Infinite Campus, Infinite Problems

Libby’s Board of Education Blog:

I conducted a (very) informal poll last night on Facebook–out of curiosity I asked my friends how often their teachers used Infinite Campus. The results didn’t shock me-most respondents answered either “half” or “some” of their teachers updated their gradebook regularly. Personally, “half” accurately describes my teachers. For some classes, I consistently know what grade I’m getting because the teachers add assignments often. However, many classes aren’t updated regularly, making it hard for me to know what assignments I’m missing and how to prioritize my time.
Infinite Campus is a six-year old program that the district has continuously struggled to implement. It’s in every school and every teacher has access, but the system isn’t always user friendly for teachers and staff inputting data. I’m pretty sure teachers don’t update because of the clunky interface. In fact, tonight’s Board Meeting confronted an issue with Infinite Campus: not everyone uses it.
Ed Hughes got mad tonight. After a string of public appearances condemning IC, disappointing news that the Infinite Campus developers weren’t flexible about changing and a suggestion that we abandon the Infinite Campus system entirely, Mr. Hughes practically shouted that “we should either require all teachers to be compliant or get some direction from the administration on what we need to change.”

Much more on the Madison School District’s Infinite Campus experience, here.
Libby mentioned “developers weren’t flexible about changing”… There may well be opportunities for improvement. But, Infinite Campus has a large installed base. Why is it working in other Districts, and not Madison? My 18 years in the software business informs me that leadership is critical to successful implementation. It also means that such systems must be mandated. Waiting six years is a disaster, financially and from a credibility perspective.
Nearby Districts such as Verona have managed to implement student information systems. Why can’t Madison? Time to pull the plug if the Administration can’t make it happen.

AP Classes are a scam

John Tierney:

Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That’s the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.
That’s a pretty strong claim, right? You bet. But why not be straightforward when discussing a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff’s eyebrows?
The miscellany of AP courses offered in U.S. high schools under the imprimatur of the College Board probably started with good intentions. The idea, going back to the 1950s, was to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work.

Futuristic Rocketship schools redefine teaching

Greg Toppo:

The fourth-grader, his dark hair cropped close, has been staring at a computer screen for close to 20 minutes, trying again and again to solve a devilish little puzzle built around rectangles’ axes of symmetry.
Two friends appear, offering unsolicited advice and urging him to try their solutions. Nothing works, and their teacher, who could offer help, is nowhere in sight.
“This one’s hard,” classmate Brian Aguilera says. Zepeda keeps trying. Finally, after 15 minutes’ more work, he cracks the puzzle. His reward: another, harder puzzle.
Another morning in Learning Lab at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy, a 3-year-old charter school built on a sliver of city-owned land in the shadow of the I-680 off-ramp. Si Se Puede — Spanish for “Yes It’s Possible” or “Yes We Can” — is part of a tiny chain of schools set to expand nationwide.

Rocketship will be opening in Milwaukee during the fall of 2013.

Discovery learning is the new higher learning

Dan Tapscott:

A similar fate could soon await Canada’s universities. On the surface, they may seem in good health. Competition is fierce and lecture halls are packed with young, tech-savvy learners. But as The Globe and Mail’s series on higher education has clearly revealed, deep anxieties exist.
The university is in danger of losing its monopoly, and for good reason. The most visible threat are the new online courses, many of them free, with some of the best professors in their respective fields. Students are beginning to wonder whether to pay today’s hefty tuition fees, especially if third-party testers will provide certificates, diplomas, even degrees.
But cheap online courses aren’t the biggest challenge. There is a much deeper threat. There is a rapidly widening gap between the model offered by big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up immersed in digital technologies best learn. If universities want to prosper, they need to embrace a new model of pedagogy.
Since the invention of chalk and blackboard, professors have given lectures standing in front of many students. The student’s job was to absorb this content and regurgitate it on exams. It’s a teacher-focused, one-way, one-size-fits-all model and the student is isolated in the learning process.

Computer Science Should Be Required in K-12

Ross Pomeroy:

Despite the ubiquity of computers in society, computer science is glaringly absent from K-12 education. In 2010, only nine states counted computer science as a core graduation credit and none required it as a condition of a student’s graduation.
This situation is not improving. To the contrary, there are signs of stagnation. According to a recent report by Microsoft, only 2,100 high schools offered the Advanced Placement test in computer science last year, down 25% over the last five years.

Improving student achievement won’t happen in a vacuum

Don Huebscher:

School officials in Eau Claire and around the state are anticipating some fallout later this month when the state releases new “report cards” to districts reflecting more stingent proficiency levels than in the past.
The result is that only about half as many students in Wisconsin achieved what amounts to a passing score, the state Department of Public Instruction reports.
“I have slight concern about how this is going to be reported to the public,” Eau Claire school board President Carol Craig said at last week’s board meeting.

Why College May Be Totally Free Within 10 Years

Dan Kadlec:

As few as 10 years from now, quality higher education will be largely free–unless, of course, nothing much has changed. It all depends on whom you believe. But one thing is clear: The debate about financing education grows louder by the day.
Experts with a wide range of views on the subject, including the always-interesting Harvard professor and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, weighed in last weekend at the Nantucket Project, a big-think conference in the spirit of TED and Aspen Ideas Festival. The most provocative, though, were hedge fund billionaire Peter Thiel and the author and entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa.
Thiel has gotten a lot of attention for his view that higher education is broken, and that many kids would be better off saving their money and going straight from high school into a trade or developing a business. His “20 under 20” fellowship grants high school graduates with a sound business idea $100,000 if they agree to skip college and go right to work on their idea.

Great pull of China

Michael Taylor:

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Kenny Chan spent one year as an assistant civil engineer and two years as an auditor at a Big Four accounting firm, where he specialised in auditing financial institutions.
But Chan was not happy with the nature of his work and wanted a job in investment or asset management. When the subprime mortgage crisis hit in 2008, he decided that an MBA would best pave the way to a career switch.
He quit his job, reasoning that his “opportunity costs” were at their lowest due to the financial crisis, and enrolled in a full-time MBA at the China Europe International Business School (CEIB) in Shanghai. He is now an assistant investment manager at UBS SDIC Fund Management Company.

Why Are We Afraid to Show Off Our Brightest Students’ Work?

[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®

Madison School District Excellence Gaps / Differentiation Range in Classrooms

Lorie Raihala, via a kind email:
At the recent WATG conference in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Dr. Scott Peters from the UW Whitewater gave a presentation on “Data-Based Curriculum for RtI Implementation (Including Gifted Ed).” Dr. Peters spends a lot of time analyzing data. One thing he has discovered is just how wide the “excellence gaps” are in Madison. Take a look at this website, where you can view the breakdown of “advanced” WKCE scores for specific MMSD schools according to race/ethnicity and economic status: WINNS. You can also change variables to compare results by subject over the past several years.
For Dr. Peters’s “Data-Based Curriculum” presentation, he gave audience members sample MAP score reports for a sixth grade classroom, along with a sheet of sample MAP questions that showed what students at the various score levels can be expected to do. The range in “Reading” scores extended from the 1st to the 90th percentile, with all points between. This range in reading levels represents the difference between, for instance, this question:
Which is a toy?
1. chair
2. shirt
3. ball
4. cookie
and this question:
Read the passage.
Our database of more than 3,000 articles of documented investigations is an easy-to-use tool for scientific research. Users may look for a general topic or narrow their search through the use of three topic code parameters…[passage continues, and then there’s a chart].
How does the chart complement the text?
1. It summarizes the text.
2. It provides detail not in the text.
3. It serves to contrast information in the text.
4. It provides transition between the two parts of the text.
Can you imagine having to stretch this far to reach students in your classroom? Dr. Peters’s concluding recommendation was for schools to use assessment data to compose classrooms that would limit the range each teacher must stretch in order to reach most students.
* The “WINNS” information is based on the oft-criticized, weak WKCE.

The Unraveling of Affirmative Action

Richard Sandar & Stuart Taylor, Jr.:

Jareau Hall breezed through high school in Syracuse, N.Y. Graduating in the top 20% of his class, he had been class president and a successful athlete, and he sang in gospel choir. He was actively recruited by Colgate University in rural New York, one of the nation’s top liberal-arts colleges.
None of Colgate’s recruiters mentioned to Mr. Hall that his combined math and verbal SAT scores were some 250 points below the class median–let alone that this would put him at great risk of academic difficulty.
Arriving at Colgate in 2002, he quickly found himself struggling in class, with far more rigorous coursework than he had ever faced. “Nobody told me what would be expected of me beforehand,” recalls Mr. Hall, now 28. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And it all made me feel as if I wasn’t smart enough.”

Admissions Puzzle: Getting the Mix of B-School Students Right

Melissa Korn:

Creating a business-school class isn’t unlike casting a reality-television show or assembling guests for a dinner party: it’s all about the mix.
Admissions officers spend every fall and winter weighing how certain types of students may fare in a classroom and debating how many bankers, business owners, consultants and Classics scholars add up to a diverse student body. Schools insist they have no set caps for the types of students they accept, but each one is chosen because he or she checks at least a few boxes–geography, industry background, career goals–that, when combined, result in a rich variety.
“It’s a little bit like putting together a Rubik’s Cube,” says Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. Though every student should have strong intellectual chops, leadership potential and communication skills, Ms. Clarke says, some may differentiate themselves based on career experience or their affinity for taking risks, professional or otherwise.

Playing it safe: New standards in place to protect young athletes from repeat concussions

Nick Sunderland-Said:

Brock Rosenkranz’s first concussion came on the football field during his freshman year at Richland Center High School. The otherwise sturdy offensive lineman, who packs 255 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame, kept the injury to himself so he could finish the season.
He didn’t realize he would never play football again.
A few months later, while playing varsity basketball, Rosenkranz sustained three more concussions over a span of two and a half weeks. He sat out for nearly a month, returning to suffer yet another concussion while rebounding late in the regular season.
He gave up football as a sophomore but stayed with basketball, which led to three more concussions. Left with headaches, memory loss and withdrawn behavior, he finally took his doctor’s advice and gave up contact sports.

Groundhog Day: Madison Schools’ Infinite Campus Usage Memorandum

The Madison School District (PDF):

In the spring of 2012 data was collected indicating a wide array of teacher grade book usage on Infinite Campus. Following the distribution of the letter on August 27, 2012 a number of concerns were brought forth regarding the use of grade book. Music and Physical Education teachers at the middle school level have larger class sizes and teach on an alternate day rotation in many cases. Currently, members of Curriculum and Assessment are working with Music and Physical Education teachers to develop a set of guidelines that are practical due to their schedules.
Following the end of the first quarter, November 7, we will gather data and measure the use of teacher grade book. The Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools will share the data with building principals to address areas of concern.
Across our middle and high schools, a number of you have utilized the Infinite Campus grade book.
Parents,guardians and other youth service providers appreciate the information regarding student progress. This year, the MMSD opened an online student enrollment option for families. The feedback is clear, a high percentage of MMSD families utilize Infinite Campus. The Research and Evaluation Department has analyzed the number of Infinite Campus grade book entries in all of our schools and it is evident to me that we have yet to reach our full implementation by having all teachers using the Infinite Campus grade book and consistently updating student progress. Therefore, it is my expectation that all teachers follow the below guidelines as we enter the 12-13 school year.

Infinite Campus (million$ have been spent) usage issues continue…
A few links:

Voters can choose a forward path on education reform

Kate Riley:

Washington state’s education system must change in big ways — and it will, partly by stick and potentially by choice.
The stick is the recent state Supreme Court decision in McCleary v. State of Washington, which declared the state has utterly failed in its paramount duty to adequately fund basic education.
The choice is on the Nov. 6 ballot: Initiative 1240 asks voters to approve a limited experiment with charter schools. In today’s section, The Seattle Times editorial board strongly endorses I-1240, asking voters to provide this tool to help better serve students, specifically those most at risk for failing or dropping out.
Washington state has been behind the curve on this issue — 41 states have charter schools and Washington lost out on a federal Race to the Top grant because it did not.

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.

No More Easy Money

Kevin Kiley:

One by one, the formerly profluent tributaries merging into the higher education revenue stream seem to face increasing obstruction. This time the bad news hits endowments.
In the past month several of the country’s wealthiest universities have announced investment returns for the past fiscal year (which ran from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) that fall significantly short of the growth they saw the previous year – when institutions with more than $1 billion endowments saw returns averaging 20 percent – and in the pre-recession years. The headline report is Harvard’s 0.05 percent loss on its $30.7 billion endowment, the largest in the country.
That return raised flags for the analysts at Moody’s Investors Service, who wrote in an Oct. 1 report that diminished returns were a bad sign for universities where endowment spending makes up a significant component of the budget. “Based on highly variable investment returns over the past decade, we expect endowment-dependent institutions to make more conservative spending decisions for future fiscal years and to more fully assess their operational vulnerability to investment volatility,” the agency wrote. “Budgetary models are increasingly stress tested, and management teams are adjusting to more conservative assumptions about long-term rates of return on their endowment. Many have lowered their assumed annual endowment returns to 7 percent to 8 percent, compared to the higher 9 percent to 10 percent return assumptions that were common prior to 2009.”

11th Hour: Unsettling News on the Sun Prairie Equalized Values front


Some potentially troubling news came out late this week.
Final fall equalized values were released (remember, that is the denominator) in the mill rate equation; the proposed tax levy is the numerator. If the denominator is reduced, the mill rate goes up.
We’ve all seen the new construction, so we were all anticipating at the very least a small INCREASE in the equalized values. The City of Sun Prairie was using 1% growth in its estimates. The school district stayed with 0%. It looks like the 0% is at least 1% closer to actual.

Case-study teaching aids student learning

Michael Taylor

Case studies are a time-honoured approach for teaching key business concepts and strategies in MBA programmes. While most business schools use a combination of teaching approaches, the Richard Ivey School of Business claims to be one of only four business schools in the world to teach exclusively using the case-study method.
“Our case-study method draws on real-world business experience and provides an interactive education experience. This equips Ivey graduates with the skills and capabilities to tackle the real-world leadership challenges in today’s complex business environment,” says Dr Janet De Silva, dean of Ivey Asia.

Reform Math: When Academic Disagreement Becomes Harassment and Persecution.

Dr Jo Boaler:

Honest academic debate lies at the core of good scholarship. But what happens when, under the guise of academic freedom, people distort the truth in order to promote their position and discredit someone’s evidence? I have suffered serious intellectual persecution for a number of years and decided it is now time to reveal the details.
I am a Stanford University professor and researcher of mathematics education. My research focuses on the most effective learning environments for students learning mathematics and has won awards in both England and the United States. My different studies have shown that students who engage actively in their mathematics learning, rather than simply practicing procedures, achieve at higher levels.
Since joining the faculty of Stanford University in 1998 I have experienced fierce personal and professional attacks from two mathematicians – James Milgram (Stanford, retired) and Wayne Bishop (CSU, Northridge). Milgram and Bishop are opposed to reforms of mathematics teaching and support the continuation of a model in which students learn mathematics without engaging in realistic problems or discussing mathematical methods. They are, of course, entitled to this opinion, and there has been an ongoing, spirited academic debate about mathematics learning for a number of years. But Milgram and Bishop have gone beyond the bounds of reasoned discourse in a campaign to systematically suppress empirical evidence that contradicts their stance. Academic disagreement is an inevitable consequence of academic freedom, and I welcome it. However, responsible disagreement and academic bullying are not the same thing. Milgram and Bishop have engaged in a range of tactics to discredit me and damage my work which I have now decided to make public.

Scott Jaschik has more.

It’s Not Just Writing: Math Needs a Revolution, Too

Barry Garelick, via a kind email

In The Atlantic’s ongoing debate about how to teach writing in schools, Robert Pondiscio wrote an eye-opening piece called “How Self-Expression Damaged My Students.” In it, he tells of how he used modern-day techniques for teaching writing–not teaching rules of grammar or correcting errors but treating the students as little writers and having them write. He notes, however that “good writers don’t just do stuff. They know stuff. … And if this is not explicitly taught, it will rarely develop by osmosis among children who do not grow up in language-rich homes.”
What Pondiscio describes on the writing front has also been happening with mathematics education in K-6 for the past two decades. I first became aware of it over 10 years ago when I saw what passed for math instruction in my daughter’s second grade class. I was concerned that she was not learning her addition and subtraction facts. Other parents we knew had the same concerns. Teachers told them not to worry because kids eventually “get it.”
One teacher tried to explain the new method. “It used to be that if you missed a concept or method in math, then you were lost for the rest of the year. But the way we do it now, kids have a lot of ways to do things, like adding and subtracting, so that math topics from day to day aren’t dependent on kids’ mastering a previous lesson.”
This was my initiation into the world of reform math. It is a world where understanding takes precedence over procedure and process trumps content. In this world, memorization is looked down upon as “rote learning” and thus addition and subtraction facts are not drilled in the classroom–it’s something for students to learn at home. Inefficient methods for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are taught in the belief that such methods expose the conceptual underpinning of what is happening during these operations. The standard (and efficient) methods for these operations are delayed sometimes until 4th and 5th grades, when students are deemed ready to learn procedural fluency.

NAACP Sees ‘Soft Bigotry Of Low Expectations’ in FL Race-Based Education Goals

Wynton Hall:

The Florida State Board of Education recently announced that its K-12 academic achievement goals for math and reading will vary depending on a student’s race.
By 2018, the Florida BOE hopes to see the following reading outcomes:
90% of Asian-American students reading at or above grade level
88% of Caucasian students reading at or above grade level
82% of American Indian students reading at or above grade level
81% of Latino students reading at or above grade level
74% of African-American students reading at or above grade level
The goals for grade level proficiency in math show a similar breakdown.
CNN’s LZ Granderson says the differing goals reflect current reality:

The textbooks children learn from in school reveal and shape national attitudes–and should provoke debate

The Economist:

PARISIANS are in a tizz about capitalism. New Yorkers get stressed about sex. In Seoul and San Antonio, Texas, 11,000km apart, citizens fret about the relationship between humans and apes. What goes into school textbooks–and, even more, what is left out–spurs concern and controversy all over the world.
And so it should. Few, if any, instruments shape national culture more powerfully than the materials used in schools. Textbooks are not only among the first books most people encounter; in many places they are, along with religious texts, almost the only books they encounter. A study in South Africa showed that fewer than half of pupils had access to more than ten books at home. In 2010 a study by Egypt’s government found that, apart from school textbooks, 88% of Egyptian households read no books.

Major New Student Borrower Survey Shows Startling Lack of Consumer Information on Financial Aid

Young Invicibles:

Young Invincibles and NERA Economic Consulting released a report today entitled “Lost Without a Map: A Survey About Student Experiences Navigating the Financial Aid Process” detailing the results from a survey of nearly 13,000 college students and recent graduates with high levels of student debt. Strikingly, over 40% of respondents with federal student loans reported that they had not received federally mandated student loan counseling. The results suggest that students across the country are not receiving adequate information about the financial aid process – particularly students who need it most.
“This survey sheds light on a key failing of our federal financial aid system. Too many students are confused by the FAFSA, lack adequate counseling, and do not understand basic student loan terms,” said Rory O’Sullivan, Policy Director at Young Invincibles and co-author of the report. “Clearly colleges are not doing enough to provide meaningful student loan counseling, as required by law. Our survey also shows broad student support for the Department of Education’s recent initiative to promote a standardized financial aid letter. Students badly need this information and see their schools as trusted sources.”

The Cost Disease

The Economist:

HEALTH-CARE expenditure in America is growing at a disturbing rate: in 1960 it was just over 5% of GDP, in 2011 almost 18%. By 2105 the number could reach 60%, according to William Baumol of New York University’s Stern School of Business. Incredible? It is simply the result of extrapolating the impact of a phenomenon Mr Baumol has become famous for identifying: “cost disease”. His new book* gives a nuanced diagnosis, offerings both a vision of a high-cost future and a large dose of optimism. The cost disease may be incurable, but it is also survivable–if treated correctly.
To understand the cost disease, start with a simple observation: whatever the economy’s average rate of productivity growth, some industries outpace others. Take car manufacturing. In 1913 Ford introduced assembly lines to move cars between workstations. This allowed workers, and their tools, to stay in one place, which cut the time to build a Model T car from 12 hours to less than two. As output per worker grows in such “progressive” sectors, firms can afford to increase wages.
In some sectors of the economy, however, such productivity gains are much harder to come by–if not impossible. Performing a Mozart quartet takes just as long in 2012 as it did in the late 18th century. Mr Baumol calls industries in which productivity growth is low or even non-existent “stagnant”.

