Cross-District Comparisons of Students are Indeed Helpful

Mike Ford:

“Is it helpful to compare student performance across school districts with differing demographics?”
The question was spurred by the reaction to the recent release of their annual report on school performance in Racine. I answer their question with an enthusiastic yes. In fact I will go further, it is not only helpful, it is essential.
Why? Well, graduates of districts across the state will be competing for the same spots in universities, and/or for the same jobs. It is crucial that districts know how their students are faring compared to others, regardless of their students’ demographics and socio-economic situation. If we do not know how they compare, how can we even begin to close achievement gaps?
It is not enough to simply present data on how students of any given school district are faring given the non-classroom challenges they face. That does not mean we shouldn’t measure and celebrate (or lament) how Milwaukee is performing compared to other urban districts. We should. But we also need to know where students stand compared to others they will compete with in the real world.


40% of foreign students in the US have no close friends on campus: The culture shock of loneliness

Andrea Van Niekirk:

Foreign students are flocking to the higher education system in the US. A recent study found that in 2011-2012, the number of international students in the US increased by 6.5% over the last year to a record high of 764,495 students. Of these, 56% came from only five countries: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
The reasons for the shift and the consequences of this massive migration have been discussed at great length within universities, in papers with titles such as “The Chinese are Coming.” When the students arrive on American campuses, however, they have to wrestle with social and educational experiences that are fundamentally foreign to them. Most anticipate their American adventure as an exciting opportunity laced with some inevitable adjustments, caught off guard by the extent and nature of the obstacles they encounter, in the classroom and on campus.
Studying and writing in a foreign academic language is difficult enough, but it is often the classroom dynamic that is most daunting to foreign students. They are disconcerted by the interaction, often marked by an easy familiarity and questioning rapport, between American teachers and students. Yongfang Chen, one of the authors of A True Liberal Arts Education, co-written about his academic experiences as a Chinese student at Bowdoin, noted in an interview after the book was published, that, “Coming from a culture in which a ‘standard answer’ is provided for every question, I did not argue with others even when I disagreed. However, Bowdoin forced me to re-consider ‘the answer’ and reach beyond my comfort zone.” The intense and narrow focus required of Chinese students as they spend high school preparing for the gaokao, the national test that is the sole determinant of entry into China’s universities, is also at odds with an American emphasis on ongoing assessment through tests and midterm exams.

The Myth of American Meritocracy: How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?

Ron Unz:

Just before the Labor Day weekend, a front page New York Times story broke the news of the largest cheating scandal in Harvard University history, in which nearly half the students taking a Government course on the role of Congress had plagiarized or otherwise illegally collaborated on their final exam.1 Each year, Harvard admits just 1600 freshmen while almost 125 Harvard students now face possible suspension over this single incident. A Harvard dean described the situation as “unprecedented.”
But should we really be so surprised at this behavior among the students at America’s most prestigious academic institution? In the last generation or two, the funnel of opportunity in American society has drastically narrowed, with a greater and greater proportion of our financial, media, business, and political elites being drawn from a relatively small number of our leading universities, together with their professional schools. The rise of a Henry Ford, from farm boy mechanic to world business tycoon, seems virtually impossible today, as even America’s most successful college dropouts such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg often turn out to be extremely well-connected former Harvard students. Indeed, the early success of Facebook was largely due to the powerful imprimatur it enjoyed from its exclusive availability first only at Harvard and later restricted to just the Ivy League.

Little Qatar goes big on education

Chris Cook:

Qatar has enormous oil and gas reserves, but the little state is trying to kick the petroleum habit and become a high-tech society. It wants a sustainable economy for when the oil runs out – and a more cultured society in the meantime.
The Qatar Foundation is the institution that is leading this drive: I am in the little Gulf state this week for WISE, their annual summit on education, where I was a speaker on the finance of education. The whole thing is rather spectacular.
When they say they are going to do something, they go big – sometimes to a rather baffling degree. One of my favourite examples of this is their super-duper equine health centre, which trains horse-handlers and apparently features a sauna for the horses.

The Most Beautiful Periodic Table Products in the World

Element Collection:

The Alexander Arrangement is a three-dimensional paper sculpture of the periodic table designed by Roy Alexander, with whom I collaborated on this version. For the first time this clever form of the table has been combined with my photographs of real element samples, resulting in a quite lovely object.
If you know anyone who likes elements, chemistry, or science in general, and you need a gift that you know they don’t have yet, this is it! It’s completely new for x-mas 2012.

Chicago offers to pause school closings after 2013 cuts

Mary Wisniewski:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Monday he wants a five-year moratorium on closing public schools after anticipated cuts in 2013, but the teachers union called his gesture a “sleight of hand.”
The third-largest school district in the United States, which was hit with a strike by public school teachers in September, was already facing a financial crisis that was made worse by granting pay rises to teachers.
The school district forecasts a $1 billion deficit next year and is widely expected to try to balance its budget in part by closing public schools.
Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has fallen nearly 20 percent in the last decade, mainly because of population declines in poor neighborhoods. The district said it can accommodate 500,000 students, but only about 400,000 are enrolled.
Some 140 schools are half-empty, according to the district. The union said 86 Chicago public schools have closed in the past decade, but the district could not confirm that number.

Does Texas Have an Answer to Sky-High Tuition?

Lara Seligman:

Texas is experimenting with an initiative to help students and families struggling with sky-high college costs: a bachelor’s degree for $10,000, including tuition fees and even textbooks. Under a plan he unveiled in 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called on institutions in his state to develop options for low-cost undergraduate degrees. The idea was greeted with skepticism at first, but lately, it seems to be gaining traction. If it yields success, it could prompt other states to explore similar, more-innovative ways to cut the cost of education.
Limiting the price tag for a degree to $10,000 is no easy feat. In the 2012-13 academic year, the average annual cost of tuition in Texas at a public four-year institution was $8,354, just slightly lower than the national average of $8,655. The high costs are saddling students with huge debt burdens. Nationally, 57 percent of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2011 from public four-year colleges graduated with debt, and the average debt per borrower was $23,800–up from $20,100 a decade earlier. By Sept. 30, 2011, 9.1 percent of borrowers who entered repayment in 2009-10 defaulted on their federal student loans, the highest default rate since 1996.

Come see the new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project

The UW-Odyssey Project changes lives for adults near the poverty level. Now in its tenth year, this inspirational project has empowered more than 250 low-income adults to find their voices and get a jumpstart at earning college degrees they never thought possible. Graduates of the program have journeyed from homelessness to UW-Madison degrees, from incarceration to meaningful work in the community.

You are warmly invited to a special screening of a new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project on Thursday, December 6, at the Sundance Cinema (Hilldale Shopping Mall). Showings will be at 5:00, 5:40 and 6:20 p.m. in theater #3. Refreshments will be served in the second floor bistro. This event is free, but donations to the Odyssey Project’s important work will be gratefully appreciated.
For more information about the UW-Odyssey Project, the new documentary, and how to vote for Emily Auerbach (Odyssey Project founder and director) for Lady Godiva Chocolate’s Inspirational Woman of the Year, go to

Index of cognitive skills and educational attainment

Economist intelligence Unit:

The Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment compares the performance of 39 countries and one region (Hong Kong) on two categories of education: Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment. The Index provides a snapshot of the relative performance of countries based on their education outputs.
The indicators used in this Index are:
– Cognitive Skills: PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS scores in Reading, Maths and Science
– Educational Attainment: literacy and graduation rates
How is the Index calculated?
The overall index score is the weighted sum of the underlying two category scores. Likewise, the category scores are the weighted sum of the underlying indicator scores (see below for the default weights applied). Each indicator score is calculated on the basis of a z-score normalisation process. This process enables the comparison and aggregation of different data sets (on different scales), and the scoring of countries on the basis of their comparative performance.
What is a z-score?
A z-score indicates how many standard deviations an observation is above or below the mean. To compute the z-score, the EIU first calculated each indicator’s mean and standard deviation using the data for the countries in the Index, and then the distance of the observation from the mean in terms of standard deviations.


Palm scanners get thumbs up in schools, hospitals

Brian Shane:

At schools in Pinellas County, Fla., students aren’t paying for lunch with cash or a card, but with a wave of their hand over a palm scanner.
“It’s so quick that a child could be standing in line, call mom and say, ‘I forgot my lunch money today.’ She’s by her computer, runs her card, and by the time the child is at the front of the line, it’s already recorded,” says Art Dunham, director of food services for Pinellas County Schools.
Students take about four seconds to swipe and pay for lunch, Dunham says, and they’re doing it with 99% accuracy.
“We just love it. No one wants to go back,” Dunham says.
Palm-scanning technology is popping up nationwide as a bona fide biometric tracker of identities, and it appears poised to make the jump from schools and hospitals to other sectors of the economy such as banking and retail. It also has applications as a secure identifier for cloud computing.

The Cost of Dropping Out Millions Struggle With High College Debt and No Degree

Ben Casselman:

The rising cost of a college education is hitting one group especially hard: the millions of students who drop out without earning a degree.
A bachelor’s degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class. Even today, amid mounting concerns about the rising cost of higher education and questions about the relevance of many college degrees, recent graduates have lower rates of unemployment, higher earnings and better career prospects than their less educated peers.

Before firing, West Virginia superintendent acted on audit

Lawrence Messina:

Jorea Marple was carrying out numerous recommendations from the much-discussed audit of West Virginia’s public schools system when she was fired as superintendent, by Board of Education members eager to signal to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the Legislature that they supported the extensive review of education spending, policy and organization.
Those board members have cited the need for change when explaining Marple’s ouster, in light of struggling student performance. At least one member, Gayle Manchin, has commented further.
“My viewpoint was, we should all embrace this audit and garner from its findings and recommendation that would help us make the changes that needed to be made,” Manchin told The Associated Press last week. “My personal opinion is that wasn’t necessarily the way it was received at the Department of Education.”

Parents, teachers fear growing pains at Badger Rock charter school

Matthew DeFour:

Madison’s newest charter school opened in a state-of-the-art green building this fall, but parents and teachers are already worried there isn’t enough room for additional students next year.
It’s not that the classrooms at Badger Rock Middle School are cramped — they’re more spacious than most others in the district. But parents and teachers say there just aren’t enough rooms to serve the needs of the school.
The principal had to negotiate with the building owner to carve out an area for private meetings between teachers, parents and students. The nurse’s clinic doubles as a teacher break room. And when the number of students increases from 100 to 150 next year, a grade level will move into what is now the art and science room.
“When they planned out the building they said, ‘We have this great idea and it looks like this,'” said Tom Purnell, the parent of twin seventh-graders at Badger Rock. “Do I want to send my kids where the vision is or where the reality is?”

