Category Archives: Community Partners

Year later, much has been learned about school closings Chicago Public Schools say attendance, grades didn’t suffer

Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

Nerves were a little shakier than usual when the 2013-14 school year started in Chicago, as parents and city officials anxiously watched thousands of children heading off to classrooms in unfamiliar neighborhoods because of the district’s move to close almost 50 elementary schools.

But when classes let out Friday, most of the fears of September were unrealized. The Safe Passage program to protect kids on their way to and from those schools appears to have performed as promised. And Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Friday said there was an uptick in performance at schools designated to take in students whose buildings were closed.

Madison tried to consolidate school facilities in 2007, unsuccessfully. Bricks and mortar are largely irrelevant if one has great teachers.

Will California’s Ruling Against Teacher Tenure Change Schools?

Dana Goldstein:

On Tuesday, a California superior-court judge ruled that the state’s teacher tenure system discriminates against kids from low-income families. Based on testimony that one to three percent of California teachers are likely “grossly ineffective”—thousands of people, who mostly teach at low-income schools—he reasoned that current tenure policies “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students.” The ruling, in Vergara v. California, has the potential to overturn five state laws governing how long it takes for a teacher to earn tenure; the legal maneuvers necessary to remove a tenured teacher; and which teachers are laid off first in the event of budget cuts or school closings.

Tenure has existed in K-12 public education since 1909, when “good-government” reformers borrowed the concept from Germany. The idea spread quickly from New Jersey to New York to Chicago and then across the country. During the Progressive Era, both teachers unions and school-accountability hawks embraced the policy, which prevented teaching jobs from being given out as favors by political bosses. If it was legally difficult to fire a good teacher, she couldn’t be replaced by the alderman’s unqualified sister-in-law.

Wisconsin Gubernatorial candidate Act 10 Commentary

Matthew DeFour:

Mary Burke, who has already been endorsed by more than a dozen of the state’s largest private- and public-sector unions, said she supports making wages, hours, benefits and working conditions mandatory subjects of bargaining for public employees.

She called the annual elections, the prohibition on requiring union dues of all employees, and a ban on automatic dues collections “nothing more than heavy-handed attempts to punish labor unions” and said she would work to repeal those provisions.

She said she would have used the collective bargaining process to achieve the pension and health insurance contributions that helped balance the state budget. But she does not want to reset the law to before Act 10, when state employees could pay no more than 20 percent of health insurance premiums and could bargain with employers to cover their full pension contribution.

Burke also agreed the way contract disputes were settled for decades needed to change, but disagreed with eliminating interest arbitration. She said the factors used in the process should allow for “effective, efficient and accountable government workforce and institutions,” though she didn’t offer a specific plan for reinstating it.

The Walker campaign responded that Burke’s position on Act 10 “mirrors her willingness to concede to unions as a Madison School Board member, and is yet another example of how she would take Wisconsin backward.”
Unions weigh in
Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40, which represents many Dane County-area municipal employees, said some of his members are unhappy Burke won’t promise to repeal the law entirely. But they like that she expressed interest in listening to different points of view, whereas Walker never responded to requests to meet after he was elected.

“She’s made it clear she’ll sit down with us,” Badger said. “After what employees went through over the past three years, it’s great to hear someone say, ‘Your concerns still matter.’ ”

Much more on Wisconsin Act 10, here.

In trying to root out religious conservatism from a few schools, the British government has ended up angering Muslims at large

The Economist:

MANY parents who picked up their children from Park View Academy on June 9th took home something else too: an official report excoriating the school. Ofsted, England’s schools inspector, had downgraded the largely Muslim institution to “inadequate”, saying it had failed to protect children from extremism. But parents outside the gates were less alarmed at this than cross about the report and the disruption it was causing. “If he messes up his GCSEs, I’ll hold David Cameron personally responsible,” said an angry father, pointing at his son.

A few months ago Birmingham City Council received a letter purporting to advise Muslim militants how to take over a state school. The letter might be a hoax, but it struck some as painfully accurate. Stories appeared of staff pushed out by hard-line governors (elected amateurs who appoint head teachers and set schools’ strategic direction). As the row grew, the government ordered snap inspections of 21 schools. Some of their findings are damning. But British Muslims—many of whom are Pakistani—have damned the government.

Explaining Asian Americans’ academic advantage over whites

Amy Hsin & Yu Xie:

We find that the Asian-American educational advantage over whites is attributable mainly to Asian students exerting greater academic effort and not to advantages in tested cognitive abilities or socio-demographics. We test explanations for the Asian–white gap in academic effort and find that the gap can be further attributed to (i) cultural differences in beliefs regarding the connection between effort and achievement and (ii) immigration status. Finally, we highlight the potential psychological and social costs associated with Asian-American achievement success.

Via Laura Waters.

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution

Lyndsey Layton:

The pair of education advocates had a big idea, a new approach to transform every public-school classroom in America. By early 2008, many of the nation’s top politicians and education leaders had lined up in support.

But that wasn’t enough. The duo needed money — tens of millions of dollars, at least — and they needed a champion who could overcome the politics that had thwarted every previous attempt to institute national standards.

So they turned to the richest man in the world.

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Mining Student Results & Metadata: “massive increase in the demand for proficiency-based adaptive learning”

David Liu:

Recently, we celebrated Knewton’s sixth birthday. It seems that each year brings more progress and change than all the previous years combined, and this past year was no different.

We’re using our latest round of funding ($51 million) to continue to extend our technological leadership and support rapid growth globally, including a new office across the pond in London. Our partnerships with leading education companies brought Knewton-powered products to over 4 million students in 250,000 classrooms in 120 countries around the globe. We expect to have over 7 million students using products powered by the Knewton platform by the end of this year.

I joined Knewton back in 2010. The company was still getting off the ground, but the vision was the same as it is today — to provide personalized learning for everyone on the planet. Every individual deserves the opportunity to maximize their learning potential. It’s inspiring to see how far we’ve come, and to go to work every day knowing that we’re helping to make education more effective and accessible for students worldwide.

In the past year, we’ve seen a massive increase in the demand for proficiency-based adaptive learning, both in the U.S. and internationally. While it was always Knewton’s vision to create an adaptive learning platform to benefit every student in the world, it wasn’t always straightforward for education companies and others to understand this mission. Now, these organizations are using our platform to push the envelope to create products that will have a meaningful impact on student outcomes. Knewton enables our partners to focus on innovating new content and user experiences — while leveraging Knewton’s infrastructure and network effects to provide powerful personalization for students and actionable metrics for instructors.

Dads on patrol provide positive example in classrooms

Dannika Lewis:

Usually when we think about the parent heading to a PTO meeting, our minds go to moms, but a program in Sun Prarie schools is trying to change that.

They’re called WatchDOGS, DOGS standing for “Dads Of Great Students.”

Every morning at Horizon Elementary School, Principal Rainey Briggs introduces the men who came in for the day to look after the halls and participate in classrooms to the entire student body.

Briggs said the program has grown to be so popular that they had to add days when dads come in.

“It gives us another set of eyes in the building. It gives us another person in the classroom who really wants to be that positive role model for kids from a male’s perspective,” Briggs said.

Why School Boards Shouldn’t Have a Say in Charter School Authorization

Laura Waters:

It starts here:

Last week Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Camden) released a bill that updates New Jersey’s 20-year-old charter school law. The draft of the bill invests local school boards with the power to control 30 percent of an aspiring charter’s application score…

What’s wrong with delegating charter approval to democratically-elected school board members? After all, local districts pay tuition and transportation for charter school students. Shouldn’t community representatives have power to deter perceived threats to traditional district dominance?

Brentwood parents of special education students unite to call for school district reform

Paula King:

Parents of special education students who recently protested in front of Brentwood Union School District headquarters are calling for districtwide reform, including greater inclusion for special needs children on campuses and an end to alleged retaliation against proactive parents by district officials.

Parents for Special Education Reform claim that their children are being treated unfairly and even excluded from grade-level field trips. Group members said parents who advocate on behalf of their children by filing complaints against the district with the state or taking legal action are being targeted.

An independent agency needs to help guide the district with its special education program, according to the group. Recently, 13 Brentwood families filed complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights in San Francisco, and a six-month investigation into the retaliation and discrimination claims is underway.

I will send my children private if I can’t get them into a (UK) grammar

Sally & Richard Greenhill:

As grammar schools come under scrutiny yet again – this time for creating an “unequal society” – one alumna of the state-school system argues that the answer is really to create more of them

The latest row to embroil the Education Secretary, Michael Gove – whether he did or didn’t want Of Mice and Men taken off the GCSE syllabus – took me juddering back to my schooldays.

That slender volume was a standard text at my comprehensive. I’d always had the suspicion that, being a novella, it was chosen because it was easier to read than, say, a weighty Dickens tome. And far easier to teach, too, when it was common for staff to spend up to two-thirds of a 50-minute lesson performing crowd control.

From Invisible to Visible: Being Able To “See” the Crisis in Learning

Rukmini Banerji:

Engagement and Understanding: The First Step in Assessment and Action

The group of mothers sitting in the sun in a village in north India was happy to chat. We talked about children and about their school. “Are they going to school?” I asked. “Of course,” said the mothers proudly. Some went further to say, “we even send them for private coaching after school.” “How are they doing with their education?” The common word for education in Hindi is the same as reading-writing. The chatter stopped. One mother looked at me sternly and said, “How do we know? We are illiterate. Anyway, that is the business of the school and of the teachers.”

For decades it has been assumed that schooling leads to learning. This is the assumption that has been widely held by parents and practitioners, policymakers and public. It is also assumed that “more is better”—more years of schooling are better than less. It is only recently that the world is beginning to realize that schooling does not necessarily lead to learning. For many in India and in other countries, at ground level and at higher levels, this is a new learning. Accustomed to years of measuring inputs and expenditures, the switch to measuring outcomes—especially learning outcomes—is new and still unfamiliar. We are just beginning to figure out how to think about learning beyond, and in addition to, schooling.

Report: Achievement gaps smaller among Florida charter school students

Travis Pillow:

Achievement gaps are smaller for Florida’s charter school students than for their peers in traditional public schools, according to the state Department of Education’s latest state-mandated report comparing their student achievement.

Like previous years’ reports, the latest results show charter schools outperforming their district-run counterparts on a range of measures, scoring higher and making larger gains in most of the department’s comparisons. Of the 177 comparisons in the report, more than 150 gave charter schools an edge.
But the report shows school districts gaining ground in some areas. For example, unlike in previous years, traditional public schools matched the learning gains charter schools achieved in math for the student population as a whole.

Why can’t we solve poverty, or solve it through schools?

Jake Seliger:

I’m not that old, and I’ve already seen a lot of proposals for solving “poverty” come and go. Many—think Head Start—are tied up in education. The current debate around education tends to run in two directions: one group wants to improve parenting, or ameliorate poverty, or something along those lines, having seen innumerable correlative studies demonstrating that rich kids on average do better than poor kids at school. The other group—the one I belong to—tends to think that we could do a lot for schools, and especially big urban schools, through some combination of charters, vouchers, and/or weakening the power of teachers’s unions. For more on why the latter group thinks as we do, see the many links in this post.

This has a lot to do with education because, as I noted in the first paragraph, people who are relatively okay with the educational status quo tend to want to address things outside of school first. Diane Ravitch is a great leader for this group. I’ve read two of Ravitch’s books on education—Left Back: A Century of Battles over School Reform and The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education—and to read her work is to respect her knowledge and erudition. She moved from a strong educational reformer who favored charter schools to someone who… I don’t know how to characterize her current position other than to say she doesn’t favor charters or vouchers. She does observe the many ways particular charter schools haven’t done very well, but in my view they haven’t been worse than the urban schools they competed with, and some have done much better.

