All posts by James Zellmer

Improving math ed — Bush right about that, But where are the teachers coming from?

Jonathan David Farley:

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush stressed the importance of improving math education. He proposed to “train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math.”
But where will these teachers come from? And will the training of teachers be sufficient to increase the number of students choosing math and science careers? And why does all this matter?
Because mathematics is the foundation of the natural sciences. It is no coincidence that Isaac Newton, the man who formulated the law of gravitational attraction that revolutionized our understanding of the universe, was also the man who popularized the calculus. And the natural sciences, however pure, are what give us airplanes, cable TV and the Internet.
In the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, a test that measures math literacy, American 15-year-olds performed worse than their peers in 23 countries, as well as those in Hong Kong. It’s not hard to see why. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 40 percent of the nation’s middle school math teachers do not have the equivalent of an undergraduate minor in math. The average starting salary of a teacher is only $30,000, whereas the average starting salary for a recent college graduate in computer science or engineering is $50,000.

Jonathan Farley is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and a CISAC science fellow.

Kansas Study on School Performance & Spending

Jim Sullinger:

The way Kansas schools spend their public money may be just as important as how much they get, according to a study released Thursday.
Initiated last year by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the study by the Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services is thought to be the first to analyze and compare student performance and the way schools allocate budget dollars. It was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The study identified 17 districts that were using their dollars most effectively in achieving high levels of student performance on assessment tests.
The surprise for lawmakers was how much these 17 spent compared with less-successful districts.
“They spent less than the state average and less than districts that didn’t perform as well,” said Jason Kingston, chief analyst on the Standard & Poor’s project.
Based on the analysis, the study concluded that it would be too costly for the state to spend its way to proficiency.

The complete report can be found here [240K PDF file]. A summary is available here.

Program Teaches Kids About Cyber Security

William Kates:

The program teaches students about data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.
Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal considerations in cyber security.
“It’s a great course. It’s a littler harder than I expected,” said Catherine Gudaitis, a junior interested in theater. “But I know in the world I’m going to live in, this will be necessary information, even common knowledge.”

“Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

Ed Hughes, writing in the Capital Times:

The most important qualifications for a School Board member today are a willingness and ability to grapple with the budget challenges our schools confront under the state’s ill-advised school funding laws.
School Board members will have to think boldly and creatively about how best to preserve the quality of education our students deserve under the limits the law sets. While committed to excellence, they should also be independent and tight-fisted enough to win the confidence of taxpayers.
Unfortunately, our current School Board majority has been a disappointment on budgetary issues. As the results of the last referendums show, the current board has been unable to earn the trust of the voters.

Continue reading “Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

Charter School Evidence from California

RAND Corporation [pdf file]:

This “Occasional Paper” from the RAND Corporation assesses the state of charter schools in California. The results show that test scores for California’s charter school students are keeping pace with comparable students in traditional district schools. Researchers found that the state’s charter schools have achieved comparable test score results with fewer public resources and have emphasized non-core subjects more than have traditional schools. In addition, they found evidence that charter schools have not created “white enclaves” or “skimmed” high-performing students from traditional district schools as some opponents had feared. RAND’s findings, coupled with the fact that charter schools typically use less public resources, leads them to the conclusion that “charter schooling is a reform initiative worth continuing in California.”

April 2004 West High School Math Teacher Letter

Susan Lochen, Madison West High School (co-signed by other West math teachers: Janice Cis, Keith Knowles, Carol Michalski, Jackie Hubbard, Daniel Boyland, Artie L. Orlik, Stephen Lang, Stephen Land, Tim Goldsworthy):

Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined “success” as merely producing “fewer failures.” Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?

I’d forgotten (unfortunately) about this letter. School Board Seat 1 candidate Maya’s post below included a link to these words. The current school board majority has not addressed these critical questions….

Learning from Leaders

Susan Troller:

Female students at East High School learned in one morning how to be happy in love, what their rights and responsibilities are as young voters, and where to find a skilled, independent job that pays $30 to $50 an hour plus benefits.
The presentations were part of a new event at East called “Week of the Young Woman,” which began Monday and continues through Friday, featuring more than 50 female community leaders who are talking about topics that range from date violence to finance and economics, nontraditional jobs and women’s health issues. It was scheduled in early March as part of the recognition of Women’s History Month; the talks are open only to East High students.

French Math Teacher Covers Structure Of Derivatives; Banks Clamor for ‘Quants’

Carrick Mollenkamp and Charles Fleming:

As a result, banks are hiring an increasing number of recruits who understand derivatives. Inside banks, they are known as “quantitative analysts,” or “quants” for short. They are able to marry stochastic calculus — the study of the impact of random variation over time — with the realities of financial trading.
Derivatives are financial contracts, often exotic, whose values are derived from the performance of an underlying asset to which they are linked. Companies use them to help mitigate risk. For example, a company that stands to lose money on fixed-rate loans if rates rise can mitigate that risk by buying derivatives that increase in value as rates rise. Increasingly, investors are also using derivatives to make big bets on, say, the direction that interest rates will move. That carries the possibility of large returns, but also the possibility of large losses.
The 75 or so students who take Ms. El Karoui’s “Probability and Finance” course each year are avidly sought by recruiters. Three years ago, Joanna Cohen, a specialist in quant recruitment at Huxley Associates in London traveled to Paris to meet Ms. El Karoui to ensure her search firm was in the loop when students hit the job market. Today, Ms. Cohen says she carefully checks résumés with Ms. El Karoui’s name to make sure applicants aren’t overstating their interaction with the professor.

A wealthy school district asks: How much is too much?

Teacher contract up for vote this week.
Jessica T. Lee:

n Hanover, where public school teachers are already the highest paid in the state, voters this week will decide whether a proposed teachers’ contract is too generous, as some residents contend, or appropriate for the affluent school district.
People on both sides of the issue ask that voters compare the school district’s $59,236 average teacher salary to the salaries of others.
Opponents of the contract, which includes the majority of the school district’s finance committee, point out that the pay is 35 percent higher than the state average of $43,941. The finance committee has long noted a “premium” that residents pay for education, and is asking for evidence students are receiving an education proportional to that premium.
Teachers point to a different comparison: $70,877, the median household income in Hanover and Norwich, Vt., is 20 percent higher than last year’s average teacher salary. Teachers said they are asking for salaries comparable to those in the schools’ community.
“People can point to our salaries, and make claims or ask, ‘Is it really worth it?'” said Pamala Miller, president of the Hanover Education Association, the teachers’ union. “I would ask the parents in the community that question, and I guess we’ll get the answer with the vote.”
The debate comes as the Concord School Board and the local teachers’ union are struggling to reach their own three-year contract; both salaries and health insurance are n disput

Ogden & Nussbaum: Cole is best pick to serve on Madison School Board

Genie Ogden and Mitch Nussbaum:

Dear Editor: We feel that Maya Cole would be an excellent addition to the School Board. She is progressive, and we feel she would represent our children’s interests better than anyone else.
She was running the “Opt-Out” campaign. This campaign helps parents opt their children out of the requirement from the “No Child Left Behind” law that makes a student’s personal records available to the military.

Continue reading Ogden & Nussbaum: Cole is best pick to serve on Madison School Board

UW-Madison to offer 32 languages in summer 2006 offerings

Ronnie Hess:

UW-Madison, a national leader in language education, will offer 32 languages this summer in a variety of for-credit courses. The languages will be taught through full immersion programs, special summer institutes and regular course offerings.
The languages include Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English as a Second Language, Filipino, French, German, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Khmer, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Norwegian, Persian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

2.27.2006 Board Meeting Video Clips

Video clips of Monday’s Madison School Board Meeting are now available:

  • Discussion about the potential sale or other use of the school district’s Doyle Administration building (adjacent to the Kohl Center) (44MB)
  • Legislative Committee: Discuss the legal requirements, if any for certain district administrator contracts. (41MB)
  • East Attendance Area Task Force Report (207MB)

Posted a video of the recent Health Care Task Force Meeting (120MB)

Watchdog of Testing Industry Faces Economic Extinction

Michael Winerip:

But for all FairTest’s impact, its days may be numbered. Never before has standardized testing so dominated American public education, thanks to the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law. Every child from grade 3 to high school must now take state tests. And the Bush administration is considering extending those tests to colleges.
“With N.C.L.B., a lot of people feel the debate is over,” said Monty Neill, director of FairTest, officially the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “The attitude seems to be, ‘Testing is so pervasive, what’s the point?’ ” Support from foundations has virtually dried up and individual donations have not made up the difference. “Our board has seriously discussed whether to fold the operation,” Mr. Neill said

Eduwonk has much more.

Police Calls Down In Most Categories At LaFollette High School


News 3 examined the data from Robert M. LaFolette High School on Tuesday night. The school is the smallest of the four schools included in this series, boasting more than 1,700 students.
During a typical afternoon at LaFollette High School, principal Mike Meissen walks the halls.
If it’s going on at LaFollette, Meissen knows about it. He uses a new technology that all four Madison principals have this year — a palm pilot. Meissen can access a list of LaFollette’s 1,748 students along with their pictures and class schedules. They tell him where they should be at all times.
Assistant Principal Mikki Smith is in her first year as one of his top assistants and she said that he has a reputation for maintaining order at the school.
“Mike is known for running a pretty tight ship,” Smith said. “He has high expectations for students and he makes that known.”


Madison Schools 5 Year Budget Forecast

QT Video The Madison School District’s Finance and Operations Committee reviewed a 5 year financial forecast, starting with this year’s $320M+ budget, prepared by the Administration Monday evening. Video and mp3 audio.
Local media comments:

Susan Troller:

Roger Price, business services director for the district, cautioned that projections beyond the next two years are simply a forecast, and a budget tool. “I’m very confident about the figures for 2007 and fairly confident for the following year. After that, it’s more speculative,” he said.
Costs to run the school district rise about 4 percent per year, while state-mandated revenue caps limit what a district can spend from the combination of property taxes and state aid to 2.6 percent. Every year, the district must find a way to close the gap to balance the budget.
Under the revenue cap formula, districts that are growing in size benefit while districts that are losing enrollment must subtract the cost of educating their students from their budgets. Total student enrollment has been declining throughout Wisconsin. Madison has seen a loss of students over the last decade, while suburban Dane County has seen rapid growth.

WKOW-TV has more. Background links and articles on the budget are available here.

East / West Task Force Report: Board Discussion and Public Comments

Video | MP3 Audio

Monday evening’s Board meeting presented a rather animated clash of wills between, it appears, those (A majority of the Board, based on the meeting discussions) who support Fitchburg’s Swan Creek residents and their desire to remain at a larger Leopold School vs. those who favor using existing District schools that have extra space for the 63 Fitchburg children (no other students would move under the plan discussed Monday evening), such as Lincoln and/or the Lincoln/Midvale pair.

Continue reading East / West Task Force Report: Board Discussion and Public Comments

A Different Approach: Affiliated Alternatives

Jason Shepherd recently wrote an article on the Madison School District’s Affiliated Alternatives Program. This differentiated program supports about 150 students:

Many of the school’s students have multiple problems, from severe learning deficits to turmoil at home. A countywide survey found they use alchol and marijuana at three times the rate of other students in Dane County.
Academic classes follow state standards but are tailored to students’ interests and needs, with a focuse on practical life skills.
One of the delights in spending time at Affiliated Alternatives is watching Principal Fischer in action.
It’s clear she’s in command, and she’s set high expectations for staff and students. She talkes to students with respect, and kids say they feel as if they can share problems with her.

View full article.

Sort of related: Carol Carstensen mentioned that the Board’s Performance and Achievement committee, in a somewhat rare meeting, will discuss heterogeneous groupings at 5 p.m. Monday, January 30, 2006. This is apparently the first of several meetings on this topic. West High School’s imminent English 10, one curriculum for all (apparently 40+ sophomore English electives reduced to none) has created no small amount of heterogeneous grouping discussion. I’m glad that a Board committee will soon discuss curriculum, in my view, the District’s #1 priority.

Milwaukee: “Main Street of School Reform”

Alan J. Borsuk:

North Ave. is a microcosm of the wealth of things being done to help educate low-income black students and is ground zero in Milwaukee (which itself has been called ground zero in America) for school reforms of many kinds – all of them paid for with public money.
“This whole plethora of schools has inspired this community and given this community hope,” Johnson says. “All of the schools along the avenue are sending a very strong message to the community that education is the key, and there are very strong options.”
But if North Ave. illustrates how parents in Milwaukee have a wider array of choices in publicly funded education than parents elsewhere in America, it does not yet provide convincing answers of what will come from the innovations.

Map of the North Avenue Area.

The most interesting quote of the article:

(Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William) Andrekopoulos says: “We do things differently because we have to compete. We have a consciousness of all the options in the community.”
At the Young Leaders Academy, Ronn Johnson says, “It’s very clear to the school operators that you have to offer a high quality option or your customers will leave.”
He calls the burst of new schools “a wake-up call to everyone that the power has shifted. It’s no longer in the district. . . . Parents really have the power now.”

Math, Science and Rigor

Sandy Cullen:

Gov. Jim Doyle supports the push to increase the math and science proficiency of high school students, which is primarily coming from business leaders.
They say a lack of these skills among those entering the labor pool is putting Wisconsin at risk of losing jobs because there won’t be enough qualified workers to fill positions ranging from manufacturing jobs to computer specialists, from engineers to mathematical, life and physical scientists and engineering and science technicians.
Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District, supports increasing the state requirements. Madison high schools require two years of each subject, but in recent years the district has strengthened its math requirement so that all students must now take algebra and geometry to graduate, Rainwater said.
If the state does not increase its math and science requirements, the district will likely consider raising them, he said.
But School Board President Carol Carstensen said she isn’t certain requiring more courses is the way to best prepare all students to succeed after high school.
And just increasing the requirements (emphasis added) won’t make the classes more rigorous, said Lake Mills chemistry teacher Julie Cunningham, who recently won the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Additional links and background on math and science curriculum.

Post Leopold / Operating Referenda Long Range Planning Meeting: Arlene Silveira and Beth Zurbuchen Speak

Click to watch this event

The Madison Board of Education’s Long Range Planning Committee met on the 6th. Arlene Silveira and Beth Zurbuchen lead along with many others spoke about the failed referenda and next steps. Results and background here. Arlene and Beth were prominent members of Madison Cares, a group that spent heavily in favor of the referenda.

Don Severson, President of Active Citizens for Education also spoke at this event and recommended that the District look at the entire west side, not just Leopold. Severson also argued for a very open discussion with the community.

NYC – Balanced Literacy and Reading First Grant – $111 million. Why Wasn’t MMSD Successful?

Why didn’t MMSD qualify for Reading First dollars? NYC was awarded a Reading First grant of $111.4 million over three years for 49 public and 35 non-public schools. NYC offers Balanced Literacy to its school children. Madison offers Balanced Literacy. Why wasn’t the Reading First program able to become part of Madison’s Balanced Literacy?
Part of the reason may lie in the NYC approach to seeking the grant money. NYC formed a committee of teaching professionals, union representatives, experts and parents to review the grant requirements and to determine what program would work with their comprehensive approach to literacy.
NYC succeeded in being able to incorporate Reading First, which is dollars targeted to literacy for low income children. Madison citizens need to know more about what process MMSD used and more specifics about what were the barriers to MMSD receiving Reading First dollars?

Reading First in the NYC Department of Literacy
Letter Describing NYC Process for Seeking Reading First Grant Money

WSJ Opinion Piece on School Board Governance

Today’s Wisconsin State Journal has a useful opinion piece on MMSD’s budget process & governance. This editorial is timely, given the current discussions regarding the district’s $310M+ budget:

The Madison School Board is in the midst of tackling the district’s budget woes, which include a $10 million shortfall between what the district can spend and what it wants to spend.
Board members can whine all they please that the “current way (the state) funds schools is broken,” but here’s the bottom line: The state school funding formula is not going to change this spring. If they want to fix something broken closer to home, they should start with their own flawed budgeting instead.
How bad is the district’s budgeting? Well, for starters, the board began debating cuts to the budget March 11, according to Barbara Schrank, a parent who was active in protesting last year’s proposed budget cuts, but they didn’t see the actual budget until three weeks later, on March 31. A month later, board members were told they couldn’t compare this year’s “same service” budget to next year’s “same service” budget because of computer software problems. And the board isn’t expected to finalize the budget until June, although layoff notices must be turned in by May 22

California Schools Update – The Economist

The Economist has a look at the state of eduction in California:

In Belmont, a huge high school with 5,500 pupils, security guards at the door, gangs in the classrooms and a 40% graduation rate, it is hard to imagine how children could ever learn anything in such a forbidding place. Yet even the better schools seem overrun. Placencia Elementary School, for instance, is full of smiling pupils, but like many other schools it does not have proper terms; instead, it follows a �year-round� schedule, with the students being rotated through the classrooms (three groups in, one out). But at least the pupils are being taught close to home. Every day, 6,000 children from the Belmont area are bused out to other districts. �Can it be good,� Mr Alonzo asks, �for a five-year-old to be woken up at 6am to travel two hours for a half-day of education?�
District F demonstrates what one leading Democrat calls the �these-are-not-our-children� attitude of white voters. With their own children now either educated privately or safe in smaller suburban districts, they have not stumped up the cash to build the schools needed to educate the new browner-skinned arrivals. As Roy Romer, the head of the LAUSD, points out, the same community found the money to build the sparkling Disney Concert Hall and the Staples conference centre.