All posts by Jim Zellmer

Study Takes a Sharp Look at NYC’s Dropout Rate

Elissa Gootman:

The first comprehensive look at New York City’s failing students has found that nearly 140,000 people from ages 16 to 21 have either dropped out of high school or are already so far behind that they are unlikely to graduate.
The study, which the New York City Department of Education is to present to the State Board of Regents today, for the first time sheds light on a population of students who for decades have been relegated to the shadows of the city’s sprawling school system. The study was conducted by the Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting group, and was paid for with $2.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lucy Mathiak recently discussed a Madison School District Study that evaluated late 1990’s dropout data:

I think we need to be careful about what we assume when we are talking about students of color in the schools. The children of color in our schools include a growing number of children whose parents, regardless of racial or ethnic identity, are highly educated with degrees ranging from the BA/BS levels to PhD, law, and medical degrees. Many have attended schools or come from communities with high numbers of professionals of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, or American Indian heritage. As our businesses and higher educational institutions hire more diverse professionals, we will see more children of color from middle and upper income families.
Children of color with highly educated parents historically have had trouble getting access to advanced educational opportunities regardless of their academic preparation or ability. And we are seeing a concurrent relocation to private schools, suburbs, and other cities because the parents have every bit as high expectation for their children as any other parents.

I hope there will be an update to this study. Related: The Gap According to Black.

Parents vs. Coach

C.W. Nevius:

Parents interfering in their kids’ sports is nothing new. But a group of parents at Castro Valley High is taking it to a new extreme.
What started as a group of unhappy parents griping amongst themselves has ballooned into multiple investigations, an observer attending every girls varsity basketball practice and a committee that will pick the team.
It’s the kind of over-the-top behavior that’s increasingly common — parents running on the field, screaming from the sidelines and, in the worst cases, punching out officials. It happens when well-intentioned parents let their protective instincts for their children overwhelm their good judgment.
In Castro Valley, the club wielded by parents is legal clout.

Wisconsin School Financing Proposal

Amy Hetzner:

A major study of restructuring the state’s school funding system has produced a plan its author predicts could double academic achievement among Wisconsin students for 6.8% more money annually than the state spends currently.
The study by Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor, is more than a year in the making and has included input by some of the state’s most influential education policy makers. However, members of the task force who have been advising Odden say it is still a work in progress, and major disagreements arose Friday at a meeting at which he released detailed cost estimates for his plan.
“Nobody agrees with everything,” Odden conceded, “but there’s been no great revolts.”
Odden is slated to present the plan at a hearing next week of a special legislative council on the school-aid formula, which is headed by state Sen. Luther Olsen ( R-Ripon), a member of Odden’s task force.
The council will also hear about two other plans, one from Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and the other from the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Olsen said.
Jack Norman, research director for the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, who helped draft the funding plan for the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, called Odden’s plan “really terrific.” But he disagreed with some of the details, including how it would fund special education and its reduced funding for high school electives.

Amplification in the Classroom

Reader Steven Ralser emails this article by Wendy Cole:

Twenty pairs of eyes eagerly converge on Jennifer Larcey as the afternoon science lesson gets under way at Bassett Elementary in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Sure, the transfixed first-graders are salivating at the prospect of examining–and tasting–the physical properties of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms. But something else is riveting the kids, even as Larcey stands to the side of the room issuing directions: the breathtaking clarity of her voice. “Feel the peanuts, and try to describe the texture,” she instructs.
Larcey is one of seven teachers at Bassett who are, in effect, wired for sound. Nearly every word to her students is amplified through speakers wirelessly linked to a small blue transmitter dangling from her neck. Because she began using the technology three years ago, Larcey barely notices the device, except for the rare instances when she forgets to switch it on. “It’s obvious. The kids just don’t pay attention in the same way,” she says. Bassett has joined the growing ranks of schools embracing a deceptively simple technology at a time when federal No Child Left Behind accountability standards are compelling districts to find new ways to boost academic performance. Although amplification systems have long been used to help hearing-impaired students, recent research has shown that enhanced audio benefits all students by helping a teacher’s voice get through loud and clear, even at the back of the classroom.

No Test Tubes? Debate on Virtual Science Classes

Sam Dillion:

When the Internet was just beginning to shake up American education, a chemistry professor photographed thousands of test tubes holding molecular solutions and, working with video game designers, created a simulated laboratory that allowed students to mix chemicals in virtual beakers and watch the reactions.
In the years since, that virtual chemistry laboratory — as well as other simulations allowing students to dissect virtual animals or to peer into tidal pools in search of virtual anemone — has become a widely used science teaching tool. The virtual chemistry laboratory alone has some 150,000 students seated at computer terminals around the country to try experiments that would be too costly or dangerous to do at their local high schools. “Some kids figure out how to blow things up in half an hour,” said the professor, Brian F. Woodfield of Brigham Young University.

Madison School Board Math Curriculum Discussion with the Superintendent

Video | Audio

School Board members that ask questions are essential to public confidence in and strong oversight of our $332m+ district. Monday evening’s Superintendent review discussion with respect to the district’s controversial math curriculum was interesting in this respect. Watch the video or listen to the mp3 audio file. The math related discussion starts about 24 minute into the video and ends at about the one hour mark.

3 School Board seats are up for election in April, 2007. These meetings demonstrate the need for candidates with strong leadership and governance abilities with respect to the most important issues for our next generation: a world class curriculum.

MetLife 2006 Survey of the American Teacher

Harris Interactive:

The 2006 survey looks at the expectations of teachers upon entering the profession, factors that drive career satisfaction, and the perspectives of principals and education leaders on successful teacher preparation and long-term support. In addition, it examines data collected from past MetLife American Teacher surveys to understand the challenges teachers face and their likelihood of remaining in the profession in order to recommend recruitment and retention strategies. Through focus groups of prospective and former teachers, also conducted by Harris Interactive, the report offers added insight about why individuals choose to enter the profession, and why some “opt out” early.

Key findings include:

1. Today’s teachers face challenges:

  • Most teachers do not have enough time for planning and grading (65%), helping individual students (60%) or classroom instruction (34%).
  • Although teachers’ professional prestige is on the rise, nearly four in 10 (37%) say their professional prestige is worse than they expected.
  • Two-thirds of teachers (64%) report their salaries are not fair for the work they do.

2. The struggle to retain teachers gives cause for concern:

  • One quarter (27%) of teachers say they are likely to leave the profession within the next five years to enter a different occupation.
  • The veteran teacher with 21 years or more experience is more likely than his or her less-experienced colleague to “opt out”—that is, more than twice as likely to leave the profession (56% vs. 26%).

3. Principals and education leaders have dramatically different perspectives on what new teachers should expect on-the-job.

  • More than half of principals (54%) think teachers are unrealistic about the number of hours they will work each week, in contrast to 32% of deans and chairpersons.
  • More than half of principals (52%) believe teachers are unrealistic about the number of students with special needs with whom they will work, in contrast to 25% of deans and chairpersons.

4. Teachers’ experiences align more closely with what principals say they should expect than with the views of deans and chairpersons who prepare them for classroom life.

  • Four in 10 teachers (42%) work more with special needs students than they expected.
  • Fifty-eight percent of teachers find the hours they work each week are worse than expected.
  • Three of the four top strategies teachers recommend for recruitment and retention—a decent salary, more financial support of school systems and more respect in society–are similar to those of principals.

5. Still, there is good news about the state of K-12 education:

  • Despite the challenges they face, teachers’ career satisfaction is at 20-year high: 56% are very satisfied with teaching as a career, a 70% increase over findings reported in the 1986 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Restructuring the Teaching Profession.
  • Today’s new teachers feel better prepared to engage families, work with students of varying abilities and maintain order in the classroom than did their than experienced peers when they first entered the career.
  • Eighty-two percent of new teachers were matched with a more experienced mentor during their first year of teaching, compared to only 16% of veteran teachers.

Full Survey 800K PDF.

The Structural Inadequacy of Public Schools for Stigmatized Minorities: The Need for Institutional Remedies

Shavar Jeffries:

This Article challenges the failure of courts and advocates considering remedies in school cases to assess whether public schools, as currently constituted, are institutionally aligned with stigmatized minorities’ particular educational needs. Numerous legal scholars have written about the longstanding failure of public schools to effectively educate racial minorities; but they have overlooked the relationship of public schools’ institutional context to the educational consequences of racial stigma. This Article does so, claiming that because stigma attacks the very capacities enabling education, services must specifically account for stigma’s noxious effects on racial minorities’ educability. Stigma distinctively affects minorities’ educational fortunes both categorically and individually. As a class, the ontological challenge posed by stigma, obviously, affects only the stigmatized; individually, children have different levels of access to resources contradicting stigma and also cope variably with stigma. Schools therefore need flexibility to respond not only to the unique class-wide harms engendered by stigma but also its specific manifestations in individual children.
Despite this need for flexibility, traditional public schools are highly bureaucratic and rule-bound, preempting the flexibility stigmatized minorities require. This disposition toward uniformity, moreover, is not coincidental but is central to political accountability, especially in urban districts disproportionately serving racial minorities. Finally, because they are minorities, relatively poor, and stigmatized, stigmatized minorities cannot politically realize bureaucratic rules consistently responsive to their educational needs.

For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

Jay Matthews:

It is difficult to get through a day in an American school without hearing maxims such as these: “To succeed, you must believe in yourself,” and “To teach, you must relate the subject to the lives of students.”
But the Brookings Institution is reporting today that countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don’t promote all that self-regard.
onsider Korea and Japan.
According to the Washington think tank’s annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders. But a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.

1.3mb PDF Full Brookings/Brown Report

Does Television Cause Autism?

Michael Waldman, Sean Nicholson and Nodir Adilov [Full 728K PDF Report]:

One of the major health care crises currently facing the United States is the exploding incidence of autism diagnoses. Thirty years ago it was estimated that roughly one in 2500 children had autism while today it is estimated that approximately one in 166 is diagnosed with the condition – more than a ten-fold increase.1 In turn, due to the high costs of treating and caring for a typical autistic individual over his or her lifetime, it is estimated that the annual cost to society of autism is thirty-five billion dollars (Ganz 2006). Clearly, the highest priority needs to be given to better understanding what is causing the dramatic increase in diagnoses and, if possible, using that improved knowledge to reverse the trend.
Despite the recent rapid increase in diagnoses and the resulting increased attention the condition has received both in the media and in the medical community, very little is known about what causes the condition. Starting with the work of Rimland (1964), it is well understood that genetics or biology plays an important role, but many in the medical community argue that the increased incidence must be due to an environmental trigger that is becoming more common over time (a few argue that the cause is a widening of the criteria used to diagnose the condition and that the increased incidence is thus illusory). However, there seems to be little consensus and little evidence concerning what the trigger or triggers might be. In this paper we empirically investigate a possibility that has received almost no attention in the medical literature, i.e., that early childhood television watching is an important trigger for the onset of autism.

Via Slate.

Researchers might also turn new attention to study of the Amish. Autism is rare in Amish society, and the standing assumption has been that this is because most Amish refuse to vaccinate children. The Amish also do not watch television.

“Far too Fuzzy Math Curriculum is to Blame for Declining NYC Test Scores”

Elizabeth Carson:

Here’s a math problem for you: Count the excuses people are trotting out for why schoolkids in New York City and State did poorly in the latest round of math scores. The results showed just 57% of the city’s and 66% of the state’s students performing at grade level – and a steady decline in achievement as kids got older.
It’s about family income, said an article in The New York Times. “The share of students at grade level in affluent districts was more than twice as big as in impoverished urban districts.”
It’s about unfair funding levels, said state education Secretary Richard Mills.
It’s about class size, said activist Leonie Haimson.
Wrong again, claimed other observers. The real culprit was a new test.
If, like me, you’re running out of fingers – and patience – there’s a reason. Nobody spinning the test scores is zeroing in on the single biggest reason math achievement in New York City and state lags and will continue to lag: Our schools use a far-too-fuzzy curriculum that fails to give kids rigorous instruction in the basics.
In New York City, the program required in the vast majority of schools is called Everyday Mathematics. Chancellor Joel Klein swears by it. If you ask administrators to explain it, they’ll use just enough jargon to make it sound decent.
But the truth is, Everyday Math systematically downplays addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which everyone knows are the foundations for all higher math. Instead of learning those basic four operations like the backs of their hands, students are asked to choose from an array of alternative methods, such as an ancient Egyptian method for multiplication. Long division is especially frowned upon.

Everyday Math is used in the Madison School District. Much more on Math curriculum and politics here. Via Joanne.
Carson is Co-Founder and Executive Director of NYC Hold:

The performance of American students in mathematics is mediocre at best. In many cases, mathematics instruction is not serving our children’s best interests. In order to help all students achieve success in school mathematics courses, have access to adequate preparation for the broadest options in high school math and science courses, and the opportunity to advance into mathematics based college courses and careers, it is important to examine the direction of recent attempts at mathematics education reform.

More on Everyday math.

Tips for Better Parent-School Relationships

Jay Matthews:

In many ways, parents are the most important teachers children will ever have. But drawing them into schools is often difficult. So is forging a constructive parent-school relationship. Teachers complain about parents who meddle too much and those who can’t be found. Parents say that educators claim to want more involvement but that they belittle their suggestions.
Here are 10 recommendations for better relations from educators and school-savvy parents.

City Students Endure Traumatic Day

Andy Hall:

tudents, parents, police and educators throughout Madison were rattled Monday but no significant injuries were reported in three unrelated incidents that included a lockdown at East High School, a pellet gun attack outside West High School and a car crash triggered by two O’Keeffe Middle School students.
Tensions were high because of recent violence and threats in schools in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania, officials acknowledged. Monday’s chaos ended peacefully, they said, because of an unnamed community tipster, good security planning and quick police work.
Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said about 1,800 students at East High School were restricted to their third-period classrooms, except for a quick trip to the cafeteria and bathroom breaks, from 11 a.m. until classes were dismissed at 3:30 p.m. because of a “credible threat” against a student.

Significant errors and misconceptions – “Billions for an Inside Game on Reading” by the Washington Post

Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

This letter and the enclosure are an appeal to you for help in alerting your readers to significant errors and misconceptions in an article printed in the Post on October 1, 2006 titled “Billions for an Inside Game on Reading” by Michael Grunwald.
He asserted that Reading First grants were awarded to preferred reading programs, and that billions of dollars were misspent because the requirement in Reading First that reading programs be based on “scientifically based reading research” were ignored.
Below is a summary of the essential facts that document the errors and misconceptions that have damaged one of the most effective programs to teach vulnerable children to read. Attached to this letter is a detailed presentation that seeks to correct the record.
It is my hope that you will consider printing a clarification so that the public you serve will know the truth about Reading First.

The MMSD’s omission with respect to Reading First was to support the Superintendent’s rejection of the $2M+ grant without a School Board discussion, particularly in light of the District’s devotion to the expensive Reading Recovery program. 2M is material, even to an organization with an annual budget of $332M+. Much more on Reading First here and Bob Sweet [Interview].

Special Education Funding

Andy Hall:

Pressure on schools has intensified because the state has paid a decreasing share of special education costs. This year, the state is reimbursing schools 29 percent of the $1.16 billion cost. In 1993, the state paid 45 percent of the $585.9 million cost of special education.
Educators say they have been forced to cut so deeply into overall school budgets that in many cases, the educations of regular and special education students are jeopardized.
Terry Milfred, superintendent of the Weston district, 75 miles northwest of Madison, said administrators had to eliminate a school counseling position, slice the music program in half, eliminate cooking and sewing portions of home economics classes, outsource drivers’ education to a private company and reduce library staffing to balance the budget in recent years.
“Those things aren’t required by law, and consequently that’s where the services tend to be reduced to the point that we feel we can,” said Milfred, who sympathizes with the Legislature’s desire to hold down taxes but hopes for reforms.
Meanwhile, he said, the bill for one of the district’s special education students is $30,000, and another is transported 160 miles a day to receive specialized services.

The Essential Support for School Improvement

Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Anthony S. Bryk, John Q. Easton, and Stuart Luppescu:

n this report, which draws on data from Chicago public elementary schools in the 1990s, the authors present a framework of essential supports and community resources that facilitate school improvement. The authors provide evidence on how the essential supports contribute to improvements in student learning, and they investigate how community circumstances impact schools’ ability to embrace the essential supports.
The authors offer empirical evidence on the five essential supports—leadership, parent-community ties, professional capacity, student-centered learning climate, and ambitious instruction—and investigate the extent to which strength in the essential supports was linked to improvements in student learning, and the extent to which weakness was linked to stagnation in learning gains.

Defending the Classroom

Jeff Carlton:

Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they got – books, pencils, legs and arms.
“Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success,” said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.
That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.
But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

via Joanne.

Wisconsin Tax Climate Update & Local Property Tax Levy Changes

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The first step toward improving the state’s tax climate must be for lawmakers to control spending. The state cannot afford to cut taxes and thus forgo revenue unless the next governor and Legislature do a better job of paring, consolidating and conserving.
Even the promise that lower taxes will generate more business development in the future will not address the immediate strains created by rising costs for Medicaid and other programs.

Tax Foundation’s report.

WISTAX has more:

  • Municipal Property Taxes Outpace “Freeze”, Rise 4.1% in Large Cities:

    Despite a “freeze” designed to slow property tax growth, Wisconsin’s 230 largest cities and villages increased levies at the same rate as in prior years. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), municipal-purpose property tax levies rose 4.1% in these municipalities in 2005-06 (2006), the same as the average increase from 2002 to 2005.

  • State Budget Increasingly on Autopilot:

    In recent years, most state spending growth has been in two areas: school aids and Medical Assistance (MA). The inescapable link between state aid and school revenue limits on the one hand and property taxes on the other virtually assures that, when combined with accelerating MA costs, most new state revenue is already “spoken for.” Funds for state agencies, higher education, and other state programs are likely to grow little, if at all, thus continuing a long trend..
    State law gives the governor and legislators the power to enact budgets. Yet, through various actions and commitments from both over the past decade, they have increasingly put the state budget on autopilot.

  • Election 2006 Issues and Questions.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Globally, American companies already are at a disadvantage because the benchmark federal corporate tax rate is 35%, which the Tax Foundation notes is “one of the highest corporate tax rates of any of the industrialized economies” – even after the successive rounds of tax reductions under President Bush.
The foundation’s report, however, only added to a bewildering array of national tax rankings, each using different methodologies that have sparked a lively debate among policy-makers.
The foundation’s annual State Business Tax Climate Index is based on a weighted index that ranks each state’s corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment taxes and property taxes. While it relies on U.S. census data for each state’s property tax, it compares state tax rates and tax laws to measure the other four. It employs a matrix of 10 subindexes and 113 variables.
The Madison-based Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, using the latest available census numbers, put Wisconsin at No. 6 when measured as a percentage of personal income. That figure represents years of incremental improvements after Wisconsin registered No. 3 in the nation under the same measures in 1994.

Taxes, particularly the much discussed property tax “Freeze” will certainly be on voter’s minds November 7, 2006. The Madison School District’s 06/07 budget will grow local property taxes by 11,626,677 to $211,989,932 (5.8%) [See 2006/2007 Budget Executive Summary – PDF]. Gotta love politics, 5.8% is certainly not a freeze :). The Madison School District’s property tax levy changes over the past 6 years. The mill rate has not changed at the same rate as the levy increases because local assessed values have been increasing. That will probably change now as the housing market takes a breather.

The Handwriting is on the Wall

Margaret Webb Pressler:

The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it’s threatening to finish off longhand.
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.
And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.
Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it’s important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

Better Teachers: A Lesson Plan

Marie Gryphon:

Good teachers matter. This may seem obvious to anyone who has a child in school or, for that matter, to anyone who has been a child in school. For a long time, though, researchers couldn’t actually prove that teaching talent was important. But new research finally shows that teacher quality is a close cousin to student achievement: A great teacher can cram one-and-a-half grades’ worth of learning into a single year, while laggards are lucky to accomplish half that much. Parents and kids, it seems, have been right all along to care whether they were assigned to Mrs. Smith or Mr. Brown.
Yet, while we know now that better teachers are critical, flaws in the way that administrators select and retain them mean that schools don’t always hire the best.
Many ingredients of good teaching are difficult to ascertain in advance–charisma and diligence come to mind–but research shows a teacher’s own ability on standardized tests reliably predicts good performance in the classroom. You would think, then, that top-scoring teachers would be swimming in job offers, right? Not so, says Vanderbilt University professor Dale Ballou. High-scoring teaching applicants “do not fare better than others in the job market,” he writes. “Indeed, remarkably, they do somewhat worse.”
Even more surprising, given the national shortage of highly skilled math and science teachers, school administrators are more keen to hire education majors than applicants who have math or science degrees.

Continue reading Better Teachers: A Lesson Plan

The State of the City’s Schools

Superintendent Art Rainwater and Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. discuss the state of Madison’s public schools with Stuart Levitan.

Watch the video | MP3 Audio

Topics discussed include:

  • School Safety
  • The November 7, 2006 Referendum
  • School funding
  • “Education is not one size fits all” – Johnny during a discussion of the initiatives underway within the school district (the last 12 minutes) such as online learning, the Studio School and differentiation.
  • Levitan asked Art Rainwater if, during his 8 years as Superintendent, the education our children receive is better than it was in 1998? Art said it was and cited a number of examples.


The Mathematics Education of Elementary School Teachers

Jim Lewis:

The Mathematical Education of Teachers [268K PDF] recommends that the mathematical education of teachers be viewed as a partnership between mathematics faculty and mathematics education faculty and further recommends that there needs to be more collaboration between mathematics faculty and school mathematics teachers. We will report on The Mathematics Semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a partnership that resulted from Math Matters, a NSF-CCLI grant.

Also: Math in the Middle Institute Partnership [PDF]

The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

The Economist:

Look around the business world and two things stand out: the modern economy places an enormous premium on brainpower; and there is not enough to go round.
But education inevitably matters most. How can India talk about its IT economy lifting the country out of poverty when 40% of its population cannot read? [MMSD’s 10th Grade Reading Data] As for the richer world, it is hard to say which throw more talent away—America’s dire public schools or Europe’s dire universities. Both suffer from too little competition and what George Bush has called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

Thursday’s meeting between Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater, the MMSD’s Brian Sniff and the UW Math department included two interesting guests: UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley [useful math links via the Chancellor’s website] and the Dean of the UW-Madison Education School. Wiley and the Ed School Dean’s attendance reflects the political nature of K-12 curriculum, particularly math. I’m glad Chancellor Wiley took time from his busy schedule to attend and look forward to his support for substantial improvements in our local math program.

Continue reading The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

World Famous Artist Collaborates with Cherokee Middle School Students


tudents at a Madison middle school collaborated with a world-famous contemporary painter to create a mural.
The artist known simply as Wyland — who is famous for panting building-sized marine murals in cities around the country — visited Cherokee Middle School on Tuesday where he worked with 40 students to paint a mural.

Much more on Wyland. Wyland’s Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex “Whale Commuters” was recently destroyed as part of a new freeway project.

The No. 1 Graduate School of Education?

Kevin Carey:

What’s the No. 1 graduate school of education in America? If you asked people in the academic world, many would probably mention Teachers College at Columbia University, which is not only well-regarded by its peers, but also unusually large, granting more than 100 doctoral degrees in education every year.
But for the past two decades, one university has out-produced Teachers College in doctorate production: Nova Southeastern University. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nova enrolls more than 25,000 students, making it the seventh-largest private, nonprofit university in the nation. It was founded as a technical university in 1964 and specializes in distance learning for adult students. Most students for advanced education degrees are classroom teachers and other educators in public schools.
For most of the 1990s, Nova Southeastern granted about 250 education doctorates per year. But as Chart 1 shows, those numbers began to increase sharply in 2002. By 2005, Nova’s degree production surged to almost 450 a year. Teachers College granted 150 education doctorates that year, virtually the same as it granted in 1998.

The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress: NCLB’s School Evaluation System

William J. Mathis [16.1MB PDF]:

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the key element of the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This report reveals that AYP in its 2006 form as the prime indicator of academic achievement is not supported by reliable evidence. Expecting all children to reach mastery level on their state’s standardized tests by 2014, the fundamental requirement of AYP, is unrealistic. The growth model and other improvement proposals now on the table do not have sufficient power to resolve the underlying problems of the system. In addition, the program, whether conceived as implementation costs or remedial costs, is significantly underfunded in a way that will disproportionately penalize schools attended by the neediest children. Further, the curriculum is being narrowed to focus on tested areas at the cost of other vital educational purposes.

Money & Academic Success

Ken DeRosa:

In his new book, Eric Hanushek delivers the smack down on Johnathan Kozol who has been insisting these many years that the funding gap between middle class and inner city schools was the cause of the achievement gap between white and minority kids. Thus, to erase the achievement gap all we had to do was eliminate the funding gap:

In both Savage Inequalities and its 1995 successor, Amazing Grace, Kozol described the once beautiful and successful Morris High School in the Bronx as “one of the most beleaguered, segregated and decrepit secondary schools in the United States. Barrels were filling up with rain in several rooms. . . . Green fungus molds were growing in the corners” of some rooms, and the toilets were unusable. Kozol wrote that it would take at least $50 million to restore Morris’s decaying physical plant and suggested that the white political establishment would never spend that much money on a ghetto school. The city actually did spend more than $50 million to restore Morris High School after the publication of Savage Inequalities, though Kozol had not a word to say about it when discussing Morris in the second book. Of course the newly gleaming building had no perceptible effect on the academic performance of the students.

Report from the First Grade Trenches

Ken Derosa:

The first month of school is now over for my son who is in first grade. Let me summarize what has transpired in the first 1/9 of the school year so far. Bear in mind that most of my information comes from a six year old with the attention span of a flea.
One assignment asked them to draw pictures of things having numbers, like a clock or calendar. Another asked them to find a picture that told a math story–there are three dogs and two cats in this picture, how many are there all together.
He’s learning about math, instead of learning math. Clearly, the focus is on “understanding,” and not on developing proficiency in basic math skills. There are opportunity costs associated with this high constructivism approach as well. Time spent on these contrived exercises is time lost in which basic math skills, like addition, could have been taught and practiced.
I hesitate to call what’s going on reading since there is so little actual reading going on. The kids were given a DIBELS test and broken up into reading groups. Whether they were broken up by ability, I do not know. Teaching consists mostly of letting kids pick out books they like and letting them “read” them independently. If the kids can’t read yet, they can look at the pictures. That’s nice.
Again, we see a pedagogy that favors higher performers. Kids who can read already, practice their reading skills. Kids who can’t read, practice their picture viewing skills. Which kids do you suppose will make more progress learning to read this year?

Book: What School Boards Can Do

Donald R. McAdams:

To provide essential guidance to urban school board members committed to high achievement for all children, Don McAdams presents a comprehensive approach to board leadership he calls reform governance. This accessible framework brings together all the work of an urban school board, including everything from big ideas about core beliefs and theories of action for change, to the fundamental relationships and processes through which boards and superintendents work together, and the leadership role boards have in building community support for sustained change. Taking into account the hot political arena of urban education, reform governance:

  • Helps school board members understand why it is necessary to redesign urban districts and what their role in the process should be.
  • Sets forth principles that boards can use as guides to action, and gives real-life examples of how they work.
  • Shows how a strong board and superintendent team can work together to be agents for change.

The Cost of an “Adequate” Education

Eric A. Hanushek:

The nation is watching to see what happens with New York City school finance. After a dozen years in the courts, the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. New York is now back at the Court of Appeals for a final judgment about the added appropriations that the legislature must send to the city. This judgment is, however, unlikely to be the final statement. If the legislature must come up with an incredible sum of money close to the more than $5 billion currently on the table, it may well balk, precipitating a true constitutional crisis.
New York’s school-finance case may be the most visible in the nation, but it is certainly not unique. Almost half of the states today have an “adequacy” case in their courts. Only five states have never faced a school-finance case during the past three decades. New York, however, is on center stage this week. Because of the size of the judgment, the New York decision could send shock waves through state legislatures across the country.
Earlier this year New York’s intermediate court called for an added appropriation of $4.7 to $5.6 billion per year to go to New York City schools. The state, with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer helming the defense, appealed this decision. Final oral arguments will be given tomorrow, marking at least a culmination in the legal battle, though likely not the last word in the fight.
New Yorkers tend to view this case with righteous indignation: The legislature simply failed to provide the city schools with adequate resources. After all, they argue, the trial court, after listening to seven months of testimony, found this to be a clear violation of the state constitution and slapped a precise dollar value on what it saw to be the magnitude of that violation.
Unfortunately, in determining the cost of an “adequate” education, the court relied heavily on the questionable analysis of consultants hired by the plaintiffs. Their analysis, labeled a “professional judgment model,” was advertised as a scientific determination of the amount of spending necessary to secure an “adequate” education for every New York City student. Yet, this analysis violates virtually every principle of science and, as a result, has produced a politically saleable but scientifically unsupportable answer to the problem.

Background on the “Campaign for Fiscal Equity”.
Mr. Hanushek is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education and editor of “Courting Failure” (Education Next Books, 2006).

School System offers Teachers Special Inducement

Michael Alison Chandler:

Despite those limitations, school officials came up with a new tool this year to entice more teachers to Loudoun.
With help from the county’s chamber of commerce, a school employee approached dozens of area businesses, banks and apartment complexes about offering discounts of some kind for county educators.
The result is the Loudoun Incentives for New Employees program. Think of it as a coupon book for teachers.
School officials say they hope that with the extra financial assistance — a break on closing costs for a new home, for example, or a $100 deposit in a new checking account — more teachers will choose to live in Loudoun, closer to the football games and after-school activities that are part of school life. Loudoun is now the home address of 63 percent of the county’s teachers.

Why More Class-Size Reduction is a Bad Idea

Lance T. Izumi & Rachel L. Chaney:

There’s no more popular education program among politicians and teachers than reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. No other program, however, has spent more tax dollars for less result. Now lawmakers are pushing a bill that would fund class-size reduction (CSR) for additional grades.
SB 1133 would spend nearly $3 billion over seven years to decrease class size in fourth through eighth grade down to 25 students. California’s current CSR law has spent around $16 billion over the last 10 years reducing class size to 20 students per K-3 classroom. The ultimate goal of the program, says the state Department of Education, is to “increase student achievement, particularly in reading and mathematics.” Under this criterion, CSR comes up short.
A state-sponsored consortium of top research organizations analyzed the program and found no association between the total number of years a student had been in reduced size classes and differences in academic achievement. Further, there’s no evidence that CSR helps at upper grade levels. Stanford education professor Michael Kirst says that research has focused on elementary grades, not middle-school levels, as SB 1133 would do. Also, that research has examined reducing class sizes to 20 students or fewer, not to 25 students as the bill would require. Says Kirst, “This is really a dark continent in terms of any research.”
In spite of this lack of evidence, some top state education officials believe that SB 1133’s minor provisions aimed at improving teacher quality in low-performing schools make the bill worthwhile. Unfortunately, teacher-quality problems in California plunge to a much deeper level. Consider the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) given to prospective teachers in California.
The CBEST was designed, “to test basic reading, mathematics, and writing skills found to be important for the job of an educator,” according to the official CBEST website. While teachers should be proficient in these areas, the CBEST sets such low standards that it proves nothing.
One Bay Area teacher who took the test in 2003 described the experience as “a joke” and said: “Compared with other standardized tests like the SAT and GRE, the CBEST is laughable. The math section tests maybe for a fourth-grade skill level, and the verbal sections are hardly better.”

Joanne posts a sample question from the CBEST test:

Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil?

Fabulous Inside the Cell Animation


Beth Marchant:

The Inner Life of a Cell, an eight-minute animation created in NewTek LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects for Harvard biology students, won’t draw the kind of box office crowds that more ferocious˜and furrier˜digital creations did last Christmas. But it will share a place along side them in SIGGRAPH’s Electronic Theatre show, which will run for three days during the 33rd annual exhibition and conference in Boston next month. Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.

Via Wayne.

Letters Regarding “Demoting AP Classes”

Letters to the editor regarding “Demoting AP Classes“:

To the Editor:
Re “Demoting Advanced Placement,” by Joe Berger (On Education column, Oct. 4):
As a college history professor, I see the demotion of Advanced Placement courses as a step toward (not away from) the “frenzied” race toward college and the dumbing down of American education.
In my classes, students who have taken A.P. history are consistently better prepared for intensive college-level work. They know how to read maps and analyze primary sources. They understand that “huffing and puffing through chronological parades of facts and documents” is indeed necessary for any serious understanding of “The Grapes of Wrath,” Montesquieu or Freud.
They understand that history is about change over time, and that yes, the most lively discussion of Reconstruction should give way to study of women’s suffrage, and to the connections between the two topics.
Eliminating rigorous survey courses at the high school level means that colleges have to do remedial work with even the most “elite” students.
Atina Grossmann
New York, Oct. 4, 2006
The writer is a professor of history at Cooper Union.

Continue reading Letters Regarding “Demoting AP Classes”

Narrowing the Field

Elite athletes now dominate many high school teams. As other sports opportunities shrink, average kids lose out.
Shari Roan:

THE long, sweaty summer practices are over. The pep rallies have begun. Fall sports are underway around the nation.
Cory Harkey, 16, is part of the action. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior at Chino Hills High School is symbolic of the elite athlete who has come to dominate interscholastic high school sports. He practices to the point of exhaustion almost daily and plays on private club teams to maintain his star status in several sports. He dreams of a college scholarship in basketball or football, and college scouts undoubtedly will scrutinize his potential during the coming year.
Sara Nael, 17, is not part of any team. A senior at the same school, she won’t go near a volleyball game this fall, having failed to make the team as a freshman. She considered trying out for something else but eventually concluded that playing in high school sports “doesn’t look fun.”
The two students represent what is both positive — and distressing — about the state of youth sports today. High school athletes are fitter, more skilled and better trained than ever before. But these top-notch athletes, say many health and fitness experts, have become the singular focus of the youth sports system — while teenagers of average or low ability no longer warrant attention.

Drumroll Starts for a Yes Vote

Susan Troller:

With Election Day just a month off, the discussion over Madison’s $23.5 million dollar school referendum has been remarkably quiet.
But that changes today and referendum supporters say they are optimistic that this time voters will give a thumbs-up to district building projects.
A grassroots citizen group will start today to assemble and distribute yard signs supporting the referendum. In the next two weeks, the school district will hold four informational sessions at Sennett, Cherokee, Sherman and Jefferson middle schools.
At issue is the three-part question that school district voters will be asked to approve or reject Nov. 7.

Much more, here.

A Profile of the UW’s William Reese

Susan Troller:

When publications like the New York Times want an expert to comment on the big issues facing public schools like testing or immigration, it’s a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor they’re likely to call.
Relatively unknown in his adopted hometown, history and educational policy studies professor William Reese is able offer a long view on these kinds of perennial hot-button issues that resonate across the country, and provoke local debate, too.
In one recent New York Times story about schools cutting back on other subjects to concentrate on math and reading so their students will perform better on nationally mandated testing, Reese explained that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act has leveraged one of the most abrupt instructional shifts in education history.
But when asked to apply his knowledge to how our Madison schools work, and how the public responds to them, he shrugs off the questions, saying he is only an outside observer. He and his wife, Carol, do not have children; he says any knowledge he has about local school affairs comes only from living in the city and having friends who are teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
“I suspect Madison can be seen as a microcosm of what is going on throughout the rest of the country,” Reese said in a recent interview in his book-lined Bascom Hill office. “There are many extraordinarily well educated people here, and they have very high expectations of what kind of education their children are receiving.”

Reese’s website.

Study says no video games on school nights

Eric Bangeman:

s parents of two children, the older of which is in the first grade, one of the decisions we’ve had to make is how much screen time—TV and computer—the kids get. A new study appearing in the October 2006 issue of Pediatrics suggests that any amount of video gaming and TV is too much, if it happens on a school night.
The results come from a survey of 4,500 midle-school students in New Hampshire and Vermont. Researchers asked the students to rate their own performance in school on a scale ranging from “below average” to “excellent,” instead of looking directly at their grades or other metrics of academic performance. The study also took different parenting styles into account, but did not look at specific household rules covering homework, gaming, and watching TV.

Lessons from Charter Schools

Chester Finn, Jr:

Charter schools have taught us much. Since Minnesota enacted America’s first charter law in 1991, 39 states have followed suit and eager school reformers have created some 4,000 of these independent public schools. About 3,600 are still operating today, enrolling approximately a million kids, 2 percent of all U.S. elementary and secondary pupils. More than a dozen cities–including Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee–now have charter sectors that serve at least one in every six children. These numbers rise annually–and would balloon if the market were able to operate freely, unconstrained by legislative compromises, funding and facilities shortfalls, and local pushback from the school establishment and its political allies.
The first lesson is that the demand for alternative school options for children is intense–and plenty of people and organizations are eager to meet it wherever policy and politics allow them to. In Dayton, Ohio, today, more than a quarter of all kids attend charter schools; in New Orleans (a special case, to be sure) it’s seven out of ten children. Many schools across the nation have waiting lists.
Lesson Two: Though critics warned that charters would “cream” the best-parented, ablest, and most fortunate youngsters, actual enrollments are dominated by poor and minority kids, ex-dropouts, and others with huge education deficits unmet by regular school systems–most often the urban school systems whose residents most urgently need decent alternatives.

A Seattle Summit to Raise Black Achievement Standards and Close Gaps

Seattle Alliance of Black Educators:

To help African American students experience success in school districts and meet the challenges of the state graduation requirements, Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators in partnership with Seattle Public Schools, Pearson Scott Foreman, National Urban Publishing Companies, and other community organizations will host an Educational Summit on October 13 & 14, 2006 at Mercer Middle School in Seattle.
Many African American students have been left behind in the public education system in the state of Washington, and a transformed education system is needed that honors all students in a holistic manner—accounting for their various worldviews, languages, learning styles, cultural heritages, and multiple intelligences. Therefore, it is critical that our parents and communities must partner with schools, churches and other service providers to maximize resources and to improve student learning outcomes.

Seattle School District Does the Math on Surplus Properties

Kathy Mulady:

Preschoolers walk in wiggly, giggly lines through the wide halls of the old Crown Hill Elementary School. They clamber on playground equipment, building up appetites for lunch being prepared in the kitchen.
The Seattle School District closed the doors more than 25 years ago, but these days it has found new life.
As the Small Faces Childhood Development Center, about 180 youngsters duck through the doors during the week for preschool, before- and after-school care and summer programs. There’s ballet and a children’s flamenco class. Community meetings are held in the newly painted classrooms. Basketballs bounce in the gymnasium.
But as the district proposes closing as many as 10 more buildings next year, it also is considering what to do with about two dozen surplus properties it owns, including seven former schools now leased to day care and community-center operators at a discounted rate of $37,000 to more than $60,000 a year.

Better Luck this Time?

Jason Shephard:

On Nov. 7, residents in the Madison Metropolitan School District will vote on a referendum that includes building a new school on the far west side. The total package would hike taxes on an average home by about $29.
Although a similar referendum was defeated in May 2005, this year’s ballot initiative may be the best solution to the growth and school-boundary issues that have dogged the district for more than five years.
Already, several Madison schools, notably Leopold elementary, are severely overcrowded. And city planners expect west-side growth to add 13,000 new dwelling units, twice as many as in the city of Middleton, over the next two decades.
“The referendum is not only about the space issue. It’s sort of about how this community supports the school district,” he says. “The district needs to know from a planning perspective whether the community will help the district meet its bottom line.”
There’s no question that boundary and growth issues have consumed Madison school officials, at the expense of issues regarding achievement, accountability and curriculum. November’s referendum gives citizens the chance to move forward the agenda.

Interesting comments from Carol regarding substantive changes in the Madison School Board’s discussions. Much more on the 11/7/2006 referendum here.
Shephard’s last paragraph succinctly sums up my views on the November question.

For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes on in the Shadows

UW Grad Thomas Barnett:

For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes On, In the Shadows: Home classes proliferate as insurgents attack schools,” schools,” by Pamela Constable, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 2-8 October 2006, p. 17. 17.

It all starts with educating young girls, the one great predictor of development.
Naturally, in Afghanistan, it is the great consistent target of the Taliban, who have “targeted dozens of schools in the past year, especially those teaching girls.”
The resurrection of schooling, especially that for girls, was heralded as the great advance in post-Taliban Afghanistan. From nowhere, five million kids were in school. Now that tide is receding in areas threatened by the Taliban and across much of the rest of the country–just too dangerous:

Bush: No Child Left Behind Closing Achievement Gap

Theola Labbe:

President Bush said today that the No Child Left Behind education requirements he signed into law four years ago have helped to close the achievement gap and he proposed several changes to the law aimed at assisting teachers and giving parents more school choice.
Speaking at Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle School in Northeast Washington, Bush said that the federal law has been successful because the annual testing in reading and math hold schools accountable for how they teach and what students learn. The law, which is scheduled to be reauthorized next year, requires all students, including special education and learning disabled populations, to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The Beginnings of Teach for America

Gillian Gillers:

Kopp didn’t listen. Traveling around the county that summer, she met with potential funders, nonprofit leaders, and school system officials. After securing a seed grant from Exxon Mobil and office space from Morgan Stanley, Kopp hired nearly 20 recent college graduates to help run the program and recruit teachers. By the spring of 1990, the team had selected 500 college seniors and convinced six school districts to hire them. Then Texas billionaire Ross Perot offered Kopp a challenge grant of $500,000, which she had to match three to one. The grant gave Teach For America credibility, and other donors soon emerged with the remaining $1.5 million. The organization trained and placed its first corps class by the fall of 1990.
Today, Teach For America has grown into a hugely successful non-profit organization. This fall, they won a “Social Capitalist Award” sponsored by Fast Company magazine and the Monitor Group. The annual award honors 25 non-profits that use creativity and business smarts to solve social problems.

How the Torrent of Anti-Americanism Affects Teenagers

Jeff Zaslow:

Knowing that America is hated in many corners of the world, some of our best high-school students have a few requests.
Their school curricula require them to study the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Why, they ask, aren’t they also learning about the Iranian Revolution of 1979?
They’re taught foreign languages — lots of verbs and nouns — but not enough about the cultures where these languages flourish. Why, they ask, are they not given more insight into the politics and religions of those countries?
I learned of these and other concerns last week, when I interviewed about 70 students taking advanced-placement government and international-affairs courses at two suburban Detroit schools. These juniors and seniors — they were the 11- and 12-year-olds of Sept. 11, 2001 — had a good sense of the issues threatening the nation they will inherit. Aware that many of their contemporaries overseas are being taught to hate the U.S., they wonder what confrontations lie ahead when their generation reaches adulthood.

Deal is a Lesson in Education Politics

Bob Sipchen:

Six weeks ago, Deshawn Hill and I walked into Pacific Dining Car and caught a glimpse of democracy in action: A.J. Duffy and Robin Kramer having a late evening chat.
Duffy’s the charmingly cocky boss of Southern California’s biggest teachers union. Kramer is the mayor’s charmingly clever chief of staff. I’ll remind you who Hill is later. For now, let’s stick to the boss and the chief.
Kramer tells me the meeting was a coincidental bump-into-each-other thing. But seeing those two together at the city’s power-broker steak palace resonated with a hunch I’d been harboring: All those months of teachers union squawking about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plans to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District were mainly for show.
Because he’s a teacher, though, his motives conflict.
Like you, I think good teachers are heroes who deserve more money and respect and smaller classes and more control over what they teach. I understand why many people have a hard time accepting that their kids’ teachers’ interests don’t always overlap with students’ interests. In protecting a teacher’s interests, a union often adds to the bureaucratic bloat.
Since I began reporting this column in January (and in the 17 years I’ve followed my children through L.A. Unified schools) the most righteously frustrated people I’ve met have tended to lash out at two villains: the district bureaucracy and the union to whom so many board members and bureaucrats are beholden.
Even many teachers say privately that they’re disgusted that unions erect barricades against merit pay, charter schools and administrators’ ability to move experienced teachers to the schools at which they’re most needed. Hear enough stories about just how hard it is to fire an utterly incompetent teacher, and you begin to wonder why the public tolerates unelected union power brokers in their children’s lives at all.

Mike Antonucci has much more, including notes from Racine here.

NYC Considers Plan to Let Outsiders Run Schools

David M. Herszenhorn:

In what would be the biggest change yet to the way New York City’s school system is administered, officials are considering plans to hire private groups at taxpayer expense to manage scores of public schools.
The money paid to the private groups would replace millions of dollars in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supported dozens of these groups in opening more than 180 small schools in the city since 2003.
The four-year grants, typically worth $100,000 a year per school, will run out for more than 50 schools in June.
The move would further Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s earlier efforts to tear apart the traditional bureaucracy of the nation’s largest school system, giving principals greater autonomy and increasing the role of the private sector. It could put private entities like the College Board, the Urban Assembly and Expeditionary Learning-Outward Bound on contract to manage networks of schools as soon as the 2007-8 school year.

Demoting Advanced Placement

Joe Berger:

This town’s public high school, well known for turning out some of the nation’s finest college prospects, is contemplating a step that would seem to betray its competitive reputation: eliminating Advanced Placement courses.
Scarsdale High School is a place where 70 percent of the 1,500 students take an A.P. course, and many take five and six to impress college admissions officers with their willingness to challenge themselves. But like a few private schools, Scarsdale is concluding that the A.P. pile-on is helping turn the teenage years into a rat race where learning becomes a calculated means to an end rather than a chance for in-depth investigation, imagination, even some fun to go along with all that amassing of knowledge.
“People nationwide are recognizing what an inhuman obstacle course college admission is, and a big element of that is A.P.,” said Bruce Hammond, director of college counseling at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, which dropped A.P. courses a few years ago.

11/7/2006 Referendum Notes & Links

We’re closing in on the 11/7/2006 election, including the Madison School District’s Referendum. Kristian Knutsen notes that a petition was circulated at Tuesday evening’s Madison City Council meeting regarding the referendum. Johnny Winston, Jr. posted a few words on the referendum over at the daily page forum.
This will be an interesting election. Nancy and I support the referendum question (and hope that we see progress on some curriculum issues such as math and West’s one size fits all English 10, among others). However, as Phil M points out, there are a number of good questions that taxpayers will ask as they prepare to vote. I previously outlined what might be on voter’s minds this November.

“Anyone Being Educated on the Upcoming Referendum?”

The Daily Page Forum, where Stuart Levitan announced that Art Rainwater and Johnny Winston, Jr. will be on Madison City Cable Channel 12 October 11 from 7 to 8:00p.m.:

It’s not a debate on the referendum, it’s a report on the state of the school system. The referendum will be one of the topics. So, no, not planning on inviting any referendum opponents. But they are welcome, nay, encouraged, to call.

I asked what “Might be on voter’s minds” a few months ago as they consider the 11/7/2006 referendum. Inevitably, voters will take their views on our $332M+ 24,490 student school district with them to the ballot “box”. These views, I think, are generally positive but for math , report cards and some of the other issues I mentioned in August.

More on Stuart Levitan.

Art Rainwater’s Memo on School Violence

Madison School District Superintendent Art Rainwater:

By now, I’m sure you know that last Friday a 15 year old boy entered Weston School in Cazenovia (Sauk County) and allegedly shot and killed the principal. This incident has stirred in all of us the uneasy realization that this can happen anywhere, at anytime. We mourn the loss of the principal and empathize with the staff, students, families and community members of that school district. We also feel tremendous responsibility for our own students and staff. Last week, our entire staff spent a day talking about the crucial nature that relationships play in our schools. While the primary focus was on issues of race and equity, we also know that we were talking about any student who doesn’t feel connected to the school and valued by an adult. Last Friday after we heard about what happened at Weston High School, we sent to our staff the following reminders:

Notes & Links:

  • Channel3000
  • Clusty News | Google News | Microsoft Live | Yahoo News
  • Rafael Gomez organized a Gangs & School Violence Forum last September [Audio / video / Notes], attended by all Madison High School Principals and local law enforcement representatives. East High grad Luis Yudice also participated. Yudice is the Madison School District’s coordinator of safety and security.
  • Many more links
  • Johnny Winston, Jr.:

    Message from Johnny Winston, Jr., President of the Madison Board of Education
    On behalf of the Madison Board of Education, we send our heartfelt condolences to the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community.
    In response to this tragedy as well as recent incidents in Green Bay and Colorado, Superintendent Art Rainwater has sent a message to all employees of the Madison Metropolitan School District outlining strategies and effective communication tools between students and adults. He wrote, “The most effective tool we have for preventing violent behaviors at school is building and maintaining a climate of trusting relationships and communication between and among students and adults.” He has also indicated that the Madison Police will increase their presence at our schools for the next week.
    We know that the Madison community joins our school board in support of the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult period.

Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Memo on School Violence

Ten Ways to Get A’s in College

Jay Matthews:

Getting A’s was not high on my to-do list. To this day I don’t believe getting good grades in college is as important as getting good grades in high school. High school, for most people these days, is about getting ready for college. You cannot do that if you do not apply yourself to your studies. College, on the other hand, is about getting ready for life. Unless you have your heart set on med school or law school or some other form of grad-school trauma, your extracurricular activities in college are often more important than your courses.
But getting A’s is better than getting B’s, B’s are better than C’s, and so on. For those who want to get the best grades they can in the time they have allotted for study, a new book, “Professors’ Guide to Getting Good Grades in College,” provides wonderfully useful and easily digestible wisdom.

At the Head of Some Classes, Desks Dismissed

Jay Matthews:

“I just never figured out how on earth to teach sitting down,” said Dorman, 58, a veteran teacher at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County. She calls herself “a walker and a stalker.” She carries what she needs in her pockets and keeps students in what she considers a useful state of alertness because they are never quite sure where she is going to be.
Here and there, a small but growing number of teachers is following Dorman’s example, educators say, abandoning the traditional classroom power center. To them, a desk is really a ball and chain, distancing them from students.

“I Teach to the Test”

Matthew Matera:

Like most K-12 teachers in America, I work in a world of standardized tests these days. I analyze state standards and study breakdowns of my students’ test performance. I think about the expectations of the state as I plan lessons, and I spend time explicitly teaching test-taking strategies.
So, yes, I admit it. I teach to the test.
The more important question then becomes, is that a problem?
I don’t think it is, but the issue is hardly uncontroversial.
Michael Winerip, the former New York Times education columnist, registered a typical complaint recently about the No Child Left Behind Act: “Because teachers’ judgment and standards are supposedly not reliable, the law substitutes a battery of state tests that are supposed to tell the real truth about children’s academic progress.” Jonathan Kozol, a best-selling writer, sent a mass e-mail earlier this year calling on educators “to resist the testing mania.”

Remaking the New Orleans School System

Larry Abramson:

Today, there are only about one-third as many students attending the New Orleans public school system as there were before Hurricane Katrina. The system is recovering from the storm, and from a state takeover to address years of failing test scores. As a result, it has been completely remade, and is now being run by a patchwork of charter school organizers, and state and local administrators.

Study: Weekday TV viewing harms class performance

Carla Johnson:

Parents now have science to back them up when they say, “Turn off the TV. It’s a school night.”
Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming does not affect school performance much.
“On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did,” said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. “They could watch a lot on weekends, and it didn’t seem to correlate with doing worse in school.”
Children whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies also did worse in class, and for boys, that effect was especially strong. The findings are based on a survey of 4,500 students in 15 New Hampshire and Vermont middle schools. The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Looking Behind Bad Decisions

Q & A with Max Bazerman:

Why is it that the U.S. federal government allows local communities to give tax dollars to wealthy sports team owners rather than to create better benefits for citizens? Why are organ-donor programs constrained to the point where thousands of Americans die needlessly each year? Why did the South African government take a stand against an effective AIDS treatment drug?
The inability of government to make wise tradeoffs—give up small losses for much larger gain—has been investigated by HBS professor Max Bazerman and his research colleagues for years. Much of this work used economic science and political science to explain drivers behind the crafting of public policy. Now Bazerman and coauthors Jonathan Baron and Katherine Shonk are looking into the psychology of decision making to provide a fuller explanation. Their paper, “Enlarging the Societal Pie through Wise Legislation: A Psychological Perspective,” has been accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science later this year.
What they found was that psychological science does indeed help explain how governmental decision making is influenced by such forces as parochialism, nationalism, and dysfunctional competition, while also providing tools that foster rational decision making.

One in Ten

Richard Edelman:

“Did you know that one in ten teenage girls in Washington, D.C. are HIV-positive? Did you know that one in twenty adults in the District of Columbia have AIDS? It is an outrage. Those are Third World types of incidence rates and it is happening in our nation’s capital. All of the attention being given to the AIDS epidemic overseas is long overdue but what about the crisis we have at home?”
I probed her [Sheila Johnson] for an explanation. She suggested three main factors:

  1. A Macho Male Culture and Lack of Female Ego — Young girls feel obliged to have sexual relations with their partners. Girls lack the confidence to say no or to insist on the use of a condom.
  2. A Cycle of Despair — The poor economic prospects, the large number of single parent families, the prevalence of drugs and tottering school system give little hope even to an ambitious child. Some young girls want to bear a child as a sign of being “grown-up.”
  3. Lack of Information –The basics of sex education do not seem to be getting through to the target audience.

I asked Ms. Johnson what could be done to ameliorate the situation. Here were a few of her thoughts:

Reality Check 2006: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today

Jean Johnson, Ana Maria Arumi and Amber Ott [350K PDF]:

It’s probably natural for leaders of organizations to be upbeat about their institutions, and the nation’s school children might not be well-served by superintendents and principals who see public schools as places of disappointment, failure and ineptitude. Even so, the positive, almost buoyant outlook of school leaders nationwide captured in this fourth installment of Reality Check 2006 may come as something of a surprise to reformers and critics, including regulators enforcing No Child Left Behind. In many respects, local school leaders seem to operate on a very different wavelength from many of those aiming to reform public schools. The two groups have different assumptions about how much change today’s public schools really need. Even when they see the same problems, they often seem to strive for different solutions.
To most public school superintendents – and principals to a lesser extent – local schools are already in pretty good shape. In fact, more than half of the nation’s superintendents consider local schools to be “excellent.” Most superintendents (77 percent) and principals (79 percent) say low academic standards are not a serious problem where they work. Superintendents are substantially less likely than classroom teachers to believe that too many students get passed through the system without learning. While 62 percent of teachers say this is a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem in local schools, just 27 percent of superintendents say the same.

Some highlights:

  • 93% of superintendents, and 80% of principals, think public schools offer a better education than in the past, and most (86% and 82%) think the material is harder.
  • Despite the call from the business community for a great focus on science/math, 59% of superintendents and 66% say that the statement “kids are not taught enough science and math” is not a serious problem in their schools.
  • 77% of superintendents and 79% of principals say that the statement “academic standards are too low, and kids are not expected to learn enough” is not a serious problem in their schools.
  • 51% of superintendents say that local schools are excellent; 43% say they are good.
  • Only 27% of superintendents, compared with 62% of teachers, say it’s a serious problem that too many students get passed through the system without learning.
  • 76% of superintendents and 59% of principals, compared with 33% of high school teachers, say that students graduating from middle school have the reading, writing, and math skills needed to succeed in high school.

Via Brett.

Kindergarten Prep: When Parents Keep Kids Home an Extra Year

Janine DeFao:

When other kids their age started kindergarten last month, 5-year-old Caitlin and Jackson Pilisuk just waited on the sidelines.
The Oakland twins were eligible, but their parents and preschool teachers decided they weren’t ready “emotionally to deal with the rigors of kindergarten,” said their mother, Philippa Barron. So the twins will stay in preschool and start kindergarten at age 6.
Evan Swihart, on the other hand, is happily plugging away in his Walnut Creek kindergarten class at age 4.
“After a few days, we got the sense that he’s in the right spot after a whole year of worrying and fretting about it,” said his mother, Christine.

The Education Issue

Michael Grunwald:

To some extent, the controversy over Reading First reflects an older controversy over reading, pitting “phonics” advocates such as Doherty against “whole language” practitioners such as Johnson.
The administration believes in phonics, which emphasizes repetitive drills that teach children to sound out words. Johnson and other phonics skeptics try to teach the meaning and context of words as well. Reading First money has been steered toward states and local districts that go the phonics route, largely because the Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans. “Stack the panel?” Doherty joked in one e-mail. “I have never *heard* of such a thing . . . .” When Reid Lyon, who designed Reading First, complained that a whole-language proponent had received an invitation to participate on an evaluation panel, a top department official replied: “We can’t un-invite her. Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”
Doherty bragged to Lyon about pressuring Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey to reverse decisions to allow whole-language programs in their schools: “This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens.” Massachusetts and North Dakota were also told to drop whole-language programs such as Rigby Literacy, and districts that didn’t do so lost funding. “Ha, ha–Rigby as a CORE program?” Doherty wrote in one internal e-mail. “When pigs fly!”
Said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators: “It’s been obvious all along that the administration knew exactly what it wanted.”
But it wasn’t just about phonics.
Success for All is the phonics program with the strongest record of scientifically proved results, backed by 31 studies rated “conclusive” by the American Institutes for Research. And it has been shut out of Reading First. The nonprofit Success for All Foundation has shed 60 percent of its staff since Reading First began; the program had been growing rapidly, but now 300 schools have dropped it. Betsy Ammons, a principal in North Carolina, watched Success for All improve reading scores at her school, but state officials made her switch to traditional textbooks to qualify for the new grants.

No Child Left Behind Votes: Congress 381 Ayes, 41 Noes 12 NV (Tammy Baldwin voted Aye) | Senate 87 Yea, 10 Nay, 3 Not voting (Feingold Nay, Kohl Yea)

Boulder’s $296.8M Maintenance Referendum

Amy Bounds:

Supporters of Boulder Valley’s measure say the hefty price tag is the result of cuts to the district’s maintenance budget, along with an average building age of 43 years. The combination, they say, has led to schools that are in bad shape.
“We have a lot of old buildings,” school board member Ken Roberge said. “We’ve put our money into the classrooms. We’ve made the trade-off. At some point, you have to do renovation.”
But opponents are skeptical.
Fred Gluck, a school volunteer whose children went through Boulder Valley schools, said he’s campaigning against the measure because he no longer trusts the district to keep its promises.
“I support the schools, the teachers and the kids, but I do not support the district administration,” he said. “It’s a lack of accountability, lack of clear oversight and a lot of money.”
The last Boulder Valley bond issue totaled $63.7 million and was approved in 1998. Voters also approved an $89 million bond issue in 1994 and a $45 million bond issue in 1989.
In the past few years, voters also have said “yes” to a $15 million-a-year tax increase to boost the district’s operating revenue and a transportation tax increase that frees up money for new computers.

Boulder Valley School District links & information.

‘Special education’ label covers wide variety of students

Karen Rivedal:

Madison educators said people must be careful not to label all special education students as violent just because the suspect in Friday’s shooting of a rural Wisconsin principal was in special education classes
Special education is broadly defined, they noted. It can be any kind of mental or physical disability that affects a student’s learning, from mild to severe, including speech and language problems, autism and emotional disturbances.
“Just because a child is a behavioral problem doesn’t mean that child is going to commit this kind of incident at all,” said Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District.
“There are thousands of children throughout the U.S. who have behavioral problems who don’t resort to violence.”

The End of Literacy

Bill McCoy:

In a comment on my post Does Reading Really Matter?, bowerbird challenged me to name names on who’s arguing the position that “the end of literacy is nigh, and that’s OK”.

Well William Crossman for one is practically exuberant about post-literacy:

By 2020, electronically-developed countries will be well on their way to becoming oral cultures… Reading, writing, spelling, alphabets, pictographic written languages, written grammar rules, and all other written notational systems will be rapidly exiting the scene

More Clout Sought for Social Studies Curriculum

Ian Shapira:

This week, the Virginia Consortium of Social Studies Specialists and College Educators launched a campaign here to get its educational niche a more prominent place in the law as Congress begins to consider revisions in the coming year. The group aims to include social studies test scores in federal formulas used to rate schools.
As the law now stands, the group said Tuesday, subjects such as history, government and geography sometimes get short shrift while schools increase time spent on reading and math.

Kudos To Harris For Taking School Back

Jenni Gile:

As a former East High School student who lived through four years of closed campus for lunch, and a parent of current East High students — one a freshman, the other a junior — I applaud East High Principal Alan Harris.
I think next year he should be brazen and close campus for lunch for all students, unless they are involved in an off-site program. Ease the hectic lunch schedule of the upperclassmen and set an example for the rest of the city.
Talk about taking back the school! This principal is the best one we have seen since Milt McPike. We are cheering for him in our home.

Wanted: Strong Crop of School Candidates

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Madison was treated to two lively and competitive races for School Board last spring.
Voters deserve more of the same next spring.
But that will require another strong group of candidates to step forward.
At least one seat on the board will be open because board member Ruth Robarts is retiring after a decade of service. Board president Johnny Winston Jr. has announced he’ll seek re-election. Member Shwaw Vang has not yet said if he’ll seek another term.

Montessori students outperform traditionally taught students academically and socially

Erin Richards:

A study of Milwaukee schoolchildren published today in the journal Science underscores what proponents of Montessori education have believed for decades: that Montessori students might be better prepared academically and socially than students in traditional classrooms.
Among the findings: 5-year-old Montessori students had better reading, math and social skills than 5-year-old non-Montessori children, and 12-year-old Montessori students wrote essays that were more creative and sophisticated than those by 12-year-old non-Montessori students. The study tested two groups of Milwaukee Public Schools students: those who by luck of a lottery got into Craig Montessori on the city’s northwest side, and those who didn’t.
It reaffirms the benefits of a system started by Maria Montessori 100 years ago, local administrators said, while also boosting the reputation of a city that has increasingly made public school Montessori options available to a poor, urban population.

Meet the New Principal

Jason Shepherd:

Good principals must satisfy interest groups and carry out the goals of policymakers. They must master the bureaucracy, feed their teachers’ energy, inspire students and families. They must blend nimbleness with strategic planning, instant pragmatism with sustained idealism.
“The quality of a principal is the single most important factor in a school’s success,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.
Talk about pressure.
Patrick Delmore, the former principal at O’Keeffe Middle School, knows how hard it can be.
“You might intellectually know the many facets of the job,” he says. “But even if you work pretty efficiently, you find out quickly how important it is to work those extra hours.”

Dissecting the Dollars: MMSD Referendum Nears


The five-minute video, available on MMSD’s Web site, explains why there is a referendum, and how a yes-vote impacts taxpayers’ wallets. Board member Carol Carstensen said it’s intended to be shown at various meetings. “In parent groups, neighborhood groups, service organizations, anyone who wants to find out the facts about the referendum question,” she said.
Since tax dollars produced it, Carstensen said the video is simply factual, not promotional. In places, she said the numbers are quite exact. For instance, Carstensen said when it shows the impact on the average home, the dollar amounts include an extra 60-percent the district has pay to help fund poor school districts in the state. “That includes the negative aid, the way in which the state finances work,” she said.
Watching the district’s finances, and the video closely, will be Don Severson. He heads the group Active Citizens for Education, which doesn’t take a position on the referendum, but seeks to clarify information for voters. Severson will questions other dollar amounts, like the lump sum $23 million being advertised on the district’s Web site. “What they aren’t saying is the other extra 60-percent which amounts then to $37 million,” he said.
Severson said he’ll spend the next six weeks dissecting similar numbers in this video. “Trying to make sure it’s as complete as possible and as accurate as possible.” He said voters should still watch out for the district’s official enrollement numbers for the year, which were taken last Friday. Severson said voters will need that information, since two of the three parts of the question concern overcrowding.

Much more here.

Kindergarten Prep: The Academic Push — How Early is Too Early?

Ilene Lelchuk:

When Dylan and Matthew Goode bounded into the Score Educational Center in Alameda, Dylan, 6, asked for a turn with the ladybug-shaped computer mouse. And Matthew, 4, wanted to know when he could shoot hoops, the reward for finishing each hourlong lesson.
Once in front of computer screens with headphones on, they slumped in their chairs, swung their legs and talked back at animated math and phonics sessions.
The academic push now starts before kindergarten. Parents worried about the rigors of elementary school enroll their tots in tutoring programs and academic preschools or sit them in front of videos that promise to teach children as young as 15 months their ABC basics in a few short weeks.


Joanne Jacobs:

AB 2975 would have labeled California students “proficient” if they were on track to pass the state’s graduation exam, which requires partial mastery of 7th and 8th grade math and 9th and 10th grade English by the end of 12th grade. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto message was succinct.

Redefining the level of academic achievement necessary to designate students as ‘proficient’ does not make the students proficient.”

Not unless the word means “no more than four years below grade level.”

There’s been some local discussion regarding the redefinition of success here and here.

Seattle’s School “Choice” & Transportation Costs

Jessica Blanchard:

The district’s current “open choice” enrollment policy allows students to attend virtually any public school in the city. Students who live near their school are expected to get there on their own, while free busing is provided for all other middle and high school students, and for elementary school students who attend a school within the large geographic “cluster” in which they live.
It’s a popular plan with many parents, but it’s more complex than those of neighboring districts, and more expensive: The district annually spends an average of $560.86 per student, far more than other large districts in the state. About half the district’s roughly $25 million annual student transportation cost is paid by the state; local property-tax money covers most of the rest.
With Seattle schools facing a multimillion-dollar structural deficit, officials have said they can’t afford to maintain the status quo for much longer. By scaling back the system and offering parents fewer choices of where to send their child to school, the district could see major financial savings — as much as a couple of million dollars a year.

Extending the Class Day

Ledyard King:

Demands for more tests and more academic rigor are spurring schools to consider something that makes most students shudder: more time in class.
Massachusetts is paying for longer days at 10 schools this year. Minnesota is considering whether to add five weeks to the school calendar. A smattering of schools nationwide, including schools in Iowa, North Carolina and California, already have increased the time some students spend in class.
The argument that students should spend more time in school isn’t new.
“A Nation at Risk,” the landmark 1983 report dissecting America’s education challenges, recommended that schools run seven hours (up from about six today) and 200 to 220 days (up from a current average of 180) to accommodate more rigorous instruction. KIPP charter schools, started in 1994, rely on longer days and Saturday school to teach students.
But the argument is gaining support as increased math and English testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind law has forced schools to focus on the basics at the expense of the arts, physical education and recess.

Hospital, Schools Develop Curriculum

Michael Alison Chandler:

Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III announced a partnership this week between the school system and Inova Loudoun Hospital to develop courses that will give more high school students hands-on training in medical professions.
The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation has given the venture a push with a $150,000 donation, which was presented to the partners before Hatrick’s “State of Education” address at a Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday morning.
The training programs could offer a solution to staffing shortages at hospitals and become a national model, said J. Hamilton Lambert, executive director of the Fairfax County-based foundation.

“Robarts Served a Valuable Role”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The taxpayers of Madison owe Ruth Robarts a big thank you.
Robarts has served on the Madison School Board for a decade, asking pesky questions about how tax dollars are spent and how Madison children are educated.
What she lacked in tact she made up for in candor and an unflinching commitment to changing a school system that, while strong, is too often thin-skinned and resistant to scrutiny.

Perhaps a bit early for the eulogy, but well said. Much more on Ruth here and here

2 Bushes on No Child Left Behind

Sam Dillon:

Over the years since, Governor Bush has mostly held his tongue about the president’s very different law, even as detractors of all stripes have attacked it.
But in recent weeks — perhaps seeking to cement his legacy as a school-policy expert as he prepares to leave office — Governor Bush has been speaking out about the federal law, mixing dollops of praise with measured criticisms — and taking an occasional potshot. He has been caustic, for instance, about the requirement that 100 percent of the nation’s students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
“I mean perfection is not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said Sept. 12 at a news conference in Orlando, arguing that achievement targets are important but that unrealistic ones discourage educators. “We’re all imperfect under God’s watchful eye, and it’s impossible to achieve it.”

Top-flight colleges fail civics, study says

Tanya Schevitz:

Seniors at UC Berkeley, the nation’s premier public university, got an F in their basic knowledge of American history, government and politics in a new national survey, and students at Stanford University didn’t do much better, getting a D.
Out of 50 schools surveyed, Cal ranked 49th and Stanford 31st in how well they are increasing student knowledge about American history and civics between the freshman and senior years. And they’re not alone among major universities in being fitted for a civics dunce cap.
Other poor performers in the study were Yale, Duke, Brown and Cornell universities. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was the tail-ender behind Cal, ranking 50th. The No. 1 ranking went to unpretentious Rhodes College in Memphis.

Full report can be found at

My high school government teacher, a Vietnam vet, drilled (drilled!) our government’s structure, mechanics and history into my brain.

Public Schools Open Their Doors To Autism

Kathleen Carroll:

The growing number of children identified as autistic — and the steep cost of educating them — is fueling a boom in public school programs.
In Bergenfield, a dozen preschool students are attending the inaugural class of the TriValley Academy, a collaborative effort with New Milford and Dumont. Districts including Leonia and West Paterson also opened new autism classrooms this month.
Existing programs are growing quickly. Hawthorne, Paterson and Teaneck have added classes. A two-year-old program for teenagers run by the Bergen County Special Services School District grew 50 percent this fall.
Public awareness of the disorder is at an all-time high, and more children are being classified as autistic under special-education rules. Plus, the state’s stellar reputation for autism programs has attracted families from all over the country, creating demand for more services.

Madison Kindergarten Student Walks Away From School


A five year old kindergarten student at Lowell Elementary School failed to board his school bus at dismissal and was discovered by the staff of a nearby youth center.
“I don’t feel comfortable that children don’t get on their transportation, ” Atwood Youth Center staff member Kristin Bartell told 27 News.
Bartell told 27 News a staff member discovered the boy had joined children from the Center’s after school program as those children were escorted from the school to the center.
“The child indicated he didn’t want to jump the bus and he didn’t want to go home,” Bartell said.
The distance between the school and the center includes a busy, commercial stretch of Atwood Avenue with steady traffic.

Students Aren’t Interchangeable

Patrick Welsh (A high school english teacher):

One of the biggest concerns of parents for the new school year is this: What kind of kids are in my child’s classroom? The answer to this question is particularly difficult for parents of average students, the most forgotten group today.
All parents want their children to be with the nice kids, the bright and well-behaved types who will pull classes up, rather than with kids who will drag them down. In big, economically and ethnically diverse high schools such as mine, T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., where there is enormous variation in academic abilities, average kids run the risk of ending up in one of two tracks: in classes full of students with weak skills and lousy attitudes or in so-called advanced courses where they find themselves in over their heads.
A major part of the problem is the anti-tracking movement, which began in the mid-1980s. Since then, tracking has become to education what abortion and gay marriage are to politics — an incendiary topic with fanatics on both sides. So-called progressive teachers and administrators, whose mantra is “every child can learn,” want to do away with tracking.
Good teachers, and fancy sounding course labels such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, are supposed to raise the level of all students no matter how varied their skills or abilities. In truth, social engineering — mixing of races and ethnic groups in classes — is what many administrators really prize, while giving lip service to academic rigor.
On the other end of the tracking wars are fanatical parents — usually white, in my experience — who think their kids are geniuses, who must be protected from less talented kids and who are entitled to every advantage and resource the school system has to offer.

Joanne has more.

Reading First Curriculum Review

Reading First, subject to a scathing economic/lobbying audit recently was also just reviewed in this report from the Center for Education Policy [Kathleen Kennedy Manzo] [Full Report 176K PDF]:

“Participating schools and districts have made many changes in reading curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling,” the report by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy says. “Many districts have expanded Reading First instructional programs and assessment systems to non-Reading First schools.”
Titled “Keeping Watch on Reading First,” the Sept. 20 report by the research and advocacy group is based on a 2005 survey of all 50 states and a nationally representative sample of some 300 school districts in the federal Title I program, as well as case studies of 38 of those districts and selected schools.
Some 1,700 districts and more than 5,600 schools receive grants under Reading First, which was authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act.
While hard data, such as test-score comparisons, are still not available, the survey results show that “with scientifically based research, strict requirements [for following research findings], and substantial funding, you can bring about results,” said CEP President Jack Jennings.

Rotherham has more.

So Many Grading Scales, What’s an Admissions Director to Do?

Valerie Strauss:

Admissions director Richard Martinez faces a mishmash of grading systems every time he sits down to review freshman applications at Ohio’s College of Wooster.
He sees transcripts with grade-point averages based on a scale where an A is worth 4 points and others where an A is 4.3 points or 7 — or more — depending on the supposed difficulty of a course. One high school has five grading scales.
“We have found that it is incredibly difficult to find out what a GPA really means,” said Martinez, a former high school teacher. “That’s one reason that we travel to high schools to learn the differences in what an A means at each. We have to know.”

What Role Colleges Play in Career Success Stirs Debate

Carol Hymowitz:

ven some educators who have headed small schools concede the Ivies, with their large endowments, have an edge. Dr. William Hamm, president of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education in Washington, D.C., and former president of Waldorf College in Iowa, writes, “If a student asked me whether to enroll at Wisconsin, Waldorf or Harvard, I’d tell him or her they’d be foolish to pass up the opportunity for Harvard.”
But Scott Albert, a New Jersey educational consultant, says that after 20 years as an educator, he has “long believed that the college admission process is one of the great lies perpetuated by educators. It dangles a motivational worm in front of young people as a way to get them to work harder, but not necessarily learn more.” In the end, he says, “it breeds fear and rejection into a majority of young people while offering a false sense of security to the few who are accepted.”
David Curran believes in another key to success altogether. “In my own experience with several Fortune 500 companies,” he writes, “I have found the best leaders (versus managers) are individuals who have had to deal with some form of adversity (no money, single parent situations, etc.) and have developed mechanisms to transform those challenges into opportunities — regardless of what school they attended.”

“They’re All Federal Educators Now”

Interesting words from the Cato Institute:

For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every …

Madison School Board HR Committee: Health Care Costs Discussion

Ruth Robarts, Chair of the Madison School Board’s HR Committee held a meeting last night to discuss health care costs.

Watch the proceedings, or listen [mp3 audio]

Robert Butler’s article is well worth reading “How Can This Continue: Negotating Health Insurance Changes

Parent KJ Jakobson’s remarks, notes and links related to health care costs followed the May, 2005 referenda where two out of three initiatives lost. Local voters will determine the fate of one referendum question this November 7, 2006 (in three parts). Much more on health care here.

No Teacher Left Behind

Opinion Journal:

Schools of education have gotten bad grades before. Yet there are some truly shocking statistics about teacher training in this week’s report from the Education Schools Project. According to “Educating School Teachers,” three-quarters of the country’s 1,206 university-level schools of education don’t have the capacity to produce excellent teachers. More than half of teachers are educated in programs with the lowest admission standards (often accepting 100% of applicants) and with “the least accomplished professors.” When school principals were asked to rate the skills and preparedness of new teachers, only 40% on average thought education schools were doing even a moderately good job.
The Education Schools Project was begun in 2001, with foundation funding, to analyze how America trains its educators and to offer constructive criticism. Its report card this week is significant for two reasons. First, it is based on four years of broad and methodical research, including surveys of school principals and of the deans, faculty members and graduates of education schools. In addition, researchers studied programs and practices at 28 institutions. No matter how many establishment feathers get ruffled by the results of these inquiries, miffed educators can’t easily brush off the basic findings: There are glaring flaws and gaps in our teacher-training system.
The report’s most stunning revelation–to outsiders at least–is that nobody knows what makes a good teacher today. Mr. Levine compares the training universe to “Dodge City.” There is an “unruly” mix of approaches, chiefly because there is no consensus on how long teachers should study, for instance, or whether they should concentrate on teaching theory or mastering subject matter. Wide variations in curricula, and fads–like the one that produced the now-discredited “fuzzy math”–make things worse. Compare such chaos with the training for professions such as law or medicine, where, Mr. Levine reminds us, nobody is unleashed on the public without meeting a universally acknowledged requisite body of knowledge and set of skills.

Notes & Links on Reading First

Andrew Rotherham:

Title I Monitor is all over it here. Quick reax: First, this is going to walk on the message the Secretary was hoping to get out next week in her big speech. Second, harder to argue that Jack Jennings is in the tank for Democrats now, here is his recent evaluation praising Reading First! Finally, politically, this could set the issue of good reading instruction back a good bit, and that’s seriously a real shame.

Joanne has more. Local notes & links.

The Ballad of Big Mike

Michael Lewis:

When he did this, Mitchell opened the book for him. She didn’t care much about football, but she fairly quickly became attached to Michael. There was just something about him that made you want to help him. He tried so hard and for so little return. “One night it wasn’t going so well, and I got frustrated,” Mitchell says, “and he said to me, ‘Miss Sue, you have to remember I’ve only been going to school for two years.”’
His senior year he made all A’s and B’s. It nearly killed him, but he did it. The Briarcrest academic marathon, in which Michael started out a distant last and had instantly fallen farther behind, came to a surprising end: in a class of 157 students, he finished 154th. He had caught up to and passed three of his classmates. When Sean saw the final report card, he turned to Michael with a straight face and said, “You didn’t lose; you just ran out of time.”

From Lewis’s new book: The Blind Side.
Jason Kottke has more.