Angry Your Economic Security is in Jeopardy?

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (PDF):

Chicken Little wasn’t kidding. While Governor Walker’s Act 10 stripped public employees of the right to bargain over virtually all wages, benefits and working conditions, the remaining “token” item, which unions theoretically had the continuing right to bargain, was the “total base wages”. Walker’s Act 10, however, limited said increase to no more than the consumer price index (CPI) over the prior 12 months (a higher amount would be subject to referendum). Now that the Walker-appointed Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) has issued Administrative Rules as to the implementation of Walker’s Act 10 calculation of “base wages”, rather than providing a cost-of-living increase for teachers, it COULD ACTUALLY RESULT IN A SUBSTANTIAL DECREASE IN PAY. The following helps explain this apparently ludicrous rule.
For example, a Madison teacher with a Master’s degree is at Track 4, Level 16 (approximately 12 year’s experience) of the current salary schedule is paid $54,985 per year. Assuming a 3% increase in the CPI, this teacher would need a salary increase to $56,635 to maintain the same standard of living. However, the new WERC rule defines the “base pay” not as the current salary ($54,985), but the salary this teacher would have received without the pay additive recognizing the achievement of additional educational credits (Walker’s Law would calculate this teacher’s CPI increase pay at Track 1 [BA], Level 16, or $51,497). The WERC’s defined “Base Pay” for this teacher is $3,488 LESS than the teacher’s current pay. Applying a 3% CPI increase to the Walker’s Law base of $51,497 yields a salary of only $53,042. Therefore, under the WERC’s new rules, this teacher’s “cost-of-living increase” could actually result in a pay cut of $1,943 per year. Rather than a 3% increase in pay, Walker’s Law could produce a 3.5% decrease in pay. The greater the educational attainment (e.g. PhD at Track 8), the greater the potential cut. One publicized example from Monticello School District shows a scenario where a teacher there could take a $14,000 pay cut.
The impact of the WERC Administrative Rule is beyond belief. Calculations illustrate that using this means to calculate wage increases for Madison’s teachers will actually produce only about 90% of the revenue to fund the wages now on the salary schedule – that’s right! Chicken Little wasn’t kidding! This does not necessarily mean that teachers will receive a pay cut after bargaining Walker’s “cost- of-living” increase. School districts could, and should, continue to provide salary schedules which encourage teachers’ continued education and reward them for same. Doing so will be to the advantage of each child enrolled in the district. But, as with all other wages, hours and working conditions under Walker’s Law, such is entirely at the district’s discretion. Walker’s Law even makes it a violation of law for school districts to negotiate over wages, other than the increase in the CPI. Should the employer utilize such discretion, salaries would not have to be cut and increases could occur. But, it’s a fallacy to think that Walker’s Law allows Unions to truly bargain cost-of-living increases for all of their members. While that may be true for employee groups without compensation plans connected to educational credits, such as MTI’s EA, SEE, SSA and USO units, under Walker’s WERC rules, it is certainly not the case for teachers. JUST ONE MORE REASON TO RECALL!

Robo Essay Grading

“But Will Fitzhugh, the publisher of the Sudbury, Mass.-based Concord Review, a quarterly scholarly journal that publishes secondary students’ academic writing, said he is skeptical of whether there is any application of automated essay graders that would enhance students’ educational experience.”
Ian Quillen:

Education Week: Published Online: April 24, 2012
Published in Print: April 25, 2012
Study Supports Essay-Grading Technology
But researchers raise concerns about some conclusions
By Ian Quillen
After a recent study that suggested automated essay graders are as effective as their human counterparts in judging essay exams, “roboreaders” are receiving a new wave of publicity surrounding their possible inclusion in assessments and classrooms.
But while developers of the technology are happy to have the attention, they insist the high profile has more to do with timing of policy changes such as the push to common standards than with any dramatic evolution in the essay-grading tools themselves.
“What’s changed is the claims people are willing to make about it. … [I]t’s not because the technology has changed,” said Jon Cohen, an executive vice president of the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, one of nine organizations developing software that participated in the study.
“I think, over time, a mixture of technologies will make this really good not only for scoring essays,” but also for other assignments, said Mr. Cohen, the director of AIR’s assessment program. “But we really need to be clear about the limits of the applications we are using today so we can get there.”
Human vs. Machine
The study, underwritten by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is driven by the push to improve assessments related to the shift to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and math, and is based on the examination of essays written specifically for assessments. (The Hewlett Foundation also provides support to Education Week for coverage of “deeper learning.”)
Essay Graders
A recent study examined essay-grading software developed by the following organizations:
American Institutes for Research
Carnegie Mellon University
Educational Testing Service
Measurement Inc.
Pacific Metrics
Pearson Knowledge Technologies
Vantage Learning
SOURCE: “Contrasting State of the Art Automated Scoring of Essays: Analysis
Each developer’s software graded essays from a sample of 22,000 contributed by six states, using algorithms to measure linguistic and structural characteristics of each essay and to predict, based on essays previously graded by humans, how a human judge would grade a particular submission. All six states are members of one of two state consortia working to develop assessments for the new standards.
By and large, the scores generated by the nine automated essay graders matched up with the human grades, and in a press release, study co-director Tom Vander Ark, the chief executive officer of Federal Way, Wash.-based Open Education Solutions, a blended-learning consulting group, said, “The demonstration showed conclusively that automated essay-scoring systems are fast, accurate, and cost-effective.”
Mr. Cohen of AIR cautioned that interpretation could be too broad.
I think the claims being made about the study wander a bit too far from the shores of our data,” he said.
Mark Shermis, the dean of the college of education at the University of Akron, in Ohio, and a co-author of the study, said the paper doesn’t even touch on the most exciting potential of automated essay graders, which is not their ability to replace test scorers (or possibly teachers) with a cheaper machine, but their ability to expand upon that software to give students feedback and suggestions for revision.
Inspiring Composition
Two vendors in the study–the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service and Vantage Learning, with headquarters in Yardley, Pa.–already have offered for most of the past decade software that gives students some basic feedback on the grammar, style, mechanics, organization, and development of ideas in their writing, Mr. Shermis said.
“It’s designed to be a support, so that a teacher can focus him- or herself completely on inspiring composition of writing or creative composition of writing,” he said. “It’s possible that an administrator will say, ‘I’m just going to throw it all to the computer,’… but that’s not what we would ever recommend.”
Further, one entrant in the study, the LightSIDE software developed by Teledia, a research group at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was created as an extension of research its developers say is only loosely related to automated essay graders.
Their examination of natural language processing, or the science of how computers interact with human language, has focused on the idea that software could help students hold more-productive collaborative discussions about any range of academic subjects, said Carolyn P. Rose, an associate professor of language technology and human-computer interaction.
For example, one project involves using artificial intelligence to drive discussions on an online platform provided by the university to secondary students in the 25,000-student Pittsburgh public schools. A computer-generated persona interacts as one of several participants in an online discussion, asking questions of the students and at times even interjecting humor into a tense situation among students involved in the discussion.
Creating an automated essay grader based on that research came out of a curiosity to see whether the researchers’ methods of evaluating student discussion could transfer to assessment of student composition, said Elijah Mayfield, a doctoral candidate in language and information technology working with Ms. Rose. Commercial vendors involved in the study did not possess a similar background in studying student interaction, perhaps because they couldn’t afford to do so from a business standpoint, he said.
“I think it gets caught up between what machine learning is aiming for and what is commercially feasible,” Mr. Mayfield said.
Smarter Computers
John Fallon, the vice president of marketing with Vantage Learning, said that using current policy momentum–including the drive for the creation of new, more writing-intensive assessments–will only help drive improvements in all realms of natural-language-processing study. That includes projects like those at Carnegie Mellon, as well as those at his own company.
“A lot of it comes down to, the more submissions we get, the smarter the [computer] engine gets,” said Mr. Fallon, who asserts that his company’s offerings are able not only to score student writing, but also to give those students feedback for improvement.
“The transition to the common core and what that’s going to require is really bringing a much stronger focus for writing,” he said. “And the challenge has always been how can we get teachers to get students to write more and maintain interaction at the student level.”
But Will Fitzhugh, the publisher of the Sudbury, Mass.-based Concord Review, a quarterly scholarly journal that publishes secondary students’ academic writing, said he is skeptical of whether there is any application of automated essay graders that would enhance students’ educational experience.
Contrary to those concerned about how the technology would change the roles of teachers, Mr. Fitzhugh said the greater issue is that such software encourages the assignment of compositions to be written in class and the use of assessments in which learning the content before writing about it is undervalued.
And he disputes the notion that understanding organization, sentence structure, and grammar alone is enough to give students the writing command they’ll need in future careers.
“The idea that the world of business or the world of whatever wants you to write something you know nothing about in 25 minutes is just a mistake,” Mr. Fitzhugh said. “I haven’t looked deeply into what the computer is looking at, but I don’t think they are capable of understanding what the student is actually saying.”

Oconomowoc — unanswered questions

Regarding Oconomowoc’s proposal to let go 20% of its high school teachers, get rid of prep time, give the remaining teachers a $14,000 pay increase, and evidently move to a flipped classroom model supported by some kind of online system that provides content and creates individualized learning plans for the students —
It’s extraordinarily bold, and it may represent the wave of the future, but — I’m glad they’re going first. Reading between the lines of the Journal-Sentinel article, their plan will put a lot of weight on an online learning system that students will use at home, at night. The system will assess where each kid is on a learning continuum (probably the Common Core) and will “deliver appropriate content.” Teachers, during school, will help the kids with their homework. This is why the concept is called a “flipped classroom.” I’m oversimplifying, but this is the basic concept.
Some of this sounds good. Depending on class size, kids could end up getting more personalized attention from teachers than they do under the current lecture format. Kids also might have more opportunities to collaborate and problem solve together than they do now, lined up in rows and facing forward.
But there are concerns, too. A lot of students don’t even do schoolwork when at home, which means that in a flipped model they would never learn the subject matter in the first place. Online systems of this kind are expensive, which will put pressure on districts to increase class size. This could come to seem palatable since more and more of the instruction will be happening out of class, but it could backfire: the model depends on teachers having a manageable number of kids to help. And, most worrisome, online systems to support a flipped classroom are in their infancy. If I had kids at Oconomowoc HS, I’d be extremely concerned.
It would be nice if the Chris Rickerts of the world, before trumpeting the value of whatever disrupts the status quo, would look a little closer at the details, and ask a few more questions.

Narrow, Misguided and Uncorrected !

To Kathleen Porter Magee, via email:
“Of course, teachers should carefully consider how they can best hit the targets laid out in the Common Core. Obviously the vision outlined by Coleman and Pimentel isn’t the only path to implementation. Careful analysis is needed to determine how best to drive achievement in this new environment. However, in this case, it’s obvious from the outset that Chaffee and his colleagues were impervious to change. Unless the presenter was going to mirror back to them exactly the kinds of things that they’ve always done–perhaps with some tweaks, but certainly within the narrow constraints of their own vision of excellence–they were not open to the ideas. That is not the pathway to meaningful reform.
Worse, the particulars of Chaffee’s criticisms are often misguided (and apparently went uncorrected).”
Douglas McGregor, Sloan School, MIT, The Human Side of Enterprise
Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1960, p. 163-164
“The Appropriate Role of Staff
The appropriate role of any major staff group…is that of providing professional help to all levels of management. In some cases, such as engineering, the help is provided primarily to one or two functions, e.g., manufacturing and sales. In other cases, such as accounting and personnel, the help is provided to all other functions.
The hierarchical nature of the organization has tended to focus attention on help given to the level at which the staff group reports. Rewards and punishments for staff members come from there. Moreover, prestige and status are greater the higher level of ‘attachment.’ In large companies, where there are both headquarters and field staff groups, it is particularly important that the headquarters groups recognize and accept their responsibilities for providing help to all levels of management.
The provision of professional help is a subtle and complex process. Perhaps the most critical point–and the one hardest to keep clearly in mind–is that help is always defined by the recipient. Taking an action with respect to someone because ‘it is best for him,’ or because ‘it is for the good of the organization,’ may be influencing him, but it is not providing help unless he so perceives it. Headquarters staff groups tend to rationalize many of their activities on the field organization in a paternalistic manner and, as a consequence, fail to see that they are relying on inappropriate methods of control. When the influence is unsuccessful, the usual reaction occurs: The recipients of the ‘help’ are seen as resistant, stupid, indifferent to organizational needs, etc. The provision of help, like any other form of control or influence, requires selective adaptation to natural law. One important characteristic of ‘natural law’ in this case is that help is defined by the recipient…
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Why are our high schools invisible?

Jay Matthews:

Which better reflects who you are, your high school or your college?
For most Americans, the answer is high school. Half of us did not attend college. Many college graduates think, as I do, that our high schools are more in tune with our habits and tastes.
So why don’t we mention them? Why is it, in any detailed writing about a person, the college is often mentioned but the high school is not? The exceptions — like the San Diego Air and Space Museum identifying the Apollo 9 astronauts’s high schools (Western in D.C., Central Kalamazoo in Michigan and Manasquan in New Jersey) — are rare surprises.
High school defines us. It is an educational experience we nearly all share. Useful abilities, such as reading, writing, math and our own peculiar talents, for the most part take root in high school, or don’t, to our sorrow. High school offers lessons in love, social dynamics, news and what we are most likely to enjoy in our adult lives, at work and play. Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif., gave me more than my colleges, Occidental and Harvard.

