Ritalin Gone Wrong

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning. But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?
In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder. As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.
Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.
Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs.
What gets publicized are short-term results and studies on brain differences among children. Indeed, there are a number of incontrovertible facts that seem at first glance to support medication. It is because of this partial foundation in reality that the problem with the current approach to treating children has been so difficult to see.
Back in the 1960s I, like most psychologists, believed that children with difficulty concentrating were suffering from a brain problem of genetic or otherwise inborn origin. Just as Type I diabetics need insulin to correct problems with their inborn biochemistry, these children were believed to require attention-deficit drugs to correct theirs. It turns out, however, that there is little to no evidence to support this theory.
In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children’s performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself. Teachers and parents also reported improved behavior in almost every short-term study. This spurred an increase in drug treatment and led many to conclude that the “brain deficit” hypothesis had been confirmed.

Continue reading Ritalin Gone Wrong

Wisconsin’s “F” on Science Curriculum Standards; “Worthless”; Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Comments

Fordham Institute: The State of State Science Standards 2012:

Wisconsin’s science standards–unchanged since 1998, in spite of much earlier criticism, ours included–are simply worthless. No real content exists to evaluate.
In lieu of content, the “authors” have passed the buck by merely citing unelaborated references to the now outdated National Science Education Standards (NSES). Rather than using the NSES as building blocks for a comprehensive set of science standards, however, Wisconsin has used them as an escape hatch to avoid hard work and careful thought


Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad says the state already has plans to review its standards in all areas.
“I think we have to be cautious not to look at the current state because it is very much in flux right now,” Nerad says. “Things are going to change. it doesn’t makes sense to look backwards as it does to look forward.”

Remarkable. Much more at www.wisconsin2.org.

Claremont College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures for Ratings

Daniel Slotnik & Richard Perez-Pena:

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.
In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna’s president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that “a senior administrator” had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.
People briefed on the matter said that the administrator was Richard C. Vos, vice president and dean of admissions, whose name was removed in the last few days from the college’s online list of top officials.
Mr. Vos, reached at his home Monday night, said: “No comment. It’s an internal personnel matter.”

Higher Dropout Age May Not Lead To More Diplomas

Claudio Sanchez:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on every state to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. “When students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma,” he said.
The White House cited studies that showed how raising the compulsory schooling age helps prevent kids from leaving school. And while some of that is true, some of it is also wishful thinking.

A Score Card for Changing Schools

Elbert Chu:

Sixty-two New York City schools are on a path to be closed or otherwise re-shaped this year. Here’s a score card to help you keep track of what schools are affected and how.
This post lists the 19 schools that the Department of Education wants to phase out, along with the six that will have their middle school grades removed (that’s called truncation).
Until Feb. 9, when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the changes, hearings are going on almost every night at the schools that are to be phased out or truncated. You can find the calendar of hearings here.


Ethan Fast:

Do you hold a consistent mental model of the world? For many of us (though less likely for the readers of this blog), the answer is “no.” That’s troubling. It’s hard to be correct, if your world-view doesn’t even type check. [1] People are entitled to opinions. But hold them in a state of contradiction, and they’re wrong.
Though it’s easy enough to apply consistency checks, inconsistent world-views abound. I suspect it’s because people never learn to be consistent. Education under-represents logic and reason in the classroom. High school math class is the closest many people come to an education in rationality, and math is “just too abstract.”

American school kids trash Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

It was Jamie Oliver’s toughest challenge… getting US ­youngsters to ditch junk food and eat a healthier diet.
But six months after he ­convinced an LA school to swap fattening burgers for low-calorie salads, his ­revamped menu is – literally – being binned.
Hundreds of students at West Adams Preparatory High School, where his hit show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was filmed, are ­refusing to eat his cuisine.
Instead, bins are overflowing with the TV chef’s veg curries, quinoa salads, Thai ­noodles and wheatbread burgers.
Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

As costs continue to rise, paying for college gets tougher for many students

Deborah Ziff:

She doesn’t buy books for her classes if she can help it. She works two jobs, sometimes donating plasma for extra cash. She doesn’t own a car, shops at Goodwill and rarely goes out to eat.
Despite all of that, UW-Madison student Dena Ohlinger, 23, could no longer afford tuition as a full-time student and cut back to part-time last year. Ohlinger, a fifth-year senior from a small town in southeastern Wisconsin, said her debt is ballooning and she worries she is a financial burden on her parents. It is a struggle each semester to pay tuition.
“I’ve felt this over and over again, if I was realistic about my financial situation and was trying to make a responsible decision, it would not include college,” she said.
Ohlinger is not alone. The cost of college has far out-paced inflation over the past five decades, making it harder for students to work their way through college and come out debt-free, or even with manageable debt. Tuition, books and living expenses for an in-state student living on an adequate but moderate budget is estimated at $22,542 at UW-Madison for 2011-12. It was $1,430 in 1960, which equates to $10,867 in 2011 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Old-school system needs its own recess

Chris Rickert:

The Janesville Gazette reported last week that principals at some of the city’s public elementary school are attributing some major positive academic and behavioral trends to a relatively minor change: moving recess from after to before lunch.
I remember the post-lunch recess — chasing girls, pick-up football, the bloody nose I gave my best friend.
In fact, I remember school-day and school-year schedules being much the same as the ones my 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son experience at their Madison public elementary school — from the timing of recess, to summer vacation, to days off to honor such notables as Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (keep in mind this was the Chicago area, which has a large Polish population).
I suppose that could be because at some point decades ago, the public education establishment discovered the perfect academic schedule and, well, why tinker with something that works?
Janesville’s experience suggests something else, though: that post-lunch recess is just another public education tradition among a slew of public education traditions that could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

My experience with the new iTunes U Course Manager

Sunset Lake Software:

Last week, Apple unveiled two new education-related products: iBooks textbooks and the new iTunes U courses. While both interest me, I was particularly fascinated by the new iTunes U courses and how they bundle information together. I converted my existing Advanced iPhone Development iTunes U class into a full course (which you can subscribe to for free) a few days ago. I wanted to write about what I learned in the process of doing this.
As I mentioned, I taught a course in 2010 at the Madison Area Technical College on advanced iPhone (now iOS) development. We recorded this course and made videos of the sessions available for free on iTunes U. Both the spring semester and fall semester of 2010 can be found as video collections in 720p HD on iTunes U. Each class session is roughly three hours long, because they were part of a once-a-week professional development course.

Parents provide clues to autism

Neil Tweedie:

Are you and your partner graduates and prepared to answer a few online questions about your children? If so, Simon Baron-Cohen would like to hear from you.
One of the country’s foremost researchers into the causes of autism, Professor Baron-Cohen wants to know what kind of degree you hold. If you are both graduates in the so-called hard sciences, such as engineering and computer science, then you may end up being of particular interest. The reason is that parents who are both “systemisers”, as he describes them, appear more likely to have autistic children.
Systemisers are lovers of precision, people who are good at analysing how things work and discerning patterns. Ideal material for code-breaking activities. Current thinking suggests we all sit somewhere on a scale of systemising. At one end are people who have little or no drive to be precise when confronted with structured information – political spin doctors might be an example – and at the other are hyper-systemisers, those whose obsession with analysis and dissection borders on the autistic.

Obama Proposes College-Aid Changes

Laura Meckler:

Seeking to control spiraling college costs, President Barack Obama is proposing tying federal student aid to universities’ tuition rates and the value they provide graduates.
The plan would affect three programs that provide institutions with student aid–Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Perkins Loans and Work Study. Under the current formula, schools with the highest tuitions get the most money, because the programs help fill the gap between what students can afford and what they are charged.
Mr. Obama would change that by rewriting the formula so that schools that keep tuition down and that provide “good value” would be rewarded with more money. The White House didn’t say what would constitute good value but said the new formula would include measures such as graduation rates; that’s in contrast to the current formula, which rewards longevity in the program.

High school basketball has always been a great remedy for cabin fever

Kevin Dayhoff:

There’s nothing like going out to a high school basketball game with the family to give you a break from cabin fever.
High school sports have always played an important role in Carroll County. Although one may have a lively discussion as to which sport is the favorite in the county, there can no doubt that basketball — and wrestling — provide a great respite from Carroll County’s cold miserable winter weather.
Many years ago, the old Westminster Armory on Longwell Avenue was the site of many sporting events in the community, especially basketball.

Is college too much for disadvantaged students?

Jay Matthews:

A few weeks ago, my colleague Paul Schwartzman introduced readers to a group of Prince George’s County residents known as “the Seat Pleasant 59.” They were promised in 1988, when they were in elementary school, that their tuition would be paid if they worked hard and got into college. More than two decades later, only 11 have four-year degrees, a consequence of many bad turns, most of them related to growing up in poverty.
Some readers may conclude that most of these children were doomed from the start. Many lacked the parental support, teacher encouragement and personal resilience needed to take advantage of the offer from philanthropists Abe Pollin and Melvin Cohen. Is a tuition promise wasted on such children?

