All posts by Jim Zellmer

Education Gets the Schank

Roger Schank spoke at iLaw today:

i had to retire before i could talk about this stuff!
Charles Eliot was the president of harvard 1869-1909 is the most evil man in the history of harvard — he set up the high school curriculum that is still in place TODAY.
If you ever wondered why you took algebra in high school, is because the guy in princeton was selling a textbook on algebra, so he put algebra on high school curriculum!
i’m a math major and a computer science prof, and algebra has never come up in my life, maybe it has in yours.

Roger C. Schank Backbround

Talking To Strangers

Bruce Schneier:

“Many children are taught never to talk to strangers, an extreme precaution with minimal security benefit.”
In talks, I’m even more direct. I think “don’t talk to strangers” is just about the worst possible advice you can give a child. Most people are friendly and helpful, and if a child is in distress, asking the help of a stranger is probably the best possible thing he can do.
This advice would have helped Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old boy who was lost in the Utah wilderness for four days.
The parents said Brennan had seen people searching for him on horse and ATV, but avoided them because of what he had been taught.
“He stayed on the trail, he avoided strangers,” Jody Hawkins said. “His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him.”
They said they hadn’t talked to Brennan and his four siblings about what they should do about strangers if they were lost. “This may have come to a faster conclusion had we discussed that,” Toby Hawkins said.
In a world where good guys are common and bad guys are rare, assuming a random person is a good guy is a smart security strategy. We need to help children develop their natural intuition about risk, and not give them overbroad rules.

Cap Times Editorial Supports Kobza on Use of $240K

The Capital Times:

Newly elected Madison School Board member Lawrie Kobza was wise to move to use $240,000 in money made available by insurance savings to revive Lincoln Elementary School’s Open Classroom Program and to restore “specials” – music, art and gym classes at the elementary schools – to their regular sizes. And the board majority was right to back her move to maintain broadly accepted standards of quality in the city’s public schools.

Newsweek Updates Top 1000 US High Schools List

Jay Matthew has updated his list of the top 1000 US High Schools. The list, known as The Challenge Index, uses a ratio: the number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at public high schools in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors at the schools in 2004. Newsweek says that although the list “doesn’t tell the whole story about a school, it’s one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students’ readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age.”
Here’s a list of Wisconsin High Schools included on the Challenge Index. Verona (710) and Madison Memorial (598) were the only Dane County schools included. Milwaukee Rufus King was the top ranked Wisconsin school on the list at 215.
Tom Kertscher takes a look at a recent addition to the list, Grafton High School.

We are Our History – Don’t Forget It

David Gelernter:

I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn’t understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines.
Ignorance of history destroys our judgment. Consider Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who just compared the Guantanamo Bay detention center to Stalin’s gulag and to the death camps of Hitler and Pol Pot — an astonishing, obscene piece of ignorance. Between 15 million and 30 million people died from 1918 through 1956 in the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet gulag. Historian Robert Conquest gives some facts. A prisoner at the Kholodnaya Gora prison had to stuff his ears with bread before sleeping on account of the shrieks of women being interrogated. At the Kolyma in Siberia, inmates labored through 12-hour days in cheap canvas shoes, on almost no food, in temperatures that could go to minus-58. At one camp, 1,300 of 3,000 inmate

More on David Gelernter.

Unprepared: Back to the Basics in College

Melissa Milios:

n high school, I was a 3.8 (grade-point average) student. It was simple for me to get by with the bare minimum. I just got lazy,” says Andrea Edwards, 19, a graduate of Inglewood High. “Now that I’m here, it’s embarrassing — there’s so much I just don’t know.”
“You kind of feel left behind — like, why is my report card lying?” adds 19-year-old Kiwanna Hines, who was in the top 10 percent of her class at Junipero Serra High in Gardena. “I have my grandma, my auntie, my mom, my cousins — all of them are depending on me to graduate college. It’s a lot of pressure.”

The story notes that 8 out of 10 first-time freshman enrolled at Dominguez Hills last fall needed remediation in English and 7 in 10 needed remediation in math. Throughout the 23-campus CSU system, only 43% of the entering freshmen were proficient in both classes. Dominguez Hills president James Lyons summed it up: “There’s a disconnect between what they’re doing in high school to earn that GPA, and what is required and expected at the university level.” Via Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs

WI State Budget Update

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a new two year state budget early this morning by a 56-40 vote. Spending increases 6.4%, while the percentage of funds generated by sales taxes goes up 9.9%. Governor Doyle proposed a 16% (!) increase in road projects to 4.4billion. Republicans added $93M to that, creating a 18% increase in road spending. State support for local school spending grows 8.6% (458M) to 5.3billion (Doyle proposed a $938M increase, “paid” for by additional state borrowing and transfers from other programs).

  • Phil Brinkman does a great job summarizing the budget. I appreciate the fact that he included total spending dollars along with the increases.
  • Stacy Forster and Patrick Marley also summarize the Assembly’s budget.
  • WisPolitics’ Budget Blog tracks the Assembly’s activities.

Referenda News: Germantown & Racine

Two interesting looks at Referenda activity:

  • Tom Kertscher finds that Germantown residents are attempting to raise funds for a High School expansion privately first:

    But supporters of the music programs realize that in Germantown – and throughout the Milwaukee area – most borrowing referendums for school building projects have failed in the past year and a half. So they are trying a new approach: Before asking for public money, they plan to raise private money to help fund additions to the high school.
    Germantown parent John Dawson, who is leading plans for a music referendum, said the message to taxpayers will be “we need your help, but we’re not looking for a handout.”

  • Alice Chang reports that Racine voters approved a $6.45M one year operating referendum (a $17.8M two year question failed this past April):

    The reprieve from financial pressure will be relatively short-lived. The district still faces a $13.4 million shortfall next year and likely will be asking voters again for a boost in funding.
    Rather than resting on the success of the spending referendum, School Board members already were looking ahead to future challenges.
    “We have an obligation to make sure we keep an eye on being fiscally responsible,” said board member Randy Bangs, who added that the passage of the referendum proposal was just one battle. “The bigger prize is a better district, which needs the support of the entire community.”
    Bangs said the board will continue to search for ways to make the district more efficient so that next year, if finances necessitate it, the district will attempt to pass a spending referendum for a minimal amount.

