Madison School Board approves new agreements with some union employees

Matthew DeFour:

The Madison School Board unanimously approved one-year collective bargaining agreements with some of its employees at noon Thursday, taking advantage of a legal window to change longstanding policies favored by the teachers union.
Additional agreements with the rest of its represented employees are expected to be approved at 6 p.m.
Whether the new agreements will stand depends on what happens to the state’s new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled key portions of the law unconstitutional, but the state plans to appeal the decision.
School, city and county officials in Madison have quickly hammered out new agreements since Colas’ Sept. 14 ruling. The School District and Madison Teachers Inc. exchanged initial proposals Sunday and completed in three days a closed-door process that historically plays out over months.

Related: Is Teacher Union “Collective Bargaining” Good for Students?

Teaching is Compression

Lauren Ipsum:

The second type of teaching is a form of compression, making things easier to understand. I don’t mean simply eliding details, or making your proofs more terse. I mean compression in the time it takes to explain an idea and its implications.
Computer science is hard. Logic is hard. And that’s fine. But if we leave this world as complicated as we found it then we’ve failed to do our jobs. Think about it this way: if the next generation learns at the same speed as yours, they won’t have time to move beyond you. Type II teaching is what enables Type I progress.
Physics went through a period of compression in the middle of the last century. Richard Feynman’s reputation wasn’t built on discovering new particles or laws of nature, but for discovering better ways to reason about what we already knew. [1] Mathematics has gone though several rebuilding periods. That’s why you can pick up a child’s math book today and find negative numbers, the square root of two, and many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse. Every one of those mundane ideas was once the hardest problem in the world. My word, people died in arguments over the Pythagorean Theorem. Now we teach it to kids in a half hour. If that’s not progress I don’t know what is.

Know your history: Both Democrats and Republicans have switched on vouchers

Doug Tuthill:

Long-time Democratic education activist Jack Jennings, in a recent Huffington Post column, argued that Republican support for private school choice is a somewhat recent (i.e., the last 45 years) phenomenon, driven by a political desire to appeal to segregationists and weaken teacher unions. Jennings writes, “The Republicans’ talk about giving parents the right to choose is a politically expedient strategy … Just beneath the surface of the education rhetoric are political motivations to thwart integration, weaken the Democratic coalition, and cripple the teachers’ unions.”
Jennings is being disingenuous by not acknowledging that Democrats have also changed their position on public funding for private school choice over the years. Democrats George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey both ran for president on platforms supporting tuition tax credits for private schools, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., was the U.S. Senate’s leading advocate for giving parents public funding to attend private schools. The Democratic Party reversed its support of public funding for private school choice in the late 1970s – as a political payback to the National Education Association for giving Jimmy Carter its first ever presidential endorsement.

The Plight of Young, Black Men Is Worse Than You Think

Peter Coy:

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any wealthy nation, with about 2.3 million people behind bars at any given moment. (That’s 730 out of 100,000, vs. just 154 for England and Wales.) There are more people in U.S. prisons than are in the country’s active-duty military. That much is well known. What’s less known is that people who are incarcerated are excluded from most surveys by U.S. statistical agencies. Since young, black men are disproportionately likely to be in jail or prison, the exclusion of penal institutions from the statistics makes the jobs situation of young, black men look better than it really is.
That’s the point of a new book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress, by Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington. Pettit spoke on Thursday in a telephone press conference.

Related: Robert Francis, the Texan judge closing America’s jails

Until recently, these people would have been discarded in overcrowded prisons. After all they were caught in Texas – the toughest state of a nation that locks up more offenders than any other in the world, with more than one in every 100 adults behind bars. Instead they receive counselling and assistance with housing and employment, although they can be sent back to jail if they fail drug tests, abscond or reoffend. One woman, a crystal meth addict, tells me the sessions in court are like walking on eggshells. But there are small incentives for those doing well, such as $10 gift vouchers or – on the day I visited – barbecue lunch out with Francis. “These people have to believe we care and want them to succeed,” he tells me later. “Once they believe in me they can start to change.”
They are beneficiaries of a revolution in justice sweeping the United States, one with illuminating lessons for Britain. It is a revolt led by hardline conservatives who have declared prison a sign of state failure. They say it is an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money when the same people, often damaged by drink, drugs, mental health problems or chaotic backgrounds, return there again and again.
Remarkably, this revolution was unleashed in “hang ’em high” Texas, which prides itself on its toughness and still holds more executions than other states. But instead of building more prisons and jailing ever more people, Texas is now diverting funds to sophisticated rehabilitation programmes to reduce recidivism. Money has been poured into probation, parole and specialist services for addicts, the mentally ill, women and veterans. And it has worked: figures show even violent crime dropping at more than twice the national average, while cutting costs and reducing prison populations.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Future engineers take easy way out, outsource projects