Anxiety for two to take away

Susie Boyt:

While my daughter was sitting the first exam of her life, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hovered outside the building in the same way I have done when loved ones are undergoing surgery, transferring my weight from one foot to another – cursing that I have only two – nursing the strange delusion that feeling extreme discomfort myself might just be comforting to another, through the ether. All that kept coming into my mind were her parting words to me: “‘All at once’ is a good alternative to ‘suddenly’. And also ‘without warning.'” It cannot be denied.
My anxiety was really surpassing itself. It was citrus-hued and neon-bright. All at once my ring of worries had little multi-faceted briolettes of worries suspended from them and these, in turn, had matching ear and toe rings, necklaces and bracelets. I could almost hear my nerves jangling and looked about myself anxiously as though I were an unwelcome morris dancer about to be shooed from a sophisticated urban setting. I have dispatched such rustic groovers myself with cutting remarks in my time. I regret it now, obviously.

Madison Prep’s Private School Plans “in Doubt”

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy doesn’t have the money to open as a private school next fall and its future is in the hands of the Madison School Board, according to a lead supporter of the charter school proposal.
Supporters still want to open Madison Prep in the fall but haven’t been able to raise about $1.2 million needed to run the school because its future beyond next year remains uncertain, Madison Prep board chairman David Cagigal said last week; moreover, a key donor said her support is contingent on School Board backing.
Cagigal said the private school option was never intended to be more than an interim plan before the school opened as a public charter school. One of the most common reasons charter schools fail is lack of funding, he added.
“We can’t approach these donors unless we mitigate the risk,” Cagigal said. “The only way we can do that is seek a 2013 vote.”
Cagigal acknowledged that if the School Board doesn’t vote on opening Madison Prep as a charter school in 2013, “then we may have to wait.”

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
The fate of Madison Prep was discussed at a recent school board candidate forum.

Oakland schools denied secession bids

Katy Murphy:

Charter schools: The Oakland school board rejected the charter school petitions submitted by the faculties of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, public elementary schools in the Fruitvale area that want to secede from the school district. The district’s charter schools office recommended that the board approve the request, but Superintendent Tony Smith took a different stance, pointing to the financial investment the district has made in the schools since they opened.
This section of a staff resolution seems to sum up the superintendent’s position: “Whereas, the District cannot succeed at its strategic plan to create a Full Service Community School District that serves the whole child … if after millions of dollars in investment, individual schools that have achieved because of the District’s investment can separate and opt out of the District, with the consequence that the District loses its collective identity as a school system serving children in all neighborhoods in

An L.A. teacher reviews her review

Coleen Bondy:

For the first time this year, LAUSD has prepared reports for teachers that rate their effectiveness. When I received an email saying I could now view my own personal “Average Growth over Timereport, I opened it with a combination of trepidation, resignation and indignation.
First, the indignation. It is, I think, the key factor that has kept me teaching past the five-year mark, when most new teachers quit the profession. I am in my sixth year of teaching after a nearly 20-year career as a professional writer. I know that I am smart, hardworking and competent, and despite the many frustrations of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have refused to throw in the towel — as so many do.
Indignation is also what fueled my reaction when I saw the rating the school district sent. It showed me to be on the low side of average for high school English teachers in the district.

7th Inter-School Pakistan Mathematics Olympiads held

The Daily Times:

The 7th Inter-Schools Mathematics Olympiad 2012 was organised on Sunday at the Pak-Turk International School Campus. Over 3,000 students from 470 schools of Jhelum, Attock, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Islamabad participated in the mega educational competition. In order to evoke interest among the students, Pak-Turk International schools and colleges have been arranging the ISMO competition for the last six years. Speaking at the event, educationists said that there are not enough chances for student to exhibit their talent to the world. There is an immense need of such programmes for the brilliant youth, they added. This unique competition provides a great chance for the students of 5, 6, 7 and 8 classes or grades to show their incredible potential and win handsome prizes.

Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching


PLEASE NOTE: This is a provisional website meant to convey vital information to those interested. Our much-improved website will launch here soon, so stay tuned!
Launched through a generous gift from Gus and Rita Hauser, the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) is a Presidential Initiative to catalyze experimentation in teaching that improves student learning. It will capitalize on, strengthen, and broaden the scope of existing learning and teaching activities at Harvard, transform Harvard students’ educational experience in keeping with current and future technological and pedagogical needs, build on Harvard’s leadership in the research, application, and assessment of innovative pedagogy, and develop a robust, synergistic network of expertise, scholarly work, and creativity through dedicated University support that flows to the Schools and allows for sharing across Harvard campuses.

Why Get a Pricey Diploma When Badges Tell Employers More?

James Marshall Crotty:

A secret to widespread educational success – to borrow a football metaphor (indulge me: the World Financial Capital just beat the World Tech Capital for a rematch against Marcia & the Bradys) – is a narrow playing field. For example, certificate-based vocational schools don’t grant degrees. They, nevertheless, have consistently higher rates of retention and graduation than four-year colleges or even two-year community colleges.
The logic is clear. Those on limited incomes, with domestic duties (children, a sick parent or spouse), or a full-time job, struggle to get a four-year degree. Circumstances often conspire to prevent the leisurely focus required for sustained study over long periods across many disciplines (many of which are not one’s career focus, but are deemed necessary to “Civic Learning and Democratic Education,” as this week’s AAC&U conference makes clear). In an ideal Republic, every American would get a broad-based, four-year, liberal arts education rooted in great books shared inquiry, as offered at schools like my graduate alma mater of St. John’s College Santa Fe. However, most Americans, especially in today’s rough economy, just need a low-cost way to obtain the skills that will get them a fulfilling job or at least a better-paying one.

Groundswell of Approval for Moving School Board Elections to November

New Jersey Left Behind:

Yesterday there were 38 New Jersey school boards that had voted to move their elections to November. Today, just a week after passage of the new legislation, there are 56. Odds are the numbers will continue to increase as boards hold regular business meetings, debate the pros and cons, and pass the required resolution. (Coverage from NJ Spotlight and Trenton Times; here’s a FAQ sheet from the DOE, which includes a sample resolution.)
Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, who sponsored the bill, said, “When we spend in the state of New Jersey anywhere from $7 to $9 million a year on school board elections, with voter turnout across the state at approximately 15 percent, I think we’re doing a disservice to the residents.”

This is a good idea.

ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers

Anthony Cody:

As state after state rewrites their education laws in line with the mandates from Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process, the teaching profession is being redefined. Teachers will now pay the price – be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label.
This revelation came to me as I read the Score Card on Education prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), authored by Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips. This is a remarkable document. It provides their report on where each of the states stands on the education “reform” that has become the hallmark of corporate philanthropies, the Obama administration and governors across the nation.
It begins with a histrionic comparison between the struggle over our schools and the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. The authors write:

History, Not “Conspiracy”: Kaleem Caire’s Connections

Allen Ruff, via a kind email:

First of a series
The recent controversy over the Urban League of Greater Madison’s proposal for a Madison Preparatory Academy has been framed primarily as a local story pitting contending interests within the city. The charter school’s promoters, supporters and mainstream media have portrayed the ULGM’s CEO and President, Kaleem Caire as the Prep’s public champion and native son returned home on a mission to help “close the achievement gap,” the racial disparities in Madison’s schools.
But Caire’s well-established national ties, spanning more than a decade, to numbers of conservative foundations, think tanks and individuals bent on privatizing public school coffers, creating for-profit schools, and destroying teachers’ unions, certainly suggest that there is more to the story.
Caire has consistently dismissed any suggestion of his links to various right-wing efforts. On occasion he has admitted some distant connections but asserted his independence by saying, “They have their agenda, but we have ours.” Lately, he has taken to waving off critic’s references to such ties as nothing more than “guilt-by-association crap” or part of a “conspiracy” and “whisper campaign” coming from those trying to discredit the Mad Prep Academy project. However, a readily traceable history reveals some truth to the charges.

180K PDF version.
Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Clusty Search: Allen Ruff, Blekko, google, bing.

Under education reform, school principals swamped by teacher evaluations

Amanda Paulson:

School principals, including some who back more rigorous review of teachers, are balking at education reforms required by Race to the Top. New teacher evaluations are all-consuming, they say.
Sharon McNary believes in having tough teacher evaluations.
But these days, the Memphis principal finds herself rushing to cram in what amounts to 20 times the number of observations previously required for veteran teachers – including those she knows are excellent – sometimes to the detriment of her other duties.
“I don’t think there’s a principal that would say they don’t agree we don’t need a more rigorous evaluation system,” says Ms. McNary, who is president of the Tennessee Principals Association as well as principal at Richland Elementary. “But now it seems that we’ve gone to [the opposite] extreme.”
In New York, which is also beginning to implement a new teacher evaluation system this year, many principals are even less constrained in their opinion

The True Cost of High School Dropouts

Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse:

ONLY 21 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. The proposal President Obama announced on Tuesday night in his State of the Union address — to make such attendance compulsory in every state — is a step in the right direction, but it would not go far enough to reduce a dropout rate that imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy, not just on those who fail to obtain a diploma.
In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’ve slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.