Overall, Ravitch wants to reduce poverty, but as noted above I’m skeptical of social or government forces to do so. In Reign of Error, her most recent book—I’m not all the way through it—she says that public schools are better than they’re commonly depicted. She’s somewhat right: relatively wealthy suburban schools are okay. But that pretty much leaves urban schools (L.A., Chicago, New York, Newark) to languish, and those are the areas and schools that are most promising for vouchers.

The final thing I’ll note is that a lot of people favor “more” money for schools. Overall, inflation-adjusted funding has roughly doubled on a per-pupil basis, per the New Yorker article, and overall funding is quite high—including in screwed up districts like Washington D.C.’s. The Great Stagnation also discusses this dynamic. So while “more” money for school districts may or may not be a good thing, it’s apparent that more money does not automatically lead to better results.

Student Perspectives on Race and Education in Tuscaloosa

Amanda Zamora:

“Skin color doesn’t define your intelligence.”

“I am not what society thinks.”

“Looking forward, not to the past.”

These are just a few of the six-word essays written by high school students in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when asked to describe their perspectives on race and education in America today.

The essays are all the more poignant when paired with photographs by the same students documenting everyday life at two schools on very different sides of the resegregation equation. Sixty years after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawed official segregation, nearly one in three black students in Tuscaloosa now attends a school more reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.

When my colleague Nikole Hannah-Jones set out to report the story of the dismantling of court orders, closed-room deals and school district decisions that paved the way for resegregation in Tuscaloosa, she knew some of the most important voices would be from students living the consequences of those decisions. So we hatched a plan to enlist them in telling their own stories. As the engagement editor at ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom, my job is to help build an audience for our work and get the community to participate in our journalism. We wanted the students’ stories to be a vital part of this story from the start.

Inside UK’s Park View academy: Religion row school ‘is victim of its success’

Richard Adams:

asan Sajad is a year-11 student at Park View academy in Birmingham. He should be thinking about sitting his GCSEs shortly, but his school’s emergence at the centre of a political furore about alleged Islamist takeovers has given him something else to worry about: his future.

“There’s a chance we may be sidelined due to what’s come up in the news. People may say, oh they are from Park View, they’ve been part of the whole Trojan horse scandal, so let’s not give them a place in a sixth form or university later on. That could be a possibility,” Sajad said.

A few months ago that would not have been a concern for Sajad or his classmates. Park View was warmly praised by Ofsted’s head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and its inspectors for achieving academic results well above the national average, all the more remarkable given its location in Alum Rock, a deprived mini-suburb of Birmingham and its high proportion – 70% – of pupils eligible for free school meals.

But that changed in February with the emergence of the now-infamous Trojan horse document alleging a citywide Islamist plot to hijack state schools in the area, catapulting it into the media glare. Claims of outside meddling, indoctrination and bullying of non-Muslim staff have engulfed it and other schools in Birmingham, and different parts of the country including Bradford and Manchester.

For Sale: Student Profiles

Stephanie Simon:

Each year, more than 2 million middle school and high school students fill out comprehensive surveys for the National Research Center for College & University Admissions detailing their academic records, their athletic skills, their religious leanings, their aspirations.
In short, it’s “their hopes and dreams,” said Ryan Munce, the group’s vice president. He compiles profiles on each child.

Playbook: Brock launches Koch unit
Poll: Clinton sweeps GOP in Ohio
Report: Sterling calls Obama ‘flippant’
For sale: Student ‘hopes and dreams’
Are student files private? It depends.
Fannie, Freddie reform to get harder
Then he sells them.

The recent flurry of interest in updating federal privacy law focuses on preventing children’s personal information from being sold without parental consent. Left unnoticed: The huge and lucrative market of peddling profiles with student consent — even when that consent may not be entirely informed.

Madison school board’s Ed Hughes: Don’t extend Teacher Union contract without rethinking hiring process

Pat Schneider:

It’s not a good idea for the Madison School District to extend its labor contract with teachers through the 2015-2016 school year without renegotiating it, says school board member Ed Hughes.

Hughes wants Madison School District administrators — especially school principals — to have the ability to offer jobs to the best teacher candidates before they are snapped up by other districts.

One way to accomplish that would be to drop a labor contract provision giving Madison teachers the opportunity to transfer into open positions before external candidates can be offered those jobs, Hughes says.

“To take the collective bargaining agreement in its current form and just change the date without any discussion, to my mind, is creating a potential impediment to our important efforts to attract a highly qualified and diverse workforce,” Hughes said Tuesday.

Hughes said that a labor contract that includes a “last hired, first fired” provision also hampers efforts to hire teachers with experience in racially and ethnically diverse classrooms.

“Why would someone with 15 years experience in Janesville come to Madison and be the first one on the chopping block if there are layoffs?” he asked. “I’m not proposing a specific solution, but we need to address these issues in a collaborative way so we’re not handcuffing ourselves from bringing in the best teachers.”

Related: Act 10, Madison Teachers, Inc and Ed Hughes.

Emphasizing adult employment: Newark School Reform and retired Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman.

Mr Hughes wrote one of the more forthright quotes on local school matters in 2005:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

Tea leaves: Mr. Hughes was just replaced as President of the Madison School Board. Interestingly, he ran unopposed in three (!) elections. The candor is appreciated, but were there similar comments during the past few years?

Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg had a plan to reform Newark’s schools. They got an education.

Dale Russakoff:

Late one night in December, 2009, a black Chevy Tahoe in a caravan of cops and residents moved slowly through some of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Newark. In the back sat the Democratic mayor, Cory Booker, and the Republican governor-elect of New Jersey, Chris Christie. They had become friendly almost a decade earlier, during Christie’s years as United States Attorney in Newark, and Booker had invited him to join one of his periodic patrols of the city’s busiest drug corridors.

The ostensible purpose of the tour was to show Christie one of Booker’s methods of combatting crime. But Booker had another agenda that night. Christie, during his campaign, had made an issue of urban schools. “We’re paying caviar prices for failure,” he’d said, referring to the billion-dollar annual budget of the Newark public schools, three-quarters of which came from the state. “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over. It’s outrageous.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Food Stamp Growth, including Wisconsin

Atif Mian & Amir Sufi:

Why exactly has there been such a sharp rise in food stamp usage? Is it general economic weakness? Failed economic policies? What do the data say?

The USDA provides state-level information on food stamp usage, so we can see exactly where food stamp program enrollment increased the most. Here is the growth in food stamp usage from 2006 to 2009, with darker red states those that had the largest increase:

Charter, public schools and the chasm between

Javier Hernandez:

When Neil J. McNeill Jr., principal of the Middle School for Art and Philosophy in Brooklyn, learned that fewer than 4 percent of his students had passed state exams in math last year, he was frustrated.
It so happened that he shared a building with one of the top-performing schools in the Brownsville neighborhood, Kings Collegiate Charter School, where 37 percent of the students had passed, well above the New York City middle-school average of 27 percent.

Mr. McNeill had long been curious about the charter school’s strategies: It, too, served large numbers of low-income black students, many from the same neighborhoods. But the two schools operated in their own bubbles, with separate public-address systems and different textbooks. And as a matter of practice, they did not talk about academics.

The DOJ and Wisconsin’s private-school choice program: a storm is brewing

CJ Szafir:

Last week, the Wisconsin Reporter reported that the United States Department of Justice is still conducting an “ongoing investigation” into whether Wisconsin’s private-school choice program discriminates against children with disabilities and, as a result, violates federal disability law.

In 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with the Justice Department accusing the Wisconsin school-choice program—as well as two private schools in the program—of discriminating against children with disabilities. In April 2013, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department sent a letter and legal memo to the state of Wisconsin accusing the school-choice program of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They concluded that unless Wisconsin drastically changes its choice program, the United States will take legal action.

Among its numerous demands, the Justice Department wants private choice schools to be forced to adjust their programming to accommodate all children with disabilities, so long as the accommodation does not “fundamentally alter” the school (an extremely onerous legal standard). Federal disability law, as traditionally interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education, applies a different, less exacting standard to private schools in the choice program. Private schools must only make “minor adjustments” to accommodate students with disabilities. Given that private schools do not receive the same government funding for special education as public schools and may wish to take distinctive approaches to students with behavioral problems, this is perfectly appropriate.

Via Alan Borsuk.

Much more on vouchers, here.

How to Fill the Skills Gap: Bring Back Apprenticeships

Robert Maxim:

Manufacturing is growing in the United States, but many companies claim that they face a “skills gap.” These companies have unfilled vacancies, but say that unemployed workers and recent high school graduates do not have the technical knowledge needed to fill them. Apprenticeships have historically taught students the necessary skills for a career in manufacturing. However, there has been a sharp decline in apprenticeships across the United States, some 40 percent over the past decade, and cash-strapped state budgets have forced schools to cut technical education in favor of four-year college preparatory curricula.

Emancipation Day Commemoration in Eastern Mississippi School

James Fallows:

Over the months Deb Fallows has reported on a variety of impressive and innovative public schools around the country. For instance: the Sustainability Academy in Burlington, Vermont; the Grove School in Redlands California; the Shead School in Eastport, Maine; several English immersion schools in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, South Carolina; the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School for Engineering, also in Greenville; and the Camden County High School near St. Marys, Georgia.

Recently she has spent a lot of time at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS), in Columbus, Mississippi. MSMS is a public, residential high school for students from across the state, about which Deb will be reporting in detail soon. But before the day ends, we wanted to note a moving presentation by MSMS students this evening in a historic cemetery in Columbus.

Wales (UK) set to abandon school banding system for new colour-coded ratings

Gareth Evans:

Wales’ controversial school ‘banding’ system is to be replaced with a new colour-coded support mechanism designed to raise pupil performance, we can reveal.

Officials in the Welsh Department for Education are preparing to launch the “national school improvement and categorisation system” as a means of ensuring schools get the right support and intervention to improve.

Unlike banding, it will extend to primaries as well as secondaries and see schools in Wales categorised annually into one of four groups.

A judgement on standards – based on available data – will be made, and schools at the lowest end of the scale (category Four) will languish in the “red zone”.

Commentary on School Choice vs Status Quo Models

Several letters to the NY Times:

A prevailing belief in the United States is that education is the great opportunity equalizer — a silver bullet that can lift kids out of poverty and transform them into productive citizens. Yet the reality of our “make or break” education system is that race and social class largely determine the quality of one’s educational life, from pre-K to graduate school.

“Global cities” like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles boast diverse populations and cultural depth, but their public school systems remain highly segregated. Much of this has to do with housing and rapid rates of gentrification. But it also has to do with the slow repeal of public policy focused on school integration in favor of privatization, accountability schemes and school choice. A recent University of California, Los Angeles study, for example, argues that in New York City, private and charter schools are exacerbating the problem of “apartheid” schooling.

What Will Become of the Library?

Michael Agresta:

Around the turn of the 20th century—a golden age for libraries in America—the Snead Bookshelf Company of Louisville, Ky., developed a new system for large-stack library shelving. Snead’s multifloor stack systems can still be seen in many important libraries built in that era, for instance at Harvard, Columbia, the Vatican, and at Bryant Park in New York City. Besides storing old bundles of bound paper, Snead’s stacks provided load-bearing structural support to these venerable buildings. To remove the books would literally invite collapse.

A recent attempt by the New York Public Library to do away with the stacks at its main branch and move its research collection to New Jersey invited just this concern. Engineers described the idea of removing the shelves that support the Rose Reading Room as “cutting the legs off the table while dinner is being served.” The plan was to transform the interior of the iconic 42nd Street building from its original purpose—a massive storage space for books with a few reading rooms attached—to a more open, services-oriented space with many fewer books on-site. An outcry from scholars and preservationists may yet halt the NYPL’s renovation, with a final verdict on the way this year.

Class war in English villages as lack of primary school places hits families

Richard Adams & Sian Elvin:

Caroline Beevers and her family moved to Stotfold, Bedfordshire, for the usual reasons: a pretty village, fast transport links to central London and the promise of good schools. The trouble was, they were not the only ones.

“It’s a nice village, the people are nice, there’s lots for the kids. The schools were a major factor in why we moved here,” said Beevers, whose four-year-old, Adam, starts school this September. “We thought we didn’t mind which of the schools he got into because they all seemed pretty good. To be honest it didn’t occur to me we wouldn’t get into any of the three village schools. You’d think we’d be covered really.”

While most of the 600,000 families applying for primary school reception places across England found out this week they had been accepted by their first, second or third preferences, it was not the case for an unlucky few, such as the Beevers family.

Instead of gaining a place at the local state primary school a short walk away, the authority, Central Bedfordshire council, allocated the family a place six miles away, with no direct public transport.

The home-school conundrum Meeting the German Christians who claimed asylum in America

The Economist:

Civil disobedience does not come easily to Morristown, a conservative spot of almost 30,000 souls. Yet city fathers swore to endure jail time, if necessary, to shield Uwe Romeike, his wife Hannelore and their seven children, from federal agents with orders to expel them from Morristown, where they have lived since fleeing Baden-Württemberg in 2008. A stand-off seemed likely when, on March 3rd, the Supreme Court declined to hear a final appeal against the Romeikes’ expulsion, handing victory to the American government, which had always rejected the family’s claims to be refugees from religious and social persecution. However, a day later federal officials put the family’s deportation on indefinite hold—thereby allowing them to stay without setting a legal precedent (and without insulting Germany, a close ally).
 German laws forbid parents from educating their children at home in almost all cases, citing society’s interest in avoiding closed-off “parallel societies”. Germany’s highest court calls schools the best place to bring together children of different beliefs and values, in the name of “lived tolerance”. In plainer language, the Romeikes believe that, if they return to Germany, their children face being taken to school by force. This happened in 2006: the youngsters wept as they were driven away in a police van. (On the next school morning supporters showed up and officers backed off.) Worse, their children might be taken into care—this is the family’s greatest fear, prompting their flight from Germany. As the Romeikes scanned the globe for options, the Home School Legal Defence Association, a Virginia-based group, urged them to apply for asylum in America. The hope was to cause a fuss in the press, says an HSLDA lawyer, Michael Donnelly, and to “fuel the flame of liberty in Germany”.

With Free Tuition, Mich. Students Hear ‘You Are Going To College’

Michael Martin:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I’m Michel Martin. This spring, we’re joining our colleagues at Morning Edition to take a closer look at paying for college. So far in this series, we’ve talked about navigating the mountains of paperwork, whether working during school is a good idea, and if so, how much is too much. And we’ve also talked about the huge debt that many students face after graduation. But imagine if all those worries went away.
 What if the city you lived in footed the bill for college? Kalamazoo, Michigan is doing that. In 2005, a group of anonymous donors pledged enough money to pay the tuition at any of Michigan’s public universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district’s public high schools.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Financial Vulnerability of Americans

Atif Mian & Amir Sufi::

Excessive household debt was crucial in explaining the severity of the Great Recession. So where are we now? Have households strengthened their financial position since 2009? Are household balance sheets strong enough to prevent another massive pull back in spending if there are significant job losses?
 To answer to these questions, we look at evidence from the 2012 National Financial Capability Study by FINRA. (We are grateful to Annamaria Lusardi, an expert on financial literacy, for pointing us to the data used in this post.) This survey is a representative sample of 25,000 individuals who were asked mostly qualitative questions about their finances. The survey was put into the field three years after the worst of the Great Recession.
 The survey responses are shocking, and should put fear into all of us about the financial vulnerability of U.S. households.


An Update on Credit for Non Madison School District Courses; Instructional Policy Changes

The Madison School District (PDF):

Effective July 1, 2016, increase math and science graduation requirements by 1 credit each and eliminate specific math course requirements

Remove references to the High School Graduation Test (HGST)

Add language permitting course equivalencies

Related: notes and links on Credit for non-Madison School District courses.

High School in Southern Georgia: What ‘Career Technical’ Education Looks Like

James Fallows:

Earlier this month my wife and I spent about a week, in two visits, in the little town of St. Marys, Georgia, on the southernmost coast of Georgia just north of Florida and just east of the Okefenokee Swamp. It’s a beautiful and historic town, which is best known either as the jumping-off point for visits to adjoining Cumberland Island National Seashore or for the enormous Kings Bay naval base, which is the East Coast home of U.S. Navy’s nuclear-missile submarine fleet and which is the largest employer in the area.

St. Marys is known to our family for its complicated and often-troubled corporate history, which I described long ago in a book called The Water Lords and which we’ll return to in upcoming posts. But it also highlights an aspect of American education which we’ve encountered repeatedly in our travels around the country and is well illustrated by the school shown above, Camden County High School, or CCHS from this point on.

When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising

Sarah Boesveld:

It was a meeting Principal Bruce McLachlan awaited with dread.

One of the 500 students at Swanson School in a northwest borough of Auckland had just broken his arm on the playground, and surely the boy’s parent, who had requested this face-to-face chat with its headmaster, was out for blood.

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights.

He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

The parent sat down, stone-faced, across from the principal.

“‘My son broke his arm in the playground, and I just want to make sure…” he began.

“And I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen?’” Mr. McLachlan recalled, sitting in his “fishbowl” of an office one hot Friday afternoon last month.

The parent continued: “I just wanted to make sure you don’t change this play environment, because kids break their arms.”

Yes, Private Schools Beat Public Schools

Jason Bedrick

How can researchers publish a book concluding that government schools are outperforming private schools despite all the evidence to the contrary? By ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, of course.

Writing at Education Next, Patrick Wolf casts a gimlet eye on the claims of Sarah and Chris Lubienski in their book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools:

Research on this question goes back some 30 years. From James Coleman’s early observational studies of high schools to the experimental voucher evaluations of the past 15 years, researchers have routinely found that similar students do at least as well and, at times, better academically in private schools than in public schools. How have the Lubienskis come up with this surprising finding?

“we don’t believe now is the time to move individual (charter school) proposals forward” – Madison Superintendent

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham (3MB PDF):

While we are busy working in the present day on the improvement of all of our schools, a key aspect of our long-term strategy must include the addition or integration of unique programs or school models that meet identified needs. However, to ensure that these options are strategic and that they enhance our focus rather than distract from it, we need to build a comprehensive and thoughtful strategy.

We need to think in depth about how options like additional district charter schools would meet the needs of our students, how they would support our vision and close opportunity gaps for all. The things we are learning now from our high school reform collaborative, which was just launched, and the review of our special education and alternative programs, which is now in progress, will be powerful information to help build that strategy over the coming school year.

Until we establish that more comprehensive long-term strategy, together with the Board and with direction and input from our educators and families, we don’t believe now is the time to move individual proposals forward. Both the district and those proposing a charter option should have the guidance of a larger strategy to ensure that any proposal would meet the needs of our students and accomplish our vision.

Related: A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School. Also, the proposed (and rejected) Studio School.

Elementary Data: Madison’s Proposed $39,500,000 Maintenance & Expansion Referendum

Madison Schools’ March, 2014 Facility Plan (PDF)::

Shorewood Elementary: In conjunction with building an elevator tower, add a four-classroom addition. The additional classrooms are a relatively easy gain based on the building design.

Shorewood’s 2013-2014 Low Income Population: 33.8%; All Madison Elementary Schools: 52.1%

2012-2013 Basic & Minimal Reading Proficiency: 34.3% Madison School District: 62.5%

In conjunction with building an elevator tower, add a new cafeteria. Convert the existing cafeteria into four classrooms.

Midvale’s 2013-2014 Low Income Population: 60.9%; All Madison Elementary Schools: 52.1%

2012-2013 Basic & Minimal Reading Proficiency: 72.3% Madison School District: 62.5%

Wisconsin DPI School Report Cards: Midvale | Shorewood | Madison School District. Enrollment data.

Related: Madison’s 16% property tax increase since 2007, Median Household Income Down 7.6%, Middleton’s property taxes 16% less. Madison spends about $15k per student, double the national average.

Commentary on Madison and Surrounding School Districts; Middleton’s lower Property Taxes (16%)

Prior to spending more money from what is at best a flat tax base, perhaps Madison citizens might review previous maintenance referendum spending.

Current Madison Elementary School Boundaries…. & the School Board Election

Two Madison School Board candidates recently expressed opposition to boundary changes:

Flores also said when students and parents walk to their schools, it fosters family connections and relationships between families and school faculty.

“If (any) boundary changes obstruct from that, then I’m against that,” said Flores, who also said he supports asking voters for money to expand crowded schools and improve aesthetics. “If we allowed that big of a gap to happen to our own houses, our community would look dilapidated.”

Strong said the neighborhood school concept could benefit the Allied Drive area, where students — predominantly from low-income families — do not attend the same schools.

“A neighborhood school in that area is something we should look at because you do have these kids that are being bused to all these different schools,” he said.

I invite readers to review the District’s current boundaries [2.5MB PDF] vis a vis “walkability”. I continue to be astonished that the community apparently supports such a wide range of low income population across our schools.

Related: Madison’s current low income school population distribution:

Madison has long supported a wide variation in school demographics. The chart above, created from 2013-2014 Madison School District middle school demographic data, illustrates the present reality, with the largest middle school – near west side Hamilton – also featuring the smallest percentage low income population.

Public school advocates dismiss voucher popularity at their own risk

Chris Rickert:

Usually, the popularity of something is an indication that people value it. Public school proponents and anti-voucher Democrats might want to keep that in mind, as their tendency to downplay support for vouchers can sound like an excuse for avoiding improvements to public schools that keep public school enrollments strong.


Pope did not respond to my messages, but her concern about shifting tax dollars from public schools to voucher schools seems misplaced, given that, on average, taxpayers spend about $5,000 more per public school student than they spend on a voucher.

Income limits keep the wealthy from entering the voucher program. But even if the limits didn’t exist and despite the alleged cost-shifting identified by DPI, this country has long committed to providing all children with taxpayer-funded educations. A taxpayer-funded education at a private school is still a taxpayer-funded education. What’s more, in Wisconsin, it’s a cheaper one.

Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong on Immigrant Success

Stephen Steinberg:

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Penguin, $27.95

The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”

But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy.

Chinese parents scramble to send children to top British schools

Helen Warrell:

Packed into a grey minibus, 22 Chinese parents are trundling down a bumpy driveway towards Cobham Hall, a girls boarding school set in 70 hectares of Kent countryside.

The red-brick Tudor mansion, with its octagonal wing turrets, looks like something out of an Enid Blyton novel. But there is nothing fanciful about the battle Asia’s rich are waging to secure places for their children in top British boarding schools – an export market worth about £1bn a year to the UK.

The Financial Times joined the Chinese parents on part of a week-long tour organised by Gabbitas, an education consultancy which advises on applications. By day, the group visits schools and by night, they enjoy retail events laid on by Harrods, the Bicester Village designer shopping centre and Asprey the jeweller.

“These parents are extremely high net worth,” explains Ian Hunt, the organisation’s managing director. “These are people who would not blink at spending £30,000 a year for 10 years for their children’s education . . . They start with the premise that Chinese education is too linear and constricting, and we try to show them the holistic environment in which the English system operates.”

Netflix’s Reed Hastings: “Get Rid of Elected School Boards”


On March 4th, 2014, Billionaire Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings delivered the keynote speech to the California Charter School Association’s annual conference. In that keynote speech, Mr. Hastings made a shocking statement: Democratically elected school board members are the problem with education, and they must be replaced by privately held corporations in the next 20-30 years.
 Reed Hastings has just over a billion dollars, riches built on software companies and the entertainment giant Netflix. Mr. Hastings also sat on the California State Board of Education from 2000 to 2004, when he stepped down amid controversy.
 Hastings, who sits on Rocketship’s national strategy advisory board, has invested millions in Rocketship. He’s also made significant political action committee contributions on Rocketship’s behalf, most recently, he poured $50,000 into a PAC to support pro-charter Santa Clara County Office of Education members.

Redesign helps boost math successes at Tenn. college

Community College Daily:

John Squires, associate professor of mathematics and head of the math department at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee, has become a recognized leader in the nation’s reform initiatives of mathematics.
 In the course of three years, Squires has assisted with the redesign of 12 math courses at his college. During the redesign of those courses, he worked with faculty to produce quality resources for each course, including videos and Powerpoints.
 As a result, the college’s math lab has grown from 60 to 180 computers. A continuous enrollment plan has been implemented so students who finish a course early can immediately begin the next course.

Four Schools & One College win more places at Oxbridge (UK) than 2000 schools combined

Sutton Trust:

Four schools and one college sent more students to Oxbridge over three years than 2,000 schools and colleges across the UK, reveals the latest report on university admissions by individual schools by the Sutton Trust.
 Between them, Westminster School, Eton College, Hills Road Sixth Form College, St Pauls School and St Pauls Girls School produced 946 Oxbridge entrants over the period 2007-09 – accounting for over one in 20 of all Oxbridge admissions. Meanwhile just under 2000 schools and colleges with less than one Oxbridge entrant a year produced a total of 927 Oxbridge entrants.
 These figures are driven primarily by stark gaps in the A-level results of the schools and colleges, but the study also reveals different progression rates to highly selective universities for schools with similar average examination results.
 The report accompanies the first ever publication of figures detailing the higher education destinations of pupils from individual schools with sixth forms and colleges in England.


Choosing to Learn: Self Government or “central planning”, ie, “We Know Best”

Joseph L. Bast, Lindsey Burke, Andrew J. Coulson, Robert C. Enlow, Kara Kerwin & Herbert J. Walberg:

Americans face a choice between two paths that will guide education in this nation for generations: self-government and central planning. Which we choose will depend in large measure on how well we understand accountability.
 To some, accountability means government-imposed standards and testing, like the Common Core State Standards, which advocates believe will ensure that every child receives at least a minimally acceptable education. Although well-intentioned, their faith is misplaced and their prescription is inimical to the most promising development in American education: parental choice.
 True accountability comes not from top-down regulations but from parents financially empowered to exit schools that fail to meet their child’s needs. Parental choice, coupled with freedom for educators, creates the incentives and opportunities that spur quality. The compelled conformity fostered by centralized standards and tests stifles the very diversity that gives consumer choice its value.

Well Worth Reading.

Mastery Charter Schools is a win for Camden

Laura Waters:

“All is flux, nothing stays still,” said Plato, but you’d never know that in Camden. It’s still the worst school system in New Jersey despite decades of strategic plans and revolving superintendents and money and good intentions.
 Now Mastery Charter Schools, based in Philadelphia, has had applications approved to open two new charters in Camden, right across the Delaware River. Yesterday Gov. Christie attended a ground-breaking ceremony for another approved Camden applicant, the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

The Achievement Gap as Seen Through the Eyes of a Student

Robin Mwai and Deidre Green
Simpson Street Free Press
The achievement gap is very prevalent in my school on a day-to-day basis. From the lack of minority students taking honors classes, to the over abundance of minority students occupying the hallways during valuable class time, the continuously nagging minority achievement gap prevails.
Upon entering LaFollette High School, there are visible traces of the achievement gap all throughout the halls. It seems as if there is always a presence of a minority student in the hallway no matter what the time of day. At any time during the school day there are at least 10 to 15 students, many of whom are minorities, wandering the halls aimlessly. These students residing in the halls are either a result of getting kicked out of class due to behavior issues, or for some, the case may be that they simply never cared to go to class at all. This familiar scene causes some staff to assume that all minority students that are seen in the halls during class time are not invested in their education. These assumptions are then translated back to the classroom where teachers then lower their expectations for these students and students who appear to be like them.
While there are some students of color who would rather spend their school time in the halls instead of in the classroom, others wish for the opportunity to be seen as focused students. Sadly many bright and capable minority students are being overlooked because teachers see them as simply another unmotivated student to be pushed through the system. Being a high achieving minority student in the Madison school District continues to be somewhat of a rarity–even in 2014. Three out of the four classes I am taking this semester at La Follette High School, which uses the four-block schedule, are honors or advanced courses. Of the 20 to 25 students in those honors classes, I am one of a total of two minority students enrolled.
Even though a large percentage of the student body is made up of minority students, very few of theses students are taking honors or advanced classes. These honors courses provide students with necessary skills that help prepare them for college. These skills include: critical thinking, exposure to a wider variety of concepts, and an opportunity to challenge their own mental capacities in ways that non-honors courses don’t allow. This means that the majority of the schools’ population is not benefiting from these opportunities. Instead, they are settling for lower-level courses that are not pushing them to the best of their abilities.
It is unfortunate that so many of our community’s young people are missing out on being academically challenged in ways that could ultimately change their lives. This all too familiar issue is a complex community problem with no simple solutions. However it is one that should be addressed with the appropriate sense of urgency.
Robin Mwai is a Sophomore at LaFollette High School and serves as a staff writer for Dane County’s Teen Newspaper Simpson Street Free Press. Deidre Green is a LaFollette High School Graduate and is now a UW-Madison Senior. She is also a graduate of Simpson Street Free Press and now serves as Managing Editor.

The Oklahoma Model for American Pre-K

Nicholas Kristof
As readers know, one of my hobby horses is the need for early childhood education as the most cost-effective way to break the cycles of poverty in America. But the issue never gets much traction, and one reason is the perception that it’s politically hopeless: Republicans would never go for such a program. My Sunday column tries to push back at the assumption that it’s hopeless and notes that one of the leaders in providing pre-K in America is-not Massachusetts, not New York, not some other blue state, but reliably red Oklahoma. It’s all the more surprising because Oklahoma spends less per pupil on education than almost any other state, and pays its teachers near the bottom. This is not a state that believes in lavish spending on schooling. Yet, quite remarkably, it provides universal high-quality pre-K, with a ratio of no more than 10 students per staff member, and all teachers have a college degree.
My own take is that even earlier interventions may get even more bang for the buck than pre-K for 4-year-olds, and sure enough Oklahoma also invests in those, including home visitation programs to coach parents on reading to toddlers and talking more to them. It also has some programs for kids 0 to 3 if they’re from disadvantaged families. These are no silver bullet to defeat poverty-there isn’t one-but there seems a recognition in Oklahoma that they work in improving school performance and life outcomes and reduce the risk that poverty will be transmitted from generation to generation. So if Oklahoma can do it, why not the rest of the country?
Bipartisan legislation is expected to be introduced this coming week in Congress to establish national support for pre-K programs, and polling shows the idea has broad support. It’ll be an uphill struggle, but I’m hoping that Congress will, like Oklahoma, see that this isn’t a social welfare program exactly, but an investment in our children and our future. Read the column and help spread the word about the need for this legislation!

The column: “Oklahoma! Where the Kids Learn Early”
“The aim is to break the cycle of poverty, which is about so much more than a lack of money.”

Help the United Way of Dane County Boost School Attendance

Wisconsin State Journal editorial

About a third of kindergartners in Madison schools miss 10 or more days of classes. And a fifth are “chronically absent,” meaning they miss 18 or more days, which is at least 10 percent of the school year.
Attendance improves by fifth grade and into middle school, then falls when students reach high school.
That’s why the United Way of Dane County this fall plans to emphasize in new ways the need for young parents to establish strong habits for children going to school every day (barring illness).
The effort — dubbed “Here!” — will stress the correlation between good attendance and academic success. It will include promotional materials at schools, follow-up calls to parents and encouragement from community leaders such as church pastors who will include the message in their sermons.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that the (high school) graduation rate is about the same as the attendance rate,” said Deedra Atkinson, the United Way’s senior vice president of community impact and marketing.
The nonprofit, as it launches its annual fundraiser today, also is committing more attention and resources to helping high school dropouts earn diplomas and find work.
The United Way does so much good work for our community that it deserves your financial support and time. The public is welcome at today’s lunch and launch of the United Way’s annual Days of Caring. So far, the number of volunteers is up about 400 people from last year, to 3,500.
The group’s annual fundraising goal is $18.1 million, up 3 percent from last year’s total collected, said campaign chairman Doug Nelson, regional president of BMO Harris Bank.
The United Way of Dane County will host its annual Days of Caring this week, starting today with a lunch and campaign kickoff at Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The public is welcome. To donate to the nonprofit’s fundraising effort go to or call 608-246-4350. To volunteer, visit or call 608-246-4357. Donate your time; donate your money.
Please help if you can.

A Team Approach to Get Students College Ready

David Bornstein
When Parker Sheffy, a first-year teacher in the Bronx Leadership Academy II, a high school in the South Bronx, talks shop with friends who are also new teachers, he often hears about the problems they are facing: students not showing up to class on time, not understanding their work, not doing homework. “I’m thinking: I don’t have that problem… I don’t have that problem…” Sheffy recalled. In his ninth grade integrated algebra class, he estimates that 80 to 90 percent are on track to pass the Regents exam, more than double last year’s figure.
“But I have to remind myself that this is not just because of me,” Sheffy said. “I’m one of six people who have created this class.”
Sheffy’s school is one of three New York City public schools working with an organization called Blue Engine, which recruits and places recent college graduates as full-time teaching assistants in high schools, helps teachers shift to a small-group classroom model with a ratio of one instructor for roughly every six students, uses data tracking to generate rapid-fire feedback so problems can be quickly addressed, and provides weekly instruction in “social cognition” classes, where students are introduced to skills and concepts — such as the difference between a “fixed” and a “growth” mind-set — that can help them grasp their untapped potential.
Blue Engine also targets algebra, geometry and English language arts in the ninth and 10th grades because performance in these so-called “gateway” courses is associated with college success.
Despite its modest size and short track record, Blue Engine has already seized the attention of educators and attracted notice from President Obama. Last year, in its schools, as a result of the program, the number of students who met the “college ready” standard — scoring above 80 on their Regents exams in algebra, geometry or English language arts — nearly tripled, from 49 to 140.
Katherine Callaghan, the principal of the Bronx Leadership Academy II, who has worked in the school for more than 10 years, said: “Blue Engine has moved a huge number of our students in a way that nothing else that we’ve ever tried has been able to do.” She added: “Last year we had a 44 percent pass rate on the integrated algebra Regents, with two kids scoring above an 80. This year, we’re on track for 75 or 80 percent passing, with 20 kids hitting the college-ready mark. We’re close to doubling our pass rate and multiplying by a factor of 10 our college-ready rate.”
Gains like this are not often seen in education. So it’s worth taking note. What’s happening?

Read more here.

No Rich Child Left Behind

Sean F. Reardon

Here’s a fact that may not surprise you: the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion.
Whether you think it deeply unjust, lamentable but inevitable, or obvious and unproblematic, this is hardly news. It is true in most societies and has been true in the United States for at least as long as we have thought to ask the question and had sufficient data to verify the answer.
What is news is that in the United States over the last few decades these differences in educational success between high- and lower-income students have grown substantially.
One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.
To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.
In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

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

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

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

Rigorous Schools Put College Dreams Into Practice

Kyle Spencer

ALONG his block in Newark’s West Ward, where drugs are endemic and the young residents talk about shootings with alarming nonchalance, Najee Little is known as the smart kid. He got all A’s his sophomore year, breezing through math and awing his English teachers. His mother, a day care worker, and father, who does odd jobs to make ends meet, have high aspirations for him. They want him to earn a college degree.
So last year, when Bard College opened an early college high school in Newark for disadvantaged students with dreams of a bachelor’s degree, he was sure he’d do well there. He wrote his first long paper on Plato’s “Republic,” expecting a top grade. He got a D minus. “Honestly,” he recalled, “I was kind of discouraged.”
That paper marked the beginning of a trying academic path that would both excite and disillusion him. The past two years have been peppered with some promising grades — an A in environmental science — and some doozies. He failed “Africa in World History” and squeaked by in calculus. Mostly, he came to realize that getting into college and staying there would be a herculean task. There was tricky grammar, hard math and tons of homework. There was the neighborhood cacophony to tune out and the call of his Xbox. And there was the fact that no one in his house could help him.
“My work is more advanced than anyone at home has experienced,” he said. And that, it turns out, is why the school had accepted him.

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

Mayor Soglin: The City Has to Help Students Who Live in Poverty

Jack Craver
The Capital Times

A number of figures stood out at the Ed Talks panel on the achievement gap that I attended last Wednesday night, part of a UW-Madison series of free conversations and presentations on educational issues. Here are two:
• 50: The percentage of children currently defined as low-income in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
• 9: The percentage of children defined as low-income when Paul Soglin was first elected mayor in 1973.
It is not just the schools’ responsibility to address the effects of such a dramatic increase in poverty, says the mayor, who participated on the panel along with School Board President James Howard and others.
“The school system has the children about 20 percent of the time,” Soglin said. “The remaining 80 percent is very critical.”
The city, he says, needs to help by providing kids with access to out-of-school programs in the evenings and during the summer. It needs to do more to fight hunger and address violence-induced trauma in children. And it needs to help parents get engaged in their kids’ education.
“We as a community, for all of the bragging about being so progressive, are way behind the rest of the nation in these areas,” he says.

Providence Wins $5 Million Grand Prize in Mayors Challenge

Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R. I. — Bloomberg Philanthropies has chosen Providence as the top winner of its Mayor Challenge.
The $5 million prize will be used to implement Mayor Angel Taveras’ initiative, Providence Talks, to increase the vocabulary of young students living in low-income homes before their fourth birthday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg previously said the challenge was launched in the fall of 2012 to inspire innovation in local government, and spread the very best ideas. Three hundred and five cities competed, and Providence was awarded the top prize because it had “the best potential to take root and spread,” read challenge rules. The initiative coincides with the mayor’s goal to increase reading proficiency to 70 percent for entering fourth graders by 2015. In Providence, less than half of the district’s fourth-grade students scored at or above proficiency on the state reading assessment in 2011.
More about “Providence Talks” here and here.
This initiative is based on the research done by Hart and Risley, as described in their book “Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Life of Young American Children.”

Come see the new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project

The UW-Odyssey Project changes lives for adults near the poverty level. Now in its tenth year, this inspirational project has empowered more than 250 low-income adults to find their voices and get a jumpstart at earning college degrees they never thought possible. Graduates of the program have journeyed from homelessness to UW-Madison degrees, from incarceration to meaningful work in the community.

You are warmly invited to a special screening of a new documentary about the UW-Odyssey Project on Thursday, December 6, at the Sundance Cinema (Hilldale Shopping Mall). Showings will be at 5:00, 5:40 and 6:20 p.m. in theater #3. Refreshments will be served in the second floor bistro. This event is free, but donations to the Odyssey Project’s important work will be gratefully appreciated.
For more information about the UW-Odyssey Project, the new documentary, and how to vote for Emily Auerbach (Odyssey Project founder and director) for Lady Godiva Chocolate’s Inspirational Woman of the Year, go to

Paul Vallas, a School Reform Town Hall May 26 2012

Paul Vallas at LaFollette Video

School reform superintendent Paul Vallas spoke at LaFollette High School at the behest of Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson. The two and a half hour presentation with question and answer periods as attended by about 100 people in the LaFollette Auditorium.
Paul Vallas has been the Superintendent of schools in Chicago (CPS), Philadelphia, New Orleans, and currently Bridgeport Connecticut. He is currently hired to improve the schools in both Chile and Haiti, and has been praised in two State of the Union addresses. His work as a superintendent has engendered both strong support and strong disagreement.
The two and a half hour meeting has been divided into five clips and I have tried to summarize comments made by Paul Vallas, the panel and the audience members who spoke.

Should Home-Schoolers Play for High School Teams?

Room for Debate:

Legislation to allow home-schooled students to play varsity sports at public schools passed the Republican-controlled Virginia Assembly on Wednesday. It will now go before the State Senate. Robert McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican governor, has said he supports the bill.
Alabama and Mississippi are considering similar legislation, and 25 states now allow home-schooled students to play sports at public schools with varying restrictions. Is this a move in the right direction?

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

Pat Schneider:

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad packed the house Monday night for what he termed “a call to action” to the community to join his administration in a strategy to close the racial achievement gap that has haunted the school district for decades.
His blueprint for change, “Building our Future,” weighs in at 100 pages and took an hour to outline with a Power Point presentation to an audience of about 200 at the Fitchburg Community Center. The proposal will be digested, dissected and debated in the weeks to come, including at a series of community meetings hosted by the school district.
But one thing is clear: from Nerad’s point of view, the future of children of color in our city lies not only in the hands of the teachers and administrators who shape their lives at school, but also in the hands of their families, their neighbors, and members of the community who live and work all around town.
“It can’t be the schools alone; it has to be the schools working with the community if we’re going to have outcomes,” he said.

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

Madison Read Your Heart Out Day set for Feb. 10

A. David Dahmer:

Research supports parental involvement as a viable means of enhancing children’s academic success. Once again, Michelle Belnavis, a cultural relevance instructional resource teacher (K-5) for MMSD, has organized an event that brings African American community leaders, families, staff, students, and neighborhood organizations together to provide inspiration and information to schools and neighborhoods in honor of National African American Parent Involvement Day.
“We have been doing a lot of research in looking at the effect of having parents’ actively involved in their children’s education and a big part is that relationship-building,” Belnavis tells The Madison Times. “This gives an opportunity for teachers and families and parents to come together for the purpose of celebrating unity. I think a lot of times when parents come into school there’s a feeling like, ‘I don’t really belong here’ or ‘My children go to school here but I don’t really have a connection with the teacher.’

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

David Cohen:

Los Angeles Unified School District is embroiled in negotiations over teacher evaluations, and will now face pressure from outside the district intended to force counter-productive teacher evaluation methods into use. Yesterday, I read this Los Angeles Times article about a lawsuit to be filed by an unnamed “group of parents and education advocates.” The article notes that, “The lawsuit was drafted in consultation with EdVoice, a Sacramento-based group. Its board includes arts and education philanthropist Eli Broad, former ambassador Frank Baxter and healthcare company executive Richard Merkin.” While the defendant in the suit is technically LAUSD, the real reason a lawsuit is necessary according to the article is that “United Teachers Los Angeles leaders say tests scores are too unreliable and narrowly focused to use for high-stakes personnel decisions.” Note that, once again, we see a journalist telling us what the unions say and think, without ever, ever bothering to mention why, offering no acknowledgment that the bulk of the research and the three leading organizations for education research and measurement (AERA, NCME, and APA) say the same thing as the union (or rather, the union is saying the same thing as the testing expert). Upon what research does the other side base arguments in favor of using test scores and “value-added” measurement (VAM) as a legitimate measurement of teacher effectiveness? They never answer, but the debate somehow continues ad nauseum.
It’s not that the plaintiffs in this case are wrong about the need to improve teacher evaluations. Accomplished California Teachers has published a teacher evaluation report that has concrete suggestions for improving evaluations as well, and we are similarly disappointed in the implementation of the Stull Act, which has been allowed to become an empty exercise in too many schools and districts.

Much more on “value added assessment”, here.

Annual “Souper Bowl” Attracts Hundreds to Madison West High School

A day before the Super Bowl, hundreds of people lined up for an altogether different, though similarly named, event.
The annual “Souper Bowl” event is now in its 16th year raising money for Habitat for Humanity.
This year’s “Souper Bowl” was held at Madison West High School where attendees bought bowls made by members of the community.

More time for open enrollment

Matthew DeFour:

Wisconsin’s public school open enrollment period begins Monday, and for the first time, families will have three months to decide whether and where to enroll their students outside of their home school district.
For the Madison School District, the extra time could mean more families choosing to leave for other districts or virtual schools, though Superintendent Dan Nerad said it’s too early to know what the affect will be.
“By the nature that there’s an open window, that’s likely to happen for us as well as other districts around the state,” Nerad said.
Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last week extending the official open enrollment period from three weeks in February to three months. Applications must be completed by April 30.
Proponents of the change, including school choice advocates and the virtual school industry, tout open enrollment as giving parents and students more control of their educational options.

Related: Madison School District Outbound Open Enrollment Applications 2010-2011 School Year; As of 3/18/2010.

Evaluating the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 2012 Plan to Eliminate the Racial Achievement Gap

Kaleem Caire, via email:

February 6, 2011
Greetings Community Member.
This evening, at 6pm at the Fitchburg Library, Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Daniel Nerad will present his plan for eliminating the racial achievement gap in our public schools to the Board of Education. We anticipate there will be many citizens in the audience listening in.
While we are pleased that our advocacy over the last 19 months has resulted in the District developing a plan to address the gap, we are also mindful of history. Our organization has pushed hard for our public school system to embrace change, address the gap and expand educational opportunity many times before.
In the 1960s, Madison learned that a wide gap existed between black and white students in reading, math and high school completion in Madison’s public schools. In the 1970s, the Urban League of Greater Madison reported that just 60% of black students were graduating from the city’s public high schools. In the 1980s, ULGM released a widely reported study that found the average GPA for a black high school student attending the city’s public high schools was 1.58 on a 4.00 scale, with 61% scoring below a 2.0 GPA. It also found that a disproportionate number of black students were enrolled in remedial math and science classes, and that black students were significantly over-represented in special education and school suspensions. Then, in the 1990s, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute issued a report that stated there were two school districts in MMSD, one that poorly served black children and one that served everyone else.
Today, just 48% of black and 56% of Latino students are graduating from high school. Just 1% of black and 7% of Latino high school seniors are academically ready for college. Nearly 40% of all black boys in middle school are enrolled in special education, and more than 60% of black and 50% of Latino high school students earn below a 2.0 GPA.
Over the years, several district-wide efforts have been tried. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have either been discontinued, unevenly implemented, ineffective, lacked the support of parents/community/teachers, or failed to go far enough to address the myriad needs of students, families, teachers and schools. Madison also has a well-documented history of not heeding the advice of leaders and educators of color or educational experts, and not investing in efforts to codify and replicate successful strategies employed by its most effective educators. MMSD also has not acted fast enough to address its challenges and rarely looks beyond its borders for strategies that have proven effective elsewhere in the country.
The stakes are higher now; too high to continue on our present course of incrementalism rooted in our fear of the unknown, fear of significant change, and fear of admitting that our view of Madison being the utopic experience of the Midwest and #1 city in the U.S. doesn’t apply to everyone who lives here. We no longer have the luxury of time to figure out how to address the gap. We cannot afford to lose nearly 300 black, 200 Latino and an untold number of Southeast Asian and underprivileged white students each year from our public schools. And we cannot afford to see hundreds of students leave our school system each year for public and private schools outside of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
We must embrace strategies that work. We must also behave differently than we have in the past, and can no longer afford to be afraid of addressing intersection or race and poverty, and how they are playing out in our schools, social relationships and community, and impacting the educational success of our kids.
Furthermore, we need all hands on deck. Everyone in our community must play a role in shaping the self-image, expectations and outcomes of our children – in school, in the community and at home. Some children have parents who spend more quality time with their career and coworkers than with their family. Some children have a parent or relative who struggles to raise them alone. Some have parents who are out of work, under stress and struggling to find a job to provide for their family. And unfortunately, some children have parents who make bad decisions and/or don’t care about their well-being. Regardless of the situation, we cannot allow the lack of quality parenting to be the excuse why we don’t reach, teach, or hold children accountable and prepare them for the future.
As we prepare to review the Superintendent’s plan, we have developed a rubric that will allow for an objective review of his proposal(s). The attached rubric, which you can access by clicking here, was developed and informed by members of the staff and Board of Director of ULGM, business and community leaders, and teachers and leading experts in the field of K-12 and higher education. The tool will be used by an independent Community Review Panel, organized by the Urban League. pver the next several weeks to vet the plan. The intent of this review is to ensure MMSD has an optimal plan for ensuring that all of the children it serves succeed academically and graduate from high school prepared for college and work.
Specifically, our reasons for establishing this rubric and a Community Review Panel are four-fold:

  • Develop an objective and comprehensive understanding of the plan and its many elements;
  • Objectively review the efficacy of the plan, its goals and objectives, and desired outcomes;
  • Formally communicate thoughts, concerns and ideas for supporting and/or improving the plan; and
  • Effectively engage the Madison community in supporting and strengthening its public schools.

We have high expectations of the Superintendent’s plan. We hope for a bold, transformational, aggressive and concise plan, and stand ready to assist the Superintendent and his team in any way we can. We hope you will be standing their with us, with your arms outstretched and ready to uplift or babies – the next generation.
All Hands on Deck!
Team Urban League of Greater Madison
Phone: 608-729-1200
Fax: 608-729-1205
Urban League of Greater Madison 2012 Agenda

Successful schools get high marks for culture

Alan Borsuk:

Here are things that impressed Desiree Pointer Mace when she and her husband were considering where to send their first child for school: The seventh and eighth graders at Woodlands School, 5510 W. Blue Mound Road, held the door for guests, said hello and shook hands. And you could ask a student in any class what he or she was working on and get a good answer.
Pointer Mace is not your typical parent. She is associate dean for graduate programs in education at Alverno College.
But if her credentials are distinctive, the goals she has for school for her children are not unusual: A place where they thrive and develop, both in academics and in personal traits.
Only some of the things she – or any good parent – want can be reduced to numbers or grades. A lot of important aspects of a school involve quality, not quantity. They can be put under the broad label of “school culture.”
Show me a good school and I’ll show you a place where kids not only get good grades and scores, but a place where relationships of all kinds matter and are healthy.

Research about the (Achievement) Gap

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

The high school graduation racial gap has been in the Madison news as though it only affects our fair city. It does not require much research, something the local media has failed to do, to see this is a national concern. According to an analysis called “Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education,” nationally only 47% of black males graduated from high school in 2007. (1) It has been reported that Madison’s graduation rate for black males is 50%. Obviously a pathetic rate compared to the 87% for whites, but what has not been a part of the local conversation is how Madison compares in relationship to the rest of the nation, and perhaps figure out where black males are graduating at a higher rate, and why. The Schott’s report, revealed two communities with large minority populations with much better graduation outcomes than the rest of the nation, Baltimore and Fort Bend, Texas. What MMSD should be looking into is what are these cities doing, and what curricula or community effort has made them successful? One interesting part of the gap for Madison and the state of Wisconsin is the high rate of whites graduating. While Wisconsin is the worst defender in the racial gap, the states total graduation rate is one the highest in the nation.
When you read various assessments of the “reason” for the gap nationally, the theories include the lack of financial investment, lack of good teachers, and the lack of community structure. While I find these proposals reasonable, I fail to understand how in this community they are relevant. MMSD spends well over $13,000 per student, lack the overwhelming urban problems of Milwaukee and Chicago, and have many fine teachers that somehow get non-minority students educated. These excuses ring hallow as to why MMSD has such a poor rate. What does ring true is we are not educating the population as it exist today. In the last 25 years the MMSD’s minority rate has increased from 20% to one closer to 48%. (2) In the last 25 years MMSD has changed from a district of less than 25% free and reduced lunch to one that is closer to 50%. (3)Madison is still teaching to the population of 25 years ago, the students have changed, but the curriculum has not.
Perhaps, MMSD could improve the graduation rate for all students, with a significant change of focus. For example, MMSD’s high school’s emphasize 4 year college candidates when many of the students would do better in a 2 year or technology school focus. There has been an increased coordination with MATC, but what would be beneficial is to offer a dual graduation for students, so as they graduate from MMSD, they also have a 2 year degree or a certificate from MATC. This is a system that has been successful in a high school in North Carolina. (4) A student that wants to head to college still has that opportunity and perhaps a chance to make some money to support the effort. Perhaps, another way to improve graduation outcomes would include an overhaul of the summer school program. Currently, MMSD summer school staff are paid poorly, the programs focus is mostly on students that have flunked their classes and need a recovery grade, and the programs poor reputation have lead many staff to discourage students from participating. (5) Why not invest in a comprehensive retooling of the summer program that provides a better salary for staff, and includes enrichment, regular classes, as well as recovery options. Let’s find a creative summer program with smaller class sizes and build a program that is the envy of the country and one that works. If summer school is going to be provided, then make it an awesome program, not just a warehouse for failing kids. Perhaps, as most research reveals, early education is a key component to better graduation outcomes, and the district finally is getting a 4K program up and running after a decade long battle with the union.
Madison Prep was an idea, but it is a unique group of students that would select to participate in such a rigorous program, which means an already motivated student or parents with very high expectations, both factors that frequently mean a student would do well anyway. MMSD needs to look at students that may not be that motivated or academically talented and assess what works to keep them engaged. The one thing MMSD has no control over is probably the most important issue for a students outcome. Research concludes the number one predictor of a students academic success is parental expectations. (6) Our schools cannot change parental expectations, however, they can change what a student expects. MMSD students need to expect a positive future, a purpose and a reason to stay in school. Not all kids will succeed but more than half of the black male students should. Let’s develop a district that gives all the students the opportunity to succeed. Public school data

This statement is based on personal experience of having many staff, from middle school up to high school, discourage my daughter who struggles in math from attending summer school. I have also spoke to many parents with the same experience.
*** Of note the data of graduation rate is debated in academic circles as the data is not always standardized. Some data includes GED and 5 year rates others include only 4 year rates.
Mary Kay Battaglia

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

More on the economic benefits of universities

Andrew Gelman, via a kind reader’s email:

Last year my commenters and I discussed Ed Glaeser’s claim that the way to create a great city is to “create a great university and wait 200 years.”
I passed this on to urbanist Richard Florida and received the following response:

This is a tough one with lots of causality issues. Generally speaking universities make places stronger. But this is mainly the case for smaller, college towws. Boulder, Ann Arbor and so on, which also have very high human capital levels and high levels of creative, knowledge and professional workers.
For big cities the issue is mixed. Take Pittsburgh with CMU and Pitt or Baltimore with Hopkins, or St Louis. The list goes on and on.
Kevin Stolarick and I framed this very crudely as a transmitter reciever issue. The university in a city like this can generate a lot of signal, in terms of innovation or even human capital and the city may not receive it or push it away. A long ago paper by Mike Fogarty showed how innovations in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, by universities in these communities, tended to be picked up in Silicon Valley or even Tokyo.

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

Imbalance of power in education

The Guardian:

The dangers which Peter Wilby points out (Does Gove realise he is empowering future dictators?, 31 January) were recognised 70 years ago. Unfortunately secretaries of state know very little history. The Oxford historian Dr Marjorie Reeves, when invited to be on the Central Advisory Council For Education (England) in 1946, was told by the permanent secretary, John Redcliffe-Maud, that the main duty of council members was “to be prepared to die at the first ditch as soon as politicians try to get their hands on education”.
A war had been fought to prevent the consequences of such concentrated power. The 1944 Education Act, hammered out during the war years, created a “maintained system” of education as a balance of power between central government, local government responsibility, the voluntary bodies (mainly the churches) and the teachers. That balance is now disappearing fast, without the public debate it needs and with hardly a squeak from Labour. The existing education legislation refers to the fast-disappearing “maintained schools”, leaving academies and free schools exposed, without the protection of the law, to whatever whimsical ideas are dreamt up by the present or future secretaries of state, to whom they are contracted with minimal accountability to parliament.
Professor Richard Pring
Green Templeton College, Oxford
• The removal of 3,100 vocational subjects from the school performance tables from 2014 (Report, 31 January) has major implications. It is certainly the case that “perverse incentives” were created by the league tables to use soft options to boost school league table positions – the phenomenon known as gaming. However, the cull to 70 accepted vocational subjects, with 55 allowed on the margins, essentially destroys vocational and technical education. Given that the old basis is the one for the current (2012 and 2013) tables, a whole raft of students are on worthless courses.

‘Business as usual’ isn’t working for Madison schools

Nichelle Nichols:

I am running for the Madison School Board because I care about the state of our public schools and this community.
The facts are: I am employed at the Urban League of Greater Madison and spoke in support of Madison Prep as a parent and citizen. Am I running because Madison Prep was voted down? No. My focus is broader than the charter school proposal, but the Madison Prep vote was a defining moment in my decision to declare candidacy.
It became apparent to me as I sat in the auditorium that night that we can no longer afford to wait for our district to take the casual approach to the urgent matter of minority under-achievement. Our entire community is affected by the failure to do so.
Every child in this district — from the at-risk, the middle-of-the-road student, to the most academically talented — should have an equal opportunity to thrive in our school system. And here’s the reality, Madison — we are not delivering.
It’s been hard for us to accept that we are a different community than we were 10 years ago, but we are. If we move beyond politically correct conversations about race and poverty, we’d readily realize that we cannot go about “business as usual.”

The 2012 Madison School Board Contest:

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

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

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

Neerav Kingsland:

You work immense hours and subject yourself to scathing criticism all in the pursuit of better serving children. I know a few of you–and without fail you are all passionate about your work. In short, I’m a fan. So know that I’m not writing this letter to attack anyone–rather, I aim to offer advice, which I hope some of you accept.
In the following letter I aim to convince you of this: the single most important reform strategy you can undertake is to increase charter school quality and market share in your city–with the ultimate aim of turning your district into a charter school district.
In other words: rid yourself of the notion that your current opinions on curriculum, teacher evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic gains in student achievement. If history tells us anything, they will not be:

Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V

Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education

Linda Perlstein:

They raise chickens. They grow vegetables. They knit. Now a new generation of urban parents is even teaching their own kids.
In the beginning, your kids need you–a lot. They’re attached to your hip, all the time. It might be a month. It might be five years. Then suddenly you are expected to send them off to school for seven hours a day, where they’ll have to cope with life in ways they never had to before. You no longer control what they learn, or how, or with whom.
Unless you decide, like an emerging population of parents in cities across the country, to forgo that age-old rite of passage entirely.
When Tera and Eric Schreiber’s oldest child was about to start kindergarten, the couple toured the high-achieving public elementary school a block away from their home in an affluent Seattle neighborhood near the University of Washington. It was “a great neighborhood school,” Tera says. They also applied to a private school, and Daisy was accepted. But in the end they chose a third path: no school at all.

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

via email:

Below is a letter from Dr. Daniel Nerad, Superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District. Please show up on Monday, February 6 to learn about his plan and register to participate in an input session. We need you to exercise your voice, share your view and speak to our children’s needs. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
— “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
February 2, 2012
RE: Invitation to attend Board of Education meeting on Monday, February 6, 2012
Dear Community Leader:
As you may know, this Monday, February 6, 2012, we are poised to present to the Board of Education a significant and system-wide plan to close the achievement gaps in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Building Our Future: A Plan for Eliminating Gaps in MMSD Student Achievement
We invite you to attend Monday’s Board of Education workshop at the Fitchburg Public Library, 5530 Lacy Road in Fitchburg beginning at 6:00 p.m. This workshop is for presentation purposes only. Members of the public will not have the opportunity to speak. However, Monday’s workshop marks the beginning of a two-month, community-wide engagement process. We invite parents, students, and residents concerned about the future of our children to join one or more of the many sessions held throughout Madison to learn about the achievement gaps in the MMSD and discuss and provide input into the plan.
I have greatly appreciated your concern, commitment, and willingness to challenge us to provide the kind of education that every child deserves and is due. Together, we must eliminate our achievement gaps.
The Board of Education workshop on Monday, February 6th is just the beginning. Please consider participating in one of the upcoming information and input sessions. To register for a session, go to:
Beginning Tuesday, February 7, go to: to read more about the Plan.
Daniel A. Nerad
Superintendent of Schools
Reprinted from a letter sent to community leaders today by Superintendent Nerad. We are sharing this to inform you and help the Madison Metropolitan School District get the word out. We have not yet seen the plan and therefore, this email should not viewed as an endorsement of it. We will reserve judgment until after the plan is released, we have had a chance to review it, and the public has responded.

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

Matthew DeFour:

lot is riding on Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s upcoming plan for improving low-income, minority student achievement.
The plan is billed as a blueprint for addressing an intractable, divisive issue in Madison, and it could also factor into the upcoming School Board discussion of Nerad’s future in Madison.
The United Way of Dane County has made closing the achievement gap one of its primary issues for more than 15 years through the Schools of Hope tutoring program. But president Leslie Howard said the recent debate over the proposed Madison Prepatory Academy charter school has drawn more public attention to the issue than ever before.
“I don’t want to say something so grandiose that everything’s at stake, but in some ways it feels like that,” Howard said.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Related links:
When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before
“They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!
Acting White
Event (2.16.2012) The Quest for Educational Opportunity: The History of Madison’s Response to the Academic Achievement Gap (1960-2011)

Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership

Laurie Rogers

“And I tell you this: you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership’.”
— Dwight D. Eisenhower, as told to Emmet John Hughes, for “Re-Viewing the Cold War: Domestic Factors and Foreign Policy in the East-West Confrontation”
Last year, someone said to me: “Laurie, I heard you’re a nut job. So tell me, who are you, really?” I said: “You’ve heard me talk. What do you think?” The person chuckled and said: “I kind of like you. I think you care.”
I do care. I have a fierce protective instinct toward the community, the country, and the children. I’m a patriot, but no politician. I’m not interested in making money or gaining political allies through District 81, the union or the media. I was trained as an old-style reporter, with an eye to supportable facts and a determination to know and report the truth. I’m not a natural extrovert, but five years of dealing with administrators and board directors have turned me into a fighter. I’m not a liar, and I’m no quitter, and I don’t know how to do just the bare minimum of anything (except dusting).

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

Kaleem Caire, via email

In 2011 Kaleem Caire, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, reintroduced the topic of the Academic Achievement Gap that exists in theMadison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). As reported, just 48% of African American students and 56% of Latino students graduated on time from MMSD in 2010.
Just as staggering as these statistics is the fact that until the conversation was reintroduced, a large majority of our community was not aware that the academic achievement gap even existed. Why is that? Four more important questions may be: How did we get here?What have we proposed before? Why has this problem persisted? AND – What should we do now? To answer these questions, and many more, the Urban League of Greater Madison would like to invite you to participate in a community forum moderated by Derrell Connor.
6:00 Welcome Derrell Connor
6:05 Introduction of Panel
Milele Chikasa Anana
Dr. Richard Harris
Joseph Hill
Dr. John Odom
Alfonso Studesville
6:15 History of Madison’s Academic Achievement Gap
6:30 Panel
6:45 Q&A from Audience Members

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

A Score Card for Changing Schools

Elbert Chu:

Sixty-two New York City schools are on a path to be closed or otherwise re-shaped this year. Here’s a score card to help you keep track of what schools are affected and how.
This post lists the 19 schools that the Department of Education wants to phase out, along with the six that will have their middle school grades removed (that’s called truncation).
Until Feb. 9, when the Panel for Educational Policy votes on the changes, hearings are going on almost every night at the schools that are to be phased out or truncated. You can find the calendar of hearings here.

American school kids trash Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

Graeme Culliford and Nick Owens:

It was Jamie Oliver’s toughest challenge… getting US ­youngsters to ditch junk food and eat a healthier diet.
But six months after he ­convinced an LA school to swap fattening burgers for low-calorie salads, his ­revamped menu is – literally – being binned.
Hundreds of students at West Adams Preparatory High School, where his hit show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution was filmed, are ­refusing to eat his cuisine.
Instead, bins are overflowing with the TV chef’s veg curries, quinoa salads, Thai ­noodles and wheatbread burgers.
Many youngsters even go without lunch altogether.

Madison Prep’s Private School Plans “in Doubt”

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Preparatory Academy doesn’t have the money to open as a private school next fall and its future is in the hands of the Madison School Board, according to a lead supporter of the charter school proposal.
Supporters still want to open Madison Prep in the fall but haven’t been able to raise about $1.2 million needed to run the school because its future beyond next year remains uncertain, Madison Prep board chairman David Cagigal said last week; moreover, a key donor said her support is contingent on School Board backing.
Cagigal said the private school option was never intended to be more than an interim plan before the school opened as a public charter school. One of the most common reasons charter schools fail is lack of funding, he added.
“We can’t approach these donors unless we mitigate the risk,” Cagigal said. “The only way we can do that is seek a 2013 vote.”
Cagigal acknowledged that if the School Board doesn’t vote on opening Madison Prep as a charter school in 2013, “then we may have to wait.”

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
The fate of Madison Prep was discussed at a recent school board candidate forum.

Oakland schools denied secession bids

Katy Murphy:

Charter schools: The Oakland school board rejected the charter school petitions submitted by the faculties of ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, public elementary schools in the Fruitvale area that want to secede from the school district. The district’s charter schools office recommended that the board approve the request, but Superintendent Tony Smith took a different stance, pointing to the financial investment the district has made in the schools since they opened.
This section of a staff resolution seems to sum up the superintendent’s position: “Whereas, the District cannot succeed at its strategic plan to create a Full Service Community School District that serves the whole child … if after millions of dollars in investment, individual schools that have achieved because of the District’s investment can separate and opt out of the District, with the consequence that the District loses its collective identity as a school system serving children in all neighborhoods in

Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching


PLEASE NOTE: This is a provisional website meant to convey vital information to those interested. Our much-improved website will launch here soon, so stay tuned!
Launched through a generous gift from Gus and Rita Hauser, the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) is a Presidential Initiative to catalyze experimentation in teaching that improves student learning. It will capitalize on, strengthen, and broaden the scope of existing learning and teaching activities at Harvard, transform Harvard students’ educational experience in keeping with current and future technological and pedagogical needs, build on Harvard’s leadership in the research, application, and assessment of innovative pedagogy, and develop a robust, synergistic network of expertise, scholarly work, and creativity through dedicated University support that flows to the Schools and allows for sharing across Harvard campuses.

History, Not “Conspiracy”: Kaleem Caire’s Connections

Allen Ruff, via a kind email:

First of a series
The recent controversy over the Urban League of Greater Madison’s proposal for a Madison Preparatory Academy has been framed primarily as a local story pitting contending interests within the city. The charter school’s promoters, supporters and mainstream media have portrayed the ULGM’s CEO and President, Kaleem Caire as the Prep’s public champion and native son returned home on a mission to help “close the achievement gap,” the racial disparities in Madison’s schools.
But Caire’s well-established national ties, spanning more than a decade, to numbers of conservative foundations, think tanks and individuals bent on privatizing public school coffers, creating for-profit schools, and destroying teachers’ unions, certainly suggest that there is more to the story.
Caire has consistently dismissed any suggestion of his links to various right-wing efforts. On occasion he has admitted some distant connections but asserted his independence by saying, “They have their agenda, but we have ours.” Lately, he has taken to waving off critic’s references to such ties as nothing more than “guilt-by-association crap” or part of a “conspiracy” and “whisper campaign” coming from those trying to discredit the Mad Prep Academy project. However, a readily traceable history reveals some truth to the charges.

180K PDF version.
Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
Clusty Search: Allen Ruff, Blekko, google, bing.

Raising Wisconsin’s Student Achievement Bar?

Alan Borsuk:

What if you suddenly found out that half of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin, all kids you thought were highly rated readers, really didn’t merit being called proficient? That instead of four out of five being pretty decent in math, it was really two out of five?
You better start thinking how you’d react because it’s likely that is what’s coming right at us. That’s how dramatic a proposal last week by the state Department of Public Instruction is.
As parents, teachers, school leaders, politicians, community leaders and taxpayers, will we be motivated to do better? Will we see the need for change? Will we rise to the occasion? Or will we settle for being discouraged and basically locked into what we’ve come to expect?
Here’s what’s going on: With Congress failing to pass a revision, originally due in 2007, of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education has begun issuing waivers from the enforcement program of the increasingly dysfunctional law. Wisconsin wants a waiver – it’s one of the things people such as Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic-oriented Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers agree on. So a task force developed a proposal. People have until Feb. 3 to react to the proposal and the application is to be submitted Feb. 21.
The plan will change a lot of important dynamics of what students and schools in Wisconsin are expected to accomplish. It calls for publicly rating all schools on a 1 to 100 point scale, with student outcomes as a key factor. Schools that score low will face orders to improve and, possibly, closing. And that goes for every school with students whose education is paid for with public dollars – in other words, private schools in the voucher programs for Milwaukee and Racine kids are included.
Overall, the waiver plan means we are at the point where Wisconsin gets serious about raising expectations for student achievement. Wisconsin is regarded as having one of the lowest bars in the U.S. for rating a student as proficient. No more, the proposal says.
Eighth-grade reading: Using the WKCE measuring stick, 86% of students were rated as “advanced” or “proficient.” Using the NAEP measuring stick, it was 35% – a 51-point difference. At least as vivid: Using the WKCE measure, 47% of eighth-graders were “advanced,” the top bracket. Using the NAEP measure, it was 3%. Three percent! In other words, only a handful of kids statewide would be labeled advanced under the new system, not the nearly half we’re used to.
Fourth-grade reading: On the WKCE scale, 82% were proficient or advanced. On the NAEP scale, it was 33%.
Eighth-grade math: WKCE, 78% proficient. NAEP: 41%.
Fourth-grade math: WKCE: 79% proficient. NAEP: 47%.

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

Madison Teachers Candidate Endorsement(s)

To all of you with #recallwithdrawal: Time to focus on Arlene and Micheal for #MMSDBOE!! #99percent
MTI is officially endorsing Arlene Silviera for Madison School Board. Come meet her tonight! 100 WI Ave #700 5-7pm

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.
Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichele Nichols
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
Michael Flores
via a kind reader’s email

Progessive Dane Endorses Michael Flores & Arlene Silveira (i) for Madison School Board

Progressive Dane:

Madison School District Board
Seat 1: Arlene Silveira Website / Facebook
Seat 2: Michael Flores Website / Facebook
Now we have to make sure they get elected! That takes money (some) and work (lots).
The money part is easy–come to the Progressive Dane Campaign Fund-raiser
Sunday February 12, 5-7 pm
Cardinal Bar, 418 E Wilson St
(Potluck food, Cash Bar, Family Friendly)
Meet the candidates, hear about Madison School District and Dane County issues, pick some to work on this year!

Both Madison School Board races are contested this year.

Seat 1 Candidates:

Nichele Nichols

Arlene Silveira (incumbent)

Seat 2 Candidates:

Mary Burke

Michael Flores

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio.

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

Hartford Business, via a kind Doug Newman email:

First Niagara Bank has pledged $3 million to support a nonprofit group that is representing business interests in Connecticut’s education reform debate.
The money will go to Hartford’s Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), which is led by a group of prominent Connecticut business leaders including former Hartford Financial Services Group CEO Ramani Ayer, and Peyton Patterson, the former chief executive of NewAllinace Bank, which was acquired by First Niagara Bank last year.
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform also unveiled Thursday its education agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which includes urging the state to adopt:
–Teacher and leader employment and retention policies that attract the highest quality professionals and insist upon effectiveness as defined by their ability to demonstrate improvement in student performance, not seniority, as the measure of success defined by redesigned evaluation systems.

Let’s evaluate all ways to close gap

Madison School Board Candidate Mary Burke

n recent listening sessions with Madison parents, I heard how we can improve our schools, what we can be really proud of and stories about our wonderful teachers. In these discussions and in others, people have talked about addressing the racial achievement gap and shared concerns about Madison Prep.
For the 12 years I have been involved in Madison schools, I have been championing education and addressing the racial achievement gap. An East High teacher and I co-founded the AVID/TOPS program, which I also supported financially and continue to co-chair. This program has increased the number of students graduating and going on to post-secondary education. But AVID TOPS alone is not enough. We need to do more.
When Madison Prep was discussed last fall, it was the only proposal put on the table in the last five years to significantly address the racial achievement gap. At that time the teachers union and the planners of Madison Prep were in agreement that the school would run with Madison School District employees, union teachers and under the leadership of the district (as an instrumentality). A major concern raised was that Madison Prep would pull resources needed by existing schools.

How School Choice Became an Explosive Issue

Kevin Carey:

Bill Cosby and Dick Morris presumably disagree about most things, so it’s instructive to note that both have officially endorsed “School Choice Week,” which began yesterday with a series of rallies and events around the country celebrating the idea of parents being able to decide where their children go to school. Indeed, school choice seems like such an obviously good idea that the most interesting thing about School Choice Week is why it exists at all.
That school choice is valuable is beyond dispute. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar private school industry serving millions of students. And it’s why there is a much larger system of school choice embedded in the American real estate market. While some parents pay school tuition directly, many more pay it through their monthly mortgage and property tax bills. Anyone who has deliberately purchased a home in a “good” school district is, by definition, a beneficiary and supporter of school choice.

School choice is alive and growing — in other states

Richard Rider:

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

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

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

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

1.25.2012 Madison School Board Candidate DCCPA Event Audio

Listen to the event via this 77MB mp3 audio file.
The event was sponsored by the Dane County Council of Public Affairs.
Seat 1 Candidates:
Nichele Nichols
Arlene Silveira (incumbent)
Seat 2 Candidates:
Mary Burke
Michael Flores
via a kind reader. It is great to see competitive races.
UPDATE 2.8.2012: A transcript is now available.

Coming soon: A new Florida school grading formula

Kathleen McGrory:

The way Florida grades its public schools will soon be changing.
On Tuesday, the state Board of Education heard an extensive presentation on proposed changes to the school grading formula.
The ideas ran the gamut, from incorporating the test scores of children with disabilities, to giving extra points to students who boost their test scores into the highest range.
Of course, high school grades will have to take into account the new end-of-course exams, which are being given this year in algebra, geometry and biology. Some middle-school students will also be taking the exams — and the grades given to middle schools need to reflect that, too.

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

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.
At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we’d had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don’t get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), “traditional math” is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly “taking the lead” and teaching their parents.
Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a “balanced” program looks like – as if that’s what Spokane actually has.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

School reform proposals are in limbo in Missouri General Assembly

Jason Hancock:

Missouri lawmakers are facing increasing pressure to deal with a potential flood of student transfers stemming from the loss of accreditation in urban school districts like Kansas City’s.
But looming over this year’s legislative session is a pledge by House Speaker Steve Tilley, a Perryville Republican, that any plan to deal with school transfers to suburban districts, or adjustments to the state’s school funding formula, be coupled with ideas that have doomed previous reform efforts.
Those include controversial measures such as expanding charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure, basing teacher pay on student achievement and offering tax credit vouchers to parents who want to send children to private schools.

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

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

MADISON — Wisconsin’s request for waivers from several provisions of federal education law creates the expectation that every child will graduate ready for college and careers by setting higher standards for students, educators, and schools.
“Education for today’s world requires increased rigor and higher expectations,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms that would help more students gain the skills needed for further education and the workforce. Wisconsin’s request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment, and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes.”
To receive waivers, state education agencies must demonstrate how they will use flexibility from NCLB requirements to address four principles: transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support; evaluating and supporting teacher and principal effectiveness; and reducing duplication. The Department of Public Instruction has posted its draft waiver request online and is asking for public comment through a survey. After the two-week comment period, the agency will revise the waiver request and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education by Feb. 21.

Some college, but no degree

Emily Hanford:

Kai Ryssdal: However students get their textbooks — on an iPad or the old-fashioned way — those books don’t do any good unless they’re actually used.
There are 37 million people in this country who’ve started college, who have some credits — but never finished. When they do that, when they drop out, there are costs — to them, and to the rest of us, in the billions of dollars, in wasted loans and grants and lost opportunities. Those costs are one reason college dropouts are starting to get more attention from the Obama administration on down.
But finding ways for people to finish their degrees might mean rethinking the way Americans go to college. Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks reports.

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

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

Charter schools are public schools. Historically, however, the relationship between school districts and charters has been nonexistent at best, antagonistic at worst. As the charter sector continues to grow steadily, an analysis of the national landscape explores how that relationship needs to start changing–and where it already has.
This year’s 6th annual edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality provides a clear roadmap for school districts and charter schools interested in working together to improve education options. The report explains the risks and technical challenges behind charter-district collaboration and provides powerful examples of how they can be overcome.

Are national charter schools a game changer or a fad?

Alan Borsuk:

Where will the thin blue line lead these children? What will their path mean to Milwaukee’s education scene?
I’m talking about the 330 kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Milwaukee Scholars Charter School.
The corridors of the school’s new building at 7000 W. Florist Ave. have gray carpeting – except for blue stripes near each wall.
When students pass in the halls, whether in groups or solo, they are required to walk only on the blue stripe on the right side of the hall as they face it. Get caught off that stripe and you can get marked down in the school’s discipline system.
Minus the blue lines and with a discipline system that isn’t structured quite so firmly, Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, a charter school at 110 W. Burleigh St., brings to mind the same questions for its 160 kindergarten through fifth-grade pupils.

Is Milwaukee back on the reform radar?

Katy Venskus:

There used to be a time when Milwaukee was considered one of the most active education reform cities in the country. The City’s private school choice program, the oldest and largest in the country, was our ticket to fame (or infamy, depending on who you ask) through most of the 1990’s. The choice program was supposed to be a game changer to public education. It was supposed to set off a chain reaction of innovation and competition that would not only improve the lives of children, but change the way we configured our education policy for the City of Milwaukee. In short, we were going to be the hotbed of the reform movement for decades to come.
Sadly, the game changing education movement we expected didn’t come to pass. There is no doubt, however, that the existence of parent choice in Milwaukee has changed the lives of thousands of kids. The movement that created and protected the choice program fostered the development of two of the City’s best charter schools and promoted a small sector of independent charters authorizers and schools. Unfortunately, aside from these developments there has been little large-scale reform in Milwaukee since the mid-1990’s. Instead of a catalyst, the choice program became a scapegoat for both political parties and many status quo stakeholders. The failing public school district in Milwaukee has been allowed to sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand while union interests and their status quo Democrats blamed the choice program for all the public schools considerable ills. The GOP used the choice program as the be-all-end-all urban education solution, and was happy to let thoughtful public school policy and funding fall by the way side. The independent charter school community put their heads down and tried to stay out of the political fray – they served small pockets of kids very well, but without the ability or the will to take their model to scale. As a result, Milwaukee, not only fell behind, we fell off the map entirely.

Third Rail

“Student responsibility is the third rail of the accountability movement.” Walt Gardner
If Mr. Gardner is correct, then is that why have we decided to leave student effort and their responsibility for their own learning and academic achievement out of our considerations of the reasons for such results as the 2010 NAEP history exam, which found that fifty-five percent of our high school seniors scored Below Basic?
Japan, South Korea and Singapore are quite forthright in their views that students must work hard, even very hard, in order to do well in their studies. (see Surpassing Shanghai, Harvard 2011, edited by Marc Tucker).
For our part, just about everyone, from journalists to legislators to edupundits of all sorts and degrees, holds everyone else responsible for student academic failure here. They blame legislation, governors, school boards, superintendents, unions, teachers and all other adults working in education, but they never seem to include student responsibility and effort into their calculations.
Anyone who suggests students may have a part to play in whether they learn anything or not risk being called racists, or supporters of poverty, or prejudiced against immigrants and those whose primary language is other than English.
Immigrants have been coming to this country, learning English, and doing well since the earliest days of our country, but lately we seem to enjoy pretending that these tasks are something new and the burden must be place on all the adults in our educational systems to make things easier. They may not realize that Albert Shanker spoke only Yiddish when he entered the New York public schools, and they conveniently ignore the children of Vietnamese boat people, and many others, some of whom come to this country knowing no English and before long are valedictorians of their high school graduating classes.
Of course it is nearly impossible to create educators without compassion, sympathy, even pity as part of their make-up, but at some point making excuses for students who are not trying and making an effort to lift all responsibility from their shoulders turns out to be cruelty of another kind.
Martin Luther King never said that minority children should not be asked to take their share of the load in becoming educated citizens, just that they have a fair chance, and perhaps some extra help.
In fact, some of those who once believed that discrimination and racism could account for the failure of African-American children in our schools began before too long to have difficulty reconciling those notions with the manifest academic success of too many Asian-American children, some of whose parents had been interned in this country, some of whom came here with no knowledge of the country or the language, and often from an even longer history of oppression and discrimination behind them (e.g. the Japanese Burakumin immigrants).
It is interesting that when American black athletes achieve unprecedented success and achievement and multi-million-dollar salaries, no one rushes to explain that result as the outcome of centuries of unpaid labor, rampant racism and discrimination. For some reason it is acceptable to expect, and common to find, outstanding effort and achievement among black athletes, but it is not thought suitable to expect serious academic effort from black students in our schools.
If coaches thought all the effort in sports was their job, and expected nearly nothing from their athletes, we might see the same failure in sports that we have in academics. And we would find that most athletes were less inclined to try their hardest and to take responsibility for their effort and success in sports.
As long as we put all the onus on adults in our education systems, we deprive our students of all kinds of the challenges they need, as we try to disguise from them the fact that their achievement will always in life depend mostly on their own efforts for which they alone have to take the responsibility.
Call me names, if that makes you feel better, but all our students are waiting to be treated more like the responsible human beings they, in fact, are.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
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Varsity Academics®

Comparability of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts: A Report From the Study of School-Level Expenditures

Ruth Heuer RTI International, Stephanie Stullich U.S. Department of Education:

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) requires that, taken as a whole, services provided in Title I schools from state and local funds be at least comparable to those provided in non-Title I schools (Section 1120A). The purpose of this comparability requirement is to ensure that federal assistance is providing additional resources in high-need schools rather than compensating for an inequitable distribution of funds that benefits more affluent schools. The Title I comparability requirement allows school districts to demonstrate compliance in a number of ways, including through a district-wide salary schedule, and does not require districts to use school-level expenditures. Several recent policy reports have called for revising the Title I comparability provision to require comparability of actual school-level expenditures (Hall and Ushomirsky, 2010; Miller, 2010; Luebchow, 2009; Roza, 2008).
Until recently, data on school-level expenditures have not been widely available, in part because most school districts have not designed their accounting systems to track revenues and expenditures at the school level. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) required each school district receiving Title I, Part A, ARRA funds to report a school-by- school listing of per-pupil education expenditures from state and local funds for the 2008-09 school year to its state education agency and required states to report these data to the U.S. Department of Education.
This report from the Study of School-Level Expenditures presents findings on how state and local education expenditures at the school level vary within school districts. This study is not examining compliance with the current Title I comparability requirement, nor does it examine the comparability of resources between districts. Rather, it focuses on the question of whether Title I schools and higher-poverty schools have comparable levels of per-pupil expenditures as non-Title I schools and lower-poverty schools within the same district. More specifically, this report examines three questions: