“With” is Not a Four-Letter Word

The agenda of the Finance and Operations committee meeting for Monday, June 13 contains these items:
4. Communication to the Public about the Proposed 2005-06 Budget
6. Nontraditional Communication Strategies to Speak to Community Stakeholders.
Mark Twain once remarked: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.”
For me, “communication to” and “speak to” is vastly different than “communication with” and “speak with” — like the difference between “lightening” and “lightening bug”.
I can hear the failed referenda supporters and the supporting press editorials: Just needed a little better PR.
“With” has this strong flavor of team work, working together, listening: dialog!. “To?” Well, that has been the legacy of the Administration and Board.
But, no, folks. “With” is not a four-letter word. It needs to be used, again and again, until it becomes part of the Administration’s and Board’s culture.

More on Math

A reader forwarded this article: Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post:

So when I found a new attack on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the nation’s leading association for math teachers, by a group of smart advocates, I saw a chance to bring some clarity to what we call the Math Wars. For several years, loosely allied groups of activist teachers and parents with math backgrounds have argued that we are teaching math all wrong. We should make sure that children know their math facts — can multiply quickly in their heads and do long division without calculators, among other things — or algebra is going to kill them, they say. They blame the NCTM, based in Reston, Va., for encouraging loose teaching that leaves students to try to discover principles themselves and relies too much on calculators.

Continue reading More on Math

Joint Finance Committee Republicans Bail on Funding Education

School-funding update
JFC budget for public schools even worse than expected
Contact your legislators about anti-public education budget
Opportunities to fight against Finance Committee’s budget
Help WAES spread the school-finance reform message
School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan — a proposal for school-finance reform — is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.
JFC budget for public schools even worse than expected
Just when public school advocates thought funding problems couldn’t get any worse, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) proved them wrong.
Early Friday, the panel adopted motions that not only reduced the Governor’s public school budget by over $300 million, but also slashed the public school revenues local school boards anticipated in their budgets for the 2005-06 school year. In addition, the committee drastically reduced Governor Jim Doyle’s categorical aid package.

Continue reading Joint Finance Committee Republicans Bail on Funding Education

Askey on Elementary Math Curriculum: “Good Intentions Are Not Enough”

UW’s Dick Askey emailed links to two of his papers on Elementary Math Curriculum:

  • Good Intentions Are Not Enough (PDF)

    While there was a need to do something to improve school mathematics education, NCTM did not face up to the most critical problem, the lack of firm content knowledge of far too many teachers. There were other lacks in their program. NCTM did not look seriously at mathematics education in other countries. Mathematicians were not involved in the development of the Standards. The NCTM authors of their Standards had the strange notion that it is possible to teach conceptual understanding without developing technical skill at the same time. Instances of all of these failures and what came from them will be given below.

  • Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics (PDF)

    Elementary school mathematics, it turns out, is not so elementary. This means that teaching it well requires much deeper mathematical knowledge than almost everyone has thought. There will be no math reform unless we provide teachers with the training, textbooks, time, and support needed to develop this knowledge.

Behind every grad

The NYTimes’ Tom Friedman has a nice piece on the importance of good teachers in our children’s education. As the mother of a graduating senior, I wish there was space here to list the terrific teachers (as well as TAG and guidance staff) both our children had while attending Franklin/Randall, Wingra, Hamilton and West. Our deepest gratitude to those who helped our kids love to learn.

Continue reading Behind every grad

Annexing more West side students

Why is the MMSD annexing more students on the West side when there’s such a concern about space? What attendance areas include the annexed land? I wonder too about the fiscal impact of adding more students. Will more students lead to more program cuts, so that the additions really become a fiscal drain rather than a fiscal benefit?
I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m genuinely asking why adding students is a good idea. It may be a perfectly good approach, but it just seems odd given the controversy about West side enrollment and overcrowding.
I’ve actually been wondering whether the MMSD shouldn’t give up some kids to other school districts on the West side. In particular, I wonder about the penninsula that feeds into Leopold. Or by contrast, annexing the land and kids who lie between the penninsula and Chavez and building an elementary school in that annexed territory to relieve the overcrowding at Leopold.
I’m not advocating anything, so don’t “bust my chops.” I’m just thinking out loud.

Friedman: After 50 Years, Vouchers Catching On

Milton Friedman:

Little did I know when I published an article in 1955 on “The Role of Government in Education” that it would lead to my becoming an activist for a major reform in the organization of schooling, and indeed that my wife and I would be led to establish a foundation to promote parental choice. The original article was not a reaction to a perceived deficiency in schooling. The quality of schooling in the United States then was far better than it is now, and both my wife and I were satisfied with the public schools we had attended. My interest was in the philosophy of a free society. Education was the area that I happened to write on early. I then went on to consider other areas as well. The end result was “Capitalism and Freedom,” published seven years later with the education article as one chapter.

Morin: The Price of Acting White

Richard Morin:

” Children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”— Barack Obama, keynote speech, 2004 Democratic National Convention
It may be even worse than Obama imagined: It’s not just black children who face ridicule and ostracism by their peers if they do well in school. The stigmatizing effects of “acting white” appear to be felt even more by Hispanics who get top grades.

Shephard: Madison Schools WPS Insurance Proves Costly

Jason Shephard emailed a copy of his article on Madison Schools’ Healthcare costs. This article first appeared in the June 10, 2005 issue of Isthmus. The Isthmus version includes several rather useful charts & graphs that illustrate how the Madison School District’s health care costs compare with the City and County. Pick it up.

Continue reading Shephard: Madison Schools WPS Insurance Proves Costly

The Lesson

From Milwaukee Magazine:

On the day Dante Hamilton came to Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary School on Milwaukee’s North Side, he was like most African-American children who enroll in urban school districts in the United States. He was already behind. . . .
Fortunately for Dante, he had what the Chinese call the luck of time and place when his mother enrolled him at Hawthorne. Today, at age 10, he is a fourth-grader who reads at a sixth-grade level.

The article continues for several pages and insightfully covers a wide range of relevant topics on schools.

“Conflict of Interest”?

Christina Daglas article in the Cap Times on 6/8/05 refers to John Matthews, head of MTI, and his position on the board of WPS the insurance company that provides policies to the Madison school teachers as not having a conflict of interest. I have no information that Mr. Matthews has done anything wrong however, I strongly dispute the fact that this is not a conflict of interest. This is the first I have heard of his position on the board of WPS. I have asked the board many times why teachers are under such an expensive health care contract when many families in the community of Madison are well served by U.W. providers under a less expensive program, mine included. I was told many times the cost savings would be small to switch to a different carrier but this newly revealed information makes me question whether that is true or not. Per the Capital Times, Mr. Matthews fails to see a conflict of interest…..he fails to see a conflict of interest. I guess I keep repeating this statement and wondering how he can not see a conflict of interest. Anyone else see a conflict of interest?

Who will invite me to talk with them?

Thank you to Troy Dassler, Marisue Horton, and others who commented on my report on the meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on Monday, June 6.
Several people objected to my characterization of the some of the presentations as nasty and bitter. I know that it’s hard to perceive Leopold leaders and supporters as anything but polite, but I was shocked when they launched into immediate denunciations of Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, blaming them for the defeat of the referendum.

Continue reading Who will invite me to talk with them?

Madison Schools/MTI Pact

Cristina Daglas:

A smaller-than-expected contract for Madison teachers would leave about $400,000 for the School Board to spend on cash-strapped programs, although critics say more was available.
Superintendent Art Rainwater and board President Carol Carstensen would not speculate Tuesday on what programs could benefit, but board member Ruth Robarts said maintaining the Open Classroom program at Lincoln Elementary School and alleviating planned class-size increases for art, music and gym teachers could be possibilities.
Rainwater, Carstensen and Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews presented the proposed contract at a news conference at MTI headquarters Tuesday.

Yes, Change IS Hard

Q: How many board members does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: “WHAT!!?!?! CHANGE?” they gasp in horror
No one is going to win as long as there is a divide between the board and the community. It would be great if it were as easy as “we need to educate people,” or, “we need to reach more people,” to pass a referendum as Carol Carstensen has suggested. But that does not appear to be the case.
The issue is not educating, it is persuading people that the board’s strategies are the best options. That cannot be done until all options are on the table with accurate, verifiable, comparative costs and impacts presented so that people can join the board and the administration in supporting its strategies.
This has not happened and, based on the last school board election and the referendum votes, more mailings and radio ads with the same positions is not likely to get more support for the board or its choices.
Using committee meetings to denounce members of the board and citizens who care enough to come to meetings as enemies of public education is not a step forward, either. Particularly when the bashing is based on assumptions rather than fact, as in Juan Lopez’s decision to bash Barb Schrank. Apparently Mr. Lopez was unaware that Barb voted yes on all three questions AND openly urged others to do so. Just how does attacking her publicly win him support for his stated cause?

Continue reading Yes, Change IS Hard

Tierney on Florida Vouchers

John Tierney:

How can you claim the moral high ground when you’re denying him a chance to escape to a better private school?
Well, the public system did lose $4,400, but that’s actually $1,000 less than the cost of educating the average student and there was one pupil fewer to teach.
As enrollment has dropped at Edison, the student-to-teacher ratio has improved to about 22 from about 30. In the past two years, a new principal has revamped the administration and replaced half the teachers in the school. Under the new leadership, the average test score at the school last year rose dramatically – one of the largest increases of any high school in Florida.
Edison’s improvement is not an isolated example, as three separate studies have found in Florida. Test scores have gone up more rapidly at schools facing the threat of vouchers than at other schools. The latest study, by Martin West and Paul Peterson of Harvard, shows that Florida’s program is much more effective than the federal No Child Left Behind program.

2005-2006 Madison School Board Committee Goals

President Carol Carstensen’s Board Goals 7MB Video
Bill Keys’ Long Range Planning Goals 8MB Video
Lawrie Kobza’s Partnership Committee Goals 6MB Video
Juan Jose Lopez’s Human Resource Committee Goals 3.5MB Video
Ruth Robarts’ Legislative Committee Goals 3MB Video
Shwaw Vang’s Performance & Achievement Committee Goals 4MB Video
Johnny Winston Jr.’s Finance & Operations Committee Goals 4MB Video

Post Leopold / Operating Referenda Long Range Planning Meeting: Arlene Silveira and Beth Zurbuchen Speak

Click to watch this event

The Madison Board of Education’s Long Range Planning Committee met on the 6th. Arlene Silveira and Beth Zurbuchen lead along with many others spoke about the failed referenda and next steps. Results and background here. Arlene and Beth were prominent members of Madison Cares, a group that spent heavily in favor of the referenda.

Don Severson, President of Active Citizens for Education also spoke at this event and recommended that the District look at the entire west side, not just Leopold. Severson also argued for a very open discussion with the community.

MMSD-MTI reach tentative agreement on contract

Joint committee to examine health care changes
Union and district officials announced today a tentative teaching contract settlement for the period beginning July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2007. The contract was given preliminary approval by the Board of Education Monday night, and the union membership will vote this Thursday.
Terms of the contract include:
Base Salary Raise – .75%
Benefits – 3.32%
Total – 3.98%
Base salary raise – .90 %
Benefits – 3.07%
Total – 3.97%

Continue reading MMSD-MTI reach tentative agreement on contract

Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

Following are remarks and attachments distributed to the MMSD Board of Education electronically and hard copy on Monday, June 6, 2005, by KJ Jakobson, who is a researcher working with Active Citizens for Education in matters related to health care benefits for school district employees.  Discussion and questions may be directed to KJ Jakobson directly and/or to Don Severson.:

Dear School Board,
In light of the referenda failures its time for the district to drive a hard bargain with the union concerning its intransigence with respect to health insurance carriers.
My research indicates there is a win/win solution for teachers, the district and students but WPS has a lot to lose (~8% of its group health business) and won’t give up easily. It is unclear whether, at this point in time, John Matthews is serving the teachers or serving WPS.  In any case,  I am certain WPS will not give up its favored and special access position at the bargaining table without a big fight. However it is time to face that battle head-on on behalf of teachers, students, taxpayers and most of all the children who are adversely affected when staffing is reduced and programs are cut.
I have attached the following documents:

which hopefully will be of assistance to you in driving a hard bargain on the subject of health care costs.

Continue reading Madison Schools Health Care Cost/Benefit Analysis

Panel OKs task force on West side overcrowding

Editorial note: Carol Carstensen contacted me to correct the sequence of events at the Long Range Planning Committee meeting on Monday, June 6. She initially suggested the formation of a task force, but couldn’t make the motion because she does not formally serve on the committee.
I apologize that I missed her suggestion. Many of the people who spoke earlier had begun to leave and two or three board members seemed to be talking at the same time.
I edited my original post to include Carol’s role in making the suggestion. Ed Blume

Leopold school supporters packed room 103 of the Doyle Building to speak at a meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on Monday evening, June 6.
Arlene Silveira led off with a bitter attack on Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, accusing them of causing the defeat of the referendum to build a second school on the Leopold school site.
Beth Zurbachen followed with an equally nasty attack.
Nearly two dozen more Leopold supporters continued the assault for almost two hours.
Ironically, Lawrie Kobza, at Carol Carstensen’s suggestion, kept their hopes alive. Carol offered the idea of forming a task force. Since she isn’t a formal member of the committee, she could not make a motion. Instead Lawrie made, Juan Lopez seconded, and the committee approved a motion to form a task force to explore attendance issues on the West side.
If Carol hadn’t made the suggestion and Lawrie had not made the motion, the committee would have adjourned with absolutely no movement on solving the overcrowding problem at Leopold, and probably no possibility of considering the issue until late in the summer.
Carol deserves praise for recognizing the need to restart an examination of the overcrowding on the West side.
Lawrie also deserves praise for not behaving vindictively against the Leopold supporters who blasted her. Instead she was more than willing to move toward an inclusive process that might just give the Leopold supporters and all West side children an option to overcrowding.

Band and Orchestra To Remain In the School Day at Sherman

This is a letter from Sherman Principal, Ann Yehle via Superintendent Rainwater to school board members regarding NOT moving Band & Orchestra to “8th Hour” for the upcoming year. I do have a copy of her original rationale to why she wished to do it. I will send it to anyone who wishes to read it. No changes will take place in the 2005-06 school year.
To all:
There appears to be lack of a clear understanding relative to what constitutes the school day as well as what bell schedule changes require a waiver and what bell schedule changes do not require a waiver from the state DPI. From communications with other principals in WI who have performance music at a zero hour, over lunch, or during an “8th hour” there isn’t consistency on whether a waiver from DPI is necessary. At this point given our most recent email communication from Mike George at DPI, there is a possibility that DPI would require us to obtain a waiver. While the reasoning we would provide on the waiver would meet the criteria necessary to get a waiver, align with MMSD strategic plan, Sherman CSR work, and while there is precedence for this move in other WI districts, a public meeting in front of the BOE is necessary. The timing on this would present a challenge for next school year. Furthermore, even though we may not need a waiver, I believe the course of action I outline below to be in the best interests of Sherman Middle School students, staff, families for the 05-06 school year.

Continue reading Band and Orchestra To Remain In the School Day at Sherman

Art Attack at Lapham School

From The Capital Times, Monday, June 6

Changes coming in music, art classes
The arts hit hardest in teacher layoffs

By Cristina Daglas
June 6, 2005
Lapham Elementary School music teacher Lynn Najem and art teacher Sally Behr will keep their jobs next year, but their classrooms won’t be what they have been.
Next year, both Behr and Najem will be teaching classes of approximately 22 students in comparison to the previous 15.
The total number of students they teach is not increasing, but the number of classes offered is decreasing. The approximately 230 kindergarten through second-grade students at Lapham will remain the same.
“They think of us as fancy recess … a holding tank,” Najem said. “This is typical of the School Board.”

Continue reading Art Attack at Lapham School

Change Is Hard

Change is hard! This fact holds true to most businesses or organizations including the Madison Metropolitan School District. Though the MMSD is not dying in the sense of being gone forever, the failure of the operating referendum on May 24th has given the school district the opportunity to develop new service delivery models that may enhance student opportunities for success.

Continue reading Change Is Hard

Lessons in Gratitude @ the Kitchen Sink

Ben Stein:

AS I told them, we could do without Hollywood for a century. We could not do without them and their sacrifice for a week. Gratitude. As my pal Phil DeMuth says, it’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme. Gratitude. Losing the luxury of feeling aggrieved when, if you look closely, you have an opportunity. My father washed dishes at the Sigma Psi house so that he could build an education and a life for the family he did not even have yet.
At my house, I always insist on doing the dishes, and I feel a thrill of gratitude for what washing a dish can do with every swipe of the sponge. Wiping away the selfishness of the moment, building a life for my son. The zen of dishwashing. The zen of gratitude. The zen of riches. Thanks, Pop.

East High United – June 2 meeting outcomes

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

Continue reading East High United – June 2 meeting outcomes

Evidence-Based Reform Report

Robert Slavin of John Hopkins reports on current educational models that are supported by scientific evidence, and makes recommendations.
Despite some recent improvements, the academic achievement of American students
remains below that of those in most industrialized nations, and the gap between African
American and Hispanic students and White students remains substantial. For many years, the
main policy response has been to emphasize accountability, and No Child Left Behind has added
further to this trend. There is much controversy about the effects of accountability systems, but
they have had little impact on the core technology of teaching: Instruction, curriculum, and
school organization.
This paper argues that genuine reform in American education depends on a movement
toward evidence-based practice, using the findings of rigorous research to guide educational
practices and policies. No Child Left Behind gives a rhetorical boost to this concept, exhorting
educators to use programs and practices “based on scientifically-based research.” In practice,
however, programs that particularly emphasize research-based practice, such as Reading First,
have instead supported programs and practices (such as traditional basal reading textbooks) that
have never been evaluated, while ignoring well-evaluated programs. The same is true of the
earlier Comprehensive School Reform program, which was intended for “proven,
comprehensive” programs but has instead primarily supported unresearched programs.
This paper reviews research on programs that already have strong evidence of
effectiveness. Programs with strong evidence of effectiveness fell into the following categories.
1. Comprehensive school reform models, which provide professional development and
materials to improve entire schools. Research particularly supports Success for All and
Direct Instruction, but smaller numbers of studies support several additional models
including the School Development Program, America’s Choice and Modern Red
2. Instructional technology. Research supports integrated learning systems in mathematics.
Word processing has been found to improve writing achievement.
3. Cooperative learning programs engage students in small groups to help each other learn.
Many studies support this strategy in elementary and secondary math, reading, and other
4. Innovative mathematics programs. The first What Works Clearinghouse report supported
research on two technology-based programs, Cognitive Tutor and I Can Learn, in middle
schools. Elementary programs such as Cognitively Guided Instruction and Project SEED
also have strong evidence of effectiveness.
5. Innovative elementary reading programs having strong evidence of effectiveness include
Success for All and Direct Instruction, as well as Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative
Integrated Reading and Composition.
6. Tutoring programs in reading, especially Reading Recovery, have rigorous evaluations
showing their effectiveness.
7. Dropout prevention programs, such as the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and Alas,
have good evidence of effectiveness.
See Full Report

Is Persuasion Dead?

New York Times editorial by Matt Miller:
Speaking just between us – between one who writes columns and those who read them – I’ve had this nagging question about the whole enterprise we’re engaged in.
Is persuasion dead? And if so, does it matter?
The significance of this query goes beyond the feelings of futility I’ll suffer if it turns out I’ve wasted my life on work that is useless. This is bigger than one writer’s insecurities. Is it possible in America today to convince anyone of anything he doesn’t already believe? If so, are there enough places where this mingling of minds occurs to sustain a democracy?
The signs are not good. Ninety percent of political conversation amounts to dueling “talking points.” Best-selling books reinforce what folks thought when they bought them. Talk radio and opinion journals preach to the converted. Let’s face it: the purpose of most political speech is not to persuade but to win, be it power, ratings, celebrity or even cash.
By contrast, marshaling a case to persuade those who start from a different position is a lost art. Honoring what’s right in the other side’s argument seems a superfluous thing that can only cause trouble, like an appendix. Politicos huddle with like-minded souls in opinion cocoons that seem impervious to facts.
See full editorial

Britain Goes Back to the Future with Phonics

The Telegraph:

David Blunkett, the Education Secretary who introduced the Literacy Strategy, promised to resign in 2002 unless 80 per cent met the expected standard of English on leaving primary school. The target has never been met, but Mr Blunkett long ago moved on to higher things. Instead, it is the nation’s children who have suffered: between 1998 and 2005, well over a million children have failed to achieve basic standards of literacy. A quarter of a million 11-year-olds are unable to read and write properly.
Yet, as Mr Burkhard and the CPS reported recently, if schools had been allowed to employ the phonics method, illiteracy at age 11 might have been eradicated altogether. Judging by tests in Clackmannanshire, where synthetic phonics have been taught since 1998, the method reduces the rate of reading failure to near zero. The evidence suggests that pupils taught using phonics are over three years ahead of their peers taught by other techniques.

The SUN and Joanne Jacobs have more. I agree with the Telegraph’s perspective on decentraliziation vs. a top down approach.

Referenda Ballot Error – Continued

Lee Sensenbrenner:

Board member Ruth Robarts said the mistake was “clearly (Price’s) responsibility” but added that it was unclear whether he would face any real consequences for it.
She mentioned a case a few years ago when the district fired several custodians because Price charged them with “stealing time,” or checking out before their assigned hours. They were fired shortly before Thanksgiving, but were brought back after it was found they were reporting to work early with their supervisors’ approval.
Robarts said those workers faced the most severe form of punishment, while it’s not clear that Price will face anything of the same scale.
She called the incorrect ballots “a very human kind of error,” but added that “you have to be extremely careful, and someone at (Price’s) level knows that.”
Pat Smith, the president of AFSCME Local 60, said he clearly remembers the fight when Price fired 13 custodians. “If one of my Local 60 members makes a costly mistake, hopefully they’ll be treated as good as Roger,” Smith said.

Lord knows, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life. I hope the District treats everyone the same in this respect.

MPS Superintendent Andrekopoulos’s Letter to the Joint Finance Committee

Milwaukee Superintendent William G. Andrekopoulos wrote a letter (PDF) to the members of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on school funding:

On May 26, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors passed its budget for the 2005-2006 school year. The budget successfully holds the line on taxes with a levy increase of less than one percent.
However, it also marks another year in a long line of years, where harmful cuts will be made to programs. Schools will have fewer resources and students will have fewer opportunities to engage in a full range of educational activities.

Via Wispolitics

An invitation to Juan Lopez

I wrote to you by e-mail previously and invited you to submit on the blog goals for the Human Services Committee, which you chair.
I have not yet received a response.
You may recall that I wrote that schoolinfosystem.org will soon launch a page dedicated to the committees of the Board. We hope to post the following items for each committee:

* Goals for the coming year, as set by each chair or committee.
* Meeting agendas.
* Meeting minutes.
* Documents provided to the committee. (We’d like to post these prior to the committee meetings.)
* Notes and videos of the committees if people submit any to the blog.

I’m once again inviting you to provide the goals that the Human Resources Committee will pursue in the coming year. You can post them directly by asking Jim Zellmer to give you a password so that you can post, or you can send the goals to me, and I’ll post them for you.
I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
Ed Blume

Please Help Sherman Middle School Children: Email the School Board and Say to Them – We Want our School Board Approved Academic Curricular Subjects Taught During the Middle School Day (7:45 a.m. – 2:40 p.m.)

Please e-mail the school board. Simply say, “I do not agree with the plan to move Sherman’s curricular performance music classes to an afterschool, 8th hour format. Our children deserve to have their school academic curricular classes during the day not after school.”
And sign your name. It’s as easy as that. School Board members can be emailed at: comments@madison.k12.wi.us.

NY School Board Actions After a Failed Renovation & Expansion Referendum

Reader Rebecca Stockwell emailed this link to a PDF document published by the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns (Westchester County, NY) after a renovation & expansion referendum failed. The newsletter begins:

The referendum was to finance a major school facilities renovation and expansion project. The proposal, which was the result of more than two years of analyzing our facilities needs and evaluating options for addressing them, was defeated by a vote of about 1200 to 1000.
Factors that appear to have contributed to the “no” vote include 1) concern about the cost of the project in a community that had not faced a major facilities referendum in 50 years, 2) some disagreement with the scope and/or conceptual design elements of the project, 3) some confusion and mis- trust over the district’s analysis of the tax implications, and 4) the perception by some that they had not had an adequate opportunity to participate in or be fully informed about the process leading up to the project referendum.
At the same time, feedback also strongly indicated widespread support across all segments of our population for continuing to take a long-range, comprehensive approach in addressing our facilities needs.
We have listened carefully to the feedback.

Continue reading NY School Board Actions After a Failed Renovation & Expansion Referendum

Sherman Middle School Principal Mandates Change by Fiat – Renames Afterschool an 8th hour and Kicks Academic Performance Music Out to Afterschool

The current music education upheaval at Sherman Middle School is about

  • what Madison values for our children’s education, such as academic music education during the school day and
  • who makes those decisions.

It is not about money, because teacher allocations will be needed to teach the 8th hour same as during the school day.
Making changes that seem to be by fiat may be desirable to the person in charge, but the students and parents are the school’s and district’s customers – please listen to us at the start of a process, let us have time to have meaningful input and comment! Isn’t it the School board who are the district’s policymakers, especially curriculum policy and what defines a school day. Those are the basics! A longer school day might make sense – but not by what appears and feels like fiat and not without public discussions, deliberations and decisions by our School Board.

Continue reading Sherman Middle School Principal Mandates Change by Fiat – Renames Afterschool an 8th hour and Kicks Academic Performance Music Out to Afterschool

The 5 Bedroom, Six Figure Rootless Life

Peter T. Kilborn:

Ms. Link and her husband, Jim, 42, a financial services sales manager for the Wachovia Corporation of Charlotte, N.C., belong to a growing segment of the upper middle class, executive gypsies. The shock troops of companies that continually expand across the country and abroad, they move every few years, from St. Louis to Seattle to Singapore, one satellite suburb to another, hopscotching across islands far from the working class and the urban poor.
As a subgroup, relos are economically homogenous, with midcareer incomes starting at $100,000 a year. Most are white. Some find the salaries and perks compensating; the developments that cater to them come with big houses, schools with top SAT scores, parks for youth sports and upscale shopping strips.

I found this article quite interesting, particularily the choice this family made with respect to their next move (an older, established neighborhood).

Milwaukee Superintendent signals staff cuts

This information was given to Madison School Board members by Joe Quick
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos warned Tuesday that if limits on how much Wisconsin school districts can increase their spending are held down by the Legislature, dozens of additional teaching positions in city schools will be cut.
The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is expected in the next few days to take up proposals to allow school districts to increase their spending over the next two years, but by amounts that are smaller than what Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed.
Read the full article at this link.

Study spells out new evidence for roots of dyslexia

Study spells out new evidence for roots of dyslexia
(Posted by University Communications: 5/31/2005)
Report of newly released research by Mark Seidenberg and colleagues.
Addressing a persistent debate in the field of dyslexia research, scientists at UW-Madison and the University of Southern California (USC) have disproved the popular theory that deficits in certain visual processes cause the spelling and reading woes commonly suffered by people with dyslexia.
Rather, a more general problem in basic sensory perception may be at the root of the learning disorder, the scientists reported May 29 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The work suggests new ways to identify dyslexics and to assess the many unevaluated techniques teachers use to help dyslexics in the classroom.
For the full press release, go to: http://www.news.wisc.edu/11252.html

Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age

John Seely Brown (Brown was Chief Scientist at Xerox PARC, where many of the technologies we use today, including, ethernet, Laser Printers and the GUI were invented):

My interest here today is in looking at the notions of learning, working and playing in the digital age and how today’s kids—growing up digital—might actually be quite different from what we might first think. But, more particularly, how by stepping back and looking at the forces and trends underlying the digital world, we may have a chance to create a new kind of learning matrix, one that I will call a learning ecology.
I became interested in learning ecologies because of their systemic properties. We need to view higher education from a systemic perspective, one that takes into consideration all of the components—k-12, community colleges, state and private colleges and universities, community libraries, firms, etc.—that make up a region. This, in turn, raises additional questions about how we might create a regional advantage such as in the Research Triangle in North Carolina or in Silicon Valley. For example, is there a way to extend science parks, that typically surround universities, into also being learning parks and from there into being learning ecologies by combining the knowledge producing components of the region with the nearly infinite reach and access to information that the internet provides? And, if so, might this provide an additional use of the internet in learning—one besides just distance learning. But first, let’s consider what the Web is and see how it might provide a new kind of information fabric in which learning, working and playing co-mingle. Following that we will then look at the notion of distributed intelligence which has a great deal to do with the social basis as well as the cognitive basis of learning, and how those fold together. Then we will look at the issue of how one might better capture and leverage naturally occurring knowledge assets, a topic as relevant to the campus as to the region or to the firm. Finally, we will come to the core topic of how all this folds together to lead to a new concept of a learning ecology.

Background on John Seely Brown: Clusty

DC Voucher Program Summary

Jay Matthews:

After a one-hour bus trip, including one transfer, they reached the private Nannie Helen Burroughs School in Northeast Washington, which the children began attending in the fall under the D.C. school voucher program. Then their mother took a 45-minute bus trip to her job as a store clerk in Pentagon City.
In the evening, she did the same bus commute in reverse, picked up her children from the school’s day-care program at 6 p.m. and escorted them home. The next day, she would rise at 6:15 a.m. to do it all again.
Nine months into the experiment, it is too early to know how the nation’s first federally funded voucher program is affecting the academic achievement of the hundreds of D.C. children who won the private school scholarships. But spending time with the Hammonds provides a glimpse of the benefits and the sacrifices that the program entails for one family.

Atlanta Parental School Lunch Monitoring System

Daniel Yee:

Health officials hope it will increase parents’ involvement in what their kids eat at school. It’s a concern because federal health data shows that up to 30 percent of U.S. children are either overweight or obese.
“My parents do care about what I eat. They try, like, to keep up with it,” said Hughes, a 14-year-old student at Marietta Middle School.
Three school districts in the Atlanta area last week became the first in the country to offer the parental-monitoring option of an electronic lunch payment system called Mealpay.com, created by Horizon Software International of Loganville, Ga

David Brooks on The Educated Class

David Brooks:

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class, where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony.

Erosion of music instruction is the wrong direction, especially for non-traditional learners

The following letter was written by a parent of an East High Student to Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board. The writer expresses concerns over the Sherman Middle School proposal to place curriculum band and orchestra classes in afterschool and the layoff Thursday of 8.55 FTE music teachers.
Based upon my review of the 05-06 MMSD budget, financial issues do not support the recent music educator layoffs and the curriculum change proposal at Sherman Middle School. It’s about values – community values for what our children learn in public school and what contributes positively to their achievement as learners.

I am writing to you as School Board President (and neighbor) because I am very disturbed about the impact on music education of several recent decisions affecting students of the MMSD . I write as the mother of an 11th grade student of color at East High for whom music performance education has been crucial. Without the solid, consistent music instruction and opportunities he has received for the last six years, I question where he would be right now.
I fear that music performance is sometimes viewed as an elite activity for already motivated students. For my son, it has been the primary area in which he could excel at school over the years while he struggled with regular academic classes. It was the break in the school day where he felt energized and motivated, part of a large team working toward excellence and specific identifiable goals. Over the years, band classes offered an opportunity to interact with a different group of highly motivated peers, to perform in public concerts that affirmed his sense of achievement, and to participate in challenging music trips. Because of his school day band experience, my son gets himself up and to school every Tuesday morn! ing at 6:30 a.m. to participate in Jazz Band before school starts. His band program is a source of joy, discipline, and motivation, as well as musical growth.

Continue reading Erosion of music instruction is the wrong direction, especially for non-traditional learners

MMSD Teacher Layoffs Target Elementary String Teachers

On Thursday, based upon Superintendent Rainwater’s recommendation, the Madison School Board approved 20 FTEs for layoff. These layoffs included 60% of the elementary string staff – the largest percentage of one academic personnel group ever laid off in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District. How come a program that cost less than 1/10 of one percent of the $318 million budget resulted in nearly 50% of the teacher layoffs? Elementary string teacher are less than 3/10 of 1% of the total teacher population. What happeded? No evaluation of the music education curriculum, no planning (not exploring the allowed use of federal dollars for fine arts education for low income children) and some might say vindictiveness from top administrators and some Board members toward string teachers because of the community outcry in support of elementary strings – our community cannot tolerate the latter. Money is not the issue – data do not support money being the issue.

Continue reading MMSD Teacher Layoffs Target Elementary String Teachers

Matt Miller on Teacher Pay for Performance

Matt Miller:

This isn’t to diminish the many great teachers who work their hearts out for poor kids in trying conditions. But it’s these teachers who’ve told me with passion how mediocre many of their colleagues are. We’re essentially relying on missionaries to staff schools in poor neighborhoods. How many more years have to pass before we admit that the missionary “plan” isn’t working?
Yet the problem with most pay reforms (like Arnold’s) is that they’re all stick and no carrot. Or they offer such small bonuses (say, $2,000) that teachers have no reason to rethink their aversion to pay differentials based on anything but seniority.
The answer is to think bigger. Consider this “grand bargain.” We’d raise salaries for teachers in poor schools by 50 percent. But this offer would be conditioned on two major reforms. First, the unions would have to abandon their lock-step pay scale so that we could raise the top half of performers (and those in shortage fields like math and science) another 50 percent. Second, the unions would have to make it much easier to fire the worst teachers, who are blighting the lives of countless kids.

NPR: Washington DC Jr. High Orchestra Teacher Interview

All Things Considered:

Sarah Henks is a first-year orchestra teacher at Kipp Academy in Washington, D.C. The Florida State University graduate says she had originally wanted to perform in an orchestra herself, but something kept pulling her towards kids, strings and the classroom.
For her it’s been a year of highs and lows. Her junior high orchestra just performed its first big concert. We recently visited her class and asked her to tell us how the year went.

Goals for Achieving an Improved School District

I ran for the School Board, and voted No, No, No on the referenda because of my profound disagreement with how the School Board conducts itself and their lack of leadership and direction, and my strong sense of a deteriorating school system, not all to be blamed on draconian measures by Federal and State politicians.
Marshalling the ideas of other contributors to this site, ideas from the National School Board Association, other sources and my own ideas and goals, I have drafted a rough set of goals that I think the School Board and Madison citizens in general should address. It is meant as a possible starting point for discussions.
The document’s basic purpose is to ensure a high level of student achievement through public accountability, honest and open assessment, transparent setting of priorities, and alignment of the budget with the priorities. It makes an initial attempt to distribute the goals across the BOE’s committees, so they are working toward the same goals.
It is my strong sense that the Board views these committees as somehow dealing with issues that are orthogonal to each other; for example, there were arguments that the Long Range Planning committee must not concern themselves with the decisions of the Finance and Operations committee (which actually wasn’t doing anything, anyway).
I certainly do not believe the current majority on the School Board is willing to make or is capable of making the necessary changes to how it conducts its business to set appropriate priorities and ensure their execution. Certainly comments made by supporters of the referenda after they were voted down indicated that they don’t get it.
In any case, I would like comments and suggestions, agreement, disagreement on this document. Better ideas are welcome.

Summer vacation

Then and now…
The case of the changing summers
A comparison of father’s, son’s vacations
May 26, 2005
We all know times have changed. But a look at my son’s summer versus the
same period when I was a kid shows how much.
Here are a few examples of how James, 14, will spend the next few months,
compared with how I spent the summers when I was his age (and maybe a few
years younger).
Son: Be at basketball at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday.
Me: Get up when I wake up, or a neighbor comes over and rouses me out of
bed, or my mother starts vacuuming.
Son: Play in soccer and basketball leagues in the evenings.

Continue reading Summer vacation


Adam Klawonn:

An honors program beset by ethnic tensions and strained relations between parents and administrators at Lincoln Middle School is being eliminated.
After three months of public debate, trustees for Vista Unified voted 4-1 late Monday to eliminate the Gifted and Talented Education program, which supporters said promoted Lincoln’s brightest students. School administrators, however, said the GATE program was closed to most students.
The board’s decision will open honors classes that have GATE students to everyone.
School and district officials said putting GATE students in classes with those of mixed abilities would help improve test scores.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

Mertz on Teacher Layoffs

Reader Thomas J. Mertz emails:

I agree with Ruth Robarts that the Board should explore all options before laying off classroom personel and that revisting the ongoing MTI negotiations is the place to start.
I think that this issue is also linked to a key to the failure of two of the referenda — the transparency of the process. Wages and benefits are by far the largest budget item, yet the negotiations with MTI are shrouded in mystery. I’ve looked through the newspapers, the MTI site and the MSMD site and can find very little information about the current negotiations. Perhaps this is a legal question and negotiations must be secret (does anyone know?). But if they can be public and publicized, they should be.
If, as many believe, the administration and the Board need to be tougher with MTI, then public scrutiny woulkd make this more likely. If the administration and the Board are already sufficiently tough with MTI (as many others believe), then public scrutiny would undermine the position of those who question the contracts.
I see many potential benefits and little if any harm coming from shining a light on the negotiations.
Thomas J. Mertz

Post Referenda Notes, Comments & Interviews

Here’s a brief roundup of post Referenda voter comments:

Continue reading Post Referenda Notes, Comments & Interviews

MTI & The Madison School Board

Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.
He said MTI’s policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.
The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year’s salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers’ salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.
“The young teachers are really hurting,” Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.

Continue reading MTI & The Madison School Board

Needed: New Opportunities and Directions for the School District

On May 24th, the Madison School Board participated in the democratic process by involving local citizens in its budgetary process by putting forth a referendum. Regardless of how you voted, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the issues, weigh in on the debate and cast your ballot the way you saw fit.
I am not surprised at the outcome of the referenda votes. While I voted, Yes, Yes, Yes, and encouraged others to do the same, I can understand why someone voted No, No, No or any other combination. I am sympathetic to community concerns regarding higher property taxes and the uneasiness that leaves in the community’s sense of economic security. While I am disappointed in the outcome of the referenda for the district’s operating budget and building a new school at Leopold elementary, I do believe that these defeats allow for exploring creative opportunities to capitalize on in the future.

Continue reading Needed: New Opportunities and Directions for the School District

Middle School Band and Orchestra

Picked up the following flyer in our PTO box this morning……
Sherman Middle School Administration has taken upon themselves to move the Orchestra and Band Programs to an “exploratory” optional class that will be offered after the school day effective next school year. MMSD is looking at this as a pilot program at Sherman with idea of implementing these changes at all middle schools in Madison.
Please help us fight this change. Our students have rights to attend these classes during the school day.
You can help by writing to the school board and MMSD administration to voice your concerns before this becomes the norm in the Madison School District.
For more information you can contact Sheryl Trumbower at 243-1005 or 279-2117.”
East High Band Parents Organization

Study to focus on funding of Wisconsin schools

What does it cost to adequately fund K-12 education in Wisconsin? A nationally recognized expert in school finance at UW-Madison is leading an effort to address this critical question.
The Rockefeller Foundation of New York has awarded Allan R. Odden, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, $500,000 over two years to determine the costs of educational adequacy in Wisconsin.
Read more at UW news.

Offshore Tutors

Anupreeta Das and Amanda Paulson:

Somit Basak’s tutoring style is hardly unusual. The engineering graduate spices up lessons with games, offers rewards for excellent performance, and tries to keep his students’ interest by linking the math formulas they struggle with to real-life examples they can relate to.
Unlike most tutors, however, Mr. Basak lives thousands of miles away from his students — he is a New Delhi resident who goes to work at 6 a.m. so that he can chat with American students doing their homework around dinnertime.

Via Joanne Jacobs

Robarts Advocates a Delay in Teacher Layoffs

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts wants fellow board members to delay today’s vote to lay off about 20 teachers next year in order to ask the Madison teachers union if it would agree to smaller wage and benefit increases to avoid the layoffs.

“Before you do something as severe as layoffs, I think you need to exhaust your alternatives,” said Robarts, who estimated that keeping the 20 teachers positions would cost about $1 million.

Robarts article is here.

Referenda Local Media Summary

Yesterday’s Madison School’s Referenda generated quite a bit of local coverage. Check out these links:

Post mortem on Leopold referendum

Joan Knoebel offered her thoughts on how to win support for the operating referendum, and I whole-heartedly second them.
On the Leopold referendum, I’d ask the board and supporters to do two things:
1) Lay out three or four alternative locations and configurations for a new Westside school, draw possible boundaries, develop cost projections, and then debate which alterantive seems to be the most likely to achieve academic excellence on the West side.
2) Invite organizations or individuals to propose a charter school on the Westside. Several people suggested a charter or magnet school, so let’s see whether one might emerge as the best option for providing excellent education in the area.
Current overcrowding is not an issue at Leopold. Leopold is overcrowded, but I’ll vote no again on a second school at Leopold if its supporters rotely drone, “This is the only option. This is the only option. This is the only option.”

Post-mortem on referenda

Frankly, I was surprised by the referenda outcome. This was an election designed to win–a special date, a phalanx of support from community politcoes and newspapers, mulitple pieces of professionally designed mail-drop literature– all favored an across-the-board yes vote.
I’d like to suggest that for some, and perhaps what amounted to the critical portion of the voting electorate, their vote was a message to the majority of the board. The message: we want a transparent budget process, we want the assumptions laid bare and we want all components of the budget on the table, including administrative staff positions and salaries as well as district health care costs. The board needs to mend its fences with the community. Stop the “Do as we say or the kids will suffer” approach.
I voted no because I believe there is still time to do this better. Thus I saw my vote as one for our children. And if I’m convinced, next fall I’ll be one of the loudest advocates in support of the revised referenda.

Madison Board of Education Should Not Rush to Vote on Layoffs

In the aftermath of the votes on the May 24th Madison School referenda, it is critical that the Madison School Board not rush to vote on layoffs of teachers and other staff. Currently, the Board is scheduled to vote on layoffs at noon on Thursday, May 26. This deadline for layoff votes is self-imposed by the district and Madison Teachers Inc (MTI). State law sets a later deadline. The district and the union could change the May 26 date by mutual agreement. In 2003 the vote on layoffs following a referendum for the operating budget was scheduled for June 4.

Continue reading Madison Board of Education Should Not Rush to Vote on Layoffs

I Care, but I think too.

If I have to hear or read another article about how I don’t CARE about Madison Schools or the kids because I think and analyze before I vote, I will scream. I voted today, thanks for the applause, and I voted No, Yes, Yes. So I guess I CARE 2/3 of the time right?
I CARE about the whole district and after careful analysis of the situation I am convinced the district needs another school, just not on the Leopold site. I feel a school located in a more general location that could accommodate students from the (higher income) west growth, (higher income)Leopold growth and perhaps be a home school for Allied Drive would be a more logical location for the whole district. Also I am concerned about the Ridgewood Apartments and the size of the proposed school if the numbers change due to that large complex.

Continue reading I Care, but I think too.

State School Test Scores Released

Alan Borsuk:

The brightest spot in the tests statewide appeared to be reading for eighth- and 10th-graders. The results show that 85% of eighth-graders were proficient or better in reading, up six percentage points from a year ago, while 74% of 10th-graders cleared the proficiency bar, up five percentagepoints from a year ago.
But for fourth-graders, the percentage proficient or better went down in math and science, stayed the same in reading and language arts and went up one point in social studies.
And an eight-point jump in the percentage of eighth-graders who were at least proficient in math only reversed an eight-point drop among the eighth-graders in the prior year – a sign both of the way scores can change from year to year and of how little things have changed in recent years.
The gaps that leave low-income and minority students scoring far below other students remain large and in some instances were worse in this school year’s testing. There have been some instances of the gaps shrinking, but it remains as much as 50 percentage points in some cases (78% of white 10th-graders and 28% of black 10th-graders were demonstrated proficient in math.

MMSD Partnership Committee – Citizen Members Sought

The MMSD School Board Partnership Committee has two openings for citizens members. Letters of interest, mailed to the School Board President, Carol Carstensen, are being sought. The deadline for applying is Friday, May 27, 2005.
The MMSD Partnership Committee, which will be chaired by Lawrie Kobza in the 2005-2006 school year, focuses on community partnerships and MSCR. The other two board members on the committee are Ruth Robarts and Johnny Winston, Jr. Information on application for appointment follows:

Continue reading MMSD Partnership Committee – Citizen Members Sought

WKOW-TV: Botched Ballots Flagged Weeks Ago

WKOW-TV Madison:

Madison School District employees are unlockinging ballot boxes at polling places, and stocking them with reprinted ballots for the school district referendum election.
Normally, this would be a job for specifically trained city workers.
Assistant City Clerk Sharon Christensen says she does not have the staff to stock ballots this quickly, this close to an election.
She’s also worried about handing off this job. “I’m a little uncomfortable.”…
School district officials budgeted $90,000 for this election. Officials said they are still waiting for a cost estimate on the reprinting of 84,000 ballots, but said it could as much as $50,000. The ballot amount reflects an expected turnout of 21% of eligible, registered voters.

Precipitous Drop in Computer Science Interest

Students once saw computer-science classes as their ticket to wealth. Now, as more technology jobs are outsourced to other countries, such classes are seen as a path to unemployment.
New data show students’ interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.
Professors say the creation in the last five years of new degrees in information technology or information systems may also be offering more-attractive alternatives to computer science. Computer science focuses on how networks are engineered — the theoretical aspects of computing — and on writing software, while information technology focuses on applied work, such as building Web sites, adapting systems to a business’s needs, and maintaining networks.
George Mason University started an information-technology program in the fall of 2002, and this year has 726 students in the program. The number keeps growing each year, with students particularly interested in computer-security courses, says Anne Marchant, an information-technology instructor at the university. Only 550 George Mason students are computer-science majors. A few years ago the department had about 800 students who majored in the field.
Ms. Marchant blames the shift partly on what she sees as students’ deteriorating mathematics aptitude.
“Information technology is the right home for an awful lot of students who do not have the math skills and do not really have the interest in becoming programmers,” she says.
Jesse J. Rangel, a senior at California State University at Bakersfield who is a computer-science major, says some of his classmates avoid computer science because it involves advanced mathematics and physics. “The sad fact is that many students are not up for the challenge,” he says.
See the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Goodbye Freshman No Cut Sports

The school district comments line (comments@madison.k12.wi.us) for school board members has been getting several messages regarding the “Freshman No Cut Sports Program.” Regardless of what happens with the operating referendum on May 24th, this particular program will cease to exist. The Freshman No Cut Sports program has been a staple in the school district for over 20 years. This program is indeed another causality of the state imposed revenue caps. Unfortunately because of the school district’s severe budget constraints, I find it very difficult to justify the programs continuance in its current form.

Continue reading Goodbye Freshman No Cut Sports

Northside Planning Council Referenda Forum

Lee Sensenbrenner summarizes Thursday night’s Madison Schools Referenda Forum:

Northside Planning Council’s moderator, Vernon Blackwell, asked if further cuts were required, should the district commit to keeping small class sizes at schools with the greatest need even if it meant raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels.
Robarts and Kobza said yes, as did board member Carol Carstensen, but she started to say “Of course I’ll do it –” before Blackwell said: “That’s a yes.”
Brant, Keys, board member Johnny Winston Jr. and Madison Cares leader Arlene Silveira said no. Rainwater said it wasn’t his decision and stuck to that as Blackwell told him that “You can’t abstain.”
During the audience comments, Dorothy Borchardt said that she was dismayed that Rainwater wouldn’t answer the question and said that it was no defense to say it was up to the board to decide. “The School Board is your rubber stamp,” she said.
Apart from the referendums, the district’s leaders were also challenged on why a $2 million federal reading program grant was declined and how they would handle class sizes if resources continued to dwindle.
Rainwater said that taking the money would have meant eventually teaching an unproven curriculum to all students at all schools and would have meant losing a program the administration believes is working.
But before he said that, Carstensen tried to explain it in the context of breakfast cereal.
“Let’s say you’re on a tight budget and someone is willing to give you $50 per month for food,” Carstensen said. “But it can only be spent on Fruit Loops. Would you take it.”
Several people in the back whispered: “Of course!”

Question Needs to Be: What Does It Cost to Educate a Child in Today’s Society?

I am tired of legislators who look at the amount of money spent to educate a child today compared to prior years and then say: “Look at how much more we are spending to educate our children today. We have fewer children. We have more teachers. It’s a whole lot of money.”
Yes, public education costs a considerable amount of money. Yet, I never hear the legislature take up in a meaningful manner: “What do we need to educate our child in terms of standards, in terms of curriculum to have high school graduates who are well-educated and can compete in the modern workplace? What is this cost? What is the cost to society of not making this investment – in terms of number of crimes committed and prison costs, in terms of the attractiveness to businesses of our schools?”
There was the Governor’s task force on education, and the issue of the cost to educate a child was raised, but the discussion did not go very far. Until you know how what is needed and what that costs, comparing current dollars spent on education to dollars spent before provides little information and no guidance for next steps, processes to follow, etc.

IBM: Colleges: More Top Students Needed

Mindy B. Hagen:

With a critical shortage of Information Technology workers projected in the coming years, it’s crucial that university computer science departments do all they can to attract top students to the field, a local IBM official said Tuesday.
At IBM University Day in Research Triangle Park on Tuesday, leading IBM officials and university professors from across the region gathered to discuss new ways of marketing computer careers to up-and-coming students.

Kudos to Jim Zellmer in Isthmus

The 5/20/05 Isthmus editorial entitled “Teachable Moments” discusses their coverage of school issues, including this week’s review of the referenda.
The editor then goes on to say, “Those who wish to wade deeper into the issues are directed to www.zmetro.com/election/, an excellent cache of information on the district and the referendum questions. It is the work of Jim Zellmer, proprietor of zmetro.com who has received national notice for the site.”
Thank you Jim for being the catalyst for getting School Information Systems up and running, for providing the community a forum for the open exchange of information and opinions on education issues.
And in a similar fashion, I am grateful for Isthmus, especially for its in-depth reporting on school topics. This week’s letters to the editor on the Linda Falkenstein’s TAG article were especially thoughtful and well-written.

Community Educates MMSD

Click to view a larger aerial image
Crestwood elementary school has sat on top of a hill (aerial photo) for over 100 years. It’s geography is cartoonish as it is on the top of a hill while the playground, or as the students call it, the “battlefield” lays far below a slopping grassy hill and the street in front of the school drops below quickly to Old Middleton Road. During our Wisconsin winters with ice and snow the students rarely enjoy the playground or the “battlefield” as it is too slippery to return to class and muddy when not slippery. Therefore, the students spend most of the year playing on a tar surface blacktop that doubles as a parking lot for large events. CAPT, Crestwood Ass. Parents And Teachers, has had an ongoing discussion with the district for 10 years to resurface the blacktop, which is cracked and falling apart, and add a playset for the winter months but have been discouraged by the $50,000 to $60,000 estimate quoted to solve this problem.

Continue reading Community Educates MMSD

Mischaracterized Mr. Winston Re Sports and Arts

In previous blogs I left the impression that Johnny was pro sports and dropping the ball on fine arts academic curriculum because there was a sports committee last year and not a fine arts committee.
The admin made that decision, not the school board. My apologies to Mr. Winston for assuming as Chair of the Partnership Committee that he had been involved in this decision.
I still believe we need a fine arts committee that includes parents, teachers, fine arts organizations, uw staff, etc., to discuss long-term issues facing MMSD’s fine arts academic curriculum. I hope School Board members urge the administration to get this rolling rather than wait until next spring when it’s too late.

School Referenda

In order to clarify what I said to the reporter in the May 18 story entitled Mayor Urges Yes Vote for Schools, I sent the following letter to the CapTimes:
Dear Editors,
I was quoted as saying the “world wouldn’t come to a screeching halt” if the referenda did not pass. Actually, what I said was there was plenty of time for the school board to prepare new referenda questions for a November election, when we would otherwise be voting. Thus, for those of us concerned that these items are not based on solid data, a ‘no’ vote now would not bring the district to its knees.
Why the rush, then? Because the outcome might change. For instance, by next fall, we might learn that the demographics in the district and Leopold neighborhood argue against a school there, perhaps that building there would mean certain school closures in the Isthmus area. Those following school issues know that another far West side elementary school is surely going to get built in addition to whatever happens at Leopold. Something’s got to give.
And as to the operating and maintenance questions, we need a closer look at the teachers’ contract and also the “untouchable” administrative staff arrangements. Actually, we need an overall transparent budget process. If the numbers are solid, let’s see the justifications and assumptions. I am happy to support these requests when I can trust the numbers. Right now, I don’t.
Joan M. Knoebel

Continue reading School Referenda

The Leopold Referendum: No Due Diligence

I oppose the Leopold School referendum.
I oppose it not because I’m a Republican (I’m not), not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not, though the Mayor would have you believe that that would constitute an oxymoron — a sad commentary on what it means to be a Democrat, seems to me), but because opposing the Leopold referendum is the responsible decision.
(My political leaning, if you must know: A left wing conservative! “Always do the right thing, leaving as much money as you can to do more right things.”).
The Leopold referendum wastes $10M over 15 years.
The only real motivation for this blindness was “we promised the Leopold parents back in 2002”, and great lobbying by the Leopold crowd — to the potential detriment of other schools and kids in the district. Placing this promise in perspective, in 2002, when the promise was first made, the estimate for a new school at Leopold was $7M. In 2004, the initial estimate became $11M; the referendum now calls for $14.5M — a 200% increase from 2002. Quite a jump!
The most responsible decision the Board could have made was to construct another addition to the Leopold school, borrowing up to $10M from the State Trust Fund (no referendum is required), as we did for the 2003 addition to Leopold. And we wouldn’t have to pay for a new principal at this new school, at $100,000+ per year, because their wouldn’t be a new school! Another savings. (Or maybe build the $7M school, originally promised?).
Our savings of $10M over the referendum is the difference between the 15-year cost of the referendum and the anticipated principle and interest payments back to the State on the $10M loan. Our 15-year cost is $23M, not the $14.5M, which is the money we get to keep. The $23M is this $14.5M plus the 60% increase Madison taxpayers are required to pay under the State’s Equalization Forumla — we’re paying welfare to other school districts!
What could we do with the $10M not spent on the Leopold site? Make additions to southwest schools to accommodate expected growth (also limits growth at Leopold), and additions to schools on the east side: both will be needed anyway.
And this would have been the prudent thing to do, given the flux in the Ridgewood apartments area, which calls into question the growth estimates for Leopold.
The School Board failed to follow their own policy and consider an addition to Leopold as an alternative, instead jumping full speed ahead, without deliberation, to building a new school. In fact, the Long Range Planning citizen committee, that was charged with the initial deliberations, spent the majority of their time at meetings, practising their Leopold referendum campaign speeches, instead of deliberating over the substance. Their lack of even reasonable due diligence in the execution of their responsibilties leaves the voters to make emotional instead of logical and factual decisions.
Send the referendum back to them. Demand that do their job. When they’ve done their due diligence, then we can talk.

More Referenda Views

Sandy Cullen talks with a number of local players, including Art Rainwater, Roger Price along with both supporters and opponents of the 5/24 Referenda vote.
Cullen also mentions the very high taxpayer cost for these initiatives, due to the State’s equalization formula. For each $1.00 in new spending, the District must tax Madison homeowners $1.60! Essentially, as local spending exceeds state averages, the State reduces aid.
I find the support that Madison has shown for local education remarkable. Consider:

  • Madison spends an average of $13K per student, 25% more than the state average.
  • The District’s annual budget has increased from roughly $193M 10 years ago to $319M this year while enrollment has remained flat (Demographics have changed, of course)
  • Madison has many active volunteers who devote their time to local education efforts.

This support is positive and rather unique. The debate, in my view, is when we collectively reach the (tipping) point where piling more and more on the property taxpayer effectively erodes this essential support. I also think the District could significantly improve the transparency of the budget process (one simple example: the implications on student programs and teacher staffing of contract decisions made months before the “annual spring cut/spending reduction list” discussions).
I think the Madison Education Community should create an initiative to change the way we fund local education. I don’t believe a top down approach to school financing change will work. It may get passed at some point, but I doubt we’ll like the outcome.

For Immigrant Students, Math is One Road to Success

Michael Winerup:

So it was a surprise to see the photograph in the weekly paper, The Quincy Sun. There, on Page 7, was the Quincy High math club, and 17 of 18 members were Asian. Mathematically, it made no sense. Quincy High is 22 percent Asian; why is the math club 94.4 percent Asian?
Evelyn Ryan, the math department head, says that before the influx of Asian families began, there was one calculus class of 10 students; now there are two calculus classes totaling 40 students, 75 percent of them Asian.
I wanted to ask math club members why Asian students are so good in math. As I was to learn, it wasn’t such a simple question.
Most Asians at Quincy High have been in America only a few years, from China, Vietnam and Thailand. Most know little English when they arrive and are placed in E.S.L. classes (English as a second language.) “When I was a freshman, half year in U.S., English is a big problem,” said Chaoran Xie, a junior now. “I just know, ‘Hello how are you?’ History is a big problem. You don’t openly express yourself because you don’t know what to say and stuff. In history it’s a simple idea, but you don’t have the basic English.”

Curated Education Information