Express India:

Vidya is in a dilemma. The curriculum makes it mandatory for her to submit a project by the end of the term. After three years of engineering education, the final year student is struggling to make even a simple circuit work, let alone come up with a BE-level project.
Vidya need not worry, Pune’s vast ‘project-making’ industry promises to rescue students like her. ‘We make all kinds of engineering projects’ is a signboard found across the city and its outskirts, especially outside private engineering colleges. With private engineering colleges mushrooming across Maharashtra in the past decade, the project making industry has grown exponentially in the city.
Coming up with science projects is not so easy and requires a lot of research. They have to keep innovating and updating with technological advance in all fields to fulfill students’ demands.

Camden’s rejection of private school managers highlights bigger debate over urban education

Laura Waters:

Over the last week a remarkable story has unfolded in Camden, N.J. At the Camden City Public School Board’s most recent meeting on Tuesday, board members considered four applicants for N.J.’s newly-legislated Urban Hope Act and voted them all down.
The Urban Hope Act (pdf), signed by Gov. Chris Christie this past January, allows non-profits to build, manage, and operate up to four “renaissance” schools in three long-suffering school districts: Camden, Newark, and Trenton. Four organizations applied for Camden’s new Renaissance “district,” including one highly-regarded organization called KIPP, which runs some of Newark’s most successful charter schools. After six hours in closed session the Board members, in a move that surprised just about everyone (including the Camden mayor, who appointed them), rejected KIPP’s application by a split vote of 4-4, with one abstention.
This outcome is noteworthy on several levels, and the story itself elucidates one of the thorniest dilemmas that stump people who value public education. When faced with a chronically failing school system like Camden, should the priority be providing children with immediate relief from a district where the majority of the students never master basic academic skills? Or should the priority be lengthy efforts to rebuild the whole system? Does the urgency of the plight of current students trump long-term fixes, or is it the other way around?
This conundrum was put into sharp relief this week in Camden, especially in the context of some new documents up on Camden City Public Schools’ website. These reports are a brave and honest assessment of the district’s predicament. They also detail necessary corrective steps, some of which involve cultural and procedural changes which, by definition, will take years to implement.

Related: The Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy recently.

When Curious Parents See Math Grades in Real Time

Sue Shellenbarger:

John Patriarche in Chandler, Ariz., logs on from home to check grades and assignments with his 13-year-old daughter, Anna.
Ever since her 12-year-old twin sons went back to school in August, Catherine Durkin Robinson has been telling herself, “Steer clear. Think first, and keep away,” she says.
The hazard she’s avoiding? Logging on to her school’s online grade-reporting system to see how her boys are doing. When she checked their grades online late last year, “I saw Cs and I almost lost my mind,” she says. Her sons’ teachers later explained that the grades weren’t up-to-date and that Zachary and Jacob were actually doing very well. But it was a shock she’d rather not repeat, says the Tampa, Fla.-based manager for a nonprofit education organization.

Changing demographics lead to UW-System enrollment drop

Karen Herzog:

A drop in the number of high school students and competition from for-profit and online universities are factors pinching enrollment at some University of Wisconsin System schools, forcing them to fine-tune their recruiting efforts.
The issue is expected to deepen in the next few years, and university leaders are bracing for the financial fallout if new recruitment and retention efforts don’t work.
“We’re entering into a trough we’ll come out of in several years,” UW System spokesman David Giroux said Tuesday, referring to a demographic shift in Wisconsin brought by declining birthrates that started 17 to 18 years ago. “We knew this was coming,” Giroux said.
The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will discuss the trend later this week during their regular meeting at UW-Stout.
At UW-Milwaukee, the focus is shifting to recruiting more international and graduate students, more out-of-state-students and continuing to improve retention of students already on campus, as freshman enrollments continue to decline from their peak in 2007.

