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January 25, 2014

The Achievement Gap as Seen Through the Eyes of a Student

Robin Mwai and Deidre Green
Simpson Street Free Press

The achievement gap is very prevalent in my school on a day-to-day basis. From the lack of minority students taking honors classes, to the over abundance of minority students occupying the hallways during valuable class time, the continuously nagging minority achievement gap prevails.

Upon entering LaFollette High School, there are visible traces of the achievement gap all throughout the halls. It seems as if there is always a presence of a minority student in the hallway no matter what the time of day. At any time during the school day there are at least 10 to 15 students, many of whom are minorities, wandering the halls aimlessly. These students residing in the halls are either a result of getting kicked out of class due to behavior issues, or for some, the case may be that they simply never cared to go to class at all. This familiar scene causes some staff to assume that all minority students that are seen in the halls during class time are not invested in their education. These assumptions are then translated back to the classroom where teachers then lower their expectations for these students and students who appear to be like them.

While there are some students of color who would rather spend their school time in the halls instead of in the classroom, others wish for the opportunity to be seen as focused students. Sadly many bright and capable minority students are being overlooked because teachers see them as simply another unmotivated student to be pushed through the system. Being a high achieving minority student in the Madison school District continues to be somewhat of a rarity--even in 2014. Three out of the four classes I am taking this semester at La Follette High School, which uses the four-block schedule, are honors or advanced courses. Of the 20 to 25 students in those honors classes, I am one of a total of two minority students enrolled.

Even though a large percentage of the student body is made up of minority students, very few of theses students are taking honors or advanced classes. These honors courses provide students with necessary skills that help prepare them for college. These skills include: critical thinking, exposure to a wider variety of concepts, and an opportunity to challenge their own mental capacities in ways that non-honors courses don't allow. This means that the majority of the schools' population is not benefiting from these opportunities. Instead, they are settling for lower-level courses that are not pushing them to the best of their abilities.

It is unfortunate that so many of our community's young people are missing out on being academically challenged in ways that could ultimately change their lives. This all too familiar issue is a complex community problem with no simple solutions. However it is one that should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency.

Robin Mwai is a Sophomore at LaFollette High School and serves as a staff writer for Dane County's Teen Newspaper Simpson Street Free Press. Deidre Green is a LaFollette High School Graduate and is now a UW-Madison Senior. She is also a graduate of Simpson Street Free Press and now serves as Managing Editor.

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January 2, 2014

Gifted in Math, and Poor

New York Times

To the Editor:

Re "Even Gifted Students Can't Keep Up" ("Numbers Crunch" series, editorial, Dec. 15): Educators know that when the curriculum is set at an optimal difficulty level, students learn to persist, attend carefully and gain self-confidence. For mathematically gifted students, the curriculum must move more quickly and in greater depth so that they can become disciplined, resilient students.

When the mathematically gifted sons and daughters of affluent, well-educated parents are not challenged, their parents spend considerable amounts of time and money finding tutors, summer programs and online courses. As a psychologist who has worked for more than 20 years with the families of gifted students, I have seen how much time and money is required for this effort.

For mathematically gifted students from poorer families, there is neither the time nor the money to seek educational opportunities outside the public schools. A weak public school system without flexibility or adequate challenge can seriously limit the educational experiences and lifetime employment opportunities of these students. A weak public school system ultimately limits quality education to those few whose parents can pay for it privately.

Brooklyn, Dec. 19, 2013

Related: "They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine -- NOT!"

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September 26, 2013

College Board 'Concerned' About Low SAT Scores

Claudio Sanchez (NPR)

The College Board, sponsor of the SAT, says that roughly six out of 10 college-bound high school students who took the test were so lacking in their reading, writing and math skills, they were unprepared for college level work.

The College Board is calling for big changes to better prepare students for college and career.

Stagnant Scores

The average SAT score this year was 1498 out of a possible 2400. It's been roughly the same for the last five years.

"And we at the College Board are concerned," says David Coleman, the board's president.

In a conference call with reporters, Coleman said his biggest concern is the widening gap in scores along racial and ethnic lines. This year Asian students had the highest overall average scores in reading, writing and math, followed by whites, and then Latinos. Black students had the lowest average scores. Coleman said it's time to do something about it, not just sit back and report how poorly prepared students are for college and career.

"Simply put, the College Board will go beyond simply delivering assessments to actually transforming the daily work that students are doing," Coleman says.

Coleman wants to work with schools to make coursework tougher and make sure students have access to more demanding honors and advanced placement courses, because right now, most students don't. Most worrisome of all, Coleman says, "minority students, underrepresented students, have less access." more

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May 17, 2013

A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready

David Bornstein

When Parker Sheffy, a first-year teacher in the Bronx Leadership Academy II, a high school in the South Bronx, talks shop with friends who are also new teachers, he often hears about the problems they are facing: students not showing up to class on time, not understanding their work, not doing homework. "I'm thinking: I don't have that problem... I don't have that problem..." Sheffy recalled. In his ninth grade integrated algebra class, he estimates that 80 to 90 percent are on track to pass the Regents exam, more than double last year's figure.

"But I have to remind myself that this is not just because of me," Sheffy said. "I'm one of six people who have created this class."

Sheffy's school is one of three New York City public schools working with an organization called Blue Engine, which recruits and places recent college graduates as full-time teaching assistants in high schools, helps teachers shift to a small-group classroom model with a ratio of one instructor for roughly every six students, uses data tracking to generate rapid-fire feedback so problems can be quickly addressed, and provides weekly instruction in "social cognition" classes, where students are introduced to skills and concepts -- such as the difference between a "fixed" and a "growth" mind-set -- that can help them grasp their untapped potential.

Blue Engine also targets algebra, geometry and English language arts in the ninth and 10th grades because performance in these so-called "gateway" courses is associated with college success.

Despite its modest size and short track record, Blue Engine has already seized the attention of educators and attracted notice from President Obama. Last year, in its schools, as a result of the program, the number of students who met the "college ready" standard -- scoring above 80 on their Regents exams in algebra, geometry or English language arts -- nearly tripled, from 49 to 140.

Katherine Callaghan, the principal of the Bronx Leadership Academy II, who has worked in the school for more than 10 years, said: "Blue Engine has moved a huge number of our students in a way that nothing else that we've ever tried has been able to do." She added: "Last year we had a 44 percent pass rate on the integrated algebra Regents, with two kids scoring above an 80. This year, we're on track for 75 or 80 percent passing, with 20 kids hitting the college-ready mark. We're close to doubling our pass rate and multiplying by a factor of 10 our college-ready rate."

Gains like this are not often seen in education. So it's worth taking note. What's happening?

Read more here.

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April 29, 2013

No Rich Child Left Behind

Sean F. Reardon

Here's a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.

Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.

What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.

One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children's success in school than race.


In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?


If not the usual suspects, what's going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.


But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and "improving teacher quality," but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children's earliest environments may be even more important. Let's invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

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April 24, 2013


STEM to Steam

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is encouraging Art/Design to be included with the K-20 STEM curriculum.

What is STEAM

In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.

We need to add Art + Design to the equation -- to transform STEM into STEAM.


STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.

The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation
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April 23, 2013

2012-13 MMSD WKCE Results

Tap or click to view a larger version.

Higher bar for WKCE results paints different picture of student achievement

Matt DeFour

Wisconsin student test scores released Tuesday look very different than they did a year ago, though not because of any major shift in student performance.

Similar to recent years, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results show gains in math and reading over the past five years, a persistent and growing performance gap between black and white students, and Milwaukee and Racine public school students outperforming their peers in the private school voucher program.

But the biggest difference is the scores reflect a higher bar for what students in each grade level should know and be able to do.

Only 36.2 percent of students who took the reading test last October met the new proficiency bar. Fewer than half, 48.1 percent, of students were proficient in math. When 2011-12 results were released last spring, those figures were both closer to 80 percent.

The change doesn't reflect a precipitous drop in student test scores. The average scores in reading and math are about the same as last year for each grade level.

Instead, the change reflects a more rigorous standard for proficiency similar to what is used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is administered to a sample of students in each state every other year and is referred to as "the nation's report card."

The state agreed to raise the proficiency benchmark in math and reading last year in order to qualify for a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The benchmark did not rise for the language arts, science and social studies tests.

"Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said. "But these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready and link with work being done throughout the state to implement new standards."

Evers also called on the Legislature to include private voucher schools in the state's new accountability system.

He highlighted that test scores for all Milwaukee and Racine students need to improve. Among Milwaukee voucher students, 10.8 percent in reading and 11.9 percent in math scored proficient or better. Among Milwaukee public school students, it was 14.2 percent in reading and 19.7 percent in math.

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed expanding the state's voucher program, including to such districts as Madison.

Changes in Dane County

The state previously announced how the changing bar would affect scores statewide and parents have seen their own students' results in recent weeks, but the new figures for the first time show the impact on entire schools and districts.

In Dane County school districts, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the test dropped on average by 42 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math.

Madison schools had one of the smallest drops compared to its neighboring districts.

Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham noted schools with a higher number of students scoring in the "advanced" category experienced less of a drop. Madison's smaller drop could reflect a higher proportion of students scoring in the top tier.

At the same time, Madison didn't narrow the gap between minority and white student test results. Only 9 percent of black sixth-graders and only 2 percent of sixth-grade English language learners scored proficient in reading.

"It reinforces the importance of our work in the years ahead," Cheatham said. "We're going to work on accelerating student outcomes."

Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she hasn't heard many complaints from parents whose students suddenly dropped a tier on the test. Like Madison and other districts across the state, Middleton-Cross Plains sent home letters bracing parents for the change.

But Lindgren fears the changing standards come at the worst time for public schools, which have faced tougher scrutiny and reduced state support.

"I'm glad that the standards have been raised by the state, because they were low, but this interim year, hopefully people won't panic too much," Lindgren said. "The public has been sold on the idea that we're failing in our education system, and I just don't believe that's true."

Next fall will be the last year students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the paper-and-pencil WKCE math and reading tests. Wisconsin is part of a coalition of states planning to administer a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year.

The proposed state budget also provides for students in grades 9-11 to take the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT college and career readiness tests in future years.

Superintendent Cheatham is to be commended for her informed, intelligent and honest reaction to the MMSD's results when compared to those of neighboring districts.

View a WKCE summary here (PDF).

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April 10, 2013

Rigorous Schools Put College Dreams Into Practice

Kyle Spencer

ALONG his block in Newark's West Ward, where drugs are endemic and the young residents talk about shootings with alarming nonchalance, Najee Little is known as the smart kid. He got all A's his sophomore year, breezing through math and awing his English teachers. His mother, a day care worker, and father, who does odd jobs to make ends meet, have high aspirations for him. They want him to earn a college degree.

So last year, when Bard College opened an early college high school in Newark for disadvantaged students with dreams of a bachelor's degree, he was sure he'd do well there. He wrote his first long paper on Plato's "Republic," expecting a top grade. He got a D minus. "Honestly," he recalled, "I was kind of discouraged."

That paper marked the beginning of a trying academic path that would both excite and disillusion him. The past two years have been peppered with some promising grades -- an A in environmental science -- and some doozies. He failed "Africa in World History" and squeaked by in calculus. Mostly, he came to realize that getting into college and staying there would be a herculean task. There was tricky grammar, hard math and tons of homework. There was the neighborhood cacophony to tune out and the call of his Xbox. And there was the fact that no one in his house could help him.

"My work is more advanced than anyone at home has experienced," he said. And that, it turns out, is why the school had accepted him.

High poverty, high ability, high expectations, high achievement.

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Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation

Donald J. Hernandez

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those who couldn't master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What's more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates. The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.

The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children's parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family's eco- nomic status and other factors, while the children's reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database re- ports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.

For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.

The findings include:

-- One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

-- The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.

-- Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.

-- For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don't finish school rose to 26 percent. That's more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.

-- The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively--or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.

-- Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn't finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.

-- Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third- grade readers graduated from high school on time.

-- Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students who were not proficient readers in third grade lagged far behind those for White students with the same reading skills.

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March 7, 2013

The Country That Stopped Reading

David Toscana

Earlier this week, I spotted, among the job listings in the newspaper Reforma, an ad from a restaurant in Mexico City looking to hire dishwashers. The requirement: a secondary school diploma.

Years ago, school was not for everyone. Classrooms were places for discipline, study. Teachers were respected figures. Parents actually gave them permission to punish their children by slapping them or tugging their ears. But at least in those days, schools aimed to offer a more dignified life.

Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago.

One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, "How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?"


This is not just about better funding. Mexico spends more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product on education -- about the same percentage as the United States. And it's not about pedagogical theories and new techniques that look for shortcuts. The educational machine does not need fine-tuning; it needs a complete change of direction. It needs to make students read, read and read.

But perhaps the Mexican government is not ready for its people to be truly educated. We know that books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity. If tomorrow we were to wake up as educated as the Finnish people, the streets would be filled with indignant citizens and our frightened government would be asking itself where these people got more than a dishwasher's training.

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February 12, 2013

The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools

David Kirp
WHAT would it really take to give students a first-rate education? Some argue that our schools are irremediably broken and that charter schools offer the only solution. The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. -- bringing poor, mostly immigrant kids into the educational mainstream -- argues for reinventing the public schools we have. Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It's a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. A quarter are thought to be undocumented, living in fear of deportation.

Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How things have changed. From third grade through high school, students' achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What's more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent -- roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.

As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I've never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy. Ask school officials to explain Union City's success and they start with prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old. There's abundant research showing the lifetime benefits of early education. Here, seeing is believing.

One December morning the lesson is making latkes, the potato pancakes that are a Hanukkah staple. Everything that transpires during these 90 minutes could be called a "teachable moment" -- describing the smell of an onion ("Strong or light? Strong -- duro. Will it smell differently when we cook it? We'll have to find out."); pronouncing the "p" in pepper and pimento; getting the hang of a food processor ("When I put all the ingredients in, what will happen?").

Cognitive and noncognitive, thinking and feeling; here, this line vanishes. The good teacher is always on the lookout for both kinds of lessons, always aiming to reach both head and heart. "My goal is to do for these kids what I do with my own children," the teacher, Susana Rojas, tells me. "It's all about exposure to concepts -- wide, narrow, long, short. I bring in breads from different countries. 'Let's do a pie chart showing which one you liked the best.' I don't ask them to memorize 1, 2, 3 -- I could teach a monkey to count." From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the "instructional core" -- the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.

When Alina Bossbaly greets her third grade students, ethics are on her mind. "Room 210 is a pie -- un pie -- and each of us is a slice of that pie." The pie offers a down-to-earth way of talking about a community where everyone has a place. Building character and getting students to think is her mission. From Day 1, her kids are writing in their journals, sifting out the meaning of stories and solving math problems. Every day, Ms. Bossbaly is figuring out what's best for each child, rather than batch-processing them. Though Ms. Bossbaly is a star, her philosophy pervades the district. Wherever I went, these schools felt less like impersonal institutions than the simulacrum of an extended family.

UNTIL recently, Union City High bore the scarlet-letter label, "school in need of improvement." It has taken strong leadership from its principal, John Bennetti, to turn things around -- to instill the belief that education can be a ticket out of poverty. On Day 1, the principal lays out the house rules. Everything is tied to a single theme -- pride and respect in "our house" -- that resonates with the community culture of family, unity and respect. "Cursing doesn't showcase our talents. Breaking the dress code means we're setting a tone that unity isn't important, coming in late means missing opportunities to learn." Bullying is high on his list of nonnegotiables: "We are about caring and supporting."

These students sometimes behave like college freshmen, as in a seminar where they're parsing Toni Morrison's "Beloved." They can be boisterously jokey with their teachers. But there's none of the note-swapping, gum-chewing, wisecracking, talking-back rudeness you'd anticipate if your opinions about high school had been shaped by movies like "Dangerous Minds." And the principal is persuading teachers to raise their expectations. "There should be more courses that prepare students for college, not simply more work but higher-quality work," he tells me. This approach is paying off big time: Last year, in a study of 22,000 American high schools, U.S. News & World Report and the American Institutes for Research ranked Union City High in the top 22 percent.

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn't followed the herd by closing "underperforming" schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools. A quarter-century ago, fear of a state takeover catalyzed a transformation. The district's best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch. Learning by doing replaced learning by rote. Kids who came to school speaking only Spanish became truly bilingual, taught how to read and write in their native tongue before tackling English. Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise. Principals were expected to become educational leaders, not just disciplinarians and paper-shufflers. From a loose confederacy, the schools gradually morphed into a coherent system that marries high expectations with a "we can do it" attitude. "The real story of Union City is that it didn't fall back," says Fred Carrigg, a key architect of the reform. "It stabilized and has continued to improve."

To any educator with a pulse, this game plan sounds so old-school obvious that it verges on platitude. That these schools are generously financed clearly makes a difference -- not every community will decide to pay for two years of prekindergarten -- but too many districts squander their resources. School officials flock to Union City and other districts that have beaten the odds, eager for a quick fix. But they're on a fool's errand. These places -- and there are a host of them, largely unsung -- didn't become exemplars by behaving like magpies, taking shiny bits and pieces and gluing them together. Instead, each devised a long-term strategy reaching from preschool to high school. Each keeps learning from experience and tinkering with its model. Nationwide, there's no reason school districts -- big or small; predominantly white, Latino or black -- cannot construct a system that, like the schools of Union City, bends the arc of children's lives.

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September 19, 2012

Young, Gifted and Neglected

Chester E. Finn, Jr.

BARACK OBAMA and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.

Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we've failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.

Public education's neglect of high-ability students doesn't just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country's future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.

Today's systemic failure takes three forms.

First, we're weak at identifying "gifted and talented" children early, particularly if they're poor or members of minority groups or don't have savvy, pushy parents.

Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don't have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand. Congress has "zero-funded" the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Washington's sole effort to encourage such education. Faced with budget crunches and federal pressure to turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes as well as art and music.

Third, many high schools have just a smattering of honors or Advanced Placement classes, sometimes populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.

Here and there, however, entire public schools focus exclusively on high-ability, highly motivated students. Some are nationally famous (Boston Latin, Bronx Science), others known mainly in their own communities (Cincinnati's Walnut Hills, Austin's Liberal Arts and Science Academy). When my colleague Jessica A. Hockett and I went searching for schools like these to study, we discovered that no one had ever fully mapped this terrain.

In a country with more than 20,000 public high schools, we found just 165 of these schools, known as exam schools. They educate about 1 percent of students. Nineteen states have none. Only three big cities have more than five such schools (Los Angeles has zero). Almost all have far more qualified applicants than they can accommodate. Hence they practice very selective admission, turning away thousands of students who could benefit from what they have to offer. Northern Virginia's acclaimed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, for example, gets some 3,300 applicants a year -- two-thirds of them academically qualified -- for 480 places.

We built a list, surveyed the principals and visited 11 schools. We learned a lot. While the schools differ in many ways, their course offerings resemble A.P. classes in content and rigor; they have stellar college placement; and the best of them expose their pupils to independent study, challenging internships and individual research projects.

Critics call them elitist, but we found the opposite. These are great schools accessible to families who can't afford private schooling or expensive suburbs. While exam schools in some cities don't come close to reflecting the demographics around them, across the country the low-income enrollment in these schools parallels the high school population as a whole. African-American youngsters are "overrepresented" in them and Asian-Americans staggeringly so (21 percent versus 5 percent in high schools overall). Latinos are underrepresented, but so are whites.

That's not so surprising. Prosperous, educated parents can access multiple options for their able daughters and sons. Elite private schools are still out there. So are New Trier, Scarsdale and Beverly Hills. The schools we studied, by and large, are educational oases for families with smart kids but few alternatives.

They're safe havens, too -- schools where everyone focuses on teaching and learning, not maintaining order. They have sports teams, but their orchestras are better. Yes, some have had to crack down on cheating, but in these schools it's O.K. to be a nerd. You're surrounded by kids like you -- some smarter than you -- and taught by capable teachers who welcome the challenge, teachers more apt to have Ph.D.'s or experience at the college level than high school instructors elsewhere. You aren't searched for weapons at the door. And you're pretty sure to graduate and go on to a good college.

Many more students could benefit from schools like these -- and the numbers would multiply if our education system did right by such students in the early grades. But that will happen only when we acknowledge that leaving no child behind means paying as much attention to those who've mastered the basics -- and have the capacity and motivation for much more -- as we do to those who cannot yet read or subtract.

It's time to end the bias against gifted and talented education and quit assuming that every school must be all things to all students, a simplistic formula that ends up neglecting all sorts of girls and boys, many of them poor and minority, who would benefit more from specialized public schools. America should have a thousand or more high schools for able students, not 165, and elementary and middle schools that spot and prepare their future pupils.

With their support for school choice, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have both edged toward recognizing that kids aren't all the same and schools shouldn't be, either. Yet fear of seeming elitist will most likely keep them from proposing more exam schools. Which is ironic and sad, considering where they went to school. Smart kids shouldn't have to go to private schools or get turned away from Bronx Science or Thomas Jefferson simply because there's no room for them.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author, with Jessica A. Hockett, of "Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools."

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July 10, 2012

School Is 'Too Easy,' Say American Students


Many students in American classrooms don't feel challenged enough. That's according to new analysis of federal data (pdf) conducted by the Washington think tank American Progress.

The organization, which promotes "progressive ideas and action," came to that conclusion when it analyzed surveys given to students by the Department of Education for its National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In its press release, American progress says its analysis found that the popular images of students overburdened with work and keeping "the hours of a corporate lawyer in order to finish their school projects and homework assignments" are quite simply off base.

"Many students are not being challenged in school," the organization says. USA Today dug through the report and finds:

-- "37% of fourth-graders say their math work is 'often' or 'always' too easy;

-- "57% of eighth-graders say their history work is 'often' or 'always' too easy;

-- "39% of 12th-graders say they rarely write about what they read in class."

USA Today spoke Florida State University English education professor Shelbie Witte who said students are likely bored by an education system that puts too much emphasis on standardized testing and "when they're bored, they think the classes are easy."

Another interesting find from the report is that lower-income students reported that they comprehended their teachers less than their more affluent classmates.

American Progress points out that student surveys have been shown to be accurate predictors of a teacher's performance. It's the reason they decided to look at this set of data.

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March 4, 2012

Isaac Asimov on the impact of information access on education

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February 10, 2012

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say

Sabrina Tavernise
Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education's leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

"We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race," said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion -- the single most important predictor of success in the work force -- has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession's full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

"With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there's a good chance the recession may have widened the gap," Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income -- the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted -- and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, "Whither Opportunity?" compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.

The connection between income inequality among parents and the social mobility of their children has been a focus of President Obama as well as some of the Republican presidential candidates.

One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children's schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today's economy.

A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.

"The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation," said Dr. Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The gap is also growing in college. The University of Michigan study, by Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey, looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.

James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child's cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.

"Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role," he said. "The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it's a mistake."

Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.

Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," was published Jan. 31, described income inequality as "more of a symptom than a cause."

The growing gap between the better educated and the less educated, he argued, has formed a kind of cultural divide that has its roots in natural social forces, like the tendency of educated people to marry other educated people, as well as in the social policies of the 1960s, like welfare and other government programs, which he contended provided incentives for staying single.

"When the economy recovers, you'll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture," he said.

There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.

The problem is a puzzle, he said. "No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare."

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Maine Education Reform Proposal

Jay Field:

Students could enroll outside their home districts, and public tuition dollars would flow to private religious schools, under education reforms laid out by the LePage administration in Skowhegan this morning. Besides expanded school choice, the administration is also pushing legislation to toughen and standardize teacher and principal evaluation statewide and expand career and technical education. Some praise the proposals as bold and innovative, but others dismiss them as divisive and unfair.

The scene of the big announcement invoked a part of the governor's education agenda that pretty much everyone seems to agree with. At just after 9 a.m., LePage welcomed guests assembled inside an automotive garage at a Skowhegan technical school, then turned the podium over to his education commissioner.

Stephen Bowen turned and marveled at the hydraulic lifts and other machinery. "It's great to be in this facility," he said. "I love this backdrop back here. I have a car, by the way, that I may bring in here later, 'cause there was something rattling on my way up here."

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February 9, 2012

UW-Madison on the Value of AP Courses; AP Report to the Nation

UW News:

The College Board AP Report to the Nation shows that students who earn advanced placement credit in high school typically experience greater academic success in college, are better prepared for coursework, and are more likely to earn a college degree than their peers.

In 2011, 903,630 seniors took an AP exam before leaving high school with 540,619 scoring a three or higher. That doubles the 431,573 who took the exam in 2001 when only 277,507 scored a three or higher. In all, 62,068 students across Wisconsin took AP exams in 2011.

Joanne Berg, University of Wisconsin-Madison vice provost for enrollment management, says that "students who took AP credits were able to graduate sooner than other students, were able to start advanced courses sooner, and actually free up courses for other students who weren't able to take AP credits."

Along with the release of the report, representatives from the UW-Madison are also featured in several videos speaking to the value of the AP program. The videos can be viewed here.

View and download the 2011 AP Report to the Nation, here:
The 8th Annual AP Report to the Nation (.pdf/1.7MB) reports on each state's efforts to improve high school achievement by involving greater segments of the student population -- and traditionally underserved minority students in particular -- in rigorous AP courses.
The state supplements can be viewed here.

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Q&A with Deborah Gist: Involving teachers in evaluation policy

Nick Pandolfo:

Deborah Gist, Rhode Island's Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, has implemented some major reforms since assuming her role in 2009. She has raised the score required to pass teacher-certification tests and allowed a superintendent to fire all of the teachers at a school that was resisting reforms. Perhaps most notably, she has overseen the implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system. The Hechinger Report recently interviewed Gist about her state's new approach to evaluating teachers.

Since changing your teacher-evaluation process in 2009 to include students' standardized test-scores and yearly evaluations of teachers and administrators, what has the feedback been? Where are you at as far as implementing the changes, how is it going, and what have you learned?

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Apps for Kids interview

Mark Frauenfelder:

I started Apps for Kids because my 8-year-old daughter Jane and I like to play games on the iPhone and iPad together. We have a lot of fun checking out new apps, and then seeing if we can beat each other's high scores. My friends who have kids of their own were always asking Jane and me what apps they should download, and so I thought maybe we should share that advice to a larger audience. So we started Apps for Kids, and people seem to really like it

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Trouble ahead

via Steve Hsu.

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Report cards for schools? Only if done thoughtfully

The Sacramento Bee:

California voters made a pact in 1988 when they approved Proposition 98.

The state would provide a guaranteed minimum level of funding for public schools. In exchange, schools would be held "accountable for the job they do and the tax dollars they spend." Every year each school would publish a School Accountability Report Card - the SARC.

A generation later, that report card still is not very readable and has little role in driving school improvement. A 2004 UCLA report concluded, "Running the school system without a useful and understandable SARC is like driving a $100,000 sports car with a broken speedometer, temperature gauge and gas gauge."

Unfortunately, political leaders faced with the overly complex, confusing system seem to lunge in opposite directions.

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Connecticut Governor Malloy pushes education spending

Ben Prawdzik, via a kind reader's email:

Gov. Dannel Malloy has indicated that he plans to make good on his promise to enact education reform -- he has announced a series of legislative proposals over the past week aimed at improving and expanding schooling opportunities in Connecticut.

Malloy's proposals, if enacted by the state's General Assembly convening for its legislative session today, would affect students in levels ranging from preschool to professional job training programs. Last Thursday, Malloy proposed allocating an additional $12 million of the state budget to boost the quality and accessibility preschool education in the state. The next day, the governor announced that he will propose legislation to change the Connecticut Technical High School (CTHSS) system to tailor its curricula to the needs of the state's employers so that students will be better prepared for employment upon graduation. On Monday, Malloy put forth a legislative proposal to improve low-achieving schools and increase charter and magnate school funding.

"We made a promise to our kids that education will prepare them for college or the workforce," Malloy said in a Feb. 6 press release. "Transforming our educational system -- fixing the schools that are falling short and learning from the ones that are graduating high-achievers -- will help us develop the skilled workforce that will strengthen our state and our economy."

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February 8, 2012

We're ripe for a great disruption in higher education

Margaret Wente:

How would you like to go to MIT - for free? You can now. Starting this spring, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be offering free online courses to anyone, anywhere in the world, through its new digital arm, MITx. These courses will be much more than lectures on videotape. Students will be able to interact with other students online and have access to online labs and self-assessment tools. And here's the really revolutionary part: If you can show you've learned the material, for a small fee, MITx will give you a credential to prove it. No, it's not a full-blown MIT degree. But employers will probably be impressed.

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The sound of a word tells us something about how it is used, Cornell study shows

Franklin Crawford:

For more than 100 years the standard view among traditional language theorists was that, with the exception of onomatopoeia like "fizz" and "beep," the sound of a word tells us nothing about how it is used. This seemingly arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning in human language is hailed as singular to our species.
definition or risk to illustrate noun-verb connection

A new Cornell study takes that view to task.

"What we have shown is that the sound of a word can tell us something about how it is used," said Morten Christiansen, associate professor of psychology at Cornell. "Specifically, it tells us whether the word is used as a noun or as a verb, and this relationship affects how we process such words."

Christiansen, along with Thomas Farmer, a Cornell psychology graduate student, are co-authors of a paper about how the sounds of words contain information about their syntactic role. Their work will be published in the Aug. 8 print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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10 Tips on Writing Well from David Ogilvy

Maria Popova:

How is your new year's resolution to read more and write better holding up? After tracing the fascinating story of the most influential writing style guide of all time and absorbing advice on writing from some of modern history's most legendary writers, here comes some priceless and pricelessly uncompromising wisdom from a very different kind of cultural legend: iconic businessman and original "Mad Man" David Ogilvy. On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled "How to Write":

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Why Pay for Intro Textbooks?

Mitch Smith:

If ramen noodle sales spike at the start of every semester, here's one possible reason: textbooks can cost as much as a class itself; materials for an introductory physics course can easily top $300.

Cost-conscious students can of course save money with used or online books and recoup some of their cash come buyback time. Still, it's a steep price for most 18-year-olds.

But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers' offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.

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Digital Exams on the iPad

Fraser Speirs:

It's prelim week at Cedars. In Scotland, pupils with additional needs can use a "Digital Question Paper" to complete their exam.

A DQP is a PDF with embedded forms. The pupil sits at a computer and fills in the form to answer the questions. For exams involving graphs, equations or other hard-to-do-on-the-computer things, they can also switch to working on paper. At the end of the exam, the PDF is printed out and the exam goes away on paper with the rest to be marked.

So this week it's been my job to get this going. I thought it would be useful to write down the process and considerations for doing this on our computer infrastructure.

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February 7, 2012

More on Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's Achievement Gap Presentation: $105,600,000 over 5 Years

Pat Schneider:

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad packed the house Monday night for what he termed "a call to action" to the community to join his administration in a strategy to close the racial achievement gap that has haunted the school district for decades.

His blueprint for change, "Building our Future," weighs in at 100 pages and took an hour to outline with a Power Point presentation to an audience of about 200 at the Fitchburg Community Center. The proposal will be digested, dissected and debated in the weeks to come, including at a series of community meetings hosted by the school district.

But one thing is clear: from Nerad's point of view, the future of children of color in our city lies not only in the hands of the teachers and administrators who shape their lives at school, but also in the hands of their families, their neighbors, and members of the community who live and work all around town.

"It can't be the schools alone; it has to be the schools working with the community if we're going to have outcomes," he said.

Tepid response to Nerad's plan to close achievement gap in Madison school district; $105,600,000 over 5 Years.

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Tepid response to Nerad's plan to close achievement gap in Madison school district; $105,600,000 over 5 Years

Nathan Comp:

Madison school superintendent Dan Nerad unveiled his long awaited, and much anticipated plan (mp3 audio) to close the district's more than 40-year-old racial achievement gap Monday night before the full school board and around 75 citizens who packed into a room inside the Fitchburg library.

The 109-page plan, titled "Building Our Future: The Preliminary Plan for Eliminating Gaps in MMSD Student Achievement," makes about 40 recommendations at a cost of $60.3 million over the next five years.

Several recommendations called for building on existing programs, like AVID/TOPS, an acclaimed program that focuses on students in the academic middle.

Others, like a "parent university," a model school for culturally relevant teaching, career academies within the high schools and a student-run youth court, would be new to the district.

Ideally, substantive program review in necessities such as reading and math would occur prior to the addition of new spending.

Matthew DeFour helpfully puts dollars ($105,600,000 over 5 years, about 5.6% of the roughly $1,860,000,000 that the District will spend over the same period) to the proposal. How does that compare with current programs and the proposed the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school?

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Union Upset by Comments From Emanuel on Schools

Hunter Clauss:

As the Chicago Public Schools begin what are certain to be contentious contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union, Mayor Rahm Emanuel emerged as the star of a new online video criticizing the union and promoting charter schools, whose teachers mostly are not unionized.

An interview with Mr. Emanuel is a highlight of the 35-minute video, produced by the Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation and the Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. Mr. Williams narrates the video, saying the union is "radically politicized" and is "repeatedly providing terrible examples for Chicago's schoolchildren."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Emanuel said last week that the mayor did not share those views of the union, and his comments in the video were more measured, but union officials were still upset. The mayor discussed how he faced union opposition to some of his education proposals, such as extending the length of the school day this year.

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I Hate Homework. But I assign it anyway.

Jessica Lahey:

I hated homework when I was a student, I hate the battle of wills I have with my second-grader and I hate seeing my middle-school-age son miss out on the afternoons of his childhood.

But most of all, I hate being a hypocrite. So it's time to come clean: I am a teacher, and I assign homework.

I have always assigned homework because that is what teachers do; if I didn't, word would get around that I am a pushover, or don't care enough about my students to engage their every waking moment with academics. When I first started teaching, I assigned homework liberally and without question, and scoffed at my students' complaints about their workload. I expected them to keep quiet, buck up and let me do my job.

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Madison Read Your Heart Out Day set for Feb. 10

A. David Dahmer:

Research supports parental involvement as a viable means of enhancing children's academic success. Once again, Michelle Belnavis, a cultural relevance instructional resource teacher (K-5) for MMSD, has organized an event that brings African American community leaders, families, staff, students, and neighborhood organizations together to provide inspiration and information to schools and neighborhoods in honor of National African American Parent Involvement Day.

"We have been doing a lot of research in looking at the effect of having parents' actively involved in their children's education and a big part is that relationship-building," Belnavis tells The Madison Times. "This gives an opportunity for teachers and families and parents to come together for the purpose of celebrating unity. I think a lot of times when parents come into school there's a feeling like, 'I don't really belong here' or 'My children go to school here but I don't really have a connection with the teacher.'

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Turning the Tables: VAM (Value Added Models) on Trial

David Cohen:

Los Angeles Unified School District is embroiled in negotiations over teacher evaluations, and will now face pressure from outside the district intended to force counter-productive teacher evaluation methods into use. Yesterday, I read this Los Angeles Times article about a lawsuit to be filed by an unnamed "group of parents and education advocates." The article notes that, "The lawsuit was drafted in consultation with EdVoice, a Sacramento-based group. Its board includes arts and education philanthropist Eli Broad, former ambassador Frank Baxter and healthcare company executive Richard Merkin." While the defendant in the suit is technically LAUSD, the real reason a lawsuit is necessary according to the article is that "United Teachers Los Angeles leaders say tests scores are too unreliable and narrowly focused to use for high-stakes personnel decisions." Note that, once again, we see a journalist telling us what the unions say and think, without ever, ever bothering to mention why, offering no acknowledgment that the bulk of the research and the three leading organizations for education research and measurement (AERA, NCME, and APA) say the same thing as the union (or rather, the union is saying the same thing as the testing expert). Upon what research does the other side base arguments in favor of using test scores and "value-added" measurement (VAM) as a legitimate measurement of teacher effectiveness? They never answer, but the debate somehow continues ad nauseum.

It's not that the plaintiffs in this case are wrong about the need to improve teacher evaluations. Accomplished California Teachers has published a teacher evaluation report that has concrete suggestions for improving evaluations as well, and we are similarly disappointed in the implementation of the Stull Act, which has been allowed to become an empty exercise in too many schools and districts.

Much more on "value added assessment", here.

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Outsider's wild teacher-evaluation idea

Jay Matthews:

Luke Chung, president and founder of a software development company in Tysons Corner, volunteered many times to help the Fairfax County school system with computer and business issues. He was a nice guy, so when the county needed to fill two slots reserved for outsiders (what educators often call non-educators) on the Teacher Performance Evaluation Task Force, he was appointed.

He might have seemed to some a genial innocent who would not get in the way of the teachers, principals and administrators who were the majority. But Chung was an experienced manager motivated to nudge the task force in new directions. He revealed in his company blog his astonished reaction to the key issue:

"As an outsider who has never been evaluated as a teacher, you can imagine my surprise to discover that although principals were judged by their school's student performance, student performance is not part of a teacher's performance evaluation in our county," he wrote. "Are you kidding me?" Chung's italics, not mine.

He got the basics. "Not all students are equal, and we don't want to have a system where teachers are evaluated solely on student performance because the incentive would be to only want to teach good students," he wrote. He saw some sense in value-added measurements, rating teachers on how much their students improved. But there were practical problems, he said, "such as kids moving in and out of classes within the year, impacts on kids outside teacher control, whether the test is a good measurement, multiple teacher collaborative environments, etc."

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February 6, 2012

Madison Schools Superintendent Nerad unveils $12.4 million plan to close school achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

Altogether, Nerad makes about 40 recommendations in six categories -- instruction, college and career readiness, culturally relevant practices, school environment, family engagement and staff diversity.

"The plan is based on the view that there isn't one thing alone the school district can do to eliminate achievement gaps," Nerad said. "We're attempting to be comprehensive with the proposal."

The plan's projected cost for next year is $12.4 million, which Nerad is recommending come from the district's untapped property taxing authority under state-imposed limits. The amount includes adding about 67.5 positions, including behavioral support staff, reading specialists and parent liaisons.

Some recommendations wouldn't take effect until future years. The district estimates they will cost $20.9 million in 2013-14 and $26.6 million by 2016-17. The district doesn't have the authority to raise property taxes by that amount, though Nerad said part of the discussion in coming months will involve whether the private and nonprofit sectors can help fund the strategies.

"We're going to have to struggle through the conversation of how to get it done," Nerad said.

Related:Listen to most of the speech via this 25mb .mp3 file.

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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

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Successful schools get high marks for culture

Alan Borsuk:

Here are things that impressed Desiree Pointer Mace when she and her husband were considering where to send their first child for school: The seventh and eighth graders at Woodlands School, 5510 W. Blue Mound Road, held the door for guests, said hello and shook hands. And you could ask a student in any class what he or she was working on and get a good answer.

Pointer Mace is not your typical parent. She is associate dean for graduate programs in education at Alverno College.

But if her credentials are distinctive, the goals she has for school for her children are not unusual: A place where they thrive and develop, both in academics and in personal traits.

Only some of the things she - or any good parent - want can be reduced to numbers or grades. A lot of important aspects of a school involve quality, not quantity. They can be put under the broad label of "school culture."

Show me a good school and I'll show you a place where kids not only get good grades and scores, but a place where relationships of all kinds matter and are healthy.

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'Lunch Scholars' Video Reveals American Teens Can't Answer Basic Trivia (VIDEO)

Laura Hibbard:

If there was ever a movie to make you laugh to keep from crying, it's this one.

Austin, an intrepid young student-reporter, embarks on the noble mission of answering the question, "How much basic knowledge do American high school students really have?" The answer, however, may not be exactly what you want to hear.

"Do you know the vice president of The United States?" Austin asks.

"I don't know who it it's, it's, it's somebody....Bin Ladin," one student responds.

The video continues in similar fashion, asking everything from, "In what war did America gain independence?" (which no one answered correctly without a hint) to "What countries border America?"

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What would Sharon do?


This is my third and (I hope) last column in a series on education. If things work as planned this is where I'll make some broad generalizations that piss-off a lot of people, incite a small riot in the comments section, after which we'll all feel better and switch to discussing the Facebook IPO. So let's get to it. I believe that education is broken in the U.S. and probably everywhere else, that it is incapable of fixing itself, and our only significant hope is to be found in the wisdom of Sharon Osbourne.

These conclusions are based on my experiences as a teacher, a parent, on the content of those two previous columns, one visit to OzzFest, and on my having this week read a couple books:

The Learning Edge: what technology can do to educate all children, by Alan Bain and Mark E. Weston.

Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools, by Roger Schank.

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February 5, 2012

Research about the (Achievement) Gap

Mary Battaglia kindly forwarded this email sent to the Madison School Board:

The high school graduation racial gap has been in the Madison news as though it only affects our fair city. It does not require much research, something the local media has failed to do, to see this is a national concern. According to an analysis called "Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education," nationally only 47% of black males graduated from high school in 2007. (1) It has been reported that Madison's graduation rate for black males is 50%. Obviously a pathetic rate compared to the 87% for whites, but what has not been a part of the local conversation is how Madison compares in relationship to the rest of the nation, and perhaps figure out where black males are graduating at a higher rate, and why. The Schott's report, revealed two communities with large minority populations with much better graduation outcomes than the rest of the nation, Baltimore and Fort Bend, Texas. What MMSD should be looking into is what are these cities doing, and what curricula or community effort has made them successful? One interesting part of the gap for Madison and the state of Wisconsin is the high rate of whites graduating. While Wisconsin is the worst defender in the racial gap, the states total graduation rate is one the highest in the nation.

When you read various assessments of the "reason" for the gap nationally, the theories include the lack of financial investment, lack of good teachers, and the lack of community structure. While I find these proposals reasonable, I fail to understand how in this community they are relevant. MMSD spends well over $13,000 per student, lack the overwhelming urban problems of Milwaukee and Chicago, and have many fine teachers that somehow get non-minority students educated. These excuses ring hallow as to why MMSD has such a poor rate. What does ring true is we are not educating the population as it exist today. In the last 25 years the MMSD's minority rate has increased from 20% to one closer to 48%. (2) In the last 25 years MMSD has changed from a district of less than 25% free and reduced lunch to one that is closer to 50%. (3)Madison is still teaching to the population of 25 years ago, the students have changed, but the curriculum has not.

Perhaps, MMSD could improve the graduation rate for all students, with a significant change of focus. For example, MMSD's high school's emphasize 4 year college candidates when many of the students would do better in a 2 year or technology school focus. There has been an increased coordination with MATC, but what would be beneficial is to offer a dual graduation for students, so as they graduate from MMSD, they also have a 2 year degree or a certificate from MATC. This is a system that has been successful in a high school in North Carolina. (4) A student that wants to head to college still has that opportunity and perhaps a chance to make some money to support the effort. Perhaps, another way to improve graduation outcomes would include an overhaul of the summer school program. Currently, MMSD summer school staff are paid poorly, the programs focus is mostly on students that have flunked their classes and need a recovery grade, and the programs poor reputation have lead many staff to discourage students from participating. (5) Why not invest in a comprehensive retooling of the summer program that provides a better salary for staff, and includes enrichment, regular classes, as well as recovery options. Let's find a creative summer program with smaller class sizes and build a program that is the envy of the country and one that works. If summer school is going to be provided, then make it an awesome program, not just a warehouse for failing kids. Perhaps, as most research reveals, early education is a key component to better graduation outcomes, and the district finally is getting a 4K program up and running after a decade long battle with the union.

Madison Prep was an idea, but it is a unique group of students that would select to participate in such a rigorous program, which means an already motivated student or parents with very high expectations, both factors that frequently mean a student would do well anyway. MMSD needs to look at students that may not be that motivated or academically talented and assess what works to keep them engaged. The one thing MMSD has no control over is probably the most important issue for a students outcome. Research concludes the number one predictor of a students academic success is parental expectations. (6) Our schools cannot change parental expectations, however, they can change what a student expects. MMSD students need to expect a positive future, a purpose and a reason to stay in school. Not all kids will succeed but more than half of the black male students should. Let's develop a district that gives all the students the opportunity to succeed. Public school data

This statement is based on personal experience of having many staff, from middle school up to high school, discourage my daughter who struggles in math from attending summer school. I have also spoke to many parents with the same experience.

*** Of note the data of graduation rate is debated in academic circles as the data is not always standardized. Some data includes GED and 5 year rates others include only 4 year rates.


Mary Kay Battaglia

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

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Metro Denver Promotion of Letters

Metro Denver Promotion of Letters:

We envision a writing community for students in Denver where they can enjoy writing. More often than not, schools cannot provide a place in which creativity and discovery receive one-on-one attention. Students too often view writing as yet another task for which they will be assessed and graded. We hope to help them understand that writing is a vehicle for expression and communication, for publication and storytelling.

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In Texas, a Backlash Against Student Testing

Morgan Smith:

When Christopher Chamness entered the third grade last year, he began to get stomach aches before school. His mother, Edy, said the fire had gone out of a child who she said had previously gone joyfully to his classes.

One day, when he was bored in class, Christopher broke a pencil eraser off in his ear canal. It was the tipping point for Ms. Chamness, a former teacher, and she asked to observe his Austin elementary school classroom. What she saw was a "work sheet distribution center" aimed at preparing students for the yearly assessments that they begin in third grade and that school districts depend upon for their accountability ratings.

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Parents hold keys to setting higher education expectations

Pearl Chang Esau:

Arizonans cannot afford to wait for better education. Although Arizona is one of the fastest improving states in education, at the current rate, it would take decades for our students to catch up with those in the number one state in the country, Massachusetts.

Arizona students continue to lag their national and international peers in academic performance, high school graduation rates and degree attainment. With 74 percent of Arizona fourth graders below proficient in reading and 69 percent of our eighth graders below proficient in math, the gap is only widening between the preparedness of our graduates and the skills and knowledge Arizona employers require.

Fortunately, Tucson has many examples of bright spots that show all of us the potential for Arizona education. Tucson Unified School District's University High School was recently named a 2011 Higher Performing School by the National Center for Education Achievement; Vail Unified School District is nationally recognized for its use of technology to engage students and raise student achievement; BASIS Charter School, which started in Tucson and has grown to other parts of the state, was named a top high school by Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report; and the University of Arizona is ranked among the top public research universities in the nation. All of them embrace a culture of high expectations and are working to ensure all students graduate ready to compete and succeed in the 21st century global economy.

Pearl Chang Esau is President/CEO of Expect More Arizona.

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Scientific publishing: The price of information

The Economist:

SOMETIMES it takes but a single pebble to start an avalanche. On January 21st Timothy Gowers, a mathematician at Cambridge University, wrote a blog post outlining the reasons for his longstanding boycott of research journals published by Elsevier. This firm, which is based in the Netherlands, owns more than 2,000 journals, including such top-ranking titles as Cell and the Lancet. However Dr Gowers, who won the Fields medal, mathematics's equivalent of a Nobel prize, in 1998, is not happy with it, and he hoped his post might embolden others to do something similar.

It did. More than 2,700 researchers from around the world have so far signed an online pledge set up by Tyler Neylon, a fellow-mathematician who was inspired by Dr Gowers's post, promising not to submit their work to Elsevier's journals, or to referee or edit papers appearing in them. That number seems, to borrow a mathematical term, to be growing exponentially. If it really takes off, established academic publishers might find they have a revolution on their hands.

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Erin School to kids: BYO gadgets

Erin Richards:

The eighth-graders sat hunched over photos of European art, looking for a single painting to emulate for a class project.

But only one student cracked open an actual art history book; the rest slid their thumbs across vivid photos on iPod Touches, or clicked through Google image files on laptops or netbooks they'd brought from home.

In an attempt to bring more technology into the classroom without investing in school-funded 1-to-1 laptop initiatives, more school districts like Erin are experimenting with "bring your own device" opportunities, in which teachers adjust curriculum to leverage whatever hand-held or portable computing device children's parents allow them to bring to school.

The first "BYOD" day at Erin School was an experiment undertaken in honor of Wisconsin's Digital Learning Day, part of a national initiative Wednesday spearheaded by the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education marked by real-life activities in 39 states and virtual participation in online forums.

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More on the economic benefits of universities

Andrew Gelman, via a kind reader's email:

Last year my commenters and I discussed Ed Glaeser's claim that the way to create a great city is to "create a great university and wait 200 years."

I passed this on to urbanist Richard Florida and received the following response:

This is a tough one with lots of causality issues. Generally speaking universities make places stronger. But this is mainly the case for smaller, college towws. Boulder, Ann Arbor and so on, which also have very high human capital levels and high levels of creative, knowledge and professional workers.

For big cities the issue is mixed. Take Pittsburgh with CMU and Pitt or Baltimore with Hopkins, or St Louis. The list goes on and on.

Kevin Stolarick and I framed this very crudely as a transmitter reciever issue. The university in a city like this can generate a lot of signal, in terms of innovation or even human capital and the city may not receive it or push it away. A long ago paper by Mike Fogarty showed how innovations in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, by universities in these communities, tended to be picked up in Silicon Valley or even Tokyo.

I responded: Another factor in the interaction is: how good does the university have to be? Glaeser cited UW and Seattle, but that's kind of a funny example, because I don't think UW was such a great university 30 years ago. On the other hand, given the existence of Boeing and Microsoft, UW is good enough to do the job of providing a center for the creative class. Perhaps Ohio State (another good but not great university) has played a similar role in Columbus.

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Imbalance of power in education

The Guardian:

The dangers which Peter Wilby points out (Does Gove realise he is empowering future dictators?, 31 January) were recognised 70 years ago. Unfortunately secretaries of state know very little history. The Oxford historian Dr Marjorie Reeves, when invited to be on the Central Advisory Council For Education (England) in 1946, was told by the permanent secretary, John Redcliffe-Maud, that the main duty of council members was "to be prepared to die at the first ditch as soon as politicians try to get their hands on education".

A war had been fought to prevent the consequences of such concentrated power. The 1944 Education Act, hammered out during the war years, created a "maintained system" of education as a balance of power between central government, local government responsibility, the voluntary bodies (mainly the churches) and the teachers. That balance is now disappearing fast, without the public debate it needs and with hardly a squeak from Labour. The existing education legislation refers to the fast-disappearing "maintained schools", leaving academies and free schools exposed, without the protection of the law, to whatever whimsical ideas are dreamt up by the present or future secretaries of state, to whom they are contracted with minimal accountability to parliament.
Professor Richard Pring
Green Templeton College, Oxford

• The removal of 3,100 vocational subjects from the school performance tables from 2014 (Report, 31 January) has major implications. It is certainly the case that "perverse incentives" were created by the league tables to use soft options to boost school league table positions - the phenomenon known as gaming. However, the cull to 70 accepted vocational subjects, with 55 allowed on the margins, essentially destroys vocational and technical education. Given that the old basis is the one for the current (2012 and 2013) tables, a whole raft of students are on worthless courses.

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The Perilous Conflation Of Student And School Performance

Matthew Di Carlo:

Unlike many of my colleagues and friends, I personally support the use of standardized testing results in education policy, even, with caution and in a limited role, in high-stakes decisions. That said, I also think that the focus on test scores has gone way too far and their use is being implemented unwisely, in many cases to a degree at which I believe the policies will not only fail to generate improvement, but may even risk harm.

In addition, of course, tests have a very productive low-stakes role to play on the ground - for example, when teachers and administrators use the results for diagnosis and to inform instruction.

Frankly, I would be a lot more comfortable with the role of testing data - whether in policy, on the ground, or in our public discourse - but for the relentless flow of misinterpretation from both supporters and opponents. In my experience (which I acknowledge may not be representative of reality), by far the most common mistake is the conflation of student and school performance, as measured by testing results.

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February 4, 2012

'Business as usual' isn't working for Madison schools

Nichelle Nichols:

I am running for the Madison School Board because I care about the state of our public schools and this community.

The facts are: I am employed at the Urban League of Greater Madison and spoke in support of Madison Prep as a parent and citizen. Am I running because Madison Prep was voted down? No. My focus is broader than the charter school proposal, but the Madison Prep vote was a defining moment in my decision to declare candidacy.

It became apparent to me as I sat in the auditorium that night that we can no longer afford to wait for our district to take the casual approach to the urgent matter of minority under-achievement. Our entire community is affected by the failure to do so.

Every child in this district -- from the at-risk, the middle-of-the-road student, to the most academically talented -- should have an equal opportunity to thrive in our school system. And here's the reality, Madison -- we are not delivering.

It's been hard for us to accept that we are a different community than we were 10 years ago, but we are. If we move beyond politically correct conversations about race and poverty, we'd readily realize that we cannot go about "business as usual."

The 2012 Madison School Board Contest:

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)


Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores


Listen to the recent DCCPA candidate forum via this 75MB mp3 audio file.

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Challenge to schools: Embracing digital textbooks

Kimberly Hefling:

Are hardbound textbooks going the way of slide rules and typewriters in schools?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday challenged schools and companies to get digital textbooks in students' hands within five years. The Obama administration's push comes two weeks after Apple Inc. announced it would start to sell electronic versions of a few standard high-school books for use on its iPad tablet.

Digital books are viewed as a way to provide interactive learning, potentially save money and get updated material faster to students.

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My Evening With Diane Ravitch and a Couple Thousand of Her Closest Friends


On Friday night, January 20th, my friend and fellow conservative blogger Mr. Chandler of Buckhorn Road zipped down to the Sacramento Convention Center to hear a talk by noted "education historian" Diane Ravitch. I didn't realize it was sponsored by a bunch of teachers unions; I thought it was going to be an intellectual talk by someone who used to agree with me but now has switched sides. I thought I was going to get some really good information that would "challenge my assumptions" and make me think. Instead, what I got was, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, a liberal red-meat bacchanalia. As Mr. Chandler described it, we were "pilgrims in an unholy land".

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Teaching With Authenticity & Authority

Eugene Wallingford:

What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
-- Mark 1:27

Over the last few weeks, we've been processing student assessments from fall semester. Reading student comments about my course and other profs' courses has me thinking about the different ways in which students "see" their instructors. Two profs can be equally knowledgable in an area yet give off very different vibes to their class. The vibe has a lot to do with how students interpret the instructor's behavior. It also affects student motivation and, ultimately, student learning.

Daniel Lemire recently offered two rules for teaching in the 21st century, one of which was to be an authentic role model. If students know that "someone ordinary" like a professor was able to master the course material, then they will have reason to believe that they can do the same. Authenticity is invaluable if we hope to model the mindset of a learner for our students.

It is also a huge factor in the classroom in another way as well. Students are also sensitive to whether we are authentic users of knowledge. If I am teaching agile approaches to software development but students perceive that I am not an agile developer when writing my own code outside the course, then they are less likely to take the agile approaches seriously. If I am teaching the use of some theoretical technique for solving a problem, say, nondeterministic finite state machines, but my students perceive that I do something else when I'm not teaching the course, then their motivation to master the technique wanes.

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February 3, 2012

An Open Letter to Urban Superintendents in the United States of America

Neerav Kingsland:

You work immense hours and subject yourself to scathing criticism all in the pursuit of better serving children. I know a few of you--and without fail you are all passionate about your work. In short, I'm a fan. So know that I'm not writing this letter to attack anyone--rather, I aim to offer advice, which I hope some of you accept.

In the following letter I aim to convince you of this: the single most important reform strategy you can undertake is to increase charter school quality and market share in your city--with the ultimate aim of turning your district into a charter school district.

In other words: rid yourself of the notion that your current opinions on curriculum, teacher evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic gains in student achievement. If history tells us anything, they will not be:

Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

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Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education

Linda Perlstein:

They raise chickens. They grow vegetables. They knit. Now a new generation of urban parents is even teaching their own kids.

In the beginning, your kids need you--a lot. They're attached to your hip, all the time. It might be a month. It might be five years. Then suddenly you are expected to send them off to school for seven hours a day, where they'll have to cope with life in ways they never had to before. You no longer control what they learn, or how, or with whom.

Unless you decide, like an emerging population of parents in cities across the country, to forgo that age-old rite of passage entirely.

When Tera and Eric Schreiber's oldest child was about to start kindergarten, the couple toured the high-achieving public elementary school a block away from their home in an affluent Seattle neighborhood near the University of Washington. It was "a great neighborhood school," Tera says. They also applied to a private school, and Daisy was accepted. But in the end they chose a third path: no school at all.

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Inflated SAT Scores Reveal 'Elasticity of Admissions Data'

Eric Hoover:

In the Wild West of college admissions, there is no Data Sheriff.

The latest reminder arrived on Monday when Claremont McKenna College announced that a senior administrator had resigned after admitting to falsely reporting SAT statistics since 2005. In an e-mail to the campus, Pamela B. Gann, the college's president, said an internal review found that scores for each fall's freshman class had been "generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each." The apparent perpetrator was Richard C. Vos, long the college's dean of admissions and financial aid, who has resigned from the college.

The announcement has shaken those who work on both sides of the admissions process. In the span of 24 hours, Mr. Vos, described by several colleagues as an engaging and thoughtful dean, has become a symbol of the pressures that come with top-level admissions jobs. As one mid-career dean said on Tuesday, "I just keep thinking about how much pressure an experienced and mature admissions professional must be under to do whatever he did."

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India's schools fail to keep pace with growth

James Lamont

In a dim, windowless classroom at GMS Moradbas school in rural Haryana state in north India, 40 young girls in their dark blue uniforms crouch on the floor in four straight lines.

Each is following a monotone reading by one of their classmates from a history book about one of India's liberation heroes. Not a computer, let alone a desk is in sight. Outside, beyond a field of yellow mustard seed and sparring goats, a new high-rise medical college rises above the mist on the edge of the town of Nuh, an hour's drive from Gurgaon, a new city born out of India's IT outsourcing boom.

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English Is Global, So Why Learn Arabic?

Room for Debate:

In a recent essay in The Times, Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, wrote about preparing American students for the future. In the essay, he said that international experience was essential, arguing that English's emergence as the global language makes the investment in other languages less essential.

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February 2, 2012

Madison Public Schools' Superintendent Nerad's request community input into his plan to eliminate the long-standing Racial Achievement Gap

via email:

Below is a letter from Dr. Daniel Nerad, Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District. Please show up on Monday, February 6 to learn about his plan and register to participate in an input session. We need you to exercise your voice, share your view and speak to our children's needs. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
-- "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963

February 2, 2012

RE: Invitation to attend Board of Education meeting on Monday, February 6, 2012

Dear Community Leader:

As you may know, this Monday, February 6, 2012, we are poised to present to the Board of Education a significant and system-wide plan to close the achievement gaps in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Building Our Future: A Plan for Eliminating Gaps in MMSD Student Achievement

We invite you to attend Monday's Board of Education workshop at the Fitchburg Public Library, 5530 Lacy Road in Fitchburg beginning at 6:00 p.m. This workshop is for presentation purposes only. Members of the public will not have the opportunity to speak. However, Monday's workshop marks the beginning of a two-month, community-wide engagement process. We invite parents, students, and residents concerned about the future of our children to join one or more of the many sessions held throughout Madison to learn about the achievement gaps in the MMSD and discuss and provide input into the plan.

I have greatly appreciated your concern, commitment, and willingness to challenge us to provide the kind of education that every child deserves and is due. Together, we must eliminate our achievement gaps.

The Board of Education workshop on Monday, February 6th is just the beginning. Please consider participating in one of the upcoming information and input sessions. To register for a session, go to:

Beginning Tuesday, February 7, go to: to read more about the Plan.

Daniel A. Nerad
Superintendent of Schools

Reprinted from a letter sent to community leaders today by Superintendent Nerad. We are sharing this to inform you and help the Madison Metropolitan School District get the word out. We have not yet seen the plan and therefore, this email should not viewed as an endorsement of it. We will reserve judgment until after the plan is released, we have had a chance to review it, and the public has responded.

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Arlene Silveira & Michael Flores Madison Teachers, Inc. Candidate Q & A

Michael Flores

Arlene Silveira

Question 23 has implications for the future of our public schools, along with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school:

Given Act 10's negative Impact on Collective Bargaining Agreements, will you introduce and vote for a motion to adopt the Collective Bargaining Agreements (182 page PDF Document) negotiated between MTI and The Madison Metropolitan School District as MMSD policy?
Both Silveira and Flores answered Yes.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Photos & Audio

Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.

I suspect that at least 60% of Wisconsn school districts will adopt their current teacher contracts as "handbooks". The remainder will try different approaches. Some will likely offer a very different environment for teachers.

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Stakes high for Nerad on achievement gap proposal, including his contract which currently expires June, 2013

Matthew DeFour:

lot is riding on Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's upcoming plan for improving low-income, minority student achievement.

The plan is billed as a blueprint for addressing an intractable, divisive issue in Madison, and it could also factor into the upcoming School Board discussion of Nerad's future in Madison.

The United Way of Dane County has made closing the achievement gap one of its primary issues for more than 15 years through the Schools of Hope tutoring program. But president Leslie Howard said the recent debate over the proposed Madison Prepatory Academy charter school has drawn more public attention to the issue than ever before.

"I don't want to say something so grandiose that everything's at stake, but in some ways it feels like that," Howard said.

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

Related links:

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

"They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine" -- NOT!

Acting White

Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison's Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)

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Wisconsin Schools "Among the Best", Financial Literacy

Tony Evers & Peter Bildsten:

Wisconsin is fortunate to have many fine K-12 schools educating our young people. The quality of this state's educational system is among the best in the United States, and the same can be said for Wisconsin teachers.

Those accolades notwithstanding, there is one area in which Wisconsin schools should consider focusing some of their educational muscle: personal financial literacy.

More than ever before, our children -- by the time they graduate from high school -- need to be able to cope in the increasingly fast-paced world of financial services.

Today, many young people rarely handle cash, opting instead for the use of debit cards, credit cards and smartphones to make purchases. Those who have jobs probably never see a paycheck because most employers use direct deposit for their payrolls. And, most teens probably have never read the fine print of the contract for their mobile telecommunications devices.

Wisconsin 25th in 2011 NAEP Reading, Comparing Rhetoric Regarding Texas (10th) & Wisconsin NAEP Scores: Texas Hispanic and African-American students rank second on eighth-grade NAEP math test.

Fascinating. Tony Evers is Superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Much more at

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Getting Ready For The Common Core

Susan B. Neuman:

States are now working intently on developing plans that will make new, common standards a reality. A recent report from Education First and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center concludes that that all but one of the 47 states adopting the Common Core State Standards is now in the implementation phase. Seven states have fully upgraded professional development, curriculum materials, and evaluation systems in preparation for the 2014-2015 school year.

Nary a word has been spoken about how to prepare teachers to implement common standards appropriately in the early childhood years. Although the emphasis on content-rich instruction in ways that builds knowledge is an important one, standards groups have virtually ignored the early years when these critical skills first begin to develop.

Young children are eager to learn about the sciences, arts, and the world around them. And, as many early childhood teachers recognize, we need to provide content-rich instruction that is both developmentally appropriate and highly engaging to support students' learning.

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Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership

Laurie Rogers

"And I tell you this: you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it's usually called 'assault' - not 'leadership'."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, as told to Emmet John Hughes, for "Re-Viewing the Cold War: Domestic Factors and Foreign Policy in the East-West Confrontation"

Last year, someone said to me: "Laurie, I heard you're a nut job. So tell me, who are you, really?" I said: "You've heard me talk. What do you think?" The person chuckled and said: "I kind of like you. I think you care."

I do care. I have a fierce protective instinct toward the community, the country, and the children. I'm a patriot, but no politician. I'm not interested in making money or gaining political allies through District 81, the union or the media. I was trained as an old-style reporter, with an eye to supportable facts and a determination to know and report the truth. I'm not a natural extrovert, but five years of dealing with administrators and board directors have turned me into a fighter. I'm not a liar, and I'm no quitter, and I don't know how to do just the bare minimum of anything (except dusting).

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How to grade a teacher: United Teachers Los Angeles and the school district should get behind a teacher-led evaluation system.

James Encinas, Kyle Hunsberger and Michael Stryer:

We're teachers who believe that teacher evaluation, including the use of reliable test data, can be good for students and for teachers. Yes, yes, we know we're not supposed to exist. But we do, and there are a lot more of us.

In February the membership of United Teachers Los Angeles will vote on a teacher-led initiative urging union leaders to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system for L.A. Unified. The vote will allow teachers' voices to be heard above the din of warring political figures.

Although LAUSD and UTLA reached a contract agreement in December that embraced important school reforms, they haven't yet addressed teacher evaluation. Good teaching is enormously complex, and no evaluation system will capture it perfectly. But a substantive teacher-led evaluation system will be far better for students and teachers than what we have now, a system in which virtually all teachers receive merely "satisfactory" ratings from administrators.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:26 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stanford Professors Daphne Koller & Andrew Ng Also Launching a Massive Online Learning Startup

Audrey Watters:

These are interesting times to be a Stanford professor. Or to stop being a Stanford professor, as the case may be...

Last week, news broke that Professor Sebastian Thrun would be stepping down from teaching at Stanford to launch an online learning company called Udacity. Udacity is an outgrowth of his incredibly popular Artificial Intelligence class offered through Stanford last fall.

Now it appears that two other Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng (Ng taught last term's massive Machine Learning class) have started their own company, Coursera, one that offers a very similar service as Thrun's.

According to the startup's jobs page, the two are "following up on the success of these courses to scale up online education efforts to provide a high quality education to the world. Out platform delivers complete courses where students are not only watching web-based lectures, but also actively participating, doing exercises, and deeply learning the material."

Education is undergoing a revolution (curricular deliver, opportunities for students, high and low cost delivery). Will Madison be part of it? We certainly have the resources and infrastructure. Will intransigence reign?

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Jindal's Education Moon Shot

Wall Street Journal:

Newt Gingrich wants the U.S. to return to the moon, but as challenges go he has nothing on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's school reform plans.

Mr. Jindal wants to create America's largest school voucher program, broadest parental choice system, and toughest teacher accountability regime--all in one legislative session. Any one of those would be a big win, but all three could make the state the first to effectively dismantle a public education monopoly.

Louisiana is already one of 12 states (including Washington, D.C.) that offer school vouchers, but its program benefits fewer than 2,000 students in New Orleans. Governor Jindal would extend eligibility to any low-income student whose school gets a C, D or F grade from state administrators. That's almost 400,000 students--a bit more than half the statewide population--who could escape failing schools for private or virtual schools, career-based programs or institutions of higher education.

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The Liberal Arts as Guideposts in the 21st Century

Nannerl Keohane:

The very broad, capacious form of education that we call the liberal arts is rooted in a specific curriculum in classical and medieval times. But it would be wrong to assume that because it has such ancient roots, this kind of education is outdated, stale, fusty, or irrelevant. In fact, quite the contrary. A liberal-arts education, which Louis Menand defined in The Marketplace of Ideas as "a background mentality, a way of thinking, a kind of intellectual DNA that informs work in every specialized area of inquiry," lends itself particularly well to contemporary high-tech methods of imparting knowledge.

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February 1, 2012

Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison's Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)

Kaleem Caire, via email

In 2011 Kaleem Caire, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, reintroduced the topic of the Academic Achievement Gap that exists in theMadison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As reported, just 48% of African American students and 56% of Latino students graduated on time from MMSD in 2010.

Just as staggering as these statistics is the fact that until the conversation was reintroduced, a large majority of our community was not aware that the academic achievement gap even existed. Why is that? Four more important questions may be: How did we get here?What have we proposed before? Why has this problem persisted? AND - What should we do now? To answer these questions, and many more, the Urban League of Greater Madison would like to invite you to participate in a community forum moderated by Derrell Connor.


6:00 Welcome Derrell Connor

6:05 Introduction of Panel
Milele Chikasa Anana
Dr. Richard Harris
Joseph Hill
Dr. John Odom
Alfonso Studesville
6:15 History of Madison's Academic Achievement Gap

6:30 Panel

6:45 Q&A from Audience Members

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:12 AM | Comments (13) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas Academic Writing is Really Academic Reading--Blogs Vs. Term Papers

Is a writing a blog as valuable a writing experience as writing an academic term paper? Can the writing of a blog be made academically more rigorous in order to compete with the more traditional term paper? Or does the blog vs. term paper argument cloud a more critical academic problem... that our students do not read well enough to write in either format?

Matt Richtel, a reporter who writes about technology in education in the New York Times, recently published a piece, Blogs vs. Term Papers (1/20/12) regarding Duke University's English professor Cathy N. Davidson's embrace of the blog in place of the traditional term paper. He writes that, "Professor Davidson makes heavy use of the blog and the ethos it represents of public, interactive discourse. Instead of writing a quarterly term paper, students now regularly publish 500- to 1,500-word entries on an internal class blog about the issues and readings they are studying in class, along with essays for public consumption."

The traditional term paper in any number of disciplines of prescribed lengths of 5, 7, 10 or more pages has been centered for decades on a standard formula incorporating thesis, evidence, argument and conclusion. In the article, Davidson expresses her dislike for formula writing, including the five paragraph essay taught in middle and high schools and claims that, "This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers." She notes that, "It's a formula, but good writing plays with formulas, and changes formulas."

Davidson is not alone. Ritchel claims that "across the country, blog writing has become a basic requirement in everything from M.B.A. to literature courses." This movement from term paper to blog has many academics up in arms.

Running parallel to this argument of academic writing was the position offered by William H. Fitzhugh, author and founder of The Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school students' research papers. In the NY Times article, Fitzhugh discussed how high school educators "shy away from rigorous academic writing, giving students the relative ease of writing short essays." Fitzhugh makes the argument that students are required to read less which directly impacts their ability to write well.

Fitzhugh wrote about academic writing in Meaningful Work for American Educator (Winter 2011-2012) taking the position that reading is at the core of good academic student writing; "To really teach students how to write, educators must give them examples of good writing found in nonfiction books and require students to read them, not skim them, cover to cover." Good writing reflects knowledge and understanding that comes from reading, not skimming. Fitzhugh recommends that, "Reading nonfiction contributes powerfully to the knowledge that students need in order to read more difficult material--the kind they will surely face in college. But more importantly, the work of writing a research paper will lead students to read more and become more knowledgeable in the process. As any good writer knows, the best writing emerges from a rich store of knowledge that the author is trying to pass on. Without that knowledge and the motivation to share it, all the literacy strategies in the world will not make much difference."

From my experiences in the classroom, I see the veracity of both Davidson and Fitzhugh's positions. I believe that the form of student writing is not the problem, and the blog vs. term paper debate, at least at the high school level where I teach, is not as controversial as at the college level. My job is to teach students to write well, and a great deal of my average school day is currently given to encouraging students to write in these multiple formats in order to prepare them for the real world. I know that students can be taught to write well in term papers, blogs, essays, letters or any other format. However, the students need to read well in order to write well about a topic. The conundrum is that unless today's high school students are provided time in class, they do not read the material.

A student's inability to read independently for homework results in a reduction in both the amount of reading assigned and the class time to process the reading. Students who do not read well at the high school level are unprepared for the rigors of college curriculum which requires much more independent reading in non-fiction. Ultimately, the problem for teachers in high school is not the form in which students write. The problem is getting students to both read and understand assigned readings that come from many disciplines-fiction and non-fiction. Only then can the blog vs. term paper debate be addressed as a measure of academic writing.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 5:11 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mathematics Education: Being Outwitted by Stupidity

Barry Garelick:

In a well-publicized paper that addressed why some students were not learning to read, Reid Lyon (2001) concluded that children from disadvantaged backgrounds where early childhood education was not available failed to read because they did not receive effective instruction in the early grades. Many of these children then required special education services to make up for this early failure in reading instruction, which were by and large instruction in phonics as the means of decoding. Some of these students had no specific learning disability other than lack of access to effective instruction. These findings are significant because a similar dynamic is at play in math education: the effective treatment for many students who would otherwise be labeled learning disabled is also the effective preventative measure.

In 2010 approximately 2.4 million students were identified with learning disabilities -- about three times as many as were identified in 1976-1977. (See and This increase raises the question of whether the shift in instructional emphasis over the past several decades has increased the number of low achieving children because of poor or ineffective instruction who would have swum with the rest of the pack when traditional math teaching prevailed. I believe that what is offered as treatment for math learning disabilities is what we could have done--and need to be doing--in the first place. While there has been a good amount of research and effort into early interventions in reading and decoding instruction, extremely little research of equivalent quality on the learning of mathematics exists. Given the education establishment's resistance to the idea that traditional math teaching methods are effective, this research is very much needed to draw such a definitive conclusion about the effect of instruction on the diagnosis of learning disabilities.1

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The Perils of 'Bite Size' Science

Marco Bertamini & Marcus Munafo:

IN recent years, a trend has emerged in the behavioral sciences toward shorter and more rapidly published journal articles. These articles are often only a third the length of a standard paper, often describe only a single study and tend to include smaller data sets. Shorter formats are promoted by many journals, and limits on article length are stringent -- in many cases as low as 2,000 words.

This shift is partly a result of the pressure that academics now feel to generate measurable output. According to the cold calculus of "publish or perish," in which success is often gauged by counting citations, three short articles can be preferable to a single longer one.

But some researchers contend that the trend toward short articles is also better for science. Such "bite size" science, they argue, encourages results to be communicated faster, written more concisely and read by editors and researchers more easily, leading to a more lively exchange of ideas.

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Can computers teach writing?

Jay Matthews:

Like many people, I am appalled at how little writing American students are asked to do. But when we crotchety advocates complain about this to teachers, we have to shut up when they point to a seemingly insoluble problem.

If we required students to write a lot, teachers would have to do many extra hours reading and commenting on that work. They would have no lives and would have to quit. If we could cut ­English class sizes in half, the teachers might be able to handle the load, but that won't happen unless oil is discovered under the football field.

A 21st-century solution, proposed by former Gates Foundation education executive director Tom Vander Ark, is to let computers read and grade the ­bumper crop of essays. Assessment software, already used to grade essays on the GMAT business school entrance test and other standardized exams, doesn't need a life and doesn't cost as much as breathing, pencil-wielding English teachers.

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2011 Annual Florida School District Rankings

Gerard Robinson Video.

Florida Department of Education:

The Florida Department of Education today released a numerical ranking of the state's 3,078 public and charter schools, grouped by elementary, middle, high and combination schools. This ranking coupled with the district rankings, makes it easier for parents and taxpayers to view information about Florida's education system.

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Sustained Positive Effects on Graduation Rates Produced by New York City's Small Public High Schools of Choice

Howard S. Bloom and Rebecca Unterman:

During the past decade, New York City undertook a district-wide high school reform that is perhaps unprecedented in its scope, scale, and pace. Between fall 2002 and fall 2008, the school district closed 23 large failing high schools (with graduation rates below 45 percent), opened 216 new small high schools (with different missions, structures, and student selection criteria), and implemented a centralized high school admissions process that assigns over 90 percent of the roughly 80,000 incoming ninth-graders each year based on their school preferences.

At the heart of this reform are 123 small, academically nonselective, public high schools. Each with approximately 100 students per grade in grades 9 through 12, these schools were created to serve some of the district's most disadvantaged students and are located mainly in neighborhoods where large failing high schools had been closed. MDRC researchers call them "small schools of choice" (SSCs) because of their small size and the fact that they do not screen students based on their academic backgrounds.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 31, 2012

Wisconsin's "F" on Science Curriculum Standards; "Worthless"; Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Comments

Fordham Institute: The State of State Science Standards 2012:

Wisconsin's science standards--unchanged since 1998, in spite of much earlier criticism, ours included--are simply worthless. No real content exists to evaluate.

In lieu of content, the "authors" have passed the buck by merely citing unelaborated references to the now outdated National Science Education Standards (NSES). Rather than using the NSES as building blocks for a comprehensive set of science standards, however, Wisconsin has used them as an escape hatch to avoid hard work and careful thought

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad says the state already has plans to review its standards in all areas.

"I think we have to be cautious not to look at the current state because it is very much in flux right now," Nerad says. "Things are going to change. it doesn't makes sense to look backwards as it does to look forward."

Remarkable. Much more at

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Claremont College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures for Ratings

Daniel Slotnik & Richard Perez-Pena:

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.

In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna's president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that "a senior administrator" had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

People briefed on the matter said that the administrator was Richard C. Vos, vice president and dean of admissions, whose name was removed in the last few days from the college's online list of top officials.

Mr. Vos, reached at his home Monday night, said: "No comment. It's an internal personnel matter."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Score Card for Changing Schools

Elbert Chu:

Sixty-two New York City schools are on a path to be closed or otherwise re-shaped this year. Here's a score card to help you keep track of what schools are affected and how.

This post lists the 19 schools that the Department of Education wants to phase out, along with the six that will have their middle school grades removed (that's called truncation).

Until Feb. 9, when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the changes, hearings are going on almost every night at the schools that are to be phased out or truncated. You can find the calendar of hearings here.

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Ethan Fast:

Do you hold a consistent mental model of the world? For many of us (though less likely for the readers of this blog), the answer is "no." That's troubling. It's hard to be correct, if your world-view doesn't even type check. [1] People are entitled to opinions. But hold them in a state of contradiction, and they're wrong.

Though it's easy enough to apply consistency checks, inconsistent world-views abound. I suspect it's because people never learn to be consistent. Education under-represents logic and reason in the classroom. High school math class is the closest many people come to an education in rationality, and math is "just too abstract."

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Old-school system needs its own recess

Chris Rickert:

The Janesville Gazette reported last week that principals at some of the city's public elementary school are attributing some major positive academic and behavioral trends to a relatively minor change: moving recess from after to before lunch.

I remember the post-lunch recess -- chasing girls, pick-up football, the bloody nose I gave my best friend.

In fact, I remember school-day and school-year schedules being much the same as the ones my 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son experience at their Madison public elementary school -- from the timing of recess, to summer vacation, to days off to honor such notables as Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (keep in mind this was the Chicago area, which has a large Polish population).

I suppose that could be because at some point decades ago, the public education establishment discovered the perfect academic schedule and, well, why tinker with something that works?

Janesville's experience suggests something else, though: that post-lunch recess is just another public education tradition among a slew of public education traditions that could benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:53 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

My experience with the new iTunes U Course Manager

Sunset Lake Software:

Last week, Apple unveiled two new education-related products: iBooks textbooks and the new iTunes U courses. While both interest me, I was particularly fascinated by the new iTunes U courses and how they bundle information together. I converted my existing Advanced iPhone Development iTunes U class into a full course (which you can subscribe to for free) a few days ago. I wanted to write about what I learned in the process of doing this.

As I mentioned, I taught a course in 2010 at the Madison Area Technical College on advanced iPhone (now iOS) development. We recorded this course and made videos of the sessions available for free on iTunes U. Both the spring semester and fall semester of 2010 can be found as video collections in 720p HD on iTunes U. Each class session is roughly three hours long, because they were part of a once-a-week professional development course.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:52 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 30, 2012

Madison Prep's Private School Plans "in Doubt"

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy doesn't have the money to open as a private school next fall and its future is in the hands of the Madison School Board, according to a lead supporter of the charter school proposal.

Supporters still want to open Madison Prep in the fall but haven't been able to raise about $1.2 million needed to run the school because its future beyond next year remains uncertain, Madison Prep board chairman David Cagigal said last week; moreover, a key donor said her support is contingent on School Board backing.

Cagigal said the private school option was never intended to be more than an interim plan before the school opened as a public charter school. One of the most common reasons charter schools fail is lack of funding, he added.

"We can't approach these donors unless we mitigate the risk," Cagigal said. "The only way we can do that is seek a 2013 vote."

Cagigal acknowledged that if the School Board doesn't vote on opening Madison Prep as a charter school in 2013, "then we may have to wait."

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

The fate of Madison Prep was discussed at a recent school board candidate forum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:52 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oakland schools denied secession bids

Katy Murphy:

Charter schools: The Oakland school board rejected the charter school petitions submitted by the faculties of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, public elementary schools in the Fruitvale area that want to secede from the school district. The district's charter schools office recommended that the board approve the request, but Superintendent Tony Smith took a different stance, pointing to the financial investment the district has made in the schools since they opened.

This section of a staff resolution seems to sum up the superintendent's position: "Whereas, the District cannot succeed at its strategic plan to create a Full Service Community School District that serves the whole child ... if after millions of dollars in investment, individual schools that have achieved because of the District's investment can separate and opt out of the District, with the consequence that the District loses its collective identity as a school system serving children in all neighborhoods in

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:29 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An L.A. teacher reviews her review

Coleen Bondy:

For the first time this year, LAUSD has prepared reports for teachers that rate their effectiveness. When I received an email saying I could now view my own personal "Average Growth over Time" report, I opened it with a combination of trepidation, resignation and indignation.

First, the indignation. It is, I think, the key factor that has kept me teaching past the five-year mark, when most new teachers quit the profession. I am in my sixth year of teaching after a nearly 20-year career as a professional writer. I know that I am smart, hardworking and competent, and despite the many frustrations of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have refused to throw in the towel -- as so many do.

Indignation is also what fueled my reaction when I saw the rating the school district sent. It showed me to be on the low side of average for high school English teachers in the district.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:27 AM | Comments (1) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

7th Inter-School Pakistan Mathematics Olympiads held

The Daily Times:

The 7th Inter-Schools Mathematics Olympiad 2012 was organised on Sunday at the Pak-Turk International School Campus. Over 3,000 students from 470 schools of Jhelum, Attock, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Islamabad participated in the mega educational competition. In order to evoke interest among the students, Pak-Turk International schools and colleges have been arranging the ISMO competition for the last six years. Speaking at the event, educationists said that there are not enough chances for student to exhibit their talent to the world. There is an immense need of such programmes for the brilliant youth, they added. This unique competition provides a great chance for the students of 5, 6, 7 and 8 classes or grades to show their incredible potential and win handsome prizes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:35 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

ALEC Reports on the War on Teachers

Anthony Cody:

As state after state rewrites their education laws in line with the mandates from Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process, the teaching profession is being redefined. Teachers will now pay the price - be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students' test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label.

This revelation came to me as I read the Score Card on Education prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), authored by Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips. This is a remarkable document. It provides their report on where each of the states stands on the education "reform" that has become the hallmark of corporate philanthropies, the Obama administration and governors across the nation.

It begins with a histrionic comparison between the struggle over our schools and the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. The authors write:

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January 29, 2012

Under education reform, school principals swamped by teacher evaluations

Amanda Paulson:

School principals, including some who back more rigorous review of teachers, are balking at education reforms required by Race to the Top. New teacher evaluations are all-consuming, they say.

Sharon McNary believes in having tough teacher evaluations.

But these days, the Memphis principal finds herself rushing to cram in what amounts to 20 times the number of observations previously required for veteran teachers - including those she knows are excellent - sometimes to the detriment of her other duties.

"I don't think there's a principal that would say they don't agree we don't need a more rigorous evaluation system," says Ms. McNary, who is president of the Tennessee Principals Association as well as principal at Richland Elementary. "But now it seems that we've gone to [the opposite] extreme."

In New York, which is also beginning to implement a new teacher evaluation system this year, many principals are even less constrained in their opinion

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The True Cost of High School Dropouts

Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse:

ONLY 21 states require students to attend high school until they graduate or turn 18. The proposal President Obama announced on Tuesday night in his State of the Union address -- to make such attendance compulsory in every state -- is a step in the right direction, but it would not go far enough to reduce a dropout rate that imposes a heavy cost on the entire economy, not just on those who fail to obtain a diploma.

In 1970, the United States had the world's highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we've slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.

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Education & The State of Our Union

Matthew McKnight:

On primary and secondary education, Obama essentially advocated three directives: raise the dropout age to eighteen, continue his Race to the Top program, and loosen the standardized restrictions on teachers. Obama is right to say that the minimum requirements set by No Child Left Behind, in the ten years the law has been in effect, have done little to shrink the achievement gap, and to consider an alternative. But it's too early to know if Race to the Top is the right one. The first, sufficiently rigorous evaluation will begin in March, and will only be completed and released two years later. He's also right to say that "teachers matter," and that good ones ought to have the freedom and income to do their job well.

That education cannot be treated in a bubble is an important truth that should not be missed. And yet, while the President's diagnosis--even with its simplifications--was accurate, his prescriptions were light on details. "Challenges remain," he said, but "we know how to solve them." Do we? It was not even clear how to resolve tension between his stated desire not to confine educators to "teaching to the test" and the way the Race to the Top rewards testing, aside from handing it off to individual states. Injunctions like "more competition" miss the wide scope of the problem. Indeed, in a country where the fault lines in education align so neatly along economic, racial, and geographic divisions, there's almost an urge to accept rhetorical shows of confidence, and not look too far beyond them.

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Raising Wisconsin's Student Achievement Bar?

Alan Borsuk:

What if you suddenly found out that half of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin, all kids you thought were highly rated readers, really didn't merit being called proficient? That instead of four out of five being pretty decent in math, it was really two out of five?

You better start thinking how you'd react because it's likely that is what's coming right at us. That's how dramatic a proposal last week by the state Department of Public Instruction is.

As parents, teachers, school leaders, politicians, community leaders and taxpayers, will we be motivated to do better? Will we see the need for change? Will we rise to the occasion? Or will we settle for being discouraged and basically locked into what we've come to expect?

Here's what's going on: With Congress failing to pass a revision, originally due in 2007, of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education has begun issuing waivers from the enforcement program of the increasingly dysfunctional law. Wisconsin wants a waiver - it's one of the things people such as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic-oriented Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers agree on. So a task force developed a proposal. People have until Feb. 3 to react to the proposal and the application is to be submitted Feb. 21.

The plan will change a lot of important dynamics of what students and schools in Wisconsin are expected to accomplish. It calls for publicly rating all schools on a 1 to 100 point scale, with student outcomes as a key factor. Schools that score low will face orders to improve and, possibly, closing. And that goes for every school with students whose education is paid for with public dollars - in other words, private schools in the voucher programs for Milwaukee and Racine kids are included.

Overall, the waiver plan means we are at the point where Wisconsin gets serious about raising expectations for student achievement. Wisconsin is regarded as having one of the lowest bars in the U.S. for rating a student as proficient. No more, the proposal says.


Eighth-grade reading: Using the WKCE measuring stick, 86% of students were rated as "advanced" or "proficient." Using the NAEP measuring stick, it was 35% - a 51-point difference. At least as vivid: Using the WKCE measure, 47% of eighth-graders were "advanced," the top bracket. Using the NAEP measure, it was 3%. Three percent! In other words, only a handful of kids statewide would be labeled advanced under the new system, not the nearly half we're used to.

Fourth-grade reading: On the WKCE scale, 82% were proficient or advanced. On the NAEP scale, it was 33%.

Eighth-grade math: WKCE, 78% proficient. NAEP: 41%.

Fourth-grade math: WKCE: 79% proficient. NAEP: 47%.

A substantial improvement in academic standards is warranted and possibly wonderful, assuming it happens and avoids being watered down. The rightly criticized WKCE was an expensive missed opportunity.


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January 28, 2012

Why The New Yorker's Claim That Brainstorming "Doesn't Work" Is An Overstatement And Possibly Wrong

Bob Sutton:

The current version of The New Yorker has a wonderful article by Jonah Lehrer called "Groupthink" (you can see the abstract here). It does a great job of showing how creativity is a social process, cites wonderful research by Brian Uzzi showing that when people have experience working together in the past they produce more successful Broadway musicals (up to a point, too many old friends is as bad as too few), and offers research showing that groups where members engage in constructive conflict are more creative -- all themes I have talked about at various times on this blog.

I do however have a major quibble. At one point, Lehrer states flatly that brainstorming doesn't work. He later quotes creativity researcher Keith Sawyer as saying that people are more efficient at generating ideas when they work alone than in groups, something that is well-established. But that is not the same as saying there is conclusive evidence they don't work.

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NCTQ Sues UW Ed Schools over Access to Course Syllabi

Kate Walsh, via a kind reader's email:

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Associated Press, NCTQ filed a lawsuit yesterday -- a first for us -- against the University of Wisconsin system.

UW campuses issued identically worded denials of our requests for course syllabi, which is one of the many sources of information we use to rate programs for the National Review of teacher preparation programs. They argue that "syllabi are not public records because they are subject to copyright" and therefore do not have to be produced in response to an open records request.

We believe that the University's reading of the law is flawed. We are engaged in research on the quality of teacher preparation programs, and so our request falls squarely within the fair use provision of copyright law. What's more, these documents were created at public institutions for the training of public school teachers, and so should be subject to scrutiny by the public.

You can read our complaint here.

Related Georgia, Wisconsin Education Schools Back Out of NCTQ Review
Public higher education institutions in Wisconsin and Georgia--and possibly as many as five other states--will not participate voluntarily in a review of education schools now being conducted by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report, according to recent correspondence between state consortia and the two groups.

In response, NCTQ and U.S. News are moving forward with plans to obtain the information from these institutions through open-records requests.

In letters to the two organizations, the president of the University of Wisconsin system and the chancellor of Georgia's board of regents said their public institutions would opt out of the review, citing a lack of transparency and questionable methodology, among other concerns.

Formally announced in January, the review will rate education schools on up to 18 standards, basing the decisions primarily on examinations of course syllabuses and student-teaching manuals.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?
Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town are "above average." Well, in the School of Education they're all A students.

The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.

This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW's schools. Scrolling through the Registrar's online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C's and only the really high performers score A's.

Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody's a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that's the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A's and a handful of A/B's. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

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What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success

Anu Partanen:

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West's reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known -- if it was known for anything at all -- as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life -- Newsweek ranked it number one last year -- and Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

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New Study Gives Small Schools Initiative a Thumbs Up

Mary Ann Giordano

The small schools initiative that has been the hallmark of the Bloomberg administration's schools policy seems to be working, a new study has found.

Winnie Hu reports in The New York Times on Thursday that the study found that students who attend public high schools that have about 100 students in each grade were more likely to graduate.

The continuing study is described as "one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews of the impact of small schools on learning." Its $3.5 million cost is covered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the study is conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit education research group based in Manhattan.

The study found that students at small high schools were more likely to earn a diploma than students who attend larger schools, The Times reports.

Related: Small Learning Communities

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Can Computers Replace Teachers?

Andrew Rotherham:

Steve Jobs didn't think that technology alone could fix what ails American education. It's worth remembering that in the wake of last week's breathless coverage of Apple's new iBooks platform, which the company promises will radically change how students use and experience textbooks. Under Apple's plan, companies and individuals will be able to self-publish textbooks, ideally creating a wider array of content. Students will be able to download and use these books on their iPad much like they would use a regular textbook -- including highlighting passages, making notes and pulling out passages or chapters that are especially important to them. Apple says it also plans to cap the price of textbooks available through iBooks at $14.99, a significant departure from the price of many textbooks now.

Critics were quick to pounce that Apple wasn't being revolutionary enough. Former school superintendent and current ed-tech investor Tom Vander Ark chided Apple for not thinking past textbooks, which he considers hopelessly 20th century. Others worried that Apple's real goal wasn't to open up the textbook industry but to control it and profit from it through restrictive licensing agreements and a platform that dominates the market. I'm sure the for-profit company's shareholders will be horrified at that news.

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High Schools Are Step One Of Two


MG Siegler in his latest TechCrunch article posits that although Apple's new iBooks strategy is admirable in its effort to fix problems in public high schools, that it's not realistic and that their market strategy should revolve around colleges and college textbooks.

On the surface, which seems logical enough, his argument is sound. But It ignores the one, HUGE driving force in education: money.

Nearly all high schools are public, or receive public funding in one way or another and help to satisfy the law which states that students of high school age must attend school. Textbooks are merely a means of teaching these students topics which help these schools qualify for their funding.

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Louisiana Governor Jindal says education reforms can't wait for another generation of kids

Barabar Leader:

Education was the topic of discussion in northeast Louisiana Thursday as Governor Bobby Jindal and the state's new Superintendent of Education John White visited the area.

Jindal spoke to the Monroe Chamber of Commerce about what he called a "critical time" in Louisiana's history and the role his aggressive education reform package will play in the state's continuing journey to improvement.

White joined Jindal at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce but spent most of his visit in area schools observing teachers and students.

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January 27, 2012

First Niagara's $3M to shape CT school-reform debate

Hartford Business, via a kind Doug Newman email:

First Niagara Bank has pledged $3 million to support a nonprofit group that is representing business interests in Connecticut's education reform debate.

The money will go to Hartford's Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), which is led by a group of prominent Connecticut business leaders including former Hartford Financial Services Group CEO Ramani Ayer, and Peyton Patterson, the former chief executive of NewAllinace Bank, which was acquired by First Niagara Bank last year.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform also unveiled Thursday its education agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which includes urging the state to adopt:

--Teacher and leader employment and retention policies that attract the highest quality professionals and insist upon effectiveness as defined by their ability to demonstrate improvement in student performance, not seniority, as the measure of success defined by redesigned evaluation systems.

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"Women Worse at Math than Men" Explanation Scientifically Incorrect, MU Researchers Say

Steven Adams:

A University of Missouri researcher and his colleague have conducted a review that casts doubt on the accuracy of a popular theory that attempted to explain why there are more men than women in top levels of mathematic fields. The researchers found that numerous studies claiming that the stereotype, "men are better at math" - believed to undermine women's math performance - had major methodological flaws, utilized improper statistical techniques, and many studies had no scientific evidence of this stereotype.

This theory, called stereotype threat, was first published in 1999 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Essentially, the theory is that due to the stereotype that women are worse than men in math skills, females develop a poor self-image in this area, which leads to mathematics underachievement.

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Hong Kong's National education subject to be delayed

Dennis Chong:

A committee tasked with mapping out the controversial introduction of compulsory national education in all Hong Kong government schools has suggested it be delayed until as late as 2015.