A Disrupted Higher-Ed System

Jeff Selingo:

The “disruption” of the higher-ed market is a popular refrain these days. Rising tuition prices and student debt have left many wondering if the current model is indeed broken and whether those like Harvard’s Clay Christensen are right when they say that innovations in course delivery will eventually displace established players.
What exactly those innovations will look like remains a matter of debate. One view from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, envisions a future in which every industry will be disrupted and “rebuilt with people at the center.”
In this recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sandberg talked specifically about the gaming industry, which has been upended by the popularity of social-gaming venues, such as Words With Friends and Farmville.

Education & The State of Our Union

Matthew McKnight:

On primary and secondary education, Obama essentially advocated three directives: raise the dropout age to eighteen, continue his Race to the Top program, and loosen the standardized restrictions on teachers. Obama is right to say that the minimum requirements set by No Child Left Behind, in the ten years the law has been in effect, have done little to shrink the achievement gap, and to consider an alternative. But it’s too early to know if Race to the Top is the right one. The first, sufficiently rigorous evaluation will begin in March, and will only be completed and released two years later. He’s also right to say that “teachers matter,” and that good ones ought to have the freedom and income to do their job well.
That education cannot be treated in a bubble is an important truth that should not be missed. And yet, while the President’s diagnosis–even with its simplifications–was accurate, his prescriptions were light on details. “Challenges remain,” he said, but “we know how to solve them.” Do we? It was not even clear how to resolve tension between his stated desire not to confine educators to “teaching to the test” and the way the Race to the Top rewards testing, aside from handing it off to individual states. Injunctions like “more competition” miss the wide scope of the problem. Indeed, in a country where the fault lines in education align so neatly along economic, racial, and geographic divisions, there’s almost an urge to accept rhetorical shows of confidence, and not look too far beyond them.

What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?

Alison Gopnik:

“What was he thinking?” It’s the familiar cry of bewildered parents trying to understand why their teenagers act the way they do.
How does the boy who can thoughtfully explain the reasons never to drink and drive end up in a drunken crash? Why does the girl who knows all about birth control find herself pregnant by a boy she doesn’t even like? What happened to the gifted, imaginative child who excelled through high school but then dropped out of college, drifted from job to job and now lives in his parents’ basement?
If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.
Adolescence has always been troubled, but for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, puberty is now kicking in at an earlier and earlier age. A leading theory points to changes in energy balance as children eat more and move less.

Raising Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Bar?

Alan Borsuk:

What if you suddenly found out that half of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin, all kids you thought were highly rated readers, really didn’t merit being called proficient? That instead of four out of five being pretty decent in math, it was really two out of five?
You better start thinking how you’d react because it’s likely that is what’s coming right at us. That’s how dramatic a proposal last week by the state Department of Public Instruction is.
As parents, teachers, school leaders, politicians, community leaders and taxpayers, will we be motivated to do better? Will we see the need for change? Will we rise to the occasion? Or will we settle for being discouraged and basically locked into what we’ve come to expect?
Here’s what’s going on: With Congress failing to pass a revision, originally due in 2007, of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education has begun issuing waivers from the enforcement program of the increasingly dysfunctional law. Wisconsin wants a waiver – it’s one of the things people such as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic-oriented Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers agree on. So a task force developed a proposal. People have until Feb. 3 to react to the proposal and the application is to be submitted Feb. 21.
The plan will change a lot of important dynamics of what students and schools in Wisconsin are expected to accomplish. It calls for publicly rating all schools on a 1 to 100 point scale, with student outcomes as a key factor. Schools that score low will face orders to improve and, possibly, closing. And that goes for every school with students whose education is paid for with public dollars – in other words, private schools in the voucher programs for Milwaukee and Racine kids are included.
Overall, the waiver plan means we are at the point where Wisconsin gets serious about raising expectations for student achievement. Wisconsin is regarded as having one of the lowest bars in the U.S. for rating a student as proficient. No more, the proposal says.
Eighth-grade reading: Using the WKCE measuring stick, 86% of students were rated as “advanced” or “proficient.” Using the NAEP measuring stick, it was 35% – a 51-point difference. At least as vivid: Using the WKCE measure, 47% of eighth-graders were “advanced,” the top bracket. Using the NAEP measure, it was 3%. Three percent! In other words, only a handful of kids statewide would be labeled advanced under the new system, not the nearly half we’re used to.
Fourth-grade reading: On the WKCE scale, 82% were proficient or advanced. On the NAEP scale, it was 33%.
Eighth-grade math: WKCE, 78% proficient. NAEP: 41%.
Fourth-grade math: WKCE: 79% proficient. NAEP: 47%.

A substantial improvement in academic standards is warranted and possibly wonderful, assuming it happens and avoids being watered down. The rightly criticized WKCE was an expensive missed opportunity.
Related: www.wisconsin2.org

The History of English in 10 Minutes

Benjamin Starr:

Did you know that Shakespeare alone contributed more than 2000 new words to the English language? How about that the words cow, sheep and swine, come from English farmers while their culinary versions, beef, mutton and pork, come from French? With its many borrowed and newly invented words, the English language is one that continues to adapt to a changing world. This witty 10 minute animation (in 10 parts) looks at some of the diverse history surrounding the popular language.

D.C. is ranked the most literate city in the U.S.

Bob Minzesheimer:

For the second consecutive year, Washington, D.C. , is ranked as the most literate city in the country, according to an annual statistical survey to be released today.
Here is the top 10 for 2011, as ranked by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, based on data that includes number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources:

Why The New Yorker’s Claim That Brainstorming “Doesn’t Work” Is An Overstatement And Possibly Wrong

Bob Sutton:

The current version of The New Yorker has a wonderful article by Jonah Lehrer called “Groupthink” (you can see the abstract here). It does a great job of showing how creativity is a social process, cites wonderful research by Brian Uzzi showing that when people have experience working together in the past they produce more successful Broadway musicals (up to a point, too many old friends is as bad as too few), and offers research showing that groups where members engage in constructive conflict are more creative — all themes I have talked about at various times on this blog.
I do however have a major quibble. At one point, Lehrer states flatly that brainstorming doesn’t work. He later quotes creativity researcher Keith Sawyer as saying that people are more efficient at generating ideas when they work alone than in groups, something that is well-established. But that is not the same as saying there is conclusive evidence they don’t work.

NCTQ Sues UW Ed Schools over Access to Course Syllabi

Kate Walsh, via a kind reader’s email:

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Associated Press, NCTQ filed a lawsuit yesterday — a first for us — against the University of Wisconsin system.
UW campuses issued identically worded denials of our requests for course syllabi, which is one of the many sources of information we use to rate programs for the National Review of teacher preparation programs. They argue that “syllabi are not public records because they are subject to copyright” and therefore do not have to be produced in response to an open records request.
We believe that the University’s reading of the law is flawed. We are engaged in research on the quality of teacher preparation programs, and so our request falls squarely within the fair use provision of copyright law. What’s more, these documents were created at public institutions for the training of public school teachers, and so should be subject to scrutiny by the public.
You can read our complaint here.

Related Georgia, Wisconsin Education Schools Back Out of NCTQ Review

Public higher education institutions in Wisconsin and Georgia–and possibly as many as five other states–will not participate voluntarily in a review of education schools now being conducted by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report, according to recent correspondence between state consortia and the two groups.
In response, NCTQ and U.S. News are moving forward with plans to obtain the information from these institutions through open-records requests.
In letters to the two organizations, the president of the University of Wisconsin system and the chancellor of Georgia’s board of regents said their public institutions would opt out of the review, citing a lack of transparency and questionable methodology, among other concerns.
Formally announced in January, the review will rate education schools on up to 18 standards, basing the decisions primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Minnesota town are “above average.” Well, in the School of Education they’re all A students.
The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.
This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW’s schools. Scrolling through the Registrar’s online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C’s and only the really high performers score A’s.
Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody’s a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that’s the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A’s and a handful of A/B’s. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Anu Partanen:

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.
Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

New Study Gives Small Schools Initiative a Thumbs Up

Mary Ann Giordano

The small schools initiative that has been the hallmark of the Bloomberg administration’s schools policy seems to be working, a new study has found.
Winnie Hu reports in The New York Times on Thursday that the study found that students who attend public high schools that have about 100 students in each grade were more likely to graduate.
The continuing study is described as “one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews of the impact of small schools on learning.” Its $3.5 million cost is covered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the study is conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit education research group based in Manhattan.
The study found that students at small high schools were more likely to earn a diploma than students who attend larger schools, The Times reports.

Related: Small Learning Communities

Can Computers Replace Teachers?

Andrew Rotherham:

Steve Jobs didn’t think that technology alone could fix what ails American education. It’s worth remembering that in the wake of last week’s breathless coverage of Apple’s new iBooks platform, which the company promises will radically change how students use and experience textbooks. Under Apple’s plan, companies and individuals will be able to self-publish textbooks, ideally creating a wider array of content. Students will be able to download and use these books on their iPad much like they would use a regular textbook — including highlighting passages, making notes and pulling out passages or chapters that are especially important to them. Apple says it also plans to cap the price of textbooks available through iBooks at $14.99, a significant departure from the price of many textbooks now.
Critics were quick to pounce that Apple wasn’t being revolutionary enough. Former school superintendent and current ed-tech investor Tom Vander Ark chided Apple for not thinking past textbooks, which he considers hopelessly 20th century. Others worried that Apple’s real goal wasn’t to open up the textbook industry but to control it and profit from it through restrictive licensing agreements and a platform that dominates the market. I’m sure the for-profit company’s shareholders will be horrified at that news.