$9,860/student vs. $14,858.40/student; Paying for Educational Priorities and/or Structural Change: Oconomowoc vs. Madison

Chris Rickert summarizes a bit of recent Madison School Board decision making vis a vis educational outcomes. Contrast this with the recent governance news (more) from Oconomowoc; a community 58 miles east of Madison.

Moreover, it’s not like Madisonians are certain to oppose a large tax hike, especially given the way they responded to Walker’s bid to kill collective bargaining.
Before that idea became law, the board voted for — and the community supported — extending union contracts. Unions agreed to some $21 million in concessions in return for two years’ worth of protection from the law’s restrictions.
But the board could have effectively stripped the union of seniority protections, forced members to pay more for health insurance, ended automatic pay raises and taken other actions that would have been even worse for union workers — but that also would have saved taxpayers lots of money.
Board members didn’t do that because they knew protecting employees was important to the people they represent. They should be able to count on a similar dedication to public schooling in asking for the money to pay for the district’s latest priorities.

Christian D’Andrea

The changes would have a significant effect on teachers that the district retains. Starting positions – though it’s unclear how many would be available due to the staff reduction – would go from starting at a $36,000 salary to a $50,000 stipend. The average teacher in the district would see his or her pay rise from $57,000 to $71,000. It’s a move that would not only reward educators for the extra work that they would take on, but could also have a significant effect in luring high-level teachers to the district.
In essence, the district is moving forward with a plan that will increase the workload for their strong teachers, but also increase their pay to reflect that shift. In cutting staff, the district has the flexibility to raise these salaries while saving money thanks to the benefit packages that will not have to be replaced. Despite the shuffle, class sizes and course offerings will remain the same, though some teachers may not. It’s a bold move to not only retain the high school’s top performers, but to lure good teachers from other districts to the city.
Tuesday’s meeting laid out the first step of issuing non-renewal notices to the 15 teachers that will not be retained. The school board will vote on the reforms as a whole on next month.

The Madison School District has, to date, been unwilling to substantively change it’s model, one that has been around for decades. The continuing use of Reading Recovery despite its cost and lower than average performance is one example.
With respect to facilities spending, perhaps it would be useful to look into the 2005 maintenance referendum spending & effectiveness.
It is my great “hope” (hope and change?) that Madison’s above average spending, in this case, 33% more per student than well to do Oconomowoc, nearby higher education institutions and a very supportive population will ultimately improve the curriculum and provide a superior environment for great teachers.

Posted images of California school tests raise cheating concerns

Howard Blume:

Hundreds of photos of standardized tests have begun to appear on social-networking sites in California, raising concerns about test security and cheating by students.
In the worst-case scenario, the photos could lead to invalidating test scores for entire schools or prevent the state from using certain tests. For now, officials have warned school districts to heighten test security and investigate breaches. Students are not allowed to have access to cellphones or other devices that can take pictures when the tests are administered.
“Test security was compromised when students posted images of actual test questions, answer documents and test booklets to social networking sites,” Deb Sigman, a state Department of Education deputy superintendent, said in a letter Friday to school districts. “You have a responsibility to prevent any such incidences in the future.”
Educators involved in testing sign an affidavit asserting that they follow and enforce all rules.

Common Core standards driving wedge in education circles

Greg Toppo:

A high-profile effort by a pair of national education groups to strengthen, simplify and focus the building blocks of elementary and secondary education is finally making its way into schools. But two years ahead of its planned implementation, critics on both the right and left are seizing upon it. A few educators say the new standards, supported by the U.S. Department of Education, are untested, and one Republican governor wants to block the measure, saying it’s a federal intrusion into local decisions.
How did something so simple become so fraught?
The story begins in 2009, when the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced an effort to create voluntary national standards in math and reading. All but four states — Arkansas, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — quickly signed on to the standards, known as the Common Core, agreeing to help create then implement them by 2014. Their decision was helped partly by President Obama, who has tied “college and career-ready standards” to billions in federal grants. Last September, he all but required adoption of the Common Core if states want to receive federal waivers from the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.

Much more on the common core, here.

The brain drain, as seen through one professor’s eyes

Craig Maher:

I read an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a few months ago with great interest. It was the story of a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professor who was struggling to make ends meet. My story is not entirely different from his, except that I had the opportunity to make a change, and it led me to accept a position with a university just south of Wisconsin’s border.
My story is one that I fear is being replicated throughout the UW System.
In order to put my recent decision in context, I think it is useful to share a portion of my life story (albeit a condensed version). I was born in Green Bay and moved to Milwaukee at a young age. I attended Forest Home Elementary School, Kosciuszko Middle School and Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School.
No one in my family had ever attended college before my older brother did. A few years later, I followed him to UWM. I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctorate from UWM. Upon graduation, I took a research position in Madison but remained in Milwaukee because my wife and I enjoyed the area and were closer to family (my wife grew up in Greendale, attended Marquette University and has been working at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for the past 22 years).

Trying to Shed Student Debt

Josh Mitchell:

The growth of student debt is stirring debate about whether the government should step in to ease the burden by rewriting the bankruptcy laws–again.
In 2005, Congress prohibited student debt from being discharged through bankruptcy, except in rare cases, because of concerns that many young graduates–who often have no major assets such as a house or a car–would be tempted to walk away from loan obligations.
Some lawmakers now want to temper that position, pointing to concerns that a significant number of Americans could be buried under education loans for decades. Their efforts, however, would apply only to private loans–a fraction of the market.

Comments: What’s Wrong With Education in the U.S.?

David Wessel:

On whether a degree is necessary and importance of the choice of major:
Paul Elliott:
Like home ownership, Americans are obsessed with the importance of obtaining a college degree, and so it gets over-emphasized and over-subsidized through student loans that lead in many cases to too many people paying ever-higher tuition rates at mediocre colleges and obtaining a worthless degree. Look at Germany, whose population has a much lower percentage of college degrees than the U.S., but it still has a low unemployment rate and a solid manufacturing economy. We need to recognize that vocational occupations like mechanics, machinists, electricians, and plumbers are worthy alternatives to college.
Andrew Black:
Um, quality and usefulness of education is being ignored here? It isn’t a fact that more education means better jobs or a better workforce. Too many kids are majoring in sociology, women’s studies, and other useless fields of study that do not equate to any measurable economic benefit.
Also, they gloss over the fact that many people choose to go to college and rack up debt, when many of them would be better served going to a professional school or a trade school.

The Criminalization of Bad Mothers

Ada Calhoun:

On a rainy day just after Thanksgiving, Amanda Kimbrough played with her 2-year-old daughter in her raw-wood-paneled living room, petting her terriers and half-watching TV. Kimbrough, who is 32, lives a few miles outside Russellville, a town of fewer than 10,000 in rural northwestern Alabama, near the border of Franklin and Colbert Counties. Textiles were the economic engine of the area until the 1990s, when the industry went into decline and mills shut down. Now one of the region’s leading employers is Pilgrim’s, a chicken supplier. The median household income is $31,213, and more than a third of children live below the poverty line.

Mathematics curriculum development in Finland – unexpected effects

Olli Martio – University of Helsinki, Marticulation Board in Finland, via a kind Richard Askey email:

Curricula changes in the Finnish school system have taken place in 8-10 year intervals. They have been recorded in the official curricula for schools by the Finnish Ministry of Education. However, these texts do not provide a complete picture since they are rather short of details. Schools can freely choose their textbooks and there is neither an official inspection nor an official approval for the textbooks. The system is based on the free market principle. Because of this textbooks, and the practice of teaching, should also be studied in order to understand the Finnish mathematics curriculum. A similar situation prevails in many other countries.
The leading ideas, from the point of view of people working in pedagogy, from 1960 on were “New Math” (1960-1970), “Back to Basics” (1968-80) and “Problem Solving”(1978- ), see [M1] and [PAL]. These trends have appeared in many other countries as well. However, these key words do not give a proper picture what really happened in the mathematics curriculum and education.
In Finland these trends had the following effects on the mathematics curriculum.

  • Mathematics at school became descriptive – exact definitions and proofs were largely omitted.
  • Geometry and trigonometry were neglected.
  • Computations were performed by calculators and numbers and not on a more advanced level.

“Problem Solving” and putting emphasis on calculators have taken time from explaining the basic principles and ideas in mathematics. It should be also remembered that with the invention of calculators and computers the pressure to traditional mathematics teaching increased enormously since a general believe in 1960-70 was that all the mathematical problems can be solved by computers and hence the traditional school mathematics is useless. This criticism did not come from ordinary laymen only but from well known scientists as well and this attitude was very much adopted by people working in education and didactics. These ideas had a profound effect on the changes in the Finnish school curriculum.

2012 WSMA State Festival Madison Area High School Student Event Counts

I’ve periodically wondered what the downstream effects of the Madison School District’s mid-2000’s war on the long running strings program might be. Perhaps this chart is a place to begin the discussion.
Of course there may be many other explanations, from staff changes, student interests and so on. That said, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony continues to be popular.
Data via The Wisconsin School Music Association. Note that I looked around the WSMA site extensively for Sun Prairie counts, but failed to find any.
Per Student Spending:
Middleton 2011-2012 budget: $87,676,611 for 6,421 students = $13,654.67/student, about 8% less than Madison.
Madison spends $14,858.40/student (2011-2012 budget)
Waunakee spends $12,953.81/student about 13% less than Madison.

Public Comments on Madison’s Achievement Gap Plans

Matthew DeFour, via a kind reader’s email:

Madison community members say an extended school day, career academies, cultural training for teachers, alternative discipline, more contact between school staff and parents and recruiting minority students to become teachers are some of the best strategies for raising achievement levels of low-income and minority students.
However, some of those same ideas — such as adding an extra hour in the morning and emphasizing career training over college preparation for some students — are raising the most questions and concerns.
Those are a few of the key findings of a two-month public-input process on Superintendent Dan Nerad’s achievement gap plan.
The district released a summary report Friday. Nerad plans to revise the plan based on the public’s response and deliver a final proposal to the School Board on May 14.
Nerad said there is clearer support for more parent engagement and cultural training for teachers, than for an extended school day. He said not everyone may have understood that students who focus on a technical rather than liberal arts education might still go on to college after they graduate.

Additional reader notes:

There are profound deficiencies in the methodology and attempted “analysis” in the district’s and Hanover reports (, but it’s interesting to see the district’s summary of staff input on literacy (page 2 of Marcia Standiford’s memo):
“4. Literacy – Start early with a consistent curriculm [sic]
Support for an emphasis on literacy was evident among the comments. Staff members called for a consistent program and greater supports at the middle and high school levels. Several questioned why the recommendations emphasized third grade rather than starting at earlier grades. Comments also called for bringing fidelity and consistency to the literacy curriculum. Several comments expressed concern that dedicating extra time to literacy would come at the expense of math or other content areas.” And a somewhat buried lede in the Hanover report (p. 3 of the report, p. 21 of the pdf):
“Nine focus groups mentioned the reading recovery [sic] program, all of whom felt negatively about the strategy.” and (p. 10 of the report, p. 29 of the pdf) “Nine comments referred to the reading recovery plan, all of which were negative. Comments noted that ‘reading recovery has failed’ and ‘reading recovery has not been effective in Madison Schools.’ None of the comments supported reading recovery.”

Madison School District related website comments includes: specific criticism of Reading Recovery from Amy Rogers: and this from Chan Stroman-Roll:
60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

How to Handle Little Liars

Sue Shellenbarger:

When Cindy Ballagh’s 10-year-old son Kaden lost his portable videogame recently, she asked him where he last put it. His answer: on his dresser.
After they spent several minutes searching on, under and all around the dresser, she happened to spot the game–buried in his bed. He had been playing with it there the night before and broke a rule by falling asleep with it, says Ms. Ballagh, of Clarksville, Tenn. Frustrated, she told Kaden he would get in less trouble if he would “just be honest and tell the truth.”
It’s a tense moment–one almost all parents experience: You look in your child’s eyes and realize: “He’s lying.”

The Trust Molecule

Paul Zak:

Why are some of us caring and some of us cruel, some generous and some greedy? Paul J. Zakon the new science of morality– and how it could be used to create a more virtuous society.
Could a single molecule–one chemical substance–lie at the very center of our moral lives?
Research that I have done over the past decade suggests that a chemical messenger called oxytocin accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted louts, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and why women tend to be nicer and more generous than men. In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.

Student Debt Sparks a Fight

Josh Mitchell & Corey Boles:

Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed this week to approve new subsidies for college students but clashed on how to offset the $6 billion cost of the measure so it doesn’t add to the federal deficit, setting up a potential election-year showdown over budget policy.
House Republicans plan to vote as early as Friday to freeze the interest rates on certain federal student loans at 3.4% for the year that starts July 1. The lawmakers plan to make up the unrealized revenue by tapping money that was directed by the 2010 health-care overhaul to fund investment in illness-detection procedures. Without congressional action, the rate on the loans would double on July 1 to the 6.8% level that applies to the most commonly used type of federal student loan. Loans issued before July 1wouldn’t be affected.

Education Slowdown Threatens U.S.

David Wessel & Stephanie Banchero:

Throughout American history, almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents.
That is no longer true.
When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, who have calculated the average years of schooling for native-born Americans back to 1876.
In contrast, when Americans born in 1980 turned 30 in 2010, they averaged about eight months more schooling than their parents.

Teacher scorecards might sound easy, but good ones carry a price

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services:

Minnesota is in the midst of developing a new teacher evaluation system, one that Republican lawmakers would like to use to make layoff decisions based on performance rather than seniority.
The movement to overhaul how teachers are rated has picked up steam nationwide, fueled in part by President Barack Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition. But as states such as Rhode Island and Colorado are finding out, developing intricate performance measures requires more time and money than they bargained for.
“It’s easy to make broad statements about goals and how this is going to work. But the devil’s always in the detail,” said Rose Hermodson, assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education.

Oconomowoc plan a recipe for burnout

Teacher Mark Miner:

I have taught 28 years in the Oconomowoc Area School District, the last 25 at Oconomowoc High School. I am retiring at the end of this year so I have some perspective on the proposed “transformation” of the high school. I also have the luxury of being able to speak my mind without fear of repercussion.
Media coverage has focused on how the transformation is a bold educational innovation. However, there is more to the story.
For most of the years I have taught, there has been a genuine feeling of collaboration and teamwork among administrators, teachers and support staff. That has quickly eroded this past year into a culture of fear. Teachers fear that by speaking up, by questioning, they may be putting their careers in jeopardy.
I do not believe this is the kind of culture our school administration wants, but it is what we have. And now they are going to compound this situation by taking away the most valuable resource a teacher has: time.
I have been, as have many teachers, to many workshops over the years where innovative and exciting ideas and programs have been put forth on how to better meet the needs of students. Teachers come away thinking: If only we could . . . well we could . . . if we had the time.
Without a doubt, the No. 1 limiting factor in the successful implementation of new ideas and programs is time – the time to read, to mull over, to discuss, to plan, the time to create, to implement, to evaluate and to make changes.

Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

The Great Middle Class Power Grab

Philip Stevens:

I keep stumbling across unswerving predictions that the future belongs to China. Or, perhaps to the contrary, that the Middle Kingdom will always struggle to challenge US primacy. Don’t ask where India and Brazil fit in. Enjoyable as it is, this exercise in the remaking of the geopolitical landscape is also something of a diversion. The 21st century will not be shaped by the abstract choices of states. Transformative power will belong to a new global middle class.
The story of the past couple of decades has been of the great shift of economic weight and geopolitical influence from west to east. This rebalancing still has some way to go. However, comparisons of the relative position of established and emerging powers obscure some of the more fundamental drivers of change. What is happening within states is every bit as interesting as what might change in the relationships between them. Within 20 years or so a world that is now predominantly poor will be mostly middle class.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The California Exodus

Richard Rider:

For decades, California was regarded as the domestic paradise of the United States, lush with beautiful views and ample resources. This no longer seems to be the case. While many insist that those who reside in California are among the happiest in the country, studies show that Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.
In an interview with demographer Joel Kotkin, the Wall Street Journal found that this exodus of California residents is enormous in scale — with potentially profound impacts.

  • Nearly 4 million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states.
  • This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving.
  • According to Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45; in other words, young families.

Mr. Kotkin’s analysis has found that the driving factors behind families’ decisions to move to states like Nevada and Texas include:

The New Sisterhood: Teenage Pregnancy Pacts


Our teens are fighting in a war that they can’t handle themselves.
This is just one of the many “pregnancy pacts” that teenage girls in communities and schools across the country are participating in. The girls create these pacts to form a sisterhood. They want to feel apart of something and have an image they can all identify with. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to be young, single parents, birthing these children into an environment of instability and poverty, instead of aspiring to be lawyers, doctors, writers, engineers and scientists. Instead of game parties and movie nights, our teen girls are a apart of a group effort to get pregnant and give birth together.

Former students from other side of achievement gap weigh in on proposed solutions

Matthew DeFour:

Dominique Gaines, 22, has lived in Wisconsin foster homes most of his life. As he moved between schools he would miss lessons and fall behind. Eventually he dropped out.
Looking back he said he would have benefited from more hands-on, technical classes and experiences, similar to what he does now as a participant in Operation Fresh Start.
“It would have been nice to actively use the brain,” Gaines said.
Gaines and other Operation Fresh Start participants have experiences common among students whom the Madison School District wants to help with its sweeping achievement gap plan. They also have a unique perspective on how best to reach struggling students.
In their opinion, the best strategies for improving low-income and minority student achievement are providing assistance to transient families, offering students that cause trouble other outlets for their energy, and creating career academy programs, according to a recent survey.

Madison Teachers Inc. finds ‘one more reason to recall’ Walker

Todd Finkelmeyer:

The leadership of Madison Teachers Inc. is letting its membership know it has unearthed yet another reason to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
In its weekly “Solidarity!” newsletter that was mailed out Friday, the union warns how administrative rules recently released by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission related to the implementation of Act 10 could result in teachers’ pay being cut.
“This is causing a lot of angst,” says John Matthews, executive director of MTI.
“This could be very bad for teachers,” adds state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, who sits on the Assembly’s Committee on Education. “These rules allow for teachers’ base pay to be redefined, and I think that’s absurd.”
The roots of this story reach back to last summer, when Act 10 eliminated most public employees’ ability to collectively bargain over virtually anything except “base wages.” Even then, workers are limited to bargaining over raises that can’t exceed the consumer price index (CPI), unless voters approve a hike via a referendum.
After receiving requests to explain what “base wages” could be bargained over, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) — a state agency designed to settle labor disputes — worked on rules to clarify the matter.

Two Madison students named Presidential Scholars semifinalists

Wisconsin State Journal:

Two Madison students are among 10 from Wisconsin who have been named semifinalists for the 2012 Presidential Scholars award, the nation’s highest honor for graduating high school seniors.
Suman Gunasekaran, a senior at Memorial High School, and Joanna Q. Weng, a senior at West High School, are among the 550 national semifinalists for the program.
About 3,300 students out of nearly 3.2 million graduating seniors were identified as candidates for the award based on their performance on college admissions tests. The semifinalists were selected by a national committee based on essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports and transcripts.
The Presidential Scholars program was established in 1964 to recognize and honor some of our nation’s most distinguished high school students. Presidential Scholars are selected each year to travel to Washington for an awards ceremony along with a teacher whom they identify as having been most influential in their education.

Chinese Christian High School in Alameda Taps Into Growing Demand From China for Access to U.S. Education System

Joel Millman:

Tom Zhou arrived from Beijing three years ago to attend Chinese Christian High School here. The 17-year-old is graduating in June and is set to attend the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall.
In China, “high school is just tests” with no emphasis on personal development, says Mr. Zhou. But at CCHS, “we learn to learn like Americans,” he says.
Going to a U.S. high school and learning to learn like Americans are what increasing numbers of students in China are hoping to do in order to improve their chances of getting into an American college, CCHS says. As an evangelical private high school with experience teaching students from China, CCHS has been taking in more of these overseas students and is starting to refer others to like-minded Christian high schools in the U.S.

Seattle Superintendent Candidate Press Conferences

Steven Enoch Press Conference by Melissa Westbrook:

You came saying you were looking for a good fit between you and the district. What do you think?
I hope my perspective can be useful and that I can be a good leader for this district but that’s for the Board to determine. I really enjoyed visiting schools and seeing the good work going on.
We understand that your Special Ed program has been recognized as a model for inclusion; could you tell us about it and your thoughts on Special Ed?
The model for inclusion is the right thing to do for most kids (recognizing that some students have more severe disabilities). The secret to success is 1)have teachers who receive these students in their class know the IEP and its goals/outcomes, 2) aides with kids who need them but be sure that the aides don’t solely focus on child to the point where the child isn’t part of the class (what looks the least restrictive could be more restrictive). He said you need good communication between your special education director and teachers. He said in his district they did have to cut admn staff but that they kept the staffing in Special Ed and had a Special Ed ombudsman to help parents navigate the system AND keep staff updated.

Sandy Husk by Melissa Westbrook.
Video is available here.

Big reward for your teaching strategies

Jay Matthews:

Here is an example of a school assignment sent to me by an inventive high school psychology teacher:
“To gain a better understanding of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, you will go to a toy store and choose one toy for each stage of development. In a paper, you will discuss what aspect of the toy corresponds with what developmental milestone in Piaget’s theory. Additionally you will discuss the issue of gender identity formation, based on your visit to the toy store.”
It is one of many such ideas that pop up on my Class Struggle blog. The teacher who forwarded the assignment, Patrick Mattimore, suggested an activity in which readers send in effective teaching strategies. He and I would select the best entries. Knowing the state of newsroom budgets, Mattimore suggested a reward of some value but no cost: publicity for the winner.

Ohio State’s Gordon Gee proposes “differential” tuition

Daniel de Vise:

Differential tuition” as a pricing concept doesn’t get much discussion in higher education; it’s easy to get lost in the variables. But Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University and a national higher education leader, says he’s thinking about it. “We do have to start differentiating tuition costs,” he said, in a visit to the Post this week.
Maybe the practice isn’t so uncommon as we think.
A recent survey by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, reported in Inside Higher Ed, found 143 public institutions that had differential tuition policies, meaning that they charge different rates for students with different majors.

Online courses may make graduation too easy

Jay Matthews:

Russell Rumberger, a scholar with an encyclopedic grasp of the drop-out issue, has doubts about the latest, hottest cure — online credit recovery. That means letting struggling students take courses on a computer without the annoyances of listening to a teacher or doing homework.
Online credit recovery accounts for about half of all instruction in the $2 billion online-education industry, with great potential for good, many educators say. But Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says he knows of a student who got a D in English so took an online course that required reading only one book — “To Kill A Mockingbird” — and about 12 hours of work on a computer over one week.
The student received an A for that one-semester credit. “Online credit recovery offers students a quicker and more flexible way to earn high school credits,” said Rumberger, author of “Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It.” But, he said, “there is generally insufficient evidence and accountability to ensure that the online courses are as rigorous and impart as much learning as traditional courses.”

Head Start Faces a New Test

Stephanie Banchero:

Some local Head Start programs for the first time will have to compete for a share of $7.6 billion in federal funding under a plan aimed at weeding out low-performing preschool centers.
In its initial move, the Obama administration recently told 132 Head Start programs across the country that they have been identified as deficient, including the nation’s largest programs in Los Angeles County and New York City.
The targeted programs, which serve low-income three- and four-year-olds, won’t lose current funding. But instead of having their grants renewed automatically, as has been the practice, the programs now have to prove they are effective in preparing children for kindergarten before they will be given future funding.
The move is part of the administration’s broader goal to infuse competition and accountability into public education from preschool through college.

Ed Dept seeks to bring test-based assessment to teacher prep programs

Valerie Strauss:

The Obama administration wants to expand the use of standardized test scores as an accountability tool from K-12 into higher education.
The Education Department just tried — and failed — to persuade a group of negotiators to agree to regulations that would rate colleges of education in large part on how K-12 students being taught by their graduates perform on standardized tests. As part of this scheme, financial aid to students in these programs would not be based entirely on need but, rather, would also be linked to test scores.
The department’s plans assume that standardized test scores can reliably and validly be used for such accountability purposes . Most researchers in this field say they can’t — for a number of reasons, including the limitations of the tests themselves — and therefore shouldn’t be used for any high stakes decision in education anywhere. They say that making test scores so important is one of the negative consequences of the last decade of No Child Left Behind, and shouldn’t be continued.

Top-Third Tina, Bottom-Third Barry

Neerav Kingsland:

There’s been some good blogging lately on how to interpret the studies on Teach For America (TFA) teacher effectiveness – see Matthew Di Carlo and Adam Ozimek. But neither addresses the research from a Relinquisher standpoint. Here’s what they say:
Matt’s takeaway: TFA teachers are by most standards “talented” – i.e., they went to selective universities, graduated at the top of their class, are motivated, and work hard. But they don’t dramatically outperform traditional teachers. So perhaps that link between recruiting “talented” teachers and increasing test scores isn’t as tight as it might seem.
Adam’s takeaway: TFA teachers get five weeks of training and achieve roughly the same results as teachers who go through much longer university-based training programs. So imagine what “talented” TFA-type folks could do if they actually had more training.

Anacostia school is among those in pilot program stressing the arts

Lyndsey Layton:

In its effort to transform ­the nation’s worst-performing schools, the Obama administration is launching an unusual experiment to pump up arts education in eight struggling schools, including one in the District.
The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, working with the Education Department, will announce a plan Monday to infuse art, music, dance, theater and other forms of creative expression into the schools over a two-year period.
Officials involved in the project want to prove a theory: Robust art, music, dance and theater can set failing schools on a path to academic success.

The Frozen Future of Nonfiction

Reviewed by Seth Mnookin:

hy The Net Matters: How the Internet Will Save Civilization. By David Eagleman, Canongate Books, 2010. (For iPad)
Unless you landed at Download the Universe with the mistaken impression that it’s a new torrent aggregator, chances are you’re already familiar with David Eagleman, the 40-year-old Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist/author/futurist. Perhaps you’re one of the millions of people around the world who was dazzled by Sum, Eagleman’s breathtaking, oftentimes brilliant, collection of short stories about the afterlife–or perhaps it was Incognito, Eagleman’s exploration of the unconscious, that caught your eye. (It’s not everyday, after all, that a pop-sci book pulls off the tricky balancing act of simultaneously appealing to the cognoscenti and the hoi polloi.)

Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams

David Jaffee:

Among the problems on college campuses today are that students study for exams and faculty encourage them to do so.
I expect that many faculty members will be appalled by this assertion and regard it as a form of academic heresy. If anything, they would argue, students don’t study enough for exams; if they did, the educational system would produce better results. But this simple and familiar phrase–“study for exams”–which is widely regarded as a sign of responsible academic practice, actually encourages student behaviors and dispositions that work against the larger purpose of human intellectual development and learning. Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.

