Educating school teachers (2006)

Arthur Levine (PDF):

This report, the second in a series of policy reports on the results of a four-year study of America’s education schools, focuses on the education of classroom teachers, the people who have the greatest impact on our children’s learning in school.

Teacher education has taken on a special urgency because the United States needs to raise both the quantity and quality of our teacher force. The country is experiencing an acute shortage of teachers. At the same time, we are asking teachers to increase student achievement to the highest levels in history in a new standards-based, accountability-driven system of education. To address both demands simultaneously is an enormous challenge, made even more difficult because the nation is deeply divided about how to prepare large numbers of high-quality teachers.

We don’t agree about what skills and knowledge teachers need or how and when teachers should learn them. This is the context for the second report. The first report focused on the education of school administrators.

The third report will examine the quality of education research and the preparation of the scholars and researchers who conduct it. The final report will be an overview of America’s schools of educa- tion, where the overwhelming majority of our school leaders, teachers, and scholars are educated.

Summer Jobs Are Slowly Disappearing

Ben Casselman:

Maurice Brown has spent the summer doing something that’s increasingly unusual for American teenagers: going to work.

Brown, 17, works 25 hours a week as a fry cook at a McDonald’s down the street from where he lives in Holyoke, Massachusetts. While classmates were at the beach or the mall, Brown was learning life skills — how to behave in a professional workplace, how to multitask when the lunch rush started, how not to talk back when his managers criticized him. He said he hopes the experience will help him get a job after college. And though the pay was low, he was able to buy his own school clothes and save some money toward a car.

“I was tired of having to wait for my mom and ask her for things,” Brown said.

Research has shown that teenagers — and especially teenage boys — who work are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to college and less likely to get into trouble with the law. They also gain valuable work experience that can make it easier to get a job and get promoted more quickly in adulthood. But for a variety of reasons — fewer job opportunities, more emphasis on schooling, changing societal expectations — fewer young people are getting summer jobs.

Eight Years of College Lets Finns Hide From Labor Market

Eero Vassinen:

Easing the long years in college is the fact that students aren’t required to pay tuition. The state also provides grants of as much as 500 euros ($670) a month plus meal support and loans of as much as 400 euros a month. While education is a safe haven for students, the economy suffers when they put off joining the job market and don’t have skills the labor market needs, said Hannu Kaseva, an economist at ETLA research institute in Helsinki.

“Our education system is generating more bums for us,” he said by phone. “Think about the wasted investment when just half of all graduates find work suitable for their education.”

Encouraging universities to cooperate with potential employers would reduce the theoretical nature of studies and help bridge the skills gap, he said. The country doesn’t train enough doctors, nurses and dentists, according to the Economy Ministry. Finland has an oversupply of office workers and IT engineers after Nokia’s success making mobile phones in the early 2000s soured, culminating in the sale this year of its flagship handset unit to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)

Beauty in Ugly Dorms

Daniel Chambliss:

Apartment-style dorm rooms are the Hot New Thing at some colleges nowadays. Single rooms instead of doubles or even quads, exterior doors instead of crowded hallways, private bathrooms instead of gang showers and those icky shared toilets, even mini-kitchens instead of the noisy dining hall – all have an undeniable appeal for incoming freshmen looking to maximize the more adult features of undergraduate life.

Many contemporary students grew up with their own bedrooms, and perhaps even their own bathrooms, and may recoil from sharing their personal spaces with that mysterious stranger, the roommate or hallmate. So colleges and universities, particularly sensitive to the preferences of full-pay students, are starting to move away from traditional long-hallway dorms to more individualized rooms, some with generous amenities. Prospective students seem to love the idea.

2012-13 MMSD WKCE Results

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Higher bar for WKCE results paints different picture of student achievement
Matt DeFour
Wisconsin student test scores released Tuesday look very different than they did a year ago, though not because of any major shift in student performance.
Similar to recent years, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results show gains in math and reading over the past five years, a persistent and growing performance gap between black and white students, and Milwaukee and Racine public school students outperforming their peers in the private school voucher program.
But the biggest difference is the scores reflect a higher bar for what students in each grade level should know and be able to do.
Only 36.2 percent of students who took the reading test last October met the new proficiency bar. Fewer than half, 48.1 percent, of students were proficient in math. When 2011-12 results were released last spring, those figures were both closer to 80 percent.
The change doesn’t reflect a precipitous drop in student test scores. The average scores in reading and math are about the same as last year for each grade level.
Instead, the change reflects a more rigorous standard for proficiency similar to what is used for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP is administered to a sample of students in each state every other year and is referred to as “the nation’s report card.”
The state agreed to raise the proficiency benchmark in math and reading last year in order to qualify for a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The benchmark did not rise for the language arts, science and social studies tests.
“Adjusting to higher expectations will take time and effort,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said. “But these are necessary changes that will ultimately help our schools better prepare all students to be college and career ready and link with work being done throughout the state to implement new standards.”
Evers also called on the Legislature to include private voucher schools in the state’s new accountability system.
He highlighted that test scores for all Milwaukee and Racine students need to improve. Among Milwaukee voucher students, 10.8 percent in reading and 11.9 percent in math scored proficient or better. Among Milwaukee public school students, it was 14.2 percent in reading and 19.7 percent in math.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed expanding the state’s voucher program, including to such districts as Madison.
Changes in Dane County
The state previously announced how the changing bar would affect scores statewide and parents have seen their own students’ results in recent weeks, but the new figures for the first time show the impact on entire schools and districts.
In Dane County school districts, the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the test dropped on average by 42 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math.
Madison schools had one of the smallest drops compared to its neighboring districts.
Madison superintendent Jennifer Cheatham noted schools with a higher number of students scoring in the “advanced” category experienced less of a drop. Madison’s smaller drop could reflect a higher proportion of students scoring in the top tier.
At the same time, Madison didn’t narrow the gap between minority and white student test results. Only 9 percent of black sixth-graders and only 2 percent of sixth-grade English language learners scored proficient in reading.
“It reinforces the importance of our work in the years ahead,” Cheatham said. “We’re going to work on accelerating student outcomes.”
Middleton-Cross Plains School Board president Ellen Lindgren said she hasn’t heard many complaints from parents whose students suddenly dropped a tier on the test. Like Madison and other districts across the state, Middleton-Cross Plains sent home letters bracing parents for the change.
But Lindgren fears the changing standards come at the worst time for public schools, which have faced tougher scrutiny and reduced state support.
“I’m glad that the standards have been raised by the state, because they were low, but this interim year, hopefully people won’t panic too much,” Lindgren said. “The public has been sold on the idea that we’re failing in our education system, and I just don’t believe that’s true.”
Next fall will be the last year students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the paper-and-pencil WKCE math and reading tests. Wisconsin is part of a coalition of states planning to administer a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year.
The proposed state budget also provides for students in grades 9-11 to take the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT college and career readiness tests in future years.

Superintendent Cheatham is to be commended for her informed, intelligent and honest reaction to the MMSD’s results when compared to those of neighboring districts.
View a WKCE summary here (PDF).

The Atlanta Teacher Aptitude Test (ATAT)

Dan Zevin
Please use a sharp No. 2 pencil and gloves to fill in each circle completely or maybe a little less.
1. Agree or Disagree? “It is my duty as a pedagogue to help each and every pupil arrive at the correct answer.”
2. When helping each and every pupil arrive at the correct answer, which pedagogical method do you find most effective?
(a) memorization
(b) deconstruction
(c) jumbo eraser
3. A troubled student has defaced the playground with graffiti that reads, “This school sucks.” Would you:
(a) defer to the school psychologist
(b) vigorously scrub the “k” with turpentine and spray paint the letters “c, e, e, d” in its place.
4. Teaching fine motor skills is a crucial component of early childhood education. Please rate your level of proficiency in this area.
(a) somewhat proficient
(b) less than proficient
(c) extremely proficient
5. If you selected “a” or “b,” please demonstrate your fine motor skill proficiency by applying the pink tip of your writing implement to the circle, and using a series of tightly controlled wrist motions to restore the page to its original state. Remove traces of rubber residue by pursing your lips and exhaling upon the page while concurrently brushing it with the side of your gloved pinkie finger. Darken circle “c.”
6. Because many children are not developmentally capable of mastering verbal articulation, they frequently say the opposite of what they truly mean. Do you believe this extends to their written work as well?
a) Yes
7. When Lily wrote that 2+2=17 on her math test, what did Lily truly mean?
(a) 2+2=15
(b) 2+2=16
(c) 2+2=4
8. Please refer to Question 5.
9. What do you like better, permanent markers or dry erase markers?
10. Jimmy has failed five quizzes, six tests and one midterm. On his final exam, Jimmy gets every answer right. How do you predict the principal will react?
(a) “Jimmy is engaged in wrongdoing.”
(b) “Jimmy’s teacher is doing an outstanding job.”
11. In basic algebra, when does X=Y?
(a) when X^2 < Y (b) when X/2=πr^2 (c) when you erase the bottom right part of the X 12. Studies show that children who do poorly in school experience decreased self-esteem. Do you consider yourself to be the type of instructor who wants to decrease a child's self-esteem? (a) Yes, I want to decrease a child's self-esteem. (b) No, I do not wish to decrease a child's self-esteem. 13. Cognitive psychologists have identified several key ways in which individuals retain and share the information they hear on a daily basis. Which of the following techniques do you find most useful? (a) note taking (b) review sessions (c) wiretap 14. If you chose C, we are sorry, but we do not have any openings at this time. Thank you for thinking of the Atlanta public school system.

Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation

Donald J. Hernandez

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those who couldn’t master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What’s more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates. The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.
The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children’s parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family’s eco- nomic status and other factors, while the children’s reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database re- ports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.
For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.
The findings include:
— One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
— The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.
— Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.
— For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. That’s more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.
— The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively–or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.
— Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn’t finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.
— Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third- grade readers graduated from high school on time.
— Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students who were not proficient readers in third grade lagged far behind those for White students with the same reading skills.

At the PTA, Clashes Over Cupcakes and Culture

Kyle Spencer
The Cupcake Wars came to Public School 295 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in October. The Parent-Teacher Association’s decision to raise the price of a cupcake at its monthly bake sale — to $1, from 50 cents — was supposed to be a simple way to raise extra money in the face of city budget cuts. Instead, in a neighborhood whose median household income leaped to $60,184 in 2010 from $34,878 a decade before, the change generated unexpected ire, pitting cash-short parents against volunteer bakers, and dividing a flummoxed PTA executive board, where wealthier newcomers to the school serve alongside poorer immigrants who have called the area home for years.
“A lot of people felt like they really needed to be heard on this,” recalled Dan Janzen, a mild-mannered freelance copywriter with children in first and third grades who leads the school’s development committee and devised the price increase. One mother expressed dismay at being blindsided, while others said they were worried about those at the school without a dollar to spare. Ultimately, the PTA meeting at which the issue came to a head was adjourned without a resolution.
Such fracases are increasingly common at schools like P.S. 295, where changing demographics can cause culture clashes. PTA leaders are often caught between trying to get as much as possible from parents of means without alienating lower-income families. Sometimes, the battles are over who should lead the PTA itself: many of the gentrifiers bring professional skills and different ideas of how to get things done, while those who improved the school enough to attract them become guardians of its traditions.
So along with cross-cultural exchanges, international festivals and smorgasbords, school diversity can mean raw feelings about race and class bubbling to the surface. “It’s never just about the cupcake,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science and education at Teachers College, who has written extensively about this topic. “The cupcake is the spark.”

Time to Ax Public Programs That Don’t Yield Results (Start with Head Start)

Joel Klein, via a kind reader’s email:

Barack Obama has been accused of “class warfare” because he favors closing several tax loopholes — socialism for the wealthy — as part of the deficit-cutting process. This is a curious charge: class warfare seems to be a one-way street in American politics. Over the past 30 years, the superwealthy have waged far more effective warfare against the poor and the middle class, via their tools in Congress, than the other way around. How else can one explain the fact that the oil companies, despite elephantine profits, are still subsidized by the federal government? How else can one explain the fact that hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than their file clerks? Or that farm subsidies originally meant for family farmers go to huge corporations that hardly need the help?
Actually, there is an additional explanation. Conservatives, like liberals, routinely take advantage of a structural flaw in the modern welfare state: there is no creative destruction when it comes to government programs. Both “liberal” and “conservative” subsidies linger in perpetuity, sometimes metastasizing into embarrassing giveaways. Even the best-intentioned programs are allowed to languish in waste and incompetence. Take, for example, the famed early-education program called Head Start. (See more about the Head Start reform process.)
The idea is, as Newt Gingrich might say, simple liberal social engineering. You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients — and more productive citizens. Indeed, Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s. And so it was “taken to scale,” as the wonks say, as part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Wanted: More involved parents

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Listen carefully, and you can hear it everywhere:
Schoolgirls chattering about clothes and music and, of course, boys. Schoolboys rough-housing on the playground, boasting of touchdowns and soccer goals, and pretending not to notice the girls, who are pretending not to notice the boys.
As summer gives way to fall, the sweet sound of education is back.
From kindergarten classrooms with fears and tears always close, to middle school mixers where “tweens” finally begin to find themselves, to high school hallways where the minds get sharper and the humor gets darker, school is again in session.
For many it was a summer of discontent as recall elections were ripple-effect reminders of the political unrest from last spring, when K-12 educators and other public employees were at the center of a debate that featured much disagreement.

Seattle’s Ingraham parents 1, Seattle Schools 0

Linda Thomas:

Parents, teachers and students have been in shock since the Seattle School District’s interim Superintendent decided to fire a popular principal for little reason, they thought. They fought. They won.
This afternoon Superintendent Susan Enfield reversed her decision about dismissing Ingraham Principal Martin Floe, and sent the high school’s staff this letter:

When I was appointed Interim Superintendent, it was with the clear charge to strengthen opportunities for all students to learn. You asked me to bring high levels of transparency and accountability to this effort. The decision I made last Tuesday about the leadership of Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe reflects my efforts to realize these commitments.
However, I also know that a good leader listens. After extensive conversations with Ingraham High School staff and the community, I have decided to renew Mr. Floe’s contact for the 2011-12 school year, under the condition that he continue on a plan of improvement, which I, along with his Executive Director, will monitor throughout the year.

MISSED ADJUSTMENTS and OPPORTUNITIES RATIFICATION OF Madison School District/Madison Teachers Collective Bargaining Agreement 2011-2013

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education and the Madison Teachers, Inc. ratified an expedited Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2011-2013. Several significant considerations were ignored for the negative impact and consequences on students, staff and taxpayers.
First and foremost, there was NO ‘urgent’ need (nor ANY need at all) to ‘negotiate’ a new contract. The current contract doesn’t expire until June 30, 2011. Given the proposals regarding school finance and collective bargaining processes in the Budget Repair Bill before the legislature there were significant opportunities and expectations for educational, management and labor reforms. With such changes imminent, there was little value in ‘locking in’ the restrictive old provisions for conducting operations and relationships and shutting the door on different opportunities for increasing educational improvements and performances in the teaching and learning culture and costs of educating the students of the district.
A partial listing of the missed adjustments and opportunities with the ratification of the teacher collective bargaining agreement should be instructive.

  • Keeping the ‘step and advancement’ salary schedule locks in automatic salary increases; thereby establishing a new basis annually for salary adjustments. The schedule awards increases solely on tenure and educational attainment. This also significantly inhibits movement for development and implementation of ‘pay for performance’ and merit.
  • Continues the MOU agreement requiring 50% of teachers in 4-K programs (public and private sites combined) to be state certified and union members
  • Continues required union membership. There are 2700 total or 2400 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, numbers rounded. Full-time teachers pay $1100.00 (pro-rated for part-time) per year in automatic union dues deducted from paychecks and processed by the District. With 2400 FTE multiplied by $1100 equals $2,640,000 per year multiplied by two years of the collective bargaining unit equals $5,280,000 to be paid by teachers to their union (Madison Teachers Inc., for its union activities). These figures do not include staff members in the clerical and teacher assistant bargaining units who also pay union dues, but at a lower rate.
  • Continues to limit and delay processes for eliminating non-performing teachers Inhibits abilities of the District to determine the length and configuration of the school day, length and configuration of the school year calendar including professional development, breaks and summer school
  • Inhibits movement and placement of teachers where needed and best suited
  • Restricts adjustments to class sizes and teacher-pupil ratios
  • Continues very costly grievance options and procedures and litigation
  • Inhibits the District from developing attendance area level teacher/administrator councils for collaboration in problem-solving, built on trust and relationships in a non-confrontational environment
  • Continues costly extra-duties and extra-curricular agreements and processes
  • Restricts flexibility for teacher input and participation in professional development, curriculum selection and development and performance evaluation at the building level
  • Continues Teacher Emeritus Retirement Program (TERP), costing upwards to $3M per year
  • Does not require teacher sharing in costs of health insurance premiums
  • Did not immediately eliminate extremely expensive Preferred Provider (WPS) health insurance plan
  • Did not significantly address health insurance reforms
  • Does not allow for reviews and possible reforms of Sick Leave and Disability Leave policies
  • Continues to be the basis for establishing “me too” contract agreements with administrators for salaries and benefits. This has impacts on CBAs with other employee units, i.e., support staff, custodians, food service employees, etc.
  • Continues inflexibilities for moving staff and resources based on changes and interpretations of state and federal program supported mandates
  • Inhibits educational reforms related to reading and math and other core courses, as well as reforms in the high schools and alternative programs

Each and every one of the above items has a financial cost associated with it. These are the so-called ‘hidden costs’ of the collective bargaining process that contribute to the over-all costs of the District and to restrictions for undertaking reforms in the educational system and the District. These costs could have been eliminated, reduced, minimized and/ or re-allocated in order to support reforms and higher priorities with more direct impact on academic achievement and staff performance.
For further information and discussion contact:
Don Severson President
Active Citizens for Education
608 577-0851
100k PDF version

Pulling the parent trigger Parents want reform at Compton’s McKinley Elementary. That’s fine, but the process has flaws

If anyone has reason to overthrow the public school establishment, it’s parents in the Compton Unified School District. Five of the district’s 35 schools are listed among the worst 5% statewide. In July, an auditor reported that the schools were run to benefit adults more than students and that the district appeared incapable of fixing the problem. And the school board recently fired its superintendent for charging thousands of dollars of personal expenses to her district credit card.
So it’s no great surprise that Compton Unified became the first school district targeted for the so-called parent trigger, which allows parents to force radical change at a particular school if 51% of them sign a petition. Among their options are replacing the school’s management or most of its staff, or turning it into a charter school. Parents organized by the group Parent Revolution, the leading force behind the parent trigger movement, delivered their petition to district headquarters last week, demanding that McKinley Elementary School become part of the Celerity Education Group charter organization.

Court: Parents can sue if schools skimp on P.E.

Jill Tucker

Parents can take their children’s public schools to court to force educators to provide the minimum amount of physical education required by state law, the California Court of Appeal ruled in Sacramento on Tuesday, which could spell trouble for a lot of state schools.
California’s education code requires elementary schools to offer 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, an amount that rises to 400 minutes in middle or high schools, not including lunch or recess. A small-scale survey of state schools a few years ago found more than half failed to provide the required minutes of physical activity.

Scissors, Glue, Pencils? Check. Cleaning Spray?

When Emily Cooper headed off to first grade in Moody, Ala., last week, she was prepared with all the stuff on her elementary school’s must-bring list: two double rolls of paper towels, three packages of Clorox wipes, three boxes of baby wipes, two boxes of garbage bags, liquid soap, Kleenex and Ziplocs.
“The first time I saw it, my mouth hit the floor,” Emily’s mother, Kristin Cooper, said of the list, which also included perennials like glue sticks, scissors and crayons.
Schools across the country are beginning the new school year with shrinking budgets and outsize demands for basic supplies. And while many parents are wincing at picking up the bill, retailers are rushing to cash in by expanding the back-to-school category like never before.

Considering Oakland High

Katy Murphy:

Nia Lozano, a middle school parent, tells us about a new group that’s building support for Oakland High School.
An interesting new group has formed in the Crocker and Glenview neighborhoods of Oakland. It was formed by some parents from Edna Brewer who would like other neighborhood parents to consider Oakland High.
This is truly the first time I have ever heard families musing about Oakland High, even among the die-hard, Edna Brewer, go public, local school advocates. The communities of Crocker and Glenview have been relatively silent about Oakland High, which is interesting given that the last time I checked their scores were only marginally lower than Oakland Tech and Skyline (and may have been better in some areas of math, I can’t recall right now.)
What I gather is that the new principal is well regarded and that may have sparked the interest, besides the fact that if parents could raise the community profile of Edna Brewer, they should be able to do the same with O High.

Houston Superintendent Grier dishes on magnet schools, names new chief

Ericka Mellon:

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier has eliminated the position of manager of magnet programs. That means Dottie Bonner, who held the job since March 2002, is out. She submitted her letter of resignation effective Aug. 31, according to the district.
Grier instead has created a higher-level position, an assistant superintendent over school choice. Lupita Hinojosa, the former executive principal over the Wheatley High School feeder pattern, has been named to the post.
We know that changing anything related to magnets puts parents on edge, especially after former HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra’s failed attempt to reduce busing to the specialty schools. A quick Internet search shows that magnet transportation also was a hot topic in Grier’s former district, San Diego Unified. The school board there voted in spring 2009 to eliminate busing to magnets to save money but reversed the decision after parent outcry, according to Voice of San Diego.
I talked to Grier this morning about what happened in San Diego, and he said the decision to end busing to magnet schools was the school board’s, not his. “(Deputy Superintendent) Chuck Morris and I counseled and advised and recommended that they not do this — that it would destroy the magnet program — but they did anyway.”

Online Help for Parents Who Volunteer

Pui-wing Tam:

It takes a lot to organize a classroom of 20 children. It can take even more to organize the kids’ busy parents–and that often means turning to technology to get everyone on the same page.
Over the past nine months, my first-grader’s school has seen that in spades. Like many elementary schools, ours relies on parent volunteers to help out with one-on-one reading with students and math exercises. In my 6-year-old’s class, at least two parent volunteers are needed a day. In the past, volunteers were organized the old-fashioned way on paper, with parents signing up for their preferred time slots for the month on a calendar sent home with their children.
But in recent years as more schools and families have gone digital, parents are opting for an online solution to organizing volunteer class time. And a host of volunteering and calendar services have popped up on the Web to oblige them. When I asked our school’s room parent which online sites people were using to organize volunteering, he blasted out an email to poll his network of room parents. The informal survey yielded one conclusion: Each classroom was using different services, each with their own perks and drawbacks. Among the hodge-podge of choices were well-known applications such as Yahoo Inc.’s Yahoo Groups and Google Inc.’s Calendar, as well as less familiar names including VolunteerSpot Inc.’s VolunteerSpot and Doodle AG’s

Seattle Public Schools Budget Feedback

Melissa Westbrook:

I was asked recently, by a leader up the food chain, what I would do to improve community engagement. Here’s what I would do but do let us know what you would like to see.

  • I would go with the George Costanza method. Do the opposite of what you are currently doing.
  • Shorter but more specific presentations.
  • Take ALL questions from the general audience. (I do believe there is a place for small group discussions but not on every subject.)
  • As long as it is within the topic, lead but don’t tell people what they can and can’t discuss .
  • Have the meetings not all in one week but over a series of weeks.

The Push-Back on Charter Schools

Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone, Richard D. Kahlenberg, Century Foundation, Jeffrey Henig and Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia, Michael Goldstein, Match Charter Public School:

Two recent New York Times articles have described opposition to the thriving charter school movement in Harlem. An influential state senator, Bill Perkins, whose district has nearly 20 charter schools, is trying to block their expansion. Some public schools in the neighborhood are also fighting back, marketing themselves to compete with the charters.
This is a New York battle, but charter schools — a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s education strategy — are facing resistance across the country, as they become more popular and as traditional public schools compete for money. The education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a booster of the movement, is now an outspoken critic.
What is causing the push-back on charter schools, beyond the local issues involved ? Critics say they are skimming off the best students, leaving the regular schools to deal with the rest? Is that a fair point?

Kansas City Adopts Plan to Close Nearly Half Its Schools

Susan Saulny:

The Kansas City Board of Education voted Wednesday night to close almost half of the city’s public schools, accepting a sweeping and contentious plan to shrink the system in the face of dwindling enrollment, budget cuts and a $50 million deficit.
In a 5-to-4 vote, the members endorsed the Right-Size plan, proposed by the schools superintendent, John Covington, to close 28 of the city’s 61 schools and cut 700 of 3,000 jobs, including those of 285 teachers. The closings are expected to save $50 million, erasing the deficit from the $300 million budget.
“We must make sacrifices,” said board member Joel Pelofsky, speaking in favor of the plan before the vote. “Unite in favor of our children.”

Comments on Seattle’s Math Curriculum Court Ruling, Governance and Community Interaction

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended Harium’s Community meeting and the 43rd Dems meeting (partial) yesterday. Here are some updates (add on if you attended either or Michael DeBell’s meeting).
We covered a fair amount of ground with Harium but a lot on the math ruling/outcomes. Here’s what he said:

  • the Board will decide what will happen from the math ruling. I asked Harium about who would be doing what because of how the phrasing the district used in their press release – “In addition to any action the School Board may take, the district expects to appeal this decision.” It made it sound like the district (1) might do something different from the Board and (2) the district had already decided what they would do. Harium said they misspoke and it was probably the heat of the moment.
  • He seems to feel the judge erred. He said they did follow the WAC rules which is what she should have been ruling on but didn’t. I probably should go back and look at the complete ruling but it seems like not going by the WAC would open her decision up to be reversed so why would she have done it? He said the issue was that there are statewide consequences to this ruling and that Issaquah and Bellevue (or Lake Washington?) are doing math adoptions and this ruling is troubling. I gently let Harium know that the Board needs to follow the law, needs to be transparent in their decision-making and the district needs to have balanced adoption committees or else this could happen again. No matter how the district or the Board feel, the judge did not throw out the case, did not rule against the plaintiffs but found for them. The ball is in the Board’s court and they need to consider this going forward with other decisions.

The science of science education

Irving Epstein:

More minority students need to be lured into the sciences. One program has been a resounding success.
At most universities, freshman chemistry, a class I’ve taught for nearly 40 years, is the first course students take on the road to a career in the health professions or the biological or physical sciences. It’s a tough course, and for many students it’s the obstacle that keeps them from majoring in science. This is particularly true for minority students.
In 2005, more than two-thirds of the American scientific workforce was composed of white males. But by 2050, white males will make up less than one-fourth of the population. If the pipeline fails to produce qualified nonwhite scientists, we will, in effect, be competing against the rest of the world with one hand tied behind our backs.
We’ve been able to survive for the last several decades in large measure because of the “brain drain” — the fact that the most able students from other countries, particularly China and India, have come here to study science at our best universities and, in many cases, have stayed to become key players in our scientific endeavors.

Schools race to — where, exactly? California’s pursuit of federal Race to the Top grants seems directionless, even reckless.

Los Angeles Times:

What wouldn’t California do for $700 million right now? That’s not a rhetorical question. With U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan parceling out more than $4 billion to states that conform to his vision of school reform, California’s Legislature is just one of dozens that are frantically revamping their states’ education systems for some of that cash. Should California succeed, its share would be somewhere between $350 million and $700 million.
To obtain the money, Sacramento must pass legislation that would serve as the basis for an application. This has given Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a perfect opportunity to push for more parent choice and fewer restrictions on charter schools, while the teachers unions have pushed an agenda that would handcuff the charter movement. There is some merit to both sides’ proposals — charter schools should be more accountable, and parents should have more say in the education process — but they have been poorly executed in ways that could have negative repercussions. Applications for Duncan’s “Race to the Top” grants are due in January, so who has time for a thoughtful debate?

Related: Joe Williams DFER blog. Mike Antonucci looks at the California Teachers Association lobbying.

Verona, WI School Board Discussion of the New Century Charter School

via a kind reader’s email, who notes that Verona’s video archives include very helpful topic based navigation!

At the most recent meeting on Dec. 7, the school board heard a final presentation from New Century School’s site council. Developments with New Century’s charter renewal are reaching a critical point, since we need approval from the school board by early January to participate in kindergarten recruitment. New Century is one of Wisconsin’s oldest charter schools (established in May 1995), and our school community is fighting for the charter’s continued existence. It’s been a challenging journey.

Click “video” for the December 7, 2009 meeting and look for “D”, the New Century Presentation. Interestingly, “E” is a presentation on a proposed Chinese immersion charter school.
Unfortunately, Madison lacks significant charter activity, something which, in my view, would be very beneficial to the community, students and parents.

Expand charter schools? Here’s how

Nelson Smith:

ducation reform advocates have been cheered by the election of Chris Christie as New Jersey’s next governor. A key plank of his education plan is creating more high-quality public charter schools — a goal shared with the administration of President Obama.
Since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, the movement has enjoyed bipartisan support at the federal and state levels. Now, in part because of the emphasis on charters in the administration’s “Race to the Top” competition, we’re seeing a firestorm of renewed interest in many states.
As Carlos Lejnieks, chairman of the a, rightly says, we need to move charters “from mediocre to good; from good to great; and from great to growth.” The good news is that New Jersey has assets to build from and is already doing some things right.
From Ryan Hill and Steve Adubato in Newark to Gloria Bonilla-Santiago in Camden, some of the nation’s leading charter leaders are in New Jersey. In terms of policy, there is no statewide “cap” on the number of charter schools that can be created; the New Jersey Department of Education has created a reasonably rigorous process for approving new charters while adding greater numbers of new schools in recent years; and the statewide public school-finance reforms enacted in 2008 helped establish a more level playing field for charters that had suffered huge disadvantages under the previous funding program.

Milwaukee, Waukesha parents fight for bilingual schools

Georgia Pabst:

Parents at two largely Latino, bilingual schools – one on Milwaukee’s south side and one in Waukesha – are waging battles to save their schools.
Although Kagel and White Rock elementary schools stand 18 miles apart in separate counties, the debates at both fit into the larger, national philosophical issues about bilingualism, small schools vs. large schools, economic pressures on school districts and changing demographics.
At Kagel, a neighborhood school in the heart of Milwaukee’s Latino community, more than 200 parents filled the school’s small gymnasium last month when word leaked out that Kagel was on the list of schools that Superintendent William Andrekopoulos identified for possible closure because of dropping enrollment or performance issues.
Parents reacted with signs that read: “Small school – Ideal scenario” and “Our children’s education is important to us.”
At the meeting, Andrekopoulos assured parents that Kagel, which is 76% Latino, won’t be shut down. But because of low enrollment – 334 students – and increasing district costs, some changes might be in store, such as converting it into an early child education center, he said.
Zuleika Reza, a parent and member of the school’s governance council, said parents don’t want that.
“We want to make it clear that we want to keep it as a small school that’s within walking distance for many families,” she said.

For charter schools, the reality of finding space is complex

Eugene Piccolo:

Minnesotans deserve to have the funds they provide for education used in the most effective way possible.
The story in the Nov. 29 Star Tribune, “Charter program is ‘out of control’,” raised issues that should concern everyone who cares about high quality public education and careful use of tax dollars.
As a citizen, taxpayer, educator and executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, I am saddened and disappointed that some people look for ways around both the letter and the spirit of the law, some companies charge exorbitant fees, and some individuals use their offices to personally profit from transactions involving public funds.
Thankfully, such conduct is not the norm — but an examination is needed into the policies and practices that allow these aberrations to occur.
So what is the larger reality in charter schools?

Strongest voucher Milwaukeeschools thrive

Alan Borsuk:

Michelle Lukacs grew up in Mequon and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee. Then she was a teacher and guidance counselor in Jefferson. She got a school principal’s license through a program at Edgewood College in Madison.
She moved back to Milwaukee and decided to open a school as part of the publicly funded private school voucher program. She called it Atlas Preparatory Academy because she liked the image of Atlas holding the whole world up and because it was the name of a refrigeration company her husband owns.
On the first day of classes in September 2001, Atlas had 23 students in leased space in an old school building at 2911 S. 32nd St.
This September, Atlas had 814 students, a growth of 3,439% over eight years. It now uses three buildings on the south side and has grown, grade by grade, to be a full kindergarten through 12th-grade program.
Atlas’ growth is explosive, even within the continually growing, nationally significant voucher program. Voucher enrollment over the same period has roughly doubled from 10,882 in September 2001 to 21,062 this fall.
The Atlas story underscores an interesting trend: The number of voucher schools in recent years has leveled off, and this year, fell significantly. But the total number of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the city has gone up, and a few schools have become particular powerhouses, at least when it comes to enrollment.

School closes bathrooms because of security shortage

Valerie Strauss:

In the category of “it makes you wonder,” the student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School reports that bathrooms on the second and third floors are now being locked during lunch.
Why? The school has a security shortage and couldn’t figure out a better way to deal with it.
The story, in says that the Alex Bae, president of the Student Government Association met with Principal Darryl Williams on Monday, and that the principal said he hopes the situation can be fixed soon.
Apparently, the story says, the bathrooms were closed during lunch because students abuse their bathroom privileges. Acts of vandalism occur during lunch and kids hide out in the bathroom to avoid going to class.

Making the Home-School Connection

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools will spend some $4 million in federal stimulus money over two years to support a major parental involvement program in 35 schools
First of four parts
Lennise Crampton, a 40-year-old Milwaukee mother of eight, sometimes wonders how her children would have performed in school if she’d known how to be a better parent from the start.
A single mother until she married this year, Crampton usually managed decent meals and clothing and getting her kids to class. It was up to the school, she thought, to handle the education part.
Then in December of 2005, a representative from Lloyd Street School marched up to Crampton’s door and asked her to participate in a program that improves relationships between teachers, schools and families.
Crampton started coming to weekly meetings at Lloyd, where her two youngest attended. She learned about training she could get as a low-income parent. She learned how to engage in her children’s academics at home and how to advocate for their needs at school.
“These little ones get the best of the best now,” she said. “If it applies to my children’s academics, I’m on it.”

Madison School District Strategic Plan Action Steps & Budget Recommendations

Superintendent Dan Nerad [1.5MB PDF]:

Included in the 2009/10 budget is $324,123 for the implementation of activities specifically related to the approved Strategic Plan.
Attached are:
Strategic Plan: Objectives organized by Priority 1 Action Steps
Strategic Objectives: Action Steps, Priority 1 Recommended Budget.
The total identified in the Priority 1 Recommended Budget is $284,925.
We are continuing to plan in the areas of:

  • implementing Individual Learning Plans,
  • using ACT Standards as part of assessments,
  • supporting technology,
  • program evaluation, and
  • a possible expulsion abeyance options pilot for second semester.

Budget recommendations for these areas will come to the Board at a later date.


The electronic based ILP (Individual Learning Plan) developed in collaboration with University of Wisconsin staff to meet the unique needs ofthe MMSD. The ILP will be based off of the WisCareers platform which will interface with Infinite Campus, the District’s information management system.
Identify a subgroup of the ILP Action Team to create an ILP implementation plan that includes a mechanism for feedback and evaluation (e.g., Survey instruments, external evaluation conducted by the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research).
Curriculum Action Plan Focus Areas

  • Accelerated Learning
  • Assessment
  • Civic Engagement
  • Cultural Relevance
  • Flexible Instruction

Related: Proposed Madison School District Strategic Plan Performance Measures.

Madison Mayor Cieslewicz Visits Toki Middle School

Dave Ceislewicz:

One of my favorite events of the year is the annual Principal for a Day event organized by the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools and sponsored by CUNA. For one thing, it’s an opportunity for me to use phrases like, “Hey, hey, no running in the halls!” and, “sure, it’s funny until somebody loses an eye.”
This year I chose to be the shadow principal at Toki Middle School. It’s no secret that Toki is at the center of a neighborhood that has been in the news in recent years in part because of some changing demographics. Those changes are apparent at the school where kids eligible for free and reduced lunches have increased from about a third to about half of the school population in just a few years.
But what I saw on a typical day where most of the kids didn’t know or care much who I was (just like a normal day around City Hall) was a school where a lot of learning was taking place. I visited Rhonda Chalone’s Student Leadership class, Vern Laufenberg’s Technology Class and Scott Mullee’s Science Class. I also spent some time with Principal Nicole Schaefer and her staff. What I witnessed was dedicated teachers and engaged students in a friendly and orderly atmosphere. And the diversity that is there is a big advantage, setting those kids up for success in a world that is, if anything, even more diverse than the student body at Toki.
Every school has some challenges, but anyone that doesn’t think Madison schools are doing a great job teaching our kids, should spend a day in one.

The southwest part of Madison, including Toki Middle School has had its share of challenges over the past few years.

Seattle Public Schools Boundary/School Assignment Plan Comments

The Seattle Times:

FAMILIES chafe at the Seattle Public Schools‘ wild variability on student assignments. Proposed new school boundaries and a simplified assignment plan offer promising change. [Complete Assignment/Boundary Plan – 358K PDF]
A complex maze that used to determine what school students attended has been streamlined into an uncomplicated rule: students’ addresses determine their school.
Students entering kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade in the 2010-11 year will be assigned to a school near their home. Students in other grades will remain at their current schools, an appropriate grandfathering that minimizes disruptions.
Many families won’t notice a difference. For others, this plan is a huge change. Families living on Queen Anne and in Magnolia have long asked for a neighborhood high school so students weren’t bused across the city. They’re being assigned to one of the best: Ballard High School.
This shift is the correct route forward. After the district ended bussing for integration purposes, it veered into an expensive and convoluted open choice system. Families could choose any school they wanted but the result was a lack of predictability and stability. Most troubling, the system weighed heavily against less savvy families who were unable to navigate the application process.

Seattle Schools Strategic Plan

Fewer Fliers Sent Home as Schools Put More on Web

Winnie Hu:

The back-to-school packets sent to all 7,800 students here in this hamlet on Long Island’s North Shore grew thicker each year with dozens of pages of notices, fliers and forms — adding up to more than $12,000 in postage alone last year.
Students at Commack High School on Long Island. The Commack School District has limited mailings and put back-to-school packets on its Web site.
But this year, amid a lingering recession and increasing online activity, school officials decided to stop the madness. Teachers and principals were given strict instructions: Limit mailings to a single, first-class envelope per student — and post the overflow on the district’s Web site, in a newly created back-to-school section. The savings: $9,000 in stamps plus $12,000 in salaries for clerks who used to spend up to two weeks assembling the packets.
And, for parents like Debra Miller, a shrinking pile of paperwork to keep up with.
“Since the kids have been in school, there’s never been a pile less than 12 inches high on my kitchen counter,” said Mrs. Miller, a mother of two, who shoves the unsightly pile into a cabinet when she has company. “I can never get out from under the pile, and I’m not alone. We all talk about it.”

A Partial Look (School Climate) at the Outbound Madison School District Parent Survey

Samara Kalk Derby:

Madison school district parents dissatisfied with local schools got a boost after a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision which trumped state law and made it easier for students living in the district to attend schools in other districts, a practice known as open enrollment.
The case was brought by Seattle parents who challenged the use of race in assigning students to schools, arguing it violated the Constitution’s right of equal protection. The ruling was celebrated by those who favor color-blind policies, but criticized by civil rights groups as a further erosion of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that outlawed school segregation.
Last year it became easier in Madison, and in school districts across the country, for white students to transfer even if it meant increasing the district’s racial imbalance.
After a flood of local students left the district last year, Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad decided to investigate why.
“We had an interest in knowing ideas from people that had made the decision for open enrollment,” Nerad says. “We are attempting to learn from those experiences to see if there are some things as a school district that we can constructively do to address those concerns.”
To that end, the district surveyed households of district residents who left Madison schools and transferred to another district for the 2008-09 school year to find out why the families left. The majority of parents who took their kids out of the Madison school district last year under open enrollment said they did so for what the district classifies as “environmental reasons”: violence, gangs, drugs and negative peer pressure. Other reasons were all over the map. Many cited crowded classrooms and curriculum that wasn’t challenging enough.
Only a few responses pointed directly to white flight.

The Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Survey, including School Board discussion, can be found here. David Blask comments.

Madison School District Strategic Planning Update, with Links

Madison Board of Education President Arlene Silveira, via email:

TO: MMSD Strategic Planning Committee
Good afternoon,
I am writing to provide you with a Board update on the MMSD strategic plan. Before getting into details, I again want to thank you for all of the time and effort you put into development of the plan. It is appreciated.
On July 21, the Board of Education held our second meeting to review the strategic planning document that you, our community-based strategic planning committee, submitted. The Board unanimously approved the following components of the new strategic plan. The mission, beliefs and parameters were approved with no changes to the plan you submitted. Some language in the strategic objectives was modified for clarity and completeness.

We have not yet approved any of the action plans.

Much more on the Strategic Planning Process here.

An Update on the Madison School District’s Strategic Planning Process

The Madison School District’s strategic planning group will meet next week and review the work to date, summarized in these documents:

Much more on the Madison School District’s Strategic Planning Process here.
It is important to note that this work must be approved (and perhaps modified) by the school board, then, of course, implemented by the Administration.

The Best Places in the USA to Raise Your Children

Prashant Gopal:

A Chicago suburb beats out thousands of other communities around the U.S. as the best, most affordable place to raise kids.
Mount Prospect, Ill., is a quiet Chicago suburb with a population of just over 56,000. It is a tight-knit town where over the past eight years Prospect High School’s football team won three state championships, its Marching Knights picked up their 26th straight grand champion title at the annual state marching band festival, and just last month the school itself ranked 12th among all state high schools. Now the town is also the winner of Businessweek’s second annual roundup of the Best Places in America to Raise Kids.
Founded by German immigrants and incorporated in 1917, Mount Prospect hasn’t strayed far from its values of fiscal conservatism and community involvement, even as it has expanded to include new immigrants from Poland, Mexico, Korea, and India. It is a middle-class community with low crime, affordable homes, award-winning schools, ethnic restaurants, a major regional mall, and a small-town charm that makes the big city less than an hour away seem much farther away.

Other cities mentioned include: Euless, TX, Murfreesboro, TN, Huntsville, AL and Eau Claire, WI.

Raising the Bar: How Parents Can Fix Education

Daniel Akst:

Everyone, it seems, has a complaint about the schools. Indifferent bureaucracy, change-averse unions, faddish curricula, soaring school taxes matched with mediocre student performance — the list is long and seemingly unchanging.
At the start of yet another school year, it’s time for some radical change in your local schools — a specific change that only parents can bring about. It’s a thing already being done in some far-off countries but that remains strangely rare here in America. It’s something I’ve tried — and, despite the skepticism of friends and neighbors, it seems to work.
What is this miracle that lies within the reach of nearly every family? It’s simple. All you have to do is to start insisting that your children fully apply themselves to their studies — and commit yourself to doing your part. That means making sure they do all the work expected of them as well as their abilities allow. It also means making sure everything at home stands behind these principles and supports the idea of learning.
These will sound like obvious ideas. In fact, given all the distractions of modern life, it is a radical departure from the normal order of things. Let’s face it: More than budgets or bureaucrats, more than textbooks or teachers, parents are the reason that kids perform as they do in school.

The End of White Flight

Conor Dougherty:

Decades of white flight transformed America’s cities. That era is drawing to a close.
In Washington, a historically black church is trying to attract white members to survive. Atlanta’s next mayoral race is expected to feature the first competitive white candidate since the 1980s. San Francisco has lost so many African-Americans that Mayor Gavin Newsom created an “African-American Out-Migration Task Force and Advisory Committee” to help retain black residents.
“The city is experiencing growth, yet we’re losing African-American families disproportionately,” Mr. Newsom says. When that happens, “we lose part of our soul.”
For much of the 20th century, the proportion of whites shrank in most U.S. cities. In recent years the decline has slowed considerably — and in some significant cases has reversed. Between 2000 and 2006, eight of the 50 largest cities, including Boston, Seattle and San Francisco, saw the proportion of whites increase, according to Census figures. The previous decade, only three cities saw increases.
The changing racial mix is stirring up quarrels over class and culture. Beloved institutions in traditionally black communities — minority-owned restaurants, book stores — are losing the customers who supported them for decades. As neighborhoods grow more multicultural, conflicts over home prices, taxes and education are opening a new chapter in American race relations.

Related: a look at local K-12 enrollment changes.

Study of Small High Schools (Small Learning Communities or SLC) Yields Little on Achievement

David Hoff:

High schools receiving $80 million in annual federal funding to support “smaller learning communities” can document that they are taking steps to establish learning environments more intimate than found in the typical comprehensive high school.
But, according to a federal study, such smaller schools can’t answer the most significant question: Is student achievement improving in the smaller settings?
The evaluation of the 8-year-old program found that schools participating in it show signs of success. In the schools, the proportion of students being promoted from 9th to 10th grade increases, participation in extracurricular activities rises, and the rate of violent incidents declines.
But the evaluation found “no significant trends” in achievement on state tests or college-entrance exams, says the report, which was prepared by a private contractor and released by the U.S. Department of Education last week.


Milwaukee Lawyer Created School as a Pathway to College

Dani McClain:

At 27, Deanna Singh is determined to change the dismal statistic that only 5% of African-American adults in Milwaukee have a four-year college degree.
So determined that she has launched her own charter school, where her inaugural sixth-grade students already identify their class by the year they will graduate from college.
She aims to build a culture that refuses to accept what she witnessed years ago as a volunteer in Washington, D.C., schools – 11th- and 12th-graders who could barely read or write.
Both students and staff at her Milwaukee Renaissance Academy, 2212 N. 12th St., follow the succinct dictum of a mural in the school’s stairwell: “No excuses!”
High expectations propelled Singh from her father’s north side gas station – where she spent much of the first five years of her life – through Elmbrook Schools and on to the top-notch East Coast universities where she received her college and law degrees.

‘Parenting Inc.’ Explores High Price of Parenting

Talk of the Nation:

From ergonomic strollers, to sleep consultants, to professional potty training, child rearing has become a very big business. Author Pamela Paul discusses her new book, Parenting, Inc. and the aggressive marketing aimed at new moms and dads.
“Sometimes, spending a lot on children isn’t just unnecessary; it’s counterproductive,” Paul writes. “Every parent I know is struggling to figure out how to afford a family without succumbing to the spiral of consumption that characterizes modern parenthood.”
Paul says she was determined not to fill her house with baby junk. Then she had her baby.

LVM Dreams Big

Susan Troller:

First it was the doors to the classroom that swung open for kids in wheelchairs. Now it’s access to the playground, especially at Elvehjem Elementary School, where there’s boundless enthusiasm for the Boundless Playground project.
The project aims to get students with disabilities playing side by side with the rest of the kids, Shelly Trowbridge, one of the parent organizers of LVM Dreams Big said in a recent interview.
On Friday, local supporters of the project held a chili dinner at the school. It included ceramic bowls made by students and a silent auction with artwork by students and community members. It was the latest in an ambitious series of family-oriented fundraisers that are aimed at building a community as well as a playground.
The nonprofit group ( has raised over $81,000 in cash and in-kind contributions toward a goal of $200,000 to build the state’s first barrier-free Boundless Playground next summer on the Elvehjem School grounds. There are about 100 such play structures nationwide, but none in Wisconsin.

Seattle school parents pressured to pay

Alison Krupnick:

It’s time to call attention to a key issue plaguing Seattle Public Schools — class size. Despite public comments from district officials challenging the relevance of class size to academic achievement, every teacher I’ve spoken with has cited large class size as one of the biggest impediments to effective pedagogy.
In 2000, voters approved Initiative 728 by nearly 72 percent. This measure provided state funding to reduce class sizes. But, our state’s piecemeal approach to education funding has proved ineffective. Seven years later, class sizes in Seattle remain high.
The district’s response to underfunded schools has been larger classes and leaner services. Frustrated by inadequate state funding and district allocation of these limited funds, parents who “believe” in public schools are put in the difficult position of having to subsidize them.
Though we’re supposed to pay for enhancements, PTAs routinely “buy down” class size by supporting volunteer and paid-tutor programs so that the adult-student ratio in the classroom can be reduced and teachers are able to work with smaller groups, thus meeting the needs of students at both ends of the spectrum and in-between. At our school, “academic support” makes up roughly 50 percent of our PTA budget.

Comparing Sports, Arts is Dangerous Business

“I’m afraid the game is over. In our American academia, the arts must be satisfied with the leftovers.”
Frank Deford
Morning Edition, NPR
A few weeks ago, I offered up the thoughts of Gary Walters, the distinguished athletic director at Princeton, that sport should be held in the same high regard as art.
I thought it was a rather interesting and cogent opinion for someone to posit, but in the fabled words of the longtime football announcer, Keith Jackson: “Whoa, Nellie!” Never have I suffered such a battering. I think the nicest thing I was called in the responses that poured in, dripping with blood, was “apologist dingbat.”
But then, after I withdrew the slings and arrows from my person and assessed the reaction, I realized how almost all the responses didn’t really bother to address the question posed: Whether, in fact, sport might be an art. No, they were just mad, full of rage and fury. But it did serve to inform me all the more how much antipathy there does exist toward the American system of school sports.
Here are just a few of the more restrained comments:


West High School PTSO Meeting of 08-Jan-2007

The West High School PTSO met on January 8, 2007 with featured guest West teacher Heather Lott,
coordinator for the Small Learning Community grant implementation. The video below only includes Heather Lott’s presentation and questions that followed. It does not include other portions of the meeting such as Dr. Holmes report of the West Principal, nor reports from West PTSO officers.
The video QT Video of the meeting is 117MB, and 1 hour and 27 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.
Lott presented an overview of the three-year Federal SLC grant (Year 1, 2003-2004; Year 2, 2004-2005; Year 3, 2005-2006), what changes were begun in the year prior and the changes and goals for the 2006-2007 school year, post-SLC grant. She emphasized that the SLC plan would take 7 years to “complete” and that the remaining 4 years would need to be funded. The 3 year federal grant paid her salary and for professional development only. Budget cuts for the 2006-2007 year and continuing fiscal problems in the district will hamper making the desired progress.
When asked how much, minimally, West would need make acceptable progress in the implementation of the SLC plan, Dr. Holmes suggested $20,000.
She also presented data showing discipline improvements and academic achievement improvements over the SLC years.
Discussions also included the topics of differentiation and heterogeneity, and general discussions from parents of incoming West students on the social aspects of the small learning communities.
Slides for Heather Lott’s presentation are in PowerPoint and PDF for your convenience.

Notes and Links on the Madison K-12 Climate and Superintendent Hires Since 1992

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.
The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

In 1985 a federal district judge took partial control over the troubled Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally segregated district with dilapidated facilities and students who performed poorly. In an effort to bring the district into compliance with his liberal interpretation of federal law, the judge ordered the state and district to spend nearly $2 billion over the next 12 years to build new schools, integrate classrooms, and bring student test scores up to national norms.
It didn’t work. When the judge, in March 1997, finally agreed to let the state stop making desegregation payments to the district after 1999, there was little to show for all the money spent. Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country, the percentage of black students in the largely black district had continued to increase, black students’ achievement hadn’t improved at all, and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged.(1)
The situation in Kansas City was both a major embarrassment and an ideological setback for supporters of increased funding for public schools. From the beginning, the designers of the district’s desegregation and education plan openly touted it as a controlled experiment that, once and for all, would test two radically different philosophies of education. For decades critics of public schools had been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” Educators and advocates of public schools, on the other hand, had always responded by saying, “No one’s ever tried.”

Cheryl Wilhoyte was hired, with the support of the two local dailies (Wisconsin State Journal, 9/30/1992: Search No Further & Cap Times Editorial, 9/21/1992: Wilhoyte Fits Madison) by a school board 4-3 vote. The District’s budget in 1992-1993 was $180,400,000 with local property taxes generating $151,200,00 of that amount. 14 years later, despite the 1993 imposition of state imposed annual school spending increase limits (“Revenue Caps“), the 2006 budget is $331,000,000. Dehli’s article mentions that the 1992-1993 School Board approved a 12.9% school property tax increase for that budget. An August, 1996 Capital Times editorial expressed puzzlement over terms of Cheryl Wilhoyte’s contract extension.
Art, the only applicant, was promoted from Acting Superintendent to Superintendent in January, 1999. Chris Murphy’s January, 1999 article includes this:

Since Wilhoyte’s departure, Rainwater has emerged as a popular interim successor. Late last year, School Board members received a set of surveys revealing broad support for a local superintendent as opposed to one hired from outside the district. More than 100 of the 661 respondents recommended hiring Rainwater.

Art was hired on a 7-0 vote but his contract was not as popular – approved on a 5-2 vote (Carol Carstensen, Calvin Williams, Deb Lawson, Joanne Elder and Juan Jose Lopez voted for it while Ray Allen and Ruth Robarts voted no). The contract was and is controversial, as Ruth Robarts wrote in September, 2004.
A February, 2004 Doug Erickson summary of Madison School Board member views of Art Rainwater’s tenure to date.
Quickly reading through a few of these articles, I found that the more things change, the more they stay the same:

Fascinating. Perhaps someone will conduct a much more detailed review of the record, which would be rather useful over the next year or two.

Schools fight cheaters who use tech tools

Sharon Noguchi:

The Advanced Placement government assignment over the summer was to read and analyze political commentator Chris Matthews’ book “Hardball.” So four friends at American High School in Fremont did what they say everyone else was doing: divvied up the 13 questions about the book and exchanged answers via e-mail. They each altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.
The students call it collaboration. The teachers call it cheating.
As technology makes it easier than ever to cheat, educators are combating the intractable problem on at least three fronts: setting clear standards, using technology to fight back, and talking with students and parents about ethics and pressure.
Many students use e-mail to share work and program iPods and cell phones to cheat in class in new ways. On the flip side, schools can hire services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism; one leading service claims its business is doubling every year.
Throughout the South Bay and across the Peninsula, schools are banning electronic devices and stiffening penalties. Turning around attitudes is more challenging.

Maria Glod posts a related article: “Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists”.

Report from West High PTSO Meeting

Some 70 parents were in attendance at Monday evening’s PTSO meeting to hear about West High School’s plans for 10th grade English. This was the largest turnout for a PTSO meeting in recent history. Approximately one-third of those there were parents of elementary and middle school students who will be attending West at some point in the future.
The consensus from parents was that they want more discussion of these planned changes, and given the school’s timeline for formalizing next year’s course offerings, these meeetings have to happen soon.
Parents heard from Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and from teacher Mark Nepper. What follows is a brief summary of the presentation.


East High United – June 2 meeting outcomes

Madison East High School parents, staff, and community members have been working since the beginning of 2005 to create an advocacy and support organization for this key East side school. The group was named at the June 2 meeting:
A parent-teacher-staff-student-community organization
The organization meets as a whole in the East High School cafeteria on the second Thursday of each month. (There is no July meeting, the next meeting is August 11).
In addition, working groups focussed on specific initiatives meet at a time agreed upon by members of those groups. A list of existing and emerging working groups is contained in this report from the June 2 meeting.


News and Update on Initiative to Form a PTO at East High School

Please share this information with others who may be interested in helping to
create a revitalized PTO at East.
March 30, 2005
Upcoming meetings:
Thursday, April 14
Thursday, May 12
All meetings are held at East High School and begin at 7 p.m., with time for
informal conversation from 6:30 to 7:00.


Cherokee Middle School PTO Priorities

The Cherokee PTO recently forwarded their top 5 Madison School District Priorities:

  • Long range planning, especially to include a plan for the increased numbers of students who will be attending Cherokee and West.
  • Maintaining a challenging level of curriculum while providing services to an increased number of students with diverse needs (TAG, music, reading specialists, ESL, special needs and children living in poverty were especially mentioned as being areas in need of services).
  • Insuring a safe and nurturing environment (to include physical safety, cultural understanding and a positive climate).
  • Purchasing and maintaining needed equipment and materials (there was a discussion about teacher’s requests to include basic classroom materials and the difficulty in funding new equipment such as the FOSS science kits required by the district).
  • Preserving facility maintenance/repair while maintaining the small class sizes as we deal with issues of growth.

John Muir Elementary School PTO Feedback

We’ve started to ask local PTO/A organizations for a list of their view of the Madison School District Priorities. Here’s two from John Muir Elementary:

  • Good morning PTO members. I am in touch with ______’s teacher about having a parents/teachers night where the a teacher or two would do a presentation on the new Math teaching theory, and how to inform parents so that we may be able to help their children at home. I hear from many parents who wish to receive this

  • as a teacher, and especially as a teacher of the Arts, I am particularly concerned about the cuts that have been made in our schools. The public doesn’t realize the impact, but it is keenly felt by all staff throughout the district and Wisconsin. There will be more cuts next year.
    I would encourage the PTO to invite school board members to attend a meeting, and to have them explain what has been cut or changed, and what is yet to come. Because we have a budget crisis in Wisconsin, we are losing staff, programs are being cut, teachers are being overloaded by more responsibilities. This is not going to end. We still have millions of dollars more to cut next year, and the next and the next.
    The point of the meeting, besides voicing concerns about these cuts, is to have the school board talk about what the public can and should do. I believe this should be our chief priority.

Send yours to zellmer at mailbag dot com.