Lowering the bar for students isn’t the answer

Leonard Pitts:

Indeed, for all the talk about the so-called reverse racism of affirmative action, I have long argued that the real problem with it – and the reason it needs an expiration date – is that it might give African-American kids the mistaken idea they carry some inherent deficiency that renders them unable to compete with other kids on an equal footing.
We should be wary of anything, however well-intentioned, however temporary, which conveys that impression to our children. I am proof we have been doing just that for a very long time. And it burns – I tell you this from experience – to realize people have judged you by a lower standard, especially when you had the ability to meet the higher one all along. So this “interim” cannot end soon enough.
Because ultimately, you do not fix education by lowering the bar. You do it by lifting the kids.


Treating our kids like suspects

James Causey:

One of the best lines in the movie “Lean on Me” was delivered by high school Principal Joe Clark, who told a custodian to “tear down” the cages in the cafeteria that were used to protect the cooks from the students.
“If you treat them like animals, that’s exactly how they will behave,” said Clark, portrayed by Morgan Freeman.
Clark is right, and that’s why Milwaukee Public Schools should not subject thousands of children to daily metal detector scans.
Metal detectors and hand-held wands only give educators, students and parents the false illusion that their schools are safe, when there is little proof that they cut down on violence.
The district says it does the scans to be proactive in light of the workplace and school shootings that have taken place across the country since 1999’s attack at Columbine High School in Colorado.
MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia said, “We’d much rather have a conversation on why we scan instead of having the conversation on why we didn’t.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The US Fiscal Outlook

Mary Meeker’s Address on the State of USA Inc.

1) America is losing its edge – some of this is inevitable as other countries improve their competitiveness, some of this is self inflicted.
2) Financial strength is vital to competitiveness – it’s core to a healthy economy, job creation, vibrant education / culture and military leadership.
3) Positive cash flow and a strong balance sheet are key to financial strength – bottom line, it’s bad to spend more than one brings in, as America is doing. In effect, as each day passes – with our rising losses and debt load – we rob just a little bit more from the future.
4) America does not need to lose its edge, it needs conviction and leadership to move its ‘business model’ in the right direction – we are all in this together, we need to understand and acknowledge our problems and agree to move forward with collective inspiration and sacrifice.
5) American tax dollars fund our government – we all need to understand where our taxes go and decide if we believe our hard-earned dollars are put to their highest-and-best use. The politicians we elect decide where our money goes.

View Meeker’s complete presentation, here (1.6MB PDF).

Jeb Bush, with cash and clout, pushes contentious school reforms

Stephanie Simon:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush soared to rock star status in the education world on the strength of a chart.
A simple graph, it tracked fourth-grade reading scores. In 1998, when Bush was elected governor, Florida kids scored far below the national average. By the end of his second term, in 2007, they were far ahead, with especially impressive gains for low-income and minority students.
Those results earned Bush bipartisan acclaim. As he convenes a star-studded policy summit this week in Washington, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential education reformers in the U.S. Elements of his agenda have been adopted in 36 states, from Maine to Mississippi, North Carolina to New Mexico.
Many of his admirers cite Bush’s success in Florida as reason enough to get behind him.
But a close examination raises questions about the depth and durability of the gains in Florida. After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low-income students falling further behind. State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading.

Wisconsin’s report cards get an ‘incomplete’ for high schools

Dennis Conta And Sean Robert:

Erin Richards’ Oct. 22 article on Wisconsin’s new school report cards shed light on the limitations of the proposed accountability system and illustrated the need to improve it.
The report card is a good idea with much promise, but in its current form it places high schools, especially those serving low-income and minority students, at a serious disadvantage.
The ratings assigned to schools are supposed to be based on reading and math test scores recalculated to meet a higher proficiency bar, test scores growth and the progress schools are making toward closing achievement gaps. In theory, it is a balanced system that will judge schools not on the types of students they receive but the actual impact a school has on student achievement.
But because of data limitations, the report card does not measure what it is designed to for high schools.

Political indoctrination replacing academics as the mission of K-12 public education

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

What’s the mission of any school district? Most parents seem to agree that it’s academics. Schools should prepare students academically for postsecondary life – whether it’s college, a trade, a career, the military or some other endeavor.
Alas, many public schools don’t focus on college or career readiness, and their mission statements don’t say they have to. Instead, other, more nebulous goals are their stated priorities, such as turning students into global citizens, “challenging” them, helping them develop “supportive relationships,” and having them engage in “relevant, real-life applications.”
“Equity” and “social justice” also are emphasized in many districts. Some districts have created new departments, applied for federal grants or hired $100,000+ personnel – supposedly to foster equity and social justice. But what’s behind the terminology?
Actual equity and social justice entail providing ALL students with the academic skills they need to lead a productive postsecondary life. But in public education, the terms tend to be ambiguous and politically laden, focusing instead on perceived unfairness. In the typical social-justice curriculum, America frequently is portrayed as the bad guy.

A grammar school confusion

Chris Cook:

Last week, the excellent Paul Francis, political editor of the Kent Messenger, reported that Kent, the most significant selective county left in England had come up with a clever plan: to make the entry test for grammar schools “tutor-proof”.
This idea comes up a lot, largely from people promoting selection. You can see why: it is often presented as a means of squaring a problem. They can argue that grammar schools help bright poor children while dealing with the fact that very few get into them.
But, in truth, a properly administered test, which accurately captures the education enjoyed by people at the age of 11, should exclude large numbers of poor children. Not because they are intrinsically less able. But, at 11, the poor-rich divide is already a chasm.

McCullough on Teaching Training: Don’t Major in Education!

Laura Waters:

David McCullough, author of Truman and John Adams and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, was interviewed by Morley Safer on Sixty Minutes recently. During a discussion regarding Americans’ “historical illiteracy,” McCullough opined on teacher training:

Well we need to revamp, seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers. I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. “Show them what you love” is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.

Related: When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That? and the National Council for Teacher Quality has been looking into school of education curriculum.

Schools Head Finds a Formula Data-Driven Approach Helps St. Louis Become Latest System to Improve Grades

Stephanie Banchero:

Five years ago, students in the public-school system here were almost as likely to drop out as earn a diploma. School-board meetings routinely devolved into shouting matches, with a board member once pouring a pitcher of ice water over an administrator’s head.
St. Louis schools chief Kelvin Adamsmeets with his management team this fall to review such data as the number of students expelled or truant.
Then, the state of Missouri stepped in, stripped the district’s accreditation and installed a new board to run the schools. That board hired Kelvin Adams, an unpretentious leader who had spent the previous 18 months as the chief of staff of the New Orleans Recovery School District, which had been created by the state to transform the hurricane-ravaged schools.
Since taking over here, Mr. Adams has lifted the high-school graduation rate by 18 percentage points and eliminated $25 million in debt. Attendance is up and misbehavior is down. State test scores are still painfully low–about three-quarters of elementary-school students can’t read or do math at grade level–but the progress on tests was enough to persuade state officials last month to grant the district provisional accreditation.

Advice to a Young Mathematician

Timothy Gowers:

The most important thing that a young mathematician needs to learn is of course mathematics. However, it can also be very valuable to learn from the experiences of other mathematicians. The five contributors to this article were asked to draw on their experiences of math- ematical life and research, and to offer advice that they might have liked to receive when they were just setting out on their careers. (The title of this entry is a nod to Sir Peter Medawar’s well-known book, Advice to a Young Scientist.) The resulting contributions were every bit as interesting as we had expected; what was more surprising was that there was remarkably little overlap between the contributions. So here they are, five gem intended for young mathematicians but surely destined to be read and enjoyed by mathematicians of all ages.
I. Sir Michael Atiyah
What follows is very much a personal view based on my own experience and reflecting my personality, the type of mathematics that I work on, and my style of work. However, mathematicians vary widely in all these char- acteristics and you should follow your own instinct. You may learn from others but interpret what you learn in your own way. Originality comes by breaking away, in some respects, from the practice of the past.

Clusty search: Timothy Gowers.

Wisconsin’s graduation rate is second best in the country (officially)

Matthew DeFour

It’s official. Wisconsin has the second-highest high school graduation rate in the country.
The U.S. Education Department reported Monday for the first time a list of state graduation rates based on a uniform formula developed by the National Governors Association.
The new method tracks a cohort of ninth graders who graduated with a diploma in 2011. Wisconsin was one of 26 states that saw graduation rates decline under the new measurement.
Wisconsin officials have long touted the state as having one of the top graduation rates in the country, but it was never an apples-to-apples comparison until now. According to the Education Department, “the varying methods formerly used by states to report graduation rates made comparisons between states unreliable.”
The new graduation data show:

Swedish Study: Voucher Schools Improve Everyone’s Achievement

Anders Böhlmark Mikael Lindahl

What will free schools mean for the quality of education — in the new schools, and in the old ones they compete with? In Sweden, they don’t have to guess. They have almost 400 free schools, and data from millions of pupils. The latest study has just been published, and has strong results that I thought might interest CoffeeHousers (you can read the whole paper here). It makes the case for Michael Gove to put the bellows under the free school movement by following Sweden and let them be run like expanding companies (that is to say, make a profit). It finds that:

  1. Growth of free schools has led to better high school grades & university participation, even accounting for other factors such as grade inflation.
  2. Crucially, state school pupils seem to benefit about as much as independent school ones. When ‘bog standard comprehensive’ face new tougher competition, they shape up. They know they’ll lose pupils if they don’t. As the researchers put it: ‘these positive effects are primarily due to spill-over or competition effects and not that independent-school students gain significantly more than public school students.’
  3. Free schools have produced better results on the same budget. Their success cannot be put down to cash. Or, as they say, ‘We are also able to show that a higher share of independent-school students in the municipality has not generated increased school expenditures.’
  4. That the ‘free school effect’ is at its clearest now because we now have a decade’s worth of development and expansion.

Via Competition in Schools by Chris Cook.

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, has written up a paper on Swedish school reforms, which you can download here. I thought it was worth using to quickly flag up two important statistical public policy points.
The context to this is that Sweden has, since the early 1990s, allowed private (including for-profit) institutions to enter the school system – and parallels are often drawn between it and the ongoing reforms of England’s school system. This paper, as Fraser rightly says, comes to the view that increasing the volume of private schools in an area is associated with improved results. Mikael Lindahl and Anders Böhlmark say:

If we transform our estimates to standard deviation (S.D.) units (using the variation across all individuals) we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of independent-school students has resulted in 0.07 S.D. higher average educational achievement at the end of compulsory school.

This is a statistically significant finding. That is to say that it is not likely to be the result of random happenstance. But it is important to look beyond the significance to effect size – so it’s not luck, but is it a big effect? That is where the Swedish paper makes me suck my teeth. It suggests that if you were to introduce a ten percentage point increase in private provision, you would only get a 0.07 standard deviation increase. I cannot help thinking that’s a pretty meagre return on such a massive disruption in the system.