Online schools face backlash as states question results

Stephanie Simon:

Virtual public schools, which allow students to take all their classes online, have exploded in popularity across the United States, offering what supporters view as innovative and affordable alternatives to the conventional classroom.
Now a backlash is building among public officials and educators who question whether the cyber-schools are truly making the grade.
In Maine, New Jersey and North Carolina, officials have refused to allow new cyber-schools to open this year, citing concerns about poor academic performance, high rates of student turnover and funding models that appear to put private-sector profits ahead of student achievement.

What Are the Right Schools of Experience for Teachers in New Schools?

Michael Horn:

I spent a few hours recently with the head of a brand new blended-learning school. The school is pushing the bounds of blended learning with a Flex model that is competency-based. Students move on when they have mastered the appropriate standards and skills, have individualized learning plans, and, along with their parents, receive daily progress reports based on how they are doing. The role of the teacher in this new school looks very different from that in a standard school.
Many parts of the schooling model are also still evolving as the school learns what does and does not work.
Uncertainty exists, and teachers are both teaching amidst the uncertainty and helping to create and refine the school model itself on the fly. Because new innovations rarely emerge fully baked and launch with perfect success, this is both natural and good.

From Self-Flying Helicopters to Classrooms of the Future

Jeffrey Young:

n a summer day four years ago, a Stanford University computer-science professor named Andrew Ng held an unusual air show on a field near the campus. His fleet of small helicopter drones flew under computer control, piloted by artificial-intelligence software that could teach itself to fly after watching a human operator. By the end of the day, the copters were hot-dogging–flipping, rolling, even hovering upside down.
It was a milestone for the field of “machine learning,” the same area of artificial intelligence that lets Amazon recommend books based on a shopper’s previous habits and helps Google tailor search results to a user’s behavior. Mr. Ng and his team of graduate students showed that artificial-intelligence software could control one of the hardest-to-maneuver vehicles and keep it stable while flying at 45 miles an hour. That same year, Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, included Mr. Ng among the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35.
Today Mr. Ng is an innovator in an entirely different setting: online education. He is a founder of the start-up Coursera, which works with 33 colleges to help them deliver free online courses. After less than a year of operation, the company already claims more students–1.3 million–than just about any educational institution on the planet. Mr. Ng likes to say that Coursera arrived at an “inflection point” for the idea of massive open online courses, or MOOC’s, which are designed so a single professor can teach tens of thousands of students at a time.

Education reforms stall in California

Dan Walters:

There’s a tale behind the death of California’s proposed school funding allocation overhaul. The measure, Assembly Bill 18, was one of the casualties as Gov. Jerry Brown waded through hundreds of bills from the hectic, final hours of the 2012 legislative session. — Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, carried the bill, a watered-down version of her proposal to overhaul how the $60-plus billion in state, local and federal funds are allocated to California’s K-12 school districts each year.
She wanted to streamline state aid and shift more money to low-performing schools with large numbers of students who are poor or “English learners,” responding to criticism that the state was not focusing money on its most urgent needs.
The state Supreme Court four decades ago decreed the “equalization” of school finances, which were then rooted in property taxes.

Student loans should be cheaper at Harvard

Jen Wieczner:

If the government ran its student loan programs the way banks do, Ivy Leaguers would probably get a steep discount, those at state universities would pay a bit more, and many at community colleges and for-profit schools would be deemed subprime borrowers.
No college degree guarantees one will be able to afford to pay off their student loans, but Ivy League borrowers rarely default on their debt: Just 1% of Harvard University students defaulted within three years of their loans coming due in 2009, according to Department of Education data released last week; and at the higher end, just under 3% of Columbia University alumni defaulted. Compare that with for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix, where 26% of students defaulted in that same time period — nearly twice the national average.

Which Language Rules to Flout. Or Flaunt?

Room For Debate

Here’s a chilling thought: What if our English teachers were wrong? Maybe not about everything, but about a few memorable lessons. So many millions of writers have needlessly contorted their prose to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. So many well-intentioned editors have fought to change “a historic” to “an historic.” If it turns out that the guidelines we cling to (“to which we cling”?) are nonsense, maybe the texters have the right idea when they throw out the old rules and start fresh.
But if you aren’t ready to give up — if the “flaunt” in that headline raised your blood pressure — then how can you tell the difference between a sound rule of English and a made-up shibboleth? Where do good rules come from, and how do bad ones catch on?

What Obama and Romney say about education: Not much

Karin Klein:

It’s hard to guess whether the topic of education will come up in this week’s presidential debate, or any of the others. With the economy and the whole 47% debacle on everybody’s mind, there hasn’t been much talk about the public schools, even though they’re at a critical juncture.
Of course, President Obama’s views are pretty clear because he’s been putting them into policy for the last few years. And in ways, those policies have been problematic. He’s obviously a big believer in giving the federal government a major role in education, which has traditionally been left to state and local governments in this country.
There are policies he can’t legally force on states, such as a common curriculum and rules about how they have to evaluate teachers. (He and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are insistent that scores on standardized tests have to be a “significant” part of teacher evaluations; it’s not bad policy to include them in some way, but there’s a real lack of research to show that they are absolutely key to rating teachers or will improve learning significantly.) So what the administration has done is twist states’ arms by making funding via such programs as Race to the Top conditional on meeting its vision of what education should look like, or, more recently, allowing waivers to states from the more onerous and nonsensical elements of the No Child Left Behind Act if they go along.

Hybrids of History Teaching

Larry Cuban:

One answer looks at how external testing, state academic standards, federal accountability regulations, teacher certification, and the unofficial national curriculum of Advanced Placement influence what teachers present. These largely unnoticed structures in the policy landscape set the boundaries within which teachers teach. To answer the above question on why teachers tilt toward “traditional” teaching, then, I also want to identify other factors that often go unmentioned by those eager to improve the teaching of history in K-12 schools.
Consider that cultural beliefs about the function of public schools to socialize children and youth into the dominant civic and social values (e.g., honesty, respect for others’ values, cooperating) are anchored in age-graded school structures. They become a powerful organizational mechanism for carrying out societal expectations (i.e., kindergarten prepares children for the first grade, a high school diploma is essential to going to college or getting a decent job). Teachers operating separately in their classrooms move 25 to 30-plus students through a 700-page history text, and give frequent tests to see whether students have learned the required knowledge and skills.

Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?

Isabel Sawhill & Ron Haskins:

Abstract: Good jobs in the nation’s twenty-first-century economy require advanced literacy skills such as categorizing, evaluating, and drawing conclusions from written texts. The adoption of the Common Core State Standards by nearly all the states, combined with tough literacy assessments that are now in the offing, will soon reveal that literacy skills of average students fall below international standards and that the gap in literacy skills between students from advantaged and disadvantaged families is huge. The authors offer a plan to help states develop and test programs that improve the quality of teaching, especially in high-poverty schools, and thereby both improve the literacy skills of average students and narrow the literacy gap.
U.S. schools are struggling to enable students, espe­cially those from poor families, to attain the advanced literacy skills required by the twenty-first-century American economy. One approach to enhancing schools’ efficacy in this area is improved educational standards. Standards are routine in American life. Sports have them; businesses have them; profes­sions have them. Standards are useful in clarifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies that society expects from individuals and organizations. Society also needs a way to determine whether the standards have been met, usually through testing, certification, licensing, or inspection systems. And a respected body of experts must be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the standards.

Streich Remembered as Friend, Scientist

Melanie Guzman, via a kind reader’s email

Philip V. Streich ’13, a Harvard student known for his exceptionally broad range of enthusiastic commitments, died in an accident Tuesday on his family’s farm near Platteville, Wis., Leverett House administrators wrote in an email Sunday.
At times an enthusiastic entrepreneur, a scientific prodigy, a political activist, a record producer, and a grandiose party host, Streich carved himself a Gatsby-esque role among the Class of 2013 during its first year at Harvard. Friends said Sunday that he will be remembered not only for his impressive accolades but also for serving as a socially unifying force for his freshman class.
“He was happiest at the center of anything,” said C. Tucker Pforzheimer ’13-’14, one of Streich’s freshman roommates.
At press time, information about the cause of Streich’s death was not available.

Taxpayers Lose When Colleges Are Too Big to Fail

Richard Vedder:

There are two reasons why universities never “fail” in the sense that they cease to operate. First, of course, with governments paying part of the bill, the probability that revenue won’t cover expenses, leading to bankruptcy, is remote. If a school can manage to cover even only, say, 75 percent of its costs through tuition fees and other sources of revenue, it is likely that government will cover the rest — through operating and federal research grants; indirectly through federal student financial aid, which allows higher tuition fees; or through private donations and investment income enhanced by favorable tax status.
Universities don’t fail for another reason, as well: We don’t meaningfully define “success” or “failure” in higher education. Did Wesleyan University or Trinity College in Connecticut have a good year in 2011? Who knows? Did their students learn more than they did the year before, or develop better critical-thinking skills? Does the “value added” from an expensive education at those private schools exceed that at, say, the state-supported University of Connecticut, which is far less pricey?
It may well be that some schools are “failures” in a meaningful sense — their seniors know no more than their freshmen; their graduates are underemployed or have low-paying jobs; and they provide less student satisfaction per dollar spent than at comparable institutions — but we really don’t know that.

Debt is Good: Meet the High Priest of Runaway College Inflation (He Regrets Nothing)

Julia Edwards:

Trachtenberg’s students funded this triumph. When he became president, they paid $25,000 (in today’s dollars) in tuition, room, and board to attend; by the time he retired, they paid $51,000. Trachtenberg made George Washington the most expensive school in the nation. The burst of cash powered his agenda, but the freshmen who borrowed to enroll–46 percent of the class–during his final year graduated with an average of $28,000 of debt.
Trachtenberg also set a trend that other colleges–first his private competitors, then universities across the country–felt compelled to follow. Today, George Washington is only the 21st most expensive school, and the average American student accumulates $24,300 of debt earning her diploma. Collectively, Americans hold more student-loan debt than credit-card debt, and graduates enter a world where more than half of them are jobless or underemployed.
A recession requires austerity, and Trachtenberg concedes that the charge-more/spend-more model cannot continue in today’s economy. “I don’t think the current model can go on,” he says, pointing out that schools can’t spend when their cash reserves run low.
But his misgivings go only so far. He still swears by the system he built, and he believes that the economy will improve to accommodate universities’ ambitions before schools have to scale back in response to the slowdown. If he has any regrets about his presidency, it is that he wishes he had pushed his board harder to spend more. “I would have been bolder,” Trachtenberg says. “I devoted too much time and energy worrying about a rainy day.”

Mainland China’s International University Expansion

Patrick Boehler:

At 7.15 every morning, Professor Wen Shuming and eight Chinese colleagues share a breakfast prepared by two local maids, who have been taught how to cater to the tastes of alien educators.
The group then leave their shared home and head for the office: two tube-shaped rooms with bare walls and fluorescent lights in a one-storey building on a busy road, next to a cash machine, a sportswear store and a deserted private school.
They are employed by Soochow University, but this office isn’t in Jiangsu province, nor even in China. It is on the outskirts of Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
Wen’s life is about to get a lot busier. After years of preparation and lobbying, the university campus he has been setting up will open its doors to undergraduate students in a couple of weeks. Little has been made of the undertaking, but as well as being Laos’ first foreign campus, it marks the first time a Chinese university (as opposed to the government-linked Confucius Institute) has opened a branch abroad.

Rocklin Unified retaliated against school nurses, judge says

Melody Gutierrez & Diana Lambert:

The Public Employment Relations Board found Rocklin Unified School District retaliated against four nurses and ordered the district to reinstate them with two years of back pay, plus 7 percent interest.
In a ruling released today, Administrative Law Judge Robin Wesley found Rocklin school district violated the Educational Employment Relations Act by laying off nurses Jennifer Hammond, Genevieve Sherman, Susan Firchau and Jennifer Bradley.
“We’ve always been very unhappy with what happened and we feel vindicated,” Hammond said today. “I’m ready and willing to take my job back.”
The Rocklin Teachers Professional Association filed an unfair practice charge against the school district in 2010, alleging the four nurses were laid off in retaliation for asking their union for assistance regarding workload and safety issues.

Deans capitalise on the China connection

Della Bradshaw:

On the window sill in Qian Yingyi’s Beijing office, a framed photo of Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, sits next to one of Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein and another of Vikram Pandit of Citigroup. All three bankers are members of the advisory board for Tsinghua’s school of economics and management where Prof Qian has been dean since 2006.
Few, if any, business schools anywhere in the world can rival Tsinghua in attracting these captains of business and Prof Qian is understandably proud as he talks through the list of board members. At the annual get-
together, Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi shares the boardroom table with Coca Cola’s Muhtar Kent; they rub shoulders with Axa’s Henri de Castries, Victor Fung of the Li & Fung group, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn and Howard Stringer, chairman and former chief executive of Sony.
For these corporate superstars, the draw is a foothold in what is arguably China’s most influential university and one that has the ear of government. Prof Qian was even approached personally by Zhu Rongji, China’s former premier, to be the dean of Tsinghua’s management school.
“If the premier asks you to come back [from the US] to be dean, how can you say no?” he asks.

Urban League eyes new after-school program aimed at boosting achievement

Matthew DeFour:

Urban League President Kaleem Caire said the Urban League Scholars Academy shouldn’t be viewed as a repackaged version of Madison Preparatory Academy.
“We believe in the strategies of Madison Prep, but we’re trying to invoke change among our students in the schools,” Caire said. “This gives us an opportunity to do that.”
School Board President James Howard said a majority of the School Board supports the program, though questions have been raised about why board approval isn’t required and why the proposal flew under the radar for months while the district developed a separate plan to raise student achievement.
“This is not a huge program, and it does not require any taxpayer funding,” Howard said. “It’s one thing if we were asking for taxpayer dollars. Then you would need to inform the public more so.”

Madison School District’s Teacher Union Bargaining Update

Matthew DeFour:

Matthews said a few proposals gave him “heartburn,” such as one that would allow the district to dismiss someone who had been on medical leave for two years. A proposal converting workloads from four class periods and one study hall to 25 hours per week could also give the district latitude to shorten class periods and increase each teacher’s number of classes, he said.
One change that Matthews said could be easily resolved is a proposal from both sides to make Unity health insurance available to employees. The district wants to be able to choose Physicians Plus, which it currently offers, or Unity, while MTI wants the district to offer both.
The union’s proposal seeks to reverse some of the changes that were negotiated before Act 10 took effect in 2011. They include giving teachers control over their time during Monday early release and deleting a clause that allows the district to require up to 10 percent health insurance premium contributions.

Madison Teachers’, Inc. Solidarity eNewsletter (PDF):

Last Monday’s Board of Education meeting brought a pleasant surprise. With nearly every chair and all standing room taken in the McDaniels’ Auditorium by MTI members in red solidarity shirts or AFSCME members sporting their traditional green, those present erupted in applause when Board of Education member Ed Hughes announced that Board members (who arrived 40 minutes late because of the length of their prior meeting) had agreed to bargain with MTI and AFSCME over Contract terms for 2013-14.
Governor Walker’s Act 10, which forbid public sector bargaining (except over limited wage increases) has been set aside by Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas who ruled that Act 10 violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and equal protection, in response to MTI’s lawsuit.
Honoring a vote majority of 76% in Madison and 68% in Dane County, Mayor Soglin and County Executive Parisi have negotiated contracts through June 2015 with City and County employees.
Now the Madison Board of Education has seen the light. Negotiations in the District are to commence today. MTI members should stay in contact with their elected leaders and via MTI’s webpage ( as regards the Contract ratification process.

The Pedagogical Agenda of Common Core Math Standards

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

Mathematics education in the United States is at a pivotal moment. At this time, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards, a set of uniform benchmarks for math and reading. Thirty-two states and the district have been granted waivers from important parts of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law. As part of the agreement in being granted a waiver, those states have agreed to implement Common Core. States have been led to believe that adoption of such standards will improve mathematics and English-language education in our public schools.
My fear (as well as that of many of my colleagues) is that implementation of the Common Core math standards may actually make things worse. The final math standards released in June, 2010 appear to some as if they are thorough and rigorous. Although they have the “look and feel” of math standards, their adoption in my opinion will not only continue the status quo in this country, but will be a mandate for reform math — a method of teaching math that eschews memorization, favors group work and student-centered learning, puts the teacher in the role of “guide” rather than “teacher” and insists on students being able to explain the reasons why procedures and methods work for procedures and methods that they may not be able to perform.

A ray of hope for the children in Spokane Public Schools

Laurie Rogers:

In 2008, I met with Spokane Public Schools’ superintendent, Nancy Stowell, to discuss the district’s weak academic outcomes. Stowell was accommodating, but during our meeting, she consistently sidestepped any critique of the district’s “reform math” curricula or its heavy dependence on constructivism (i.e. discovery learning). Her go-to answer for weak results was to wish for more “alternative” programs to keep students in school. She appeared to see no problems with the district’s delivery of academic content.
I didn’t know how to break through that with her. Over the next four years, I never figured it out. But one thing she said in 2008 stuck with me. While discussing the high number of families leaving the district, Stowell said, “Sometimes I think people don’t want to know (why) because when you know … you have to … do something about it.”
Truer words were never spoken. Nancy Stowell didn’t appear to want to acknowledge the children’s academic suffering. She kept telling the public that things were improving, even as her administration obstinately fought doing what was necessary to fix the problems. That was her failure. Good leaders accept the blame and pass the credit, but Stowell and her administrators had a habit of accepting the credit and passing the blame.

St. Marcus model offers hope for Milwaukee schools

Alan Borsuk;

He thinks Milwaukee has advantages in shooting for success, including its size, the overall value system of the city, strong business and philanthropic support of education, and three streams of schools – public, charter and private (including many religious schools) – that each want to improve. He says he is more convinced than ever that the model being pursued by St. Marcus works and can be replicated.
These are controversial beliefs – for one thing, anything involving voucher schools remains highly charged. Tyson says politicians should focus less on such disputes and more on how to offer quality through whatever schools offer it.

Related: Interview: Henry Tyson, Superintendent of Milwaukee’s St. Marcus Elementary School.
Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending.

STEM Literacy


According to MIT professor Richard Larson, a pioneer in applying STEM capabilities to a wide variety of problems, one of the main reasons for this is a series of misconceptions about STEM and the careers that result from that sort of educational track — misconceptions often perpetuated by STEM teachers themselves. Conversely, educators and professionals don’t do a good enough job of explaining why STEM literacy is a critical skill, even for students who don’t intend to become engineers or PHDs.
Larson recently made an excellent case for widespread literacy in STEM. He explained why it is as important to our 21st century information economy as basic reading-writing literacy has been to the industrial economy of the past two centuries. According to Larson, STEM literacy is a way of thinking and doing:
“A person has STEM literacy if she can understand the world around her in a logical way guided by the principals of scientific thought. A STEM-literate person can think for herself. She asks critical questions. She can form hypotheses and seek data to confirm or deny them. She sees the beauty and complexity in nature and seeks to understand. She sees the modern world that mankind has created and hopes to use her STEM-related skills and knowledge to improve it.”

Squandering Assessment Test

Neal McCluskey:

Yesterday the annual summary of SAT–formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test–scores came out, and the news was once again disheartening. Indeed, average reading scores hit a record low, and math remained stagnant. Writing scores also dipped, but that part of the test has only existed since 2006.
There are important provisos that go with drawing conclusions about the nation’s education system using the SAT. Most notably, who takes it is largely self-selected, and growing numbers of people sitting for it–some of whom might not have bothered in the past–could lower scores without indicating the system is getting worse. That said, as the chart below shows, no likely amount of self-selection or changing test-takers can account for the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores. Per-pupil outlays have taken off like a moonshot while scores have either sat on the runway, or even burrowed down a bit.

Human Resource Directors and Employee Unions

Sara Goldrick-Rab:

Here are some key highlights related to HR Design:
Concerns about salary equity are losing ground. Nearly 32% of HR Directors at public research universities said they are paying less attention to equity in faculty and staff salaries than they did five years ago, and just 17% are attending to those issues more often, despite the strong likelihood (given austerity practices) that inequities are growing.
Almost all HR Directors take a dim view of unions. Close to 90% of HR Directors at public research universities contend that unions inhibit their ability to re-deploy people and define job tasks, discourage pay for performance, and inappropriately protect poor performing employees. Less than 1/3 of such Directors acknowledge unions’ demonstrable roles in securing better salaries and benefits and ensuring fair treatment of employees.
Few HR Directors seem able to ground their assessments in data. Just 28.6% of HR Directors at public research universities report that they have good data on employee performance, productivity, and satisfaction, and only 21.4% say they use such data in campus planning and policy decisions. (Sidenote: Oh. My. God.)
And yet somehow, HR Directors are able to attribute low morale among employees to recent budget cuts. 74% of those at public research institutions agree that budget cuts did major damage to staff rationale, and 20-30% say their offices are unfairly blamed for cuts to employee benefits and services and even layoffs. The frequency of these statements is twice as common at public research institutions as compared to elsewhere.

Online Education Grows Up, And For Now, It’s Free


Those universities now offer classes through consortiums like Coursera, a tech company that’s partnered with more than 30 of the top universities in the world to offer online classes from its course catalogue — for free. Other companies offering online courses include Udacity and edX.
Earlier this year in Kazahkstan, 22-year-old computer science student Askhat Muzrabayev had a problem.
“The problem is our university is relatively small, it has about 2,000 students, and we didn’t have [Artificial Intelligence] classes in the syllabus,” Muzrabayev says.
So Muzrabayev went online to Coursera and enrolled in Stanford’s Machine Learning class for free. He watched the lectures, did the quizzes, joined online discussions with students from around the world and then took the final exam. He passed, and when it was over he received a certificate that said he completed an online course at Stanford.

‘Won’t Back Down’: Why This Education Movie Matters

Andrew Rotherham:

When the journalist Mickey Kaus reviewed cars, he would sometimes ask if they passed the “Saturday night test” — meaning regardless of how well they drove, would he want to pick a date up in one? After watching Won’t Back Down a few times in screenings this year, I found myself asking essentially the same question: my wife and I work in education, but I’m not sure the new Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Holly Hunter film clears the bar for date night. The predictable storyline feels more like a 1980s after-school special than a big screen movie. But what’s actually on the screen for two hours isn’t what makes Won’t Back Down matter so much for education.
Despite its sugary Hallmark quality, Won’t Back Down is a serious film about a grim reality — parents and teachers stuck in a system that puts kids last. Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a mom struggling to help her daughter while juggling all the other balls a single mom must keep in the air — work, life, flickering hope of romance. Her daughter’s dysfunctional school is a roadblock to a better future for her, and Fitzpatrick is determined to fix that. She enlists the help of a frustrated teacher (Viola Davis) to try to force the school board to improve the school under a district rule giving parents the ability to force action.

How much is that rowdy kid interfering with your child’s learning?

Daniel Willingham
Anyone who has spent much time in classrooms has the sense that just a couple of disorderly kids can really disrupt learning for everyone. These kids distract the other students, and the teacher must allocate a disproportionate amount of attention to them to keep them on task.
Obvious though this point seems, there have been surprisingly few studies of just how high a cost disruptive kids exact on the learning of others.
Lori Skibbe and her colleagues have just published an interesting study on the subject.
Skibbe measured self-regulation in 445 1st graders, using the standard head-toes-knees-shoulders (HTKS) task. In this task, children must first follow the instructors direction (“Touch your toes. Now touch your shoulders.”) In a second phase, they were instructed to do the opposite of what the instructor said–when told to touch their toes, they were to touch their head, for example. This is a well-known measure of self regulation in children this age (e.g., Ponitz et al., 2008).
Researchers also evaluated the growth over the first grade year in children’s literacy skills, using two subtests from the Woodcock-Johnson: Passage Comprehension and Picture Vocabulary.
We would guess that children’s growth in literacy would be related to their self-regulation skill (as measured by their HTKS score). What Skibbe et al showed is that the class average HTKS score also predicts how much an individual child will learn, even after you statistically account for that child’s HTKS score. (Researchers also accounted for the school-wide percentage of kids qualifying for free or reduced lunch, as academic growth might covary with self-regulation as due to SES differences.)

KU studies link recession, education opportunities

John Milburn:

The economic downturn has made it more difficult for lower-income people to obtain educational opportunities they need to improve their lot in life, University of Kansas researchers found.
Their studies looked at the instability caused by the Great Recession and the effect on the educational opportunities for children. The conclusions were that lower-income residents lacked the financial assets to weather the downturn and still have money for college.
“Assets do affect educational achievement in the long run,” said William Elliott III, one of the authors of the reports. “The educational path is being weakened. That’s one of the main aspects of the American dream: that you can achieve through education.”