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The tyrany of low expectations: Massachusetts’ Teachers Union Ballot initiative to eliminate high school graduation requirement

James Vaznis:

The ballot initiative would allow students to graduate “by satisfactorily completing coursework that has been certified by the student’s district as showing mastery of the skills, competencies, and knowledge contained in the state academic standards and curriculum frameworks in the areas measured by the MCAS high school tests.”

A small group of union activists, parents, and high school graduates filed a ballot initiative Wednesday, with the backing of the state’s largest teachers union, that would end a state provision requiring students to pass the MCAS tests to graduate, setting up a potentially costly election fight.

Currently, high school students must pass Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams in English, math, and science to graduate. More than 700 high school students a year typically don’t receive a diploma because they didn’t meet that requirement, according to state data. Instead, they received “certificates of attainment,” which are given to students who only satisfied local graduation requirements. However, many educators say a number of students who don’t pass MCAS ultimately drop out.

The ballot question is the MTA’s latest effort to end the graduation requirement. Earlier this year, the MTA and other unions had legislation introduced on Beacon Hill that would end the graduation requirement.

Groups, such as the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, have been aggressively fighting the unions’ efforts.

“MCAS is a crucial instrument for measuring students’ vital signs to make sure they’re getting the education they deserve and that they need to be successful after high school,” the business alliance said in a statement.

Notes and links on MTEL.

Legislation and Reading: The Wisconsin Experience 2004

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Madison School Board approves suspension moratorium for grades 4K-5

Scott Girard:

The board added an addendum to the Behavior Education Plan for grades 4K-5 outlawing out-of-school suspensions beginning Tuesday.

District officials and board members hope the change will keep more students in school, especially the Black students who have been disproportionately disciplined using suspensions.

A presentation last month along with the proposal to eliminate the suspensions showed that in grades 4K-3, 45% of those suspended in 2017-18 were Black, though Black students currently make up just 19% of the overall student population. The number rose to 60% in 2018-19 and 50% in 2019-20.

For fourth- and fifth-grade, it was 50% in 2017-18, 53% in 2018-19 and 60% in 2019-20.

Overall, the total number of out-of-school suspensions in these grades has been relatively small in the district’s overall population — 146 affecting 79 students in 2017-18, 191 affecting 99 students in 2018-19 and 174 affecting 97 students in 2019-20.

While the policy passed unanimously, board member Cris Carusi expressed concerns that the change was coming “at a time when our schools are understaffed” and supports like social workers are busy filling in for others and less able to support students than normal.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

Sun Prairie K-12 administration eliminates ‘high stakes’ exams

Chris Mertes:

Sun Prairie School Board members who questioned district administrative team decisions to end “high stakes summative” semester and final exams on Monday, June 21 were cautioned to remember board governance procedures and reminded it was not an area over which the board could take action.

The questioning of administrators began during the board’s discussions surrounding the handling of COVID-19. Board member Alwyn Foster questioned the decision to end final exams, and heard more than he was expecting in response from Stephanie Leonard-Witte, the Sun Prairie Area School District Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning & Equity.

“During COVID we said no finals, and now that we have built, I’ll say, better and more current assessment strategies, we just won’t be re-instituting finals as we move forward,” Leonard-Witte said.

“If you do an assessment of best practice — like what’s best for kids in learning — there is very little out there that would support final full summative assessments,” Leonard-Witte said.

“Best practice is that kids have assessment throughout the semester, throughout the quarter, that builds on itself. So they’re committing that knowledge more to, I would say, a working knowledge, as opposed to cramming for a test the night before,” Leonard-Witte added. “So I would say it’s a practice that’s been outdated for a bit and we’re taking the opportunity now to not reinstate something that isn’t supported as best practice in most of the research around assessment.”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

China Uses DNA to Map Faces, With Help From the West

Sui-Lee Wee and Paul Mozur:

In a dusty city in the Xinjiang region on China’s western frontier, the authorities are testing the rules of science.

With a million or more ethnic Uighurs and others from predominantly Muslim minority groups swept up in detentions across Xinjiang, officials in Tumxuk have gathered blood samples from hundreds of Uighurs — part of a mass DNA collection effort dogged by questions about consent and how the data will be used.

In Tumxuk, at least, there is a partial answer: Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person’s face.

The technology, which is also being developed in the United States and elsewhere, is in the early stages of development and can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects. But given the crackdown in Xinjiang, experts on ethics in science worry that China is building a tool that could be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other state discrimination against Uighurs.

In the long term, experts say, it may even be possible for the Communist government to feed images produced from a DNA sample into the mass surveillance and facial recognition systems that it is building, tightening its grip on society by improving its ability to track dissidents and protesters as well as criminals.

Some of this research is taking place in labs run by China’s Ministry of Public Security, and at least two Chinese scientists working with the ministry on the technology have received funding from respected institutions in Europe. International scientific journals have published their findings without examining the origin of the DNA used in the studies or vetting the ethical questions raised by collecting such samples in Xinjiang.

Thermo Fisher, with offices in Madison, was mentioned in this article.

Madison West High School to test ‘grading floor’ as part of district examination of freshman grading

Logan Wroge:

In an effort to keep students who fail early in their high school careers from falling completely out of school, ninth grade teachers at Madison’s West High School are planning to assign classroom grades of no less than 40%, eliminate extra credit and allow up to 90% credit for late work in required classes.

Madison’s largest high school plans to implement several changes to grading practices this year — primarily meant to keep freshman on-track to graduate during a time when slips in academic performance are not unusual — while other changes school-wide are being sought to create consistent expectations for grading.

Among the changes sought this year for all ninth grade core classes, which are required courses in English, math, science, social studies and physical education, is the idea of a “grading floor,” which would mean an assignment could receive no less than 40% regardless of whether it is completed. A 40% would still result in a failing grade.

West High Principal Karen Boran said moving to a grading floor in the required freshman classes could prevent a “super F” — assignments and tests receiving a zero, which can drag down students’ overall average grades and prevent them from catching up in a class.

“Traditionally, grades are given out on a 100-point grading scale, so you have 60 points to get it wrong, to fail. You have 40 points to get it right,” Boran said. “Once you get a couple of F’s, you can’t come back from that.”

Mike Hernandez, the district’s chief of high schools, said grading floors are also being tested at freshman classes in the other high schools, such as U.S. History at La Follette High School and algebra at East High School.

Madison West high school has conducted several experiments over the years, including:

English 10

Small Learning Communities

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) east, especially if you are Black or Hispanic.

Madison School Board Member & Gubernatorial Candidate Mary Burke Apologizes to Neenah’s Superintendent over Act 10 Remarks

The Neenah Superintendent wrote a letter to Madison School Board Member & Gubernatorial Candidate Mary Burke on 19 September.

Ms. Burke recently apologized for her Act 10 remarks:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has apologized to the superintendent of the Neenah school district for comments she made on the campaign trail.

Burke had been citing the district as an example of negative effects she says have been caused in Wisconsin schools by the law known as Act 10 that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers.

District administrator Mary Pfeiffer said Friday that Burke reached out to her on Wednesday and apologized by phone. Pfeiffer says Burke agreed not to use Neenah as an example again.

Neenah Superintendent Dr. Mary Pfeiffer’s letter to Mary Burke, via a kind reader (PDF):

Neenah Joint School District
410 South Commercial Street
Neenah, WI 54956
Tel: (920) 751-6800
Fax: (920) 751-6809

Burke for Wisconsin
PO Box 2479
Madison, WI 53701
September 19, 2014

Dear Ms. Burke,

On behalf of the Neenah Joint School District I would like to express my disappointment regarding your use of our District as an example of your perceived negative impact of Act 10 on education as reported by John McCormack in the Weekly Standard and at least one additional news publication in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

In your position as a Madison school board member, I’m sure you’ve seen that Act 10 has created a variety of challenges for school districts across Wisconsin, but I’m sure you’ve also seen plenty of positives as well. It is unfair and misleading to claim that Act 10 is the primary reason why one specific candidate chose to accept a position in Minnesota over an opening in the Neenah Joint School District. There are many reasons why candidates choose to work in other districts and certainly some effects of Act 10 may factor into those decisions. However, to make a blanket statement that Act 10 is the reason why teachers are leaving school districts in Wisconsin (in this case the Neenah Joint School District), especially by citing only one candidate’s decision to go elsewhere, is an unfortunate exaggeration at best.

We are extremely proud of our schools in Neenah and incredibly proud of the staff we have assembled both prior to and since the passage of Act 10. We have never settled with an inferior candidate to fill a position and will never do that to our students or families.

Since you have not reached out to me to learn more about our District, I will provide to you some data points that you might find revealing about why we continue to be a high performing District in Wisconsin.

Since Act 10, we have faced, and met, the difficult challenges necessary to support student learning while retaining our excellent staff.

we have significantly reduced an unsustainable $184 million unfunded liability regarding our Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB). Meanwhile, we still provide all of our most veteran employees a $100,000 retirement benefit. New employees are also provided OPEB benefits and that is something most districts have eliminated. As you are aware, this is in addition to the state retirement benefit.

we have reduced class sizes and increased the number of our certified staff.

we have had no certified staff (teacher) layoffs since Act 10.

our school board has supported pools of dollars for 2% salary increases (above the CPI) and 2% one-time stipend awards every year for all employee groups for a total of4%.

over the past two years, 57 certified staff members have received a $5,000 or more increase in their salary.

more than 33% of certified staff received a 3% or higher salary increase in 2013-14,

with 6% of them receiving a 6% increase or higher.

our insurance costs are the lowest in our area.

we have no long-term debt.

our mill rate remains the lowest in our area at $8.53 and a decrease for the third consecutive year.

I respectfully ask that you stop using Neenah as an example of the negative ramifications of Act 10. This request has nothing to do with my personal feelings or political stance. It is about a dedicated staff that is proud to work in Neenah. I would be p1eased to speak with you further about this issue.

Thank you for your time.


Dr. Mary Pfeiffer ~
Superintendent of Schools
Neenah Joint School District
Copy: Neenah Joint School District Board of Education Members

Act 10 notes and links.

Neenah plans to spend $80,479,210 for 6,226 students (DPI) during the 2014-2015 school year, or $12,926 per student (PDF Document). Ms. Burke’s Madison School Board plans to spend more than $15,000 per student during the same period, 16% more than Neenah.

Plenty of Resources“.

Foundation funding widens the gap between California’s ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ schools

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez:

Southern California researchers are finding that foundations, set up to raise money for public schools, are reintroducing funding inequality that was supposed to be eliminated back in the 1970s, when the California Supreme Court ruled on the Serrano vs. Priest case.

“The court said spending needs to be equitable between school districts, you can’t have Beverly Hills spending twice as much as the other guys, per pupil, because a child’s education should not be dependent on the wealth of the area in which they happen to live,” said Cal State Fullerton professor Sarah Hill.

She and two colleagues have compiled information from about 1,500 education foundations and other fundraising groups such as booster clubs and PTAs, along with Internal Revenue Service data, to create a database Hill said is the first of its kind.

“We’re doing more of a sophisticated analysis looking at how wealth matters for which school districts are able to raise money. How demographics matter,” she said.

Some Northern California public school foundations are raising additional funds of about $2,000 per student. Researchers say that figure is a significant addition to the roughly $8,000 per student the state gives public schools each year. California’s current level of per pupil spending is the second lowest in the country.

Eliminate the Federal Role in Education

Dave Murray

he federal government should have no role in education, and state and local leaders are best equipped to reform schools, said Clark Durant, who is bidding to become the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Speaking Friday on WGVU-TV’s “West Michigan Week,” Durant said he’d vote to eliminate the U.S. Education Department and use a Senate seat as a bully pulpit to encourage communities to work more closely to improve their schools.
“Arne, get out of our backyard!” he said, referring to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who described Detroit Public Schools as “ground zero in American education.” “The federal government is too far away. They can drop in and get their pictures taken, but then they go home again.”
Durant is co-founder of Cornerstone Schools, a group of charter schools and independent schools in Detroit. He also served on the state Board of Education, including a stint as board president.

Evaluating the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 2012 Plan to Eliminate the Racial Achievement Gap

Kaleem Caire, via email:

February 6, 2011
Greetings Community Member.
This evening, at 6pm at the Fitchburg Library, Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Daniel Nerad will present his plan for eliminating the racial achievement gap in our public schools to the Board of Education. We anticipate there will be many citizens in the audience listening in.
While we are pleased that our advocacy over the last 19 months has resulted in the District developing a plan to address the gap, we are also mindful of history. Our organization has pushed hard for our public school system to embrace change, address the gap and expand educational opportunity many times before.
In the 1960s, Madison learned that a wide gap existed between black and white students in reading, math and high school completion in Madison’s public schools. In the 1970s, the Urban League of Greater Madison reported that just 60% of black students were graduating from the city’s public high schools. In the 1980s, ULGM released a widely reported study that found the average GPA for a black high school student attending the city’s public high schools was 1.58 on a 4.00 scale, with 61% scoring below a 2.0 GPA. It also found that a disproportionate number of black students were enrolled in remedial math and science classes, and that black students were significantly over-represented in special education and school suspensions. Then, in the 1990s, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute issued a report that stated there were two school districts in MMSD, one that poorly served black children and one that served everyone else.
Today, just 48% of black and 56% of Latino students are graduating from high school. Just 1% of black and 7% of Latino high school seniors are academically ready for college. Nearly 40% of all black boys in middle school are enrolled in special education, and more than 60% of black and 50% of Latino high school students earn below a 2.0 GPA.
Over the years, several district-wide efforts have been tried. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have either been discontinued, unevenly implemented, ineffective, lacked the support of parents/community/teachers, or failed to go far enough to address the myriad needs of students, families, teachers and schools. Madison also has a well-documented history of not heeding the advice of leaders and educators of color or educational experts, and not investing in efforts to codify and replicate successful strategies employed by its most effective educators. MMSD also has not acted fast enough to address its challenges and rarely looks beyond its borders for strategies that have proven effective elsewhere in the country.
The stakes are higher now; too high to continue on our present course of incrementalism rooted in our fear of the unknown, fear of significant change, and fear of admitting that our view of Madison being the utopic experience of the Midwest and #1 city in the U.S. doesn’t apply to everyone who lives here. We no longer have the luxury of time to figure out how to address the gap. We cannot afford to lose nearly 300 black, 200 Latino and an untold number of Southeast Asian and underprivileged white students each year from our public schools. And we cannot afford to see hundreds of students leave our school system each year for public and private schools outside of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
We must embrace strategies that work. We must also behave differently than we have in the past, and can no longer afford to be afraid of addressing intersection or race and poverty, and how they are playing out in our schools, social relationships and community, and impacting the educational success of our kids.
Furthermore, we need all hands on deck. Everyone in our community must play a role in shaping the self-image, expectations and outcomes of our children – in school, in the community and at home. Some children have parents who spend more quality time with their career and coworkers than with their family. Some children have a parent or relative who struggles to raise them alone. Some have parents who are out of work, under stress and struggling to find a job to provide for their family. And unfortunately, some children have parents who make bad decisions and/or don’t care about their well-being. Regardless of the situation, we cannot allow the lack of quality parenting to be the excuse why we don’t reach, teach, or hold children accountable and prepare them for the future.
As we prepare to review the Superintendent’s plan, we have developed a rubric that will allow for an objective review of his proposal(s). The attached rubric, which you can access by clicking here, was developed and informed by members of the staff and Board of Director of ULGM, business and community leaders, and teachers and leading experts in the field of K-12 and higher education. The tool will be used by an independent Community Review Panel, organized by the Urban League. pver the next several weeks to vet the plan. The intent of this review is to ensure MMSD has an optimal plan for ensuring that all of the children it serves succeed academically and graduate from high school prepared for college and work.
Specifically, our reasons for establishing this rubric and a Community Review Panel are four-fold:

  • Develop an objective and comprehensive understanding of the plan and its many elements;
  • Objectively review the efficacy of the plan, its goals and objectives, and desired outcomes;
  • Formally communicate thoughts, concerns and ideas for supporting and/or improving the plan; and
  • Effectively engage the Madison community in supporting and strengthening its public schools.

We have high expectations of the Superintendent’s plan. We hope for a bold, transformational, aggressive and concise plan, and stand ready to assist the Superintendent and his team in any way we can. We hope you will be standing their with us, with your arms outstretched and ready to uplift or babies – the next generation.
All Hands on Deck!
Team Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205
Urban League of Greater Madison 2012 Agenda

A rebellion at Madison West High School over new curriculum

Lynn Welch

When Paul Radspinner’s 15-year-old son Mitchell wanted to participate in a student sit-in last October outside West High School, he called his dad to ask permission.
“He said he was going to protest, and wanted to make sure I had no problem with it. I thought, ‘It’s not the ’60s anymore,'” recalls Radspinner. The students, he learned, were upset about planned curriculum changes, which they fear will eliminate elective class choices, a big part of the West culture.
“It was a real issue at the school,” notes Radspinner. “The kids found out about it, but the parents didn’t.”
This lack of communication is a main reason Radspinner and 60 other parents recently formed a group called West Cares. Calling itself the “silent majority,” the group this month opposed the new English and social studies honors classes the district is adding next fall at West, as well as Memorial. (East and La Follette High Schools already offer these classes for freshmen and sophomores.)
The parents fear separating smarter kids from others at the ninth-grade level will deepen the achievement gap by pushing some college-bound students into advanced-level coursework sooner. They also believe it will eviscerate West’s culture, where all freshmen and sophomores learn main subjects in core classes together regardless of achievement level.
“It’s a big cultural paradigm shift,” says parent Jan O’Neil. “That’s what we’re struggling with in the West community.”

Lots of related links:

Some parents object to West Chester schools’ plan to cut busing costs

Dan Hardy

To save the West Chester Area School District a million dollars a year on transportation, some students will have to start the school day earlier next fall and many will have to walk farther to bus stops.
At one middle school, pupils will ride with high schoolers for the first time.
School board members and administrators defend the changes, approved this week, as needed to conserve money for classroom services. Some parents wonder whether the district is putting financial considerations ahead of children’s welfare.
Let the belt-tightening – and the debate over what to cut – begin again.
Even after cutting millions of dollars this school year, the 11,817-student district is projecting a $6 million budget gap for next fiscal year, which will start July 1.
So the board voted unanimously Tuesday to eliminate some buses and fill others closer to capacity. School times were changed, more than 900 bus stops were tentatively eliminated, and some nonpublic-school routes that the district covers were merged with those of public school students. More than 950 children who walk less than a tenth of a mile to a bus stop would have a longer walk under the changes.

The West Chester School District plans to spend $203,848.400 for nearly 12,000 students during the 2010-2011 school year ($16,987.37 per student). Madison spent $15,241 per student during the 2009-2010 school year.

With Democrats in charge, Wisconsin teacher pay cap could bite the dust

Jason Stein:

I don’t think it’s any secret that we think the QEO should be eliminated,” said Bell, whose union spent more than $2 million to help Democrats win control of the Assembly this fall. “It’s not productive for our school districts or my members.”
The union appears to have found a willing partner in the next Legislature. Already, state schools superintendent Libby Burmaster has included repealing the QEO in her budget request to Doyle. Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said Decker supports a repeal, and Senate Democrats voted for it in the last budget. Assembly Speaker-elect Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, said Democrats in his house would be “looking at it very closely.”
But Beloit homeowner Dwight Brass said he feared school boards would end up allowing teachers’ pay to rise too much, and with it property taxes. “The trend would be the school board would want to avoid conflict” with the union, he said.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said removing the QEO while leaving revenue caps in place would mean disaster for schools. Their main expense — teacher salaries — would grow much faster than their revenues would be permitted to grow, he said.
“It’s certainly going to mean cuts in teachers’ positions if it does go away,” he said of the QEO.

Ed Hughes and Marj Passman on Madison’s Small Learning Community Climate and Grant Application

I sent an email to Ed and Marj, both of whom have announced their plans to run for Madison School Board next spring, asking the following:

I’m writing to see what your thoughts are on the mmsd’s high school “reform” initiative, particularly in light of two things:

  1. The decision to re-apply for the US Dept of Education Grant next month
  2. The lack of any public (any?) evaluation of the results at West and Memorial in light of their stated SLC goals?

In other words, how do you feel about accountability? 🙂

They replied:
Marj Passman:

I am generally supportive of small learning communities and the decision to reapply for a Federal grant. Our high schools continue to provide a rich education for most students — especially the college bound – but there is a significant and maybe growing number of students who are not being engaged. They need our attention. The best evidence is that well implemented small learning communities show promise as part of the solution to increasing the engagement and achievement of those who are not being well served, do no harm and may help others also. My experience as a teacher backs up the research because I found that the caring relationships between staff and students so crucial to reaching those students falling between the cracks on any level of achievement are more likely to develop in smaller settings. Some form of small learning communities are almost a given as part of any reform of our high schools and if we can get financial help from the Federal government with this part of the work, I’m all for it.
I think it is important not to overestimate either the problems or the promise of the proposed solutions. The first step in things like this is to ask what is good that we want to preserve. Our best graduates are competitive with any students anywhere. The majority of our graduates are well prepared for their next academic or vocational endeavors. We need to keep doing the good things we do well. If done successfully, SLCs offer as much for the top achieving students as for any group – individual attention, focus on working with others of their ability, close connection to staff, and consistent evaluation.
You also asked about “accountability” and the evaluations of the existing SLCs. Both evaluations are generally positive, show some progress in important areas and point to places where improvements still need to be made. Neither contains any alarming information that would suggest the SLCs should be abandoned. The data from these limited studies should be looked at with similar research elsewhere that supports SLC as part of the solution to persistent (and in Madison) growing issues.
Like many I applauded when all the Board members asked for a public process for the High Schools of the Future project and like many I have been woefully disappointed with what I’ve seen so far. Because of this and the coming changes in district leadership I’d like to see the redesign time line extended (the final report is due in April) to allow for more input from both the public and the new superintendent.
Thanks for this opportunity
Marjorie Passman

Ed Hughes:

From what I know, I am not opposed to MMSD re-applying for the U.S. Dept. of Education grant next month. From my review of the grant application, it did not seem to lock the high schools into new and significant changes. Perhaps that is a weakness of the application. But if the federal government is willing to provide funds to our high schools to do what they are likely to do anyway, I’m all for it.
Like you, I am troubled with the apparent lack of evaluation of results at West and Memorial attributable to their small learning communities initiatives. This may seem inconsistent with my view on applying for the grant, but I do not think we should proceed further down an SLC path without having a better sense of whether in fact it is working at the two schools that have tried it. It seems to me that this should be a major focus of the high school redesign study, but who knows what is going on with that. I asked recently and was told that the study kind of went dormant for awhile after the grant application was submitted.
My own thoughts about high school are pointing in what may be the opposite direction – bigger learning communities rather than smaller. I am concerned about our high schools being able to provide a sufficiently rich range of courses to prepare our students for post-high school life and to retain our students whose families have educational options. The challenges the schools face in this regard were underscored last spring when East eliminated German classes, and now offers only Spanish and French as world language options.
It seems to me that one way to approach this issue is to move toward thinking of the four comprehensive high schools as separate campuses of a single, unified, city-wide high school in some respects. We need to do a lot more to install sufficient teleconferencing equipment to allow the four schools to be linked – so that a teacher in a classroom at Memorial, say, can be seen on a screen in classrooms in the other three schools. In fact, views of all four linked classrooms should simultaneously be seen on the screen. With this kind of linkage, we could take advantage of economies of scale and have enough student interest to justify offering classes in a rich selection of languages to students in all four high schools. I’m sure there are other types of classes where linked classrooms would also make sense.
This kind of approach raises issues. For example, LaFollette’s four block system would be incompatible with this approach. There would also be a question of whether there would need to be a teacher or educational assistant in every classroom, even if the students in the classroom are receiving instruction over the teleconferencing system from another teacher in another school. I would hope that these are the kinds of issues the high school re-design group would be wrestling with. Perhaps they are, or will, but at this point there seems to be no way to know.
There are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts prompted by your question and by Maya Cole’s post about the high school re-design study. Feel free to do what you want with this response.

Related Links:

Thanks to Ed and Marj for taking the time to share their thoughts on this important matter.

Work on education gap lauded

From the Wisconsin State Journal, May 2, 2006
Madison made more progress than any urban area in the country in shrinking the racial achievement gap and managed to raise the performance levels of all racial groups over the past decade, two UW- Madison education experts said Monday in urging local leaders to continue current strategies despite tight budgets.
“I’ve seen districts around the United States, and it really is remarkable that the Madison School District is raising the achievement levels for all students, and at the same time they’re closing the gaps,” Julie Underwood, dean of the UW- Madison School of Education, said in an interview.
Underwood said she’s heard of no other urban district that reduced the gap so significantly without letting the test scores of white students stagnate or slide closer to the levels of lower-achieving black, Hispanic or Southeast Asian students.
“The way that it’s happened in Madison,” she said, “is truly the best scenario. . . . We haven’t done it at the expense of white students.”
Among the most striking trends:
Disparities between the portions of white and minority students attaining the lowest ranking on the state Third Grade Reading Test have essentially been eliminated.
Increasing shares of students of all racial groups are scoring at the top levels – proficient and advanced – on the Third Grade Reading Test.
Graduation rates have improved significantly for students in every racial group.
Underwood commented after one of her colleagues, Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, presented a review of efforts to attack the racial achievement gap to the Schools of Hope Leadership Team meeting at United Way of Dane County.
Gamoran told the 25- member team, comprised of community leaders from the school system, higher education, nonprofit agencies, business and government, that Madison’s strategy parallels national research documenting the most effective approaches – one-to-one tutoring, particularly from certified teachers; smaller class sizes; and improved training of teachers.
“My conclusion is that the strategies the Madison school system has put in place to reduce the racial achievement gap have paid off very well and my hope is that the strategies will continue,” said Gamoran, who as director of the education-research center oversees 60 research projects, most of which are federally funded. A sociologist who’s worked at UW-Madison since 1984, Gamoran’s research focuses on inequality in education and school reform.
In an interview, Gamoran said that Madison “bucked the national trend” by beginning to shrink the racial achievement during the late 1990s, while it was growing in most of America’s urban school districts.
But he warned that those gains are in jeopardy as Wisconsin school districts, including Madison, increasingly resort to cuts and referendums to balance their budgets.
Art Rainwater, Madison schools superintendent, said Gamoran’s analysis affirmed that the district and Schools of Hope, a civic journalism project of the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV (Ch. 3) that grew into a community campaign to combat the racial achievement gap, are using the best known tactics – approaches that need to be preserved as the district makes future cuts.
“The things that we’ve done, which were the right things to do, positively affect not just our educationally neediest students,” Rainwater said. “They help everybody.”
John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, and Rainwater agree that the progress is fragile.
“The future of it is threatened if we don’t have it adequately funded,” Matthews said.
Leslie Ann Howard, United Way president, whose agency coordinates Schools of Hope, said Gamoran’s analysis will help focus the community’s efforts, which include about 1,000 trained volunteer tutors a year working with 2,000 struggling students on reading and math in grades kindergarten through eight.
The project’s leaders have vowed to continue working until at least 2011 to fight gaps that persist at other grade levels despite the gains among third- graders.
“I think it’s critical for the community to know that all kids benefited from the strategies that have been put in place the last 10 years – the highest achievers, the lowest achievers and everybody in between,” Howard said.
“To be able to say it’s helping everyone, I think is really astonishing.”

Madison Schools Make Effort to Close the Achievement Gap

Sandy Cullen:

Working in conjunction with the Schools of Hope project led by the United Way of Dane County, the district has made progress in third-grade reading scores at the lowest achievement levels. But racial and income gaps persist among third-graders reading at proficient and advanced levels.
Other initiatives are taking place in the middle and high schools. There, the district has eliminated “dead-end classes” that have less rigorous expectations to eliminate the chance that students will be put on a path of lower achievement because they are perceived as not being able to succeed in higher-level classes.
In the past, high school students were able to take classes such as general or consumer math. Now, all students are required to take algebra and geometry – or two credits of integrated mathematics, combining algebra, statistics and probability, geometry and trigonometry – in order to graduate.
One of the district’s more controversial efforts has been a move toward “heterogeneous” classes that include students of all achievement levels, eliminating classes that group students of similar achievement levels together.
Advocates of heterogeneous classes say students who are achieving at lower levels benefit from being in classes with their higher-achieving peers. But others say the needs of higher-achieving students aren’t met in such classes.
And in addition to what schools are already doing, Superintendent Art Rainwater said he would like to put learning coaches for math and reading in each of the district’s elementary schools to improve teachers’ ability to teach all students effectively.

The first part of Cullen’s series is here.

West HS students speek/speak out on English 10

Here are two stories from the December 23, 2005, issue of the West HS student newspaper, The Regent Review. I reprint them here just as they appear in print (that is, with all misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). (Note: the faculty advisor for The Regent Review is West HS English teacher Mark Nepper. Mr. Nepper has been involved in the development of English 10. Some of you may recall that Mr. Nepper joined English Department chair Keesia Hyzer in presenting the plans for English 10 at the November 7 West PTSO meeting.)
From the front page: “A new English 10 expected for next year,” by CI, a senior at West HS and co-editor of the student newspaper:

In an attempt to bridge the minority gap and continue with the smaller learning communities, Madison West High will tentativly be changing to a core English for all sophomores.
Ed Holmes, current West High principal, says he is doing his best to continue our tradition as a “School of Excellence.” To achieve this ideal excellence, Holmes recognizes that he not only has to raise the standards of the struggling students but also continue to push accelerated students to be better each day.
The goal is to have this new English ciriculum continue to push West’s excellence. The cirriculum will incorporate the current classes of FWW, IWW, With Justice for All, Writers in their Time, and Modern Literture. Now students will read and learn writing habits at the same time so that they can incorporate the new techniques that they are learning into the papers that they write.


A History of Changes at West

Last spring a longtime parent at West HS was asked to write a description — content area by content area — of the curriculum changes that have occurred at West HS in recent years that have affected the academic opportunities of West’s “high end” students. Below you will find what she wrote. It includes changes that have actually occurred; changes that may and probably will occur; and important questions about what else may happen in the future.
This summary was then forwarded to two other longtime West parents for their comments. Excerpts from those comments may be found just after the original description. Next, the description of each content area was sent to the appropriate department head at West, for their comment with the goal being to produce a brief, descriptive document that everyone would agree was factually accurate, for educational and advocacy purposes. Unfortunately, none of the department heads responded.
Here is the original description:


Grading and testing have gone astray, but eliminating student performance measures is the wrong prescription

Adam Tyner:

In the years since the Covid-19 outbreak, the grades and test scores that anchor our education system have been relentlessly disrupted. As the pandemic swept the globe, American schools canceled annual standardized testing, college admissions went “test-optional,” and students were offered “hold harmless” policies that prevented their grades from dropping, regardless of whether they completed assignments or even attended virtual classes. Most end-of-year testing returned to K–12 schools in 2021, but much of the “assessment holiday” has endured. Most colleges continue not to require SAT or ACT scores, states are eliminating high school graduation tests, and grading standards have slipped to their lowest levels onrecord. States and districts are fueling grade inflation through policies that, in the name of equity, prohibit penalties for late work, recalibrate grading scales in ways that make passing easier, require teachers to assign credit for assignments that aren’t turned in, and even eliminate grading penalties for cheating.

Into this accountability recession arrives a new book arguing that the idea of holding students accountable through measures such as grades and test scores is inherently misguided. Penned by Jack Schneider and Ethan Hutt, two education-school-based researchers, Off the Mark is an ambitious volume combining history, policy analysis, and prescriptive recommendations. The authors evaluate the key “assessment technologies” of modern education systems—course grades and external tests—arguing that their presence undermines the aims of education. Although many of the book’s recommendations are sensible, its grandest claims are unsupported by research or contradicted by it.

History Has an Ideology Problem

Mike Côté:

History has always been a contentious field, reflecting the biases of both the historian and society. It is a window into the present as much as into the past. Still, the writer of history must do his best to check and overcome his innate biases. In the words of the 19th-century historian J. A. Froude, “the first duty of an historian is to be on his guard against his own sympathies; but he cannot wholly escape their influence.” The influence of one’s “own sympathies” cannot be eliminated, but the focus must be on factual evidence. Unfortunately, the modern history profession has all but abandoned this pursuit of objectivity in exchange for progressive ideology. This is most obvious in its embrace of critical race theory and the fatally flawed 1619 Project. A recent controversy in the field exemplifies this focus on ideology over history.

It involves an extensively covered article by Jenny Bulstrode in the journal History and Technology. In her paper, “Black Metallurgists and the Making of the Industrial Revolution,” she argues that a crucial 18th-century innovation in the manufacture of wrought iron credited to Henry Cort was stolen from its real developers: 76 enslaved Africans at a Jamaican foundry. It immediately made a big splash in the media, with laudatory coverage from the Guardian, NPR, the New Scientist, and other publications. Bulstrode’s claims that a foundation of British prosperity was purloined from oppressed black slaves fit perfectly into the progressive vision of Western history as built on white supremacy and slavery. Not only that, the paper was written by a prize-winning university lecturer and passed peer review, and the author marshaled a great deal of evidence to support her contentions.

The problem is that she misinterprets sources, reaches insupportable conclusions, and fails to back up her key assertions.

WVU cuts classes, not overhead

Don Surber:

When the public votes down a school tax levy, the protocol is for the school superintendent to threaten to eliminate sports and shutter schools. Then the school boards hold levy elections until the public finally passes one. Then the school board and its superintendent go on their merry way and back to ignoring the public.

Where do you think Mel Brooks came up with the idea of Sheriff Bart holding himself hostage in Blazing Saddles?

The Sheriff Bart model applies to higher education, which faces cutbacks as fewer young Americans are enrolling in college because people with degrees have flooded the job market. 

E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, is following the Sheriff Bart playbook by stripping away $45 million worth of programs — including the entire world languages program — as he overspent the budget and must trim just under 4% of the school’s $1.2 billion budget.

32 majors marked for elimination at WVU

Amelia Ferrell Knisely

West Virginia University leaders have recommended discontinuing 32 of its majors at its Morgantown campus as the school is feverishly working to make up for a multi-million budget shortfall. 

The preliminary recommendations, released Friday afternoon, said 12 of those programs are undergraduate majors and 20 are graduate-level majors. Other programs were told to reduce their faculty size — 169 faculty jobs are on the line for cuts. 

Programs marked for discontinuation included: master’s and doctorate in Mathematics; master’s and doctorate in Higher Education Administration; master’s of Public Administration; master’s of fine arts in Creative Writing; and a bachelor’s in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources.

The Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, which includes Spanish, Russian and Chinese studies, was marked to be completely dissolved.

“My colleagues and I are still in shock; it’s inconceivable that our state flagship, R1, land-grant university, the place where we’ve all built our homes, careers and lives is completely eliminating the teaching of languages,” said Lisa Di Bartolomeo, a teaching professor of Russian Studies. 

The university is also reviewing plans to eliminate the language requirement for all majors. “Eliminating language instruction will close avenues of opportunity, career advancement, and personal fulfillment for current and future WVU students,” she added.

Low Expectations for all

Tom Knighton

When I was in middle school here in Georgia, they did something kind of smart. They broke us all into classes based on our grades. All the “A” students were in one group, “B” students in another, and so on.

The result was that those who excelled could excel and those who needed special help weren’t holding anyone else back.

Apparently, someone thought that was horribly unfair and the schools stopped doing it, which is a big problem.

You see, while the term “equity” wasn’t really a thing when this happened, it was the same mentality. If everyone couldn’t succeed academically, it seems, no one should.

It sounds stupid, but it’s the crab bucket mentality. The crabs pull down all the other crabs lest someone else escape.

Frankly, I could deal with it if I knew that was the end of it, but the practice continues to go on. Take this example from Massachusetts:

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Lawfare on Wisconsin School Choice Options

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators (2010)

“Well, it’s kind of too bad that we’ve got the smartest people at our universities, and yet we have to create a law to tell them how to teach.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Revisiting Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Madison’s English 10

Madison’s very well funded K-12 system (> $25k/student) has long attempted and often implemented one size fits all programs: English 10 and the ongoing efforts to abort AP and honors courses.

Yet, years after Madison’s one size fits all English 10 experiment…


“I was born in Cuba, and it doesn’t sound good when people are trying to achieve equal outcomes for everyone,” said one parent.

Emma Camp:

One California high school has eliminated honors classes for ninth- and 10th-grade students. While school officials claim that the change was necessary to increase “equity,” the move has angered students and parents alike.

“We really feel equity means offering opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds, not taking away opportunities for advanced education and study,” one parent who opposed the change told The Wall Street Journal.

Starting this school year, Culver City High School, a public school in a middle-class suburb of Los Angles, eliminated its honors English classes for ninth- and 10th-graders. Instead, students are only able to enroll in one course called “College Prep” English. The decision, according to school administrators, came after teachers noticed that only a small number of black and Hispanic students were enrolling in Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses.

“It was very jarring when teachers looked at their AP enrollment and realized Black and brown kids were not there. They felt obligated to do something,” said Quoc Tran, the district’s superintendent. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal‘s Sara Randazzo, data presented at a school board meeting last year showed that Latino students made up 13 percent of 12th-grade A.P. English students, despite comprising 37 percent of the student body, while black students made up 14 percent of A.P. English students while comprising 15 percent of the student body.

Deja vu: One size fits all in Madison – English 10

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

“I was born in Cuba, and it doesn’t sound good when people are trying to achieve equal outcomes for everyone,” said one parent.

Emma Camp:

One California high school has eliminated honors classes for ninth- and 10th-grade students. While school officials claim that the change was necessary to increase “equity,” the move has angered students and parents alike.

“We really feel equity means offering opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds, not taking away opportunities for advanced education and study,” one parent who opposed the change told The Wall Street Journal.

Starting this school year, Culver City High School, a public school in a middle-class suburb of Los Angles, eliminated its honors English classes for ninth- and 10th-graders. Instead, students are only able to enroll in one course called “College Prep” English. The decision, according to school administrators, came after teachers noticed that only a small number of black and Hispanic students were enrolling in Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses.

“It was very jarring when teachers looked at their AP enrollment and realized Black and brown kids were not there. They felt obligated to do something,” said Quoc Tran, the district’s superintendent. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal‘s Sara Randazzo, data presented at a school board meeting last year showed that Latino students made up 13 percent of 12th-grade A.P. English students, despite comprising 37 percent of the student body, while black students made up 14 percent of A.P. English students while comprising 15 percent of the student body.

Deja vu: One size fits all in Madison – English 10

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

“When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”

Douglas Belkin:

On Wednesday, the College Board said its revisions had been completed in December in consultation with more than 300 professors of African-American Studies from 200 colleges.

“No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it,” the College Board said. “This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and longstanding AP principles and practices.”

The curriculum was released on the first day of Black History month and one day after Mr. DeSantis proposed a legislative agenda that would ensure higher education would eliminate any hint of critical race theory and diversity efforts while mandating teachings based on Western civilization, which is rooted in European history.

Democrat Politician Agrees with DeSantis, Calls Rejected AP Course “Trash”

Zac Howard:

 One of Governor Ron DeSantis’ most vocal critics supports the state’s decision to reject the College Board’s AP African American Studies course for high schoolers. When asked his thoughts on the recent controversy, Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor blasted the course as “trash,” according to Tallahassee Reports.

“There is grave concern about the tone and the tenor of leadership’s voice from the highest spaces in our state being hostile to teaching of African American history. Well frankly I’m against the College Board’s curriculum,” Proctor said.

“I think it’s trash. It’s not African American history. It is ideology,” he continued. “I’ve taught African American history, I’ve structured syllabuses for African American history. I am African American history. And talking about ‘queer’ and ‘feminism’ and all of that for the struggle for freedom and equality and justice has not been no tension with queerness and feminist thought at all.”

Proctor has been an ardent opponent of the governor and believes that serious racial problems still plague America. Last April, he penned an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat where he called DeSantis a “clear warrior against the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: State Tax & Spending Choices

Wall Street Journal:

Democrats and their interest groups are whining about his proposed spending “cuts,” which are merely smaller increases. Mr. Newsom says federal largesse from last year’s infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act will offset alleged cuts to climate and public-transit spending, and no doubt he’s right.

But it’s no small irony that Texans are now benefitting tremendously from the growing global demand for oil and gas, which Mr. Newsom and friends are trying to eliminate. Texas’s oil and gas tax revenue has grown $5.3 billion since 2019 owing to higher commodity prices and increasing production in the Permian basin.

Yet Texas’s budget isn’t nearly as dependent on oil and gas as California’s is on Silicon Valley. Much of Texas’s surplus this year owes to surging sales-tax revenue from inflation and population growth—i.e., Californians moving to Texas and spending their tax savings.

Mr. Newsom claimed Tuesday that California has a more “fair” tax system than the Lone Star State and that Texans pay more in taxes. This is disinformation. According to the Census Bureau, California’s per capita state tax collections ($6,325) were second highest in the country in 2021 after Vermont. Texas’s ($2,214) were second lowest after Alaska.

Madison school proposal to end standalone honors classes set for a vote

Dylan Brogan:

The “time is now” to eliminate standalone honors classes in Madison high schools, according to Superintendent Carlton Jenkins. At a Dec. 5 school board meeting, Jenkins said a “racist attitude” underlies support for keeping separate classes that offer more rigorous coursework to students. 

“We are no longer going to uphold what is considered to be a segregated mentality,” Jenkins said. “We should work together to get it done.”

To replace traditional honors classes, Jenkins wants to expand the district’s current Earned Honors program to all core classes — English, math, science and social studies — offered to Madison freshmen and sophomores. Earned Honors started in 2017 and is at different stages of implementation at each high school. The program allows students to receive an honors credit on their transcript by doing extra work while enrolled in a non-honors class. 

District officials first informed the board in April 2021 that they were planning to phase out traditional honors classes for 9th and 10th graders. But administrators in February “hit pause” on that plan “to allow for more time to review this strategy, obtain student and community input, and board involvement.” This fall, however, staff began moving forward with plans to expand Earned Honors while sunsetting standalone honors classes for freshmen in 2023 and sophomores in 2024.

The policy shift didn’t need board approval but, according to The Capital Times, members Christina Gomez Schmidt and Nicki Vander Muelen requested a vote. Board president Ali Muldrow now says it’s “likely” the board will vote on two issues at its meeting on Dec. 19: whether to expand the Earned Honors program and whether to eliminate standalone honors classes. 

Deja vu: one size fits all: English 10.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Why is the taxpayer supported Madison School District losing students?

Dave Cieslewicz:

There has been lots of news out of the Madison School District lately. I’d like to focus on three stories that are interrelated. 

The first is the reinstatement of Sennett Middle School Principal Jeffrey Copeland. I’ve writtenabout that extensively, so I won’t go over the details here, but his return is a good thing. Copeland had been credited with restoring order to his school before he was fired over a minor infraction (if it was any infraction at all) and the School Board had the good sense to reverse an ill-considered decision by the central administration. 

The next story is about the decline in MMSD enrollment. The District is rightly concerned about that and it also understands that it needs to get a better feel for exactly what’s going on. While it’s true that there is something of a baby bust at work here, it’s also true that Madison is growing. The Board needs to get more demographic data to better understand how those two things — a smaller school age cohort nationally but a growing population locally — are interacting. 

And the third story is an ongoing debate about stand alone honors classes. The administration and most of the Board want to eliminate them in favor of honors work that can be done as part of regular classes. The Board had a spirited debate about that last night. 

These things are all related because they go to the health and quality of the Madison public schools. MMSD is losing enrollment in part because more parents are transferring their kids out of the system than into it. The Board wants more data on that. They suggest doing exit and entry interviews to get a better handle on why parents are opting out or in. 

That’s fine, but the net out migration is a key problem. It could be related to lack of discipline and good order in the schools. That’s why putting Copeland back to work was so important. It sends the message that the Board cares about this issue. Now let’s see what Copeland can do in a full semester next year. Maybe he has approaches and answers that can be replicated throughout the District.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Civics: Andrew Yang abortion commentary on political rhetoric vs actions

Ann Althouse

A key I use to understanding puzzles like this is: People do what they want to do. What have they done? Begin with the hypothesis that what they did is what they wanted to do. If they postured that they wanted to do something else, regard that as a con. Work from there. The world will make much more sense.

2013: Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lead a vote to eliminate the filibuster for Judicial nominees in 2013.

Roll Call:

The Senate voted, 52-48, to effectively change the rules by rejecting the opinion of the presiding officer that a supermajority is required to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on executive branch nominees and those for seats on federal courts short of the Supreme Court.

Three Democrats — Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — voted to keep the rules unchanged.

The move came after Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised a point of order that only a majority of senators were required to break filibusters of such nominees. Presiding over the Senate as president pro tem, Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont issued a ruling in line with past precedent, saying that 60 votes were required. Leahy personally supported making the change.

Voting against Leahy’s ruling has the effect of changing the rules to require only a simple majority for most nominations.

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin voted in favor of eliminating the filibuster.

More, here

Obama Promised To Sign The Freedom Of Choice Act On Day One, Hasn’t Touched The Issue Since


I’m trying to understand this new Marist poll, which was conducted on June 24th and 25th. The Supreme Court decision came out on the morning of June 24th. Of course, there was also the leak of what turned out to be the majority opinion. That happened on May 2nd.

In the May 12 memo, Meta said it had previously allowed open discussion of abortion at work but later recognized that it had led to “significant disruptions in the workplace given unique legal complexities and the number of people affected by the issue.” The policy had led to a high volume of complaints to the human resources department, and many internal posts regarding abortion were taken down for violating the company’s harassment policy, the memo said.

I know motherhood is not easy. It is a profoundly daunting task to be charged with the spiritual and physical well-being of tiny humans. I also know that most law firms (and most jobs) might not joyfully celebrate an infant’s contributions to a discussion. Tragically, the availability of abortion has made the workplace less friendly to women and mothers. Even in the best of circumstances, being a parent is demanding. And it becomes infinitely harder for single mothers, like my mom, many of whom do not have the support of a family, community, or church. Yet the abortion-on-demand regime imposed by Roe v. Wade is no answer. As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out at oral argument in Dobbs, the United States is less protective of the unborn than almost any nation in the world. Only a few countries (six to be precise) allow for elective, on-demand abortions throughout all nine months of pregnancy—including the United States along with China and North Korea. Not a single European nation goes as far as Roe, and most countries either do not allow elective abortions or limit abortions to twelve weeks.

Of course, it’s also perfectly obvious that these sex-strike organizers are doing exactly what social conservatives want: abstaining from sex unless they are open to the gift of life. And what a kick in the head it would be if it turned out that what makes sex as valuable to a women as it is to a man is this potential for creating a child.

Flashback: When Biden opposed Roe; when Trump supported it

forthcoming article in the Columbia Law Review by Professors David S. Cohen, Greer Donley, and Rachel Rebouché surveys some of the new abortion “battlegrounds” we can expect to see. In this article they write:

In this post-Roe world, states will attempt to impose their local abortion policies as widely as possible, even across state lines, and will battle one another over these choices; at the same time, the federal government may intervene to thwart state attempts to control abortion law. In other words, the interjurisdictional abortion wars are coming. . . .

The article provides a useful overview of many of the legal issues that will arise in these “interjurisdictional abortion wars,” in which the central legal questions will not concern substantive due process, but the scope of federal preemption, the autonomy of federal lands and enclaves, and the ability of states to limit interstate shipment of abortion medications, constrain interstate travel, or otherwise extraterritorialize their abortion laws. As I noted here, the White House has been consulting with academics to examine some of these questions, and I expect we will see the first rounds of litigation on some of these questions quite soon.

Perhaps anticipating some of these issues, it is notable that (as my co-bloggers have noted) Justice Kavanaugh made explicit reference to the constitutional right to interstate travel in his Dobbs concurrence. It may also be notable that Court’s conservative justices tend to split on questions of federal preemption (as we saw in Virginia Uranium v. Warren in 2019).

This shouldn’t have been hard to figure out. Any judge who considers himself or herself an originalist was going to believe that Roe is bad law because there wasn’t remotely colorable warrant for it under the Constitution. There might have been varying views on what deference was owed to precedent or other tactical questions; there wasn’t any meaningful disagreement on the core matter. The dance that went on is that Democrats would try to get conservative nominees to say that Roe had been a precedent for a long time. The nominees would agree while not going any further. They’d often cite — correctly — the refusal to comment on contested questions going back to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s confirmation hearings.

Although Blake included it in his quote from Ginsburg’s speech, he doesn’t otherwise mention no-fault divorce. Let’s talk about why Ginsburg connected the no-fault divorce movement with the abortion-rights movement — and why these movements happened in the same time frame. One could say both movements pushed government out of the intimate sphere that belongs to the individual. Another way to put that was both movements served the agenda of the sexual revolution.

Ilya Somin:

Several of the items on the above list highlight inconsistencies by pro-choice liberals. But there is no shortage of similar inconsistency on the right. Consider, for example, conservatives who oppose mask and vaccine mandates on grounds of bodily autonomy, but strongly support the War on Drugs and laws banning prostitution.

Some will object that many of the cases described above must be ruled out because they involve restrictions on activities that are dangerous to health or safety (e.g. – prostitution, taking risky illegal drugs, and so on). If an activity is too dangerous, then government should be able to ban it in order to protect people from their own worst impulses.

But if that’s your view, you’re not really a supporter of “my body, my choice.” Rather, you believe people should only be allowed to make choices that the government (or perhaps some group of experts) deems sufficiently safe. Among other flaws, such paternalism overlooks the possibility that people may legitimately differ over the amount of risk they are willing to accept.

It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives. “The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations, upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.” Casey, Scalia, J concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part. That is what the Constitution and the rule of law demand

New data shows shift at Lowell High School: More students given failing grades after admissions change

Ricardo Cano, Nanette Asimov

Teachers at San Francisco’s Lowell High School gave freshman students significantly more D and F grades this past fall, the first semester after the school board eliminated the merit-based admissions it had relied on for decades.

The lower grades, while expected by many, are likely to become part of a fervid debate over Lowell that touches on race, equity and achievement. The grades raise questions about how students — and the school’s teachers and administrators — are adapting to the changes.

However, it’s unclear exactly how much the change in admissions policy factored into the rise in D’s and F’s among Lowell’s ninth-graders, compared with other possible factors such as the pandemic.

Of the 620 students in Lowell’s freshman class, 24.4% received at least one D or F grade during the fall semester, compared with 7.9% of first-year students in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019, according to internal San Francisco Unified School District figures obtained by The Chronicle.

Deja Vu: 2005 Madison:

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading.

2007: one size fits all: English 10.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Book bans and school board elections

Michael Hardy:

Seventh-grader Jordan Banks loves playing video games and drawing cartoons. He dreams of going to art school, but instead his parents enroll him at preppy Riverdale Academy, where the most popular sport is lacrosse and everyone wears Vineyard Vines. At first, Jordan has trouble fitting in—he’s one of the few Black students at Riverdale, and teachers keep confusing him with other students of color—but he makes friends quickly. By the end of the year, he even has a girlfriend.

Banks is the protagonist of New Kid, a Newbery Medal–winning graphic novel by children’s author Jerry Craft that recently became an unlikely cynosure of controversy in the Katy Independent School District, which serves 90,000 students at 74 campuses in the suburbs west of Houston. This past fall, New Kid was removed from KISD libraries after a petition signed by around four hundred parents criticized it for “teaching children that their white privilege inherently comes with microaggressions which must be kept in check.” The district, regularly ranked among the best in the Houston area, also canceled a virtual speaking appearance by Craft, whom the petition accused of pushing critical race theory—an academic framework for studying persistent discrimination that is typically taught only in colleges and graduate schools. 

The petition was written by Bonnie Anderson, a mother of three KISD students who is running for an unpaid position on the district’s board of trustees in the nonpartisan May 7 election. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly, Anderson said that district libraries were rife with books pushing the “unscientific notion that people who are white are born with privilege because of the way, you know, society has been constructed.” Anderson also wants to ban many books that address LGBTQ issues, which she labels “pornography,” and eliminate the district’s few remaining pandemic-related health measures, which she has compared to Jim Crow–era segregation.

Civics and we know best: The C.D.C. Isn’t Publishing Large Portions of the Covid Data It Collects

Apporva Mandavilli:

Much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control. Detailed, timely data on hospitalizations by age and race would help health officials identify and help the populations at highest risk. Information on hospitalizations and death by age and vaccination status would have helped inform whether healthy adults needed booster shots. And wastewater surveillance across the nation would spot outbreaks and emerging variants early.

Without the booster data for 18- to 49-year-olds, the outside experts whom federal health agencies look to for advice had to rely on numbers from Israel to make their recommendations on the shots.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the C.D.C., said the agency has been slow to release the different streams of data “because basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.” She said the agency’s “priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable.”

Another reason is fear that the information might be misinterpreted, Ms. Nordlund said.

Dr. Daniel Jernigan, the agency’s deputy director for public health science and surveillance said the pandemic exposed the fact that data systems at the C.D.C., and at the state levels, are outmoded and not up to handling large volumes of data. C.D.C. scientists are trying to modernize the systems, he said.

“We want better, faster data that can lead to decision making and actions at all levels of public health, that can help us eliminate the lag in data that has held us back,” he added.

The C.D.C. also has multiple bureaucratic divisions that must sign off on important publications, and its officials must alert the Department of Health and Human Services — which oversees the agency — and the White House of their plans. The agency often shares data with states and partners before making data public. Those steps can add delays.

“The C.D.C. is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization,” said Samuel Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. “The steps that it takes to get something like this released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the C.D.C.”

Mandates, closed schools and Dane County Madison Public Health.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Commentary on the taxpayer supported Madison K-12 school climate

Nada Elmikashfi:

While all city employees at one time were required to live within the city limits, the residency requirement was eliminated for Madison Metro drivers in the 1980s and in subsequent years for other unionized employees as well. Arguments to keep the requirement were based in part on concerns over a dwindling middle class, while opponents have cited the high cost of living in Madison and the quality of suburban schools.

Dan Rolfs, a community development project manager for the city and a union representative for the Madison Professional and Supervisory Employee Association, told Brogan that members have had concerns about sending their kids to public schools in Madison and were drawn to the new high school facilities of Verona, DeForest and Sun Prairie.

It’s understandable. The resource-rich tech and science labs, professional looking athletic facilities, expansive aquatic centers, and unique greenhouses in these suburban schools would be a draw for any parent. Who doesn’t want the best education for their children? 

According to a 2021 report from the Madison school district, enrollment has been “decreasing slightly since the 2014-15 school year” and the district projects another decrease next school term. Enrollment for 4K-12 in 2021-22 was 25,936 students, down 482 students from 2020-21.

Mandates, closed schools and Dane County Madison Public Health.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Madison school district hits ‘pause’ on plan to end standalone honors classes

Dylan Brogan:

The Madison school district is delaying its plan to eliminate standalone honors classes at its high schools.

The district hasn’t publicly announced the policy shift or if it’s considering scrapping the plan entirely. At its Dec. 6 meeting, school board members were told by Director of Advanced Learning Sharon Alexander that the district was on track to end standalone honors classes for 9th graders starting in the 2022 fall semester and 10th graders in 2023. Isthmus learned the plan was being delayed from a high school teacher in January. It took district spokesperson Tim LeMonds three weeks to confirm what administrators had already told teachers. 

“Standalone and earned honors will still be available for 9th and 10th graders next year,” wrote LeMonds in a Feb. 8 email to Isthmus. “We have put a pause on the removal of standalone honors to allow for more time to review this strategy, obtain student and community input, and board involvement.” 

District administrators informed the Madison school board at an April 5, 2021, board meeting they were planning to phase out traditional honors classes for 9th and 10th graders. These courses are for core subject areas like biology, English, and history. There are no exams or other requirements to get into these classes and any student is allowed to enroll. Instead of standalone honors courses, the district was going to focus exclusively on the “Earned Honors” program. Begun in 2017, this program allows students to receive honors designation in non-honors classes if they complete “predetermined criteria.” 

Administrators at the April 5 meeting enthusiastically endorsed eliminating standalone honors classes. 

“This is an anti-racist strategy. Earned honors supports our commitment to truly becoming an anti-racist institution. It allows us to set a bar of excellence for all of our students, for 100 percent of our students,” said Kaylee Jackson, executive director for curriculum. “[Standalone honors classes] are an exclusionary practice in which only some students within our high schools are receiving this rigorous instruction and capable of receiving honors credit.”

According to the latest data from the district, 41 percent of students in standalone honors classes are students of color. White students represent 43 percent of the total student population in the district, but make up 59 percent of standalone honors classes. 

Most school board members expressed support at the meeting for eliminating standalone honors, although no vote was taken to either move forward or reject the idea. Board member Ananda Mirilli said she was “100 percent behind” the plan, a sentiment echoed by board member Savion Castro.

Chris Rickert:

Under a plan proposed by administrators last year, beginning with the 2022-23 school year, ninth-graders would only be able to earn honors credit through the district’s “earned honors” program, which places all students in the same classes but allows those who want to earn honors credit to do so if they meet a set of criteria showing mastery of the content. The same would apply to 10th-graders beginning in the 2023-24 school year.

The shift away from stand-alone honors classes was pitched by administrators as a way to boost racial equity, as students of color historically have been less likely to take honors-only classes, although they are open to all students. Those racial disparities have been closing in recent years.

Mandates, closed schools and Dane County Madison Public Health.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Universities Antitrust Lawsuit


Plaintiffs, Sia Henry, Michael Maerlander, Brandon Piyevsky, Kara Saffrin, and Brittany
Tatiana Weaver, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, bring this class action
under Section 1 of the Sherman Act against Brown University (“Brown”), California Institute of
Technology (“CalTech”), University of Chicago (“Chicago”), The Trustees of Columbia
University in the City of New York (“Columbia”), Cornell University (“Cornell’), Trustees of
Dartmouth College (“Dartmouth”), Duke University (“Duke”), Emory University (“Emory”),
Georgetown University (“Georgetown”), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT),
Northwestern University (“Northwestern”), University of Notre Dame du Lac (“Notre Dame”),
The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (“Penn”), William Marsh Rice University (“Rice”),
Vanderbilt University (“Vanderbilt”), and Yale University (“Yale”) (collectively, “Defendants”)

Defendants are private, national universities that have long been in the top 25 of the U.S. News & World Report rankings for such schools. These elite institutions occupy a place of privilege and importance in American society. And yet these same Defendants, by their own admission, have participated in a price-fixing cartel that is designed to reduce or eliminate financial aid as a locus of competition, and that in fact has artificially inflated the net price of attendance for students receiving financial aid. Defendants participate in the cartel claiming the protection of Section 568 of the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 (the “568 Exemption”). This exemption from the antitrust laws, which otherwise prohibit conspiracies among competitors, applies to two or more institutions of higher education at which “all students admitted are admitted on a need-blind basis.” Section 568 defines “on a need-blind basis” to mean “without regard to the financial circumstances of the student involved or the student’s family.” 15 U.S.C. § 1 Note.

Ivy League Subsidies and tax breaks:

1. Ivy League payments and entitlements cost taxpayers $41.59 billion over a six-year period (FY2010-FY2015). This is equivalent to $120,000 in government monies, subsidies, & special tax treatment per undergraduate student, or $6.93 billion per year.

2. The Ivy League was the recipient of $25.73 billion worth of federal payments during this period: contracts ($1.37 billion), grants ($23.9 billion) and direct payments – student assistance ($460 million).

America’s top scientists warn about the political erosion of education standards.

Wall Street Journal:

The last few years have seen a proliferation of “open letters” by academics in politics and the humanities in favor of progressive causes. The hard sciences are different, and when mathematicians, physicists and engineers speak up to defend the integrity of their fields, Americans should pay attention.

The latest example is a new public statement from hundreds of the country’s top quantitative scientists warning about the assault on math in schools. “We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States,” the statement begins. The social-justice wave of 2020 accelerated efforts to eliminate standardized testing and lower standards in math to give the appearance that achievement gaps don’t exist.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Gifted & Talented Programs and Racial Segregation

Owen Thompson:

Racial segregation can occur across educational programs or classrooms within a given school, and there has been particular concern that gifted & talented programs may reduce integration within schools. This paper evaluates the contribution of gifted & talented education to racial segregation using data on the presence and racial composition of gifted & talented programs at virtually all US elementary schools over a span of nine school years. I first show that, consistent with widespread perceptions, gifted & talented programs do disproportionately enroll white and Asian students while Black, Hispanic and Native American students are underrepresented. However, I also show that accounting for the within-school racial sorting caused by these programs has little or no effect on standard measures of overall racial segregation. This is primarily because gifted & talented programs are a small share of total enrollments and do enroll non-negligible numbers of under-represented minority students. I also estimate changes in race-specific enrollments after schools initiate or discontinue gifted & talented programs, and find no significant enrollment changes after programs are eliminated or initiated. I conclude that gifted & talented education is a quantitatively small contributor to racial segregation in US elementary schools.

“They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

No-fail policy fails students, teachers

Joanne Jacobs:

Shane Trotter was an eager beaver when he began teaching high school 10 years ago. He was working in what was considered the best school in a “destination district.” But his students were unprepared to take notes or write short responses on tests, he writes in Quillette.

I’d spend entire classes explaining what I wanted to see in the short answer responses. We’d practice writing the “who, what, where, when, and why this concept is important.” But little changed.

. . . Over half of my students would have failed if I gave them the grade they earned. But the unwritten, yet well-communicated, rule was that teachers should never fail a student if it could be helped. The onus was on the teacher to hound students for late assignments and find a way to bump them to a C.

Students had no incentive to work hard because they knew they’d pass, Trotter writes. “In most on-level classes, any student can get a B without the inconvenience of learning anything.”

Under pressure, he “eliminated homework, allowed test retakes, gave fill-in-the-blank notes, graded essays at a 5th grade level, gave test reviews that were basically the test, and intentionally made tests easy,” he writes. “Students might have learned more if they’d been allowed to fail.”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Teacher Union seeks to abolish Massachusetts Student Tests…

CBS4 Boston:

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is speaking out against MCAS, saying the state’s standardized test “has allowed white supremacy to flourish in public schools.” The teachers union is endorsing a bill that would eliminate the MCAS graduation requirement in the state.

The bill scheduled for a committee hearing Monday on Beacon Hill would offer “multiple pathways” for students to demonstrate educational competency, outside of standardized testing.

MTA President Merrie Najimy said the MCAS has been “alienating students who have diverse backgrounds and differentiated learning styles.”

“The implementation of the MCAS and other standardized tests has had the exact opposite effect of what was supposed to occur when the system was introduced more than 20 years ago,” Najimy said in a statement. “Public schools in predominantly Black and brown communities have been taken over by state bureaucrats who have been using standardized testing as a tool not to improve opportunities for students but instead as one to pry public education from the hands of the families and educators who know best what their students need.”

The MTA shared a Twitter video earlier in the week saying, “It’s time to cancel MCAS.”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

A new law allows students to graduate from high school without the ability to read, write, or do math.

Frederick Hess:

Despite these numbers, some on the left have decided that the answer is not to insist that schools use the $190 billion in emergency federal COVID school aid to help students catch up and even excel, but to launch a nihilistic crusade in service to a warped mantra of “equity.” This is the same notion of equity that has spurred California’s move to eliminate advanced math instruction and Oregon’s Department of Education urging that teachers learn to abandon “racist” math practices like asking to students “show their work” or worry about “getting the ‘right answer.’” 

What’s going on? To be blunt, too many grownups on the American left have thrown in the towel. Many of the same Democratic leaders who, just a few years ago, were cheering Common Core and Obama’s Race to the Top, now nod along as the woke fringe and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” officialdom insist that schools frequently serve as little more than engines of systemic racism. This line of argument turns out to be surprisingly convenient for Democratic officials, as it permits them to placate the woke base, back away from the kinds of demands that offend their teacher union allies, and suggest that the disappointments of grandiose school reform were a product not of their missteps or excessive faith in bureaucracies but of the public’s own moral failings. 

While it may help Democrats finesse a political squeeze, this tack marks a troubling break with the recent past, when right and left agreed about the perils of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” While the sweeping, bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) born of that consensus proved to be a mess as a statute—undone by unrealistic dictates and its cavalier expansion of the federal footprint—it represented a powerful, shared conviction that America’s schools must strive to educate every child; that every student should (at least!) learn how to proficiently read, write, and do math; and that we must reject those who would set different expectations for students based on their color creed—whether those are fueled by bigotry or misplaced benevolence.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

Muldrow’s policies continue to drive (Madison) schools’ decline

Peter Anderson:

The Capital Times editorializes, “Madison has a great public schools system” and Board President “Ali Muldrow, is a dynamic leader “who will move Madison schools in the right direction” — sentiments reminiscent of the acclaim it offered former Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, whose policies Muldrow seems poised to continue.

But is it really great?

Cheatham and Muldrow committed to eliminate the Black achievement gap. After seven years of their leadership, 89% of black third graders remain unable to read, plummeting to 5% by eighth grade — no better than when they began.


First, the school district persisted in teaching reading with obsolete whole and balanced language methods for two decades after research demonstrated that phonics is superior for disadvantaged kids.

Worse, the district has focused not on fixing its mistakes, but, like a magician’s misdirection, on shifting attention away from those embarrassing reading scores to graduation rates. Then it promptly lowered standards to pump up graduation stats.

The second reason for the district’s failure has been a breakdown in discipline. Just two years ago, Madisonian’s, who like the Cap Times had thought the city still had great schools, woke up to read a shocking article in Isthmus titled “A Rotten Year.”

The article meticulously documented the unraveling of discipline at Madison’s middle and high schools that followed the policies of Cheatham, who threw dedicated teachers committed to racial justice under the bus when they sought to maintain order, and Muldrow, who accused teachers worried about disruptive behavior of being racist.

“What’s new this year,” one teacher said, “is you don’t know how an interaction with a kid is going to go or that the district will support you after the fact. What ends up happening is teachers do nothing.”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

Underly: “I support Eliminating the Foundations of Reading (FORT)” Teacher Test

Transcript [Machine Generated PDF]:

Deborah Kerr: [00:43:53] Um, whose turn is it to go first? Okay. That’s fine. Yeah, we’re pretty good at figuring this out. Um, [00:44:00] so that’s one thing we can do. Um, yes, I support the FORT. I fo I support the Praxis test. So you gotta think about something. Why do these things cause barriers and prevent people from getting certified? And so as a superintendent, I’ve always had to help aspiring teachers who, who needed to either pass the Praxis test or get more additional training on the FORT.

[00:44:23] And so. This starts with the teacher preparation programs. Okay. We need to start talking about, um, these kinds of tests earlier on in the scope and sequence of the coursework and making sure that our teachers are immersed in these kinds of situations that will help allow them to do better. These are standards for making sure that we have the highest quality teachers in the classroom.

[00:44:46] So what I did in Brown deer is I had a couple of teachers who needed to pass the fork test. Um, the problem with that is when you take the fourth test and you fail it, you have to pay again. You don’t just take the part that you didn’t pass. [00:45:00] And so I believe we need to work on that, but also I made sure our reading specialists help to tutor.

[00:45:06] Those two teachers that needed extra support because they didn’t get it for whatever reason at the university level. So I do believe that we have to have standards. We want the best and the brightest into our classroom, but sometimes just like students, they need a different approach and they need more time.
[00:45:23] Thank you.

[00:45:27] Jill Underly: All right. Um, as far as the Foundations of Reading (FORT) test is concerned, I would support eliminating it. And I’ll tell you why. I believe it’s an unnecessary hoop. Um, it makes it difficult and much harder for people to become teachers, particularly when we are already struggling. Right. With recruiting and retaining teachers.

[00:45:45] Um, we need to trust our education preparation programs to prepare the kids. I mean, these programs are certified by the department of public instruction. Um, they have to go through a rigorous certification process to be officially, you know, To be able to [00:46:00] officially endorse teachers to get their licenses.

[00:46:02] Um, I do know that representative Travis Tranel who’s from my area of Southwest Wisconsin, was successful in getting the legislature to suspend, um, the foundations of reading tests for special education teachers. And I think that says a lot, you know, these are barriers. And we need to eliminate barriers, um, for good people, um, who are intelligent and kind and compassionate to become teachers.

[00:46:26] Um, you can still be a good teacher and you could still be a good teacher of reading. Um, if you can’t pass a standardized test, so I would be in favor of eliminating it. Thanks.

mp3 Audio.

While working for the DPI in Madison, Ms. Underly sent her children to a private school.

The Foundations of Reading, [SIS links] Wisconsin’s one elementary reading teacher content knowledge requirement is (was) an attempt to improve our K-12 students’ disastrous reading results.

The foundations of reading is Wisconsin’s only teacher content knowledge requirement. It is based on Massachusetts’ successful MTEL program.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

San Francisco Parents Work to Recall School Board Members Amid Reopening Controversy

Alejandro Lazo:

Fed up with the pace of plans to reopen public schools, parent groups are mobilizing against San Francisco’s elected school board, arguing it has given priority to social justice issues over getting kids back in classrooms.

Two parents have launched a formal recall effort against three members of the school board, including its president and vice president, while another group is considering options that include asking voters to eliminate school board elections altogether.

The parent activism is the latest development in the escalating San Francisco schools-reopening saga. Public schools have been shut down since last March, and negotiations between the local teachers union and the district remain at an impasse despite San Francisco having low Covid-19 rates for a major U.S. city.

“The people and businesses of San Francisco have worked very hard, have sacrificed, to keep our Covid levels low, and our schools have been closed entirely throughout,” said Patrick Wolff, one of the parents who formed the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, which can fund-raise for political campaigns. “So just think of the harm that’s being done.”

Related: Catholic schools will sue Dane County Madison Public Health to open as scheduled

Notes and links on Dane County Madison Public Health. (> 140 employees).

Molly Beck and Madeline Heim:

which pushed Dane County this week not to calculate its percentage of positive tests — a data point the public uses to determine how intense infection is in an area.   

While positive test results are being processed and their number reported quickly, negative test results are taking days in some cases to be analyzed before they are reported to the state. 


The department said it was between eight and 10 days behind in updating that metric on the dashboard, and as a result it appeared to show a higher positive percentage of tests and a lower number of total tests per day.

The department said this delay is due to the fact data analysts must input each of the hundreds of tests per day manually, and in order to continue accurate and timely contact tracing efforts, they prioritized inputting positive tests.

“Positive tests are always immediately verified and processed, and delays in processing negative tests in our data system does not affect notification of test results,” the department said in a news release. “The only effect this backlog has had is on our percent positivity rate and daily test counts.”

Staff have not verified the approximately 17,000 tests, which includes steps such as matching test results to patients to avoid duplicating numbers and verifying the person who was tested resides in Dane County.

All 77 false-positive COVID-19 tests come back negative upon reruns.

Madison private school raises $70,000 for lawsuit against public health order. – WKOW-TV. Commentary.

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Assembly against private school forced closure.

Wisconsin Catholic schools will challenge local COVID-19 closing order. More.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

What Does Freedom, Inc. Believe And Why Won’t The Mainstream Media Talk About Their Radical Beliefs?

Brett Healy:

Freedom, Inc. wants to totally eliminate police departments and free almost everyone from prison

Programming by Freedom, Inc. “politicizes” kids, teaches them to use intimidation tactics and to vandalize public property

The radical non-profit received over $500,000 in grants in 2020 from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Freedom, Inc., a Madison-based non-profit with vocal anti-police beliefs, came into the spotlight recently after organizing protests and unrest in Madison last summer. It might have come as a shock to taxpayers when Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Daniel Bice revealed that this same non-profit had received $3.6 million in grants from the state of Wisconsin over the past five years.

With Freedom, Inc. playing a bigger role in public policy debates and protests, we looked for more information on their background, beliefs and tactics in the coverage they have received from the mainstream media. For some reason, the vast majority of the coverage of Freedom Inc. fails to mention their radical beliefs or document their aggressive tactics. So, as a public service, we have put together the information for you.

Freedom, Inc. Wants To Do Away With The Police And Believes Looting Is Justifiable

Freedom, Inc. hasn’t minced words about what they’re fighting for: taking police officers out of our schools, getting rid of police departments altogether, replacing the police with pleasant-sounding “community control,” and releasing almost all people from prison.

Many in the mainstream media have depicted the group and its goals as positive and peaceful. However, the mainstream media has missed or deliberately ignored the real nature of what Freedom, Inc. is trying to accomplish.

“We really want people to understand, we are not saying ‘defund the police’ or ‘abolish prisons’ and then put another system of punishment in place,” said Freedom, Inc.’s Executive Director, M. Adams, on a Facebook livestream in June.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

It’s hard to see how Milwaukee Public Schools benefits from hostility toward its own charter schools

Alan Borsuk:

As a second, less tangible factor, some of the charter schools get very good academic results. For example, Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, one of the schools receiving a reduced renewal Dec. 17, had the highest score of any Milwaukee school on the statewide school report card in 2018. In 2019, it had the second highest score in MPS. (This year, there were no report card scores because the COVID-19 outbreak eliminated statewide testing in the spring.) 

The MPS committee that reviewed the school’s performance recommended a five-year renewal for that school and the other two that came before the board. Still, the board changed each to three, while making it clear they were not criticizing the schools.  

Milwaukee College Prep operates four schools in low-income neighborhoods on the north side with just over 2,000 students. It has outperformed MPS in reading and math year after year.  

But, amid unhappy dealings with MPS, the charter renewal process for College Prep is on hold now and the school network is applying to switch its charters to UWM. That could occur before the next school year, and it would cost MPS more than $4 million a year in revenue, plus the loss of students whose test scores raise the overall MPS results.  

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration

Unions, political affiliation more predictive of virtual learning decision than COVID cases. The report.

Run for Office: Dane County Executive is on the Spring, 2021 ballot.

Madison School Board to vote on Police Presence, layoffs and budget

Scott Girard:

If the vote goes as expected, the 2020-21 school year will be the first in more than two decades without a police officer stationed in each of the district’s comprehensive high schools.

Employee Handbook changes

Madison Teachers Inc. is organizing opposition to a set of proposed Employee Handbook changes that would change the rules around layoffs and surplus staff.

District administrators have asked the board to approve language that would eliminate seniority as the mechanism for layoffs and forced moves to other sites, instead using other to-be-determined standards evaluating performance. The changes would also allow for 30-day notice of layoffs instead of the annual May 15 layoff notices.

With the district considering a November operations referendum and the state still uncertain on its revenue losses from the pandemic, MMSD chief financial officer Kelly Ruppel told the board earlier this month she’s trying to create as much flexibility as possible for the months ahead.

That included an $8 million cut from last year already. Earlier this month board members agreed that cutting an additional $8.4 million to protect against the possibility of state cuts was a good idea. Doing so meant cutting the planned base wage increase for staff.

Ruppel said that means hitting pause on “any new spending, in order to maintain the most flexibility until we know more.” 

The other option she offered to board members was cutting up to 92 staff positions. If the referendum is on the ballot and approved or if state cuts don’t happen, the district could add wage increases back in mid-year. Hiring for eliminated positions would be a bigger challenge.

2011: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school.

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration

2005: Gangs & School Violence audio / video.

Gifted Education in Massachusetts: A Practice and Policy Review

Dana Ansel:

Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature decided that the time had come to understand the state of education that gifted students receive in Massachusetts. They issued a mandate for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to review the policy and practices of education in public schools for gifted students as well as for students capable of performing above grade level.

The challenge that this mandate presents is that Massachusetts neither defines giftedness nor collects data on gifted students. We can nevertheless review what districts report about their practices and what parents of gifted children report about their experiences. We can also report on the state’s policies toward gifted education. In addition, we can analyze the academic trajectory and social-emotional well-being of academically advanced students based on their math MCAS scores. All of this information is valuable in painting a picture of gifted education in Massachusetts, but it is nonetheless limited.

To begin, Massachusetts is an outlier in the country in its approach to gifted education. Nearly every other state in the country defines giftedness. Nor is there an explicit mandate to either identify or serve gifted students in Massachusetts. In contrast, 32 states reported a mandate to identify and/or serve gifted students, according to the State of the States in Gifted Education. In terms of preparing teachers to teach gifted students, Massachusetts used to have an Academically Advanced Specialist Teacher License, but it was eliminated in 2017 because of the lack of licenses being issued and programs preparing teachers for the license.

We do not know how many gifted students live in Massachusetts, but a reasonable estimate would be 6–8 percent of state’s students, which translates into 57,000 – 76,000 students.1 Without a common definition and identification process, it is impossible to pinpoint the precise number. According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) 2015-16 survey, 6.6 percent of students were enrolled in gifted programs nationally. This number includes states such as Massachusetts that have very few gifted programs, and other states that enroll many more than the average. Another source of data, a nationally representative survey of school districts, found that the fraction of elementary school students nationwide who have been identified as gifted and enrolled in a gifted program was 7.8 percent (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2017)

Related: Wisconsin adopted a very small part of Massachusetts’ elementary teacher content knowledge licensing requirements, known as MTEL.

Massachusetts public schools lead the United States in academic performance.

However and unfortunately, the Wisconsin Department of public instruction has waived more than 6000 elementary teacher exam requirements since 2015…. (Foundations of reading)

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts.

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

The Madison School District’s “Strategic Framework”.

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Why Europeans Don’t Get Huge Medical Bills

Olga Khazan:

There is, however, a way to eliminate those bank-busting surprise medical bills without eliminating health insurance. Just ask Europe. Several European countries have health insurance just like America does. The difference is that their governments regulate what insurance must cover and what hospitals and doctors are allowed to charge much more aggressively than the United States does.

When I described surprise medical bills to experts who focus on different western-European countries’ health systems, they had no idea what I was talking about. “What is a surprise medical bill?” said Sophia Schlette, a public-health expert and a former senior adviser at Berlin’s National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians. “Seriously, they don’t happen here.”

Almost all Germans are covered by a variety of health insurance, such as “sickness funds,” which are financed through taxes. Almost all doctors and hospitals accept these plans. About 90 percent of Germans never see a bill for their doctor visits, and the rest are covered by private insurance, which usually reimburses whatever they get charged. According to the researchers Roosa Tikkanen and Robin Osborn at the Commonwealth Fund, there’s a flat co-pay for people who are hospitalized, capped at a maximum of 280 euros—or about $315—for a 28-day stay. And doctors, too, are not allowed to charge more than the payment rates that are negotiated between the sickness funds and the doctors’ associations. A very small number of the country’s physicians are private and don’t accept the sickness funds, but they have to tell patients how much they’ll charge before a patient is treated, removing the surprise element.

The Decline of Historical Thinking

Eric Alterman:

I do not refer to the obvious and ineluctable fact that some people are smarter than others but, rather, to the fact that some people have the resources to try to understand our society while most do not. Late last year, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that, for the past decade, history has been declining more rapidly than any other major, even as more and more students attend college. With slightly more than twenty-four thousand current history majors, it accounts for between one and two per cent of bachelor’s degrees, a drop of about a third since 2011. The decline can be found in almost all ethnic and racial groups, and among both men and women. Geographically, it is most pronounced in the Midwest, but it is present virtually everywhere.

There’s a catch, however. It’s boom time for history at Yale, where it is the third most popular major, and at other élite schools, including Brown, Princeton, and Columbia, where it continues to be among the top declared majors. The Yale history department intends to hire more than a half-dozen faculty members this year alone. Meanwhile, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, Bernie L. Patterson, recently proposed that the school’s history major be eliminated, and that at least one member of its tenured faculty be dismissed. Of course, everything gets more complicated when you look at the fine print. Lee L. Willis, the chair of the history department, told me that the chancellor’s proposal is a budget-cutting measure in response to the steadily declining number of declared majors, but it’s really about the need to reduce the faculty from fourteen to ten, and this means getting rid of at least one tenured member. To do that, it’s necessary to disband the department. (A spokesperson for the university said that “UW-Stevens Point is exploring every option to avoid laying off faculty and staff members.”) The remaining professors will be placed in new departments that combine history with other topics.

Stevens Point, in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, educates many first-generation college students, and, in the past, the history department has focussed on training teachers. Willis pointed out that, after Scott Walker, the former governor, led an assault on the state’s teachers’ unions, gutting benefits and driving around ten per cent of public-school teachers out of the profession, a teaching career understandably looks considerably less attractive to students. “I am hearing a lot, ‘What kind of a job am I going to get with this? My parents made me switch,’ ” Willis said. “There is a lot of pressure on this particular generation.” But he also noted a rise in declared history majors this past semester, from seventy-six to a hundred and twenty. “This perception of a one-way trend and we’ll whittle down to nothing is not what I am seeing,” he said.

The steep decline in history graduates is most visible beginning in 2011 and 2012. Evidently, after the 2008 financial crisis, students (and their parents) felt a need to pick a major in a field that might place them on a secure career path. Almost all of the majors that have seen growth since 2011, Schmidt noted in a previous study, are in the STEM disciplines, and include nursing, engineering, computer science, and biology. (A recent Times story noted that the number of computer-science majors more than doubled between 2013 and 2017.) “M.I.T. and Stanford are making a big push in the sciences,” Alan Mikhail, the chair of the history department at Yale, told me. Other universities have tended to emulate them, no doubt because that’s what excites the big funders these days—and with their money comes the prestige that gives a university its national reputation. David Blight, a professor of history at Yale and the director of its Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, tells a similar story when it comes to funding. In a recent meeting with a school administrator, he was told that individual funders were all looking to fund STEM programs—and, Blight said, “It’s the funders that drive things.”

Nonetheless, the history major continues to thrive at Yale, in part because it’s a great department with a number of nationally known stars, all of whom are expected to teach at an undergraduate level, and in part because it is Yale, where even a liberal-arts degree opens almost all professional doors. As Mikhail said, “The very real economic pressure students feel today is lessened at Yale. Need-blind admissions make a big difference, together with the sense that a Yale degree in anything will get them the job they want, even at places like Goldman or medical school.” The school’s public-relations department recently made a promotional video about Fernando Rojas, the son of Mexican immigrants, who made national news a few years ago when he was admitted to all eight Ivy League schools. Rojas, who found an intellectual home at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, intends to pursue a Ph.D. in history.

China’s Surveillance Laboratory

Darren Byler and Timothy Grose:

Muslims in northwest China’s Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland, endure a constant barrage of state-sanctioned violence. For hundreds of thousands of people, that violence comes in the form of incarceration in “reeducation” centers for which officials just recently attempted to provide legal justification. Those who have been spared this fate have not escaped the state’s assault on their freedoms. Although they are not confined to the reeducation compounds lined with razor wire, they are nonetheless subjected to institutionalized Islamophobia and omnipresent surveillance.

At night, Ürümchi, the region’s capital, pulses with red and blue lights. In the city’s Uyghur districts, “Convenience Police Stations” bristling with face-recognition cameras stand sentinel every 200 meters. Checkpoints are everywhere. Cameras, gates, face-scanning machines, and metal detectors at the entrance of every residential area, shopping center, and large place of business have turned the city into a high-tech labyrinth where only people with the right faces and passbooks can move without running into walls. The city is a giant police lab where Muslim minorities are treated as test subjects in an anti-religious experiment. The walls, gates, and police are part of an attempt to eliminate unwanted forms of Islamic practice.

Relaxing Wisconsin’s Weak K-12 Teacher Licensing Requirements; MTEL?

Molly Beck:

A group of school officials, including state Superintendent Tony Evers, is asking lawmakers to address potential staffing shortages in Wisconsin schools by making the way teachers get licensed less complicated.

The Leadership Group on School Staffing Challenges, created by Evers and Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators executive director Jon Bales, released last week a number of proposals to address shortages, including reducing the number of licenses teachers must obtain to be in a classroom.

Under the group’s proposal, teachers would seek one license to teach prekindergarten through ninth grade and a second license to teach all grades, subjects and special education.

The group also proposes to consolidate related subject area licenses into single subject licenses. For example, teachers would be licensed in broad areas like science, social studies, music and English Language Arts instead of more specific areas of those subjects.

Wisconsin adopted Massachusett’s (MTEL) elementary reading content knowledge requirements (just one, not the others).

Much more on Wisconsin and MTEL, here.

National Council on Teacher Quality ranks preparation programs…. In 2014, no Wisconsin programs ranked in the top group.

Foundations of Reading Results (Wisconsin’s MTEL):

Wisconsin’s DPI provided the results to-date of the Wisconsin Foundations of Reading exam to School Information System, which posted an analysis. Be aware that the passing score from January, 2014 through August, 2014, was lower than the passing score in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Since September of 2014, the Wisconsin passing score has been the same as those states. SIS reports that the overall Wisconsin pass rate under the lower passing score was 92%, while the pass rate since August of 2014 has been 78%. This ranges from around 55% at one campus to 93% at another. The pass rate of 85% that SIS lists in its main document appears to include all the candidates who passed under the lower cut score.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s proposed changes: Clearinghouse Rule 16 PROPOSED ORDER OF THE STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION REVISING PERMANENT RULES

A kind reader’s comments:

to wit “Of particular concern is the provision of the new rule that would allow teachers who have not otherwise met their licensure requirements to teach under emergency licenses while “attempting to complete” the required licensure tests. For teachers who should have appropriate skills to teach reading, this undercuts the one significant achievement of the Read to Lead workgroup (thanks to Mark Seidenberg)—that is, requiring Wisconsin’s elementary school and all special education teachers to pass the Foundations of Reading test at the MTEL passing cut score level. The proposed DPI rule also appears to conflict with ESSA, which eliminated HQT in general, but updated IDEA to incorporate HQT provisions for special education teachers and does not permit emergency licensure. With reading achievement levels in Wisconsin at some of the lowest levels in the nation for the student subgroups that are most in need of qualified instruction, the dangers to students are self-evident”.

Related, from the Wisconsin Reading Coalition [PDF]:

Wisconsin 4th Grade Reading Results on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

Main takeaways from the 2015 NAEP 4th grade reading exam:

  • Wisconsin scores have been statistically flat since 1992
  • 37% of our 4th graders score proficient or advanced
  • Our 4th graders rank 25th nationally: we have been in the middle of the pack since 2003
  • Our African-American students have the second lowest scores in the country (behind Michigan) and statistically underperform their national African-American peer sub-group
  • We have the second largest white/black score gap in the country (behind Washington, D.C.) Our Asian students statistically underperform their national Asian peer sub-group
  • Only our English Language Learners statistically outperform their national peer sub-group

Statements by our Department of Public Instruction that there was a “positive upward movement” in reading (10/28/15 News Release) and especially that our 4th graders “might be viewed” as ranking 13th in 4th grade reading (11/5/15 DPI-ConnectEd) are inaccurate and misleading.

Proficiency Rates and Performance Gaps
Overall, 8% of Wisconsin 4th graders are advanced, 29% are proficient, 34% are basic, and 29% are below basic. Nationally, 9% of students are advanced, 27% are proficient, 33% are basic, and 31% are below basic.

As is the case around the country, some student groups in Wisconsin perform better than others, though only English Language Learners outperform their national peer group. Several groups are contrasted below.

Subgroups can be broken down by race, gender, economic status, and disability status. 44% of white students are proficient or advanced, versus 35% of Asian students, 23% of American Indian students, 19% of Hispanic students and 11% of African-American students. 40% of girls are proficient or advanced, compared to 34% of boys. Among students who do not qualify for a free or reduced lunch, 50% are proficient or advanced, while the rate is only 19% for those who qualify. Students with disabilities continue to have the worst scores in Wisconsin. Only 13% of them are proficient or advanced, and a full 68% are below basic, indicating that they do not have the skills necessary to navigate print in school or daily life. It is important to remember that this group does not include students with severe cognitive disabilities.

When looking at gaps between sub-groups, keep in mind that a difference of 10 points on The NAEP equals approximately one grade level in performance. Average scores for Wisconsin sub-groups range from 236 (not eligible for free/reduced lunch) to 231 (white), 228 (students without disabilities), 226 (females), 225 (non-English Language Learners), 222 (Asian), 220 (males), 209 (Hispanic), 207 (American Indian or eligible for free/reduced lunch), 198 (English Language Learners), 193 (African-American), and 188 (students with disabilities). There is a gap of almost three grade levels between white and black 4th graders, and four grade levels between 4th graders with and without disabilities.

Scores Viewed Over Time
The graph below shows NAEP raw scores over time. Wisconsin’s 4th grade average score in 2015 is 223, which is statistically unchanged from 2013 and 1992, and is statistically the same as the current national score (221). The national score, as well as scores in Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions, have seen statistically significant increases since 1992.

Robust clinical and brain research in reading has provided a roadmap to more effective teacher preparation and student instruction, but Wisconsin has not embraced this pathway with the same conviction and consistency as many other states. Where change has been most completely implemented, such as Massachusetts and Florida, the lowest students benefitted the most, but the higher students also made substantial gains. It is important that we come to grips with the fact that whatever is holding back reading achievement in Wisconsin is holding it back for everyone, not just poor or minority students. Disadvantaged students suffer more, but everyone is suffering, and the more carefully we look at the data, the more obvious that becomes.

Performance of Wisconsin Sub-Groups Compared to their Peers in Other Jurisdictions
10 points difference on a NAEP score equals approximately one grade level. Comparing Wisconsin sub-groups to their highest performing peers around the country gives us an indication of the potential for better outcomes. White students in Wisconsin (score 231) are approximately three years behind white students in Washington D.C. (score 260), and a year behind white students in Massachusetts (score 242). African-American students in Wisconsin (193) are more than three years behind African-American students in Department of Defense schools (228), and two years behind their peers in Arizona and Massachusetts (217). They are approximately one year behind their peers in Louisiana (204) and Mississippi (202). Hispanic students in Wisconsin (209) are approximately two years behind their peers in Department of Defense schools (228) and 1-1/2 years behind their peers in Florida (224). Wisconsin students who qualify for free or reduced lunch (207) score approximately 1-1/2 years behind similar students in Florida and Massachusetts (220). Wisconsin students who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch (236) are the highest ranking group in our state, but their peers in Washington D.C. (248) and Massachusetts (247) score approximately a grade level higher.

State Ranking Over Time
Wisconsin 4th graders rank 25th out of 52 jurisdictions that took the 2015 NAEP exam. In the past decade, our national ranking has seen some bumps up or down (we were 31st in 2013), but the overall trend since 1998 is a decline in Wisconsin’s national ranking (we were 3rd in 1994). Our change in national ranking is entirely due to statistically significant changes in scores in other jurisdictions. As noted above, Wisconsin’s scores have been flat since 1992.

The Positive Effect of Demographics
Compared to many other jurisdictions, Wisconsin has proportionately fewer students in the lower performing sub-groups (students of color, low-income students, etc.). This demographic reality allows our state to have a higher average score than another state with a greater proportion of students in the lower performing sub-groups, even if all or most of that state’s subgroups outperform their sub-group peers in Wisconsin. If we readjusted the NAEP scores to balance demographics between jurisdictions, Wisconsin would rank lower than 25th in the nation. When we did this demographic equalization analysis in 2009, Wisconsin dropped from 30th place to 43rd place nationally.

Applying Standard Statistical Analysis to DPI’s Claims
In its official news release on the NAEP scores on October 28, 2015, DPI accurately stated that Wisconsin results were “steady.” After more than a decade of “steady” scores, one could argue that “flat” or “stagnant” would be more descriptive terms. However, we cannot quibble with “steady.” We do take issue with the subtitle “Positive movement in reading,” and the statement that “There was a positive upward movement at both grade levels in reading.” In fact, the DPI release acknowledges in the very next sentence, “Grade level scores for state students in both mathematics and reading were considered statistically the same as state scores on the 2013 NAEP.” The NAEP website points out that Wisconsin’s 4th grade reading score was also statistically the same as the state score on the 2003 NAEP, and this year’s actual score is lower than in 1992. It is misleading to say that there has been positive upward movement in 4th grade reading. (emphasis added).

Regarding our 4th grade ranking of 25th in the nation, DPI’s ConnectEd newsletter makes the optimistic, but unsupportable, claim that “When analyzed for statistical significance, the state’s ranking might be viewed as even higher: “tied” for . . . 13th in fourth grade reading.”

Wisconsin is in a group of 16 jurisdictions whose scores (218-224) are statistically the same as the national average (221). 22 jurisdictions have scores (224-235) statistically above the national average, and 14 have scores (207-218) statistically below the national average. Scoring third place in that middle group of states is how NAEP assigned Wisconsin a 25th ranking.

When we use Wisconsin as the focal jurisdiction, 12 jurisdictions have scores (227-235) statistically higher than ours (223), 23 jurisdictions have scores (220-227) that are statistically the same, and 16 have scores (207-219) that are statistically lower. This is NOT the same as saying we rank 13th.

To assume we are doing as well as the state in 13th place is a combination of the probability that we are better than our score, and they are worse than theirs: that we had very bad luck on the NAEP administration, and that other state had very good luck. If we took the test again, there is a small probability, less than 3%, that our score would rise and theirs would fall, and we would meet in the middle, tied for 19th, not 13th, place. The probability that the other state would continue to perform just as well and we would score enough better to move up into a tie for 13th place is infinitesimal: a tiny fraction of a percentage. Not only is that highly unlikely, it is no more true than saying we could be viewed as tied with the jurisdiction at the bottom of our group, ranking 36th.

Furthermore, this assertion requires us to misuse not only this year’s data, but the data from past years which showed us at more or less the same place in the rankings. When you look at all the NAEP data across time and see how consistent the results are, the likelihood we are actually much better than our current rank shrinks to nearly nothing. It would require that not only were we incredibly unlucky in the 2015 administration, but we have been incredibly unlucky in every administration for the past decade. The likelihood of such an occurrence would be in the neighborhood of one in a billion billion.

Until now, DPI has never stated a reason for our mediocre NAEP performance. They have always declined to speculate. And now, of all the reasons they might consider to explain why our young children read so poorly and are falling further behind students in other states, they suggest it may just be bad luck. Whether they really believe that, or are tossing it out as a distraction from the actual facts is not entirely clear. Either way, it is a disappointing reaction from the agency that jealously guards its authority to guide education in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition PDF summary.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: US budget wars reach nadir in Illinois

Lindsay Whipp:

Republican governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic House speaker Michael Madigan have refused to budge in their battle over how to eliminate the deficit — estimated to be $6.6bn according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Meanwhile, Illinois’ pension liabilities have hit $110bn; the state has racked up nearly $8bn in unpaid bills and $9.7m in fines for late payments, according to the state comptroller.

The dysfunction has pushed Illinois’ credit rating to the lowest level among the 50 US states. Fitch recently put Illinois’ BBB+ rating — just three rungs above junk — on negative watch over the implications of an extended budget impasse.

“It’s fairly clear to most people that you could not balance this budget with budget cuts alone, so there needs to be a meeting of minds on how to balance the budget — how to raise taxes,” said Karen Krop, a senior director at Fitch.

Policymakers finally agreed on Thursday afternoon on a stopgap budget to fund schools for the year starting on Friday, without which they would not have been able to open in the autumn. However, the rest of the stopgap budget only lasts six months and does little to address most of the key issues.

Money has been distributed through a series of ad hoc measures, creating a sense of uncertainty over funding, raising fears of school shutdowns and leaving a distrust in the state government that will be difficult to eliminate.

Illinois’ extensive financial problems have been a long time in the making. A pension bill passed 15 years ago delayed responsibility to pay into the fund and even now the requirement is not for full payments, Fitch said. An income tax increase had started to chip away at the unpaid bills and helped balance the budget but it was discontinued more than a year and a half ago.

The Climate of Opinion in Illinois 2008- 2016: Roots of Gridlock.

What Bill Bennett Got Wrong and Right About New York’s Opt-Out Movement and Teacher Unions

Laura Waters:

Today at The 74 Bill Bennett suggests that the opt-out movement in New York is driven solely by teacher union leaders and allies who have spent millions of dollars on robocalls, emails, forums, and other tactics. Their motivation to increase test refusals this year is engineered to undermine “tough, high-quality standardized exams” that “will hold their members accountable and make the possibility of grade inflation more difficult.” It’s “a move by teachers unions and far-left policy leaders to completely abolish any serious accountability within student assessments.”

Certainly, the union campaign to eliminate links between student outcomes on benchmarked tests and teacher evaluations is a major driver in New York. But it’s not the only one, nor the only reason why this year’s opt-out rates appear as high as last year’s, at least in white suburbs. (Best estimates, still preliminary, are that students are opting out in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties at about the same rate as last year while other regions — school districts around Rochester and Albany, for example — are showing lower rates. Minority and lower-class students throughout the state are mostly opting in.)

Should the “Best and Brightest” Go Into Finance?


In the opening pages of American Psycho, a novel set in the finance boom in 1980s New York, a fictional investment banker raves, “I mean am I alone in thinking we’re not making enough money?”

From context, it’s clear that the character is indignant that his — seemingly enormous — paycheck isn’t higher. But, in a sense, financiers don’t “make” money. They just move it around. The sector makes most of its revenue through providing a service, not to their individual customers but to the economy. As Nell Irwin explained in The New York Times: “[Finance] exists to channel capital effectively from savers to investment. […] Most of modern finance doesn’t exist as an end in itself, but to make the rest of the economy more efficient.”

Once upon a time, the finance sector was vilified in Western culture, for exactly this reason. (Also because, since Catholic doctrine banned money lending for interest, in Europe for centuries it was the nearly exclusive profession of Jews). Slowly, capitalism emerged, people realized the benefits of an efficient economy, and finance was lionized.

“While there have been dissenting views, today it is accepted that finance is not simply a by-product of the development process, but an engine propelling growth,” economists Stephen G. Cecchetti and Enisse Kharroubi wrote in a 2012 study. “This, in turn, was one of the key elements supporting arguments for financial deregulation. If finance is good for growth, shouldn’t we be working to eliminate barriers to further financial development?”

The Decline Annoying Real Things About Real Places

Charles King:

In October 2013, the U.S. Department of State eliminated its funding program for advanced language and cultural training on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Created in 1983 as a special appropriation by Congress, the so-called Title VIII Program had supported generations of specialists working in academia, think tanks, and the U.S. government itself. But as a State Department official told the Russian news service RIA Novosti at the time, “In this fiscal climate, it just didn’t make it.” The program’s shuttering came just a month before the start of a now well-known chain of events: Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the descent of U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest level since the Cold War. The timing was, to say the least, unfortunate.

“The Plight of History in American Schools”

Diane Ravitch writing in Educational Excellence Network, 1989:

Futuristic novels with a bleak vision of the prospects for the free individual characteristically portray a society in which the dictatorship has eliminated or strictly controls knowledge of the past. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the regime successfully wages a “campaign against the Past” by banning the teaching of history, closing museums, and destroying historical monuments. In George Orwell’s 1984, the regime routinely alters records of the past; it rewrites newspapers and books to conform to political exigencies, and offending versions are destroyed, dropped “into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.”

If knowledge of the past does in fact allow us to understand the present and to exercise freedom of mind—as totalitarian societies, both real and fictional, acknowledge by dictating what may be studied or published—then we have cause for concern. The threat to our knowledge of the past arises, however, not from government censorship but from our own indifference and neglect. The erosion of historical understanding among Americans seems especially pronounced in the generation under thirty-five, those schooled during a period in which sharp declines were registered in test scores in virtually every subject of the school curriculum.

Based on the anecdotal complaints of college professors and high school teachers about their students’ lack of preparation, there was reason to suspect that the study of history had suffered as much erosion and dilution as other fields. To test whether students had a secure command of the “foundations of literacy,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first national assessment of history and literature in the spring of 1986.

One object of the test was to ascertain whether students had ready command of essential background knowledge about American history.

The results were not reassuring. Presumably there is certain background information about American history so fundamental that everyone who goes to school should have learned it by age seventeen (and nearly 80 percent of those who took the assessment were enrolled in the second semester of their high school American history course). In What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Chester Finn, Jr., and I pointed out that there had never been a test of this kind on a national basis and that there was no way to know whether students were learning more or less about history than in the past.

Nonetheless, we found it disturbing that two-thirds of the sample did not know that the Civil War occurred between 1850 and 1900; that nearly 40 percent did not know that the Brown decision held school segregation unconstitutional; that 40 percent did not know that the East Coast of the United States was explored and settled mainly by England and that the Southwest was explored and settled mainly by Spain, that 70 percent did not know that the purpose of Jim Crow laws was to enforce racial segregation, and that 30 percent could not find Great Britain on a map of Europe.

Since the test had never been given before, critics were quick to quarrel with our judgment that student performance was disappointing. Perhaps, they suggested, students thirty or fifty years ago might have done worse on a comparable test. Others complained that the test should also have been given to a representative sample of the adult population, because if adults don’t know such things, then high school students should not be expected to know them either.

Still others complained that we should not expect students to know or care about history because our society does not reward people who value learning, whether teachers or professors. And there were critics who insisted that the test relied too much on factual knowledge, which is insignificant compared to learning how to think. The most repeated criticism was that the results were of no importance because the study of history itself was of no importance, of no utility whatever in the world today. Again and again, the questions were posed, “What can you do with history? What kind of job will it get you?”

Polemics can be both endless and frustrating because there is almost always some truth in every assertion and counter-assertion. Everything the critics said was true to some extent. But it was also true that the assessment revealed that students were not learning some important things they should know about American history. Whether their counterparts in the past knew less, and whether adults today know less, is beside the point. Three wrongs don’t make a right.

Plainly, a significant number of students are not remembering the history that they have studied; they are not integrating it into their repertoire of background knowledge, either as fact or as concept. In reality, as every student of history ought to recognize, facts and concepts are inseparable. Some information is so basic, so essential that all students must know it in order to make sense of new learning. Nor can students be expected to think critically about issues unless they have the background knowledge to support their reasoning. Insisting that facts have a rightful place in the study of history does not mean that history must be learned by rote.

However one learns about the Civil War, however innovative or unorthodox the teacher’s methodology, the student should know that it took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century, not because of the singular importance of that isolated fact, but because that fact connects the events to a particular place in time, to a larger context, and to a chronological setting in which it is possible to make judgments about causes and consequences and relationships among events in the same era.

Was there once a golden age in the study of history? There may have been, but I know of no evidence for it. In 1943, The New York Times reported the results of a test given to seven thousand college freshmen in thirty-six institutions. It was an open-ended test, not a multiple-choice test. Only 45 percent could name four of the specific freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights; fewer than 25 percent could name two achievements of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt; less than 15 percent could identify Samuel Gompers as a leader of organized labor or Susan B. Anthony as an advocate of women’s rights; and only 6 percent could name the thirteen original colonies.

Compared to the college freshmen of 1943, today’s high school juniors do well; after all, 50 percent of today’s sample identified Gompers and 69 percent identified Susan B. Anthony. But our test takers had some critical advantages: first, they took a multiple-choice test, which limits their options and jogs their memory with the right answer; second, Gompers and Anthony are included in their high school textbooks, but were not always included in the textbooks of forty years ago; third, the multiple-choice format virtually guarantees that a minimum of 25 percent will guess the right answer.

The search for comparability may be a blind alley. After all, the historical knowledge that seems most important will differ with each generation, because the salient issues are different for each generation. Today, we expect youngsters to learn about the history of civil rights and minorities, and we stress social history as well as political history. On the NAEP test, there were a number of questions about recent history, like Watergate and Sputnik. Such questions obviously could not have been asked forty years ago, and some of them may seem unimportant forty years from now.

The questions we may reasonably ask about history instruction in the schools are whether students are learning what schools are trying to teach them; whether the history that schools are teaching is significant, current, and presented in ways that encourage student engagement; whether enough time is provided to study issues and events in depth and in context; whether students learn to see today’s issues and events in relationship to the past; whether events are studied from a variety of perspectives; whether students understand that the history they study is not “the truth,” but a version of the past written by historians on the basis of analysis and evidence; and whether students realize that historians disagree about how to define the past.

I first became concerned about the condition of history in the schools while visiting about three dozen campuses across the country in 1984-1985, ranging from large public universities to small private liberal arts colleges. Repeatedly, I was astonished by questions from able students about the most elementary facts of American history. At one urban Minnesota campus, none of the thirty students in a course on ethnic relations had ever heard of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

How were they learning about ethnic relations? Their professor described the previous week’s role-playing lesson. The class had been visited by a swarthy man who described himself as an Iranian, made some provocative statements, and then launched into a tirade, chastising them for being prejudiced against him (in reality, he was an Italo-American from Long Island, and not an Iranian at all). This “lesson” hardly compensated for their ignorance about the history of immigration, of racial minorities, of slavery and segregation, or of legislative and judicial efforts to establish equality in American life.

As a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured at various campuses on the virtues of a liberal education and its importance to society today. After one such speech at a university in the Pacific Northwest, a professor of education insisted that high-school students should concentrate on vocational preparation and athletics, since they had the rest of their lives to learn subjects like history “on their own time.” Time and again, I heard people wonder why even prospective teachers should have a liberal education, particularly if they planned to teach below the high school level. The younger the children, according to the skeptics, the less their teacher needs to know; they seemed to think that knowing and nurturing were incompatible.

In my meetings and talks with students, who were usually the best in the education or the history program, I was surprised to find that most did not recognize allusions to eminent historical figures such as Jane Addams or W.E.B. DuBois. As I traveled, I questioned history professors about whether their students seemed as well prepared today as in the past. None thought they were. Even at such elite institutions as Columbia and Harvard, professors expressed concern about the absence of a common body of reference and allusion to the past; most said their students lacked a sense of historical context and a knowledge of the major issues that had influenced American history. As a professor at Berkeley put it to me, “They have no furniture in their minds. You can assume nothing in the way of prior knowledge. Skills, yes; but not knowledge.”

Those who teach at non-elite institutions perceived an even deeper level of historical illiteracy. Typical were comments by Thomas Kessner, a professor of history at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York: “My students are not stupid, but they have an abysmal background in American or any other kind of history.” This gloomy assessment was echoed by Naomi Miller, chair of the history department at Hunter College in New York. “My students have no historical knowledge on which to draw when they enter college,” she told me.

“They have no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, or the Holocaust.” She expressed dismay at her students’ indifference to dates and chronology or causation. “They think that everything is subjective. They have plenty of attitudes and opinions, but they lack the knowledge to analyze a problem.” Professor Miller believes that “we are in danger of bringing up a generation without historical memory. This is a dangerous situation.”

In search of some explanation for these complaints, I visited social studies classes in New York City. In one high school, where most of the three thousand students are black, Hispanic, and/or recent immigrants, a teacher said to me, “Our students don’t see the relevance to their own lives of what a lot of dead people did a long time ago. American studies means more to them than American history.”

I observed a class in American studies, where the lesson for the day was state government, its leaders and their functions. When the teacher asked whether anyone knew what the state attorney general does, a girl answered tentatively, “Isn’t he the one that says on the cigarette box that you shouldn’t smoke because it gives you cancer?” The teacher responded, incorrectly, “Yes, but what else does he do?” The teacher went on, earnestly trying to explain what New York’s secretary of state does (“he keeps the state’s papers”) and to find some way to connect the work of these officials to the students’ daily lives. The youngsters were bored and apathetic. Watching their impassive faces, I thought that a discussion of the Crusades or the Salem witchcraft trials or Nat Turner’s rebellion would be infinitely more interesting, and relevant, to their adolescent minds.

In another American studies class the topic for the day was the Dred Scott decision. Ah, I thought, I will now see how historical issues are dealt with. The class began with ten minutes of confusing discussion about how students would feel if they were drafted and told they had to serve in Vietnam. The teacher seemed to think this was relevant to the students (since it was relevant to her own generation), although it was not clear that the students had any idea what the war in Vietnam was about. What she was trying to do, I finally realized, was to get the students to wonder who is a citizen and how citizenship is defined. It was a worthy aim, but the rest of the lesson shed little light on the meaning of the Dred Scott decision. The students were told he was a slave who had been brought into a free territory and then sued for his freedom; they were also given a brief definition of the Missouri Compromise. With this as background, the teacher divided them into groups, each of which was a miniature Supreme Court, where they would decide whether Dred Scott should be a slave or go free. Ten minutes later, no surprise, each little Supreme Court recommended that Dred Scott should be a free man, and the class ended. They did not learn why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decided otherwise, nor did they learn the significance of the Dred Scott decision in the antislavery agitation, nor its importance as a precursor to the Civil War. Since the course was law studies, not American history, the students had no background knowledge about sectional antagonisms, about slavery, or about anything else that preceded or followed the Civil War.

When I expressed surprise about the complete absence of traditional, chronological history in the social studies curriculum, the chair of the social studies department said, “What we teach is determined by guidelines from the State Education Department. In the late 1960s the state decided to deemphasize chronological history and to focus instead on topical issues and social science concepts. We followed suit.” A teacher chimed in to explain, “We don’t teach history, because it doesn’t help our students pass the New York State Regents examination in social studies.” This teacher claimed to have compiled a list of concepts that regularly appear on the Regents examinations; his students prepare for the Regents by memorizing the definitions of such terms as “cultural diffusion” and “social mobility.”

What happened to the study of history? Many factors contributed to its dethroning; some relate to the overall American cultural situation, others to specific institutional forces within the schools and changes in the social studies field. Those who claim that American culture devalues history make a strong case. Despite the fervor of history buffs and historical societies, Americans have long been present- and future-oriented. I suspect that it has never been easy to persuade Americans of the importance of understanding the past. Trends in recent years have probably strengthened popular resistance to historical study. Even in the academy, rampant specialization among college faculties has made professors less willing to teach broad survey courses, less concerned about capturing the attention of non-majors or the general public by tackling large questions.

Within the schools, the study of history has encountered other kinds of problems. During the past generation, history was dislodged from its lofty perch as “queen” of the social studies by the proliferation of social sciences, electives, and other courses. Many in the social studies field say that history still dominates the social studies, since almost all students take the traditional one-year high school course in American history, and about half the students take a one-year course in world history. However, even though the high school American history course may be secure, researchers have found “a gradual and persistent decline in requirements, courses and enrollments” in history at the junior high school level, as well as a reduction of requirements and course offerings in world history in high schools. Indeed, the only history course that is well entrenched in the curriculum is the high school survey of American history.

To some teachers, social studies means the study of the social sciences, and many schools offer electives in sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology. Some see the field as primarily responsible for the study of current social problems. Others see it as a field whose overriding objective is to teach students the essentials of good behavior and good citizenship. Still others declare that the goal of the social studies is to teach critical thinking, or values, or respect for cultural diversity.

Because of the ill-defined nature of the social studies field, it is easily (and regularly) invaded by curricular fads, and it all too often serves as a dumping ground for special-interest programs. Whenever state legislatures or interest groups discover an unmet need, a new program is pushed into the social studies curriculum. Each state has its own pet programs, but under the copious umbrella of social studies can be found courses in such subjects as energy education, environmental education, gun-control education, water education, sex education, human rights education, future studies, consumer education, free-enterprise education and a host of other courses prompted by contemporary issues.

This indiscriminate confusion of short-term social goals would have dismayed those historians who first took an active interest in history in the schools. In 1893 a distinguished panel of historians, including the future President Woodrow Wilson, recommended an eight-year course of study in history, beginning in the fifth grade with biography and mythology and continuing in the following years with American history and government, Greek and Roman history, French history, and English history. Criticizing the traditional emphasis on rote learning, the Committee of Ten argued that history should teach judgment and thinking, and should be conjoined with such studies as literature, geography, art, and languages. The historians’ recommendations were aimed at all children, not just the college-bound: “We believe that the colleges can take care of themselves; our interest is in the schoolchildren who have no expectation of going to college, the larger number of whom will not enter even a high school.”

In 1899 the Committee of Seven, a group of historians created by the American Historical Association (AHA), recommended a four-year model high school curriculum: first year, ancient history; second year, medieval and modern European history; third year, English history; and fourth year, American history and government. It was expected that students would read biographies, mythology, legends, and hero tales in the elementary years, and that this reading would provide a foundation for their subsequent study of history. The Committee of Seven’s proposal set a national pattern for American high schools for years to come. Like the Committee of Ten, the Seven believed that history should be the core of general education for all students in a democracy.

This four-year model history curriculum came under increasing attack, however, from the newly emerging field of social studies, whose major purpose (according to a 1918 report known as The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education) was “social efficiency.” Characteristic of the progressive effort to make education socially useful, the new report, which for decades has been considered the most influential document in American education, rejected those studies that seemed not to contribute directly to the goal of training students to take their place in society.

Moreover, The Cardinal Principles broke sharply with the findings and recommendations of earlier committees. It endorsed differentiated curricula, based on students’ future vocational goals, such as agriculture, business, clerical, industrial, and household arts programs. Much of the history that had been taught had no immediate social utility and thus its advocates had difficulty claiming a place in the curriculum. In the decades that followed, as the curriculum incorporated more courses that seemed socially useful or were intended to teach social skills, the time available for history shrank. Many schools collapsed their courses in ancient history, European history, and English history into a single, and optional, one-year course called “world history” or “Western civilization.”

The new emphasis on short-term social utility also affected the curriculum in the early grades. The various reform reports of the early twentieth century had recommended that young children read exciting stories about remarkable people and events that changed the course of history. In most city and state curricula, children in the early grades studied distant civilizations and read their myths and legends in addition to learning the stories about heroes and the folktales of their own country. They also celebrated holidays and learned about their local community through field trips, an emphasis called “home geography.” But by the 1930s this curriculum began to be replaced by studies of family roles and community helpers. Instead of thrilling biographies and mythology, children read stories about children just like themselves.

The new curriculum for the early grades, called “expanding environments” or “expanding horizons,” was factual and immediate, ousting imaginative historical literature and play from the early grades. Increasingly, time in the early grades was devoted to this fixed pattern: kindergarten, myself; first grade, my family; second grade, my neighborhood; third grade, my city. There was no evidence that children preferred to read about postal workers over tall tales, stories of heroes, or ancient Egyptians. Nonetheless, the new curriculum gradually swept the country, pushing historical content out of the early grades.

Not until the late 1980s did the social studies curriculum in the primary grades attract sustained criticism. According to leading cognitive psychologists, the “expanding environments” approach has no grounding in developmental research. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that it dwells unnecessarily on what the child already knows or does not need to go to school to learn. In 1987, a content analysis of social studies textbooks for the early grades was conducted at the University of Georgia. One of the investigators, Professor A. Guy Larkins, concluded, “If asked to choose between teaching primary-grades social studies with available texts or eliminating social studies from the K-3 curriculum, I would choose the latter. Much of the content in current texts is redundant, superfluous, vacuous, and needlessly superficial.” Larkins also complained that children were reading about taking field trips instead of actually taking field trips, seeing pictures of a generic community rather than investigating their own.

Learning again and again about the roles of family members and community helpers in the primary years may well be extremely boring for children who are used to watching action-packed stories on television and seeing dramatic events on the evening news. The me-centered curriculum fails to give children a sense of other times and places, and fails to appeal to their lively imaginations. Children might enjoy the study of history if they began in the early grades to listen to and read lively historical literature, such as myths, legends, hero stories, and true stories about great men and women in their community, state, nation, and world. Not only in the early grades but throughout the kindergarten to twelfth grade sequence, students should read lively narrative accounts of extraordinary events and remarkable people. Present practice seems calculated to persuade young people that social studies is a train of self-evident, unrelated facts, told in a dull manner.

By mid-century most American public schools had adopted a nearly standardized social studies curriculum: Children in kindergarten and the first three grades studied self, home, family, neighborhood, and community; children in fourth grade studied state history; in fifth grade, American history; in sixth grade, world cultures; seventh grade, world geography; eighth grade, American history; ninth grade, civics or world cultures; tenth grade, world history; eleventh grade, American history; twelfth grade, American government. While there have been many variations from district to district, this has been the dominant social studies curriculum for the last fifty years. Most cities and states follow the model for the early grades, teach one year of American history in elementary school and again in junior high school, and require a single year of American history for high school graduation. Most, however, do not require the study of world history in the high school years.

Despite this format’s persistent emphasis on social relevance and student interest, surveys have repeatedly shown that students find social studies to be less interesting and less important than their other school subjects. Why is this field, whose intrinsic human interest is so compelling, so often perceived as boring? There are many possible answers, including the compendious, superficial, and dull textbooks students are assigned to read. But the curricular pattern itself must be in some measure at fault, as it forces repetition of courses on the one hand and too little time for study in depth on the other. Both problems are surefire formulas for dullness, and curriculum planners have been thus far unable to resolve either of them.

When the usual curricular model is followed, American history is taught three times: in the fifth grade, the eighth grade, and the eleventh grade. The question is whether to teach a complete survey course (from pre-Columbian times to the present) at each of the three grade settings. If the survey is taught three times, there is no time to go beyond the textbook, to explore significant questions, to examine original sources or to conduct mock trials or debates. Some districts have broken away from the “coverage” survey by instead teaching major topics and themes in American history, but this approach is clearly insufficient when youngsters fail to understand chronology, the sequence of events, or the causal connections among events.

Another alternative to the survey is to devote each of the three years of American history to a different time period. The usual pattern is that the elementary school course concentrates on exploration and settlement and daily life in the colonies; the junior high course emphasizes the nineteenth century; and the high school year carries the student from the Civil War to the present. The advantage of the latter program is that it allows for time to treat issues in depth, without neglecting chronology. The disadvantage is that it allows no time for mature students to examine the Revolutionary era, when the principles of American government were shaped, or to consider the constitutional conflicts that led to the Civil War. It is also problematic in light of population mobility from state to state, as well as the immigrant influx from other countries, which means that newcomers in the middle or later grades will miss out on important events in the life of the early Republic.

While there is no easy answer to this problem, the history curriculum adopted in California in 1987 attempts to meld the two approaches; each year concentrates on a different time period, but each course begins and ends with an intensive review of critical issues and events. In the world history program, the most pressing problem is time. In most districts where world history is taught, it is studied for only one year, not nearly enough time to encompass the history of the world. New York State adopted a two-year global studies sequence in 1987 (though not strong on history), and California adopted a mandatory three-year world history sequence in the same year. Most other states, however, do not require even one year of world history.

Furthermore, the social studies field is divided about whether world history should emphasize Western Europe or global studies. When the course focuses on Western Europe, it is unified by attention to the evolution of democratic political institutions and ideas, as well as to their betrayal by genocide, war, and racism. When the course is global studies (as, for example, in New York State), equal attention is given to Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other regions. The “Western civilization” course has been criticized by some as “ethnocentric,” while the “global studies” approach has been criticized by others for superficiality, for incoherence, and for minimizing the importance of the West in world history. No matter which approach is taken, a single year is insufficient to study world history.

The difficulty of trying to compress the history of the world into an introductory course is exemplified by one widely-adopted text, in which World War II is reduced to a brief summary and the Holocaust to two sentences: “Many millions of civilians also lost their lives. Six million Jews alone were murdered at Hitler’s orders.”

Does it matter if Americans are ignorant of their past and of the world’s? Does it matter if they know little of the individuals, the events, the ideas, the forces, and the movements that shaped their nation and others? If the study of history is to gain public support and attention,
historians must directly answer the utilitarian challenge. They must be prepared to argue that the study of history is useful in its own terms. Those who study history learn how and why the world came to be what it is, why things change and why they stay the same.

Knowledge of history is both useful and necessary for our society because everyone has the right to choose our leaders and to participate in our civic and social life. All citizens, not just the few, are expected to understand major domestic and international issues. Without historical perspective, voters are more likely to be swayed by emotional appeals, by stirring commercials, or by little more than a candidate’s photogenic charisma.

Even between elections, a knowledge of history is vital today for the average citizen and vital for the health of our political system. Politicians and news organizations regularly poll the public to assess their view of domestic and international issues. When public sentiment is clear, the government and the media take heed. When the public is ill-informed or uninterested, policymakers are free to act without the consent of the governed. Americans today require historical background in order to understand complex social and political questions in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.

Writers and editors in national newspapers and magazines assume the presence of a historically literate public by alluding without further explanation to historic events and individuals. Without a historically literate public, readily able to understand such references,
newspapers and television journalism will have no choice but to simplify their vocabulary, to reduce their coverage of serious topics, and serve as little more than headline and amusement services, devoid of significant context.

Those who have a professional commitment to the study of history have a particular responsibility to improve the way it is taught and learned in the schools. Organizations such as the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) have a direct responsibility for the quality of history instruction. The teacher-scholar collaboratives sponsored by these organizations are one valuable means to assist professionals in the schools. There are others. For example, professional associations should lobby to ensure that teachers of history have actually studied history in college; in several states, including New York and California, social studies teachers may be certified without ever having studied any history. Professional associations could assist curriculum planners in enriching the study of history at every grade level. The AHA and OAH could provide invaluable support to state curriculum offices that are pressured by powerful interest groups to rewrite or water down the history curriculum; some kind of review mechanism could fend off unreasonable demands.

In 1932, Henry Johnson of Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote a delightful review of the teaching of history throughout the ages, somewhat misleadingly entitled An Introduction to the History of the Social Sciences. Johnson quoted a sixteenth-century Spanish scholar, Juan Vives, to explain why it is valuable to study history: “Where there is history,” wrote Vives, “children have transferred to them the advantages of old men; where history is absent, old men are as children.” Without history, according to Vives, “no one would know anything about his father or ancestors; no one could know his own rights or those of another or how to maintain them; no one would know how his ancestors came to the country he inhabits.” Johnson cited the view of the seventeenth-century French oratorians that “history is a grand mirror in which we see ourselves…The secret of knowing and judging ourselves rightly is to see ourselves in others, and history can make us the contemporaries of all centuries in all countries.”

History will never be restored as a subject of value unless it is detached from vulgar utilitarianism; it should not be expected to infuse morals or patriotism. Properly taught, history teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding; it establishes a context of human life in a particular time and place, relating art, literature, philosophy, law, architecture, language, government, economics, and social life; it portrays the great achievements and terrible disasters of the human race; it awakens youngsters to the universality of the human experience as well as to the particularities that distinguish cultures and societies from one another; it encourages the development of intelligence, civility, and a sense of perspective. It endows its students with a broad knowledge of other times, other cultures, other places. It leaves its students with cultural resources on which they may draw for the rest of their lives. These are values and virtues that are gained through the study of history, values and virtues essential to the free individual exercising freedom of mind. Beyond these, history needs no further justification.

via Will Fitzhugh.

How to properly fund education (hint: not more taxes)

Jonathan Butcher:

First, Arizona should stop paying for ghost students.

Arizona schools can apply for additional funding for current-year enrollment growth, but they do not have to adjust for enrollment decreases in the same year. Traditional school payments are generally not updated until the following year, which means schools get funding for students who aren’t in their classrooms anymore.

As Goldwater Institute research has reported, the state pays about $125 million for empty seats every year.

Traditional school payments should be based on the number of students in the classroom, with payments updated accordingly throughout the year.

Taxpayers already pay more for schools in the lowest-performing districts than the highest-achieving districts. According to data from the Arizona Auditor General’s Office, the average expenditure per child in a “D” district (Arizona has made it nearly impossible to earn an “F”) is $11,900. For districts that earned an “A” on their report card, the average taxpayer expense per child is $9,200.

• The second step the Legislature should take is to eliminate seat-time requirements.

The late Sen. Chester Crandell was a visionary when it came to updating Arizona’s school-finance formula in this way. Two years ago, he led the passage of legislation that created a performance-funding pilot program for Arizona schools. Instead of paying schools based on how long students sit behind their desks each year, Crandell’s program based up to half of participating schools’ funding on how well students are learning.

Teacher tenure refugees flee public schools

James Richardson

When public school administrators and teachers in Washington, D.C., recently laced up their sensible shoes and launched an unprecedented canvassing campaign to goose slumped enrollment rates, the panicked affectation was unmistakable.

Short of horse-drawn carriage makers, few industries have suffered such a pronounced decline in market share than government-run schools in America’s urban centers. Consider the numbers: forty-four percent of the District’s public student population has abandoned conventional neighborhood schools for public charters.

But while the taxpayer-financed campaign was designed to signal fresh responsiveness to parents, the effort merely reinforced the perception that entrenched teachers and labor unions were braving the sweltering heat out of self-interest. No students means no jobs.

Here, where traditional public school enrollment has dipped by 30,000 students in just the last 18 years, administrators believe the key to stemming the exodus of public school refugees lies in diverting precious resources from improving instruction to marketing.

To augment the hard sell being made door-to-door by principals, the school system even retained the pricey data miners who twice won the White House for President Barack Obama.

The hiring of that degree of experience doesn’t come on the cheap — the system spent at least $44,000 for five two-hour huddles with the Obama campaign veterans and for a statistical model to pinpoint students most likely to leave the traditional public education system, according to a review of receipts by the Washington Post — and not without cause.

If enrollment trends remain constant, soon a majority of students in the nation’s capital city will be educated in charter schools. Said another way: roughly half of parents living in the seat of the federal government don’t trust government-run schools to properly educate their children.

But D.C.’s expanding educational marketplace isn’t especially unique. To the west, in California, and north, in New York, working poor communities are rejecting traditional schools whose intractable tenure regime has punished budgets, and in turn students, for decades.

Last month, a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles invalidated California’s tenure law, which shielded even grossly underperforming teachers from termination.

That verdict, which credit agency Moody’s rated a positive development for the state’s cash poor school system, prompted the filing of a parallel lawsuit this month by a group of 11 New York City students arguing the current system had denied them the right to a “sound education” promised them in the state constitution.

Spooked by the possibility that the court may finally eliminate protections for lousy teachers, one New York City public school educator, Franceso Portelos, preemptively retaliated by warning a fellow instructor on Twitter to “look away” if a “disservice” was done to two students who brought the suit.

The city had previously spent in excess of $600,000 in an unsuccessful, two-year attempt to terminate that same teacher’s employment for a host of grievances.

But in the same period that the city was fighting to exercise a measure of the same employment freedom that managers in the private sector wield as a matter of course, the number of students in New York City charter schools spiked by 24%, up to more than 48,000. Teachers like Portelo, girded by tenure safeguards, have fixed that basement, and it won’t be long before multiple stories are built atop it.

Now, the hemorrhaging enrollment rates in government-run schools isn’t the result of a profound pedagogical debate, at least not directly, among America’s parents that teachers in charter schools are necessarily better and more committed than their counterparts at traditional public schools, because they’re not.

Underperforming educators can be found in any institution, public or private, charter or traditional, but only the best among them treat education as a commodity and parents as consumers. The marketplace demands change, and traditional public schools instead remain fixed in decades past — hoping to dupe earnest-but-forgiving parents into believing that their self-interest is on par with concern for students, because it isn’t.

As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation: A Brief Report from the University of Southern Maine

Jason Read:

“Whenever you have a ‘southern’ or a ‘northern’ or an ‘eastern’ or a ‘western’ before an institution’s name, you know it will be wildly underfunded.” –Richard Russo

On March nineteenth the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, as well as the President, and select members of the Board of Trustees gathered in front of a crowd of students, faculty and staff in the Hannaford Lecture Hall, a spacious and new lecture hall (more often rented out than used for classes) to unveil the University of Southern Maine’s new vision as a “Metropolitan University.” Two days later, on the twenty-first, twelve members of the faculty from such programs as economics, theater, and sociology met with the provost of the University to be “retrenched.” Both of these events followed the proposal to eliminate four programs (American and New England Studies, Geosciences, Recreation and Leisure Studies, and Arts and Humanities at the Lewiston Auburn Campus) the week before. It was a strange and tumultuous week, and one that I fear offers a frightening glimpse of a future of higher public education in the US.

All of these events, the rebranding and the cuts, were in a response to a system wide budget shortfall of $35 million, of which USM is slated to absorb $14 million in cuts. Claims of poverty on the part of public universities need to be contextualized against the massive decrease in state allocations, on the one hand, and the increasing connection between the university and financial services, on the other (on this point in general see Edward Kazarian’s post) in which bond ratings matter more than educational mission. With respect to the former the University of Maine system has followed the national trend of divestment in higher education. In 1999 appropriations accounted for 63 percent of the university’s budget while tuition and fees made up 37 percent, by 2014 this was reversed to 62 percent from tuition and 38 from allocation. During this period Maine went through the largest tax cut in its history, cutting taxes on inheritance and otherwise making it easier for the wealthiest to keep their money. A tuition freeze instituted in 2012 followed closely on the heels of this cut. (The latter is a perfect example of faux-populism, taking measures to supposedly cut college costs while failing to address the real cause of those costs.) During this same period USM added several new buildings, such as the lecture hall noted above. As enrollment dropped by six percent from 2008-2012 the combination of reduced appropriations, fixed tuition, and decreased enrollment led to a perfect storm of budget problems.

Media Blackout

In the United States, our media are not allowed to report on or discuss exemplary student academic achievement at the high school level. For example, in the “Athens of America,” The Boston Globe has more than 150 full pages each year on the accomplishments of high school athletes, but only one page a year on academics–a full page with the photographs of valedictorians at the public high schools in the city, giving their name, their school, their country of origin (often 40% foreign-born) and the college they will be going to.
The reasons for this media blackout on good academic work by students at the secondary level are not clear, apart from tradition, but while high school athletes who “sign with” a particular college are celebrated in the local paper, and even on televised national high school games, the names of Intel Science Talent Search winners, of authors published in The Concord Review, and of other accomplished high school scholars may not appear in the paper or on television.
Publicity offers encouragement for the sorts of efforts we would like our HS students to make. We naturally publicize high school athletic achievements and this helps to motivate athletes to engage in sports. By contrast, when it comes to good academic work, we don’t mention it, so perhaps we want less of it?
One senior high school history teacher has written that “We actually hide academic excellence from the public eye because that will single out some students and make others ‘feel bad.'”
Does revealing excellence by high school athletes make some other athletes or scholar-athletes or high school scholars feel bad? How can we tolerate that? I know there are some Progressive secondary schools which have eliminated academic prizes and honors, to spare the feelings of the students who don’t get them, but I don’t see that they have stopped keeping score in school games, no matter how the losers in those contests may feel.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Signing Day Central–By Michael Carvell
11:02 am Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
“Welcome to the AJC’s Signing day Day Central. This is the place to be to catch up with all the recruiting information with UGA, Georgia Tech and recruits from the state of Georgia. We will update the news as it happens, and interact on the message board below.
Lorenzo Carter, DE, 6-5, 240, Norcross: UGA reeled in the big fish, landing the state’s No.1 overall prospect for the first time since 2011 (Josh Harvey-Clemons). Isaiah McKenzie, WR, 5-8, 175, Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage: This was one of two big surprises for UGA to kick off signing day. McKenzie got a last-minute offer from UGA and picked the Bulldogs because of his best buddy and high school teammate, 5-star Sony Michel (signed with UGA). Hunter Atkinson, TE, 6-6, 250, West Hall: The Cincinnati commit got a last-minute call from Mark Richt and flipped to UGA. I’m not going to say we saw it coming, but … Atkinson had grayshirt offers from Alabama, Auburn and UCF. Tavon Ross, S, 6-1, 200, Bleckley County: The Missouri commit took an official visit to UGA but decided to stick with Missouri. He’s signed. Andrew Williams, DE, 6-4, 247, ECLA: He signed with Auburn over Clemson and Auburn. He joked with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn when he called with the news, saying “I’m sorry to inform you….. That I will be attending your school,” according to’s Kipp Adams. Tyre McCants, WR-DB, 5-11, 200, Niceville, Fla.: Turned down late interest from UGA to sign with USF.”
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, of course, in the coverage of high school athletes that goes on during the year. I hope readers will email me any comparable examples of the celebration of exemplary high school academic work that they can find in the media in their community, or in the nation generally.

Fascinating: UW education dean warns school boards that ALEC seeks to wipe them out

Pat Schneider:

ALEC is still at it, Julie Underwood, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cautions in “School Boards Beware,” (PDF) a commentary in the May issue of Wisconsin School News.
The model legislation disseminated by the pro-free market American Legislative Exchange Council’s national network of corporate members and conservative legislators seeks to privatize education and erode the local control, Underwood says.
“The ALEC goal to eliminate school districts and school boards is a bit shocking — but the idea is to make every school, public and private, independent through vouchers for all students. By providing all funding to parents rather than school districts, there is no need for local coordination, control or oversight,” she writes in the magazine of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
Underwood, who says that Wisconsin public schools already face unprecedented change, last year co-authored a piece about ALEC’s grander plans, a “legislative contagion (that) seemed to sweep across the Midwest during the early months of 2011.”
In her recent piece, Underwood argues that a push to privatize education for the “free market” threatens the purpose of public education: to educate every child to “become an active citizen, capable of participating in our democratic process.”


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

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

“I think that’s really unfortunate,” says Underwood, who first worked at UW-Madison from 1986-95 before coming back to town as education dean in 2005.


Do Americans Know How Well Their State’s Schools Perform?

Martin West:

Among the most common rationales offered for the Common Core State Standards project is to eliminate differences in the definition of student proficiency in core academic subjects across states. As is well known, the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) required states to test students annually in grades 3-8 (and once in high school), to report the share of students in each school performing at a proficient level in math and reading, and to intervene in schools not on track to achieve universal student proficiency by 2014. Yet it permitted states to define proficiency as they saw fit, producing wide variation in the expectations for student performance from one state to the next. While a few states, including several that had set performance standards prior to NCLB’s enactment, have maintained relatively demanding definitions of proficiency, most have been more lenient.
The differences in expectations for students across states are striking. In 2011, for example, Alabama reported that 77 percent of its 8th grade students were proficient in math, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests administered that same year indicated that just 20 percent of Alabama’s 8th graders were proficient against NAEP standards. In Massachusetts, on the other hand, roughly the same share of 8th graders achieved proficiency on the state test (52 percent) as did so on the NAEP (51 percent). In other words, Alabama deemed 25 percent more of its students proficient than did Massachusetts despite the fact that its students performed at markedly lower levels when evaluated against a common standard. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has gone so far as to accuse states like Alabama of “lying to children and parents” by setting low expectations for student performance.

Wisconsin’s oft-criticized WKCE is similar to Alabama’s proficiency approach, rather than Massachusetts. Yet, Alabama has seen fit to compare their students to the world, something Wisconsin has resisted.