Read the paper here (500K PDF).

Still in high school, science researcher excels

Pamela Cotant:

Memorial High School senior Sohil Shah is at an academic level above most of his peers.
Sohil, 17, who takes classes and conducts research at UW-Madison, also is more advanced than many college students.
Findings from his nanoscience research project were published in the prestigious Journal of Materials Chemistry — a feat that could be expected of third-year doctorate students, said Robert Hamers, chemistry professor at UW-Madison and Sohil’s mentor.
“Sohil is the most amazing high school student I have ever seen,” said Hamers, who is impressed by the high school student’s overall scientific knowledge and outstanding math skills. “It’s hard to remember that he’s not a college student.”

Jersey City Parent Responds to Union Prez’s Veto of Grant and Diane Ravitch’s Enconium

Laura Waters:

Earlier this month Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco refused to sign off on the district’s $40 million Race to the Top application (see coverage here) and wrote a letter to JCEA members explaining that he vetoed the grant because “not one cent is dedicated to negotiation of a new contract. Diane Ravitch then blogged about Mr. Greco’s decision, noting his “courage, insight, wisdom, and conviction.”
A reader who calls herself Jersey Mom, a parent of a Jersey City public school student, responded to Dr. Ravitch and also posted her rebuttal on NJLB’s comment section. (See here.) In addition to pointing out various factual errors in Dr. Ravitch’s blog, she also references Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyle’s recent presentation, “Mind the Gap,” which details some of the district’s challenges:

Cooperative & In Unison

Elementary ESL Teacher:

“Why did you choose this text?”, I asked the ninth grader, noticing the I Have A Dream speech in his hands.
“I had always heard about MLK and wanted to read the speech,” he smiled. He gave me a copy and gathered the other two members of his group to the table.
They began to read aloud together and at the second sentence, a student breached, or stopped the group, “Five score? What does that mean?”
“A game?” a student replied.
There were no handy dictionaries, so I gave them my phone to google it. They learned a score was equal to twenty years, so five score meant 100. “Why didn’t he just say that?” a student quipped. “Well, it’s a speech, and that’s an old-fashioned way of speaking, so maybe he is just trying to make it sound special or formal.” Satisfied, the group kept reading.

Districts combine resources for alternative charter high school

Erin Richards:

Bob Kazmierski once struggled in a traditional high school classroom setting where he couldn’t get enough individualized attention, so he turned to Connects Learning Center, an alternative high school program in Cudahy.
Alternative schools often carry a stigma of catering to students lacking ambition, but Kazmierski said Connects serves students who simply learn differently. He graduated last year and has been working full-time at a fast food restaurant to save money for Gateway Technical College, where he’s registered to start classes in January.
“It’s not like (Connects) classes are easier at all,” Kazmierski said. “It’s just in a different format.”
The small school’s emphasis on personalized help for students is a key part of that, but its operational structure may be its most innovative feature. Connects is a charter school run by multiple districts that work together to provide a cost-efficient alternative path for students.

As charter schools get going here (Washington State), best-known charter chains may stay away

Linda Shaw:

The first charter schools in Washington probably won’t be run by the nation’s best-known charter groups with years of experience and strong reputations.
During the successful campaign for Initiative 1240, which will allow as many as 40 charters to open here over five years, supporters talked about wanting Washington students to have a chance to attend the kind of schools operated by the nation’s top charter operators.
But the highest profile chains are in such demand that most won’t be looking to expand here anytime soon — if at all.
Instead, assuming the new law survives a legal challenge, Washington likely will start out with kitchen-table charters, cooked up by a teacher or principal or two with a passion to try something new.

Infinite Campus & The Madison School District

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity enewsletter (PDF), via a kind Linda Doeseckle email:

As the District contemplates consequences for those teachers who are not using Infinite Campus, MTI has heard from several members about the difficulty in meeting this District expectation. District Assistant Superintendent Joe Gothard sent a letter to all middle and high school teaching staff in late August, mandating that they use the grade book within IC and enter grades at least once weekly. While this poses challenges across the board, it has been especially difficult for specials teachers as they see literally hundreds of students each week.
MTI Executive Director John Matthews and Assistant Director Sara Bringman have spoken with Gothard about how to alleviate this burden for specials teachers. Gothard reports that he has spoken with principals and shared this message: “If specials teachers have large classes, and/or an A/B day (schedule), they would not be held to the standard of weekly input. At a minimum they should be using it for progress and grade reports.” Gothard’s accommodation should help allay concerns among specials teachers for not following the District’s earlier mandate.

High school students cheating less, survey finds

Cathy Payne:

Are American students making the grade when it comes to ethics?
A new survey from the Josephson Institute of Ethics finds that the portion of high school students who admit to cheating, lying or stealing dropped in 2012 for the first time in a decade. The reasons aren’t totally known, but the results of the poll of 23,000 high school students give leaders of the Los Angeles-based non-profit organization hope.
The survey is “a pretty good sign that things may be turning around,” said Michael Josephson, the founder and president of the Josephson Institute. “I’m quite optimistic this is the beginning of a downward trend.”
Among the highlights from the survey, which is done every two years:

For the first time in a decade lying cheating stealing among American students drops:

A continual parade of headline-grabbing incidents of dishonest and unethical behavior from political leaders, business executives and prominent athletes suggests that we are in a moral recession. But a new report — the 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth — suggests that a robust recovery is underway.
The survey of 23,000 high school students, which was conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, reveals that for the first time in a decade students are cheating, lying and stealing less than in previous years. The Institute conducts the national survey every two years.
CHEATING: In 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year; in 2012 that rate dropped to 51 percent. Students who copied another’s homework dropped 2 percent, from 34 percent in 2010 to 32 percent this year. Other good news:
LYING: Students who said they lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant dropped from 61 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2012. Those who lied to their parents about something significant also dropped from 80 percent to 76 percent. In 2012, 38 percent of the students said they sometimes lie to save money; that is a drop of 3 percent from 2010.

The Cost of Dropping Out Millions Struggle With High College Debt and No Degree

Ben Casselman:

The rising cost of a college education is hitting one group especially hard: the millions of students who drop out without earning a degree.
A bachelor’s degree remains by far the clearest path to the American middle class. Even today, amid mounting concerns about the rising cost of higher education and questions about the relevance of many college degrees, recent graduates have lower rates of unemployment, higher earnings and better career prospects than their less educated peers.

Give charter schools their due The campuses have spurred reform in L.A. Unified and should be appreciated, not assailed.

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

By now, it should be apparent that charter schools have been the spark to the education reform flame in the Los Angeles Unified School District. At first, applicants hoping to open publicly funded but independently operated charter schools had to fight for every new campus, opposed by school board members who were strong union allies. But as charters showed remarkable progress with disadvantaged and minority students who had been failing in regular public schools, appreciation for them increased. New laws limited the grounds on which the school board could reject charter applications, and the election of a more reform-oriented board brought the number of students attending charter schools to nearly 100,000, about twice as many as in the New York City school system.
Yet misguided attacks on charter schools still occur, most recently when L.A. Unified school board member Steve Zimmer introduced a resolution to temporarily halt the approval of new charters. The resolution was softened, but eventually, and rightly, it was rejected by the board.

An ABC proof too tough even for mathematicians

Kevin Hartnett:

On Aug. 30, a Japanese mathematician named Shinichi Mochizuki posted four papers to his faculty website at Kyoto University. Rumors had been spreading all summer that Mochizuki was onto something big, and in the abstract to the fourth paper Mochizuki explained that, indeed, his project was as grand as people had suspected. Over 512 pages of dense mathematical reasoning, he claimed to have discovered a proof of one of the most legendary unsolved problems in math.
The problem is called the ABC conjecture, a 27-year-old proposition considered so impossible that few mathematicians even dared to take it on. Most people who might have claimed a proof of ABC would have been dismissed as cranks. But Mochizuki was a widely respected mathematician who’d solved hard problems before. His work had to be taken seriously.

In the Book Bag, More Garden Tools

Lisa Foderaro:

In the East Village, children planted garlic bulbs and harvested Swiss chard before Thanksgiving. On the other side of town, in Greenwich Village, they learned about storm water runoff, solar energy and wind turbines. And in Queens, students and teachers cultivated flowers that attract butterflies and pollinators.
Across New York City, gardens and miniature farms — whether on rooftops or at ground level — are joining smart boards and digital darkrooms as must-have teaching tools. They are being used in subjects as varied as science, art, mathematics and social studies. In the past two years, the number of school-based gardens registered with the city jumped to 232, from 40, according to GreenThumb, a division of the parks department that provides schools with technical support.
But few of them come with the credential of the 2,400-square-foot garden at Avenue B and Fifth Street in the East Village, on top of a red-brick building that houses three public schools: the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School. Michael Arad, the architect who designed the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, was a driving force behind the garden, called the Fifth Street Farm.

Future Of Cash-Strapped Historic Black Colleges


Many of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities are facing financial problems, and some have had to shut down altogether. Guest host Celeste Headlee discusses the issue with Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough and Professor Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Feds: Teachers paid for ringers to take aptitude tests

Adrian Sainz, via a kind reader’s email:

Clarence Mumford Sr. is facing more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges after authorities said he made tens of thousands of dollars from aspiring teachers who paid to have someone else take tests for them.
It was a brazen and surprisingly long-lived scheme, authorities said, to help aspiring public school teachers cheat on the tests they must pass to prove they are qualified to lead their classrooms.
For 15 years, teachers in three Southern states paid Clarence Mumford Sr. — himself a longtime educator — to send someone else to take the tests in their place, authorities said. Each time, Mumford received a fee of between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam. In return, his customers got a passing grade and began their careers as cheaters, according to federal prosecutors in Memphis.
Authorities say the scheme affected hundreds — if not thousands — of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.
Mumford faces more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges that claim he created fake driver’s licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.

On US K-12 Staff Growth: Greater than Student Growth

Joe Rodriguez:

In a recent opinion piece, James L. Huffman requests Oregonians to ask “why those who run our public schools have seen fit to increase their own ranks at three times the rate of growth in student enrollment while allowing for a small decline in the number of teachers relative to students” (“Oregon’s schools: Are we putting money into staff at students’ expense?” Commentary, Nov. 17).
He references a report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice that uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics to document that K-12 personnel growth has outstripped K-12 student enrollment growth. The data are completely accurate, but the conclusions Huffman and the report reach are erroneous.
Huffman writes that some might be suspicious of the foundation as the source of the data. In reading the report’s conclusion (pages 19-22), such suspicion is justified.

Related: The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools:

America’s K-12 public education system has experienced tremendous historical growth in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.
In a recent Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, Lindsey Burke (2012) reports that since 1970, the number of students in American public schools increased by 8 percent while the number of teachers increased 60 percent and the number of non-teaching personnel increased 138 percent.
That hiring pattern has persisted in more recent years as well. This report analyzes the rise in public school personnel relative to the increase in students since FY 1992. Analyses are provided for the nation as a whole and for each state.
Between FY 1992 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students nationwide grew 17 percent while the number of full-time equivalent school employees increased 39 percent, 2.3 times greater than the increase in students over that 18-year period. Among school personnel, teachers’ staffing numbers rose 32 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 46 percent; the growth in the number of administrators and other staff was 2.7 times that of students.

1.2MBPDF report and,

Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

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

Debunking “Learning Styles”: Popular ‘neuromyths’ about how we learn are creating confusion in the classroom

Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons:

The myth about learning styles was the most popular: 94% of the teachers believed that students perform better when lessons are delivered in their preferred learning style. Indeed, students do have preferences about how they learn; the problem is that these preferences have little to do with how effectively they learn.
Cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham explained this conundrum in his 2009 book “Why Don’t Students Like School?” In the best tests of the learning-styles theory, researchers first ascertain students’ preferred styles and then randomly assign them to a form of instruction that either matches their preferences or doesn’t. For example, in one study, students were randomly assigned to memorize a set of objects presented either verbally (as names) or visually (as pictures). Overall, visual presentation led to better memory, but there was no relationship between the learners’ preferences and the instruction style. A study comparing “sensing” to “intuitive” learners among medical residents being taught new procedures reached a similar conclusion.
Of course, good teachers sense when students are struggling or progressing, and they adjust accordingly. Students with disabilities have individual needs that should be addressed. But a comprehensive review commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science concluded that there’s essentially no evidence that customizing instruction formats to match students’ preferred learning styles leads to better achievement. This is a knock not on teachers–we are teachers ourselves–but on human intuition, which finds the claim about learning styles so self-evident that it is hard to see how it could be wrong.

Seeing the light: Ed Boyden’s tools for brain hackers

Ed Yong:

Ed Boyden, an engineer turned neuroscientist, makes tools for brain hackers. In his lab at MIT, he’s built a robot that can capture individual neurons and uses light potentially to control major diseases — all in his quest to ‘solve the brain’. To break into a neuron within a living brain, you need a good eye, extreme patience, months of training, and the ability to suck with gentle care. A mouse lies in front of you, brain exposed. Your mission is to impale one of its neurons with the micrometre-wide tip of a glass pipette.
An electrode in the pipette measures the resistance at its tip, and relays the signal to a monitor. You’re watching out for the subtle spikes that tell you that the tip has struck cellular gold. When it is in place, you suck on a rubber tube connected to the pipette – gently at first, to form a seal, and then slightly harder to create a small hole.
If it works, you now have full access to the neuron’s inner workings. You can inject a dye through the hole to map the cell’s many branches. You can measure its electrical activity as it communicates with its neighbours. You can suck out its contents to analyse the chemicals inside it. If you did that for hundreds of connected neurons, you could start to understand the molecules and electric pulses behind the rodent’s thoughts, emotions and memories.

Students continue to leave the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Step this way for a guided tour of the amazing, morphing education system in Milwaukee!
See the shrinking giant! Before your very eyes, watch the rapid growth of America’s most significant program to use public money for children to go to religious schools! Look in awe as thousands of kids head every day to the suburbs! Don’t miss the opening of new schools run by people from distant places!
In other words, the last figures are in and we can now take our annual tour of the many and sometimes wondrous ways a child can get publicly funded education in one of America’s most complex education environments. Here are some high points:
The shrinking giant: It was amazing several years ago to say that one out of every three Milwaukee children getting a publicly funded education was going to a school outside the traditional Milwaukee public school system. It signaled how much the definition of public education was being reshaped here. But that statement is out of date. It’s not 33% any more. It’s very close to 40%. The figure goes up about 1 1/2 points a year, which it did again this year.

Scientists see promising deep learning programs

John Markoff:

Using an artificial intelligence technique inspired by theories about how the brain recognizes patterns, technology companies are reporting startling gains in fields as diverse as computer vision, speech recognition and the identification of promising new molecules for designing drugs.
The advances have led to widespread enthusiasm among researchers who design software to perform human activities like seeing, listening and thinking. They offer the promise of machines that converse with humans and perform tasks like driving cars and working in factories, raising the specter of automated robots that could replace human workers.
The technology, called deep learning, has already been put to use in services like Apple’s Siri virtual personal assistant, which is based on Nuance Communications’ speech recognition service, and in Google’s Street View, which uses machine vision to identify specific addresses.

Alice Bell on Science Books for Children

The Browser:

Children learn in many different ways and the best science books for young people reflect that, says the science writer. Her suggested reading takes in robots used to explain sex and a picture book about dinosaurs.
hat first got you interested in science?
When I was little, my mum was very keen on taking me to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. We would go to Kensington Gardens and play in the playground, and then walk down to Exhibition Road where she’d drag me round the dinosaurs and the spaceships. I found them a bit boring, but if I hung out with her at the spaceships and the dinosaurs then I would get to go and play in the Launchpad gallery, and have a go with some physics, which I enjoyed.

School Principals: Students Have Privacy and Free Speech Rights Too!

Jay Stanley:

One of the technology-related civil liberties battles that ACLU affiliates around the country have been fighting in recent years involves defending students’ rights to privacy and free expression in the new electronic media that are becoming such a large part of their lives. For some reason many school officials seem to believe that when it comes to online communications, students have no such rights
We have a case underway in Minnesota, for example, that exemplifies these problems. I got on the phone with Teresa Nelson, Legal Counsel at the ACLU of Minnesota, and she told me about it:

After Act 10, WEAC sees hope in local teacher advocacy

Erin Richards:

Unions actively reorienting themselves – even in states without Act 10-like legislation in place – are mobilizing teachers around curriculum and instruction issues. That could mean organizing teachers to champion what’s working best in the classroom by bringing new ideas to the school board, or working to get the community to support specific practices.
It means working more collaboratively, and offering solutions.
But collaboration can break down over ideological differences regarding what’s best for kids. Or teachers.
For example, while WEAC has supported a statewide evaluation system for educators in recent years, it has resisted emphasizing test scores in such evaluations. Others argue that robust data on test-score performance can say a lot about a teacher’s quality and should be used to make more aggressive decisions in termination or promotion.
Asking teachers to take a more active role in their union could also become an additional stress.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators.

When ‘Grading’ Is Degrading

Michael Brick via a kind Dan Dempsey email:

IN his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it’s the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.
For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.
So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
And yet now, policy makers in both parties propose ratcheting it up further — this time, by “grading” teachers as well.
It’s a mistake. In the year I spent reporting on John H. Reagan High School in Austin, I came to understand the dangers of judging teachers primarily on standardized test scores. Raw numbers don’t begin to capture what happens in the classroom. And when we reward and punish teachers based on such artificial measures, there is too often an unintended consequence for our kids.

Study: The Human Brain Can Solve Maths Problems Subconsciously

No Camels:

The results constitute a challenge to existing theories of unconscious processes that maintain that reading and solving maths problems – two prime examples of complex, rule-based operations – require consciousness.
To present sentences and equations unconsciously, the researchers used a cutting-edge technique called Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS). In CFS, one eye is exposed to a series of rapidly changing images, while the other is simultaneously exposed to a constant image. The rapid changes in the one eye dominate consciousness, so that the image presented to the other eye is not experienced consciously. Using this technique, more than 270 students at the Hebrew University were exposed to sentences and arithmetic problems.
In one set of experiments using this technique, participants were asked to pronounce numbers that appeared on a computer screen. These numbers were preceded with unconscious arithmetic equations. The results of the experiments showed that participants could more quickly pronounce the conscious number if it had been the result of the unconscious equation. For example, when 9-5-1 was shown non-consciously, the participants were faster in pronouncing 3 than 4, even though they did not consciously see the equation.


Attorney Representing Madison Teachers, Inc and WEAC Profiled in the Capital Times

Steven Elbow:

To complete the hat trick, late last month Pines, representing Madison Teachers Inc. and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, stuck it to Republicans again when Dane County Judge Amy Smith struck down part of a law that consolidated rule-making authority in the governor’s office. That law gave Gov. Scott Walker control over rules that govern agencies like the Attorney General’s Office, the Government Accountability Board, the Employment Relations Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Department of Public Instruction, all of which were previously independent. Pines argued, and Smith agreed, that State Superintendent Tony Evers had constitutional powers beyond the governor’s reach.
“They extended (the law) to the Department of Public Instruction despite the fact that they were told in the brief legislative hearings they held on that bill that it was likely unconstitutional,” says Pines. “But they didn’t care. They just did it.”
While Pines’ recent wins are likely to be appealed, one thing is clear: He’s on a roll. How did he get to be such a pain in the collective GOP butt?

Younger Students More Likely to Get A.D.H.D. Drugs

Anahad O’Connor
A new study of elementary and middle school students has found that those who are the youngest in their grades score worse on standardized tests than their older classmates and are more likely to be prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The findings suggest that in a given grade, students born at the end of the calendar year may be at a distinct disadvantage. Those perceived as having academic or behavioral problems may in fact be lagging simply as a result of being forced to compete with classmates almost a full year older than them. For a child as young as 5, a span of one year can account for 20 percent of the child’s age, potentially making him or her appear significantly less mature than older classmates.
The new study found that the lower the grade, the greater the disparity. For children in the fourth grade, the researchers found that those in the youngest third of their class had an 80 to 90 percent increased risk of scoring in the lowest decile on standardized tests. They were also 50 percent more likely than the oldest third of their classmates to be prescribed stimulants for A.D.H.D. The differences diminished somewhat over time, the researchers found, but continued at least through the seventh grade.
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, used data from Iceland, where health and academic measures are tracked nationally and stimulant prescription rates are high and on par with rates in the United States. Previous studies carried out there and in other countries have shown similar patterns, even among college students.
Helga Zoega, the lead author of the study, said she had expected there would be performance differences between students in the youngest grades, but she did not know that the differences, including the disparity in stimulant prescribing rates, would continue over time.
“We were surprised to see that,” said Dr. Zoega, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and an assistant professor at the University of Iceland. “It may be that the youngest kids in class are just acting according to their age. But their behavior is thought of as symptoms of something else, rather than maturity.”
In the study, Dr. Zoega and her colleagues tracked over 10,000 students born in Iceland in the mid-1990s, following them from fourth through seventh grade, or roughly ages 9 to 12. Iceland has detailed national registries containing health and academic information, so the researchers were able to compare students’ scores on standardized tests and look at the medications prescribed to them.
The researchers then divided the subjects based on the months in which they were born. In Iceland, children start school in September of the calendar year in which they turn 6, and the nationwide birthday cutoff in schools is Jan. 1. So the oldest third in any grade are born between January and April. The middle third are born between May and August, and the youngest third are born between September and December.
The study showed that average test scores in mathematics and language arts, which covers grammar, literature and writing, were lowest among the youngest students in each class. On standardized tests at age 9, the children that made up the youngest third ranked, on average, about 11 percentile points lower in math and roughly 10 percentile points lower in language arts than their classmates who made up the oldest third. Compared to the oldest students, the younger ones were 90 percent more likely to earn low test scores in math and 80 percent more likely to receive low test scores in language arts. By the seventh grade, the risk had diminished somewhat, but the younger children were still 60 percent more likely to receive low test scores in both subjects.
A similar pattern was seen with A.D.H.D. medication, with students in the youngest third of their grade significantly more likely to receive stimulant prescriptions than their classmates in the oldest third. Dr. Zoega found that gender had some influence as well. Over all, girls scored higher than boys on tests, and had lower rates of stimulant prescriptions. But ultimately there was still an age effect among girls for both academic performance and the use of A.D.H.D. medication.
The findings dovetail with research carried out by two economists, Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey. In looking at fourth graders around the world, the two found that the oldest children scored up to 12 percentile points higher than the youngest children. Their work, which was described in the best-selling 2008 book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, has shown a similar pattern among college students.
“At four-year colleges in the United States,” Mr. Gladwell wrote, “students belonging to the relatively youngest group in their class are underrepresented by about 11.6 percent. That initial difference in maturity doesn’t go away with time. It persists. And for thousands of students, that initial disadvantage is the difference between going to college — and having a real shot at the middle class — and not.”
Dr. Zoega said she did not want her study to be seen as an indictment against stimulants. Instead, parents and educators should consider a child’s age relative to his or her classmates when looking at poor grades and at any behavioral problems.
“Don’t jump to conclusions when deciding whether a child has A.D.H.D.,” she said. “It could be the maturity level. Keep in mind that he or she might not be performing as well as the older kids in the class, and that should not be a surprise.”

8 math talks to blow your mind

Morton Bast:

Mathematics gets down to work in these talks, breathing life and logic into everyday problems. Prepare for math puzzlers both solved and unsolvable, and even some still waiting for solutions.
Ron Eglash: The fractals at the heart of African designs
When Ron Eglash first saw an aerial photo of an African village, he couldn’t rest until he knew — were the fractals in the layout of the village a coincidence, or were the forces of mathematics and culture colliding in unexpected ways? Here, he tells of his travels around the continent in search of an answer.

Waukesha School District considering rewarding teachers for performance

Erin Richards:

One of the largest school systems in the state is considering changing its salary structure to reward teachers based on the quality of their performance, rather than on their seniority and education.
According to a contract proposal completed this month in the Waukesha School District, the administration wants to bring on national consultant Battelle for Kids to design a compensation and benefits system.
Waukesha’s School Board is holding off on voting on that approximately $77,000 contract until December, but individual board members said they supported the exploration.

Free Textbooks Spell Disruption for College Publishers Startup companies offering knockoff textbooks are attracting students, and lawsuits.

Michael Fitzgerald:

Ask Ariel Diaz why he’s taking on the college textbook industry and he’ll tell you, “Quaternions.”
Quaternions are a number system used for calculating three-dimensional motion, popular in computer graphics. And Diaz needed a crash course to help him with a consulting gig after his online video platform startup, Youcastr, had failed. He started with Wikipedia and found it was surprisingly good at explaining this complicated mathematics.
Diaz, who still resents how much he’d paid for textbooks in college and graduate school, realized he’d hit on his next business idea. In 2011, he started Boundless Learning, a Boston company that has begun giving away free electronic textbooks covering college subjects like American history, anatomy and physiology, economics, and psychology.
What’s controversial is how Boundless creates these texts. The company trawls for public material on sites like Wikipedia and then crafts it into online books whose chapters track closely to those of top-selling college titles. In April, Boundless was sued by several large publishers who accused the startup of engaging in “the business model of theft.”

Student Suspended for Refusing to Wear a School-Issued RFID Tracker

David Kravets:

2:30 p.m. PST UPDATE: A local Texas judge on Wednesday tentatively blocked the suspension, pending further hearings next week.
A Texas high school student is being suspended for refusing to wear a student ID card implanted with a radio-frequency identification chip.
Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began issuing the RFID-chip-laden student-body cards when the semester began in the fall. The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.
Radio-frequency identification devices are a daily part of the electronic age — found in passports, and library and payment cards. Eventually they’re expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. Now schools across the nation are slowly adopting them as well.

Charter School Special Education Enrollment Analysis

Robin Lake, Betheny Gross, Patrick Denice, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Responding to concerns that charter schools do not provide equal access to students with special needs, advocates in districts, states, and courts across the country have sought to improve such access. Lawsuits and complaints allege that some charter schools systematically discriminate against high-needs students. Additionally, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report showing that charter schools, on average, serve a smaller proportion of students with disabilities than do district-run public schools. In response, policymakers in some states are looking for ways to better ensure that financial, incentive, and support systems are in place to aid charter schools in providing greater access and services to students with special needs.
This report provides some context to these policy responses by describing the distribution of students with disabilities in New York State charter and district-run schools. The analysis shows that different levels of comparison–state level, school type, district level, and authorizer level–yield different results, and comparisons at high levels of aggregation (such as those made at the state level) mask important information and variation. Whether, and in what ways, charter schools appear to systemically underserve students with special needs depends on how you answer the question, “Compared to what?”

A Chinese Education, for a Price

Dan Levin:

For Chinese children and their devoted parents, education has long been seen as the key to getting ahead in a highly competitive society. But just as money and power grease business deals and civil servant promotions, the academic race here is increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected, who pay large sums and use connections to give their children an edge at government-run schools.
Nearly everything has a price, parents and educators say, from school admissions and placement in top classes to leadership positions in Communist youth groups. Even front-row seats near the blackboard or a post as class monitor are up for sale.
Zhao Hua, a migrant from Hebei Province who owns a small electronics business here, said she was forced to deposit $4,800 into a bank account to enroll her daughter in a Beijing elementary school. At the bank, she said, she was stunned to encounter officials from the district education committee armed with a list of students and how much each family had to pay. Later, school officials made her sign a document saying the fee was a voluntary “donation.”
“Of course I knew it was illegal,” she said. “But if you don’t pay, your child will go nowhere.”


Coursera takes step to enable students to receive college credit for its courses

Ki Mae Hauser:

Since launching in April, Coursera has been on a tear, enrolling more than 1.8 million students and forging partnerships with 33 top-tier universities from around the world.
But, to date, the vast majority of Coursera students haven’t been able to receive credit for their online classes or count them toward a degree.
If all goes according to plan, however, that could change in a matter of months because, on Tuesday, the startup announced that it was working with the American Council on Education (ACE) to evaluate credit equivalency for its courses.
“Ever since we launched Coursera, we’ve known that university degrees are important,” said Coursera co-founder and Stanford professor Andrew Ng. “We wanted a more systematic way for students to earn academic credit… This is just a step in that direction.”
Over the past few months, a few institutions, including the University of Helsinki and the University of Washington, have unilaterally announced that they would award credit for some Coursera courses. And, last month, the Palo Alto startup announced a licensing deal with Antioch College that would enable Antioch students to take some Coursera courses for college credit, at a cost that is less than the per-credit cost of traditional courses.

Brazil education standards contribute to learning crisis: Brazil’s dismal education standards are too low for the world’s No. 6 economy and threaten to stunt the nation’s development.

Vincent Bevins:

JUAZEIRO, Brazil — As 6-year-old Ana Jamil skips up to the school gates, she has a simple question for the principal: “Is there class today?”
Children here are in the habit of asking, because their teachers often don’t show up, as hers didn’t the day before.
When Jose Pereira da Silva Municipal School does hold class, students spend just a little more than three hours a day with teachers who are woefully unprepared.
“Around here, there are teachers who can’t even read and write,” principal Maria Olivia Andrade says. “We’re waiting for the government to install air conditioning. We need a library. That’s essential. But by far the thing we need most desperately is training for the teachers.”
With salaries starting at just $350 a month and their jobs as state workers secure, teachers regularly stay at home. Although more kids are showing up for class, partly because of free lunches and government programs, they still have little chance of leaving with a decent education.
At Andrade’s school, the annual goal is that 70% will learn to read and write before they leave at age 14.

Private (Union) Takeover of Public Schools Privately run unions have ruined public schools, critics say

Tyler O’Neil:

President Barack Obama and the Democrats have portrayed themselves as supporters of public education, but their policies have turned public schools into strongholds for powerful private groups of teachers unions, critics say.
“The union is not some branch of public government–they’re just a private corporation,” said James Sayler, a 20-year public school teacher and founder of Colorado Educators for Bush in 2000 and 2004.
“Should a school district give away public authority to a private organization?” Sayler asked. “The unions, with the blessing and cooperation of the Democratic Party, have privatized education.”

Union questioning Florida teacher evaluation plan

Bill Kaczor:

Margaret Goodman says she received high marks from all five principals she’s worked for during 39 years, yet Florida’s new evaluation system gave her a low rating of “needs improvement.”
The third-grade teacher at St. Petersburg’s Westgate Elementary School on Tuesday said the system’s value-added model, or VAM, is demoralizing and unfair. It’s based on student test scores, but Goodman said her evaluation was based on exams taken by students she didn’t teach.
“The reality is the value-added model has nothing at all to do with adding, nor does it have anything to do with my proficiency as a teacher,” Goodman said.

The Best (and Worst) Education News of 2012

Larry Ferlazzo:

Here is my annual humble attempt to identify the best and the worst education news that occurred during the past 12 months. I don’t presume to say it’s all-encompassing, so I hope you’ll take time to share your own choices in the comment section.
I’ll list the ones I think are the best first, followed by the worst. However, it’s too hard to rank them within those categories, so I’m not listing them in any order.
You might also be interested in seeing my previous year-end “round-ups”:

Between the Rap Sheets

Ron Isaac:

The best thing to happen to democracy in recent years may be the popularity of blogs. They’re especially influential in politics and education. Anyone can access everyone these days. The marketplace of ideas is wide open. Edwize is, of course, the UFT’s blog. But the views contained in the following piece are solely those of the author and are independent of the UFT’s positions and policies.
Remember Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and unflappable former front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination until he blew his chances during a debate by plumb forgetting the name of the federal agency that he had sworn a thousand times to destroy? It was a helluva “aw shucks” moment for the supporter of state-sponsored murder.
But last year he showed leadership, for better or worse, in a way that is both highly uncharacteristic and typical of him. He signed into law a bill that extended rights to teachers but at the expense of their students. Whether that trade-off is fair is the question I pose to you.

High Standards Help Struggling Students: New Evidence

Constance Clark and Peter W. Cookson Jr.:

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, promise to raise achievement in English and mathematics through rigorous standards that promote deeper learning. But while most policymakers, researchers, and educators have embraced these higher standards, some question the fairness of raising the academic bar on students who are already struggling.
Do higher standards hurt struggling students? High Standards Help Struggling Students: New Evidence, argues that the answer to that question is “no.” In the analysis, Education Sector analysts Constance Clark and Peter Cookson Jr. use state-by-state NAEP data to examine the effect of high standards on student achievement. They find there is no evidence that high standards have hurt low-achieving students. In fact, they found that higher standards have probably helped.
Clark and Cookson compare struggling students ─ those who score at “below basic” levels on the NAEP in reading and math ─ across states with low and high standards in 2003 and 2011. To define the rigor of the standards, they use a measure proposed by researchers Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess that evaluates standards based on the cut scores states use to set proficiency categories. The higher the cut score, the higher the state’s standards are judged to be. Here is what Clark and Cookson found on the extremes of the Peterson-Hess rating:

Ghana: On the Education Debate – Is It Free Vs. Quality?

I K Gyasi:

If not, why does the NDC appear to take up the position that free secondary education is not only impossible to achieve, but also, that free secondary education is poor quality education?
On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, Joy FM played the voice of Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, one-time Minister of Education. I heard Dr. Spio-Garbrah say, “If you don’t pay for what is important, you don’t get the right quality.”
As someone who fully benefitted from a policy of free education, I find the idea that free education is synonymous with poor quality education as strange, ridiculous, nonsensical and offensive.
My father paid for my elementary school education at the Adansi Brofoyedru Methodist Primary School all the way to the T. I. Ahmadiyya Secondary School in Kumasi. He paid my examination registration fee.

Mazomanie Eagle Scout earns every merit badge, a rare honor

Nico Savidge, via a kind reader’s email:

There isn’t a lot of open space, to say the least, on the sash Colin Paiva wears across his chest.
That’s because just about every inch of it seems to be taken up by the Eagle Scout’s merit badges — 133 of them, in all. Every single one a Scout can now earn plus three that have been discontinued.
Such an accomplishment puts Paiva, a 16-year-old student at Edgewood High School, in rarified air among scouts: More than 100 million young men have joined the Boy Scouts since it was founded in 1910, but fewer than 200 have gotten every badge.

Madison School Board election starting to take shape

Matthew DeFour:

The upcoming Madison School Board election is drawing plenty of interest from potential candidates, including at least two who say they definitely will run for an open seat.
Dean Loumos, executive director of low-income housing provider Housing Initiatives, and Ananda Mirilli, restorative justice program coordinator at YWCA Madison, both told me they plan to run no matter who else jumps in the race.
Several others, including state Rep. Kelda Roys, Edgewood College history professor T.J. Mertz, Democratic legislative aide Greg Packnett and attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick all told me they are considering a run.
Interest in the School Board election has grown since Beth Moss announced she would not seek a third term. Some are waiting until Maya Cole makes a decision about a third term before committing one way or the other.

When You Hear Claims That Policies Are Working, Read The Fine Print

Matthew DiCarlo

When I point out that raw changes in state proficiency rates or NAEP scores are not valid evidence that a policy or set of policies is “working,” I often get the following response: “Oh Matt, we can’t have a randomized trial or peer-reviewed article for everything. We have to make decisions and conclusions based on imperfect information sometimes.”
This statement is obviously true. In this case, however, it’s also a straw man. There’s a huge middle ground between the highest-quality research and the kind of speculation that often drives our education debate. I’m not saying we always need experiments or highly complex analyses to guide policy decisions (though, in general, these are always preferred and sometimes required). The point, rather, is that we shouldn’t draw conclusions based on evidence that doesn’t support those conclusions.
This, unfortunately, happens all the time. In fact, many of the more prominent advocates in education today make their cases based largely on raw changes in outcomes immediately after (or sometimes even before) their preferred policies were implemented (also see here, here, here, here, here, and here). In order to illustrate the monumental assumptions upon which these and similar claims ride, I thought it might be fun to break them down quickly, in a highly simplified fashion. So, here are the four “requirements” that must be met in order to attribute raw test score changes to a specific policy (note that most of this can be applied not only to claims that policies are working, but also to claims that they’re not working because scores or rates are flat):

Scott Walker Tilts K-12 Education Toward the Needs of Business

Rebecca Kemble:

Under Scott Walker’s reign in Wisconsin, multinational corporations are given undue influence over public policy. Nowhere is this more evident than in public education. Some of the largest corporations in the world – GE, Caterpillar, Koch Industries – have privileged seats at Walker’s policy table, but they don’t necessarily show up themselves. Instead, they activate a whole network of local actors to do their bidding.
In his seminal work, Propaganda (1928), the “Father of Public Relations” Edward Louis Bernays wrote:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

Putting ideology aside, how have Wisconsin’s K-12 policies over the past few decades improved student learning, at all?

Why private school vouchers aren’t enough

Jay Mathews:

If I were a D.C. parent with little money and a child in a bad public school, I would happily accept a taxpayer-supported voucher to send my kid to a private school. But I still don’t think voucher programs are a good use of education dollars, particularly after reading a startling story on The Washington Post’s front page on Sunday.
My colleagues Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown revealed that the $133 million appropriated for vouchers in the District since 2004 have gone to private schools with no requirements to report publicly how well their students are doing. Some of those schools have dubious curriculums and inadequate facilities. At least eight of the 52 schools with voucher students are not accredited.
Paulette Jones-Imaan poses for a portrait photograph inside the cafeteria of the Academy for Ideal Education. (Astrid Riecken – For The Washington Post) Take a look at the Academy for Ideal Education in Northeast Washington. Almost all of its students are in the voucher program run by the nonprofit D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. The school’s founder, Paulette Jones-Imaan, believes in learning through music, stretching and meditation, Layton and Brown report.
The Academy for Ideal Education does not have to reveal its results on the nationally standardized test that voucher students are required to take, but I suspect those children are not learning much. I have some experience with the Ideal Academy, a charter high school also founded by Jones-Imaan. In 2009 I wrote about it having some of the lowest achievement rates in the city, which I knew because charters have to report their test scores. The D.C. authorizing board for charters forced it to close. Sadly, no agency has that power over private schools using vouchers.

In L.A., inexperienced teachers more likely to be assigned to students behind in math, study says

Teresa Watanabe:

A new study has found that inexperienced teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District are disproportionately more likely to be assigned to lower-performing math students, perpetuating the achievement gap.
The study also found that L.A. Unified teachers “vary substantially” in their effectiveness, with top teachers able to give students the equivalent of eight additional months of learning in a year compared with weaker instructors.
Such findings raise “deep concerns,” said Drew Furedi, the district’s executive director of talent management, who oversees teacher training. “For us, it’s a call to action.”
The study by the Strategic Data Project, which is affiliated with Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, analyzed the performance of about 30% of L.A. Unified teachers and presented findings based primarily on students’ standardized math test scores from 2005 through 2011 in grades three through eight. The study’s authors acknowledged that test scores were only one measure of teacher effectiveness.
The study also found:
Teacher effects vary substantially in LAUSD, more than in many other districts. The difference between a 25th and 75th percentile elementary math teacher is over one-quarter of a standard deviation, which is roughly equivalent to a student having eight additional months of instruction in a calendar year.
Teach for America and Career Ladder teachers have higher math effects on average than other novices in their first year by 0.05 and 0.03 standard deviations respectively, which is roughly equivalent to one to two months of additional learning. These differences persist over time
The performance of math teachers improved quickly in the first five years, then leveled off.
Those with advanced degrees were no more effective than those without, although L.A. Unified pays more to teachers pursuing such degrees.
Long-term substitute teachers — who have been employed more frequently to fill in amid widespread layoffs — have positive effects in teaching middle-school math

View the complete 1.4MB PDF study, here.
Related: Math forum audio/video.

The Chosun News; Seoul, South Korea; 19 November 2012: “For College and Jobs, Practice your Non-fiction Writing skills”

“The Secrets to Good Writing” from the editor of The Concord Review [TCR]
Increase time spent on research, hone the quality of your writing
Stay away from “How to Write Well” books
Serious writing is no longer the specialty of a scholar. Ever since writing essays have become an important part of the college admission process, high schools have become in the grip of “writing fever.” Also known as the “Olympiad of History,” TCR is the first organization to put the publication of high school students’ essays into practice. Since 1987, TCR has published history papers by 1044 students in 39 countries around the world. Of all the participants, 36% (371) of them have been admitted to an Ivy League university. The rest have been admitted to Stanford, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge. Delicious Study held an interview on November 12th with Mr. Will Fitzhugh, the founder of TCR, and two students, Han Jae Hyuk (Seoul International School, Senior) and Lee Seon Woo (Asia Pacific International School, Sophomore), who are preparing for applying to colleges in the States. With the invitation from the Asian representative of TCR, Caroline Lee, Mr. Fitzhugh visited Korea for the first time. The following article describes what Mr. Fitzhugh had told the students about “Writing for College.”
The Quality of Writing comes from the Strong Facts
For each issue of The Concord Review, Mr. Fitzhugh reads at least 140 essays every 3 months. His “criteria for a good paper” were rather simple. “An interesting history paper is a good paper. However, for a paper to be enjoyable to read, the writer must have a genuine interest in the topic. In essays, for example, an interesting work has both a unique stance on a topic and a solid support of evidence. No matter how original one’s perspective is, without evidence, the essay is empty. It’s rare to find sources of evidence that fit perfectly with your interpretations. In fact, some students who have published essays in TCR have spent 18 months writing the essay. Had these students not been interested in what they were writing, they could not have put in such an effort.”
Then, Lee Sun Woo pointed out a difficulty many students faced: “Even with interest in a topic, it can be difficult to connect that to a topic one can write about.” Mr. Fitzhugh responded with an anecdote. “A student in an international school in Hong Kong sent an essay about the Needham Question (1900~1995). Cambridge Professor Joseph Needham studied why Chinese science had stopped advancing ahead of Western Science in 1500 as it had been until the 16th century. To satisfy his curiosity about Needham, Jonathan Lu organized an answer in essay form. He was able to connect the familiar topic of China with an unfamiliar one, science, through history. It’s a good example.”
Read First…Write Later
Throughout the interview, Mr. Fitzhugh continued to emphasize the importance of reading. From finding an interesting subject to research, reading has to be continually done. However, it is not necessary to read books that surpass one’s reading level. “How to Write Well” tutorials will jeopardize the genuineness of your writing and only the fancy phrases and diction will stand out.” Pertaining to writing, Han Jae Hyuk raised a concern whether “Other forms of communication (debating for example) can be as helpful as writing.” “Well,” Mr. Fitzhugh simply answered, “the main way to improve one’s writing skills is to write more.” “Writing a 1,000-word paper is much harder than speaking for the same amount. Of course, during the process of preparing for a speech, you encounter knowledge that you can use for a paper. However, without writing a single word, there will be no improvement in one’s writing aptitude.” He added, “What is needed for high school students today is practice in non-fiction writing.” “Today’s American high school students are given fiction-writing assignments to test and expand their creativity. However, even those who receive such assignments will one day attend college and encounter a variety of non-fiction writing. Because there is such a big gap between reality and today’s high school education, some companies spend $3 billion dollars each year in remedial writing courses for their employees. I’m assuming that the situation in Korea is not so different.”
The Concord Review
The only journal in the world that publishes papers written by high school history students (American school standard 9th to 12th grade). Under the principle “writing skill is a valuable asset,” TCR publishes 11 essays in each online issue every 3 months. Created by Mr. Will Fitzhugh in 1987. Funded by donations and subscriptions. Chooses 5 exceptional essays (of 44) each year for the Emerson Prize. The number of Koreans who have published in the journal is 22. With a payment of $40 (43,000 won), any high school can submit an essay for consideration.
“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®

You Are What You Read: A lucid exposition of how Proust put his reading to work in the creation of “In Search of Lost Time.”

Joseph Epstein:

No one should read Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” for the first time. A first reading, however carefully conducted, cannot hope to unlock the book’s complexity, its depth, its inexhaustible richness. Roughly a million words and more than 3,000 pages long, it is a novel I have read twice, and one of the reasons I continue to exercise and eat and drink moderately and have a physical every year into my 70s is that I hope to live long enough to read it one more time.
Told with France’s Belle Epoque (that bright and lavish quarter of a century before World War I permanently darkened all life in Europe) as its background, “In Search of Lost Time” is the recollections of a first-person narrator over several decades. This narrator, who bears many resemblances to its author (he is called Marcel, and his family and circumstances are similar to Proust’s) but who also differs from him in striking ways (chief among them that his life is not devoted to writing a great novel), is relentless in his energy for analysis. In his detailed attempt to remember all things past, he is as all-inclusive as literature can get; what normal people filter out of memory the narrator channels in. And so it was with Proust himself: While most authors working at revision tend to take things out of their manuscripts, up to his death in 1922 Proust was continuing to add things to his.

“Standards based report cards and the Milwaukee Schools

Joy Pullman:

Milwaukee Public Schools plans to expand districtwide a pilot program in which schools ditch traditional letter grades. Instead of A, B, C, D and F, teachers will compare students to a list of things the state expects students to know on core subjects in each grade and mark their skills advanced, proficient, basic or minimal. It’s called a “standards-based report card.”
The idea has some merits and several significant flaws.
Parents and students benefit from objective, specific standards for academic performance. If a father knows Julia must learn to define a story’s theme in second grade, he can ask her to do so when they read together. Grading metrics can also help counter grade inflation, where teachers give students high marks they have not earned. A 2005 ACT study found high school grades inflated 12.5% between 1991 and 2003.

The Madison School District implemented the ill-advised middle school “standards – based report cards” several years ago. Unfortunately, this initiative was incompatible with the multi-million dollar “Infinite Campus” system.

I’m Not “Waiting for Superman.” Why is MMSD?

Karen Vieth:

In 2010, an anti-public education documentary made its debut. Waiting for Superman features Geoffrey Canada, a controversial education “reformer” who promotes anti-union sentiment and charter schools as a solution to the struggles that face our public education system. The documentary largely appeals to the heart, as it uses weak data and a faulty premise. For this reason, another documentary made its debut in 2011. The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman features the New York City teachers and counters the position taken in Waiting for Superman. With this documentary shedding light on the true nature of charter schools and faux reformers like Geoffrey Canada, I would hope this matter is settled, at least for those of us who rely on real data and results to drive decisions.
Why then is the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) listed as both a sponsor and partner of an upcoming event featuring the “legendary” Geoffrey Canada? Geoffrey Canada is the creator of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The two Charter Schools included in this zone are called “Promise Academy I” and “Promise Academy II.” Students win a spot in the schools based on a lottery. Canada believes that money is the answer for these children. The Harlem Children’s Zone invests $16,000 per student per year for expenses in the classroom, and thousands more per student for expenses outside the classroom. These expenses include student incentives, such as a trip to Disney World or the Galapagos Islands.

Madison Memorial High School Evening Meal Program Aims to Reduce Achievement Gap

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter:

Often one does not realize how information gathered may be used to benefit others when the information is first received. Such is the case of the Memorial High School Evening Meal Program. Several years ago, Art Camosy, MTI Vice President and MTI’s Senior Faculty Representative for Memorial High School, attended a lecture given by Columbia Teachers’ College Professor Richard Rothstein. The lecture was sponsored by MTI, State Representative Cory Mason (Racine), and several entities within the UW. Professor Rothstein spoke about the impact of poverty on learning, citing, among other things, that a lack of medical and dental care result in lack of readiness for school, one of the causes of an achievement gap for the children growing up in poverty.
According to Rothstein in his book, “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Achievement Gap” (, children of high school drop-outs probably know 400 words by the time they enter school; children of high school graduates 1600 words; and children of college graduates 2400 words. That preparedness deficit added to poor nutrition and lack of regular meals makes it almost impossible for a child to catch up with his/her peers who do not experience the described complicating factors. Rothstein states, “Low-income kindergartners whose height and weight are below normal children for their age tend to have lower test scores …. Indeed, the relationship between good nutrition and achievement is so obvious, that some school districts, under pressure recently to increase poor children’s test scores, boosted caloric content of school lunches on test days.”
Having heard Rothstein’s passion on the impact of poverty on nutrition, and nutrition on the achievement gap, Camosy approached MTI Executive Director John Matthews about providing an evening meal at Memorial. Matthews approached United Way President Leslie Howard, who was excited about the idea and offered UWDC support. MTI and United Way met last spring with various Memorial staff, students, parents and community members to get the project rolling. The Memorial Evening Meal Project got under way. Matthews also contacted Madison Mayor Paul Soglin to ensure appropriate bus transportation. Kick-off was last Monday, with 100 meals served and the number of participants rising. Added benefit to the students participating is tutoring by upper level students and teachers, all of whom are volunteering their time and talents. Thanks to the progressive Memorial Principal Bruce Dahmen, who not only has worked with Camosy to make the project a reality, but whose efforts in working with others in the District have made the Evening Meal Program an instant success. Camosy’s idea is sure to spread to other schools. It’s impact on the achievement gap is certain.

Milwaukee follows national trend of expanding charter school networks

Erin Richards:

At many traditional public high schools, the last bell of the school day signals the imminent transition to extracurricular activities, from musical rehearsals to sports practices.
But at Carmen High School of Science & Technology in Milwaukee, the after-school scene is predominantly focused on academics. Any student at the charter high school making below a C in a core subject is required to stay after school until 5 p.m. to work with teachers.
Mandatory after-school tutoring is a feature Carmen can more easily implement because of its status as a charter school within Milwaukee Public Schools. The district has approved Carmen opening a second high school, making it part of a network of Milwaukee charter schools that are serving more students than ever, according to a new national report that places Milwaukee among the top districts for percentage of students in charter schools.
The growth in market share of students for Milwaukee charter schools underscores important changes in the local landscape for such publicly financed, independently operated schools. MPS, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee are approving more charter schools, and a growing number of those proposals are coming from national operators.

Related: A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities.

It’s right to test learning by heart

Christopher Caldwell:

Professing himself an “enemy of those who would deprecate the study of French lesbian poetry”, Michael Gove, the UK education secretary, told a gathering of the Independent Academies Association in London on Wednesday that education was not so much about what one learnt as how one learnt it. He wants more – and more rigorous – meritocratic tests. Mr Gove also wants more rote learning.
Examinations can indeed help merit-based power structures to topple privilege – but Mr Gove is wrong if he thinks they do so reliably. “In America,” he says, “the use of scholastic aptitude tests opened up access to colleges which had in the past arbitrarily blocked minority students.” That may have been true three-quarters of a century ago, when a numerus clausus kept Jews out of elite universities. Something different happens today. While the SAT has certainly helped some recent Asian immigrants, its general tendency is to decrease, not increase, diversity. Where that happens, politics usually requires that the SAT be ignored or played down.

Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again

Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons:

Pop quiz: Which of these statements is false?
1. We use only 10% of our brain.
2. Environments rich in stimuli improve the brains of preschool children.
3. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, whether auditory, visual or kinesthetic.
If you picked the first one, congratulations. The idea that we use only 10% of our brain is patently false. Yet it so permeates popular culture that, among psychologists and neuroscientists, it is known as the “10% myth.” Contrary to popular belief, the entire brain is put to use–unused neurons die and unused circuits atrophy. Reports of neuroimaging research might perpetuate the myth by showing only a small number of areas “lighting up” in a brain scan, but those are just areas that have more than a base line level of activity; the dark regions aren’t dormant or unused.

EdX to offer learners option of taking proctored final exam

Pearson VUE:

Online learning venture edX continues to transform higher education by announcing today its agreement with Pearson VUE to offer learners the option of taking a proctored final exam.
“Our online learners who want the flexibility to provide potential employers with an independently validated certificate may now choose to take the course exam at a proctored test site,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “This option enhances the value of our courses in the real world, helps us maintain our goal of making high-quality education both accessible and practical and thus is a natural evolution of ed’s core philosophy of transforming lives through education.”
Pearson VUE, a Pearson business, is the global leader in computer-based testing. Due to this new agreement, edX learners now have the option of taking a course final exam at one of over 450 Pearson VUE test centers in more than 110 countries. Proctors at the centers will verify the identity of the examinee and administer the tests. Examinees using the Pearson VUE centers will take the same rigorous exam as online learners and will be charged a modest fee for the proctoring service. EdX will offer the option to test takers for one of its online courses this Fall.

Tentative deal struck for some Ontario high school teachers

Kate Hammer:

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has reached a deal with two school boards, offering signs of hope in a school year that had teachers cut back report cards comments, sports teams and student supervision.
The deals were struck with York Region District School Board and Upper Grand District School Board. They are tentative, and will still require approval from the Minister of Education and possibly also from union membership.

The Science and Art of Listening

Seth Horowitz:

HERE’S a trick question. What do you hear right now?
If your home is like mine, you hear the humming sound of a printer, the low throbbing of traffic from the nearby highway and the clatter of plastic followed by the muffled impact of paws landing on linoleum — meaning that the cat has once again tried to open the catnip container atop the fridge and succeeded only in knocking it to the kitchen floor.
The slight trick in the question is that, by asking you what you were hearing, I prompted your brain to take control of the sensory experience — and made you listen rather than just hear. That, in effect, is what happens when an event jumps out of the background enough to be perceived consciously rather than just being part of your auditory surroundings. The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention.

Wisconsin Governor Walker promises major tax reforms, school funding changes

Daniel Bice:

Walker also said he wants to require the state’s public schools, including the technical colleges and the University of Wisconsin System, to meet performance-based targets to receive increased state funding – similar to programs in Florida and Pennsylvania. The first-term Republican governor said he will push to expand the state’s voucher program for private schools and further streamline the state’s rules and regulations.

Urban League’s David Cagigal to Join Walker’s Team

Allen Ruff, via a kind email

An interesting little tid-bit has been bounced my way – a notice going out to various Wisconsin state agencies from Mike Huebsch, Scott Walker’s Secretary of Administration, to various Wisconsin agencies announcing the appointment of David Cagigal as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the state’s Division of Enterprise Technology (DET). Cagigal is scheduled to begin in his new position on November 19th.

Standards-based education is nothing new in this public space

David Weinstein:

As the founder of Harbor Connections, the experiential education program adopted by Thompson Island in 2008, I was pleased to see your Nov. 12 editorial “Thompson Island: A new way to excel on MCAS.” Whereas the educational value of the Boston Harbor cannot be overstated, some clarification and context are necessary.
Standards-based education has been happening on various Boston Harbor Islands since 1998 — on Georges, Gallops (closed in 2001), Lovells, Peddocks, Bumpkin, Grape, Little Brewster, Spectacle, Great Brewster, Rainsford, and Thompson. More than 17,000 Boston Public Schools students from more than 30 schools have extended their classrooms to these islands.
Hundreds of dedicated, creative Boston teachers and several forward-thinking administrators were essential to the success of the program. Other key allies were the National Park Service and the Metropolitan District Commission and Division of Environmental Management, which later merged into the state Division of Conservation and Recreation. Like Thompson Island, these government institutions are among the managing partners of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

A shakeup of higher education

Joseph E. Aoun:

As President Obama develops his second-term agenda, his administration will no doubt focus on a range of higher-education priorities, including affordability, attainment levels, and career preparation. Yet as important as these issues are, something more fundamental is happening: We’re witnessing the end of higher education as we know it.
This transformation is being brought on by “MOOCs” — massive open online courses being offered for little or no cost through entities like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, which aggregate classes from multiple universities onto a single computer-based platform. Millions of people are already utilizing them to tap into higher learning.
In the process, they’re spurring a shakeup of higher education — with dramatic implications.

Online Courses Keep Grades Up, Athletes In Play

Weekend Edition:

Host Scott Simon speaks to Brad Wolverton from the The Chronicle of Higher Education about his recent profile of Western Oklahoma State College. The school’s online courses are popular with NCAA student athletes at risk of losing their eligibility to participate in sports.

Education data needs to be used carefully

Alan Borsuk:

From Washington to the classroom, everybody in education is more and more into data. Just look at the new report cards for every public school put out several weeks ago by the state Department of Public Instruction.
Data can drive quality, many policy-makers say, and there are schools that are justified in proclaiming how they have improved by being data driven.
Schools and districts are increasingly being judged by data.
There’s a lot of good in this. Not paying close attention to how students are doing – including test scores and similar data – is the road to mediocrity or worse.
But it also makes me nervous, especially when I hear things such as calls for “performance pay” or firing bad teachers based on student test scores and rates of improvement, despite the lack of evidence that such efforts can be reliable and useful, especially on a large scale.
In other words, if data is taking over how we judge schools and everyone who works in them, that will be good only if we use data well.

Indiana Teachers hope Ritz will help slow school changes

Associated Press:

Indiana teachers frustrated by sweeping changes in the state’s education system under schools chief Tony Bennett say they hope his successor will be able to slow the pace of change, but they say they don’t expect it to stop altogether.
Democrat Glenda Ritz, a library media specialist at an Indianapolis school, defeated Bennett in the Nov. 6 election with a grassroots campaign that largely was conducted through social media and backed by teachers across the state.
Teachers have been frustrated with the changes under Bennett, which include the nation’s broadest use of school vouchers, the state’s takeover of six schools and changes that tie teacher pay to student performance. Many have said they feel that they are being blamed for failing schools.

‘Do your parents know you are here?’ A new generation of young Indians is partying hard

Amy Kazmin:

It’s Halloween at Love Shack, a spacious rooftop bar in Bangalore, the epicentre of India’s information technology and call centre industries. The venue, evocative of a beach shack, is filled with students, software engineers, management consultants and other upwardly mobile youth – the boys still clad in office-casual and the girls decked out in form-fitting tops and minidresses, with teased hair and bright lipstick. Most patrons are knocking back drinks – women get two free – as Martin DSouza, a 27-year-old karaoke jockey, or KJ, spins the tunes.
Karaoke is popular in Bangalore, and customers vie for the microphone while the cheering crowd dances around the singers. Among the revellers is Priyanka Blah, 26, a free-spirited singer and artist manager with upswept hair, a gold hoop through her nostril and a tight, spaghetti-strapped top. Blah, who grew up in the northeastern town of Shillong, came to Bangalore as a student at just 16, and has lived here ever since. She has performed with her now-defunct electronica duo, Tempo Tantrick, and other singers, and writes about music, designs clothes and promotes musicians.

Up next for Washington charter schools: plans and lawyers

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Now that voters have spoken about charter schools will the new, independent public schools be an option at the beginning of the next academic year?
It seems unlikely.
Voters narrowly approved Initiative 1240 earlier this month, but opening charter schools by 2013 would require many things to happen quickly — and there’s a strong possibility that the state’s top education officer will sue to block them.
First the state Board of Education has to figure out the next steps. The board has until March 6 to adopt rules to govern most aspects of charter schools in Washington. Board spokesman Aaron Wyatt said that schedule is tight, so people shouldn’t expect them to beat their deadline.
Next on the agenda: The new Washington Charter School Commission will be formed and begin its work. The independent state agency created by the initiative will be authorizing and supervising the new entities.

Arthur Levine – The Suburban Education Gap: The U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if Americans only performed at Canada’s level in math

Arthur Levine, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America’s top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.
Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.
Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world–in Finland and Singapore–very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Related: The Global Report: Compare US School Districts to the World.

More on UW-LaCrosse’s Remedial Math Courses

Karen Herzog, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

A free, widely available online math course being developed by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse could dramatically reduce the need for students to take remedial math when they start college and put them on a faster, less expensive track to graduation, the UW System announced this week.
It also could better position the state to meet the needs of employers who have difficulty finding employees with adequate basic math skills, as the course would be available to people of all ages – literally anyone with an Internet connection.
An increasing number of freshmen in the UW System need remedial math when they start college, according to UW officials. As of 2007 – the latest data available – 21% of UW System freshmen did not have the necessary skills to succeed in college-level math. Among minority students, the percentage is significantly higher (40%).
Nationally, about 25% of high school graduates require remedial math in college.
That puts them at risk of not graduating, or of taking longer to finish a college degree, increasing the cost of their education, UW officials say.

Much more, here, including this: What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement? by James Wollack and Michael fish.

UFT: Where’s the curriculum?

Maisie McAdoo:

A high-level gubernatorial commission on education reform on Oct. 16 got a rapid-fire earful from UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who warned that most teachers still do not have the curricula to prepare students for new state assessments this year that will incorporate challenging Common Core Learning Standards.
“Millions of students will be tested on a curriculum that was never supplied to their teachers,” Mulgrew warned the commissioners, to a round of audience applause, in his allotted three minutes of testimony.
Standards are not curricula, he wrote in lengthier submitted testimony. If the state and the city impose a new set of standards without the supports in place to teach to them, students and teachers will flounder. Some schools encourage common curriculum planning, he said, but many others leave teachers to come up with it on their own.

Tough exams and learning by rote are the keys to success, says Michael Gove

Peter Walker:

Learning facts by rote should be a central part of the school experience, the education secretary, Michael Gove, will argue on Wednesday in a speech which praises traditional exams to the extent of arguing they helped spur the US civil rights struggle.
In the address, titled In Praise of Tests, Gove describes the ideological underpinning to his planned shakeup of GCSEs and A-levels, a philosophy which will further delight educational traditionalists but is likely to prompt criticisms that he is seeking a return to the teaching styles of the 1940s and 50s.
Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorising large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards, Gove is to tell the Independent Academies Association, a trade body for academy schools.
“Exams matter because motivation matters,” Gove will say, according to extracts of the speech provided by his department.

Getting Down to Dollars and Cents: What Do School Districts Spend to Deliver Student-Centered Learning?

Larry Miller, Betheny Gross, Monica Ouijdani, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Student-centered learning (SCL) is an approach to learning that emphasizes authentic instruction, mastery-based assessment, and engaging students in real-life experiences that take their learning beyond the school walls and school day–all in an effort to connect students’ learning to their experiences, strengths, and interests.
This report offers the first detailed look into how districts and schools deal with funding issues when they adopt the SCL approach. Researchers examined district spending on SCL by comparing spending at SCL high schools to traditional high schools with similar characteristics. The researchers also performed a statistical analysis using New York City’s high schools, which included 79 SCL schools.

A Design Lens on Education

Tim Brown:

Recently I asked Sandy to share her thoughts on design thinking in education. Here’s an excerpt:
What’s different when you look at the world of education through the lens of design?
Most of us have deeply embedded ideas about what’s “right” for education. But when you look at the world of education through the lens of design, you start to see that there isn’t one right answer, there are many. And when you really examine the world of education, you realize that “the system” is actually an outcome of millions of different solutions, organizations, priorities, and experiences. As designers, our job is to understand the conditions in any given situation deeply enough to be able to find new, relevant solutions for a particular context, need, or challenge–whether it’s about interactions in the classroom or the structures that drive our system.

Please let them Fail and Make Mistakes

King Sidharth:

The best thing was seeing them make mistakes. Good mistakes.
Same mistakes that we made when we were younger. First urge was to tell them not to make those mistakes. After all that’s how adults behave around us – learn from our experience, don’t make same mistakes as we did, they say. But does that really work? Is it even healthy to intend that?
When I read back old notes on this website. I don’t agree with many of them! One day I was about to pull them down or re-write them. But then I remembered how strongly I felt about each one of them at the time of writing. Somewhere a kid is making same mistakes as I did and those are the things s/he will relate to more. And anyway, if no one is reading it I am proud to look at how far I’ve come.
Wisdom comes from experience and telling them not to repeat your mistakes it to deprive them of experience and hence the wisdom. Never do that. Please. You telling them that it something won’t work is knowledge, not experience.