All posts by Thomas J. Mertz

Equity Task Force Community Input

The Equity Task Force will be holding two public sessions this week and is continuing to collect feedback via the web.
The first session will be hosted by the Falk PTO as part of their regular meeting, between 6:30 and 8:00 pm on Tuesday November 14th in the LMC. The second will be Wednesday November 15 at 11:30 am at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Rd.
That’s the official information. Unofficially (as a Task Force member, but not speaking for the Task Force), I’d like to explain a little about this phase of our work. What we are seeking is kind of a reality check, a general sense of what others think about equity, what is important to them and what they would like an equity policy to do. We want to consider this information as we prepare our report to the Board of Education. When we finish with our recommendations and present them to the Board of Education there will be plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the specifics.
Thanks in advance for your participation.

Jacob Stockinger: A ‘yes’ vote for schools ensures a better future

This is one of the best things I read recently on support for public education.
Jacob Stockinger: A ‘yes’ vote for schools ensures a better future
By Jacob Stockinger
There is a lot I don’t know about my parents. But I do know this: They would never have voted no on a school referendum.
They grew up in the Depression, then worked and fought their ways through World War II.
They saw how the GI Bill revolutionized American society and ushered in the postwar economic boom. They knew the value of education.
If the schools said they needed something – more staff, another building, more books – then they got it.
I am absolutely sure my parents and their generation thought there was no better way to spend money than on schools. Schools meant jobs, of course – better jobs and better-paying jobs. But schools also meant better-educated children, smart children. And schools were the great equalizer that meant upward social mobility and held a community together. Schools guaranteed a future: Good schools, good future. Bad schools, bad future.
Schools were the linchpin, the axis of American society. That’s the same reason why they would never have questioned a teacher’s judgment over one of their own children’s complaints. Teachers were always right because they were the teachers.
And the reason I can still remember the name of the local superintendent of schools – Dr. Bruce Hulbert – was because my parents spoke of him with awe and respect as a man who was not looking to steal from their checking account but instead to help their children.
It’s probably the same reason I can recall so many of my teachers’ names – Mrs. Cuneo, in whose second-grade class I took part in the Salk polio vaccine trials, and Mr. Firestone, my sixth-grade teacher who made me memorize the multiplication tables and then sing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” And so on right though high school and undergraduate school and graduate school.
I find myself thinking of my parents now, wondering what they would do in the current atmosphere of criticism and even hostility directed at the schools.
They were middle-class, not wealthy, so when they paid taxes, it was not always happily but it was always with gratitude. They believed that paying taxes was a patriotic duty, the price you paid for living in a privileged, free and – in those days – increasingly egalitarian society.
Taxes were the cement that held us together, the concrete expression of the social contract. Taxes, they felt, were a form of insurance that guaranteed life would get better for everyone, especially for their own children.
But they knew value, and they knew that no dollar buys more value than a dollar you spend on educating a child.
Of course, times have changed.
Things are more expensive. And we have forgotten what life was really like – for the poor, for the elderly, for ethnic minorities, for the disabled – when we had the small government and low taxes that today’s Republicans have bamboozled people into thinking were the good old days. My parents, and their parents, knew better.
But whatever fixes we need now, we should not deprive the children.
Yes, I see room for changes.
•We need to shift the burden of funding from the property tax. I think the income tax is more appropriate, along with a sales tax. And what would be wrong with just a plain old education tax?
•We need to correct the feeling that the public has been lied to. School spending keeps going up and up, but we keep seeing reports that American students have become less competitive internationally. Is someone crying wolf?
Let me suggest that a lot of the confusion has to do with bookkeeping. I would like to see the health costs for special education come from the state Department of Health and Family Services budget. I would like to see how much money goes for actual curriculum and instruction. Call it truth in spending.
Mind you, I am not suggesting that special education is wrong or too expensive. It is important for us to provide it. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^But we should have a better idea of just how much everything costs and whether some areas benefit because others are shortchanged.
•We need to stop lobbying groups like the Wisconsin Millionaires Club – I’m sorry, I mean Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce – from luring money away from other social programs for socialized business disguised as free market capitalism.
•We need to become prouder of paying taxes because they are, despite some instances of waste or mismanagement, generally very good deals. If you want Mississippi taxes, are you really ready for Mississippi schools and Mississippi health care and Mississippi arts?
•We need to make Washington pay its fair share of education costs. If we can fight wars as a nation, we can educate children as a nation.
So for the sake of myself, my parents and the children, I will vote yes on the Nov. 7 referendum for Madison’s schools. I urge you to do the same.
Jacob Stockinger is the culture desk editor of The Capital Times. E-mail:
Published: November 1, 2006

Wisconsin Association of School Boards Governor’s Q&A

Too busy to continue the farewell and the urge to share information remains. This is from the October School News a publication of the WASB. Linked here.

SN: Gov. Doyle, in the 2005-07 state budget, you provided more than $700 million for K-12 schools and restored two-thirds funding in the second year of the biennium. Will school funding again be your priority in the 2007-09 state budget? Will you propose restoring the state’s two-thirds funding commitment?
Doyle: Education is my top priority.
As governor, I have consistently
fought to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to maintain the high quality of instruction and services that Wisconsin
parents and taxpayers expect.
While I have fought to increase resources to make Wisconsin’s high-quality schools even better, I have also been helping to protect our schools from repeated Republican attacks to cut school funding. In the 2003-05 biennial budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $400 million from our schools, and, again, in the 2005-07 budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $330 million. These cuts would have put thousands of teachers out of work, forced the elimination of arts and foreign language classes, increased class sizes and put our children’s education at risk. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards released a study that showed the Republican budget proposal could have meant the elimination of more than 4,700 teacher positions.
Just as it was in this past budget, school funding will continue to be a top priority of mine in the 2007-09 biennial budget. As part of this commitment,
I will again propose funding two-thirds of the cost of local schools in the 2007-09 biennial budget.
SN: Rep. Green, at the State Education
Convention in January, you stated that you are opposed to the restoration of the state’s two-thirds funding commitment for schools.
At what level should the state fund public K-12 schools?

Green: I believe that a strong education
system is critical to the future of our state. Without a solid educational
foundation, we are disadvantaging
our students as compared to students from neighboring states.
While education will always be my top spending priority, given our current fiscal climate, I think it would be irresponsible for me as a candidate to be our state’s chief executive to say I would arbitrarily commit to a $500 million spending increase. I believe our state needs to commit to K-12 education an amount that begins to meet the mutual goals established for our K-12 public schools by the citizens of Wisconsin, the governor’s office and the state Legislature. For some years that may, in fact, be two-thirds funding, but in others, it may be more or it may be less. In either case, I will increase funding for education — it is just a matter of how much.
I cannot, in good conscience, make a promise I am not 100 percent certain I could keep. Jim Doyle promised as a candidate in 2002 to fund two-thirds. However, less than two months after being in office, he broke that promise.
If there is one thing I know about our state it is that there is no shortage of good ideas. My door would always be open to you to make certain we are meeting the needs of our students.


This is the third in a series of farewell posts to the SIS blog. I still don’t know how long this will take; I don’t have a schedule but I don’t think too much longer. There are still things I want to say before I leave this forum. “The Long Goodbye?” I hope not, but a bit longer. I also want to note that as part of weaning myself from SIS, I’ve decided not to “do comments.” Some of that decision is a selfish desire to pursue my own agenda and some of it is a recognition that “doing comments,” pulls me in exactly the direction I’ve been complaining about. I only mention this because I want to applaud Ed Blume’s recent effort to be constructive, education4U’s and Larry Winkler’s comments on my previous post in this series and thank Barb S. for her kind words. Some of the things I want to say are very general about how I think about education and activism; some are specific to my experiences in Madison and with SIS. Most are a combination. This one is a combination that turns out to be timely (I intended to write this before the event that gives it timeliness – an event I had no direct part in).
This post is about the referendum campaign, CAST (Communities and Schools Together) and what others have called “the CAST leaders,” (I have never heard anyone associated with CAST call himself or herself or anyone else a leader. I prefer to think them as those who are working the hardest). There has been an attempt to make the referendum campaign at least partially about the people working with CAST. If that is gong to be the case I think it is important to relate what I know about those people and that organization.
It is serendipitous that the word CAST fits so well with what I want to write about, which is the how CAST came together and how it functions. I don’t know the entire story and the fact that I don’t know is part of the story. It is significant that there is very little formal organization or structure and much improvisation; that things get done because varied and talented and committed people find the time and means to get them done. We’ve been doing this without being given orders or deadlines or anything but encouragement. So I don’t know all about how CAST came together (and in fact to know all that, I think I’d have to query every person who proudly calls himself or herself a member of CAST because every person has their individual story and reasons for wanting to help get the referendum passed). Enough with the protestations of ignorance, there are some things that I do know and these are part of the story too.
Carol Carstensen was designated (officially? unofficially?) by the Board of Education to coordinate the campaign. In some manner and in some way and to some (from what I can tell, limited) fashion Carol recruited people to fit certain slots, like a casting director casts a play or movie. I don’t know what these slots were, but I would guess that geographic diversity and earned respect from varied portions of the MMSD community were part of the criteria and skills and strengths may also have been considered. That is one meaning of cast.
Cast also describes casting a line or a net to see what you catch. That’s how most of the people working for the referendum came together. It was more of a wide net than a line. Calls for help on list serves, word of mouth, letters to supporters of past referendums, more word of mouth…were all parts of it that I know of. When you cast a wide net, you can end up with many different types of fish.
CAST has many different types of fish, many different types of educational activists. Really, we share only three things: (1) A desire to see the referendum pass; (2) a willingness to work to make that desire a reality and (3) respect for one another. There are people who I am working closely with who I have in the past had public disagreements with. There are people who I am working closely with who have made public statements that show they have a greater concern than I do about “Bright Flight.” There are people making great contributions and I don’t know anything about them but their names and their contributions. There are probably people who have views that are very, very different from mine. There is no party line but to get the referendum passed. That’s one reason why it is so laughable that anyone would try to make a big deal about the fact that no CAST member “called” me on what I wrote about the Wright PSO meeting (and note that the person making that accusation was on the CAST list, read the message and only attempted to “call” me on it in a different and more public forum where he was confident that his distortions would get a more friendly reception). What was really going on was I was sharing something that was important to me with a diverse group who I knew would (with one exception) treat my thoughts with respect. I didn’t post those thoughts on SIS because I knew they wouldn’t be treated with respect. I don’t give a damn now, so before I leave I’m going to say a lot more about that meeting. The other people on the list (with one exception) understood that: TJ on the soapbox again, sometimes worth heeding, sometimes wrong, sometimes tiresome, but not to be twisted or ridiculed. Respect. It wasn’t a policy statement or an attempt to convince anyone of anything. Maybe at some level I wanted to prompt people to think about contrasting attitudes on support for public education, but mostly I wanted to share my moving experience of hearing from other supporters with those who are working to build support (again, with one exception). So a wide net was cast and the catch is good and varied. That’s what coalitions are. We work together to achieve those goals we share in common.
The final usages of cast I want to bring in are biblical. “Cast your bread on the waters; for you shall find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11). Most interpretations of this injunction concern faith and charity and doing good works. Having faith to follow a practice that appears to make no sense (historically seed was cast from river boats at high tide as a way of planting, so there was method to the madness). And charity and good works, in that if give of yourself based on faith, your faith will be returned, your good works will yield returns, you will find the bread. I have the sense that the people working with CAST are working based on a faith that building that school, renovating the other, refinancing those debts will all be returned to the community with a multitude of small and large benefits. Given the current atmosphere, I need to point out that this isn’t a blind and irrational faith, there is good evidence to back it up (look at the CAST web site). But in another sense it is irrational for many of us. My children will not attend the new school or Leopold; the odds of the money saved directly benefiting my children are very small. Still I have faith that doing what is right — right for the children who will attend the new school, right for those whose schools will avoid some overcrowding because of the new school, right for those at Leopold who will finally get some relief from overcrowding, right for those who may gain a teacher or a smaller class and will not lose some services because of the refinancing, right for the MMSD community of five or ten or fifteen years from now who without these measures will be forced to build a new school or new schools in crisis situations (because that land is there and homes will be built and children will need schools) — will yield indirect returns for me and those I care about. It will make Madison a better place. I can’t see any way that failing to pass this referendum will make Madison a better place.
My faith has been shaken lately. Not my faith that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. It is my faith in myself, in my understanding of how the world works and in my belief that the vast, vast majority of people on this planet are people of good will. These faiths have been shaken by doubts that whatever benefits may come from my advocacy; the road that I have taken my advocacy on in response to recent events may be causing harm to an individual in ways that I did not anticipate and do not desire. These faiths have also been shaken by momentary doubts about how much and how far I can trust someone who I like very much but don’t know very well. The first set of doubts I am struggling with. I quickly decided to dismiss the second set, but I am ashamed that they even rose in my mind. I am sorry to be so cryptic, and only am sharing this because it has brought home to me how important trust and honesty are. Living life with the assumption of distrust is not a good way to be. Working to improve our children’s schools and futures based on distrust is not a good way to get things done.
The last use of cast I’m going to say anything about is “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7). (If you got this far aren’t you glad I decided not to drag in anything about casting from a mold, or a cast for a broken bone. I am.) I’ve cast some stones in my day that I am not proud of and I’m not without sin, so I’m not claiming personal purity. I’ve certainly had some stones cast my way lately. I’ll pick a fight and almost never back down, but I would never initiate the kind of dirty tactics I’ve seen directed my way and at CAST. As I am sure anyone who was on the CAST list can attest, there has never been any discussion or contemplation of using dirty tactics. (Really, the best opposition research that came from this failed Nixonian misadventure was a statement from me completely divorced from the referendum that had to be misinterpreted in order to even try to do anything with.) I’m not saying CAST is without sin, but we aren’t casting stones either. There may be referendum supporters casting stones, but they are not part of any campaign I am involved with.
CAST is a coalition of dedicated people who believe that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. No more, no less. In regard to how the electorate votes on the referendum, most of this shouldn’t matter at all. I’ve asked repeatedly that those of us who devote time to educational activism help others decide how to vote based on the merits of the proposals on the ballot. This plea has been met with resistance from those who oppose the referendum and those who have not taken public stances. Who supports or opposes the referendum and how they express their support or opposition isn’t on the ballot. This shouldn’t be about me or anyone else. Unfortunately Jim Zellmer and others are correct that at least some voters will be thinking of things other than the merits of the ballot measures as they cast their votes. If one of those things is the revealed character of activists on each side, then I can’t help but feel good about the prospects for passage.
Vote Yes for Schools!
To be continued.

Schools Of Hope – Tutors Needed

[Not part of the “farewell series,” much more important]
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the historic closing of the achievement gap in Madison schools including small class sizes and talented and well trained teachers. But there’s no disputing the United Way of Dane County-led Schools of Hope project and the hundreds of tutors it has mobilized have played a crucial role. So crucial that a significant decrease in tutors would put the hard won gains at risk. We believe this community won’t let that happen.
United Way, and Schools of Hope partners RSVP and the Urban League are conducting training for tutors right now. Tutors need no prior experience or training, just the interest to devote a little time to helping en elementary school child with reading or a middle school child with algebra. 104 volunteers registered this week. But at least another hundred are needed. The next training is Tuesday October 3 from 4:00 to 6:00 at the Memorial Union. Schools of Hope is a community success. It works because of you. It’s that important. Help if you can.