Madison to get 1,400 iPads for schools by next fall

Matthew DeFour:

Madison teachers will soon be handing out Apples to students.
The School District for the first time plans to buy more than 600 iPads for use in the majority of schools this spring. Another 800 iPads are expected to be in classrooms by next fall, all paid for with money from a state settlement with Microsoft.
District officials are enthusiastic about the possibilities presented by tablets, from students wirelessly sharing classroom work to replacing workbooks purchased each year with online “apps.” Other districts in Dane County and around the state are already experimenting with tablets.
In Madison, the popular computing device presents a “jumping off” moment for technology in classrooms that hasn’t happened with desktop and laptop computers, said Bill Smojver, the district’s director of technical services.
“This is the most significant transition point for having digital learning at the optimal level,” Smojver said.

Matthew DeFour:

Madison isn’t the first school district in Dane County to experiment with iPads in the classroom.
Amy Nelson, a Sun Prairie School District speech therapist, uses tablets with all students from fifth graders to 4-year-olds. One program makes it easier to teach verb tenses, as she can show a boy running, rather than explain running with a motionless picture card.
“It’s definitely the up-and-coming technology and kids are really excited about it too,” Nelson said. “They’re learning something and working on skills, but to them they just think they’re playing sometimes.”
The Monona Grove School District is also using iPads to help autistic and other disabled students communicate, said Kathy Sanders, a library media and technology specialist in the Monona Grove School District.

Alumni Adrift

Allie Grasgreen:

Researchers created quite a stir last year — to say the least — with the release of Academically Adrift, the book about a longitudinal study that found many students don’t learn much in college, particularly in the way of skills like critical thinking and analytic reasoning. The culprit, the authors argue, is a lack of academic rigor in most classes that required little reading, writing and studying.
If true, those findings alone are grim enough. But a new study from the same authors says the data’s implications for students extend beyond their time in college and into their early years as graduates.
The new study found a positive correlation between poor performance on the Collegiate Learning Assessment — the test used in Academically Adrift to measure gains over the students’ time in college — and unemployment, credit card debt, and likelihood of living at home.

High Schools Are Step One Of Two


MG Siegler in his latest TechCrunch article posits that although Apple’s new iBooks strategy is admirable in its effort to fix problems in public high schools, that it’s not realistic and that their market strategy should revolve around colleges and college textbooks.
On the surface, which seems logical enough, his argument is sound. But It ignores the one, HUGE driving force in education: money.
Nearly all high schools are public, or receive public funding in one way or another and help to satisfy the law which states that students of high school age must attend school. Textbooks are merely a means of teaching these students topics which help these schools qualify for their funding.

Louisiana Governor Jindal says education reforms can’t wait for another generation of kids

Barabar Leader:

Education was the topic of discussion in northeast Louisiana Thursday as Governor Bobby Jindal and the state’s new Superintendent of Education John White visited the area.
Jindal spoke to the Monroe Chamber of Commerce about what he called a “critical time” in Louisiana’s history and the role his aggressive education reform package will play in the state’s continuing journey to improvement.
White joined Jindal at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce but spent most of his visit in area schools observing teachers and students.

Madison Teachers Candidate Endorsement(s)

To all of you with #recallwithdrawal: Time to focus on Arlene and Micheal for #MMSDBOE!! #99percent
MTI is officially endorsing Arlene Silviera for Madison School Board. Come meet her tonight! 100 WI Ave #700 5-7pm

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.
Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichele Nichols
email: nnichols4mmsd@gmail.com
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
email: arlene_Silveira@yahoo.com
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
email: maryburkewi@gmail.com
Michael Flores
email: floresm1977@gmail.com
via a kind reader’s email

Progessive Dane Endorses Michael Flores & Arlene Silveira (i) for Madison School Board

Progressive Dane:

Madison School District Board
Seat 1: Arlene Silveira Website / Facebook
Seat 2: Michael Flores Website / Facebook
Now we have to make sure they get elected! That takes money (some) and work (lots).
The money part is easy–come to the Progressive Dane Campaign Fund-raiser
Sunday February 12, 5-7 pm
Cardinal Bar, 418 E Wilson St
(Potluck food, Cash Bar, Family Friendly)
Meet the candidates, hear about Madison School District and Dane County issues, pick some to work on this year!

Both Madison School Board races are contested this year.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols
email: nnichols4mmsd@gmail.com

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
email: arlene_Silveira@yahoo.com

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke
email: maryburkewi@gmail.com

Michael Flores
email: floresm1977@gmail.com

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.

First Niagara’s $3M to shape CT school-reform debate

Hartford Business, via a kind Doug Newman email:

First Niagara Bank has pledged $3 million to support a nonprofit group that is representing business interests in Connecticut’s education reform debate.
The money will go to Hartford’s Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), which is led by a group of prominent Connecticut business leaders including former Hartford Financial Services Group CEO Ramani Ayer, and Peyton Patterson, the former chief executive of NewAllinace Bank, which was acquired by First Niagara Bank last year.
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform also unveiled Thursday its education agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which includes urging the state to adopt:
–Teacher and leader employment and retention policies that attract the highest quality professionals and insist upon effectiveness as defined by their ability to demonstrate improvement in student performance, not seniority, as the measure of success defined by redesigned evaluation systems.

Whistle-blowing teachers to open a Los Angeles charter school

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles teachers who became whistle-blowers during a cheating scandal won the right Tuesday to open their own charter school.
The new enterprise, called Apple Academy, won unanimous approval from the Los Angeles Board of Education. The school’s chief executive, former L.A. teachers union president A.J. Duffy, had been a longtime critic of charter schools.
The cheating, which came to public attention last year, ultimately led to the shutdown last summer of all six Crescendo charter schools. As a result, the families of about 1,200 students had to enroll elsewhere on short notice. And Crescendo employees, including teachers who reported the cheating, were left without work.
“It was a rough ending to last year,” said former Crescendo teacher Elise Sargent. “We’re so excited to move forward.”

Has Students Come First hurt teacher unions in Idaho?

Kristin Rodine:

Idaho’s controversial new school reform laws gutted teacher associations’ collective bargaining powers, but local union leaders say they can still work effectively with their district administration to help shape policies.
“This (legislation) basically said to districts that if you don’t want to work with teachers in these areas, you can say by law you don’t have to do it anymore,” Boise Education Association President Andrew Rath said. “But I think they’ve found that districts want to work with the teachers.”
Association leaders Sam Stone of Caldwell and Luke Franklin of Meridian agreed.
“We can always talk to our district,” Franklin said. “Our relationship isn’t really ‘us against them.'”
The Students Come First laws, unveiled by schools Superintendent Tom Luna one year ago and approved by the 2011 Legislature, limits teacher contract negotiations to the issues of pay and benefits and eliminates working conditions and other issues from master contracts.

“Women Worse at Math than Men” Explanation Scientifically Incorrect, MU Researchers Say

Steven Adams:

A University of Missouri researcher and his colleague have conducted a review that casts doubt on the accuracy of a popular theory that attempted to explain why there are more men than women in top levels of mathematic fields. The researchers found that numerous studies claiming that the stereotype, “men are better at math” – believed to undermine women’s math performance – had major methodological flaws, utilized improper statistical techniques, and many studies had no scientific evidence of this stereotype.
This theory, called stereotype threat, was first published in 1999 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Essentially, the theory is that due to the stereotype that women are worse than men in math skills, females develop a poor self-image in this area, which leads to mathematics underachievement.

Hong Kong’s National education subject to be delayed

Dennis Chong:

A committee tasked with mapping out the controversial introduction of compulsory national education in all Hong Kong government schools has suggested it be delayed until as late as 2015.
The Education Bureau last year proposed introducing the curriculum into primary schools as early as September this year, and into secondary schools in the 2013-14 academic year.
However, a source said the Moral and National Education Ad Hoc Committee had now proposed postponing full introduction of the subject – which critics have labelled as brainwashing – until the 2015-16 academic year.
The source said schools would be given three years to get ready for the new curriculum, and it would not specifically cover sensitive topics such as the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Schools could start teaching the subject before then if they were ready.

Björk’s Latest Experiment: Teaching Science

Nick Neyland:

Björk turned her last album into an app. Now she’s turning her music into a science exhibit for city students, with an unusual three-week run at a Queens museum better known for its molecule models and retired spacecraft.
The singer arrives at the New York Hall of Science next month to hold a series of classes for middle school students, as well as six open-to-the-public concerts in the museum’s Great Hall. Björk will also stage four shows at a more conventional concert venue: Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom.
“The whole idea is to take music education out of a bookish, academic thing and into a more physical, tactile experience,” said Björk, 46 years old, in an interview as she was preparing for the event.