Talking With Your Fingers

John McWhorter:

The latest word on the street about English in America – always bad, it seems – is that the shaggy construction of texting and e-mail spells the death of formal writing. Yet the truth about English in America – always sunnier, in fact – is that the looseness and creativity of these new ways of writing are a sign of a new sophistication in our society. This becomes clear when we understand that in the proper sense, e-mail and texting are not writing at all.
Historical perspective is useful. Writing was only invented roughly 5,500 years ago with the emergence of cuneiform picture writing in Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey, whereas humanity arose a good 200,000 years ago, with language probably tracing back at least 50,000 years and most likely much further. According to one estimate, if Homo sapiens had existed for 24 hours, writing only came along after 11 p.m.

At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem

Daniel de Vise:

There are no professors in Virginia Tech’s largest classroom, only a sea of computers and red plastic cups.
In the Math Emporium, the computer is king, and instructors are reduced to roving guides. Lessons are self-paced, and help is delivered “on demand” in a vast, windowless lab that is open 24 hours a day because computers never tire. A student in need of human aid plants a red cup atop a monitor.
The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning. Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays.

HBO puts Madison, schools in obesity spotlight

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School District’s lunch program serves as a window into the national debate over school nutrition and childhood obesity in an upcoming documentary film series.
The documentary, set to air on HBO on May 14 and 15 and for free on, also features two Madison families who participate in the UW Hospital’s Pediatric Fitness Clinic.
The four-part series, titled “The Weight of the Nation” and produced in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, is intended as a wake-up call for the country. According to the CDC, over the past 30 years the adult obesity rate has doubled and the child obesity rate has almost tripled, fueling a surge in heart and kidney disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes.
But the segment featuring Madison schools as the typical American cafeteria experience should alarm a city that prides itself on its farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, said Martha Pings, a local parent nutrition advocate who appears in the film.

Governance: Changing Expectations in Oconomowoc – Paying Fewer High School Teachers More

Erin Richards:

In a move sure to capture the attention of school districts across the state grappling with how to reallocate resources in a time of reduced funding, the Oconomowoc Area School District administration on Tuesday proposed a profound restructuring of its high school, cutting staff and demanding the remaining educators take on more teaching duties.
The kicker: Those remaining staffers would each get a $14,000 annual stipend.
The plan requires reducing Oconomowoc High School’s core teaching force by about 20% – from about 75 to about 60 people – across the departments of math, science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, physical education and art, Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker said Tuesday before a school board meeting where the plan’s details were released.
Oconomowoc’s dramatic step reflects a district responding to reduced resources amid an urgent push to reshape teaching, with newfound leeway to adjust compensation, staffing and school structures without having to bargain with unions.
“We haven’t ever moved around the pieces in education like this,” Neudecker said, adding that even with the stipends next year, the district would save $500,000 annually under the new plan.
“Our expectations are changing for teachers, but we’re also going to deploy resources to help them change,” Neudecker said.

Structural change rather than just ongoing, overall spending increases.
Oconomowoc’s 2011-2012 budget is $51,381,000 for 5,211 students results in per student spending of $9,860, 33% less than Madison. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $369,394,753 for 24,861 = $14,858.40/student.
Update: Alan Borsuk:

Oconomowoc Superintendent Pat Neudecker calls the plan “the right thing to do for our students, our schools and the teaching profession.” Even before the financial belt got much tighter across Wisconsin, she was an advocate of changing classroom life to take better advantage of technology and make education more customized for students. Neudecker is currently president of the American Association of School Administrators; she was a leading figure in developing a statement issued by a group of Milwaukee area educators in 2010 that called for these kinds of changes.
Now, talk turns into action. Act 10, the Republican-backed state law that pretty much wiped out the role of teachers unions in school life, and cuts in education spending create the landscape for Oconomowoc to make big changes.
Oconomowoc High uses a block schedule, which means its days are built around four periods of about 90 minutes each, rather than, say, seven of 50 minutes. Generally, teachers teach three blocks and get one to work on things such as preparation. (If you think three blocks is a fairly light schedule, that’s because you haven’t done it.)
There is a big need to reduce spending for next year. For many school districts, that is going to mean reducing staff, keeping a tight grip on salary and benefits (as allowed now by state law), reducing offerings and increasing some class sizes – the four pillars of school cost cutting.

Implementation of Wisconsin’s Statutory Screening Requirement

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email [170K PDF]:

The selection of an early reading screener for Wisconsin is a decision of critical importance. Selecting the best screener will move reading instruction forward statewide. Selecting a lesser screener will be a missed opportunity at best, and could do lasting harm to reading instruction if the choice is mediocre or worse.
After apparently operating for some time under the misunderstanding that the Read to Lead Task Force had mandated the Phonological Assessment and Literacy Screen (PALS), the Department of Public Instruction is now faced with some time pressure to set up and move through a screener evaluation process. Regardless of the late start, there is still more than enough time to evaluate screeners and have the best option in place for the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, which by definition is the time when annual screeners are administered.
The list of possible screeners is fairly short, and the law provides certain criteria for selection that help limit the options. Furthermore, by using accepted standards for assessment and understanding the statistical properties of the assessments (psychometrics), it is possible to quickly reduce the list of candidates further.
Is One Screener Clearly the Best?
One screener does seem to separate itself from the rest. The Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR) is consistently the best, or among the best, in all relevant criteria. This comment is not a comparison of PAR to all known screeners, but comparing PAR to PALS does reveal many of its superior benefits.
Both PAR and PALS assess letter/sound knowledge and phonemic awareness, as required by the statute.
In addition, PAR assesses the important areas of rapid naming and oral vocabulary. To the best of our knowledge, PAR is the only assessment that includes these skills in a comprehensive screening package. That extra data contributes unique information to identify children at risk, including those from low-language home environments, and consequently improves the validity of the assessment, as discussed below.
Both PAR and PALS have high reliability scores that meet the statutory requirement. PAR (grades K-3) scores .92, PALS-K (kindergarten) scores .99, and PALS (grades 1-3) scores .92. Reliability simply refers to the expected uniformity of results on repeated administrations of an assessment. A perfectly reliable measurement might still have the problem of being consistently inaccurate, but an unreliable measurement always has problems. Reliability is necessary, but not sufficient, for a quality screener. To be of value, a screener must be valid.
In the critical area of validity, PAR outscores PALS by a considerable margin. Validity, which is also required by the statute, is a measure of how well a given scale measures what it actually intends to measure; leaving nothing out and including nothing extra. In the case of a reading screener, it is validity that indicates how completely and accurately the assessment captures the reading performance of all students who take it. Validity is both much harder to achieve than reliability, and far more important.
On a scale of 0-1, the validity coefficient (r-value) of PAR is .92, compared to validity coefficients of .75 for PALS-K and .68 for PALS. It is evident that PAR outscores PALS-K and PALS, but the validity coefficients by themselves do not reveal the full extent of the difference. Because the scale is not linear, the best way to compare validity coefficients is to square them, creating r-squared values. You can think of this number as the percentage of success in achieving accurate measurement. Measuring human traits and skills is very hard, so there is always some error, or noise. Sometimes, there is quite a lot.
When we calculate r-squared values, we get .85 for PAR, .56 for PALS-K, and .46 for PALS. This means that PAR samples 51 to 84 percent more of early reading ability than the PALS assessments. The PALS assessments measure about as much random variance (noise) as actual early reading ability. Validity is not an absolute concept, but must always be judged relative to the other options available in the current marketplace. Compared to some other less predictive assessments, we might conclude that PALS has valid performance. However, compared to PAR, it is difficult to claim that PALS is valid, as required by law.
PAR is able to achieve this superior validity in large part because it has used 20 years of data from a National Institutes of Health database to determine exactly which sub-tests best predict reading struggles. As a consequence, PAR includes rapid naming and oral vocabulary, while excluding pseudo-word reading and extensive timing of sub-tests.
PAR is norm-referenced on a diverse, national sample of over 14,000 children. That allows teachers to compare PAR scores to other norm-referenced formative and summative assessments, and to track individual students’ PAR performance from year to year in a useful way. Norm referencing is not required by the statute, but should always be preferred if an assessment is otherwise equal or superior to the available options. The PALS assessments are not norm-referenced, and can only classify children as at-risk or not. Even at that limited task of sorting children into two general groups, PAR is superior, accurately classifying children 96% of the time, compared to 93% for PALS-K, and only 73% for PALS.
PAR provides the unique service of an individualized report on each child that includes specific recommendations for differentiated instruction for classroom teachers. Because of the norm-referencing and the data base on which it was built, PAR can construct simple but useful recommendations as to what specific area is the greatest priority for intervention, the intensity and duration of instruction which will be necessary to achieve results, and which students may be grouped for instruction. PAR also provides similar guidance for advanced students. With its norm-referencing, PAR can accurately gauge how far individual children may be beyond their classmates, and suggest enriched instruction for students who might benefit. Because they are not norm-referenced, the PALS assessments can not differentiate between gray-area and gifted students if they both perform above the cut score.
PAR costs about the same as PALS. With bulk discounts for statewide implementation, it will be possible to implement PAR (like many other screeners) at K5, 1st grade, 2nd grade, and possibly 3rd grade with the funds allocated by statute for 2012-13. While the law only requires kindergarten screening at this time, the goal is to screen other grades as funds allow. The greatest value to screening with a norm-referenced instrument comes when we screen in several consecutive years, so the sooner the upper grades are included, the better.
PAR takes less time to administer than PALS (an average of 12-16 minutes versus 23-43).
The procurement procedure for PALS apparently can be simplified because it would be a direct purchase from the State of Virginia. However, PAR is unique enough to easily justify a single-source procurement request. Salient, essential features of PAR that would be likely to eliminate or withstand a challenge from any other vendor include demonstrated empirical validity above .85, norm-referencing on a broad national sample, the inclusion of rapid naming and oral vocabulary in a single, comprehensive package, empirically valid recommendations for differentiated intervention, guidance on identifying children who may be gifted, and useful recommendations on grouping students for differentiated instruction.
The selection of a screener will be carefully scrutinized from many perspectives. It is our position that a single, superior choice is fairly obvious based on the facts. While it is possible that another individual or team may come to a different conclusion, such a decision should be supported by factual details that explain the choice. Any selection will have to be justified to the public as well as specific stakeholders. Some choices will be easier to justify than others, and explanations based on sound criteria will be the most widely accepted. Simple statements of opinion or personal choice, or decisions based on issues of convenience, such as ease of procurement, would not be convincing or legitimate arguments for selecting a screener. On the other hand, the same criteria that separate PAR from other screeners and may facilitate single-source procurement also explain the choice to the public and various stakeholder groups. We urge DPI to move forward reasonably, deliberately, and expeditiously to have the best possible screener in place for the largest possible number of students in September.

Although there is still a long way to go on improving reading scores, Brown Deer schools show that improvements can be made. by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

There are signs that the long struggle to close the achievement gap in reading has a chance of paying off. There is a long way to go – and recent statewide test scores were disappointing – but we see some reason for encouragement, nonetheless.
Alan J. Borsuk, a former Journal Sentinel education reporter and now a senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, reports that black 10th-graders in the Brown Deer school district did better in reading than Wisconsin students as a whole, with 84.2% of Brown Deer’s black sophomores rated proficient or advanced in reading, compared with 78.1% for all students and 47.7% for all black 10th-graders in the state. Some achievement gaps remain in this district that is less than one-third white, but they are relatively modest.

Schools are working to improve reading

As vice chair of the Read to Lead Task Force, I am pleased that Wisconsin is already making progress on improving literacy in Wisconsin.
The Read to Lead Task Force members deserve credit for making recommendations that center on improving reading by: improving teacher preparation and professional development; providing regular screening, assessment and intervention; ensuring early literacy instruction is part of early childhood programs; and strengthening support for parental involvement in reading and early literacy programs.
Across Wisconsin, districts and schools are working to implement the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. These standards are designed to increase the relevance and rigor of learning for students. Milwaukee’s Comprehensive Literacy Plan is a significant step that defines common expectations in reading for Milwaukee Public Schools students, who now receive reading instruction through one curriculum that is consistent across schools.

Learn more about Wisconsin’s Read to lead Task force and the planned MTEL teacher content knowledge standards, here.

I hate to say this, but apps do beat books

Dan Snow:

I have recently undergone a Damascene conversion. I have fallen utterly head over heals for apps. It began as a bit of fun. I didn’t even own an iPad, or any device I could view apps on.
Brought up on books, living in a flat surrounded by books, an author of a couple of them, the son of one author and the nephew of another, I never listened to those who questioned whether the 500-year-old hegemony of words printed on paper was coming to an end.
Now I have all the zealotry of a convert.
I have spent the past six months working with a team to develop an app about the Second World War, Timeline World War 2. The process has given me a profound understanding and respect for exactly what is possible. Apps on a tablet device quite simply give you all the combined benefits of books, television, the web and radio, with few of the disadvantages.

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart

Claire Needell Hollander:

We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.

Governor Jindal extends his reach: Reforms that have transformed New Orleans are applied to the state

The Economist:

JUST three months after he unveiled it, Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, has signed into law an unprecedented overhaul of the state’s awful school system. His bold plan weakens teacher tenure, and therefore the teachers’ unions, while greatly expanding the use of school vouchers and the reach of charter schools. These reforms are modelled on, but go well beyond, the ones already employed to great effect in New Orleans, traditionally home to the state’s worst schools.
Until now, teachers in Louisiana earned tenure after three years in the classroom. They also had the right to a hearing before the local school board before they could be fired. Now they will get tenure only after being judged “highly effective” in five out of six years. The designation will be based on pupils’ test scores, and probably on classroom observation by a supervisor. Teachers who have tenure now will keep it, unless they become “ineffective”.