Pouring Water

When I’m doing the very best I can
You’re pouring water
On a drowning man
You’re pouring water
On a drowning man

“Pouring Water on Drowning Man”
Dani McCormick & Drew Baker
Download file”>Listen to James Carr’s version
This is the second of a series of farewell posts to this blog. My original intent had been to wait till the final posts to directly address the reasons contributing to my decision to leave this forum. I’m still going to post those, but Barb Lewis’ comment on the first in this series is such a perfect example of one of the contributing factors that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interrupt my plan and explore the pervasive poison culture that has come to dominate here and to a lesser extent MMSD (and maybe educational) politics and advocacy in general. For those who need it spelled out, I’m drowning in disgust with this culture and Barb Lewis’ comment is the titular water.
Barb Lewis wrote:
Once again the position of most TAG advocates is misunderstood. What many of us would like to see are programs which actually try to identify and serve ALL talented and gifted kids, not just those who have the good luck to be born to parents who are well-educated themselves and have the financial resources to help them be challenged outside of school if necessary. It is precisely the children you mention, who have no books or even homes, who are being most underserved now by MMSD’s almost nonexistent TAG programs. They are the ones who would benefit most from being nurtured and encouraged at an early age, so that they might actually make it to Calculus.
I am sick and tired of people telling me (or anyone else) what I (or anyone else) understood or misunderstood, believe or think. This is especially true in cases like this when the words I wrote and presumably are in front of them give no support their assertions and in fact support an interpretation to the contrary. If something isn’t clear, ask for a clarification. I do, often.
Inevitably this happens when someone (in this case me) posts something that doesn’t 100% agree with the commentator’s views. Go back and read what I wrote. I did not say a word about TAG parents concern for children in poverty. Everything I wrote about TAG advocates was to praise them. I did imply (and believe) that if your educational priorities center on children in poverty, then TAG programming should not be the primary way to address their needs. If you believe differently I would guess you are woefully and perhaps willfully ignorant of the circumstances of children in poverty and the educational research about addressing these circumstances (please note, this is a guess, if the guess is wrong, please correct me and explain why you believe differently. That is a discussion I’d welcome). What Barb Lewis posted was a subtle straw man attack. She did not engage what I wrote (I would welcome a discussion of that line dividing desires from needs), she put words in my mouth and used them to attack me.
The irony here is that in fact I agree with Barbra Lewis that part of the answer is reaching out to include children in poverty and other underrepresented groups in TAG and other advanced programs. It is one reason why I support “some TAG programming.” It is why I wrote about the need to “create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all.”
More importantly, I have (as I have noted on this site) advocated for this in my work on the MMSD Equity Task Force. I drafted the original language of the following material from the Task Force Interim Report (the final language is a collaborative effort):
(Under Guiding Principles)
The district will eliminate gaps in access and achievement by recognizing and addressing historic and contemporary inequalities in society.
(Under Implementation Strategies)
Open access to advanced programs, actively recruit students from historically underserved populations and provide support for all students to be successful.
I make no claim to any special or original authorship of the definition of Equity offered by the Task Force, but I think it also speaks to these issues:
Equity assures full access to opportunities for each MMSD student,
resulting in educational excellence and social responsibility.

What is so sad and awful about this is that instead of seeing the potential and seizing the opportunity to build a coalition to work toward achieving the goals we share, there is an inclination to see the worst in those who don’t share all your goals or strategies and (unfortunately) attack them.

Flowers for the Easter Altar

This is the first of a series of farewell posts to this blog. The reasons behind that decision will be detailed in other posts. There are some things I want to say first. I don’t know how many posts or how long this will take. This one is a story about my mother.
In 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, my parents were involved in an effort to get food, clothes and shelter to those people on the west side of Chicago who lost everything in the destruction that followed. My parents’ activism was rooted in the Catholic Social Action tradition. We attended a suburban parish where their work both found much support and inspired obscene phone calls, filled with racist language, letters and other personal attacks (the callers on occasion directed their hate at me and my brother if we happened to answer the phone – so I learned about being attacked by idiots early on).
As you may remember, Dr. King was killed shortly before Easter. My parent’s desire to help those in need was one with their faith, their understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic. So the natural thing for them to do was to ask permission to collect money to help the relief effort outside of Church after Mass. The Monsignor refused, with the explanation that they were already scheduled to collect money for flowers to place on the altar Easter morning. My mother argued (correctly) that Christ’s mission was better served by helping people in need than by decorating the altar of a suburban church. The Monsignor wouldn’t budge. Neither would my mother. The meeting ended in an impasse.
Sunday morning, my mother was on the corner collecting money for those in need. My brother and I were with her. We saw people give generously and express support and we saw people sneer and mutter ugly things as they passed. The Monsignor sent a young Priest to remove her. She refused. She had learned the lessons of non-violent direct action. She stayed till the end. My mom taught me a lot and gave me much to be proud of.
My educational priorities have been the topic of discussion here lately. This story helps me explain them. I look around our district and see the equivalent of those who lost everything in the riots of 1968. I want to help them get what they need. I also look around this district and see people working to get what I consider to be the educational equivalent of flowers for the Easter altar. I like flowers on the Easter altar; I wish MMSD could afford to give every student everything they desire. I respect (most of) these people for their willingness to work for what they believe in, for what they think is best for the schools. They might be surprised to learn (even though I’ve said this on this blog before) that I strongly believe MMSD should offer some advanced programming, some AP classes, some talented and gifted programming, some arts education… These are all things that I classify as needs. I also distinguish needs from desires. I don’t put my efforts in these areas (yet) because there are already very able advocates and because I don’t believe that in MMSD we have reached that hard to define line that divides needs from desires. I can’t define that line, but I will say that there is a difference in the long term good or harm produced by funding or cutting programs that do their best to educate and create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all and programs that offer a second year of calculus for high achieving high school students. If the first year of calculus is on the cutting block, you may find me fighting alongside the TAG advocates.
Stay tuned for more.

Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice

A small study and I confess I haven’t looked at the study itself, but a reminder that some important aspects of education aren’t measured by standardized tests.
Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice
More bias seen in kids in mostly white setting
By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
Published September 19, 2006
White children in 1st and 4th grades who live in areas and attend schools with little ethnic diversity are more likely to blame a black child than a white child when presented with ambiguous information involving potential misbehavior, according to a study released last week that explores the origins of bias.
Researchers showed 138 white children attending a rural Middle Atlantic school a number of pictures and then asked them what they thought was happening.
One set of pictures, for example, showed a child sitting on the ground with a pained expression, while another child stood behind a swing–suggesting that the child on the ground might have been pushed. Another interpretation would be that the child on the ground had fallen off.
In every case, the pictures showed children of different races. In some, a white child stood behind the swing and a black child was on the ground. In other pictures, a black child was the potential perpetrator, and the white child the potential victim.
While 71 percent of the 7- and 10-year-old children said the pictures showed evidence of wrongdoing when the child behind the swing was black, only 60 percent guessed that the white child had pushed the black child when the roles were reversed, University of Maryland researchers Heidi McGlothlin and Melanie Killen reported last week in the journal Child Development.
The paper noted that white children at a more diverse school had not shown such a bias in a previous experiment, suggesting that greater social contact among children of different ethnicities may prevent or reduce bias among youngsters.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Third Friday Counts

The official Download fileThird Friday Counts were distributed to the Board of Education last night (and shared with the Advocates for Madison Public School list serve this morning). Contrary to dire predictions and assessments (see here: and here), the district is growing. This will mean some increased funding under the current formula and that is good news.
However, the reassignments of the first weeks reveal how the continued tight budget situation limits flexibility in ways that disrupt schools, teachers, families and children.
I believe that this growth is further evidence that passage of the referendum is necessary; that the time to act is now at the beginning of the projected upswing in enrollments.

Children from low-income families often suffer exclusion at school

Children from low-income families often suffer exclusion at school
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
©2006 Ann Arbor News
Imagine this: You live in Ann Arbor. Your first-grade student comes home from school and tells you the teacher handed out cupcakes today – to every child except yours and two others. Why? “Teacher said I wasn’t on the list of kids who were paid for.”
You call the teacher and are told you never sent in money for daily snacks. The reason you didn’t pay was because you couldn’t. With four mouths to feed, living on disability, you struggle to pay your rent, utilities and food bills. There is no money for extras. And now your child watches, while almost everyone in the class enjoys snacks every day.
Does this really happen in Ann Arbor? It does not. If it did, we would collectively rise in protest. We can’t imagine a teacher who would skip a student when distributing treats just because his or her parent is too poor to pay. In fact, when research showed hungry children had trouble focusing on academics, policy makers universally embraced the concept of free and reduced school breakfast and lunch programs.
Now ask yourself this: Which would a child rather have – a cupcake or school pictures? A bag of chips or a yearbook? Every year in most of our children’s classrooms, teachers hand out school picture packets to some kids, but not others. They give certain children yearbooks, but skip their peers. Why? Because their parents didn’t pay. Sometimes by choice, but more often the reason is financial.

Continue reading Children from low-income families often suffer exclusion at school


Many of you probably read John Stossel’s polemic in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal (9/3/06). I’d reprint here, but I don’t want to give it a wider readership than it already has. Instead I want to say few words about a central fallacy in the thinking of Stossel (and many others who wish to destroy public education). Contrary to their rhetoric, PUBLIC EDUCATION IS NOT A MONOPOLY.
I’m not talking about the fact that many fine non-public schools thrive (although that’s true), what I want to do is remind people of the important distinctions between the public and private spheres, between government and enterprise (these distinctions aren’t quite the same, but they are close enough for the purposes here). Education is a public matter, a government function because we have for 150 years (more-or-less, depending on the state and locality) we have wanted it that way.
There were and are many good reasons why this is the case. At base, education is – like garbage disposal, safe food and drugs, efficient roads, airline safety, clean water and much else – too important to be left to the vagaries of the market. At one point Stossel quotes an economist praising the “unpredictability” of the market as a source of innovation. That’s fine for producing a better mousetrap, but in schools (as in all the other examples listed) the stakes are too high to let greed be the motive force. I hear “unpredictability” and think of the children in scam voucher schools who lost out so someone could profit. The successes and innovations of capitalism are the successes of greed. The failures of capitalism are the failures of greed. Tainted milk, like bad charter schools in Milwaukee, was profitable; the market did its work by inducing more people to sell tainted milk. It isn’t the all powerful and all wise market that makes sure our children have safe milk — profit is profit, the market doesn’t care — it is the government. Schools were once all private or semi-private, but this – like tainted milk – was not satisfactory and in a democracy things that aren’t satisfactory can be changed.
Democracy is one key to why education is a public matter. If you read the words of those 19th and early 20th century men and women who created and expanded public education, you can sense both their fears and faith. Democratic self-government was a new thing and many scoffed at the idea that “the masses” were capable of the tasks. There was a very real fear of rule by the ignorant mob. But there was also a faith that given the tools their fellow-countrymen (and later women) would be up to the job. The most basic tool was literacy and more broadly education. The state of our political culture may induce many to think that these optimists were wrong about the potential for self-government or perhaps that public education has failed in this mission. I feel that way sometimes, but the republic has survived and the experiment isn’t over. I don’t think we should abandon the basic idea, I think we should work to improve our execution. And since public education is democratically governed (another reason that terming it monopoly is a misnomer), we have the means to make our calls for improvement heard.
Democracy also requires a sense of belonging to the community and the nation. There has long been a tension between the Pluribus and the Unum. America has always been diverse and group identities have threatened to overwhelm a sense of common purpose. When German children went to German schools and Presbyterian children went to Presbyterian schools and rich children went to elite schools and many children went to no school at all (or to charity schools), there was very little to bind them together and much to pull them apart. By making schools public and “common,” the school promoters sought to bolster the Unum. We also struggle with these issues and have arrived in a slightly different place where most of us desire schools to respect group identities, teach respect for group identities (multiculturalism) as well cultivate our commonalities. Finding the balance is not easy and never finished. That cultivating the common is necessary and that the best place to do this is in democratically controlled public schools seems beyond question to me.
Interestingly, capitalism is another reason why public education was considered essential to the health of the nation. There has always been a desire for trained workers and for people to be trained for work, but that isn’t the most interesting or important way that public schools support capitalism. Capitalism is a system of winners and losers. Democracy depends on a rough sense of egalitarianism – “All men are created equal.” So there is another tension here and public education helps resolve it. With free public education, equality becomes “equality of opportunity” and eventually “equality of educational opportunity” (as in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974). The promise (unfulfilled to a great degree) of equality of opportunity through education further binds the nation together, diffuses the resentments of existing inequalities and provides hope for mobility. Without this, capitalism would be constantly threatened by the “losers.”
Disciples of the market like Stossel rarely address a basic premise of their philosophy and that is that greed and only greed can produce progress and improvement. They see schools that aren’t as good as they should or must be and see “introducing market forces” as the only solution. I don’t hold this dark view of human nature or society. I think that we can be genuinely altruistic; I think that we can work together (cooperation) instead against each other (competition) to produce better schools and a better world. The people who founded public education were far from perfect and filled with self-interested motives, but at the core most shared this belief and I would point to their creation (as imperfect as it is) as evidence that they were right.

Education Action

Posted on Edwonk

An Update, Bulletin, and Manifesto to the Education Activists who have asked me: Where do we go next?
June 16, 2006
This is to report that, at long last, the network of activists in education that I’ve been assembling from the thousands of teachers and advocates for children who turned out for massive rallies while I was on that grueling six-month book-tour for The Shame of the Nation as well as the many local groups of teachers organized to fight racism and inequality and the murderous impact of the NCLB legislation is now up and running.
We’re using the name Education Action and will soon set up a website but, for now, I hope that you’ll feel free to contact us at our e-mail,
By the start of August, we’ll be operating out of a house we’ve purchased for this purpose (16 Lowell St, Cambridge, MA 02138) in which we hope to gather groups of teachers, activists, especially the leaders of these groups, for strategy sessions in which we can link our efforts with the goal of mobilizing educators to resist the testing mania and directly challenge Congress, possibly by a march on Washington, at the time when NCLB comes up for reauthorization in 2007.
We are already in contact with our close friends at Rethinking Schools, with dozens of local action groups like Teachers for Social Justice in San Francisco, with dynamic African-American religious groups that share our goals, with activist white denominations, and with some of the NEA and AFT affiliates in particular, the activist caucuses within both unions such as those in Oakland, Miami, and Los Angeles. But we want to extend these contacts rapidly in order to create what one of our friends who is the leader of a major union local calls a massive wave of noncompliance.
My close co-worker, Nayad Abrahamian, who is based in Cambridge, will be the contact person for this mobilizing effort, along with Rachel Becker, Erin Osborne, and a group of other activists and educators who are determined that we turn the growing, but too often muted and frustrated discontent with NCLB and the racist policies and privatizing forces that are threatening the very soul of public education into a series of national actions that are explicitly political in the same tradition as the civil rights upheavals of the early 1960s.
We want to pull in youth affiliates as well and are working with high school kids and countless college groups that are burning with a sense of shame and indignation at the stupid and destructive education policies of state and federal autocrats. We want the passionate voices of these young folks to be heard. College students tell us they are tired of so many feel-good conferences where everyone wrings their hands about injustice but offers them nothing more than risk-free service projects? that cannot affect the sources of injustice. They’ve asked us for a mobilizing focus that can unify their isolated efforts. We are writing to you now to ask for your suggestions as to how we ought to give a realistic answer to these students.
IMPORTANT: When I say we’re ‘up and running,’ I mean that Education Action, as a framework and an organizing structure for our efforts, is in place. I do not mean that our goals and strategies are set in stone. We are still wide-open to proposals from you, and other organizational leaders we’re in touch with, to rethink our plans according to your own experience and judgment. We’d also like to broaden our initial organizing structure by asking if you’ll serve, to the degree that’s possible for you, as part of our national board of organizers and advisors. We don’t want to duplicate the efforts strong groups are already making. And the last thing on our minds is to compete with any group already in existence.? (Political struggles ever since the 1960s have been plagued with problems based on turf mentality. We want to be certain to avoid this.)
Tell us how you feel about our plans and how you think they ought to be expanded or improved. How closely can we link our efforts with your own? Do you believe that NCLB can be stopped, or at least dramatically contested, by the methods we propose?
Let us hear from you! We want to be in touch.
In the struggle,
Jonathan Kozol for Education Action

The Schools Scam

I realize that some of the legal frameworks differ but think that this serves as a good remider that TIFs have an impact on school funding everywhere.
From the Chicago Reader See also: Epoch TimesTJM
By Ben Joravsky
The Schools Scam

Under the TIF system millions of dollars in property taxes are being diverted from education to development.
By Ben Joravsky June 23, 2006
On June 15 Mayor Daley brought public school officials and aldermen to a south-side grammar school for a revival meeting of sorts. The ostensible purpose of the press conference was to announce the mayor’s plans to spend $1 billion over the next six years to build 24 new schools in neighborhoods across Chicago. But Daley and the other officials made a point of reminding people of the economic development plan that makes this possible: the tax increment financing program.
“This is a creative use of existing dollars which have accrued from our successful TIF program and will not require any property tax increase by the city of Chicago to fund,” Daley said in his remarks.
Even as public pronouncements go, this was a whopper. Of course building new schools requires an increase in property taxes. It’s just that in this case the deed’s been done: TIFs have been jacking up property tax bills for almost 23 years. Rest assured they’ll continue to—the city shows no sign of abandoning them. On the contrary, City Hall insiders tell me that the mayor’s press conference was part of a move to win public approval for the extension of the Central Loop TIF, the city’s oldest and largest, which is set to expire next year.
But as a public relations maneuver the announcement was brilliant. In one fell swoop, Daley managed to tweak the state for not paying more in education funds and look like the heroic protector of the city’s schoolchildren, using the promise of new schools to camouflage the diversion by TIFs of millions from public education coffers.
According to the city, as much as $600 million, or 60 percent, of the new construction costs will come from various TIFs, districts created by the City Council that put a rough cap on the amount of property taxes that go to the schools, the parks, and the county for a period of 23 years. Additional property taxes generated in these districts through rising assessments and new development flow into TIF accounts, which function as virtually unmonitored slush funds.
Originally TIFs weren’t intended to build tax-exempt properties like schools: they were supposed to subsidize economic development in blighted communities with the goal of even-tually increasing property tax revenue. But as the TIF program has expanded and evolved—the city’s created more than 100 districts in the last ten years—Mayor Daley and the City Council have drawn on them to subsidize projects from upscale condos in trendy neighborhoods to Millennium Park to a rehab of of the lake-shore campus of tax-exempt Loyola University.
Daley says he’s repaying the public. “Our taxpayers have been generous beyond words,” he said at the press conference. “Today we’re giving back to those taxpayers something real and meaningful—something they will see and touch and feel and know that their dollars are being invested carefully and appropriately.”
That’s a noble aspiration, and Lord knows there are neighborhoods that desperately need new classrooms. But even with the new construction, the Chicago Public Schools won’t come close to retrieving the property tax revenue it’s lost to TIFs. According to CPS officials, the city has already spent about $280 million in TIF funds building or rehabbing schools. By 2012, when the proposed construction program is completed, that amount will have gone up to about $880 million. Since TIFs operate without budgets, the other side of the ledger is more difficult to calculate. But based on the annual statements provided by the county clerk’s office, TIFs have diverted about $621 million in property taxes over the last two years. Since roughly half of this would have gone to the schools, the money diverted from the schools to TIFs amounts to about $310 million in the last two years alone. As TIFs continually grow, this means that by a conservative estimate they will have diverted well over $1 billion from the schools by 2012, when the new construction is completed—a shortfall of $120 million or so.

Continue reading The Schools Scam

Teach for America: Why We Should Be Afraid

Here’s an excerpt from a post by Jim Horn [Corrected Peter Campbell]on an education blog I really like, Schools Matter.

[TFA President and Founder Wendy} Kopp says that we have many examples of how schools can take kids growing up in poverty and put them on a level playing field with kids in other communities. I know of some schools that have been able to do this, most notably the KIPP schools that TFA alumni Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin started. But these are only a handful of schools scattered amongst the country’s 15,000 school districts. We must never mistake these isolated examples as the norm. They aren’t. Nor must we ever believe that these isolated cases can be reproduced nation-wide. They can’t. KIPP relies on energetic idealists in their 20’s who are single and have no kids to work 10 hour days, an extra day on Saturday, and an extra month in the summer. There are only so many people who are willing to do this. There are even fewer who can do this because of their family commitments. They have to go home, fix dinner, do the dishes, walk the dog, and help with their kids’ homework.

To read the rest, click here.

YearlyKos Education Panel

Much good stuff here but I’ll just point to the “Blueberry Story,” which encapsulates how public education differs from business.
Click the title link for a version with comments

The Yearlykos Education Panel – a review / reflection
by teacherken
Sat Jun 17, 2006 at 03:19:37 AM PDT
NOTE also crossposted at MyLeftWing
I had the honor and pleasure of chairing the Yearlykos Education Panel discussion on Saturday Morning, June 10. After soliciting ideas from a number of people, I had finally wound up with a principal speaker, Jamie Vollmer, a responder, Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and a moderator / commenter – me. I will in this diary attempt to cover as much as I can from my notes of what occurred. I did not take detailed notes during the 15-20 minutes of questions, although I may be able to reconstruct at least some of it.
I hope after you read it you will realize why many who attended considered this one of the best panels of the get-together. Perhaps now you will be sorry you slept in after the wonderful parties sponsored by Mark Warner and Maryscott. But if you got up for Howard Dean, you really should have walked over to Room 1 for our session. See you below the fold.
teacherken’s diary :: ::
We started a few minutes late. I began the panel by explaining that we would not be discussing NCLB but talking about education far more broadly. I introduced our two panelists and explained the format — that since people already knew much of what I thought about education I would not talk much until questions. Jamie Vollmer a former business executive who had come to realize that education is not like business would address us for about 20 minutes, then Tom Vilsack who as governor of Iowa had a real commitment to public education would respond for 10-12 minutes, and then we would take questions. I then mentioned that I had a diary with a list of online resources on education (which you can still see here). I then called Jamie up.
Jamie began by making a small correction. I had described him as CEO of the Great American Ice Cream Company and as he said it was not that broad – it was the Great Midwest Ice Cream Company, based in Iowa. He explained that in 1984 Dr. William Lepley, then head of the Iowa schools, invited him to sit on a business and education roundtable, which is what began his involvement with public education. As he got more an more involved he came to three basic assumptions which he said were reinforced by the other businessmen on the roundtable:
1) Public education was badly flawed and in need of change
2) the people in the system were the problem
3) the solution was to run education more like a business.
For several years he continued along this path until he received his comeuppance while presenting at an inservice. He recounted a brief version of the Blueberry story, which can be read here from Jamie’s website and which I used as the basis of my diary BLUEBERRIES – our wrong national education policy, which got over 170 comments, a similar number of recommendations and stayed visible for quite some time.
Back to the panel – as a result of the experience he described Jamie began to examine education more closely. He came to realize that there were four main building blocks of preK-12 public education:
1) curriculum
2) attempting to get around our national obsession with testing
3) going after instruction
4) the school calendar.
Jamie went through each of three key assumptions with which he had started, and explained how his misbelief in each was stripped away. He also bluntly said the No Child Left Behind might be filled with good intentions but it was taking our educational system straight to Hell. He pointed out that we needed authentic assessment of real world tasks and not tests in isolation.
Jamie came to realize that our schools cannot be all things to all people. He quickly came to realize that the people in the system were not the problem. He asked us who actually held the status quo of American schools in place, and his answer was they we did, our neighbors did, because we are the ones who elect the school board members and the legislators and council members who make the policies that maintain the status quo.
He said that we were afflicted with the TTSP hormone — “this too shall pass” – and that people resisted change. He reminded us of Pogo overlooking the swamp — that when it comes to public schools “we have met the enemy and he is us.” He pointed people at the work of organizational thinker Peter Senge (here’s a google search which will give you some access to his ideas).
Jamie emphasized that we needed to change our mental model of the educational system. As it currently exists, everyone inside the system is there to sort people into two groups. He offered us some statistics to explain.
For those alive in 1967 who had graduated high school, 77% of the workforce worked in unskilled or low skilled labor, and the school system was designed to sort people between that group and the far smaller group who went on for further education and more skilled employment. And yet today on 13% of the workforce is the unskilled or low skilled labor, and by 2010 it will be down to 5%. Yet our model of schooling has not changed, for all our rhetoric about how important schooling is. Vollmer said of such people
If they believed it was a high priority they would put their money where their mouth is and fully fund education.
He went on to outline what he saw as the prerequisites for educational success:
– build understanding We need to help each other understand . he does not see why it needs to be difficult. Most of educational decision making should, he believes, be left at the local district level, with state and national guidelines, not mandates. He said that every mile the decision making is removed from the school increases the stupidity of the decision.
– rebuild trust he talked about how we have spent over 20 years since A Nation at Risk tearing support away from public schools. Given that less than 1/3 of taxpayers have children in public schools this is a problem. it has lead to a decline social capital, the elements we have seen in schools and elsewhere towards privatization.
– get permission to do things differently We need to allow experimentation of doing things differently than we currently do. In order to achieve this, we need to encourage involvement of people in the community including the business community, but first they need to be informed. We need the informed support of the entire community.
– stop badmouthing one another in public and emphasize the positive if all people here about schools is what is wrong, with constant attempts to affix blame to one another, there will be no opportunity to fix what needs to be fixed. There are good things happening in most of our schools, and we have to stop being reluctant to talk about them. This will help rebuild the trust that we will need to make the changes that will make a difference.
Jamie forcefully reminded the audience that while this might be a national problem, the solution would have to be from the bottom up. We need to reclaim and renew our schools, one community at a time. This was a message that clearly connected with an audience of netroots activists.
Jamie could have gone on for much longer, but I gently urged him to bring things to an end, and then Governor Vilsack took over. He said that there are two man challenges facing this nation, and that are the economic challenge and the issues of safety and security. To address these require smart, innovative and creative people. He said we don’t need to create a nation of successful test takers, which is all the NCLB is giving us, which is one reason we need to replace it. He slightly disagreed with Vollmer when he said that he felt the principal responsibility for our current situation in public education belongs with those political leaders who have chosen to manipulate our feelings about schools for political advantage without providing the resources necessary to make our schools successful.
He told an anecdote of when he visited China and met with the principal of a school. He learned that Chinese children were learning their second foreign language in elementary school. That didn’t scare him. They were beginning physics in 7th grade. That didn’t upset him. But then the principal told him they were trying to teach the children how to be creative. Vilsack’s first reaction was that you couldn’t teach someone to be creative, and his second was that if the Chinese have figured out how to do that we are in real trouble.
My notes end at this point. I have memories of Tom talking about the resources they have put into public education in Iowa, that 97% of their communities have access to high speed internet connections. He remarked about his wife being a long-time classroom teacher and the respect that causes him to have for teachers. He knew that there was some concern that he had sign off on a bill that included tuition tax credits for elementary and secondary education, and explained that he was dealing with a Republican controlled legislature and that was part of the deal necessary to get increases in teacher pay and other important needs in education to be met.
I made few remarks during the main part of the session, but we all shared equally during the Q&A. There was a question on charters, here were questions about the loss of instructional time for subjects not tested under NCLB, it was moving fast, and there was little time for me to take notes.
Were I to summarize the session, I would say it met the goals i set for it, with guidance from Gina. We wanted the session to give the people something concrete they could take back with them. I feel that jamie Vollmer’s truly inspirational presentation helped with that. I have had several people communicate in different ways that they plan to explore running for school board in order to make a difference, others who said they would be come active in PTAs or other home-school or community-school associations. The other goal Gina had was to highlight the abilities and skills of our blogging community, and raise their visibility with policy makers and politicians. I think the relationships I have developed over the months with Tom Vilsack, and the obvious mutual respect we share on the key issue of education fulfilled that part of the mandate.
Of greater importance, almost all of the feedback on the session has been positive. Here I will exclude the snarky and inaccurate article in The New Republic by Ryan Lizza – that has been discussed in great detail in the dailykos community in a variety of diaries, both by Tom Vilsack and by me. I have noted remarks in diaries posted here by others, in postings at other websites, in offline electronic messages I have received, and in the words i heard while I was still at the Riviera, and from those with whom I traveled to McCarran Airport.
I believe that American public education is at serious risk. So do Jamie and Tom. I believe that we cannot make the kinds of changes we have to make until we can develop a broad commitment to the idea of public education. Jamie talked about that, and Tom addressed some of the things he has done, and why. I believe that unless and until we organize and build connections at the grass-roots level, we will not be able to have the influence on the policy makers that is necessary if we are going to preserve and improve public education as a public good, as something that is a right for all residents of this great nation. It is my belief that the panel session on education helped move us in that direction, something that is appropriate for the netroots, because we must do it one community at a time.
I look forward to the comments of others. I know there are many attendees of that panel whom will able to contribute more than my memory and my notes can sustain — I was at times distracted by my responsibilities as moderator and timekeeper, and at others by thoughts of what I wanted to say in response to questions or to the remarks of my co-panelists.
I look forward to any additions or corrections that others may offer. I also encourage further dialog on this topic. I will, to the best of my ability, try to monitor the diary for any comments posted, especially should the community deem this diary worthy of elevation to a higher visibility in the recommended box. As always, what happens to this diary at dailykos (it will be cross-posted elsewhere) is subject to the judgment of the community as a whole, a judgment to which I am happy to submit this posting.
UPDATE Look for the comment by Chun Yang for some good info on the Q&A for which I did not have notes, but which I can assure you is quite accurate.

Fair Test Examiner Now On Line

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing has been publishing the Fair Test Examiner since 1987. They have just published the first on line issue. Here is the TOC:
Current Issue: May 2006
University Testing: SAT Scoring “Debacle” Undermines Test-Maker Credibility
University Testing: Test Optional Admissions Movement
University Testing: No Pay for Performance at Testing Companies
Teacher Testing: ETS Pays $11.1 Million to Settle Teacher Test Lawsuit
K-12 Testing: California Supreme Court Halts Injunction against Grad Test
K-12 Testing: Arizona Grad Test in Place…for Now
K-12 Testing: MA Grad Test Battle Flares Up Again
K-12 Testing: Washington, Other States Allow Alternatives to Test
K-12 Testing: Forum on Educational Accountability
K-12 Testing: PEN Report Sharply Criticizes NCLB
K-12 Testing: Are Students Not Counted
K-12 Testing: NCLB Reports Cite Fundamental Flaws
K-12 Testing: Campaign for the Education of the Whole Child
K-12 Testing: Learning to Strengthen Formative Assessment Practices
K-12 Testing: Testing Industry Critique Falls Short
K-12 Testing: Cheating Reports Continue to Erupt
K-12 Testing: Errors Grow with Mounting Test Pressures

Weighted Student Formula : Putting Funds Where They Count in Education Reform

This is an excerpt from the conclusion of an recent paper posted on the Education Working Paper Archive by Bruce S. Cooper, Timothy R. DeRoche, William G. Ouchi, Lydia G. Segal, and Carolyn Brown. WSF stands for Weighted Student Formula, a means of budgeting that assigns money to students based on a number of factors instead budgeting by position or building. The Equity Formula in Madison is similar in some ways, but recent budget cuts have left very little money to be distributed. To read the full paper click here.
IV. Twelve Suggestions for Successful Implementation of WSF
Based on lessons learned from Edmonton, Seattle, and Houston, we have compiled the following list of “commandments” that may be useful to districts beginning to implement a WSF system. By following these guidelines, district leaders can ensure that the WSF program allocates funds equitably and provides local educators with the right kinds of incentives.
Distribute as much as possible of the operating budget via the WSF. Schools will feel the impact of budgetary discretion only when they have significant resources at their disposal.
Avoid subsidies for small schools. If small schools are to succeed, they must do so within the same per-pupil budget as larger schools.
Phase-in the financial impact of WSF over 2-3 years. Schools need time to prepare for the significant budget changes that often result from the implementation of WSF. Pilot programs may not be effective, since they can pit schools against one another.
Phase-in the use of actual teacher salaries over 5-10 years. Schools need an extended period of time to address the complex financial consequences of their hiring decisions.
Establish a public forum for making weighting decisions. Weighting decisions must be driven by the educational needs of different types of students. Principals, district administrators, parents, and teachers must all accept the weights as valid.
Base funding on a mixture of enrollment and attendance. Schools should receive a financial incentive to improve attendance rates. However, policies should not penalize schools that serve students with high rates of truancy.
Fund secondary schools at a higher base rate than elementary schools. Historically, secondary schools have required more funds per student than elementary schools, and WSF should reflect this difference.
Give schools information on expenditures as soon and as often as possible. To make responsible spending decisions, principals must have access to up-to-date financial information. Financial systems must be transparent, accurate, and up-to-date.
Make it easy for schools to purchase from outside vendors. When schools are allowed to purchase products/services from outside vendors, Central Office units must compete for business and therefore push themselves to improve services. Credit cards allow schools to make instantaneous spending decisions.
Provide appropriate support and oversight for principals and support staff. To operate in a world of budgetary discretion, new principals need management training. Each school may need one highly-trained support person to serve as the site’s business manager.
Allow parents to choose the public school that best fits their needs. Public school choice complements a WSF system by creating a financial incentive for schools to improve their educational programs, thereby attracting more students (and more dollars). Weightings ensure that schools have an incentive to recruit and serve students with special needs.
Share information on school performance with educators and parents. Decision makers must see the educational consequences of their spending decisions. Since WSF empowers schools to target programs to the local student population, local educators need accurate, up-to-date information on student achievem

Are Mathematicians Smarter Than Math Teachers?

Are Mathematicians Smarter Than Math Teachers?June 6, 2006 04:45 PM
Maybe. But math teachers know things that are (1) useful for teaching math and (2) difficult for non-teaching mathematicians to grasp, according to Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a University of Michigan researcher who spoke recently to a gathering of AFT leaders and staff.
Here’s an example of a task* at which math teachers outperform mathematicians.
Three students were asked to multiply 35 by 25. The answer is 875. Each came up with the wrong answer, but for different reasons. (Click on the links to see if you can figure out the thinking behind the errors.)
Ball reports that math teachers were much better than mathematicians at identifying where students went wrong–an important fact to know to help put students back on track.
In “Knowing Mathematics for Teaching: Who Knows Mathematics Well Enough To Teach Third Grade, and How Can We Decide?” a 2005 article in American Educator, Bell and co-authors Heather C. Hill and Hyman Bass conclude that there is a body of knowledge math teachers need to be effective. They created test questions that captured this body of knowledge, tested teachers, and used the results to accurately predict which teachers’ students would learn more.
Ball told AFT leaders that the finding that there is a body of knowledge teachers need to have to teach math can be extended to other subjects. As the drumbeat for “content knowledge” becomes louder and louder, this research answers the questions “Which content?” “Which knowledge?”
*Ball notes that this type of thinking, error analysis, is not only a teacher thing but an important area of mathematics
Posted by John on June 6, 2006 04:45 PM | Permalink
Understanding the source of error is very important. A math teacher needs to have extensive experience analyzing mistakes. This requires a strong, strong handle on arithmetic.
But I would be careful before dismissing the math professors. They don’t teach, that is true. They don’t know error analysis, and some other things math teachers need.
But when they get outraged, there is usually a reason. Such as not teaching standard algorithms at all. Avoiding fractions. Not teaching long division. Placing so much emphasis on concept that skill is overlooked (each year I get incoming freshmen from a progressive district who have a real solid understanding of what multiplication is, the variety of meanings it might have, etc, but who have difficulty with facts, eg, 7 x 8.)
Pedagogy and content are both important. Some of the education people and the ‘modern’ curricula privilege pedagogy over content. Back to basics folks tend to emphasize content and ignore pedagogy. Good math teachers, experienced math teachers, we know that we need to pay attention to both and defend our work from either extreme.

Supreme Court to Hear Education Race Case

Monday, June 5, 2006 · Last updated 8:37 a.m. PT
Supreme Court to hear schools race case
With the addition of the Supreme Court’s newest member, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., top row at right, the high court sits for a new group photograph, Friday, March 3, 2006, at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. Seated in the front row, from left to right are: Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Associate Justice David Souter. Standing, from left to right, in the top row, are: Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr. The Supreme Court said Monday, June 5, 2006, that it will decide the extent to which public schools can use race in deciding school assignments, setting the stage for a landmark affirmative action ruling (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide the extent to which public schools can use race in deciding school assignments, setting the stage for a landmark affirmative action ruling.
Justices will hear appeals from a Seattle parents group and a Kentucky parent, ruling for the first time on diversity plans used by a host of school districts around the country.
Race cases have been difficult for the justices. The court’s announcement that it will take up the cases this fall provides the first sign of an aggressiveness by the court under new Chief Justice John Roberts.
The court rejected a similar case in December when moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was still on the bench. The outcome of this case will turn on her successor, Samuel Alito.
“Looming in the background of this is the constitutionality of affirmative action,” said Davison Douglas, a law professor at William and Mary. “This is huge.”
Arguments will likely take place in November. The court’s announcement followed six weeks of internal deliberations over whether to hear the appeals, an unusually long time.
In one of the cases, an appeals court had upheld Seattle’s system, which lets students pick among high schools and then relies on tiebreakers, including race, to decide who gets into schools that have more applicants than openings.
The lower court decision was based in part on a Supreme Court ruling three years ago, written by O’Connor, which said that colleges and universities could select students based at least in part on race.
The court also will also consider a school desegregation policy in Kentucky. That case is somewhat different, because the school district had long been under a federal court decree to end segregation in its schools. After the decree ended, the district in 2001 began using a plan that includes race guidelines.
A federal judge had said system did not require quotas, and that other factors were considered including geographic boundaries and special programs.
A mother, Crystal Meredith, claimed her son was denied entrance into the neighborhood school because he is white. The Jefferson County school district, which covers metropolitan Louisville, Ky., and has nearly 100,000 students, was ordered to desegregate its schools in 1974.
The court will also consider whether Seattle’s so-called integration tiebreaker system, which has been discontinued, is tailored to meet a “compelling interest” by the school.
A group called Parents Involved in Community Schools sued in July 2000, arguing that it was unfair for the school district to consider race, and Seattle halted the system.
Lawyers for the Seattle school district had told justices that it was not known what the district’s new school board and new superintendent would do now.
Under the district’s plan, the first tiebreaker was whether an applicant has a sibling already at the school. The second tiebreaker was race: which applicant would bring the high school closer to the districtwide ratio of whites to nonwhites, roughly 40 percent to 60 percent. The third tiebreaker was distance, with closer students getting preference.
Seattle has about 46,000 public-school students. The racial tiebreaker helped some whites get into predominantly minority schools, and vice versa.
The cases are Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, 05-908, and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 05-915.

Unlikely Allies (“against” NCLB)

Let the Dialogue Begin
Bridging Differences A Dialogue Between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch
May 24, 2006
By Deborah Meier & Diane Ravitch
In the course of the last 30 years, the two of us have been at odds on any number of issues – on our judgments about progressive education, on the relative importance of curriculum content (what students are taught) vs. habits of mind (how students come to know what they are taught), and most recently in our views of the risks involved in nationalizing aspects of education policy.
Meeting recently to prepare for a debate on the federal No Child Left Behind Act, however, we found ourselves agreeing about the mess that has been generated by local and state testing. Both of us agreed that the public needs far better information about both inputs and outcomes, without which the public is woefully uninformed and too easily manipulated. As we discussed what the next policy steps should be, Diane preferred a national response, and Deborah preferred a local one.
As we talked further, we were surprised to discover that we shared a similar reaction to many of the things that are happening in education today, especially in our nation’s urban school districts. Recent trends and events seem to be confirming our mutual fears and jeopardizing our common hopes about what schooling might accomplish for the nation’s children. We might, we agreed, be getting the worst of both our perspectives.
Unlike Deborah, Diane has long supported an explicit, prescribed curriculum, one that would consume about half the school day, on which national examinations would be based. Diane believes in the value of a common, knowledge-based curriculum, such as the Core Knowledge curriculum, that ensures that all children study history, literature, mathematics, science, art, music, and foreign language; such a curriculum, she thinks, would support rather than undermine teachers’ work. Deborah, while strongly agreeing on the need for a broad liberal arts curriculum, doubts that anyone can ensure what children will really understand and usefully make sense of, even through the best imposed curriculum, especially if it is designed by people who are far from the actual school communities and classrooms.
Yet both of us are appalled by the relentless “test prep” activities that have displaced good instruction in far too many urban classrooms, and that narrow the curriculum to nothing but math and reading. We are furthermore distressed by unwarranted claims from many cities and states about “historic gains” that are based on dumbed-down tests, even occasionally on downright dishonest scoring by purposeful exclusion of low-scoring students.What unites us above all is our conviction that low-income children who live in urban centers are getting the worst of both of our approaches.

Continue reading Unlikely Allies (“against” NCLB)

Little Things and Big Things

I had a very nice day today chaperoning the Randall Safety Patrol at the Wisconsin Dells. First, Susan Smith and Phil Watters who have worked with the Safety Patrol all year deserve much thanks. The AAA, who sponsor the Safety Patrol and made the trip possible also deserve praise.
But mostly it was the students who made it such a good day. They were great; polite, well behaved, interesting and fun. There were many other Safety Patrol groups from around the state there and I can say without reservation that none were better behaved and none seemed to enjoy themselves as much as our group. What a great combination. It is easy to lose track of some of the little things like this that are part of our school system, but we shouldn’t. They made me both happy and proud.
I’d like to keep this upbeat, but am compelled to close on a down note. Susan Smith is the School Nurse at Franklin and Randall. Next year, due to financial considerations she will also serve a third school and almost assuredly will not be able to continue as a Safety Patrol mentor. This may seem like a small loss for the district as a whole, but after today it seems like a big one to me.

Similar Students, Different Results

From the latest Teacher’s College Record.
It looks like a solid study, but I have one caveat. One of the findings is that successful schools are aligned with the State Standards and success is then measured by these standards. This does raise questions about the content of these standards. The creation of these standards has been highly political and in some cases the resulting standards leave much to be desired. For an earlier California story, see Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree and Ross Dunn’s History on Trial.

Similar Students, Different Results
by Trish Williams & Michael W. Kirst — January 25, 2006
Why do some California elementary schools serving largely low-income students score as much as 250 points higher on the state’s academic performance index (API) than other schools with very similar students?
That’s the research question asked by a new, large-scale EdSource-led study that surveyed principals and teachers in 257 such schools across the state. What we learned is that the higher performing schools tend to have four interrelated practices at the core of their operation—prioritizing student achievement; implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum and instructional program; analyzing student-assessment data from multiple sources; and ensuring availability of instructional resources.
Many studies have examined successful schools as a group, in an effort to understand their methods or best practices. This study—conducted by EdSource and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research—took a different tack. Rather than looking at a specific performance zone, we examined elementary schools within a specific, fairly narrow socioeconomic and demographic band but across the full range of school performance.

Continue reading Similar Students, Different Results

Charter Schools?

In light of the planning grant application approval for the proposed Studio School Charter yesterday, I’m curious about how others view public charters and what their roles should be.
Here are some different conceptions that I’ve heard or read (I’m sure there are many more and I’d be glad to hear about those):

  1. Charters as laboratories for innovations that can be replicated in other district schools.
  2. Charters as a means of of addressing the needs or desires of self-defined populations.
  3. Charters as a first step toward replacing the current system with a system of semi-autonomous schools.

Related questions include: How should charters and charter proposals be evaluated?

Classmates Count

I was looking for more information about the combined grades at Elvejhem (my grade school was all combined grades with team teaching and it worked very well) and I found an interesting study that I don’t think has been previously noted on SIS. It is by noted Urbanist David Rusk and looks at the effects of economic segregation and integration on academic performance in Madison schools. I hope the East and West task forces were aware of this study.
The conclusion states:

“Summing Up Part V: A school’s socioeconomic context does matter far more for low-income pupils than for their middle class counterparts. The statistical analysis did show a slight decline of middle class pupils’ test scores as the percentage of low income classmates increased. The rate of decline for middle class pupils was less than half the rate of improvement for low income pupils.
However, that apparent decline in middle class pupils’ performance most probably reflected the changing composition of the “middle class” in schools with increasingly higher percentages of low income classmates. “Middle class” schools with very few low income pupils had higher percentages of children from the highest income, largely professional households. In “middle class” schools with much larger numbers of lowincome pupils, children from more modest “blue collar” households predominated.
That was most likely the primary contributing factor to the apparent slow decline in middle class test scores and not any directly adverse effect of having more low income classmates. From a larger perspective, middle class pupils’ performance levels never dropped below 70-75% achieving advanced and proficient levels under any socioeconomic circumstances in Madison-Dane County (which had no very high-poverty schools).”

Here is a link to the pdf file: Final Report

Cole on fence over recount

Cole on fence over recount

Madison School Board candidate Maya Cole said today that she is still trying to decide whether to ask for a recount of the vote in her race.
Cole lost Tuesday’s election to Arlene Silveira by 86 votes, less than one quarter of 1 percent of the almost 36,000 votes cast.
“My opinion is that I don’t think a recount is going to bring about a change” in the outcome, Cole said in a telephone interview, adding that she doesn’t want to waste time or money.
But Cole also said she has had some 20 people contact her since the election to urge her to ask for a recount.
It is hard to get people to vote at a time when national voting scandals have eroded confidence in the political process, she said, adding that she wants her next move, whatever it is, to still encourage her supporters to stay engaged. “I don’t want people to feel like their vote didn’t count.”
Cole said she hopes she and her top advisers will have a consensus by later today or Friday.
Published: April 6, 2006


I just voted. We like to bring our children to vote, so we waited till after preschool. My parents did the same thing.
I love voting. I love being part of a democracy. Usually, even when I think my candidates will lose, I leave the polling place with a little spring in my step. I especially love school board election, in part because I study school board elections. Today was different.
This was the first time I have decided who to vote for while in the booth. It is a strange election. On one hand I could rejoice that I can see good things about more than one candidate, but that’s not what I’m feeling. There has been too much bitterness and nastiness and the lines have been drawn boldly, but strangely. Some have called it the status quo vs. change, but I think even the status quo candidates think that MMSD can do better in a multitude of areas.
What has been called the “transparency” issue has loomed large. I prefer to think of this as being about how much deference should be given to the administration and how active a role should the board take. The3 budget and MTI negotiations are part of this, but it is bigger. This issue also presents problems. If you support expanded roles for the board (as I do), then the question of who fills these roles becomes very important. It isn’t enough to just support those who agree with you about the roles of the board, you have to look closely at what they (and their opponents) would do with that power.
An example of the strange ways the lines have been drawn is the ability grouping issue. Both ability grouping and mixed ability grouping are the status quo in MMSD. Neither has a whole lot to do with the deference issues that seemed so central to the races a few weeks ago, but the lines have been drawn and some of us are uncomfortable with the choices we now face.
Lastly there is the issue of supporters. It is a strange time when self-proclaimed conservatives actively support self-proclaimed progressives. I don’t even know what this means, except that perhaps true conservatives see no chance of electing one of their own (and whatever you think of Mathiak and Cole, they are not movement conservatives).
I also love the secret ballot, so I’m going to leave it at this. I’d love to hear from others who also struggled with these choices.

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

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

Continue reading Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum

This is not meant as a suggestion that MMSD should take this approach but I do think that we should be aware of what similar districts are considering and doing.
See also:
Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum
Evanston-Skokie district’s proposal targets achievement gap between blacks and whites
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance writer Brian Cox contributed to this report
Published February 15, 2006
Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

Continue reading Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum

A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools

This is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. I was alerted to it by the Daily Howler blog I mention this because that site has had some great education coverage lately and will soon be launching an all-education companion blog.,0,3211437.story?coll=la-news-learning
A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools
Because they can’t pass algebra, thousands of students are denied diplomas. Many try again and again — but still get Fs.
By Duke Helfand
Times Staff Writer
January 30, 2006
Each morning, when Gabriela Ocampo looked up at the chalkboard in her ninth-grade algebra class, her spirits sank.
There she saw a mysterious language of polynomials and slope intercepts that looked about as familiar as hieroglyphics.
She knew she would face another day of confusion, another day of pretending to follow along. She could hardly do long division, let alone solve for x.
“I felt like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’ ” she recalled.
Gabriela failed that first semester of freshman algebra. She failed again and again — six times in six semesters. And because students in Los Angeles Unified schools must pass algebra to graduate, her hopes for a diploma grew dimmer with each F.
Midway through 12th grade, Gabriela gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School.
Her story might be just a footnote to the Class of 2005 except that hundreds of her classmates, along with thousands of others across the district, also failed algebra.
Of all the obstacles to graduation, algebra was the most daunting.
The course that traditionally distinguished the college-bound from others has denied vast numbers of students a high school diploma.
“It triggers dropouts more than any single subject,” said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer. “I think it is a cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system.”

Continue reading A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools