Education Reform Gets a Hollywood Boost

Bruno Manno:

With Friday’s release of “Won’t Back Down,” Hollywood has brought to theaters the real-life struggle of millions of parents. The movie features Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as a parent-and-teacher duo who team up to turn around a chronically failing public school. Rather than acquiesce to the certainty of a subpar education for the children, they fight back–rallying other parents and teachers to the cause of wrestling control of their school from the local school board and putting it in the hands of devoted educators.
It isn’t fantasy. The movie is based on new “parent-trigger” laws, a very real policy solution that–depending on the state–gives parents and others the power to reform failing schools; close them; or, in some states, transform them into charter schools. The first parent-trigger law was passed by California in 2010, with bipartisan support in a Democratic legislature.
Today, across six states, parents of more than 14 million students can trigger the turnaround of their local school if it is failing. The laws vary, but in general once a school has been on a state’s list of underperforming schools for a specified period, a majority vote by parents and others specified by law can trigger the reform process.

Andrew Cowan on Creative Writing

The Browser:

Creative writing is an academic discipline. I draw a distinction between writing, which is what writers do, and creative writing. I think most people in the UK who teach creative writing have come to it via writing – they are bona fide writers who publish poems and novels and play scripts and the like, and they have found some way of supporting that vocation through having a career in academia. So in teaching aspirant writers how to write they are drawing upon their own experience of working in that medium. They are drawing upon their knowledge of what the problems are and how those problems might be tackled. It’s a practice-based form of learning and teaching.
But because it is in academia there is all this paraphernalia that has to go with it. So you get credits for attending classes. You have to do supporting modules; you have to be assessed. If you are doing an undergraduate degree you have to follow a particular curriculum and only about a quarter of that will be creative writing and the rest will be in the canon of English literature. If you are doing a PhD you have to support whatever the creative element is with a critical element. So there are these ways in which academia disciplines writing and I think of that as Creative Writing with a capital C and a capital W. All of us who teach creative writing are doing it, in a sense, to support our writing, but it is also often at the expense of our writing. We give up quite a lot of time and mental energy and also, I think, imaginative and creative energy to teach.

Charges of Bias in Admission Test Policy at Eight Elite Public High Schools

Al Baker, via a kind reader’s email:

A coalition of educational and civil rights groups filed a federal complaint on Thursday saying that black and Hispanic students were disproportionately excluded from New York City’s most selective high schools because of a single-test admittance policy they say is racially discriminatory.
The complaint, filed with the United States Education Department, seeks to have the policy found in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to change admissions procedures “to something that is nondiscriminatory and fair to all students,” said Damon T. Hewitt, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the groups that filed the complaint.
At issue is the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is the sole criterion for admission to eight specialized schools that, even in the view of city officials, have been troubled by racial demographics that are out of balance.
Although 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic, a far smaller percentage have scored high enough to receive offers from one of the schools. According to the complaint, 733 of the 12,525 black and Hispanic students who took the exam were offered seats this year. For whites, 1,253 of the 4,101 test takers were offered seats. Of 7,119 Asian students who took the test, 2,490 were offered seats. At Stuyvesant High School, the most sought-after school, 19 blacks were offered seats in a freshman class of 967.

Why American Students Can’t Write: Response From A Teacher in Chile

Professor Baker’s Blog:

I make my comments based only on the information given above, and as a teacher of writing in both the university and high school setting.
Let’s proceed. Having said that, I question the phrase, “coherent sentences”, and wonder aloud if “cohesive sentences” may have been the appropriate term, or quite likely, “grammatically correct sentences”.
Not being able to write a “coherent sentence” means quite simply, the students were writing incoherent sentences, or put another way, sentences which make no sense. I wonder how true that statement is of the previous situation at New Dorp High School.
Next, we are told that a return to a focus on the fundamentals of grammar and expository essays brought tremendous improvement, described as, “soaring pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam.”

Related: The Writing Revolution by Peg Tyre.

Parent Power Film Stirs Education Reformers’ Hopes

Stephanie Simon:

Education reform film “Won’t Back Down” opened Friday to terrible reviews – and high hopes from activists who expect the movie to inspire parents everywhere to demand big changes in public schools.
The drama stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a spirited mother who teams up with a passionate teacher to seize control of their failing neighborhood school, over the opposition of a self-serving teachers union.
Reviewers called it trite and dull, but education reformers on both the left and right have hailed the film as a potential game-changer that could aid their fight to weaken teachers’ unions and inject more competition into public education.

Maggie Gyllenhaal talks unions, education and motherhood

Howard Gensler:

IN THE NEW movie “Won’t Back Down,” Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Crazy Heart,” “Hysteria”) plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a blue-collar single mom who takes issue with her daughter’s crappy public school.
With no money to send her somewhere else and with the neighborhood’s top charter school a long-shot pick in a lottery, Jamie teams up with a disgruntled teacher (Viola Davis), whose son has his own academic issues, to take over and improve the school so it works better for all the children.
“Won’t Back Down” has raised the ire of teachers unions, but Gyllenhaal believes that’s the wrong way to look at the movie.

Education reform: still leaving our kids behind

Michael Gerson:

The new movie “Won’t Back Down” is to public education what Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was to the meatpacking industry — a needed spotlight, but not for the squeamish. In this case, the product unfit for human consumption is, unfortunately, the instruction of children. The movie chronicles the struggles of the mother of a dyslexic child in a failing school. The villains are clock-punching teachers, apathetic parents, change-resistant union officials and unreachable administrators. The movie adds a happy ending, which seems the most unrealistic portion of the script.
Union officials naturally find this portrait offensive. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, calls the movie “divisive” and a presentation of “stereotypes.”

Is Teacher Union “Collective Bargaining” Good for Students?

The Madison School Board has scheduled [PDF] a 2:00p.m. meeting tomorrow, Sunday 30 September for an “Initial exchange of proposals and supporting rationale for such proposals in regard to collective bargaining negotiations regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) for MMSD Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) Teachers, Substitute Teachers, Educational Assistants, Supportive Educational Employees (SEE), and School Security Assistants (SSA), held as a public meeting pursuant to Wis. Stat. §111.70(4)(cm)”.
The School Board along with other Madison area governments have moved quickly to negotiate or extend agreements with several public sector unions after a judicial decision overturning parts of Wisconsin’s Act 10. The controversial passage of Act 10 changed the dynamic between public sector organizations and organized labor.
I’ve contemplated these events and thought back to a couple of first hand experiences:
In the first example, two Madison School District teacher positions were being reduced to one. Evidently, under the CBA, both had identical tenure so the choice was a coin toss. The far less qualified teacher “won”, while the other was laid off.
In the second example, a Madison School District teacher and parent lamented to me the poor teacher one of their children experienced (in the same District) and that “there is nothing that can be done about it”.
In the third example, a parent, after several years of their child’s “mediocre” reading and writing experiences asked that they be given the “best teacher”. The response was that they are “all good”. Maybe so.
Conversely, I’ve seen a number of teachers go far out of their way to help students learn, including extra time after school and rogue curricula such as phonics and Singapore Math.
I am unaware of the School Board meeting on a Sunday, on short notice, to address the District’s long time reading problems.
A bit of background:
Exhibit 1, written in 2005 illustrating the tyranny of low expectations” “When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before”.
Exhibit 2, 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison speech to the Madison Rotary Club is worth reading:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

William Rowe has commented here frequently on the challenges of teacher evaluation schemes.
This being said, I do find it informative to observe the Board’s priorities in light of the District’s very serious reading problems.
This article is worth reading in light of local property taxes and spending priorities: The American Dream of upward mobility has been losing ground as the economy shifts. Without a college diploma, working hard is no longer enough.

Unlike his parents, John Sherry enrolled in college after graduating from high school in Grand Junction, a boom-bust, agriculture-and-energy outpost of 100,000 inhabitants on Colorado’s western edge. John lasted two years at Metropolitan State University in Denver before he dropped out, first to bag groceries at Safeway, later to teach preschool children, a job he still holds. He knew it was time to quit college when he failed statistics two semesters in a row. Years passed before John realized just how much the economic statistics were stacked against him, in a way they never were against his father.
Greg Sherry, who works for a railroad, is 58 and is chugging toward retirement with an $80,000-a-year salary, a full pension, and a promise of health coverage for life. John scrapes by on $11 an hour, with few health benefits. “I feel like I’m working really hard,” he says, “but I’m not getting ahead.”
This isn’t the lifestyle that John’s parents wished upon their younger child. But it reflects the state of upward–or downward–mobility in the American economy today.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
TJ Mertz comments on collective bargaining, here and here.
Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: Didn’t See That One Coming: How the Madison School Board Ended Up Back in Collective Bargaining.
The Capital Times: Should local governments negotiate with employees while the constitutionality of the collective bargaining law is being appealed?

California passes groundbreaking open textbook legislation

Timothy Vollmer:

It’s official. In California, Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills (SB 1052 and SB 1053) that will provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges. The legislation was introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and passed by the California Senate and Assembly in late August.
A crucial component of the California legislation is that the textbooks developed will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY):
The textbooks and other materials are placed under a creative commons attribution license that allows others to use, distribute, and create derivative works based upon the digital material while still allowing the authors or creators to receive credit for their efforts.

The Crisis in Higher Education Online versions of college courses are attracting hundreds of thousands of students, millions of dollars in funding, and accolades from university administrators.

Nicholas Carr:

A hundred years ago, higher education seemed on the verge of a technological revolution. The spread of a powerful new communication network–the modern postal system–had made it possible for universities to distribute their lessons beyond the bounds of their campuses. Anyone with a mailbox could enroll in a class. Frederick Jackson Turner, the famed University of Wisconsin historian, wrote that the “machinery” of distance learning would carry “irrigating streams of education into the arid regions” of the country. Sensing a historic opportunity to reach new students and garner new revenues, schools rushed to set up correspondence divisions. By the 1920s, postal courses had become a full-blown mania. Four times as many people were taking them as were enrolled in all the nation’s colleges and universities combined.
The hopes for this early form of distance learning went well beyond broader access. Many educators believed that correspondence courses would be better than traditional on-campus instruction because assignments and assessments could be tailored specifically to each student. The University of Chicago’s Home-Study Department, one of the nation’s largest, told prospective enrollees that they would “receive individual personal attention,” delivered “according to any personal schedule and in any place where postal service is available.” The department’s director claimed that correspondence study offered students an intimate “tutorial relationship” that “takes into account individual differences in learning.” The education, he said, would prove superior to that delivered in “the crowded classroom of the ordinary American University.”

SAT Scores Fall as More Students Take Exam

Stephanie Banchero:

SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2012 fell in two of the test’s three sections, with reading dropping to the lowest level in four decades on the college-entrance test, according to data released Monday.
Only 43% of the 1.66 million private- and public-school students who took the college-entrance exam posted scores showing they are prepared to do well in college, according to data released by the College Board, the nonprofit group that administers the SAT. That was unchanged from last year.
Nationwide, 44% of high-school freshmen go on to attend college and 21% earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, the College Board said.
The SAT tests students in reading, math and writing, with a possible score of 800 on each section. Students needed a score of 1550 out of the total 2400 to indicate college readiness, defined as a 65% chance of maintaining at least a B-minus as a university freshman.

The hidden problem of chronic absence

Katy Murphy:

We’ve just posted a story I wrote about chronic absenteeism — when a student misses 10 percent or more school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.
A small, but growing number of school districts in California have begun to crunch the numbers to see which of their students are habitually out of school, and how many. Traditionally, schools have looked only at how many of their students attend school each day, on average, or how many were truant or tardy.
When you count excused absences, the number of kindergartners who miss 18 or more days of school might surprise you (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

Can Public Schools Really Change?

Emily Bazelon:

Why New Haven’s ambitious new education strategy might actually succeed.
As the recent Chicago teacher strike demonstrated, public school systems are phenomenally difficult institutions to change. The array of competing forces–unions, politicians, parents, principals, charter schools, state and national bureaucrats–gums up many reform efforts and frustrates all but the most persistent reformers. But what’s happening in the historically troubled New Haven, Conn., public school system suggests there may be ways around this, ways that all sides can support.
In 2009, New Haven’s school district and teachers’ union signed a groundbreaking contract for the 21,000-student system. The four-year deal included a small annual pay hike–and allowed the district to give merit bonuses, close failing schools, and evaluate teachers based in part on student performance. The contract’s reform-minded provisions brought praise to a struggling urban district, from admirers including Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, and New York Times columnists David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof. Three years later, there are signs that cultural change is coming, too, in fits and starts. It’s especially evident in the district’s unusual effort to groom future leaders by handing them over to a local charter network that it used to view as an upstart threat.

New Haven will spend $370,000,000 during the 2012-2013 school year for its 20,759 students or $17,823/student. Madison plans to spend $15,132/student during the same school year.

How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America

Scott Gerber:

When are Americans going to wake up and realize that the 60s and 70s-era nostalgia for the “value” of a college degree is just that — nostalgia?
A degree does not guarantee you or your children a good job anymore. In fact, it doesn’t guarantee you a job: last year, 1 out of 2 bachelor’s degree holders under 25 were jobless or unemployed. Since the recession, we’ve lost millions of high- and mid-wage jobs — and replaced a handful of those with lower-wage ones. No wonder some young people are giving up entirely — a 16.8 percent unemployment rate plus soaring student loan debt is more than a little discouraging. Yet old-guard academic leaders are still clinging to the status quo — and loudly insisting that a four-year liberal arts degree is a worthy investment in every young American’s future.
Case in point: I was recently invited to keynote during a conference at the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Fresno, Cal. As someone who works every day to give more people access to entrepreneurship education, it’s refreshing to talk to educators who are adapting their curricula in the interest of actually preparing students for a new economy. But one educator told me a story that made my blood boil, about a college president who recently terminated his institution’s entrepreneurship education program.

Reflections From Two Years of Khan Academy in the Classroom

Shantanu Sinha:

Students need to be given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning
One of the most striking changes we often see in Khan Academy users, particularly historically underperforming students, is a dramatic increase in engagement, confidence, and ownership of the learning process. Many people assume personalized learning works best for high-achieving students who are self-motivated. However, we regularly hear stories like these from Oakland Unity, on dramatic changes in student study habits and overall confidence.
It turns out that you can turn a demotivated student into a motivated one when you actually give him the opportunity to succeed. The traditional one-size-fits-all classroom approach takes a student who fails a test, slaps him with a poor grade, and moves him to more advanced topics he has no hope of understanding. It is almost comical that we ever thought this would work. Not only are we pushing the student forward inappropriately, we are telling him he is a bad student and breaking his confidence.
Our approach with Khan Academy is fundamentally different. We allow students to jump back to the material they need help on. They can take as long as necessary to actually learn it. They gain a sense of success and accomplishment when they progress, no matter where their starting point was. They finally see a path in which they can improve, and they take responsibility for their learning.

Why are so many financial aid rules at odds with so many academic policies and goals?

Dean Dad:

Because financial aid is mostly federal, but public colleges are mostly run by states. And the two levels of government have different goals.
Some of that is because the feds are allowed to run deficits and the states generally aren’t. (I’m not counting unfunded pensions as deficits; they’re more like long-term debts. I’m using deficits to refer to annual operational shortfalls.) So in a recession, the feds can increase spending, but the states have to cut theirs. That showed up over the last few years in a pretty dramatic way. Federal spending on Pell grants increased dramatically, but state spending on operating money for higher education dropped hard. As a result, colleges shifted more of the expense of operations to students. Consequently, the increase in federal financial aid didn’t really increase funding for higher ed; it simply made up for part of the state cuts. With the federal foot on the accelerator and the state foot on the brake, it was hard to make real progress in any given direction.
Annoyingly, that kind of unappreciated conflict leads to easy demagoguery, as folks who aren’t big fans of higher ed in the first place are able to say things like “we increased aid dramatically, and nothing happened!” Which is true, as long as you only look at one piece of the picture in isolation.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Triple Play on Local Taxpayers

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

This is the second time local officials in Madison have jumped at the chance to extend existing contracts for their workers. They previously did so just before the Act 10 restrictions on unions went into effect.
In both cases, elected officials will tout “savings” resulting from the contract extensions. But what’s really happening is local officials are locking into place for a longer period of time more favorable deals for public workers. Local officials will have fewer options for protecting taxpayers and basic public services if their budgets grow markedly worse.

Teachers brought disrespect on themselves

Tom Consigny

Last week state schools superintendent Tony Evers presented his status of education in Wisconsin report and encouraged residents to show more respect and value for teachers. He missed the point — he should have challenged teachers to cease their whining, their defiant and disorderly assemblies and illegal strikes, which we have endured in recent years.
The teachers and Madison union leader John Matthews should recognize the considerable damage they have done to their reputation and credibility. They have forgotten who continues to provide their generous salaries for a nine-month job.

Why Are We Afraid to Show Off Our Brightest Students?

[Atlantic Editor: High school athletes are the pride of their communities. But if we want to inspire kids to write well, we should be putting the exemplary work of our best young high school scholars on display.]
As the editor of The Concord Review, I have been glad to publish more than 1,000 exemplary high school history research papers by students from 46 states and 38 other countries since 1987. Yet I have long been aware that little “personal” essays have killed off academic expository writing in most of our schools.
For generations, American children in our schools have had their writing limited to short pieces about themselves, from primary school up through their “college essays” (those little 500-word “personal” narratives). As long as English teachers have borne all the responsibility for reading and writing in the schools, the reading has been fiction, the writing personal and “creative.” Lately a genre has emerged called “creative nonfiction,” but that turns out to be just more solipsistic autobiography.
Most of our students never read a single history book and they very rarely write a serious term paper before graduating from high school. They learn to write without learning anything beyond their own feelings and the events of their present lives, and their teachers are able to grade that work without knowing much either.
Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, put it very well in August this year: “The single biggest complaint from college teachers and employers is that high school graduates cannot write as well as they need to.” As a result, the member companies of the Business Roundtable have been saddled with a $3 billion bill for remedial writing courses every year, not only for their hourly hires but for their current and new salaried employees.
There are a few exceptions, of course. For decades, the International Baccalaureate has required a 4,000 (16-page) Extended Essay for the Diploma, and thousands of American students have done that. Even the College Board has begun to think of a small pilot program on term papers as well.
The New Common Core standards, a set of reforms that will soon be applied by most states, talk about nonfiction reading, but that category seems to include more memos, short speeches, brochures, and technical articles than anything like a complete history book. The standards also mention something about nonfiction writing, but all of the examples in the Appendix seem to be only more two-page efforts that will far from challenge the capability of our students in academic writing.
By publishing Peg Tyre’s story “The Writing Revolution,” The Atlantic is doing a great service for our students who need to learn to do some serious academic expository writing while they are still in high school. However, I would add that students also benefit from seeing exemplary expository essays written by their peers.
At The Concord Review, I’ve seen many examples of first-rate academic writing on historical topics. Students are startled, challenged, and inspired when they see this kind of work by people their own age. “When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and the breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it,” one New Jersey public school girl wrote to me. “The chance to delve further into a historical topic was an incredible experience for me, and the honor of being published is by far the greatest I have ever received. This coming autumn, I will be starting at Oxford University, where I will be concentrating in Modern History.”
It may be objected that this is a letter from a good student. Where are the letters from struggling students? I would respond that in sports, we are quite happy to present other students with the very best public performances of their most athletic peers. But when it comes to academics, we seem afraid to show students the exemplary work of their peers, for fear of driving them away. This dichotomy has always seemed strange to me.
Of course we must pay attention to our least able students, just as we must pay attention to the those who have the most difficulty in our gym classes. But it would’t hurt, in my view, to dare to recognize and distribute some of our students’ best academic work, in the hopes that it may challenge many others of them to put in a little more effort. Surely that is worth a try.
“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®

What Teachers Told the U.S. Department of Education

Dan Brown:

Over eighty meetings with teachers and school leaders in a two-week cross-country blitz — not bad work for a team of twelve Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAFs) working for a year with the U.S. Department of Education.
The Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour kicked off at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California on September 12 and culminates with rally at the Department’s plaza on September 21, with nearly a hundred events in between featuring Secretary Arne Duncan and top federal officials. While Secretary Duncan’s appearances have naturally soaked up most of the attention– whether he is dancing at a Denver elementary school for “Let’s Move” or honoring the Topeka, Kansas site of the Brown vs. Board of Education case– TAFs have been hosting intimate events to ensure that educators’ voices are heard.

As We May Think

Vannevar Bush:

Of what lasting benefit has been man’s use of science and of the new instruments which his research brought into existence? First, they have increased his control of his material environment. They have improved his food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased his security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence. They have given him increased knowledge of his own biological processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an increased span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an improved mental health.
Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual.
There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers–conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.
Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month’s efforts could be produced on call. Mendel’s concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.

Which colleges help grads snare top salaries?

Anna Prior & Matthew Heimer:

In an era of dubious economic milestones, it was yet another lowlight. This spring, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans’ total student-loan debt ballooned to more than $900 billion — higher than their total credit-card debt. And no wonder the debt is piling up: Over the past two decades, the price of tuition has risen 20 times as fast as the average college grad’s wages.
Statistics like these help to flesh out a now-familiar message: The cost of college has escalated from unsettling to obscene. College administrators say that the soaring price tags reflect the rising costs of their own biggest expenses — faculty salaries and state-of-the-art dorms and facilities.

Complete college rankings by graduates’ salaries (PDF).

Placing School Bureaucrats Before Children

Michael Van Beek

New legislation introduced last week in the Michigan House would ban for three years any new charter public schools from opening in the vicinity of two conventional public school districts that have consolidated. Two districts considering consolidation are located in the district represented by bill sponsor Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, who told his bill would “protect a newly merged school district from companies attempting to capitalize on the tenuous transition of consolidating.” Five other lawmakers from both parties have cosponsored the bill.
The representatives may mean well, but the effect of this bill would be to place the status quo school establishment’s interests, including school boards, superintendents and the teachers union ahead of the families and children they represent. Those children deserve a chance at obtaining the best education possible — even if that means attending a charter public school their parents have chosen.

Chicago, Teacher Unions & K-12 Spending

Richard Epstein:

On September 18, 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union negotiated a settlement with the City after going on strike for seven days. At issue in the dispute were critical issues like teacher salaries, working conditions, and teacher evaluations. As is typical in these situations, neither side held all the high cards. The two parties had to agree to compromises that patched up the current difficulties without implementing any sensible long-term reforms.
The wage piece of the deal is likely to add about $74 million per year over the next four years to a municipal budget that is already deeply in the red. The extra dollars that go into wages will be taken out of other budgets, rendering classrooms and other facilities less suitable than before. The moderately stiffer standards for teacher evaluation, both before and after tenure, may make marginal improvements in teaching performance, but none that will be significant in the short term. The overall dismal performance of the Chicago public school system, with its 60 percent graduation rate, will remain more or less what it has been.

Confucius Institute Teaches Chinese to American Students

John Saunah:

In the last few years, China has opened hundreds of Chinese language and culture institutes around the world. They’re called Confucius Institutes and dozens are in the United States, where they’ve helped to set up Chinese language and culture teaching programs, from elite universities to urban K-12 school districts. Are Confucius Institutes a way to build bridges of understanding between the two countries? Or are they examples of China flexing its “soft power” abroad and trying to portray itself in the most positive light? KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez explores the issue.

All Michigan teachers are above average

Michael Van Beek:

A new report from The Education Trust-Midwest finds that 99.4 percent of teachers from 10 of Michigan’s largest school districts were rated “effective.” Coincidentally, 98 percent of the principals responsible for these evaluations received the same rating.
In related news, recently found that 68 percent of all grades handed out at the colleges where these teachers and principals are trained were A’s. Like the mythical Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, apparently so are Michigan public school teachers and principals.
Unfortunately, real-life student performance paints a very different picture. For example, if we compare the performance of Michigan’s low-income students to ones with similar demographics in other states, the picture suggest something less than 99 percent “effective”:

Want to Change Academic Publishing? Just Say No

Hugh Gusterson:

When I became a professor, 20 years ago, I received a request from a woman who lived close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I taught: Could she come and talk to me about a set of interests she was developing, in the area of my own specialty in anthropology, and get my advice on applying to graduate school? We spoke for about 45 minutes in my office, at the end of which she asked, “How much do I owe you?”
This woman was a therapist who billed by the hour, and she assumed that when you got the benefit of someone’s professional expertise for 45 minutes, you paid for it. Although I would expect to pay a lawyer or a therapist for a professional consultation, the idea of paying for a conversation with me seemed bizarre. I explained that professors, especially in the humanities and social sciences, get paid an annual salary and, in return, see it as part of our job to share our knowledge and to mentor others. We had a vocation, not a trade. The life of the mind is not billable.

Bias Persists for Women of Science, a Study Finds

Kenneth Chang:

Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills, a new study by researchers at Yale concluded.
As a result, the report found, the professors were less likely to offer the women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower.
The bias was pervasive, the scientists said, and probably reflected subconscious cultural influences rather than overt or deliberate discrimination.

Kindergarten Exams Gain Steam

Stephanie Simon:

(Reuters) – With school in full swing across the United States, the littlest students are getting used to the blocks table and the dress-up corner – and that staple of American public education, the standardized test.
A national push to make public schools more rigorous and hold teachers more accountable has led to a vast expansion of testing in kindergarten. And more exams are on the way, including a test meant to determine whether 5-year-olds are on track to succeed in college and career.
Paul Weeks, a vice president at test developer ACT Inc., says he knows that particular assessment sounds a bit nutty, especially since many kindergarteners aspire to careers as superheroes. “What skills do you need for that, right? Flying is good. X-ray vision?” he said, laughing.

How to Raise High-Achieving Kids

Daniel Akst:

Here’s a novel recipe for raising successful kids: see that they’re born overseas, but bring them to America before they hit their teens.
That, at least, is the implication of a new study by sociologists at John Hopkins University who tracked 10,795 adolescents into young adulthood.
Basically, the sociologists found that the immigrant teens beat the pants off native born children in academic achievement and, as adults, psychological well-being. American born children of immigrants also seemed to enjoy an advantage. The researchers adjusted for socioeconomic background and school conditions, so they were comparing apples to apples.

Progress in Identifying the Genetic Roots of Autism

Melinda Beck:

One of the most agonizing questions that parents of children with autism ask is–why?
Now, a growing number of genetic tests are providing some answers.
Scientists say that roughly 20% of autism cases can be linked to known genetic abnormalities, and many more may be discovered.
Pinpointing a genetic explanation can help predict whether siblings are likely to have the disorder–and even point to new, targeted treatments. Last week, for example, researchers reported that an experimental drug, arbaclofen, reduced social withdrawal and challenging behaviors in children and adults with Fragile X syndrome, the single most common genetic cause of autism.

U.S. Kids Eat Nearly As Much Salt As Adults, Putting Health At Risk

Allison Aubrey:

Yes, we love salt. It makes everything taste better. But as a society, we’re eating way too much of it. And, so are our children.
A new study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 18 are eating, on average, 3,387 mg per day. That’s about the same amount as adults. But it’s a lot more than the 2,300 mg daily limit recommended by the federal dietary guidelines.
And the result? Janelle Gunn, a public health analyst with the CDC, says it’s pretty clear. “We found that higher sodium intake was associated with higher blood pressure,” she says.

EdTogether Launches

EdTogether is a nonprofit education policy and advocacy group committed to closing Wisconsin’s achievement gaps through collaborative policy design, research, and advocacy. All Wisconsin students deserve access to an excellent education that will prepare them for future success. To realize this goal, we must bring together stakeholders to design and advocate for targeted, preventative policies built on our core values of equity, inclusion, and rigor.

Related: EdTogether, an education policy and advocacy group, hosted a discussion of where Wisconsin’s public education system has been, currently is, and where it could be on September 19, 2012 in Madison.

ACT 10 Ruled Null & Void

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter:

MTI’s September 14 Circuit Court victory, in which significant portions of Governor Walker’s union busting legislation (Act 10) were found to be unconstitutional, has gained world-wide attention.
Recognition has been noted twice in The Wall Street Journal, along with articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, in Great Britain, and numerous newspapers throughout Wisconsin. It has also been the subject of daily TV and radio coverage. Announcement of the decision received a standing ovation at the Fighting Bob Fest, and at the Osaka, Japan Social Forum. Public employees in Osaka are suffering from Act 10-like legislation.
MTI Executive Director John Matthews hailed Judge Colas’ decision as restoring the basic rights of collective bargaining to Wisconsin’s public employees. He said, “This is the ticket to restoring employees’ equal voice in the workplace, and the means of assuring justice for those not only represented by MTI, but by numerous other Wisconsin public sector unions.” MTI has requested that the Madison Metropolitan School District timely engage in collective bargaining with MTI to establish contract terms for MTI’s five (5) collective bargaining units, for the 2013-14 contract term.
The State has asked Judge Colas to stay (delay) implementation of his decision pending appeal.

Sarah Lawrence, With Guns

Anthony Galluzzo:

We asked a former West Point professor about teaching literature at the nation’s most prestigious military academy. What he told us revealed the truth behind the country’s most elite warrior caste – and how liberal heroes like Thoreau and the Beats inspire the next generation of “Runaway Generals.”

Teacher Union Influence Spending

Motoko Rich:

The strike by public school teachers in Chicago this month drew national attention to a fierce debate over the future of education and exposed the ruptured relationship between teachers’ unions and Democrats like Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Over the past few years, lawmakers who have previously been considered solid supporters of teachers’ unions have tangled with them over a national education agenda that includes new performance evaluations based partly on test scores, the overhaul of tenure and the expansion of charter schools.
As these traditional political alliances have shifted, teachers’ unions have pursued some strange bedfellows among lawmakers who would not appear to be natural allies.
In Illinois, the top three recipients of political contributions from the Illinois Education Association this year are Republicans, including a candidate for the State House who has Tea Party support and advocates lower taxes and smaller government.

For more than 30 years, Buckingham was the UK’s only private university. Does its history offer lessons on the way forward for higher education?

William Leith:

There are two types of university in Britain, explains Professor Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. There are private ones, such as Buckingham and the newly opened New College of the Humanities in London, and there are those that are funded and controlled by the state. Kealey does not approve of the latter type.
If you’re a university, says Kealey, you should want to be private. Being private, you can charge whatever fees you want, teach whatever subjects you want, to whomever you want. If Britain had more private universities, says Kealey, we would be able to compete with the best in the world. As it is, we’re slipping.
Why? Well, says Kealey, “the best universities in the world are the Ivy League. The next best are the English-speaking ones that are independent but not totally.” These, says Kealey, are “in the thrall of social engineering”. And then come the universities of continental Europe. These institutions, he says, are nationalised, like Britain’s railway system used to be. So there’s no incentive for them to excel. They’re sinking in the mire of a planned economy, like 1970s commuters waiting on grotty platforms for trains that always arrive late.

On School Tax & Spending

Matt Miller

In 2011, Chicago’s public schools spent $7,946 per pupil for instructional (that is, classroom) purposes; the New Trier school district, a short ride up the road, spent $12,043, or 51 percent more. In a class of 25 kids, that’s a difference of more than $102,000. This explains why starting and maximum salaries for teachers in New Trier are much higher than in Chicago; and why the average teacher salary in New Trier is $103,000 compared with Chicago’s $71,000. (These figures are from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, which tracks fiscal- equity trends.)
The point? When suburban schools pay better, have much nicer facilities and working conditions, and are filled with kids who are easier to teach (because they don’t have the many problems that come with poverty), it is no surprise that, over time, the best teachers gravitate to the best suburban schools. We are relying on the “missionary plan” to staff schools in poor neighborhoods.
The local property-tax basis of much school finance means wealthier communities can tax themselves at lower rates and still generate far more spending per pupil. New Trier has 7.5 times the property wealth per pupil that Chicago has, taxes its residents’ property at roughly half Chicago’s rate, and generates vastly more dollars per pupil.

Mr. Miller compares Chicago’s “instructional” spending, which is only a portion of spending. Chicago plans to spend $5,162,000,000 during the 2012-2013 school year for 404,151 students or $12,772/student. Madison will spend $15,132 per student during the same school year.

It’s about education, not teachers

Ron Jackson:

The Chicago teachers’ strike has sparked interest and debate far beyond the school district. Folks outside the education field are weighing in on how much teachers should earn, how much responsibility teachers should bear for declining tests scores, and the greed of unions. Some experts even predicted the nation’s union-busting eyes were on Chicago, predicting a possible ripple-effect depending upon the outcome.
For many outside the negotiations, opinions, tempers and solutions ran amok. Schools of thought ran from, teachers make too much for just nine months work to unions protect bad teachers to teachers are responsible for low test performance. Perusing the social media, it was easy to find suggestions of what the ideal and fair teacher’s compensation should be, all by nonteachers, of course.

Researching the Research

Steve Peha:

The phrase “research-based”, or some variant thereof, appears more than 100 times in the language of No Child Left Behind. Grounding educational practice in solid science was, and still is, an important goal. But, as most people know, finding your way through the research landscape of teaching and learning isn’t exactly a walk in the park. That’s why “When Can You Trust the Experts?” is such an important book.
Written by Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, this informative and accessible book is a must-read for anyone trying to understand what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not good science is being used to support such judgments.

At School, Overweight Children Carry A Heavy Burden

Kavitha Cardoza:

One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese. Significant numbers of those young people are grappling with health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Those conditions can be difficult for children to manage in any setting, but they can pose particular challenges for children during the school day.
Dr. Yolandra Hancock used to be an elementary school teacher, and it shows. She’s patient, encouraging and has an endearing way of ending her sentences with “my love” and “my sweet.”
Her patients include a 13-year-old who weighs 400 pounds; a child whose teeth are so rotted she can’t bite into carrots; and many preteens who are diabetic. Today, Hancock is examining Derek Lyles, 13. He’s 4 feet 11 inches and weighs 256 pounds.

Emanuel’s push for more Chicago charter schools is in full swing: Now that the teachers strike is over, mayor is free to expand charter schools in Chicago

Jeff Coen, David Heinzmann and John Chase:

Chicago Public Schools officials expect about 53,000 of the district’s roughly 400,000 students will attend charter schools this year, and the number of charters will increase to more than 100. The city is aiming to add 60 charter schools in the next five years with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is trying to expand charters across the country.
The biggest push for charter schools locally comes from some of the wealthiest backers of Emanuel, including Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist who regularly advises the mayor. At a seminar of business and political leaders held the same day teachers voted to return to school, Rauner said the strike would only energize reform efforts that he called a “multiyear revolution.”
“I think we’re going to have a coalescing of interests that’s a focus and drive some major change. And there are some plans in the works, some charter community education innovators who are now focusing on Chicago, and I think in the coming years we can innovate,” he said.
Experts called the union’s stand against privately run networks unique in the United States, where several big cities, including New York, also have pushed charter schools.
“What’s different is this is really the first mass movement against that comprehensive strategy” for privatization, said Janelle Scott, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies school policy.


USC’s Hernandez says students should bypass the normal route and “hijack your school’s assets to selfishly improve your skills

Robert Hernandez:

That means you can bypass the j-school debates and take control over your education by taking the most important step: Be actively involved in your education. This is even more important that deciding what school you’ll attend. Don’t wait for academia to determine what you need to know for modern journalism. Be proactive and find out by using digital media to help you learn those skills.
Think DIY. Think horizontal loyalty. Think of ways to hijack your school’s assets to selfishly improve your skills.
This means more than just attending the required classes. This means more work than is assigned. This means more than a letter grade or GPA. This means meeting and engaging with more than your classmates and professors at your school.
This means using the power of the web and social media to augment your education and introduce yourself to more than just the curriculum outlined by your individual school.

Charter Caps, Laser Pointers and SuperPACs

Mike Antonucci:

Here’s a partial list of proposed business items currently under review by the board of directors and various committees of the California Teachers Association:
* That CTA amend the first paragraph on charter schools to read “CTA believes the role of charter schools is to provide students, parents and CTA members with educational opportunities that supplement not supplant public school offerings.”
Rationale: Current language does not deal with the reality that charter school growth is often negatively impacting school districts’ programs and forcing our members to become subject to reduction in force.
* That CTA amend by addition to policy on charter schools the following first paragraph: “CTA believes in a cap on charter schools that does not exceed 10% of school districts’ enrollment.”

Longtime educator running for Live Oak school board as an advocate for students and teachers

Jessica Pasko:

Phyllis Greenleaf has spent much of her life working to improve education, promoting the idea of teaching to the whole child in the numerous college classes she has taught on child development and learning.
Now she hopes to take that knowledge and bring it to a new venue: the Live Oak School District Board of Trustees.
Greenleaf is vying for one of three four-year seats on the board along with current board member Heather Rhodes and Jeremy Ray, a fire captain in Santa Clara.
“I’m not running for the board — I’m walking,” Greenleaf jokes.
As part of her campaign, she and friends have been going door to door to as many residences in the district as they can to introduce herself.

KIPP gains survive new scrutiny, with a footnote

Jay Matthews:

New research on the nation’s largest and best-performing charter school network has a dull title — “Student Selection, Attrition, and Replacement in KIPP Middle Schools” — but it adds fuel to a fierce national debate over why KIPP looks so good and whether schools should follow its example.
No charter school network has been researched as much as KIPP, which has 125 schools and 39,000 students in 20 states and the District. Most of the studies say its schools have had large and positive impacts on student achievement when compared to regular public schools. But some smart critics, including scholars Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, have found a potential glitch in the analysis.
Most KIPP campuses are fifth-through-eighth-grade middle schools. Students arrive far below grade level but flourish because of KIPP’s longer school days and years and careful teacher selection, training and support.
Nonetheless, some KIPP parents move away or decide KIPP is not right for their children. Kahlenberg and Miron say that inflates the average scores of students who stay, compared to regular schools: At KIPP schools, they argue, lower-performing students who leave early are not replaced by incoming low scorers as they are in regular schools.

KIPP gains survive new scrutiny, with a footnote

Jay Matthews:

New research on the nation’s largest and best-performing charter school network has a dull title — “Student Selection, Attrition, and Replacement in KIPP Middle Schools” — but it adds fuel to a fierce national debate over why KIPP looks so good and whether schools should follow its example.
No charter school network has been researched as much as KIPP, which has 125 schools and 39,000 students in 20 states and the District. Most of the studies say its schools have had large and positive impacts on student achievement when compared to regular public schools. But some smart critics, including scholars Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation and Gary Miron of Western Michigan University, have found a potential glitch in the analysis.
Most KIPP campuses are fifth-through-eighth-grade middle schools. Students arrive far below grade level but flourish because of KIPP’s longer school days and years and careful teacher selection, training and support.
Nonetheless, some KIPP parents move away or decide KIPP is not right for their children. Kahlenberg and Miron say that inflates the average scores of students who stay, compared to regular schools: At KIPP schools, they argue, lower-performing students who leave early are not replaced by incoming low scorers as they are in regular schools.

There should be a school for that

Mitch Pearlstein:

Much has been written about achievement gaps in the United States, with even more energy and dollars devoted to reducing them, for decades now.
Not only has seeking to help low-income and minority children do much better academically been an essential quest — one that must continue — but it’s also fair to say it has been at the very core of our attempts to significantly improve American elementary and secondary education.
Yet it’s also fair to say that another large achievement gap has been mostly ignored over this same long period: The dangerous distance between America’s strongest students and their counterparts around the world — with top pupils elsewhere consistently coming out ahead.
Just one example: Six percent of U.S. students perform at what’s called “advanced proficiency” in math. This is a smaller proportion than in 30 other nations.


Rejecting test scores as a core value

Sandy Banks:

It wasn’t about money. It was about respect.
That’s what Chicago teachers union president Karen Lewis kept reminding the public during the seven-day teachers strike that had parents scrambling and kept 350,000 children out of class.
But there was way more than respect at stake in the dispute. It was a clash between an impatient mayor and a demoralized teaching corps over competing visions of public schools — one side focused on job protection, the other on accountability.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman in a 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Public education – part three

Richard Baird:

Is the confrontation in Chicago symbolic of what should immediately be debated and resolved in a most profound manner nationally, benefitting all students first and foremost; underscored by a clarifying sense that professional educators, a majority of which strive to care for a nation’s ills sociologically by teaching and loving all children; and surely are one of the most valuable assets this nation possesses?
Accountability at every level of the process needs to be accomplished with diligent care and articulated for the sake of our youth, for a keen sense of what their destiny might look like; and well beyond the petty politics dividing legislators and those charged with the capacity to impact growth, development, and overall welfare of children.

The University of Chicago Chooses Decline

Jeremy Rozansky:

The University of Chicago hit two mile-markers in its decade-long transformation this week. The first, generally celebrated by students, alumni, and their parents, is a new high-water mark in the school’s US News & World Report ranking. The University now shares the fourth spot with Columbia, rising from 12 a few years ago and leapfrogging Stanford, Penn, and MIT, among others.
The second is a reduction in the graduation requirements. Starting next quarter, graduates will not have to pass a swimming test and either pass a fitness test or take three PE classes to graduate. In an email to students, the Dean of the College cited a rationale steeped in the lingo of a marketing consultant:

The change in the College physical education requirement occurs in the context of a larger decision by the University to reimagine and expand our fitness and athletics programs to meet growing demand and the diverse needs of our community.

These may seem like unrelated incidents, but they reflect a massive paradigm shift in the way the University sees itself. Since it wants donations from trustees who prize vacuous but still prestigious measures of schooling excellence like the US News rankings, the University has goaded itself into playing the rankings game.

After Chicago teachers strike, unions promise to fight ‘top-down’ education reform nationwide

Associated Press:

Seeking to capitalize on the momentum of the Chicago teachers strike, unions and allied parent and community groups promised Friday to launch a nationwide fight against government-led school reform efforts that they say are only making public education worse.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten announced at a news conference in Washington that they plan workshops, town halls and other events in 11 cities to engage communities in finding their own solutions to improve public education.
For years, unions have pushed back against government interventions in education reform, including the closure of failing schools, the takeover of others by private consultants and the growth in charter schools. They say school closures put a disproportionate number of African-American teachers out of work and leave blighted communities with even fewer resources. They also decry what they say is a “top-down” reform effort by city leaders that fails to hear the opinions of local educators and parents.

Higher Education in Brazil: Students and investors are profiting from the growth of private universities

The Economist:

Students in Brazil’s public universities are still whiter and richer than average, and much more likely to have been privately schooled. And taxpayers still pick up their tab, spending five times as much per university student as per schoolchild. But explosive growth in private, for-profit universities is at last opening up higher education (see chart).
In 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, there were around 2,400 universities or colleges of further education, of which only a tenth were public. Some of the rest were charitable, mostly Catholic. But three-quarters were run for profit, including the biggest five.

Why Wikipedia Does Belong in the Classroom

Jonathan Obar:

The proper place of social media in the classroom remains a mystery to most people, with Wikipedia standing as the biggest, baddest new media nemesis of them all.
Note: Earlier this month, Brian Proffitt’s post explaining Why Wikipedia Doesn’t Belong In The Classroom garnered strong reactions both pro and con. Here, guest author Jonathan Obar, PhD, like Proffitt a practicing academic, takes the opposite point of view.
In the 80s, Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.” To Postman, television was a medium that privileged entertainment, whose decontextualized method of communicating the ephemeral at blazing speeds made linear argument and true learning impossible.

School lunch is healthier

James Causey

Maria Lopez loves McDonald’s, but on Wednesday she was in a bustling lunchroom at Rodgers Street Academy picking at the meat of her soft shell taco.
She ate the meat, drank the low-fat milk but skipped the cheesy refried beans and cinnamon apple slices.
“I don’t like beans,” she told me, while sitting at the table with her friends.
Lopez, 13, said school lunches have gotten healthier over the past couple of years, and overall she said the quality and taste of the food has not changed much.
“It’s not that bad. I usually finish my plate, and my friends do, too.”

Money gets top billing in education drama

Alan Borsuk:

In the last state budget, almost all the new spending went to medical programs. Olsen said that Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, has ideas that are worth discussing but won’t have much of a chance if medical costs keep rising. (Not to mention the central issue of whether to increase state school aid.)
Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, responded, “Can you imagine us saying to the Medicaid program, you’re only going to be able to spend 50 dollars more per patient next year than you did last year? That’s pretty much unimaginable, yet that’s what we do with education.” Rossmiller said education funding reform is needed.
That morning’s Journal Sentinel had a story that began: “Taxpayers need to chip in about $650 million more toward state health care programs for the poor and elderly during the next two-year budget cycle, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration said.”
I really want people to have access to necessary medical care, which so many people can’t afford on their own. But I read that story and thought of the impact on schools (as well as other areas of state spending).

Sun Prairie Tax & Spending Climate: Compensation Discussions


The district office has been working on a document that compiles total compensation–not benefits mind you, strictly cash-in-your-wallet compensation. We heard about this at a recent HR Committee meeting (memo to people: you just may want to find time in your busy lives to start coming to some meetings). We asked about it this week and learned that the compilation is complete and we requested a copy. This study covers all professional educators and the “cash” compensation earned during the FY2011-12 school year.
We have pulled out several nuggets from the data; there are many more.
We have also taken the liberty of sorting the data by total compensation, showing base salary and “add-ons”. A copy of this is available here:

and More, here.

Chris Whittle Interview

I recently spoke with Chris regarding his interest and activism in the education world.
I was particularly interested in his views on the glacial pace of change in our largely monolithic education system, his education reform”scorecard”, the Edison Project (now EdisonLearning) and Chris’s latest creation: Avenues “The World School”.
Whittle’s voice of experience on the glacial pace of education reform is one of the most astute observations I’ve heard, one that is molded by an entrepreneur.
The interview is available as an 45mb mp3 audio file, or via this transcript.
I am thankful for his time and wish Chris and Avenues the best.

The Writing Revolution

Peg Tyre:

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students–especially low performers–are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes–cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement–from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.
The number of kids enrolling in a program that allows them to take college-level classes shot up from 148 students in 2006 to 412 students last year. Most important, although the makeup of the school has remained about the same–­roughly 40 percent of students are poor, a third are Hispanic, and 12 percent are black–a greater proportion of students who enter as freshmen leave wearing a cap and gown. This spring, the graduation rate is expected to hit 80 percent, a staggering improvement over the 63 percent figure that prevailed before the Writing Revolution began. New Dorp, once the black sheep of the borough, is being held up as a model of successful school turnaround. “To be able to think critically and express that thinking, it’s where we are going,” says Dennis Walcott, New York City’s schools chancellor. “We are thrilled with what has happened there.”
Although New Dorp teachers had observed students failing for years, they never connected that failure to specific flaws in their own teaching. They watched passively as Deirdre De­Angelis got rid of the bad apples on the staff; won foundation money to break the school into smaller, more personalized learning communities; and wooed corporate partners to support after-school programs. Nothing seemed to move the dial.
Her decision in 2008 to focus on how teachers supported writing inside each classroom was not popular. “Most teachers,” said Nell Scharff, an instructional expert DeAngelis hired, “entered into the process with a strongly negative attitude.” They were doing their job, they told her hotly. New Dorp students were simply not smart enough to write at the high-school level. You just had to listen to the way the students talked, one teacher pointed out–they rarely communicated in full sentences, much less expressed complex thoughts. “It was my view that these kids didn’t want to engage their brains,” Fran Simmons, who teaches freshman English, told me. “They were lazy.”

60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use:

Should Teachers Be Allowed to Sell Their Lesson Plans?

Andrew Rotherham:

You won’t get rich as a teacher, right? That’s no longer true for a small but growing number of educators who are making big bucks selling their lesson plans online. On a peer-to-peer site called TeachersPayTeachers (TPT), Georgia kindergarten teacher Deanna Jump has earned more than $1 million selling lesson plans — with names like “Colorful Cats Math, Science and Literacy Fun!” — for about $9 a pop. Since the site launched in 2006, 26 teachers have each made more than $100,000 on TPT, which takes a 15% commission on most sales. In August, Jump became the first on TPT to reach $1 million. Her success has been aided by the thousands of followers of her personal blog who get notified each time she retails a new lesson. Another reason she thinks her stuff sells so well: “I’ve used it in my classroom,” says Jump, who just kicked off her 16th year of teaching. “I know it works.”

Parents Seen Less Involved In Schools Report Shows Decline in Calls, Meetings

Lisa Fleisher:

New city statistics are showing a steep decline in parent involvement in New York public schools, giving potential ammunition to critics who say the Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been unresponsive to families.
City officials attributed part of the plummet to a new data-collection system. But critics, including some possible mayoral contenders, said the numbers in the annual Mayor’s Management Report were hard evidence of long-held frustrations by public-school parents.

I wonder if Madison PTO attendance patterns have changed? During the 2000’s, most meetings that I observed or participated in typically had no more than 12 to 15 parents. Often less than 10 appeared.
One meeting sticks out. More than 50 parents attended a Thoreau PTO meeting which attempted to bring Singapore Math to the school. That was a spectacular failure, unfortunately.

Chicago Public Schools’ Pension Crunch

Matthew Yglesias :

I get annoyed when conservatives talking about the federal government running out of money, but listening to some progressive crowing about the outcome of the Chicago teachers strike it’s also frustrating when people don’t acknowledge that the city of Chicago most certainly can run out of money. Things like extra money for music and art teachers could be great ideas or could be bad ones depending on where it comes from. But it’s not as if Chicago Public Schools is sitting on some giant pile of money that administrations have just been refusing to use. On the contrary, it’s actually sitting on a large unfunded pension obligation:

Madison schools propose using $12M redistributed state tax windfall for tax relief, technology upgrades, achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

That means the district’s property tax levy would increase 3.47 percent, down from the 4.95 percent increase the board approved in June. The tax rate would be $11.71 per $1,000 of assessed value, down from $11.88. For an average $232,024 home, the difference is about $40.
The board could use the remaining $8.1 million on property tax relief, but Belmore is recommending it be used in other ways, including:
$3.7 million held in reserves, in case the state overestimated additional aid.
$1.6 million to buy iPads for use in the classroom, $650,000 to upgrade wireless bandwidth in all schools and $75,000 for an iPad coach.
$1.2 million to account for a projected increase in the district’s contribution to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
About $800,000 geared toward closing achievement gaps including: three security assistants at Black Hawk, O’Keeffe and Hamilton middle schools; an assistant principal at Stephens Elementary, where the district’s Work and Learn alternative program caused parent concerns last year; two teacher leaders to assist with the district’s literacy program; a high school math interventionist; increasing the number of unassigned positions from 13.45 to 18.45 to align with past years; and a new student agricultural program.
$100,000 to fund the chief of staff position for one year.

104K PDF Memo to the Madison School Board regarding redistribution of state tax dollars.
Madison plans to spend $376,200,000 during the 2012-2013 school year or $15,132 for each of its 24,861 students.

Madison’s RE: Achievement Gap Plan – Accountability Plans and Progress Indicators

Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore:

3. It was moved by James Howard and seconded by Beth Moss that the pending motion to approve the preliminary 2012-2013 School District budget be amended to include specific accountability measures for all reading intervention programs receiving funding pursuant to 2012-2013 budget allocations. Specifically, in order for any reading intervention program being funded during the 2012-2013 school year to receive continued and/or increased funding in future budgets, each intervention must:
a. By November 15, 2012, submit to the Board of Education, proposed progress indicators for improved student achievement for students of color.
b. Progress indicators will be defined on a yearly basis for a minimum of 5 years and compared to the initial year of 2011-12.
c. Progress indicators will be broken down by African-American, Hispanic, special education and other non-White students affected by the program.
d. Progress indicators will include not only student achievement measures but also number of students included.
e. Data for each progress indicator will be required before continued or additional funding is approved.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.

The Madison School District Administration’s Recommended Handbook Development Process

Madison Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore (PDF):

1)Conduct and analyze survey of teachers, staff and administrators.
2)Taking into account survey results, Administration informs Board:
a) What legally has to change for the handbook.
b) What policies or practices set forth in CBAs are recommended to be carried forward as Board policy without change.
c) What policies or practices set forth in CBAs are recommended to be addressed as Board policy but should be reviewed and possibly changed.
d) What policies or practices set forth in CBAs are recommended not to be carried forward as Board policy.
The Administration’s recommendations are presented at a meeting of the Board’s Operational Support Committee on October 8. At a full meeting of the Board on October 29, the Board votes on the policies or practices to be submitted to designated working groups for discussion and collaborative exploration intended to culminate in consensus agreement on recommended approaches to the policies or practices.

The University of California backs a tax hike to support its ever-expanding bureaucracy

Heather Mac Donald:

The University of California, San Diego has done it again. Last year, it announced the creation of a new diversity sinecure: a vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion. Campus leaders established this post even as state budget cuts resulted in the loss of star scientists to competing universities, as humanities classes and degree programs were eliminated to save money, and as tuition continued its nearly 75 percent, five-year rise. The new vice chancellorship was wildly redundant with UCSD’s already-existing diversity infrastructure. As the campus itself acknowledges: “UC San Diego currently has many active diversity programs and initiatives.” No kidding. A partial list of those “active diversity programs and initiatives” may be accessed here.
Now UCSD has filled the position and announced the new vice chancellor’s salary. Linda Greene, a diversity bureaucrat and law professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will pull in $250,000 a year in regular salary, but that’s just the beginning: she’ll receive both a relocation allowance of $60,000 and 100 percent reimbursement of all moving expenses, a temporary housing allowance of $13,500, two fully paid house-hunting trips for two to the San Diego area, and reimbursement for all business visits to the campus before her start date in January 2013. (By comparison, an internationally known expert in opto-electronics in UCSD’s engineering school, whose recent work has focused on cancer nanotechnology, received a little over $150,000 in salary from UCSD in 2011, according to state databases.) The UCSD press office did not respond to a request for the amount the university paid the “women-owned executive search firm with a diverse consulting team” it used to find Greene.

A politically embarrassing strike

The Economist:

Over the past eight years Chicago teachers have done well, securing raises averaging 7% a year with no changes to their terms. The main sticking points now are teacher evaluations, compensation and the rehiring of teachers who have been laid off. These last two issues are the most significant hurdles (Mr Emanuel would like schools to be able to hire the best teachers, not the most recently-fired ones). But to keep the strike legal, the unions must insist that it is about nothing more than pay and benefits.

“Presumptions of invalidity” Closing the Window on Charters in Madison?

The Madison School Board recently discussed (first 15 minutes of this video) a new “charter school policy” drafted by Julie Mead, a UW-Madison School of Education Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis.
The following documents are worth reviewing:
Using Charter School Education and Policy to Advance Equal Educational Opportunity” by Julie Mead and Preston Green [3MB PDF pages 12-44].
Model Policy Language for Charter School Equity” by Julie Mead and Preston Green [3MB PDF pages 45-52].
Page 13 of this slide based 1.9MB PDF includes:

Rebuttable Presumptions of Invalidity
A. [A] proposed charter school that is unlikely to attract a student body whose composition of racial and ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency, and students from low-income families that is within 10% of the population for each of these sub-groups within the community or communities intended to be served by the charter school is presumed to be invalid;
B. The applicant can overcome this presumption by providing clear and convincing evidence that the charter school will satisfy the policy goal of providing equal educational opportunity for all students; and
C. Evidence of the support of parents for the proposed school approach may be considered but shall not be the primary evidence that the school positively serves the public’s interests and is therefore insufficient by itself to overcome this presumption of invalidity.

Related: Professor Mead along with School of Education Dean Julie Underwood published this paper: A smart ALEC threatens public education.
Via a kind reader.

Comments on the Pending Wisconsin School Report Cards

The Madison School District (160K PDF)

New benchmarks for proficiency. Starting in 2012-13, the benchmark for determining proficiency on the WKCE in math and reading will increase. New cut scores are being developed based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is conducted in a sample of schools every other year in Grades 4 and 8.
This higher cut score will result in a large number of students that will no longer be identified as proficient or advanced. This will be true at the state and local level. Recent coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal indicates that using NAEP-based cut scores causes the percent of Wisconsin students identified as proficient or advanced to decline from 81.9% to 35.8% for reading and from 78.0% to 48.1% for math.
The move toward NAEP-based cut scores is in part preparation for the statewide shift to Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2014-15. Results for individual schools using this new benchmark will be released this fall.
Accountability School Report Cards. Information packets from DPI provide context and formatting examples of the report cards that each school will receive to track its performance against various criteria.
Embargoed draft versions of school report cards will be shared with districts around September 24. Report cards for individual schools for 2011-12 will be finalized and made public around October 6.
Attached is an example of a school report card for a middle school. The report cards apply to all elementary, middle and high schools. Criteria are broken out by racial/ethnic, disability, income and ELL subgroup. More detailed “technical report cards” will also be prepared for each school that will go into more detail and methodology of the calculations.
The criteria for the Accountability School Report Card follow:

Watch a Madison school board discussion, starting at about 15 minutes.

Illinois & Wisconsin Teacher Union Climate

WHY DO you support the teachers strike in Chicago?
THE MTI Board of Directors voted to support their brothers and sisters of the Chicago Teachers Union not only because of CTU’s support of those protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee legislation in early 2011, but because their strike is over very similar issues.
Like Gov. Walker, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to break the union, trying to defuse their power in bargaining and trying to weaken their political power. In Chicago, the mayor appoints the school board, so the board is responsible to him, not the public. He wants to privatize schools, and one way to justify that is to increase class size so the public schools fail. When they fail, he can move to private, for-profit charter schools.
Mayor Emanuel, like Gov. Walker, is taking the just-cause standard and due process from the Chicago teachers. This would enable termination “just because” he or a school administrator wishes, not because of a just-cause standard that can withstand due process of law.

A Digital Tool to Unlock Learning

David Bornstein:

When we think about education reform, we usually focus on teacher quality. The big battleground in education revolves around holding teachers accountable for their performance. With all the focus on teachers, however, one group that is often forgotten as a key learning resource are the students themselves.
One way to help students gain agency over their own education is through technology. Despite the Internet revolution, the field of K-12 education has been relatively slow to respond to digital media. That’s why I paid a visit last week to the site of a promising experiment in digital learning in New York: the Bea Fuller Rodgers Middle School in Washington Heights.
Last year, CFY, a nonprofit organization, provided home computers (and arranged for discounted broadband access) to every one of the sixth grade students in the school. (Almost all the school’s families are Hispanics who qualify for the federal government’s free or reduced lunch program. Currently, half of all Hispanics in the United States lack broadband.).

Time for a Time Out: Why Are 40,000 Children So Harshly Disciplined in Public Schools?

Maia Szalavitz:

Locked in cramped, windowless rooms, tied in body-restricting bags, denied food, water and bathroom access: all of this is happening not to patients in the overlooked back wards of state mental hospitals, but to children as young as 5 in American public schools.
In the 2009-10 school year, some 40,000 children were restrained or isolated as discipline for bad behavior — most of these students had physical, developmental or learning and behavioral needs — according to Department of Education data. That research was cited in a revealing op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times written by a father whose daughter was deeply traumatized by such treatment. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report also found “hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades,” in both public and private schools.

Big difference in price of book lists at many Hong Kong schools

Wong Yat-hei:

A survey on textbooks showed a huge gap in prices between different schools’ book lists. The school with the least expensive book list for Primary One charges only HK$509, while the most expensive list costs more than six times as much, at HK$3,089.
The council said the big difference was due to the number of books that schools want students to buy. Some ask students to only buy books for Chinese, English, maths and liberal studies, while others also ask students to buy books for computer studies, music, Putonghua and religious studies, and exercise and story books. The Education Bureau said it was concerned about the difference in prices and it would continue to monitor the amounts spent at different schools.
The price for primary textbooks has gone up by 2.2 per cent, and secondary school book prices are up 2.5 per cent. The average cost for secondary textbooks this school year is HK$2,186. The increase is greatest in Forms One, Two and Five. Book costs rose for all forms except for Form Six which saw their costs drop 2 per cent. The council says this decrease was due to the fact that sixth-formers used the fewest textbooks.

Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job of the 21st Century

Thomas H. Davenport and D.J. Patil:

When Jonathan Goldman arrived for work in June 2006 at LinkedIn, the business networking site, the place still felt like a start-up. The company had just under 8 million accounts, and the number was growing quickly as existing members invited their friends and colleagues to join. But users weren’t seeking out connections with the people who were already on the site at the rate executives had expected. Something was apparently missing in the social experience. As one LinkedIn manager put it, “It was like arriving at a conference reception and realizing you don’t know anyone. So you just stand in the corner sipping your drink–and you probably leave early.”
Goldman, a PhD in physics from Stanford, was intrigued by the linking he did see going on and by the richness of the user profiles. It all made for messy data and unwieldy analysis, but as he began exploring people’s connections, he started to see possibilities. He began forming theories, testing hunches, and finding patterns that allowed him to predict whose networks a given profile would land in. He could imagine that new features capitalizing on the heuristics he was developing might provide value to users. But LinkedIn’s engineering team, caught up in the challenges of scaling up the site, seemed uninterested. Some colleagues were openly dismissive of Goldman’s ideas. Why would users need LinkedIn to figure out their networks for them? The site already had an address book importer that could pull in all a member’s connections.
Luckily, Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn’s cofounder and CEO at the time (now its executive chairman), had faith in the power of analytics because of his experiences at PayPal, and he had granted Goldman a high degree of autonomy. For one thing, he had given Goldman a way to circumvent the traditional product release cycle by publishing small modules in the form of ads on the site’s most popular pages.

A student with 20/20 vision

Costas Papachlimintzos:

Among the 116,173 high-school graduates who took university entrance exams last June, Olga Koutsika came first.
She got a perfect 20 out of 20 in biology, Ancient Greek, Latin, literature and history. Modern Greek was the only exam she did not manage to get full marks: 19.3. Contrary to what you tend to think, she did not spend nights and days glued to her desk – instead she dedicated several hours each week to practising her beloved ballet.
In an interview to the Athens News, Koutsika speaks about her hopes and dreams and reveals the origins of her success.

Do You Really Want To Know Your Baby’s Genetics?

Harriet Washington:

Boy or girl? This you can easily discover, but wouldn’t you like to know more? If you could peer into your baby’s medical future, what traits would you most want assurance about?
Most parents wouldn’t hesitate: a healthy child. Soon science will be able to help them with that more quickly, completely–and safely–than ever before.
In June, a team at the University of Washington in Seattle announced a new technique that enables the construction of a comprehensive genome sequence–a genetic “blueprint,” as they described it–of the developing fetus from as early as the first trimester (Science Translational Medicine, vol 4, p 137ra76). The test could be available in clinics in as little as five years.

Teaching ate me alive

Peter Hirzel:

It wasn’t one single incident that made me quit teaching in a public middle school. It was the steady, moldy accumulation of dehumanizing, lifeless, squalid misadventures of which I was a part. Like that time with “Carlos,” to pick an incident more or less at random.
I can’t even remember what it was that happened between Carlos and me. Anger, impatience, frustration, stupidity — and that was just me. Probably just another student who categorically refused to do as he was perfectly reasonably asked — open a book, pick up a pencil, hand in homework — or a teacher’s ineffectual attempts to come up with any good reason at all to learn the Pythagorean Theorem, or some such timeless knowledge. OK! Let’s say you have a ladder leaning against a wall. Suffice to say, our “conversation” ended without closure. But, evidently I said something that upset Carlos.
The next day I saw my friend the Dean of Students. He told me that he ran into Carlos’ father and a couple of his uncles; they were looking for my classroom. They had baseball bats. I am not the coach of the baseball team. There is no baseball team. In fact, there are no teams at all.

Few school districts check for K12 problems

John O’Connor & Trevor Aaronson:

Seminole County teacher Amy Capelle had to make a decision.
Her supervisor at the nation’s largest online school, K12, asked her to sign a roster saying she’d taught 112 kids.
She’d only taught seven.
“If you see your name next to a student that might not be yours, it’s because you are qualified to teach that subject, and we needed to put your name there,” wrote K12 supervisor Samantha Gilormini in an e-mail.
Capelle refused, and now state officials are investigating whether K12 used improperly certified teachers and asked employees to cover it up.
Seminole County officials say this problem may reach far beyond their borders.
But many Florida school districts have no way to know whether K12 students are actually being taught by properly certified teachers, according to a review by StateImpact Florida and Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Ideally, all publicly funded school organizations should be managed with high expectations.

A Challenging School Year


Belmore told our editorial board last week one of her first priorities was to prioritize the existing list of priorities. We get it. And obviously student achievement is priority number one. But a new district employee handbook to replaces decades of negotiated contracts – which the Governor did away with, and a new teacher evaluation system that uses student performance as a measurement – look at what’s happening in Chicago – will test Belmore, the school board and teachers in ways that will effect everyone in the Madison schools and beyond. We need everybody’s best efforts right now, to protect public education and help our kids succeed. Education has to come before politics and Belmore has to lead and be allowed to lead.

Chicago’s striking teachers flunk sympathy test

USA Today:

In the latest tiff between public-employee unions and cash-strapped governments, more than 350,000 Chicago children were shut out of classrooms for a second day Tuesday by striking teachers pursuing goals that are out of step with reality.
The teachers, who make an average $76,000 a year, are spurning an offer that includes a 16% pay increase over the next four years. In times of low inflation and 8.1% unemployment, you’d think that would be enough to get a deal done.
But that’s just for starters. The teachers’ main beef is about accountability. They don’t want it, at least not the measurable kind. The school district does, and so the two are locked in a battle that’s being repeated across the country. Even if the strike is settled by the time you read this, the outcome will help shape the quality of education across the USA.

How to Fix the Schools

Joe Nocera:

“We have to find a way to work with teachers and unions while at the same time working to greatly raise the quality of teachers,” he told me recently. He has some clear ideas about how to go about that. His starting point is not the public schools themselves but the universities that educate teachers. Teacher education in America is vastly inferior to many other countries; we neither emphasize pedagogy — i.e., how to teach — nor demand mastery of the subject matter. Both are a given in the top-performing countries. (Indeed, it is striking how many nonprofit education programs in the U.S. are aimed at helping working teachers do a better job — because they’ve never learned the right techniques.)
What is also a given in other countries is that teaching has a status equal to other white-collar professionals. That was once true in America, but Tucker believes that a quarter-century of income inequality saw teachers lose out at the expense of lawyers and other well-paid professionals. That is a large part of the reason that teachers’ unions have become so obstreperous: It is not just that they feel underpaid, but they feel undervalued. Tucker believes that teachers should be paid more — though not exorbitantly. But making teacher education more rigorous — and imbuing the profession with more status — is just as important. “Other countries have raised their standards for getting into teachers’ colleges,” he told me. “We need to do the same.”

Related: When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That? and Wisconsin begins to adopt teacher content standards.

The World’s 10 most influential Languages

George Weber:

One hardly risks controversy with the statement that today English was a more influential language world-wide than Yanomami. To a child’s question why that should be so, the well-informed parental brush-off would be that English had hundreds of millions of speakers while Yanomami could with difficulty scratch together 16,000. Really difficult and well-informed off-spring could then point out that in this case, Chinese would be the most important language of the world. At this point, the experienced parent would send the brat off to annoy someone else.
Every language, including Yanomami, is the most important language of the world – to its speakers. Rather than “important” we shall here, therefore, use the world “influential” in its stead. Chinese is a very influential language, no doubt about it, but is it more so than English? Clearly not. The number of speakers is relevant but quite insufficient for a meaningful ranking of languages in order of current world-wide influence, the stress being on the word “world-wide”. There are many other factors to be taken into account and this is what we shall attempt to do in the following.
Ranking the world’s current top languages is not just an idle past-time. The world is growing closer and this historical development is matched by large-scale linguistic adjustments, the most dramatic of which being the explosive growth of the English language. It does matter how major languages stand and evolve in relation to each other. Like the weather, many developments make sense only if one looks at the world-wide picture, not just parochial bits of it.

Young, Gifted and Neglected

Chester E. Finn, Jr.
BARACK OBAMA and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.
Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.
Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.
Public education’s neglect of high-ability students doesn’t just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.
Today’s systemic failure takes three forms.
First, we’re weak at identifying “gifted and talented” children early, particularly if they’re poor or members of minority groups or don’t have savvy, pushy parents.
Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand. Congress has “zero-funded” the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Washington’s sole effort to encourage such education. Faced with budget crunches and federal pressure to turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes as well as art and music.
Third, many high schools have just a smattering of honors or Advanced Placement classes, sometimes populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.
Here and there, however, entire public schools focus exclusively on high-ability, highly motivated students. Some are nationally famous (Boston Latin, Bronx Science), others known mainly in their own communities (Cincinnati’s Walnut Hills, Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy). When my colleague Jessica A. Hockett and I went searching for schools like these to study, we discovered that no one had ever fully mapped this terrain.
In a country with more than 20,000 public high schools, we found just 165 of these schools, known as exam schools. They educate about 1 percent of students. Nineteen states have none. Only three big cities have more than five such schools (Los Angeles has zero). Almost all have far more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. Hence they practice very selective admission, turning away thousands of students who could benefit from what they have to offer. Northern Virginia’s acclaimed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, for example, gets some 3,300 applicants a year — two-thirds of them academically qualified — for 480 places.
We built a list, surveyed the principals and visited 11 schools. We learned a lot. While the schools differ in many ways, their course offerings resemble A.P. classes in content and rigor; they have stellar college placement; and the best of them expose their pupils to independent study, challenging internships and individual research projects.
Critics call them elitist, but we found the opposite. These are great schools accessible to families who can’t afford private schooling or expensive suburbs. While exam schools in some cities don’t come close to reflecting the demographics around them, across the country the low-income enrollment in these schools parallels the high school population as a whole. African-American youngsters are “overrepresented” in them and Asian-Americans staggeringly so (21 percent versus 5 percent in high schools overall). Latinos are underrepresented, but so are whites.


Cheating Upwards Stuyvesant kids do it. Harvard kids do it. Smart kids may especially do it. But why?

Robert Kolker:

On Wednesday, June 13, Nayeem ­Ahsan walked into a fourth-floor classroom at Stuyvesant High School with some two dozen other students to take a physics test–one of a number of Regents Exams that many New York State high-school juniors are required to take. Small and skinny with thick black hair and a bright, shy smile, Nayeem is 16. Like many ­teenage boys, he seems to straddle two worlds: One moment you see a man, ­another a boy.
The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Nayeem was born in Flushing Hospital and raised in Jackson Heights, a 35-­minute subway ride to Stuyvesant in lower Manhattan. In the academically elite world of Stuyvesant, Nayeem maintains solid if unremarkable grades, and is a friendly, popular-enough kid known to take photographs of sports teams after school and post them on Facebook. When he walked into the exam room that morning, he seemed confident and calm. Nothing about him suggested he was about to pull off the most brazen feat of cheating in the illustrious school’s 107-year history.
Nayeem had cased the room beforehand. His iPhone had spotty service inside Stuyvesant, and he wanted to be sure he’d have a signal. He tested the device in the second seat of the first row–he’d assumed he would be seated alphabetically–and it worked. He tried out the second seat counting from the other side of the room just to be safe–also good. Then he examined the sight lines to both seats from the teacher’s desk–what could the proctor see and not see?–and checked out the seats where he thought some of his friends would be sitting. One was right in front of the teacher. He made a note of that. That kid was out.

Column: Top grads want to teach. Why don’t they get hired?

Richard Whitmire:

The fight to upgrade the quality of the nation’s teaching force has just begun. Years from now, the Chicago strike most likely will be viewed as a canary-in-the-coal-mine incident.
The awkward fact is that teaching in America has become a quasi blue-collar profession mostly shunned by top college graduates. The countries with the best education systems recruit from top graduates. What about our top graduates? A good barometer is Teach for America (TFA), which in 2011 drew nearly 48,000 applicants for 5,200 teaching positions. Those applicants included 12% of the seniors at Ivy League schools.
Here’s the question that never gets asked: What happens to the 43,000 top graduates who wanted to teach but didn’t get an offer from TFA? Nearly all seek other careers.
For the best and brightest college graduates in this country, jobs offered by regular school districts lack prestige. Their accountability-free practices give the best teachers no way to stand out. These young TFA applicants rose to the top of their high schools classes and won admittance to the top tier colleges. They want a shot at shining on the job as well.

Wrangle over Wisconsin union law will keep courts busy

Patrick Marley:

Gov. Scott Walker’s curbs on collective bargaining were overturned even before they took effect last year, quickly reinstated by the state Supreme Court, scaled back in March by a federal judge and, on Friday, dealt a major blow by a Dane County judge.
Expect nothing but more court decisions in the months ahead as appeals on those last two cases are heard and others are sorted out by the court system.
Defending those cases has cost taxpayers about $675,000 so far, and those expenses will only increase.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Monday he will seek a stay on Tuesday of the latest ruling and will soon appeal the case.
Meanwhile, two challenges to the law are pending in the federal courts. William Conley, a federal judge in the western district of Wisconsin, in March struck down parts of Walker’s law, and his decision will be reviewed Sept. 24 during oral arguments before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. That appeals court could rule before the end of the year.
Conley has yet to rule on a separate case before him that makes arguments similar to the ones that resulted in Friday’s decision by Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas. If Conley sides with the unions, Walker would have to overcome two sets of rulings; if Conley sides with Walker, the unions may have a tougher time defending their position in state court.

What’s so ‘objectionable’ about a teacher survey?

Matthew DeFour

The Madison School Board on Monday approved using an employee survey as part of its potential process for devising new employee work rules, although such a tool would be illegal if the state’s collective bargaining law is overturned, district lawyer Matt Bell said.
The School Board agreed not to issue the survey until the legal uncertainties related to last week’s court ruling overturning key parts of the state’s new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, are resolved.
Prior to Friday’s ruling, Superintendent Jane Belmore told the board the survey results would be collected and analyzed by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards at a cost of $1,000.
The survey would ask respondents whether they “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “agree,” “strongly agree” or have “no opinion” about questions such as “The hours I work are reasonable” and “Layoffs should be based on seniority.”
Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said the union is opposed to the district using an employee survey.
“Let’s have people who teachers already trust providing that input,” Matthews said.

Why It’s Never Mattered That America’s Schools ‘Lag’ Behind Other Countries

Gregory Ferenstein:

The United States has never ranked at the top of international education tests, since we began comparing countries in 1964, yet has been the dominant economic and innovative force in the world the entire time. Despite this fact, a popular annual education report has once again stoked fears of America’s impending economic mediocrity with fresh stats on how far the U.S. “lags” behind the world in college attainment, pre-school enrollment, and high school graduation.
The reason for the apparent disconnect is because schools don’t prepare students for the real world, so broad educational attainment will have a weak correlation with economic power. Research has consistently shown that on nearly every measure of education (instructional hours, class-size, enrollment, college preparation), what students learn in school does not translate into later life success. The United States has an abundance of the factors that likely do matter: access to the best immigrants, economic opportunity, and the best research facilities.

Milwaukee Public Schools’ retiree benefit costs drop by $1 billion

Erin Richards:

The latest actuarial valuation of the district’s nonpension benefit obligation was conducted by consultants Gabriel Roeder Smith & Co. If the conditions upon which the report is framed stay in place, MPS is predicted to face a $1.8 billion liability by the year 2019 instead of a $4.9 billion liability.
“This is an important step upon which we will continue to build,” Milwaukee Public School Board President Michael Bonds said in a statement provided by MPS.
The road to lower long-term health care costs started in late 2010, when the district finalized contracts with unions that called for a new health care plan administrator.
Under Act 10, the School Board in November 2011 approved increasing the health care premium contributions from employees, increasing the age and years of service needed to be eligible for the district’s retiree health benefits and increasing the amount of sick leave that needed to be accumulated in order for the board to subsidize the benefit.

Coursera on-line classes and the future of learning…

Jeremy Zawodny:

Ten years from now a “college education” is going to look radically different from when I went to school. And I think that’s a good thing, especially when you consider the skyrocketing costs of “higher education” and the miserable job market that recent graduates have faced.
This all started for me when I first saw MIT’s Open Courseware and then when Standford offered a few Computer Science courses on-line. I had actually signed up for Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning class but never made time in my schedule to participate. Since then, Andrew and Daphne Koller have kicked things up a notch by starting Coursera. They’ve built a platform that allows instructors to distribute their courses to many, many people on-line at a very low cost.
If you haven’t seen it, take a minute and browse the list of courses. There are 124 at the time of this writing, and that’s up from just a few weeks ago. I’ve already signed up for several (check my Coursera Profile), one of which starts tomorrow.

Three Things Colleges Don’t Want Us to Know

Richard Vedder:

Universities are in the knowledge business, and the creation and dissemination of it is at the very core of what colleges do. Yet some forms of knowledge about higher education itself are either unknown, or hidden from the public. Why? Release of the information would prove embarrassing and possibly even costly to the school.
1. What Are the Teaching Loads?
This is prompted by an email I received from Bill Armstrong, President of Colorado Christian College and former two-term U.S. Senator. He is looking for data on faculty teaching loads and cannot find it. Going to the latest Digest of Education Statistics, I learn that there were 7,500 faculty members teaching agricultural or home economics courses in 2003 between the ages of 35 and 39, or that there were 1,959 full-time equivalent faculty teaching in Delaware in 2009. But in over 20 tables on staffing, there is not a word on teaching loads.
Why? I suspect the reason is simple: faculty don’t teach very much, and far less than they used to. I have been around higher education for over 50 years, and my recollection is that at middling quality state schools in the early 1960s, most faculty taught around 12 hours a week. At those same schools today, the average load is almost certainly not more than 9 hours. At top-flight universities, faculty taught about six hours a week in the 1960s, and often 3 hours or 4.5 hours (one semester, one course, the second semester, two courses) now. On average, we have seen at least a 25 percent reduction in loads.

Annoucing Mr. Buchhauser’s Final Season

Dear WYSO Members and Families,
For the past 30 years, Mr. Tom Buchhauser has served as an exemplary music educator for over 1700 students who have played in WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra. At the end of the 2012-2013 season, Mr. Buchhauser will bring his productive and inspiring career at WYSO to a close.
In addition to his 30 seasons with WYSO, Mr. Buchhauser taught at Madison Memorial High School from 1966-1999, played cello for Madison Symphony Orchestra for nearly 20 years, served on the faculty of the National String Workshop for ten years and directed ensembles for the UW School of Music Pre-College Institute, the Madison Community Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Steenbock Young Artist Concerto Concerts.
He has received numerous awards for his excellence in teaching, including the Wisconsin Music Educators Conference Distinguished Service Award (1983), the National School Orchestra Association Director of the Year Award (1993), the American String Teachers Association Outstanding Service Award (1993), the Rabin Youth Arts Award (2001), and has scholarships named in his honor by the WSMA Honors Project, WYSO, and Madison Memorial High School. In 1999, Madison Metropolitan School District named the Memorial High School auditorium the “Thomas E. Buchhauser Auditorium.”
Mr. Buchhauser recently shared, “I have had many teachers and experiences that have shaped my life as a musician, teacher and conductor but none so profound as Marvin Rabin’s coming to Madison in 1966 to start WYSO and David Nelson asking me to be Associate Music Director of WYSO in 1983. It has been an honor to be part of such a great organization and I will be forever grateful to WYSO for all that it has given to me.”
We will treasure this final season with Mr. Buchhauser and applaud his tremendous efforts to embody the WYSO mission of enriching lives by providing transformational music experiences and opportunities.
Bridget Fraser
Bridget Fraser, Executive Director
Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras
455 No. Park Street
Humanities Building, Room 1625
Madison, WI 53706
608-263-3320 Ext 14

Teacher garners public sympathy after writing ‘seditious’ essays

Verna Yu:

If not for his heart attack in 2005, Chen Pingfu would still be a maths teacher, leading an ordinary life in Lanzhou, Gansu province.
That misfortune was followed by several more. Having no medical insurance from the state or his college, the 55-year-old fell into debt paying for his operation. Then he lost his job when his state factory-affiliated college closed in 2008.
Without an income, he turned to playing violin on the street for money – an act regarded as begging on the mainland. Police and officials would rough him up. But the experience opened Chen’s eyes to how people at the bottom of society are often abused.

Are ADHD Medications Overprescribed?

The Wall Street Journal:

In recent years, the number of children in the U.S. being treated with prescription medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has grown dramatically.
That trend has led to concern among some doctors, parents and child advocates that many children are taking ADHD medication unnecessarily.
These critics suggest that in many cases ADHD is a mistaken diagnosis for children who are simply immature or undisciplined. And even when the diagnosis is correct, they say, many children who are taking medication for ADHD could do as well or better with alternative treatments, including dietary and behavioral therapies, that have fewer side effects.