  • Brent Killackey has more on the Racine Referendum

Insights into Promoting Critical Thinking in Online Classes

Daithí Ó Murchú and Brent Muirhead:

At the beginning of the 21st. Century, all educators and all educational institutions, at all levels of education provision, are faced with the greatest time of possibility for change and evolution or stagnation and regression. Barker, 1978 in New York, stated that “action with vision can change the world” and the authors, based on their many years of experience working in both traditional and managed or virtual, E-Learning, lifelong-learning environments contend that the promotion of critical thinking is a key element in meaningful, responsible and soulful learning. Our ‘raison d’être’ as educators is to prepare our students for the society which does not yet exist and in doing so, provide them with opportunities to critically assess and transform their experiences into authentic learning experiences (Ó Murchú, 2005). This article explores the thought processes, realities and perceptions of the authors’ on-going experiences in on-line classes and gives their insights into promoting critical thinking in these Managed Learning Environments (MLEs).

6.20.2005 School Board Meeting Summary

Sandy Cullen summarized last evening’s Madison School Board meeting where:

  • Board members approved an administrative staff hiring freeze (5-2 with Bill Keys and Juan Jose Lopez voting against it)
  • Voted to use 200K in excess district insurance funds for elementary art, music and gym class sizes at 15 students in SAGE schools. (4-3 with Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston, Jr. voting against it)
  • Adopted the 2005-2006 budget 5-2 with Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang opposed

Trends in Grade Inflation, Nationwide

Economist Mark Thoma offers some thoughts on grade inflation:

There are two episodes that account for most grade inflation. The first is from the 1960s through the early 1970s. This is usually explained by the draft rules for the Vietnam War. The second episode begins around 1990 and is harder to explain….

My study finds an interesting correlation in the data. During the time grades were increasing, budgets were also tightening inducing a substitution towards younger and less permanent faculty. I broke down grade inflation by instructor rank and found it is much higher among assistant professors, adjuncts, TAs, instructors, etc. than for associate or full professors. These are instructors who are usually hired year-to-year or need to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for the job market, so they have an incentive to inflate evaluations as much as possible, and high grades are one means of manipulating student course evaluations.

Alex Tabarrock offers some additional thoughts & background links.

TABOR in the News

Paul Caron points to two articles on TABOR:

  • America’s Next Tax Revolt – Wall Street Journal:

    A Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a long overdue addition to the architecture of state constitutions. Proposition 13 halted the aggressive encroachment of state government more than 25 years ago, but only temporarily: Even after adjusting for inflation, most state tax collections are two to three times fatter than they were then. The painful experience since is that only hard and fast constitutional limits can rein in the powerful spending interests that live off the government.

  • Tax Foundation, TABOR, The Cure for Ratchet Up:

    Another important tool in alleviating tax and spend “ratchet-up” is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). This budget tool requires that excess revenue growth (in excess of population plus inflation) be rebated to the taxpayers. TABOR also requires voter approval for tax increases.

WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Alan J. Borsuk and Amy Hetzner:

Republican leaders are saying the increase in education funding for the next two years, approved by the Joint Finance Committee and heading toward approval by the Legislature itself, calls for $458 million more for kindergarten through 12th-grade education for the next two years, a large increase that taxpayers can afford.
Democrats and a huge chorus of superintendents, teachers and school board members around the state are protesting, saying that the increase will mean large cuts in the number of teachers and the levels of service for children because it doesn’t contain enough fuel to drive the educational system the same distance as before.
At the root of the issue is an education funding system approved by the Legislature a decade ago, when Republican Tommy G. Thompson was the governor. It created a cap on how much school districts could spend each year for general operations. In general, two-thirds of that amount was to come from the state with the rest from local property taxes.

Continue reading WI State K-12 Budget Summary

Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out

Neal Stephenson:

Anakin wins that race by repairing his crippled racer in an ecstasy of switch-flipping that looks about as intuitive as starting up a nuclear submarine. Clearly the boy is destined to be adopted into the Jedi order, where he will develop his geek talents – not by studying calculus but by meditating a lot and learning to trust his feelings. I lap this stuff up along with millions, maybe billions, of others. Why? Because every single one of us is as dependent on science and technology – and, by extension, on the geeks who make it work – as a patient in intensive care. Yet we much prefer to think otherwise.
Scientists and technologists have the same uneasy status in our society as the Jedi in the Galactic Republic. They are scorned by the cultural left and the cultural right, and young people avoid science and math classes in hordes. The tedious particulars of keeping ourselves alive, comfortable and free are being taken offline to countries where people are happy to sweat the details, as long as we have some foreign exchange left to send their way. Nothing is more seductive than to think that we, like the Jedi, could be masters of the most advanced technologies while living simple lives: to have a geek standard of living and spend our copious leisure time vegging out.
If the “Star Wars” movies are remembered a century from now, it’ll be because they are such exact parables for this state of affairs. Young people in other countries will watch them in classrooms as an answer to the question: Whatever became of that big rich country that used to buy the stuff we make? The answer: It went the way of the old Republic.

Milwaukee Schools Discuss School Closings

Via Wispolitics:

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) today announced the second phase of its community engagement initiative regarding the future use of its facilities. School officials will again host a series of meetings to seek and gather information from teachers, principals, community organizations and parents.
MPS must eliminate vacant space that exists because of a downward trend in enrollment, and make solid decisions regarding dwindling resources. MPS currently has 95,600 students, but it operates buildings that, combined, feature room for 122,000 students.
“We are encouraging the community to come out for the second round of meetings,” said Tyrone Dumas, Milwaukee Public Schools’ Community Engagement project leader. “We’ve heard from some teachers, administrators and parents in the first phase of this process, however, we need to touch many more in order to develop fair and accurate guidelines by which we could close some school sites.”

Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Andrea Gilmore (This opinion piece was published in the Wisconsin State Journal):

I am lucky. I have been playing the violin since I was in the fourth grade. I was exposed to music at an early age and music has helped me gain skills that have enhanced my school career. Through music, I learned self-confidence, self-discipline, time management, cooperation and study skills.
Unfortunately, many young people may not have the opportunity I had. The elementary strings program costs only $500,000 in a budget of about $300 million. School board members recently decided to keep the elementary strings program next year in some form, while cutting approximately $500,000 overall out of the music-education programs.

Continue reading Gilmore: Add Elementary Strings to the Curriculum

Social Mobility & The Educated Class

The Economist [6.9.2005]:

The obvious way to deal with this is to use the education system to guarantee a level playing field. Improve educational opportunities for the poorest Americans, make sure that nobody is turned away from university on grounds of financial need, and you will progressively weaken the link between background and educational success. Alas, there are at least three big problems with this.
The first is that the schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better. This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. The American educational establishment’s weakness for airy-fairy notions about the evils of standards and competition is particularly damaging to poor children who have few educational resources of their own to fall back on. One poll of 900 professors of education, for example, found that 64% of them thought that schools should avoid competition.

Continue reading Social Mobility & The Educated Class

State Gives Schools Extra Leeway

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

Despite increasingly tough standards, the number of Wisconsin schools that will be flagged this year for failing to meet federally mandated reading and math goals will be less than half what it was last year – 51 as opposed to 108 – but not because things are getting better.
Rather, it is the state’s controversial calculation method that allows schools to miss the goals by substantial percentages without having it count against them.
For the same reason, only one school district in the state will be flagged for failing to meet the federally mandated standards, whereas last year 30 school districts were listed as failing to make enough progress.
The dramatic shift is due to the use of a statistical tool known as confidence intervals.

Allied Drive Open House Tonight

Via Wispolitics

Allied Drive Open House tonight
6/14/2005
5:30 p.m.
Allied Drive Head Start Building,
2096 Red Arrow Trail. Map
Madison, WI.
FYI: the mayor will attend the 2nd annual Allied Drive open house tonight. The event starts at 5:30pm, with a short speaking program at about 6:15pm. In addition to the mayor, Art Rainwater and Kathleen Falk are also expected to attend.
The open house is an opportunity for Allied Drive residents and service providers to meet with each other and their elected officials to discuss issues important to the neighborhood and learn about available services from city, county and non-profit agencies. Food, childcare and Spanish and Hmong translation services are all offered at the event.
George Twigg
Communications Director
Office of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz
(608) 266-4611

The Good, Bad & Ugly in the Budget

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page (this link will go away soon as the WSJ takes them down…):

State lawmakers once again faced a tough job with few easy answers when Gov. Jim Doyle handed them his state budget request four months ago.
Credit the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for resisting a borrowing binge and for slapping Doyle’s hand when he reached for pots of money he shouldn’t touch.
The committee, led by Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R- Juneau, reversed about half of Doyle’s raid of highway dollars and stopped him from looting an account that pays for medical malpractice claims. Money for those programs comes from fees and taxes that users pay with the understanding those dollars won’t be diverted.
The committee also stopped Doyle from borrowing money based on the future collection of excise taxes. Instead, the committee paid for medical care for the poor, elderly and disabled with real dollars.
That’s the good part, along with the committee’s empathy for the beleaguered property taxpayer.
But let’s remember how the state’s finances got screwed up to begin with. State leaders patched gaping holes in past budgets using one-time money that’s now gone. They also backloaded past budgets to push higher costs – both for expensive new programs and tax cuts – into the future.

Joint Finance’s State Budget Passes

Patrick Marley, Steve Walters and Stacy Forster:

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee adopted a budget early today that tightly limits property taxes, cuts the gas tax by a penny and phases out taxes on Social Security benefits.
The budget includes $458 million more for schools, less than half what Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle proposed in his version of the budget. The state is spending about $5.3 billion on schools this year.
The Republican-controlled committee passed the budget on an 11-5 vote at 6:15 a.m., after all-night deliberations. Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) joined the four Democrats on the committee in voting against the budget, which he said included too much spending and borrowing.
Republicans said schools would flourish under their spending plan, and warned Doyle not to veto their school budget or their property tax limits. If Doyle did so, schools could raise much more cash, but it would come from local property taxes instead of state income and sales taxes.

Governor Doyle referred to this as a “cut”, while, in fact, state aid to local schools will evidently continue to go up – more than twice as much as the current budget. It would be great if the politicians would be truthful… on both sides.
UPDATE: Phil Brinkman adds more details: evidently the Republicans (read this carefully) reduced the allowed increase in per pupil spending from $248 in 2005/2006 and $252 in 2006/2007 to 120 and 100. So, if I read all this correctly, spending continues to grow, just at a lower rate. The Republicans claim that the 248 and 258 increase from the current per pupil spending amounts would lead to large local property tax jumps over the next two years.
UPDATE2: More from JR Ross. Via Wispolitics. Ross points out a great example of the doubletalk: the Republicans bill cuts the gas tax by .01 BUT, the tax is indexed to inflation so it actually increases annually anyway.
UPDATE3: Here’s the Bill AB100

How Schools Cheat

Lisa Snell, writing in Reason Magazine:

But while federal and state legislators congratulate themselves for their newfound focus on school accountability, scant attention is being paid to the quality of the data they’re using. Whether the topic is violence, test scores, or dropout rates, school officials have found myriad methods to paint a prettier picture of their performance. These distortions hide the extent of schools’ failures, deceive taxpayers about what our ever-increasing education budgets are buying, and keep kids locked in failing institutions. Meanwhile, Washington—which has set national standards requiring 100 percent of school children to reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014—has been complicit in letting states avoid sanctions by fiddling with their definitions of proficiency.
The federal government is spending billions to improve student achievement while simultaneously granting states license to game the system. As a result, schools have learned to lie with statistics.

More on Math

A reader forwarded this article: Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post:

So when I found a new attack on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the nation’s leading association for math teachers, by a group of smart advocates, I saw a chance to bring some clarity to what we call the Math Wars. For several years, loosely allied groups of activist teachers and parents with math backgrounds have argued that we are teaching math all wrong. We should make sure that children know their math facts — can multiply quickly in their heads and do long division without calculators, among other things — or algebra is going to kill them, they say. They blame the NCTM, based in Reston, Va., for encouraging loose teaching that leaves students to try to discover principles themselves and relies too much on calculators.

Continue reading More on Math

Askey on Elementary Math Curriculum: “Good Intentions Are Not Enough”

UW’s Dick Askey emailed links to two of his papers on Elementary Math Curriculum:

  • Good Intentions Are Not Enough (PDF)

    While there was a need to do something to improve school mathematics education, NCTM did not face up to the most critical problem, the lack of firm content knowledge of far too many teachers. There were other lacks in their program. NCTM did not look seriously at mathematics education in other countries. Mathematicians were not involved in the development of the Standards. The NCTM authors of their Standards had the strange notion that it is possible to teach conceptual understanding without developing technical skill at the same time. Instances of all of these failures and what came from them will be given below.

  • Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics (PDF)

    Elementary school mathematics, it turns out, is not so elementary. This means that teaching it well requires much deeper mathematical knowledge than almost everyone has thought. There will be no math reform unless we provide teachers with the training, textbooks, time, and support needed to develop this knowledge.

Friedman: After 50 Years, Vouchers Catching On

Milton Friedman:

Little did I know when I published an article in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” that it would lead to my becoming an activist for a major reform in the organization of schooling, and indeed that my wife and I would be led to establish a foundation to promote parental choice. The original article was not a reaction to a perceived deficiency in schooling. The quality of schooling in the United States then was far better than it is now, and both my wife and I were satisfied with the public schools we had attended. My interest was in the philosophy of a free society. Education was the area that I happened to write on early. I then went on to consider other areas as well. The end result was “Capitalism and Freedom,” published seven years later with the education article as one chapter.

Morin: The Price of Acting White

Richard Morin:

” Children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”— Barack Obama, keynote speech, 2004 Democratic National Convention
It may be even worse than Obama imagined: It’s not just black children who face ridicule and ostracism by their peers if they do well in school. The stigmatizing effects of “acting white” appear to be felt even more by Hispanics who get top grades.

Shephard: Madison Schools WPS Insurance Proves Costly

Jason Shephard emailed a copy of his article on Madison Schools’ Healthcare costs. This article first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of Isthmus. The Isthmus version includes several rather useful charts & graphs that illustrate how the Madison School District’s health care costs compare with the City and County. Pick it up.

Continue reading Shephard: Madison Schools WPS Insurance Proves Costly

Madison Schools/MTI Pact

Cristina Daglas:

A smaller-than-expected contract for Madison teachers would leave about $400,000 for the School Board to spend on cash-strapped programs, although critics say more was available.
Superintendent Art Rainwater and board President Carol Carstensen would not speculate Tuesday on what programs could benefit, but board member Ruth Robarts said maintaining the Open Classroom program at Lincoln Elementary School and alleviating planned class-size increases for art, music and gym teachers could be possibilities.
Rainwater, Carstensen and Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews presented the proposed contract at a news conference at MTI headquarters Tuesday.

Tierney on Florida Vouchers

John Tierney:

How can you claim the moral high ground when you’re denying him a chance to escape to a better private school?
Well, the public system did lose $4,400, but that’s actually $1,000 less than the cost of educating the average student and there was one pupil fewer to teach.
As enrollment has dropped at Edison, the student-to-teacher ratio has improved to about 22 from about 30. In the past two years, a new principal has revamped the administration and replaced half the teachers in the school. Under the new leadership, the average test score at the school last year rose dramatically – one of the largest increases of any high school in Florida.
Edison’s improvement is not an isolated example, as three separate studies have found in Florida. Test scores have gone up more rapidly at schools facing the threat of vouchers than at other schools. The latest study, by Martin West and Paul Peterson of Harvard, shows that Florida’s program is much more effective than the federal No Child Left Behind program.

2005-2006 Madison School Board Committee Goals

President Carol Carstensen’s Board Goals 7MB Video
Bill Keys’ Long Range Planning Goals 8MB Video
Lawrie Kobza’s Partnership Committee Goals 6MB Video
Juan Jose Lopez’s Human Resource Committee Goals 3.5MB Video
Ruth Robarts’ Legislative Committee Goals 3MB Video
Shwaw Vang’s Performance & Achievement Committee Goals 4MB Video
Johnny Winston Jr.’s Finance & Operations Committee Goals 4MB Video

Lessons in Gratitude @ the Kitchen Sink

Ben Stein:

AS I told them, we could do without Hollywood for a century. We could not do without them and their sacrifice for a week. Gratitude. As my pal Phil DeMuth says, it’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme. Gratitude. Losing the luxury of feeling aggrieved when, if you look closely, you have an opportunity. My father washed dishes at the Sigma Psi house so that he could build an education and a life for the family he did not even have yet.
At my house, I always insist on doing the dishes, and I feel a thrill of gratitude for what washing a dish can do with every swipe of the sponge. Wiping away the selfishness of the moment, building a life for my son. The zen of dishwashing. The zen of gratitude. The zen of riches. Thanks, Pop.

Britain Goes Back to the Future with Phonics

The Telegraph:

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who introduced the Literacy Strategy, promised to resign in 2002 unless 80 per cent met the expected standard of English on leaving primary school. The target has never been met, but Mr Blunkett long ago moved on to higher things. Instead, it is the nation’s children who have suffered: between 1998 and 2005, well over a million children have failed to achieve basic standards of literacy. A quarter of a million 11-year-olds are unable to read and write properly.
Yet, as Mr Burkhard and the CPS reported recently, if schools had been allowed to employ the phonics method, illiteracy at age 11 might have been eradicated altogether. Judging by tests in Clackmannanshire, where synthetic phonics have been taught since 1998, the method reduces the rate of reading failure to near zero. The evidence suggests that pupils taught using phonics are over three years ahead of their peers taught by other techniques.

The SUN and Joanne Jacobs have more. I agree with the Telegraph’s perspective on decentraliziation vs. a top down approach.

Referenda Ballot Error – Continued

Lee Sensenbrenner:

Board member Ruth Robarts said the mistake was “clearly (Price’s) responsibility” but added that it was unclear whether he would face any real consequences for it.
She mentioned a case a few years ago when the district fired several custodians because Price charged them with “stealing time,” or checking out before their assigned hours. They were fired shortly before Thanksgiving, but were brought back after it was found they were reporting to work early with their supervisors’ approval.
Robarts said those workers faced the most severe form of punishment, while it’s not clear that Price will face anything of the same scale.
She called the incorrect ballots “a very human kind of error,” but added that “you have to be extremely careful, and someone at (Price’s) level knows that.”
Pat Smith, the president of AFSCME Local 60, said he clearly remembers the fight when Price fired 13 custodians. “If one of my Local 60 members makes a costly mistake, hopefully they’ll be treated as good as Roger,” Smith said.

Lord knows, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life. I hope the District treats everyone the same in this respect.

MPS Superintendent Andrekopoulos’s Letter to the Joint Finance Committee

Milwaukee Superintendent William G. Andrekopoulos wrote a letter (PDF) to the members of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on school funding:

On May 26, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors passed its budget for the 2005-2006 school year. The budget successfully holds the line on taxes with a levy increase of less than one percent.
However, it also marks another year in a long line of years, where harmful cuts will be made to programs. Schools will have fewer resources and students will have fewer opportunities to engage in a full range of educational activities.

Via Wispolitics

NY School Board Actions After a Failed Renovation & Expansion Referendum

Reader Rebecca Stockwell emailed this link to a PDF document published by the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns (Westchester County, NY) after a renovation & expansion referendum failed. The newsletter begins:

The referendum was to finance a major school facilities renovation and expansion project. The proposal, which was the result of more than two years of analyzing our facilities needs and evaluating options for addressing them, was defeated by a vote of about 1200 to 1000.
Factors that appear to have contributed to the “no” vote include 1) concern about the cost of the project in a community that had not faced a major facilities referendum in 50 years, 2) some disagreement with the scope and/or conceptual design elements of the project, 3) some confusion and mis- trust over the district’s analysis of the tax implications, and 4) the perception by some that they had not had an adequate opportunity to participate in or be fully informed about the process leading up to the project referendum.
At the same time, feedback also strongly indicated widespread support across all segments of our population for continuing to take a long-range, comprehensive approach in addressing our facilities needs.
We have listened carefully to the feedback.

Continue reading NY School Board Actions After a Failed Renovation & Expansion Referendum

The 5 Bedroom, Six Figure Rootless Life

Peter T. Kilborn:

Ms. Link and her husband, Jim, 42, a financial services sales manager for the Wachovia Corporation of Charlotte, N.C., belong to a growing segment of the upper middle class, executive gypsies. The shock troops of companies that continually expand across the country and abroad, they move every few years, from St. Louis to Seattle to Singapore, one satellite suburb to another, hopscotching across islands far from the working class and the urban poor.
As a subgroup, relos are economically homogenous, with midcareer incomes starting at $100,000 a year. Most are white. Some find the salaries and perks compensating; the developments that cater to them come with big houses, schools with top SAT scores, parks for youth sports and upscale shopping strips.

I found this article quite interesting, particularily the choice this family made with respect to their next move (an older, established neighborhood).

Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age

John Seely Brown (Brown was Chief Scientist at Xerox PARC, where many of the technologies we use today, including, ethernet, Laser Printers and the GUI were invented):

My interest here today is in looking at the notions of learning, working and playing in the digital age and how today’s kids—growing up digital—might actually be quite different from what we might first think. But, more particularly, how by stepping back and looking at the forces and trends underlying the digital world, we may have a chance to create a new kind of learning matrix, one that I will call a learning ecology.
I became interested in learning ecologies because of their systemic properties. We need to view higher education from a systemic perspective, one that takes into consideration all of the components—k-12, community colleges, state and private colleges and universities, community libraries, firms, etc.—that make up a region. This, in turn, raises additional questions about how we might create a regional advantage such as in the Research Triangle in North Carolina or in Silicon Valley. For example, is there a way to extend science parks, that typically surround universities, into also being learning parks and from there into being learning ecologies by combining the knowledge producing components of the region with the nearly infinite reach and access to information that the internet provides? And, if so, might this provide an additional use of the internet in learning—one besides just distance learning. But first, let’s consider what the Web is and see how it might provide a new kind of information fabric in which learning, working and playing co-mingle. Following that we will then look at the notion of distributed intelligence which has a great deal to do with the social basis as well as the cognitive basis of learning, and how those fold together. Then we will look at the issue of how one might better capture and leverage naturally occurring knowledge assets, a topic as relevant to the campus as to the region or to the firm. Finally, we will come to the core topic of how all this folds together to lead to a new concept of a learning ecology.

Background on John Seely Brown: Clusty

DC Voucher Program Summary

Jay Matthews:

After a one-hour bus trip, including one transfer, they reached the private Nannie Helen Burroughs School in Northeast Washington, which the children began attending in the fall under the D.C. school voucher program. Then their mother took a 45-minute bus trip to her job as a store clerk in Pentagon City.
In the evening, she did the same bus commute in reverse, picked up her children from the school’s day-care program at 6 p.m. and escorted them home. The next day, she would rise at 6:15 a.m. to do it all again.
Nine months into the experiment, it is too early to know how the nation’s first federally funded voucher program is affecting the academic achievement of the hundreds of D.C. children who won the private school scholarships. But spending time with the Hammonds provides a glimpse of the benefits and the sacrifices that the program entails for one family.

Atlanta Parental School Lunch Monitoring System

Daniel Yee:

Health officials hope it will increase parents’ involvement in what their kids eat at school. It’s a concern because federal health data shows that up to 30 percent of U.S. children are either overweight or obese.
“My parents do care about what I eat. They try, like, to keep up with it,” said Hughes, a 14-year-old student at Marietta Middle School.
Three school districts in the Atlanta area last week became the first in the country to offer the parental-monitoring option of an electronic lunch payment system called Mealpay.com, created by Horizon Software International of Loganville, Ga

David Brooks on The Educated Class

David Brooks:

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class, where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony.

Matt Miller on Teacher Pay for Performance

Matt Miller:

This isn’t to diminish the many great teachers who work their hearts out for poor kids in trying conditions. But it’s these teachers who’ve told me with passion how mediocre many of their colleagues are. We’re essentially relying on missionaries to staff schools in poor neighborhoods. How many more years have to pass before we admit that the missionary “plan” isn’t working?
Yet the problem with most pay reforms (like Arnold’s) is that they’re all stick and no carrot. Or they offer such small bonuses (say, $2,000) that teachers have no reason to rethink their aversion to pay differentials based on anything but seniority.
The answer is to think bigger. Consider this “grand bargain.” We’d raise salaries for teachers in poor schools by 50 percent. But this offer would be conditioned on two major reforms. First, the unions would have to abandon their lock-step pay scale so that we could raise the top half of performers (and those in shortage fields like math and science) another 50 percent. Second, the unions would have to make it much easier to fire the worst teachers, who are blighting the lives of countless kids.

NPR: Washington DC Jr. High Orchestra Teacher Interview

All Things Considered:

Sarah Henks is a first-year orchestra teacher at Kipp Academy in Washington, D.C. The Florida State University graduate says she had originally wanted to perform in an orchestra herself, but something kept pulling her towards kids, strings and the classroom.
For her it’s been a year of highs and lows. Her junior high orchestra just performed its first big concert. We recently visited her class and asked her to tell us how the year went.

De-Gifting

Adam Klawonn:

An honors program beset by ethnic tensions and strained relations between parents and administrators at Lincoln Middle School is being eliminated.
After three months of public debate, trustees for Vista Unified voted 4-1 late Monday to eliminate the Gifted and Talented Education program, which supporters said promoted Lincoln’s brightest students. School administrators, however, said the GATE program was closed to most students.
The board’s decision will open honors classes that have GATE students to everyone.
School and district officials said putting GATE students in classes with those of mixed abilities would help improve test scores.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

Mertz on Teacher Layoffs

Reader Thomas J. Mertz emails:

I agree with Ruth Robarts that the Board should explore all options before laying off classroom personel and that revisting the ongoing MTI negotiations is the place to start.
I think that this issue is also linked to a key to the failure of two of the referenda — the transparency of the process. Wages and benefits are by far the largest budget item, yet the negotiations with MTI are shrouded in mystery. I’ve looked through the newspapers, the MTI site and the MSMD site and can find very little information about the current negotiations. Perhaps this is a legal question and negotiations must be secret (does anyone know?). But if they can be public and publicized, they should be.
If, as many believe, the administration and the Board need to be tougher with MTI, then public scrutiny woulkd make this more likely. If the administration and the Board are already sufficiently tough with MTI (as many others believe), then public scrutiny would undermine the position of those who question the contracts.
I see many potential benefits and little if any harm coming from shining a light on the negotiations.
Thomas J. Mertz

Post Referenda Notes, Comments & Interviews

Here’s a brief roundup of post Referenda voter comments:

Continue reading Post Referenda Notes, Comments & Interviews

Offshore Tutors

Anupreeta Das and Amanda Paulson:

Somit Basak’s tutoring style is hardly unusual. The engineering graduate spices up lessons with games, offers rewards for excellent performance, and tries to keep his students’ interest by linking the math formulas they struggle with to real-life examples they can relate to.
Unlike most tutors, however, Mr. Basak lives thousands of miles away from his students — he is a New Delhi resident who goes to work at 6 a.m. so that he can chat with American students doing their homework around dinnertime.

Via Joanne Jacobs

Robarts Advocates a Delay in Teacher Layoffs

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts wants fellow board members to delay today’s vote to lay off about 20 teachers next year in order to ask the Madison teachers union if it would agree to smaller wage and benefit increases to avoid the layoffs.

“Before you do something as severe as layoffs, I think you need to exhaust your alternatives,” said Robarts, who estimated that keeping the 20 teachers positions would cost about $1 million.

Robarts article is here.

Referenda Local Media Summary

Yesterday’s Madison School’s Referenda generated quite a bit of local coverage. Check out these links:

State School Test Scores Released

Alan Borsuk:

The brightest spot in the tests statewide appeared to be reading for eighth- and 10th-graders. The results show that 85% of eighth-graders were proficient or better in reading, up six percentage points from a year ago, while 74% of 10th-graders cleared the proficiency bar, up five percentagepoints from a year ago.
But for fourth-graders, the percentage proficient or better went down in math and science, stayed the same in reading and language arts and went up one point in social studies.
And an eight-point jump in the percentage of eighth-graders who were at least proficient in math only reversed an eight-point drop among the eighth-graders in the prior year – a sign both of the way scores can change from year to year and of how little things have changed in recent years.
The gaps that leave low-income and minority students scoring far below other students remain large and in some instances were worse in this school year’s testing. There have been some instances of the gaps shrinking, but it remains as much as 50 percentage points in some cases (78% of white 10th-graders and 28% of black 10th-graders were demonstrated proficient in math.

WKOW-TV: Botched Ballots Flagged Weeks Ago

WKOW-TV Madison:

Madison School District employees are unlockinging ballot boxes at polling places, and stocking them with reprinted ballots for the school district referendum election.
Normally, this would be a job for specifically trained city workers.
Assistant City Clerk Sharon Christensen says she does not have the staff to stock ballots this quickly, this close to an election.
She’s also worried about handing off this job. “I’m a little uncomfortable.”…
School district officials budgeted $90,000 for this election. Officials said they are still waiting for a cost estimate on the reprinting of 84,000 ballots, but said it could as much as $50,000. The ballot amount reflects an expected turnout of 21% of eligible, registered voters.

Northside Planning Council Referenda Forum

Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes Thursday night’s Madison Schools Referenda Forum:

Northside Planning Council’s moderator, Vernon Blackwell, asked if further cuts were required, should the district commit to keeping small class sizes at schools with the greatest need even if it meant raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels.
Robarts and Kobza said yes, as did board member Carol Carstensen, but she started to say “Of course I’ll do it –” before Blackwell said: “That’s a yes.”
Brant, Keys, board member Johnny Winston Jr. and Madison Cares leader Arlene Silveira said no. Rainwater said it wasn’t his decision and stuck to that as Blackwell told him that “You can’t abstain.”
During the audience comments, Dorothy Borchardt said that she was dismayed that Rainwater wouldn’t answer the question and said that it was no defense to say it was up to the board to decide. “The School Board is your rubber stamp,” she said.
Apart from the referendums, the district’s leaders were also challenged on why a $2 million federal reading program grant was declined and how they would handle class sizes if resources continued to dwindle.
Rainwater said that taking the money would have meant eventually teaching an unproven curriculum to all students at all schools and would have meant losing a program the administration believes is working.
But before he said that, Carstensen tried to explain it in the context of breakfast cereal.
“Let’s say you’re on a tight budget and someone is willing to give you $50 per month for food,” Carstensen said. “But it can only be spent on Fruit Loops. Would you take it.”
Several people in the back whispered: “Of course!”

IBM: Colleges: More Top Students Needed

Mindy B. Hagen:

With a critical shortage of Information Technology workers projected in the coming years, it’s crucial that university computer science departments do all they can to attract top students to the field, a local IBM official said Tuesday.
At IBM University Day in Research Triangle Park on Tuesday, leading IBM officials and university professors from across the region gathered to discuss new ways of marketing computer careers to up-and-coming students.

More Referenda Views

Sandy Cullen talks with a number of local players, including Art Rainwater, Roger Price along with both supporters and opponents of the 5/24 Referenda vote.
Cullen also mentions the very high taxpayer cost for these initiatives, due to the State’s equalization formula. For each $1.00 in new spending, the District must tax Madison homeowners $1.60! Essentially, as local spending exceeds state averages, the State reduces aid.
I find the support that Madison has shown for local education remarkable. Consider:

  • Madison spends an average of $13K per student, 25% more than the state average.
  • The District’s annual budget has increased from roughly $193M 10 years ago to $319M this year while enrollment has remained flat (Demographics have changed, of course)
  • Madison has many active volunteers who devote their time to local education efforts.

This support is positive and rather unique. The debate, in my view, is when we collectively reach the (tipping) point where piling more and more on the property taxpayer effectively erodes this essential support. I also think the District could significantly improve the transparency of the budget process (one simple example: the implications on student programs and teacher staffing of contract decisions made months before the “annual spring cut/spending reduction list” discussions).
I think the Madison Education Community should create an initiative to change the way we fund local education. I don’t believe a top down approach to school financing change will work. It may get passed at some point, but I doubt we’ll like the outcome.

For Immigrant Students, Math is One Road to Success

Michael Winerup:

So it was a surprise to see the photograph in the weekly paper, The Quincy Sun. There, on Page 7, was the Quincy High math club, and 17 of 18 members were Asian. Mathematically, it made no sense. Quincy High is 22 percent Asian; why is the math club 94.4 percent Asian?
Evelyn Ryan, the math department head, says that before the influx of Asian families began, there was one calculus class of 10 students; now there are two calculus classes totaling 40 students, 75 percent of them Asian.
I wanted to ask math club members why Asian students are so good in math. As I was to learn, it wasn’t such a simple question.
Most Asians at Quincy High have been in America only a few years, from China, Vietnam and Thailand. Most know little English when they arrive and are placed in E.S.L. classes (English as a second language.) “When I was a freshman, half year in U.S., English is a big problem,” said Chaoran Xie, a junior now. “I just know, ‘Hello how are you?’ History is a big problem. You don’t openly express yourself because you don’t know what to say and stuff. In history it’s a simple idea, but you don’t have the basic English.”

5/24 Referenda – Special Interest Money

The Madison City Clerk’s office has posted Pre-Special Election Campaign Finance Information for the 5/24/2005 Referenda:

Lee Sensenbrenner follows the money.
Local Parent/Activist and Madison CARES supporter Arlene Silveira argues for a yes vote on all three questions.
Learn more about the referenda here.
UPDATE: Sandy Cullen has more on Referenda spending.

Continue reading 5/24 Referenda – Special Interest Money

Fed Up With Lunch Waste

Don Behm:

“They never eat them all,” Aubrey said, referring to chicken nuggets left on the trays of first-, second- and third-graders.

The pair saw only a small portion of a nationwide pile of school lunch waste.

Each year, about $600 million in food served by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program is thrown away by students, the department’s Economic Research Service estimates in a report. That amounts to 12% of the food they are served.

Board Debates 1.8M in a $319M Budget

Lee Sensenbrenner picks up much detail (great work!):

Later in the night, when the board was going back and forth over whether it might keep kindergarten art, music and computer class sizes from doubling next year – a move that would have saved around $270,000 – Robarts said she was struggling to understand how that discussion was taking place when the district next year will pay $21 million for health insurance.
“Excuse me, that’s not germane,” board member Bill Keys said. Earlier Monday, the board had been meeting in closed session about the teachers’ contract currently under negotiation. No financial terms have been disclosed.
“OK, that’s it. I’ll shut up,” Robarts said. “It just seems very backward.”

Continue reading Board Debates 1.8M in a $319M Budget

Casey Hoff on the Referenda

Case Hoff:

Referendum is a word that rolls off the tongue like a fiery expletive after you get your property tax bill in the mail every year. Why such lewd language? Probably because a referendum seems more common than a cold day in January and the Madison School Board is now asking you to approve not one, not two, but three referenda totaling over $48 million dollars. This includes a $7.4 million revenue cap raise, $26.2 million over five years for building maintenance, computer technology, and instructional materials, and $14.5 million for the Leopold Elementary School facelift.
You may be asking yourself, “Should I really vote ‘yes’ and just bite my lip as I tack on another $108 to my property tax bill?” You may be saying, “I strongly support funding for our wonderful public education system, but are they making all the cuts they can to clean up the budget?” Don’t tell Madison CARES Spokeswoman Beth Zurbuchen that you’re considering voting ‘no’ or you’ll be drug out in the mud and figuratively shot like a feral cat in the north woods of Wisconsin (oops, touchy subject, sorry).

Zurbuchen’s quote can be found here.

Carol Carstensen on Isthmus’ Recent Madison Schools Coverage

This article, by Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen, appeared in Isthmus‘ May 12, 2005 edition:

Over the last two years, Isthmus’ articles on the Madison school district, especially its approach to teaching reading, have reminded me of a favorite quote from Adlai Stevenson: “These are the conclusions upon which I base my facts.”
The Madison school district has gotten a great deal of negative coverage from Isthmus, despite the fact that the district has seen continued improvement in the numbers and percent of children achieving at the two highest levels on the state’s third-grade reading test.

Continue reading Carol Carstensen on Isthmus’ Recent Madison Schools Coverage

Blocking Reform

Joanne Jacobs:

From the Huffington Post: Mike Piscal, founder of the very successful View Park Prep charter school in the low-income, minority Crenshaw District of LA names names in analyzing why 3,950 ninth graders at South LA’s four major high schools turn into 1,600 graduates, 900 college freshmen and 258 college graduates. More here.

This is related: Shanghai Jiaotong University won the recent ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest. The US hasn’t won since 1997. The University of Illinois finished 17th, CalTech,Duke and MIT finished 29th while UW-Madison earned an honorable mention.

Stressed Out: Parental Pressure to Excel

Dave Murphy:

As the boy played behind the bushes at his Redwood City school, his obviously agitated mother grabbed him, abruptly escorting him to her car.
“She asked him what he thought he was doing and proceeded to tell him all in one breath that he would never get into a good university or have a good job if he spent all his time playing and goofing around,” said Jim Dassise, a parent who watched the episode unfold. “He should be more like one of his friends, who spent his time studying and having good grades.”
The boy was about 9 years old.

Madison Schools Medicaid Reimbursements

Mike Johnson takes a look at a Medicaid reimbursement program that pumps about 700K into the Madison Schools annually. The article provides a useful look at the strange way (and the costs) in which the money finds its way to local districts.

“The reason Madison started in the Medicaid reimbursement program could be summed up in two words: revenue limits,” said Joe Quick, the legislative liaison/communication specialist for the district. “Despite the somewhat cumbersome paperwork and a reimbursement formula where the state skims money off the top, the school district’s efforts are financially worth the work.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

Jon Carroll on “Our Mothers, Ourselves“:

She learned to scuba dive. She was active in the League of Women Voters. When I was 28, she and my stepfather moved to Ethiopia. She worked for the World Health Organization, preparing educational materials that said, in essence, “Please do not defecate in the river.”

Koloen: School Board Should Question Health Care Costs

Jim Koloen (appeared in the Capital Times):

Dear Editor: It is perplexing that the Madison School Board can approve a labor contract without actually having read it except through a summary provided by the administration. Why bother with a board at all if it simply behaves as though the administration and the board are one and the same? The words “rubber stamp” come to mind.

Evidently another contract ( five year transportation) was approved on May 2 – without presentation of the full financial details. (9 minute video clip of the discussion – the award was approved 4 – 2 with Kobza & Robarts voting against it due to lack of information. Check out the video). Generally, I think a five year deal is not a bad idea, IF all of the costs & benefits are known.

Continue reading Koloen: School Board Should Question Health Care Costs

Homeschooling & The World is Flat

I mentioned to a few friends recently that I think the Madison School’s “same service” budgeting approach (year after year) needs to be replaced by a new, largely curriculum based process that recognizes globalization, changing demographics and the fact that we should not simply compare our performance and curricula with those of Racine, Green Bay or Ann Arbor. Rather the comparison should be with Helsinki, Bangalore, Shanghai, London, Nagoya and (insert your city here).
Parents have a growing number of choices these days (some don’t realize that they have them – yet). Homeschooling appears to be the elephant in the room along with the slow rise of virtual schools.
Julie Leung sent a timely bolt of lightning to the blogosphere with her essay on education, including a discussion of her reasons for homeschooling:

Our desire to preserve our childrens’ organic curiosity plays a large part in our desire to homeschool. Too often the school system crushes curiousity out of a kid. Kids have a natural desire to learn.

Read Doc’s post for more background & links along with Gatto

Madison Schools 2005/2006 Budget?

I’m wondering if the MMSD’s 2005/2006 budget is floating around… somewhere? I’ve heard that it was released to the BOE members earlier this week, but I’ve not seen any sign of it on the District’s website. Stranger still, President Carol Carstensen required Board members to have their amendments in by noon today (5/5) – roughly 36 hours after receiving a budget, that, as far as I can tell, is not available to the public.
Ed Blume noted earlier that Milwaukee’s proposed budget is online.
I find Carol’s extremely short Board Member Amendment turnaround to be unusual, given a $320M budget…. Why?
The District’s 2004/2005 budget is available here (8.6MB PDF).
UPDATE: Ed Blume emailed a link to this 82 page 2005/2006 budget summary – pdf file. FWIW, the previous budget document – link above was 368 pages.