Analysis of Connected Math and Core Plus Textbooks

A reader deep into math issues emailed these two reviews of curriculum currently used within the Madison School District:

  • Connected Math (Middle School); R. James Milgram:

    The philosophy used throughout the program is that the students should entirely construct their own knowledge and that calculators are to always be available for calculation. This means that

    • standard algorithms are never introduced, not even for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions
    • precise definitions are never given
    • repetitive practice for developing skills, such as basic manipulative skills is never given. Consequently, in the seventh and eighth grade booklets on algebra, there is no development of the standard skills needed to solve linear equations, no practice with simplifying polynomials or quotients of polynomials, no discussion of things as basic as the standard exponent rules
    • throughout the booklets, topics are introduced, usually in a single problem and almost always indirectly — topics which, in traditional texts are basic and will have an entire chapter devoted to them — and then are dropped, never to be mentioned again. (Examples will be given throughout the detailed analysis which follows.)
    • in the booklets on probability and data analysis a huge amount of time is spent learning rather esoteric methods for representing data, such as stem and leaf plots, and very little attention is paid to topics like the use and misuse of statistics. Statistics, in and of itself, is not that important in terms of mathematical development. The main reason it is in the curriculum is to provide students with the means to understand common uses of statistics and to be able to understand when statistical arguments are being used correctly.

  • Core Plus (some high schools); R. James Milgram and Kim Mackey:

    In a recent issue of the NCTM Dialogues, Prof. R. Askey comments on a particular and remarkably inept misunderstanding in CorePlus, of some basic methods in probability Prof. R. Askey’s comments on a problem with Core Plus.
    Recently, Core Plus has begun to appear in the Minnesota High Schools, with the usual results, including servere questions from parents and the withdrawal of a significant number of students from the school system. This has also prompted a number of independent analyses of the program by other professional mathematicians. Here are the comments of Larry Gray, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota. A Sample List of Mathematical Errors in the Core Plus program.

“New Role for Teacher’s Union”

Andrew Rotherham:

As Jane Hannaway and I noted in Collective Bargaining In Education, this increased attention to teachers unions is a consequence of the evolution of education policymaking. Today a rough consensus around standards, accountability, and public school choice options governs education policymaking, and policymakers are now turning their attention to more complicated subsurface education-reform issues such as teacher quality and intra-district school finance. And while the teachers unions surely are not to blame for all of our educational problems, they are the most powerful players in public education policymaking at the state and local level. So it is not surprising that they are the focus of greater attention from analysts across the ideological spectrum.
The teachers unions frequently respond, “Well, what would you have us do differently if you don’t just want us to go away?” It is a fair question. Critics ought to discuss the roles they see for teachers unions in an increasingly pluralistic public education system, where traditional school districts are just one provider of public education. Here are three ideas for new roles for teachers unions in such a system that offer ways they can add real value for students while moving away from today’s adversarial and increasingly outdated model of bargaining.

Rotherham’s article includes a link to an interview with Denver’s Brad Jupp, a union leader who lead the effort to make some substantive changes in that community.

2006 Condition of Education Statistics

National Center for Education Statistics:

This website is an integrated collection of the indicators and analyses published in The Condition of Education 2000–2006. Some indicators may have been updated since they appeared in print

Chester Finn has more:

–A huge fraction of U.S. school children now attend “schools of choice”: more than half of K-12 parents reported in 2003 that they had the “opportunity” to send their kids to a “chosen public school.” It appears that 15 percent actually sent them to a “chosen” public school (including charter schools), to which must be added the 10 to 11 percent in private schools, the 1 to 2 percent who are home schooled, and what seems to be 24 percent who moved into their current neighborhood because of the schools. Though there is some duplication in those numbers, it looks to me like a third to a half of U.S. schoolchildren’s families are exercising school choice of some sort.
–Class-size data are elusive but it’s easy to calculate the student/teacher ratio in U.S. public schools, which has been below 17 to 1 since 1998. Even allowing for special ed, AP physics, and 4th year language classes with 5 kids in them, one may fairly ask why a country with fewer than 17 kids per public-school teacher remains obsessed with class-size reduction. (When I was in fifth grade, the national ratio was about 27:1.)
–Total expenditures per pupil in U.S. public schools reached $9,630 in 2003—up 23 percent in constant dollars over the previous 7 years. At 17 kids per teacher, that translates to almost $164,000 per teacher. Why, then, are teachers not terribly well paid? Because (using the NCES categories) the U.S. spends barely half of its school dollars on “instruction.”

Joanne does as well.

Advocating More Student Mobility Under No Child Left Behind

“Helping Children move from Bad Schools to Good Ones”:

the brief summarizes the challenges related to educating students in schools with high concentrations of poverty; reviews local efforts to address these challenges; and offers a guide for specific changes to the No Child Left Behind Act that would provide the opportunity for more children to attend economically integrated middle-class public schools.

The report is available here. Author’s presentation.

A Look at Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment


District size and peer test scores appear to be factors in student-family decisions on where to attend school under Wisconsin’s open enrollment program. These are two major findings of a new report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). WISTAX is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to public-policy research and citizen education.
Started in 1998-99, Wisconsin’s open enrollment program grew nearly 40% per year from 1999 through 2005. In 2004-05 the program had 18,215 participants, or about 2.1% of all state students.
While many factors can affect open enrollment decisions, WISTAX found the state’s smallest districts (excluding virtual school students) accounted for 46% of open enrollment participants but only 25% of all students. Less than 12% of open enrollment participants were from the largest districts, also representing a quarter of all students.

A Parent’s Words on Homeschooling

Thomas Croom:

very parent of a homeschooled child has a set of reasons why they decided to take the plunge and forever subject themselves to funny looks from strangers. I thought at first my reasons were anything but typical, but now I realize mine are the culmination of what would happen to any child not properly excised from public school at an early age.
That being said, there are some atypical aspects to my story. My “child” is actually my wife’s 15-year-old nephew who I will call Jay.
Jay is above average intelligence, having scored high, above average or very good on practice IQ tests and on PSAT’s. This may seem at first glance to merely place him the realm of above average with most kids, but he really has no foundational basis for his intelligence and testing abilities.

SIS Forum on Education and Immigration

School Information System’s Forum on Immigration and Education, May 24, 2006.
The video QT Video of the meeting is 85MB and 60 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to each topic.
Moderator Rafael Gomez introduces Joe Nigh, Counselor at East High School; Father Mike Moon, Catholic priest, serving the parishes of Holy Redeemer and St. Joseph, and also working at the Catholic Multicultural Center; Alfonso Cepeda Capistran, educational specialist with DPI – Migrant Education, appearing as an active community member, and former President of Latinos United for Change and Advancement; and, Jose Calixto, UW student and Co-President of MECha (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a UW-Madison student organization.
The discussion covers the following topics:

  • Demographics of Madison Latino population
  • Changing Demographics Statewide: Impact of NAFTA, decline of family farms, rise of corporate, import of labor
  • The Legal Landscape
  • Moral and Human Costs

Study: Gifted Students Become Bully Magnets

Bullying in the gifted-student population is an overlooked problem that leaves many of these students emotionally shattered, making them more prone to extreme anxiety, dangerous depression and sometimes violence, according to a Purdue University researcher.
In what is believed to be the first major study of bullying and gifted students, researchers found that by eighth grade, more than two-thirds of gifted students had been victims. Varying definitions of bullying in other studies make comparisons difficult, although the prevalence here is similar to findings in a few other studies.
“All children are affected adversely by bullying, but gifted children differ from other children in significant ways,” says Jean Sunde Peterson, an associate professor of educational studies in Purdue’s College of Education.
“Many are intense, sensitive and stressed by their own and others’ high expectations, and their ability, interests and behavior may make them vulnerable. Additionally, social justice issues are very important to them, and they struggle to make sense of cruelty and aggression. Perfectionists may become even more self-critical, trying to avoid mistakes that might draw attention to themselves.”
Read the entire article here.

Fair Test Examiner Now On Line

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

Truth or consequences: Student postings are tricky turf

Amy Hetzner:

But elsewhere school officials aren’t laughing about such antics. They have started to assert their right to discipline students for information put on the Internet, despite resistance from civil liberties groups and students.
Most of the information posted on the Web has been in connection with athletic code violations or defaming school staff. So far:
• Four students from Lombardi Middle School in Green Bay were disciplined last month for creating and contributing to pages that falsely depicted two staff members. District staff cited a policy allowing students to be suspended or expelled for threats, harassment, hate or violence directed toward school employees.
• Earlier this year, a Waukesha South High School student had to perform community service for creating a fake Web page for a staff member, Principal Mark Hansen said. Although not slanderous, the page was “goofy,” he said.

June 12th School Board Update – End of School Year

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

The Madison School Board has been (and will be) very busy. At the June 12th meeting the board voted to go to referendum on November 7th for a new elementary school on the far Westside of Madison, Leopold Addition and refinancing of existing debt. The total amount of the referendum is $23.5 million. If approved, it would represent about a $21 increase in property taxes for the next 20 years on the average $239,449 home.
The June 5th meeting was devoted to discussing the possible referendum items.
On May 31st the board passed the $333 million dollar budget for the 2006-07 school year. Amongst notable budget amendments include: 5th grade strings program two times per week (with a pilot program at one school with students having the choice of either general music or strings), community services funding for Kasjiab House and GSA for Safe Schools, elementary library pages, Connect program and a garbage truck (to end privatization of service).

Continue reading June 12th School Board Update – End of School Year

New Allied Boys And Girls Club Center Needs Supplies


The lists of needed supplies are long because the Allied Family Center, at 4619 Jenewein Drive, will cater to more than 700 children for the first time.
Kids will be able to learn music at the community center, but the staff said there is currently a lack of instruments.
Jessica Wahl, a staff member at the Boys and Girls Club, said the center needs more instruments, such as percussion, tambourines, claves and shakers. She said the children will probably work on singing until they can find more instruments.

Curdled Cheese: Carey on Wisconsin’s Statistical Manipulation of No Child Left Behind Standards

Kevin Carey:

Wisconsin Superintendant of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster was on the agenda to speak at the meeting, so I was looking forward to hearing her elaborate on Wisconsin’s super-efficient approach to tackling the difficult, contentious issue of what do with under-performing schools and districts: pretend that virtually none of your schools and districts are under-performing.
Instead, she offered a “spirited defense” of the state’s policies, insisting that “We have in no way tried to game the system.” She also promised that the new list of schools missing AYP, due out this week, would be longer.
She was right, the new list is longer, upping the number of schools identified from 49 to 92. But before any congratulations are offered, it’s important to keep in mind that this mostly just represents an extension of the state’s general attitude/approach to public education, which is “Everything here is just fine, in fact fact better than fine, except for Milwaukee, which doesn’t really count, in that Milwaukee is (A) A city, and (B) Populated with people who aren’t…like the rest of us.”
Of the 92 schools identified, the majority (58) are in Milwaukee. And the number of districts identified statewide changed from 1 out 426 to…(drum roll)…1 out 426. Still just Milwaukee.

More on Carey’s analysis “of Wisconsin’s manipulations”.

Making the Grade: Madison High Schools & No Child Left Behind Requirements

Susan Troller:

Don’t assume that a school is bad just because it’s not making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That comment came today from Madison School Board member Lucy Mathiak, whose children attend or have attended East High School.
East and three other Madison public high schools were cited for not making the necessary progress outlined by No Child Left Behind legislation, which requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. In addition to being cited for not making adequate yearly progress, East was also rapped for not having made sufficient progress for two straight years.
La Follette High School, which was on the list last year for not making progress two years in a row, was removed from that list this year. However, there were other areas this year where La Follette did not meet the required proficiency levels for some groups of students.
“I’m not saying I’m thrilled to see the results,” Mathiak said. “But it’s not as if all schools have equal populations of students facing huge challenges in their lives, chief among them issues of poverty.”

Sandy Cullen:

Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District, said the preliminary list of schools that didn’t make adequate yearly progress, which the Department of Public Instruction released Tuesday, “didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know.”
“Sooner or later, between now and 2013, every school in America is going to be on the list,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater said there are students at all schools who aren’t learning at the level they should be, and that the district has been working hard to address the needs of those students.


It’s a list no school wants to land on. In Wisconsin, the number of schools not meeting federal guidelines more than doubled, from 45 last year to 92 in 2005-06. The lists can be seen here. One list contains schools not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) for one year. Schools in need of improvement are schools who have failed to meet AYP for two or more years in a row.
Of the 92 schools were the four main Madison high schools, though Superintendent Art Rainwater cautioned against reading too much into it.
At many local schools this past school year, only one or two segments of students failed to score high enough on state tests.
In Madison, East, La Follette, West, and Memorial high schools all did not make enough yearly progress. The state department of public instruction cited low reading scores at three of those four.
Superintendent Art Rainwater said those lower scores came from special needs and low-income students. “Certainly this in a very public way points out issues, but the fact that they didn’t do well on this test is secondary to the fact that we have children who are in the district who aren’t successful,” said Rainwater.
Staff at Memorial and LaFollette were already working on changes to those schools’ Read 180 programs, including adding special education teachers.

DPI’s press release.
DPI Schools Identified for Improvement website.
Much more from Sarah Carr:

The list has “broken some barriers relative to different parts of the state,” Deputy State Superintendent Tony Evers said. Still, the majority of schools on the list are from urban districts such as Milwaukee, Madison and Racine.

Audio / Video: Madison School Board Fall 2006 Referendum Discussion & Vote

MP3 Audio or Video

The Madison School Board discussed and voted on a a November, 2006 Referendum that features “three requests in one vote“: a new far west side school, a 2nd Leopold expansion request and a refinancing plan that frees up some funds under the state revenue caps in the MMSD’s $332M+ budget. Learn more about the May 2005 referenda, which included a much larger Leopold question here.

Fast Learners Benefit From Skipping Grades, Report Concludes

Jay Matthews:

Few educators these days want to go back to the early 19th century, when often the only opportunities for learning were one-room schoolhouses or, if you were rich, private tutors. But a report from the University of Iowa says at least those students had no age and grade rules to hold them back.
What was lost in the 20th century was “an appreciation for individual differences,” scholars Nicholas Colangelo, Susan G. Assouline and Miraca U.M. Gross conclude in the report, “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students.” Now, the report says, “America’s school system keeps bright students in line by forcing them to learn in a lock-step manner with their classmates.”

Download the report here.

A California High School Student’s Letter on Rigor

Jerry Pournelle:

This is an update on the inner workings of the California school system. Unfortunately, not much has changed from last year, but I found out more regarding the educational bureaucracy and about various administrative policies that seem to cause more harm than good.
Overall, the classes are better, in that they are less dumbed-down than they were last year. This is partly because most of my classes were AP or Honors classes, and would probably apply to schools across the country. If you know someone whose child is bored, I would recommend that they take AP or Honors classes next year. The downside is an increased homework load, but for many students (including myself), the homework is worth having three weeks after AP testing in which to relax.
Another reason for the increased rigor of the classes, at least at my school, is the number of dropouts. Many of those students who think school is a waste of time leave somewhere in their sophomore year, and by junior year, the average interest of the students has been pushed up. Interestingly, the counselors at my school lie about the number of dropouts, and I know they are lying because a) several teachers agree that the number was definitely more than 3 last year, b) I speak Spanish and have heard immigrants talking to each other about friends who have dropped, and c) the freshman class is almost a thousand each year, while the graduating class is always close to 500 students. Believe me, those kids aren’t all transferring to other schools.

Interesting reading, in light of this and Alan Borsuk’s excellent deep look at Milwaukee’s high schools

Small vs. Large High School: What’s the Best Fit?

Alan Borsuk continues his excellent, deep look at Milwaukee’s high schools:

Some students get lost in their first weeks of high school. But in Bryan Edwards’ case, Marshall High School lost him.
The school put Edwards in special education courses – even though he never had been diagnosed with a learning disability. When he went out for football, he said, school officials told him his grade point average was not high enough – even though he had not been enrolled at Marshall long enough to have any grades. And some days he would arrive at school only to be told he was suspended – even when he had done nothing wrong.
About two months into the school year, when Edwards brought home a new ID card, his mother was startled.
“I’m like, ‘Bryan, this is not you – this isn’t how you spell your name and we don’t live at this address,’ ” Brigette Edwards said.

Previous articles.

School Board OK’s 23.5M November Referendum: Three Requests in One Question

Sandy Cullen:

he Madison School Board will put one $23.5 million referendum question to voters in the Nov. 7 general election.
If approved, the referendum would provide $17.7 million for a new elementary school on the Far West Side, $2.7 million for an addition at Leopold Elementary, and $3.1 million to refinance debt.
It also would free up $876,739 in the portion of next year’s operating budget that is subject to state revenue limits. Board members could use that money to restore some of the spending cuts in the $332 million budget they recently approved, which eliminated the equivalent of about 86 full-time positions to help close a $6.9 million gap between what it would cost to continue the same programs and services next year and what the district can raise in taxes under revenue limits.

Susan Troller has more:

The board voted unanimously to hold the referendum in November, rather than placing in on the ballot during the fall primary in September. The later date, board members said, provides more time to organize an educational effort on why the projects are necessary.
“We’ll see what happens,” said board member Ruth Robarts, the lone dissenting voice on the decision to bundle all three projects together in a single question to voters in the general election. Robarts, who preferred asking the three questions separately, said she was concerned that voters who did not like one project might be likely to vote against all three.

What’s the outlook for a successful referenda? I think, as I wrote on May 4, 2006 that it is still hard to say:

Continue reading School Board OK’s 23.5M November Referendum: Three Requests in One Question

English 11 Planned for 2009?

Reprinted from the newest West High School publication, The Scallion.
In response to the popularity of the recently proposed English 10 curriculum, school administrators have begun to plan English 11, a standardized syllabus they believe will promote “equality in the school and confidence in the student.” The course is to be implemented in the 2009-2010 school year so that West High School can end the decade “with a bang!”
However, many teachers and officials disagree on which books to feature. One faction desires a challenging curriculum that would include Othello, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and the short stories of William Faulkner. Noting that this list may expose intellectual differences between students and will thus lessen the net confidence gain of the school, an opposing faction has titled their proposal “The Life Works of Dr. Seuss: from The Cat in the Hat to Green Eggs and Ham.”
The growing rift between the two factions has increasingly been manifested through harsh words. One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, referred to the more classical curriculum as “pandering to the bourgeois interests of the University Heights junta.” In response, the classical teachers noted that while “Dr. Seuss is a widely respected author and his rhymes are humorous and entertaining, his works are inappropriate for the High School setting.”
Augmenting the current debate, the feminist movement has made clear their opposition to the Dr. Seuss curriculum. Says junior Anna James, “we don’t need to place another dead white man up on a pedestal. The Dr. Seuss proposal is representative of the sexist academia placing the unqualified man over the more qualified woman.” James has proposed her own curriculum of Virginia Wolff and Maya Angelou in a gesture the MENS club referred to as “reverse sexism.”
In the end, it seems likely that Dr. Seuss will feature prominently in the English 11 curriculum. As Art Rainwater says, “why have intellectual standards when you can have artificially contrived equality that engenders undeserved confidence and intellectual apathy in the students?”
Many thanks to the Scallion staff responsible for this humorous and insightful piece.

69 Years of Teaching

Margaria Fichtner:

The end of the year always is a time of celebration and parting, but these days at Lakeland Senior High school, a deep velvet finality accompanies the rituals of transition and farewell. Hazel Haley, at 89 the longest-serving public-school teacher in Florida — and, as far as anyone knows, in the country — is retiring after 69 years, 67 of them in this school, 54 in this book-crammed, pink classroom. A few years ago, the Florida Legislature ruled school districts could hang on to veteran teachers, but now time has run out, and Miss Haley must go. Network camera crews have dropped by to record the milestone. Miss Haley’s beloved LHS Dreadnaughts may have snared the national football title this year, but there is no question as to who the school’s real champ is.
”She’s the teacher I’ll remember all my life,” says senior Travis Britton. From now on, everything about this place will occur within a new, peculiar context: missing Miss Haley.
”I’ve always said that . . . we’re such a big place, there’s not anything that actually stops the world,” says Mark Thomas, the first LHS principal in decades who will have to make decisions by himself. “ . . . The nice thing is, the kids next year won’t know what they missed. I think they’ll get a great education. I think they’ll learn a lot about British literature, . . . but Hazel is Hazel.”

Some learn, some barely show up

Alann Borsuk continues a very deep look at Milwaukee’s Public High Schools:

You see the most heart-warming and admirable things in Milwaukee’s large public high schools.
Except for when you don’t.
You meet great kids, kids who are going to go on to great things. They’re engaged, hardworking, goal-oriented, involved in extracurricular activities. You find them in every school, even those with the weakest reputations.
Except, in many schools, they are outnumbered by kids who trudge up to school doors carrying no backpacks or book bags – how many of them actually had homework last night? – and plod through the day, sullen, unengaged, unmotivated and often unchallenged by what is going on around them. And that’s not to mention the kids who aren’t present at all – generally about 20% of the total high school enrollment with unexcused absences on any given day.

Borsuk’s first article in this series can be read here: “What is this Diploma Worth?”

2006 / 2007 Madison School Board & Committee Goals

The Madison School Board meets June 19, 2006 @ 5:00p.m. to discuss their 2006 / 2007 goals for our $332M+ schools. A friend wondered what goals readers have in mind.
I thought it might be useful to consider the Board’s goals in light of the District’s strategic plan [450K pdf]:

  1. Instructional Excellence
    Improving student achievement
    Offering challenging, diverse and contemporary curriculum and instruction.
  2. Student Support
    Assuring a safe, respectful and welcoming learning environment.
  3. Staff Effectiveness
    Recruiting, developing and retaining a highly competent workforce that reflects the diversity of our students.
  4. Home and Community Partnerships
    Strengthening community and family partnerships, and communication.
  5. Fiscal Responsibility
    Using resources efficiently and strategically.

My thoughts are below:

Continue reading 2006 / 2007 Madison School Board & Committee Goals

Far West Side Elementary School Referendum: Potential Boundary Changes

View the details: CP2a:

New Leopold addition. No new school far west side. Gain capacity by programmatic changes, e.g.SAGE reduction, Art and Music rooms converted to classrooms, or reduction of flexible room, at Crestwood and Chavez (increasing capacity). Early Childhood moved from Stephens and Muir to Midvale-Lincoln. Multiple boundary changes.

and CP3a:

New addition at Leopold. New school far West Side. Multiple Boundary Changes

Source .xls files: CP2a and CP3a.

Psychopharmaceuticals: A Dose of Genius?

Joel Garreau:

Her friend’s attention is laserlike, totally focused on her texts, even after an evening of study. “We were so bored,” Lessing says. But the friend was still “really into it. It’s annoying.”
The reason for the difference: Her pal is fueled with “smart pills” that increase her concentration, focus, wakefulness and short-term memory.
As university students all over the country emerge from final exam hell this month, the number of healthy people using bootleg pharmaceuticals of this sort seems to be soaring.
Such brand-name prescription drugs “were around in high school, but they really exploded in my third and fourth years” of college, says Katie Garrett, a 2005 University of Virginia graduate.

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

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

“What is This Diploma Worth?”

Alan Borsuk:

But there is a crisis for many of those who graduate, too – a crisis of educational quality and rigor that generally goes unspoken, perhaps for fear that it’s not politically correct to talk about it.
If students who graduate from MPS – still the largest single body of high school students in southeastern Wisconsin and by far the most diverse – are to be successful, they need to be better prepared than they are.
The diploma gap can be seen in the scores on ACT college entrance tests. The composite score for MPS students taking the tests in 2004-’05 was 17.5, the lowest in at least the last nine school years. Statewide, the average was 22.2. At Homestead High, one of the better local schools, the average was 25.
Eric Key, a math professor at UWM who analyzed the scores of incoming students on math placement tests, looked at data on the average math scores of MPS students on the ACT and said, “These scores are basically saying they’re ready to start ninth grade.” It’s not an official judgment – ACT doesn’t say what a ninth-grader ought to score – but the point stands. ACT does say what a student ought to score to have a reasonable chance of doing well in a first level college math course – a 22. The MPS average score in math: 17.
The degree to which low rigor is a problem varies not only between MPS and other districts but within MPS, where some high schools are clearly more challenging than others.

Teaching Inequality

Heather G. Peske and Kati Haycock for Edtrust [PDF Report]:

Next month, for the first time, leaders in every state must deliver to the Secretary of Education their plans for ensuring that low-income and minority students in their states are not taught disproportionately by inexperienced, out-of-field, or uncertified teachers.
For many, this process will be the first step in helping the citizens of their states to understand a fundamental, but painful truth: Poor and minority children don’t underachieve in school just because they often enter behind; but, also because the schools that are supposed to serve them actually shortchange them in the one resource they most need to reach their potential – high-quality teachers. Research has shown that when it comes to the distribution of the best teachers, poor and minority students do not get their fair share.
The report also offers some key findings of soon-to-be released research in three states – Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin – and major school systems within them. Funded by The Joyce Foundation and conducted with policymakers and researchers on the ground, the research project reveals that schools in these states and districts with high percentages of low-income and minority students are more likely to have teachers who are inexperienced, have lower basic academic skills or are not highly qualified — reflecting troublesome national teacher distribution patterns.

Edspresso has more

Transforming High School Teaching & Learning: A District Wide Design

Judy Wurtzel, Senior Fellow, the Aspen Institute: Full report:
250K PDF

Significant improvements in student learn ing require real change at the heart of instruction: the interaction of students and teachers around the content to be learned. This paper suggests a set of design specifications for strengthening this interaction of student, teacher and content and increasing student performance across a school district.
These designs have six components. The first two focus on what the job of effective high school teaching looks like and on getting and keeping teachers who can do this job. They offer a new teacher “job description” that places accountability for results and the use and refinement of effective practices at the core of teaching and also suggest approaches for recruiting and retaining high school teachers who have the will and capacity to embrace this job description and increase student learning. The next four components describe an infrastructure for improving high school instruction that is consistent with this new job description, that provides the concrete supports needed to help new and veteran teachers know what and how to teach effectively, that enablesteachers to elicit higher performance from their students,
and that rests on a teacher-based system for continuously improving results.
These six components are:

  1. A new vision of teacher professionalism that supports instructional improvement
  2. A comprehensive strategy to attract and retain highly effective high school teachers
  3. Clear expectations for high school instructional practices
  4. Anchor standards and aligned assessments that support effective instruction
  5. Core curriculum, common lessons and tools based on the anchor standards and assessments
  6. A system to build teacher capacity

“The Mathematics Pre-Service Teachers Need to Know”

R. James Milgram 15MB e-book pdf:

It has long been felt that the mathematical preparation of pre-service teachers throughout the country has been far too variable, and often too skimpy to support the kind of outcomes that the United States currently needs. Too few of our K – 12 graduates are able to work in technical areas or obtain college degrees in technical sub jects. This impacts society in many and increasingly harmful ways, and it is our failure in K – 8 mathematics instruction that is at the heart of the problem.
This is especially true when we compare outcomes in the United States with outcomes in countries that do a better job of teaching mathematics, countries such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Singapore, China, and Japan, to name a few.
It has also been increasingly recognized that if we are to improve our performance in K – 8 mathematics instruction, pre-service teachers should take focused, carefully designed courses directly from the mathematics departments, and not, as is often the case, just a single math methods course taught in the Education School. A focused two year sequence in the basic mathematics teachers have to know is the minimal mathematics sequence that pre-service teachers need in order to to successfully teach students in K – 8.

MTI Demands to Bargain: Middle School Math Masters Program and Reading Recovery Teacher Leader

A reader emailed this item: Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter [pdf file]:

The District sent literature to various teachers offering credit to those who enroll in the above-referenced courses. As an enticement for the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader course, the District offers “salary, tuition, and book costs.” The program will run after work hours during the school year. Regarding the Middle School Math Master’s Program, every District teacher, who teaches math in a middle school, is “expected” to take three (3) District inservice courses in math, unless they hold a math major or minor. The District is advising teachers that they must complete the three (3) courses within two (2) years. The courses are 21 hours each. The program is scheduled to run during the school day, with substitute teachers provided on the days the courses will be taught.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission has previously ruled that an employer offering financial incentives, including meals and lodging, or release time, to employees in conjunction with course work or seminars is a mandatory subject of bargaining between the school district and the union.

Schools That Work

Megan Boldt, Maryjo Sylwester, Meggen Lindsay and Doug Belden:

On paper, the schools appear troubled: low-income students, low state test scores. But a closer look reveals 13 are doing better than expected.
The challenges are not uncommon at schools such as Dayton’s Bluff that serve mostly low-income students. But Siedschlag had faith in the teachers she said nurtured students, and she thought things would get better.
They did. A new principal arrived in 2001 and renewed the school’s energy. Expectations became clear. Students respected teachers. And staffers now go out of their way to support parents.
School visits and interviews showed that the factors seen as critical to success at Dayton’s Bluff also are found at many of the other schools: They have strong principals and a cohesive staff who offer students consistency and structure. They emphasize reading and writing above all else. And they focus instruction on the needs of individual students rather than trying to reach some average child.
These successful schools have focused on basics — reading, writing and math — as they educate their at-risk students. They also have shifted to small-group learning and one-on-one instruction.
“We used to teach to this mythical middle student,” said literacy coach Paul Wahmanholm, who has taught at Dayton’s Bluff for eight years. Now, “we got away from this one-size-fits-all approach and focused on individualized instruction.”

Via Joanne.
Megan Boldt notes the importance of high expectations for all, or as a local teacher friend says: “Standards not sympathy”.

So shouldn’t the level of poverty be taken into account when determining how well schools teach kids?
No, say educators and researchers who contend that doing so would create two classes of U.S. schools and eviscerate the No Child Left Behind federal education law, which aims to have all students proficient in reading and math by 2014.
“Changing that would create a two-tier system of education — one with high expectations for the wealthy and a set of lower expectations for low-income students,” said Diane Piché, executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights.
“It’s simply not fair for students born into poverty to expect less of them when we know what’s possible,” she said. “That’s what we should focus on, rather than what’s likely.

New LA School Board Member Dives In

Joel Rubin:

Never one to be accused of being soft-spoken or timid, the newest member of the Los Angeles Board of Education wasted little time getting to work Wednesday.
At 11 a.m., Monica Garcia walked briskly into the school district’s Friedman Occupational Center. Doing away quickly with pleasantries, she peppered officials with questions about campus programs and its expansion plans.
Garcia also said she would call for school leaders to be given greater autonomy from the district’s behemoth central administration to make budget and instruction decisions.

A Look at the Midvale / Lincoln Elementary Pair

Susan Troller:

The parents at Midvale Elementary School have heard it all:
It’s a school no ambitious parent wants. The bus rides are long and unpleasant as children are sent far from their homes along the hazardous Beltline. After more than 20 years, the pairing of Midvale and Lincoln elementary schools, developed as part of an effort to desegregate two south side Madison schools, is a failed experiment.
“The misperceptions about our school are so frustrating, and so wrong,” sighed Dave Verban, who is part of a group of Midvale-Lincoln parents that has joined forces to try to tell what they say is the real story of their school community.

The Midvale Lincoln pair was much discussed earlier this year as the Madison School Board and the Memorial/West Area Attendance Task Force contemplated options for Leopold Elementary school. One of the options discussed was changing boundaries and moving some children from Leopold to Lincoln Elementary. Some of Fitchburg’s Swan Creek residents objected and petitioned to leave the Madison School District. More here. Task force insight.
Maps: Midvale | Lincoln | Distance between the two paired schools (roughly 5 miles).
UPDATE: Susan continues her article with a visit to Lincoln Elementary.

Getting Mad About Schools

Jay Matthews:

To get such results, do teachers and parents and administrators have to be insufferable? Maybe not. Both Patterson and Winston say their favorite clients — Feinberg and Levin — are more mature and less irritating now. Feinberg in particular, by most accounts the more troublesome of the two, is now “quite the diplomat,” Patterson said.
We have examples of some big city school systems that have made significant progress under persistent but polite pressure from above. The impressive record of Boston school superintendent Tom Payzant, retiring after 10 years, is one example. Patterson said she thinks she and Feinberg only managed to make headway in Houston for KIPP because that city had a far-sighted and intelligent school board, and an accomplished superintendent, future U.S. education secretary Rod Paige. Paige saw the value of Feinberg’s efforts even when the KIPP principal waited beside Paige’s car in the school district parking lot all day so that he could ambush him with a request for help in another space crisis.

Teachers Contract: Bonuses, Relaxed Rules Proposed

V. Dion Haynes:

A proposed contract to be voted on today by the more than 4,000 members of the D.C. teachers union would enable teachers to earn bonuses tied to student performance and to opt out of some union work rules.
Although both programs would be voluntary and limited to a few schools, the proposals are a turnabout for the Washington Teachers’ Union, whose leaders in the past have opposed various forms of pay-for-performance and more-demanding work schedules.

The Challenge of Educating for the Future

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

This fall we will welcome over 2,000 kindergarten children to their first day of school. What an exciting and scary day for them. They will come from many cultures, they will be many colors and they will each begin their thirteen year journey with different skills, attitudes and backgrounds.
Our community must ensure, through our schools, that despite their different starting points they leave in 2019 with two important things in common. They must have the knowledge and skills to have a family supporting career and actively participate in our society. Therein lays the challenge.
Those eager five year olds will still be in the workforce 53 years from now. Who knows what skills, both academic and personal, will be needed then. There are jobs today that we never dreamed of 40 years ago and there are jobs that we thought were forever that have been lost to time. The pace of that change seems to speed up.

Are Mathematicians Smarter Than Math Teachers?

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

Racine Voters Approve Referendum

Alice Chang:

Voters on Tuesday night passed a $6.45 million one-year spending referendum. About 54% of those voting approved the request for more money, and 46% rejected it.
“I’m relieved. It doesn’t give us a great pause. We still have a lot of big issues,” said School Board member Randy Bangs. “The vote demonstrates we need to do a better job linking with the community and addressing core issues.”
Jayne Siler, president of the Racine Taxpayers Association, said, “I thank the voters who voted ‘no.’ . . . I’m sorry so many people are worried about their jobs and health insurance rather than the way the district spends money.”
The referendum proposal is for the same amount and duration as an expiring spending referendum, and it helps plug a projected $9 million hole in the 2006-’07 budget.
District officials on Monday revealed that $3.3 million of the gap was due to an accounting miscalculation.

Oregon’s Open Book$ Project

The Chalkboard Project / Oregon Department of Education:

When the Chalkboard Project conducted the most extensive statewide polling ever of Oregonians on education issues and priorities, 65% said they would have greater confidence in K-12 schools if they could easily find standardized budget information they could compare and contrast.
People want to know where their money is going, and they want that information in a straightforward manner that is easy to understand.
The Open Book$ Project aims to provide ordinary Oregonians with an open, simple look at where K-12 dollars really go. Audited data is supplied by the Oregon Department of Education in cooperation with Oregon’s 198 school districts.
Open Book$ is funded by the Chalkboard Project, a non-partisan, non-profit initiative of Foundations For A Better Oregon. Launched in early 2004, Chalkboard exists to inspire Oregonians to do what it takes to make the state’s K-12 public schools among the nation’s best, while restoring a sense of involvement and ownership back to taxpayers. Chalkboard aims to help create a more informed and engaged public who understand and address the tough choices and trade-offs required to build strong schools

The Portland School District spent $443,634,000 in 2004/2005 to educate 47,674 students ($9,306/student) while the Madison school district spent $317,000,000 to educate 24,710 students (12,829/student) during that same year.
A number of our local politicians have visited Portland over the years in an effort to learn more about their urban and economic development plans.
California’s Ed-Data is also worth checking out.

Schools Go Local for Better Food

The NewsHour:

While most efforts to encourage better health in schools focus on removing fat and sugar from the cafeteria and by offering a second vegetable with each meal, there are a growing number of school districts that have turned to local farms for a solution.
By using local farms, schools hope to offer their students fresher food that tastes better while financially supporting small businesses in their communities.
“Locally grown food is fresher and tastier,” said Anupama Joshi of the National Farm to School Network, which helps set up the farm-supply programs.

Appleton’s schools models for health

APPLETON (AP) – Lunch hour at two local schools became the subject for a film crew as part of a federal agency’s plan to show how the Appleton district is trying to promote healthy lifestyles and fight the epidemic of childhood obesity.
The media crew also filmed fitness programs at Edison Elementary School and West High School and interviewed staff members, including Superintendent Tom Scullen, for the footage due to be aired June 20 as part of a national talk show on child health and nutrition.

Continue reading Appleton’s schools models for health

“Testing Special Students is Tricky”

Katharine Goodloe:

When Wisconsin educators wanted to measure the progress of 10,000 of the state’s public school students last fall, they didn’t sit them down for the standardized tests that most schoolchildren spent hours poring over.
They just asked teachers to pencil in a score.
That’s because those students are among the most severely disabled in the state, or they speak just isolated words and phrases of English. So on the back of the state’s thick testing booklets, teachers marked a score for each child – saying whether a child with disabilities could comprehend text, for example, or whether one struggling to learn English knew any vocabulary words used by their classmates.
If they scored high enough, some of those children could be counted toward requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law – just like those kids who spent hours digging through multiple-choice questions.
It’s a little-known process, but one that faces heightened scrutiny this year as the federal government reviews the ways states assess such students. And the stakes for school districts are growing, as consequences for failing schools continue to increase under federal law.

Rating Our Schools: Are All Wisconsin Schools – and Teachers – ‘Above Average’?

Tom Still:

A report issued last week by a Washington think tank shows Wisconsin No. 1 in yet another public education index – only this time, being first among the 50 states wasn’t the preferred spot.
In a study of how states are carrying out the federal No Child Left Behind education law, a group called Education Sector rated the states on how well they’re outsmarting the law. Wisconsin was the leading circumventer, according to the analysts, who refused to buy state numbers that indicate virtually every school district and virtually every school is meeting federal improvement standards.
“(The study) ranks Wisconsin as the most optimistic state in the nation,” reports Education Sector on its web site, “Wisconsin scores well on some educational measures, like the SAT, but lags behind in others, such as achievement gaps for minority students. But according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state is a modern-day educational utopia where a large majority of students meet academic standards, high school graduation rates are high, every school is safe and nearly all teachers are highly qualified.”
The report goes on to note that school districts around the nation are struggling to make “Adequate Yearly Progress,” the primary standard of school and district success under No Child Left Behind. In Wisconsin, however, hitting the standard is a piece of cake. All but one of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts made Adequate Yearly Progress in 2004–05.
“How is that possible?” the Education Sector report asked. “The answer lies with the way Wisconsin has chosen to define the Adequate Yearly Progress standard.”

Inner City School Choice

David Reinhard:

Fuller, for his part, now believes school choice is the most important civil rights issue for African Americans today. That’s no small claim, considering he started as a “Black Power” advocate in the 1960s. But he didn’t get there by applying a market-oriented philosophy to the problem of underperforming inner-city schools. He got there from the ground up. He witnessed firsthand the failure of earlier school reforms, with all their good intentions, bursts of civic concern and, in the end, unmet promises. “At a certain point in time,” he says, “you have to say that you have to try something radically different.”
Some African Americans in the Jefferson cluster are ready to try. Smith Williams is the father of five and a Black Alliance for Educational Options member here. His kids have attended both public and private schools and even been home-schooled. As Williams told The Oregonian editorial board, “We know there are desperate parents out there.”

Dr. Howard Fuller is the former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Howard Fuller Clusty Search.

Supreme Court to Hear Education Race Case

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

District News

Here is the link to the school district’s monthly newsletter:
I thought the story about awards to staff was especially important: it is half-way down the page,
The superintendent recently received 2 awards from the UW School of Education – to quote from the newsletter:
Professor Paul V. Bredeson, UW School of Education department chair, gave MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater a Senior Faculty Fellow award in recognition of his significant contributions to the work of the department and his fostering of collaboration between the University and administrators throughout the Madison School District.
This took place at the UW Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis awards reception May 5.
Art also received the national University Council on Educational Administration’s (UCEA) Excellence in Educational Leadership Award from UW School of Education Dean Julie K. Underwood.
The faculty of the UW Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis nominated Rainwater for the national recognition given to practicing school administrators who have made significant contributions to the improvement of administrator preparation.

Carol Carstensen

Racine School Referendum

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

It might be time for residents of the Racine Unified School District to send their school officials a message that they aren’t happy with the progress the district has not been making in recent years and the constant requests the district has been making for more money from taxpayers. They can do this by voting “no” on Tuesday’s one-year, $6.45 million spending referendum.
There is no doubt that Racine school officials and teachers have a tough job. Running any urban school district is tough. Doing so in Wisconsin with its spending caps and high health care costs is that much tougher. But that doesn’t mean that districts can keep going back to already burdened taxpayers for more money every time they run into problems. Sometimes, they need to make tough choices that could include dropping programs and closing schools if that’s what’s necessary.

Schools Trying All-Boy Classes

Katherine Goodloe:

When Matt Nord, 11, wrote a letter asking to stay in an all-boys program at his public middle school, he listed all the most important reasons: Girls talk a lot, they can get in the way on group projects, and he gets nervous helping out girls.
The sixth-grader doesn’t worry about those things for two classes each day, though, because he’s part of an all-boys program at Germantown’s Kennedy Middle School.

Private Tutors & Homeschooling

Susan Saulny:

In what is an elite tweak on home schooling — and a throwback to the gilded days of education by governess or tutor — growing numbers of families are choosing the ultimate in private school: hiring teachers to educate their children in their own homes.
Unlike the more familiar home-schoolers of recent years, these families are not trying to get more religion into their children’s lives, or escape what some consider the tyranny of the government’s hand in schools. In fact, many say they have no argument with ordinary education — it just does not fit their lifestyles.

Crimes & Misdemeanors: High school security chief Wally Baranyk says most of the wrongdoing in suburban high schools goes on in the shadows. So how dark does it get?

Michael Leahy:

While much of the rule-breaking at Oakton occurs out of sight from faculty and staff members, insubordination at D.C. schools is more often on public display. “I think our biggest problem here is lack of respect by kids for teachers and adults and for other kids,” says Michael Ilwain, a school resource officer at Eastern High School in Northeast Washington. “It leads to disrespect and bad behavior in classrooms, and it leads to fights, too. Almost all our problems start from there . . . But I also think that, in these times, we have some of the same things to face as other schools.”
Those things include the spectacularly dire. At Oakton, as at any other 21st-century high school, Baranyk must ponder scenarios that once would have been unthinkable. He has had to devise meticulous plans for how Oakton staff members and students would respond in an emergency or a catastrophic event, including a terrorist’s biological or chemical strike, or the spread of a potentially lethal virus. “Security at a school means something different now than 20 years ago . . .” he says. “You can try preparing for problems, but it’s hard to know what they all will look like . . . I guess you’re trying to imagine the unimaginable.”

Rafel Gomez hosted a forum last fall on Gangs & School violence. Audio and video here.

Public school students take up a tougher course

Tracy Jan:

But the experience — eight-hour school days, tiny classes with demanding teachers, and Saturday sessions — was more trying than any of them expected. The students, who delayed high school a year to attend Beacon, have emerged with a sense of how satisfying a tough school can be, but also of how unchallenging their public school experiences had been.
“In the beginning, I felt like it was way too much work times two,” said Dennishia Bell, 14, a former honor roll student at the Umana Barnes Middle School in East Boston. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t really being challenged in school until I came to Beacon Academy. If I stuck to the Boston Public Schools, I almost feel like they were cheating me out of my education.”
A group of educators and entrepreneurs, including former prep school teachers and administrators, established Beacon last summer because of the concern that too few bright, motivated urban public school students could pass the entrance exams and meet the academic standards required for competitive prep schools and the city’s exam schools, said Marsha Feinberg, one of the founders. The goal was to prepare students for the academic rigors, as well as the social environment, of prep schools, often filled with children of the rich and famous.

We Have a Few Reservations

The Economist:

FOR all the glories of its ancient civilisation, India has “a despicable history of inequity”. So says Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading political scientist and, until this week, a member of the National Knowledge Commission, appointed by India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to advise his government. The phrase featured in Mr Mehta’s eloquent letter of resignation, protesting at the government’s determination to “reserve” 27% of the places in its colleges for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs)—lower castes, but not the very lowest, who already benefit. This policy, complained Mr Mehta in the letter, would ensure that India remained “entrapped in the caste paradigm.”

Continue reading We Have a Few Reservations

“The Next Niche: School Bus Ads”

Caroline Mayer:

BusRadio, a start-up company in Massachusetts, wants to pipe into school buses around the country a private radio network that plays music, public-service announcements, contests and, of course, ads, aimed at kids as they travel to and from school.
As BusRadio’s Web site ( ) explains: “Every morning and every afternoon on their way to and from school, kids across the country will be listening to the dynamic programming of BusRadio providing advertiser’s [sic] with a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market.”


All students can learn from each other if given a chance

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I want to respond to the story about the Baraboo School Board member who talked about the uselessness of trying to teach students with “nothing upstairs.”
I taught a class called Interpersonal Communications, often in conjunction with the speech classes I taught at Madison West High. The course helped students learn effective communication skills to build and maintain interpersonal relationships in their world. The class was made up of 10th- through 12th-graders, so many didn’t know each other.
One semester on the first day, I divided the students, as I often did, in small groups, to learn something about each other. One group had a boy who was a “special ed” student. He started to draw wide circles and ramble a bit to himself. The other students drew back with looks at each other, and everyone was very uncomfortable.
I had not been told the student had various disabilities, but that day I went to the chair of the department and told him to find a way to keep “Robert” out of class the next day. Then I asked him to come to my class and tell the students just what Robert’s disabilities were and what the goals for him were. Those goals included Robert being able to find the right bus to take him home, and maybe, someday, to have and keep a simple job. The students listened and learned.
The next day, Robert was back in class, and I asked the students to again meet in groups. Robert’s group said, “Come on, Robert, you’re with us!” From then on, all the students helped him, made friends with him, and all of us saw the joy in his face as he felt part of the class and advanced his communication skills as well.
The lesson for this might be, it is not what you have, it’s what others find in you and themselves. I have a lot of stories like this – and it’s how my young students made my teaching such a gift to each other and to me.
Mary Moen
Published: June 2, 2006
The Capital Times

More on “How States (WI is #1) Inflate Their Progress Under No Child Left Behind”

Alan Borsuk takes a look at and speaks with DPI’s Tony Evers on Kevin Carey’s report, emailed to this site on 5/20/2006 by a reader involved in these issues:

In an interview, Carey said he agrees that Wisconsin generally is a high-performing state in educating students, “but I do not believe its performance is as good as it says it is.” He said the way school officials have dealt with the federal law shows “a clear pattern where Wisconsin consistently refuses to challenge itself.”
He compared Wisconsin with Massachusetts, which he said also has high performing students. That state was ranked 39th in the “Pangloss Index,” because it has taken a much tougher line on such things as defining “highly qualified” teachers to require demonstrated knowledge in the subject area being taught. Wisconsin has generally defined such teachers by whether they have state licenses.
In a separate analysis, two researchers connected to an education magazine called Education Next analyzed the differences between the percentage of students in each state listed as proficient or better in reading and math on the state’s own tests and the percentage in the same categories in the nationwide testing program called the National Assessment of Education Progress. In many states, there is a wide disparity between the two, leading some to argue that states are setting proficiency standards too low.
The two researchers, Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess, both generally described as conservatives, then gave each state a grade based on how big a difference there was between the state scores and the national scores. The two gave Wisconsin a grade of C-, based on 2005 results. That was better than the D they gave the state for results in 2003.

Sandy Cullen wrote recently ” new statewide assessment used to test the knowledge of Wisconsin students forced a lowering of the curve, a Madison school official said.
The results showed little change in the percentages of students scoring at proficient and advanced levels”

Do School Systems Aggravate Differences in Natural Ability?

Sharon Begley:

Some kids do bloom late, intellectually. Others start out fine but then, inexplicably, fall behind. But according to new studies, for the most part people’s mental abilities relative to others change very little from childhood through adulthood. Relative intelligence seems as resistant to change as relative nose sizes.
One of the more striking findings comes from the longest follow-up study ever conducted in this field. On June 1, 1932, Scotland had all children born in 1921 and attending school — 87,498 11-year-olds — take a 75-question test on analogies, reading, arithmetic and the like. The goal was to determine the distribution of intellectual ability. In 1998, scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen tracked down 101 of those students, then 77 years old, and administered the same test.
The correlation between scores 66 years apart was a striking .73. (A correlation of 1 would mean no change in rankings; a correlation of .73 is very high.) There is “remarkable stability in individual differences in human intelligence” from childhood to old age, the scientists concluded in a 2000 paper.

Kobza, Mathiak, Robarts and Vang Vote Yes to Support Elementary Strings: Carstensen, Silveira and Winston Vote No And Support Cutting Elementary Strings

Thank you to students, parents and community members who wrote to and spoke before the School Board in support of elementary strings. It may seem, at times, that your letters or statements fall on deaf ears, but that is not the case. Each and every letter and each and every statement of support is critical to communicating to the School Board how much the community values this course. There are Board members who listen and understand what you’re saying.
Last night MMSD School Board members Lawrie Kobza, Lucy Mathiak, Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang voted to restore Grade 5 elementary strings classes to twice weekly. Also, these same four Board members voted in favor of a pilot elementary string course at one or more schools that would provide 4th and 5th grade students with the option to select either General Music or Elementary Strings as their music class. My thanks for their votes of support for elementary strings and a strong music education and opportunities for all our children.
Johnny Winston Jr. (Board President), Carol Carstensen and Arlene Silveira voted against this option, electing to support cutting elementary strings. These three board members did not support elementary strings and supported the Superintendent’s proposal, which would cut Grade 4 elementary strings next year and would have cut Grade 5 elementary strings the following year, eliminating elementary strings for about 543 low-income children, 1610 elementary children in all, within two years.
The elementary string program, even with an additional class in Grade 5 was cut in Grade 4 and the budget was reduced about 13% on top of a 50% cut the previously year. (In comparison, the budget for extracurricular sports increased 25%.)
The board majority who voted for 2 classes per week in Grade 5 and a pilot want to learn more about what option(s), instructionally, administratively, and financially would work best in the future, so elementary string instruction remains part of music education. I appreciate their efforts.
Elementary strings is less than 0.09% of the District’s $330+ million budget, taught 1610 (543 low income) Grade 4 and Grade 5 children this year, is a heterogenous, diverse course.

Superintendent Rainwater’s Reply Regarding the Math Coordinator Position

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater replied via email to our “Open letter about Math Coordinator position at MMSD“:

On Wed, 31 May 2006, Art Rainwater wrote:
Dear Steffen and others;
Thank you for sharing your concens.
The District has always employed outstanding curriuclum leaders in our Teaching and Learning Department. Mary Ramberg has been a leader in Teaching and Learning as have Lisa Wachtel in Science and Mary Watson Peterrson in Literacy and Language Arts.
Please rest assured that I. even more than you, am committed to employing the best possible math corrdinator. The minimum requirements posted are exactly what they say. They are minimum requirements and failure to meet the requirements eliminates the person from consideration immedately without even a further paper screen. Our district has a hiring process that has served us vrey well over the years and this is only the first part of that process.
The breadth and depth of knowledge of mathematics is obviously one of two key components in determining who will be the final pick for this position. However, equally important in the decision is the breadth and depth of pedogogical knowledge. Both of these will be given equal weight and I will not employ anyone who does not have both.
Art Rainwater

My reply:

Dear Art,
Thanks for your prompt reply.
What caused all of us to write/sign this letter is that the posted job ad does precisely NOT require what we consider two MINIMUM requirements for this position, namely (and I repeat):

  1. subject knowledge equivalent to a strong bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and
  2. teaching experience at the highest level in the high school curriculum.

I do hope that the school board and the district administration will RESTRICT its search to ONLY candidates meeting these two MINIMUM requirements.
Thanks for your attention!

State Tightening SAGE class size compliance

State tightening class-size initiative
Schools receiving funding must get formal waiver to exceed 15-1 ratio

By AMY HETZNER, Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel
Posted: May 31, 2006
In an effort to get a better handle on state money schools use to reduce class sizes, the state Department of Public Instruction plans to tighten its control over schools that seek to escape from standards set by a state class-size reduction program.
The state agency has imposed a new requirement that schools seek formal waivers before exceeding a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio guideline set by the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program.
DPI Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers acknowledged that requiring schools to get a waiver could end some practices the DPI had not known were in effect. Yet the requirement isn’t designed to limit flexibility schools have had, he said.

Continue reading State Tightening SAGE class size compliance

O’Keefe’s Isabel Jacobson Moves on to National Spelling Bee’s 4th Round

Daniel O’Reilly:

adison seventh-grader Isabel Jacobson proved that her bite was louder than her bark on Wednesday at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, correctly spelling affenpinscher – a breed of small dogs of European origin – on her way to advancing to the fourth round.
The bee stopped for the day in the middle of the fourth round, with Jacobson yet to spell and 46 spellers still standing.
Competition resumes this morning at 11 CDT and will be aired live on ESPN. The final rounds will be aired tonight live on ABC from 7 to 9 CDT.

National Spelling Bee website

Open letter about Math Coordinator position at MMSD

Dear Members of the School Board, dear Superintendent Rainwater,
We are writing to strongly urge that the new Coordinator of Mathematics have the depth of knowledge of mathematics that we believe is essential for the position. While we are obviously concerned about the preparation of students entering the University, our concerns are much broader than that. The new Coordinator must have a high level of understanding of both mathematical content and pedagogy to independently navigate through the controversies that surround the established standards and published curricula. These “navigational skills” are essential if we are to achieve a program for the Madison school system that meets the needs and aspirations of all the students in the system.

Continue reading Open letter about Math Coordinator position at MMSD

Budget process better this year

This year’s budget process showed some improvement over previous years, including:

– The “tabs” with questions from board members and responses from the administration;
– Board members’ amendments in writing prior to consideration;
– A hearing after the board members submitted their amendments;
– A more deliberate process, which did not feel as rushed as previous years;
– More information posted on the MMSD’s site;
– Board members asking questions and expecting meaingful answers.

I look forward to more improvements next year, including:

– Beginning next year’s budget process tomorrow, literally;
– Clear comparisons between previous year spending and proposed spending;
– Comparisons by school for previous year spending and proposed year;
– Comparisons by major program areas for previous year and proposed;
– Proposed program changes by school;
– Proposed staffing changes by school;
– Showing program and school funding by source (fed, state, local, grant, for instance).

And most important of all, the administration, board, and community need to formulate a shared vision for Madison schools and use the budget to advance the vision.
This year’s budget deliberations lack any sense of direction. One board member brings up a subject and it’s largely considered in isolation. The next board member brings up a different subject and it gets considered in isolation. All budget items should be considered in how they advance or hinder achievement of a vision.
But the board first needs to take on the difficult challenge of leading the community in defining the vision.

Equity Fund: Amount and Use is a School Board Responsibility

Tim Schell in his comments on the District’s Equity Fund referenced a DPI web page on Fund Balance Practices. I went to this web page and found the information on Fund Balance Practices (Equity Fund) useful and easy to understand. I hope our Board members and others who follow district budget issues take a moment to read this information.
While the Equity Fund is not a “pot of money” for annual district expenditures, this is a substantial financial fund and needs to be part of the School Board’s discussions during the annual budget process and discussions about long-term financial planning. Closer board monitoring of and board direction to the administration re the amount and uses of this fund is the board’s responsibility, and the public deserves to know and understand how the School Board is using this Fund during the annual budget process, in the School Board’s monitoring of revenues and expenditures and in the context of the district’s long-term financial planning.
At a recent board meeting, when the question came up about the Equity Fund – what is it and how is it used. The administration’s answer was to balance the books – which is indeed one role for this fund. This raised a series of questions when board members heard more about account overruns, unnexpected expenditures (rise in utility costs), which caused cash to be drawn from this Fund to balance other Funds. For example, the Equity Fund was used to balance the deficit in the Food Service fund at the end of a fiscal year. (Accounting practices for balance sheet require this.) I was perplexed that the School Board did not have a clear understanding of how this significantd fund is used and what their role/responsibility in managing this fund is.
The School Board is responsible for determining the Fund Balance they want to work with. From DPIs web page:

As part of the budget process, the board must determine fund balance amounts to be:

  • retained for working cash needs, recognizing that the working cash fund also serves as district’s contingency or “rainy day” fund.
  • used to fund expenditures of the next fiscal period, recognizing that if used for recurring expenditures, future budget decisions will revolve around finding resources to continue funding these expenditures.

I have not seen the School Board take up this discussion during the budget process. In fact, the board has had a separate contingency fund of less than $1 million separate from the Equity Fund. Why? And why does the school board not discuss fund overruns before they are “balanced out” using the equity fund?
The Equity Fund balance influences what interest rate district gets for short-term borrowing, bond ratings, etc. Therefore, I would like the School Board to ask the administration what their current practices are for this fund using examples from the past several years. What is the overall Fund balance target? How is this achieved and maintained?
In general, I would like to see the School Board have a clearer understanding of the Equity Fund and more closely monitor accounts within fund areas before the end of the fiscal year. For example, on a regular basis the School Board could ask for updated forecasts of expenditures and revenues for different accounts such as food services, contractors, utilities, transportation, etc.
As a starting point, I would like to see the School Board ask for a summary of changes in the Equity Fund for the past five to ten years by the various categories in this fund – reserved (committed for identified purposes), unreserved – designated (school board has identified tentative uses – working cash purposes), unreserved – undesignated fund balance (not identified). Note: It should be noted that opinions of the Wisconsin Attorney General have stated that Wisconsin governments cannot accumulate fund balances without having a specified purpose for such balances.
I’m sure the School Board, as part of various approval processes, approves the Equity Fund, but how this is done and when might merit a review tomorrow as part of the budget discussions. Also, I would like to see more discussion a) about what and how much is included in “unreserved-designated” and b) closer monitoring of budget expenditures so that the board is determining what is being used out of the equity fund to cover contingencies – and board members know this well in advance of June 30th each year.

Continue Elementary Strings – 550 Low-Income Children Deserve the Opportunity to Proudly Play Their Instruments

On Wednesday, May 31st, the MMSD School Board will consider amendments to the 2006-2007 school budget proposed by the Superintedent. In his proposal, the Superintendent proposed cutting Grade 4 strings this year and Grade 5 strings the end of next year. One amendment to be discussed on Wednesday would have Grade 4 strings 1x per week (45 minutes) and Grade 5 2x per week (45 minutes each class).
Students who will be affected the most are our low-income children. There is no other place in Dane County that can teach so many low-income children. This year about 550 low-income students took elementary strings. Fewer opportunities at this age will lead to fewer low-income/minority students in our middle and high school orchestras and band – this is a direction we do not want to move in as our student body becomes more diverse.
Like it or not, people moving into the area with children check out what schools offer – our suburban school districts have elementary string programs that are growing in many towns.
I’ve advocated for a community committee for fine arts education to develop a long-term plan for this academic area. I hope this comes to pass, but first I hope the School Board favorably considers this amendment and follows Lawrie Kobza’s idea – hold off spending on “things” because people cannot be added back in as easily as things can be added back into the budget.
I’ve written a letter to the school board that follows:

Continue reading Continue Elementary Strings – 550 Low-Income Children Deserve the Opportunity to Proudly Play Their Instruments

LA’s Superintendent Selection Process

Bob Sipchen:

By the end of this column I will have selected the next superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Because I believe that the children, parents, teachers and citizens of Los Angeles are entitled to transparency in such deliberations, I invite you to join me as I work my way toward a decision.
Let’s start in a classroom at North Hollywood High School, where, in a scene reminiscent of “Blackboard Jungle,” 28 young toughs have school board President Marlene Canter backed up against a projector screen.
These aren’t physical toughs. They’re intellectual toughs. But if I were Canter, I’d take the sneering, tattooed kind any day.

Well-Intentioned Food Police May Create Havoc With Children’s Diets

Harriet Brown:

Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.
So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.
Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.
Unlike the earlier “mommy wars” or the “war on drugs,” which centered around simpler black-and-white divides, the 21st-century food wars are fuzzier, though the feelings run just as deep.

A Parent’s Note to the Madison School Board on Strings

Ann O’ Brien:

Every year when I attend my children’s strings concerts, I am so amazed by the broad and diverse participation of students in strings. How moving to see so many students playing instruments often stereotyped as only for the rich who can afford lessons. The cacophony of sounds coming from the 100’s of students at the city-wide concerts inspires the kids, the parents and the community that all is well in the world; that integration, opportunity, and artistic expression are not just paid lip service, but are working in our schools. I appreciate your work to keep strings available to all students.

We Can’t Leave Dropouts Behind

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Nxt month hundreds of 17- and 18-year- olds in the Madison area will graduate from high school, bound for college. Hundreds more will graduate with plans to enter training programs, join the military or go directly to the world of work.
Those graduates will represent a piece of the American dream.
But what about the teenagers left out of that dream?
An estimated 3,500 young people of high school age in metropolitan Madison area are not in school.

Can’t Complete High School? Go Along to College

Karen Arenson:

It is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland idea. If you do not finish high school, head straight for college.
But many colleges — public and private, two-year and four-year — will accept students who have not graduated from high school or earned equivalency degrees.
And in an era of stubbornly elevated high school dropout rates, the chance to enter college through the back door is attracting growing interest among students without high school diplomas.

Accountability for Poverty

Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel Editorial:

As a matter of editorial policy, we don’t accept poverty as an excuse for poor school performance. We expect that rather than wishing they had a different class of students, schools take students wherever they are and develop their talents so that they can cope and thrive in later life. At the same time, we recognize that poverty poses stiff challenges for educators.

Week of May 30th – School Board Update by President Johnny Winston, Jr.

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Currently, the Madison School Board is deliberating over the 2006-07 budget. Board members submitted budget amendments to the Administration last week. The strings program, library pages, funding for community groups, student fees, school programs and class sizes are among the items identified by board members to change in the budget. For a list of budget amendments and Administrative responses please go to:
We invite the public to comment on the budget amendments at our public hearing on Tuesday May 30th at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Building or in writing to the board at The board will finalize the budget on Wednesday May 31st. Both of these meetings will be televised on MMSD television on cable channel 10 at 5 p.m.

Continue reading Week of May 30th – School Board Update by President Johnny Winston, Jr.

Science ability drops in U.S. high schools

Sam Dillon:

The first science test administered in five years across the United States shows that achievement among high school seniors has declined across the past decade, even as scores in science rose among fourth-graders and held steady among eighth-graders, the U.S. Department of Education has reported.
The falling average science test scores among high school students, announced Wednesday, appeared certain to increase anxiety about American academic competitiveness and to add new urgency to calls from President George W. Bush, governors and philanthropists like Bill Gates for an overhaul of American high schools.
The drop in science proficiency appeared to reflect a broader trend in which some academic gains made in elementary grades and middle school have been seen to fade during the high school years. The science results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a comprehensive examination administered in early 2005 by the Department of Education to more than 300,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and on U.S. military bases around the world.

Common Ground In Math Wars

“Finding Common Ground in the U.S. Math Wars”, Science Magazine, May 19, 2006 describes the 18-month effort initiated by Richard Schaar, mathematician and former president of Texas Instruments, to bridge the gap between professional mathematicians, and math educators. Leaving many issues still to be addressed, the following is their initial statements:

Fundamental Premises
All students must have a solid grounding in mathematics to function effectively in today’s world. The need to improve the learning of traditionally underserved groups of students is widely recognized; efforts to do so must continue. Students in the top quartile are underserved in different ways; attention to improving the quality of their learning opportunities is equally important. Expectations for all groups of students must be raised. By the time they leave high school, a majority of students should have studied calculus.

  • Basic skills with numbers continue to be vitally important for a variety of everyday uses. They also provide crucial foundation for the higher-level mathematics essential for success in the workplace which must now also be part of a basic education. Although there may have been a time when being to able to perform extensive paper-and-pencil computations mechanically was sufficient to function in the workplace, this is no longer true. Consequently, today’s students need proficiency with computational procedures. Proficiency, as we use the term, includes both computational fluency and understanding of the underlying mathematical ideas and principles.
  • Mathematics requires careful reasoning about precisely defined objects and concepts. Mathematics is communicated by means of a powerful language whose vocabulary must be learned. The ability to reason about and justify mathematical statements is fundamental, as is the ability to use terms and notation with appropriate degrees of precision. By precision, we mean the use of terms and symbols, consistent with mathematical definitions, in ways appropriate for students at particular grade levels. We do not mean formality for formality’s sake.
  • Students must be able to formulate and solve problems. Mathematical problem solving includes being able to (a) develop a clear understanding of the problem that is being posed; (b) translate the problem from everyday language into a precise mathematical question; (c) choose and use appropriate methods to answer the question; (d) interpret and evaluate the solution in terms of the original problem, and (e) understand that not all questions admit mathematical solutions and recognize problems that cannot be solved mathematically.

For further elaboration, see Common Ground

Last month, NCTM (National Coucil of Teachers of Mathematics) endorsed a short list of skills, by grade, that every grade and middle school student must master. These “Curriculum Focal Points” are an attempt to correct the “mile-wide, inch-deep” curricula in most schools, which leave most student incapable and ill-prepared for further work in mathematics, science and engineering disciplines. The Focal Points document has not be published at this time.

But, to place these “improvements” into perspective, no one expects these initiative to make improvements by themselves. Further, UC-Berkeley Math Prof Hung-Hsi Wu says “Better mathematics education won’t take place in the next 10 years, I think it will take 30 years.”

Twenty Years Ago: The Read Aloud Handbook

Joanne Levy-Prewitt:

“The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease was a guide to literature for children. As I recall, the second half of the book was a collection of book and story titles appropriate for different ages, but it was the first half that really influenced my parenting philosophy.
Simply put, Trelease wanted parents to ban television and read aloud to their young children, until, and even after, they could read on their own. First published in 1982, many children who were the beneficiaries of Trelease’s ideas are now college age and beyond.
It would be interesting to conduct a study to determine whether the children Trelease hoped to influence have become active readers as adults. My guess is that many of them stopped reading for pleasure when they started middle school and were assigned specific books.

Push for changes in school financing

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I appreciated Susan Troller’s recent article where she examined the impact of eroding budgets on schools and classrooms throughout Madison. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Madison schools.
The repeated cutting of school budgets is strongly affecting classrooms, teachers and students in scores of school districts throughout Wisconsin. I feel confident that Madison schools, and many other school districts, are years past cutting the “frills” from their budgets school boards and administrators are now forced to make cuts that truly affect the quality of education that our children are receiving.
These current cuts, and inevitable future cuts, are a direct result of statewide school finance restrictions that have been placed on local communities by our state Legislature since the mid-1990s. School funding is extremely complicated, and I won’t begin to try to explain it here. What I will do, however, is invite readers to educate themselves on this very important issue. A good place to begin is the Web site of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools,
After we better educate ourselves, we need to have conversations with our neighbors, our friends, our school personnel and our policy makers. School financing, as it currently exists, is not going to change unless we help to make it change. And if our current school financing system does not change, then our schools will cease to be the national leaders that they still are today. And the ones who truly will lose out are our children.
I encourage readers to learn about school financing and to engage in positive dialogue with others so that we can quickly find creative solutions.
Barbara Katz
Published: May 26, 2006
The Capital Times

“The Principals Vanish”

Interesting timing, in light of Bill’s post on the MMSD’s plan to rotate a number of Elementary school principals; NY Times Editorial:

The education reforms that are under way across the United States fall mainly on the shoulders of school principals, whose jobs are growing more difficult — and more crucial — every day. They must train and inspire new teachers, manage budgets, schedule classes, interact with often troubled families, and keep clean, orderly buildings — all while raising standards and improving student performance, as is now required by federal law. This walk-on-water job requires sound training and a good support system. But it also requires experience, especially in challenging school systems like New York City’s, which is on the verge of giving principals even more responsibility.

Connected Math in Olympia, WA

Education Wonks:

After a number of parents and teachers objected, the school board of Olympia, Washington, has ignored an administrative recommendation to adopt a constructivist math program for their middle schoolers:

Connected Math and the Madison School District was discussed at a recent math forum (audio / video).
UW Emeritus Math Professor Dick Askey wrote a followup article on test scores and the local math curriculum.
The MMSD is currently looking for a “Coordinator of Mathematics“.
Clusty Connected Math Search.

Links and Notes on Parent Involvement and Student Education

J.D. Fisher:

Here’s a brief list of the research (you can find it here) about parent involvement related to student achievement. Enjoy.
Ann Shaver and Richard Walls (1998) looked at the impact of school-based parent workshops on the achievement of 335 Title I students in nine schools in a West Virginia district . . . . The researchers found that students with more highly involved parents were more likely to gain in both reading and math than children with less involved parents. This finding held across all income and education levels.

Discussion, Notes and Links on Milwaukee’s Voucher Program

There’s been an increase in discussion recently regarding Milwaukee’s Voucher Program largely around Amanda Poulson’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor:

Hers is the sort of story Milwaukee’s school-choice advocates cite when touting the oldest and largest voucher program in the country. Now it’s expanding, but 16 years after it began, the policy is still controversial and has shown few documented benefits.
Proponents say it gives options to low-income kids who might otherwise be stuck in failing schools, and that the competition for students is good for all Milwaukee’s schools, both public and private. Critics, meanwhile, cite the money the program drains from public schools and the highly uneven quality of the private ones, which aren’t held to the same standards.

To the School Board: Why transfer 6 principals?

I sent the following message to the School Board yesterday, in reaction to MMSD’s announcement that 6 elementary principals will be moved to different schools this summer in a series of transfers.
I realize that it’s easy to talk tough from the sidelines, but I think that this is a significant personnel decision that will affect a lot of teachers, kids, and communities. If the School Board hasn’t received a thorough explanation of its rationale, I think they should request one.
A few people have suggested that I post my message to the Board here, so here it is.
To the MMSD Board of Education:
I don’t think I understand why Elizabeth Fritz was transferred from Crestwood. It appears that Art Rainwater has decided to remove an effective leader from a healthy school–one whose health she has helped to develop. His letter did not make the reason clear, except to suggest that he thinks it is good to move principals from one school to another every so often. Is this really his view, or the view of the School Board? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Perhaps there are good reasons for these principal moves that I’m not aware of. But from the outside they give a worrisome impression–that the Superintendent might be “protecting his own” at the expense of the students he is serving. From the outside, and with incomplete information, it looks as though Mr. Rainwater might be doing the easier thing instead of the better thing–shuttling some unsuccessful principals to different schools instead of firing them. This would at least be a plausible motivation. Rotation for the sake of rotation does not seem to be.
I think the role of principal is the most important role in a school district, and that a principal has more impact on a school’s climate than any other person. Good ones are not so easy to come by, and I don’t think they should be transferred out unless there’s a good reason. I hope the School Board will question Mr. Rainwater closely on his reasons. If it appears he’s trying to protect weak principals, or if he can’t do better than to say that it’s good to rotate principals every so often, I hope the School Board will consider overturning his decision.
Thank you for your consideration.
Bill Herman

The District’s Equity Fund Explained

There were some earlier postings and questions about the Equity Fund that I believe need to be answered.  First equity in this case is similar to the equity you have in your house as you pay down your mortgage.
The Equity Fund is a consequence of the fact that, by state law, the district operates on a fiscal year budget (July 1-June 30) but the taxes are collected on a calendar year basis.  So the 2006-07 year is paid for partially from last year’s tax levy and partially from the 2007 taxes that will be collected in January 2007.
Furthermore, about 75% of total taxes come in by January 31 – the rest come in by July 31.  So when the district closes its books at the end of the fiscal year (June 30th) it has some tax funds set aside to pay for the July-Jan portion of the year and bookkeepers and accountants require a label/category for all funds – this is the Equity Fund.  It is the funds that (with the additional July collections) are intended to cover the expenses of the district for the July-Jan months.

Continue reading The District’s Equity Fund Explained

Notes on SAT Scores

David S. Kahn:

Colleges across the country are reporting a drop in SAT scores this year. I’ve been tutoring students in New York City for the SAT since 1989, and I have watched the numbers rise and fall. This year, though, the scores of my best students dropped about 50 points total in the math and verbal portions of the test (each on a scale of 200 to 800). Colleges and parents are wondering: Is there something wrong with the new test? Or are our children not being taught what they should know?
Before 1994, the verbal section of the SAT was about 65% vocabulary (55 out of 85 questions) and 35% reading comprehension. Then the Educational Testing Service shortened and reworked the test, devoting half of the 78 questions to each area. Last year ETS changed the test again, and now it is heavily skewed toward reading: 49 of the 68 items require students to read, synthesize and answer questions.
In such a way, ETS has increased the penalty for not reading throughout one’s school years. Studying vocabulary lists before the test–a long-favored shortcut to lifting scores–just won’t cut it anymore. Students who read widely and often throughout their elementary and high-school years develop the kinds of reading skills measured by the new SAT. Students who avoid reading don’t–and can’t develop them in a cram course.

Unlikely Allies (“against” NCLB)

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

Continue reading Unlikely Allies (“against” NCLB)

Polite Agreement or Something We Can Use?

Barry Garelick:

Education Secretary Spellings recently announced the formation of a presidentially appointed panel that was formed to address math teaching. According to the charter of this panel, one of its purposes is “to foster greater knowledge of and improved performance in mathematics among American students.” The panel is charged with producing a report in two years, which must contain recommendations pertaining to how math instruction can be improved in the U.S. In particular, the report must address the skills necessary for students to acquire competence in algebra and to prepare them for higher levels of mathematics.
The workings of the panel are not the type of thing that makes the front page of newspapers, the top story on TV news, or what is talked about in the local cafes. To hear about this you need to drop in to the blogs (like Edspresso), or the various list serves on the internet devoted to math education. There you will notice some discomfort among those who think that the way math is currently taught and the present crop of math texts being used in the U.S. is just fine. They have openly expressed dismay at the inclusion on the panel of people who have been vocal critics of reform math, stating “This panel is filled with hacks, toadies and stooges. Can you say ‘show trial’, children? Have you ever seen the old reels of the Communist Party Congresses in Moscow?” Allegations of pre-conceived conclusions then follow.

Baraboo Board Member Stirs Controversy

Board member stirs controversy
Baraboo News Republic
Thursday May 25, 2006
By Christina Beam
BARABOO – New Baraboo School Board member Kevin Bartol
( stirred up some controversy at his second meeting Monday night when he suggested district policy be amended so that only teachable students be enrolled in Baraboo’s public schools.
“There are some people in this country that cannot be educated,” Bartol said to the board. “They may have their eyes open, but there’s no one awake upstairs.”
His comments Monday came as part of the board’s review of district
policies, including one for “Programs for Students with Disabilities.” The first sentence of that policy reads that the board “shall provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities who reside within the district.”
Bartol proposed the board add a modifier before the word student, such as “educable,” so that if a child who “can’t be taught” wants to enter or stay in a Baraboo public school the district is not required to serve him or her.
“Every child can be taught,” said Director of Special Ed Gwynne Peterson said, who added the district is under federal obligation -as well as moral and ethical – to teach every student.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Bartol said. “What if you teach them for two or three years and they haven’t learned anything?”
High School Principal Machell Schwarz responded, “Then we work with them and try everything we possibly can.” Bartol requested the board look into the legalities of modifying the disability policy.
By Tuesday word of the exchange had spread around the district, District Administrator Lance Alwin said, and he had received feedback from community members troubled by Bartol’s comments.
“Any family that has a child with special needs would be very disconcerted to know we were thinking about defining the type of child we intend to work with,” Alwin said. “All children shall be served. Until I’m told differently, I have no intention of beginning to socially exclude any child that shows up at our doorstep.”
In an interview Wednesday Bartol did not back down from his statements but said he was misunderstood by administrators and other board members who took offense to his comments.
“To my knowledge, all the students that are attending the Baraboo School District fall into the category of being able to be educated,” he said. “But it is feasible and it has occurred in other school districts where students that because of some type of brain damage were not be able to be educated and yet they were allowed to go to school.”
In a statement from Wisconsin Association of School Boards Wednesday,
attorney Nancy Dorman advised the district state and federal laws entitle all children to an education, and the district’s obligation to provide it cannot be waived through local policy.
It’s possible those state and federal laws implied that “students” were children capable of being educated, Bartol said. He said ideally the district would have a team of experts determine if children with severe cognitive disabilities were making progress in the public school setting. If after a year or two they hadn’t improved, he said, they could go elsewhere.
“Public school systems are not a baby-sitting service or a nurse care
service for children such as those,” he said. “They’re a place to educate students.”
Peterson, who also investigates discrimination and harassment complaints in the district, said she was outraged by Bartol’s “discriminatory and prejudicial” remarks.
“It’s frightening to me that someone in a position making decisions on the education of the students in our community believes these kinds of things,” she said.
Education for severely cognitively disabled students is adapted and
individualized to the children’s needs, Peterson said, but it still
qualifies as education. Special ed teachers may work with a student to
learn to hold his head up, she said, freeing the student to be more
independent and spend his energies learning new tasks and concepts.
“We have had very young students with developmental disabilities who you might look at and just by appearance decide this student can’t learn,” she said. “I’ve seen those kids, and I’ve seen how far they do come.”
The district’s policy for students with disabilities borrows heavily from state and federal legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which defines disabilities and schools’ obligations to serve students.
Bartol said the whole issue is probably moot if the board is unable to make any policy changes. “I’m not going to be upset about it one way or another,” he said, “and hopefully no one else gets upset about it one way or another.”
Bartol was elected to the board after a recount of the April 4 election had him winning by a three-vote margin over write-in candidate Doug Mering. Bartol, who was on the same ticket as a five-year, $7.5-million referendum, ran on an anti-referendum platform.

Lighting and Daylighting in School Buildings, Workshop, June 23

With the MMSD considering an addition to Leopold Elementary and a new west side high school, the fabulous Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair in Custer, Wisconsin (just 7 miles east of Stevens Point) offers a relevant presentation titled Lighting and Daylighting in School Buildings. The Fair program describes the presentation:

Learn to evaluate the light needed for the activity at hand. Plus, gain some tips on daylighting — using a bit of the most abundant, accessible and predictable renewable resource available to us.

The presentation will be offered on Friday, June 23, at 12:00 noon. The presenter Bob Drevlow works with the Focus on Energy Schools Program.
Daylighting saves electricity without adding cost to a school, as demonstrated by Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Oregon.

MMSD will begin new “discipline” program next year

One of those cryptic messages in the current MMSD budget document says:

One of the major challenges for the 2006-07 school year is implementing a change in the philosophy and approach to creating positive student behavior. We are moving from a punitive system of student behavior management to a distict wide positive approach to changing student behavior thorugh education, dialogue and resotrative justice.

In plain language, the district will implement a variation of a program created by Corwin Kronenberg. The program won’t be the complete version of Kronenberg’s plan because he and the district had a falling out, similar to the parting of ways between the MMSD and Glen Singleton with his “courageous conversations” on race.
Kronenberg doesn’t seem to have a Web site that lays out his behavioral management plan, but it’s posted below as it appears on the Web site of the Sheboygan school district.

Continue reading MMSD will begin new “discipline” program next year

Musical principals – official announcement

For immediate release
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Six elementary principals to lead different schools for 2006-07
Six elementary school principals will lead different schools next year in a series of transfers within the Madison School District. All six principals have been at their current schools for at least five years.
The list of new assignments, by principal, with current school and length of service:
Craig Campbell to Elvehjem from Kennedy (10 yrs.)
Lisa Kvistad to Lowell from Elvehjem (5 yrs.)
Bev Cann to Kennedy from Lowell (5 yrs.)
Linda Allen to Chavez from Thoreau (5 yrs.)
Howard Fried to Crestwood from Chavez (6 yrs.)
Liz Fritz to Thoreau from Crestwood (6 yrs.)
In making these assignment changes, Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “All of these principals have been at their schools for several years, and I believe these changes are good for the district, the principals, the staff and the students.”
Parents at each of the schools were notified yesterday. The changes will take place over the summer in time for the Tuesday, September 5 start of the new school year. Each of the principals will assist his or her successor in the transition to make it more effective and efficient.
Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

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