Obama Pell Grants Increase, But Do Students Graduate?

David Hogberg:

President Obama has more than doubled funding for Pell Grants and made them a campaign issue this year. But no data exist showing exactly how many Pell Grant recipients ever graduate from college.
What evidence there is suggests less than half do.
Pell Grants are subsidies the federal government gives to college students of primarily low-income families, although middle-class families are also eligible.
Obama has criticized the budget plan of Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, which reduces funding for Pell Grants.
In turn, Romney has backed away some from Ryan’s plan, saying he’d let Pell Grants grow at the rate of inflation.

Nature: Confronting the Universe

Nature Video presents five debates from the 2012 Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau

At the 2012 meeting, physics was on the agenda again. The hottest topic was particle physics because mid-way through the meeting, scientists at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs particle. The following morning, we filmed George Smoot and Martinus Veltman as they digested the news with three young researchers. Veltman, who helped to shape the standard model of particle physics, was surprising cynical about the discovery. See his reaction in film 3: Is dark matter real? The other films deal with the relationship between theory and experiment, the state of science education, the looming energy crisis and in film 1 we ask: is this the golden age of astronomy? As you’ll see, the Nobel laureates and young physicists in our films have quite different views on these matters.

Camden Parents File Class Action Against Camden Public Schools

Laura Waters:

According to a media advisory released yesterday, three Camden parents whose children attend Camden City Public Schools will file a class action petition on Monday demanding “immediate access to a constitutionally adequate education for their children.”
It’s sort of an inversion of the Abbott litigation, which resulted many years ago in a State Supreme Court ruling that children trapped in poor urban districts were denied access to the same educational opportunities as New Jersey children in wealthier districts. Therefore, ruled the Court, the State must fund our 31 poorest districts (called “Abbotts”) at the same level as our wealthiest. Education Law Center has a terrific history of the litigation and all the decisions on its website.

Schools Create Their Own FOIA Interpretation

Jarrett Skorup:

If the principal at your child’s school was rated “ineffective” by the district, would you have the right to know? According to one school district and a state department, the answer is “no.”
Danny Shaw, a reporter for Heritage Newspapers, made a simple FOIA request for the one principal rated “ineffective” by Willow Run Community Schools. The state denied the request because the information was “of a personal nature” and disclosing it would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy.”

School Choice Marches Forward

Jonathan Butcher:

One year ago, the Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “the year of school choice,” opining that “this year is shaping up as the best for reformers in a very long time.” Such quotes were bound to circulate among education reformers and give traditional opponents of school choice, such as teachers unions, heartburn. Thirteen states enacted new programs that allow K-12 students to choose a public or private school instead of attending their assigned school, and similar bills were under consideration in more than two dozen states.
With so much activity, school choice moved from the margins of education reform debates and became the headline. In January 2012, Washington Post education reporter Michael Alison Chandler said school choice has become “a mantra of 21st-century education reform,” citing policies across the country that have traditional public schools competing for students alongside charter schools and private schools. “It took us 20 years to pass the first 20 private school-choice programs in America and in the 21st year we passed 7 new programs,” says Scott Jensen with the American Federation for Children (AFC), a school-choice advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “So we went from passing, on average, one each year, to seven in one fell swoop.” Programs enacted in 2011 include:
a tax-credit scholarship program in North Carolina
Arizona’s education savings account system for K-12 students

Money, Leisure, Death Print What college students should be learning about

Paula Marantz Cohen:

Three subjects that are fundamental to leading an examined life go unaddressed in the college curriculum: money, leisure, and death. All students should be required to take a single course that considers these subjects together.
Money, you will say, is already taught in college. More students than ever enroll in business programs, and economics is among the most popular academic majors. But I am speaking about money in personal and philosophical ways that these academic subjects don’t take up.
This means thinking about money in a larger context: How important is it to you, and how much of it do you need to lead the life you want? Tolstoy addresses these questions cogently in his short story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” In it, a peasant farmer is told that he can own as much land as he can encircle in a day. The man sets his sights high, pushing himself to run around a very large space, and when he finishes, drops dead.

French president vows to abolish homework in school reform


PARIS — French President Francois Hollande potentially won the hearts of thousands of future voters on Tuesday by announcing he wants to abolish homework.
Unveiling a new education programme, Hollande said school work should “be done at school, rather than at home”, to foster educational equality because some students do not have support at home.
He also however advocated a return to the four-and-a-half-day school week from the current four-day week in place in most French schools.

How Public Unions Exploit the Ruse of ‘Official Time’

Mallory Factor:

Imagine thousands of government employees reporting to work each morning at their government offices and then doing no government work. They use government workspace, government telephones and government computers, all while working on projects unknown and unidentified to their government employers. They receive hefty taxpayer-funded salaries, promotions, bonuses and benefits, plus generous government pensions when they retire–all without doing any work on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, they work as paid political operatives for powerful government unions.
Welcome to the common practice of “official time.” Sometimes called “release time,” it’s a mechanism by which the government pays union officials to work on union matters during their government workdays. This mechanism–enshrined in law and contracts–is an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions, who defend it fiercely.
The Office of Personnel Management reports that federal employees spent over three million hours on official time in 2010, costing the taxpayers about $137 million in salary and benefits costs.

Ruth and Lovett Peters Fellowship in Education Policy

The Pioneer Institute:

Pioneer Institute is thrilled to announce the second annual Ruth and Lovett Peters Fellowship, an opportunity for a current or recent graduate student with a passionate interest in education policy and strong entrepreneurial and analytic abilities.
The fellow, who carries the title of Ruth & Lovett Peters Fellow, will develop a broad range of research and public policy skills; he or she will also have an opportunity to devise and complete a “Lead” project, which can consist of research or a practical policy project. The Fellowship will commence in the spring/summer of 2013.
Forge Your Future in Public Policy
Click to download forms:
The Ruth and Lovett Peters Fellowship will commence in the spring/summer of 2013. A Peters Fellow at Pioneer Institute will:

  • Enhance leadership skills
  • Gain extensive training in research writing and the peer review process
  • Apply statistical knowledge to research output
  • Publish at least one research paper that may be sponsored by Pioneer
  • Develop public speaking experience
  • Procure grant-writing experience
  • Develop wide-ranging social media communications experience
  • Advance presentation skills
  • Develop a broad network within the public policy community
  • Participate in coordinating a policy event
  • Interact with opinion writers
  • Learn how to successfully market a research project

The Fellowship may span up to 15 months. During the first six months of the Fellowship, the fellow will receive training and research assistance as well as develop a thorough grounding in think tank and idea marketing. Staff and outside trainers will ensure skill acquisition in research project assistance, op-ed and press release writing, blogging, foundation grant management, event direction, and public speaking.
During the final nine months, the fellow will work on a self-directed “Lead” project and may continue to work out of Pioneer’s office in Boston or, if mutually agreed with Pioneer, work remotely. The “Lead” project, defined and managed by the fellow, can be oriented toward research or practice. Pioneer’s staff will continue to be available for the Fellow’s guidance during this project phase. The Lead project will be compatible with Pioneer’s mission and approved by Pioneer’s
Executive Director prior to this second phase of the fellowship.
The Institute’s education policy priorities are related to charter, vocational, and virtual schools; inter-district public and private school choice; standardized testing and assessments; and teacher quality. Applicants are encouraged to submit proposals for projects as part of the application process.
The Ruth & Lovett Peters Fellowship is available to applicants with Master’s level course completion; preferably those with an MBA, MPA, MPP, other Master’s programs or those currently enrolled in a doctoral program. The Fellow will report to James Stergios, Pioneer’s
Executive Director.
The Fellow will receive a stipend ranging from $45,000 to $56,000, depending on experience and other criteria, for the 15-month period. Doctoral students may be eligible for a higher stipend.
Mandatory Requirements for Application

  • Reside in the Boston area during the initial six months of the program.
  • Be a recent graduate or currently enrolled in an accredited Masters or PhD program.
  • Possess a passion for public policy and goals consistent with Pioneer’s mission.
  • Possess solid skills in quantitative analysis, evidenced by graduate-level statistics and methods courses.
  • Be a U.S. citizen, have permanent residency, or possess Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization.
    Applications and Process

Applications must be submitted and received electronically by November 30, 2012. Selection of the fellow will be determined by a team consisting of both Pioneer Institute staff as well as external professionals.
No application will be considered unless all of the required information is submitted by the deadline. Please e-mail:

  • Application form (attached).
  • A copy of both undergraduate and graduate transcripts (if selected, an official copy will be requested).
  • A recommendation from a faculty member using the form included above.
  • An essay (no greater than 600 words) explaining why you chose your current field of study, why your goals are consistent with Pioneer’s mission and how this Fellowship would help you to achieve your goals. We encourage you to also include the nature of projects you would propose for the last nine months of the Fellowship (with an understanding that the projects are subject to refinement).
  • If selected to proceed further, an interview will be conducted.

If you have questions about the fellowship, please contact:
Mary Z. Connaughton
Director of Finance and Administration
Pioneer Institute
85 Devonshire Street
Boston, MA 02109

A billion brains A better education system calls for more than money

The Economist:

CLIP ON A harness, lift your legs and hurtle down a wire towards the sharp corners of a 15th-century Rajasthani fort. As you whizz, you might have a few niggling doubts. Was the zip-wire serviced by someone who knew what he was doing? Is the safety adviser any good? Who is trained in first aid?
Fortunately the staff in Neemrana, a tourist spot some 130km south-west of Delhi, are on the ball. Raj Kumar, the lead instructor of Flying Fox, has an impressive (if not entirely relevant) qualification as a Master of Philosophy in ancient Indian history. “I had planned to do my PhD, but this opportunity came along,” he says. The outfit’s British owner-manager, Jonathan Walter, explains that getting and keeping reliable workers is his greatest headache. The problem is not so much the onerous labour laws but finding skilled people. To deal with foreigners his staff need good English; for Indian customers they need social skills to cajole the reluctant into the walk up the hill.

How Crack Cocaine Widened the Black-White Education Gap


A new working paper (abstract; PDF) from William N. Evans, Timothy J. Moore, and Craig Garthwaite presents one explanation for the decline in black high-school graduation rates beginning in the 1980s:

We propose the rise of crack cocaine markets as an explanation for the end to the convergence in black-white educational outcomes beginning in the mid-1980s. After constructing a measure to date the arrival of crack markets in cities and states, we show large increases in murder and incarceration rates after these dates. Black high school graduation rates also decline, and we estimate that crack markets accounts for between 40 and 73 percent of the fall in black male high school graduation rates. We argue that the primary mechanism is reduced educational investments in response to decreased returns to schooling.

How did crack cocaine depress schooling returns? “Crack markets had three primary impacts on young black males: an increased probability of being murdered, an increased risk of incarceration, and a potential source of income,” explain the authors. “Each limits the benefits of education.” In other words, high school looks less attractive when you’re more likely to end up dead or in jail, or earn money.

Brain scans can predict children’s reading ability, Stanford researchers say

Bjorn Carey:

New research from Stanford shows that brain scans can identify the neural differences between these two children, and could one day lead to an early warning system for struggling students.
The researchers scanned the brain anatomy of 39 children once a year for three consecutive years. The students then took standardized tests to gauge their cognitive, language and reading skills.
In each case, the rate of development (measured by fractional anisotropy, or FA) in the white matter regions of the brain, which are associated with reading, accurately predicted their test scores.

New Jersey breaking tradition with November school board elections

Laura Waters:

Many of us are preoccupied with behind-the-scenes election questions this week. Does the panicky Obama campaign really think that Big Bird is the President’s best surrogate? Is the Sesame Street reference meant as a subliminal reminder of the Romney Campaign’s gaffe comparing the candidate’s platform to an Etch-a-Sketch? What’s with the toy theme? Never mind. School boards in New Jersey are concerned with more substantive election questions, specifically how our new system of voting for school board members will fly during its inaugural avigation on November 6.
The Garden State has always had school board member and school board budgets on the third Tuesday in April, but on Jan 12, a new law gave communities the option of moving elections to November. This can be done in three ways: a school board resolution, municipal governing body vote, or by a petition signed by 15 percent of the voting public.
Different versions of this bill, introduced in 2008 by state Senator Shirley Turner, had died multiple deaths in committee. However, during the lame duck session last winter the bill passed with broad bipartisan support.

I hope many others, including Wisconsin, move to November elections.

How high school students use Facebook to fool college admissions officers

Dave Copeland:

College admissions officers have learned to check applicants’ Facebook profiles, and what they see there can have a negative impact on the students’ chances. Guess what? The kids are a step ahead of them.
Parents, teachers and guidance counselors warn high school students that what they post on Facebook could hurt their chances of getting into college. And according to a Kaplan survey of college admissions officials released last week, it’s not an idle threat: More than one in four respondents said they check Google and Facebook for information on applicants, up from one in 10 when Kaplan started tracking the trend in 2008.

Higher Ed Shrinks

Doug Lederman:

It’s official: Higher education is shrinking, for the first time in at least 15 years.
Total enrollment at American colleges and universities eligible for federal financial aid fell slightly in the fall of 2011 from the year before, according to preliminary data released Tuesday by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
The data from the department’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System show that 21,554,004 students were enrolled in fall 2011, down from 21,588,124 in fall 2010. While that drop is smaller than two-tenths of one percent, it is the first such dip since at least 1996, according to officials at NCES.

Quest for admission to Harvard ends in $2 million tangle

Mary Carmichael

To Gerald and Lily Chow, education consultant Mark Zimny must have seemed like the answer to many parents’ prayer: Please let my child get into Harvard University.
The Chows, who lived in Hong Kong, knew little about the US educational system, but they did know that they wanted an Ivy League education for their sons. And they had money to spend on consultants like Zimny, who, they believed, could help make the dream come true.
What transpired, however, turned out to be a cautionary tale for the thousands of parents who are fueling the growing global admissions-consulting industry.
Zimny, whom they met in 2007, had credentials. He had worked as a professor at Harvard. He ran an education consultancy, IvyAdmit. And he had a plan to help the Chows’ two sons, then 16 and 14.

Debate: Why American Students Can’t Write

The Atlantic

In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact: The students couldn’t write coherent sentences. In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change. Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar. Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring. The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.
The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story

Texas schools punish students who refuse to be tracked with microchips

A school district in Texas came under fire earlier this year when it announced that it would require students to wear microchip-embedded ID cards at all times. Now, students who refuse to be monitored say they are feeling the repercussions.
Since October 1, students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, have been asked to attend class with photo ID cards equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to track every pupil’s location. Educators insist that the endeavor is being rolled out in Texas to stem the rampant truancy devastating the school’s funding. If the program is judged successful, the RFID chips could soon come to 112 schools in all and affect nearly 100,000 students.
Students who refuse to walk the school halls with the card in their pocket or around their neck claim they are being tormented by instructors, and are barred from participating in certain school functions. Some also said they were turned away from common areas like cafeterias and libraries.

Putting Profits Before Nutrition: The Dark Side of the School Meals Business

Susanne Amann, Sebastian Brauns and Nils Klawitter:

Experts now believe that frozen strawberries from China are behind a massive outbreak of the norovirus that recently affected thousands of schoolchildren in eastern Germany. The episode merely illustrates the deplorable state of school lunches, a problem no one seems willing to fix.
The first school lunch that Martha Payne photographed in May consisted of a croquette, a small pizza, a bit of corn and a muffin. The nine-year-old from Scotland gave the meal six out of 10 points for taste on her “food-o-meter” and four out of 10 for healthiness.
Her plan had only been to take a shot in order to show her father that the meal wasn’t enough to fill her up, she wrote on her blog. After only a week, Payne had 25,000 hits on her blog, and now hundreds of thousands are reading it.

Why Johnny Can’t Syndicate

Jon Udell:

In Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It, published in 1955, Rudolf Flesch argued that our method of teaching kids to read was wrongly denying them the pleasures of “Andersen’s Fairy Tales or The Arabian Nights or Mark Twain … or anything interesting and worthwhile.” Instead, said Flesch, they get “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers.” It wasn’t just the lack of literary merit that incensed Flesch. He hated the rationale for those dumbed-down books. Vocabulary, it was thought, must only be introduced gradually. Nonsense, said Flesch. If you equip kids with the right conceptual tools they can read anything. But one fundamental concept — phonics, the decoding of words by mapping symbols to sounds — wasn’t being taught.
In Why Johnny Can’t Encrypt: A Usability Evaluation of PGP 5.0, presented at the 1999 USENIX Security Symposium, Alma Whitten and J.D. Tygar explored why people couldn’t figure out how to encrypt their outbound email or authenticate their inbound email. If you’ve ever used PGP you won’t be surprised by their conclusion: its user interface didn’t present the underlying model — which involves public and private keys, encryption and authentication — in a way that made sense. Of course that was true, and remains true, for every implementation of the model. User interfaces are surely part of the problem, but not the whole story. Here’s the question Whitten and Tygar asked:

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption?

Jonathan Marks:

As a politics professor, I feel I should know something about health policy, but it is mostly dread that made me sign up for Ezekiel Emanuel’s class, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act, through Coursera. Word is that higher education is about to be disrupted by online providers, like Coursera and Udacity, and their MOOCs (massive open online courses). If students can take political philosophy with Harvard’s Michael Sandel for free, why will they pay to take it with me?
Have you seen Professor Sandel’s course? I bet I am not alone in wanting to take his more than I want to take mine. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, predicts that in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education institutions. Thrun isn’t quietly waiting for his prediction to pan out, either. Pearson VUE recently contracted to administer proctored final exams for some of Udacity’s courses, an important step toward offering credit that most colleges will find hard to reject.

What Does Science Tell Us About Teaching Kids to Think?

Daniel Willingham:

What are we to make of the seemingly miraculous success of New Dorp, the high school that is the subject of Peg Tyre’s recent Atlantic story? The history of education is littered with flavor-of-the-month interventions, many of which began at a model school, but that, once implemented elsewhere, flopped. Dejected educators then begin scouting for the next “big thing.”
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In this instance, a heavy emphasis on writing seemed to make kids better writers, better readers, and perhaps, better thinkers. What does published research say? Is there any reason to expect that a writing curriculum, if implemented in other schools, would bring the same benefits?
There is, but implementing it correctly is no small matter.
Better writing: Perhaps the least surprising claim is that a focus on writing improves student writing. In general, there is good evidence that explicit teaching of writing makes kids better writers (for a recent review, see Graham et al, 2012). I emphasize explicit because these interventions concerned with the nuts and bolts of writing: instruction in text structure, how to use specific strategies for planning, revising, or editing text, and so on. As Tyre notes, if a teacher does not show students how to construct a paragraph or a well-written argument, some will figure out it anyway, but many will not.

What does the cost disease imply about the public sector?

Tyler Cowen:

Matt Yglesias has a good post on the recent Steven Pearlstein column. Here is Matt:
…people need to start paying much more attention to questions of tax efficiency. It’s overwhelmingly likely that we’re going to want the public sector to be a larger share of the economy in 10, 20, 30, 40 years than it is today and we need to find relatively growth-friendly ways to make that happen.
Here is Pearlstein:
From a political perspective, Baumol’s most important insight is that government spending must grow as a percentage of the economy. Most of the services that are provided by, or financed by government — health care, education, criminal justice, national security, diplomacy, industry regulation, scientific research — are those that suffer most acutely from Baumol’s disease. That’s not because of incompetence or self-interest on the part of public servants or even the socialist instincts of Democratic politicians — it’s in the nature of those activities.

German Celebrity Chef on School Meals ‘Many People Don’t Care Enough about Nutrition’

der Spiegel:

A recent outbreak of illness among German schoolchildren has highlighted the questionable quality of meals served in schools. German TV chef Cornelia Poletto says that one way to improve nutrition is to get parents involved in preparing lunches — and to teach children what they are eating.
Cornelia Poletto, 41, is a well-known German chef and the mother of a 10-year-old daughter. She owns a restaurant and specialty food shop in Hamburg and appears regularly as a professional chef on television.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Poletto, you have tested many school cafeterias. What experiences have you had in doing so?
Poletto: Very different ones! But I can say this: It is only in places where parents actively volunteer that truly good food is provided.

4K jump helps boost Madison schools enrollment

The Madison School District’s student population increased slightly this year to 26,925, including a 7 percent increase in 4-year-old kindergarten.
Superintendent Jane Belmore noted the 4K program in its second year now reaches 90 percent of 4-year-olds who live in the district.
“We are pleased that our enrollment remains stable and that our incredibly important 4K program continues to grow,” Belmore said in a statement. “Starting learning early is key to closing gaps, and this year, our 4K program will do that important work for more students.”
The district added 275 students, about a 1 percent increase, overall. The 4K program added 125 students for a total of 1,914 participants in the optional half-day program.
It is the 12th straight year that K-12 enrollment (excluding 4K) has ranged between 24,000 and 25,000 students.

Priorities and Judgment Calls: A Collective Bargaining Recap

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

The other major change to the CBA affects the hiring process for teachers. Currently, teachers have the opportunity to seek to transfer to vacant positions at other schools until four weeks prior to the start of the school year. Once the internal transfer process has been completed, principals can select applicants for teaching positions from outside the district. It is pretty obvious that the school district was placing itself at a competitive disadvantage in hiring if it could not tell a potential new hire where he or she would be teaching until a month before school starts.
According to the new procedure that is now set forth in the CBA, teachers who find themselves surplused will be placed in new positions by the school district by May 1 of each year. Then vacant positions will be posted for internal transfers. While a change was proposed in the district’s initial bargaining proposal, the final agreement retains the requirement that principals must select an internal transfer applicant if any applicants for a vacant position possess the minimum qualifications. The internal transfer process closes on June 15 and at that point principals can choose external candidates for any positions that remain unfilled. This change represents a big step toward a hiring process that maximizes our chances to hire the kind of skilled and diverse applicants we are looking for.
As I mention above, the new agreement does not address wages. At this point we don’t have sufficient information to make any sort of decision about raising salaries for the 2013-14 school year. Most importantly, we have no idea what the governor and new legislature will do about revenue limits for the next biennium and so we don’t know whether we will be able to increase our spending and by how much, or whether we will have to cut our per-pupil spending, as was the case for the first year of the current biennium.

Much more on the Madison School District’s rather unique action, here.

Assessing the Quality of an Elementary School

Bill Jackson, via a kind reader’s email:

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about my dream school information system – what I’d really like to see out there to power informed school choice.
Before we do that, though, I’d like to share how I would go about assessing the quality of an elementary school if I was choosing one for my daughters today. This is all in the spirit of keepin’ it real. I’d love to hear your ideas.
As the CEO of GreatSchools, I have to start with the data, of course. At, I can access data about test scores and student diversity. In some locations, I can also find about special programs, curriculum, extra-curricular activities and transportation options. This is great stuff – it helps get me oriented.

A strong cas for the pursuit of a STEM career

Jeanette Joran:

My job provides me the opportunity to travel a lot. I’ve visited many countries and cities of the world, but I still consider this area home.
I guess a love of math runs in my family. My sister is a math teacher, and it was my favorite subject, too. In fact, you could say she was my first teacher, as she would come home from school and teach me what she had learned that day.
While my math teachers were inspirational to me, there was another teacher who encouraged me to think more broadly and be open to new ideas. The encouragement I received from her helped me to build confidence in my own abilities. Math remained my favorite subject, but I was always interested in new ideas, exploring different concepts

Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School

Alan Schwarz:

When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.
The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

Much of UConn’s athletic fundraising is secret

Pat Eaton-Robb:

Webster Bank signed on this summer to become a major sponsor of University of Connecticut athletics and help build a new basketball training center, but UConn has refused to say how much the bank is spending or what exactly it will get in return for its millions.
Though it is a public institution, UConn keeps some of the financial information about its athletic fundraising secret by using private entities.
Many universities use private tax-exempt foundations to raise money, but what separates Connecticut from other schools is a measure passed by the state legislature a decade ago that exempts the University of Connecticut Foundation from state freedom of information laws. Also, the state Supreme Court in February ruled the school can keep its lists of donors and season-ticketholders private, saying they amount to trade secrets.

Students And Teachers Benefit From Testing As It Promotes Long-Term Learning

Medical News Today:

Pop quiz! Tests are good for: (a) Assessing what you’ve learned; (b) Learning new information; (c) a & b; (d) None of the above.
The correct answer?
According to research from psychological science, it’s both (a) and (b) – while testing can be useful as an assessment tool, the actual process of taking a test can also help us to learn and retain new information over the long term and apply it across different contexts.
New research published in journals of the Association for Psychological Science explores the nuanced interactions between testing, memory, and learning and suggests possible applications for testing in educational settings.

Before a Test, a Poverty of Words

Gina Bellafante
Not too long ago, I witnessed a child, about two months shy of 3, welcome the return of some furniture to his family’s apartment with the enthusiastic declaration “Ottoman is back!” The child understood that the stout cylindrical object from which he liked to jump had a name and that its absence had been caused by a visit to someone called “an upholsterer.” The upholsterer, he realized, was responsible for converting the ottoman from one color or texture to another. Here was a child whose mother had prepared him, at the very least, for a future of reading World of Interiors.
Though conceivably much more as well. Despite the Manhattan parody to which a scene like this so easily gives rise, it is difficult to overstate the advantages arrogated to a child whose parent proceeds in a near constant mode of annotation. Reflexively, the affluent, ambitious parent is always talking, pointing out, explaining: Mommy is looking for her laptop; let’s put on your rain boots; that’s a pigeon, a sand dune, skyscraper, a pomegranate. The child, in essence, exists in continuous receipt of dictation.
Things are very different elsewhere on the class spectrum. Earlier in the year when I met Steven F. Wilson, founder of a network of charter schools that serve poor and largely black communities in Brooklyn, I asked him what he considered the greatest challenge on the first day of kindergarten each year. He answered, without a second’s hesitation: “Word deficit.” As it happens, in the ’80s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley spent years cataloging the number of words spoken to young children in dozens of families from different socioeconomic groups, and what they found was not only a disparity in the complexity of words used, but also astonishing differences in sheer number. Children of professionals were, on average, exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words by the time the children reached the age of 4.

Continue reading Before a Test, a Poverty of Words

Why does it take so long to learn mathematics

Tony’s Math Blog:

I’m teaching graph theory this year. It was one of my favourite areas of mathematics when I was a student. It contains many gems, ranging from with Euler’s solution to the problem of the seven bridges of Konigsberg to the power of Ramsey’s Theorem. The arguments seem to me to be unusually varied, and often sufficiently elementary that great depth of study is not required.
I have had very little contact with graph theory in the time since I graduated. As an undergraduate I used Robin Wilson’s Introduction to Graph Theory, and I am now using it as the basis of my course. I remember enjoying the book in my youth, and finding it approachable, but I don’t remember finding the material as straightforward as it now seems. (My students aren’t finding it entirely straightforward, either, but that may be my fault.)
Why is this? I don’t think I’m a better mathematician than I was 35 years ago. In terms of solving exam questions, I would not perform as I did when I was twenty. Even with practice, I am sure I could not get back to that level, and not only because I no longer value that kind of cleverness enough to put the effort in. I now have a much better general understanding of mathematics and how it all fits together, but I no longer have the ability to master detail that I once did.

The Imaginary Teacher Shortage

Jay Greene:

Last week’s presidential debate revealed one area of agreement between the candidates: We need more teachers. “Let’s hire another hundred thousand math and science teachers,” proposed President Obama, adding that “Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers.”
Mr. Romney quickly replied, “I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers.” He just opposes earmarking federal dollars for this purpose, believing instead that “every school district, every state should make that decision on their own.”
Let’s hope state and local officials have that discretion–and choose to shrink the teacher labor force rather than expand it. Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won’t improve student achievement. It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.

Language immersion schools make strides in St. Louis area

Jessica Bock:

The moment was brief but telling for Lydia Hsiuling Chen as she watched one of her students accidentally step on the foot of another as they headed out to recess.
“Dui bu qi,” the kindergartner said quickly as she continued on her way. The classmate, looking slightly annoyed but accepting of her apology, muttered his reply, telling her it was OK — also in Chinese.
It was a natural inclination to use what was an entirely foreign language to them less than two months ago. And it was an early sign of success for The Chinese School, the newest program that began this year at St. Louis Language Immersion Schools.
“They are not just learning Chinese, they are living with Chinese,” said Chen, who serves as head of the school.

Plastic women vs. cardboard men

Richard Whidmire:

Over the past decade, hundreds of articles and scores of book have chronicled “boy troubles,” the odd phenomenon of boys flailing in school and men adrift in life.
That is so yesterday’s story. Today’s story is about what happens to women when men fail, and the storytellers are women. Look no further than The End of Men and the Rise of Women, by Hanna Rosin, and The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family, by Liza Mundy.
Why shouldn’t women be the ones to write about the world of failing men? Women actually read books (Checked out the men’s vs. women’s section in your local bookstore lately?). You can’t argue with the market. If women are ruling our colleges and taking over fields such as veterinary medicine, clinical psychology and pharmacy, and well, pretty much everything other than plumbing, they might as well chronicle the demise of men.

Madison Collective Bargaining Rhetoric

Matthew DeFour

Madison Teachers Inc. wants to shake up the Madison School Board after another negotiation in which it conceded several member benefits to stave off the effects of the state’s new collective bargaining law.
MTI’s weekly newsletter equates the School Board with the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker, and calls the board’s statements opposing changes in collective bargaining “not worth the paper they were written on.”
“Keep in mind that to get fully out from under the cloud caused by Act 10, what is needed is a change in the Legislature, the governor and the Board of Education,” the newsletter states. “All can be impacted by elections this fall, next spring and in 2014.”

Free UW chancellors to manage benefits

John Torinus

The faculty at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) has received no general raises over the last five years, so it has become a target for poaching. The campus has lost 40 faculty members recently to competing institutions.
Crippled from of a decade of major cuts from governors and legislatures of both parties, the entire university system is in a financial straight jacket.
Leadership at UWM is trying to fund $2 million as a stop-gap to retain good professors, but needs as much as $18 million to bring pay levels up to par.
Lots of luck. The 2013-2015 state budget, now in the making, has already been hammered by a request from Dennis Smith, the governor’s secretary for health services, requested an increase of more than $650 million for Medicaid over the two years. That bloated request will chew up much of the new revenue dollars coming from the meager growth in the economy and will crowd out investments in big priorities like education.
Fortunately, there is a solution.

Lunch lady slammed for food that is ‘too good’: The tyrany of one size fits all….

the local/Sweden:

A talented head cook at a school in central Sweden has been told to stop baking fresh bread and to cut back on her wide-ranging veggie buffets because it was unfair that students at other schools didn’t have access to the unusually tasty offerings.
Annika Eriksson, a lunch lady at school in Falun, was told that her cooking is just too good.
Pupils at the school have become accustomed to feasting on newly baked bread and an assortment of 15 vegetables at lunchtime, but now the good times are over.

I’ve seen similar issues in Madison, with respect to extracurricular activities.

The Model Method


The model method is a very powerful problem-solving strategy extensively used in the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Singapore, sometimes referred to as “Singapore Math” by other countries. Model Method help students visualize and simplify a math problem in a pictorial way. It was developed and popularized by Mr Hector Chee, a Singapore teacher, in 1990s.
Versatile and used in various topics
It is used to teach a wide range of Mathematics topics taught in the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Primary schools (elementary schools). Some of these include arithmetic, fractions, percentage, decimals, average, ratio and of course various problem sums testing these topics. It provides the pictorial perspective of the Mathematical problems and also provides easy analysis of ‘parts whole’ and comparison between quantities

Stranger than Fiction: Creative Efforts to Keep Students in School


Keeping students in school has been a problem in school districts nationwide. In urban areas, studies have shown that just 50% of students graduate with a high school diploma. Across the country, efforts to curb school absenteeism and truancy vary from extravagant to practical, with a plethora of measures in between.
On the extravagant side, Get Schooled, a non-profit based in New York, awarded a middle school in Seattle a free concert by R&B performer NeYo, as the prize for winning an attendance competition. Similarly, Get Schooled offers computer-games and weekly wake-up calls recorded by popular celebrities as motivation for students to show up for school.

Alabama Department of Education to investigate allegations of grade-changing at Montgomery County public schools

Josh Moon:

The Alabama State Department of Education will investigate allegations of improper grade changes within Montgomery Public Schools, state superintendent of education Tommy Bice said in a statement Friday morning.
Bice said MPS superintendent Barbara Thompson requested the state agency conduct an investigation, which will be separate from an internal investigation operated by MPS.
The Montgomery Advertiser reported Thursday on allegations of grade changes, charges that were made by numerous current and former MPS teachers at three Montgomery high schools — Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Sidney Lanier.

Douglas County, Geogia BOE’s charter school stance draws complaint

Haisten Willis:

“Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters,” the letter reads. “They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong.”
Olens cites Georgia law in his letter, holding that elected officials have no right to free speech at taxpayer expense. The letter does say elected officials have the right to support or oppose the amendment in their individual capacities.
Douglas County School System Superintendent Dr. Gordon Pritz responded that the resolution doesn’t attempt to influence voters. Also of note, school board funds were not used in the passage of its resolution.
“The resolution our board passed 4-1 expresses the board’s view, but did not urge voters to take an action on the amendment at all,” Pritz said. “The board has a right to express itself on educational matters of public concern. In fact I think they have a moral and ethical obligation to do so, as do I. This is also a normal part of board and superintendent duties and practices as evidenced by the three other resolutions the board passed that same night.”
Read more: Douglas County Sentinel – BOE’s charter school stance draws complaint

My Controversial Views

Steve Hsu:

This Lansing State Journal article covers my recent appointment as VP of Research and Graduate studies at MSU. It’s journalism, so as you can expect they emphasized potentially controversial topics like my work in genomics. (I expend about 10% of my research effort on this work, but it’s much more titillating than the quantum mechanics of black holes!)
In order to set the record straight I have excerpted from the article and added my own comments.
… He is working with BGI-Shenzhen, a Chinese company that runs one of the world’s largest gene-sequencing operations, on a project to identify the genetic basis of intelligence.

Tiger mothers in Singapore: Losing Their Edge?

The Economist:

ONCE upon a time most of the tiny island-state of Singapore was a jungle. That is nearly all gone now, but the country is still heavily populated by tigers. These strict, unyielding felines, celebrated by Amy Chua in her book on the superiority of Chinese parenting, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, load their cubs down with extra homework and tuition to make them excel at school. Western parents are usually horrified at the pressure the tiger mums exert on their children to get better grades or become concert violinists, preferably before puberty. But in Singapore this style of parenting, especially among the ethnic Chinese majority, is rarely questioned.
Imagine, then, the surprise when the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, launched an attack on tiger mothers in a speech in late August to mark Singapore’s national day. Most of his remarks celebrated Singapore’s success, as usual. But then he berated parents for coaching their three- or four-year-old children to give them that extra edge over the five-year-old competition. And he added: “Please let your children have their childhood…Instead of growing up balanced and happy, he grows up narrow and neurotic. No homework is not a bad thing. It’s good for young children to play, and to learn through play.”

No Appetite for Good-for-You School Lunches

Vivian Yee:

Outside Pittsburgh, they are proclaiming a strike, taking to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. In a village near Milwaukee, hundreds staged a boycott. In a small farming and ranching community in western Kansas, they have produced a parody video. And in Parsippany, N.J., the protest is six days old and counting.
They are high school students, and their complaint is about lunch — healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

Enrollment Drops Again in Graduate Programs

Catherine Rampell:

Enrollment in college is still climbing, but students are increasingly saying no to graduate school in the United States.
New enrollment in graduate schools fell last year for the second consecutive year, according to a report from the Council of Graduate Schools.
The declines followed surges in enrollment in 2008 and 2009 as many unemployed workers sought a haven during the recession. Financial considerations probably played a role in the shift. Students may be dissuaded from continuing their education in part because of the increasing debt burden from their undergraduate years.
Additionally, state budget cuts are forcing public institutions to reduce aid for graduate students, who in some disciplines have traditionally been paid to attend postgraduate programs.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US hooked on ‘crystal meth’ debt, says Gross

Dan McCrum:

Bill Gross has compared the US government’s reliance on debt financing to a “crystal meth” addict, in the latest in a series of dire warnings from one of the most influential investors in the bond market.
“The US, in fact, is a serial offender, an addict whose habit extends beyond weed or cocaine and who frequently pleasures itself with budgetary crystal meth”, said Mr Gross, who manages the $273bn Total Return bond fund for Pimco.
In an investment outlook that began with a discussion of the 69-year old investor’s lack of long-term memory, Mr Gross returned again to a theme that he has visited over the last decade: unsustainable US spending.
Mr Gross places the US in a “ring of fire” that includes countries with precarious finances such as Greece, Spain and Japan.

Wisconsin Schools face new, tougher report cards

Alan Borsuk:

One of the most dramatic signs of the momentous changes in how Wisconsin is trying to improve schools, teachers and student performance is about to hit every public school community in the state.
There have been a lot of warnings that a new way of picturing how schools are doing is coming and that the view isn’t going to be as cheery as the old grades. But it’s unlikely many people except school officials have been paying attention.
You can bet a lot more people will take notice when the state Department of Public Instruction releases report cards for every school and school district on Oct. 22.
The new data is going to be massive and sometimes complex. There will be a two-page summary report on each school, as well as an 18-page report.
Backers of the new approach – and a broad array of education and political figures – say that the report cards are a pillar of efforts to get more children in Wisconsin better prepared to go on to college and the work world.
But a lot of people almost surely will look at the grades for their local schools and ask: What in heaven’s name is going on? How did local schools we thought were A or B quality suddenly get worse?

The Secret Document that Drives Standardized Testing

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

n the excellent film The Insider, Jeffrey Wigand, an ex-tobacco company executive, faces a dilemma. In return for a severance package and the health insurance coverage it provides his family, he signs confidentiality agreements promising not to reveal the company’s research effort to boost the addictive power of cigarettes. When it appears that he is preparing to speak to journalists anyway, tobacco company-contracted PR hacks assassinate Wigand’s character in the national media, and local thugs threaten his family’s safety. In the end, Wigand strikes the match that blows up tobacco industry deceit on CBS’s Sixty Minutes televised investigative news program.
I was reminded of Wigand’s story recently when a testing industry executive warned me not to reveal the specifics of a secret document currently being written–a document that, in my judgment, will effectively embed the findings of fraudulent, biased research in educational testing into US law. Among the several nasty effects should be an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars on millions of new and worse-than-worthless “audit tests”. The number of tests administered to our elementary-secondary students could double in some areas, but the quality of the results available from all tests will deteriorate.
Though this document will profoundly affect all Americans, whether directly involved in education or not, you cannot see it before it is published in its final, legal form, as a fait accompli in early 2013. I and perhaps a few hundred other testing aficionados read an early draft in 2011 but, legally, we cannot show it to you. We all signed confidentiality agreements.
Education insiders are currently writing in secret what is arguably the single most influential document in US education and psychology. Last updated in 1999, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing is being revised and, if on schedule, will be presented in its completed form to the public in early 2013. (The testing Standards should not be confused with more common, and far more public, content standards, a.k.a. curriculum).

The School-Test Publisher Complex

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

Within several months, the most important document in US education testing–the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing–will incorporate the conclusions of biased, irreparably flawed research that favors education’s vested interests. School districts and taxpayers will be compelled to pay for the administration of more tests, perhaps twice as many in some areas. But, these new tests will not be used for any of the proven benefits of testing, such as feedback or motivation. Their only purpose will be to “audit” other, already-existing tests.
Why do current tests need “auditing” you ask? Allegedly, scores and score trends on standardized tests with consequences, or “stakes”, can never be trusted and need to be verified by those from parallel “no stakes” tests. Presumably, scores from no-stakes tests, no matter how administered and no matter who administers them, are as trustworthy as a pug-nosed Pinocchio.
The notion reminds me of the Will Smith-Jon Voight film Enemy of the State, in which corrupt politicians and federal intelligence agents misuse their power to monitor their fellow citizens for mutual self-aggrandizement. After the miscreants’ criminal activity is exposed, officials promise to “monitor the monitors”, apparently within the same institutional structures that harbored the original malfeasance. To that announcement, the Regina King character in the film replies “Well, who’s gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors?”

Pre-school education in Texas; Despite Budget Cuts Reformers are Pushing Ahead

The Economist:

DEMOGRAPHERS like to say that Texas today is the United States tomorrow. That being the case, a look at San Antonio–the second-largest city in Texas, and seventh-largest in the country–suggests that America had better get cracking. In many respects the city is in an enviable position: young, diverse, and growing by bounds. It also includes a huge number of children–a quarter of whom live in poverty, most of whom need more education, and all of whom live in a state where government spending is a hard sell. At the Democratic National Convention recently the mayor, Julián Castro, made a pitch for change: “We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education,” he said.
To that end, he said, the city was working for a bigger pre-school programme. The idea is part of a national trend towards early childhood education. “Give me a child until he is seven,” runs the famous Jesuit saying, “and I will give you the man.” Why wait that long, though? By the time children start kindergarten, some are manifestly more ready than others, in terms of their health, cognitive skills, and ability to pay attention to the teacher.

Salman Khan’s audacious mission to offer online education to anyone, anywhere for free.


When you hear Salman Khan’s story, it sounds like an Internet-age fairy tale, one that goes something like this. Once upon a time, a brainy MIT graduate working as a hedge-fund analyst started tutoring his cousin in math and science online. He decided to make YouTube videos of his tutorials. The videos racked up millions of views and reached audiences around the world, and appreciative students offered stirring testimonials. After three years, the hedge-fund analyst quit his day job to set up an educational nonprofit called The Khan Academy. The mission: provide a world-class education to anyone, anywhere for free.
Khan knows that his mission statement is a bit grandiose, but he believes the Khan Academy’s online teaching materials, including its archive of more than 3,000 videos, have the power to reach students in ways that classroom settings sometimes can’t. The Khan Academy combines video tutorials with exercises and problems tailored to an individual student’s performance level.

School district rebuilds after fraudulent testing

Juan Carlos Llorca:

During his sophomore year, Jose Avalos was urged by a principal to drop out of high school. The next year, his brother was told to do the same after entering the 10th grade. A third Avalos brother shared the same fate in 2009.
Administrators at Bowie High School cited excessive tardiness in their efforts to remove the siblings. But now the brothers suspect they were targeted for an entirely different reason: The district was trying to push out hundreds of low-performing sophomores to prevent them from taking accountability tests. The scheme was designed to help El Paso schools raise academic standards, qualify for more federal money and ensure the superintendent got hefty bonuses.
“I thought I was going crazy. I even doubted my sons,” said the boys’ mother, Grisel Avalos. She said she tried several times to keep her sons in class, but district officials “were on the side of the teachers and the principal.”

Portage parents form group to fight heroin


Don and Jan Weideman lost their youngest son in June after a year-and-a-half battle with heroin, and they have formed a group to address the growing concern about heroin in Columbia County.
Don Weideman found his son, Cody, dead in their home from a heroin overdose.
Cody’s addiction was triggered by a girlfriend who also used the drug. His parents went through inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling and treatment options.
It’s an experience Don Weideman described as “a living hell.”
“Children are supposed to bury parents. Parents aren’t supposed to bury children,” Don Weideman said.

11 Public Universities with the Worst Graduation Rates

Blaire Briody:

Just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years, according to a 2011 Harvard Graduate School of Education study. Among the 18 developed countries in the OECD, the U.S. was dead last for the percentage of students who completed college once they started it ― even behind Slovakia.
College dropouts tend to be male, and give reasons such as cost, not feeling prepared, and not being able to juggle family, school and jobs, according to the Harvard study. An American Institutes for Research report last year estimated that college dropouts cost the nation $4.5 billion in lost earnings and taxes.

With Montessori schools booming, Milwaukee holds demonstration

Erin Richards:

wenty years ago, Paula Ambos enrolled her daughter at MacDowell Montessori School after a friend raved about how well the style of education worked for her kid.
Ambos started helping in the classroom – common for Montessori parents because the “freedom with responsibility” philosophy of learning requires at least one classroom assistant – then pursued formal teacher training herself.
Today, she’s the primary teacher of a 3-, 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten classroom at MacDowell, which incorporated a high school this year and became one of several new or revamped public Montessori options that Milwaukee Public Schools is championing to parents all over the city.
The public Montessori-school community in Milwaukee is now one of the largest in the country – growing to eight schools under the MPS umbrella, and a ninth that operates as a City of Milwaukee-authorized charter school.

College Marketing Experts Set Sights on Kids Who Pay

Julie Halpert

urdue University was always a back-up school for Kemsley Corell. But once she was accepted, she was won over by the barrage of mail advertising the school. She received plenty of marketing materials from other schools, but what impressed her about Purdue were the letters from faculty and staff from the Animal Sciences department, the College of Agriculture. She even received one from the dean himself.
Specific phrases in the letters made them seem personal – like the one from Marcos Fernandez, associate dean at the College of Agriculture, who underlined the words, “Congratulations” and “I look forward to meeting and getting to know you.” The letters made the Pleasant Grove, Utah applicant , feel “like I was important to Purdue and that I could really fit in there.” She started as a freshman at Purdue this fall.
Corell’s story is music to the ears of Teri Lucie Thompson, chief marketing officer for Purdue University. She’s one of the many marketing pros hired recently by universities to reach out more aggressively to students. The economic downturn and growing competition among institutions for students is prompting many schools to employ increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques to appeal to their pool of applicants – including those that can pay full price – and ensure they’ll get the highest caliber of students.
The term “marketing” once was a dirty word at universities and colleges, as many faculty felt the school’s stellar reputation should be enough to draw students. But now many schools have hired chief marketing officers, or CMOs, with six-figure salaries. Thompson, who makes a base salary of $265,000 with an annual 14-percent pension contribution, points to Bentley University and Utah State University as just two recent examples. Others schools are also hiring outside marketing firms.
“More than ever, higher education is a buyer’s market,” said Tony Pals, a spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. He says students are increasingly concerned about the economic returns of their degree and are looking for a college with the best value.

And, many colleges spend a boatload of money on marketing, often paid by prospective students’ application fees.

Why a 17th-Century Text Is the Perfect Starting Point for Reinventing the Book

Rebecca Rosen:

Good morning, class. I’d like you all to open your books to Act I, Scene 2, Line 398.
Pages rustle as everyone flips through their books in search of that spot.
“Usually there’s a whole lot of shuffling,” says Bryn Mawr professor Katharine Rowe. But not if the class is using an app she and Notre Dame professor Elliott Visconsi built. In their app of Shakespeare’s Tempest students can just enter “1.2.398” and be transported there immediately. Or, alternatively, search for the words: “Full fathom five thy father lies.”
That tool “gets my students on the line, at the same time, almost instantly. That’s a big deal for a Shakespeare prof,” she says. “We get our brains faster into the text that way.”

The Apprentice How manufacturers and community colleges are teaming up, German-style, to create high-paying factory jobs.

Dana Goldstein:

Unemployment among workers without a college degree is at a staggering 24 percent, but young college grads without an advanced degree are also suffering from the worst jobs crisis since World War II, with about 19 percent out of work or underemployed for their level of education. Is it fair to ask American schools to respond to the Great Recession? Great teachers and principals can help students maximize their potential, but they can’t make firms hire workers.
But the education system is not powerless in the face of high unemployment–as long as employers are partners. What’s clear is that there are a few, relatively small sectors of the economy in which there are real shortages of trained workers. Some of those sectors require an advanced degree or very high-level skills, such as in engineering or computer programming. But not all of them do. One of these sectors is mid-skill manufacturing. There is a shortage of machinists who can operate the new, computer-programmed, robotic assembly lines that build cars, turbines, generators, steel and iron plumbing products, armaments, and shipping and packing equipment. There may be as many as 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs of this type, but compared with their European counterparts, American companies have shown little willingness to invest in training workers to fill these positions.

When tablet turns teacher

Gillian Tett:

Six months ago, they dropped dozens of boxed iPads into two extremely remote villages in Ethiopia, where the population was completely illiterate, dirt poor and had no prior exposure to electronics. They did not leave any instructions, aside from telling the village elders that the iPads were designed for kids aged four to 11. They also showed one adult how to charge the iPads with a solar-powered device. Then the researchers vanished and monitored what happened next by making occasional visits and tracking the behaviour of the children via Sim cards, USB sticks and cameras installed in the iPads.
The results, which will be unveiled in Boston later this month, are thought-provoking, particularly for anyone involved in the education business. Within minutes of the iPads landing among the mud huts, the kids had unpacked the boxes and worked out how to turn them on.
Then, in both villages, activity coalesced around a couple of child leaders, who made the mental leap to explore those tablets – and taught the others what to do. In one village, this leader turned out to be a partly disabled child: although he had never been a dominant personality before, he was a natural explorer, so became the teacher.
The discovery process then became intense. When the children used the iPads, they did not behave like western adults might, namely sitting with a machine each on their laps in isolation. Instead they huddled together, touching and watching each other’s machines, constantly swapping knowledge. Within days, they were using the pre-installed apps, with games, movies and educational lessons. After a couple of months, some were singing the American “alphabet song” and recognising letters (at the request of the Ethiopian government, the machines were all in English). More startling still, one gang of kids even worked out how to disable a block that the Boston-based researchers had installed into the machines, which was supposed to stop them taking pictures of themselves. And all of this apparently happened without any adult supervision – and anyone in those mud huts having handled text before.

The Slow Death of California’s Higher Education

Andy Kroll:

It was the greatest education system the world had ever seen. They built it into the eucalyptus-dotted Berkeley hills and under the bright lights of Los Angeles, down in the valley in Fresno and in the shadows of the San Bernardino Mountains. Hundreds of college campuses, large and small, two-year and four-year, stretching from California’s emerald forests in the north to the heat-scorched Inland Empire in the south. Each had its own DNA, but common to all was this: they promised a “public” education, accessible and affordable, to those with means and those without, a door with a welcome mat into the ivory tower, an invitation to a better life.
Then California bled that system dry. Over three decades, voters starved their state–and so their colleges and universities–of cash. Politicians siphoned away what money remained and spent it more on imprisoning people, not educating them. College administrators grappled with shriveling state support by jacking up tuitions, tacking on new fees, and so asking more each year from increasingly pinched students and families. Today, many of those students stagger under a heap of debt as they linger on waiting lists to get into the over-subscribed classes they need to graduate.

White denies requests for La. Education Department records

Kevin McGill:

After saying last August that a public records request would be fulfilled, Louisiana’s education department is again refusing to provide The Associated Press with records on how schools were chosen to participate in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s new statewide voucher program.
The Associated Press requested the records on June 12. The department initially rejected the request on Aug. 3. However, a spokesman for Education Superintendent John White later told an AP capital bureau reporter that the records request would be fulfilled in September — after the final voucher enrollment numbers were tallied.

Inglewood High grad takes over city’s troubled school district

Kurt Streeter:

Kent Taylor, superintendent of education in southern Kern County, was selected Wednesday to lead the Inglewood school district — the first major move by the state after its takeover of the financially troubled district.
Before his Kern County stint, Taylor worked as a teacher, principal, administrator and school board member in several Southern California districts, mostly in the San Bernardino area. He grew up in Inglewood and graduated from Inglewood High in 1982, facts he emphasized repeatedly during a Wednesday news conference.
The appointment is about “coming back to the community that I love, the community that produced me,” he said, recalling several teachers who mentored him as a youngster. “This is a great district, a wonderful district, and we have great things happening here…. Do we need to figure out some fiscal things? Yes, we do. But I’m the guy who is going to come and work with everyone and listen to everyone…. We’re going to continue to move forward.”

The Wall Street Journal:

The unions are blaming Inglewood’s shortfall on education cuts, but per-pupil spending is about the same as it was five years ago. The real problem (other than too generous benefits, which are an issue in most districts) is that enrollment has declined by more than 20% since 2006, which has shrunk the total pot of available money. Many of the city’s working class families have left. Meanwhile, about 10% of students have fled to charter schools–and for that the unions have only themselves to blame.
Seven charters have sprouted up within the last five years as alternatives to Inglewood’s failing schools, which are among the worst in the state. Only 30% of seventh graders meet state math standards while merely a quarter of 11th graders are proficient in English. The charters outperform traditional schools by 100 to 200 points on the state Academic Performance Index (which ranges from 200 to 1000). Most charters also operate at lower cost.
The district intends to float bonds to renovate facilities in order to draw back students, but energy efficient buildings and a spiffy, new athletic center won’t make up for a poor education. And they sure won’t help close the district’s $10 million structural deficit.

Assessing Ourselves To Death

Matthew DiCarlo:

I have two points to make. The first is something that I think everyone knows: Educational outcomes, such as graduation and test scores, are signals of or proxies for the traits that lead to success in life, not the cause of that success.
For example, it is well-documented that high school graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates. Thus, one often hears arguments that increasing graduation rates will drastically improve students’ future prospects, and the performance of the economy overall. Well, not exactly.
The piece of paper, of course, only goes so far. Rather, the benefits of graduation arise because graduates are more likely to possess the skills – including the critical non-cognitive sort – that make people good employees (and, on a highly related note, because employers know that, and use credentials to screen applicants).

New principal discusses future, focus, traditions of La Escuela Fratney

Angela McManaman:

Bias alert: I love my kids’ Milwaukee Public School, La Escuela Fratney.
It’s a smaller school, K4 to grade 5, which means we’ll be playing the “where’re-the-kids-going-for-middle-school game” sooner than I’d like. But I’m a monolingual mom whose heart races every time I hear my 6- and 8-year-old speak beautifully accented Spanish. I appreciate their help when I fail to bridge the language gap at our neighborhood taqueria, and they can multiply in two languages. Neat.
Anyway, 2012 has been a big year for Fratney. Our longtime principal, Ms. Rita Tenorio, retired and Fratney was just named a GE Foundation Demonstration School. Alongside their peers across Wisconsin and in 45 other states, Fratney students, teachers and parents are adjusting to the Common Core State Standards for career and college preparation. In all this flurry of activity, some folks don’t even know about our new principal. Read below for the inside scoop on Ms. Llanas Buckman, ripped from the front page of the Fratney PTA newsletter!

All MTI Bargaining Units Ratify Contracts Through June 30, 2014

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity eNewsletter, via a kind Jeannie Bettner email:

Act 10, which Governor Walker designed to kill unions of public sector workers, caused massive protests in early 2011 because of it quashing peoples’ rights. And, that is the way Judge Colas saw it in ruling on MTI’s challenge to Act 10. Colas ruled that Act 10 violates the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association and equal protection of public sector union members (ruling did not address state employees). Enabled by Colas’ decision, MTI petitioned the Madison Metropolitan School District to commence negotiations over a Contract to succeed that which ends June 30, 2013.
Following Judge Colas’ order, both the City of Madison and Dane County negotiated new Contracts with their largest union, AFSCME Local 60. MTI, along with hundreds of supporters, pressed the MMSD to follow suit. After 37 hours of bargaining last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, negotiators for MTI, SEE- MTI (clerical/technical employees), EA-MTI (educational assistants and nurse assistants), SSA-MTI (security assistants) and USO-MTI (substitute teachers) were successful in reaching terms for a new Contract through June 30, 2014.
The Union achieved the #1 priority expressed by members of MTI’s five bargaining units in the recent survey, protecting their Contract rights and benefits, and keeping their Union Contract. The “just cause” standard for any kind of discipline or dismissal is in tact, as is arbitration by a neutral third party of any such action by the District, and of all claims that District administration violated the terms of an MTI Contract. The Union was also successful in preserving salary and wage schedules (except for substitutes), as well as fringe benefits, another priority of members responding to MTI’s recent survey.
Solidarity was evident from the outset as, for the first time ever, representatives from all five (5) of MTI’s bargaining units worked together to bargain simultaneously. Representatives from the Custodial and Food Service units, represented by AFSCME Local 60, also lent support throughout the negotiations, even as they were rushing to bargain new contracts for their members. And, in a powerful display of solidarity, MTI’s Teacher Bargaining Team repeatedly put forth proposals enabling the District to increase health insurance contributions for teachers, if the District would agree NOT to increase contributions from their lower paid brothers and sisters in MTI’s EA, SEE and SSA bargaining units. Unfortunately, the District rebuffed the offers, insisting that all employees work under the cloud of uncertainty that employee health insurance contributions may be increased up to 10% of the premium after June 30, 2013.
The District entered the negotiations espousing “principles that put student learning in the forefront, with a respect for the fact that our employees are the people who directly or indirectly impact that learning”. MTI heard these concerns and made major accommodations in many contractual areas to address these needs. Areas where MTI accommodated the District’s stated need to attract staff who can close the achievement gap: 1) enable the District to place new hires anywhere on the salary schedule; 2) give new hires a signing bonus of any amount; 3) appoint new hires and non-District employees to any coaching or other extra duty position (annual District discretion of continuing extra duty position); 4) current staff to have no right to apply for vacancies occurring after June 15, to enable District to offer employment to outsiders; 5) enable the District to assign new hires to evening/weekend teaching positions; and 6) enable the District to hold two evening parent-teacher conferences per school year.
Yet, other District proposals appeared to have nothing to do with either student achievement or respecting the employees who make that happen. The District insisted on eliminating sick leave benefits for all substitute teachers hired after July 1, 2013. The District insisted on language which would non-renew the contracts of teachers on medical leave for more than two years. And the District’s numerous other “take backs”, unrelated to either of their stated principles, but just to take advantage of the leverage enabled by the uncertainty of Act 10. These concessions were received bitterly by the thousand who gathered at Wednesday’s MTI meeting, hoping for positive signs that the District’s messages of respect would be reflected in the settlement.
On the downside was the District’s attack on other Contract provisions. In violation of the principles they espoused to Walker’s then-proposed Act 10, in February 2011, Board members enabled District management to demand concessions from AFSCME and MTI in exchange for a new Contract. All seven Board members said of Act 10, “The Governor’s proposals are a damaging blow to all our public services and dedicated public employees. The legislation’s radical and punitive approach to the collective bargaining process seems likely to undermine our productive working relationship with our teachers and damage the work environment, to the ultimate detriment of student achievement.”
Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore espoused similar feelings just last month. In referring to Act 10, she wrote District employees “… we still need to determine together how to go forward in the best interest of our employees and our district.”
The pledges of Board members and Supt. Belmore were not worth the paper they were written on. Demanding significant changes and deletion of terms which they had agreed – some since the 1960’s – the District negotiators were relentless.


Hewlett Foundation Awards $100K to Winners of Short Answer Scoring Competition

“Getting Smart”:

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation awarded $100,000 today in a competition to develop innovative software to help teachers score student written responses to test questions. The prize was divided among five (5) teams. The competition compared the ability of software to score short-answer student essays in a way that was similar to human graders. The results showed that the software is not yet able to achieve the same scores as human graders.
“Giving school systems the tools to challenge students to develop critical reasoning skills is crucial to making those students competitive in the new century,” said Barbara Chow, Education Program Director at the Hewlett Foundation. “And critical reasoning is one of the capabilities, along with communicating clearly, working cooperatively, and learning independently, that we call Deeper Learning would like to see broadly embraced throughout the country.”
The Hewlett Foundation sponsored the Automated Student Assessment Prize (ASAP) to address the need for high quality standardized tests to replace many of the current ones, which test rote skills. The goal is to shift testing away from standardized bubble tests to tests that evaluate critical thinking, problem solving and other 21st century skills. To do so, it’s necessary to develop more sophisticated tests to evaluate these skills and reduce their cost so they can be adopted widely. Computer aided scoring can play an important role in achieving this goal.

Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective

Salman Khan:

In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University — Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish — described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students’ focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study’s authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then — no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter — there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would “lose it.” Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer packets, falling “to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture,” according to the report. This study focused on college students, and of course it was done before the age of texting and tweeting; presumably, the attention spans of younger people today have become even shorter, or certainly more challenged by distractions.
Middendorf and Kalish also cited a study from 1985 which tested students on their recall of facts contained in a 20-minute presentation. While you might expect that recall of the final section of the presentation would be greatest– the part heard most recently — in fact the result was strikingly opposite. Students remembered far more of what they’d heard at the very beginning of the lecture. By the 15-minute mark, they’d mostly zoned out. Yet these findings — which were quite dramatic, consistent and conclusive, and have never yet been refuted — went largely unapplied in the real world.

The Anxiety of an Edu-Compassionate Conservative

Andy Smarick:

Eleven years ago I was a legislative assistant to a US Congressman, and K-12 was in my portfolio. NCLB was making its way through the House, and the congressman was leaning against. I took it upon myself to change his mind.
I gave him our state testing data showing enormous achievement gaps. This legislation, I argued, was social justice for disadvantaged kids. Standards, assessments, accountability, and transparency were not only reasonable but also necessary. We had to do something about failing schools. You have to vote for this legislation!
Ten years later I was Deputy Education Commissioner of New Jersey, and I was leading our effort to write a waiver to free our state from NCLB.
Were I interested in reputational self-protection, I’d take the easy way out and simply say that America learned a great deal over that decade; that I was right as a zealous 26-year old to agitate, and I was right as a wiser, more prudent 36-year old to retrench.
But that’s not how I feel. To this day, I’m deeply conflicted about the proper role of the federal government in our schools. As I alluded to yesterday, as a blogger, but more importantly, as a guy who’s done a good bit of education policy making and writing, I ought to have an answer. And I don’t.