The Madison School Board Elections; setting the record straight

Kaleem Caire, via a kind email

March 6, 2013
Dear Madison Leaders.
As the 2013 Madison school board race continues, we (the Urban League) are deeply concerned about the negative politics, dishonesty and inaccurate discussions that have shaped the campaign. While I will not, as a nonprofit leader, speak about the merits of individual candidates, we are concerned about how Madison Prep has become a red herring during the debates. The question of all the candidates has been largely narrowed to, “Did you support Madison Prep or did you not?”…as if something was horribly wrong with our charter school proposal, and as though that is the most important issue facing our school children and schools.
While the Urban League has no interest in partaking in the squabbles and confusion that has unfortunately come to define public conversation about our public schools, we do want to set the record straight about deliberations on Madison Prep that have been falsely expressed by many during this campaign, and used to dog individuals who supported the school proposal more than one year ago.
Here is how things transpired.
On May 9, 2011, Steve Goldberg of the CUNA Mutual Foundation facilitated a meeting about Madison Prep, at my request, between Madison Teacher’s Incorporated President, John Matthews and me. The meeting was held in CUNA’s cafeteria. We had lunch and met for about an hour. It was a cordial meeting and we each discussed the Madison Prep proposal and what it would take for the Urban League and MTI to work together. We didn’t get into many details, however I was sure to inform John that our proposal of a non-instrumentality charter school (non-MTI) was not because we didn’t support the union but because the collective bargaining agreement was too restrictive for the school model and design we were proposing to be fully implemented, and because we desired to recruit teachers outside the restrictions of the collective bargaining agreement. We wanted to have flexibility to aggressively recruit on an earlier timeline and have the final say on who worked in our school.
The three of us met again at the Coliseum Bar on August 23, 2011, this time involving other members of our teams. We got into the specifics of negotiations regarding the Urban League’s focus on establishing a non-instrumentality school and John’s desire to have Madison Prep’s employees be a part of MTI’s collective bargaining unit. At the close of that meeting, we (Urban League) offered to have Madison Prep’s teachers and guidance counselors be members of the collective bargaining unit. John said he felt we were making progress but he needed to think about not having MTI represent all of the staff that are a part of their bargaining unit. John and I also agreed that I would email him a memo outlining our desire to work with MTI, and provide the details of what we discussed. John agreed to respond after reviewing the proposal with his team. That memo, which we have not released previously, is attached [336K PDF]. You will see clearly that the Urban League initiated dialogue with MTI about having the teacher’s union represent our educators.
John, Steve and I met for a third time at Perkins restaurant for breakfast on the West Beltline on September 30, 2013. This time, I brought representatives of the Madison Prep and Urban League Boards with me: Dr. Gloria Ladson Billings, John Roach and Derrick Smith. It was at the close of this meeting that John Matthews told all of us that we “had a deal”, that MTI and the Urban League would now work together on Madison Prep. We all shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Our team was relieved.
Later that evening, I received calls from Matt DeFour, a reporter with the Wisconsin State Journal and Susan Troller of The Capital Times. They both asked me to confirm what John had told them; that we had a deal. I replied by confirming the deal. The next day, The Capital Times ran a story, Madison Prep and MTI will work together on new charter school. The State Journal ran an article too, Prep School agrees to employ union staff. All was good, or so we thought.
Unfortunately, our agreement was short-lived. The very next day after the story hit the newspapers, my team and I began receiving angry letters from social workers and psychologists in MMSD who were upset that we did not want to have those positions represented by MTI. We replied by explaining to them that our reasoning was purely driven by the fact that 99% of the Districts psychologists were white and that there were few social workers of color, too. For obvious reasons, we did not believe MMSD would have success hiring diverse staff for these positions. We desired a diverse staff for two reasons: we anticipated the majority of our students to be students of color and our social work and psychological service model was different. Madison Prep had a family-serving model where the school would pay for such services for every person in a family, if necessary, who needed it, and would make available to families and students a diverse pool of contracted psychologists that families and students could choose from.
That Monday evening, October 3, 2011, John Matthews approached me with Steve Goldberg at the School Board hearing on Madison Prep and informed me that his bargaining unit was very upset and that he needed to have our Physical education teacher be represented by MTI, too. Our Phy Ed model was different; we had been working on a plan with the YMCA to implement a very innovative approach to ensuring our students were deeply engaged in health and wellness activities at school and beyond the school day. In our plan, we considered the extraordinarily high rates of obesity among young men and women of color. However, to make the deal with MTI work, that evening I gave MTI the Phy Ed teaching position.
But that one request ultimately became a request by MTI for every position in our school, and a request by John Matthews to re-open negotiations, this time with a mediator. At first, we rejected this request because we felt “a deal is a deal”. When you shake hands, you follow through.
We only gave in after current school board president, James Howard, called me at home to request that the Urban League come back to the negotiating table. James acknowledged not feeling great about asking us to do this after all we had been through – jumping through hoop after hoop. If you followed the media closely, you would recall how many times we worked to overcome hurdles that were placed in our way – $200K worth of hurdles (that’s how much we spent). After meeting with MMSD leadership and staff, we agreed to come back to the table to address issues with MTI and AFSCME, who wanted our custodial and food service workers to be represented by the union as well. When we met, the unions came to the negotiation with attorneys and so did we. If you care to find out what was said during these negotiations, you can request a transcript from Beth Lehman, the liaison to the MMSD Board of Education who was taking official notes (October 31 and November 1, 2011).
On our first day of negotiations, after all sides shared their requests and concerns, we (ULGM) decided to let AFSCME represent our custodial and food service staff. AFSCME was immediately satisfied, and left the room. That’s when the hardball towards us started. We then countered with a plausible proposal that MTI did not like. When we couldn’t get anywhere, we agreed to go into recess. Shortly after we came back from recess, former MMSD Superintendent Dan Nerad dropped the bomb on us. He shared that if we now agreed to have our staff be represented by MTI, we would have to budget paying our teachers an average of $80,000 per year per teacher and dedicating $25,000 per teacher to benefits. This would effectively increase our proposal from $15M over five years to $28M over five years.
Why the increased costs? For months, we projected in our budgets that our staff would likely average 7 years of teaching experience with a Master’s degree. We used the MTI-MMSD salary schedule to set the wages in our budget, and followed MMSD and MTI’s suggestions for how to budget for the extended school day and year parts of our charter school plan. Until that day, MMSD hadn’t once told us that the way we were budgeting was a problem. They actually submitted several versions of budgets to the School Board, and not once raising this issue.
Superintendent Nerad further informed us that MMSD was going to now submit a budget to the Board of Education that reflected costs for teachers with an average of 14 years’ experience and a master’s degree. When we shockingly asked Nerad if he thought the Board of Education would support such a proposal, he said they likely would not. We did not think the public would support such a unusual request either. As you can imagine, we left the negotiations very frustrated. In the 23rd hour, not only was the run we thought we had batted in taken away from us in the 9th inning, we felt like our entire season had been vacated by commissioners.
When we returned to our office that afternoon, we called an emergency meeting of the Urban League and Madison Prep boards. It was in those meetings that we had to make a choice. Do we completely abandon our proposal for Madison Prep after all we had done to see the project through, and after all of the community support and interests from parents that we had received, or do we go forward with our original proposal of a non-instrumentality charter school and let the chips fall where they may with a vote by the Board? At that point, our trust of MMSD and MTI was not very high. In fact, weeks before all of this happened, we were told by Nerad in a meeting with our team and attorneys, and his staff and attorneys, that the Board of Education had voted in closed session to unilaterally withdraw our charter school planning grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. They reversed this decision after we informed them we would file a lawsuit against them. We were later told that a certain Board member was pushing for months to have this done. Then, after months of not being able to get certain board members to meet with us, Marj Passman, decided to meet with me alone in my office. During that meeting, she told me that we (ULGM) didn’t have the votes for Madison Prep and that we were never going to get the school approved. She the offered to donate her personal funds to Madison Prep, if we pulled our proposal and decided to do a private school instead. I told her that I appreciated her offer, but declined.
After finally meeting with all seven board of education members, both the Madison Prep and ULGM boards decided unanimously that we must in good conscience go forward, put the needs and future of our children first, and reintroduce the non-instrumentality proposal to the School Board. You know the rest of the story.
Over the next 45 days, we (ULGM) were categorically painted as an anti-union conservative outfit who proposed a flawed school model that divided Madison and threatened to join the Scott Walker effort to eliminate unions. We were made to be the great dividers (not the achievement gap itself) and me, “an Angry Black Man”. Lost in the debate were the reasons we proposed the school in the first place – because so many children of color were failing in our schools and there was no effective strategy in place to address it even though the school system has known about its racial achievement gap since it was first document by researcher Naomi Lede for the National Urban League in 1965. That gap has doubled since then.
Ironically, two of the people behind the attacks on ULGM were Ben Manski and TJ Mertz. They were uniquely aligned in their opposition to Madison Prep. John Matthews even weighed in on video with his comments against us, but at least he told a story that was 80% consistent with the events that actually transpired. Watch the video and listen to the reason he gave for why he didn’t support Madison Prep. He didn’t call us union haters or teacher bashers. He knew better. So why all the fuss now? Why have those who knew exactly what went on in these negotiations not told the true story about what really happened with Madison Prep? Why has a charter school proposal been made the scapegoat, or defining lever, in a school board race where there are so many other more important issues to address?
If all it takes to win a seat on the school board now is opposition to charter schools, rather than being someone who possesses unique experiences and qualifications to serve our now majority non-white and low-income student body and increasingly challenged schools, we should all worry about the future of our children and public schools.
So, for those who were unaware and those who’ve been misleading the public about Madison Prep and the Urban League, I hope you at least read this account all the way through and give all of the candidates in this school board election the opportunity to win or lose on their merits. Falsehoods and red herrings are not needed. They don’t make our city or our school district look good to the observing eye. Let’s be honest and accurate in our descriptions going forward.
Thank you for reading.
We continue to move forward for our children and are more determined than ever to serve them well.
Strengthening the Bridge Between Education and Work
Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison
Main: 608.729.1200
Assistant: 608.729.1249
Fax: 608.729.1205
Invest in the Urban League
Urban League 2012 Third Quarter Progress Report

The Memorandum from Kaleem Caire to John Matthews (Madison Teachers, Inc)

Date: August 23, 2011
To: Mr. John Matthews, Executive Director, Madison Teachers, Inc.
From: Kaleem Caire, President & CEO, Urban League of Greater Madison
cc: Mr. Steve Goldberg, President, CUNA Foundation; Mr. David Cagigal, Vice Chair, Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM); Ms Laura DeRoche-Perez, Charter School Development Consultant, ULGM; Mr. David Hase, Attorney, Cooke & Frank SC
Re: Discussion about potential MTl-Madison Prep Relationship
Greetings John.
I sincerely appreciate your openness to engaging in conversation about a possible relationship between MTI and Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men. We, ULGM and Madison Prep, look forward to determining very soon what the possibilities could be.
Please accept his memo as a means to frame the issues.

  1. The Urban League of Greater Madison initially pursued a non-instrumentality public charter school
    focused on young men to, first and foremost, eliminate the academic and graduate gaps between young people of color and their white peers, to successfully prepare greater percentages of young men of color and those at-risk for higher education, to significantly reduce the incarceration rate among young adult males of color and to provide an example of success that could become a learning laboratory for
    educators, parents and the Greater Madison community with regard to successful ly educating young men, regardless of th eir race or socio-economic status.

  2. We are very interested in determining how we can work with MTI while maintaining independence with regard to work rules, operations, management and leadership so that we can hire and retain the best team possible for Madison Prep, and make organizational and program decisions and modifications as necessary to meet the needs of our students, faculty, staff and parents.
  3. MTl’s collective bargaining agreement with the Madison Metropolitan School District covers many positions within the school system. We are interested in having MTI represent our teachers and guidance counselors. All other staff would not be represented by MTI.
  4. The collective bargaining agreement between MTI and Madison Prep would be limited to employee wages and benefits. Madison Prep teachers would select a representative among them, independent of Madison Prep’s leadership, to serve as their union representative to MTI.

I look forward to discussing this with you and members of our teams, and hearing what ideas you have for the
relationship as well.
Kaleem Caire,
President & CEO

336K PDF Version
jpg version
Related Links:

Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School
(Rejected by a majority of the Madison School Board).
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman on “the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment.“.
John Matthews, Madison Teachers, Inc.
Kaleem Caire, Madison Urban League
The rejected Studio Charter School.
Union politics.
2013 Madison School Board Elections.
Update: Matthew DeFour’s article on Caire’s message:

Lucy Mathiak, who was on the board in 2011, also didn’t dispute Caire’s account of the board action, but couldn’t recall exactly what happened in the board’s closed sessions.
“Did (the Urban League) jump through many hoops, provide multiple copies of revised proposals upon request, meet ongoing demands for new and more detailed information? Yes,” Mathiak said. “It speaks volumes that Madison Prep is being used to smear and discredit candidates for the School Board and used as a litmus test of political worthiness.”
Matthews said the problems with Madison Prep resulted from Caire’s proposal to hire nonunion staff.
“What Kaleem seems to have forgotten, conveniently or otherwise, is that MTI representatives engaged in several discussions with him and several of his Board members, in attempt to reach an amicable resolution,” Matthews said. “What that now has to do with the current campaign for Board of Education, I fail to see. I know of no animosity among the candidates or their campaign workers.”
Passman and other board members who served at the time did not return a call seeking comment.

We Need Transformational Change, and We Can Do it!

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Kaleem Caire, President/CEO
February 21, 2012
Dear Friends & Colleagues.
I read yesterday’s article by Paul Fanlund of the Capital Times titled, “On School Gap Issue, there’s also a Gap between Leaders.” In his article, he addresses the perception of a gap that exist between Madison School’s superintendent, Dr. Daniel Nerad, and myself.
Is there a gap?
Yes. So far as our proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy is concerned, there is a gap. Dr. Nerad did not support the proposal. I do. I still believe, as thousands of others do, that Madison Prep would benefit children and our public schools, and should be supported.
However, beyond Madison Prep, the only gaps that may exist between Dr. Nerad and me are our different personal and professional backgrounds and experiences; his full silver top and my emerging grey hairs; my love for old school hip hop, break dancing and the cupid shuffle, and his love for disco, the mashed potato and the electric slide; and perhaps our respective views about how innovative and aggressive we should be in pursuing change in public education. Although, I did see Dr. Nerad bobbing his head to some Jay-Z, Nas and Kanye West tunes while driving down Park Street last week. We actually might not be that far apart after all (smile).
But these are authentic differences that can be mitigated and parlayed into a powerful and effective partnership, which is something that I am very interested in. More importantly, our mutual concerns outweigh our differences, and that is where we, the media and the public need to focus our attention.
What’s immediately concerning is that this summer, we will learn that another 350 Black, 200 Latino and 50 Southeast Asian teenagers stopped attending school this year. Our children cannot wait any longer. They need transformation change in our schools and community right now. They need Madison to empower them, their families and embrace their cultural differences. They need Madisonians to support and inspire them, not quietly complain about which neighborhood in Chicago they might come from.
Can Dr. Nerad and I work together?
Of course we can; and, we do. This week, we will announce that our organization has secured private funding to partner with MMSD to operate 14 College Readiness Academies between March and December 2012. These academies will provide four-weeks of free ACT prep classes, test preparation and academic skills development to 200 MMSD high school juniors and seniors.
We will also announce the hiring of the Project Director for the South Madison Promise Zone Initiative that we are spearheading. This initiative will address the need for a comprehensive and collaborative approach to addressing the multifaceted needs of children and their families within a specific geographic region of South Madison, with the ultimate goal being the creation of an environment where all children are ready for college. MMSD is a partner in this initiative, too.
Additionally, our agency operates the Schools of Hope Initiative, serving more than 1,300 students in several MMSD middle and high schools in partnership with the United Way of Dane County and other agencies and community partners. We have also worked over the last 2 years to identify federal and national funding to support the work of MMSD and its students, and have helped the District think through some its diversity hiring strategies.
Beyond these things, we are exploring partnerships to expand our children’s involvement in recreational sports and the arts; to give them opportunities to have fun and be kids. We are also planning a new, major annual fall event aimed at building broad community support for our children and schools and restoring fun and inspiration in public education. “School Night” will be an entertaining celebration that recognizes the unsung heroes in our schools, classrooms and community who are going above and beyond the call of duty to provide quality educational experiences for kids.
What About Dr. Nerad’s Plan?
We look forward to sharing our thoughts and suggestions in the coming weeks. However, don’t expect a thoughtless or categorical critique of Dr. Nerad’s plan. Instead of adding more divisive discourse to public education and highlighting where we disagree with Dr. Nerad’s plan, our proposal will flesh out “how” MMSD could, in a cost effective manner, identify and manifest the level of system-wide changes and improvements that we believe are needed in order to eliminate the achievement gap and stop the flow middle class families out of our community and public schools.
Yes, Madison Prep will be included as one valuable strategy, but only because we believe there is much to be gained from what the school can accomplish.
In the end, regardless of our differences, I believe Dr. Nerad and I want the same thing. We want our children and schools to succeed, and we want to keep dancing and having fun for as long as our knees will allow. I remain ready and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that we achieve these aims.
Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205

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

Another Letter to the Madison School District’s Board of Education on Madison Prep

750K PDF – Kaleem Caire, via email

December 11, 2011
Mr. Ed Hughes
Board of Education
Madison Metropolitan School District 545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53713
Dear Mr. Hughes:
This letter is intended to respond to your December 4, 2011 blog post regarding the Madison Preparatory Academy initiative. Specifically, this letter is intended to address what you referred as “a fairly half-hearted argument [advanced by the Urban League] that the state statute authorizing school districts to enter into contracts for non-instrumentality charter schools trumps or pre-empts any language in collective bargaining agreements that restricts school districts along these lines.” Continuing on, you wrote the following:

I say the argument is half-hearted because no authority is cited in support and itjust isn’t much ofan argument. School districts aren’t required to authorize non-instrumentality charter schools, and so there is no conflict with state statutesfor a school district to, in effect, agree that it would not do so. Without that kind of a direct conflict, there is no basis for arguing that the CBA language is somehow pre-empted.

We respectfully disagree with your assessment. The intent of this letter is to provide you with the authority for this position and to more fully explain the nature of our concern regarding a contract provision that appears to be illegal in this situation and in direct conflict with public policy.
As you are aware, the collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”) between MMSD and MTI Iprovides “that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certificated teacher, shall be performed only by ‘teachers.”‘ See Article I, Section B.3.a. In addition, “the term ‘teacher’ refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit.” See Article I, Section B.2. You have previously suggested that “all teachers in MMSD schools– including non-instrumentality charter schools- must be members of the MTI bargaining unit.” As we indicated in our December 3, 2011 correspondence to you, under a non-instrumentality charter, the school board may not be the employer of the charter school’s staff. See§ 118.40(7)(a).
Under Wisconsin’s charter school law, the MMSD School Board (the “Board”) has the exclusive authority to determine whether a school is an instrumentality or not an instrumentality of the school district. See§ 118.40(7)(a). That decisio n is an important decision reserved to the Board alone. The effect of that decision drives whether teachers and staff must be, or cannot be, employees of the Board. The language of the CBA deprives the Board ofthe decision reserved to it under the statute and that language cannot be harmonized to give effect to both the statute and the CBA. Alternatively, the CBA language creates a situation whereby the Board may exercise its statutory authority to approve a non- instrumentality charter, but it must staff the school with school district employees, a result clearly prohibited under the statute. For reasons that will be explained below, in our view, the law trumps the CBA in either of these situations.
Under Wisconsin law, “[a]labor contract may not violate the law.” Glendale Professional Policeman’s Ass’n v. City ofGlendale, 83 Wis. 2d 90, 102 (Wis. 1978). City ofGlendale addressed the tension that can arise between bargained for provisions in a collective bargaining agreement and statutory language. In City of Glendale, the City argued that a provision dealing with job promotions was unenforceable because it could not be harmonized with statutory language. Specifically, the agreement in question set forth parameters for promoting employees and stated in part that openings “shall be filled by the applicant with the greatest department seniority…” City of Glendale, 83 Wis. 2d at 94. Wisconsin law provided the following:

The chiefs shall appoint subordinates subject to approval by the board. Such appointments shall be made by promotion when this can be done with advantage, otherwise from an eligible list provided by examination and approval by the board and kept on file with the clerk.

Wis. Stat.§ 62.13(4)(a).
The City contended that “the contract term governing promotions is void and unenforceable because it is contrary to sec. 62.13(4)(a), Stats.” City ofGlendale, 83 Wis. 2d at 98. Ultimately, the court ruled against the City based on the following rationale:

Although sec. 62.13(4)(a), Stats., requires all subordinates to be appointed by the chief with the approval of the board, it does not, at least expressly, prohibit the chief or the board from exercising the power of promotion of a qualified person according to a set of rules for selecting one among several qualified applicants.

The factual scenario in City ofGlendale differs significantly from the present situation. In City of Glendale, the terms of the agreement did not remove the ability of the chief, with the approval of the board, to make promotions. They could still carry out their statutory duties. The agreement language simply set forth parameters that had to be followed when making promotions. Accordingly, the discretion of the chief was limited, but not eliminated. In the present scenario, the discretion of the Board to decide whether a charter school should be an instrumentality or a non-instrumentality has been effectively eliminated by the CBA language.
There is nothing in the CBA that explicitly prohibits the Board from voting for a non-instrumentality charter school. This discretion clearly lies with the Board. Pursuant to state law, instrumentality charter schools are staffed by District teachers. However, non-instrumentality charter schools cannot be staffed by District teachers. See Wis. Stat.§ 118.40. Based on your recent comments, you have taken the position that the Board cannot vote for a non-instrumentality charter school because this would conflict with the work preservation clause of the CBA. Specifically, you wrote that “given the CBA complications, I don’t see how the school board can authorize a non-instrumentality Madison Prep to open its doors next fall, and I say that as one who has come to be sympathetic to the proposal.” While we appreciate your sympathy, what we would like is your support. Additionally, this position creates at least two direct conflicts with the law.
First, under Wisconsin law, “the school board of the school district in which a charter school is located shall determine whether or not the charter school is an instrumentality of the school district.” Wis. Stat. § 118.40(7)(a) (emphasis added.) The Board is required to make this determination. If the Board is precluded from making this decision on December 19″‘ based on an agreement previously reached with MTI, the Board will be unable to comply with the law. Effectively, the instrumentality/non- instrumentality decision will have been made by the Board and MTI pursuant to the terms and conditions of the CBA. However, MTI has no authority to make this determination, which creates a direct conflict with the law. Furthermore, the Board will be unable to comply with its statutory obligation due to the CBA. Based on your stated concerns regarding the alleged inability to vote for a non-instrumentality charter school, it appears highly unlikely that the Board ever intentionally ceded this level ofauthority to MTI.
Second, if the Board chose to exercise its statutorily granted authority on December 19th and voted for a non-instrumentality charter school, this would not be a violation of the CBA. Nothing in the CBA explicitly prohibits the Board from voting for a non-instrumentality charter school. At that point, to the extent that MTI chose to challenge that decision, and remember that MTI would have to choose to grieve or litigate this issue, MTI would have to try to attack the law, not the decision made by the Board. Pursuant to the law, “[i] f the school board determines that the charter school is not an instrumentality of the school district, the school board may not employ any personnel for the charter school.” Wis. Stat.§ 118.40(7)(a) (emphasis added). While it has been suggested that the Board could choose to avoid the legal impasse by voting down the non-instrumentality proposal, doing so would not cure this conflict. This is particularly true if some Board members were to vote against a non-instrumentality option solely based on the CBA. In such a case, the particular Board Member’s obligation to make this decision is essentially blocked. Making a decision consistent with an illegal contract provision for the purposes of minimizing the conflict does not make the provision any less illegal. “A labor contract term whereby parties agree to violate the law is void.” WERC v. Teamsters Local No. 563, 75 Wis. 2d 602, 612 (Wis. 1977) (citation omitted).
In Wisconsin, “a labor contract term that violates public policy or a statute is void as a matter of law.” Board of Education v. WERC, 52 Wis. 2d 625, 635 (Wis. 1971). Wisconsin law demonstrates that there is a public policy that promotes the creation of charter schools. Within that public policy, there is an additional public policy that promotes case-by-case decision making by a school board regarding whether a charter school will be an instrumentality or a non-instrumentality. The work preservation clause in the CBA cannot be harmonized with these underlying public policies and should not stop the creation of Madison Preparatory Academy.
The Madison Prep initiative has put between a rock and a hard place. Instrumentality status lost support because of the costs associated with employing members of MTI. Yet, we are being told that non-instrumentality status will be in conflict with the CBA and therefore cannot be approved. As discussed above, the work preservation clause is irreconcilable with Wisconsin law, and would likely be found void by acourt of law.
Accordingly, I call on you, and the rest of the Board to vote for non- instrumentality status on December 19th. In the words of Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred is a dream denied.” Too many children in this district have been denied for far too long. On behalf of Madison children, families and the Boards of the Urban League and Madison Prep, I respectfully request your support.
Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
cc: Dan Nerad, Superintendent
Dylan Pauly, Legal Counsel
MMSD Board ofEducation Members
ULGMand Madison Prep Board Members and Staff
Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.

Related: Who Runs the Madison Schools?
Howard Blume: New teacher contract could shut down school choice program

As schools across California bemoan increasing class sizes, the Alliance Technology and Math Science High School has boosted class size — on purpose — to an astonishing 48. The students work at computers most of the school day.
Next door in an identical building containing a different school, digital imaging — in the form of animation, short films and graphics — is used for class projects in English, math and science.
At a third school on the same Glassell Park campus, long known as Taylor Yards, high-schoolers get hands-on experience with a working solar panel.
These schools and two others coexist at the Sotomayor Learning Academies, which opened this fall under a Los Angeles school district policy called Public School Choice. The 2009 initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, has allowed groups from inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to compete for the right to run dozens of new or low-performing schools.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

Madison Public Schools: A Dream Deferred, Opportunity Denied? Will the Madison Board of Education Hear the 40-year long cries of its Parents and Community, and Put Children and Learning before Labor and Adults?

Kaleem Caire, via email:

December 10, 2011
Dear Friends & Colleagues.
For the last 16 months, we have been on an arduous journey to develop a public school that would effectively address the educational needs of children who have under-performed or failed to succeed in Madison’s public schools for at least the last 40 years. If you have followed the news stories, it’s not hard to see how many mountains have been erected in our way during the process.
Some days, it has felt like we’re desperately looking at our children standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, some already fallen over while others dangling by their thumbs waiting to be rescued; but before we can get close enough to save them, we have to walk across one million razor blades and through thousands of rose bushes with our bare feet. As we make our way to them and get closer, the razor blades get sharper and the rose bushes grow more dense.
Fortunately, our Board members and team at the Urban League and Madison Preparatory Academy, and the scores of supporters who’ve been plowing through the fields with us for the last year believe that our children’s education, their emotional, social and personal development, and their futures are far more important than any pain we might endure.
Our proposal for Madison Prep has certainly touched a nerve in Madison. But why? When we launched our efforts on the steps of West High School on August 29, 2010, we thought Madison and its school officials would heartily embrace Madison Prep.We thought they would see the school as:
(1) a promising solution to the racial achievement gap that has persisted in our city for at least 40 years;
(2) a learning laboratory for teachers and administrators who admittedly need new strategies for addressing the growing rate of underachievement, poverty and parental disengagement in our schools, and
(3) a clear sign to communities of color and the broader Greater Madison community that it was prepared to do whatever it takes to help move children forward – children for whom failure has become too commonplace and tolerated in our capital city.
Initially, the majority of Board of Education members told us they liked the idea and at the time, had no problems with us establishing Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality – and therefore, non-union, public school. At the same time, all of them asked us for help and advice on how to eliminate the achievement gap, more effectively engage parents and stimulate parent involvement, and better serve children and families of color.
Then, over the next several months as the political climate and collective bargaining in the state changed and opponents to charter schools and Madison Prep ramped up their misinformation and personal attack campaign, the focus on Madison Prep got mired in these issues.
The concern of whether or not a single-gender school would be legal under state and federal law was raised. We answered that both with a legal briefing and by modifying our proposal to establish a common girls school now rather than two years from now.
The concern of budget was raised and how much the school would cost the school district. We answered that through a $2.5 million private gift to lower the per pupil request to the district and by modifying our budget proposal to ensure Madison Prep would be as close to cost-neutral as possible. The District Administration first said they would support the school if it didn’t cost the District more than $5 million above what it initially said it could spend; Madison Prep will only cost them $2.7 million.
Board of Education members also asked in March 2011 if we would consider establishing Madison Prep as an instrumentality of MMSD, where all of the staff would be employed by the district and be members of the teacher’s union. We decided to work towards doing this, so long as Madison Prep could retain autonomy of governance, management and budget. Significant progress was made until the last day of negotiations when MMSD’s administration informed us that they would present a counter-budget to ours in their analysis of our proposal that factored in personnel costs for an existing school versus establishing a modest budget more common to new charter schools.
We expressed our disagreement with the administration and requested that they stick with our budget for teacher salaries, which was set using MMSD’s teacher salary scale for a teacher with 7 years experience and a masters degree and bench-marked against several successful charter schools. Nevertheless, MMSD argued that they were going to use the average years of experience of teachers in the district, which is 14 years with a master’s degree. This drove up the costs significantly, taking teacher salaries from $47,000 to $80,000 per year and benefits from $13,500 to $25,000 per year per teacher. The administration’s budget plan therefore made starting Madison Prep as an instrumentality impossible.
To resolve the issue, the Urban League and Board of Madison Prep met in November to consider the options. In doing so, we consulted with every member of MMSD’s Board of Education. We also talked with parents, stakeholders and other community members as well. It was then decided that we would pursue Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality of the school district because we simply believe that our children cannot and should not have to wait.
Now, Board of Education members are saying that Madison Prep should be implemented in “a more familiar, Madison Way”, as a “private school”, and that we should not have autonomy even though state laws and MMSD’s own charter school policy expressly allow for non-instrumentality schools to exist. There are presently more than 20 such schools in Wisconsin.
What Next?
As the mountains keep growing, the goal posts keep moving, and the razor blades and rose bushes are replenished with each step we take, we are forced to ask the question: Why has this effort, which has been more inclusive, transparent and well-planned, been made so complicated? Why have the barriers been erected when our proposal is specifically focused on what Madison needs, a school designed to eliminate the achievement gap, increase parent engagement and prepare young people for college who might not otherwise get there? Why does liberal Madison, which prides itself on racial tolerance and opposition to bigotry, have such a difficult time empowering and including people of color, particularly African Americans?
As the member of a Black family that has been in Madison since 1908, I wonder aloud why there are fewer black-owned businesses in Madison today than there were 25 years ago? There are only two known black-owned businesses with 10 or more employees in Dane County. Two!
Why can I walk into 90 percent of businesses in Madison in 2011 and struggle to find Black professionals, managers and executives or look at the boards of local companies and not see anyone who looks like me?
How should we respond when Board of Education members tell us they can’t vote for Madison Prep while knowing that they have no other solutions in place to address the issues our children face? How can they say they have the answers and develop plans for our children without consulting and including us in the process? How can they have 51 black applicants for teaching positions and hire only one, and then claim that they can’t find any black people to apply for jobs? How can they say, “We need more conversations” about the education of our children when we’ve been talking for four decades?
I have to ask the question, as uncomfortable as it may be for some to hear, “Would we have to work this hard and endure so much resistance if just 48% of white children in Madison’s public schools were graduating, only 1% of white high school seniors were academically ready for college, and nearly 50% of white males between the ages of 25-29 were incarcerated, on probation or under some form of court supervision?
Is this 2011 or 1960? Should the black community, which has been in Madison for more than 100 years, not expect more?
How will the Board of Education’s vote on December 19th help our children move forward? How will their decision impact systemic reform and seed strategies that show promise in improving on the following?
Half of Black and Latino children are not completing high school. Just 59% of Black and 61% of Latino students graduated on-time in 2008-09. One year later, in 2009-10, the graduation rate declined to 48% of Black and 56% of Latino students compared to 89% of white students. We are going backwards, not forwards. (Source: MMSD 2010, 2011)
Black and Latino children are not ready for college. According to makers of the ACT college entrance exam, just 20% of Madison’s 378 Black seniors and 37% of 191 Latino seniors in MMSD in 2009-10 completed the ACT. Only 7% of Black and 18% of Latino seniors completing test showed they had the knowledge and skills necessary to be “ready for college”. Among all MMSD seniors (those completing and not completing the test), just 1% of Black and 7% of Latino seniors were college ready
Too few Black and Latino graduates are planning to go to college. Of the 159 Latino and 288 Black students that actually graduated and received their diplomas in 2009-10, just 28% of Black and 21% of Latino students planned to attend a four-year college compared to 53% of White students. While another 25% of Black and 33% of graduates planned to attend a two-year college or vocation program (compared to 17% of White students), almost half of all of all Black and Latino graduates had no plans for continuing their education beyond high school compared to 27% of White students. (Source: DPI 2011)
Half of Black males in their formative adult years are a part of the criminal justice system. Dane County has the highest incarceration rate among young Black men in the United States: 47% between the ages of 25-29 are incarcerated, on probation or under some form of court supervision. The incarceration phenomena starts early. In 2009-10, Black youth comprised 62% of all young people held in Wisconsin’s correctional system. Of the 437 total inmates held, 89% were between the ages of 15-17. In Dane County, in which Madison is situated, 49% of 549 young people held in detention by the County in 2010 were Black males, 26% were white males, 12% were black females, 6% were white females and 6% were Latino males and the average age of young people detained was 15. Additionally, Black youth comprised 54% of all 888 young people referred to the Juvenile Court System. White students comprised 31% of all referrals and Latino comprised 6%.
More importantly, will the Board of Education demonstrate the type of courage it took our elders and ancestors to challenge and change laws and contracts that enabled Jim Crow, prohibited civil rights, fair employment and Women’s right to vote, and made it hard for some groups to escape the permanence of America’s underclass? We know this is not an easy vote, and we appreciate their struggle, but there is a difference between what is right and what is politically convenient.
Will the Board have the courage to look in the faces of Black and Latino families in the audience, who have been waiting for solutions for so long, and tell them with their vote that they must wait that much longer?
We hope our Board of Education members recognize and utilize the tremendous power they have to give our children a hand-up. We hope they hear the collective force and harmony of our pleas, engage with our pain and optimism, and do whatever it takes to ensure that the proposal we have put before them, which comes with exceptional input and widespread support, is approved on December 19, 2011.
Madison Prep is a solution we can learn from and will benefit the hundreds of young men and women who will eventually attend.
If not Madison Prep, then what? If not now, then when?
Monday, December 19, 2011 at 5:00pm
Madison Metropolitan School District
Doyle Administration Building Auditorium
545 West Dayton Street
Madison, WI 53703
Contact: Laura DeRoche Perez,
Phone: 608-729-1230
Write the School Board and Tell Them to “Say ‘Yes’, to Madison Prep!”
Madison Prep 2012!
Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205
Autonomy: MMSD now says they are concerned that Madison Prep will not be accountable to the public for the education it provides students and the resources it receives. Yet, they don’t specify what they mean by “accountability.” We would like to know how accountability works in MMSD and how this is producing high achievement among the children it serves. Further, we would like to know why Madison Prep is being treated differently than the 30 early childhood centers that are participating in the district’s 4 year old kindergarten program. They all operate similar to non-instrumentality schools, have their own governing boards, operate via a renewable contract, can hire their own teachers “at their discretion” and make their own policy decisions, and have little to no oversight by the MMSD Board of Education. All 30 do not employ union teachers. Accountability in the case of 4K sites is governed by “the contract.” MMSD Board members should be aware that, as with their approval of Badger Rock Middle School, the contract is supposed to be developed “after” the concept is approved on December 19. In essence, this conversation is occurring to soon, if we keep with current district practices.
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA): MMSD and Madison Teachers, Incorporated have rejected our attorney’s reading of ACT 65, which could provide a path to approval of Madison Prep without violating the CBA. Also, MTI and MMSD could approve Madison Prep per state law and decide not to pursue litigation, if they so desired. There are still avenues to pursue here and we hope MMSD’s Board of Education will consider all of them before making their final decision.

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

Shortchanged by the Bell

Luis Ubinas & Chris Gabrieli:

AFTER a summer of budget cuts in Washington and state capitals, we have only to look to our schools, when classes begin in the next few weeks, to see who will pay the price.
The minimum required school day in West Virginia is already about the length of a “Harry Potter” double feature. In Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, summer school programs are being slashed or eliminated. In Oregon and California this year, students will spend fewer days in the classroom; in rural communities from New Mexico to Idaho, some students will be in school only four days a week.
For all the talk about balancing the budget for the sake of our children, keeping classrooms closed is a perverse way of giving them a brighter future.

Why not honors courses for all?

Jay Matthews:

Parents in Fairfax County have proved themselves one of the largest and most powerful forces for innovation in American education. But they have taken a wrong turn in their effort to save the three-track system–basic, honors and AP/IB– in the county’s high schools.
Many Fairfax parents actively oppose the elimination of honors courses in upper high school grades. They don’t want to leave their children with the choice of just the basic course or the college level Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate version. “Let’s keep choices on the table,” West Potomac High School parent Kate Van Dyck told me.
They can win this fight and keep the honors courses, but it will take some courage and imagination. Instead of insisting on the old three tracks, tell the schools to keep the honors option and eliminate the basic course.

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

Sam Dillon, via a kind reader’s email:

A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.
They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

The Gates Foundation has funded many initiatives, including the controversial “small learning community” program.

School Board Votes For Independent Review Of Budget Per Union’s Request

Marty Kasper:

Tensions were high and the hallways packed for a special meeting of the Rockford School Board on proposed budget cuts to close schools, eliminate programs and layoff more than 300 employees.
Earlier this week the Rockford Education Association questioned whether those cuts need to happen at all, and now they’re offering to pay fifty grand for an independent review.
Today, the board was split but approved a motion 4-3 to support the union’s request
“The main reason is because it is projections, it is projections, legitimate projections based on trends, and I don’t see the point to second guessing that,” said School Board Member Jeanne Westholder.
“I think it is worth while to take a look, either to put it to rest or to be sure that we have the accurate figures to vote on,” said School Board Member Alice Sautargis.
The district’s finance team says they need to cut 50- million dollars, while the union believes it’s more like 15- million.

American Education, Curbing Excellence

Steve Chapman
America’s primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them. Not only do our weak students fare poorly in international comparisons, so do our strong ones. Mediocrity is the national norm. The very best students are the ones most likely to do things of great benefit to the rest of us — cure malaria, devise revolutionary inventions, start the next Apple or plumb the secrets of the universe. But we don’t always put much importance on helping them realize their full potential.
A case in point is Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., a racially and economically mixed suburb of Chicago that is home to Northwestern University. It recently decided to eliminate a high honors freshman English course aimed at challenging the top students. Henceforth, these youngsters will be grouped with everyone else in a regular “honors” class in humanities. Next year, the same may be done with biology. Your kid is an honor student at ETHS? Heck, everyone is an honors student at ETHS. It’s hardly the only school in America where grouping students according to their ability is in disrepute. There is a widespread impulse to treat all kids as equally able and willing to learn. But the results often fall dismally short of the hopes.
When the Chicago public schools scrapped remedial classes for ninth graders and put everyone in college-prep courses, “failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve and students were no more likely to enter college,” according to a study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. Among average and above-average students, absenteeism rose. The danger in putting the brightest kids in general classes is that they will be bored by instruction geared to the middle. But their troubles don’t elicit much sympathy. Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless told The Atlantic magazine, “The United States does not do a good job of educating kids at the top. There’s a long-standing attitude that, ‘Well, smart kids can make it on their own.'”
But can they? Only 6 percent of American kids achieve advanced proficiency in math — lower than in 30 other countries. In Taiwan, the figure is 28 percent.
School administrators in Evanston insist the change is aimed at making the curriculum more demanding, even as they make it less demanding for some students. Thanks to the abolition of this elite course, we are told, “high-achieving students” will profit from “experiencing multiple perspectives and diversity in their classes to gain cultural capital.”
In other words, racial balance will take priority over academic rigor. Blacks and Hispanics make up nearly half of all students but only 19 percent of those in advanced placement courses and 29 percent of those in honors courses. This is because minority students at Evanston, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000, generally score lower on achievement tests. Putting all students together is supposed to give everyone an equal opportunity.
But if you have a fever, you don’t bring it down by breaking the thermometer. The low numbers of black and Hispanic students are a symptom of a deeper problem, namely the failure of elementary and middle schools to prepare them for the most challenging course work. Evanston has had a big racial gap in academic performance for decades, and there is nothing to gain from pretending it doesn’t exist. Schools that group (or “track”) kids by ability generally get better overall results. Chester Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes in a recent report, “Middle schools with more tracks have significantly more math pupils performing at the advanced and proficient levels and fewer students at the needs improvement and failing levels.”
Why would that be? Teaching is not easy, and teaching kids with a wide range of aptitude and interest is even harder. Grouping students by ability allows the tailoring of lessons to match the needs of each group. Putting them all together is bound to fail one group or another. Shortchanging gifted teens creates the risk of another unwanted effect: inducing their parents to leave. Families in Evanston can always move to neighboring suburbs with good schools, or they can opt for several fine private and parochial alternatives. Average students don’t gain from being in the same classes as exceptional ones if the exceptional ones are not there.
We as a society have not been very successful at turning average students into high achievers. Maybe we’ll have better luck doing the opposite.

Are Honors Classes Racist?

High Expectations For All Students is the Way to Beat the Achievement Gaps

Simpson Street Free Press
Chantal Van Ginkel, age 18
Historically, Madison West High School has not had a spotless regard regarding race relations. Before and during the 1990’s, the school was accused by some of segregation. Most white students had their lockers on the second floor, while most minority students used lockers on the ground floor.
To the school’s credit, changes in policies have greatly improved a once hostile environment. Some of these changes include getting rid of remedial classes, and implementing SLC’s or Small Learning Communities.
A more recent change, however, has sparked controversy and heated debate. Madison West High School plans to largely eliminate honors classes. This is part of an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all students by homogenizing their classroom experience.
At one time, this might have been a good step toward desegregation of West’s student body. It is not a good idea now.
To some extent, enrollment in honors courses of all Madison high schools is racially segregated. Affluent students and white students take advanced courses much more frequently than other students.
But in my opinion, the lack of more rigorous courses is a problem. It is a problem for all students at West. Many parents, students and some faculty share this sentiment.
Recently, a petition signed by over a hundred West attendance area parents requested that 9th and 10th grade honors classes be reinstated. When Superintendent Nerad took steps to make this, some members of the West High teaching staff spoke up. They asserted that honors classes are racist. The project to reinstate advanced course offerings for West’s freshmen and sophomores was then abandoned.
Honors classes, in and of themselves, are not inherently racist. Rather, the expectation that only certain students will take these classes is the problem. The fact that too many minority students end up in remedial courses is racist, but eliminating rigorous courses is not the answer.
As writers for this newspaper have said many times, the real racism is the cancer of low expectations. High expectations for all of our students is how we will beat the achievement gaps in local schools. Low expectations will only make our problem worse.

Note: Madison West High School has not had honors classes in 9th and 10th grade for several years. (The only exception to that is the historically lone section of Accelerated Biology, which some West teachers have repeatedly tried to get rid of.) Not only that, but Madison West High School is the only Madison high school that does not have any honors/advanced/accelerated classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade. All West 9th and 10th grade students are expected to take regular English 9 and 10 and regular Social Studies 9 and 10, in completely heterogeneous (by ability) classes.
Note: The petition mentioned by the author — the one requesting honors classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade — has now been signed by almost 200 current, past and future West community members.

Urban League president proposes Madison International Baccalaureate charter school geared toward minority boys

Susan Troller:

“In Madison, I can point to a long history of failure when it comes to educating African-American boys,” says Caire, a Madison native and a graduate of West High School. He is blunt about the problems of many black students in Madison.
“We have one of the worst achievement gaps in the entire country. I’m not seeing a concrete plan to address that fact, even in a district that prides itself on innovative education. Well, here’s a plan that’s innovative, and that has elements that have been very successful elsewhere. I’d like to see it have a chance to change kids’ lives here,” says Caire, who is African-American and has extensive experience working on alternative educational models, particularly in Washington, D.C.
One of the most vexing problems in American education is the difference in how well minority students, especially African-American children, perform academically in comparison to their white peers. With standardized test scores for black children in Wisconsin trailing those from almost every other state in the nation, addressing the achievement gap is a top priority for educators in the Badger State. Although black students in Madison do slightly better academically than their counterparts in, say, Milwaukee, the comparison to their white peers locally creates a Madison achievement gap that is, as Caire points out, at the bottom of national rankings.
He’s become a fan of same-sex education because it “eliminates a lot of distractions” and he says a supportive environment of high expectations has proven to be especially helpful for improving the academic performance of African-American boys.
Caire intends to bring the proposal for the boys-only charter prep school before the Madison School Board in October or November, then will seek a planning grant for the school from the state Department of Public Instruction in April, and if all goes according to the ambitious business plan, Madison Prep would open its doors in 2012 with 80 boys in grades 6 and 7.
Forty more sixth-graders would be accepted at the school in each subsequent year until all grades through senior high school are filled, with a total proposed enrollment of 280 students. A similar, same-sex school for girls would promptly follow, Caire says, opening in 2013.
Five things would make Madison Prep unique, Caire says, and he believes these options will intrigue parents and motivate students.

It will be interesting to see how independent (from a governance and staffing perspective) this proposal is from the current Madison charter models. The more the better.
Clusty Search: Madison Preparatory Academy.

Notes on the Alliance for Education Teacher Quality Survey

Melissa Westbrook:

just finally got around to looking over the Alliance for Education survey called “Teaching Quality Community Survey”. What were they thinking? (Sorry to be a little late to this party but I was out of town last week.) I’m not going to even provide a link. I answered every question “don’t know” so I could read through the whole thing.
Just from a survey standpoint, it’s a mess. There are multiple values in questions starting with the very first one. It’s about (1) redesigning the salary schedule AND (2) eliminating coursework incentives AND (3) “reallocating pay to target the district’s challenges and priorities.” What?!? You can’t write a survey question like that.
Question two has a classic “leading the reader” form using phrases like “redouble efforts” and “as attempted by the current superintendent”. How does the reader know this actually DID happen? Also, the “latest” negotiations haven’t even formally started; is the district showing its hand here?
And it goes on and on. “Gather teacher data so that teachers are equitably distributed among schools.” So elsewhere they want to eliminate pay for more education for teachers but at the same time in this question they want to spread the number of teachers who do have more education more equitably among the schools?

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison Firefighter’s Union New 2 Year Contract

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz:

Yesterday a two year contract agreement with city firefighters was ratified by the union membership. It’s a good deal for both the union and the city and its taxpayers. The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the City Council, calls for what is essentially a two year pay freeze with a modest 3% increase at the end of the contract period in 2011.
Other levels of government are using furloughs (which are essentially pay cuts) and layoffs to cut their budgets, but I think the city should take a different approach. After all, the city provides many basic direct services that will have a very noticeable impact for our customers if they are cut back. We can’t shut down the fire department or the police department for one day a month. We can’t just not pick up the garbage for a week. It’s far better for our residents if we can manage our way through these tough budget years while keeping our city staff intact to the greatest extent that we can. But if we’re going to do that, then we’ll need cooperation from our unions on wage and benefit settlements.
That kind of cooperation is exactly what we got from Local 311. The firefighters gave us a responsible start to negotiations with the other dozen unions that represent city employees. I said from the start of this recession that we need to approach our challenges with the understanding that we’re all in this together. This settlement is a very strong indication that we’re moving in that direction.

The Madison School District (Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. is a firefighter) and Madison Teachers Union are still working on a new contract. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
There are at least two interesting challenges to an agreement this year:

  1. The elimination of “revenue limits and economic conditions” from collective bargaining arbitration by Wisconsin’s Democratically controlled Assembly and Senate along with Democratic Governer Jim Doyle:

    To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to
    revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.

  2. The same elected officials eliminated the QEO, a 3.8% cap (in practice, a floor) on teacher salaries and wages in addition to “step” increases based on years of experience among other factors:

    As the dust settles around the new state budget, partisan disagreement continues over the boost that unions – particularly education unions – got by making it easier for them to sign up thousands of new members and by repealing the 3.8% annual limit on teachers’ pay raises.
    The provisions passed because Democrats, who got control of the Legislature for the first time in 14 years, partnered with Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to advance changes the governor and unions had been pushing for years.
    Unions traditionally help elect Democratic politicians. The largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, spent about $2.1 million before last November’s elections, with much of that backing Democrats.
    Most of the labor-related provisions in the budget were added to provide people with “good, family-supporting jobs,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), co-chairman of the Legislature’s Finance Committee.
    “The idea that we’re shifting back to the worker, rather than just big business and management, that’s part of what Democrats are about,” Pocan said.
    It also helped that the two top Democratic legislators, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan of Janesville and Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Weston, are veteran labor leaders.

A story from the trenches — send me more!; DAVID STEINER ELECTED COMMISSIONER OF EDUC FOR NY; As Charter Schools Unionize; Must unions always block innovation in public schools?; NEA Discovers It Is a Labor Union; So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

1) If you read anything I send out this year, let this be it. One of my friends responded to the survey I sent around a couple of weeks ago by emailing me this story of his experience as a TFA teacher in the South Bronx a decade ago (though he’s no longer there, he is still (thankfully) very much involved with educating disadvantaged kids). It is one of the most powerful, heart-breaking, enraging things I have ever read — and perfectly captures what this education reform struggle is all about. Stories like this about what REALLY goes on in our failing public schools need to be told and publicized, so please share yours with me:

Thanks so much for putting this survey together. It brought back some memories well beyond the few questions about what it was like to teach in the South Bronx with TFA back in the late nineties. I want to emphasize here that I no longer teach in the Bronx, so I have little idea how things have changed and have seen the current Administration take a number of important steps that may be making a great impact. I’m not close enough to the ground to know, but my guess is that there are still plenty of schools in the Bronx and in every other low-income community in the country that reflect some of the miserable stuff I saw in my school. You should really start collecting a book of stories like these. Among all the people I know who’ve done TFA, these stories are just a few among many sad ones.
As I filled out the survey, I was first reminded of the art teacher in our school. She was truly a caricature of bad teaching. Like something out of the movies. She spent almost every minute of every day screaming at the top of her lungs in the faces of 5-8 year olds who had done horrible things like coloring outside the lines. The ART teacher! Screaming so loud you could hear her 2-3 floors away in a decades old, solid brick building. When she heard I was looking for an apt, she sent me to an apt broker friend of hers. I told the friend I wanted to live in Washington Heights. “Your mother would be very upset with me if I let you go live with THOSE PEOPLE. We fought with bricks and bats and bottles to keep them out of our neighborhoods. Do you see what they have done to this place?” This same attitude could be heard in the art teacher’s screams, the administration’s ambivalence towards the kids we were supposed to be educating and the sometimes overt racism of the people in charge. The assistant principal (who could not, as far as I could tell, do 4th grade math, but offered me stop-in math professional development for a few minutes every few months with gems like “these numbers you see here to the left of the zero are negative numbers. Like when it is very cold outside.”) once told me “I call them God’s stupidest people” referring to a Puerto Rican woman who was blocking our way as we drove to another school. She also once told me I needed to put together a bulletin board in the hallway about Veteran’s Day. I told her we were in the middle of assembling an Encyclopedia on great Dominican, Puerto Rican and Black leaders (all of my students were Dominican, Black or Puerto Rican). “Mr. ____, we had Cin-co de May-o, and Black History Month, and all that other stuff. It is time for the AMERICAN Americans.”
Not everyone in the school was a racist. There were many hard working teachers of all ethnicities who did not reflect this attitude at all. But the fact that the leadership of the school and a number of the most senior teachers was either utterly disdainful of the students they taught, or has completely given up on the educability of the kids, had a terrible effect on overall staff motivation. And many of the well-meaning teachers were extremely poorly prepared to make a dent in the needs of the students even if they had been well led. The Principal told more than one teacher there that “as long as they are quiet and in their seats, I don’t care what else you do.” This was on the day this person was HIRED. This was their first and probably last instruction. He never gave me a single instruction. Ever. And I was a new teacher with nothing but TFA’s Summer Institute under my belt. The Principal proceeded to get a law degree while sitting in his office ignoring the school. When we went to the Assistant Superintendent to report that the school was systematically cheating on the 3rd grade test (i.e., the third grade team met with the principal and APs, planned the cheating carefully, locked their doors and covered their windows and gave answers) she told the principal to watch his back. A few months later, inspectors came from the state. After observing our mostly horrible classes for a full day, they told us how wonderful we were doing and that they had just come down to see what they could replicate in other schools to produce scores like ours. And the list goes on and on.
Like when I asked the principal to bring in one of the district’s special education specialists to assess two of my lowest readers, both of whom had fewer than 25 sight-words (words they could recognize on paper) in the 3rd grade, he did. She proceeded to hand one of the students a list of words that the child couldn’t read and tell her to write them over again. Then she went to gossip with the Principal. After explaining to him in gory detail, IN FRONT OF THE STUDENT, that she had just been “dealing with a case where a father had jumped off a roof nearby and committed double-suicide with his 8 year old daughter in his arms”, she collected the sheet with no words on it, patted the child on the head and left. No IEP was filed nor was I allowed to pursue further action through official channels (I lobbied the mother extensively on my own). I never asked for her to come back to assess the other student.
Our Union Rep was said to have tried to push another teacher down a flight of stairs. The same Union Rep, while I was tutoring a child, cursed out a fellow teacher in the room next door at the top of her lungs so the child I was tutoring could hear every word. When I went to address her about it, the other teacher had to restrain the Rep as she threatened to physically attack me. And when the cheating allegations were finally take up by city investigators, the same Union Rep was sent to a cushy desk job in the district offices. I hear that most of the people I’m referencing here are long gone now, and some of them actually got pushed out of the system, but how rare can this story really be given the pitiful results we see from so many of our nation’s poorest schools and how far the system goes to protect horrible teachers and administrators like the ones I worked with?
At the same time as all of this was happening, by the way, the few good teachers in the building often became beaten down and disillusioned. One of the best in my building was consistenly punished for trying to make her corner of the school a better place for learning. They put her in a basement corner with no ventilation, no windows and nothing but a 6-foot-high cubicle-style partition separating her from the other 5 classrooms in the basement. After fighting the good fight she went to teach in the suburbs. When I got a financial firm to donate 20 computers, the principal said he didn’t have the resources to get them setup for use and refused to allow them into the school. When I had my students stage a writing campaign to get the vacant lot behind the building turned into a playground, the principal wanted me silenced.
The saddest thing about the whole damn mess was that our K-3 kids still REALLY WANTED TO LEARN. Every day they came eager for knowledge. And every day this cabal of cynicism, racism and laziness did everything within their powers to drain it out of them. It was unreal. Don’t get me wrong. There were some good teachers there. And some well meaning, but poor teachers. But in many classrooms, the main lesson learned was that school became something to dread, many adults thought you were capable of very little, and some adults couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger.
I hope if any of the good, hard-working teachers who fought so hard to rid the school of this mess read this, they’ll know I’m not lumping them in with the rest. But the problem was, when I addressed the worst practices in the school at a staff meeting, the bad teachers laughed and the good teachers took it the hardest and thought I was criticizing them.
Thanks again for the survey. Let’s make these stories known.


The New Math: Teachers Share Recession’s Pain

Winnie Hu:

Bankers, lawyers and journalists have taken pay cuts and gone without raises to stay employed in a tough economy. Now similar givebacks are spreading to education, an industry once deemed to be recession-proof.
All 95 teachers and five administrators in the Tuckahoe school district in Westchester County agreed to give $1,000 each to next year’s school budget to keep the area’s tax increase below 3 percent. In the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow district, 80 percent of the 500 school employees — including teachers, clerks, custodians and bus drivers — have pledged more than $150,000 from their own pockets to help close a $300,000 budget gap.
And on Long Island, the 733 teachers in the William Floyd district in Mastic Beach decided to collectively give up $1 million in salary increases next year to help restore 19 teaching positions that were to be eliminated.

February 1994: Now They Call it 21st Century Skills

Charles J. Sykes:

Dumbing Down Our Kids–What’s Really Wrong With Outcome Based Education
Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, reprinted in Network News & Views 2/94, pp. 9-18
Joan Wittig is not an expert, nor is she an activist. She just didn’t understand why her children weren’t learning to write, spell, or read very well. She didn’t understand why they kept coming home with sloppy papers filled with spelling mistakes and bad grammar and why teachers never corrected them or demanded better work. Nor could she fathom why her child’s fourth-grade teacher would write, “I love your story, especially the spelling,” on a story jammed with misspelled words. (It began: “Once a pona time I visited a tropical rian forist.”)
While Wittig did not have a degree in education, she did have some college-level credits in education and a “background of training others to perform accurately and competently in my numerous job positions, beginning in my high school years.” That experience was enough for her to sense something was wrong. She was not easily brushed off by assurances that her children were being taught “whole language skills.” For two years, she agonized before transferring her children from New Berlin’s public schools to private schools.
After only a semester at the private schools, her children were writing and reading at a markedly higher level. Their papers were neatly written, grammatical, and their spelling was systematically corrected.
Earlier this year, she decided to take her story to her local school board.


Give All You Can: My New “Spread the Wealth” Grading Policy

Mike S. Adams, 26 January 2009:

Good afternoon students! I’m writing you this email to announce that I’m making some changes in the grading policies I announced two weeks ago when I sent an email with an attached course syllabus. As you know, we now have a new president and I thought it would be nice to align our class policies with some of the policies he will be implementing over the next four years. These will be changes you can believe in and, I hope, changes that will inspire hope, which is our most important American value.
Previously, I announced that I would use a ten-point grading scale, which means that 90% of 100 is an “A,” 80% is a “B,” 70% is a “C,” and 60% is enough for a passing grade of “D.” I also announced that I will refrain from using a “plus/minus” system – even though the faculty handbook gives me that option.
The new policy I am announcing today is that those who score above 90 on the first exam will have points deducted and given to students at the bottom of the grade distribution. For example, if a student gets a 99, I will then deduct nine points and give them to the person with the lowest grade. If a person scores 95 I will then deduct five points and give them to the person with the second lowest grade. If someone scores 93 I will then deduct three points and give them to the next lowest person. And so on.
My point, rather obviously, is that any points above 90 are really not needed since you have an “A” regardless of whether you score 90 or 99. Nor am I convinced that you need to “save” those points for a rainy day. Those who are failing, however, need the points–not unlike the failing banks and automakers that need money to avoid the danger of bankruptcy.
After our second examination, I intend to take a more complex approach to the practice of grade redistribution. I will not be looking at your second test scores but, instead, at the average of your first two test scores. In the process, I may well decide to start taking some points from students in the “B” range. For example, if someone has an average of 85 after two tests I may take a few points and give them away to someone who is failing or who is in danger of failing. I think this is fair because the person with an 85 average is probably unlikely to climb up to an “A” or fall down to a “C.” I may be wrong in some individual cases but, of course, my principal concern is not the individual.


Milwaukee Schools Examine Cincinnati’s Graduation Rate

Dani McClain:

Seeking strategies to lower suspensions and raise the graduation rate, Milwaukee Public Schools officials will travel to Cincinnati this week to check out a district that’s drawn national attention as a model of urban school reform.
Cincinnati Public Schools has reported that between 2000 and 2007, it raised its graduation rate from 51% to 79% and eliminated the gap in graduation rates between African-American and white students.
Along the way, the district in southwest Ohio, which has about half the students of MPS, changed the way schools handle student discipline problems, referring misbehaving students to in-school suspensions rather than sending them home.
This specific change caught MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos’ eye.
“We suspend a lot of kids,” Andrekopoulos said. “What we need to do now is to leverage more time on-task for children in the classroom.”
Last school year, nearly half of MPS ninth-graders were suspended at least once, and a quarter of MPS students were suspended. African-American boys in special education faced the sanction at the highest rate.

Cincinnati Schools Graduation Rate: Clusty / Google / Yahoo

DC Schools Chancellor Wants to Test “Differentiated Learning”

V. Dion Haynes:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee plans to establish an experimental program that would offer customized lessons for disabled, regular and gifted students in the same classroom, a key component of her strategy to reduce exorbitant special education costs.
Rhee’s proposal would launch a “differentiated learning” laboratory at West Elementary School in Northwest Washington, then replicate it citywide. Under the proposal, which is being met with skepticism from some West teachers and parents, the system would hire a private special-education school to run the program.
The proposal is among several actions Rhee is taking to overhaul special education, which for years has lacked high-quality programs for learning-disabled and physically disabled students. The system spends about $137 million on private school tuition annually for about 2,400 children (out of more than 9,400 disabled students) whom it cannot serve in the public schools.
Since 2006, the D.C. public schools have been under a federal court order to eliminate a backlog of more than 1,000 decisions from hearing officers regarding placement of students in special education programs. The order stemmed from a consent decree that settled a class-action suit filed by parents protesting the system’s long delay in providing services for the students.
Federal law requires schools to practice “inclusion” — putting special education students in regular classrooms whenever possible — a mandate the system has ignored in countless cases, advocates say. Under differentiated learning or differentiated instruction, an approach that has been used in schools in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and across the nation over the past decade, students are grouped in the same classroom according to their ability levels and learning styles. They get the same lesson but are given different assignments and tasks based on their abilities.
For instance, a third-grade class in St. Louis recently was assigned to report on Martin Luther King Jr., with some students writing a timeline, others illustrating pages and others comparing the era of the slain civil rights leader to today.
Rhee is proposing to go a step further than most other districts using the concept. She wants to treat all students in the differentiated instruction classrooms much like special education students, with each getting an education plan outlining how teachers would address the child’s specific strengths, weaknesses and learning style.
Special education “is about individualization of instruction — that is going to be the overarching theme of these schools. Every kid — gifted kids — need really good individualization,” Rhee said in an interview. “All kids will benefit when we’re operating in that manner.”

Madison: Missed Opportunity for 4K and High School Redesign

Marc Eisen:

The good news is that the feds refused to fund the school district’s proposal to revamp the high schools. The plan was wrongheaded in many respects, including its seeming intent to eliminate advanced classes that are overwhelmingly white and mix kids of distressingly varied achievement levels in the same classrooms.
This is a recipe for encouraging more middle-class flight to the suburbs. And, more to the point, addressing the achievement gap in high school is way too late. Turning around a hormone-surging teenager after eight years of educational frustration and failure is painfully hard.
We need to save these kids when they’re still kids. We need to pull them up to grade level well before they hit the wasteland of middle school. That’s why kindergarten for 4-year-olds is a community imperative.
As it happens, state school Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster issued a report last week announcing that 283 of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts now offer 4K. Enrollment has doubled since 2001, to almost 28,000 4-year-olds statewide.
Burmaster nailed it when she cited research showing that quality early-childhood programs prepare children “to successfully transition into school by bridging the effects of poverty, allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain an equal footing with their peers.”


Seeking Parents’ Help in Saving a Great Elementary School Program

The program is a small, mixed-age classroom for first through third graders at the Montessori Children’s House on Madison’s west side, where my eldest child currently attends preschool. It is in danger of being eliminated because of diminishing enrollment. I think that this would be a horrible loss to many academically talented children who would do so well there. They do so many things right there, such as:

  • Nurturing, home-like environment in which intense curiosity is normal
  • Mixed-age classroom, which encourages children to work at their own pace
  • Elegant learning materials
  • Freedom of movement and plenty of outside time
  • Freedom to follow their own intellectual curiosity
  • No busy work
  • No homework (unless the child chooses to keep working on something after school)
  • Emphasis on peace and global citizenship
  • Healthy snacks provided, healthy lunch to be brought from home
  • Parental involvement welcomed (the school is a parent run co-op)

As a small community, it would only take a few more children to keep the program viable. If you are the parent of a child who would benefit from such an environment, would you please look at the school’s website
and maybe take some time to observe the classroom?
Our family is committed to public schools, and we know that a school district needs talented kids and engaged families to thrive. This program would allow kids to integrate back into the public schools at a fairly young age, while protecting and nurturing them through a critical period of development.
Upon re-reading this message, it sounds like I’m making a blatant marketing pitch (which, frankly, I am). Please forgive me and understand that my only interest in the program is that it survive so that it is an option for my two children, ages 4 and 1, when they are old enough to need it. I hope that there are a few families here who might find a home there. Sincerely, Dawn M. Rappold []

High School Small Communities

I noticed the district is applying for a grant to the BOE in relation to the High School Small Communities. I have a couple of thoughts relating to this issue.
First of all, I applaud your effort in making our large high school more intimate. It seem in an emotional way logical that the high school would be divided into smaller communities to allow for connectiveness.
The funny thing is, as I celebrate my 25th year since I was in high school this year, I look back and see this same thing occurred back in my day. It was called clubs, athletics, and band.
High schools have been a breeding ground for fun, involvement, participation and community building. MMSD has been cutting this very foundation you are asking for a grant to “Create through artificial means” since I moved here in 2000. The non-academic athletics, the non-essential music, the unnecessary theater and arts have been cut, cut and cut some more. I understand the need for cutting and you can’t cut curriculum, but now we are going to create the “connectivity” artificially.
My son loves sports. He matriculates to others like him. He has met kids from Toki, Hamilton, Spring Harbor and even private school from sports. If you ask him where he wants to go to High School next year he will tell you Memorial to play BB or some other sport. He has a strong since of community based on his interest.
My daughter loves the arts. Drawing, acting, and especially singing. If you ask her where she wants to go to high school she will tell you Memorial because she has seen several plays there and want to participate in the drama club. She is also a pretty good swimmer and has senior role models on Memorial Swim Team.
Neither will say Memorial because the Math is great! They already have established a type of community through their interest, as we did as kids. It is so sad that NONE of the MMSD schools have a marching band, as that club can involve hundreds of students and attach them to a community of students of all ages and interest through music. Instead we are trying to create the communities randomly, via what a computer, that does not account for interest.
It is also sad we are cutting our athletics slowly but surely. This year it is the AD at the High School Level. I heard the BOE at MMSD was unwilling to raise the fees to allow these actives that provide a community for low, middle and high income students. Since many of you do not have children participating in sports let me clue you in on a few things.


MMSD High School Redesign Committee Selected

According to a report from a recent East High United meeting, where MMSD Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash did a presentation on the District’s high school redesign plans, the following eleven people have been named to the redesign committee:
Pam Nash — Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, former principal of Memorial HS. While at Memorial, Ms. Nash oversaw the development and implementation of the “neighborhoods” school restructuring and implementation of the 9th grade core curriculum.
Alan Harris — Principal of East HS, former principal at Black Hawk MS.

Loren Rathert
— Interim principal at LaFollette HS, former interim principal at East HS, former MMSD Social Studies Coordinator, and former principal at West HS. While at West, Mr. Rathert oversaw the development and initial implementation of the SLC grant, including the initial implementation of the school restructuring and the 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.
Ed Holmes — Principal at West HS (since fall, 2004), former principal at Wright MS and former assistant principal at West HS. Mr. Holmes has been principal at West during the continued implementation of the SLC grant, school restructuring, and 9th and 10th grade core curriculum.

Bruce Dahmen
— Principal at Memorial HS.
Sally Schultz — Principal at Shabazz HS.
Steve Hartley — MMSD Director of Alternative Programs. These include the Transitional Education Program (TEP), the School-Age Parent Program (SAPAR), Operation Fresh Start, the Omega program and many others. Mr. Hartley also oversees the District’s implementation of the state-mandated Youth Options Program (YOP), which requires the District to pay for appropriate educational opportunities for eligible high school juniors and seniors whose needs cannot be met at their own schools. A wide range of students may take advantage of YOP. The District’s YOP implementation and — importantly — policy regarding the giving of high school credit for non-MMSD courses is currently under review and has been discussed on this blog —

Lisa Wachtel
— Director of MMSD Teaching and Learning Department, former MMSD Science Coordinator. Dr. Wachtel oversees a staff of 30-40 educational professionals across a variety of content areas. Possibly important, when asked by the Superintendent to cut two people from her staff for next year, she chose to eliminate two TAG staff (leaving a TAG staff of only five people for the entire district, if the BOE approves the cut).
L. Alan Phelps — Professor in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education) and Director of the U.W. Center on Education and Work. He seems to have special interests in special education and intercultural learning. Here are links to two of his recent papers, one entitled “Using Post-School Outcomes Data to Improve Practices and Policies in Restructured Inclusive High Schools” and another entitled “High Schools with Authentic and Inclusive Learning Practices: Selected Features and Findings” —

M. Bruce King — Faculty Associate in the U.W. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis (School of Education). Dr. King is a longtime West area parent and was hired by the District to serve as the West HS SLC Evaluator. He is the author of the November, 2005, report on West’s English 10 initiative that has been heavily discussed on this blog —

Diana Hess — Associate Professor in the U.W. Department of Curriculum and Instruction (School of Education). Dr. Hess’s special area is social studies education, with a particular interest in training teachers to do discussion-based instruction, especially around controversial issues. Here is a link to an article by Dr. Hess entitled “Teaching Students to Discuss Controversial Public Issues” —

How can we help poor students achieve more?

Jason Shephard:

As a teacher-centered lesson ended the other morning at Midvale Elementary School, about 15 first-graders jumped up from their places on the carpeted rug and dashed to their personal bins of books.
Most students quickly settled into two assigned groups. One read a story about a fox in a henhouse with the classroom teacher, and another group, headed by a UW-Madison student teacher, read a more challenging nonfiction book about a grandmother who, as one child excitedly noted, lived to be 101.
In addition to this guided reading lesson, one boy sat at a computer wearing headphones, clicking on the screen that displayed the words as a story was read aloud to him, to build word recognition and reading stamina. Two other boys read silently from more advanced books. Another boy received one-on-one help from a literacy coach conducting a Reading Recovery lesson with him.
“I think what’s so important is that this program truly meets the needs of a variety of students, from those who are struggling to those who are accelerated,” says Principal John Burkholder.


School Finance: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

School spending has always been a puzzle, both from a state and federal government perspective as well as local property taxpayers. In an effort to shed some light on the vagaries of K-12 finance, I’ve summarized below a number of local, state and federal articles and links.
The 2007 Statistical Abstract offers a great deal of information about education and many other topics. A few tidbits:

1980 1990 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
US K-12 Enrollment [.xls file] 40,878,000 41,216,000 47,203,000 47,671,000 48,183,000 48,540,000 NA
US K-12 Deflated Public K-12 Spending – Billions [.xls file] $230B 311.8B $419.7B $436.6B $454.6B $464.8B $475.5B
Avg. Per Student Spending $5,627 $7,565 $8,892 $9,159 $9,436 $9,576 NA
US Defense Spending (constant yr2000 billion dollars) [.xls file] $267.1B $382.7B $294.5B $297.2B $329.4B $365.3B $397.3B
US Health Care Spending (Billions of non-adjusted dollars) [.xls file] $255B $717B $1,359B $1,474B $1,608B $1,741B $1,878B
US Gross Domestic Product – Billions [.xls file] 5,161 7,112 9,817 9,890 10,048 10,320 10,755


Revamping the high schools

Isthmus’ Jason Shepard covers the story:
Curriculum changes halted as district eyes study group
JStanding in front of a giant projection screen with his wireless remote control and clip-on microphone, Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater on Monday unveiled his grand vision for Madison’s four major high schools. But the real backdrop for his presentation before the Madison school board was the criticism of changes implemented last year at West High and proposed this year at East. Both involved reducing course offerings in favor of a core curriculum for all students, from gifted to struggling.
Rainwater stressed his intention to start from scratch in overhauling all aspects of the education provided at West, East, Memorial and La Follette, whose combined enrollment tops 7,600 students. The move follows consolidation of practices in the city’s elementary and middle schools. But it may prove more challenging, since the high schools have a longstanding tradition of independence.
Over the next two years, Rainwater would like a steering committee of experts to study best practices in high school education. Everything, Rainwater stresses, is on the table: “It’s important we don’t have preconceived notions of what it should be.”
Heterogeneous classes, which until last week were the district’s preferred direction for high school changes, are, said Rainwater, “only one piece” of the redesign. But curriculum changes are clearly going to happen.
“It’s not acceptable anymore to lecture four days a week and give a test on Friday,” Rainwater declared. Teachers must learn how to teach students, rather than teach content.
The 50 parents and teachers in the audience reacted coolly, judging from the comments muttered among themselves during the presentation and the nearly two-hour discussion that followed.
Tellingly, the biggest applause came when board member Ruth Robarts said it was “high time we as a board start talking about high school curriculum.” Robarts chastised Rainwater for not including teachers and parents on the steering committee, which will “reinforce a perception that is not in our favor.” She said the district was giving critics only two options: accept the changes or “come down and protest.”
On Nov. 16, East Principal Alan Harris unveiled plans to eliminate several courses in favor of core classes in ninth and 10th grades. Attendees said the plan was presented as a “done deal.” In e-mails to the board, parents called the plan “short-sighted and misguided,” and one teacher warned: “Don’t do it.”
Rainwater, apparently recognizing the damage to parent and teacher relations, sent a memo to principals last week.
“I am asking you to cease any significant programmatic changes at each of your schools as this community dialogue progresses,” he wrote. “We need a tabula rasa mentality that will allow for a free flow of ideas, an opportunity to solidify trust in our expertise, and a chance at a solid, exciting product at the end.”
The four high schools will remain under their current programs until the steering committee gets to work. Chaired by Pam Nash, deputy superintendent of secondary schools, it will include several district administrators as well as experts from the UW-Madison, Edgewood College and MATC.
Rainwater sought to assure board and audience members that teachers and parents will have ample opportunity for input. His plan calls for three separate periods of public comment, after which subcommittees will make revisions. The school board will then vote on the recommendations after additional hearings and debate.
“You get better input if people have something to react to,” Rainwater said, adding that involving teachers in all stages would be impractical, because it would be difficult to cover their teaching assignments. That comment drew a collective groan from teachers in the audience.
Rainwater’s call for a revamping of the city’s high schools suggests the current approach isn’t working. And that poses a dilemma for school officials. The district likes to tout its record number of National Merit semifinalists and state-leading ACT scores as proof that its high schools are successful. Many parents worry that those high-end benchmarks are under attack.
But Madison’s schools continue to fail countless kids — mostly low-income and minority students. This is a profound challenge hardly unique to Madison, but one that deserves more attention from policymakers.
Research in education, the starting point for Rainwater’s steering committee, offers promising solutions. But the district risks much in excluding teachers from the start, since inevitably they will be on the front lines of any change. And excluding parents could heighten the alienation that has already prompted some middle- and upper-class families to abandon the public schools.
While struggling over details, most board members conceptually support the study. During their discussion Monday, Lawrie Kobza cut to the chase.
“What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” she asked. “And is this how we solve this problem?” Kobza professed not to know the answer. But these are the right questions to ask.


On November 7th, voters will be asked to approve a referendum allowing the Madison Metropolitan School District to build a new school and exceed its revenue cap. After very careful consideration, the Board of Education unanimously decided to ask the question. I fully support this referendum and urge you to vote yes.
Our community is committed to our children and our public schools. We want our children to be well-educated and prepared for the future. We engage in passionate discussions over how best to educate our students, and how to ensure that the community’s investment in education is sound. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we are continually looking for our schools to do better. The Board of Education shares this commitment. We take very seriously our responsibility to gather information, ask questions, and initiate actions to accomplish these goals.
We need to build a new elementary school on the far west side of Madison because there is simply not be enough room in our schools to accommodate the dramatic growth there. Projections, confirmed by student count information, are that elementary schools in the Memorial attendance in total will exceed capacity by 2007 and will be at 111% of capacity by 2010. Linden Park, a fast growing residential area about three miles from the nearest elementary school, is an excellent location for that school. It will service a large attendance area where many students will be able to walk to school, helping to control bussing costs.


School Board OK’s 23.5M November Referendum: Three Requests in One Question

Sandy Cullen:

he Madison School Board will put one $23.5 million referendum question to voters in the Nov. 7 general election.
If approved, the referendum would provide $17.7 million for a new elementary school on the Far West Side, $2.7 million for an addition at Leopold Elementary, and $3.1 million to refinance debt.
It also would free up $876,739 in the portion of next year’s operating budget that is subject to state revenue limits. Board members could use that money to restore some of the spending cuts in the $332 million budget they recently approved, which eliminated the equivalent of about 86 full-time positions to help close a $6.9 million gap between what it would cost to continue the same programs and services next year and what the district can raise in taxes under revenue limits.

Susan Troller has more:

The board voted unanimously to hold the referendum in November, rather than placing in on the ballot during the fall primary in September. The later date, board members said, provides more time to organize an educational effort on why the projects are necessary.
“We’ll see what happens,” said board member Ruth Robarts, the lone dissenting voice on the decision to bundle all three projects together in a single question to voters in the general election. Robarts, who preferred asking the three questions separately, said she was concerned that voters who did not like one project might be likely to vote against all three.

What’s the outlook for a successful referenda? I think, as I wrote on May 4, 2006 that it is still hard to say:


2006 / 2007 Madison School Board & Committee Goals

The Madison School Board meets June 19, 2006 @ 5:00p.m. to discuss their 2006 / 2007 goals for our $332M+ schools. A friend wondered what goals readers have in mind.
I thought it might be useful to consider the Board’s goals in light of the District’s strategic plan [450K pdf]:

  1. Instructional Excellence
    Improving student achievement
    Offering challenging, diverse and contemporary curriculum and instruction.
  2. Student Support
    Assuring a safe, respectful and welcoming learning environment.
  3. Staff Effectiveness
    Recruiting, developing and retaining a highly competent workforce that reflects the diversity of our students.
  4. Home and Community Partnerships
    Strengthening community and family partnerships, and communication.
  5. Fiscal Responsibility
    Using resources efficiently and strategically.

My thoughts are below:


Candidates agree education is at crossroads

Madison School Board candidates Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak look at what is happening in schools here in very different ways, but on at least one issue they are in complete agreement: Public education here and throughout the Badger State is at a critical crossroads.
But the two candidates vying for School Board Seat No. 2, which Lopez has held since 1994, have quite distinct notions about the nature of the challenges facing the Madison Metropolitan School District.
By Susan Troller, The Capital Times, March 21, 2006


Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I’ve posted the entire article on the continued page.
Standards, Accountability, and School Reform
by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004
The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for “accountability” systems. These strategies have often had unintended consequences that undermine access to education for low-achieving students rather than enhancing it. This article argues that testing is information for an accountability system; it is not the system itself. More successful outcomes have been secured in states and districts, described here, that have focused on broader notions of accountability, including investments in teacher knowledge and skill, organization of schools to support teacher and student learning, and systems of assessment that drive curriculum reform and teaching improvements.


What about heterogenous classes with high-track curriculum?

It’s clear from educational research that “tracking” high school students into low to high-level courses based on their prior academic achievement denies opportunities to low income students and many students of color. De-tracking is clearly in order for school districts seeking to offer equal educational opportunity to all students.
However, de-tracking can be done in many ways. The MMSD administration’s plan for tenth grade English courses at West High School follows one model: eliminate high level courses, require all students to take the same course and depend on teachers to “differentiate” instruction so that students of all ability levels and interest are challenged and gain academically.
A diverse suburban district in New York has narrowed the achievement gap in math by offering its high-track curriculum to all students. Rather than offer a mid-range materials with special opportunities for very capable students to accelerate to all students, the district has offered the same high-level courses to all students. Students having difficulty with the course material also attend special support classes and receive afterschool help four days a week. Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking?
The resulting gains in student achievement are worth our consideration.
from Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005

Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district’s traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district’s process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools’ and students’ needs.
By Karen Hawley Miles, Kathleen Ware, and Marguerite Roza, from Phi Delta Kappan magazine, October 2003.


Making One Size Fit All: Rainwater seeks board input as schools cut ability-based classes

Jason Shephard, writing in this week’s Isthmus:

Kerry Berns, a resource teacher for talented and gifted students in Madison schools, is worried about the push to group students of all abilities in the same classrooms.
“I hope we can slow down, make a comprehensive plan, [and] start training all teachers in a systematic way” in the teaching methods known as “differentiation,” Berns told the Madison school board earlier this month. These are critical, she says, if students of mixed abilities are expected to learn in “heterogeneous” classrooms.
“Some teachers come about it very naturally,” Berns noted. “For some teachers, it’s a very long haul.”
Following the backlash over West High School replacing more than a dozen electives with a single core curriculum for tenth grade English, a school board committee has met twice to hear about the district’s efforts to expand heterogeneous classes.
The school board’s role in the matter is unclear, even to its members. Bill Keys told colleagues it’s “wholly inappropriate” for them to be “choosing or investigating curriculum issues.”
Superintendent Art Rainwater told board members that as “more and more” departments make changes to eliminate “dead-end” classes through increased use of heterogeneous classes, his staff needs guidance in form of “a policy decision” from the board. If the board doesn’t change course, such efforts, Rainwater said, will likely be a “major direction” of the district’s future.

Links and articles on Madison West High School’s English 10, one class for all program. Dr. Helen has a related post: ” I’m Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd”


Tongue in Cheek Solution

I have noticed a movement about MMSD. There seems to be the following needs:
1. Make each grade/class the same across the district so that all
students have a equitable distribution of funds, resources, and knowledge. (Connected math, FOSS science, middle school curriculm, and West English)
2. Great concern from “legal” I assume that food, animals, and flammable paper present a hazard to the students and potentially invite a lawsuit. (pet proposal, upcoming food proposal to eliminate any homemade food in the school, and the fire code issue)
3. Boundary changes to solve growth and income disparity which causes financial stress on the district. (Task forces, failed referendum, spending cap)
So here’s the solution: