There�s something deeply wrong here.

In a letter to the editor of Isthmus UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg wrote, “There�s something deeply wrong here. The educational establishment has embraced methods for teaching reading that have a weak scientific basis and are counterproductive for many beginning readers. They then develop a very expensive remedial reading program to fix the problems created by these instructional methods. Why not do it right the first time?” To read the full text of the letter go to
Dr. Seidenberg’s letter

New Posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator Position Mentioned – Removes Professional License Requirements by Dr. Mariel Wozniak, retired MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator

I was concerned and confused as I listened on Monday night to Superintendent Rainwater inform the School Board that the position description posted for the Fine Arts Coordinator was being reposted without a license requirement so that more applicants could be included. The Fine Arts Coordinator oversees the design and implementation of the District’s Fine Arts curriculum, and this position has an important community role with the City’s varied fine arts organizations.
All other coordinators require a license #10 and so should the Fine Arts Coordinator position. Licenses insure that an applicant has met certain standards and is meant to protect against less qualified applicants being hired.
“The points in the posting indicate a change in the position of a full-time Coordinator of Fine Arts,” Dr. Wozniak, retired MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator pointed out in a recent essay. “While educational change is legitimate, a new role for the Coordinator of Fine Arts and reasons for change should not only be well known by the community, but by arts education specialists who should be involved in those changes. This city values education which includes designated arts instruction in its schools and its enhancement by the arts and other resources in the community. We need to remember that teachers, principals, and superintendents are public servants and should fulfill the community’s educational goals.”
What continues to be lacking in the District’s decisionmaking about Fine Arts education is the ongoing lack of an open process that includes professionals in the field and the community so that best choices can be made for children’s learning.
Dr. Wozniak notes, “The responsibility of the board of education is to make informed decisions for the education of its children with accountability and commitment to its electorate.” This is not possible at MMSD, because decisions about Fine Arts education are being made behind closed doors by a handful of administrators and then announced to the board of education as fact.
Download Dr. Wozniak’s Complete Essay: New Posting for the Fine Arts Coordinator Position Mentioned – Downgrades Professional Requirements

Focus is on education

Patricia Simms and Phil Brinkman Wisconsin State Journal
January 13, 2005
Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday used his State of the State speech to put forward a potent “education agenda” for Wisconsin.
It included:
� Increasing math and science requirements for high school graduation.
� Giving school districts more money for 4-year-old kindergarten and for reducing class size in the early grades.
� Rating child-care providers on quality as he promised last May.
Continue Reading “Focus in on Education”

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.

Is My Music Program Vulnerable to Cuts? – Dr. John Benham

As one superintendent stated, “There is no group of people more capable of rallying immediate and effective advocacy than a well-organized music coalition!” John Benham, music education advocate, reminds his readers in his December 15th column on
Dr. Benham urges his readers to become active participants in the education decision-making process. “In the face of what appears to have become a national trend to target music programs for reduction, it becomes the responsibility of the music advocate to stay informed by active participation in the decision-making process.” he advises, “We must encourage and/or remind parents and other advocates that the school district really belongs to the community. We must become educated in school polity, empowering the people to ensure student-centered decisions.”
Continue Reading “Is My Music Program Vulnerable to Cuts? – Dr. John Benham”

Panel Discussion on Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted and Talented Students

Come listen to a panel of experts discuss the social and emotional needs of gifted and talented students. Diagnostic, assessment, treatment/intervention, educational, parenting and theoretical issues will be addressed. Resources will be shared. This program is intended for parents of children within the full range of high ability (i.e., not only the profoundly gifted).
This event will be held on Thursday, January 13 in McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building at 7:00 p.m. Please note that this is a location change from Room 209.
Please note: Questions for the panelists are heartily encouraged. Questions may be submitted before the meeting at

Continue reading Panel Discussion on Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted and Talented Students

Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

Johnny Winston, Jr. forwarded this announcement from Ken Syke:

School Makes A Difference is a career exploration and planning activity for Madison 8th grade students. It is an opportunity for students to hear adults tell about their career journey and to ask questions and have a brief dialogue with the presenters.

Sign up with this excel file and email it to Ken Syke (ksyke at

Continue reading Speakers Needed for Schools Make a Difference

What is the Single Most Important Issue in Music Advocacy – YOU! by Dr. John Benham is a website storehouse of resources for defending music education in schools. In December, this website began a weekly blog on advocacy for music education by Dr. John Benham, who is President of Music in World Cultures, Inc. and Director of Graduate Studies in Music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In his December 8th blog, Dr. Benham writes that “In over 20 years as a consultant for music advocacy I have never seen a music program cut when there was a well-organized and cohesive support group.
There is no place where your participation has more immediate impact than in your school district. Your participation is vital to the health of your music program.
It is quite simple: Your participation is a “YES” vote, providing music making opportunities for the students in your district. Your failure to participate is a “NO” vote, even if by default.”
Continue Reading “What is the Single Most Important Issue in Music Advocacy – YOU!”

Kobza announces for school board

January 6, 2005
Lawrie Kobza 608 283-1788
Seeks Improved District Decision-Making
MADISON�Lawrie Kobza, a school activist for over a decade,
announced her candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District
Board District 6 seat today. Submitting the maximum 200 nomination
signatures, Kobza launched her campaign with a promise to improve
District decision-making.
“When resources are limited, it is especially important to make good
decisions “, Kobza said. “My professional and community experience
has taught me that the best decisions come from listening to a variety of views, asking tough questions, and carefully considering the possible alternatives. I think the School Board needs to do a better job of this.”
A first-time candidate, Ms. Kobza served as President or Vice
President of the Sherman School parent group since 1998; she was a
2004 recipient of the North Star Award from the Northside Planning
Council for her service to schools on Madison’s north side.
Ms. Kobza has three children in the Madison schools: two sons attend
East High School and her daughter attends Sherman Middle School. With husband Peter Oppeneer, she is an active supporter of Northside youth soccer, basketball, baseball, and softball.
“In allocating our limited resources, I want to be sure services
for our kids are preserved while taking a fresh look at how we might
be more efficient and effective,” Kobza said. “I will seek
out the best information with an open mind to make sure we have a
clear picture of all available alternatives in these tight economic
Ms. Kobza is an attorney and partner with the Boardman Law Firm in
Madison, concentrating in municipal law with an emphasis on utility
and environmental issues. She is a graduate of UW-Madison Law School
and the UW-Madison Business School. Madison Magazine named her a top
attorney in environmental law for 2005.
Authorized and paid for by Lawrie Kobza for School Board, Barbara
Schrank, Treasurer

Hewlett Foundation/RAND Study on California’s K-12 System

The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a RAND Education study of the California K-12 System, released today. Press Release | Full Document [900K PDF].

California’s public school system lags behind most of the nation on almost every objective measurement of student achievement, funding, teacher qualifications and school facilities, according to a new RAND Corporation analysis that is the first comprehensive examination of measurable dimensions of the state’s education system.

TABOR – Why did Colorado Approve it?

I posted a series of links to Colorado’s TABOR experience (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) here. One of the articles I linked to demonstrates the root cause of TABOR type laws: “The problem: From 1983 to ’92, spending by Colorado state government rose by 97%, while inflation rose 29.7% and the state’s population increased by 10.4%”.
I think it’s critical for the Madison School District to publish detailed revenue and spending data over the past decade as part the upcoming referendum process. As far as I can tell, Madison School spending was $194M in 1994 and grew to $307M+ in 2004 with roughly a similar number of students. I’ll post the actual year to year numbers, as I asked for here, once we obtain them….

Milwaukee Area School Chiefs Pay Outpaces Teachers

Amy Hetzner:

More than three of every four school districts paid their superintendents more in 2003-’04, when measured against what the average teacher was paid, than they did in the 1995-’96 school year, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis of data reported to the state.
In addition, with perks such as payments to tax-sheltered annuities added in, fringe benefits for superintendents in about half the five-county Milwaukee area districts have increased at a higher rate than their teachers’ benefits. But while rising costs for teachers’ health insurance and pensions have strained contract negotiations, escalating superintendent benefits have gotten little attention.
All of this has happened despite a provision in state law that requires school boards to restrict compensation raises for school administrators to 3.8% or the same percentage increase given to teachers the prior year.
Since the law was enacted in 1993, the Legislature has approved enough loopholes that the law can be largely ignored. There also is apparently no oversight other than local school boards and their voters.
“I mean, so what? So you break the rule,” said Roger Danielsen, a member of the Waukesha School Board, which approved a 15.9% salary increase for its superintendent this year. “I don’t think there’s any enforcement, although we’re trying to stay true to the (teachers’) package.”

I wonder what the data looks like around Madison?

MMSD threw away “crackerjack” administrator

Capital Times Editor Dave Zweifel recently praised former Lapham principal Barb Thompson, calling her a “crackerjack school superintendent” for the astonishingly successful commuity-wide holiday luncheon in New Glarus, just as she organized a similar and equally popular holiday luncheon at Lapham.
By contrast MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater passed over Thompson in the search to replace East High Principal Milt McPike, instead hiring and then firing a woman who could not lead East.
Read Zweifel’s article at New Glarus shows spirit of the season.

School Privacy Notices

Treena Shapiro discusses concerns raised over school privacy notices:

Sybil Arum’s eighth-grade granddaughter came home this week worried that she was on the verge of being drafted by the military and sent off to war.
The reason for her fear was the Department of Education’s annual privacy notice, which says contact information for secondary students as young as sixth-graders may be released to military recruiters unless the student, parent or legal guardian requests otherwise.
Arum, who is the child’s guardian, quickly determined that her granddaughter was not being shipped off to Iraq, but became alarmed anyway.
“I’m very upset with the age level that this policy encompasses,” she said.
DOE and U.S. Department of Defense officials, however, stress that the military is only interested in students who are 17 and older and will not be following up with students as young as sixth-graders.
“We don’t just automatically release (the information to recruiters); it would have to be on request,” said DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen. “Recruiters have told us that their interest is in juniors and seniors.”

There’s more to this than just information for recruiters. DPI has information on this issue here (parents can opt out. This page describes that process). MMSD’s policy 4157 apparently describes the district’s data privacy processes. Send me comments/questions on this: zellmer at mailbag dot com.

Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Ruth Robarts wrote:

Thanks to Jason Shepard for highlighting comments of UW Psychology Professor Mark Seidenberg at the Dec. 13 Madison School Board meeting in his article, Not all good news on reading. Dr. Seidenberg asked important questions following the administrations presentation on the reading program. One question was whether the district should measure the effectiveness of its reading program by the percentages of third-graders scoring at proficient or advanced on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRCT). He suggested that the scores may be improving because the tests arent that rigorous.
I have reflected on his comment and decided that he is correct.
Using success on the WRCT as our measurement of student achievement likely overstates the reading skills of our students. The WRCT—like the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) given in major subject areas in fourth, eighth and tenth grades— measures student performance against standards developed in Wisconsin. The more teaching in Wisconsin schools aims at success on the WRCT or WKCE, the more likely it is that student scores will improve. If the tests provide an accurate, objective assessment of reading skills, then rising percentages of students who score at the proficient and advanced levels would mean that more children are reaching desirable reading competence.
However, there are reasons to doubt that high percentages of students scoring at these levels on the WRCT mean that high percentages of students are very proficient readers. High scores on Wisconsin tests do not correlate with high scores on the more rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.
In 2003, 80% of Wisconsin fourth graders scored proficient or advanced on the WCKE in reading. However, in the same year only 33% of Wisconsin fourth graders reached the proficient or advanced level in reading on the NAEP. Because the performance of Madison students on the WCKE reading tests mirrors the performance of students statewide, it is reasonable to conclude that many of Madisons proficient and advanced readers would also score much lower on the NAEP. For more information about the gap between scores on the WKCE and the NAEP in reading and math, see EdWatch Online 2004 State Summary Reports at
Next year the federal No Child Left Behind Act replaces the Wisconsin subject area tests with national tests. In view of this change and questions about the value of WRCT scores, its time for the Board of Education to review its benchmarks for progress on its goal of all third-graders reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
Ruth Robarts
Member, Madison Board of Education

Continue reading Ruth Robarts Letter to the Isthmus editor on MMSD Reading Progress

Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Barb Williams wrote:

I’m glad Jason Shepard questions MMSD’s public display of self-congratulation over third grade reading test scores. It isn’t that MMSD ought not be proud of progress made as measured by fewer African American students testing at the basic and minimal levels. But there is still a sigificant gap between white students and students of color–a fact easily lost in the headlines. Balanced Literacy, the district’s preferred approach to reading instruction, works well for most kids. Yet there are kids who would do a lot better in a program that emphasizes explicit phonics instruction, like the one offered at Lapham and in some special education classrooms. Kids (arguably too many) are referred to special education because they have not learned to read with balanced literacy and are not lucky enough to land in the extraordinarily expensive Reading Recovery program that serves a very small number of students in one-on-on instruction. (I have witnessed Reading Recovery teachers reject children from their program because they would not receive the necessary support from home.)

Continue reading Barb Williams: Letter to the Isthmus Editor on 3rd Grade Reading Scores

NYC – Balanced Literacy and Reading First Grant – $111 million. Why Wasn’t MMSD Successful?

Why didn’t MMSD qualify for Reading First dollars? NYC was awarded a Reading First grant of $111.4 million over three years for 49 public and 35 non-public schools. NYC offers Balanced Literacy to its school children. Madison offers Balanced Literacy. Why wasn’t the Reading First program able to become part of Madison’s Balanced Literacy?
Part of the reason may lie in the NYC approach to seeking the grant money. NYC formed a committee of teaching professionals, union representatives, experts and parents to review the grant requirements and to determine what program would work with their comprehensive approach to literacy.
NYC succeeded in being able to incorporate Reading First, which is dollars targeted to literacy for low income children. Madison citizens need to know more about what process MMSD used and more specifics about what were the barriers to MMSD receiving Reading First dollars?

Reading First in the NYC Department of Literacy
Letter Describing NYC Process for Seeking Reading First Grant Money

MMSD Committee Considers Building and Maintenance Referenda – But What About the Rest of the Budget

I’m puzzled. The MMSD School Board’s Long Range Planning Committee and Community Advisory Committee have spent the fall discussing plans to build a new school on the grounds of the existing Leopold Elementary School and $26+ million maintenance referenda. But, what’s the School Board been considering?
A new school and a new five year maintenance referendum are being given careful public consideration and discussion. But, there’s been no discussion of the overall budget of which these two items are only two parts.
What about the rest of the $350 million school budget and its priorities? When will this be discussed? If you look at the present proposed timeline for development of the 2005-2006 budget, cuts won’t be presented until March, at the earlies. Cuts are not a discussion of the budget.
Why haven’t discussions been taking place about what the needs are for instruction and instructional support and what the budget costs of these needs will be for 2005-2006? What education for our children do we envision the next 3-5 years? What are ways to get to those goals?
We’ve heard about curriculum development, but have not seen dollars and effectiveness of those dollars being given much discussion publicly?
When did the School Board decide to discuss building an maintenance referendum, but decide to wait until March to consider the rest?
What plans are underway to maintain curriculum the community values and children/parents want? What new partnerships are being explored by the Partnerships Committee?
Debt buydown to pay for maintenance? Where’s the discussion about using the debt buydown to pay for instruction and instructional support? When will the School Board have these discussions?
Let’s consider the buildings and their maintenance, but let’s keep the big picture in mind and present. Any addition to the budget needs to be weighed against the district’s overall priorities, and there needs to be more public discussion and problem solving – soon, very soon.
Upkeep Of Schools On Ballot? – Lee Sensenbrenner, The Capital Times
Committee Ponders Two Referendums – Sandy Cullen in Wi State Journal

MMSD Hiring Freeze – Capital Times Editorial

In a recent editorial The Capital Times praised Supt. Rainwater’s announcement of a hiring slowdown that is intended to maintain educational quality while saving money. Teaching positions will be filled, but non-teaching positions will only be filled if there is a clear necessity for them. The District expects to save $600,000 by holding open as many as 40 positions.
The Capital Times Praises MMSD Hiring Slowdown as Necessary and Prudent

Elementary School Needs String Instruments – Sandy Cullen

Sandy Cullen, Wisconsin State Journal reporter, wrote a story in early December about a shortage of string instruments at Leopold Elementary School. It seems that newly hired MMSD strings teacher, Pat Kukes, has more students than violins for his elementary string students. He’s hoping donations will be made to the school so that children will have instruments to practice and so that all students can play together in a concert.
Most of the students in the elementary strings program are low income, so renting an instrument privately is not an option.
Elementary School Needs String Instrumenets

Taxpayer Information I’d like to see from the Madison School District

Given this and the probability of three spending referendums this spring, I would like to see the Madison School District’s finance folks publish the following information (in html, on their web site):

The District’s sources and uses of funds over the past 10 years, including:

  • total spending (education, special ed, services, staff/admin, other)
  • Employment numbers (teachers, staff, part time, mscr)
  • revenues (by source: grants, local taxes, state & federal funds), fees
  • Student counts, including low income changes, special ed and population changes across the district (from school to school)
  • Supporting numbers, notes and comments to the data.

This type of detailed, background information would be rather useful to all Madison citizens as we contemplate further increases in education spending. There’s been some discussion of eliminating the deduction for state & local taxes for federal tax purposes. IF that happens, there will be quite a blowback from places like Wisconsin that have relatively high taxes.

Wisconsin Property Taxes

Several recent articles highlight the ongoing problem of state & local taxes growing faster than Wisconsin personal income:

  • Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance released a study that forecasts 2005 property taxes will go up more than 6 percent. They also forecast that the local school portion of property taxes will go up 7.3%. They also found that property taxes will account for 4.1% of Wisconsin taxpayer’s personal income. (via JR Ross)
  • Unsurprisingly, The Taxpayer Bill of Rights continues to be discussed in Madison. This will continue to be a hot button issue as long as state and local spending continues to rise faster than personal incomes (there will be a reckoning unless the economy grows faster…., here’s an example: Judy Wagner, 65, a Milwaukee substitute teacher, said her property taxes were forcing her to postpone her retirement. Her property tax bill had risen from about $3,000 in 2000 to just under $4,700 now, she said.
    “My options are to work until I’m 75 or 80 or sell my home and move south like three of my friends have,” she said.) Via Patrick Marley & Steven Walters.

  • This will help, to some degree, though we must create a more robust environment for tax paying entrepreneurs. True statewide, 2 way broadband (not the current slow DSL and cable modem services) and a much simplified tax/paperwork process would be a great start.

Not all good news on reading – Jason Shepard

TALKING OUT OF SCHOOL / Jason Shepard / Isthmus, December 16, 2004
Not all good news on reading
Writing in the Isthmus weekly newspaper out on Thursday, December 16, 2004, Jason Shepard notes, “One reality touts the district [MMSD] as superior to any other known district in the country at nearly eliminating the gap among the lowest performing readers in the third grade. The other reality shows that minority third graders continue to lag far behind whites at higher levels. While nearly 94% of white third graders read at or above grade level this year, only 66% of black students do.”
Download file

East Parents Lack Faith In Principal Hiring

Wisconsin State Journal
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
East Parents Lack Faith In Principal Hiring
by Sandy Cullen
Parents of East High School students say they lack confidence that the School District will hire a principal who can successfully lead what one described as a school “under siege.”
About 50 people attended a meeting at the high school Tuesday with Assistant Superintendent Valencia Douglas to discuss the process for hiring a successor to Catherine Tillman.
“We all know what a successful candidate is,” parent Lenny Alston told Douglas. “We want to make sure you guys know.”
Soon after the start of the school year, Tillman was abruptly reassigned to an administrative position. She recently reached a settlement with the district, and her resignation becomes effective March 31.
Alston was one of several parents who said they had no confidence in the selection process that resulted in Tillman’s hiring in September 2002. The district hasn’t disclosed the reason for reassigning Tillman, but some parents were concerned early on that she lacked experience to lead the school’s diverse population of 2,100 students, 40 percent minorities.
“I can’t get over the fact that this place is under siege. We’ve got problems over here galore,” said Alston, a parent of two East graduates and one freshman. “It isn’t just a black problem, and it isn’t just a race problem … You guys aren’t listening to us, that’s the problem.”
Other parents wanted to know what would be different from the last time. “It just has to be done right,” said parent Pam Cross-Leone. “We cannot afford to fail this time.”
Parents advocated for more input earlier in the selection process, before the search is narrowed to eight candidates who are interviewed by a 12-person committee of parents, students, teachers and other high school principals. That group selects three finalists to be interviewed by Douglas and other administrators.
Douglas said the process has resulted in the hiring of many successful principals. She agreed there are problems at the school and pledged that “there will be a very, very good pool of candidates.”

Reading Recovery reduces overall performance for African American kids

American-American students fare badly in Reading Recovery. Only 43% successfully discontinue, compared to 49% for Asian students, 56% for Hispanic students, and 57% for white students.
According to one of the district�s report on Reading Recovery (p. 14), �Discontinued Reading Recovery students [that is, students who �graduate�] outperform the comparison group by 1.2 text reading levels while all other Reading Recovery students score almost 4 text reading levels less than their comparison group.�
In other words, for every 43 discontinued African-American Reading Recovery students who advance 1.2 text reading levels, 57 fall behind by 4 text reading levels relative to their comparison group. The net impact of Reading Recovery reduces overall reading success for the African-American students in the district.
Ed Blume

Mary Watson Peterson Presents MMSD’s Elementary Reading Curriculum

Mary Watson Peterson, MMSD Reading Coordinator, presented the theory behind the design and development of MMSD’s Balanced Literacy Program. Her professional presentation noted the significant progress in reading that the District has been reporting publicly during the past month.
Ms. Peterson mentioned that several teachers are trained in Direct Instruction and that some teachers use this method. However, no information was presented on the results using this approach as a core curriculum or as an intervention method.
Mary Watson Peterson MMSD Elementary Reading Curriculum Presentation to the MMSD School Board on Monday, December 13, 2004

Examining Student Scores for Opportunities for Academic Improvement

Jay Mathews, Washington Post staff writer, wrote an article in the December 14, 2004 Washington Post (Mining Scores for Nuances in Improvement) about using value-added assessments, which “…use test scores to compare each child’s progress to predictions based on past performance…” Not everyone is pleased with value-added assessments. “Value-added assessment has also become a political irritant because some school boards and superintendents want to pay teachers based on how much value they are adding, as measured by individual student test scores, for students in their classes. In Ohio and most other states, the system is being used only to diagnose student needs, leaving the question of teacher pay for later.” Value-added assessments, which can be done by principals or teachers, is one approach that attempts to bring analysis of student data closer to the school/teacher.
Mining Scores for Nuances in Improvement

Madison schools distort reading data

U.W. psychologist, Mark Seidenberg, wrote an editorial in Sunday’s (12/12/04) edition of the Wisconsin State Journal critical of the way that the district is presenting its reading data. He also points out that although Superintendent Rainwater would like the public to believe “that accepting the Reading First funds would have required him to “eliminate” the district’s current reading curriculum – the one used throughout the district. … The acceptance of Reading First funding has no bearing on the curriculum used in other schools.”

Continue reading Madison schools distort reading data

Are MMSD Programs Effective? Who Knows?

This is my first post to this blog, so I�ll start by introducing myself. My name is Bill Herman. I have two kids at Crestwood ES, and a third will start in the fall. Also, I work in K-12 education; I�m the technology director for Monona Grove Schools.
I read �Paper #1,� criticizing MMSD for declining $2 million of federal money for reading, with interest and some dismay. With interest because it does seem odd that the district would reject such a sum even if some strings are attached. With dismay because neither side in the debate had a good way to weigh the district�s key claim�that the existing program has improved student reading.
Both sides used WKCE scores to support their claims. Unfortunately, the WKCE is not a useful tool to assess the effectiveness of programs at MMSD or anywhere else, because it isn�t designed to measure student progress over time, or to compare scores from one year with scores from another year. This means that we have a bigger problem than not knowing if elementary reading instruction is effective in MMSD. We are not able to decisively assess the effectiveness of any instructional program in the Madison schools.

Continue reading Are MMSD Programs Effective? Who Knows?

A Parent’s Thoughts on Learning to Read – Next Step Considerations

MMSD District Administration will be making a presenation on the MMSD Literacy Program Research tomorrow during the Performance and Achievement Committee meeting. I hope significant time is spent discussing a) results and next steps for MMSD’s Balanced Literacy approach to learning to read and write b) an analysis of alternative reading interventions and c) analysis and reasons that led the Superintendent to turn down Reading First grant funds.
If there are teachers who are using teaching methods/curricula that are not part of the current Balanced Literacy approach, but are effective with the student population who is not at the proficient and advanced reading levels, board members need to ask to see the results.
Why look at the results? All teachers want each child they teach to be successful learners. If teachers are being successful in their teaching approach, the District Administration needs to learn from these efforts and incorporate them into their existing curricula. Continuous change to improve best practices through various feedback mechanisms is an important part of a successful change in an organization.

Continue reading A Parent’s Thoughts on Learning to Read – Next Step Considerations

The Last Time You Used Algebra Was…

New York Times, December 12, 2004
The Last Time You Used Algebra Was…
It’s been a long time since most of us have used algebra in our daily lives – unless, perhaps, you’re helping your child with homework or work in a field that uses lots of mathematics. However, learning algebra is still important. The concepts I learned in mathematics have helped me with learning other concepts in different fields – math teaches you a way of thinking.
“…kids don’t study poetry just because they’re going to grow up to be poets. It’s about a habit of mind. Your mind doesn’t think abstractly unless it’s asked to – and it needs to be asked to from a relatively young age. The rigor and logic that goes into math is a good way for your brain to be trained,” said Miss Collins, the author’s daughter’s math teacher.
The Last Time You Used Algebra Was…

Reading First Program in Wisconsin

Reading First is a part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Title I, Part B, Subpart 1). Reading First is designed to assist schools in establishing reading programs for students in kindergarten through grade 3. These programs must be founded on scientifically-based reading research and aid in ensuring every student can read well by the end of third grade.
Link to DPI Reading First Website and WI Reading First Grant Application

Continue reading Reading First Program in Wisconsin

Schools [MMSD] Freeze Hiring

By Lee Sensenbrenner, The Capital Times
December 11, 2004
A hiring freeze has been declared in the Madison Metropolitan School District, as Superintendent Art Rainwater tries to deal with a possible $1 million shortfall in the utilities budget.
Rainwater made the announcement Friday in a letter to board members and the district’s management team. It says that “the prospect remains that additional actions may be required.”
Link to Full Story – Schools Freeze Hiring

U.S. Students Fare Badly in International Survey of Math Skills

PARIS, Dec. 6 – High school students in Hong Kong, Finland and South Korea do best in mathematics among those in 40 surveyed countries while students in the United States finished in the bottom half, according to a new international comparison of mathematical skills shown by 15-year-olds.
The United States was also cited as having the poorest outcomes per dollar spent on education. It ranked 28th of 40 countries in math and 18th in reading.
U.S. Students Fare Badly in International Survey of Math Skills

MMSD Equity Policy – Board Member’s Comments and Community Member’s Response to Those Comments

The following exchange of e-mails is between Lawrie Kobza and Johnny Winston Jr., regarding the District’s proposed elimination of the equity policy.
As I read the two authors’ comments, I become more convinced that board policy changes ought to be discussed first at a Board committee meeting prior to a final vote. The substance of the changes merit public discussion and comment. The District Administration’s Questions and Answers sheet on this topic would have been a good place for the School Board to begin their discussions.

Continue reading MMSD Equity Policy – Board Member’s Comments and Community Member’s Response to Those Comments

At a Frontier of School Reform, Getting Millions, Seeking More

JACKSON, Ky., Dec. 3 – As New York City schools celebrate the findings by a court-appointed panel that could bring them $5.6 billion more every year, the schools under the sawed-off mountains here in the heart of coal country tell a hopeful but cautionary tale of what may lie ahead.
Once the Kentucky Supreme Court said the state’s school system needed revamping, in a ruling that inspired court cases and decisions around the nation, lawmakers here enacted one of the country’s most thorough education overhauls within a year.
At a Frontier of School Reform, Getting Millions, Seeking More

Board Priorities – Annual Report

The MMSD Board of Education has established three priorities aimed at improving student achievement:
1. All students reading at grade level by third grade
2. All students completing Algebra and Geometry by the end of 10 th grade
3. All students attending school at least 94%
Each year the Superintendent reports on progress toward these goals. This year’s presentation was made on December 6, 2004.
Superintendent’s Annual Report to School Board on Board Priorities

MMSD Board Policy Changes – Administration Proposes Eliminating Equity Policy / Northside PTO Coalition Says No, Not a Good Idea

Mixed in with other MMSD Board business on December 6, 2004 was a change to District Policy 9001 regarding equity.
From the Board Agenda – X Other Business – Item C.
It is recommended that the Board approve: 1) the changes that are attached relative to Board Policy 9000A and 9000B which have to do with a Code of Conduct for employees and Board members; 2) the deletion of Board Policy 9001 regarding equity; and 3) the changes that are attached relative to Board Policy 10,000 regarding charter schools.
The Northside PTO Coalition opposed the MMSD Administration proposal to eliminate the Equity Policy. Board members decided to postpose a decision on this policy and asked the administration to rework the policy with consideration given to equity issues.
This is the second time in little over a month that a policy change raised concern among the public. Earlier, the District administration had proposed eliminating the policy that required professionals to be included in the hiring of teachers in certain aeas: physical education, special education, fine arts, for example.
Fine arts teachers said they needed this professional help to ensure the quality teaching professionals are hired in specific areas.
Maybe the Board needs to consider an interim step in the policy revision process that first passes through a Board committee if the change is more than simple updating.
Download press release file

Continue reading MMSD Board Policy Changes – Administration Proposes Eliminating Equity Policy / Northside PTO Coalition Says No, Not a Good Idea

MMSD Theory of Action for Change and Continuous Improvement

Superintendent Rainwater told MMSD board members Monday December 6, 2004 that some of the District’s goals are directed to educate teachers to do the right thing…support and train teachers…provide various levels of interventions for students that are not successful with the core curriculum.
In the case of reading, Balanced Literacy is the core curriculum and Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention teaching tool/approach that is used to help certain students be successful with reading.
The Superintendent commented that he believes the recent controversy surrounding reading is due in part to a misunderstanding of what the various definitions of Balanced Literacy, Reading First, Reading Recovery and Direct Instruction are.
From what I’ve read and understand about the debate and controversy, there are different approaches being used in the district when intervening to help a student who is not being successful with the core reading curriculum. Direct Instruction, which is a stand alone reading curriculum, is used by some reading teachers in the district as an intervention tool rather than Reading Recovery.
If results are available for both these interventions, I hope that the School Board takes the time to ask questions about what results we are seeing with different intervention approaches. Now that we have 80% of our children at proficient or advanced reading levels, the last 20% are likely to be particularly challenging for educators.
As I listened to the presentations last night, I couldn’t help but be impressed with two things regarding reading – strong community support and involvement through the Schools of Hope and other volunteers and continued reinforcement at all levels of the organization, beginning with teachers’ commitment to the students. When my daughter was in elementary school at Franklin and Randall Elementary Schools you knew that the principals and teachers were strongly committed to the Board’s reading priority.
Art Rainwater’s comments to the School Board can be viewed by clicking on the following link:
MMSD Theory of Action for Change and Continuous Improvement relative to the Academic Achievement of MMSD Students
Questions of Superintendent Rainwater

Comments on MMSD’s Buyout of East High Principal

Last spring four Board members �Carol Carstensen, Bill Clingan, Bill Keys and Juan Lopez�voted to authorize the superintendent to buyout problem employees and pay them up to five months in wages and benefits. Members Ray Allen, Shwaw Vang and I voted no. The decision was retroactive to cover deals with two teachers that the superintendent had already made.
Now we see the results of this bad policy decision,

Continue reading Comments on MMSD’s Buyout of East High Principal

Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater sent me an email today regarding this paper. Here’s his email:

Dear Jim
I received a copy of your email to Diane Mayerfeld regarding reading in the Madison Schools. I would like to set straight the misinformation that is contained in the document that you included with your email. First the Milwaukee Public Schools have not performed better on the fourth grade WKCE test that Madison. The report cites “School Facts 03” as the source. The numbers in that publication show that in Madison 80% of our fourth graders scored proficient and advanced on the test and that only 63% of Milwaukee”s fourth graders scored proficient and advanced. I am not sure how such an error could have occurred in the document that you produced since the numbers in the report are very clear. An examination of the DPI WINNS website shows the same numbers.
I find this type of inaccuracy extremely disturbing since inaccurate numbers were also used in the Wisconsin State Journal editorial regarding the Reading First grant. The editorial states that Lincoln’s third grade reading scores have declined since 2001, when in fact, they have steadily increased. The editorial writer had the chart showing the increase in performance before her when she wrote the editorial.
There are always legitimate disagreements that can be made over many of the decisions that the District makes. However, using inaccurate and clearly wrong data to make those arguments should never be acceptable.
The Performance Series Report also indicates that there was a choice between Reading Recovery and the programs approved under the Reading First grant for funding. That assertion is not accurate. Reading Recovery was not part of the issue at all. The choice was between our Balanced Literacy Core Program (CLIP) and the Reading first programs. Reading Recovery is a first grade intervention not a core program. The following explanation written by the team that actually worked on the Reading First grant and have extraordinary expertise in reading says it much better than I can.

Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Email regarding Reading First

Put School Costs Back on the Agenda – WI State Journal Opinion

Can Wisconsin cover the real expenses of schools without raising overall taxes? With each passing year of neglect, the task becomes more daunting.
Wisconsin schools will collect 7.3 percent more this year in property taxes, the largest boost in more than a decade, the state says. Wisconsin’s 426 school districts expect to levy $3.61 billion on tax bills being sent out this month, compared with $3.37 billion last year.
Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, a lonely voice calling for wholesale overhaul of education financing, says even bigger levies are coming if government fails to revamp a financing system that no longer accounts for the widely varying types of financial pressures facing public schools.
Read the full Opinion piece from December 5, 2004
WI Journal Opinion: Put school costs back on agenda

Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent comments on the Budget and the Reading First rejection

I recently received a copy of the minutes of the November 3, 2004 Superintendent’s Faculty Committee meeting. During this meeting Superintendent Art Rainwater discusses a variety of topics, including the recent rejection of $2M in Reading First funds and the district’s budget. The minutes are available in this 350K pdf document. Highlights:

On Declining Federal Funds: “This situation (declining federal funds) presents a dilemma for a Superintendent – not so much for me because I’ve done what I want to do and am looking at the end of my career. But for a young, career-building Superintendent in a struggling district it would be very hard to decide whether you accept desperately needed money and compromise program, or turn it down because you know you have something better.”
What was the reaction to the district saying no to federal money? I read a little about it in the newspaper. That was it – there was no other reaction.”
on Reading First:
“The Reading 1st grants are designed to support schools where reading is an issue. Like everthing in NCLB, they are based on a relatively sound principle but farther down the line you find something insidious about that. . .”
On No Child Left Behind:
“By the year 2013, if we have one single student in the whole district who is not proficient or advanced in reading, math and science, then our district would be designated a failure. Much research has been done by a variety of educational associations. They show that, after six years, 80% of districts will be failing. When that is the goal, people don’t take it seriously. An important part about making change is having attainable goals.”
In response to a question on the budget,”Are we headed for another $10 million in budget cuts?” Art answered, “The best case, which I believe we are heading for, is between $6-7 million. The worst case would be if the Legislature passes a property tax freeze and the Governor can’t veto it, which would result in somewhere between $15-17 million.”

MMSD Math Curriculum – Melania Alvarez Comments

Melania Alvarez, former MMSD School Board candidate, spoke on Monday, November 30, 2004 before members of the School Board. Her comments raised concerns about the lack of evaluation of the math curriculum currently being used in the MMSD. Ms. Alvarez’s comments are based upon her own review of the math curriculum and upon her conversations with concerned parents in the District.
Following are video clips of her comments and questions of her by School board members.
Melania’s Presentation
Question/Answer Session

School-Community-Parent Partnerships – Conference, Dec. 11

Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Coalition presents:
School-Community-Parent Partnerships
Saturday December 11, 2004
Noon-3:00 PM
The Bahai Center
324 W. Lakeside Street, across from Franklin School
Join us as we explore
What’s working
What needs improving
Who is welcome in our public schools
Who feels unwelcome
What rights do parents and district citizens have in our schools
How can parents of students of color influence the CLIMATE and LEARNING environment
What can you do if you are treated poorly at a school
When should parents seek outside help
How can parents and ordinary citizens of color share in decision making
How to organize parents at your school
Parents and district residents are invited to attend this meeting. The emphasis is on making schools a more welcoming place for adults and students of color.
Co-sponsored by MEP (Money, Education, Prisons Taskforce)
And UW-MAFAAC chapter
For more information call 836-0616 or visit the MAFAAC Web site.

Math Curriculum Board Meeting Video Clips

The Madison School Board Performance & Achievement Committee met monday night, to discuss “Research-Base Underlying MMSD Mathematics Curriculum & Instruction” Here are some video clips from the meeting:

RFK on School Performance: 1965

Jenny D posts a transcript of RFK’s (Robert F. Kennedy) 1965 Senate testimony on school performance:

Some may wonder, why on earth is Jenny D. wasting her time copying down 40-year-old Senate testimony? Because it so closely mirrors the conversations today about No Child Left Behind. NCLB didn’t fall out of the sky as some evil Republican plan. It was first hatched, albeit crudely, in 1965 by U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I think it’s important to know where we came from

RFK on standardized tests | RFK on Title 1


On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness: Judging the Quality of K-12 Mathematics Evaluations (2004)
Curricula play a vital role in educational practice. They provide a crucial link between standards and accountability measures. They shape and are shaped by the professionals who teach with them. Typically, they also determine the content of the subjects being taught. Furthermore, because decisions about curricula are typically made at the local level in the United States, a wide variety of curricula are available for any given subject area.
Under the auspices of the National Research Council, this committee�s charge was to evaluate the quality of the evaluations of the 13 mathematics curriculum materials supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (an estimated $93 million) and 6 of the commercially generated mathematics curriculum materials (listing in Chapter 2).Continue reading JUDGING THE QUALITY OF K-12 MATHEMATICS EVALUATIONS

Madison School Performance Series: Reading Instruction

The Madison School Performance Series of issue briefs will offer parents and others accessible information and analysis of critical school program and funding issues. The first paper on Reading Instruction is attached. In a question and answer format it discusses the failing Reading Recovery program and how the District�s commitment to the program is costing us more per student than other more effective programs. Upcoming papers will address issues such as fine arts, programs for talented and gifted students and administration funding.
View this 1 Page PDF File [72K PDF]

WSJ Opinion: Reading between the lines of rigidity

The WSJ Editorial page published a very useful editorial this morning on the Madison School District’s rejection of $2M in federal Reading First funds for reading improvement programs:

Taxpayers have the right to ask why the Madison School District would turn its back on a $2 million grant.

Read a number of other articles on the district’s rejection of the $2M reading first funds here.

Continue reading WSJ Opinion: Reading between the lines of rigidity

East hosts meeting to discuss principal selection

The head of the East parent network e-mailed the letter below to people who’d signed up to get news about East.
November 22, 2004
Dear East High School Parent, Family or Community Member,
You are invited to attend a special meeting to discuss the selection and hiring of the next principal of East High School. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, December 14 at 6:30 PM in the forum at East High School. Valencia Douglas, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education for the Madison Metropolitan School District will be facilitating the meeting.
This meeting is the first step in the formal process that will culminate with the hiring of the new principal. Your input is important. If you have any questions, please contact the main office at East School at 204-1600.
Sincerely yours,
Loren J. Rathert
Interim Principal

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.

Overture Center Soars while MMSD Fine Arts Curriculum Sinks

The following letter was submitted to the Madison papers today.
Dear Editor:
What joy I experience when I attend performances at the new Overture Center for the Performing Arts! I�ve been to a variety of free and paid performances, including the MSO and Kanopy Dance. Thank you Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland for your gift to the City of Madison, your vision for a vibrant arts community, and your support for the city�s economic and cultural future. Yet sadly, we are in danger of this joy not lasting into the future.
The problem is not Madison�s citizens. Their support for arts organizations is impressive. The Great Performance Fund is a major step in that direction, and the UW-Madison is undertaking a major renovation and investment in the arts as well. These foundations are critical to the support of a vibrant Madison future, but they are not sufficient.
What is missing? We are lacking a commitment to a strong Fine Arts foundation in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), which serves nearly 25,000 students.
continue reading entire letter.

Continue reading Overture Center Soars while MMSD Fine Arts Curriculum Sinks

Life Way After Head Start – Innovative PreSchool Programs Have Decades Long Effects for Low Income and Minority Children

Madison’s preschool leaders are advocating for an innovative K-4 program that involves a public/private partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District, City of Madison and Madison preschools. There are proposed options that will build upon current preschool programs and entry into public school.
As the article below states, innovative pre-school programs can have decades long positive effects on children who participate in them as they grow into adults.
David L. Kirp, writing in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (November 21, 2004:
“The power of education to level the playing field has long
been an American article of faith. Education is the
”balance wheel of the social machinery,” argued Horace
Mann, the first great advocate of public schooling. ”It
prevents being poor.” But that belief has been undermined
by research findings — seized on ever since by skeptics —
that federal programs like Head Start, designed to benefit
poor children, actually have little long-term impact.
Now evidence from an experiment that has lasted nearly four
decades may revive Horace Mann’s faith. ”Lifetime Effects:
The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study Through Age 40,” was
released earlier this week. It shows that an innovative
early education program can make a marked difference in the
lives of poor minority youngsters — not just while they
are in school but for decades afterward. ”
The complete article follows:

Continue reading Life Way After Head Start – Innovative PreSchool Programs Have Decades Long Effects for Low Income and Minority Children

Celebrating Mediocrity?

John Tierney writes:

At one level, the debate is over current controversies in public education: Many parents believe that their children, mostly in elite schools, are being pushed too hard in a hypercompetitive atmosphere. But other parents are complaining about a decline in programs for gifted children, leaving students to languish in “untracked” and unstimulating classrooms. Some critics of education believe that boys especially are languishing in schools that emphasize cooperation instead of competition. No Child Left Behind, indeed.
But the basic issue is the same one raised four decades ago by Kurt Vonnegut in “Harrison Bergeron,” a short story set in the America of 2081, about a 14-year-old genius and star athlete. To keep others from feeling inferior, the Handicapper General weighs him down with 300-pound weights and makes him wear earphones that blast noise, so he cannot take “unfair advantage” of his brain.
That’s hardly the America of 2004, but today’s children do grow up with soccer leagues and spelling bees where everyone gets a prize. On some playgrounds dodge ball is deemed too traumatic to the dodging-impaired. Some parents consider musical chairs dangerously exclusionary.

Fascinating look at the tyranny of low expectations….

Closing a Madison school is possible

“Madison School District parents could face a difficult community discussion next spring over whether to close one of the district’s 30 elementary schools.
Superintendent Art Rainwater said Thursday that all options, including closing a school, must be considered to deal with an expected shift in student population from the city’s East and North sides to the South and West sides.”
Story continues at the State Journal.

Carstensen & Clingan to run again

An article in the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday, November 16, reports that Carol Carstensen and Bill Clingan will run for re-election to the school board.
A lively debate during school board elections will help shape better policies and improve programs for Madison�s children. A lively debate, of course, requires a candidate to challenge the incumbents.
You can be a candidate!
You can begin circulating nomination papers on Sunday, December 1, barely three weeks from now! You need only 100 signatures by January 7, 2005, to get your name on the ballot! You can get full details at the Web pages of the city clerk.
You won�t be alone. A strong network of experienced activists from all across the city will help with research, organizing, fundraising, and all the other necessities of running a campaign.
As a candidate, you would run city-wide for a one of two numbered seats currently held by Bill Clingan (Seat 6) and Carol Carstensen (Seat 7).
If you�d like to know more about how to run, you can find the details on the Web site of the city clerk. Or, feel free to contact Jim Zellmer, webmaster of, (608)271-9622,; Don Severson, Active Citizens for Education, (608)238-8300,; Ed Blume, (608)225-6591,

DVD’s Replacing Live Spanish Teacher?

Jamall Abdul-Alim on the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District‘s attempt to use DVD’s for first through third graders.

“Buenos dias,” says Senor Morris, the instructor featured in the DVD set “Elementary Spanish” – a program the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District is using for the first time this year to teach Spanish to first- through third-graders.
In Spanish, the phrase means “good morning.”
But the days of Spanish instruction for students at Indian Hill may not be as good as they once were, educators say.
Last year, a teacher stood in the place now occupied by the TV set and DVD player. Budget cuts brought on by declining enrollment led district officials to say adios to Spanish teacher Mara Malloy – called Senora Malloy by her students.
She has been replaced by the DVD Spanish instruction package produced by Northern Arizona University.
The district saved thousands of dollars in Malloy’s part-time teacher salary and benefits. The DVD package cost $3,000.
But educators and students say there is a deeper cost associated with the switch from live teacher to technology that transcends dollars. They lament the lack of interaction between student and teacher, and worry that will lead to less academic success.

What do we want from our elected officials?

Reading Jason Shephard’s excellent “Robarts Gets The Treatment” made me think about what we should expect from our elected officials.
Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Act Professionally
    Debate is essential to our form of government. Our elected leaders should engage in and value substantive debate. Nothing engages the public more than this type of dialogue.
  • Use Data to Make Decisions
    There’s a reason that the CBO (Congressional Budget Office), and LAB (Legislative Audit Bureau) exist
  • Communicate: Tell the Whole Story
    Use the internet to converse with constituents.
  • Ask Tough Questions

Ruth Robarts and Kathleen Falk seem to be two local elected officials who are willing to challenge the status quo. Shephard is correct when he refers to Robarts as “Public Ally Number 1”
I consider Russ Feingold to be nearly a perfect politician. He’s idealist, yet has classic political abilities. He’s also very smart. Idealist in terms of compaign finance and local communications, political in terms of timely, political votes (NRA and Tax Giveaway) and smart (debates: where he shows that he knows the game very well). To his credit, he’s always willing to chat and ask questions. I’m interested in hearing your views. Click comments and write.

A Mother’s View on MMSD Expansion’s of Safe Haven

On October 8, 2004, Isthmus newspaper ran a story about how the Madison Schools replaced two not-for-profit after school day care programs with its own “Safe Haven” programs run by the Madison School-Community Recreation department.
Jane Sekulski, a mother whose child was in a displaced program, provides her responses to the article. This letter is a longer version of a letter published in Isthmus on November 11.

Continue reading A Mother’s View on MMSD Expansion’s of Safe Haven

Tough Love: A DC Mother’s Commitment to Education comes at a steep price

Susan Levine:

She sees the school for the first time on her daughter’s last day, and on a late June afternoon, with a crowd around, Sheila Hutton does not see much. The halls are locked and the classrooms disassembled. The teachers are indistinguishable from the parents, all in familiar conversation with neighbors and friends. Hutton, the stranger from Washington, takes in what she can as she finds a seat in the gymnasium. Purple banners herald the athletic championships the high school has won. Shimmery silver balloons bob on their tethers. The place already is packed.
In this faraway dot on a New Hampshire map — a rural curve in the road, nearly to Canada — her daughter is graduating. Hutton scans the program listing the 37 members of the Groveton High Class of ’04. About halfway down the names, after Holmes, before Karl: Michelle Teresa Hutton, a girl with bubbly charm and a Pepsodent smile.

Via Joanne Jacobs Maria Glod’s High Achiever’s Leaving Schools Behind is also well worth reading.

Run for school board

A lively debate during school board elections will help shape better policies and improve programs for Madison�s children. A lively debate, of course, requires more than one candidate in a race. You can be one of those candidates!
You can begin circulating nomination papers on Sunday, December 1, barely three weeks from now! You need only 100 signatures by 5:00 p.m. on January 4, 2005, to get your name on the ballot! You can get full details at the Web pages of the city clerk.

You won�t be alone.
A strong network of experienced activists from all across the city will help with research, organizing, fundraising, and all the other necessities of running a campaign.
As a candidate, you would run city-wide for a one of two numbered seats currently held by Bill Clingan (Seat 6) and Carol Carstensen (Seat 7).
If you�d like to know more about how to run, you can find the details on the Web site of the city clerk. Or, feel free to contact Jim Zellmer, webmaster of, (608)271-9622,; Don Severson, Active Citizens for Education, (608)238-8300,; Ed Blume, (608)225-6591,

No Child Left Behind – Canadian Style

David Bernhardt sent along information on Clyde Hertzman: Professor of Health Care and Epidemiology Director, Human Early Learning Partnership Co-Editor, Developmental Health and the Wealth of Nations University of British Columbia presentation November 18, 2004 @ The Waisman Conference Center (North Tower, 2nd Floor): 3:30 to 4:30p.m. Directions
Questions: contact Jane Lambert 608 265 4592 or jflamber at wisc dot edu
PDF announcement document (8.5 x 11)

Noted Researcher to Talk on “Best Practices in Gifted and Talented Education”

Community members are invited to join the Madison TAG Parents Group to hear Pam Clinkenbeard, Ph.D. talk on the topic of “Best Practices in Gifted and Talented Education” this Thursday, November 11, 2004 at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building.
Dr. Clinkendbeard is Professor of Educational Foundations at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She teaches courses in educational psychology, student motivation, child and adolescent development, and testing and measurement. She is a past president of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted and is currently on its board. She was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) from 1990-1996, and also served as Recording Secretary. She is also on the advisory boards of the Midwest Talent Search (MTS) and the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY). Pam received her doctorate in educational psychology and gifted education from Purdue University, studying with John Feldhusen. She then ran educational programs for the Duke University Talent Search, followed by several years teaching at the University of Georgia and coordinating the graduate program in gifted education. She was on the faculty of Yale University and the National Research Center for the Gifted and Talented, and worked with Robert J. Sternberg conducting research on his triarchic theory of intelligence and on motivation and gifted students. She has written several book chapters and has published articles in Gifted Child Quarterly, Journal for Education of the Gifted, and Roeper Review. She received the NAGC Early Researcher award, and is working on a project investigating the motivational patterns of gifted students. Pam grew up in Indiana, where her parents were teachers, and she graduated from DePauw University. She currently lives in Madison, and we are delighted that she is willing to share her expertise with us.

Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program

Norm and Dolores Mishelow gave an informative presentation Sunday on their successful Milwaukee Barton School and 27th Street school reading programs. Background
3.7MB MP3 – ideal for your MP3 Player/iPod | Quicktime Video
Transcripts to Follow. DVD copy is also available – email me if you’d like one: zellmer at mailbag dot com
In a related matter, Madison School Board Member Carol Carstensen writes in the Wisconsin State Journal in support of the District’s recent rejection of $2m in Federal Reading First money (click below).

Continue reading Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program

Reading program not worth cost; Rainwater pledges that it will continue

This week’s Isthmus includes a damning internal assessment of Reading Recovery, “a remedial first-grade reading program considered a cornerstone of Madison’s school iteracy efforts.”
“The district would be ‘well-served to investigate other methods’ to reach struggling reaaders, says the report.”
One of those other methods will be presented Sunday, at 1:00 p.m., at the Madison Community Center.
You can link to the Isthmus article.
The notice of Sunday’s meeting follows.

Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?

Norm and Dolores Mishelow
1:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 7
Madison Senior Center
330 W. Mifflin
Principal Norm Mishelow will discuss how academic achievement excels at Barton, because the school teaches reading using Direct Instruction (DI), a program that provides a detailed script for teacher-student interaction. The program focuses on small group learning and emphasizes phonics. The school also uses a math curriculum that focuses generally on building basic arithmetic skills.
Norm�s wife Dolores is a former principal of 27th Street School which was a failing school before she took over. She started DI, and their test scores soared. She used to believe in all the whole language and warm fuzzy teaching until, of course, she saw the light with DI. Norm was not using DI until Dolores nudged him to try it (after she retired) and his scores, though decent without DI, hit the stratosphere once DI got humming.
The same curriculum in MMSD elementary schools could help close the achievement gap, cut instructional costs, reduce special ed referrals, and raise achievement overall.
You can read more by connecting to Barton School.
Sponsored by and Active Citizens for Education (ACE).

A call for greater attention to the needs of gifted middle school students

Two of the nation’s leading education groups are calling for schools, teachers, and parents to assure that all middle school youngsters are in classrooms where “both equity and excellence are persistent goals for each learner.” National Middle School Association (NMSA) and the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) have issued a joint position statement and call for action to meet the needs of high-ability and high-potential learners between 10 and 15 years of age.
The statement, entitled “Meeting the Needs of High-Ability and High-Potential Learners in the Middle Grades,” is being sent to education and government leaders throughout the United States. “Our challenge is to assure that every learner has access to the highest possible quality education and the opportunities to maximize his or her learning potential,” said Carol Tomlinson, past president, NAGC. “Today’s middle level schools must provide strong academic programs for all young adolescents, including advanced learners,” said Sue Swaim, executive director, NMSA. “Yet, these opportunities must be presented in a developmentally responsive manner for students whose development differs at a given time.”
NMSA and NACG are urging schools to implement appropriate identification, assessment, and curriculum and instruction programs for students with advanced abilities and/or advanced potential. Additionally, schools should build partnerships with all adults key to these students’ development, and focus on the affective development of these youngsters. Finally, the position statement calls for increased pre-service and in-service staff development for middle level teachers dealing with gifted students. The position statement includes a “call to action” to ensure equity and excellence for all learners, including those of advanced performance or potential. It suggests specific steps for district and school leaders; teachers, gifted education specialists, and support personnel; and parents to take.
The position statement can be downloaded at

Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

Recently Governor Doyle directed state agencies to �examine all operations to bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to government�. As a result, the state has reduced the use of cell phones and saved thousands of dollars. The Department of Administration characterized the use of cell phones before this change as �part of the carelessness� that marked state spending under prior administrations.
Dane County and the City of Madison have written procedures that limit the assignment of cell phones to specific categories of employees. For example, the city permits assignment of a cell phone �where it is required that an employee be reachable at all times, or where an employee must be regularly able to make business telephone calls while in the field�.
In contrast, the Madison Metropolitan School District does not have a policy or an administrative procedure to restrict the use of cell phones at MMSD expense. Don�t expect that to change anytime soon, even though the annual cost of employee cell phones has increased 60% since 2001 from $51,225 to $82,259, including the monthly fee for each cell phone.
The majority of the Board does not favor budget targets for the superintendent or controls on how the administration spends the budget. The expanding use of cell phones by MMSD employees is just another example of this bias against fiscal controls.

Continue reading Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

School Tax Bill Increase Modest / Board Votes to Go Ahead with Leopold Elementary New School Design

School Tax Bill Increase Modest
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
By Lee Sensenbrenner The Capital Times
After a year of budget cutting and no referendums, Madison property taxpayers will see a modest increase in what they’ll pay for public schools next year.
For the owner of the house that perfectly follows the city’s statistical averages, rising in value this year from $189,500 to $205,400, the bill from the Madison Metropolitan School District will climb by $54. The total bill will be about $2,362, according to administrators’ figures.
For the few whose assessments did not increase, the school property tax will decline; the budget that the Madison School Board passed Monday cuts the tax rate from $12.18 to $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 5.6 percent dip.
Overall, the portion of the $317 million budget supported by local property taxpayers rose by 3.16 percent this year, from about $196 million to $202 million. The year before, when voters approved a referendum, the same levy rose by almost 10 percent and school taxes for the average homeowner went up by $216.
Each fall, after counting official enrollment and making other adjustments, the Madison School Board formalizes the budget it set the previous spring. In this cycle, the board cut nearly $10 million worth of services that were squeezed out as cost increases pressed against the state’s cap on school spending.
Board member Ruth Robarts was the only dissenter in the votes to authorize the budget. She has criticized the administration for bringing up only parts of the budget for debate and scrutiny and she feels greater efficiencies could be found through fresh analysis and a more open process.
Other board members Monday praised the administration for a thorough and exhausting effort to come up with the best possible budget, given that nearly $10 million worth of services would be taken from schools.
“This is the budget of clarity,” board President Bill Keys said, adding that it underwent more scrutiny and was presented in more detail than ever before.
Leopold Elementary: On a unanimous vote, the School Board also moved closer Monday to building a new school on the city’s south side.
Their vote gives the administration permission to get architects’ designs for the school and to propose wording for the referendum that would fund its construction.
So far, the plan is to build a school on the campus that connects to Leopold Elementary. The old building would serve kindergarten through second grade and the new school would serve third through fifth grade, creating a campus with some 800 or more elementary school students.
The initial estimates put the cost for the project at roughly $11 million.
Leopold Elementary has been crowded for several years and many students who would be within its enrollment boundary are bused to schools on the west and far southwest side. Administrators say new subdivisions in the area are expected to further speed the influx of new students around Leopold.
“Not trying to build a school on that site would represent a break in faith with the Leopold parents,” board member Bill Clingan said. “This really is the only practical thing to do.”
Juan Jose Lopez, a board member who also spoke in favor of the school, brought up the two perennial concerns of trying to build a new elementary school. He said the district must find a way to convince those without children and those who live away from the south side to vote for it.
For the second group, there is, among other things, talk of districtwide boundary changes for elementary school enrollment.

School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05 / Board Voted Unanimously to Pursue Building a Second Elementary School

School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05
Taxes On The Average Madison Home Will Increase $54.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Doug Erickson Wisconsin State Journal
The Madison School Board passed a final budget Monday that raises taxes by $54 on the typical city home.
The owner of an average-priced home in Madison, now valued at $205,400, will pay $2,362 in school taxes for 2004, according to the district.
In 2003, the average home was valued at $189,500, and the school tax bill on it was $2,308.
The board passed a preliminary budget in May. Adjustments are made every October after fall enrollment and state aid become clear.
Monday, the board approved total spending of $317.2 million for the 2004-05 school year. Comparisons to last year are tricky because the district is including more than $7 million worth of grant money in this year’s total, said Roger Price, assistant superintendent of business services. In the past, grant money was not part of this total, he said.
Price said last year’s budget of $305.1 million compares to $309.5 million this year, an increase of 1.4 percent.
Of the total budget, $202.4 million will come from the local property tax levy, an increase of $6.2 million, or 3.2 percent.
The district’s tax rate actually declined this year by 5.6 percent because the total value of property in the district rose due to factors such as inflation and new housing growth. However, most homeowners will pay more school taxes because the assessed value of their homes increased an average of 8.3 percent from last year to this year.
This year’s tax increase of $54 on the average home is one-fourth of last year’s $216 increase. That’s because the one-year spending referendum passed by voters in June 2003 has expired. Also, board members cut programs and raised fees this year to make up a $10 million difference between what the district wanted to spend and what state law would allow it to spend.
District enrollment this year is 24,710, down 178 students.
The vote on the budget was 6-1, with Ruth Robarts dissenting. “There are efficiencies that we must look at, and I have very little confidence that we’ve done that with this budget,” she said.
Also Monday:
* The board voted unanimously to pursue building a second elementary school on the campus of Leopold Elementary, 2602 Post Road.
The South Side school has 678 students — the top end of its capacity. Many more students are expected in the next five years due to home construction in Fitchburg.
Monday’s decision allows the administration to work with architects on a preliminary design. However, the board has not yet authorized a referendum. That decision will come in a later vote. The board is strongly leaning toward putting the issue on the ballot in April.
The district’s Long Range Planning Committee recommended earlier in the evening that the board pursue the second school.
Because Leopold’s attendance area is a peninsula that borders other school districts on three sides, changing boundaries would be an impractical solution, said Superintendent Art Rainwater. The district would be forced to change the attendance areas of many schools, in some cases busing children past their neighborhood schools to get to schools on the Isthmus or the East Side that have space.
“The only way to look at it is that you wipe out all the current boundaries and start over,” he said.
The estimated cost of the new school is about $11 million.

MMSD Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption for 2004-2005

On Monday, October 25, 2004, the MMSD approved the final budget and tax levy for the 2004-2005 School Year. The budget was updated to include new grant revenues, accounting adjustments, 3rd Friday of September 2004 student count and State Aid certified by Department of Public Instruction.
The School Board passed three resolutions:
Resolution 1:
Be it resolved that the Board of Education approve amendments to the 2004-05 budget to reflect the adjustments between funds, departments and major functions as presented (October 25, 2004 document) and further that the Board of Education amend the 2004-05 budget to increase revenues and expenditures in the amount of $7,237,466.
Roger Price’s Presentation for Resolution 1:

Washington State Charter School Battle

Sam Dillon:

In Seattle, at a recent debate on charter schools at the University of Washington, sparring was intense.
“How long do I have to allow my kids to go to the public schools?” asked Henterson S. Carlisle, a teacher whose two children attend his school in the Seattle public system. “At what point can African-American kids who are suffering in the public system have some different options?”
A few minutes later in the same debate, Catherine Ahl, president of a school board on the Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle and an officer of the Washington League of Women Voters, argued that charter schools, which are run by private boards rather than publicly elected ones, “take away citizens’ rights to oversee the spending of tax dollars.”
“We shouldn’t divert funds to create a separate, private school system,” Ms. Ahl said.

In a somewhat related article, Milwaukee School District residents are near their annual voucher cap (15% of district students). Sarah Carr takes a look at the politics, both locally and from the Governor.

Insights into Rainwater’s comment on MMSD’s 80% success in reading

Ruth Robarts wrote, “In his memo [to reject $2 million in Reading First funds]Superintendent Rainwater argues that MMSD should refuse to make the proposed changes at the five schools because we are a “successful” district. He states that our reading program is a success because more than 80% of all third graders score at grade level or above (“proficient or advanced”) on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. Unfortunately, that’s not true for the schools that qualified for Reading First grants. As Rainwater admits, more than 30% of the third graders in these schools fell below “proficient or advanced” scores in recent years. See “Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board” below.”
The superintendent’s interprestion of the 80% success rate doesn’t seem to appreciate what Reading First consultants recommend for the other 20%.
To see what a complete reading program looks like, you can link to presentations by the Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement.
The presentation on the Center to Improve Reading Competence Using Intensive Treatments Schoolwide is especially revealing in showing how a reading program can address 80% of a school population, but the program needs a secondary prevention program to assist 15% of the school’s kids and a tertiary intervention for the 5% with severe, sustained reading difficulty.
From my experience, the MMSD does not appear to have consistent, effective intervention for either the 15% or the 5%.
Ed Blume

Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent’s Decision to Quit Federal “Reading First” Program

In a recent submission, I discussed three reasons why I believe that the Madison School Board should receive more information about Superintendent Rainwater’s decision to end participation of five elementary schools in the federal “Reading First” program. See “What the Board Should Know Before Rejecting “Reading First” Funding”.
I remain unconvinced that Rainwater’s memo makes the case for declining $2M in federal reading assistance at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale schools. In particular, the Board should be concerned about the reading achievement gap at each of these schools between economically disadvantaged children and children who are not economically disadvantaged. The results on the reading test at fourth grade in 2003–part of the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Evaluation tests—show these gaps between the economically disadvantaged students scoring “proficient or advanced” and their peers.
Hawthorne: Econ. Disadvantaged = 57%
Not Disadvantaged = 77%
Glendale: Econ. Disadvantaged = 73%
Not Disadvantaged = 82%
Orchard Ridge: Econ Disadvantaged = 55%
Not Disadvantaged = 90%
Lincoln: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
For District elementary schools combined: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
However, President Bill Keys has polled the Board members and told me that they all agree that discussion is not necessary. Here is our exchange of e-mails.

Continue reading Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent’s Decision to Quit Federal “Reading First” Program

Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?

Please plan to attend a presentation by two principals of Milwaukee elementary schools that use a curriculum that won Barton Elementary federal recognition as a Blue Ribbon school, the only one in Wisconsin:
Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?
Norm and Dolores Mishelow
1:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 7
Madison Senior Center
330 W. Mifflin

Principal Norm Mishelow will discuss how academic achievement excels at Barton, because the school teaches reading using Direct Instruction (DI), a program that provides a detailed script for teacher-student interaction. The program focuses on small group learning and emphasizes phonics. The school also uses a math curriculum that focuses generally on building basic arithmetic skills.
Norm�s wife Dolores is a former principal of 27th Street School which was a failing school before she took over. She started DI, and their test scores soared. She used to believe in all the whole language and warm fuzzy teaching until, of course, she saw the light with DI. Norm was not using DI until Dolores nudged him to try it (after she retired) and his scores, though decent without DI, hit the stratosphere once DI got humming.
The same curriculum in MMSD elementary schools could help close the achievement gap, cut instructional costs, reduce special ed referrals, and raise achievement overall.
You can read more about Barton School.
Ed Blume

Curated Education Information