How the iPad Is Changing Education

Jason Paul Titlow:

The iPad may only be two years old, but it’s already begun to change many things. Reading is one of them. Work is another. It is selling like crazy, but it will be some time before most of the people you know own a tablet.
The market for this type of device may only be in its infancy, but it’s already becoming clear how it will revolutionize certain aspects our lives. Education is a huge one, as recent developments have demonstrated.
In January, Apple made good on its late CEO’s vision to enter the digital textbook market with the launch of iBooks 2 and the iBooks Author production tool for e-books. That early effort was met with mixed reactions. While some were excited to see Apple move into a space that’s ripe for disruption, others pointed out the inherent limitations in Apple’s model, which for starters, will be cost-prohibitive for many school districts.

Harvard Library pushes open access


This looks like a bombshell announcement to me (I’m not aware of the internal politics behind the announcement, but I’m presuming that Robert Darnton’s fingerprints are all over it). Discuss.
We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. … The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. … It is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive. … since faculty and graduate students are chief users, please consider the following options open to faculty and students (F) and the Library (L), state other options you think viable, and communicate your views:

You can forget facts but cannot forget understanding

David Gurteen:

This short video clip Confessions of a Converted Lecturer from a talk by Professor Erik Mazur who teaches Physics at Harvard is quite mind blowing.
Professor Mazur discovered that his students can “learn” something conceptually and re-iterate it and pass exams but still fail to understand the subject or acquire the ability to apply that learning in real world situations. No amount of “lecturing”, how ever good, solves this problem.

Why tech-savvy youngsters are ahead of the curve

Jamie Carter:

One in six Hongkongers has an iPad and half want one, but how many are being used as electronic babysitters? Stuffed with games, photos, music and video, there’s a worry that tablet computers and smartphones are handed over too easily to youngsters.
A survey by Nielsen last month reveals how prevalent iPad use is among children in North America. In households where at least one iPad was owned, 70 per cent of children used it, and what it’s being used for is hardly surprising. The vast majority of children download games – 77 per cent – and while 43 per cent also watch TV and films, an impressive 57 per cent use educational apps, too. At least, that’s what their parents say, over half of whom admit to using an iPad to pacify their children while travelling, or while eating in a restaurant.

Students dig in to gardening assignment

Chris Davis:

Harvesting the vegetables he has helped to plant, nurture and cultivate, Vlado Vasile, a Year Seven student at South Island School, declares: “It is simply an amazing adventure that really makes you want to gasp.” In Hong Kong, where having a garden is often considered a luxury, Vlado, like many other children from 10 international and 10 local schools, has discovered the joys of horticulture and composting. That’s thanks to Growing Together, a one-year pilot project initiated by the British Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by HSBC.
Since last October, using micro gardens – box containers made of recyclable materials – children of all ages have been growing produce ranging from tomatoes, carrots and herbs to Chinese water spinach and bak choy. Using a Japanese Bokashi composting system, students have also been learning about recycling food waste from leftover school lunches. The fertiliser is then used to nurture the vegetables.

Don’t Praise the Child!

David Gurteen:

Too many students ‘get by’ and seek tactics that lead to good marks not good learning.
‘Never praise a child, praise what they did’ says Professor Black, and by this he meant praise the work of the learner and not the learner.
To praise the student encourages two ideas that are powerfully corrosive in learning; a) the idea that it’s all down to ability b) the idea that the ‘teacher’ likes me.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The debt debate

Gillian Tett:

In US election year, voters and politicians face a wake-up call on the budget deficit.
White House Burning The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt and Why it Matters to You, by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, Pantheon, RRP$26.95, 368 pages
Last year, the Washington Post newspaper and ABC television channel conducted a poll that showed that 95 per cent of Americans wanted to cut their country’s budget deficit by reducing government spending (either alone, or with tax rises). No surprise there, you might think: the issue of America’s debt has come to dominate the political debate this year as the fiscal problems have worsened.

Taxes & statistics.

Secondary school diploma programmes offer breadth versus depth

Anjali Hazari:

The American high school diploma is considered less demanding than the IB and A-level qualification because students don’t undertake an external examination at the end of a high school career. Students (usually in 11th grade) may take one or more standardised tests depending on their post-secondary education preferences; that is, the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT), which evaluate the overall level of knowledge and learning aptitude. Competitive universities also require students to take two or three SAT subject tests that focus strictly on a particular subject matter.
The A-level qualification has been arguably the most widely recognised pre-university qualification. It places emphasis on in-depth knowledge, deep understanding, strong reasoning abilities and critical thinking and allows students to select three to four subjects in any combination. There are no educational systems where students could study fewer subjects and still meet the entrance requirements for a university.

The cost of teacher unions

Steve Prestegard:

When Gov. Scott Walker signed the public employee collective bargaining reform bill into law, most school districts used it to correct the relationship between the school district and its teachers.
Some did not, most notably Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville. Those three school districts have the lion’s share of teacher layoffs because they decided not to put their teacher unions in their correct place.
One Kenosha teacher, Kristi Lacroix, is writing about the result in her school district:

Chicago’s middle class not interested in ‘hidden gem’ high schools

Linda Lutton:

Fifteen years after Chicago embedded International Baccalaureate programs in tough neighborhood schools, the programs have not attracted the middle class.
Middle-and upper-income Chicagoans scramble to get their kids into Chicago’s top high schools, turning to test prep, private tutors, and educational consultants.
If their kids don’t get in, for many it’s private school or the suburbs.
But Chicago has another set of high-quality high school programs–considered gems of the district–that middle-income parents have rejected. WBEZ looks at why.

A short critique of the Khan Academy

Tony Bates:

Bean, E. (2012) Wrath of Khan?: Deconstructing the online learning academy Detroit Web 2.0 Examiner, March 12
Eric Bean is an educator who has signed up as a coach/volunteer for the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy has a library of over 3,000 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 315 practice exercises, all free. The focus is mainly on k-12, supporting home schooling or providing additional support for students outside (and sometimes inside) school.
Bean has a number of criticisms from the point of view of a ‘coach’. (Interesting use of language here by the Khan Academy: why not teacher or tutor or instructor? Is there a difference in Salman Khan’s mind, and if so, what is it?) Bean’s main criticism is that the interface and navigation for coaches is poor, especially compared to the student interface.
I have another criticism. As someone who struggles with math, the Khan Academy would seem perfect for me. My problem though is I don’t know where to begin. Just jumping at random into a video suddenly makes me aware that I need lots of prior knowledge before I can understand this video, but there’s no help on that. Also, where’s the feedback? If I still don’t understand after watching the video several times and doing the exercises, what do I do?

The Preschool Race is No Joke

Robert Frank:

WILDLY implausible faux news stories appear each April Fool’s Day, some of which are taken seriously. This year’s clear winner was the National Public Radio feature about a preschool’s new requirement that all applicants submit DNA profiles.
As the segment begins, the host Guy Raz is greeted by Rebecca Unsinn, described as headmaster at a school called the Porsafillo Preschool Academy, located in a striking I. M. Pei-designed building in a leafy enclave on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Dr. Unsinn walks Mr. Raz through gleaming computer labs where toddlers master C++. She proudly describes the school’s Mandarin Chinese immersion program.
We are also told that Dr. Unsinn, a pediatric neurologist, was recruited to oversee the school’s new genetic tests, designed to help winnow 12,000 applications for 32 available spots in next year’s class. As she explains, “We now know that simple DNA testing can determine whether a child will end up at Yale or at Yonkers Community College.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin 46th in Tax Foundation Business Climate Survey

The Tax Foundation:

It is obvious that the absence of a major tax is a dominant factor in vaulting many of these 10 states to the top of the rankings. Property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes are levied in every state, but there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. Wyoming, Nevada and South Dakota have no corporate or individual income tax; Alaska has no individual income or state-level sales tax; Florida has no individual income tax; and New Hampshire and Montana have no sales tax.
The lesson is simple: a state that raises sufficient revenue without one of the major taxes will, all things being equal, have an advantage over those states that levy every tax in the state tax collector’s arsenal.

UW’s Constance Steinkuehler shapes the White House’s videogame policy

Aaron R. Conklin:

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in March, and the woman the White House has tabbed to craft its national videogames policy is just a little stressed out. Her weekly flight from Madison to Washington, D.C., has been canceled, leaving only pricey last-minute alternatives flickering on her Macbook screen. And in less than an hour, she has to introduce her boss, Carl Wieman, associate director for science of President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, to a crowded room of dignitaries at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
So it’s not surprising that she begins the interview with her right hand unconsciously pressed to her forehead, sinking back onto a couch in Aldo’s Café like it’s a life raft. “His research deals with lasers and atoms,” she says of Wieman. “I can start there, right?”

University of Florida kills cs dept; Increases Athletic Spending

Steven Salzberg:

Let me begin by introducing myself as the Dean of the Georgia Tech College of Computing, a member of the NAE, and a Fellow of ACM and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I am also a former Dean of the School of Engineering at Columbia University and past President of Tel Aviv University.
I am writing to express, in the strongest possible terms, my concerns about the reckless proposal to dismantle the Department of Computing and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the University of Florida. Of course, having served as both a Dean and a university President, I fully understand that budget realities sometimes dictate that painful cuts be made. Such cuts notwithstanding, I am amazed, shocked, and angered by the proposal to dismantle CISE. And I am by no means alone–the entire computer science/computing community is dumbfounded by the news coming out of Florida. It is unbelievable that a major AAU university would even contemplate such an action in the information age we live in today–an age fueled in great part by computer science!

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Great California Exodus

Allysia Finley:

“California is God’s best moment,” says Joel Kotkin. “It’s the best place in the world to live.” Or at least it used to be.
Mr. Kotkin, one of the nation’s premier demographers, left his native New York City in 1971 to enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. The state was a far-out paradise for hipsters who had grown up listening to the Mamas & the Papas’ iconic “California Dreamin'” and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.” But it also attracted young, ambitious people “who had a lot of dreams, wanted to build big companies.” Think Intel, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.
Now, however, the Golden State’s fastest-growing entity is government and its biggest product is red tape. The first thing that comes to many American minds when you mention California isn’t Hollywood or tanned girls on a beach, but Greece. Many progressives in California take that as a compliment since Greeks are ostensibly happier. But as Mr. Kotkin notes, Californians are increasingly pursuing happiness elsewhere.
Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states. This is a sharp reversal from the 1980s, when 100,000 more Americans were settling in California each year than were leaving. According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families.

Monkey See, Monkey Do. Monkey Read?

Erin Loury, via a kind reader:

Monkeys banging on typewriters might never reproduce the works of Shakespeare, but they may be closer to reading Hamlet than we thought. Scientists have trained baboons to distinguish English words from similar-looking nonsense words by recognizing common arrangements of letters. The findings indicate that visual word recognition, the most basic step of reading, can be learned without any knowledge of spoken language.
The study builds on the idea that when humans read, our brains first have to recognize individual letters, as well as their order. “We’re actually reading words much like we identify any kind of visual object, like we identify chairs and tables,” says study author Jonathan Grainger, a cognitive psychologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, and Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France. Our brains construct words from an assembly of letters like they recognize tables as a surface connected to four legs, Grainger says.

Mark Seidenberg emails:

here’s what you need to know:
Basically, the study shows nothing of any interest about reading. it shows that baboons could pick up on differences in letter frequencies between word and nonword stimuli that allowed to tell them apart about 75% of the time.
This is trivial compared to what a reader knows about the properties of written English.
the paper is here:

The kids will be alright: Q&A with translator and TEDx organizer Kristine Sargsyan

Thu-Huong Ha:

So you hope to reach young people in Armenia.
Yes. As a parent you have to think about your kid and other kids. Recently there was a program on TV discussing environmental issues in Armenia. My son watched it, then he went to his room and started crying. He said, “I hate people because they do so much harm to our Earth. How are we going to change things?” I thought, What are we doing for our kids?
Actually my son is famous! In Armenia everybody knows he’s the reason I started TEDx. On the way here I was stopped in the airport by a British woman. She said, “Aren’t we friends on Facebook? Aren’t you the mom of this great kid who pushed you to do TEDxYerevan?”

Madison (MI) School District teachers call 10% pay cut illegal, threaten lawsuit

Lori Higgins:

Teachers in the Madison School District said the Board of Education there violated the law by imposing a 10% pay cut last week that is retroactive to the beginning of the current school year.
Bobby Robinson, president of the Madison Education Association, which represents 77 teachers and other professional employees, said the union plans to file a lawsuit Monday.
He cited a May ruling in a case that said employers can’t apply a pay cut retroactively.
Robinson said he raised those issues with the district administration after the board took action Monday, but paychecks teachers received Friday reflected the deduction. District and board leaders could not be reached Friday.
“They ignored it,” Robinson said.

School Vouchers Gain Ground


The Louisiana state legislature has approved a new school vouchers system that, when signed by Governor Bobby Jindal, will be one of the largest in the country. The move caps 18 months of extensive expansion of voucher programs nationwide and broadens the national argument about the future of public education, says the Wall Street Journal.
With growing systems in Florida, Virginia and Indiana joining older programs such as those in Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the use of vouchers has increased rapidly since 2010.

  • Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., have either voucher systems or “scholarship” programs that provide tax benefits to individuals and businesses for contributions that help pay for students to attend private school.
  • The vast majority of these programs are targeted at specific groups of at-risk students, such as low-income or those with special needs.
  • The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an organization that advocates vouchers, estimates that about 220,000 students are currently enrolled in the programs nationwide.

The Louisiana program would add hundreds of thousands of students to the voucher camp, and would also implement several innovative policy provisions that would help put the program at the cutting edge of education.

Jamie Oliver attacks Michael Gove over school meals

The Telegraph:

The celebrity chef, who has campaigned for healthier school meals over the past decade, warned the progress made in recent years risks being undone by new academies which are allowed to ignore nutrient-based Government standards.
In an interview with The Observer Food Monthly, Oliver said: “This mantra that we are not going to tell (academy) schools what to do just isn’t good enough in the midst of the biggest obesity epidemic ever.
“The public health of five million children should not be left to luck or chance.”
The chef said he was “totally mystified” as to why academies are being allowed to determine what food should be on offer, while state schools follow the national standards introduced in 2008.

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Christian Science Monitor:

In order to become a US citizen, immigrants must pass the Naturalization Test. American citizenship bestows the right to vote, improves the likelihood of family members living in other countries to come and live in the US, gives eligibility for federal jobs, and can be a way to demonstrate loyalty to the US. Applicants must get 6 answers out of 10 in an oral exam to pass the test. According to US Citizenship and Immigration services, 92 percent of applicants pass this test.

Preparing the Way for a Madison School District Maintenance Referendum

Gayle Worland::

The analysis comes on the heels of a 2012-13 budget for the district proposed by Nerad that would increase Madison School District property taxes by 4.1 percent. Nerad’s $379.3 million budget did not specify a funding source for his high-profile plan to raise the achievement levels of low-income and minority students, originally estimated to cost $105.6 million over the next five years.
The report outlines several options for doubling the district’s maintenance funds, such as using money already within the district’s budget, increasing the property tax levy, using current and future equity reserves, long-term borrowing, or asking voters to approve a referendum that would allow for annual increases for maintenance.
The district spends $4.5 million, or 2.77 percent of its budget, on facility maintenance, which the committee recommended increasing by $4.2 million.
That would amount to $566 per pupil, according to the report. By contrast, the Monona Grove school district spends $1,825 per pupil on facility costs; Sun Prairie schools spend $1,787; and Waunakee spends $1,443, the report said.

Related regarding the most recent Madison School District maintenance referendum: Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent.

Big reward for your teaching strategies

Jay Matthews:

Here is an example of a school assignment sent to me by an inventive high school psychology teacher:
“To gain a better understanding of Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development, you will go to a toy store and choose one toy for each stage of development. In a paper, you will discuss what aspect of the toy corresponds with what developmental milestone in Piaget’s theory. Additionally you will discuss the issue of gender identity formation, based on your visit to the toy store.”
It is one of many such ideas that pop up on my Class Struggle blog. The teacher who forwarded the assignment, Patrick Mattimore, suggested an activity in which readers send in effective teaching strategies. He and I would select the best entries. Knowing the state of newsroom budgets, Mattimore suggested a reward of some value but no cost: publicity for the winner.

Sun Prairie’s WKCE Data


The Sun Prairie School District has “use data to drive decisions” as part of its credo.
So…here’s the data. This is how we stack up against other Dane Co. school districts.
As always, we highlight grades 4,8, and 10 because at these grades students are tested beyond reading an math. At these grades, all students are tested in Language Arts, Science and Social Studies in addition to Reading and Math.
You decide…are we doing as well as you think we should?
How about instead of some 200 page Monitoring Report that could cure the world’s worst case of insomnia, the school board hold a working session where they talk candidly about our district’s educational performance on the WKCE?

The Global Market Place II: A One-Day K-12 Teacher Workshop (April 25, 2012)

UW-Madison Center for European Studies, via a kind reader’s email:

The on-going global economic crisis has done much to highlight the significance of the study of international economics and the interconnectedness of regional and national economies worldwide. UW-Madison faculty, graduate students and regional outreach specialists along with guest speakers from the community will discuss aspects of the global economy, explore the ways in which specific regions and countries have been affected by economic crises, and present resources and opportunities available for the study and teaching of international economics, national economies, and business practices. Specific themes for this workshop include Fair Trade, Microfinance, NGOs, the European crisis and the prospects for the euro.

Angry Your Employment Security is in Jeopardy?

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (92K PDF):

Layoff: Seniority is a right that is earned under MTI’s various Collective Bargaining Agreements. Seniority is based on one’s years of service and provides protection from indiscriminate layoff.
Under MTI’s Contracts, seniority protects members of MTI’s various bargaining units from subjective or discriminatory layoff. When layoff is necessary, the Contracts provide an objective means, including tie-breakers for those with the same seniority.
Governor Walker’s Act 10 puts seniority in jeopardy because all collective bargaining agreements in Wisconsin covering school district employees will disappear in 2013 under Walker’s Act 10 (blekko, clusty, google news).
What can you do to protect your employment security? Get involved in this spring’s RECALL ELECTION. There are only 15 days until the RECALL PRIMARY ELECTION. Candidates Barrett, Falk, La Follette and Vinehout have promised to reverse Act 10 and to restore public employees’ rights to collectively bargain.
Without your help, there is no chance of reversing the negative impact of Act 10 on school district employees. Call/email MTI Assistant Director Jeff Knight ( / 608-257-0491) to offer assistance via your Union.

The Future of Reading

Sonia Saraiya:

What is the future of reading? How can we make it more social?

One of the things that bugs me about the Kindle Fire is that for all that I didn’t like the original Kindle, one of its greatest features was that you couldn’t get your email on it. There was an old saying in the 1980s and 1990s that all applications expand to the point at which they can read email. An old geek text editor, eMacs, had added a capability to read email inside your text editor. Another sign of the end times, as if more were needed. In a way, this is happening with hardware. Everything that goes into your pocket expands until it can read email.

But a book is a “momentary stay against confusion.” This is something quoted approvingly by Nick Carr, the great scholar of digital confusion. The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”

More from Tom Tunguz.

Wisconsin Teachers & Healthcare Plans

Erica Breunlin:

The Greendale School District’s high-deductible plan has been in place for the past four years but was not available to teachers until last year. When the district first offered the plan, nonunion employees agreed to try it out but teachers declined, Green said. Once Act 10 came into effect, the district offered the high-deductible plan to teachers again. The district allowed teachers to choose between the high-deductible plan and the traditional plan this school year, and 70% decided to go the high-deductible route after seeing how it was working for other staff members, Green said.
The district runs the plan in conjunction with a health reimbursement account.
In addition to a wellness plan, the Greendale district provides an on-site nurse practitioner from Aurora Health Care.
Green said the high-deductible plan significantly reduces the price of health insurance plans for school districts. When factoring in the cost of the high-deductible plan each year plus what the district is putting into the health reimbursement account, the total is about $1,000 less per family plan per year than the traditional plan.

Related: The Madison School District recently ended their longtime support of a costly WPS healthcare plan.

Malloy’s education consultant arouses Connecticut union fears

Ken Dixon:

For months, Leeds Global Partners, a New York-based firm specializing in educational issues as “attractive investment opportunities,” has been closely involved in developing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed school reforms.
And while the governor’s major proposals, including teacher evaluations, changes to tenure and the expansion of charter schools are meeting opposition in the General Assembly and the state’s educational community, Leeds Global’s school-privatization agenda has been front and center in a variety of closed-door negotiations.
Unionized teachers and a leading state lawmaker take the privatization proposals — including plans to circumvent teacher contracts and public bidding procedures — as major threats, underscored by the company’s track record in creating individual agreements with teachers hired to turn around failing urban school districts.

Automated Grading Software In Development To Score Essays As Accurately As Humans

David Hill:

April 30 marks the deadline for a contest challenging software developers to create an automated scorer of student essays, otherwise known as a roboreader, that performs as good as a human expert grader. In January, the Hewlett Foundation of Hewlett-Packard fame introduced the Automated Student Assessment Prize (ASAP…get it?) offering up $100,000 in awards to “data scientists and machine learning specialists” to develop the application. In sponsoring this contest, the Foundation has two goals in mind: improve the standardized testing industry and advance technology in public education.
The contest is only the first of three, with the others aimed at developing automated graders for short answers and charts and graphs. But the first challenge for the nearly 150 teams participating is to prove their software has the spell checking capabilities of Google, the insights of Grammar Girl, and the English language chops of Strunk’s Elements of Style. Yet the stakes are much higher for developing automated essay scoring software than the relatively paltry $60,000 first-place prize reflects.

Admissions 101: Will new tool help low-income students tackle admissions?

Jay Matthews:

Lloyd Thacker is a former college counselor who has become a one-man movement for reform of the admissions process. He hates the U.S. News and other college rankings, although is kind to people like me who support the rankings but can see their flaws. He has created the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit organization promoting change, with the help of several friendly university admission deans and other good souls.

Cops Take School Kids’ DNA in Murder Case

Alyssa Newcomb:

Samples of DNA were collected without parental consent from students at a Sacramento, Calif., middle school in connection with the murder of an 8 th grade student who was found stabbed, strangled and beaten to death near the dugout of a local park.
The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, which has been spearheading the investigation into the murder of Jessica Funk-Haslam, 13, said parental consent was not required in the DNA collection and interview of minors, several of whom were taken out of class during the day last week at Albert Einstein Middle School.
“These are interviews, not interrogations,” Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Ramos told “They are all consensual. Once it’s done, there is a mechanism in place for school administrators to notify parents.”

Education expected to be a ‘major issue’ in Walker recall election

Matthew DeFour:

Education is shaping up to be a key, yet complicated, issue in the upcoming recall election of Gov. Scott Walker.
Democrats vying to oust the first-term Republican say his cuts to state education funding are a top issue in the campaign, and it’s as important or even more so than the issue that sparked the recall effort — the governor’s rollback of public employee collective bargaining.
“It’s the major issue in the campaign why we’re recalling the governor,” said Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, one of four Democrats in the May 8 primary. “It comes back to the issue of priorities.”
But Walker is telling voters the cuts were necessary to balance the state budget, and that collective bargaining changes have allowed school districts to become more efficient.
In recent weeks he’s taken the fight to the state’s largest teachers union over how to interpret the impact of the cuts. In a recent campaign ad he highlighted that school property taxes declined 1 percent this year statewide.

2012’s Act 166 is Wisconsin’s most substantive K-12 change in decades. Learn more, here.

Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools

Jonathan Rothwell:

As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.
View our interactive feature to find data on test scores, housing, and income.
Go to the profiles page for detailed statistics on your metropolitan area.
An analysis of national and metropolitan data on public school populations and state standardized test scores for 84,077 schools in 2010 and 2011 reveals that:
Nationwide, the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams. This school test-score gap is even wider between black and Latino students and white students. There is increasingly strong evidence–from this report and other studies–that low-income students benefit from attending higher-scoring schools.
Northeastern metro areas with relatively high levels of economic segregation exhibit the highest school test-score gaps between low-income students and other students. Controlling for regional factors such as size, income inequality, and racial/ethnic diversity associated with school test-score gaps, Southern metro areas such as Washington and Raleigh, and Western metros like Portland and Seattle, stand out for having smaller-than-expected test score gaps between schools attended by low-income and middle/high-income students.
Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school. This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

Madison results can be viewed here (PDF).

The Paradox of College: The Rising Cost of Going (and Not Going!) to School

Derek Thompson:

The most important issue in higher education might not be cost control. It might be advertising.
Have you heard about the dangerous, rising cost of not going to college? In the last 30 years, the typical college tuition has tripled. But over the exact same period, the earnings gap between college-educated adults and high school graduates has also tripled. In 1979, the wage difference was 75%. In 2003, it was 230%.
Over the last three decades, the cost of going to college has increased at nearly the exact same rate as the cost not going to college. How can the price of getting something and not getting something both rise at the same time?
That is the paradox of college costs.
In the fight to put low-income kids on the college track, one of the simplest weapons is also one of the most controversial. It’s cash. If a student gets a good grade, he gets some money. If he doesn’t get a good grade, he gets no money. Same goes for teachers. If their students succeed, they get richer. If they don’t, then they don’t.

The decline and fall of America’s literary ecosystem

Christopher Caldwell:

This week the Pulitzer Prize board deemed the latest crop of American novels and short-story collections not up to scratch. Asked to choose between the late David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, the judges answered: none of the above. Since the prize was established in 1917 there have been 10 other years when no book got the nod, but it hadn’t happened since 1977. The publishing industry is reeling from the impact of ebooks. Editors and writers needed a morale-booster.
The novelist Ann Patchett complained in The New York Times that most readers would “just figure it was a bum year for fiction” – and would be wrong. Her fellow novelist Doug Magee, by contrast, declared himself “ecstatic”. He wrote: “The prize only serves to heighten and concentrate a hierarchy built primarily on promotion.” In this view, the judges’ demurral looks like a victory for standards. But the situation is probably more dire than Ms Patchett or Mr Magee realise.

Texas technical colleges want to link state funding and employment outcomes

Paul Fain:

Technical colleges in Texas are poised to up the ante on performance-based state funding, linking 45 percent of their operating budget to the employment rates and salaries of alumni.
State lawmakers have provided legislative encouragement to the Texas State Technical College System as it works on the still-developing proposal; the Legislature last year mandated that the system devise a funding formula that rewards “job placement and graduate earnings projections, not time in training.”
But system officials have voluntarily forged ahead with the plan, which they fully support and believe will help the system be more efficient.
“Some sort of outcomes-based methodologies are inevitable for likely all of public higher ed,” said Michael L. Reeser, the system’s chancellor. “We thought we’d be the first.”

Madison School Board plans to hire consultant to help in search for superintendent

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board is moving quickly to conduct a search for a new superintendent to replace Dan Nerad.
The board plans to vote Monday on hiring a consultant for up to $3,000 to assist with the search process.
A board committee Friday recommended hiring George McShan, a former president of the National School Boards Association from Harlingen, Texas. McShan advised the board in 2007-08 when it hired Nerad.
The committee also recommended hiring a search firm by the end of July to help find the best candidate.
Separately, the board is considering candidates to hire on an interim basis should Nerad leave sooner than expected and the search for a permanent replacement is still ongoing.

A bit of history and perspective on recent Madison Superintendent hires.

New state rule would limit cost-of-living increases for unions

Jason Stein and Patrick Marley:

Gov. Scott Walker used his broad new powers to reshape a state rule and effectively lower the cost-of-living raises that public worker unions can win through bargaining.
For workers in public schools and technical colleges, the revised emergency rule put in place Thursday could reduce the upper limit of their allowed salary increases by an estimated 30% or more. A spokeswoman for the Walker administration said that the change was necessary to properly implement the labor legislation signed by the Republican governor last year.
Under that law, unions’ bargaining is limited to cost-of-living adjustments and the change by Walker would limit that bargaining more than the original rule proposed by his own appointees.
Katy Lounsbury, a Madison labor attorney, said the rules effectively neuter teachers unions in their bargaining over salaries. She said the rules may result in legal action because she believes they violate people’s rights to associate.
“It certainly seems worthy of a challenge,” she said. “It penalizes members of a union.”

Unrepaired Education Department System Leaves Thousands Stuck in Default

Kelly Field:

Karla De La Torre kept her end of the bargain.
After defaulting on her federal student loan, she entered into a “rehabilitation” agreement with the collection agency and made the required nine on-time payments toward the debt. According to the agreement, her loan was supposed to be restored to good standing last September.
Instead, Ms. De La Torre is stuck in default, the victim of a systems glitch that is taking the Education Department months to correct. Her collection agency told Ms. De La Torre, an executive assistant whose husband was laid off a year and a half ago, that she has to keep paying until the problems are fixed, and it can’t say for sure how long that will be.

Key Reason for Wage Inequality Is Education

Neil Shah:

The widening gap between America’s haves and have-nots (highlighted in a Journal article today) is fueling debate across the political spectrum. But here’s one less-appreciated take-way: It suggests getting a college education — and indeed, an advanced degree — might just be worth the hefty price tag.
Let’s back up. As most people know, the cost of a four-year college education is rising, forcing students to take on a pile of debt that some economists fear will spark America’s next debt mess. There’s talk of a student-loan “bubble.” And some feel America should be funneling more kids into vocational training instead of encouraging everyone to get seemingly useless liberal arts degrees — something Germany already does.

Links and Comments on Arne Duncan’s Madison Visit

via a kind reader:

Alexander Russo linked the Badger Herald’s video excerpt:
(I hope that the common core standards will lead to high school graduates knowing when to use “fewer” instead of “less,” because evidently a Princeton degree doesn’t \snark. It’s interesting to see the Madison business community represented in this video, given the economic development implications of the district’s challenges.)
(Good reporting by the Badger Herald.)
(The reflections by Dan Nerad and Sue Abplanalp on the district’s achievement gap plan may be of interest here.)
(I think an earlier version of this article included a description of Kaleem Caire asking Secretary Duncan if he was aware of other places that have been successful in addressing the achievement gap, and Duncan replying something to the effect of ‘it’s a challenge for everyone.’ It would have been useful information for the audience if Duncan would have mentioned that Massachusetts reduced the percentage of low income black students performing at the below basic level on the NAEP in 4th grade reading from 54% to 43% between 2003 and 2011, compared to Wisconsin, where it went up from 62% to 67%.)

Accelerated education, taken to the nth degree

Barb Shelly:

The big news out of New York City is that the admissions test for the city’s gifted kindergarten programs is about to get tougher.
News organizations report that a portion of the current test, which assesses which 4-year-olds have an exceptional grasp of shapes, colors and numbers, will be replaced with a way to better gauge logic and reasoning skills.
It’s about time, is all I can say. The last thing we need in this country is a bunch of overrated preschoolers coasting into gifted kindergarten.
Wait a second … gifted kindergarten?
You have got to be kidding.

Why Are Community Colleges Being Treated Worst When They’re Needed Most?

Kevin Carey:

By the time the police arrived with the pepper spray, sending throngs of college students choking to the ground, it was clear that Santa Monica College’s plan to raise tuition had gone badly awry.
Days earlier, the trustees of the 31,000-student community college had announced a novel strategy for dealing with the state of California’s latest round of punishing budget cuts. It would open up new sections of perpetually over-subscribed courses like English and Math–but only to students willing to pay four times the standard price. The college’s mostly-minority, low- and middle-income students saw this as an affront to the institution’s bedrock tradition of affordable higher education. They protested, the cops arrived, the pepper spray was deployed, cell-phone videos of screams and chaos were instantly broadcast, the media descended, and in short order the leadership caved and cancelled the plan.

AP’s approval of ‘hopefully’ symbolizes larger debate over language

Monica Hesse:

The barbarians have done it, finally infiltrated a remaining bastion of order in a linguistic wasteland. They had already taken the Oxford English Dictionary; they had stormed the gates of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. They had pummeled American Heritage into submission, though she fought valiantly — she continues to fight! — by including a cautionary italics phrase, “usage problem,” next to the heretical definition.
Then, on Tuesday morning, the venerated AP Stylebook publicly affirmed (via tweet, no less) what it had already told the American Copy Editors Society: It, too, had succumbed. “We now support the modern usage of hopefully,” the tweet said. “It is hoped, we hope.”

Play Attention! A Joyful Response to the Digital Distraction Dirge (to Bauerlein)

Cathy Davidson:

In his marvelously insightful and useful new book Net Smart: How to Thrive on Line, Howard Rheingold tells the story of what may be the world’s first email interruption. David Levy, formerly a researcher at the legendary PARC think tank in Palo Alto, was demonstrating how the very first email interface worked when a new email happened to come in. He switch from demonstrating to answering the email, thus ushering in (if you believe some pundits) The End of Civilization As We Know It.
This delightful story goes on. Now a professor at the University of Washington, Levy teaches a class called “Information and Contemplation.” Like so many digital innovators I work with, Levy is concerned with deep breathing, mindfulness, and introspection. Rather than that being in contradiction to email interruption or compensation for what Rheingold calls “our always-on lives,” mindfulness, according to Levy, is a response to attention overload not just for a digital age but for a modern age in which just about everything we do, for the last two hundred or so years, has come time-stamped. The Industrial Revolution required humans to act as much like machines as possible. Yes, the digital interrupts our well-learned assembly line rhythms. Yes, multimedia distract us. But returning to the nostalgia of the “good old days”–meaning any time before April of 1993 when the Mosaic 1.0 browser went public–is a misplaced nostalgia for the most recent attempt to mechanize the human soul. It is hardly a return (as Levy, Rheingold, and I would say) to an introspective, unregulated, mindful inner life that eludes not only the multimedia digital age but the regulated, machinic assembly line of industrialism too.

Moving On Up: How Tuition Tax Breaks Increasingly Favor the Upper-Middle Class

Stephen Burd:

The last several years has seen significant cuts to federal student aid funding to shore up the budget of the Pell Grant program, the primary source of government aid to low-income students. But in a new Chart You Can Trust, Education Sector’s Stephen Burd argues that there’s a better way to keep the Pell Grant program viable: elimination of the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the other federal tuition tax break programs.
Moving On Up: How Tuition Tax Breaks Increasingly Favor the Upper-Middle Class takes a look at tax breaks that have been portrayed as a way to help middle-class families. But the data show that increasingly, it is families with the highest incomes that benefit.

Buck Up, California, and Learn From Rhode Island’s Big Pension Reforms

Sara Rosenberg:

Rhode Island is a tiny state with just over one million people in one thousand square miles. California is 37 times more populous and many times that size. And yet, when it comes to public employee pension reform, the tiny state of Rhode Island is acting both bigger and bolder.
For years, Rhode Island lawmakers watched fearfully as the state’s required pension contributions, the second-fastest-growing line item in its budget, exploded, doubling from 2003 to 2010. Without significant reforms, the liability was on track to double again by 2013. Lawmakers knew that if the pension liability remained unchecked, it would severely limit funding for other budget priorities.
California finds itself on a similarly unsustainable path. Earlier this month, the California Teachers’ Retirement Board announced that the $152 billion pension fund faces a $64.5 billion shortfall over the next three decades, an increase of $8.5 billion from last year. To put this in perspective, California spent $64.4 billion on K-12 education during 2010-11. Unless California acts to make its pension system more sustainable, the K-12 education budget – along with other important government priorities – will likely be carved up to feed the ever-growing pension deficit.

How can schools teach students to be more innovative? Offer hands-on classes and don’t penalize failure

Tony Wagner:

Most of our high schools and colleges are not preparing students to become innovators. To succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure. To find out how to encourage these skills, I interviewed scores of innovators and their parents, teachers and employers. What I learned is that young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling–not because of it.
Though few young people will become brilliant innovators like Steve Jobs, most can be taught the skills needed to become more innovative in whatever they do. A handful of high schools, colleges and graduate schools are teaching young people these skills–places like High Tech High in San Diego, the New Tech high schools (a network of 86 schools in 16 states), Olin College in Massachusetts, the Institute of Design ( at Stanford and the MIT Media Lab. The culture of learning in these programs is radically at odds with the culture of schooling in most classrooms.

Robots Are Grading Your Papers! The fact is: Machines can reproduce human essay-grading so well

Marc Bousquet:

“Insufficient number of supporting examples. C-minus. Meep.” (Photo by Flickr/CC user geishaboy500)
A just-released report confirms earlier studies showing that machines score many short essays about the same as human graders. Once again, panic ensues: We can’t let robots grade our students’ writing! That would be so, uh, mechanical. Admittedly, this panic isn’t about Scantron grading of multiple-choice tests, but an ideological, market- and foundation-driven effort to automate assessment of that exquisite brew of rhetoric, logic, and creativity called student writing. Without question, this study is performed by folks with huge financial stakes in the results, and they are driven by non-education motives. But isn’t the real question not whether the machines deliver similar scores, but why?
It seems possible that what really troubles us about the success of machine assessment of simple writing forms isn’t the scoring, but the writing itself – forms of writing that don’t exist anywhere in the world except school. It’s reasonable to say that the forms of writing successfully scored by machines are already – mechanized forms – writing designed to be mechanically produced by students, mechanically reviewed by parents and teachers, and then, once transmuted into grades and sorting of the workforce, quickly recycled. As Evan Watkins has long pointed out, the grades generated in relation to this writing stick around, but the writing itself is made to disappear. Like magic? Or like concealing the evidence of a crime?
The Pen is Advanced Technology
Of course all machines, from guitars to atom bombs, have no capacity to achieve any goals on their own. Nonetheless detractors of machine grading point out the obvious, that machines don’t possess human judgement, as if they possessed some other, alien form of reasoning. Computers can’t actually read the papers, they insist. Computers aren’t driven by selfless emotions, such as caring about students. Faced with proof that human test graders don’t always meaningfully read the papers or care about students, machine-grading detractors pull the blankets over their heads and howl: But they’re not human, damn it!
But the evidence keeps piling up. Machines successfully replicate human mass-scoring practices of simple essay forms, including the “source-based” genre. After reading reports released on the topic for nearly twenty years now, most working teachers of student writing grumble for a while, then return to the stack of papers at their elbow-and grade them mechanically.
The fact is: Machines can reproduce human essay-grading so well because human essay-grading practices are already mechanical.
To be sure, these results are usually derived from extremely limited kinds of writing in mass-scoring situations. They are easily defeated by carefully constructed “bad faith” responses. Since machines don’t read, they don’t comprehend the content, and cannot give feedback on rhetorical choices and many aspects of style. They can-and do-give feedback on surface features and what is sometimes called, more appropriately than ever, mechanical correctness. They cannot assess holistically, but can provide a probabilistic portrait by assembling numerous proxies, usually the same as those that human teachers use to substantiate holistic judgments, such as complexity of word choice and variety of sentence construction. Automated scoring can detect rhetorical dimensions of an essay, including the presence of evidence and the syntax used in simple argument.
Humans Acting Badly
Developers of these programs generally admit these limitations, primarily offering automation as an alternative to human graders in mass-assessment circumstances. When performed by humans, large-scale scoring of simple writing is commonly outsourced to poorly paid, under-qualified, overworked temps managed by incompetent greed-merchants in the scandal-ridden standardized testing industry.
Like the machines that replicate their efforts so well, the humans working in mass writing assessment are working to cookie-cutter specifications. They are not providing meaningful feedback on content. Spending a minute or two on a few hundred words, they are generally not “reading,” but scanning for many of the same characteristics that machine scorers are programmed to do. Like factory workers, they are providing results as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to line their employers’ pockets. Routinized, working to narrow formula, scanning superficially for prescribed characteristics at high speed, often incompetently managed and administered, most mass graders perform robotically.
Reading like a confessional “I was an economic hit man” for managed instruction, Making the Grades by Todd Farley chronicles one temp essay-scorer’s rise to high living at the pinnacle of mass testing’s profit-accumulation scheme. Riding in hired cars through burned-out public school districts to eat exotic meals prepared by celebrity chefs, Farley details how the for-profit scheme of high-stakes testing forces public-school teachers, students and parents on a faux-learning assembly line featuring teaching as test-prep drill instruction with 60 students in a class.
But Are Robots Also Teaching?
Teaching and test-scoring are very different circumstances. The fact that test scorers act mechanically doesn’t mean that teachers do. Except that most teachers are under very similar pressures-too many students, too little time, intense bureaucratic control, insufficient training, insufficient rewards to recruit and retain talent, and pedagogically unsound working conditions.
Just like teachers of other subjects, high school writing teachers are expected to “teach to the test,” usually following a rigid curriculum tailored to produce essays that do well in the universe of mechanical scoring, whether that mechanical scoring is provided by machines or degraded humans. Because of the high stakes involved, including teacher pay and continuing employment, the assessment drives the rest of the process. There are plenty of teachers who have the ability to teach non-mechanical forms of writing, but few are allowed to do so.
This managed–often legislated–pedagogy generally fails. Mechanical writing instruction in mechanical writing forms produces mechanical writers who experience two kinds of dead end: the dead end of not passing the mechanical assessment of their junk-instructed writing, and the dead end of passing the mechanical assessment, but not being able to overcome the junk instruction and actually learn to write.
As bad as this pedagogy’s failure is its successes. Familiar to most college faculty is the first-year writing student who is absolutely certain of their writing performance. She believes good writing is encompassed by surface correctness, a thesis statement, and assiduous quote-farming that represents “support” for an argument ramified into “three main points.”
In reality, these five-paragraph essays are near-useless hothouse productions. They bear the same relationship to future academic or professional writing as picking out “Chopsticks” bears to actually playing music at any level. Which is to say, close to none.
But students, particularly “good” students, nonetheless have terrific confidence in these efforts because they’ve been mechanically assessed by caring human beings who are, reasonably enough, helping them through the gates represented by test after test that looks for these things.
Not everything that teachers do is mechanical, but the forces of standardization, bureaucratic control, and high-stakes assessment are steadily shrinking the zone in which free teaching and learning can take place. Increasingly, time spent actually teaching is stolen from the arid waste of compulsory test preparation-in writing instruction as much as in every other subject. In this, teachers resemble police officers, nurses, and other over-managed workers, who have to steal time from their personal lives and from management in order to actually do law enforcement or patient care, as The Wire points out.
What Would Be Better?
Rebecca Moore Howard is a researcher in one of the nation’s flagship doctoral institutions in writing studies, the program in Composition and Cultural Rhetorics at Syracuse University. Howard’s Citation Project explores the relationship of college writers to source material. The first major findings of the 20-researcher project, conducted at 16 campuses? Even academically successful students generally don’t understand the source material on which they draw in their school writing.
Howard employs the term “patchwriting” to describe one common result of what I have long called the”smash and grab” approach that students employ to produce what we encourage them to pass off as “researched writing:” Scan a list of abstracts like a jewelry store window. Punch through the plate glass to grab two or three arguments or items of evidence. Run off. Re-arrange at leisure. With patchwriting, students take borrowed language and make modest alterations, usually a failed attempt at paraphrase. Together with successful paraphrase and verbatim copying, patchwriting characterizes 90 percent of the research citations in the nearly 2,000 instances Howard’s team studied at a diverse sampling of institutions. Less than 10 percent represented summary of the sense of three or more sentences taken together.
My own take on this research is that it strongly suggests the need for a different writing pedagogy. These students aren’t plagiarists. Nor are most of them intrinsically bad writers, whatever that might mean. Instead, I believe they’ve been poorly served by ill-conceived mass instruction, itself a dog wagged by the tail of mass assessment.
Like most of the students I’ve seen in two decades of teaching at every level including doctoral study, they have no flipping idea of the purpose of academic and professional writing, which is generally to make a modest original contribution to a long-running, complicated conversation.
To that end, the indispensable core attribute of academic writing is the review of relevant scholarly literature embedded within it. An actual academic writer’s original contribution might be analytical (an original reading of a tapestry or poem). Or it might be the acquisition or sorting of data (interviews, coding text generated in social media, counting mutations in an insect population). It might be a combination of both. In all of these cases, however, an actual academic writer includes at least a representative survey of the existing literature on the question.
That literature review in many circumstances will be comprehensive rather than merely representative. It functions as a warrant of originality in both professional and funding decisions (“We spent $5-million to study changes in two proteins that no other cancer researcher has studied,” or “No one else has satisfactorily explained Melville’s obsession with whale genitalia”). It offers a kind of professional bona fides (“I know what I’m talking about”). It maps the contribution in relation to other scholars. It describes the kind of contribution being made by the author.
Typically actual academic writers attempt to partly resolve an active debate between others, or answer a question that hasn’t been asked yet, what I describe to my students as “addressing either a bright spot of conflict in the map of the discourse, or a blank spot that’s been underexplored.”
In many professional writing contexts, such as legal briefing, literature review is both high-stakes and the major substance of the writing.
So why don’t we teach that relationship to scholarly discourse, the kind represented by the skill of summary in Howard’s research? Why don’t we teach students to compose a representative review of scholarship on a question? On the sound basis of a lit review, we could then facilitate an attempt at a modest original contribution to a question, whether it was gathering data or offering new insight.
The fact is, I rarely run into students at the B.A. or M.A. level who have been taught the relationship to source material represented by compiling a representative literature review. Few even recognize the term. When I do run into one, they have most commonly not been taught this relationship in a writing class, but in a small class in an academic discipline led by a practicing researcher who took the trouble to teach field conventions to her students.
Quote-Farming: So Easy a Journalist Can Do It
I personally have a lot of respect for journalists, and sympathize with their current economic plight, which is so similar to that of teachers and college faculty. They too do intellectual work under intense bureaucratic management and increasingly naked capitalist imperatives. So there are reasons why their intellectual product is often so stunted and deformed that the country turns to Jon Stewart’s parody of their work for information as well as critical perspective.
Albeit not always due to the flaws of journalists themselves: If there are real-world models for the poor ways we teach students to write, they’re drawn from newspaper editorials and television issue reporting. In editorials, “sources” are commonly authorities quoted in support of one’s views or antagonists to be debunked. In much television issue reporting, frequently composed in minutes on a deadline, quick quotes are cobbled together, usually in a false binary map of she’s-for-it and he’s-against-it. (NPR made headlines this year when it formally abandoned the fraudulent practice of representing or simulating balance by the common journalistic method of “he said, she said,” or reporting differing views, usually two, as if they held equal merit or validity, when in reality there can as easily be 13 sides, or just one, all with very different validity.)
Of course journalism can do better and often does, but it is some of journalism’s most hackneyed practices that have shaped traditional pedagogy for academic writing: quote-farming, argument from authority, false binarism, fake objectivity.
Those practices are intrinsically unappealing, but the real problem is the mismatch.
Academic writing bears a very different relationship to academic “sources” than journalism. For journalists in many kinds of reporting, academic sources are experts, hauled onto stage to speak their piece and shoved off again, perhaps never to be met with again.
It’s this sort of smash-and-grab, whether from the journalist’s Rolodex/smart phone, from a scholarly database, or the unfairly-blamed Google (as if this practice were invented by internet search!) that we teach to our students by requiring them to make thesis statements and arguments “supported by sources.”
For practicing academic and professional writers, other professional sources are rarely cited as authorities, except as representative of general agreement on a question. Most other citations are to the work of peer writers, flawed, earnest, well-meaning persons who have nonetheless overlooked an interesting point or two.
Surveying what these peers tried to do fully and fairly, and then offering some data or some insight to resolve an argument that some of them are having, or point to an area they haven’t thought about—is what we do. The substance of the originality in most academic and professional writing is a very modestly-framed contribution carefully interjected into a lacuna or debate between persons you will continue to interact with professionally for decades. In almost every respect it little resembles the outsized ambitions (let’s resolve reproductive rights in 600 words!) and modest discursive context (a news “peg”) of mass-mediated opinion.
Sure, no question, “everything’s an argument,” but argument or generic notions of persuasion used in the mass media aren’t always the best model for academic and professional discourse. (And I say this as someone who’s not afraid to argue.)
A big reason for the success of They Say/I Say, a popular composition handbook by Cathy Birkenstein and Jerry Graff, is its effort to provide an introduction to the actual “moves that matter in academic writing,” moves which generally involve relating one’s position to a complicated existing conversation.
Teaching & Grading Academic Writing By Persons Who Don’t Do It
What Becky Howard has in common with Birkenstein & Graff is valuing the ability to represent that complicated existing conversation. What is particularly useful to all of us is that they grasp that this is a problem that can’t be harrumphed out of existence-“Well, if those kids would actually read!” Let’s leave out the fact that most of the persons enrolled in higher ed aren’t kids, and that they do read, and write-a lot. Let’s leave out the whole package of dysfunctional pedagogies we impose on students and the contradictory narratives we tell about them: Large lecture classes are fine, but video capture of large lectures is bad! (Right, grandpa: it’s much better to deny me access to discussing the material with experienced faculty actively researching in their field because you’ve scaled her up with an auditorium sound system and not a video camera–that makes total sense. Defend the lecture hall!) As David Noble and I and others have pointed out many times: the reason current technologies don’t, won’t, and can’t eliminate the labor of actual teaching is the reason that earlier technologies, like the book, post office, television and radio did not: Actual teaching is dialogic and occurs in the exchange between faculty and students. The more exchange, the more learning. (Of course much of what is certified as learning isn’t anything of the kind.)
Our writing pedagogy is the main problem here what we ask faculty and teachers to do, who we ask to do it, and the ways we enable & disable them by bureaucracy and greed, whether the greed is for-profit accumulation or harvesting tuition dollars for in-house spending on a biochemist’s lab. (As I’ve previously insisted, the for-profits can accumulate capital with sleazy cheap teaching because the nonprofits do the same thing, except accumulating their capital as buildings & grounds, etc.)
One of the reasons students don’t learn to read academic articles and compose literature reviews in writing classes is that they are taught by persons who don’t do it themselves–nontenurable faculty, many without the Ph.D., or graduate students newly studying for it, many of whom don’t get an education in the practice themselves until they begin their own comprehensive lit review in preparation for a thesis. Often they are highly managed faculty, working like high-school teachers (except with much less training) to a scripted curriculum with mass syllabi, identical assignments that are easy to produce mechanically and grade mechanically-in a routinized “teaching” factory that is easy to assess mechanically, train mechanically, and supervise mechanically.
Unsurprisingly: No reliable computerized assessment can tell whether a review of scholarly literature is an accurate representation of the state of knowledge in a field. Nor can it adjudge whether a proposed intervention into a conflict or neglected area in that field is worthy of the effort, or help a student to refine that proposed experiment or line of analysis. Of course, many of the persons we presently entrust with writing instruction lack the ability, training, or academic freedom to do so as well.
If we are to do more with writing classes and writing assignments, we need to put aside the hysteria about machine grading and devote our attention to the mechanical teaching and learning environment in which we daily, all but universally, immerse our writing faculty. We need to change the kind of writing we ask them to teach. We need to enable writing faculty to actually do the kind of academic writing they should be teaching–which means changing our assumptions about how they’re appointed, supported, evaluated and rewarded. You want to be a machine-breaker and fix writing pedagogy? Great. Start with with your professional responsibility to address the working circumstances of your colleagues serving on teaching-only and teaching-intensive appointment.

NEA, Kleiner Tackle Online Education With $16M For Coursera

Deborah Gage:

Backed by $16 million from two of Silicon Valley’s largest venture capital firms, Coursera launched today to deliver free online courses from elite universities to millions of people around the world.
Kleiner Partner John Doerr: “Elite education is too expensive, and it’s available for too few.”
The company is headed by two Stanford University computer science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, who developed an online education platform last fall that served two courses that attracted about 200,000 students, despite having no marketing.
The project was such a success that Koller and Ng decided to spin it out of Stanford and create a company. New Enterprise Associates General Partner Scott Sandell, who backed a previous company founded by Koller’s husband, said he heard a brief pitch from Koller on a Saturday in October when the two families were eating lunch together at Sandell’s house.

More, here.

A Future Full of Badges

Kevin Carey:

In the grand University of California system, the Berkeley and UCLA campuses have long claimed an outsized share of the public imagination. It’s easy to forget that the state system has more than two great institutions of higher education. In the heart of the Central Valley, UC-Davis has grown in a hundred years from being the “university farm” to becoming one of the world’s most important research universities. Now it’s part of a process that may fundamentally redefine the credentials that validate higher learning.
Throughout the 20th century, scientists at UC-Davis, a land-grant institution, helped significantly increase crop yields while leading research on plant genetics, water conservation, and pest control. When the present century began, Davis leaders knew the times called for not just production but conservation and renewal. So they created a new, interdisciplinary major in sustainable agriculture and food systems. Many different departments were involved in crafting curricula that range across life sciences, economics, and humanities, along with experiential learning in the field.

High-stakes testing called into question Marina Hernandez

Marina Hernandez:

Four Rhode Island school districts — Coventry, East Providence, Providence and Woonsocket — were flagged for suspicious test scores between 2008 and 2011 in a recent study of standardized testing by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The results have prompted debate on the need for high-stakes testing to evaluate teacher effectiveness and student proficiency.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigated 196 school districts nationwide and “flagged” those districts where more than 10 percent of classes — which are composed of all students enrolled in the same grade at the same school — demonstrated unusually high or low performance compared to the norm.
In Coventry, 14.29 percent of classes were flagged for abnormal performance in 2009, but this number dropped to below 4 percent in 2011, the study showed. In 2009, 12.5 percent of classes in East Providence scored unusually high or low. Nearly 30 percent of classes in the Woonsocket district demonstrated a large number of scores outside the norm in 2008, a rate more than double that of any other Rhode Island school district that year. Providence classes were flagged at rates of 13.27 percent in 2008 and 11.21 percent in 2011, but abnormal score levels fell below 10 percent in the years between.