The Education Bureau last year proposed introducing the curriculum into primary schools as early as September this year, and into secondary schools in the 2013-14 academic year.

However, a source said the Moral and National Education Ad Hoc Committee had now proposed postponing full introduction of the subject - which critics have labelled as brainwashing - until the 2015-16 academic year.

The source said schools would be given three years to get ready for the new curriculum, and it would not specifically cover sensitive topics such as the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Schools could start teaching the subject before then if they were ready.

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Björk's Latest Experiment: Teaching Science

Nick Neyland:

Björk turned her last album into an app. Now she's turning her music into a science exhibit for city students, with an unusual three-week run at a Queens museum better known for its molecule models and retired spacecraft.

The singer arrives at the New York Hall of Science next month to hold a series of classes for middle school students, as well as six open-to-the-public concerts in the museum's Great Hall. Björk will also stage four shows at a more conventional concert venue: Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom.

"The whole idea is to take music education out of a bookish, academic thing and into a more physical, tactile experience," said Björk, 46 years old, in an interview as she was preparing for the event.

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Let's evaluate all ways to close gap

Madison School Board Candidate Mary Burke

n recent listening sessions with Madison parents, I heard how we can improve our schools, what we can be really proud of and stories about our wonderful teachers. In these discussions and in others, people have talked about addressing the racial achievement gap and shared concerns about Madison Prep.

For the 12 years I have been involved in Madison schools, I have been championing education and addressing the racial achievement gap. An East High teacher and I co-founded the AVID/TOPS program, which I also supported financially and continue to co-chair. This program has increased the number of students graduating and going on to post-secondary education. But AVID TOPS alone is not enough. We need to do more.

When Madison Prep was discussed last fall, it was the only proposal put on the table in the last five years to significantly address the racial achievement gap. At that time the teachers union and the planners of Madison Prep were in agreement that the school would run with Madison School District employees, union teachers and under the leadership of the district (as an instrumentality). A major concern raised was that Madison Prep would pull resources needed by existing schools.

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January 26, 2012

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
"Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice."

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly's State Street School ( sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (

In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week's column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)

Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street's scores tanked again.

The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force's recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.

Wait. Writing? That's English, not science. But more on this in a moment.

Westerly's students had struggled particularly with the "inquiry" part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.

State Street's Principal Audrey Faubert says, "Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren't exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. ( Even though they'd been teaching inquiry with the science kits ( , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test."

But the spotlight's glare was on those 4th graders.

Faubert smiled sadly, "The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic."

Working in pairs, the school's entire teaching staff scored the kids' work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.

But as it turns out, the school's good efforts hadn't quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street's instruction had only just started to take root.

Here's the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: "How does wind change sand dunes?" somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.

New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: "The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn't about recall any more, but about synthesizing information." New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.

Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.

Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says "Prior to the work of the Task Force, we'd left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn't know, they weren't able to communicate their understanding of science."

To work on that understanding, Fusco says, "we've been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP--infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren't afraid of the words they're encountering."

The ability to define "predict" doesn't help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn't also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.

Similarly, Fusco's teachers began to work with the kids on "sentence starters" to guide their thinking--However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.

Fortunately, Westerly's students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, "Every teacher brought in examples of their students' science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We'd never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what's in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times."

At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids' understanding and misunderstanding.

By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they'd managed in the prior year's test.

In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)

Superintendent Roy Seitsinger's take on the situation is this: "Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we're doing now. Most of the people weren't trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators' job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills."

Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at and She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see or contact her at or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

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Tenured Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up

Nick DeSantis:

he Stanford University professor who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students has abandoned his tenured position to aim for an even bigger audience.

Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. He made the surprising announcement during a presentation at the Digital - Life - Design conference in Munich, Germany. The development was first reported earlier today by Reuters.

During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than "a camera, a pen and a napkin." Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course's popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

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How School Choice Became an Explosive Issue

Kevin Carey:

Bill Cosby and Dick Morris presumably disagree about most things, so it's instructive to note that both have officially endorsed "School Choice Week," which began yesterday with a series of rallies and events around the country celebrating the idea of parents being able to decide where their children go to school. Indeed, school choice seems like such an obviously good idea that the most interesting thing about School Choice Week is why it exists at all.

That school choice is valuable is beyond dispute. That's why there's a multi-billion dollar private school industry serving millions of students. And it's why there is a much larger system of school choice embedded in the American real estate market. While some parents pay school tuition directly, many more pay it through their monthly mortgage and property tax bills. Anyone who has deliberately purchased a home in a "good" school district is, by definition, a beneficiary and supporter of school choice.

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Matthew Battles: It doesn't take Cupertino to make textbooks interactive

Matthew Battles:

Absent the glamour of the black mock turtleneck, Apple's Thursday event, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, still came bearing flowers of rhetoric, lovingly transplanted from their native soil in Cupertino's sunny clime. One such rhetorical staple, the feature checklist, made its appearance about nine minutes in. Usually, the checklist is used to contrast Apple's latest magical object with the feature set of lesser smartphones or other misbegotten tech tchotchkes; it was more than a little eye-popping to see the same rhetoric of invidious comparison used against the book in full -- that gadget which, as senior VP Phil Schiller reminded us, was invented (in its print incarnation) back at the end of the Hundred Years' War.

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University of Washington Admissions and Failing K-12 Education

Cliff Mass:

A week ago there was an article in the Seattle Times describing a large drop in applicants to the UW this year. Considering that other WA State schools have not seen a similar decline and all state colleges are experiencing essentially the same tuition increases, why are UW applications down?

Could it be the incessant articles and editorials by the Seattle Times about how the UW is turning down strong applicants to let in more out of state students? How about this Seattle Times headline last spring:

"Why straight-A's may not get you into the UW this year"

which suggested that
"High-school seniors with top test scores didn't get in.
Students who got into more prestigious schools were wait-listed at the UW.
Valedictorians with straight-A's were denied admission, while out-of-state students with lower grades were accepted."

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School choice is alive and growing -- in other states

Richard Rider:

The most important domestic subject that I FAIL to adequately cover is K-12 education. It's potentially the most effective tool we have for increasing vertical mobility in our society -- and hence is currently misused as the best single method to repress disadvantaged minorities.

What the education unions and their bought-and-paid-for Democrat allies have done to inner city black and Hispanic kids would warm the cockles of any KKK Grand Dragon. The Progressives' steadfast opposition to improving education angers me every time I think about it.

Thus I include intact below an excellent op-ed on the topic from the LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS. It's upbeat -- giving the growing success of the school choice movement in all its many flavors.

Sadly, California is one of the least successful states in this effort to improve education. All we hear from CA liberals is that we don't spend enough. But the growing popularity and acceptance of school choice in other states is going to make it more and more difficult for our voters to ignore this innovation.

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Education a key solution

Barbara Prindiville:

The top priority facing southeastern Wisconsin - and, indeed, the biggest challenge for the entire state - is the creation of more new jobs.

There are many good ideas for creating new jobs, and many deserve further consideration. The creation of new venture capital funds, tax breaks for industries and workforce training incentives for companies that locate in Wisconsin are all worthy of further consideration and possible action.

But the best strategy for creating new jobs is to look at what companies want when deciding where to expand a plant or locate a production facility. No doubt, they look at quality of life, housing, transportation, the overall community and other factors.

However, time and again, one of the top assets that attracts new jobs is a quality education system at all levels that produces bright, articulate and engaging future workers who accept the challenge of the new international economy and the interdependent global economic landscape. That starts at kindergarten and continues beyond high school. Gone are the days when a student could graduate from high school and move to a job that could last a lifetime.

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January 25, 2012

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio

Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.

The event was sponsored by the Dane County Council of Public Affairs.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.

UPDATE 2.8.2012: A transcript is now available.

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How to Learn to Love Maths

Alex Bellos:

Britain is about to fall in love with maths. Well, that's the dream. Yesterday one of the government's top advisers on further education said that maths should be compulsory for all students until 18 or 19 - no matter what else they are studying. Professor Steve Sparks, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, also said that he wants a new maths qualification between GCSE and AS-level to be introduced by 2016.

Maths is justified in this country because it is useful. Sparks said his proposals were necessary because young people need a better grasp of maths to compete in the job market, where an understanding of technology and numeracy are increasingly important.

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Highland Park (MI) Schools in jeopardy of closing, governor says in letter

Melanie Scott:

As Highland Park schools officials pleaded their case against an emergency manager to officials in Lansing on Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder sent a letter to the district's parents informing them that without state intervention there would be no district by the end of next month.

Parents of Highland Park School District students told district officials today they received a letter from the governor informing them of the school district's dire financial situation.

In a letter dated Jan. 20, Snyder told parents finances for the school district have reached a crisis stage and during the 2010-11 school year, the district was $3 million over budget.

The letter also mentioned the state forwarded an emergency advance of $188,000 to the district on Jan. 13.

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Algorithmic Education (including the Mathematics of Cramming)

Samuel Arbesman:

Many of us don't learn in optimal ways. We know that we forget new material, neglect to review older material, and study in ways that elevate cramming and procrastination to art forms. But there is research about how to be more efficient in these things. For example, dating back to 1885, there is a rich literature that explores how timing our learning of new and old material can affect education.

For a long time, these theories were only loosely applied. They couldn't be put into quantitative practice because of the difficulty of carefully implementing them. But with the ability to create educational software, customized to ensure a student has an optimal learning experience, we have a wonderful opportunity to actually employ this knowledge. Unfortunately, there are so many competing concerns, it's far from trivial: We need to begin constructing new algorithms to figure out how best to learn.

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Teaching programming to a nine-year-old

Dr. Prabhakar Ragde:

My younger daughter is nine. After watching me sit with a laptop all term preparing material using Scheme, she wanted to know something about it. She is self-taught on the application side of computing (browsers, paint programs, word processing) but knows nothing of computation itself. So I opened up a DrScheme Interactions window. "You add like this," I said, typing in (+ 3 4). No problem. "Try some other operations, some bigger numbers." It looks like a calculator without a ten-digit limit.

I wrote out some arithmetic expressions for her to convert to Scheme. She had difficulty with them, but not with Scheme: I had forgotten how much algebraic notation is taught later. She didn't understand concatenation for multiplication, / for division, or putting two expressions one above the other with a horizontal line in between. Once I explained those, she converted them into Scheme expressions very quickly.

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Coming soon: A new Florida school grading formula

Kathleen McGrory:

The way Florida grades its public schools will soon be changing.

On Tuesday, the state Board of Education heard an extensive presentation on proposed changes to the school grading formula.

The ideas ran the gamut, from incorporating the test scores of children with disabilities, to giving extra points to students who boost their test scores into the highest range.

Of course, high school grades will have to take into account the new end-of-course exams, which are being given this year in algebra, geometry and biology. Some middle-school students will also be taking the exams -- and the grades given to middle schools need to reflect that, too.

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Skype helps Lodi students interact with teacher in Thailand

Pamela Cotant:

Learning about southeast Asia from a teacher in Thailand is making the curriculum come alive for Lodi High School students.

Every morning, the students receive instruction via Skype from Tuke-Karnteera Ingkhaninan, a teacher from the Sa-nguan Ying School in Suphanburi, Thailand. Then early in the evening, Mark Kohl, a Lodi High School teacher, instructs students at the Thailand school about United States history.

"We can see it a lot more clearly instead of reading about it in a textbook," said Lodi senior Becky Thuot, 18.

Senior Savannah Sundt, 17, agreed, noting that is was meaningful when Ingkhaninan talked about a festival she would attend that evening and the Lodi students could hear fireworks going off as part of it.

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The New American Divide

Charles Murray:

The ideal of an 'American way of life' is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated. Charles Murray on what's cleaving America, and why.

America is coming apart. For most of our nation's history, whatever the inequality in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens, we maintained a cultural equality known nowhere else in the world--for whites, anyway. "The more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of American democracy, in the 1830s. "On the contrary, they constantly keep on easy terms with the lower classes: They listen to them, they speak to them every day."

Americans love to see themselves this way. But there's a problem: It's not true anymore, and it has been progressively less true since the 1960s.

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in line. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

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Sharing a Screen, if Not a Classroom

Kyle Spencer:

In a hushed first-grade classroom at Public School 55 in the South Bronx, Edward Muñoz, a bashful 7-year-old in scuffed sneakers and a worn hoodie, was sounding out tricky words with his tutor.

Together they plowed through a book about a birthday barbecue, tackling the words "party" and "presents." Then they played a rousing game of word-based tic-tac-toe, with Edward eventually declaring victory.

Exchanges like theirs take place every day in classrooms around the country, now that links between early literacy gains and later school success have been clearly documented.

But Edward's tutor was not in the classroom. His school, a 20-minute walk from the nearest subway stop in a crime-plagued neighborhood, has long had trouble finding tutors willing to visit. "It is hard to get anyone to volunteer," said the school's principal, Luis Torres, who sometimes cancels fire drills because of the gunfire he hears outside.

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January 24, 2012

First details of proposed Wisconsin school accountability system revealed

Matthew DeFour:

The state could more aggressively intervene in the lowest-performing publicly funded schools under a proposed accountability system unveiled Monday.

The system would rate schools on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student performance and growth on state tests, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college and careers. Ratings also would be tied to dropout rates and third-grade literacy levels.

The">">Department of Public Instruction released a draft application to the U.S. Education Department for a waiver from the 10-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said "has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms."

"Wisconsin's request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes," Evers said

DPI's Initial Draft Full Waiver Proposal (2.5MB PDF):
Raising Expectations, Increasing Rigor
As noted in Principle 1, DPI has significantly raised expectations for schools and the proportion of students who graduate ready for college and career, as indicated by the adoption of rigorous academic standards, higher cut scores based on NAEP as the state transitions to SBAC, increasingly rigorous and adaptive assessment systems, and increased graduation requirements. The new accountability report card and the new system of support, rewards, and recognition will reflect these new expectations. While the state has previously emphasized graduation rates (and boasted one of the highest in the nation), DPI also recognizes the state has significant achievement and graduation gaps. The accountability index prioritizes achievement and attainment using measures which emphasize not only graduation, but also the proportion of students graduating college and career ready. Additionally, the system examines achievement gaps within and across schools as a means to address the state's existing gaps. Using a multifaceted index will help pinpoint areas of need within a school, as well as areas of strength, and help schools track their progress at meeting the needs of all student subgroups. Within the system of support, identified schools will participate in diagnostic reviews and needs assessments (Priority and Focus Schools, respectively) to identify their instructional policies, practices, and programming that have impacted student outcomes and to differentiate, and individualize reforms and interventions. While planning and implementing reforms, schools and districts will have access to increasingly expansive and timely data systems to monitor progress. Additionally, the state will require Priority and Focus Schools to implement RtI (with the support of the Wisconsin RtI Center and its resources) to ensure that all students are receiving customized, differentiated services within a least restrictive environment, including additional supports and interventions for SwDs and ELLs as needed, or extension activities and additional challenge for students exceeding benchmarks.

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2012 Madison School Board Candidate Website & Contact Information

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity
"Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime." - Paul Dunham

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.

At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we'd had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don't get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), "traditional math" is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly "taking the lead" and teaching their parents.

Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a "balanced" program looks like - as if that's what Spokane actually has.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

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Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform

Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips:

ALEC's 17th edition of the Report Card on American Education contains a comprehensive overview of educational achievement levels (performance and gains for low-income students) for the 50 states and the District of Columbia (see full report for complete methodology). The Report Card details what education policies states currently have in place and provides a roadmap for legislators to follow to bring about educational excellence in their state.

Focusing on the reforms recently enacted in Indiana, and with a foreword by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, this Report Card on American Education examines the experiences other states can learn from the struggles and triumps in Indiana.

Authors Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips analyze student scores, looking at both performance as well as how scores have improved over recent years. Additionally, each state is graded based on its current education policies.

Wisconsin ranks 19th.

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The Inevitability of the Use of Value-Added Measures in Teacher Evaluations

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

Value added" or "VA" refers to the use of statistical techniques to measure teachers' impacts on their students' standardized test scores, controlling for such student characteristics as prior years' scores, gender, ethnicity, disability, and low-income status.

Reports on a massive new study that seem to affirm the use of the technique have recently been splashed across the media and chewed over in the blogosphere. Further from the limelight, developments in Wisconsin seem to ensure that in the coming years value-added analyses will play an increasingly important role in teacher evaluations across the state. Assuming the analyses are performed and applied sensibly, this is a positive development for student learning.

The Chetty Study

Since the first article touting its findings was published on the front page of the January 6 New York Times, a new research study by three economists assessing the value-added contributions of elementary school teachers and their long-term impact on their students' lives - referred to as the Chetty article after the lead author - has created as much of a stir as could ever be expected for a dense academic study.

Much more on value added assessment, here.

It is important to note that the Madison School District's value added assessment initiative is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

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Texas school district cuts sports in desperate attempt to improve grades and prevent shutdown

Associated Press:

Eliminating high school athletics during a school year is unusual, especially in a sports-loving state such as Texas.

But that's exactly what's happening in this small ranching community where the school district is taking desperate measures to prevent a state-mandated closure due to poor academics.

The Premont Independent School District is even deploying its superintendent, a constable and high school principal to the homes of truant students in an effort to improve dismal attendance.

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School reform proposals are in limbo in Missouri General Assembly

Jason Hancock:

Missouri lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to deal with a potential flood of student transfers stemming from the loss of accreditation in urban school districts like Kansas City's.

But looming over this year's legislative session is a pledge by House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Perryville Republican, that any plan to deal with school transfers to suburban districts, or adjustments to the state's school funding formula, be coupled with ideas that have doomed previous reform efforts.

Those include controversial measures such as expanding charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, basing teacher pay on student achievement and offering tax credit vouchers to parents who want to send children to private schools.

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January 23, 2012

Wisconsin DPI seeks comments on draft NCLB waiver request; "Education for today's world requires increased rigor and higher expectations"

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, via a kind reader's email:

MADISON -- Wisconsin's request for waivers from several provisions of federal education law creates the expectation that every child will graduate ready for college and careers by setting higher standards for students, educators, and schools.

"Education for today's world requires increased rigor and higher expectations," said State Superintendent Tony Evers. "The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms that would help more students gain the skills needed for further education and the workforce. Wisconsin's request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment, and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes."

To receive waivers, state education agencies must demonstrate how they will use flexibility from NCLB requirements to address four principles: transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness; and reducing duplication. The Department of Public Instruction has posted its draft waiver request online and is asking for public comment through a survey. After the two-week comment period, the agency will revise the waiver request and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education by Feb. 21.

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Oakland schools try new way of placing teachers

Jill Tucker:

In the world outside public education, people apply for a job they want, interview with their potential boss, compete against other applicants and are ultimately selected if they look like a good fit for the position.

It doesn't work that way in public education.

In schools, teachers do all the normal things to get hired, but when it comes to placement, seniority is what counts, not the perfect fit. The teacher with the longest tenure in a district gets first dibs on any available job at a school, with the principal - the school's boss - getting little or no input.

School district officials in Oakland want to change that, believing that it's in the best interests of students when a teacher - new, veteran or in between - wants to work at a school and the school wants that teacher.

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UK Schools minister cracks down on league table 'incentives'


Schools minister Nick Gibb has said he wants to stop schools prioritising their rankings in exam league tables over ensuring a good education for all their pupils.

New league tables for England, out next week, show which schools boost pupils' progress from ages 11 and 16.

Mr Gibb said the old system allowed schools to exploit tables, and some used it to help boost their rankings.

Labour gave the move a cautious welcome.

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Some college, but no degree

Emily Hanford:

Kai Ryssdal: However students get their textbooks -- on an iPad or the old-fashioned way -- those books don't do any good unless they're actually used.

There are 37 million people in this country who've started college, who have some credits -- but never finished. When they do that, when they drop out, there are costs -- to them, and to the rest of us, in the billions of dollars, in wasted loans and grants and lost opportunities. Those costs are one reason college dropouts are starting to get more attention from the Obama administration on down.

But finding ways for people to finish their degrees might mean rethinking the way Americans go to college. Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks reports.

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January 22, 2012

Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011

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

Charter schools are public schools. Historically, however, the relationship between school districts and charters has been nonexistent at best, antagonistic at worst. As the charter sector continues to grow steadily, an analysis of the national landscape explores how that relationship needs to start changing--and where it already has.

This year's 6th annual edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality provides a clear roadmap for school districts and charter schools interested in working together to improve education options. The report explains the risks and technical challenges behind charter-district collaboration and provides powerful examples of how they can be overcome.

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Are national charter schools a game changer or a fad?

Alan Borsuk:

Where will the thin blue line lead these children? What will their path mean to Milwaukee's education scene?

I'm talking about the 330 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Milwaukee Scholars Charter School.

The corridors of the school's new building at 7000 W. Florist Ave. have gray carpeting - except for blue stripes near each wall.

When students pass in the halls, whether in groups or solo, they are required to walk only on the blue stripe on the right side of the hall as they face it. Get caught off that stripe and you can get marked down in the school's discipline system.

Minus the blue lines and with a discipline system that isn't structured quite so firmly, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school at 110 W. Burleigh St., brings to mind the same questions for its 160 kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils.

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Is Milwaukee back on the reform radar?

Katy Venskus:

There used to be a time when Milwaukee was considered one of the most active education reform cities in the country. The City's private school choice program, the oldest and largest in the country, was our ticket to fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) through most of the 1990's. The choice program was supposed to be a game changer to public education. It was supposed to set off a chain reaction of innovation and competition that would not only improve the lives of children, but change the way we configured our education policy for the City of Milwaukee. In short, we were going to be the hotbed of the reform movement for decades to come.

Sadly, the game changing education movement we expected didn't come to pass. There is no doubt, however, that the existence of parent choice in Milwaukee has changed the lives of thousands of kids. The movement that created and protected the choice program fostered the development of two of the City's best charter schools and promoted a small sector of independent charters authorizers and schools. Unfortunately, aside from these developments there has been little large-scale reform in Milwaukee since the mid-1990's. Instead of a catalyst, the choice program became a scapegoat for both political parties and many status quo stakeholders. The failing public school district in Milwaukee has been allowed to sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand while union interests and their status quo Democrats blamed the choice program for all the public schools considerable ills. The GOP used the choice program as the be-all-end-all urban education solution, and was happy to let thoughtful public school policy and funding fall by the way side. The independent charter school community put their heads down and tried to stay out of the political fray - they served small pockets of kids very well, but without the ability or the will to take their model to scale. As a result, Milwaukee, not only fell behind, we fell off the map entirely.

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Counting the costs of a digital classroom

Kai Ryssdal:

It's not the iPhone 5, it's not the iPad 3, but there was a big Apple product announcement today. A new version of its iBooks software geared at providing interactive student textbooks, which would be read -- of course -- on the iPad. The potential hurdles are many, including the fact that iPads still cost around $500.

We wanted to get away from the business case study, though, and explore what this might actually eventually mean in the classroom. So we called Katie Cohen. Until June of last year, she was a high school science teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Katie, thanks for being with us.

Katie Cohen: Thank you very much.

Ryssdal: So listen, in any ideal world, if all of your had had iPads, what would that have meant for you as a teacher?

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Government seeks help to stop teacher-led cheating

Greg Toppo:

The move comes 10 months after a USA TODAY investigation found high erasure rates on standardized tests in many District of Columbia public schools, and six months after Georgia's governor released findings of a major investigation that found widespread cheating in Atlanta public schools.

The U.S. Department of Education says it will host a symposium on cheating and publish "best practices" recommendations on how to prevent, detect and respond to cheating in schools.

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January 21, 2012

Apple, America and A Squeezed Middle Class

Keith Bradsher & Charles Duhigg:

Companies like Apple "say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force," said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. "They're good jobs, but the country doesn't have enough to feed the demand," Mr. Schmidt said.

Some aspects of the iPhone are uniquely American. The device's software, for instance, and its innovative marketing campaigns were largely created in the United States. Apple recently built a $500 million data center in North Carolina. Crucial semiconductors inside the iPhone 4 and 4S are manufactured in an Austin, Tex., factory by Samsung, of South Korea.

But even those facilities are not enormous sources of jobs. Apple's North Carolina center, for instance, has only 100 full-time employees. The Samsung plant has an estimated 2,400 workers.


"We shouldn't be criticized for using Chinese workers," a current Apple executive said. "The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need."

Well worth considering from a curricular, finance and social perspective.

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Student Math Scores Jump 20 Percent with HMH Algebra Curriculum for Apple® iPad®; App Transforms Classroom Education

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

Pilot study finds students in Riverside Unified School District who used Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's HMH Fuse™: Algebra 1 app were also more motivated, attentive, and engaged than traditionally educated peers.

Global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) today announced the results of a yearlong pilot of HMH Fuse: Algebra I, the world's first full-curriculum Algebra app developed exclusively for the Apple iPad, involving the Amelia Earhart Middle School in California's Riverside Unified School District. The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers.

The pilot showed that over 78 percent of HMH Fuse users scored Proficient or Advanced on the spring 2011 California Standards Tests, compared with only 59 percent of their textbook-using peers."

The first assessment of the pilot-- Riverside's district Algebra benchmark -took place during the second trimester of the 2010-2011 year. Students using HMH Fuse scored an average of 10 percentage points higher than their peers. The app's impact was even more pronounced after the California Standards Test in spring 2011, on which HMH Fuse students scored approximately 20 percent higher than their textbook-using peers.

Christina Bonnington has more.

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Kids don't need our sympathy

Tamiko Jordan-Obregon:

Throughout my years of being an educator in a traditional school setting, the most challenging aspect has been dealing with the adults, not the students. My views were often those of the minority and consistently clashed with the culture of failure that had been developed over the decades.

One opinion of mine in particular that seldom receives little to no kudos, and is often met with anger and opposition, is that our children do not need sympathy. And when it came to school work, believe me, I gave very little sympathy, if any at all.

"So harsh," one might say. Well, I have been regularly accused of being unfeeling, insensitive and even heartless. Nevertheless, my students were successful for the most part.

They passed because they knew the material, not because I felt sorry for them. In my classroom, I refused to allow feelings of sympathy to override my charge as an educator. It was my duty to educate students to the best of my ability, regardless of their race, culture, socioeconomic status or family or living situation. My standards were high, and I expected my students to rise to the occasion.

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January 20, 2012

Wisconsin Governor Walker says education bill based on task forces is nearing

Erin Richards:

Before a crowd of hundreds of school district officials and school board members in Milwaukee, Gov. Scott Walker announced Thursday that recommendations from a variety of state education task forces will soon be solidified in formal legislation.

The work of three main groups spearheaded by Walker over the past year - a reading task force, a team that's looked at how to design a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system, and a group figuring out how to rate school quality - will make up a reform package of education legislation, Walker said.

Meanwhile, some critics questioned the governor's tone of collaboration and cooperation Thursday, saying that after cutting education spending and limiting collective bargaining, he's trying to play nice now only because he's likely facing a recall election.

Even state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who has worked closely with Walker on the task forces and praised the work of those involved, made it clear he was concerned about being left out of the legislation-drafting process.

Matthew DeFour:
The proposed legislative reforms have been developed over the past year by three statewide task forces working separately on improving literacy, developing a teacher evaluation model and creating a school accountability system to replace No Child Left Behind.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who helped lead all three groups, said he wasn't involved in drafting the education legislation, but would support any actions that are the direct product of the task forces "and deliver on the intent of these collaborative groups."

"Many students' schools are already planning for more budget cuts next year on top of cuts made this year," Evers said in a statement. "Education reforms must be fully funded and not simply be more unfunded mandates that result in further cuts to educational programming for our students."

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, ranking Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said in a statement she has concerns the work of the task forces was "being hijacked for political gain."

"It is unnerving to hear that (Evers) was not consulted during the drafting of this legislation," Pope-Roberts said. "Cutting our state's foremost education experts out of the process at this time is very shortsighted and reckless."

Much more on the Read to Lead Task Force, here.

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Stormy waters ahead as 'disruptive forces' sweep the old guard

Sarah Cunnane:

Online education will turn the academy inside out, argue US authors. Sarah Cunnane reports

Graduation rates in the US have fallen, and states have slashed funding for higher education. As a result, public universities have raised tuition fees, and many are struggling to stay afloat during the recession. But two authors working in the US higher education sector claim that the academy has a bigger battle on the horizon: the "disruptive innovation" ushered in by online education.

This disruption, they say, will force down costs, lure prospective students away from traditional "core" universities, transform the way academics work, and spell the end for the traditional scholarly calendar based around face-to-face teaching.

Clayton M. Christensen, the Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and Henry J. Eyring, advancement vice-president at Brigham Young University-Idaho, outline their ideas in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out.

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Why Education Publishing Is Big Business

Tim Carmody:

On the heels of Apple's big education and iBooks event, it's worth taking a quick snapshot of the education publishing industry as it stands today.

Not because the tools announced today will inevitably transform the future of education the way iTunes and the iPhone did the music and smartphone industries -- however fun that may be to imagine.

Rather, you simply can't understand Apple's interest in breaking into the education market without at least a little understanding of that market's scope. And you can't understand why Apple's adopted the approach that it has without understanding that market's connection to our wider media ecosystem.

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The Coming Higher-Ed Revolution

  Stuart Butler:

In recent decades, key sectors of the American economy have experienced huge and disruptive transformations -- shifts that have ultimately yielded beneficial changes to the way producers and customers do business together. From the deregulation that brought about the end of AT&T's "Ma Bell" system, to the way entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs forever changed the computer world once dominated by IBM, to the way the internet and bloggers have upended the business model of traditional newspapers, we have seen industries completely remade -- often in wholly unexpected ways. In hindsight, such transformations seem to have been inevitable; at the time, however, most leaders in these fields never saw the changes coming.

The higher-education industry is on the verge of such a transformative re-alignment. Many Americans agree that a four-year degree is vastly overpriced -- keeping many people out of the market -- and are increasingly questioning the value of what many colleges teach. Nevertheless, for those who seek a certain level of economic security or advancement, a four-year degree is absolutely necessary. Clearly, this is a situation primed for change. In as little as a decade, most colleges and universities could look very different from their present forms -- with the cost of a college credential plummeting even as the quality of instruction rises.

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Schools likely to lose accreditation, experts say

Greg Toppo:

It happens more often than you'd think, but it needs to happen more often than it does," says Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancED, a private Atlanta-based accreditation agency that works with about 30,000 schools. In the past five years, the organization has pulled accreditation on four school systems and a dozen private schools, for reasons ranging from poor academic performance to governance to financial fraud.

"It's become more rigorous," says Terry Holliday, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education. "I think there was a time accreditation just meant you had a certain number of library books and staff." Now, he says, "accreditation does look at outcomes."

Accreditation, sort of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for schools, matters to districts because losing it can lead to a state takeover or an exodus of students. For individual high schools, it can mean that students lose a competitive edge as they apply to college.

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January 19, 2012

How to solve the achievement gap in Madison?

Nathan Comp:

Just when all signs indicated that supporters of Madison Preparatory Academy were abandoning hope of joining forces with the Madison school district, they've decided to give it one more shot. They're seeking another vote on the controversial charter-school proposal in late February.

Urban League of Greater Madison CEO and president Kaleem Caire says Madison Prep will open this fall as a private entity, but hopes it will transition into the district in 2013, once the district's union contract expires.

Board members who voted against the charter school in December expressed concerns that it would put the district in breach of its contract with Madison Teachers Inc., due to a provision requiring district schools to hire union staff.

School board president James Howard, who voted for Madison Prep, says the board may not have time to address the proposal in February.

Whether the Urban League -- which proposed Madison Prep as an ambitious step toward closing the district's decades-old achievement gap -- can recapture its earlier momentum is uncertain, considering that Superintendent Dan Nerad and school board members seem particularly excited about their own plans to address the issue.

"We're going at it from so many different angles right now," says board member Beth Moss. "I can't see how we can't make some improvement."

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


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Video: Is school choice good or bad for public education?

Ted Bauer, via a kind email:

We produced the above piece for PBS NewsHour in November of 2011; the focus was on new school choice initiatives in Indiana and the backlash they're receiving. School choice remains a major issue in education as 2012 begins, so we wanted to convene several experts for a discussion on the topic. Feel free to add your own comments below, as well.

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Apple's Electronic Textbook/Book Event

The Verge.

Apple's controversial license terms are discussed here.

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The thread of knowledge

Leora Moldofsky:

Two decades after it was first devised at Princeton's Center for Creative Leadership, the learning development concept known as 70/20/10 is transforming Melbourne Business School's approach to workplace learning.

The concept has spurred Mt Eliza, the executive education arm of MBS, to develop an interactive online tool called Thread, which is due to be launched this month. Mt Eliza has high expectations for Thread, with hopes that it can transform the executive education provider in Victoria, Australia, into a world leader in e-learning.

It is canvassing for a partnership with Ashridge - the UK business school that provides Mt Eliza with online modules through Virtual Ashridge - as well as with other international business schools.

While Mt Eliza will not comment on the talks, Matt Williams, design manager for Thread, says: "Whenever we need to partner with a European institution, it tends to be Ashridge". The two schools collaborate on a Masters of Management programme and several executive education courses.

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Slip in India's school standards: Decline in reading, math skills despite right to study

The Telegraph:

The quality of elementary education is falling in rural schools almost two years after education was made a fundamental right in April 2010.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011, a survey of government and private schools in rural areas conducted by the NGO Pratham, shows a decline in schoolchildren's "learning outcome levels" compared with the previous year, whether in reading or arithmetic skills. (See chart)

However, students of private schools have done slightly better than those of government schools, reveals the annual survey, started seven years ago and considered most authoritative.

For example, 56 per cent Class V students at government schools were unable to read Class III-level text but the figure was 38 per cent in private schools.

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School voucher program gets fresh look in Louisiana

Sarah Carr:

When Gov. Bobby Jindal pushed through New Orleans' school voucher program four years ago, political interest in using taxpayer money to send students to private schools had waned across the country. School choice advocates had suffered several stinging defeats, causing some to throw their weight behind charter schools, which generally receive more bipartisan support.

In 2009, St. Joan of Arc School in New Orleans had more than 80 students receiving vouchers.

Now, as officials expect Jindal to begin an effort to expand Louisiana's voucher program, the national landscape has changed dramatically.
Although charter schools continue to dwarf vouchers in terms of overall growth, voucher programs have rebounded on the national political and educational scene in the past year. In 2011, more than 30 states introduced bills that would use taxpayer dollars to send children to privately run schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That's up more than 300% from the previous year, when only nine voucher bills were introduced.

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NY Governor Reduces State Spending .2%; Crafts Budget On Public Pension, Teacher Evaluation Reform

Zack Fink:

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday proposed an overhaul to the state's pension system and new teacher evaluation system while presenting his $132.5 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year.

The plan reduces overall spending by .2 percent from last year.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Cuomo said his executive budget includes no new taxes, one shot revenues or gimmicks.

It also closes a budget gap of $3.5 billion.

However, while the governor plans to increase education spending by 4 percent or roughly $805 million, he also plans to make that increase contingent upon real reform and, specifically, teacher evaluations.

He's giving the state's teachers 30 days to come up with a statewide evaluation system or he will write his own into the budget for the legislature to approve.

Districts would have one year to get the new system up and running or the state would withhold the promised 4 percent increase in school aid.

Philissa Cramer has more.

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EdWeek Ranks Wisconsin's education system 18th in U.S.

Matthew DeFour:

Wisconsin's education system ranks 18th in the nation, according to an annual analysis published by Education Week.

The analysis draws on a variety of data, some of which are a couple of years old, so it doesn't reflect changes in the past year under Gov. Scott Walker.

The report rated Wisconsin in six categories: chance for success; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments and accountability; teachers; school finance; and transitions and alignment.

The state scored highest in school finance, ranking ninth nationally. The lowest marks came in standards, assessment and accountability, where Wisconsin ranked 46th.

Much more at

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Trial And Error Is Fine, So Long As You Know The Difference

Matthew DiCarlo:

It's fair to say that improved teacher evaluation is the cornerstone of most current education reform efforts. Although very few people have disagreed on the need to design and implement new evaluation systems, there has been a great deal of disagreement over how best to do so - specifically with regard to the incorporation of test-based measures of teacher productivity (i.e., value-added and other growth model estimates).

The use of these measures has become a polarizing issue. Opponents tend to adamantly object to any degree of incorporation, while many proponents do not consider new evaluations meaningful unless they include test-based measures as a major element (say, at least 40-50 percent). Despite the air of certainty on both sides, this debate has mostly been proceeding based on speculation. The new evaluations are just getting up and running, and there is virtually no evidence as to their effects under actual high-stakes implementation.

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January 18, 2012

Wolfram Education Portal

Wolfram Education:

Wolfram has long been a trusted name in education--as the makers of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, we've created some of the most dynamic teaching and learning tools available. We are pleased to offer the best of all of our technologies to you here in the Wolfram Education Portal, organized by course. In the portal you'll find a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive Demonstrations, and more built by Wolfram education experts. You can take a look at the types of materials we offer below, but to get full access to all materials, you need to sign up for a free account.

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The End of Failure

Time magazine this week has an article about the failure of No Child Left Behind, and it highlights the failure of the Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, Virginia, to get the last 5% of its student body to achieve grade-level competence in math and reading. This outcome stems from the failure of the teachers, the principal, the counselors, the special needs teachers, the curriculum coordinators, the reading specialists, the math specialists, the superintendent, the state department of education and its staff, the governor, and, of course, the legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia. While others, such as the federal government, publishers, professional development specialists and the like might share some of the blame, the first group is to be held mainly responsible for the failure of that 5% of the students at the school in question.

Is anyone left out of this analysis, which is the current analytic wisdom available for all school failures in the United States at present? Some might suggest some responsibility on the part of parents, but there is one group which always is, it seems, held blameless and harmless. The students.

I have heard of a time in this country, and even in some other countries, when, if a student failed in school, the failure was the student's. Indeed, even now in Japan, according to Marc Tucker's Surpassing Shanghai, there is the view that if a student fails academically, it is because he has not worked hard enough.

However, it is no longer possible to entertain the idea that a student is responsible for his or her own learning and academic progress in the United States. We like to think of a student in our schools as if under anesthesia on a classroom operating table, being operated on by our surgeon-teachers who are wholly responsible for the success or failure of the operation. Our passive students can not be held responsible for any part of their own education, because if failure occurs, it cannot be theirs. Our children cannot fail at anything, so if there is failure, as, apparently, there is, it must be ours--that is an axiom of our educational philosophy.

There are consequences that flow from this axiom, of course. Students who fail (my mistake)--students whose academic work is failing, understandably come to believe that the school and the teacher are supposed to "do" education to them, and that they have no responsibility for the outcome--whether they learn anything or not is not their problem.

Of course it is their problem, as they will discover when they go to community college or try to find a job, but we feel it is our duty to keep them from knowing that as long as we can.

Naturally, there is a sense of power and control for educators in accepting all the responsibility for student learning, and a noble sort of martyrdom when, in spite of all our efforts, students fail anyway. But in the process students are deprived of ownership of their own education and their own learning.

It was probably Alfred North Whitehead who wrote that "For an education, a man's books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his." How quaint that idea seems to us, that the student must study or the failure will be his, not ours. How we, as legislators, educational leaders, teachers, etc., would hate to have to give up any of "our" territory of study and learning to mere students. What do they know?

Perhaps this folly will soon run its course. One is permitted to hope. Perhaps we will take another look and see that it is the student who decides whether to come to school or not, whether to pay attention or not, whether to do the homework or not, whether, finally, to take his education seriously or not.

You can tell a born teacher by the earnest way he or she turns to a serious student who has a question, and, yes, "a teacher affects eternity." But as Buddha pointed out 2,500 years ago, the student who makes the most progress "must be anxious to learn." He was a good teacher and affected lots of people, but he knew better than to try to outlaw failure by removing all responsibility for learning from the students themselves, as we have seemed so dumbly determined to try to do in recent years.

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In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise

Michael Alison Chandler:

For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates -- but few, if any, academic gains.

Now, an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise. Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments. Consider teacher Shar Hellie's new approach in Montgomery County.

To get students through the shaky first steps of Spanish grammar, Hellie spent many years trying to boost their confidence. If someone couldn't answer a question easily, she would coach him, whisper the first few words, then follow up with a booming "¡Muy bien!"

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Teaching & Learning with Digital Tools in the Humanities

Monica Bulger:

During graduate school, I participated in an experimental seminar, "Literature+: Cross-Disciplinary Models of Literary Interpretation," taught by Alan Liu. He asked students to form groups around topics of their choosing and perform analyses using digital tools on their materials. Most students shared similar research interests and organized their projects around a content-based theme. Our group represented four different disciplines and formed around our interest in digital tools, rather than content. Professor Liu created a toybox of links to various textual analysis tools that generated visualizations, translations, data about word counts, etc. Each of us took a tool in which we were to become "expert," and applied that tool to data we had collected for our research.

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January 16, 2012 Reaction to WPRI's Report on Teacher Compensation

Mike Ford:

Unsurprisingly, the new WPRI report on reforming teacher compensation (authored by yours truly) has some critics. The response from the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) in today's Journal Sentinel was disappointing, but totally expected. WEAC calls my proposal a distraction. President Mary Bell states it is unfair to administrators who, among other things, do not have time to "develop a system for distributing funds."

Opposition from WEAC to $50 million in new funding for teachers on the grounds that administrators will not have the time to find a way to spend it was a surprise. The real threat of the proposal, I imagine, is that it ties additional funding to school performance, and allows principals in successful schools to manage as they see fit.

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Matt Damon's mom is wrong

Jay Matthews:

Almost all of us say that as a nation we should work out our differences and unite to solve our problems. But we don't mean it.

Exhibit A is the bad blood between the National Education Association, the nation's largest teacher's union, and Teach for America, the most popular public-service option for graduates of selective colleges.

The NEA has been at odds with TFA since the teacher recruitment program began. NEA leaders dislike the idea, conceived in 1989 by 22-year-old Princeton undergraduate Wendy Kopp, of giving young people selected for academic achievement and ambition just five weeks of summer training before having them teach in some of our lowest-performing urban and rural public schools. TFA's steady growth and rising status at prestigious universities has not soothed NEA's distress.

This is both a national and a local issue. The NEA's national headquarters is in the District. One of the largest contingents of TFA teachers works in the District and Prince George's County.

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January 17, 2012

Emergent Spanish for Educators @ Madison's Cherokee Middle School

Rafael Gomez, via a kind email:

Dear Cherokee Staff:

We have an opportunity to have Emergent Spanish for Educators (Jan. to April 2012) The class will take place at Cherokee every Mondays starting Jan. 23 at 3:30 to 5:45 except the session it will be from 3:45 to 4:45.

Calender:1/30, 2/6, 2/13, 2/20 2/27 3/5 3/12 3/ 19 3/26. 4/4 4/11 4/16 4/23 4/30

All participants will get 3 PAC credits. It is 30 hours of instruction.

Description of the course:
This course will provide participants with skills needed to make an easy transition from English only into Emergent Spanish and have fun while doing it. Participants will be assisted to become more comfortable using their Spanish pronunciation, construction of basic statements and conversing in Spanish with instructor and/or participants.All participants will end up with a learning center to continue learning Spanish.


1. Acquire a repertoire o Spanish vocabulary
2. Increase comfort level to use Spanish
3. Increase awareness of culture and language
4. Gain skill to use their learning center.

Ritual:Participants will interact with parents and students who are native Spanish speakers.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Rafael Gomez

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Alison Head on How Students Seek Information

David Weinberger:

Alison Head, who is at the Berkman Center and the Library Information Lab this year, but who is normally based at U of Washington's Info School, is giving a talk called "Modeling the Information-Seeking Process of College Students." (I did a podcast interview with her a couple of months ago.)

Project Information Literacy is a research project that reaches across institutions. They've (Michael Eisenberg co-leads the project) surveyed 11,000 students on 41 US campuses to find out how do students find and use information. They use voluntary samples, not random samples. But, Alison says, the project doesn't claim to be able to generalize to all students; they look at the relationships among different kinds of schools and overall trends. They make special efforts to include community colleges, which are often under-represented in studies of colleges

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Exams in South Korea: The system that has helped South Korea prosper is beginning to break down

The Economist:

ON NOVEMBER 10th South Korea went silent. Aircraft were grounded. Offices opened late. Commuters stayed off the roads. The police stood by to deal with emergencies among the students who were taking their university entrance exams that day.

Every year the country comes to a halt on the day of the exams, for it is the most important day in most South Koreans' lives. The single set of multiple-choice tests that students take that day determines their future. Those who score well can enter one of Korea's best universities, which has traditionally guaranteed them a job-for-life as a high-flying bureaucrat or desk warrior at a chaebol (conglomerate). Those who score poorly are doomed to attend a lesser university, or no university at all. They will then have to join a less prestigious firm and, since switching employers is frowned upon, may be stuck there for the rest of their lives. Ticking a few wrong boxes, then, may mean that they are permanently locked out of the upper tier of Korean society.

Making so much depend on an exam has several advantages for Korea. It is efficient: a single set of tests identifies intelligent and diligent teenagers, and launches them into society's fast stream. It is meritocratic: poor but clever Koreans can rise to the top by studying very, very hard. The exam's importance prompts children to pay attention in class and parents to hound them about their homework; and that, in turn, ensures that Korea's educational results are the envy of the world. The country is pretty much the leading nation in the scoring system run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2009 it came fourth after Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, but those are cities rather than full-sized countries.

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Writing is the Greatest Innovation

Tom Standage

The greatest invention of all must surely be writing. It is not just one of the foundations of civilisation: it underpins the steady accumulation of intellectual achievement. By capturing ideas in physical form, it allows them to travel across space and time without distortion, and thus slip the bonds of human memory and oral transmission, not to mention the whims of tyrants and the vicissitudes of history.

Its origins are prosaic: it was invented by accountants, not poets, in the 4th millennium BC, as a spur of the counting system with which farming societies kept track of agricultural goods. At first transactions were recorded by storing groups of shaped clay tokens - representing wheat, cattle or textiles - in clay envelopes. But why use tokens when pressing one into a tablet of wet clay would do instead? These impressions, in turn, were superseded by symbols scratched or punched into the clay with a stylus. Tokens had given way to writing.

As human settlements swelled from villages to the first cities, writing was needed for administrative reasons. But it quickly became more flexible and expressive, capable of capturing the subtleties of human thought, not just lists of rations doled out or kings long dead. And this allowed philosophers, poets and chroniclers to situate their ideas in relation to those of previous thinkers, to argue about them and elaborate upon them. Each generation could build on the ideas of its forebears, making it possible for there to be species-wide progress in philosophy, commerce, science and literature.

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University of Michigan unveils TeachingWorks, a program to improve teacher education

James David Dickson:

On Thursday, Jan. 12 the University of Michigan School of Education launched TeachingWorks, a program designed to improve teacher education in America.

TeachingWorks centers on the premise that "Great teachers aren't born, they're taught." But too often when great teachers are asked to describe what makes them great, the answers that come involve style, personal traits, and experience, none of which do much for a first-year teacher with little experience or style to work from.

"The training of the professionals who work with youth is fundamentally important to their life changes, and that includes teachers," Deborah Ball, dean of the U-M School of Education, said in her opening remarks.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined the ceremony and gave extended remarks, via video message. Duncan visited the University of Michigan in September and praised U-M's contribution to teacher education. During his address on Thursday, Duncan hailed U-M for its leadership in advancing a program to teach the teachers of teachers.

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January 16, 2012

Video: What Can Charter Schools Do?

Eva Moskowitz with Maria Bartiromo, via a kind Doug Newman email.

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Teachers Or Algorithms?

Vinod Khosla:

In my last post, I argued that software will take over many of the tasks doctors do today. And what of education? We find a very similar story of what the popular - and incredibly funny! - TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson calls "a crisis of human resources" (Click here for the RSA talk from the same speaker which has been animated in a highly educational fashion). At the TED 2010 conference, he stated that "we make poor use of our talents." Indeed, in the same way that we misuse the talents and training of doctors, I believe we misuse the talents and training of teachers.

I want to comment on what I consider a far greater misuse of talent and training: that of our children/students, mostly here talking about high school education. We have focused so much of our education system on children attending primary school, then middle school, then high school, all with the objective of attending university. This is a progression that still remains unchanged and largely unchallenged. Yet, this system is completely linear and, most tragically, unwaveringly standardized not only through instruction methods, but also through testing. Worse, it is mostly what I call "fixed time, variable learning" (the four-year high school) instead of "fixed learning, variable time" to account for individual students' capabilities and status.

Identifying Emerging Trends In Education

There are new key trends that I see emerging in education enabled by advancing technology: namely decentralization and gamification. By understanding these trends, it is much easier to imagine why we won't need teachers or why we can free up today's teachers to be mentors and coaches. Software can free teachers to have more human relationships by giving them the time to be guidance counselors and friends to young kids instead of being lecturers who talk at them. This last possibility is very important--in addition to learning, schools enable critical social development for children through teacher student relationships and interacting with other children--classrooms of peers and teachers provide much more than math lessons. And by freeing up teachers' time, technology can lead to increased social development rather than less as many assume.

Well worth reading.

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Learn to code at any age

Emma Mulqueeny:

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code - that's the history bit done! Now the science...

The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason - under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It's not hard.

For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people - but they are all useful for the beginner.

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New York City gets a Software Engineering High School

Joel Spolsky:

This fall New York City will open The Academy for Software Engineering, the city's first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly-regarded CS teacher at New York's elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice, and money.

I'm on the board of advisors of the new school, which plans to accept ninth graders for fall of 2012. Here's why I'm excited about this new school:

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Take note: Buy-in required for teaching success

Alan Borsuk:

Naomi Lemberger says the way she takes notes in class helps things stick in her brain. She doesn't use the usual approach (scribble for page after page, then promptly forget - I've been doing it all my life).

In a typical instance, she takes those conventional notes within a box covering the upper right section of a sheet of paper and equal to about half the sheet. In a column on the left side of the paper, she writes down questions or sometimes phrases that her main notes cover. And, after a class or at the end of a unit, she writes in a box across the bottom of the sheet a reflection - basically, a summary of what she thinks she learned. She reviews the overall results, especially when she's preparing for tests. Teachers frequently review her notes.

It's a system called Cornell Notes. It goes back more than half a century and has been used (and often dropped) in many schools, including several in the Milwaukee area.

At Brookfield East, where Lemberger is a junior, Cornell Notes is a key element of the education program - and a key, in the opinion of school leaders and many teachers, to why the already high-performing school has seen an uptick in overall student success in recent years.

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Commentary on Teacher Pay for Performance, with UW-Madison Ed School Reflections

Todd Finkelmeyer

School principals then would have discretion over how to use those funds, as long as they go to teachers. Those dollars could be spent on one-time teacher bonuses, teacher development projects or however the principal sees fit. "The idea is to give principals more power and to help them create a culture of success," says Ford.

To be eligible to participate in the program, schools also would have to agree to eliminate the traditional teacher pay schedules that mainly reward longevity on the job.

"The No. 1 goal of public education in everything we do is raising academic achievement," says Ford. "So in the report I propose a framework that takes into account the views of teachers and the existing research on what motivates teachers."

It's certainly an interesting concept. But would it work?

Adam Gamoran, a UW-Madison professor of sociology and educational policy studies, says that while research clearly shows some teachers are much more effective than others, what's not so clear is which attributes these top educators share and whether or not it's even possible to lead them to teaching more effectively with incentives.

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January 15, 2012

What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice

Peter Arcidiaconoy, Esteban M. Aucejoz & Ken Spennerx:

If affirmative action results in minority students at elite schools having much potential but weak preparation, then we may expect minority students to start off behind their majority counterparts and then catch up over time. Indeed, at the private university we analyze, the gap between white and black grade point averages falls by half between the students' freshmen and senior year. However, this convergence masks two effects. First, the variance of grades given falls across time. Hence, shrinkage in the level of the gap may not imply shrinkage in the class rank gap. Second, grading standards differ across courses in different majors. We show that controlling for these two features virtually eliminates any convergence of black/white grades. In fact, black/white gpa convergence is symptomatic of dramatic shifts by blacks from initial interest in the natural sciences, engineering, and economics to majors in the humanities and social sciences. We show that natural science, engineering, and economics courses are more difficult, associated with higher study times, and have harsher grading standards; all of which translate into students with weaker academic backgrounds being less likely to choose these majors. Indeed, we show that accounting for academic background can fully account for differences in switching behaviors across blacks and whites.

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Straight Talk About Grading @ Princeton

Shirley Tilghman:

In the spring of 2004 the faculty adopted by a two-thirds majority vote a set of simple guidelines regarding the grading of undergraduate academic work. Of all the policies I have overseen in my 10 years as president, this has been the most contentious and misunderstood among students, parents and alumni. With the policy now seven years old, I thought it might be helpful to review its original rationale and update you on its impact on grading at Princeton.

Prior to 2004 there was no policy to guide faculty in awarding grades, and over time two worrisome trends became apparent. First, the percentage of "A" grades for coursework rose over the past four decades, from 30% in the 1970s to 32.5% in the 1980s to 43% in the 1990s and 47% in 2001-04. As much as we like to claim that each new class equals or surpasses the talents of the previous class, this increase was not unique to Princeton, but was happening in many secondary schools, colleges and universities. If left unchecked, grades would soon cease to be a meaningful way to provide feedback to students about their academic progress.

More troubling to me was the fact that the rate of inflation was not uniform throughout the curriculum. As shown in the orange bars in the figure here, "A" grades awarded by departments ranged from 67% at one end of the scale to 35% at the other. The impact of this disparity was clear--students concentrating their academic work in departments at the higher end of the scale had a significant advantage over those at the lower end. This struck many of us as deeply unfair to our students.

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On History & Geography Curriculum

Edward Luce:

"Americans don't learn about the world, they don't study world history, other than American history in a very one-sided fashion, and they don't study geography," Brzezinski says. "In that context of widespread ignorance, the ongoing and deliberately fanned fear about the outside world, which is connected with this grandiose war on jihadi terrorism, makes the American public extremely susceptible to extremist appeals." But surely most Americans are tired of overseas adventures, I say. "There is more scepticism," Brzezinski concedes. "But the susceptibility to demagoguery is still there."

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A New Approach to Teacher Compensation

Mike Ford:

Teachers are the most important factor in determining the success of students. No technology, curriculum, or standard can supplant the need for a quality teacher in every classroom. We know children learn differently, we know there is no single recipe for a successful teacher, yet we continue to pay teachers as if they are interchangeable assembly-line workers producing an identical commodity called education.

In a report released this week I propose dumping district-wide lock-step pay schedules that reward only formal education and years on the job in favor of a compensation reform that rewards and motivates teachers in a way conducive to raising the academic achievement. I do not propose a merit pay system that gives bonuses to individual teachers in return for raising test scores.

Why? The track record of such systems can at best be called uneven. Teachers are not uniformly motivated by monetary compensation. Research by UW-Madison professor Allan Odden and others shows teachers value collaboration and student success above other factors. Any reform that does not recognize this is doomed to fail. No less important, students need schools that deliver consistent teacher quality from start to finish so that the work of a good teacher in one grade is not undone by a sub-par teacher the next.

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Charter schools on Washington legislative agenda 'worth the fight': Many say we can't wait longer for solution; others worry

Brian Rosenthal:

The proposals would allow charter schools in the state, establish a process for failing schools to be taken over by outside organizations and continue an overhaul of the way all teachers and principals are evaluated.

Charters, which are public but independent schools allowed to use unconventional techniques, would be closely monitored by a state board, lawmakers said. Only 50 would be allowed in the state - with no more than 10 new ones authorized each year. Each would be required to adopt a specific plan to serve educationally disadvantaged children.

The evaluations, which would include student test scores and classroom observations, would build on a pilot system already used in several districts in the state, lawmakers said.

Poor performance on the evaluations could lead teachers to lose their tenure, but the focus would be on improvement of teaching methods.

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January 14, 2012

Madison Prep backers seek school board re-vote

Nathan Comp:

When asked why he didn't second Ed Hughes' motion at the Dec. 19 meeting to delay the schools' opening until 2013, Howard replied, "We had not discussed the implications of what that means. I think we have time if we're talking about 2013, to make sure we do it correctly, because we don't know what the rules of the game will be in 2013."

Superintendent Dan Nerad said, "Whether it will move forward I don't know. That depends on whether the motion gets on the floor. I don't have a read on it at this point."

Others aren't as diplomatic. "This is a waste of time and money for all involved," said TJ Mertz, an Edgewood College professor and district watchdog who is among Madison Prep's most ardent critics.

"The votes are not there and will not be there," he continued. "It distracts from the essential work of addressing the real issues of the district, including issues of achievement for students in poverty."

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

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Thanks to Recent Reforms, Merit Pay Coming to Some Wisconsin School Districts

Christian D'Andrea:

A merit pay program that incentivizes teachers is about to get a test run at the local level. Two Wisconsin school districts are moving forward with a plan that would reward good teachers with salary bonuses in the 2012-2013 school year.

The Cedarburg and Hartland-Lakeside School Districts will be amongst the first to institute merit pay programs for educators in the Badger State. Bonuses will be tied to teacher evaluations - instructors that earn high marks from administrators will be eligible for extra compensation in the following school year. In Cedarburg, these additional payments range from $1,700 to $2,200.

The ability to institute bonus systems on a district-to-district basis is a new one in Wisconsin. In previous years, most plans would have been wiped out by collective bargaining between the school district and their local teachers' union. Since Act 10 removed most of these bargaining scenarios, school boards now have more freedom to enact reforms like merit pay in their classrooms.

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Adelanto parents pull 'trigger' to upgrade school

Christina Hoag:

Cecelia Thornton sets up a makeshift classroom at her kitchen table every day after school to tutor her grandchildren in reading and writing with materials she buys at the local thrift store in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto (San Bernardino County).

The 5- and 6-year-olds, she said, just aren't learning enough in their classes at Desert Trails Elementary School.

That's the key reason why she and a band of other parents and guardians filed a petition Thursday under California's "parent trigger" law to demand reforms at the K-6 school where just 35 percent of pupils last year tested proficient in reading and 46 percent in math.

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The Evil Economics Of Judging Teachers

Maria Bustillos:

The Times and a host of other publications heralded last week's new study extolling the lifelong money-earning benefits of having a good primary/middle-school teacher. Oh, yay! Let's do what these economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest, right?

Actually, ugh, no. What economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia want to do, apparently, is to identify and fire "weaker" teachers, for the sake of a barely perceptible increase in students' "lifetime income." Nobody has actually tried this yet; the report doesn't describe an experiment. It's just the conclusion they draw from their analysis of massive amounts of data gathered from public schools in New York City and cross-referenced against IRS records and the like.

Here's a bit from the summary of the original paper. Note that a "high-VA" ("value-added") teacher is a "good" one--meaning by this, solely, that the teacher in question has succeeded in raising standardized test scores.

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It's hard to overestimate the value of a good teacher

Nicholas Kristof:

Our faltering education system may be the most important threat to our economy and well-being, writes Nicholas D. Kristof, so it's frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue. The obvious policy solution is more pay for good teachers, more dismissals for weak teachers.

Suppose your child is about to enter the fourth grade and has been assigned to an excellent teacher. Then the teacher decides to quit. What should you do?

The correct answer? Panic!

Well, not exactly. But a landmark new research paper underscores that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime -- or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class -- all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That's right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year's students, just in the extra income they will earn

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4 reasons your brain loves to learn online

Dave Goodsmith:

Are we offloading our brains onto the web? Are programs better than teachers at knowing what we know? Do virtual badges motivate more than grades? What is it about cartoon foxes that helps us learn to code? As you can read in our piece "How the Internet Revolutionized Education", we've been tracking on-line education closely for some time now- talking to experts and keeping tabs on an industry that's exploding as predicted. Over here at the science desk, recent developments on the learning brain are meshing with what we already know of the web's power to teach.

We've analyzed here four different special powers of online teaching that make brains very happy. Read on to see why curing code-o-phobia is just the beginning...

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Royal Society offers ways to overhaul ICT Teaching


The Royal Society has suggested ways the government can overhaul information and communications technology (ICT) teaching in schools.

It follows promises from Education Secretary Michael Gove to scrap the way the subject is taught currently.

The body, which oversees UK sciences, recommends dividing computing into distinct subjects such as computer science and digital literacy.

It said the government must do more to recruit specialist ICT teachers.

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January 13, 2012

The Costs of Online Learning

Tamara Butler Battaglino, Matt Haldeman, and Eleanor Laurans:

The latest installment of the Fordham Institute's Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning series investigates one of the more controversial aspects of digital learning: How much does it cost? In this paper, the Parthenon Group uses interviews with more than fifty vendors and online-schooling experts to estimate today's average per-pupil cost for a variety of schooling models, traditional and online, and presents a nuanced analysis of the important variance in cost between different school designs. These ranges--from $5,100 to $7,700 for full-time virtual schools, and $7,600 to $10,200 for the blended version--highlight both the potential for low-cost online schooling and the need for better data on costs and outcomes in order for policymakers to reach confident conclusions related to the productivity and efficiency of these promising new models. Download "The Costs of Online Learning" to learn more.

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January 12, 2012

Time to Ax Public Programs That Don't Yield Results (Start with Head Start)

Joel Klein, via a kind reader's email:

Barack Obama has been accused of "class warfare" because he favors closing several tax loopholes -- socialism for the wealthy -- as part of the deficit-cutting process. This is a curious charge: class warfare seems to be a one-way street in American politics. Over the past 30 years, the superwealthy have waged far more effective warfare against the poor and the middle class, via their tools in Congress, than the other way around. How else can one explain the fact that the oil companies, despite elephantine profits, are still subsidized by the federal government? How else can one explain the fact that hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than their file clerks? Or that farm subsidies originally meant for family farmers go to huge corporations that hardly need the help?

Actually, there is an additional explanation. Conservatives, like liberals, routinely take advantage of a structural flaw in the modern welfare state: there is no creative destruction when it comes to government programs. Both "liberal" and "conservative" subsidies linger in perpetuity, sometimes metastasizing into embarrassing giveaways. Even the best-intentioned programs are allowed to languish in waste and incompetence. Take, for example, the famed early-education program called Head Start. (See more about the Head Start reform process.)

The idea is, as Newt Gingrich might say, simple liberal social engineering. You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients -- and more productive citizens. Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was "taken to scale," as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.

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Race talk fuels tension in Madison Prep debate

Pat Schneider:

That Kaleem Caire, the charismatic champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy, is frustrated by the proposal's defeat before the Madison School Board last month should surprise no one.

But the prospect that resentment over the defeat of the proposal runs so deep that it could poison the initiative's future prospects as a private school or public charter -- that's a distressing possibility whose existence is just now emerging.

The proposal for the school by the Urban League of Greater Madison has won many supporters because of the embarrassingly persistent achievement gap between whites and minorities in the Madison School District, but when Caire spoke Monday to Communities United, a community group dedicated to social justice, his passionate appeal to go beyond the district's existing model was laced with anger towards the School Board members who voted down the plan.

Much of the discussion Monday between Caire and a handful of staffers from the Urban League -- where he is president and CEO -- and those at the Communities United meeting centered around the ultra-sensitive topics of race and racism.

Even in that friendly environment (the informal, nonpartisan coalition was already on record in favor of the school), Caire's accusations against school officials were rejected as political spin by a Madison City Council member on hand and criticized as more of the "race card" by an African-American activist who has skirmished with Caire before over Madison Prep. But a Latina parent and activist greeted his words as an apt assessment of the situation in Madison schools.

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

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Minnesota Dual High School/College Credit

Center for School Change:

Take advantage of great dual credit courses at your high school! Many of Minnesota's high schools offer Dual Credit programs that allow qualifying students to earn college credit while still in high school at little or no cost. Dual Credit programs are a great way for high school students to challenge themselves academically, earn college credit, and save time and money. Eligible high school students can choose to participate in the following dual credit programs: Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO),Concurrent Enrollment (CE), Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB).

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On Her Majesty's School Inspection Service

Craig Jerald:

After more than a decade (and four years behind schedule) Congress finally seems ready to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For years, critics have complained that the law's focus on test scores offers far too narrow a picture for judging school quality. There is also concern that the "adequate yearly progress," or AYP, formula is too inflexible to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of schools.

The track record of NCLB also suggests that it hasn't been especially successful in turning around the most troubled schools. In fact, among the 1,200 schools identified for "corrective action" in 2005-06, fully 70 percent were still under an improvement category three years later.

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Oregon districts start their own charter schools to gain federal funding, flexibility

Nicole Dungca:

When a fledgling charter school took over the Cottrell Elementary building this fall, district administrators didn't worry about losing per-pupil state funding, and there were no protests decrying the move as a threat to public education.

That's because the Oregon Trail School District created the charter school.

Amid increasing budget constraints and continued pressure to reform public education, some savvy educators are taking advantage of federal charter school grants of up to $500,000 to create a hybrid: the district-initiated charter school.

In Oregon, taxpayers finance charter schools, which are typically run by organizations independent from school districts. But two Clackamas County districts have discovered the Oregon charter school law can provide extra funds and flexibility for their own innovative programs.

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Madison's La Follette High School team shows off financial savvy at Investment Challenge

Judy Newman:

More than 125 high school students from the Madison area showed off their financial savvy Tuesday at the Finance and Investment Challenge Bowl.

The contest pitted teams from 32 local schools against each other, two teams at a time, with experts in the financial industry serving as moderators and judges.

The teens fielded questions such as:

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Gates Foundation Urges Better Teacher Evaluations, Neglects to Mention Quick and Easy Method

Nina Shapiro:

​The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just came out with its latest advice for how to improve schools. As the foundation sees it, districts don't have a good sense of who their good and bad teachers are, and need better evaluations. But is this really the problem?
Ever since it abandoned its former educational preoccupation, small schools, the Gates Foundation has hit upon stellar teaching as the key to transforming the nation's schools. It's not exactly a new idea, but it's one worthy of rediscovering.

A Stanford economist named Eric Hanushek has put into numerical terms a concept that most people know with their gut. A New Yorker story on the matter a few years ago summarized his findings: "Students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material."

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January 11, 2012

Science Envy

Historian David McCullough was asked by a reporter recently if he started writing any of his books with a theme. He said that when he became interested in a subject he started reading to see what he could find out about it, but he had no advance idea of what would result.

Even those of our teachers who do work with students on research papers too frequently indulge in the science envy of requiring them to have a thesis. Students are asked to have some prior notion of the history they will read which they will test to see whether it is falsifiable or not.

Science is rich, famous and powerful, so it is not surprising that it is envied in our culture, but it should be remembered that its practice is to reduce, as much as possible, reality to numbers.

History does not lend itself well to a reduction to numbers, as it is about human beings, who also cannot very well be competently encompassed by numerical descriptions.

Words are the numbers of history, and words connote as much as they denote, they contain and evoke possibility and ambiguity in ways that the number users of science sometimes find annoyingly imprecise and quite uncomfortable.

The study of history should begin with curiosity about people and events: What was that person really like? How did that event come to happen and what resulted from it? These are the sort of non-thesis questions that our students of history should be asking, instead of fitting themselves out for their journey of learning about the past hampered with the straitjacket of a thesis.

Serious history students are often curious over something they have read about. They want to know more, and, when they have learned quite a bit, they frequently want to tell others what they have discovered. Like scientists, they are curious, but unlike them, they are willing to live with the uncertainties that are the essential ingredients of human experience.

Science has earned our admiration, but its methods are not suitable to all inquiries and we should not let envy of the success of science mislead us into trying to shrink-wrap history to fit some thesis with which students would have to begin their study of history.

David McCullough has reported that when he speaks to groups very often he is asked how much time he spends doing research and how much time he spends writing. He said he is never asked how much time he spends thinking.

The secondary students of history published in The Concord Review do not generally begin their work with a thesis to prove or disprove, but rather with wonder about something in history. The quality of their papers reveals that not only have they done a good deal of reading and research--if there is any difference there--but that they also have spent some serious time thinking about what they have learned, as well as how to tell someone else about it.

They have inevitably encountered the complex causes of historical events (no control groups there) and the variety of forces and inclinations both within and without the historical figures they have studied.

Some of these students are very good in calculus, science, and so forth, but they realize that history is a different form of inquiry and provides a non-reductionist view of the truth of human life, but one that may be instructive or inspiring in several ways.

So I urge teachers of students of history, who are asking them to write serious research papers, to let them choose their own topics, based on their own wonder and curiosity about the past, and to relieve them of the science envy of a thesis requirement. Let them embark on their own study of some part of the immense and mysterious ocean of history, and help them return with a story and an understanding they can call their own and can share, through serious research papers, with other students of history.

"Teach by Example"
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The Concord Review [1987]
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National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
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James Howard: Board responsible for narrowing gap

Madison School Board President James Howard

Accountability for significantly narrowing the achievement gap must be at the top of the Madison School District agenda in 2012. How long should the current members of the School Board, Superintendant Dan Nerad, the administration and staff have to demonstrate gains in narrowing the gap?

In 2010 a five-year strategic plan was implemented with narrowing achievement gaps as the number one priority, and we are now starting to get results from the initiatives in the plan.

What will the level of accountability be for those of us who approved the plan? What will the level of accountability be for those of us who have responsibility for implementing the plan?

The question must be: Have we achieved the desired results or educational outcomes demanded by the taxpayers?

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Scott Milfred talks Madison Prep, Walker recall, Iowa results on "For the Record"

Wisconsin State Journal:

Click here to watch Sunday's "For the Record" on WISC-TV (Ch. 3) with Neil Heinen. Panelists include State Journal editorial page editor Scott Milfred, Republican insider Brandon Schulz and The Progressive editor Matt Rothschild. They bantered about the recent Iowa caucus results, the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, the likely gubernatorial recall and the coming Madison School Board elections, which Milfred argues are likely to decide whether a charter school called Madison Preparatory Academy opens its doors."

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January 10, 2012

Stanford Free Classes - A review from a Stanford Student


Recently Stanford has started a new initiative to bring free classes to the public. From what I've seen from statistics, this venture has been extraordinarily successful with over 100,000 sign ups. Most likely only a fraction went through with the class, but that's still a lot of people, especially for the first time. There has been quite a lot of press about these classes, but none seem to take into account the effects it has on the students that attend Stanford. Despite the success and the raves of great reviews, I was not at all satisfied by the CS229a: Applied Machine Learning, one of the three courses offered to the public fall quarter. Before I begin though, I want to say that I completely agree that education should not be locked up for only a few to use and I also agree that since education, in my mind, is a right, then it should be provided for free. Thus the Stanford initiative to do this is a great thing. However, there are quite a few things that hopefully Stanford will change in the future.

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Madison's K-12 Curriculum Plans

Lisa Wachtel & Sue Abplanap: An update on the Madison School District's literacy and math curriculum.

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School Spotlight: Miracle on Hudson co-pilot Skiles inspires aviation students

Pamela Cotant:

Jeff Skiles, one of the cockpit crew who safely landed a disabled US Airways plane on the Hudson River three years ago, shared the exciting tale when he spoke to Edgewood High School students recently.

Skiles, who was first officer on the last leg of his first assignment in the Airbus A320 when it struck a flock of Canada geese Jan. 15, 2009, encouraged students in the Aviation I and II classes to consider a career in the field.

"It's an exciting life," he said. "I could have never chosen a better thing for my life."

One of the students, Ava Janssen, 16, a junior at Verona Area High School who comes to Edgewood to learn about aviation, is looking at a career flying medical flight helicopters and found Skiles' talk inspiring.

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January 9, 2012

More Commentary on Proposed Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Content Requirements.

Alan Borsuk

In 1998, Massachusetts debuted a set of tests it created for people who wanted teaching licenses. People nationwide were shocked when 59% of those in the first batch of applicants failed a communications and literacy test that officials said required about a 10th-grade level of ability.

Given some specifics of how the tests were launched, people who wanted to be teachers in Massachusetts probably got more of a bum rap for their qualifications than they deserved. But the results certainly got the attention of people running college programs to train teachers. They changed what they did, and the passing rate rose to about 90% in recent years.

One more thing: Student outcomes in Massachusetts improved significantly. Coming from the middle of the pack, Massachusetts has led the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade scores in reading and math on National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) tests for almost a decade.

Could this be Wisconsin in a few years, especially when it comes to reading?

Gov. Scott Walker and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers released last week the report of a task force aimed at improving reading in Wisconsin. Reading results have been stagnant for years statewide, with Wisconsin slipping from near the top to the middle of the pack nationally. Among low-income and minority students, the state's results are among the worst in the country.

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New Study Gauges Teachers Impact on Students' Lifetime Earnings


JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, putting a price on the value of good teachers. A large and new study addresses just that.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The debate over testing in schools, and whether students' scores adequately reflect a teacher's performance, has been raging for well over a decade. Now a new study has tracked more than two-and-a-half million students over two decades.

It found test scores are indeed a good gauge for evaluating student performance. And the study found replacing a bad teacher with an average or a good one can translate into a huge economic difference. Combined, the students could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their working lifetimes.

We look at the study and the response it's stirred with Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of its three authors. And we hope to be joined by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union.

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160 Minn. students to compete in regional Science Bowl

Associated Press:

Some 160 high school math and science students from across the state will be competing this month in a regional Science Bowl in St. Paul.

They'll be vying for the chance to represent Minnesota in the national competition in Washington, D.C. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Students compete in teams of five to solve technical problems and to answer questions in all branches of math and science, including astronomy, biology, computer science and physics. The tournament is conducted in a fast-paced question-and-answer format.

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January 8, 2012

Print media display political agenda and poor skills in attacking Spokane teacher

Laurie Rogers, via email:

This article is third in a series of articles regarding media coverage of public education. This article and its predecessors in the series articulate part of the reason we need a new and better news source.

Instead of discussing the myriad legal and academic issues currently surrounding Spokane Public Schools, the editors for the daily newspaper The Spokesman-Review and the weekly publication The Inlander seem determined to drum up stray rumors and unsupported accusations against AP English teacher Jennifer Walther, who perhaps was caught TWC (Teaching While Conservative).

In October 2011, Walther's Leadership Class at Ferris High School put on the annual political forum "Face-Off at Ferris." Writers for The Spokesman-Review (SR) and The Inlander have since accused Walther of allowing her political views to sway the Ferris forum in favor of mayoral and school board candidates who are thought to be politically conservative.

The accusers have not been able to support their claim by pointing at actual questions that were asked. Sitting at the Ferris forum last October, I heard people all around me saying, "Those are great questions." What does a conservative question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned about accountability, transparency, outcomes, Otto Zehm's death, water rates, union clout and misspent finances? I know plenty of Democrats and progressives who are concerned about these issues.

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In Defense of No Child Left Behind

Andrew Rotherham:

Bashing the No Child Left Behind Act has become so politically popular that it's easy to forget how overwhelmingly bipartisan it was -- the legislation passed the House with 384 votes and the Senate with 91. As the law marks its 10-year anniversary on Jan. 8, it's important to look at both its successes and its failures. Did NCLB solve all of our public education problems? No. But it set a lot of good things in motion and was specifically designed to be revised after five or six years (in a reauthorization that has yet to happen and is unlikely to before this year's election.) The No Child law didn't get everything right the first time, but that's the wrong yardstick. If we held other policy areas -- think food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security -- to the same standard No Child is held to these days, i.e., flawlessness, then we would have jettisoned those and many other worthy programs long ago.

No Child Left Behind was designed to bring accountability into public schools. It is not a new federal program. Rather, it is the latest modification to the mammoth Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the omnibus law that governs most federal involvement in public schools. The No Child revisions built on President Bill Clinton's 1994 Improving America's Schools Act, which built on the lessons learned during the Reagan years. As former governors, both Clinton and President George W. Bush shared a commitment to having specific standards for what skills children should be learning and holding schools accountable for teaching them. By the late 1990s, key organizations including the Education Trust and the Citizens Commission for Civil Rights were calling for stricter accountability measures, and Democrats on Capitol Hill -- including California Representative George Miller, a key player on education policy in the House -- were responding. When Bush became President and got recalcitrant Republicans to fall in line and support his accountability measures, it was a Nixon-to-China move on education policy.

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Is California's "API Growth" A Good Measure Of School Performance?

Matthew Di Carlo:

California calls its "Academic Performance Index" (API) the "cornerstone" of its accountability system. The API is calculated as a weighted average of the proportions of students meeting proficiency and other cutoffs on the state exams.

It is a high-stakes measure. "Growth" in schools' API scores determines whether they meet federal AYP requirements, and it is also important in the state's own accountability regime. In addition, toward the middle of last month, the California Charter Schools Association called for the closing of ten charter schools based in part on their (three-year) API "growth" rates.

Putting aside the question of whether the API is a valid measure of student performance in any given year, using year-to-year changes in API scores in high-stakes decisions is highly problematic. The API is cross-sectional measure - it doesn't follow students over time - and so one must assume that year-to-year changes in a school's index do not reflect a shift in demographics or other characteristics of the cohorts of students taking the tests. Moreover, even if the changes in API scores do in fact reflect "real" progress, they do not account for all the factors outside of schools' control that might affect performance, such as funding and differences in students' backgrounds (see here and here, or this Mathematica paper, for more on these issues).

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Connecticut Teacher's Union Reform Plan: Better education 'not just test scores'

Linda Conner Lambeck:

The education reform package advanced Tuesday by the state's largest teachers' union would speed up the dismissal process for poor teachers, but would not strengthen the link between job security and how well students do on state tests.

Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said student achievement has always factored into teacher evaluations.

"There are multiple indicators. It's not just about test scores," she said, adding true reform would be to streamline the dismissal process for bad teachers and do more to make sure teachers have proper training before and once they get into the classroom.

The CEA package, called A View From the Classroom, contains a number of other suggestions to provide universal preschool and all-day kindergarten and increase state funding for local education expenses.

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January 7, 2012

Seeing a child like a state: Holding the poor accountable for bad schools -- Guest post by Lant Pritchett

anonymous @ World Bank:

In the early 20th century Helen Todd, a factory inspector in Chicago, interviewed 500 children working in factories, often in dangerous and unpleasant conditions. She asked children the question: "If your father had a good job and you didn't have to work, which would you rather do--go to school or work in a factory?" 412 said they would choose factory work. One fourteen year old girl, who was interviewed lacquering canes in an attic working with both intense heat and the constant smell of turpentine, said "School is the fiercest thing you can come up against. Factories ain't no cinch, but schools is worst."

The recent expansion of the "ASER-like" simple assessments of literacy and numeracy skills of all children in a village based approach provides an accurate, and chilling, picture of just how little learning is going on inside schools in many poor countries. The ASER data can show the learning profile, the association of measured skills and grade completion, by showing what fraction of children who have completed which grade can read a simple story (expected of a child in grade 2) or do simple arithmetic operations. Take Uttar Pradesh in 2010. By the end of lower primary school (grade 5) only one in four children could divide. Even by grade 8, the end of upper primary only 56 percent could. Similarly, by grade 5 only 44 percent could read a level 2 paragraph and by grade 8 still only 77.6 could. A large plurality of children, even of those that had persisted and been promoted through eight full grades or primary school--roughly 8000 hours of available total instruction--were either illiterate or innumerate or both.

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Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain

Annie Lowrey, via several kind reader emails:

Elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students' standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students' lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings, according to a new study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

"That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect -- that makes sense to a lot of people," said Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which studies teacher measurement but was not involved in this study. "This study skips the stages, and shows differences in teachers mean differences in earnings."

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Spanish unlocks doors to other languages in Cal State program

Carla Rivera:

Priscilla Castro grew up enthralled with French culture despite understanding few words of the movies and music in which she delighted.

Now Castro's facility with Spanish, which her family spoke at home, is serving as an unlikely bridge to mastering le Français in a unique Cal State Long Beach program designed to exploit Spanish speakers' existing language skills.

"I'm not 100% fluent, but I can hold a conversation," said Castro, 21, a journalism major. "A lot of things in Spanish are very similar, although because I learned Spanish at home, I didn't know a lot of the grammatical rules. So learning French is actually helping me to improve my Spanish grammar."

The French for Hispanophones program was developed more than five years ago but recently surged in popularity at the Long Beach campus, where more than 30% of students are Latino.

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Michigan School Banishes 2011 List of Overused Words

Jacob Kittilstad:

Michigan's amazing Lake Superior State University put out it's amazing list of the most overused words of 2011.

Topping the charts - the word 'amazing'. But there's plenty more clichés that you might be amazed made it.

Occupy Duluth, Occupy Minneapolis, Occupy Wall Street.

Folks over at Lake Superior State University, however, have a new protest and it's one of words they want banished in 2012 because of their over usage.

Like this one: "occupy (vb) 1. to be a resident or tenant of, to dwell in."

"I hear that word thrown around all the time," Allison Wegren said. "People using it seriously talking about the Wall Street occupation as well as using it jokingly. Like something to carve into a pumpkin."

Or how about "ginormous (adj) 1. an adjective combining the words giant and enormous."

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January 6, 2012

Middle school teacher takes on giant math problem: Getting kids to love numbers

Katy Murphy:

Some math classrooms are so quiet you can hear the sound of pencils on paper.

Robert MacCarthy's class at Willard Middle School in Berkeley has a different soundtrack. His sixth-graders problem-solve out loud -- sometimes into a big blue microphone -- and applaud each other afterward. They take on lively games and challenges that mix math with art.

Maybe, if they're lucky, they'll get to star in a math music video produced by their teacher and classmates under the label mathisnotacrime productions. "Integer Eyes" is the latest hit. "Math Hustla," released in 2009, quickly became a Willard classic.

"I never met an expression that I couldn't simplify. I never met a problem that I couldn't solve," two students rap, alternating lines, as they move to the beat.

Math can be a tough sell for adolescents. When students hit middle school, they often grow frustrated with math and begin to question the importance of knowing how to isolate a variable or graph an equation. Some end up failing the same courses again and again and eventually drop out of school -- even as their schools devote more time to the subject, said Harold Asturias, director of the Center for Mathematics Excellence and Equity at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science.

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The Disruptive MBA


Thomas Kuhn wouldn't be impressed with the hordes of MBAs departing from top tier business schools to start new media companies, build the next big mobile gaming company, or launch another clone daily-deal site.  But that's not where Kuhn's disappointment would end.  Kuhn would probably be disheartened by the slew of intelligent students learning to code in computer science programs instead of pursuing degrees in electrical engineering or computer engineering degrees.  In short, despite the fact that technology is one of the last bright spots in an otherwise stagnating economy, Kuhn would argue that we're encouraging the wrong types of innovation in the sector.  Kuhn would push the best and brightest in our society away from building Birchbox for Baby Products and ask them to start innovating to enable less qualified builders.

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The Ingenious Business Model Behind Coursekit, A Tumblr For Higher Education

Anya Kamenetz:

At universities, educational software largely means enterprise-scale, expensive, feature-stuffed "learning management systems." Blackboard has the majority of the market, but professors and students are about as enthusiastic about its various updates, crashes, and bugs as people are with the latest version of Windows (Blackboard scores a whopping 93% "hated" rating on website Amplicate).

Last week, a new alternative was launched--built by students--that looks and works a lot more like the social platforms people actually choose to use in their spare time. The core of the site is a constantly updated social Stream where instructors and students can conduct discussions or easily post rich media. Picture a cleaner-looking Facebook news feed, centered on a single academic theme, or a group Tumblr blog where each picture, question, or video can accumulate its own discussion in the attached comment thread.

"We wanted to create a simple, elegant LMS that covers 95% of instructors' needs, like grading, file management, calendaring, submitting assignments, and emailing with the class," says Joseph Cohen, 19, who left Wharton after his sophomore year when he scored $1 million in seed funding this past June to start Coursekit. "Blackboard covers 100%-- that's why it's such a cluttered platform."

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January 5, 2012

MTEL 90: Teacher Content Knowledge Licensing Requirements Coming To Wisconsin....

The Wisconsin adoption of teacher content knowledge requirements, on the form of MTEL 90 (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) by 2013-2014 would (will?) be a significant step forward via the Wisconsin Read to Lead Report), assuming it is not watered down like the oft criticized (and rightfully so) WKCE

There are significant implications for :Education School preparation/curriculum with the addition of content knowledge to teacher licensing requirements. 

Much more on Read to Lead, here and a presentation on Florida's Reading Reforms

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Academic Emphasis forces High School Football Coach to Resign

Jeff Greer:

Former Glades Central football coach Jessie Hester resigned Thursday as coach at Suncoast after just 10 months at the school.

Hester, 48, said the job at one of Palm Beach County's top academic public schools "wasn't the right fit" for him. The academic pressures the students faced made it difficult for the football team to practice and prepare for games, Hester said, adding that his team would go weeks without a full practice because his players had other school obligations.

The Chargers finished 4-6, missing the playoffs and tying for third in a five-team district.

"There are great, great people at the school, and great kids," Hester said, "but it was just not a good fit for me. It was too difficult to do the things I wanted to do in that situation."
It was no secret that Suncoast, with its nationally ranked academic programs and rigorous academic requirements, would be a more challenging job than Hester's previous job at his alma mater.

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Guessing the Teacher's Password


When I was young, I read popular physics books such as Richard Feynman's QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. I knew that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves. I took pride in my scientific literacy, when I was nine years old.

When I was older, and I began to read the Feynman Lectures on Physics, I ran across a gem called "the wave equation". I could follow the equation's derivation, but, looking back, I couldn't see its truth at a glance. So I thought about the wave equation for three days, on and off, until I saw that it was embarrassingly obvious. And when I finally understood, I realized that the whole time I had accepted the honest assurance of physicists that light was waves, sound was waves, matter was waves, I had not had the vaguest idea of what the word "wave" meant to a physicist.

There is an instinctive tendency to think that if a physicist says "light is made of waves", and the teacher says "What is light made of?", and the student says "Waves!", the student has made a true statement. That's only fair, right? We accept "waves" as a correct answer from the physicist; wouldn't it be unfair to reject it from the student? Surely, the answer "Waves!" is either true or false, right?

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Teaching with comics

Karen Sze:

A secondary school teacher recently consulted me on how to manage a student's problematic behavior. The 13-year-old boy, with issues on the autism spectrum, had been wreaking havoc in class with inappropriate comments.

It had started out mildly with his blurting out "I hate so and so" in front of the whole class. However, his latest and most provocative comment was "I want to touch your breasts" - to female students.

The boy would usually broadcast the statement a few more times before terminating the interaction with a pointed look and a triumphant smirk.

The teachers were already busy with the girls, who were obviously upset by the sexually charged statement.

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Five Predictions for the Next Five Years

Om Malik:

In each of the past five years, IBM has come up with a list of five innovations it believes will become popular within five years. In this, the sixth year, IBM has come up with the following technologies it thinks will gain traction. Hold on to your sci-fi novels, because some of these are pretty far out there. And some of them, well, I wish we had them today.

People power will come to life. Advances in technology will allow us to trap the kinetic energy generated (and wasted) from walking, jogging, bicycling, and even from water flowing through pipes. A bicycle charging your iPhone? There's nothing wrong with that, though I think it might be a while before we see this actually become a mainstream practice.

You will never need a password again. Biometrics will finally replace the password and thus redefine the word "hack." Jokes aside, IBM believes multifactor biometrics will become pervasive. "Biometric data--facial definitions, retinal scans, and voice files--will be composited through software to build your DNA-unique online password." Based on the increasing hours we spend online, I would say we need such solutions to come to market ASAP.

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January 4, 2012

Chicago's poor fleeing to Wisconsin for safer streets, greater welfare benefits

New York Times news service, via a kind reader:

In Madison, the influx of poor people from Chicago is testing the city's historical liberalism. About one-quarter of the 3,300 Madison families receiving welfare are former Illinois residents.

Even Mayor Paul Soglin, who earned his liberal stripes in the anti-establishment politics of the 1960s as a Vietnam War protester, now talks of "finite limits of resources" for the poor.

"We're like a lifeboat that holds 12 people comfortably," Mr. Soglin said. "We've got about 16 in it now, and there's a dozen more waiting in the water. Since we're already in danger of going under, what can our community be expected to do?"

A vibrant economy in Wisconsin accounts for much of the migration among poor people, most of them looking for jobs. The state's unemployment rate has dipped below 4 percent while that in Illinois is 4.4 percent.

my correspondent notes:
Here is an interesting article from 1995.  Worth revisiting with Soglin back in office (just because he is the mayor quoted at the time), but mostly as it pertains to our discussions around Madison Prep.  What are the unique attributes and qualities that make up both our white population and our minority population?

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Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released

Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers.  Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:

Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012
    Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

    All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).

  1. There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.

    Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.

    Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.

    Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.

    A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.

    DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.

    Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.

    Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.

  2. Screening, Assessment, and Intervention

    Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.

    Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.

    Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.

    Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.

    Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.

    Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.

  3. Early Childhood

    DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.

    All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.

    DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.

    The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.

  4. Accountability

    The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.

    The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.

    Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.

    The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.

    In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.

  5. Family Involvement
    Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.

    The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.

    Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.

Related:  Erin Richards' summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links

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Improved Videos of December 19 Public Appearances and Vote on Madison Prep Are Available

MMSD has now posted the videos from the December 19, 2011 meeting at which the Board of Education voted on the proposed Madison Preparatory Charter School. The first video contains the public appearances statements; the second contains the board comments, vote, etc., through the vote to adjourn.

The versions that are now posted are much improved - the video that was originally posted had issues with sound quality and ended abruptly during board statements. The new videos have terrific sound quality and contain the full meeting. (Thanks to MMSD staff for the work that went into this.)

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An educational journey

Dr. Robert L. Heichberger:

Editor's note: This is the first of three parts.

It has been a great "trip," so to speak, and it isn't over yet. It was 61 years ago when I stepped into my first classroom as the teacher. During these past 61 years, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work as an educator, every day ... well, nearly every day.

Much has happened in education over that period of time. I have seen schools from nearly all levels: from that of a classroom teacher, university demonstration teacher, school administrator, professor of educational administration, and university administrator. I have seen schools from the standpoint of a school board member, a school board trainer, and a parent and grandparent. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have seen education vicariously: as many of my readers know, my wife is a retired teacher of 34 years, and my son and daughter-in-law are teachers.

This columnist has a great respect for education and learning. A well known Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget said it well: "the principal goal of education is to develop within people the capability of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done." Piaget's statement is smartly relevant and applicable as applied to all levels of education.

My entry into the field of teaching had its beginning in September, 1951. It was preceded by generations of some of the most conscientious, dedicated, and competent of teachers, many of whom, received little honor or aggrandizement, but whose influence was monumental. The strength of America's school and of America's teachers is seen in the annals of American Exceptionalism.

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The Research Bust

Mark Bauerlein:

In my hand I have a hefty article on a canonical English poet, published 10 years ago in a distinguished journal. It runs for 21 pages and has 31 footnotes, with extensive references to philosophy and art. The article is learned, wide-ranging, and conversant with scholarship on the poet and theoretical currents in literary studies. The argument is dense, the analysis acute, on its face a worthy illustration of academic study deserving broad notice and integration into subsequent research in the field.

That reception doesn't seem to have happened. When, on May 25, I typed the title into Google Scholar, only nine citations of the original article showed up. Of those nine, six of them make only perfunctory nods in a footnote, along the lines of "Recent examples include ... " and "For a recent essay on the subject, see. ... " The other three engage with the essay more substantively, but not by much, inserting in their text merely two or three sentences on the original essay. Additionally, in books on the English poet published from 2004 to 2011 that don't show up on Google Scholar (the search engine picks up most major humanities journals but is sketchy on books), the original article receives not a single citation.

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State Board of Education OKs tougher FCAT grading system

Laura Isensee:

With a unanimous vote Monday, the State Board of Education approved a tougher scoring system for the FCAT, the state's standardized reading and math exam.

The change is meant to raise the academic standards for Florida students. Last year, state officials rolled out the FCAT 2.0, a new version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. A new scoring system is needed for the new test, state officials have said.

However, many students are expected to score lower under the newly approved grading system, which determines the "cut scores" or the scores that determine failing and passing grades. State officials estimate:

Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida's reading reforms and compares Florida's NAEP progress with Wisconsin's at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting

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Advancing the Open Front: From Credential to Credit

Steve Kolowich:

Among the "open courseware" projects at elite U.S. institutions, MITx will be the first to offer an institutional credential -- albeit not from MIT proper but from MITx, which will exist as a nonprofit apart from the university. (The Stanford professors who offered an interactive open course in artificial intelligence to all comers in the fall plan to send each non-enrolled student a certifying letter with their cumulative grade and class rank, but Stanford itself is not recognizing them.)

But MIT stamp or no, that is still a big step, says Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, a D.C. think tank.

"I think this is the future," says Carey, who has written on the emerging relevance of nontraditional credentials. "It's just the logical next step for the ethic behind the [open educational resources] movement," he says.

In interviews, MIT officials took care to emphasize that MITx is not meant to supplant the traditional "residential education" that the university cultivates in its Cambridge, Mass., enclave.

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January 3, 2012

America's Best High Schools: A state-by-state look at the best-performing high schools in the U.S. Does your child already go to one?

Prashant Gopal:

Kimberly Lynch, a redhead with freckles, had a keen interest in sunblock. So much so that she spent the past year developing a new method to test the effectiveness of sunscreens and recently submitted the results to a medical journal.

The 17-year-old senior at Bergen Academies in Hackensack, N.J., is quite a bit younger than most scientists submitting papers to accredited medical journals. Then again, Lynch doesn't go to a typical public high school.

Bergen Academies, a four-year high school, offers students seven concentrations including science, medicine, culinary arts, business and finance, and engineering. It even has its own stem-cell laboratory, where Lynch completed her experiments under the guidance of biology teacher Robert Pergolizzi, a former assistant professor of genetic medicine at Cornell University.

View Bloomberg Business Week's "great schools" state by state rankings, here.

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In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay

Sam Dillon, via a kind Doug Newman email:

WASHINGTON -- During her first six years of teaching in this city's struggling schools, Tiffany Johnson got a series of small raises that brought her annual salary to $63,000, from about $50,000. This year, her seventh, Ms. Johnson earns $87,000.

That latest 38 percent jump, unheard of in public education, came after Ms. Johnson was rated "highly effective" two years in a row under Washington's new teacher evaluation system. Those ratings also netted her back-to-back bonuses totaling $30,000.

"Lots of teachers leave the profession, but this has kept me invested to stay," said Ms. Johnson, 29, who is a special-education teacher at the Ron H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington. "I know they value me."

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MIT launches online learning initiative 'MITx' will offer courses online and make online learning tools freely available.

MIT News:

MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called "MITx." MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:
  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student's work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.
MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

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Charter schools get voice on school board

Travis Andersen and Christopher J. Girard:

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has appointed the founder of a Dorchester charter school to the School Committee, in the latest signal of warming relations between Menino and the independently run institutions.

The appointee, Meg Campbell, is founder and executive director of the Codman Academy Charter Public School. The school has been noted for its good track record for college admissions, the mayor's office said yesterday in a prepared statement.

Campbell said last night in a telephone interview that she believes Menino made a bold choice by appointing her to the panel, given her leadership position at a charter school.

"I think it's a tribute to the mayor's overriding commitment'' to education, she said. "It doesn't matter to the mayor where you go to school. It matters that you get a phenomenal education.''

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Data and GIS Winter Newsletter 2012

John Herndon:

Data driven teaching and research at Duke keeps growing and Perkins Data and GIS continues to increase support for researchers and classes employing data, GIS, and data visualization tools. Whether your discipline is in the Humanities, Sciences, or Social Sciences, Perkins Data and GIS seeks to support researchers and students using numeric and geospatial data across the disciplines.

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Primary Education

Jenna Ashley Robinson:

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series discussing the presidential candidates' views and likely policies toward higher education. This part focuses on the Republican candidates' positions. On December 12, Jay Schalin presented the higher education track record and statements of Barack Obama.)

For the most part, the Republican primary has focused on economic issues such as employment, taxation, and government spending. Higher education hasn't been a prime topic.

But for future students, taxpayers, and university officials, the presidential hopefuls' higher education policies could loom large. Decisions at the top could further inflate the higher education bubble or, alternatively, spur educational innovations. A look at the Republican field (in alphabetical order) reveals a variety of policy choices gleaned from their websites, statements, and debates.

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European schools create 'pipeline' of 'boardable' women

Charlotte Clarke:

When Cristina Vicini, chairwoman of the Executives' advisory board of Boston University in Brussels was in the early years of her career, in the late eighties, she had the impression that gender imbalance - a much debated topic at the time - was changing and would soon be resolved. "I cannot believe we are still talking about this in the twenty-first century," she says today.

The discussion is indeed continuing, which is why some of Europe's leading business schools have published a Call to Action designed to increase the number of women on company boards.

Written with the support of European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, who appealed to European schools for help in September, the seven-page manifesto has four pillars:

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January 2, 2012

Casper College GIS students map history of Eadsville on Casper Mountain

Elysia Conner:

Only a few logs remain of Eadsville, a mining camp where people worked, lived and raised families on Casper Mountain. A handful of children learned there in a log schoolhouse.

A century later, another school uses computer technology to learn about the natural features and history there. The Casper Mountain Science School (CMSS) teaches K-12 students on that very site as an enrichment program.

A group from Casper College's advanced GIS (geographic information system) class created a layer of digital, interactive maps complete with pictures and historical information about Eadsville for those students. Each year, groups from the college class complete real projects for various local organizations. Three students braved wind and cold on four trips to Casper Mountain. There, they mapped the CMSS property boundary along with historical mine sites and buildings in and around the old mining town of Eadsville using GPS (global positioning system). Those three, Crocker Hollis, Karen Sue McCutcheon and Nancy Doelger, also saw leftovers of a mountain lion's skunk and bird meals.

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AmCham warns of Hong Kong schools 'crisis'

Dennis Chong and Paggie Leung:

The American Chamber of Commerce has warned the chief executive that Hong Kong's status as a world-class city is under threat because the shortage of international school places has reached a "crisis point".

In a paper submitted to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's government, the business organisation said it wanted a permanent committee to be established to ensure schooling would be available for children of foreign investors and professionals.

"We feel that the situation is hitting a crisis point now," the paper said. "The government urgently needs to work with the private sector to set coherent and long-term, sustainable policies to support Hong Kong's education and talent development."

The chamber, or AmCham, released the paper - sent to the government in August - to the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) last week.

1.7MB PDF: Education Policy Framework on Primary School Places for International Assignees

2007 Study 1.5mb pdf.

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State Threatens to Pull Millions for Schools in the City and Elsewhere

Fernanda Santos:

New York State's education commissioner threatened on Tuesday to withhold tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to struggling schools in New York City and nine other districts statewide if they do not prove by Saturday that they will carry out new evaluation systems for teachers and principals.

Officials and union leaders in each district must first agree on the details of the evaluation systems, like how much weight students' standardized test scores will have on the annual ratings that teachers and principals receive. Compromise has thus far proved elusive.

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Confidential Student And Teacher Data To Be Provided To LLC Run By Gates and Murdoch

Leonie Haimson:

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NY Board of Regents approved the state's sharing of student and teacher information with a new national database, to be funded by the Gates Foundation, and designed by News Corp's Wireless Generation. Other states that have already agreed to share this data, according to the NY State Education Department, include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana and Massachusetts.

All this confidential student and teacher data will be held by a private limited corporation, called the Shared Learning Collaborative LLC, with even less accountability, which in July was awarded $76.5 million by the Gates Foundation, to be spent over 7 months. According to an earlier NYT story, $44 million of this funding will go straight into the pockets of Wireless Generation, owned by Murdoch's News Corp and run by Joel Klein.

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Is Education the Next Industry That Will Be Killed by the Internet?

Tim Worstall:

I'd say that it probably will be, yes, and I've been saying so for some time. Think about it for a moment, we still use the educational techniques of the Early Middle Ages.

I first saw this point at Brad DeLong's place. When books are hand written, extremely expensive (as in, more than a year's wages possibly) then it makes sense for students to gather in one place and listen to the book being read to them.

Thus what we call a lecture. However, once printing has made the book cheap there's really not all that much point to such a gathering. Classes, OK, that's different, they're more interactive. And yes, of course, there's more to college than just the lectures and the education.

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'Coasting' schools told to improve within six years

Judith Burns @BBC:

Schools which fail to improve within six years of being classed "satisfactory" should be relabelled inconsistent and pushed harder to improve, a report says.

The Royal Society of Arts report says half of the 40% of England's schools classed as "satisfactory" failed to improve within two Ofsted inspections.

Last month Ofsted said nearly 800 schools were "coasting" in this way.

The report says such schools are more likely to be in poorer areas.

The RSA report , published jointly with Ofsted, focused on the 40% of secondary schools in England rated as "satisfactory".

It noted that half of these schools remained "satisfactory" for at least two inspections and about 8% declined to an "inadequate" rating.

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N.J. should revisit fundamental reasons for creating charter schools

Neil Brown:

New Jersey lawmakers are rightfully concerned about the proliferation of applications for new charter schools and their subsequent lack of effective oversight, but legislation proposed by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey requiring proposed charter schools to be approved at the polls is thoroughly misguided and symptomatic of a disappointing trend in how we view charter schools and the role they play in addressing the horrible inequities in our state.

I am disappointed by what is said by many of those who will establish recently approved charters. When asked what is special about their school's program, they often say something like: "We plan to hire high-quality teachers and have longer hours." My former students would call that a "duh" statement -- their fancy term for a tautology.

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January 1, 2012

The IPS (Indianapolis Public Schools) Opportunity Schools Plan

The Mind Trust:

The Mind Trust's plan for transforming Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) would dramatically shrink the central administration, send about $200 million more a year to schools without raising taxes one cent, provide pre-k to all 4-year-olds, give teachers and principals more freedom, hold them accountable for student achievement gains, and provide parents with more quality school choices. It is the boldest school reform plan in the country.

Take five minutes and watch a short video of The Mind Trust's Founder and CEO David Harris outlining highlights from the plan.

Nonprofit's proposal would radically reorganize the Indianapolis Public Schools:
An Indianapolis nonprofit has unveiled an ambitious 160-page reform proposal to completely overhaul Indianapolis Public Schools.

If it came to fruition, the sweeping proposal offered by the Mind Trust would create one of the nation's most radical new organizational approaches to public education.

"If we're going to be serious about doing something transformational, we need an aggressive plan," Mind Trust CEO David Harris said. "Incremental reforms haven't worked here, and they haven't worked in other parts of the country."

The proposal features four key changes:

Report should encourage a serious discussion about district's future
Here's my Christmas wish:

It's that the new Mind Trust report that calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way Indianapolis Public Schools operates will not turn into another tired battle over turf, pride and special interests. Instead, my hope is that it will lead to a broad and much-needed communitywide discussion about the future of the state's largest, and in some ways most important, school district.

The thorough, sensible and provocative report should spark the same kind of urgent discussion and action that we're seeing over mass transit, and that we've seen for decades over sports stadiums.

Those other issues are important. The education debate is vital.

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Voices of a Quant: 'It's very tempting to just stay in the world where everything can be understood in mathematical language'

Joris Luyendijk:

We're meeting for lunch at a restaurant in Canary Wharf, where many of the major global banks are located. He is a man in his late 40s, inconspicuously dressed, and in possession of a firm handshake. He orders a Coke, and then a pasta dish he will dig in with great relish. In his volunteer email he said he was with a software firm (working in investment banking). When asked for a job description, he simply says he is a "quant".

"My parents discovered that I was of a mathematical bent aged three when I was apparently lining up my toys in order of size and then colour. I was one of these terrible, precocious kids who did their mathematics O-level aged 12. After a long academic career I ended up doing theoretical physics for my PhD, and spent a couple of years at Cern in Geneva. Many people I know from back then are still at universities, doing research and climbing the slippery slope to professorships and fellowships. They work the same astonishing long hours as I do, yet get paid a fraction and, from a purely scientific perspective, get to do some really, really interesting science. I often say (only half jokingly) that I "sold my soul" - I make a little over £200,000 a year, including my bonus.

"I am in a world of data, and I build all sorts of models for banks. For instance, one that helps a bank decide whom to lend a mortgage to. You have all this data about the person who is applying, and then the model works out the risk of lending to that person. You look at both the probability of this happening, and at the size of the loss in such an event.

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What makes some people learn language after language?

The Economist:

CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI of Bologna was a secular saint. Though he never performed the kind of miracle needed to be officially canonised, his power was close to unearthly. Mezzofanti was said to speak 72 languages. Or 50. Or to have fully mastered 30. No one was certain of the true figure, but it was a lot. Visitors flocked from all corners of Europe to test him and came away stunned. He could switch between languages with ease. Two condemned prisoners were due to be executed, but no one knew their language to hear their confession. Mezzofanti learned it in a night, heard their sins the next morning and saved them from hell.

Or so the legend goes. In "Babel No More", Michael Erard has written the first serious book about the people who master vast numbers of languages--or claim to. A journalist with some linguistics training, Mr Erard is not a hyperpolyglot himself (he speaks some Spanish and Chinese), but he approaches his topic with both wonder and a healthy dash of scepticism.

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December 31, 2011

Competition for 2 Madison School Board Seats

Matthew DeFour:

Nichols said though she disagreed with Silveira's vote, "This is bigger than Madison Prep."

"My motivation comes from listening to a lot of the community dialogue over the last year and hearing the voices of community members who want greater accountability, who want more diversity in the decision-making and just a call for change," Nichols said.

Silveira did not return a call for comment Friday.

Two candidates have announced plans to run for the other School Board seat up for election next spring, which is being vacated by Lucy Mathiak. They are Mary Burke, a former state commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive, and Michael Flores, a Madison firefighter, parent and East High graduate.

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Why is India so low in the Pisa rankings?

Tyler Cowen:

That is a request from J. and here is one recent story, with much more at the link:
A global study of learning standards in 74 countries has ranked India all but at the bottom, sounding a wake-up call for the country's education system. China came out on top.
On this question, you can read a short Steve Sailer post, with comments attached. Here are my (contrasting) observations:

1. A big chunk of India is still at the margin where malnutrition and malaria and other negatives matter for IQ. Indian poverty is the most brutal I have seen, anywhere, including my two trips to sub-Saharan Africa or in my five trips to Haiti. I don't know if Pisa is testing those particular individuals, but it still doesn't bode well for the broader distribution, if only through parental effects.

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December 30, 2011

Paper pursues a political agenda as it accuses teacher of pursuing a political agenda

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

It's dangerous to be away. I briefly left the country a few weeks ago, and while I was gone, the district superintendent announced her retirement and The Spokesman-Review (SR) launched what I see as a media "lynching" of a local high school teacher.

Did you read about the attack on Jennifer Walther, an Advanced Placement English teacher ( search) at Ferris High School in Spokane, WA? Are you shocked by the newspaper's biased coverage? I'm not shocked. Nowadays, the SR doesn't bear much resemblance to the newspapers I've enjoyed reading. Smaller, thinner and nastier, it contains less content, less local news and more ads. Often biased, incomplete or hypocritical, the paper tolerates questionable material that fits an editorial agenda.

I'm an avid newspaper reader, but I canceled the SR in 2008 when it kept quoting unsubstantiated rumors from the ex-boyfriend of the daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Things have not improved since then.

Now, the SR is using its bully pulpit to accuse Walther of doing something the SR appears to do nearly every day of the week - pursue a biased political agenda. Evidence suggests that, rather than stand up for this teacher, the school district and teachers union initiated or are assisting with the pile-on.

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STEM charter high school planned at DSU

Wade Malcolm:

Earlier this year, two top Delaware State University officials visited two colleges in Ohio.

President Harry L. Williams and Provost Alton Thompson took the trips not to meet with fellow leaders in higher education. They wanted to see two high schools -- operated by and located on the campuses of Akron University and Lorain County Community College.

The model they saw in action on their visits is known as "Early College High School." And if the state approves its charter school application, DSU will open the first school of that type in Delaware on its Dover campus by the fall of 2013.

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Teachers accused of cheating still working in schools

Diane Rado and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

Educators forced out or disciplined by local districts over cheating and other state testing violations continued working in schools or administering state exams as their cases languished in Springfield without investigation, the Tribune has learned.

Contrary to Illinois law, state officials for years didn't investigate or pursue discipline of educators reported for testing misconduct -- from excessive coaching to giving students answers to prepping them with actual test questions, a Tribune investigation found. Some may have been allowed to keep teaching even if the state had investigated, but in the meantime, educators were allowed to jump easily to new jobs while the state delayed.

Illinois State Board of Education officials say they were instead focused on higher-priority discipline cases because of limited resources, though lawmakers have given the agency $1.3 million since 2008-09 to pursue educator misconduct. Typically, they addressed violations by throwing out test results and letting local officials discipline educators.

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Buffalo group's education initiative receives federal funding

Mary Pasciak:

Buffalo's Promise Neighborhood project was one of five in the nation to secure federal funding to provide "cradle to career" services for children in an effort to improve educational outcomes among low-income areas, federal officials announced today.

The local initiative will receive five years of funding from the federal government, including $1.5 million in its first year. M&T Bank this fall pledged to match the federal funds and to raise an additional $9 million in private funding.

The initiative is largely modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, where families in a 100-block area receive wraparound services, from health care to educational support, beginning with prenatal care and leading through high school graduation.

Buffalo's Promise Neighborhood will focus on the 14215 ZIP code, building on the success that has been realized in the Westminster Community Charter School. The plan seeks to stabilize the neighborhood, increase services to families, and ultimately improve the education at three schools in that area: Bennett High School, Highgate Heights Elementary and Westminster Community Charter School.

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'No Excuses' Is Not Just for Teachers

Laura Klein:

When asked to identify the qualities that lead to success in life, experts often list the ability to overcome obstacles. Pushing past adversity, through determination and persistence, is the hallmark of the greatest leaders, the most successful parents, the most prized employees, we are told. Those who make no excuses, who do whatever it takes to get something done, are the ones who have the capacity to achieve greatness.

In education, we focus a lot on accommodating our student's needs. We have English Language Learners (E.L.L.s) and special education students. We have kids with emotional disturbances and anger issues. We have kids who are acting out, and kids who are uninterested or bored.

It's our job to teach them no matter what. We are often the adults that children see with the most consistency and frequency, and we are responsible for their educations, in the broadest sense of that word. But to truly help them be successful, we ourselves have to embody the "no excuses" attitude.

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Glass says Iowa education reforms will take time

Mike Glover:

The director of the Iowa Department of Education said he's willing to be patient with his plan to overhaul the state's public school system, acknowledging that many people aren't ready for changes he thinks are essential.

Gov. Terry Branstad chose 40-year-old Jason Glass largely because of his background in education reform, and since coming to Iowa he has been leading the push for dramatic changes to the state's public schools.

Because he began his job only a couple weeks before the last legislative session began, this was supposed to be the session where Glass would see his ambitious plans enacted. He proposed a 15-page package of proposals that would shake up the state's schools, changing the way they do business on everything from paying teachers to opening the profession to non-traditional educators.

That still may happen, but Branstad has temporarily shelved a proposed tiered system of teacher pay that increased salaries for beginning teachers and let teacher move through a series of pay grades based on performance in the classroom.

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December 29, 2011

Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students

Yun Xiang, Michael Dahlin, John Cronin, Robert Theaker, Sarah Durant:

Fordham's latest study, "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first to examine the performance of America's highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth"--and America's future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

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'Alarming' new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools

Brian M. Rosenthal:

African-American students whose primary language is English perform significantly worse in math and reading than black students who speak another language at home -- typically immigrants or refugees -- according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools.

District officials, who presented the finding at a recent community meeting at Rainier Beach High School, noted the results come with caveats, but called the potential trend troubling and pledged to study what might be causing it.

Michael Tolley, an executive director overseeing Southeast Seattle schools, said at the meeting that the data exposed a new achievement gap that is "extremely, extremely alarming."

The administration has for years analyzed test scores by race. It has never before broken down student-achievement data by specific home language or country of origin -- it is rare for school districts to examine test scores at that level -- but it is unlikely that the phenomenon the data suggest is actually new.

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Iowa Governor Branstad reforms could bring more class time

Associated Press:

Sweeping education reforms proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad are likely to include the creation of a task force that would consider extending the amount of time Iowa students spend in school.

Branstad announced in October that he'll ask lawmakers to approve reforms aimed at improving education for Iowa's 468,000 students and better the quality of the state's teachers.

Class-time extensions were not included in his original plan.
But Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education, last week told an advisory group of school superintendents that Branstad is expected to add the creation of a task force to consider such extensions. The task force would likely consider adding 10 days to the school year, lengthening school days and requiring struggling students to go to school on Saturdays or take summer classes, the Des Moines Register reported (

Iowa currently has a 180-day school year. State law mandates that each school day last at least 5.5 hours, but most students are in class an average of 6.5 hours.

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Education expert offers views after visiting Alaska schools: Discusses Finland Schools


Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, and national expert on why schools in Finland are so successful, visited Anchorage and Bethel area schools last month, ate the lunches and sat in on classes.

Some things impressed him, and others illustrated problems that schools face across the U.S., he said.

Abrams was here to participate in a conference on how to improve Anchorage schools that was sponsored by Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Before and after the November conference, Abrams went to King Career Center and William Tyson Elementary in Anchorage for half-day each, and spent full days at Denali Montessori, Begich Middle and East High in Anchorage. He also observed classes at a school-within-a-school run by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council at Bartlett High.

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December 28, 2011

The profiteers have failed our exam system: In the rush for revenue, standards have been driven down and learning in schools devalued

Martin Stephen:

It would be easy to be shocked by The Daily Telegraph's revelations about exam boards - but the truth is that Britain's examination system has been heading for a crash for years. The culprit? The process that saw it transformed from a national treasure to a profit-driven industry. Today, examining is not an extension of teaching and learning, but a career in itself - one that has, on occasion, meant acting as little more than an arm of government.

The first mistake was to divorce the examination system from its end-users. In the past, academic exam boards were not only named after leading universities, but had a significant number of dons actually marking scripts. Today, the boards' management structures hardly have any connection with the universities. Control of the content and structure of the examination system needs to be placed firmly in the hands of universities - and, in the case of vocational training, of employers - so they can ensure that students possess the knowledge and skills their bosses or lecturers require, not what is cheapest, most convenient or most politically correct.

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A Push to Have Students Factor Into Teacher Evaluations

Rebecca Vevea:

The Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union opened negotiations earlier this month on a state-mandated requirement about what should-and should not-be included in teachers' performance evaluations.

CPS and the union have until March to grapple with the specific terms, such as what tests to use for measuring academic growth, how much the results should factor into the evaluations, and how to measure the performance of teachers whose subjects are not tested on state exams.

To add to the mix, an organized group of public school students, the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), are preparing a formal request to CPS in the coming months to include student input in the new teacher evaluation system.

Some teachers want their students to weigh in on their performance.

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Q & A With Washington Governor Chris Gregoire on Teacher Evaluations


ubliCola: What do you think of Attorney General Rob McKenna's education reform agenda? [McKenna, a Republican, is running for governor.]

Gregoire: What is it? You'll have to help me on that.

PubliCola: It seems more aggressive than the one you laid out. [Gregoire announced a reform proposal last week - AP report here - that will put a pilot project of 4-tiered teacher evaluations in play statewide]. It ties teacher evaluations to student test scores, calls for charter schools, and allows the state to step in and take over failing schools. It's in sync with President Obama's education reform agenda. The proposal you came out with last week seems like a "lite" version of that to education reformers [because the evaluations aren't tied explicitly to "student academic growth"].

Gregoire: I don't really think so. I think what it is is a Washington reform. The most recent studies on charter schools come out of Stanford. And there's no guarantee of anything there. As many as there are doing OK, there are an equal number that are not. ... Why would we go down a path where there's no big success to be had? And our voters have already turned [charters] down three times.

I developed this lab school idea, which serves two purposes: One, you have our four-year university schools partner up with one of our bottom five percent schools and really run the school and get them to transition out of their low performance. And two, you really do take your schools of education and improve them dramatically, because if they're going to train teachers, what better training for them than to be inside a classroom and see what works and what doesn't work?

PubliCola: What about tying test scores to teacher evaluations?

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Our Love-Hate Relationship With the SATs

Andrew Rotherham:

There is little love for the SAT. How little, you ask? When a massive cheating scandal erupted this fall, fewer people rushed to defend the test than rose to defend Penn State officials for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of children. But as unpopular as the iconic SAT may be - among students and many educational activists alike - it's actually pretty good at what it's designed to do, which is to serve as a common measure across the hodgepodge of academic standards, grading systems and norms being used by America's sprawling 25,000 high schools.

Unlike many of the tests that the education world loves to argue about, the SAT is an optional test; students choose to take it if they want to attend schools that require it for admission. So SAT angst is limited to the college-bound. (The test is administered by the New York-based nonprofit College Board, which is also in charge of high school Advanced Placement tests.) And although its only true fans are the intellectually insecure, the SAT, which used to be an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test, doesn't show how smart or savvy students are or how successful, happy, or impactful they're likely to be in life. But on average, it does fairly accurate gauge on how well students will do in their first year of college. That's something admissions officials want to know. And that's why good scores can boost an applicant's chances of getting in and low scores can torpedo them.

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December 27, 2011

Rankings of the States 2010 and Estimates of School Statistics 2011; Wisconsin Ranks 18th in K-12 Staffing

National Education Association Research via a kind reader's email:

The data presented in this combined report―Rankings & Estimates―provide facts about the extent to which local, state, and national governments commit resources to public education. As one might expect in a nation as diverse as the United States--with respect to economics, geography, and politics--the level of commitment to education varies on a state-by-state basis. Regardless of these variations, improvements in public education can be measured by summary statistics. Thus, NEA Research offers this report to its state and local affiliates as well as to researchers, policymakers, and the public as a tool to examine public education programs and services.
Part I of this combined report--Rankings 2010--provides state-level data on an array of topics relevant to the com- plex enterprise of public education. Since the 1960s, Rankings has presented facts and figures useful in determining how states differ from one another--or from national averages--on selected statistics. In addition to identifying emerging trends in key economic, political, and social areas, the state-by-state figures on government financing, state demographics, and public schools permit a statistical assessment of the scope of public education. Of course, no set of tables tells the entire story of a state's education offerings. Consideration of factors such as a state's tax system, pro- visions for other public services, and population characteristics also are needed. Therefore, it is unwise to draw con- clusions based solely on individual statistics in this report. Readers are urged to supplement the ranked data with specific information about state and local service activities related to public education.

Part II of this combined report--Estimates 2011--is in its 67th year of production. This report provides projections of public school enrollment, employment and compensation of personnel, and finances, as reported by individual state departments of education. Not surprisingly, interest in the improvement and renewal of public education continues to capture the attention of the nation. The state-level data featured in Estimates permit broad assessments of trends in staff salaries, sources of school funding, and levels of educational expenditures. The data should be used with the un- derstanding that the reported statewide totals and averages may not reflect the varying conditions that exist among school districts and schools within the state.

Public education in the United States is a joint enterprise between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, progress in improving public education stems primarily from the efforts of state education agencies, local districts, and indi- vidual schools. These public organizations deserve credit for recognizing that spending for education needs to be ac- knowledged as an investment in our nation's most valuable resource--children. Similarly, this publication represents a collective effort that goes well beyond the staff of the National Education Association. Individual state departments of education and the NEA's state affiliates participate in collecting and assembling the data shown here. As a result, the NEA appreciates and acknowledges the cooperation it receives from all those whose efforts make this publication possible.

Wisconsin ranks 21st in average teacher salaries (page 35), 10th in property tax revenue as a percentage of total tax revenue (page 52), 16th in per capita state individual income tax revenue (page 53) and 15th in public school revenue per student.

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Teachers union leads effort that aims to turn around West Virginia school system

Lyndsey Layton:

The American Federation of Teachers, vilified by critics as an obstacle to school reform, is leading an unusual effort to turn around a floundering school system in a place where deprivation is layered on heartache.

The AFT, which typically represents teachers in urban settings, wants to improve education deep in the heart of Appalachia by simultaneously tackling the social and economic troubles of McDowell County.

The union has gathered about 40 partners, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cisco Systems, IBM, Save the Children, foundations, utility companies, housing specialists, community colleges, and state and federal governments, which have committed to a five-year plan to try to lift McDowell out of its depths.

The McDowell Initiative, to be announced Friday, comes in the middle of a national debate about what causes failing schools in impoverished communities: the educators or the environment?

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December 26, 2011

Other cities might help Seattle close achievement gaps among black students

Paul Hill:

AFRICAN-American students are lagging behind other students, including other black ethnic students whose home language is not English, according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools. ["'Alarming' new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools," page one, Dec. 19.]

This is an important problem that other cities have confronted head-on. First, they have admitted they really don't know how to solve the problem. Second, they acknowledge that the normal remedies school districts use to solve achievement problems are too weak to work.

These admissions have led other cities to open themselves up to experimentation in schools serving the most disadvantaged: longer school days and years; no-excuses instructional models; new sources of teachers; partnerships with businesses and cultural institutions that can provide enrichment and role models; use of online instruction to teach subjects like science where school staff are often not qualified; new schools run by national institutions with track records of improving achievement for the most disadvantaged.

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Stanford Online Classes. Like A Great Movie With A Bad Ending

Hernan Amiune:

Professors are AWESOME!
The exercises are AWESOME!
The classes are AWESOME!

But then they send you the Statement of Accomplishment. This was obviously done by engineers with no knowledge of public relations, marketing or people feelings. And maybe under the pressure of Stanford (lawyers?) to clarify that this wasn't a Stanford class.

Before the course started they promised the Statement of Accomplishment as an incentive to get you in the course.
When they got a lot of users they said "You will receive a statement of accomplishment from the instructor, which will include information on how well you did and how your performance compared to other online students. Only students admitted to Stanford and enrolled in the regular course can receive credit or a grade, so this is not a Stanford certificate."
At the end they send you a pdf file that says something like this: hey you didn't complete any Stanford course, you were just part of an experiment and this is an automated message.

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Choice program attributed to increase in Catholic school enrollment

Erin Richards:

Pierre "Nic" Antoine, principal of two Catholic schools in Racine formed by school mergers, understands the pain families feel when their schools are closed.

But with the expansion of private-school vouchers to Racine, Antoine believes Catholic education has been reinvigorated this year. Enrollment is stable at Our Lady of Grace Academy, which added 30 voucher students this year, and up by about 20% at John Paul II Academy, which added 40 voucher students.

"We went from being 70% full in 2010-'11 to being 95% full this year," Antoine said of John Paul II Academy.

The boost in student enrollment is part of a larger trend in the Milwaukee Archdiocese this year - enrollment is up for the first time in 13 years, driven by voucher student enrollment that increased from 7,502 students last year to 8,831 students this year.

Nationwide and in Milwaukee, Catholic school enrollment has decreased over the years. After the recession caused families to tighten their budgets, some private schools' enrollment figures dropped even further, prompting mergers and closures.

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Suburbs Brace For Kansas City Students

Sylvia Maria Gross:

Kansas City, Mo., schools are losing their accreditation on Jan. 1. Missouri law allows students from unaccredited districts to enroll for free in nearby school systems, so the suburban districts outside Kansas City are bracing for an influx of students.
Much more on the Kansas City schools, here.

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December 25, 2011


Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.

Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.

As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, "average is over." That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.

If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.

Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.

Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world's economies.

So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don't start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.

But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, "Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!" And Sir Alexander said, "not penicillin."

Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.

Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.

I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

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Louisiana to Push AP Courses for All

Will Sentell:

Louisiana education leaders have launched a five-year plan to reach the national average for high school students who earn college credit.

The courses, called Advanced Placement, can enhance college success and even make students more likely to attend college, officials said.

But only 4 percent of Louisiana students passed at least one AP exam in 2009, which is 49th in the nation and ahead of only Mississippi.

The national average is 16.9 percent, which state officials said is reachable by 2017.

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Magnet Schools Are an Important Option for Los Angeles

Gary Orfield:

The Los Angeles Unified School District, second biggest in the United States with some 700,000 students, located in the center of the most segregated area in the country for Latino students, is a place where students of color are very often denied any opportunity to do any meaningful preparation for college and are often attending dropout factory high schools. In this system, where mandatory desegregation was abandoned in 1981, there's one small place where's there some racial and economic diversity and special programs offered for students who choose to participate in them.

More than 170 magnet school programs exist in the Los Angeles Unified School District. They have been funded with billions of dollars of state money for desegregation assistance. The strong magnets are one of the last vestiges of middle class education that exist in the City of Los Angeles and one of the few places where students from really disadvantaged backgrounds can come to classes with students from more advantaged backgrounds, in schools where the teachers want to participate in those schools and where there's a special curriculum offered to draw them there. Not all of these schools are great schools. Some of them are phony magnets, and some of them are wonderful schools. But they are a really important option for the City of Los Angeles. When a student can transfer from a dropout factory school to one where many students go to college, a bus is a great educational investment.

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Quick Question: Do you agree with the Madison School Board's rejection of the Madison Prep Academy proposal?

Kevin Murphy:

Here's how five people answered this week's question posed by Capital Times freelancer Kevin Murphy. What do you think? Please join the discussion.

"I don't agree with that decision. We need something to close that achievement gap and this was something that could have closed that gap and they won't even take a chance with it. It's the best idea to come forward so far and it should have been tried."

Easter Carson

retired school district employee


"It was a good idea and I think anything new in the way of education needs to be tried. Give it a try. It was a pretty proposal with non-coed instruction, uniforms for students, minority staff. It certainly is worth a try given the track record the school district has had with minority students so far."

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To Make Algebra Fun, Rethink The Problem


For most people, the word "algebra" conjures classroom memories of Xs and Ys. Weekend Edition's math guy, Keith Devlin, says that's because most schools do a terrible job of teaching it. He talks with host Scott Simon about what algebra really is. Plus, Devlin explains how algebra took off in Baghdad, the Silicon Valley of the ninth century.

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December 24, 2011

We Blew It on Madison Prep

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

I can't shake the feeling that something important was going on at our School Board meeting last Monday night to consider the Madison Prep charter school proposal, and that the actual School Board vote wasn't it.

The bare-bone facts are that, after about 90 public speakers, the Board voted 2-5 to reject the Madison Prep proposal. I reluctantly voted against the motion because I was unwilling to violate the terms of our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.

After the motion failed, I moved that the Board approve Madison Prep, but delay its opening until the fall of 2013. My motion failed for lack of a second. (And no, I don't have an explanation for why neither James Howard nor Lucy Mathiak, who voted in favor of the first motion, was willing to second my motion.)

Probably like most who attended Monday night's meeting, I have thought a lot about it since. People who know I voted against the proposal have come up to me and congratulated me for what they say was the right decision. I have felt like shaking them and saying, "No, you don't understand. We blew it Monday night, we blew it big time. I just hope that we only crippled Madison Prep and didn't kill it."

I appreciate that that's an odd and surprising place for me to have ended up. To echo the Talking Heads, "Well, how did I get here?" I'll try to explain.

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

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Charter association's call for closure of charter schools stirs controversy

Louis Freedberg and Sue Frey:

In a bold move that is generating controversy within its own ranks, the California Charter School Association is urging that 10 of the 145 charter schools up for renewal this year be denied their charters because they failed to meet academic performance benchmarks set by the association.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan hailed the association for its "courageous leadership" in attempting to "hold schools accountable." "This is an important conversation for California to have, and one that we need to have across the country," Duncan said, echoing remarks made by several charter school leaders.

But the association's action has also provoked fierce criticism from schools it has recommended for closure, as well as from some long-time supporters of the charter movement.

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December 23, 2011

A Christmas Carol For Our Schools

Peter Meyer:

A new round of the popular education board game, Poverty Matters, began last week with a New York Times op-ed by Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske, titled, "Class Matters: Why Won't We Admit It?" (Interestingly, the essay is really about poverty, not class, and the paper that Ladd wrote on which the essay is based is titled Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence. See also Kathleen Porter-Magee's The `Poverty Matters' Trap from last July's Flypaper.)

Ladd and Fiske's essay was one of those broadsides that spreads through the teacher ranks like a brush fire. I received my email copy from one of our district's veteran teachers, a hard-working, dedicated woman who rarely misses an opportunity to remind me that she and her colleagues would be doing a fine job were it not for unmotivated kids and their irresponsible parents. And Diane Ravitch weighed in, calling to mind, in tune with the season, the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, offering to "update this tale for today's school reformers" by calling attention to Ladd and Fiske's op-ed. (Ravitch says she uses Ladd'sEducation and Poverty paper in her post.)

What I don't understand in all of this is who exactly is claiming that class (or poverty or parents or kids) doesn't matter? Ladd and Fiske spend most of their essay stating the obvious: that socio-economic circumstance matters to education outcomes. The evidence that our policymakers and reformers are in denial of this salient fact?

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High School Flight from Reading and Writing

Academic Questions, the journal of the
National Association of Scholars: 90K PDF

As concerns mount over the costs and benefits of higher education, it may be worthwhile to glance at the benefits of high school education at present as well. Of course, high school costs, while high, are borne by the taxpayers in general, but it is reasonable to hope that there are sufficient benefits for such an outlay.

In fact, 30 percent of ninth-grade students do not graduate with their class, so there is a major loss right there. In addition, it appears that a large fraction of our high school graduates who go on to college leave without taking any credential or degree within eight years. On November 17, 2008, the Boston Globe reported, "About two-thirds of the city's high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of- its-kind study being released today."1 The fact that this is a new study shows that the days of taking not just college, but high school education for granted may be ending as well. If public high schools were preparing their graduates (the 70 percent) adequately, they should be able to read and write in college.

Alternatives to high school are coming only slowly. Charter schools, some good and some bad, are being tried. Homeschooling serves some 1.5 million students, and some edupundits (and computer salesmen) are pushing for ever more use of virtual distance learning at the high school level.

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Madison Prep, at Bottom

Rebecca Kemble:

The most straightforward, clear and dispassionate vote taken on the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal at last Monday's Madison Metropolitan School District Board meeting didn't even count. It was the advisory vote cast by the student representative, Philippo Bulgarelli.

The School Board turned down the controversial proposal on a 5-2 vote, and after nearly five hours of public testimony, all the school board members gave speeches explaining how they arrived at their decisions. In addition to being the most succinct, Bulgarelli's statement penetrated all of the intense emotions and wildly divergent interpretations of data and personal anecdotes used to argue both for and against the proposal. Bulgarelli said that the students for whom he speaks did not have enough information to make a reasonably good decision, so he voted to abstain.

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

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After Kim Jong Il's death, a Korean language class shifts format

Geoff Decker, via a kind reader's email:

Students in Democracy Prep High School's Korean classes typically learn words that boost their vocabulary and develop basic grammar -- standard fare for introductory foreign language instruction. But this week the lessons took a turn for the geopolitical.

Youngjae Hur greeted his students yesterday with an unusual pop quiz in English and asked them to define words such as "despotism," "denuclearize," and "repressive."

For Hur, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's abrupt death over the weekend offered the school a unique opportunity to infuse what students learn about the South Korean language and culture every day with the politics that have shaped life on the Korean Peninsula for decades.

"It's important to let them know not just the skills to understand the language, but also the culture, the history, the politics," said Hur, a first-year teacher who moved to the United States from South Korea three years ago. "Especially at this special moment."

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December 22, 2011

The five-member majority of the board blew it this week by voting down the Urban League of Greater Madison's request for an unusual charter school called Madison Prep

Wisconsin State Journal:

The school would have offered a longer school day and year, higher standards and expectations, uniforms, mandatory extracurricular activities, same-sex classrooms, more minority teachers as role models, and stepped-up pressure on parents to get involved in their children's education.

Madison Prep represented a huge opportunity -- with unprecedented community support, including millions in private donations -- to attack the stubborn achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

But a majority of the School Board rejected Madison Prep, citing excuses that include a disputed clause in its teachers union contract and a supposed lack of accountability.

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

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Cal State campuses overwhelmed by remedial needs

Matt Krupnick:

Wracked with frustration over the state's legions of unprepared high school graduates, the California State University system next summer will force freshmen with remedial needs to brush up on math or English before arriving on campus.

But many professors at the 23-campus university, which has spent the past 13 years dismissing students who fail remedial classes, doubt the Early Start program will do much to help students unable to handle college math or English.

"I'm not at all optimistic that it's going to help," said Sally Murphy, a communications professor who directs general education at Cal State East Bay, where 73 percent of this year's freshmen were not ready for college math. Nearly 60 percent were not prepared for college English.

"A 15-hour intervention is just not enough intervention when it comes to skills that should have been developed over 12 years," Murphy said.

The remedial numbers are staggering, given that the Cal State system admits only freshmen who graduated in the top one-third of their high-school class. About 27,300 freshmen in the 2010 entering class of about 42,700 needed remedial work in math, English or both.

Related: Madison's Math Task Force and K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation.

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Kaleem Caire should run for School Board

The Capital Times:

Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire fought hard to win approval of his Madison Prep project. But the Madison School Board ultimately rejected a plan that would have steered tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into a project that board members felt lacked sufficient oversight and accountability.

The response of Caire and his fellow Madison Prep advocates was to suggest a variety of moves: the filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, or perhaps a request for state intervention to allow the project to go forward without state approval.

We would suggest another approach.

Caire has succeeded in garnering a good deal of support for Madison Prep. He could capitalize on that support and make a run for the School Board.

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

Changing the school board would either require: patience (just two of seven seats: Lucy Mathiak, who is not running after two terms and Arlene Silveira, who apparently is seeking a third term) are up in April, 2012 or a more radical approach via the current Wisconsin method (and Oakland): recalls. Winning the two seats may not be sufficient to change the Board, given the 5-2 no vote. Perhaps the "momentum", if realized, might sway a vote or two?

Perhaps the TAG complaint illustrates another approach, via the courts and/or different government agencies.

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Madison Preparatory Academy Board Commits to Establish Madison Prep as an Independent School in Fall 2012 and address the Achievement Gap in Madison's Public Schools

Kaleem Caire, via email

For Immediate Release: December 21, 2011

Contact: Laura DeRoche-Perez
Director of School Development
Urban League of Greater Madison
2222 S. Park St., Suite 200
Madison, WI 53713
608-729-1230 (office)
608-556-2066 (cell)

Madison, WI - This morning, the Board of Directors of Madison Preparatory Academy unanimously decided to pursue a set of actions that will assist with eliminating the racial achievement gap in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). These actions are consistent with the objectives of the Urban League of Greater Madison.

Specifically, Madison Prep's Board has committed to partnering with the Urban League of Greater Madison to:

Work with the Madison Metropolitan School District to ensure MMSD has a bold and effective plan for eliminating the racial achievement gap that embraces innovation, best practices and community engagement as core strategies.
Evaluate legal options that will ensure MMSD affirmatively and immediately addresses the racial achievement gap.
Establish Madison Preparatory Academy as an independent school within the boundaries of the Madison Metropolitan School District in August 2012 as a model of whole school reform and a necessary education option for disadvantaged children and families.

David Cagigal, Chair of Madison Prep's Board, shared that "Madison Prep is a necessary strategy to show how our community can eliminate the achievement gap and prepare our most vulnerable students for college. MMSD's rejection of our proposal does not change this fact."

Cagigal further stated that, "We look forward to engaging the Greater Madison community in addressing the racial achievement gap in Madison's public schools and supporting the establishment of Madison Prep next fall."

For more information, contact Laura DeRoche Perez, Director of School Development, Urban League of Greater Madison, at or 608-729-1230.
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Urban League of Greater Madison | 2222 S. Park Street | Suite 200 | Madison | WI | 53713

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

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An RTT Cookbook With One Recipe

Julie McCargar:

I am ambivalent. My state, Tennessee, is the first state that has implemented the annual teacher and principal evaluations as required by Race to the Top (RTT). In 2010, I was involved with writing Tennessee's successful RTT application, especially the section on "great teachers and leaders." In my state role, I celebrated the RTT requirement for annual teacher and principal evaluations based substantially on student growth as one of the most important levers to accelerate student achievement.

Now, in 2011, I am at the local level watching the fall-out. Although I still support annual teacher evaluations that include student achievement growth and regular teacher observation scores, it is clear that the initiative is off to a rocky start. And this has implications for more than just the educators and students in Tennessee. As noted in Education Week, many policymakers are concerned that the rocky implementation of Tennessee's new teacher evaluation system may hinder efforts in other states.

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Madison Prep proponents raise possibility of creating private school

Matthew DeFour:

Supporters of a controversial charter school proposal geared toward low-income, minority students said Tuesday they will continue to fight to establish it next fall -- including possibly as a private school.

Their comments came Tuesday after the Madison School Board voted 5-2 early that day to reject a proposal for Madison Preparatory Academy, which would offer single-sex classrooms and a college preparatory curriculum.

The board didn't vote on an alternate proposal to approve the school but delay its opening until 2013.

David Cagigal, president of the Madison Prep board, said a private school would be expensive because the school's target low-income population wouldn't be able to afford tuition. Instead, the board would ask private donors to replace the roughly $9,300 per pupil it had sought from the School District.

"Maybe money is not the issue if we want to go ahead and prove our point," Cagigal said. "I can assure you we will persist with this idea of closing the achievement gap."

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

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Whither Madison Prep...

Peter Sobol:

The proposed Madison Prep Charter School was voted down by the Madison school board on Monday. A bold proposal to address the achievement gap in Madison, Madison Prep supporters have a very good point- the status quo is not working for minority students.

There wasn't any magic to the Madison Prep proposal: longer school year, extended school days, smaller class ratios, additional support services, we know these things work, and taken together these things would likely make a significant impact on student achievement. But all these things cost significant amounts of money which is ultimately the problem. What distribution of resources is the most effective and fair?

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

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Time to take a breath and solve the Madison Prep problem

Dave Cieslewicz:

Sometimes it's possible to be absolutely right on the specifics of a thing and totally wrong about the big picture.

That's what can be said about the Madison school board's decision the other night to reject the proposal for the Madison Preparatory Academy. Board members were correct to be concerned that their support for the academy could have violated their contract with the Madison teachers union, and they were right to be concerned about lack of oversight over public funds.

But what the Urban League was saying about the big picture remains paramount:

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

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Where is UW support for charter school?

Chris Rickert:

Last week I wrote that it seemed hypocritical that average Madisonians and other liberals in city government and the left-leaning Madison press haven't been beating the drum for proposed charter school Madison Preparatory Academy.

The school's target clientele, after all, is one the left usually considers sympathetic: poor, disenfranchised minority youth historically denied access to educational opportunity.

But it took a reader to point out an even bigger elephant in this oddly somnolent room: UW-Madison.

It was only a few months ago that Madison's prime educational attraction and the jewel of the UW System mounted a vigorous and very public defense of attempts to create a more diverse student body through its affirmative action policies.

You'd think this powerful institution might also be showing a little love for a similar social justice cause in its own backyard.

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Cornell Alumnus Is Behind $350 Million Gift to Build Science School in City

Richard Perez-Pena:

The donor whose $350 million gift will be critical in building Cornell University's new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island is Atlantic Philanthropies, whose founder, Charles F. Feeney, is a Cornell alumnus who made billions of dollars through the Duty Free Shoppers Group.

Mr. Feeney, 80, has spent much of the last three decades giving away his fortune, with large gifts to universities all over the world and an unusual degree of anonymity. Cornell officials revealed in 2007 that he had given some $600 million to the university over the years, yet nothing on its Ithaca campus -- where he graduated from the School of Hotel Management in 1956 -- bears Mr. Feeney's name.

The $350 million gift, the largest in the university's history, was announced on Friday, but the donor was not named. Officials at Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed on Monday evening that it was Mr. Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who is known for his frugality -- he flies coach, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch -- as well as his philanthropic generosity, particularly to medical research.

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December 21, 2011

Mitch Henck, Lucy Mathiak & John Roach on the Madison School District's 5-2 No Vote on Madison Prep

Mitch Henck, Lucy Mathiak & John Roach (mp3 audio): Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

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Shocking outcome of School Board vote: MMSD says NO to Madison Prep

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Dear Madison Prep,

First, thank you to all of you who have supported the Madison Prep effort to this point. Your volunteer hours, work on Design Teams, attendance at meetings, letters to the district and media, and many other acts of support have not gone unnoticed by the Urban League and Madison Prep.

In earlier morning hours today, the MMSD Board of Education voted 5-2 AGAINST Madison Prep. This outcome came after hours of testimony by members of the public, with Madison Prep supporters outnumbering opponents 2:1. Lucy Mathiak and James Howard voted YES for Madison Prep; Ed Hughes, Arlene Silviera, Beth Moss, Maya Cole, and Marj Passman voted NO. After the vote was taken, Ed Hughes made an amendment to the motion to establish Madison Prep in 2013 (rather than 2012) in order to avoid what some see as a conflict between Madison Prep and the teachers' union contract. Mr. Hughes' motion was not seconded; therefore there was no vote on establishing Madison Prep one year later.

While the Urban League and Madison Prep are shocked by last night's outcome, both organizations are committed to ensuring that Madison Prep becomes a reality for children in Madison. We will continue to press for change and innovation in the Madison Metropolitan School District and Dane County to ensure that the racial achievement gap is eliminated and that all children receive a high quality education that adequately prepares them for their future.

We will advance a number of next steps:

1.We will pursue different avenues, both public and private, to launch Madison Prep. We are still hopeful for an opening in 2012. There will be much the community will learn from Madison Prep and our children need this option now.

2.We will continue to coordinate community support and action to ensure that the Madison Metropolitan School District is accountable for eliminating the racial achievement gap. We will consider several strategies, such as implementing a Citizen Review Board that will hold the school board and district administration accountable for good governance, planning, implementation, execution, community engagement and student achievement results. We will also consider legal avenues to ensure MMSD understands and responds to the community's sense of urgency to address the sizable and decades-long failure rates of Black and Latino children.

3.We must also address the leadership vacuum in K-12 education in Madison. Because of this, we will ensure that parents, students and community members are informed of their rights and responsibilities, and have a better understanding of promising educational strategies to close the achievement gap. We will also work to ensure that they have opportunities to be fully engaged in planning, working and deciding what's best for the children educated in our public schools.

4.We will continue to work in collaboration with MMSD through our existing partnerships, and hope to grow these partnerships in the future.

Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to ensure that children in our schools and families in our community have hope, inspiration, support and opportunity to manifest their dreams and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.


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

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Down Goes Madison Prep

Mike Ford:

As expected, the Madison Metropolitan School Board voted 5 -2 last night against authorizing the Madison Prep charter school. Only two board members overseeing a school district with an African-American graduation rate below 50% saw fit to support a new approach

Those voting against the school did offer reasons. Board member Beth Moss told the Wisconsin State Journal she voted no because of concerns about the school's ability to serve students needing more than one year of remedial education. Board member Ed Hughes said he could not support the school until after the Madison teachers union contract expires in 2013.

But no worries, Superintendent Dan Nerad told the Wisconsin State Journal he has a plan:

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

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After Madison Prep vote, it's time to shake things up

Joseph Vanden Plas:

There's nothing like standing in the schoolhouse door.

For me, the Madison School Board's 5-2 vote to shoot down Madison Preparatory Academy, a proposed charter school specifically designed for low-income minority students, brings to mind images of George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to block the integration of the University of Alabama, or state officials blocking James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

If you think that's harsh, remember that those pieces of history were not only about Civil Rights and desegregation, they were about every person's right to pursue a quality education.

In the Madison Metropolitan School District, a 48% graduation rate among African American students indicates that quality has not been achieved. Not even close.

Fortunately, this is one dream that's not going to be allowed to die. Kaleem Caire, president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is the driving force behind Madison Prep, and he isn't ready to wave the surrender flag.

Following the school board vote, Caire vowed to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice, and he also urged supporters of Madison Prep to run for school board.

Love it, love it, love it.

At one point in the development of Madison Prep, Caire sounded optimistic that the school district was a real partner, but the majority of board members had other ideas. Caire and the Urban League did their best to address every objection critics put in their way, and now it's clear that the intent all along was to scuttle the project with a gauntlet of hurdles.

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

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LearnZillion does a number on classrooms


Kai Ryssdal: For those who haven't been in a modern public school classroom lately, there have been some changes since the days you had to whack the erasers together after class to clean them out. Chalkboards have been replaced not just by whiteboards, but by high-tech "smart" boards. Students are using laptops and iPads all over the place. In all, public schools spend roughly $3 billion a year on education technology -- things meant to make teaching faster, easier and better.

Change can be hard, but companies are trying to ease the transition. From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR, Amy Scott reports.

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To Stay Great, Never Forget Your Basics

This interview with Geoffrey Canada, president and C.E.O. of the nonprofit Harlem Children's Zone, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. What were some early management challenges for you?

A. At a school in Massachusetts where I once worked, we managed early on through consensus. Which sounds wonderful, but it was just a very, very difficult way to sort of manage anything, because convincing everybody to do one particular thing, especially if it was hard, was almost impossible.

Q. How big a group was this?

A. There were about 25 teachers and instructors and others. And very quickly I went from being this wonderful person, "Geoff is just so nice, he's just such a great guy," to: "I cannot stand that guy. He just thinks he's in charge and he wants to do things his way." And it was a real eye-opener for me because I was trying to change something that everybody was comfortable with. I don't think we were doing a great job with the kids, and I thought we could perform at a higher level.

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Teachers to be evaluated on new system in 2012-13

Megan Rolland:

Educators from across the state made a last-ditch effort Thursday to sway the state Education Board toward adopting their favorite of three teacher evaluation systems that next year will be used to evaluate every teacher in Oklahoma.

In the end, the board decided not to decide.

After an almost equal amount of support was expressed for two of the three systems, the board voted to adopt all three models for a one-year pilot.

School districts will be able to select any of the three models and will receive a portion of approximately $1.5 million in funding for the evaluation system based on student enrollment numbers.

"When I hear the dialogue back and forth about the strengths and weaknesses of these systems, I wonder if it's really about the strengths and weaknesses of these systems or if it's about who gets the money to further develop their model," said state Education Board Member Lee Baxter, of Lawton. "I'd like to find a way to not make this decision. I'd like to find a way to go through the pilot program and allow the districts to be involved with the evaluation system that they want to over a year's period of time."

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Urban League Plans Legal Action After Madison Prep Vote Fails

Proponents of the Madison Preparatory Academy said they're looking to take legal action against the Madison Metropolitan School District after the school board voted against the proposed charter school.

The Madison Board of Education put an end to the Madison Prep proposal with a 5-2 vote early Tuesday morning, and reaction was swift.

"Because (the school board members) don't take us seriously -- they will sit right up here and look in our face and not even know they're insulting us with the things that they say," said Kaleem Caire, president of the Urban League Of Greater Madison President, shortly after the vote. "We are going to turn our attention immediately, immediately, to address this legally."

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

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10 Years of Assessing Students With Scientific Exactitude

Michael Winerip:

In the last decade, we have emerged from the Education Stone Age. No longer must we rely on primitive tools like teachers and principals to assess children's academic progress. Thanks to the best education minds in Washington, Albany and Lower Manhattan, we now have finely calibrated state tests aligned with the highest academic standards. What follows is a look back at New York's long march to a new age of accountability.

DECEMBER 2002 The state's education commissioner, Richard P. Mills, reports to the state Regents: "Students are learning more than ever. Student achievement has improved in relation to the standards over recent years and continues to do so."

JANUARY 2003 New York becomes one of the first five states to have its testing system approved by federal officials under the new No Child Left Behind law. The Princeton Review rates New York's assessment program No. 1 in the country.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For Cornell Tech School, a $350 Million Gift From a Single Donor

Richard Perez-Pena:

The donor whose $350 million gift will be critical in building Cornell University's new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island is Atlantic Philanthropies, whose founder, Charles F. Feeney, is a Cornell alumnus who made billions of dollars through the Duty Free Shoppers Group.

Mr. Feeney, 80, has spent much of the last three decades giving away his fortune, with large gifts to universities all over the world and an unusual degree of anonymity. Cornell officials revealed in 2007 that he had given some $600 million to the university over the years, yet nothing on its Ithaca campus, where he graduated from the School of Hotel Management in 1956.

The $350 million gift, the largest in the university's history, was announced on Friday, but the donor was not named. Officials at Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed on Monday evening that it was Mr. Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who is known for his frugality -- he flies coach, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch -- as well as his philanthropic generosity, particularly to medical research.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On the 5-2 Madison School Board No (Cole, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira) Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Vote (Howard, Mathiak voted Yes)

The Madison School Board voted early Tuesday morning against a charter school geared toward low-income minority students.

Moments later, Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire announced to a crowd of emotional supporters that he planned to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department. He also urged the supporters to run for School Board.

"We are going to challenge this school district like they've never been challenged before, I swear to God," Caire said.

The School Board voted against the plan 5-2, as expected, just after midnight. In the hours leading up to the vote, however, hundreds of Madison Preparatory Academy supporters urged them to change their minds.

More than 450 people gathered at Memorial High School for public comments, which lasted more than four hours.

It was the first School Board meeting moved to Memorial since a 2001 debate over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

Nathan Comp:
But the night's harshest criticism was leveled not at the proposal but at the board itself, over a perceived lack of leadership "from the superintendent on down."

"You meet every need of the unions, but keep minority student achievement a low priority," said one parent.

Others suggested the same.

"This vote is not about Madison Prep," said Jan O'Neill, a citizen who came out to speak. "It's about this community, who we are and what we stand for -- and who we stand up for."

Among the issues raised by opponents, the one that seemed to weigh heaviest on the minds of board members was the non-instrumentality issue, which would've allowed Madison Prep to hire non-union staff.

A work preservation clause in the district's collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union requires the district to hire union staff. Board member Ed Hughes said he wanted to approve Madison Prep, but feared that approving a non-instrumentality school would put the district in breach of its contract with Madison Teachers, Inc.

"It's undeniable that Madison school district hasn't done very well by its African American students," he said. "But I think it's incumbent upon us to honor the contract."

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

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December 20, 2011

Middleton's Clark Street Community Charter School

Clark Street Community Charter School, via a kind reader's email:

(new charter school being opened in the MASH [Middleton Alternative Senior High School] building. This proposal got started less than a year ago, got a planning grant from DPI in August, and will open in the fall.)
Middleton High School Black Students Find A Voice
It's Thursday morning and a group of students are seated around an oblong table in a classroom at Middleton High School.

Most of the students are black. A few are white. Together they make up the school's Black Student Union (BSU), which was founded last year thanks in large part to the work of a few dedicated teen-agers. Today they are passing around a small toy, a black and white Holstein cow (the student holding the cow has the floor), and talking candidly about issues of race.

"I don't want us to be a joke," said one student. "I don't see other student organizations treated like a joke, and I want this one taken seriously, too."

Another turns her criticism inward, saying she feels it is important that African-American students not perpetuate negative stereotypes about themselves in the school's corridors.

Yet another suggests holding more public events and charitable activities, prompting one young woman to volunteer to prepare food for a bake sale.

Much more on the Clark Street Community Charter School.

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Myth of Madison Prep, Part 2

TJ Mertz:

Part 1 here, (the introductory material is copied from there).

The discussion around the Madison Preparatory Academy (MPA) proposal and the related events and processes has been heated, but not always grounded in reality. Many have said that just having this conversation is a good thing. I don't agree. With myths being so prevalent and prominent, a productive conversation is nearly impossible. Since the vote is scheduled for Monday (12/19), I thought it would be good to take a closer -- fact based, but opinionated -- look at some of the myths. This is part two, although there are plenty of myths left to be examined, I've only gotten one up here. I may post more separately or in an update here on Monday.

Three things to get out of the way first.

One is that the meeting is now scheduled to be held at 6:00 Pm at the Memorial High School Auditorium and that for this meeting the sign up period to speak will be from 5:45 to 6:00 PM (only).

Second, much of the information on Madison Prep can be found on the district web page devoted to the topic. I'm not going do as many hyperlinks to sources as I usually do because much of he material is there already. Time constraints, the fact that people rarely click the links I so carefully include, and, because some of the things I'll be discussing presently are more along the lines of "what people are saying/thinking," rather than official statements, also played a role in this decision. I especially want to emphasize this last point. Some of the myths being examined come straight from "official" statements or sources, some are extensions of "official" things taken up by advocates, and some are self-generated by unaffiliated advocates.

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

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MIT Will Offer Certificates to Outside Students Who Take Its Online Courses

Marc Parry:

Millions of learners have enjoyed the free lecture videos and other course materials published online through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's OpenCourseWare project. Now MIT plans to release a fresh batch of open online courses--and, for the first time, to offer certificates to outside students who complete them.

The credentials are part of a new, interactive e-learning venture, tentatively called MITx, that is expected to host "a virtual community of millions of learners around the world," the institute will announce on Monday.

Here's how it will work: MITx will give anyone free access to an online-course platform. Users will include students on the MIT campus, but also external learners like high-school seniors and engineering majors at other colleges. They'll watch videos, answer questions, practice exercises, visit online labs, and take quizzes and tests. They'll also connect with others working on the material.

The first course will begin around the spring of 2012. MIT has not yet announced its subject, but the goal is to build a portfolio of high-demand courses--the kind that draw more than 200 people to lecture halls on the campus, in Cambridge, Mass. MIT is investing "millions of dollars" in the project, said L. Rafael Reif, the provost, and the plan is to solicit more from donors and foundations.

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Shorewood writer is voice for change in substitute teaching

Alan Borsuk:

Carolyn Bucior now has greater respect for classroom teachers.

She also has a greater sense of annoyance at some teachers.

And she has a grasp on a generally ignored issue in education that has led to her voice being heard nationally.

Substitute teaching is usually looked at somewhat benignly as one of those things that is part of school life. Like everyone else, teachers get sick sometimes or have other reasons to be absent. So someone gets called in to fill in.

I suspect everyone knows this is unlikely to be productive. Goofing off (or worse) when a sub is in the classroom has been a staple of student life since schools were invented.

You have to have an adult keep an eye on what kids are doing, but to expect education to move forward when someone steps in cold is rarely realistic. Well, maybe to watch a video the teacher left behind.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:32 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board won't back Madison Prep Academy opening in 2012

Matthew DeFour:

A majority of the Madison School Board won't support opening next fall a controversial, single-sex charter school geared toward low-income minority students.

But it's unclear whether a compromise proposal to start Madison Preparatory Academy in 2013 will gain enough votes Tuesday night when the board meets.

School Board members Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira were the latest to publicly express their opposition to the current proposal for the school.

Moss said Monday in a letter to the State Journal published on that she doesn't believe the school will help the neediest students. Silveira confirmed her opposition in an interview.

The seven-member board is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the proposal.

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

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Education reform: We need transparency not ideological zeal

The Observer:

The motto of fee-paying Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen is: "Now you should use all your masterly skills" (Omni nunc arte magistra).

Michael Gove, the education secretary, is a former pupil. Since his appointment, he has given every sign that he has taken the motto to heart. In a blizzard of reforms, his skill has been to appear charming, collaborative and collegiate, while exercising a determination to do it his way, "it" in this case being the radical remodelling of the education system.

Yesterday, a glimpse of how his affability camouflages an iron resolve was again revealed when it was announced that the final results of an independent review of the national curriculum, expected in the new year, will now be delayed for 12 months. Critics say the delay is driven by the minister's desire to stamp his authority on the review process.

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December 19, 2011

Education reformer urges zero tolerance for failure

Deidre Williams:

The main principle of the Harlem Children's Zone is simple: When failure is not allowed, success prevails.

"Are your kids graduating high school? No. Are your kids going to college? No. That's not success," Geoffrey Canada, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Children's Zone, asked a Buffalo audience Friday.

Canada, nationally recognized as an advocate for education reform, was the keynote speaker at the first Education Summit presented by the Community Action Organization of Erie County's Education Task Force.

Entitled "Power of Education -- Children First," the summit was held at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo. The purpose was to advance the cause of educational reform in the interests of children across Western New York and explore how to create those opportunities. About 300 people attended.

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Statistical Illiteracy, Media Narratives, and the Spread of a Canard

Tom Elia:

The other day AP published an article titled, "Census shows 1 in 2 people are poor or low-income," which pointed to a US Census Bureau report showing that half of all households earn less than the median national income. Yes, you read that correctly.

The AP's Hope Yen reported:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans -- nearly 1 in 2 -- have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The Census Bureau's definition of a 'low-income household' is less than $45,000, as the AP's Yen wrote:

Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold -- roughly $45,000 for a family of four...

As we noted in a post on the AP 'story,' the US Census Bureau estimates that the median 2009 US household income was about $50,000.

So it seems the crux of the AP article can be accurately shortened to: Half of all households have an income below the median average!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:24 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Duncan's Dilemma: What will be Done to States without NCLB Waivers?

Anthony Cody:

As No Child Left Behind becomes an ever bigger disaster, Secretary Duncan faces a major dilemma. How can he continue to enforce this law he has declared a train wreck?

Last spring, in an attempt to goad Congress into accepting his formula for revising No Child Left Behind, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made some dire predictions.

In his testimony, he said:

...we did an analysis which shows that -- next year -- the number of schools not meeting their goals under NCLB could double to over 80 percent -- even if we assume that all schools will gain as much as the top quartile in the state.

So let me repeat that: four out of five schools in America many not meet their goals under NCLB by next year. The consequences under the current law are very clear: states and districts all across American may have to intervene in more and more schools each year, implementing the exact same interventions regardless of the schools' individual needs.

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December 18, 2011

So what do students think about Madison Preparatory Academy?

Pat Schneider:

No matter where the votes fall Monday when the Madison School Board decides whether to OK a charter school proposal for the controversial Madison Preparatory Academy, the idea of a buttoned-down, no-nonsense alternative to the city's public schools already has entered the local popular culture. It is not only a beacon of hope in efforts to end a lingering race-based academic achievement gap, but also has become an emblematic stick to nudge underperforming kids into line.

As high school senior Adaeze Okoli tells it, when her little brother isn't working up to his potential, her mom jokingly threatens to send him to Madison Prep.

That anecdote says a lot about how distinct a presence the proposed school already has become in local communities of color. It makes me wonder how kids would feel about attending a school that is boys-only or girls-only and requires uniforms, longer school days, a longer school year and greater parental involvement.

Put the kids first for a change, Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire, the architect and unflagging advocate of the school plan, chided school district administrators after they declared that his proposal would violate the district's union contract with its teachers and provide inadequate accountability to the School Board. But for all the analysis and debate about the Madison Prep plan, I haven't heard much from young people about how they would like to go to such a school, and how they think the strict rules would influence learning.

To sound out some students, I turned to the Simpson St

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

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Don't reject Madison Prep

Wisconsin State Journal:

Superintendent Dan Nerad acknowledged last week that existing Madison School District programs aimed at boosting minority achievement "are not having the impact we need for our kids."

"The data is telling us we need to do different things," Nerad added.

And the Urban League of Greater Madison's proposal for an unusual public charter school catering to low-income blacks and Latinos "has elevated the conversation, and I appreciate that," the superintendent said.

"I'm not raising any concerns about the programming side of it," he told the State Journal editorial board.

It sounded like a windup to endorsing the Madison Preparatory Academy, which faces a final vote by the Madison School Board on Monday night.

Instead, Nerad is recommending the School Board reject the academy, primarily because of complicated contract language.

That shouldn't happen.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:35 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Supporting Strategies to Eliminate the Achievement Gap in Madison Public Schools

Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce:

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors met on December 15, 2011, and adopted the following resolution:
Motion: The Board of Directors encourages a comprehensive approach to eliminate the student achievement gap currently present in Madison schools.

The Board strongly endorses the advancement of the Urban League of Greater Madison's proposed Madison Preparatory Academy. The Board also acknowledges and endorses the continued investment in successful strategies already employed by the Madison Metropolitan School District and the United Way of Dane County.

The Chamber Board recognizes that there is no panacea or singular solution to eliminating the student racial achievement gap. Rather, a comprehensive approach should be employed utilizing multiple strategies to address this problem.
The Chamber Board acknowledges the work of community and school leaders who have worked tirelessly on this issue. In particular, the United Way of Dane County has demonstrated tremendous leadership to ensure all struggling students achieve better results. The GMCC is a partner in Schools of Hope, a collaborative community initiative aimed at reducing the achievement gap. In addition, the United Way is committing more than $2 million over the next year for programs to address this issue.

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

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Find a way to make Madison Prep work

The Capital Times:

The Madison School Board Monday night needs to work out the necessary details to make the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy a reality.

There's absolutely no question that our school system, long deemed to be one of the best in the country for a vast majority of its students, is failing its African-American students and, as board member Ed Hughes recently pointed out, we need to accept that fact and be willing to give the Urban League an opportunity to show us a better way.

Still, it needs to be done carefully and not by yielding to heated tempers and ill-informed finger-pointers. This, after all, is not about conservatives vs. liberals, as some would gleefully proclaim, or even union supporters against those who believe unions lurk behind every failure in American education. It's about honest philosophical differences among well-meaning people on how best to educate our children during troubling economic times.

Yet, more importantly, despite the enormous hurdles, it has got to be about the kids and finding a way for them to succeed.

Though there are difficult issues to overcome, there's no need for the board and the Madison Prep advocates to draw lines in the sand. There surely is a middle ground that can honor the union contract, maintain a level of accountability at an acceptable cost to the taxpayers, and give the final OK to open the school.

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:32 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Union concerns must not derail Madison Prep

Tom Consigny:

One of the last remaining opportunities for a locally-elected government body to stop the increasing spread of the entitlement society and the dumbing down of education will occur Monday when the Madison School Board, together with their highly paid educational professionals, will determine the fate of Madison Prep Academy.

Based on news reports, the local teachers union and its always pushy head, John Matthews, oppose the venture. Why? Because the proposal advocates flexibility by hiring non-union teachers at a cost savings of millions!

To Matthews and MTI, your argument that "it's all about the kids" rings hollow and empty again.

Even though I am not a member of a minority and I dislike paying more real estate taxes for unnecessary projects, this non-union driven proposal by Kaleem Caire deserves approval for the future benefit of Madison's kids and residents.

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

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Charter school accountability debate

Katy Murphy:

Yesterday, the California Charter Schools Association caused a stir. The pro-charter group came out with a list of 10 independently-run schools it deemed underperforming -- and encouraged their respective school districts to close them when their 5-year contracts expire!

That list included West County Community High in Richmond, as my colleague Hannah Dreier reported in today's paper. Leadership High in San Francisco was also on it.

The complete list included 31 schools, but the association only published the names of those that are nearing the end of their 5-year terms and seeking a charter renewal.

Here's the reasoning behind the mov, from the news release:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:28 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Failure Rate of Schools Overstated, Study Says

Sam Dillon:

When the Obama administration was seeking to drum up support for its education initiatives last spring, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress that the federal law known as No Child Left Behind would label 82 percent of all the nation's public schools as failing this year. Skeptics questioned that projection, but Mr. Duncan insisted it was based on careful analysis.

President Obama repeated it in a speech three days later. "Four out of five schools will be labeled as failing," Mr. Obama said at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Va., in March. "That's an astonishing number."

Now a new study, scheduled for release on Thursday, says the administration's numbers were wildly overstated. The study, by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research group headed by a Democratic lawyer who endorses most of the administration's education policies, says that 48 percent of the nation's 100,000 public schools were labeled as failing under the law this year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:15 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Virtual schools booming as states mull warnings

Ivan Moreno & Kristen Wyatt:

More schoolchildren than ever are taking their classes online, using technology to avoid long commutes to school, add courses they wouldn't otherwise be able to take -- and save their school districts money.

But as states pour money into virtual classrooms, with an estimated 200,000 virtual K-12 students in 40 states from Washington to Wisconsin, educators are raising questions about online learning. States are taking halting steps to increase oversight, but regulation isn't moving nearly as fast as the virtual school boom.

The online school debate pits traditional education backers, often teachers' unions, against lawmakers tempted by the promise of cheaper online schools and school-choice advocates who believe private companies will apply cutting-edge technology to education.

Is online education as good as face-to-face teaching.

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Online Learning Study Summary

US Department of Education:

Online learning--for students and for teachers is one of the fastest growing trends in educational uses of technology. The National Center for Education Statistics (2008) estimated that the number of K-12 public school students enrolling in a technology-based distance education course grew by 65 percent in the two years from 2002-03 to 2004-05. On the basis of a more recent district survey, Picciano and Seaman (2009) estimated that more than a million K-12 students took online courses in school year 2007-08.

Online learning overlaps with the broader category of distance learning, which encompasses earlier technologies such as correspondence courses, educational television and videoconferencing. Earlier studies of distance learning concluded that these technologies were not significantly different from regular classroom learning in terms of effectiveness. Policy makers reasoned that if online instruction is no worse than traditional instruction in terms of student outcomes, then online education initiatives could be justified on the basis of cost efficiency or need to provide access to learners in settings where face-to-face instruction is not feasible. The question of the relative efficacy of online and face-to-face instruction needs to be revisited, however, in light of today's online learning applications, which can take advantage of a wide range of Web resources, including not only multimedia but also Web based applications and new collaboration technologies. These forms of online learning are a far cry from the televised broadcasts and videoconferencing that characterized earlier generations of distance education. Moreover, interest in hybrid approaches that blend in-class and online activities is increasing. Policy makers and practitioners want to know about the effectiveness of Internet based, interactive online learning approaches and need information about the conditions under which online learning is effective.

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December 17, 2011

Chicago wants to phase out coveted magnet school

Linda Lutton:

Chicago Public Schools is floating a plan to phase out one of its most popular magnet schools.

LaSalle Language Academy magnet school in Old Town gets 1,500 applications a year for around 70 openings.

Now, CPS wants to slowly convert the magnet to a neighborhood school that draws from the immediate area, one of the ritziest in the city. The school would take no new magnet school kindergartners in the fall, unless they already had a sibling enrolled in the school. Instead, the kindergarten would be filled with neighborhood children.

The change would relieve overcrowding at nearby Lincoln Elementary, where rising test scores have made the school a popular option for Lincoln Park families.

But LaSalle parents say the change would also dismantle their school's diversity, achieved from 30 years as a desegregation school.

Related: Matthew DeFour:
Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad said Wednesday he will unveil next month a new plan for improving the achievement of low-income minority students.

The plan will summarize the district's current efforts as well as put forth new approaches, such as a longer school year and opening magnet schools, Nerad said.

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Cell Phones & Driving

Ed Wallace:

One drive back from Dallas on Interstate 30 is indelibly etched into my memory. I was in the center lane. And just forward of me in the right lane, a soft-top Jeep slowly started drifting across all three lanes of traffic, never slowing down. I honked my horn to alert the driver, but the Jeep left the highway and slammed into the first wooden pike in a crash barrier, throwing the vehicle's rear end so high that I thought it might flip over.

Pulling onto the shoulder 50 or so feet ahead of the Jeep, I ran back, expecting the worst. But, while the driver was certainly going to be bruised, she was actually all right. So was her dog, in the front passenger floorboard. When I asked what had happened, she said she'd leaned over to pour some water into her dog's bowl on the floorboard and just wasn't paying attention. But I'd watched this accident unfold over five to seven seconds: She didn't just lean over for a second, she was completely oblivious to her loss of control of her vehicle until it crashed. I couldn't help but notice all the prescription bottles littering the Jeep's interior; one, filled the day before, was for Valium.

Because I had my cell phone with me, I had called Arlington 911 before I ever made it to her wreck.

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Milwaukee's lessons for Madison Prep

Michael Ford:

The Madison Metropolitan School District has a problem educating minority pupils. Less than 50 percent of African-Americans graduate in four years and only 31 percent even take the ACT, an important prerequisite for admittance to four-year colleges. Yet the Madison School Board appears poised to vote down Kaleem Caire's promising proposal to educate the very demographic the district has proved incapable of reaching.

Caire's proposed school, Madison Prep, has several attributes that differentiate it from traditional MMSD schools. Among other things the school would have an extended school day and offer an International Baccalaureate program. Both features have proven track records in schools in Milwaukee.

Much has been made of the fact that there is no guarantee that Madison Prep would be successful. Well no, but the strength of the charter model is that, if the school is unsuccessful, the MMSD board is empowered to terminate its contract. Given the achievement levels of Madison's minority students, any hesitation of the board to try the innovative model is inexplicable.

Worse yet, the reasons for rejecting Madison Prep are divorced from education. The proposed school is a non-instrumentality charter, meaning the School Board authorizes the school but the school is not required to use MMSD employees, including union teachers. Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews finds this problematic, telling The Capital Times that the Madison Prep proposal could "easily be implemented" if it was an instrumentality school employing union teachers. Perhaps it would be easier, but it would also take away from Caire's goal of raising minority student achievement. There are key advantages to the non-instrumentality structure, most notably the ability to assemble and compensate a staff free from the pay schedule and work rules contained in the MTI contract.

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

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Poorer-performing schools less likely to get funds

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

Inside Chicago Public Schools, the joke long has been that when a school gets a fresh coat of paint and new windows, you can expect the central office to shut it down and open a charter in the building.

On Thursday, as Chicago Public Schools released a detailed list of $660 million in capital construction projects for the coming year, the district's top financial officer acknowledged, for perhaps the first time, that there's a kernel of truth in that.

"If we think there's a chance that a building is going to be closed in the next five to 10 years, if we think it's unlikely it's going to continue to be a school, we're not going to invest in that building," Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Electronic Slide Show, Animation, Podcast: ABC-CLIO to Award More Than $60,000 in Cash & Prizes to Teams Researching Top 10 People, Events, Places Shaping History

HOUSTON, TX -- November 14, 2008 This week ABC-CLIO will launch its new annual research competition for secondary students at the National Council for the Social Studies 88th Annual Conference in Houston. The award-winning developer and publisher of history research databases will award more than $60,000 in cash and prizes in this unique competition for teams of secondary students working in collaboration with their social studies teachers and school library media specialists.

The topic for the inaugural competition is "Select the top 10 people, events or places that have shaped the course of history." Coached by their teacher and/or school library media specialist, student teams will identify their choices and then defend them and present their research findings to ABC-CLIO in an electronic format such as a slide show, online essay, video or animation, or an audio podcast. Entries should be submitted in standards-aligned curriculum categories for high school and middle grades. For high school, the categories are U.S. History, Ancient World History, Modern World History, U.S. Government and Civics, and Geography. For middle grades, the categories are Ancient Civilizations, World History and U.S. History and Government.

"We launched this competition to support ABC-CLIO's overall commitment to helping students develop critical-thinking skills, as well as the ability to think historically," said Becky Snyder, president, ABC-CLIO. "Our competition is unique because it maps closely to the topics that history educators are already teaching in their middle grades and high school classrooms. They can easily integrate it into instruction, assign it as a project or offer participation as an extra-credit opportunity. We are excited to see the innovative and creative approaches in the student team projects."

To conduct their research, teams must use and cite one or more of ABC-CLIO's eight online history databases. For schools not currently subscribing to the databases, free access to all eight databases is available for 90 days. Entries will be judged in April 2009 by a panel of leading historians and history educators, and grand-prize winners will be announced in May 2009.

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December 16, 2011

Madison Prep Closing Argument, Part II: Yes, but with a Delay

Madison School Board Member, Ed Hughes:

I want to support the Urban League's Madison Prep charter school proposal. It is undeniable that the Madison School District has not done well by its African-American students. We need to accept that fact and be willing to step back and give our friends at the Urban League an opportunity to show us a better way.

The issue is far more complicated than this, however. There are a number of roadblocks on the path to saying yes. I discuss these issues below. Some are more of an obstacle than others.

The biggest challenge is that a vote in favor of Madison Prep as it is currently proposed amounts to a vote to violate our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers. I see no way around this. I believe in honoring the terms of our contracts with our employees. For me, this means that I have to condition my support for Madison Prep on a one-year delay in its opening.

Most other obstacles and risks can be addressed by including reasonable provisions in the charter school contract between the school district and Urban League.

One wonders what additional hurdles will appear between now and 2013, should the District follow Ed's proposal. Kaleem Caire:
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.

Monday's vote will certainly reflect the District's priorities.

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Closing the achievement gap, but at gifted students' expense

Michael J. Petrilli and and Frederick M. Hess

President Obama's remarks on inequality, stoking populist anger at "the rich," suggest that the theme for his reelection bid will be not hope and change but focus on reducing class disparity with government help. But this effort isn't limited to economics; it is playing out in our nation's schools as well.

The issue is whether federal education efforts will compromise opportunities for our highest-achieving students. One might assume that a president determined to "win the future" would make a priority of ensuring that our ablest kids have the chance to excel.

To Obama, however, as for President George W. Bush, such concerns are a distraction at best. Last year the Education Department's civil rights division announced that it would investigate local school policies that have a "disparate impact" on poor or minority students -- signaling a willingness to go to court if department officials think that school systems have too few of such children in gifted programs or Advanced Placement courses. This bit of social engineering ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and more television.

The result is a well-intended but misguided crusade to solve via administrative fiat the United States' long-standing achievement gap: the dramatic differences in test scores between white and minority students and between middle-class and poor youngsters. The message to schools was unmistakable: Get more poor and minority children into your advanced courses or risk legal action by Uncle Sam.

Then, in September, the president offered states and school districts flexibility around onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act -- linked to certain conditions. Among these: States must explain how they are going to move more students into "challenging" courses. The effect will be yet another push to dilute high-level classes.

The goal of helping more young people succeed in challenging coursework is laudable. But pushing ill-prepared students into tougher classes without adequate preparation isn't doing anyone any favors. Indeed, the administration's strategy has been tried. Nationally, the number of graduates who had taken Advanced Placement exams rose from 1 million students in 2003 to 1.6 million in 2008. In a 2009 study of AP teachers, just 14 percent of educators said that the growth stemmed from an increase in the pool of qualified students. Half of the AP teachers in high-poverty schools said that their African American and Hispanic students were not prepared for AP instruction. Fifty-six percent said that too many students were in over their heads, with adverse consequences for those students and their better-prepared classmates.

Our single-minded focus on closing achievement gaps has almost certainly hurt our top students. In 1996, Rand Corp. scholars determined that low-achieving pupils benefit when placed in mixed-ability classrooms, faring about five percentage points better than those placed in lower-track classes, but that high-achievers score six percentage points worse in such general classes.

In 2008, six years after No Child Left Behind became law, a survey of teachers found 60 percent saying that struggling students were a "top priority" at their schools, while just 23 percent said the same of "academically advanced" students. Eighty percent said that struggling students were most likely to get one-on-one attention from teachers; only 5 percent said the same of advanced students.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association released a study in September that tracked more than 100,000 high-achieving pupils over time and found that more than one-third lost steam as they progressed through school. The Brookings Institution's Tom Loveless has reported that, while the nation's lowest-achieving students made significant gains in reading and math between 2000 and 2007, top students' gains were "anemic."

There are trade-offs here. But the possibility that what's best for our worst-off students is bad for high achievers is blithely ignored by the Obama team and many other school reformers. (To be fair, it was ignored by the Bush team, too.) Advocates with a single-minded focus on closing achievement gaps have insisted that what's good for the neediest kids is best for all kids. Those who question this mantra risk being labeled racist.

It's not like we can afford to coast. Just 6 percent of U.S. eighth-graders scored "advanced" on the 2007 international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study assessment, while many nations fared at least twice that well.

Implemented thoughtfully, a commitment to getting more students into advanced classes is an objective worthy of a great nation. But it's not going to happen overnight -- not without defining "excellence" down.

At this very moment, millions of high-achievers are waiting to be challenged. Meeting their needs is another objective worthy of a great nation. They deserve our encouragement, not our indifference.

Michael J. Petrilli is executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "Our Achievement-Gap Mania," an article published in the journal National Affairs' Fall 2011 edition.

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New Policy Brief: The Evidence On Charter Schools And Test Scores

The Shanker Institute:

The public debate about the success and expansion of charter schools often seems to gravitate toward a tiny handful of empirical studies, when there is, in fact, a relatively well-developed literature focused on whether these schools generate larger testing gains among their students relative to their counterparts in comparable regular public schools. This brief reviews this body of evidence, with a focus on high-quality state- and district-level analyses that address, directly or indirectly, three questions:

Do charter schools produce larger testing gains overall?
What policies and practices seem to be associated with better performance?

Can charter schools expand successfully within the same location?
The available research suggests that charter schools' effects on test score gains vary by location, school/student characteristics and other factors. When there are differences, they tend to be modest. There is tentative evidence suggesting that high-performing charter schools share certain key features, especially private donations, large expansions of school time, tutoring programs and strong discipline policies. Finally, while there may be a role for state/local policies in ensuring quality as charters proliferate, scaling up proven approaches is constrained by the lack of adequate funding, and the few places where charter sectors as a whole have been shown to get very strong results seem to be those in which their presence is more limited. Overall, after more than 20 years of proliferation, charter schools face the same challenges as regular public schools in boosting student achievement, and future research should continue to focus on identifying the policies, practices and other characteristics that help explain the wide variation in their results.

Download the "Policy Brief here (PDF).

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Madison School District, Urban League Need To Come Together On Madison Prep

Derrell Connor:

The Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education vote on the proposed charter school, Madison Preparatory Academy, is just around the corner.

We have heard from school board members, business leaders, teachers and other members of the community. It's safe to say that this is one of the most important issues in this city's history. While I am happy that Madison is finally having the long overdue conversation about how we educate our students who are falling through the cracks, I am not happy that the Urban League of Greater Madison and the school district couldn't come together to agree on a solution. In fact, it bothers me greatly.

It is a huge mistake to have this yearlong discussion come down to a contentious school board vote on Dec. 19. Both sides needed to come together to figure out a way to make Madison Prep a reality before that meeting.

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad and various members of the school board say approving Madison Prep would violate the current contract with Madison Teachers, Inc. So, if 2012 isn't feasible, committing to a date to open Madison Prep's doors in 2013, and using the next three to six months to figure out the terms of that agreement should have been an option. But, unfortunately, that's not going to happen. Instead we have a school district and a civil rights organization arguing over ways to address the achievement gap and graduation rates. Not a good look. And the future relationship between the MMSD and the African American community could hang in the balance.

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

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Michigan House approves bill lifting caps on charter schools, but growth will come in phases

James Dickson:

The Michigan House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to approve Senate Bill 618, which will lift the state's various caps on charter schools, House sources have confirmed. If and when the bill is signed by Governor Rick Snyder, it will go into law. The bill was passed 58-49, according to the Michigan Information & Resource Service (MIRS).

SB 618 had been tie-barred to a group of other Senate bills in the so-called "parent empowerment package," which means they all would've had to pass for any to take effect. But that tie-bar was broken when the House Education Committee approved SB 618 at its Nov. 30 meeting.

Some 35 amendments were offered, according to a House source. Several were approved. Perhaps the most consequential among the amendments phases in the lifting of the cap on charter schools, allowing up to 300 to be established through the end of 2012, 500 through 2014, and starting in 2015, no cap at all.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin, who represents Ann Arbor in Lansing, said that the "huge, gaping problem" in the bill, lifting the cap all at once, was addressed but he still wasn't happy with the way the bill turned out. None of the amendments proposed by Democrats passed, Irwin said; they weren't even brought to a vote.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:17 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

eCheating: Students find high-tech ways to deceive teachers

Greg Toppo:

As students gain access to sophisticated gadgets both at school and at home, educators are on the lookout for new kinds of cheating. From digitally inserting answers into soft drink labels to texting each other test answers and photos of exams, kids are finding new ways to get ahead when they haven't studied.

YouTube alone has dozens of videos that lay out step-by-step instructions: One three-minute segment shows how to digitally scan the wrapper of a soft drink bottle, then use photo editing software to erase the nutrition information and replace it with test answers or handy formulas. The video has gotten nearly 7 million hits.

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George W. Bush Looks Forward After No Child Left Behind

Andrew Rotherham:

George W. Bush is writing a sequel to his big education act. The No Child Left Behind law was signed almost a decade ago, with overwhelming approval from Congress (384 to 45 in the House and 91 to 8 in the Senate). Now, amid a bipartisan effort to gut its accountability measures, the former President is quietly pushing new education-reform initiatives aimed at improving and empowering school principals, who too often lack the training or authority to effectively run their schools. And once again, he's approaching this massive education problem by blurring political lines.

I was invited in my role as TIME's education columnist to sit in on a small meeting this week that Bush organized in New York City, and I was struck by the roster of advisers he had assembled to guide the George W. Bush Institute's education work. The group included some big names in the education non-profit world as well as leaders of traditional public schools and charter schools. But by my informal count, most of the 10 people around the table were Democrats, including Clinton and Obama administration alums. "He cares about education deeply, and he gets it," one staunchly Democratic education consultant, who now works with the institute, told me. The former President has already recruited officials from his administration as well as liberal stalwarts like Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust and Democratic education leaders like former North Carolina Governor James Hunt.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:06 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 15, 2011


Don Severson, via a kind email:

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will vote December 19, 2011, on the Madison Preparatory Academy proposal for non-instrumentality charter school authorization. Active Citizens for Education endorses and supports the approval of the proposal.

In addition to the rationale and data cited by the Urban League of Greater Madison, and significant others throughout the Madison community, supporting the curricular, instructional, parental and behavioral strategies and rigor of the school, ACE cites the following financial and accountability support for approval of the Academy as a non-instrumentality charter school.

  • Financial: Should the Board deny approval of the proposal as a non-instrumentality the District stands to lose significant means of financial support from state aids and property tax revenue. The District is allowed $10,538.54 per student enrolled in the District the 2011-12 school year. With the possibility of Madison Prep becoming a private school if denied charter school status, the 120 boys and girls would not be enrolled in MMSD; therefore the District would not be the beneficiary of the state and local revenue. The following chart shows the cumulative affect of this reduction using current dollars:
    2012-2013 6th grade 120 students @10,538.54 = $1,264,624.80
    2013-2014 2 grades 240 students @10,538.54 = $2.529,249.60
    2014-2015 3 grades 360 students @10,538.54 = $3,793,874.40
    2015-2016 4 grades 480 students @10,538.54 = $5,058,499.20
    2016-2017 5 grades 600 students @10,538.54 = $6.323.124.00
    2017-2018 6 grades 720 students @10,538.54 = $7,587,748.80
    2018-2019 7 grades 840 students @10,538.54 = $8,852,373.60
    This lost revenue does not include increases in revenue that would be generated from improved completion/graduation rates (currently in the 50% range) of Black and Hispanic students resulting from enrollees in a charter school arrangement.
  • Accountability: The MMSD Administration and Board have been demonstrating a misunderstanding of the terms 'accountability' and 'control'. The State charter school law allows for the creation of charter schools to provide learning experiences for identified student groups with innovative and results-oriented strategies, exempt from the encumbrances of many existing state and local school rules, policies and practices. Charter schools are authorized and designed to operate without the 'controls' which are the very smothering conditions causing many of the problems in our public schools. The resulting different charter school environment has been proven to provide improved academic and personal development growth for learners from the traditional school environment. Decreasing impediments and controls inhibiting learning increases the requirements for 'accountability' to achieve improved learner outcomes on the part of the charter school. Should the charter school not meet its stated and measurable goals, objectives and results then it is not accountable and therefore should be dissolved. This is the 'control' for which the Board of Education has the authority to hold a charter school accountable.

    Let us describe an analogy. Private for-profit business and not-for-profit organizations are established to provide a product and/or service to customers, members and the public. The accountability of the business or organization for its continued existence depends on providing a quality product/services that customers/members want or need. If, for whatever reasons, the business or organization does not provide the quality and service expected and the customer/member does not obtain the results/satisfaction expected, the very existence of the business/organization is jeopardized and may ultimately go 'out of business'. This scenario is also absolutely true with a charter school. It appears that the significant fears for the MMSD Administration and Board of Education to overcome for the approval of the proposed non-instrumentality Madison Prep charter school are: 1) the fear of loss of 'control' instead of accepting responsibility for 'accountability', and 2) the fear that 'some other organization' will be successful with solutions and results for a problem not addressed by themselves.

The MMSD Board of Education is urged to approve the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy non-instrumentality charter school proposal; thereby, relieving the bondage which grips students and sentences them to a future lifetime of under-performance and lack of opportunities. Thank you.

Contact: Don Severson, President, 608 577-0851,

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

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ACE Media Conference 12/15/2011 12:30p.m. Financial and Accountability Issues Facing MMSD Board of Education

Don Severson, via a kind email:

(Madison, WI) The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will make a decision at its regular meeting December 19th regarding the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM) proposal for a non-instrumentality charter school. Active Citizens for Education (ACE) has discussed several issues related to the proposal with the Board of Education, administration and with ULGM.

The Board of Education, in its deliberations, must weigh several implications and consequences for the schools, students, parents and the taxpaying public.

In its public statement, ACE will announce its position on the
financial implications of the proposal for future MMSD budgets and the taxpayers; how the issues of "control" and "accountability" relate to the authority of the Board of Education regarding approval or non-approval of the charter school proposal; and Madison Preparatory Academy over-all proposal.

The media conference will be held
December 15, 2011 (Thursday)
12:30 PM, Conference Room
Genesis Enterprise Center (GEC)
313 West Beltline Highway (off Rimrock Road to the west)

Mr. Severson will be available for questions and comments following the media conference.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Superintendent Nerad to unveil plan to help low-income minority students

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad said Wednesday he will unveil next month a new plan for improving the achievement of low-income minority students.

The plan will summarize the district's current efforts as well as put forth new approaches, such as a longer school year and opening magnet schools, Nerad said.

Nerad discussed the plan in a meeting with the State Journal editorial board less than a week before the School Board is to vote on Madison Preparatory Academy, a proposed charter school geared toward low-income, minority students.

Nerad said he opposes the current proposal for Madison Prep primarily because it would violate the district's contract with its teachers union, but that he agrees with the charter school's supporters in that a new approach to close the achievement gap is necessary.

"I made a purposeful decision to not bring (a plan) forward over the past several months to not cloud the discussion about Madison Prep," Nerad said. "It's caused us to take a step back and say, 'We're doing a lot of things, but what else do we need to be doing?'"

Superintendent Nerad's former District; Green Bay offers three "magnet options":

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Madison Prep: Closing Argument, Part I

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

Here's a quote from an on-line comment of a Madison Prep opponent responding to one of the several op-ed pieces posted in the Cap Times in recent days: "There are barriers to students with special education needs, barriers to students with behavioral needs, and barriers to kids who rely on public transportation. These children are simply not the 'right fit'. It is Madison Prep's proposal to leave these kids in their neighborhood schools."

The notion seems to be that Madison Prep may not be welcoming for students from all points along the spectrum of educational needs, even though our neighborhood schools are obligated to serve everyone.

I think the self-selection process for Madison Prep should be taken into account in assessing how its students perform. But it does not trouble me that the school is not designed to meet the needs of all our students. No one need apply to attend and no student will be denied current services or programs if Madison Prep is authorized.

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

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On New Florida Academic Standards

Laura Isensee:

Thirteen high schools won high praise for their soaring graduation rates during the Miami-Dade School Board's last meeting for the year Wednesday.

Overall, Miami-Dade County's public schools hit their highest graduation rate ever, nearly 78 percent -- higher than Broward County's and just shy of the state's 80 percent rate.

But the celebration came with a warning: Next year could be very different.

There is a new FCAT 2.0 and, in the pipeline, a new scoring scale for that exam, plus more weight on reading and a new grading model for state-issued letter grades. Other changes in 2012: More tests will be administered via computers and new end-of-course exams will be given in geometry and biology.

"As we celebrate this year's outstanding graduation accomplishments, it's important to inform the community what's happening in Tallahassee and across our state," said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "The new standards are going to change the game for all of us."

Parts of the new standards are still being developed. On Monday, the State Board of Education will consider proposed new scoring levels for the FCAT 2.0 and the algebra end-of-course exam.

Related: Excellence in Education explains Florida's reading reforms and compares Florida's NAEP progress with Wisconsin's at the July 29th Read to Lead task force meeting.

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December 14, 2011

Penn Professor Doug Lynch on Education

Rachael Wettenstein and Ted Bauer, via a kind email:

Welcome to the third edition of the relaunched Learning Matters podcast. In this episode, Learning Matters web producer Ted Bauer speaks with UPenn vice dean and professor Doug Lynch about various issues in education, including his business plan competition. Lynch draws pointed contrasts between corporate education and public education, and is candid about the notion of success and failure within the field. Enjoy the conversation.

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Wis. school districts giving merit based pay trial runs

Mike Kujak:

School districts across Wisconsin have made strides toward reforming the state's teacher evaluation process by implementing new merit-based salaries for teachers under new powers provided by the budget repair legislation.

Under Gov. Scott Walker's controversial legislation, bargaining units for teachers are still able to negotiate base wages, but cannot negotiate other areas, including certain funds allocated for teacher performance. The bill now gives more authority to district leaders to make changes in working conditions, hours and compensation systems for teachers and staff.

Cedarburg School District in eastern Wisconsin is one of many schools making a move toward the merit-pay system for teachers. The district's superintendent, Daryl Herrick, said the new criteria for pay would be based on a new evaluation model.

"There would be teachers in three-year cycles," Herrick said. "There will be varied activities in the cycles where both the evaluator and the teacher provide direct observations to indicate their performance levels. We'll also have a goal-setting process in order to determine performance."

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Why I will vote against Madison Prep

Maya Cole:

My decision to vote against the Madison Prep proposal is very difficult. I pushed for the planning grant over a year ago when only one other School Board member would sponsor the proposal.

I raised many questions because of the complex scope of the Urban League's proposal for a charter school that aims to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students. My concerns come down to this: Will this proposal be the best investment for the most students? Is this college-prep program the area of focus that would best serve the many struggling students in our district?

The fundamental conclusion I came to over the course of a year is that this proposal would put the district at risk legally and would challenge our district philosophy pertaining to special education students. Perhaps more importantly, the proposal constructs undue barriers such as mandatory information meetings, fundraising and parent contracts. These admission policies would have the effect of excluding students based on language background, prior academic performance, or parental self-selection.

My decision has nothing to do with defending the status quo or protecting the union. However, as a School Board member, parent and neighbor to many children in our district, I believe we have some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable staff in education today.

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

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December 13, 2011

The $19 billion question: Kalamazoo economist Tim Bartik offers 10 thoughts on reforming Michigan schools

Julie Mack:

Last week, I posted an item that asked readers for their suggestions on how to reform Michigan schools. It drew a good number of comments, and I'll be posting some of them later this week.

But today I'm offering offering more food for thought, in the form of a memo written by my good friend Tim Bartik, an economist for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and a former school board president for Kalamazoo Public Schools. Through his work as an economist and as a school board member, Bartik is one of the best-informed people around on best-practices in education and here's what he has to say:

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December 12, 2011

Why I Am Voting Yes on Madison Prep

Lucy Mathiak:

The Urban League's proposal to create a Madison Preparatory charter school is, at its heart, a proposal about public education in our community. Although the discussions often boil down to overly simplistic assertions about whether one position or the other is supportive of or hostile toward public education, it is not that simple. What we are facing is a larger and more fundamental question about our values when it comes to the purpose of public education and who it is supposed to serve.

I am voting "yes" because I believe that strong public education for all is the foundation for a strong society. While our schools do a very good job with many students who are white and/or living above the poverty line, the same cannot be said for students of color and/or students living in poverty. The record is most dismal for African American students.

The Madison Prep proposal is born of over 40 years of advocacy for schools that engage and hold high academic expectations for African American and other students of color. That advocacy has produced minor changes in rhetoric without changes in culture, practice, or outcome. Yes, some African American students are succeeding. But for the overwhelming majority, there are two Madison public school systems. The one where the students have a great experience and go on to top colleges, and the one that graduates only 48% of African American males.

The individual stories are heartbreaking, but the numbers underscore that individual cases add up to data that is not in keeping with our self-image as a cutting edge modern community. We ALL play a role in the problem, and we ALL must be part creating a sound, systemic, solution to our failure to educate ALL of our public school students. In the meantime, the African American community cannot wait, and the Madison Prep proposal came from that urgent, dire, need.
Our track record with students and families of color is not improving and, in some cases, is going backward rather than forward as we create more plans and PR campaigns designed to dismiss concerns about academic equality as misunderstandings. To be sure, there are excellent principals, teachers, and staff who do make a difference every day; some African American students excel each year. But overall, when presented with opportunities to change and to find the academic potential in each student, the district has failed to act and has been allowed to do so by the complicit silence of board members and the community at large.

A few turning points from the past year alone:

  • The Urban League - not MMSD administration or the board - pointed out the dismal graduation rates for African American students (48% for males)
  • Less than 5% of African American students are college ready.
  • AVID/TOPs does a terrific job with underrepresented students IF they can get in. AVID/TOPs serves 134 (2.6%) of MMSD's 4,977 African American secondary students.
  • The number of African American students entering AVID/TOPs is lower this year after MMSD administration changed the criteria for participation away from the original focus on students of color, low income, and first generation college students.
  • Of almost 300 teachers hired in 2011-12, less than 10 are African American. There are fewer African American teachers in MMSD today than there were five years ago.
  • Over 50 African Americans applied for custodian positions since January 1, 2011. 1 was hired; close to 30 custodians were hired in that time.
  • 4K - which is presented as a means to address the achievement gap - is predominantly attended by students who are not African American or low-income.
  • In June, the board approved a Parent Engagement Coordinator to help the district improve its relations with African American families. That position remains unfilled. The district has engagement coordinators working with Hmong and Latino families.
The single most serious issue this year, however, came in May when MMSD administration was informed that we are a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) due to test scores for African American students along with students from low income families and those with learning disabilities. This puts Madison on an elite list with Madison (Milwaukee?) and Racine. The superintendent mentioned DIFI status in passing to the board, and the WI State Journal reported on the possible sanctions without using the term DIFI.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with NCLB, DIFI status is a serious matter because of the ladder of increasing sanctions that come with poor performance. In an ideal world, the district would have articulated the improvement plan required by DPI over the summer for implementation on the first day of school. Such a plan would include clear action steps, goals, and timelines to improve African American achievement. Such a plan does not exist as of mid-December 2011, and in the most recent discussion it was asserted that the improvement plan is "just paper that doesn't mean much." I would argue that, to the African American community, such a plan would mean a great deal if it was sincerely formulated and implemented.
At the same time, we have been able to come up with task forces and reports - with goals and timelines - that are devoted to Talented and Gifted Programing, Direct Language Instruction, Fine Arts Programing, and Mathematics Education to name a few.

Under the circumstances, it is hard to see why the African American community would believe that the outcomes will improve if they are 'just patient' and 'work within the existing public school structures to make things better.' Perhaps more accurately, I cannot look people in the face and ask them to hope that we will do a better job if they just give up on the vision of a school structure that does what the MMSD has failed to do for the African American community since the advocacy began some 40 years ago.

Also posted at the Capital Times.

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Unions & the Future of Our Schools: A New York Conversation with Randi Weingarten 12/14/2011 7:30p.m. EST

The JCC in Manhattan via a kind Ted Bauer email:

Join us for an evening with one of the country's most notable figures in public education. Labor lawyer, former President of the United Teachers Federation and current President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten discusses the challenging terrain of our public education system.
334 amsterdam ave at 76th st, new york, ny 10023 | 646.505.4444

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Mary Burke to run for Madison School Board

Matthew DeFour:

Burke, who made headlines recently for pledging $2.5 million to Madison Preparatory Academy, a controversial charter school proposal, plans to run for the seat being vacated by Lucy Mathiak.

Burke also served as president of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County for nine years and along with the Burke Foundation has donated about $2.6 million to the AVID/TOPS program, which has shown promising results in improving achievement among low-income, minority students.

Burke emphasized closing the district's racial achievement gap as a motivation for her decision to run.

Several others have expressed interest in running for the seat, including Joan Eggert, a Madison schools parent and reading specialist in the McFarland School District, who issued an official announcement last week.

Others who said they are considering a run include parents Jill Jokela and Mark Stokosa. Tom Farley, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010 against James Howard, said Monday he is no longer interested in running and Burke's entry in the race makes him confident in that decision.

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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.

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The Problem Solvers

Steve Kolowich:

As a fledgling voice of reform in higher education, Salman Khan is an oddity. He cannot name any higher education accrediting agencies off the top of his head. He advocates for competency-based credentialing, but has never heard of Western Governors University. He is capable of talking on the phone for a full hour without using the word "disruptive" once. Until recently, he was an analyst for a hedge fund.

Here is what Khan does know: algebra, statistics, trigonometry, calculus, computer science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, economics, and finance -- well enough, at least, to demonstrate the concepts via brief video tutorials on Khan Academy, his free learning website. What began in 2006 as an attempt to tutor his young cousin from afar has evolved into a 2,700-video library with millions of monthly visitors.

Many have lauded Khan's natural skill as a teacher. Khan's charmingly unpolished home recordings form the public face of the organization and provide a peg for media narratives about online learning and the YouTube-ification of the textbook in an era where the rising prices and demand for higher education has collided with the Internet's culture of free.

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NAEP comparisons show key points for Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

What does the Hillsborough County, Fla., school district have that Milwaukee Public Schools doesn't? What about Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina?

Much better overall scores in reading and math, for one thing. They were at the top of the list of 21 urban school districts in results released last week as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. Milwaukee was near the bottom.

But here's something else Hillsborough County - which is the Tampa school district - has: Among its 193,000 students, 57% are from low-income homes. For Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the percentage of low-income students among its 136,000 students is 52%.

For MPS, with 80,000-plus students, the low-income rate is 83%.

Each of the four urban districts that scored the best in fourth-grade reading had a low-income rate of 61% or less. Among the four with the worst results, MPS was the lowest with its 83% rate. Detroit, with the worst scores, was listed in the NAEP report at 87%, Cleveland at 100%, and Fresno, Calif., at 93%.

Two other things:

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal canvasses officials on ideas to boost education

Ed Anderson:

Gov. Bobby Jindal continued his push for overhauling the state's public education system, asking a handful of lawmakers and some members of the state's chief school board for their input Friday. Jindal, who has targeted "education reform" as his chief agenda item for his second term, met with several veteran and rookie lawmakers and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members behind closed doors at the Governor's Mansion for 90 minutes to get their thoughts on potential programs and legislation.

"We are open to listening to people's ideas," Jindal told reporters after the meeting. "But we will not tolerate those who defend the status quo and (want to) keep doing what we have been doing and expect different results.

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December 11, 2011

Will The Madison School Board Madison Prep IB Charter School Vote Spill over to the 2012 Spring Elections, and More?

Matthew DeFour:

And no matter which way the Dec. 19 vote goes, there's no way to know now whether the school will be entirely effective.

"This is the most difficult decision I will ever make on the School Board," said Marj Passman, who plans to vote against the proposal. "It has the potential for polarizing our community, and that's the last thing I want to happen."

The vote comes more than a year after the charter was proposed and in the wake of a School District report outlining its opposition to Madison Prep. The school would violate the district's contract with its teachers and preclude sufficient oversight of the $17.5 million in district funds the school would receive over five years, the report said.

District opposition likely will lead the board to reject the proposal, said School Board president James Howard.

"I don't see how it can pass," said Howard. He and Lucy Mathiak are the only two board members who said they will vote to approve the school.

In interviews last week, Passman, Maya Cole and Ed Hughes said they expect to vote against the proposal. Arlene Silveira and Beth Moss declined to disclose how they plan to vote.

Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire, the lead proponent of the charter, acknowledged he doesn't have the votes. But he's engaged in a full-court press to generate public support for the proposal.

"We have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to support our children and special interest of adults should not come before that," Caire said last week.

Two School Board seats will be on the Spring, 2012 ballot. They are currently occupied by Lucy Mathiak, who is not running again and Arlene Silveira. I suspect the outcome of this vote will drive new candidates, and perhaps, even recalls.

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The Rot Festers: Another National Research Council Report on Testing

reviewed by Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

In research organizations that have been "captured" by vested interests, the scholars who receive the most attention, praise, and reward are not those who conduct the most accurate or highest quality research, but those who produce results that best advance the interests of the group. Those who produce results that do not advance the interests of the group may be shunned and ostracized, even if their work is well-done and accurate.

The prevailing view among the vested interests in education does not oppose all standardized testing; it opposes testing with consequences based on the results that is also "externally administered"--i.e., testing that can be used to make judgments of educators but is out of educators' direct control. The external entity may be a higher level of government, such as the state in the case of state graduation exams, or a non-governmental entity, such as the College Board or ACT in the case of college entrance exams.

One can easily spot the moment vested interests "captured" the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA). BOTA was headed in the 1980s by a scholar with little background or expertise in testing (Wise, 1998). Perhaps not knowing who to trust at first, she put her full faith, and that of the NRC, behind the anti-high-stakes testing point of view that had come to dominate graduate schools of education. Proof of that conversion came when the NRC accepted a challenge from the U.S. Department of Labor to evaluate the predictive validity of the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB) for use in unemployment centers throughout the country.

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An Exemplary Historian: An interview with Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review


What inspired you to start The Concord Review?

Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a col- umn in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of his- tory among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a study of 7,000 students. As a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem, and I began to think about these issues. It occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing his- tory papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. So in1987, I established The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in his- tory. I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the fall of 1988, I was able to publish the first issue of The Concord Review. Since then, we have published 89 issues.

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Dissident Prof (Mary Grabar, Ph.D.)

Will Fitzhugh

Editor's Note: Once again, I have to thank NAS for providing the opportunity for meeting contributor Will Fitzhugh. Will has an AB in English Literature and Ed.M. in Guidance from Harvard. After a number of years in industry, he taught high school for ten years in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1987 he started The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, which has now published 978 history essays from 44 states and 38 other countries. These essays truly are examples of outstanding writing and scholarship. Most of us who teach at the college level wish all high school teachers would heed Will's advice.

What follows below is a speech given at the 2010 meeting of NACAC, prefaced by his introductory note.

by Will Fitzhugh

At the 2010 Conference of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the primary organization for admissions professionals, I spoke about the way the emphasis on little 500-word personal "college" essays erodes students' chances to learn to do actual academic term papers at least once before they get to college.

"The College Essay"

I propose a thought experiment for what it may be worth:

What if we change the name of our organization from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors to: The National Association of College Completion Counselors?

Note that the new name is more comprehensive, as Completion presupposes Admission, but, as is all too obvious these days, Admission cannot assume Completion.

You are all at least as aware as I am of the numbers about the need for academic remediation in Higher Education and the numbers of dropouts from college, but I will review a couple of them. Tony Wagner of Harvard reports that in general, including community colleges, half of college freshman do not return for a second year, and a huge percentage of our high school graduates take six years or more to complete a Bachelor's degree, and four years or more to complete an Associate's degree.

Students who need remediation in basic academic skills are more likely to drop out, and the more remedial courses they have to take, the more likely they are to drop out.

The California State College System reported at a conference last Fall that 47% of their Freshman students are in remedial reading courses.

Does anybody read any more?

We may assume that these students have had 12 years of reading in school already, but they still can't read well enough to do college work, at least by California standards.

Reading is not calculus or chemistry, it is just a basic academic skill in which we expect that the schools have offered practice for 12 years.

Now, a youngster can start to play Pop Warner football at age 6. By graduation from high school, he could have had 12 years of practice at the basic skills of football. Imagine athletes reporting for a college football team, only to be told that they need a year of remedial blocking and tackling practice before they can be allowed to play. It seems unlikely that they would not have learned basic blocking and tackling skills in their previous 12 years of playing football.

I am not just talking about improvement here. Of course, students in college can learn to read more difficult material in new academic subjects. And of course college athletes can get better at all the skills needed for success in their sports.

But we are talking about basic, entry-level academic skills. 47% of freshmen in the California State College System don't have them in reading, after 12 years of practice in school.

When I went into the Army in 1960, I had never fired a rifle before, but in a week or two on the range in Basic Training, I was able to meet the standard for "Sharpshooter." I missed "Expert" by one target.

I am convinced that if I had had 12 years of practice with my M-1 Garand, I really could have scored "Expert"--perhaps even by the higher standards of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I have to confess I am stunned that so many of our high school students, having been awarded one of our high school diplomas, and having been accepted at one of our colleges, are found [by ACT] to be unable to read well enough to do college work.

The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are now in remedial courses each year when they get to college.

It also notes that these students, having satisfied our requirements for the high school diploma, and graduated--having applied to college and been accepted--are told when they get there, that they can't make the grade without perhaps an additional year of work on their academic fundamentals. Naturally this experience is surprising to them, given that they satisfied our requirements for graduation and admission to college, and embarrassing, humiliating and discouraging, as well.

As you may know, my particular interest since 1987 has been in student history research papers at the high school level. I have published 978 essays by secondary students from 44 states and 38 other countries over the last 25 years.

Start young!

Some of the students who wrote the required Extended Essays for the IB Diploma and were published in The Concord Review, and some of our other authors as well, have told me that in their freshman dorms they are often mobbed by their peers who are facing a serious term paper for the first time and have no idea how to do one.

It is absurd to contemplate, but imagine a well-prepared college basketball player being mobbed for help by his peers who had never been taught to dribble, pass, or shoot in high school.

If even colleges like Harvard and Stanford require all their Freshmen to take a year of expository writing, that may not exactly be remedial writing, but I would argue that a student who has completed an Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and a student who has published a 12,000-word paper on Irish Nationalism or a 15,000-word paper on the Soviet-Afghan War for The Concord Review, should perhaps be allowed to skip that year of remedial writing. The author of the Soviet-Afghan War paper, from Georgia, is now at Christ Church College, Oxford, where I believe he did not have to spend a year in an expository writing course, and the author of the Irish Nationalism paper is at Princeton, where she may very well have been asked to spend a year in such a course.

If so many of our students need to learn how to do academic writing (not to mention how to read), what are they spending time on in high school?

I believe that writing is the most dumbed-down activity we now have in our schools. The AP program includes no research paper, only responses to document-based questions, and most high school Social Studies departments leave academic writing tasks to the English Department.

Now, in general, English Departments favor personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, but college admission requirements have given them an additional task on which they are working with students. Teaching writing takes time, not only in preparing and monitoring students, but more especially in reading what students have written and offering corrections and advice. Time for one kind of writing necessarily means less time for another kind.

Personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay have already taken a lot of the time of English teachers and their students, but as college admissions officers ask for the 500-word personal essay, time has to be given to teaching for that.

While high school English departments work with their students on the 500-word personal essay, they do not have the time to give to serious term papers, so they don't do them, and I believe that is why so many students arrive in our colleges in need of a one-year course on the expository writing they didn't get a chance to do in school.

Lots of the public high school students whose work I publish simply do their papers as independent studies, as there is no place for serious academic writing like that in the curriculum.

I would suggest that college admissions officers ask for an academic research paper from applicants in place of the short little personal essay; while it would be more work for them, it would make it more likely that students would arrive ready for college work.

Making sure that our high school students arrive in college able to manage college-level nonfiction reading and academic expository writing might really help us earn our new credential as professionals who work not just to help students get accepted at college, but to help them complete college as well.

Will Fitzhugh's website is, and he can be reached at

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 4:43 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teach to the Test? Most of the problems with testing have one surprising source: cheating by school administrators and teachers.

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

Every year, the education magazine Phi Delta Kappan hires the Gallup Organization to survey American opinion on the public schools. Though Gallup conducts the poll, education grandees selected by the editors of the Kappan write the questions. In 2007 the poll asked, "Will the current emphasis on standardized tests encourage teachers to 'teach to the tests,' that is, concentrate on teaching their students to pass the tests rather than teaching the subject, or don't you think it will have this effect?"

The key to the question, of course, is the "rather than"--the assumption by many critics that test preparation and good teaching are mutually exclusive. In their hands, "teach to the test" has become an epithet. The very existence of content standards linked to standardized tests, in this view, narrows the curriculum and restricts the creativity of teachers--which of course it does, in the sense that teachers in standards-based systems cannot organize their instructional time in any fashion they prefer.

A more subtle critique is that teaching to the test can be good or bad. If curricula are carefully developed by educators and the test is written with curricula in mind, then teaching to the test means teaching students the knowledge and skills we agree they ought to learn--exactly what our teachers are legally and ethically obligated to do.

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Differential validity of the SAT

Steve Hsu:

In an earlier comment thread someone asked whether Asian-American college performance is commensurate with their SAT scores. If A-A SAT scores are artificially elevated by cramming then one might expect it to under-predict college GPA. (On the other hand, if Asians are more conscientious and hard working overall, one might* expect both SAT scores and college GPA to be elevated relative to other groups.) This data from the College Board shows that the validity of SAT as a predictor of college GPA is about the same for whites and Asians.

*Regarding cramming, I have yet to see any data which shows that large groups of people can significantly elevate their SAT scores through preparation. Test prep companies will claim this is possible, but detailed studies by ETS suggest otherwise. In our U Oregon data set (covering all students at the university over a 5 year period) it is quite rare to see a change of 1 population SD between max and average score for individual students who take the SAT multiple times.

(Click for larger version. FYGPA = Freshman Year GPA.)

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Goodbye Textbooks, Hello iPad

David Worthington:

A technology shift is underway. The PC's promise to transform how learning happens in the classroom is being realized by Apple's iPad. Students and teachers in grade school through higher education are using the iPad to augment their lessons or to replace textbooks.

The iPad is especially helpful for students with special needs. Its simplified touch interface and accessibility features help these children learn more independently; aftermarket accessories assist in making the iPad more classroom-friendly.

In March, I wrote about how my mother learned how to use her iPad for basic stuff-like checking e-mail and browsing the Web-without ever having used a PC in her life. Students at all grade levels are finding it just as easy to use.

Jennifer Kohn's third grade class at Millstone Elementary School in Millstone, NJ, mastered the iPad with minimal training. For the most part, the students didn't need to be taught how to use their apps, Kohn says.

Technology's role in schools continues to be a worthwhile discussion topic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:18 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education must be relevant

Tamiko Jordan-Obregon:

It is simply time to be honest. If you are sincerely concerned about the educational problems in Milwaukee and want to see real solutions implemented, then it is time to take a look at the truth. The desire to be politically correct for some and the reluctance to accept reality for others is what has delayed real progress in Milwaukee.

So, here it is point blank:

Wisconsin - not just Milwaukee - has a problem educating African-American youths.

According to the recent test scores reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the achievement gap continues to widen. In other words, white students continue to outperform minority students, especially African-Americans. In fact, Wisconsin has the largest white-black achievement gap in the nation and continues to be the only state with a gap well above the national average.

Basically, white students have an 86% high school graduation rate, while African-American students graduate at a rate of 49%. So, quality education is not difficult to find in Wisconsin, but for some reason African-American youths are not getting it.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:30 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

December 10, 2011

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.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:29 AM | Comments (2) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Year In Research On Market-Based Education Reform: 2011 Edition

Matthew Di Carlo:

If 2010 was the year of the bombshell in research in the three "major areas" of market-based education reform - charter schools, performance pay, and value-added in evaluations - then 2011 was the year of the slow, sustained march.

Last year, the landmark Race to the Top program was accompanied by a set of extremely consequential research reports, ranging from the policy-related importance of the first experimental study of teacher-level performance pay (the POINT program in Nashville) and the preliminary report of the $45 million Measures of Effective Teaching project, to the political controversy of the Los Angeles Times' release of teachers' scores from their commissioned analysis of Los Angeles testing data.

In 2011, on the other hand, as new schools opened and states and districts went about the hard work of designing and implementing new evaluations compensation systems, the research almost seemed to adapt to the situation. There were few (if any) "milestones," but rather a steady flow of papers and reports focused on the finer-grained details of actual policy.*

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How to Guess Better on an SAT

Stephen Dubner:

A nice analytic giblet from a Times profile of new Nobel economists Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims:
Because of his father's College Board connections, Mr. Sims got hold of an old SAT exam, which he and Mr. Willoughby used to conduct a statistical analysis. They found that on multiple-choice questions in English and social studies, the "longer answers tended to be correct." In math, they determined that the number that was "closest to all of the other numerical choices" was probably the right one.

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December 9, 2011

Madison School District Technology Acquisition Plan and iPad Learning Initiative

Bill Smojver, Director of Technical Services:

Madison Metropolitan School District was provided an award from the Microsoft Cy Pres settlement in the Fall of 2009. Since that time the district has utilized many of these funds to prorate projects across the district in order to free up budgeted funds and to provide for more flexibility. The plan and process for these funds liquidates the General Purpose portion of the Microsoft Cy Pres funds, provides an equitable allocation per pupil to each school, and is aimed at increasing the amount of technology within our schools.

The total allocation remaining from Cy Pres revenues totals $2,755,463.11, which was the target for the technology acquisition plan. Two things happened prior to allocating funds to schools: first was to hold back $442,000 for the future purchase of iPads for our schools (at $479 per iPad this equates to a 923 iPads), and second was to hold back $200,000 necessary for increased server capacity to deal with the increase in different types of technology.

The final step was to allocate the remaining funding ($2,113,463.11) out to the schools on a per pupil basis. This was calculated at $85.09 per pupil across all schools within the district.

I found the device distribution to be quite interesting. The iPad revolution is well underway. Technology's role in schools continues to be a worthwhile discussion topic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:01 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Teachers, Inc. on The Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School

John Matthews, Executive Director of Madison Teachers, Inc., via email:

The Urban League proposes that Madison Prep be operated as a non-instrumentality of the Madison Metropolitan School District. The Urban League's proposal is unacceptable to Madison Teachers, because it would effectively eliminate supervision and accountability of the school to the Madison School Board regarding the expenditure of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and because it would also violate long-standing terms and conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Madison Metropolitan School District and MTI.

The Urban League proposes to use District funds to hire non-District teaching staff at lower salaries and benefits than called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It was recently stated in a meeting between representatives of Madison Prep, the School District and MTI that the Urban League plans to hire young African-American males and asks that MTI and the District enable them to pay the teachers they hire less than their counterparts, who are employed by the District. MTI cannot agree to enable that. We believe that such is discriminatory, based both on race and gender. The MTI/MMSD Contract calls for teachers to be compensated based upon their educational achievement and their years of service. MTI and MMSD agreed in the early 1970's that the District would not enable such undermining of employment standards. The costing of the Contract salary placement was explained by both Superintendent Nerad and John Matthews. Those explanations were ignored by the Urban League in their budgeting, causing a shortfall in the proposed operational budget, according to Superintendent Nerad.

It is also distasteful to MTI that the Urban League proposes to NOT ADDITIONALLY pay their proposed new hires for working a longer day and a longer school year. Most employees in the United States receive overtime pay when working longer hours. The Urban League proposes NO additional compensation for employees working longer hours, or for the 10 additional school days in their plan.

Finally, the Urban League is incorrect in asserting that MTI and the District could modify the MMSD/MTI Contract without triggering Act 10, Governor Walker's draconian attack on teachers and other public employees. The Contract would be destroyed if MTI and the District agreed to amend it. Such is caused by Walker's Law, Act 10. MTI is not willing to inflict the devastating effects of Act 10 on its members. The Urban League states that Walker's Act 65 would enable the Contract to be amended without the horrible impact cause by Act 10. That claim is unfounded and in error.

The Madison Prep proposal could easily be implemented if it followed the Charter Plan of Wright School, Nuestro Mundo, and Badger Rock School, all of which operate as instrumentalities of the District, under its supervision and the MMSD/MTI Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:46 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MTI responds on Madison Prep

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy could easily open if it followed the same model as the district's other charter schools, Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews said in response to yesterday's Urban League press conference.

But the current proposal is "unacceptable" to Madison teachers because it would "effectively eliminate School Board oversight of the expenditure of millions of dollars in taxpayer money" and violate the district's contract with its union, Matthews said.

Matthews initially declined to comment on Madison Prep when I contacted him yesterday, but later responded in an e-mail.

In his response, Matthews criticized Madison Prep's plan to pay its teachers lower salaries and benefits than other district teachers, and not offer overtime for working longer days.

He also said the Urban League is incorrect in asserting that the current union contract can be modified without nullifying it under the state's new collective bargaining law.

Related: Some Madison Teachers & Some Community Members (*) on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School.

Related: student learning has become focused instead on adult employment - Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:56 PM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Don't Worry About It


I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Disclaimer: I write this as a university student. Some of my points may or may not be applicable in a high school environment.

The grading system in schools and universities has a long history of opponents and criticism. I won't go into the arguments here because, quite frankly, I don't have anything new to say about it. In short: the system sucks. It encourages memorization and frenzied, last-minute studying, can be played in a variety of ways, etc. Educators can debate the alternatives and run pilot projects, and that's all well and good. But what can we - the students - do about it?

My answer: Don't Worry About It.

Of course, this could easily be interpreted as a call to rebel against the system, forget grades entirely, and party night and day. So let me expand on that:

Pick courses that interest you, and focus on learning. And don't worry about the grades - they will come with the territory.

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Urban League's Caire rips school district over Madison Prep opposition

Matthew DeFour:

Supporters of a controversial, single-sex charter school Thursday blasted the Madison School District for its opposition to the proposal and said the teachers union is an impediment to improving student achievement.

At a news conference, the Urban League of Greater Madison's president, Kaleem Caire, also said the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, which would target low-income, minority students, isn't dead and called on the School Board to put "learning before labor" when it votes Dec. 19 whether to approve the charter.

"Our children aren't there to be subjects of teachers and teachers unions," Caire said. "But the decisions that have been made in the Madison Metropolitan School District for a mighty long time have been determined by adults getting what they need first before kids."

Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews declined comment Thursday.

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

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December 8, 2011

Kaleem Caire Video on Madison Prep

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

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Urban League/Madison Prep to Address Madison School District Report on Charter School

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Fails to address core issues impacting racial achievement gap and middle class flight

WHAT: The Urban League of Greater Madison and the founding Board of Madison Preparatory Academy will share their response to the Madison Metropolitan School District Administration's recommendation that the Board of Education not Support Madison Prep, and will call for immediate and wider education reforms within the Madison Metropolitan School District to address the racial achievement gap and middle-class flight and crises.

WHEN: 12:00 pm, Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHERE: Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53713

WHO: Kaleem Caire, Urban League President & CEO Urban League of Greater Madison Board of Directors Madison Preparatory Academy Board of Directors Community Leaders and Parents

For more information, contact Laura DeRoche Perez, Director of School Development, Urban League of Greater Madison, at or 608-729-1235.

Related: "They're all rich, white kids and they'll do just fine" -- NOT!.

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

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Our Enemy, the Book

Fellow members of the Electronic Educational Entertainment Association. My remarks will be brief, as I realize you all have texts to read, messages to tweet, and you will of course want to take photos of those around you to post on your blog.

I only want to remind you that the book is our enemy. Every minute a student spends reading a book is time taken away from purchasing and using the software and hardware the sale of which we depend on for our livelihoods.

You should keep in mind the story C.S. Lewis told of Wormwood, the sales rep for his uncle Screwtape, a district manager Below, who was panicked when his target client joined a church. What was he to do? Did this mean a lost account? Screwtape reassured him with a story from his own early days. One of his accounts went into a library, and Screwtape was not worried, but then the client picked up a book and began reading. However, then he began to think! And, in an instant, the Enemy Above was at his elbow. But Screwtape did not panic--fortunately it was lunchtime, and he managed to get his prospect up and at the door of the library. There was traffic and busyiness, and the client thought to himself, "This is real life!" And Screwtape was able to close the account.

In the early days, Progressive Educators would sometimes say to students, in effect, "step away from those books and no one gets hurt!" because they wanted students to put down their books, go out, work for social justice, and otherwise take part in "real life" rather than get into those dangerous books and start thinking for themselves, for goodness' sake!

But now we have more effective means of keeping our children in school and at home away from those books. We have Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of other games for them to play at escaping all moral codes. We have smartphones, with which they can while away the hours and the days texting and talking about themselves with their friends.

We even have "educational software" and lots of gear, like video recorders, so that students can maintain their focus on themselves, and stay away from the risks posed by books, which could very possibly lead them to think about something besides themselves. And remember, people who read books and think about something besides themselves do not make good customers. And more than anything, we want and need good customers, young people who buy our hardware and software, and who can be encouraged to stay away from the books in libraries, which are not only free, for goodness's sake, but may even lead them to think. And that will be no help at all to our bottom line. Andrew Carnegie may have been a philanthropist, but by providing free libraries he did nothing to help us sell electronic entertainment products. We must never let down our guard or reduce our advertising. Just remember every young person reading a book is a lost customer! Verbum Sap.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 5:05 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Athletic Hours Sample

I recently received a history paper submitted by a high school Junior who was kind enough
to enumerate the hours he has spent on athletics in a recent year:

Football: 13 hours a week, 13 weeks per year. (169 hours)

Basketball: 12 hours a week, 15 weeks per year. (180 hours)

Lacrosse: 12 hours a week, 15 weeks per year. (180 hours)

Summer Lacrosse: 10 hours per week, 15 weeks per year. (150 hours)

This yields a total, by my calculations, of

169 + 180 + 180 hours = 529 hours + 150 in the summer, for a new total of 679 hours.

We are told that there is no time for high school students to write serious history research papers, which they need to do to prepare themselves for college academic requirements. It seems likely that this young man will be better prepared in athletics
than in academics.

If it were considered important for all students to read history books and to write a serious history research paper, 679 hours (84 eight-hour days) might just be enough for them to manage that.

This particular young man made the time on his own to write a 28-page history research paper with a bibliography and 107 endnotes and submit it to The Concord Review, but this was not his high school requirement.


"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 4:19 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Some Madison Teachers & Some Community Members (*) on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School

200K PDF File, via a kind reader.

Madison Teacher's Inc. Twitter feed can be found here.

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

* Please see TJ Mertz's comment below. A link to the document was forwarded to me via a kind reader from Madison Teachers, Inc. Twitter Feed (a "retweet" of Karen Vieth's "tweet"). Note that I enjoyed visiting with Karen during several Madison School District strategic planning meetings.

A screenshot of the link:

The outcome of the Madison Prep "question" will surely reverberate for some time.

Finally, I suspect we'll see more teacher unions thinking different, as The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has done: Minneapolis teacher's union approved to authorize charter schools.

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The Problem Solvers

Steve Kolowich:

As a fledgling voice of reform in higher education, Salman Khan is an oddity. He cannot name any higher education accrediting agencies off the top of his head. He advocates for competency-based credentialing, but has never heard of Western Governors University. He is capable of talking on the phone for a full hour without using the word "disruptive" once. Until recently, he was an analyst for a hedge fund.

Here is what Khan does know: algebra, statistics, trigonometry, calculus, computer science, biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, economics, and finance -- well enough, at least, to demonstrate the concepts via brief video tutorials on Khan Academy, his free learning website. What began in 2006 as an attempt to tutor his young cousin from afar has evolved into a 2,700-video library with millions of monthly visitors.

Many have lauded Khan's natural skill as a teacher. Khan's charmingly unpolished home recordings form the public face of the organization and provide a peg for media narratives about online learning and the YouTube-ification of the textbook in an era where the rising prices and demand for higher education has collided with the Internet's culture of free.

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Chicago Public Schools enters into compact agreement with Gates Foundation

Joel Hood:

Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday became the latest large urban district to sign a compact agreement with the education-reform powerhouse Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pledging greater cooperation and collaboration between the city's charter and traditional neighborhood schools.

The agreement allows Chicago to compete for a piece of a $40 million grant from the Gates Foundation, aimed at building relationships between charters and neighborhood schools and allow for the sharing of innovative ideas.

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Why Innovation Can't Fix America's Classrooms

Marc Tucker:

Most Atlantic readers know that, although the U.S. spends more per student on K-12 education than any other nation except Luxembourg, students in a growing number of nations outperform our own. But think about this: Among the consistent top performers are not only developed nations (Japan, Finland, Canada), but developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Even if we find a way to educate our future work force to the same standards as this latter group -- and we are a very long way from that now -- wages in the United States will continue to decline unless we outperform those countries enough to justify our higher wages. That is a very tall order.

You would think that, being far behind our competitors, we would be looking hard at how they are managing to outperform us. But many policymakers, business leaders, educators and advocates are not interested. Instead, they are confidently barreling down a path of American exceptionalism, insisting that America is so different from these other nations that we are better off embracing unique, unproven solutions that our foreign competitors find bizarre.

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The courage of Kaleem Caire

Dave Cieslewicz:

Kaleem Caire has only been back in Madison for less than two years, but he sure has grabbed our attention.

Caire didn't waste any time after coming home from a successful private sector career on the East Coast to be the new president for the Urban League of Greater Madison, starting to shake up the local establishment more or less immediately upon arrival. He has been pushing a bold proposal to attack the long-standing issue of minority underachievement in the Madison public schools. His idea for the Madison Preparatory Academy was vetted well in Nathan Comp's cover story for Isthmus last week.

For well over a year now, Caire has been shuttling between the district administration, Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) union leaders, school board members, parents, editorial boards and community meetings fighting for this idea.

In response to union and district administration concerns, he changed the proposal to make the school an "instrumentality" of the district, meaning it would be under school board control and be staffed by MTI member teachers. But that proposal came in at a cost for the district of $13 million over five years. Superintendent Dan Nerad, for whom I have a lot of respect, told the League that he couldn't support anything over $5 million.

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December 7, 2011

Oregon to seek powerful 'chief education officer' to revamp preschool, public schools, colleges

Betsy Hammond:

Oregon plans to recruit and hire a new "chief education officer" who will have unprecedented power over education, including control of the chancellor of higher education, the next superintendent of Oregon's public schools and the state community college commissioner.

Gov. John Kitzhaber's new overarching education board, with control over preschool through universities, unanimously endorsed the general job description for that education officer Thursday.

Kitzhaber said he hopes to have the right person in the job by April.

The chosen leader will need the vision to help Oregon streamline, improve and connect all the education programs and institutions that serve or should serve learners from birth through college, he said. He or she will also have to be an education expert, plus be able to motivate those who work in the current system to embrace change. The political challenges will be huge.

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The Power of Education Data

Anne Hyslop:

If policymakers (see Brown, Jerry) still aren't convinced that education data matters, two reports released this week demonstrate that high quality, actionable information about schools and students is vital in efforts to improve education and student outcomes.

Bill summarized the important work of the Data Quality Campaign yesterday. More states than ever are collecting the information educators and policymakers need to make informed decisions about what's working and what isn't in schools. But just because the data can be collected, it doesn't mean that states' work is complete. Data for Action 2011 identifies four challenges - turf, trust, technical issues, and time - that continue to hinder states' efforts to utilize the full potential of their data (shameless plug: you should read my report, Data That Matters, for another set of 4 Ts that all states should follow to make their data user-friendly and actionable for school leaders).

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Where Schools Fall Short

The New York Times:

Millions of students attend abysmally weak school systems that leave them unprepared for college, even as more jobs require some higher education. The states have an obligation to help these students retool.

More than 35 percent of students need remediation when they reach college, according to the federal government. A study by the organization that administers the ACT, the college entrance exam, finds that only a quarter of the 1.6 million 2011 high school graduates who took the exam met college-readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science.

Some students need one or two remedial courses before they can enroll in credit-bearing college classes. Others need so much remedial work that they will exhaust state and federal student aid without ever getting a degree. This is especially troubling because many of these students have passed state exams that are supposed to certify them as ready for college.

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Let's get together on Madison Prep

Dave Zweifel:

The debate over whether the Madison School Board should give the final OK to the Madison Preparatory Academy is getting a bit nasty.

And that should not be.

While the passion on the part of the advocates for the school, led by the energetic Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire, is perfectly understandable given our schools' dismal record on minority achievement, so is the questioning from those who aren't convinced the prep idea will solve that problem.

Now, on the eve of a vote on that final approval, is not the time to point fingers and make accusations, but to come together and reasonably find ways to overcome the obstacles and reassure those who fret about giving up duly elected officials' oversight of the school and the impact it will have on the entire district's union contracts if not done correctly.

The union problem is not the fault of the union, but stems from Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature's action to dramatically change public employee collective bargaining in Wisconsin. If the union or the School Board makes concessions for Madison Prep, the collective bargaining agreement for the entire district, which is to expire in June 2013, could be negated.

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

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Do Teachers Really Come From The "Bottom Third" Of College Graduates?

Matthew Di Carlo:

The conventional wisdom among many education commentators is that U.S. public school teachers "come from the bottom third" of their classes. Most recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took this talking point a step further, and asserted at a press conference last week that teachers are drawn from the bottom 20 percent of graduates.

All of this is supposed to imply that the U.S. has a serious problem with the "quality" of applicants to the profession.

Despite the ubiquity of the "bottom third" and similar arguments (which are sometimes phrased as massive generalizations, with no reference to actual proportions), it's unclear how many of those who offer them know what specifically they refer to (e.g., GPA, SAT/ACT, college rank, etc.). This is especially important since so many of these measurable characteristics are not associated with future test-based effectiveness in the classroom, while those that are are only modestly so.

Still, given how often it is used, as well as the fact that it is always useful to understand and examine the characteristics of the teacher labor supply, it's worth taking a quick look at where the "bottom third" claim comes from and what it might or might not mean.

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Online Learning, Personalized

Somini Sengupta:

Jesse Roe, a ninth-grade math teacher at a charter school here called Summit, has a peephole into the brains of each of his 38 students.

He can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.

Each student's math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.

The software program unleashed in this classroom is the brainchild of Salman Khan, an Ivy League-trained math whiz and the son of an immigrant single mother. Mr. Khan, 35, has become something of an online sensation with his Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube, which has attracted up to 3.5 million viewers a month.

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December 6, 2011

Are Charter School Unions Worth the Bargain?

Mitch Price, via a kind Deb Britt email:

About 12 percent of all charter schools have bargaining agreements. Why do charter schools unionize? What is in these charter school contracts? Can they be considered innovative or models for union reform? And how do they compare to traditional district/union teacher contracts? Center on Reinventing Public Education legal analyst Mitch Price investigated those questions in his study of charter school collective bargaining agreements.

Price examined nine charter schools unionized either by management design or by teacher vote. For comparison, he examined traditional district contracts and analyzed data from non-unionized charter schools as well. He found that the new contracts can be crafted in ways that respect the unique missions and priorities of charter schools, provide teachers with basic protections, and maintain organizational flexibility. However, while these new contracts innovate in many ways, they could go much further given the opportunity to create contracts from scratch.

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Seattle Cluster (Spectrum) Grouping Discussion

Chris Cronas, Principal, Wedgwood Elementary

Prior to the Thanksgiving break, we administered a survey asking for feedback from families about their knowledge and thoughts on the changes we are making to the curriculum delivery model at Wedgwood. Thank you to the 259 families who responded to the survey. We have 449 students currently enrolled at Wedgwood, 185 of whom are siblings. If respondents only completed one survey per family, as requested, our sample is quite accurate.

Overall, families want more information about what cluster grouping is. This was expressed in a variety of ways by families of general education, spectrum and special education students. I will attempt to clarify what it is here and how Wedgwood staff is using this information to move forward.

For those who do not know, cluster grouping is a method of grouping gifted students (gifted being identified as students who score in the 98th - 99th percentile on a cognitive ability test) into clusters of 6 students in one classroom that also include high achievers and above average students. The remaining students would be clustered so that the highest achieving students and lowest achieving students are not in the same classroom. With that as a guide, Wedgwood is developing plans to move from having self-contained spectrum classrooms to integrated classrooms using an interpretation of this model. We are already doing this in 1st grade, albeit more heterogeneously than what the research we based our 1st grade model on suggests.

Charlie Mas has more:
Are you confused about what Wedgwood is doing with their Spectrum program? Join the club. Everyone is confused about what Wedgwood is doing with their Spectrum program. The president of the confusion club appears to be the school's principal, Chris Cronas.

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Proposed Teacher Evaluation Law May Appear on Massachusetts' November Ballot

Dan Ring:

In another issue, Sam Castaneda Holdren, a spokesman for Stand for Children, said the organization collected about 100,000 voter signatures for a ballot question that would codify into law new educator-evaluation regulations approved in June by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The new state regulations call for evaluating teachers and administrators partly by the scores of their students on the MCAS statewide tests, feedback from students and parents, by state and local observations in classrooms and other measures.

The ballot question would go beyond the state regulations in some respects, said Jason Williams, executive director of Stand for Children in Massachusetts. For example, the question would mandate that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approve evaluation plans developed through bargaining with unions in school districts if those local plans differ from a state model that will eventually be developed. Right now, the department could only review those local plans, not reject them, Williams said

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Still Another Madison Prep Update: After all this, Is a Non-Instrumentality Simply a Non-Starter?

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The Urban League's Madison Prep proposal continues to garner attention as we draw closer to the School Board's December 19 up-or-down vote on the proposal.

This weekend the news has been the school district administration's analysis of the Urban League's current proposal for a non-instrumentality charter school (i.e., one where the teachers and other school staff would be employees of the Urban League rather than the school district and the school would be free of most administrative oversight from the district).

The analysis recommends that the School Board reject the Madison Prep proposal, for two principal reasons.

The first is that, as a matter of policy, the administration is opposed to non-instrumentality charter schools because of the lack of day-to-day oversight of their operations. The second reason is that there does not seem to be a way the school district could enter into a contract for a non-instrumentality charter school without running afoul of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI).

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

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Who wants to be a teacher?

Leon Young:

America now finds itself at an interesting crossroads. Over the next few years, it is estimated that this country will need one million new teachers, as more and more baby boomers begin to retire. (A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic Post-War II baby boom and who grew up during the period between 1946 and 1964.)

This impending shortfall of public educators is further exacerbated by the disturbing national trend that has severely undermined job security for many public-sector employees by restricting, or outright prohibiting workers from engaging in the collective bargaining process.

As we have seen, Wisconsin has become the embarrassing leader of the political attack now being orchestrated against the poor and working-class families in this country. But vilifying teachers is nothing new for the Badger State. Former Governor and now U.S. Senate hopeful, Tommy Thompson used teachers and its union (WEAC) as convenient political scapegoats back in the 1990s. He succeeded in making the case that state property taxes were so out of whack, solely as a result of the exorbitant salaries and benefits being afforded to teachers. Talk about pure political demagoguery!

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Study Tallies a District's Return on Investment: Payoff is $1.53 for every $1 invested

Christina A. Samuels:

How much is a good school system worth?

The Virginia Beach, Va., school district believes its own system is worth about $1.53 for every $1 spent from the 70,000-student district's operating fund.

Not content with making an argument that good schools have an economic value that is unmeasurable, the district asked a university economist to calculate just what it brings both to the city and the Hampton Roads region in southeastern Virginia.

The report generated for the district, the third-largest in the state, is more than an academic exercise for James G. Merrill, the Virginia Beach superintendent. The district is one of the few in the state that receive money from local taxpayers based on a revenue-sharing formula, which is currently under fire. As the city and the school district head into budget season, Mr. Merrill said he wanted to make an argument for school funding based on business principles.

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December 5, 2011

What's the real graduation rate in our schools?

Ericka Mellon:

Roughly one-third of students in Harris County's public schools leave without a diploma, according to a new analysis from Children at Risk.

The Houston-based research and advocacy nonprofit calculated for the first time a decade of average graduation rates for Harris County. It also calculated graduation rates for all the public high schools with available data in Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties for the ninth-grade class of 2004-05. The rate reflects students who graduated within six years.

As the graphic below shows, the percentage of students graduating high school has increased over the decade, but black and Hispanic students and those from low-income families graduate at much lower rates than their Anglo, Asian and more affluent classmates.

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Dropping cursive isn't a capital idea

Jim Stingl:

There's a debate brewing - mostly via keyboards - about whether schools still need to teach cursive writing to classrooms of digitally wired kids.

I'd be a better defender of beautifully flowing handwriting if my own hadn't deteriorated over the years to a hybrid of cursive, printing, squiggles and shorthand. My wife nudges me out of the way every time we step up to sign a guest book. My lame defense is that I'm left-handed.

Still, I'm glad I learned cursive at Our Lady of Sorrows, my Catholic elementary school where every classroom came with a strip of capital and lowercase letters above the blackboard. Even if a person doesn't write that way very often - thank-you notes and postcards come to mind - it's nice to be able to decipher other people's hen-scratching.

Wisconsin is one of more than 40 states that don't require cursive in their core curriculum standards, though the state Department of Public Instruction doesn't have any data on schools or districts that have actually dropped it in favor of spending more time on other subjects. Cursive may indeed fade away, but who wants to jump first?

What's most important, said DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper, is learning the various types of writing - persuasive, storytelling, speeches and so forth - and not whether it's written, printed or typed.

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Programming should take pride of place in our schools

John Naughton:

If we don't change the way ICT is thought about and taught, we're shutting the door on our children's futures

So, in the immortal words of Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent, coding (ie computer programming) is "the new Latin". This was the headline on his blog post about the burgeoning campaign to boost the teaching of computer skills in UK schools.

Dedicated readers will recall that it is also a bee in the bonnet of this particular columnist. The ICT (information and communications technology) curriculum in our secondary schools has been a national disgrace for as long as I can remember. This is because it effectively conflates ICT with "office skills" and generally winds up training them to use Microsoft Office when what they really need is ICT education - that is to say preparation for a world in which Microsoft (and maybe even Google) will be little more than historical curiosities, and PowerPoint presentations will look like Dead Sea scrolls.

Rory Cellan-Jones's blog post was prompted by signs that the campaign to rethink ICT education is gathering momentum. It was first given a boost by a report written by two elders of the computer games world, Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, on the need to transform the UK into "the world's leading talent hub for the video games and visual effects industries". Their report recommended, among other things, that computer science should become part of the national curriculum.

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What Is Happening to America's Less-Skilled Workers? The Importance of Education and Training in Today's Economy

Michael Greenstone, Adam Looney:

The labor market continued to expand at a modest pace last month, according to today's employment report. Payroll employment increased by 120,000 jobs in November, and the fraction of Americans with a job ticked up. Including revisions to previous months, total employment was 192,000 higher in November. Private employment increased by 140,000 jobs last month while governments continued to shed jobs. While the unemployment rate jumped down to 8.6 percent, some of the reduction reflected lower labor force participation rather than increases in employment.

While overall job creation has improved slightly, many American workers continue to face serious difficulties in the labor market. These workers tend to have less formal education and/or fewer job-relevant skills. For less-educated workers, the Great Recession has only exacerbated a longer-term trend of diminished earnings and job opportunities.

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Virtually Educated

Gail Collins:

It's weird how you can lose track of our ever-changing world. For instance, until recently, I thought "reality TV" meant games about people who were stuck on an island or locked in a house together for the summer. Then, suddenly, I noticed that there were seven different regularly scheduled shows about real housewives, three about people who bid on abandoned storage lockers and two about people who kill wild hogs for a living.

And then there was online education. (Confession: This entire column is actually going to be about online education. I just used the wild hogs to reel you in.)

I always thought that the only kids getting their entire public schooling online were in the hospital, living in the Alaskan tundra, or pursuing a career as a singing orphan in the road company of "Annie." Not so. There are now around 250,000 cyberschool students in kindergarten through high school and the number is growing fast.

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Bad schools still manage to navigate the system

Alan Borsuk:

Nobody is forced to go to Dr. Brenda Noach Choice School. The 87 students enrolled this September were there because their parents chose the school.

So why should we be concerned about how the students are doing? None of our business, right?

I would disagree for two reasons: One, those 87 students mean the school is in line to receive more than $500,000 this year in public support. And, two, results for the school's students a year ago on the state's standardized tests were bad.

How bad?

A few slices of an answer: Only 18% of the school's students were rated proficient in reading. None - that is, zero - were proficient in math. There were only a handful of 10th-graders last year, and among them, none scored as proficient in reading, language arts, math, science, or social studies. Zero.

The Brenda Noach school, 3965 N. 15th St., is among a handful of schools at the bottom of the spectrum (judging by test scores and other indicators) of the 106 schools in Milwaukee's nationally important private school voucher program.

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Missouri Education Commissioner Outlines Options for Kansas City Schools


Citing a critical need to not underestimate the stakes at hand, Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro presented to the State Board of Education today her analysis of ways the state could assist the Kansas City Public Schools in regaining accreditation.

The State Board met in Branson on Dec. 1-2, where discussion of the Kansas City Public Schools was part of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's recommendation for revamping a statewide system of support. This system would identify risk factors and target limited resources to assist unaccredited school districts and those that are at risk of becoming unaccredited. Currently, nearly one dozen schools would receive focused attention.

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Sky isn't falling on Wisconsin public schools

Wisconsin State Journal:

Here's the bottom line on public schools in Wisconsin after a big cut in state aid to K-12 education:

• The kids are mostly all right.

• The teachers are smarting from smaller paychecks.

• The full impact of the two-year, $750 million cut won't be known until next school year.

That's what a recent survey of Wisconsin school administrators suggests.

The Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators surveyed more than 80 percent of districts across the state in early fall. The results are being cited -- and exaggerated -- in a variety of ways. The Democrats and unions suggest the sky is falling. Republican Gov. Scott Walker pretends all is well.

And the political spin will only speed and sharpen if Walker faces a recall election next year as expected.

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December 4, 2011

A testament to single-gender education

Carmyn Neely:

Moving from elementary school to middle school, or from middle school to high school, was simple once. A counselor, principal, or teacher informed the student which school she would attend when summer ended. And the parents got their children to the right school on a specified day at the end of August.

No choices.

No decisions.

Public education long ago parted ways with the one-size-fits-all approach, particularly in urban or suburban school districts large enough to design schools focused on particular areas of student interest. We have moved on to science magnets, liberal arts and fine arts academies, performing arts institutes, and single-gender schools.

The single-gender model for girls has been around for more than 100 years, mostly in parochial and private schools where they have done remarkable work educating young women. They are a novelty in public education. And an all-girls school is the new kid on the block in the Austin school district -- and in other districts in Texas.

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Madison Schools' Administration Opposes the Proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

We are in agreement that the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated. The Administration agrees that bolder steps must be taken to address these gaps. We also know that closing these gaps is not a simple task and change will not come overnight, but, the District's commitment to doing so will not waiver. We also know that to be successful in the long run, we must employ multiple strategies both within our schools and within our community. This is why the District has held interest in many of the educational strategies included in the Madison Prep's proposal like longer school days and a longer school year at an appropriately compensated level for staff, mentoring support, the proposed culture of the school and the International Baccalaureate Program.

While enthusiastic about these educational strategies, the Administration has also been clear throughout this conversation about its concern with a non-instrumentality model.

Autonomy is a notion inherent in all charter school proposals. Freedom and flexibility to do things differently are the very reasons charter schools exist. However, the non-instrumentality charter school model goes beyond freedom and flexibility to a level of separateness that the Administration cannot support.

In essence, Madison Prep's current proposal calls for the exclusion of the elected Board of Education and the District's Administration from the day-to-day operations of the school. It prevents the Board, and therefore the public, from having direct oversight of student learning conditions and teacher working conditions in a publicly-funded charter school. From our perspective, the use of public funds calls for a higher level of oversight than found in the Madison Prep proposal and for that matter in any non-instrumentality proposal.
In addition, based on the District's analysis, there is significant legal risk in entering into a non- instrumentality charter contract under our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.

In our analysis of Madison Prep's initial instrumentality proposal, the Administration expressed concerns over the cost of the program to the District and ultimately could not recommend funding at the level proposed. Rather, the Administration proposed a funding formula tied to the District's per pupil revenues. We also offered to continue to work with Madison Prep to find ways to lower these costs. Without having those conversations, the current proposal reduces Madison Prep's costs by changing from an instrumentality to a non-instrumentality model. This means that the savings are realized directly through reductions in staff compensation and benefits to levels lower than MMSD employees. The Administration has been willing to have conversations to determine how to make an instrumentality proposal work.

In summary, this administrative analysis finds concerns with Madison Prep's non-instrumentality proposal due to the level of governance autonomy called for in the plan and due to our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers. Based on these issues, we cannot recommend to the Board that Madison Prep be approved as a non-instrumentality charter school.

We know more needs to be done as a district and a community to eliminate our achievement gaps. We must continue to identify strategies both within our schools and our larger community to eliminate achievement gaps. These discussions, with the Urban League and with our entire community, need to continue on behalf of all of our students.

Matthew DeFour:
In anticipation of the recommendation, Caire sent out an email Friday night to School Board members with a letter responding to concerns about the union contract issue.

The problem concerns a "work preservation" clause in the Madison Teachers Inc. contract that requires all teaching duties in the district be performed by union teachers.

Exceptions to the clause have been made in the past, such as having private day-care centers offer 4-year-old kindergarten, but those resulted from agreements with the union. Such an agreement would nullify the current union contract under the state's new collective bargaining law, according to the district.

Caire said a recent law signed by Gov. Scott Walker could allow the district to amend its union contract. However, School Board member Ed Hughes, who is a lawyer, disagreed with Caire's interpretation.

Nerad said even if the union issue can be resolved, he still objects to the school seeking autonomy from all district policies except those related to health and safety of students.


Caire said Madison Prep's specific policies could be ironed out as part of the charter contract after the School Board approves the proposal. He plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to respond to the district's review.

"The purpose of a charter school is to free you from red tape -- not to adopt the same red tape that they have," Caire said. "We hope the board will stop looking at all of those details and start looking at why we are doing this in the first place."

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

The fate of Madison Prep, yea or nea, will resonate locally for years. A decisive moment for our local $372M schools.

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NJEA's President Guilty of "Deliberate Misuse of the Data"

New Jersey Left Behind:

Over the last several months it's been a pleasure to witness the easing of ill will between the leadership of NJ's primary teachers' union, NJEA, and members of Gov. Christie's educational team. After several years of bitter recrimination from both sides of the table, everyone seems to have moved on from the trauma of our botched Race To The Top application and former Comm. Bret Schundler's resignation. Sure, the sting of last Spring's health and benefits reform bills, championed by Gov. Christie, must be a sore spot for union leadership, but there appears to be a shared recognition that we should recalibrate the balance between the needs of schoolchildren and the needs of teachers. Suddenly NJ's 100-year old tenure law is on the table - a boon for both student and professionals - and Ed. Comm. Cerf 's speech at NJEA's Annual Convention earlier this month and was courteously received (except for a few nasty tweets).

So we'll hold onto the progress and roll our eyes at the retro and reactive press release just out from NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, in which she claims, in outraged tones, that NJ's alleged achievement gap among black, white, Hispanic, and poor kids is a "classic strawman" on the part of Gov. Christie and "based on a deliberate misuse of the data."

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Minneapolis teacher's union approved to authorize charter schools

Tom Weber:

The Minneapolis teachers' union has become the first in the nation to win the right to authorize charter schools.

State officials have approved the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers as a charter school authorizer.

Authorizers don't run charters; they oversee the administrators and school boards that handle day-to-day operations of a charter school. Authorizers are also primary decision makers on which schools to sponsor.

During the 20-year history of charter schools there have been examples of teachers starting schools, and some charters have unionized teachers.

MFT will be the first union to serve as a charter sponsor. Formally, it has created an organization called the Minnesota Guild of Charter Schools (informally 'the Guild') that will serve as authorizer.

This makes sense. I hope we see much more of this.

Perhaps someone will ask WEAC's Mary Bell about this at the 12.6.2011 WisPolitics lunch.

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Madison School District Talented and Gifted Update

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad:

Elementary Support & Services
National Novel Writing Month
Future Problem Solving
Math enrichment
William & Mary Literature groups
M2 and M3 Math groups
American Math Competition 8
Science enrichment pilot College for Kids I (support)

Middle School Support & Services
WCATY courses
Future Problem Solving
Online courses
Advanced Math courses
Assistance with Science Symposium
American Math Competition 8
College for Kids II (support)
Great Books Pilot
Hybrid Geometry Pilot

High School Support & Services
College Matters at UW Madison
Math Meets (competitions)
Respectful Relationship days
Leadership Conference (pilot, grant application in progress)
Assistance with High School Science Symposium

Mentor Services
1. Falk- Working with students in a writing group
2. Stephens- Working with a group of students in math
3. Lapham-1'1/2"dgrade-Math
4. Schenk- Science/math enrichment
5. Crestwood- Math enrichment
6. Crestwood- Math enrichment
7. Crestwood-Math enrichment
8. Franklin- Math enrichment
9. Randall- Math enrichment
10. Randall - Math enrichment

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Madison Prep IB Charter: Making sense of the controversial charter school

Nathan Comp:

On Dec. 19, the Madison school board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve Madison Preparatory Academy, a charter school that would target at-risk minority students.

For more than 18 months, the proposal -- drawn up by the Urban League of Greater Madison as an ambitious step toward closing the district's racial achievement gap -- has polarized the community, with a broad range of critics taking aim on multiple fronts.

The proposal, at least by local standards, is a radical one, under which the Urban League would operate two largely taxpayer-funded, gender-specific secondary schools with an unprecedented level of autonomy. If approved, Madison Prep would open next fall with 120 sixth-graders and peak at 840 students in grades 6 through 12 by its seventh year.

Opponents say the Urban League's proposal combines flawed educational models, discredited science, fuzzy budgeting and unrealistic projections of student success. While some applaud certain elements of the proposal, like longer school days and academic years, they maintain that Madison Prep won't help enough students to justify the $17.5 million cost to the district over its first five years.

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December 3, 2011

Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren't failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.

In fact, if you're a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that's on a par with Singapore or Finland -- among the best in the world.

However, if you're black or Latino and poor, it's an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don't as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district's achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.

These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.

But they doesn't take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn't be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district's youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.

Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it's easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison's Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.

Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.

Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin's Don't). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller's assertions are fact based.

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How Madison Prep Can Be a Non-Instrumentality (Non-Union)?

Kaleem Caire, via email

December 2, 2011

Greetings Madison Prep.

Tomorrow afternoon, we are expecting to learn that MMSD's Administration will inform the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education that Madison Prep should not be approved. A possible reason we expect will be MMSD's concern that the current collective bargaining agreement between the District and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) has a "work preservation clause" which the teacher's union advocated for long ago to ensure that it was the only game in town to represent public school teachers in Madison.

Below, is the cover note that I forwarded to Ed Hughes of the Board of Education and copied to a number of others, who had asked a thoughtful question about our proposal to establish Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter school, we hope, in fall 2012. Also see the letter attached to this email.
---------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------
December 2, 2011

Greetings Ed.

Attached, please find a letter that contains the answer to your question referenced in your email below. The letter contains the explanation of a path to which Madison Prep could be established as a non-instrumentality public charter school, under Wisconsin law, and in a way that would not violate the current collective bargaining agreement between MMSD and Madison Teachers Inc.

We look forward to answering any questions you or other members of the Board of Education may have.

Thank you so much and Many blessings to you and your family this holiday season.


cc: Daniel Nerad, MMSD Superintendent
Dylan Pauly, MMSD Legal Counsel
MMSD Board of Education Members
ULGM Board of Directors
Madison Prep Board of Directors
Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.
Steve Goldberg, CUNA Mutual Foundation

PDF letter:
This letter is intended to respond to your November 78,207I email and to suggest that there is a viable option for moving forward with Urban League's proposal for the Madison Preparatory Academy ("Madison Prep") that: [i) will reduce cost; and (ii) will not sacrifice the union security provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement "Agreement" or "Contract") between the Madison Metropolitan School District ("MMSD" or "District") and Madison Teachers, Inc. ("MTI").

Your email asks for a response to a question concerning how the school district could authorize Madison Prep as a non-instrumentality charter without thereby violating the terms of the District's Agreement with MTI. Your email references a provision in the MTI Agreement that provides "that instructional duties where the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requires that such be performed by a certifìcated teacher, shall be performed only by'teachers."' .See Article I, Section 8.3.a. In addition you note that "the term 'teacher' refers to anyone in the collective bargaining unit." See Article I, Section 8.2. You conclude your email by stating that "it appears that all teachers in MMSD schools -- including non-instrumentality charter schools - must be members of the MTI bargaining unit."

The Urban League is aware of the Agreement's language and concedes that the language, if enforceable, poses an obstacle as we look for School Board approval of the plan to open and operate a "non-instrumentality" school. Under an instrumentality charter, the employees of the charter school must be employed by the school board. Under a non-instrumentality charter, the school board may not be the employer of the charter school's staff. See S 118.40(7)(a). Thus, the statement in your email that all teachers, including those in a non-instrumentality charter school - "must be members of the MTI bargaining unit" and, presumably, employed by the school board is not permitted under Wisconsin law.

Under Wisconsin's charter school law the School Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether a school is an instrumentality or not an instrumentality of the school district. .See S 118.40(7)(a). That decision is an important decision reserved to the School Board alone. The effect of that decision drives whether teachers and staff must be, or cannot be, employees of the School Board. The language of the Contract deprives the School Board of the decision reserved to it under the statute and that language cannot be harmonized to give effect to both the statute and the Agreement. Alternatively the Contract language creates a situation whereby the School 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. In our view the law trumps the Contract in either of these situations.

The situation described above could likely only be resolved in a court of law. The Contract includes a "savings clause" that contemplates that where a court invalidates a provision in the Agreement, the invalid provision is deleted and the remainder of the contract remains intact. See Article VIII, Section E.

The Urban League is, however, mindful that litigation is both expensive and time consuming. Moreover it is clear that the Contract language will become a prohibited subject of bargaining in the near future when the current Agreement expires. Unfortunately, the children we seek to serve, do not have the time to wait for that day.

Our second purpose in writing is to make you aware of a possible solution to a major obstacle here. One of the major obstacles in moving forward has been the cost associated with an instrumentality school coupled with MTI's reluctance to work with the District in modifying the Contract to reduce costs associated with staffing and certain essential features of Madison Prep, like an extended school day, As we understand it MTI does not want to modify the Contract because such a modification would result in an earlier application of 2077 Wisconsin Act L0 to the District, members of the bargaining unit and to MTI itself.

We understand MTI's reluctance to do anything that would hasten the application of Act 10 in the school district, With the passage of 2011. Wisconsin Act 65, that concern is no longer an obstacle.

Act 65 allows the parties to a collective bargaining agreement to enter into a memorandum of understanding that would run for the remaining term of the collective bargaining agreement, for the purpose of reducing the cost of compensation or fringe benefits in the collective bargaining agreement,

The Act also provides that entering into such a memorandum would not be considered a "modification" of the collective bargaining agreement for the purposes of Act 10. Act 65 was published on November 23,2077 and took effect the following day. The law allows the parties to a collective bargaining agreement to enter into such a memorandum no later than 90 days after the effective date of the law.

The Urban League believes that Act 65 gives the Board and MTI the opportunity to make changes that will facilitate cost reductions, based in compensation and fringe benefits, to help Madison Prep move forward. And, the law allows the parties to do so in a way that does not adversely impact the teachers represented by MTI or the union security provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For example, the parties could agree to reduce the staffing costs for Madison Prep, The parties could also agree that a longer school day would not have to cost more. And, the parties could agree that the work preservation clause referenced in the first part of this letter does not apply where the School Board has determined a charter school willbe a non-instrumentality of the District, a move that would also most certainly reduce costs. These changes would not be forced upon any existing MTI represented teacher as teachers would apply for vacancies in the school.

We hope that the School Board will give serious consideration to the opportunity presented by Act 65. 0n behalf of the Urban League of Greater Madison and Madison Preparatory Academy, we thank you for your support of Madison Prep.

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

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What Value-Added Research Does And Does Not Show

Matthew DiCarlo:

Value-added and other types of growth models are probably the most controversial issue in education today. These methods, which use sophisticated statistical techniques to attempt to isolate a teacher's effect on student test score growth, are rapidly assuming a central role in policy, particularly in the new teacher evaluation systems currently being designed and implemented. Proponents view them as a primary tool for differentiating teachers based on performance/effectiveness.

Opponents, on the other hand, including a great many teachers, argue that the models' estimates are unstable over time, subject to bias and imprecision, and that they rely entirely on standardized test scores, which are, at best, an extremely partial measure of student performance. Many have come to view growth models as exemplifying all that's wrong with the market-based approach to education policy.

It's very easy to understand this frustration. But it's also important to separate the research on value-added from the manner in which the estimates are being used. Virtually all of the contention pertains to the latter, not the former. Actually, you would be hard-pressed to find many solid findings in the value-added literature that wouldn't ring true to most educators.

Much more on value added assessment, here.

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The Rise Of Online High Schools

Tom Ashbrook:

High school goes digital. Never mind pep rallies and locker rooms. We'll look at the rise of online high school.

We all know what school means. Especially high school. Classrooms. Study halls. Pep rallies. Locker rooms. For most, that's still the formula.

But a rising wave of American students - and not just high school but the full K-12 - is turning away from that. Is getting its education online.

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December 2, 2011

Is Suburbia Doomed?

Joel Kotkin:

This past weekend the New York Times devoted two big op-eds to the decline of the suburb. In one, new urban theorist Chris Leinberger said that Americans were increasingly abandoning "fringe suburbs" for dense, transit-oriented urban areas. In the other, UC Berkeley professor Louise Mozingo called for the demise of the "suburban office building" and the adoption of policies that will drive jobs away from the fringe and back to the urban core.

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation's mainstream media -- and the planning community -- more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration's housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, "We've reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities."

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

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Andy Grove on Vocational Education

The Angry Philanthropist:

PHILANTHROPY: Are you as paranoid about vocational education as you were about business?
MR. GROVE: The details are of course different, but in this way, they are very similar. Paranoia in management involves trying to anticipate who intentionally or unintentionally will slow you down, or who will derail you. Usually this attitude is not taught in school, which is why I wrote my book. Now, as for vocational education, do you recall the words of the presidential report on education [A Nation at Risk] from 1983? It started out by saying, "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." Is this paranoia?

Well, the same thing applies to vocational education--only doubly so. Most people don't even realize the need for more highly trained workers. The assumption remains that technical education is for less intelligent people. The first item cut from educational budgets is vocational education. People are required to be suitably trained for their work requirements, and yet the classes that are required for this are cut to the bone. In some instances, students are halfway through the course when funding is cut and then they are sent home. We create a damned obstacle course for people who want to work!

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Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is working with John Ratzenberger to build interest in the skilled trades.

Jonathan Last:

Bernie Marcus is a do-it-yourself kind of guy. Sure, he knows his way around sheetrock and, yes, he can talk in great detail about remodeling a bathroom or putting in a backyard deck. But for Marcus, home improvement projects represent a part of something much more profound. Doing it yourself means being able to take control of your own life, shaping your own destiny, daring to accomplish more than you imagine possible. It's an essential part of being an American. After all, it's what inspired his signature project. He built a company from scratch, and turned his idea into a household name with a $60 billion market cap. Bernie Marcus built Home Depot.

"It happened because of us," says Marcus. "I mean, we had no money. When we opened Home Depot in 1979, we were broke. I had just been fired. Some of us were on the verge of bankruptcy. But we had a great idea, and we had some people who were willing to support us. And we put in the work--we put in sweat and tears, our hearts and souls. But today Home Depot has more than 300,000 people working for it. We built it all."

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School Board members float alternatives to Madison Prep charter school

Susan Troller:

Two Madison School Board members who say they are likely to vote no on Dec. 19 when the Madison Preparatory Academy proposal comes before the board for final approval or denial have some ideas they believe would better serve all of Madison's students.

Marj Passman, School Board vice president, says she hopes the local Urban League and its president, Kaleem Caire, will pursue funding for Madison Prep as a private school if the proposal fails to gain approval from a majority of board members. Passman says it's likely she will vote against Madison Prep as a public charter school, although she will look at an administrative analysis due by Dec. 4 prior to making her final decision.

"There's been a lot of community support and I'm sure he (Caire) can come up with the money for the school as a private academy," Passman told me in a recent phone interview.

"Then he could pursue the school in its purest form, he won't have to compromise his ideas, and he can showcase how all these elements are going to work to help eliminate the achievement gap, increase graduation rates and raise GPAs for minority students," she says.


Board member Maya Cole also tells me she is a "pretty firm no vote" against the Madison Prep proposal. What Cole would like to see as an alternative is a charter school embedded within an existing district middle school like Wright or Toki, using district staff.

Read more:

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December 1, 2011

Low-income, minority students shine in Madison schools' college prep program, analysis shows

Matthew DeFour:

Black and Hispanic students in a special Madison School District college preparatory program have higher grade point averages, attendance rates and test scores than their peers who aren't in the program, according to a UW-Madison analysis.

The study of the AVID/TOPS program -- geared toward preparing low-income, minority students for college -- comes as the Madison School Board contemplates a proposal to create Madison Preparatory Academy, a controversial charter school with similar goals.

Some opponents of Madison Prep argue the AVID/TOPS program is a proven way of helping close the achievement gap between white and minority students.

Superintendent Dan Nerad said the district is pushing ahead with a proposal to expand the program in middle school. It currently serves 491 students at East, West, Memorial and La Follette high schools and Black Hawk Middle School.

"I would not tell you that AVID alone will make the difference," Nerad said. "But it's a very important piece for us."

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School Choice?

Andrew Rotherham:

The new Brookings index on school choice is interesting and worth a look but as I go through it two things seem to jump out. First, despite the rhetoric in the public square there still isn't a great deal of real choice in education. And second, the index seems to reward places (relatively speaking) that have limited choices but still do all the things you should do (information, transportation etc...nonetheless). That's like having an incredible restaurant with easy valet parking, wonderful fresh food, great service, and lovely ambiance - but that can only seat four people a night. Nice but limited.

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The Extraordinary Syllabus of David Foster Wallace What his lesson plans teach us about how to live.

Katie Roiphe:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides' bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.

I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace's name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him. I am suspicious generally of those sorts of hushes and enchantments, and yet I do feel in the presence of his careful crazy syllabuses something like reverence.

Wallace doesn't accept the silent social contract between students and professors: He takes apart and analyzes and makes explicit, in a way that is almost painful, all of the tiny conventional unspoken agreements usually made between professors and their students. "Even in a seminar class," his syllabus states, "it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can't always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof --- points out supra, our class can't really function if there isn't student participation--it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways."

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We Must Do More Than Merely Avoid the NCLB Train Wreck

Pedro Noguera:

The Obama administration's decision to allow states to request waivers from No Child Left Behind was a step in the right direction, but only a baby step. Four in five schools across the country will be deemed "failing" this coming year if nothing stops the "train wreck" that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will inflict upon the nation's schools. These include schools in which the vast majority of students are proficient in math and English, as well as schools in which students, teachers, and principals are making real progress in the face of formidable challenges: concentrated poverty, large numbers of students with special-needs, and state budget cuts that have severely reduced the resources needed to address the obstacles to learning.

Duncan's characterization of NCLB is apt; a recent National Research Council study found that 10 years of test-based accountability "reform" has delivered no significant progress for students. Throughout the country, pressure to improve test scores has led to an increase in intense test preparation. In many cases, this has led to less time for actual learning and reduced the ability of schools to respond to the learning needs of the most disadvantaged students. Instead of focusing on how to deliver high quality instruction schools have become preoccupied with how to produce increases in test scores. Reports of widespread cheating on state exams appearing in city after city are increasingly viewed not as isolated instances of teacher misbehavior, but as a consequence of high-stakes testing.

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Proposed High School Angers Parents at Gifted and Talented School

Emily Canal:

Parents gathered in the auditorium of the Talented and Gifted School for Young Scholars on Tuesday morning were not happy.

Their school, one of only three citywide gifted and talented programs in Manhattan, shares space in an East Harlem building with three middle schools. They learned recently that one of the schools, Esperanza Preparatory Academy, wants to expand to a high school, and they are concerned that the expansion will cause overcrowding and bring other problems.

Tuesday's meeting was called by the Education Department last week after parents flooded the office with calls and e-mails expressing concern about the addition of high school grades when their school has children as young as kindergarten.

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Keys to college students' success often overlooked, report says

Carla Rivera:

Colleges should examine a wider set of social, economic and personal characteristics to determine how they can help students remain in school and graduate, a new report has found (PDF report link).

Aside from SAT scores and high school grade point averages, students' success in college relies on a number of other factors -- often overlooked -- that more accurately predict whether they will stay in school, according to the report scheduled for release Tuesday by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Using information from a national survey of college freshmen in public and private institutions as well as graduation data, the report found, for example, that students who visit a college before enrolling, participate in clubs and other activities and those who have used the Internet for research and homework are more likely to complete a degree earlier than others. The costs of attending a college and the institution's size also contribute to students' success, the report found.

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November 30, 2011

Chicago Public Schools' Unveils School Turnaround Targets

Rebecca Vevea:

Chicago Public Schools officials plan to overhaul 10 schools next year, six of which will be managed by a private organization in the latest move by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to turn to the private sector to aid poorly performing public schools.

The proposed overhauls--commonly called turnarounds--involve the firing of existing staff and improvements to school curriculum and culture. Turnarounds are the first step in a series of school actions that include consolidating and closing underperforming schools.

A new state law requires CPS to announce all school closings and turnarounds by Thursday. There was vociferous opposition to any proposed closings at recent public hearings, which were also required by the law, even though though the list of targeted schools had not yet been released.

The elementary schools slated for turnaround are: Pablo Casals, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.; Melville W. Fuller, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Ave.; Theodore Herzl, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.; Marquette, 6550 S Richmond St.; Brian Piccolo, 1040 N Keeler Ave.; Amos Alonzo Stagg, 7424 S Morgan St.; Wendell Smith, 744 E 103rd St. and Carter G. Woodson South Elementary Schools, 4414 S Evans. The Chicago Vocational Career Academy, at 2100 E 87th St., and Tilden Career Community Academy, 4747 S Union Ave., high schools also are targeted for turnaround.

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For young math phenom, age is just another number

Mila Koumpilova:

In his first algebra class last year, Mani Chadaga slumped low in his front-row seat and pretended to read his new textbook intently.

Mani could make himself only so inconspicuous: He was, after all, a second-grader in a junior high class at St. Paul's Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School.

So he stopped trying.

Soon, he was piping up with solutions to the teacher's questions and standing before his stumped classmates, explaining how he arrived at them. These days, as a third-grader juggling Algebra II and geometry, he kneels in his seat, only a smidgen of his early shyness and all his humility intact.

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November 29, 2011

Madison School District agrees to release teachers' sick notes

Steve Verburg:

The Madison School District has agreed to terms for releasing more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who missed work in February during mass protests over collective bargaining.

The district will remove the teachers' names and other identifying information from the notes, under an agreement reached Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal, which requested the records under the state's Open Records Law.

"It's essentially what we asked for in May," State Journal Editor John Smalley said Tuesday. "It was never our intention to publish any names or individual situations, but to look at the collective situation of all of these sick notes and how the district as an institution handled it."

School Board President James Howard said the agreement protects teachers while complying with the newspaper's needs and a Nov. 21 court ruling ordering the district to turn over the notes. The newspaper sued the district for the records after the district denied requests for them.

Jack Craver:
Many friends of mine are upset with the legal battle the Wisconsin State Journal waged to obtain the 1,000 sick notes Madison teachers used to get off work during the union protests in February. My own radio host and boss, Kurt Baron, referred to the paper as the "Wisconsin State Urinal" in describing his decision to no longer have the paper as his home page online. Some called into the show and promised to cancel their subscriptions.

Teachers should have a right to individual privacy over their medical records. We shouldn't know whether John Q. cited herpes or hemorrhoids on his doctor's note.

I am less sympathetic, however, to the teachers' right to collective privacy. As long as their names are redacted, the public has the right to know if 273 teachers cited malaria and 345 claimed to suffer from ebola.

Unfortunately the recent ruling will violate individual privacy by allowing the State Journal to see the names of the teachers on the sick notes.

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Keep KC's school board, but get it plenty of help

The Kansas City Star

No one wants to see the Kansas City School District recover just enough to regain provisional accreditation and limp along in wounded form for another decade or so.

Kansas Citians are looking for an administrative structure capable of running schools that meet the state's expectations and prepare students for college and jobs.

With the school district scheduled to become unaccredited on Jan. 1, the Missouri Board of Education is contemplating structural changes. Chris Nicastro, the education commissioner, has spent considerable time trying to figure out what to recommend to the board when it meets Thursday and Friday. At one point, she asked members of the Kansas City school board if they'd be willing to step aside in favor of an appointed board. Most would prefer to remain in charge.

School board governance has not served Kansas City well in recent decades. Candidate choices have mostly been weak. Voter participation in elections has been abysmal. Boards have been factious and meddlesome.

Money And School Performance:
Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment by Paul Cioti:
For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." The education establishment and its supporters have replied, "No one's ever tried." In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers' salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can't be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

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Virtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value

Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown:

A Virginia company leading a national movement to replace classrooms with computers -- in which children as young as 5 can learn at home at taxpayer expense -- is facing a backlash from critics who are questioning its funding, quality and oversight.

K12 Inc. of Herndon has become the country's largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, upending the traditional American notion that learning occurs in a schoolhouse where students share the experience. In K12's virtual schools, learning is largely solitary, with lessons delivered online to a child who progresses at her own pace.

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November 28, 2011

Rice makes plea for education in America

Lucy Madison:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she's concerned about the economy, the deficit, and the "jaded" nature of American politics - but she says the country's "biggest single problem" is with the public school system.

Rice, speaking to CBS' Bob Schieffer on a special Thanksgiving edition of "Face the Nation," argued that the nation's educational system is failing crucial populations, and that "it's gonna drive us into class warfare like we've never seen before."

Responding to a question about the current state of American politics, Rice argued that "we've become a bit jaded as a country."

But she said that wasn't her biggest concern with the future of America right now.

"I think we've got a deeper problem," she said. "It speaks to the way that, for instance, I and my family got ahead. I think the biggest single problem we've got is the K-12 education system."

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Finland puts bar high for teachers, kids' well-being

Erin Richards:

English class is about to start, and Taneli Nordberg introduces the day's guests: a row of fresh-faced university students sitting in the back of the classroom. They're training to be teachers at the University of Helsinki.

Nordberg, 31, wants the eighth-graders to become teachers for a moment.

"I want you to tell the teacher trainees something you would like them to do when teaching and something you want them to avoid doing," he explains. "In English, please."

The students tumble up to the chalkboards and start writing. Some of the advice is predictable - "not too much homework" - but much of it is insightful.

The exercise, though short and light, is something of a microcosm of the Finnish educational approach - engagement and collaboration between teacher and student, a comfortable atmosphere, and the expectation of quality in how students express themselves.

Over the past decade, students in Finland have soared on international measures of achievement. They've continued to post some of the best scores in the developed world in reading, math and science, according to a respected international exam. The country has one of the narrowest gaps in achievement between its highest and lowest-performing schools, and on average spends less per pupil than the United States.

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Madison Schools' dual-language program prompts concerns

Matthew DeFour:

Students in the Madison School District's dual-language immersion program are less likely than students in English-only classrooms to be black or Asian, come from low-income families, need special education services or have behavioral problems, according to a district analysis.

School Board members have raised concerns about the imbalance of diversity and other issues with the popular program.

As a result, Superintendent Dan Nerad wants to put on hold expansion plans at Hawthorne, Stephens and Thoreau elementaries and delay the decision to the spring on how to expand the program to La Follette High School in 2013.

"While the administration remains committed to the (dual-language) program and to the provision of bilingual programming options for district students, I believe there is substantial value in identifying, considering and responding to these concerns," Nerad wrote in a memo to the board.

In Madison's program, both native English and Spanish speakers receive 90 percent of their kindergarten instruction in Spanish, with the mix steadily increasing to 50-50 by fourth grade.

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New initiatives making schools data readily available

Bill Turque and Michael Alison Chandler:

Parents across the Washington region will soon have more readily available -- and useful-- information about how their public schools are doing, the result of new initiatives underway at the local and state level for reporting and displaying education data.

The District, Maryland and Virginia are pledging some changes as part of their applications to the Obama administration for exemption from unpopular requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, among them the mandate for 100 percent proficiency by 2014 on standardized reading and math tests.

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Milwaukee Public Schools' Quietly Implement Changes

Alan Borsuk:

Alas, Milwaukee Public Schools: The School Board and administration will never take the kind of bold action that's needed to stabilize the financial picture. The system is awash in empty buildings, and they won't do anything about it. They'll never take real action to improve what goes on in classrooms. It's hopeless.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. And maybe wrong about the fourth one.

Without much fuss or attention, this has been an autumn of big change in the way MPS is run. It is still a highly troubled system, but it's time to give credit to the leaders for taking action on some of the things that most threaten MPS. You can criticize them for not acting sooner or for other things, but let's take advantage of some holiday cheer to look at recent events. There's still life in the lumbering giant.

If you ask Superintendent Gregory Thornton, he'll tell you what's under way is "a quiet storm, and, when we wake up, the flowers will have bloomed."

(Thornton, by the way, seems to be talking like a guy who isn't going to pack up and leave soon, which has been a matter of speculation since shortly after he arrived 17 months ago.)

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November 27, 2011

Welcome to India's Higher Education system . God Bless You!!!


I have been taking an Under-Graduate Course in Computer Science and Engineering(in short B.Tech CSE) in a reputed Private Engineering in India for one and half years.My college has given me 7.5 grades till now. I would rate them 5/10. I wanted to give them 2 or 3 but presence of Infrastructure and some encouraging professors saved them.

Every day when I go to college I expect to learn something new that would encourage me for research and thinking. And after coming back to my hostel room, I do have something new that make me thinking. But mind you its not because of the college or their intensive study program that I'm paying high fees for; but it is the Internet, the articles at Hacker News and Reddit and other sites that does this. Whenever I get time I tend to open these sites on my not so good Nokia touchscreen phone. It doesn't have much of features that i can boost of but it does my work. That is the state of our private Universities.

Well I agree with my college friends that most of the students that come to private universities don't want education but a degree, a campus life and guys they can hook up with. They have their contacts and their Dad's business after that. Most of the students that come here want spoon feeding. Tell them what is important and coming in exam and they will cram it, cram it so much they can recite it word to word. But still it doesn't mean professors also does spoon feeding for them and come here for high salaries, comfort and increasing their teaching experience so that later on can go to some Top Government College.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other state leaders concerned with education should work toward a common school evaluation system.

Milwaukee Journal - Sentinel:

Wisconsin needs a new system of school accountability, but implementing effective measures will be difficult because there are so many different ideas about what it takes to make a good school.

The best schools have high standards in the basics - reading, math, science and writing. But they also excel at art, music and gym. They are places with strong leadership, inspired teachers and an organic system of training and mentoring.

To create more such schools and hold all schools accountable in a fair manner, though, requires all those with an interest in that issue to be at the table. Unfortunately, that's not the case now.

When Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers formed a team to improve school accountability, the Wisconsin Education Association Council chose to sit this one out.

We get it: The state's largest teachers union has plenty of reason to be upset with Walker for stripping it and other public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights - and for cutting funding to schools. But we still think the union's refusal to take a place at the table was a mistake. The union needs to be involved in such efforts. Now, it's on the outside looking in.

Wisconsin's current assessment system is the oft-criticized WKCE, which has some of our nation's lowest standards.

A Closer Look at Wisconsin's Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend by Christian D'Andrea.

WEAC's Mary Bell advocates a "holistic" approach to school accountability.

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Where Does Passion Come From?

Jared Cosulich:

A Pivot (someone who works for Pivotal Labs) gave an excellent presentation on observational astronomy the other day. The presentation was so well done that I think it could easily inspire people to learn more about astronomy.

This is one of the questions I think about a lot. I truly believe that for education to be effective you need to tap in to intrinsic motivation. You can't rely on extrinsic motivators like grades otherwise you run the risk of losing all motivation once the extrinsic motivators are removed.

Passion is a vague term, but it's often to used to identify some subject or activity that people are strongly intrinsically motivated to do. You never hear people talk about passions rooted in the desire to get a good grade or a big bonus or the chance of promotion. People talk about being passionate about something because of the importance it plays in the world or how it makes them feel at fundamental level.

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Seattle's Advanced Learning Task Force

Charlie Mas:

The new Advanced Learning Task Force (or Steering Committee or Advisory Committee or whatever) has had its first meeting. It's kind of a mess.

I'm on the committee. So is Melissa. So are Dr. Vaughan and Dr. Thompson. There are principals, central staff, teachers and community members. The committee is too big for any real discussion. It will be almost impossible for it to reach any authentic consensus. I suspect that staff will just write our conclusions for us and then allow us a final meeting to argue for small edits - which they will unilaterally decide to accept or reject. That's how the Demographic Task Force worked.

The committee met once in November and will meet again in December. By that time we will already be overdue with our recommendation to FACMAC on the placement of elementary north-end APP. FACMAC needs it now. Without it, they will just move forward with their decisions without input from the Advanced Learning Committee.

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November 26, 2011

iPads, not chalkboards: Kindergartners at home with technology; teachers want more apps

Paula Owen:

Eric M. DeHays has a vision -- a vision of every elementary student in the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District holding an iPad.

And, like most visions, he had to start small -- kindergarten small.

He first introduced his idea earlier this year to the School Committee. His proposal sought to implement a pilot program that would put an Apple iPad2 in the hands of every kindergartner in the district this fall.

As technology coordinator for the district, Mr. DeHays said he knew it was the way to go. He drew partly on firsthand knowledge, he said.

"Kids are using them earlier and earlier in life," he said. "My son Kenyon was a kindergartner last year and I looked at the way he would use the technology (iPad). He was not trained properly. He was trained to see it as a gaming system, but it is more than that."

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November 25, 2011

A Closer Look at Wisconsin's Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend

Christian D'Andrea:

When the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released their 2011 results, things seemed to be working out well for Wisconsin's public schools. The state posted above average numbers in key subjects like reading and mathematics in fourth and eighth grade.

However, a deeper look into those numbers exposes some troubling trends. Namely, Wisconsin's Hispanic students are regressing when it comes to reading in the state's classrooms.

The state's 2011 results held steady at 202 points for fourth-grade reading amongst Hispanic pupils. This was down from a score of 208 in 2007 and less than the state's score of 209 in 1992, the first iteration of the test. In eighth grade, the average score dropped from 250 to 248. This is a decrease from 1998's average of 256 - the first year the test was recorded for the group.

These results highlight a grim trend. Over the past two decades, reading achievement amongst the state's Hispanic students has regressed. While national averages have seen a growth of 5.7 percent in fourth grade reading and 5.5 percent in eighth grade reading amongst Hispanic test takers, Wisconsin has posted losses. The state's scores dropped by 3.4 percent and 2.8 percent in the two grades, respectively.

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1; Thrive's "Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report"
Earlier this year Wisconsin teachers and their supporters compared Wisconsin and Texas academically and claimed that Wisconsin had better achievement because it ranked higher on ACT/SAT scores. The fact that this claim ignored the ethnic composition of the states, prompted David Burge to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) to compare educational achievement within the same ethnic groups. His conclusion, based on the 2009 NAEP in Reading, Mathematics, and Science (3 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 18 comparisons), was Longhorns 17 - Badgers 1.

The 2011 NAEP results are now available for Reading and
Mathematics. The updated conclusion (2 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 12 comparisons) is Longhorns 12 - Badgers 0. Not only did Texas students outperform Wisconsin students in every one of the twelve ethnicity-controlled comparisons, but Texas students exceeded the national average in all 12 comparisons. Wisconsin students were above the average 3 times, below the average 8 times, and tied the average once.

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Santa Clara County friendliest to charter schools

Sharon Noguchi:

Charter schools, once considered the experimental outliers of public education, are poised to go mainstream in Santa Clara County.

That's due in part to sheer numbers. Eight new charter schools opened this school year, taking in 1,600 students. Last week alone, five charter schools were approved to open next August in the county. But perhaps more important, key places in the county have seen a transformation in attitude, from hostility and suspicion to acceptance and collaboration.

The growing number of charters cements the county's reputation, along with the giant Los Angeles Unified district, as the most charter-friendly place in the state. In a month or so, the county school board will consider approving 20 more charters schools for Rocketship Education. The increase comes amid widespread growth of charter schools in California. Today about 7 percent of the state's public school children attend a charter, which are public schools operating independently from local school boards and most of the state Education Code.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:39 AM | Comments (0) Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Scott Walker Tilts School Accountability Standards to Favor Charter and Private Schools

Rebecca Kemble:

Scott Walker is now waging his war on public education by coming up with accountability standards that favor charter and private schools. His School and District Accountabili