers, however, also come into the schools.)
The nation’s largest cities are by no means alone.
The Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large urban districts, surveyed members in 2004 and found that 29 of 37 respondents indicated its officers were armed. Las Vegas, Miami, and Indianapolis are among other bigger districts with their own police forces.

Focus on standardized tests may be pushing some teachers to cheat

Howard Blume:

The stress was overwhelming.
For years, this veteran teacher had received exemplary evaluations but now was feeling pressured to raise her students’ test scores. Her principal criticized her teaching and would show up to take notes on her class. She knew the material would be used against her one day.
“My principal told me right to my face that she — she was feeling sorry for me because I don’t know how to teach,” the instructor said.
The Los Angeles educator, who did not want to be identified, is one of about three dozen in the state accused this year of cheating, lesser misconduct or mistakes on standardized achievement tests.

Banning Sugary Soda From School Fails to Cut Teen Consumption, Study Finds

Nicole Ostrow:

Banning sugar-filled sodas from American schools as an effort to combat childhood obesity doesn’t reduce overall consumption levels of sweetened beverages, research found.
In U.S. states that banned only soda, about 30 percent of middle-school students still purchased sugary drinks like sports and fruit beverages at school, similar to states that had no policy, according to a study released online today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. In states that banned all sugar-sweetened beverages, students still consumed the drinks outside of school, the researchers said.
Over the past 25 years, children have gotten more of their calories from sugary beverages and consumption of the drinks has been associated with childhood obesity and weight gain, the authors said. Today’s study is the first to look at whether efforts by states to curb these drinks really works, said Daniel Taber, the lead study author.

Charter Schools Have Accountability

The Wall Street Journal:

Marla Sole recognizes the positive success stories of many charter schools (“approximately four times as likely as public schools to be ranked in the top 5%”), but then she comments that charter schools “were approximately two-and-a-half times as likely as public schools to be ranked in the bottom 5%” (Letters, Oct. 31).
What Ms. Sole fails to mention is that when a charter school is failing, its charter can be revoked. The parents also have the opportunity to send their children to a different school, possibly one of those in the top 5%. When the public school is a failure, we do not close it. Instead we hear calls demanding even more money to fix the failure, and we continue to force the children to attend that failing school, with no other opportunities for an education. Charter schools have that flexibility to be reformed and if that fails, the school is shut down.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal borrowing mounts while household debt shrinks

Dennis Cauchon:

The substitution of government debt for consumer debt helped end the recession and start a recovery, economists say, but it leaves the nation’s long-term economic health in peril.
Households have reduced debt by $549 billion since 2007, mostly by cutting mortgages through defaults and paying down credit cards. During that time, the federal government has added more than $4 trillion in debt, pushing the country’s total borrowing to a record $36.5 trillion, excluding the financial industry, according to the Federal Reserve.
“Government will eventually need to reduce the deficit,” says Susan Lund, research director at McKinsey Global Institute, part of the business consulting firm. “But it’s a very difficult balancing act to avoid withdrawing stimulus too soon while stopping before you borrow too much.”

Wisconsin Governor Walker taking schools backward

WEAC President Mary Bell:

Anyone following what’s been happening in Wisconsin’s public schools can see what Gov. Scott Walker’s $1.6 billion budget cut and extreme policies have meant for our students and communities.
Across the state, class sizes are on the rise and students have fewer opportunities — including in key areas such as reading, math and science.
Walker has taken an ax to our public schools, while at the same time increasing taxpayer funding of private schools. He’s turned his back on the Wisconsin tradition of valuing public education. As a result, his extreme policies are hurting our students.
The governor says everything is fine, but we can see for ourselves that he’s not telling the whole story. With 97 percent of local school districts receiving less state aid this year, and a promise of more cuts next year, local schools will continue to struggle.

Is an Ivy League Diploma Worth It?

Melissa Korn:

Daniel Schwartz could have attended an Ivy League school if he wanted to. He just doesn’t see the value.
Mr. Schwartz, 18 years old, was accepted at Cornell University but enrolled instead at City University of New York’s Macaulay Honors College, which is free.
Mr. Schwartz says his family could have afforded Cornell’s tuition, with help from scholarships and loans. But he wants to be a doctor and thinks medical school, which could easily cost upward of $45,000 a year for a private institution, is a more important investment. It wasn’t “worth it to spend $50,000-plus a year for a bachelor’s degree,” he says.
As student-loan default rates climb and college graduates fail to land jobs, an increasing number of students are betting they can get just as far with a degree from a less-expensive school as they can with a diploma from an elite school–without having to take on debt.

Challenging, customized education for Florida students

Michael Kooi:

One of the priorities of the Department is to provide a challenging, yet customized education for Florida’s students and families. To deliver this type of education system for our individual students, the Department is able to showcase a variety of school choice options offered statewide.
Florida’s public schools offer a wide variety of curriculum options. Some of these aim to strengthen the availability, accessibility, and equity of educational options for parents including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment and Advanced International Certification of Education, just to name a few.
While many gifted students may enroll in these options, I want to stress that any qualified student can take advantage of these options. These school choice options have demanding, personalized curriculum. I have heard many stories about students who struggled in traditional classes but excelled when they entered a more challenging program that focused on their needs and strengths.

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

Christopher Drew:

LAST FALL, President Obama threw what was billed as the first White House Science Fair, a photo op in the gilt-mirrored State Dining Room. He tested a steering wheel designed by middle schoolers to detect distracted driving and peeked inside a robot that plays soccer. It was meant as an inspirational moment: children, science is fun; work harder.
Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. All the Sputnik-like urgency has put classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade — the pipeline, as they call it — under a microscope. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise.

The World’s 7 Most Powerful Educators

Wendy Kopp:

“Providing an excellent education for all students-especially the 16 million children growing up in poverty- requires extraordinary commitment,” says Wendy Kopp. “These individuals, who aren’t often in the national spotlight, demonstrate the leadership we need to ensure all children gain the skills necessary to get to and through college.”

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad…

Katy Venskus:

DFER Wisconsin headed into the fall of 2011 with three major objectives: two of objectives required action by the state legislature (a phrase that is oxymoronic at best right now) and the third required action by the Milwaukee City Council. I’m happy to say we won more than we lost, but there is plenty of work left to be done.
Good news first:

Shaking up the status quo in L.A. schools

Steve Lopez:

Six million, give or take. That’s how many children are in public school in California.
Arguably, we won’t have a strong economic future if they don’t get a good education.
But boy, do the grown-ups love to muck things up for the kids.
Politics, ego, endless skirmishes between school districts and teacher unions — it all gets in the way of the kids’ best interests. And California spends less per pupil than all but a few states when you adjust for regional cost-of-living differences, leading to an annual ritual of laying off thousands of teachers and other staffers.
But in Los Angeles, the status quo is under attack.
Parents and education advocates are suing L.A. Unified in an effort to enforce an overlooked state law that requires teacher and principal evaluations to be linked to student achievement.

Scientists and autism: When geeks meet

Simon Baron-Cohen:

In the opening scene of The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg portrays a cold Mark Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, who is exasperated by the future Facebook founder’s socially oblivious and obsessive personality. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is the stereotypical Silicon Valley geek — brilliant with technology, pathologically bereft of social graces. Or, in the parlance of the Valley: ‘on the spectrum’.
Few scientists think that the leaders of the tech world actually have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can range from the profound social, language and behavioural problems that are characteristic of autistic disorder, to the milder Asperger’s syndrome. But according to an idea that is creeping into the popular psyche, they and many others in professions such as science and engineering may display some of the characteristics of autism, and have an increased risk of having children with the full-blown disorder.

Wisconsin Framework for Educator (Teacher) Effectiveness

Design Team Report & Recommendation:

1. Guiding Principles
The Design Team believes that the successful development and implementation of the new performance-based evaluation system is dependent upon the following guiding principles,
which define the central focus of the entire evaluation system. The guiding principles of the educator evaluation system are:
The ultimate goal of education is student learning. Effective educators are essential to achieving that goal for all students. We believe it is imperative that students have highly effective teams of educators to support them throughout their public education. We further believe that effective practice leading to better educational achievement requires continuous improvement and monitoring.
A strong evaluation system for educators is designed to provide information that supports decisions intended to ensure continuous individual and system effectiveness. The system must be well-articulated, manageable

Related: Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading, Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test, Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times and Seidenberg endorses using the Massachusetts model exam for teachers of reading (MTEL 90), which was developed with input from reading scientists. He also supports universal assessment to identify students who are at risk, and he mentioned the Minnesota Reading Corps as a model of reading tutoring that would be good to bring to Wisconsin.

Game-changing steps needed to improve Wisconsin reading

Alan Borsuk:

The new results once again underscore how true it is that the reading proficiency of African-American students is in a crisis. But the smugness about kids elsewhere in the state, especially white kids, is misguided.
Here are a few slices of how Wisconsin kids did in the latest round of National Assessment of Educational Progress tests:
White fourth-graders scored below the national average for white kids by a statistically significant amount. White eighth-graders scored exactly at the national average.
Wisconsin fourth-graders who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – that is to say, who aren’t poor – scored below the national average for such kids, again by a significant amount. Eighth-graders were, again, exactly at the national average.
Only 35% of Wisconsin eighth-graders were rated as proficient or advanced readers. The figures haven’t budged since at least 1998.
(In fairness, the national figure is 32%, and it hasn’t budged in a long time, either. But there are states such as Massachusetts and Florida, where there have been significant improvements.)
NAEP is a strict grader – Wisconsin’s own tests last year rated 86% of eighth-graders proficient or advanced. Some argue NAEP is too strict. However, it uses the same measuring stick for everyone, so comparisons to other states and the nation are fair.

Related: Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test; and Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading.