Do We Still Segregate Students? Schools around the nation are ‘detracking’ classes, putting kids of all achievement levels in the same room. Does that sabotage higher achievers?

Julie Halpert:

WHEN ERIC WITHERSPOON became superintendent of Evanston Township High School (www site) near Chicago in 2006, he walked into a math class where all the students were black. “A young man leaned over to me and said, ‘This is the dummy class.'”
The kids at Evanston who took honors classes were primarily white; those in the less demanding classes were minority–a pattern repeated, still, almost 60 years after integration, across the nation. All of the Evanston kids had been tracked into their classes based on how they’d performed on a test they took in eighth grade.
Last September, for the first time, most incoming freshmen, ranging from those reading at grade level to those reading far above it, were sitting together in rigorous humanities classes. When I visited, students of all abilities and backgrounds met in small groups to discuss one of the required readings, which include A Raisin in the Sun and The Odyssey. This September, most freshmen will sit side-by-side in biology classes.
Mindy Wallis, the mother of a sophomore at Evanston Township High, agrees. She opposed the decision to detrack, and spearheaded a petition that advocated waiting for the results of a three-year evaluation before making changes that so substantively affected the freshman class. Angela Allyn, whose 14-year-old son just took a freshman humanities class, says her son was hungry to read more than two-thirds of The Odyssey, which was all the class required. He was encouraged by his teachers to read the entire book, but Allyn says the teachers didn’t help him navigate difficult portions during class, so she had to work with him into the late hours of the night. Her son was teased by classmates, she says, for “showing off and using big words,” something she believes wouldn’t have occurred if he’d been grouped with a similar cohort. Detracking, she contends, focuses “on bringing the bottom up–and there’s an assumption that our bright children will take care of themselves.” She acknowledges that because she’s seen as having “white privilege,” despite the fact that she put herself through school and even occasionally had to use soup kitchens to get by, she’s perceived as racist by merely making such a comment.

Adam Gamoran
, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, also believes that race is part of the debate: “People who support tracking are more interested in productivity and less concerned about inequality, and people who are critics tend to focus on inequality and don’t spend too much time thinking about productivity.” Gamoran argues that schools that want to keep ability-grouping need to do a better job with the students in the lowest tracks, but he also believes that the most capable students may not always be sufficiently challenged in mixed-ability classes. “There’s no single solution,” he says. “The point is to try to address the limitations of whatever approach is selected.”


On Charter Schools and Education Reform

Karran Harper Royal:

And how an you tell if you’re on the wrong side of reform: Does the policy shut down open debate? Does it remove the democratic process? Do parents get to elect the charter board? Do the policymakers have to focus on a villain, in this case, teachers and unions as the bogeyman? Do they insist on closing schools rather than improving them? Do they impose on high stakes decision for children or teachers or schools? Do they talk about return on investment and are there billionaires pulling the strings? Do they focus on “school choice” over civil rights? These are signals that they are on the wrong side of education reform. And yet it’s easy to fall into the wrong side. Check out Karran’s brilliant analysis why. Thanks to Norm Scott for the video.

“I think we have come a long way”


“I think we have come a long way,” said Superintendent Jane Belmore. “The district, as you may know, developed a pretty ambitious achievement plan last year and came out to the community and talked with folks in the community about it, got a lot of buy-in and there are lots of community organizations that are really behind us on that.”
Superintendent Belmore says it will take a number of years to complete the process–but says they’re fortunate to have the resources to help put it into play this year. “We have a plan that we’re now looking at, really what I’m calling kind of sorting the priorities of the priorities, because it’s very ambitious,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to do everything at the same level, at the same time, but we’re really figuring out what the things are that are going to give us the most leverage.”
The Urban League of Greater Madison has been on the forefront of the fight to address the achievement gap. President and CEO Kaleem Caire says he thought the achievement gap plan was too broad to begin with.


Laid-off teachers look for their Plan B


Sarah Gardner:Thousands of teachers are notheading back to school this week. Budget cuts have hit one of this country’s largest professions especially hard. In the last three years, more than 300,000 education jobs have disappeared. And that’s left a lot of people working on their Plan B. Former technology teacher Chris Bjuland found his at the airport.
Chris Bjuland:I was working as a teacher in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, and I got called down to the principal’s office one day between classes, and he said, “Well I’m sorry to do this, but we’ve had some budget problems and so we’re going to have to let you and all the part-time teachers go.”
I did look for other teaching jobs. After about a year of really trying and seeing how frustrating it was, it was time to open up the horizons.

New Jersey Monthly’s high school survey isn’t the whole story

Laura Water:

Last week New Jersey Monthly published its biennial ranking of the state’s 328 public high schools, a closely-followed contest among N.J. districts. The top-ranked school in N.J. is New Providence High School in Union County, which boasts combined SAT scores of 1737 and a 97.7% graduation rate. The lowest-ranked traditional high school is Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy in Elizabeth, which admits to combined SAT scores of 1136 and a 53% graduation rate.
Rankings were compiled by an independent research firm in Ringwood called Leflein Associates, which used a combination of factors in its calculations, including average class size; SAT, A.P. and state assessment scores (HSPA); graduation rates; and socio-economic ranking (DFG).

Highlights from the NJ DOE’s Education Transformation Task Force Report

Laura Waters:

Yesterday the Christie Administration released the long-awaited the Education Transformation Task Force report. As NJ Spotlight reports, the 239-page report “was a gargantuan effort, with teams of educators and lawyers poring over more than 3,000 pages of the state’s voluminous laws and administrative code over the past six months.” (Also see overview from Courier Post.) Or, as the Task Force puts it,

Through the superintendents’ survey and countless conversations with educators across New Jersey, the Department learned that the State over the course of many years saddled educators with rules on every subject imaginable. The result is an accretion of provisions in statutes and regulations that ties the hands of schools and districts and stymies innovation. This not only frustrates good people trying to help students learn, it also increases costs and, on occasion, even erects obstacles to student achievement.

Texas Students Revolt Against Mandatory RFID Tracking Chips

Information Liberation:

‘Students and parents at two San Antonio schools are in revolt over a program that forces kids to wear RFID tracking name tags which are used to pinpoint their location on campus as well as outside school premises.
Students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School will be mandated to wear the tags from today which will be used to track them on campus as well as when they enter and leave school.

132 Wisconsin Schools of Recognition

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

State Superintendent Tony Evers announced 132 Wisconsin School of Recognition awards for the 2012-13 academic year, an honor that recognizes success in educating students from low-income families.
“Congratulations on a strong start to the 2012-13 school year,” Evers said. “These schools are being recognized for their work to break the link between poverty and low academic achievement through rigorous programming and attention to student needs. Their efforts align with our Agenda 2017 goals: to improve graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and close college and career readiness gaps.”

Matthew DeFour has more.

Schools That Can Milwaukee September 2012 Update

Abby Andrietsch, via a kind email:

Happy start to the school year! Our team is more excited than ever about the transformational work being done across Milwaukee.
Today, our 24 STCM partner schools serve over 10,000 students. As I hear the “first day” stories from several of our partner schools, I am reminded of all of the work put in by our coaches and school leaders to prepare: I am reminded of the four days of leadership training STCM held with more than 80 leaders from across the city coming together to focus on excellence in their schools; I am reminded of the more than 135 new urban teachers that came together for a STCM training focused on high-impact instructional practices.
The power of this group is real and the momentum is visible – these are the leaders that will change Milwaukee’s education system and prepare our future leaders. The results we have seen in each of the three STCM pathways (described below) are an early indication of what is possible for our city.
While I am more aware of the challenges facing our students, families, teachers, leaders and schools in Milwaukee, I am more hopeful than ever about what I know is possible. However, we can’t do it alone. It takes engagement from city leaders, educators, non-profit partners, business leaders and foundations. Join us in the movement to support quality across Milwaukee.
Warmest regards,
Abby Andrietsch
Executive Director
Schools That Can Milwaukee

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance; Wisconsin near the bottom….

(Tap or click to view a larger version)

Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson & Ludger Woessmann

“The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy.” Such was the dire warning recently issued by a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Chaired by former New York City schools chancellor Joel I. Klein and former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, the task force said that the country “will not be able to keep pace–much less lead–globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long.”
The report’s views are well supported by the available evidence. In a 2010 report, only 6 percent of U.S. students were found to be performing at the advanced level in mathematics, a percentage lower than those attained by 30 other countries.ii Nor is the problem limited to top-performing students.
Only 32 percent of 8th- graders in the United States are proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd when ranked among the participating international jurisdictions. Although these facts are discouraging, the United States has made substantial additional financial commitments to K-12 education and introduced a variety of school reforms.
Have these policies begun to help the United States close the international gap?
Progress was far from uniform across the United States, however. Indeed, the variation across states was about as large as the variation among the countries of the world. Maryland won the gold medal by having the steepest overall growth trend. Coming close behind, Florida won the silver medal and Delaware the bronze. The other seven states that rank among the top-10 improvers, all of which outpaced the United States as a whole, are Massachusetts, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia.
Iowa shows the slowest rate of improvement. The other four states whose gains were clearly less than those of the United States as a whole, ranked from the bottom, are Maine, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Note, however, that because of nonparticipation in the early NAEP assessments, we cannot estimate an improvement trend for the 1992-2011 time period for nine states–Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.


What’s A Charter School If Not A Game Changer?

Claudio Sanchez:

At this year’s charter school convention in Minneapolis, the birthplace of the movement, vendors sounded almost giddy about the millions of dollars charter schools spend every year. The vendors are selling everything from graphing calculators and playground equipment to packaged curricula and risk-management services.
Charter schools today are big business. The public and private money that’s going into charter schools, though, is not the main reason for their remarkable growth, Ted Kolderie says.
Kolderie, considered by many as the “godfather” of the charter school movement, says charters have grown because of the need for real options for kids who haven’t done well in traditional public schools.
Kolderie, a former journalist turned academic, designed and helped pass the nation’s first charter school laws. He began the work in Minnesota in 1991, despite formidable opposition — and not just from teachers’ unions.
“School boards’ associations, superintendents’ associations, principals’ associations — the whole array of organizations regarded in most states as the most powerful at the [state] capitol,” he says. “So the opposition wasn’t just something that the unions led.”
Ironically, Kolderie says, it was a top union leader who first endorsed and promoted the concept of charter schools in the spring of 1988. Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, gave a supportive speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“We’re meeting here today because it’s time to take a major step forward in trying to improve the schools of our nation,” he said.

In Defense of the Living, Breathing Professor

Adam Falk:

As classes resume on our nation’s campuses, amid anxiety about high tuition, student debt and other concerns, it’s worth examining what we value in college education. The question warrants consideration, in particular, following a recent recommendation by distinguished economists, appointed by the National Academy of Sciences, proposing to define the “output” of higher education as a combination of credit hours awarded and degrees earned.
That reduces the work of colleges to counting how many students they push through the system–a bit like defining a movie studio’s output as the number of feet of raw footage shot, with no consideration of whether the resulting movies are any good.

Hallway, a homework helper for high school students

Christina Farr:

Hallway, a startup created by high-school students for high-school students, is launching to the public today with seed funding from
The founders view their technology as the next logical step in education, and this summer, they’ve been testing the private beta at schools across the Greater Washington region.
Hallway is a website where students submit questions about subjects, such as algebra or political science, that their peers can answer. The site uses a Reddit-style system to rate the most useful questions and answers, which then rise to the top.

California Higher Education’s Hollow Core

Peter Berkowitz:

Some reflect the failure to manage effectively forces that have been inflating the nationwide higher education bubble. The cost of attending college, greatly outpacing the rate of inflation almost everywhere, has skyrocketed in California: Whereas nationwide tuition and fees at public universities over the last five years have risen on average by 28 percent, the average increase at UC campuses is an astounding 73.1 percent and, at Cal State campuses a still more astounding 83.8 percent. While turning away students and seeking billions for new buildings, California institutions are significantly under-using classroom and laboratory space. And, absent drastic reform, in little more than a decade the Cal State and UC systems are unlikely to be able to meet their obligations to faculty retirement programs.
More menacing to higher education in California is educators’ adoption of curricula, classroom pedagogy, and limitations on free speech that fly in the face of liberal education’s fundamental requirements. These practices also fly in the face of public opinion.

Read the complete PDF report, here.

Wesleyan University offers a three-year bachelor’s degree


Kai Ryssdal: There was an item in the Washington Post last week that piqued our interest. The president of an elite private college in Connecticut said he’s looking for ways to make school cheaper and let students graduate in less time.
The school is Wesleyan University. The president, Michael Roth, is also an alum. Back in the day, he got through in three years to save his parents some money. And with tuition where it is now, two fewer semesters can mean even bigger savings.
Michael Roth, good to have you with us.
Michael Roth: Nice to be here.
Ryssdal: How’s this going to work? Do you just double up on courses and work in the summertime?

A 1939 Map of Physics

Frank Jacobs:

Geography was my favourite subject in school; physics the one I disliked the most. If only I’d known about this Map of Physics!
This spatial representation of the subject, dating from 1939, defines itself as Being a map of physics, containing a brief historical outline of the subject as will be of interest to physicists, students, laymen at large; Also giving a description of the land of physics as seen by the daring sould who venture there; And more particularly the location of villages (named after pioneer physicists) as found by the many rivers; Also the date of founding of each village; As well as the date of its extinction; and finally a collection of various and sundry symbols frequently met with on the trip.

Computer programming will soon reach all Estonian schoolchildren

Richard Wilson:

Estonian Tiger Leap Foundation in September 2012 launched a program called “ProgeTiiger”, in the framework of which Estonian students in grades 1 to 12 will be introduced computer programming and creating web and mobile applications.
“The interest of students towards using modern technologies has grown year after year. With the “ProgeTiiger” program we create prerequisites for students to develop from consumers of software to developers of software,” said Tiger Leap Foundation training sphere manager Ave Lauringson.
In the first stage, the program concerns pilot schools, in the following years all public schools can join if they want to become part of the “ProgeTiiger” program.
The first ones to start with “ProgeTiiger” program lessons will be primary school students after their teachers go through corresponding training in September. Next year, programming hobby groups for middle school and selective courses for high school will be added. Study materials for all levels are being created. Tiger Leap Foundation’s initiative is supported by technology sphere

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Lost Decade of the Middle Class

Marcus Pohlman>:

The study released last week by the Pew Research Center confirms a trend that political economists have been observing for years — the middle class, the 50% of American households earning between $39,000 to $118,000, are now headed backward in income for the first time since the end of World War II.
The bedrock of a stable society is a large and healthy middle class. They not only do the bulk of the work and pay the lion’s share of the taxes, but their level of affluence gives them a personal stake in the survival of existing political and economic orders.

Related: Madison School District 2012-2013 Budget Update; Reduced 3.47% Property Tax Increase due to Increased State Tax Dollar Spending.

Fears in Taiwan over downside of education boom

Peter Harmsen:

When Hsu Chung-hsin went to university three decades ago he became part of a small elite in Taiwan. Now virtually everyone can enter higher education. That, he thinks, is deplorable.
“It’s become so easy. As long as you’re willing to pay the tuition, you can go to university. That’s no good,” said Hsu, a legislator with a PhD in law from Cambridge.
“It doesn’t influence the top universities. It’s the low-end universities that are affected. Their quality is low. The teaching is not so serious and the students are not so hard-working.”
Declining birth rates and an explosion in the number of universities — there are more than 160 for a population of 23 million — mean the vast majority of high school students gain entry to higher education.

Teachers unions’ alliance with Democratic Party frays

Seema Mehta:

Teachers unions have been the Democratic Party’s foot soldiers for more than half a century, providing not only generous financial backing but an army of volunteers in return for support of their entrenched power in the nation’s public schools.
But this relationship is fraying, and the deterioration was evident Monday as Democrats gathered here for their national convention.
A handful of teachers and parents, carrying large inflated pencils, picketed a screening of “Won’t Back Down,” a movie to be released this month starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as mothers, one a teacher, who try to take over a failing inner-city school.

David Dayen has more.

Lawmakers abandon California teacher evaluation bill

Associated Press:

State lawmakers failed to revive a controversial measure that would rewrite state rules on teacher evaluations, but supporters vowed to bring it up again in the next legislative session.
The long-dormant bill, AB 5, was resurrected in recent weeks by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), according to the Los Angeles Times ( It would institute a statewide uniform teacher evaluation system featuring more performance reviews, classroom observations, training of evaluators and public input into the review process.
Education advocates slammed the bill, saying the new rules would have weakened initiatives in Los Angeles and elsewhere to improve the quality of public school instructors.


Enventra :

MoboMath lets you create formatted math expressions for your favorite applications in your own handwriting.
Using a pen and tablet, or even a trackpad or mouse, simply write an equation as you normally would, tap Enter to convert it to formatted math, and copy or drag it into your target application for calculation, graphing, or documentation.

Outlook not set in stone for Wisconsin school of education enrollment

Arthur Thomas:

For all the changes implemented in 2011, one thing hurt enrollment at schools of education more than others, said John Gaffney, recruitment and retention coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s School of Education.
“The message of teachers being the problem hurt us the most,” Gaffney said.
The Act 10 legislation affected teachers’ pocketbooks – with union bargaining largely eliminated, higher deductions for benefits were imposed – and the political firestorm that resulted put teachers at the center of attention.
Maggie Beeber, undergraduate advising coordinator at the UW-Stevens Point education school, recounted a story where she was meeting with incoming freshmen. She asked the students if anyone had tried to discourage them from becoming teachers. Nearly every hand went up. Then she asked if more than five people had discouraged them. Most of the hands stayed up.
“It’s easy to follow the public discourse about teaching right now and conclude that everything is doomed,” said Desiree Pointer Mace, associate dean for graduate education at Alverno College.


Madison School District Teacher Handbook Plateau Bargaining

Matthew DeFour

More than 40 members of Madison Teachers Inc. attended Tuesday’s board meeting, and executive director John Matthews delivered a letter reminding the board that changes in state law “did not take away the board’s ability to engage in conversation about” benefits and work rules.
Board vice president Marj Passman said she preferred a process where management and employees work out their differences.
“I don’t care what the governor wants,” Passman said. “I’d like to go back to the two equal body process.”
Board member Arlene Silveira said several districts included teachers on the committees that developed their handbooks and “having staff input right upfront prevents difficult ways of getting there.” She also suggested having a board member present at each meeting.
Prior to the meeting, School Board President James Howard said the work group is for administrators so it doesn’t need to include teachers. There will be other advisory groups that will include their input, he said.

Clusty Search: Plateau Bargaining.
Karen Vieth

“The kids are delighted to be back at school,” James Howard said as he addressed the Board and numerous spectators at tonight’s Board of Education Workshop. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement, while they anxiously awaited the real topic of conversation. This would be the Board’s first public conversation on the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Employee Handbook, a handbook that would replace more than sixty years of collective bargaining.
As Howard spoke, I surveyed the crowd that had gathered in the McDaniels Auditorium at the Doyle Administration Building. Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) members stood out in their red, Union T-shirts. They made up more than half of the audience. The AFSCME members were dressed in green, representing custodial, maintenance and food service workers in the district. MMSD administrators, community members and a County Board member were also present.

TJ Mertz:

There was some Pollyannaish talk that the “Guiding Principles” in the process document — especially the first two “1. Improve student learning. As in everything we do, the first question and the top priority is student learning. How does what we are considering impact students? 2. Empower staff to do their best work. How does this impact teachers and staff? Does it help or hinder them in doing their jobs effectively?” — would be sufficient (a little more below on this), but there seemed to be a consensus that at very least the committee should present some options to the Board. That’s another reason to have an inclusive committee; to get better options.
A quick aside on the “Guiding Principals” and related thoughts and then back to the Board’s role. It is all well and good to say that student learning is or should be primary in just about everything, but it is also false and serves to marginalize staff. I’ve long said that the interests of teachers align with the interests of students and the district by about 95% and yes “student learning” is the prime interest. But staff are adults, with mortgages, families to support, loans to pay, relationships to cultivate and maintain, …They are not and should not be people who put student learning above the their own well being. To even contemplate that they should be is disrespectful. That’s why we hear the “All about the students” meme from the anti-teacher/anti-union reform crowd. It sound good, but it is wrong. Think about it, did the people negotiating a contract on behalf of Interim Superintendent Belmore put “student learning at the top of their list? Of course not, and they shouldn’t have.

Madison Teachers’ Solidarity Newsletter

Madison Teachers’, Inc. 65K PDF, via a kind Jeannie Bettner email:

Members of MTI’s Board of Directors and Union staff greeted the District’s newly hired teachers at New Teacher Orientation on Monday. There are 250 new members of MTI’s teacher bargaining unit.
MTI Executive Director John Matthews addressed the District’s new teachers during their Tuesday session. In doing so, Matthews provided a brief history of the Union, its reputation of negotiating outstanding Collective Bargaining Agreements which provide both employment security and economic security, and in explaining the threat to both, given Act 10, said all MTI members would need to pull together to preserve the Madison Metropolitan School District as a quality place to teach.
Matthews told the new hires that these benefits and rights, along with MTI’s action to assure due process and workplace justice, has earned MTI the reputation of being one of the best Unions in the country. To illustrate the magnitude of MTI’s accomplishments over the years, Matthews told about school board policy mandating female teachers, through the early 1970’s, having to advise their principal “immediately upon becoming pregnant”, and being obligated to resign when the pregnancy “began showing.” As a result of MTI’s accomplishments, such antiquated, degrading policies are history, he said.
Matthews also cited MTI’s precedent setting accomplishments in advancing employee rights regarding race, religion, sexual orientation, and negotiating such things as the school calendar and health insurance. Until the early 1970’s, the school calendar only accommodated Christian holidays. MTI’s litigation expanded the benefit to cover all religions.
Continue the Awareness, Continue the Protest, Wear Red for Education
Since February, 2011, MTI members have been tirelessly protesting and working to end the disastrous impact on public sector workers of Governor Scott Walker’s union busting destructive budget. The most important reasons for resistance vary from one union member to another and include: the Legislation jeopardizes children’s future and the viability of public education and other public services; its provisions are dishonest and immoral; they constitute an attack on Wisconsin’s working-class and middle-class values; they ask for no shared sacrifice from the wealthy or profitable corporations.
Payroll checks for all public employees have been substantially lessened because of Act 10, causing financial hardship for many families. Walker’s Law forces all public employees to pay 50% of retirement contributions, even though MTI and the Madison Metropolitan School District have agreed as part of one’s total compensation package dating to the early 1970’s, that the District would pay 100% of the contribution and many have increased contributions for health insurance.
MTI leaders are working with other public sector union leaders across Wisconsin to reverse this disastrous legislation.
Ready, Set, Goal Conferences
As previously reported in MTI Solidarity!, the Ready, Set Goal (RSG) memorandum has been amended, as a result of grievance mediation.
The Memorandum of Understanding between MTI and the Madison Metropolitan School District, which governs RSG Conferences has been amended to include the following parameters which apply, when determining the amount of compensation due a teacher for holding RSG Conferences during times other than scheduled school day(s)/ hours:

  • Teachers receive up to 15 minutes per student for conference preparation.
  • Teachers receive up to 30 minutes for each conference held.
  • Teachers are compensated for up to two parent “no shows” per student, at 30 minutes per scheduled conference. Teachers are not obligated to schedule a RSG conference after there have been two parent “no shows”. However, a teacher will be compensated pursuant to Section 2b (second bullet above), if the teacher thereafter holds a RSG conference for the student.
  • Compensation will continue to include traveling to/from homes of parents, or other mutually agreed upon meeting place(s), or traveling to/from school if the conferences are not at a time adjacent to the Contract day. Mileage shall be paid in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and reasonable expenses for refreshments shall be reimbursed.

The full RSG agreement is located on MTI’s website ( Questions can be directed to Assistant Director Eve Degen at MTI (257-4091 or

District working to pay more attention to new students

Matthew DeFour:

The later students enter Madison schools, the less likely they are to graduate on time and score well on state tests, according to district data Mayor Paul Soglin requested this year. The data do not take into account other variables connected to achievement such as race and income (bold added).
“Maybe we shouldn’t be as critical of the system in holding the district responsible for the failure of a 14-year-old who’s only been here a year and is reading at a seventh-grade level,” Soglin said. “If there is a difference, maybe it shows that some intense work should be done with kids upon arrival.”

I hope that the District evaluates the data in more depth…

Expats in Singapore arm children for Chinese century

Agence France-Presse:

As far back as 25 years ago, US investor Jim Rogers already believed China would be the next economic superpower and young people the world over should prepare for the future by learning Mandarin.
Now 69, the billionaire had a chance to practise what he preached when he moved in 2007 to Singapore with his wife Paige Parker, 43, after visiting Hong Kong and Shanghai in search of an ideal place to bring up his children.
Their daughters Happy, now nine, and Baby Bee, four, are studying in public schools in Singapore, which promotes mastery of Mandarin as part of its own ethnic Chinese heritage and, more pragmatically, to give its people economic opportunities.
“Singapore has the best education in the world, the best healthcare, the best everything. I think that the best gift that I can give two children born in 2003 and 2008 is to know Asia and to speak Mandarin,” Rogers told AFP.

On Harlem School Choice

Kyle Spencer:

But in interviews in recent weeks, Harlem parents described two drastically different public school experiences, expressing frustration that, among other things, there were still a limited number of high-quality choices and that many schools continued to underperform.
Those fortunate enough to get their sons or daughters into one of the high-performing schools said, for the most part, that they were thrilled with the quality of the teaching and extracurricular programs. Some of the parents who grew up in the neighborhood said that until a few years ago, they would never have imagined such options even existing.
Yet, while most of the charter schools perform relatively well on tests, a majority of Harlem’s students attend schools that do not. Among elementary schools in Harlem and East Harlem, only a few of the some 25 traditional neighborhood schools with students taking statewide tests had at least 50 percent of children reading at or above grade level.

Sri Lanka’s Lecturers go on strike, and the government has a drastic response

The Economist:

THE Buddhist monk, staring intently at the smoke rising from an incense stick, said the government was destroying state-provided education because it was “easier to control uneducated fools”. Maduluwawe Sobitha is an influential figure among Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhala population. He is also a loud critic of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The monk’s new National Movement Against Social Injustice is, with other groups and unions, backing a university lecturers’ strike for more state spending on education. Almost 5,000 academics stopped work on July 4th. Like them, he is angry that the government spends a mere 1.9% of GDP on schools and universities.
On August 23rd the higher education minister, S.B. Dissanayake, responded by closing down indefinitely the country’s state universities and institutes. He accused lecturers of dragging students into their campaign. Yet students, among them young Buddhist monks, still protest, demanding that the universities be reopened. On August 29th police in Colombo fired water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of students marching in support of academics. Members of the Inter University Students’ Federation (IUSF) retaliated by flinging whatever they could lay their hands on, including rocks and spent tear-gas canisters, at police.

Advocating More Rigorous Wisconsin Academic Standards

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Similarly, Wisconsin is now in the process of raising its academic standards and its ability to accurately gauge student, teacher and school performance.
This is a good thing, too — even though ratings for many students and some schools will fall when initially put into place. It’s not that students will be learning less. It’s that more rigorous instruction and assessments are coming on board.
Our students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve this more accurate picture of progress toward higher goals — the ones Wisconsin will need to meet to succeed in the knowledge-based, highly competitive global economy.

Related:”: and Madison MAP Testing Shows They are Falling Short Too.

An Interview with UW-Madison School of Education Dean Julie Underwood

Todd Finkelmeyer:

It’s an unprecedented amount of change, honestly,” says Julie Underwood, the dean of UW-Madison’s highly ranked School of Education.

  • The state this year will start rating each school on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student test scores and other measurables. The idea, in part, is to give parents a way to evaluate how a school is performing while motivating those within it to improve.
  • Several schools across the state — including Madison’s Shorewood Elementary, Black Hawk Middle and Memorial High schools — are part of Wisconsin’s new teacher and principal evaluation system, which for the first time will grade a teacher’s success, in part, on student test scores. This system is to be implemented across Wisconsin in>And instead of Wisconsin setting its own student benchmarks, the state is moving toward using Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in 45 other states. State schools are starting new curricula this year in language arts and math so students will be prepared by the 2014-15 school year to take a new state exam tied to this common core and replacing the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.

Although Underwood says she generally backs most of these changes, she’s no fan of the decision announced last month that makes it easier for a person to become a public school teacher — even as those who are studying to become teachers must now meet stiffer credentialing requirements. Instead of having to complete education training at a place like UW-Madison en route to being licensed, those with experience in private schools or with other teaching backgrounds now can take steps to become eligible for a public teaching license.
“I think that’s really unfortunate,” says Underwood, who first worked at UW-Madison from 1986-95 before coming back to town as education dean in 2005.


What Did You Do All Day?

Stanley Fish:

Of the many complaining questions that faculty members ask, the one I used to hear most often was, “Why do you administrators make so much more money than we do?” The answer is simple: Administrators work harder, they have more work to do, and they actually do it.
Now that I have made the passage back from administrator to faculty member, I know how true that is. Where before my calendar was crowded and even double-booked, now the largely empty pages beckon me forward to a life of comparative ease and downright leisure. Sure, I have some students to teach, and some papers to correct, and I chair a committee and go to a few meetings and write columns and essays; but I did all of that when I was a dean in addition to everything I did because I was a dean.

A selection of highlights from The British Science Festival’s illustrious 19th-century past

Clive Cookson:

The annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1831 and attended by “300 gentlemen”, quickly became the leading scientific event in Great Britain, the place where important advances were announced and great issues debated. The British Science Festival, as it is now called, takes place in Aberdeen from September 4 to 9. Below Clive Cookson selects his highlights from the event’s illustrious 19th-century past and looks forward to next week’s festival.

Zach Galin Interview on College Prep, Parents, Financing and Careers


Listen or download the mp3 audio
Zach has spent the past nine years working independently with students and families in the college admissions process. From test preparation to college matching, applications, and financial aid, Zach has helped students gain acceptance to their top choice schools.
Zach spent his undergraduate years at Northwestern University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Learning and Organizational Change. He was actively engaged in student government, Greek life, cultural affairs, and community service. Upon graduation, he ran an academic tutoring and test prep center on New York City’s upper west side. He worked with hundreds of families to diagnose students’ specific academic deficiencies and develop courses from a variety of text-based and digital curricula to improve their skills.

Website | Twitter: @zachgalin

An expert’s view of Common Core’s focus on nonfiction texts

Jim Stergios 165K PDF

The Common Core national standards are increasingly controversial, with Utah, Indiana and a number of states that had adopted them now reconsidering. A recent New York Times education blog notes the following:
Forty-four states and United States territories have adopted the Common Core Standards and, according to this recent Times article, one major change teachers can expect to see is more emphasis on reading “informational,” or nonfiction, texts across subject areas:
While English classes will still include healthy amounts of fiction, the standards say that students should be reading more nonfiction texts as they get older, to prepare them for the kinds of material they will read in college and careers. In the fourth grade, students should be reading about the same amount from “literary” and “informational” texts, according to the standards; in the eighth grade, 45 percent should be literary and 55 percent informational, and by 12th grade, the split should be 30/70.
And seeing itself as a potential vendor, the Times chirps cheerfully: “Well, The New York Times and The Learning Network are here to help”
There’s been a lot written on the loss of literature in curricula around the country. And there is good reason for that. As I noted in testimony to the Utah Education Interim Committee:
“Massachusetts’ remarkable rise on national assessments is not because we aligned our reading standards to the NAEP. Rather, it is because, unlike Common Core, our reading standards emphasized high-quality literature. Reading literature requires the acquisition in a compressed timeframe of a richer and broader vocabulary than non-fiction texts. Vocabulary acquisition is all-important in the timely development of higher-level reading skills.”
But even if you agree with the idea of refocusing our classrooms on nonfiction texts, what is the quality of the offerings suggested by Common Core, a set of standards copyrighted by two Washington-based entities (the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association)?.

American School Board Journal: Q&A with Will Fitzhugh, research paper advocate

September 2012 Q&A School Board News;
Will Fitzhugh is a great believer in the educational power of the high school research paper. In fact, he’s such a fan that he founded The Concord Review in 1987 to publish student research papers and highlight the academic quality of their work.
But his mission is a bit tougher these days. In 2002, he conducted a study of high school history teachers and discovered that, although nearly all of them said a term paper was a good idea, 62 percent never assigned a 12-page paper–and 27 percent never assigned an eight-page paper.
Page numbers aren’t the only measure of a writing project, but the consensus is that the rigor of high school research papers hasn’t improved over the years. And that means that–outside of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses–very few students are tested by this kind of rigorous writing project.
That’s not a good trend, and Fitzhugh champions the idea that school policymakers should bring back the practice of assigning serious research papers to high school students. He encourages schools to adopt his Paper Per Year Plan©, which calls on schools to assign research papers that require students to write one more page, with one more source, for every grade of schooling. Even a first-grader should be writing one-page papers with one source listed.
Recently, Fitzhugh shared his thoughts on the poor showing of high school writing projects with ASBJ Senior Editor Del Stover.
Why should it matter if students are writing lengthy term papers?
“Two great things about serious research papers: They ask for a lot of reading, and as a result, the student learns a lot about something. This encourages students to believe that, through their own efforts for the most part, they can learn about other things in the future. In addition, a serious research paper can help them keep out of remedial reading and writing classes at college.”
To engage students, some educators are allowing students to communicate through a variety of media. Is this innovative–or a mistake?
“This is a mistake by teachers desperate to pander to student interests instead of requiring them to do the hard work essential to their education. When the Business Roundtable companies spend $3 billion-plus each year on remedial writing courses for their employees–hourly and salaried, current and new–they do not have them write blogs, read comic books, or enjoy PowerPoint presentations. That would waste their money and the time of students, and it wouldn’t accomplish the remedial writing tasks.”
Is the term paper really dead? You’re still publishing term papers in your quarterly, so you must still be seeing teachers–and students–who are rising to the highest standards?
“The papers I have been getting continue to impress me. I could tell you stories of students who spend months on their submissions to The Concord Review and then send me an Emerson Prize-winning 15,000-word paper. Many of these students are going well beyond the expectations and standards of their schools because they seek to be published. But, as I say, for most students, they are never asked even to try a serious history research paper.
In general, it is safe to say that all U.S. public high schools are unlikely to assign rigorous term papers, and the kids suffer accordingly.”

What advice can you offer to school board members and administrators as they struggle to raise student skills in reading and writing?

“The California State College System reports that 47 percent of their freshmen are in remedial reading courses, and in a survey of college professors by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 90 percent of them said their students are not very well prepared in reading or writing, or in doing research.
So school board members should be aware of how poorly we are preparing our kids in nonfiction reading and academic expository writing–and they should ask their superintendents what can be done about that.
I’ve argued that, if reading and writing is a serious skill that kids need, then we have to decide if we are willing to invest [in this effort]. Kids are spending three or four hours of time on homework a week and 54 hours on entertainment. It’s not going to kill them to spend four more hours a week on a paper.”
“Teach by Example”
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Loss of master’s degree pay bump has impact on teachers, grad schools

Erin Richards, via a kind reader’s email:

The dropping of the master’s bump in many districts is also raising new questions about what kind of outside training is relevant to help teachers improve outcomes with their students, and what those teachers – who are already taking home less pay by contributing more to their benefits – will consider to be worth the investment.
Wauwatosa East High School government teacher Ann Herrera Ward is one educator puzzled by the turning tide on advanced degrees.
Ward earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before working in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven years, then got on the road to a teaching license through Marquette University, where she got a master’s in instructional leadership.
Entering her 20th year as a teacher, she’s finishing her dissertation for her doctorate degree: a study of how kids learn about elections and politics by discussing the matters in school and at home.


Poverty Higher Than he 1960’s When War on Poverty Began

Al Jazeera English, via Matt Diaz:

There is more evidence of the growing wealth gap in the US: A new report says that the number of people living in poverty could be at its highest level in nearly half a century. So how can the US government help its least fortunate?
In 2010, one in six Americans were considered poor. That is more than 47 million people living on less than $10,500 per year.
“We are creating poverty in this country …. If you are unemployed, employers are not going to want to hire you because you are unemployed. If your credit rating is bad, nobody is going to want to hire you. It’s like we have a system for pushing people who begin to slide down further and further.”
– Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of the book Nickel and Dimed
The official government numbers on poverty in 2011 will be released just weeks ahead of the November presidential elections.
But an associated press survey of economists and think tanks says that the number of poor Americans could reach 15.7 per cent, making it the highest level since the 1960’s.

Trading caps and gowns for mops

Quentin Fottrell:

After commencement, a growing number young people say they have no choice but to take low-skilled jobs, according to a survey released this week.
Another survey by Rutgers University came to the same conclusion: Half of graduates in the past five years say their jobs didn’t require a four-year degree and only 20% said their first job was on their career path. “Our society’s most talented people are unable to find a job that gives them a decent income,” says Cliff Zukin, a professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers.

Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?

Daniel Lametti:

Few people spend 11 years in college. Most stay for four or five before the urge to leave campus and earn a salary kicks in. Barring a thesis defense meltdown, I’ll be one of about 50,000 graduate students across the United States and Canada to get a Ph.D. in science this school year. After seven years in graduate school, I’m left wondering if the time and effort was worth it. What do scientists do these days, anyways?
According to several recent reports, not much. The problem, stated last month in the Washington Post, is that academic jobs have all but disappeared. A 2011 report in Nature concurs: “People who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack.”
A 2010 article in the Economist subtitled “Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time” is even more damning of doctorates. To be fair, that article targeted all Ph.D.s, but the reporter made science doctorates seem particularly worthless, writing that she “slogged through a largely pointless PhD in theoretical ecology.” After crunching the numbers and talking to about a dozen people with science doctorates, though, I’ve concluded that for everything these accounts get right, they get just as much wrong. In short, science Ph.D.s are just about the last group of people the media should be worrying about. Let me explain.

10 things to watch for in the new school year

Alan Borsuk

Oconomowoc High School.
They have reduced the teaching staff and increased the workload for many teachers (giving them a boost in pay).
But what really interests me is a key to their plan: Making fundamental changes in the dynamic of education.
The goal is that a lot of the presentation of lectures and other instruction will come via video and the Internet. Education will be more customized for students, students will take more responsibility for their learning, and teachers will do more coaching, mentoring, monitoring.
There’s a lot of ferment in education over changes such as these. Oconomowoc will be an important test case.

Related: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.

Madison School District Employee Handbook Process

The Madison School District Administration:

Guiding Principles: Superintendent

  • Improve student learning. As in everything we do, the first question and the top priority is student learning. How does what we are considering impact students?
  • Empower staff to do their best work. How does this impact teachers and staff? Does it help or hinder them in doing their jobs effectively?
  • Strategically align use of resources. Does this align with our strategic plan and achievement gap plan? Will it allow us to implement, measure, and improve that work? Is it financially responsible?
  • Avoid redundancies and create consistencies. Are pieces of the handbook already outlined in state law or Board policy or other mandates?
  • Consider incremental change. Can we work toward a larger goal through incremental steps?
  • Respectful discussion.

I will be surprised if the school District’s handbook differs materially from the current 182 page union contract. Some Districts will think very differently, while most will, I suspect continue business as usual.

The Harvard Cheating Scandal Is Stupid

The Last Psychiatrist:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard University is investigating what it calls an “unprecedented” case of cheating. College officials say around 125 students may have shared answers and plagiarized on a [Introduction To Congress] final exam.

What a scandal that such a thing would happen at Harvard! “Academic integrity issues are a bedrock of the educational mission.” And etc.
Before everyone rushes to their predetermined sides, can we ask why, when there are cheating scandals, they are almost always in introductory classes? When the stakes are lowest?
75% of the students in these kind of courses get As and Bs because of Grade Inflation. I’d put big money down that if I used a crayon to draw an elephant and a donkey I’d get at least a B+ with the margin comment, “Interesting take, could you elaborate?”
And yet the students here felt compelled to cheat. Take a minute away from your self-righteousness and put yourself in their shoes. Did they not think they could get an A on their own? Or…. is “cheating” the only way to create the kind of answer that the professor wants?

The first of a new breed of elite private school opens its doors

The Economist:

What’s Mandarin for “School’s out”?
THE first time he tried to create the “next generation of schools”, back in the early 1990s, Chris Whittle’s focus was on improving the education of the poorest pupils in America’s worst-performing public schools. Although in doing so the perennially bow-tied entrepreneur from Tennessee helped pioneer the charter-school movement, his Edison Project ultimately failed to thrive as a business. Now, with Benno Schmidt and Alan Greenberg, he is trying to reinvent education for bright, rich kids. On September 10th “Avenues: The World School“, the first of a planned global network, will welcome 700 pupils into a lavishly converted warehouse next to Manhattan’s popular High Line park. Their parents will typically pay just under $40,000 a year (in line with New York’s established top-tier private schools), having been promised cutting-edge technology and everything else to match.
Getting this far has not been easy for Mr Whittle, who says he has had to become “one third educator, one third real-estate developer, and one third investment banker.” After conceiving the idea in 2007 of creating a chain of similar schools in the world’s leading cities, the financial crisis robbed him of funding, a business partner and the intended first Manhattan site. Eventually he raised the $75m needed to get the first school up and running, found another site, and then toured the world to recruit staff and pupils. Many of the teaching staff have previously worked at other elite east-coast private schools, including Phillips Exeter, Hotchkiss and Dalton. (Even more gratifying than the 2,600 applications to attend Avenues were the 4,900 applications it received to teach there, says Mr Whittle.)

Middle School Charters in Texas: An Examination of Student Characteristics and Achievement Levels of Entrants and Leavers

Dr. Ed Fuller:

Charter schools have proliferated in Texas and across the nation. The expansion of charter schools is now a popular reform effort for many policymakers on both the right and left of the political spectrum. To examine the efficacy of such policies, a number of researchers have focused on the effects charter schools have had on student achievement, most of which have found little difference in achievement between the two types of schools (CREDO, 2009; Zimmer, R., Gill, B., Booker, K., Lavertu, S., Sass, T., and Witte, 2008). Yet, there is still a relative dearth of information about the characteristics of students entering and leaving charter schools and how these characteristics might be related to school-level achievement. This is particularly true with respect to charter schools in Texas. Most of the work in this area has focused on student racial and ethnic characteristics, while a fair number of studies have examined special education status and English-Language Learner status of entrants. Very little research has focused on the academic ability of students entering charter schools, the student attrition rate of charter schools, and the characteristics of the students staying and leaving charter schools. This study seeks to ameliorate this paucity of information, particularly as it pertains to high-profile and high-enrollment charter schools in Texas.

Nutritious School Lunches, or the New Hunger Games?

Kevin Fallon:

After a years-long crusade, activists including Michelle Obama have finally landed more nutritious lunches in public schools. But rather than giving thanks, hungry kids are pleading, ‘Please, first lady, may I have some more?’ Kevin Fallon on the response from health experts.
“Give me some seconds, I, I need to get some food today,” croons Callahan Grund, a 16-year-old football player from Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kan. “My friends are in the corner store getting junk so they don’t waste away …”
Set to the tune of fun.’s chart-topping hit “We Are Young,” “We Are Hungry” is a video made by a group of Wallace County students and teachers who are tired of their stomachs grumbling after new regulations mandated healthier lunches be served in school. In the clip, which has already accrued over 500,000 views on YouTube, Grund and his classmates are seen collapsing during sports practice, stealing food off each other’s lunch trays, and frowning over puny-sized pieces of meat. “Tonight, we are hungry / Set the policy on fire, it can burn brighter than the sun.”

Triumph of a tough writing teacher

Jay Matthews:

One of Anne Collins’s sons was not a strong writer. He struggled at Gonzaga College High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Northwest Washington, until his junior year in 2005, when he took an English class taught by Rick Cannon. Amazing things began to happen.
Cannon, a Gonzaga teacher since 1976, seemed to Collins from another time, perhaps another planet. He asked parents for help in limiting use of word processors. He wanted students to write in longhand as much as possible. Slower writing was better writing. His slogan: “Rewrite always.”

The Creep of Marketplace Reasoning into Public Schools (Part 3)

Larry Cuban:

$If you are a second grader in an underachieving Dallas (TX) school for each book you read you will get paid $2.
And it is this last item that I want to elaborate because schools have become reformers’ favorite targets for cash incentives to change student and teacher behavior that go well beyond the business involvement I described in Arlington (VA) in the 1970s and 1980s. The “creep of marketplace reasoning into public schools” is the unexamined use of these cash incentives in current school reform efforts to solve larger national problems -producing skilled graduates to strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness and reduce inequalities in the U.S.

High School Claims Title in Football’s Megascreen Wars

Ana Campoy

This tiny town near the Louisiana border can now make the outsize claim that it is home to the biggest high-school football video scoreboard in the whole state of Texas–and maybe the country.
On Friday, all eyes will be on the high-resolution, 1,200 square-feet screen when it powers on for the Carthage Bulldogs’ first game of the season.
Among the $750,000 behemoth’s features: instant replay, animated graphics to fire up the fans and individual stat cards for the teenage players, complete with pictures.

Madison School District 2012-2013 Budget Update; Reduced3.47% Property Tax Increase due to Increased State Tax Dollar Spending

Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore:

We are now projected to receive an additional $11.8 million in state aid, but because of the state revenue limit, we only have the authority to increase our spending by $8.1 million. That means that $3.7 million of our projected $11.8 million increase in state aid must be used to shift spending off of the property tax levy. This shift results in a property tax increase of 3.47%, which is down from the original increase of 4.95% that you approved in the preliminary budget.
In other words, we will immediately deliver $3.7 million or nearly 1.5% in property tax relief for our constituents.

The $376,200,000 2012-2013 Madison School District budget spends $15,132 for each of its 24,861 students.

Close look at KIPP charter school challenges

Jay Matthews:

I have been following the progress of KIPP public charter schools since 2001. Initially this charter network was just one story out of many. But when its first school here, the KIPP DC: KEY Academy, began performing better than Northwest Washington schools with many middle class children, I made it a regular stop.
I also spent time with the network’s founders, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, visited about 40 of their other schools and wrote a book about KIPP, “Work Hard. Be Nice,” published in 2009.
This summer there are 125 KIPP schools with a total of 39,000 students in 20 states and the District. Eighty-seven percent of KIPP students are from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies. Fifty-nine percent are black and 36 percent Hispanic.

Does Milwaukee’s Voucher Program Work or Not?

The Legislative Audit Bureau’s (LAB) review of the final year of the state-authorized five year longitudinal study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) is once again bringing the never-ending debate on the efficacy of school choice into the public discourse.
At issue is the LAB’s conclusion that statistically significant test score gains for MPCP pupils in the final year of the study may be in part attributed to the introduction of universal Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) testing for all MPCP pupils. There is research showing mandatory testing can create a bump in test scores. Hence, LAB states the SCDP finding on reading gains is not conclusive.
The LAB analysis is news only if you did not read the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) studies when they were released earlier this year. The SCDP states clearly: “There is some evidence that the larger achievement growth of the MPCP students that we observe is attributable to the introduction of the accountability policy.” In other words, after five years we know MPCP and MPS students experience similar gains in math scores, and statistically significant gains in reading scores that may or may not be caused by the change in testing policy.
Some perspective. Even statistically significant gains are not necessarily all that substantively significant. A slightly higher reading score is not going to make or break the future of a child. It is important to understand what the SCDP study actually set out to accomplish. It was a program evaluation designed to determine how the MPCP impacted Milwaukee students. Accordingly, over the course of the study the public learned an almost overwhelming amount about a program that was once criticized for being understudied. The public now knows:

Madison’s Talented & Gifted Plan Revisions

Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore:

The initial TAG Plan, created by a variety of stakeholders including teachers, administrators, parents, and community members was approved by the Board of Education on August 27, 2009, and revised and approved on December 13, 2010. The Department of Public Instruction determined that the MMSD TAG Department was out of compliance at the end of May 2011. In June 2011, the current coordinator assumed duties and a new TAG Plan was written to address issues of noncompliance; the plan was approved by the BOE on August 8, 2011. An extension of one year was granted to MMSD to become compliant. The TAG End-of-Year document uses the framework of the original plan and incorporates information that addresses compliance issues as outlined in the 2011 TAG Plan. DPI has indicated that the audit will take place in the last half of September, 2012.
In the letter to Mr. Howard (August 14, 2012), DPI requested additional documentation be submitted to the DPI no later than September 7. The TAG Plan is a major piece of this documentation.

Related: Notes and links on the parent talented & gifted complaint.

Madison School District Student Assessment Summary

Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore:

MAP often shows substantial declines in the percent of students identified as proficient or advanced as compared to past WKCE scores. This does not reflect a change in students’ abilities, but rather reflects a change to higher standards. MMSD’s WKCE results have been consistent for years.

  • With 2011-12 being the first year that MMSD administered MAP, great caution must be exercised to avoid over-interpretation of results. One of the advantages of MAP is the ability to measure growth, and 2011-12 represent only a single data point. Plans for the immediate future include rigorous statistical analysis that will include significance tests to focus in on areas of excellence and possible concern.
  • Student proficiencies are lower as measured by MAP than Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Exam (WKCE). This is likely due to MAP being a more difficult and rigorous assessment than WKCE. MAP is also normed at the national level. MMSD has largely done well against other Wisconsin districts, but its results are not as strong when compared nationally.

15 Wisconsin groups eye Race to the Top funds; Madison won’t apply

Matthew DeFour:

Madison recently completed and is now implementing “an ambitious and innovative plan to improve student achievement and close gaps.” The district had discussed applying for Race to the Top funds in recent weeks, but decided the timing wasn’t right, Belmore told the board.
“A year or two from now, we feel MMSD would be poised to take advantage of an opportunity like this one and make a competitive case,” Belmore wrote to the board. “But based on our implementation time line, we feel this grant does not come at the right time for our district. This year, we will be disciplined in focusing our internal resources on effectively implementing our achievement gap plan and making improvements for all students.”

Related: Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay.

Singapore tops International Geography Olympiad

Channel News Asia:

Singapore students have come out tops in the 9th International Geography Olympiad (iGeo) held in Cologne, Germany.
The team obtained two gold and two silver medals, which put the team first among 32 countries.
This is the second time Singapore is taking part in iGeo.
The gold medalists are Chua De Xun Samuel and Tan Wei Jie Brendan from Raffles Institution (Junior College). Samuel Chua was also the top gold medalist in the 9th iGeo.

Tom Knight, Godfather Of Synthetic Biology, On How To Learn Something New

Adam Bluestein:

It was partly frustration with designing silicon chips that led Tom Knight to the study of biology. A senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Knight started working in MIT’s AI Lab while he was in high school. As an MIT student and faculty member, in the ’60s and ’70s Knight was a co-engineer of ARPANET, a precursor of the Internet, and helped design the first commercial single-user computer workstations, eventually earning more than 30 patents for his work in computer science and electrical engineering. In the 1990s, Knight became fascinated with biology, went back to school, and set up a molecular biology lab within MIT’s computer science lab. There, Knight invented BioBricks–standardized DNA “parts” that make up a kind of free operating system for biotechnology. For his pioneering work merging concepts from engineering and biology, Knight is widely considered the godfather of the emerging science of synthetic biology. Here, this key player in the technological revolution of the last century talks about biology as this century’s defining technology, the need for scientific generalists, and the best way to learn something new.

America Needs A Longer School Year

Jennifer Davis:

(CNN) — In America, summer holds a special place in our hearts: lazy afternoons, camping at the lake, warm evenings gazing at the moon. For children, especially, summer can unleash the free flow of discovery. For older children, summer often brings their first job.
But this idyllic picture masks the reality that for too many children, particularly those from low-income families, languid summers can be educationally detrimental, and for families in which both parents work, summers are a logistical nightmare.
Considerable research shows that the primary reason the achievement gap between poor children and their more affluent peers widens over the course of their school careers is the long break in learning over the summer. It’s called summer slide.

National Center on Time & Learning

A Worksheet for Math-Phobic Parents

Sue Shellenbarger:

Parents who hate math often fear raising kids who will feel the same.
Tammy Jolley is one of them–“a horrible math-phobic,” she says. After struggling through algebra and statistics in high school and college, helping her 9-year-old son Jake with math homework makes her “feel like saying, ‘Aaarghh, this is hard! I know why you don’t get it,’ ” says the Madison, Ala., state-court official. Instead, she forces herself to encourage Jake.
Ongoing research is shedding new light on the importance of math to children’s success. Math skill at kindergarten entry is an even stronger predictor of later school achievement than reading skills or the ability to pay attention, according to a 2007 study in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Flynn’s IQ

Bryan Appleyard:

In a very small nutshell, his ­explanation for the Flynn Effect is this. Human ­potential at birth is unchanged; we are not, in any fundamental sense, becoming a smarter species. But the way we live has changed. IQ tests were first ­established in the 19th century at a time when daily life was concrete and ­practical. The tests, however, had to be abstract to make them culturally ­neutral. People, therefore, found them harder because they were unaccustomed to such modes of thought.
In the 20th century, greater ­educational possibilities combined with technological advances introduced abstract thought into daily life. It takes, for example, a high degree of abstract thinking to operate a mobile phone or computer. People became better at IQ tests and, steadily, the scores rose. So IQ scores are meaningless unless their date and social norms are taken into account. This leads to Flynn’s grandest and most fervently held view — that a lack of social awareness leads inexorably to folly. Indeed, the penultimate chapter is a list of 14 examples in which science has failed because of social blindness. Low-IQ people, for example, are not more prone to violence and, contrary to widespread assumptions, no clear link between nutrition and IQ has been found.

Austin Schools To Track Students With GPS Devices

Tracie Chan:

School districts are increasingly relying on fancy technology to prevent students from skipping class in order to do important things like fight evil entities emerging from the Hellmouth located underneath the school library. Last May, San Antonio’s Northside Independent School district announced they would be using RFID-tagged student ID cards to track students on school campuses and buses. This school year, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) is introducing a global positioning system (GPS) device to track students’ whereabouts.
KXAN reports that this GPS device, which resembles a cellphone, will be given to up to 1,700 students with low attendance rates in eight Austin high schools. The students will use this device to check-in with mentors several times a day. Additionally, these mentors will call the students a few times a week to discuss the latest happenings in school.

Austin will spend $724,200,000 for 86,697 students ($8,353/student). The 2011-2012 Madison school district budget spent roughly $369,394,753 for 24,861 students ($14,858.40 / student), or 43% more than Austin.