Let’s evaluate all ways to close gap

Madison School Board Candidate Mary Burke

n recent listening sessions with Madison parents, I heard how we can improve our schools, what we can be really proud of and stories about our wonderful teachers. In these discussions and in others, people have talked about addressing the racial achievement gap and shared concerns about Madison Prep.
For the 12 years I have been involved in Madison schools, I have been championing education and addressing the racial achievement gap. An East High teacher and I co-founded the AVID/TOPS program, which I also supported financially and continue to co-chair. This program has increased the number of students graduating and going on to post-secondary education. But AVID TOPS alone is not enough. We need to do more.
When Madison Prep was discussed last fall, it was the only proposal put on the table in the last five years to significantly address the racial achievement gap. At that time the teachers union and the planners of Madison Prep were in agreement that the school would run with Madison School District employees, union teachers and under the leadership of the district (as an instrumentality). A major concern raised was that Madison Prep would pull resources needed by existing schools.

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
“Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.”

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist EducationNews.org on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly’s State Street School (http://sss.westerly.k12.ri.us/) sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NECAP).
In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week’s column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)
Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street’s scores tanked again.
The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force’s recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.
Wait. Writing? That’s English, not science.
But more on this in a moment.
Westerly’s students had struggled particularly with the “inquiry” part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.
State Street’s Principal Audrey Faubert says, “Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren’t exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. (http://www.ride.ri.gov/assessment/necap_releaseditems.aspx) Even though they’d been teaching inquiry with the science kits (http://www.uri.edu/hss/education/GEMSNET-URI/index.html) , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test.”
But the spotlight’s glare was on those 4th graders.
Faubert smiled sadly, “The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic.”
Working in pairs, the school’s entire teaching staff scored the kids’ work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.
But as it turns out, the school’s good efforts hadn’t quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street’s instruction had only just started to take root.
Here’s the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: “How does wind change sand dunes?” somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.
New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: “The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn’t about recall any more, but about synthesizing information.” New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.
Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.
Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says “Prior to the work of the Task Force, we’d left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn’t know, they weren’t able to communicate their understanding of science.
To work on that understanding, Fusco says, “we’ve been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP–infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren’t afraid of the words they’re encountering.”
The ability to define “predict” doesn’t help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn’t also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.
Similarly, Fusco’s teachers began to work with the kids on “sentence starters” to guide their thinking–However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.
Fortunately, Westerly’s students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, “Every teacher brought in examples of their students’ science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We’d never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what’s in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times.”
At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids’ understanding and misunderstanding.
By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they’d managed in the prior year’s test.
In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)
Superintendent Roy Seitsinger’s take on the situation is this: “Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we’re doing now. Most of the people weren’t trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators’ job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills.”
Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationViews.org and GoLocalProv.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Tenured Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up

Nick DeSantis:

he Stanford University professor who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students has abandoned his tenured position to aim for an even bigger audience.
Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. He made the surprising announcement during a presentation at the Digital – Life – Design conference in Munich, Germany. The development was first reported earlier today by Reuters.
During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than “a camera, a pen and a napkin.” Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course’s popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

How School Choice Became an Explosive Issue

Kevin Carey:

Bill Cosby and Dick Morris presumably disagree about most things, so it’s instructive to note that both have officially endorsed “School Choice Week,” which began yesterday with a series of rallies and events around the country celebrating the idea of parents being able to decide where their children go to school. Indeed, school choice seems like such an obviously good idea that the most interesting thing about School Choice Week is why it exists at all.
That school choice is valuable is beyond dispute. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar private school industry serving millions of students. And it’s why there is a much larger system of school choice embedded in the American real estate market. While some parents pay school tuition directly, many more pay it through their monthly mortgage and property tax bills. Anyone who has deliberately purchased a home in a “good” school district is, by definition, a beneficiary and supporter of school choice.

An Economic and Rational Choice Approach to the Autism Spectrum and Human Neurodiversity

Tyler Cowen:

That is a new paper of mine, you will find the link here. Here is the abstract:

This paper considers an economic approach to autistic individuals, as a window for understanding autism, as a new and growing branch of neuroeconomics (how does behavior vary with neurology?), and as a foil for better understanding non-autistics and their cognitive biases. The relevant economic predictions for autistics involve greater specialization in production and consumption, lower price elasticities of supply and demand, a higher return from choosing features of their environment, less effective use of social focal points, and higher relative returns as economic growth and specialization proceed. There is also evidence that autistics are less subject to framing effects and more rational on the receiving end of ultimatum games. Considering autistics modifies some of the standard results from economic theories of the family and the economics of discrimination. Although there are likely more than seventy million autistic individuals worldwide, the topic has been understudied by economists. An economic approach also helps us see shortcomings in the “pure disorder” models of autism.

Matthew Battles: It doesn’t take Cupertino to make textbooks interactive

Matthew Battles:

Absent the glamour of the black mock turtleneck, Apple’s Thursday event, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, still came bearing flowers of rhetoric, lovingly transplanted from their native soil in Cupertino’s sunny clime. One such rhetorical staple, the feature checklist, made its appearance about nine minutes in. Usually, the checklist is used to contrast Apple’s latest magical object with the feature set of lesser smartphones or other misbegotten tech tchotchkes; it was more than a little eye-popping to see the same rhetoric of invidious comparison used against the book in full — that gadget which, as senior VP Phil Schiller reminded us, was invented (in its print incarnation) back at the end of the Hundred Years’ War.

University of Washington Admissions and Failing K-12 Education

Cliff Mass:

A week ago there was an article in the Seattle Times describing a large drop in applicants to the UW this year. Considering that other WA State schools have not seen a similar decline and all state colleges are experiencing essentially the same tuition increases, why are UW applications down?
Could it be the incessant articles and editorials by the Seattle Times about how the UW is turning down strong applicants to let in more out of state students? How about this Seattle Times headline last spring:
“Why straight-A’s may not get you into the UW this year”
which suggested that
“High-school seniors with top test scores didn’t get in.
Students who got into more prestigious schools were wait-listed at the UW.
Valedictorians with straight-A’s were denied admission, while out-of-state students with lower grades were accepted.”

School choice is alive and growing — in other states

Richard Rider:

The most important domestic subject that I FAIL to adequately cover is K-12 education. It’s potentially the most effective tool we have for increasing vertical mobility in our society — and hence is currently misused as the best single method to repress disadvantaged minorities.

What the education unions and their bought-and-paid-for Democrat allies have done to inner city black and Hispanic kids would warm the cockles of any KKK Grand Dragon. The Progressives’ steadfast opposition to improving education angers me every time I think about it.

Thus I include intact below an excellent op-ed on the topic from the LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS. It’s upbeat — giving the growing success of the school choice movement in all its many flavors.

Sadly, California is one of the least successful states in this effort to improve education. All we hear from CA liberals is that we don’t spend enough. But the growing popularity and acceptance of school choice in other states is going to make it more and more difficult for our voters to ignore this innovation.

Education a key solution

Barbara Prindiville:

The top priority facing southeastern Wisconsin – and, indeed, the biggest challenge for the entire state – is the creation of more new jobs.
There are many good ideas for creating new jobs, and many deserve further consideration. The creation of new venture capital funds, tax breaks for industries and workforce training incentives for companies that locate in Wisconsin are all worthy of further consideration and possible action.
But the best strategy for creating new jobs is to look at what companies want when deciding where to expand a plant or locate a production facility. No doubt, they look at quality of life, housing, transportation, the overall community and other factors.
However, time and again, one of the top assets that attracts new jobs is a quality education system at all levels that produces bright, articulate and engaging future workers who accept the challenge of the new international economy and the interdependent global economic landscape. That starts at kindergarten and continues beyond high school. Gone are the days when a student could graduate from high school and move to a job that could last a lifetime.

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio

Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.
The event was sponsored by the Dane County Council of Public Affairs.
Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichele Nichols
email: nnichols4mmsd@gmail.com
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
email: arlene_Silveira@yahoo.com
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
email: maryburkewi@gmail.com
Michael Flores
email: floresm1977@gmail.com
via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.
UPDATE 2.8.2012: A transcript is now available.

Pennsylvania’s Property Tax Independence Act

Pennsylvania Representative Jim Cox, via a kind reader’s email:

Details of the latest plan to eliminate and replace school property taxes have been finalized and the legislation will be introduced shortly in the Pennsylvania House and Senate.
House Bill 1776, The Property Tax Independence Act, looks in part to the former School Property Tax Elimination Act (SPTEA) for its basic structure. While The Property Tax Independence Act mirrors some of the provisions of the former SPTEA, the plan has been comprehensively rewritten to account for lawmakers’ concerns and preferences in order to eliminate objections common to the previous legislation.

  • The Property Tax Independence Act will eliminate school property and local school nuisance taxes across the Commonwealth and will replace those taxes with funding from a single state source.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act introduces a modernized school funding method that is based on 21st century economic realities.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act will ABOLISH the school property tax as well as eliminate the local school earned income tax and nuisance taxes such as the per capita and privilege-to-work taxes imposed by school districts.
  • The Property Tax Independence Act uses in great measure our current sales tax mechanism to fund schools, restoring the original intent of the tax.
  • The sales tax provides a predictable and stable funding source that is tied to economic growth. This is in clear contrast to the school property tax which is not based on economic growth and is subject to much variation.
  • Current school spending regularly exceeds tax revenue and The Property Tax Independence Act addresses this problem head on by limiting school budget increases to the rate of inflation.

Wisconsin’s property taxes have increased significantly over the years. How long will this continue?

Much more, here.

How to Learn to Love Maths

Alex Bellos:

Britain is about to fall in love with maths. Well, that’s the dream. Yesterday one of the government’s top advisers on further education said that maths should be compulsory for all students until 18 or 19 – no matter what else they are studying. Professor Steve Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, also said that he wants a new maths qualification between GCSE and AS-level to be introduced by 2016.
Maths is justified in this country because it is useful. Sparks said his proposals were necessary because young people need a better grasp of maths to compete in the job market, where an understanding of technology and numeracy are increasingly important.

Highland Park (MI) Schools in jeopardy of closing, governor says in letter

Melanie Scott:

As Highland Park schools officials pleaded their case against an emergency manager to officials in Lansing on Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter to the district’s parents informing them that without state intervention there would be no district by the end of next month.
Parents of Highland Park School District students told district officials today they received a letter from the governor informing them of the school district’s dire financial situation.
In a letter dated Jan. 20, Snyder told parents finances for the school district have reached a crisis stage and during the 2010-11 school year, the district was $3 million over budget.
The letter also mentioned the state forwarded an emergency advance of $188,000 to the district on Jan. 13.

Algorithmic Education (including the Mathematics of Cramming)

Samuel Arbesman:

Many of us don’t learn in optimal ways. We know that we forget new material, neglect to review older material, and study in ways that elevate cramming and procrastination to art forms. But there is research about how to be more efficient in these things. For example, dating back to 1885, there is a rich literature that explores how timing our learning of new and old material can affect education.
For a long time, these theories were only loosely applied. They couldn’t be put into quantitative practice because of the difficulty of carefully implementing them. But with the ability to create educational software, customized to ensure a student has an optimal learning experience, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually employ this knowledge. Unfortunately, there are so many competing concerns, it’s far from trivial: We need to begin constructing new algorithms to figure out how best to learn.

Metacognition and Student Learning

James Lang:

This evening, my family will sit down on the couch together to enjoy the opening episode of America’s favorite spectacle of poor metacognition. Along with millions of others, including some of you, we will marvel at the sight of so many human beings eager to put their deficient cognitive skills on display for the world.
I’m talking, of course, about the season premiere of American Idol, where lousy metacognition will join lousy singing for two cringeworthy hours tonight and another hour tomorrow night, as amateur musicians audition for the opportunity to win fame, fortune, and a recording contract. The opening two episodes of each season have become notorious for featuring the worst singers who auditioned for the show, encouraging viewers to engage in some gentle schadenfreude as Idol participants make fools of themselves on national television.

The Dangerous Notion That Debt Doesn’t Matter

Steven Rattner:

WITH little fanfare, a dangerous notion has taken hold in progressive policy circles: that the amount of money borrowed by the federal government from Americans to finance its mammoth deficits doesn’t matter.
Debt doesn’t matter? Really? That’s the most irresponsible fiscal notion since the tax-cutting mania brought on by the advent of supply-side economics. And it’s particularly problematic right now, as Congress resumes debating whether to extend the payroll-tax reduction or enact other stimulative measures.
Here’s the theory, in its most extreme configuration: To the extent that the government sells its debt to Americans (as opposed to foreigners), those obligations will disappear as aging folks who buy those Treasuries die off.

Larry Summers Executive Summary of Economic Policy Work, December 2008 (PDF):

Closing the gap between what the campaign proposed and the estimates of the campaign offsets would require scaling back proposals by about $100 billion annually or adding newoffsets totaling the same. Even this, however, would leave an average deficit over the next decade that would be worse than any post-World War II decade. This would be entirely unsustainable and could cause serious economic problems in the both the short run and the long run.

via Ryan Lizza.

Teaching programming to a nine-year-old

Dr. Prabhakar Ragde:

My younger daughter is nine. After watching me sit with a laptop all term preparing material using Scheme, she wanted to know something about it. She is self-taught on the application side of computing (browsers, paint programs, word processing) but knows nothing of computation itself. So I opened up a DrScheme Interactions window. “You add like this,” I said, typing in (+ 3 4). No problem. “Try some other operations, some bigger numbers.” It looks like a calculator without a ten-digit limit.
I wrote out some arithmetic expressions for her to convert to Scheme. She had difficulty with them, but not with Scheme: I had forgotten how much algebraic notation is taught later. She didn’t understand concatenation for multiplication, / for division, or putting two expressions one above the other with a horizontal line in between. Once I explained those, she converted them into Scheme expressions very quickly.

Teenage sailor Laura Dekker becomes youngest to circumnavigate the globe

Nick Meo and Joan Clements:

Miss Dekker, who is 16 years and four months old, has cut six months off the unofficial record set in 2010 by Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who was days away from her 17th birthday when she completed her own non-stop voyage.
Dozens of people jumped and cheered as Miss Dekker stepped aboard a dock in St. Maarten and waved.
“There were moments where I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?,’ but I never wanted to stop,” she told reporters.
“It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.”

Coming soon: A new Florida school grading formula

Kathleen McGrory:

The way Florida grades its public schools will soon be changing.
On Tuesday, the state Board of Education heard an extensive presentation on proposed changes to the school grading formula.
The ideas ran the gamut, from incorporating the test scores of children with disabilities, to giving extra points to students who boost their test scores into the highest range.
Of course, high school grades will have to take into account the new end-of-course exams, which are being given this year in algebra, geometry and biology. Some middle-school students will also be taking the exams — and the grades given to middle schools need to reflect that, too.

Building debt

Michael Pettis:

In the paper Flyvbjerg looks at infrastructure projects in a number of countries (not in China, though, because he needed decent data) and shows how the benefits of these projects are systematically overstated and the costs systematically understated. More important, he shows how these terrible results are simply the expected outcomes of the way infrastructure projects are typically designed and implemented.
It is not a very happy paper in general, but I am pretty sure that many people who read it probably had a thought similar to mine: if infrastructure spending can be so seriously mismanaged in relatively transparent systems with greater political accountability, what might happen in a country with a huge infrastructure boom stretching over decades, much less transparency, and very little political accountability? Isn’t the potential for waste vast?

Skype helps Lodi students interact with teacher in Thailand

Pamela Cotant:

Learning about southeast Asia from a teacher in Thailand is making the curriculum come alive for Lodi High School students.
Every morning, the students receive instruction via Skype from Tuke-Karnteera Ingkhaninan, a teacher from the Sa-nguan Ying School in Suphanburi, Thailand. Then early in the evening, Mark Kohl, a Lodi High School teacher, instructs students at the Thailand school about United States history.
“We can see it a lot more clearly instead of reading about it in a textbook,” said Lodi senior Becky Thuot, 18.
Senior Savannah Sundt, 17, agreed, noting that is was meaningful when Ingkhaninan talked about a festival she would attend that evening and the Lodi students could hear fireworks going off as part of it.

The New American Divide

Charles Murray:

The ideal of an ‘American way of life’ is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray on what’s cleaving America, and why.
America is coming apart. For most of our nation’s history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world–for whites, anyway. “The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. “On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day.”
Americans love to see themselves this way. But there’s a problem: It’s not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s.
People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

Sharing a Screen, if Not a Classroom

Kyle Spencer:

In a hushed first-grade classroom at Public School 55 in the South Bronx, Edward Muñoz, a bashful 7-year-old in scuffed sneakers and a worn hoodie, was sounding out tricky words with his tutor.
Together they plowed through a book about a birthday barbecue, tackling the words “party” and “presents.” Then they played a rousing game of word-based tic-tac-toe, with Edward eventually declaring victory.
Exchanges like theirs take place every day in classrooms around the country, now that links between early literacy gains and later school success have been clearly documented.
But Edward’s tutor was not in the classroom. His school, a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway stop in a crime-plagued neighborhood, has long had trouble finding tutors willing to visit. “It is hard to get anyone to volunteer,” said the school’s principal, Luis Torres, who sometimes cancels fire drills because of the gunfire he hears outside.

First details of proposed Wisconsin school accountability system revealed

Matthew DeFour:

The state could more aggressively intervene in the lowest-performing publicly funded schools under a proposed accountability system unveiled Monday.
The system would rate schools on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student performance and growth on state tests, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college and careers. Ratings also would be tied to dropout rates and third-grade literacy levels.
The http://dpi.state.wi.us/esea/pdf/eseawaiver_coverletter.pdf“>http://dpi.state.wi.us/esea/index.html“>Department of Public Instruction released a draft application to the U.S. Education Department for a waiver from the 10-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said “has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms.”
“Wisconsin’s request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes,” Evers said

DPI’s Initial Draft Full Waiver Proposal (2.5MB PDF):

Raising Expectations, Increasing Rigor
As noted in Principle 1, DPI has significantly raised expectations for schools and the proportion of students who graduate ready for college and career, as indicated by the adoption of rigorous academic standards, higher cut scores based on NAEP as the state transitions to SBAC, increasingly rigorous and adaptive assessment systems, and increased graduation requirements. The new accountability report card and the new system of support, rewards, and recognition will reflect these new expectations. While the state has previously emphasized graduation rates (and boasted one of the highest in the nation), DPI also recognizes the state has significant achievement and graduation gaps. The accountability index prioritizes achievement and attainment using measures which emphasize not only graduation, but also the proportion of students graduating college and career ready. Additionally, the system examines achievement gaps within and across schools as a means to address the state’s existing gaps. Using a multifaceted index will help pinpoint areas of need within a school, as well as areas of strength, and help schools track their progress at meeting the needs of all student subgroups. Within the system of support, identified schools will participate in diagnostic reviews and needs assessments (Priority and Focus Schools, respectively) to identify their instructional policies, practices, and programming that have impacted student outcomes and to differentiate, and individualize reforms and interventions. While planning and implementing reforms, schools and districts will have access to increasingly expansive and timely data systems to monitor progress. Additionally, the state will require Priority and Focus Schools to implement RtI (with the support of the Wisconsin RtI Center and its resources) to ensure that all students are receiving customized, differentiated services within a least restrictive environment, including additional supports and interventions for SwDs and ELLs as needed, or extension activities and additional challenge for students exceeding benchmarks.

2012 Madison School Board Candidate Website & Contact Information

Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichele Nichols
email: nnichols4mmsd@gmail.com
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
email: arlene_Silveira@yahoo.com
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
email: maryburkewi@gmail.com
Michael Flores
email: floresm1977@gmail.com
via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity
“Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime.” – Paul Dunham

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.
At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we’d had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don’t get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), “traditional math” is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly “taking the lead” and teaching their parents.
Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a “balanced” program looks like – as if that’s what Spokane actually has.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform

Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips:

ALEC’s 17th edition of the Report Card on American Education contains a comprehensive overview of educational achievement levels (performance and gains for low-income students) for the 50 states and the District of Columbia (see full report for complete methodology). The Report Card details what education policies states currently have in place and provides a roadmap for legislators to follow to bring about educational excellence in their state.
Focusing on the reforms recently enacted in Indiana, and with a foreword by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, this Report Card on American Education examines the experiences other states can learn from the struggles and triumps in Indiana.
Authors Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips analyze student scores, looking at both performance as well as how scores have improved over recent years. Additionally, each state is graded based on its current education policies.

Wisconsin ranks 19th.

Minnesota’s public pensions: A worse-case scenario

Mark Haveman:

This is the status of Minnesota’s public pension fund obligation. And it may be optimistic.
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going,” Yogi Berra once famously said. “Because you might not get there.”
Berra’s characteristically unique advice is worth keeping in mind for anyone addressing the issue of public pensions.
Lots of uncertainty, to say the least, comes into play in guaranteeing lifetime retirement incomes for hundreds of thousands of Minnesota public employees — past, present and future. And wherever we do arrive in this effort will have profound implications for government employees and taxpayers, and for the future of public services in our state.
According to the latest data on the condition of Minnesota’s public pension funds, the bleeding has stopped but there is still considerable work to do.
As of last summer, the three major statewide pension plans that provide pensions for the bulk of Minnesota’s public employees — the Minnesota State Retirement System for state workers, the Public Employees Retirement Association for local workers and the Teachers Retirement Association for teachers — were, altogether, $10.5 billion short of meeting their long-term obligations.

Seattle’s Pendulum Problem

Charlie Mas:

District leadership style has swung back and forth between two extremes. It needs to be stopped and held at the center.
The Seattle School Board of 2000 – 2003 contributed to the financial fiasco that toppled the Olchefske administration. It was not just their misplaced trust, but the blindness of their trust that allowed things in the district – not just the financial reporting – to spiral down. They could have found the budget problem in the numbers reported to them (Director Bass did find it), but the majority of them lacked the necessary skepticism to look for it.
In response, the voters replaced them with a more activist board. It started with Director Bass elected in 2001. The four board directors elected in 2003 formed a much more hands-on and skeptical board majority – perhaps too much. They found a District that was poorly managed. They found all kinds of problems that had grown over the years and they were blunt and public about exposing it. I won’t say that they were wrong, but they were perhaps impatient. Culture doesn’t change overnight. This Board was accused of micro-managing the district and they were accused of being dysfunctional.

Public speaking for normal people

Jason Freedman:

I just gave a presentation on 42Floors to 150 people. It went well. I was really proud of: 1) our team, 2) our product and 3) the way we were able to present it. It was as if we were telling people about it in our living room, but there just happened to be 150 people there. Afterwards, several people told me that it felt like it was a very polished presentation. But the reality is we didn’t practice at all. In fact, three minutes before we went on stage, my co-founder turned to me and said, “Jason, we really should’ve practiced.” I said, “Nah, don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” And we winged it, and it came off ever so naturally.
Before I pat myself on the back too much, let me tell you how I felt inside. Thirty seconds before I was supposed to go on, I was standing there on the side and all of a sudden my heartbeat went from normal to racing like I was in the middle of marathon. Uggghhh. I hate it when this happens. It’s kind of like how you feel when you blush: you’re reminded how little control you have over your own body. For a brief moment, I was upset with my body for reacting this way. I was upset with myself for reacting this way, actually. I should be more confident than this.

The Inevitability of the Use of Value-Added Measures in Teacher Evaluations

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Value added” or “VA” refers to the use of statistical techniques to measure teachers’ impacts on their students’ standardized test scores, controlling for such student characteristics as prior years’ scores, gender, ethnicity, disability, and low-income status.
Reports on a massive new study that seem to affirm the use of the technique have recently been splashed across the media and chewed over in the blogosphere. Further from the limelight, developments in Wisconsin seem to ensure that in the coming years value-added analyses will play an increasingly important role in teacher evaluations across the state. Assuming the analyses are performed and applied sensibly, this is a positive development for student learning.
The Chetty Study
Since the first article touting its findings was published on the front page of the January 6 New York Times, a new research study by three economists assessing the value-added contributions of elementary school teachers and their long-term impact on their students’ lives – referred to as the Chetty article after the lead author – has created as much of a stir as could ever be expected for a dense academic study.

Much more on value added assessment, here.
It is important to note that the Madison School District’s value added assessment initiative is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

The business of high school sports drives Wisconsin tournament fight

Kevin Binversie:

Like it or not, sports is a business. From big-time professional leagues like the National Football League to local high school action, sports have been a reliable revenue stream for decades.
At the college level, successful athletic programs have paid dividends for their schools by generating cash. Sporting events boost local economies in tourist dollars, money spent at bars, restaurants and hotels, and of course tax revenue for local government.
It’s the fight over local business and tax revenue that has become the real center stage in a battle over tournament scheduling and the location of tournaments that is raging between the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Athletic Department and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, which officiates high school sports in the Badger State. At issue is where the boys and girls state basketball tournaments will play in 2013 and beyond.

Texas school district cuts sports in desperate attempt to improve grades and prevent shutdown

Associated Press:

Eliminating high school athletics during a school year is unusual, especially in a sports-loving state such as Texas.
But that’s exactly what’s happening in this small ranching community where the school district is taking desperate measures to prevent a state-mandated closure due to poor academics.
The Premont Independent School District is even deploying its superintendent, a constable and high school principal to the homes of truant students in an effort to improve dismal attendance.

School reform proposals are in limbo in Missouri General Assembly

Jason Hancock:

Missouri lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to deal with a potential flood of student transfers stemming from the loss of accreditation in urban school districts like Kansas City’s.
But looming over this year’s legislative session is a pledge by House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Perryville Republican, that any plan to deal with school transfers to suburban districts, or adjustments to the state’s school funding formula, be coupled with ideas that have doomed previous reform efforts.
Those include controversial measures such as expanding charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, basing teacher pay on student achievement and offering tax credit vouchers to parents who want to send children to private schools.

Wisconsin DPI seeks comments on draft NCLB waiver request; “Education for today’s world requires increased rigor and higher expectations”

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, via a kind reader’s email:

MADISON — Wisconsin’s request for waivers from several provisions of federal education law creates the expectation that every child will graduate ready for college and careers by setting higher standards for students, educators, and schools.
“Education for today’s world requires increased rigor and higher expectations,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms that would help more students gain the skills needed for further education and the workforce. Wisconsin’s request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment, and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes.”
To receive waivers, state education agencies must demonstrate how they will use flexibility from NCLB requirements to address four principles: transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness; and reducing duplication. The Department of Public Instruction has posted its draft waiver request online and is asking for public comment through a survey. After the two-week comment period, the agency will revise the waiver request and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education by Feb. 21.

Positioning The Madison School District’s 2012-2013 Budget

Matthew DeFour

Madison School District officials hope to avoid layoffs and spare employees from contributing to their health insurance premiums next school year, though to do so they might have to raise property taxes.
Superintendent Dan Nerad won’t make his preliminary budget recommendations until April 1, but in its first look at the 2012-13 school budget, the district is projecting a $12.4 million deficit based on current budget trends.
Factoring in rising insurance and fuel costs, the district projects general fund spending of $319.7 million, up from $310.9 million this year. Revenues are projected to be $307.3 million.
The district is looking at several options to close the gap, such as eliminating its most expensive health insurance option, renegotiating nonunion employee contracts, energy efficiency projects, refinancing debt and raising property taxes, said Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.
“The hope is we won’t have to take more out of employee pockets or do any layoffs,” Kass said.

Unfortunately, DeFour’s article does not include the District’s total proposed spending, rather it mentions just one portion. It would be better to not mention such incomplete numbers, rather than further muddying the often challenging budget “transparency”. The District will spend roughly $370,000,000 +/- a few million in 2011-2012:

2011-2012 Revised Budget 1.3MB PDF (Budget amendments document). District spending remains largely flat at $369,394,753, yet “Fund Equity”, or the District’s reserves, has increased to $48,324,862 from $22,769,831 in 2007 (page 24). The District’s property tax “underlevy” (increases allowed under Wisconsin school revenue limits which are based on student population changes, successful referendums along with carve-outs such as Fund 80, among others) will be $13,084,310. It also appears that property taxes will be flat (page 19) after a significant 9% increase last year. Interestingly, MSCR spending is up 7.97% (page 28).
2011-2012 enrollment is 24,861. $369,394,753 planned expenditures results in per student spending of $14,858.40.

Related: Wisconsin Property Tax Growth: 1984-2012 (!).

Governor’s education policies fail Wisconsin

Sondy Pope-Roberts:

Over the course of the past year, Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature conducted an all-out assault on Wisconsin’s cherished public schools.
Last summer, the governor signed a state budget that reduced funding for public education by $1.6 billion. While our public schools were forced to manage these devastating cuts, the governor increased funding to unaccountable and unproven voucher schools by $40 million and approved $2.3 billion in giveaways to large corporations and special interests.
Districts all over the state have already begun to feel the pain of these cuts through larger class sizes, staff reductions and a loss of experienced educators due to massive retirements. Nearly 97 percent of districts are seeing reductions in state aid this year. And a recent nonpartisan national report shows Wisconsin is second in the country in education cuts. However, the worst may be yet to come.

Oakland schools try new way of placing teachers

Jill Tucker:

In the world outside public education, people apply for a job they want, interview with their potential boss, compete against other applicants and are ultimately selected if they look like a good fit for the position.
It doesn’t work that way in public education.
In schools, teachers do all the normal things to get hired, but when it comes to placement, seniority is what counts, not the perfect fit. The teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school, with the principal – the school’s boss – getting little or no input.
School district officials in Oakland want to change that, believing that it’s in the best interests of students when a teacher – new, veteran or in between – wants to work at a school and the school wants that teacher.

Making Longer Chicago School Day Happen May Have a Budget-Busting Price Tag

Rebecca Vevea:

Six months after barely closing a $712 million deficit, Chicago Public Schools officials have spent nearly $10 million that has not yet been budgeted in their aggressive push to lengthen the school day.
Fifty schools have gone to a longer day this year. With the entire city school system moving to a seven-and-a-half-hour school day next year, parents and community members are questioning how the cash-strapped district plans to pay for the extended time at more than 675 schools.
Becky Carroll, the school district’s spokeswoman, said that cuts would need to be made elsewhere to allow the costs of a longer day to fit into the district’s nearly $6 billion budget.
“A budget is about priorities, and you invest in what your priorities are,” she said. “At the end of the day, this is a critical priority.”

New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests

Benedict Carey:

Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.
The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions. Most experts expect that the new manual will narrow the criteria for autism; the question is how sharply.
The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses — which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates.

UK Schools minister cracks down on league table ‘incentives’


Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he wants to stop schools prioritising their rankings in exam league tables over ensuring a good education for all their pupils.
New league tables for England, out next week, show which schools boost pupils’ progress from ages 11 and 16.
Mr Gibb said the old system allowed schools to exploit tables, and some used it to help boost their rankings.
Labour gave the move a cautious welcome.

Some college, but no degree

Emily Hanford:

Kai Ryssdal: However students get their textbooks — on an iPad or the old-fashioned way — those books don’t do any good unless they’re actually used.
There are 37 million people in this country who’ve started college, who have some credits — but never finished. When they do that, when they drop out, there are costs — to them, and to the rest of us, in the billions of dollars, in wasted loans and grants and lost opportunities. Those costs are one reason college dropouts are starting to get more attention from the Obama administration on down.
But finding ways for people to finish their degrees might mean rethinking the way Americans go to college. Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks reports.

Income And Educational Outcomes

Matthew DiCarlo:

The role of poverty in shaping educational outcomes is one of the most common debates going on today. It can also be one of the most shallow.
The debate tends to focus on income. For example (and I’m generalizing a bit here), one “side” argues that income and test scores are strongly correlated; the other “side” points to the fact that many low-income students do very well and cautions against making excuses for schools’ failure to help poor kids.
Both arguments have merit, but it bears quickly mentioning that the focus on the relationship between income and achievement is a rather crude conceptualization of the importance of family background (and non-schooling factors in general) for education outcomes. Income is probably among the best widely available proxies for these factors, insofar as it is correlated with many of the conditions that can hinder learning, especially during a child’s earliest years. This includes (but is not at all limited to): peer effects; parental education; access to print and background knowledge; parental involvement; family stressors; access to healthcare; and, of course, the quality of neighborhood schools and their teachers.

Parents Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Kids’ Teacher

Andrew Rotherham:

The most important decision you will make about your children’s education is picking their school, right? That’s the conventional wisdom, but it’s actually wrong — or at best it’s only half-correct. Teacher effectiveness varies a lot within schools, even within good schools, which means that just choosing the right school for your kid is not a proxy for choosing great teachers. So while “school choice” is hotly debated (next week is National School Choice Week, complete with Bill Cosby’s blessing and events galore,) there are few rallies being held for giving parents the right to choose a particular teacher. That’s because the whole system is stacked against empowering families in this way. In fact, because of how seniority rules generally work, it’s a lot more common for teachers to choose their students than for students to choose their teachers.
Just how much individual teachers matter is the big implication of an analysis of 2.5 million students and their instructors that was released in December and highlighted recently in the New York Times. The long-term, large-scale study by economists at Columbia and Harvard used two decades of data to examine differences in student outcomes (including such categories as teen pregnancy and college enrollment) and link those differences with how effective their teachers were at improving student scores on achievement tests. The headline-grabbing finding was that replacing an ineffective teacher with one of average quality would boost a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by a quarter-million dollars. And that’s just from one year of assigning that group of kids to an average teacher instead of a lousy one. A second study, released January 12 by the Education Trust-West, an education advocacy group in California, examined three years of data on teachers from the Los Angeles public school system and noted that low-income and minority students are twice as likely to have teachers in the bottom 25% of effectiveness. The Ed Trust study did not get as much attention as the one by the Ivy League economists, but it reached the same obvious conclusion: more effective teachers boost learning for students

Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011

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

Charter schools are public schools. Historically, however, the relationship between school districts and charters has been nonexistent at best, antagonistic at worst. As the charter sector continues to grow steadily, an analysis of the national landscape explores how that relationship needs to start changing–and where it already has.
This year’s 6th annual edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality provides a clear roadmap for school districts and charter schools interested in working together to improve education options. The report explains the risks and technical challenges behind charter-district collaboration and provides powerful examples of how they can be overcome.

What Hawaii Teachers Are Saying About Agreement

Katherine Poythress:

Emails and direct messages from teachers wanting to vent about the proposed contract between their union and the state have been flowing into my inbox.
Every single one came with a request not to publish the name of the writer. “I just want you to know,” they say, of the reason they’re writing. The problem with knowing, though, is that you can never un-know. These teachers were sharing thoughts that give deep insight into educators’ concerns as they head to the polls Thursday to vote on the new contract.
You might be shocked to learn that some of them said they would prefer abiding with the “last, best and final” offer Gov. Neil Abercrombie imposed on them last July, than take the deal struck earlier this month. They all have their reasons for thinking the way they do about the current agreement. Reasons that deserve to be aired.
So we made a deal of our own. I asked the ones who had contacted me if it would be OK to share their words with our readers — with the understanding that I will not publish or share names, positions or any information that could betray their identities. We granted them anonymity because they said they feared retaliation and wouldn’t share their thoughts otherwise.

Are national charter schools a game changer or a fad?

Alan Borsuk:

Where will the thin blue line lead these children? What will their path mean to Milwaukee’s education scene?
I’m talking about the 330 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Milwaukee Scholars Charter School.
The corridors of the school’s new building at 7000 W. Florist Ave. have gray carpeting – except for blue stripes near each wall.
When students pass in the halls, whether in groups or solo, they are required to walk only on the blue stripe on the right side of the hall as they face it. Get caught off that stripe and you can get marked down in the school’s discipline system.
Minus the blue lines and with a discipline system that isn’t structured quite so firmly, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school at 110 W. Burleigh St., brings to mind the same questions for its 160 kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils.