• Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators Survey Shows Walker’s Reforms are Working
    Madison—Today the Department of Public Instruction released the data for a survey done by the Wisconsin Association of Schools District Administrators.  The administrators for 353 school districts responded, which accounts for 83% of Wisconsin school districts.  The median student to teacher ratio in Wisconsin this year is 13.5 to 1.  Attached is a copy of the survey questions, and the raw data responses. The survey data shows:
  • Leaders discuss cooperation at Regional Economic Development Initiative Conference
    The seminars covered ideas on leadership, rural economics and working together as one large region instead of several separate counties. But the discussion that caused heated debate, finger pointing and accusations of failure focused on education. “Education goes hand in hand with economic development,” said state Sen. Lowe Finney, who participated in the round table. “It is the single most important issue facing West Tennessee.”
  • Don’t postpone teacher evaluations, accountability
    As if to validate the concerns about education in Tennessee, a recent report showed no statistically significant improvement from 2009 to 2011 in Tennessee students’ math and reading performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, Tennessee saw a drop compared with other states. Our state fell:
    — From 45th to 46th nationwide in fourth-grade math.
    — From 39th to 41st in fourth-grade reading.
    — From 43rd to 45th in eighth-grade math.
    — And from 34th all the way down to 41st in eighth-grade reading.
    These numbers clearly do not suggest that Tennessee should be backing down from more thorough teacher performance evaluations, but rather that it should be embracing them.
  • How Should We Pay Teachers?
    Listen to the pundits, and public education has a Goldilocks problem. Are teachers being overpaid, underpaid or paid just right? Here are three important factors that need to be considered:
  • Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program Set to Help Record Number of Children in 2012
    The Georgia Department of Revenue this week approved $50 million in donations to provide scholarships to students to attend private schools under the Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program. The Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program allows individuals and businesses to receive tax credits for donations to Student Scholarship Organizations that provide scholarships to Georgia children to attend private schools statewide. Individuals can donate up to $1,000, and married couples have a donation cap of $2,500. Corporations can donate up to 75 percent of their state income tax liability. Last year, it’s estimated that more than 6,000 students received scholarships to attend private schools through the program.
  • Ugly defeat in Ohio should be a wake-up call for education reformers across America
    There are two important lessons to be gleaned from Tuesday’s catastrophic election results in Ohio: It’s unwise to make major changes to longtime state policy without first educating the public. And once you’ve riled up the big money leadership of Big Labor, you shouldn’t spend weeks yawning and stretching before preparing to fight back.
  • Huffman Fields Education Queries During ‘Webinar’
    Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman said Wednesday achievement gaps involving minority students are “a huge priority” for the state as it prepares to submit its formal application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. He also said he thinks the odds of Congress passing effective legislation to address concerns about the law are slim, leaving states to act on their own. Huffman fielded questions from several Tennesseans in a “webinar” Wednesday about the waiver request. More than 200 people participated by Internet and more than 180 others by telephone. The participants were largely educators.
  • Teaching the Underdog
    Despite any appearance of inattention, parents of poor children and those in underperforming schools would overwhelmingly choose a better-performing school for their children if given the option. StudentsFirst believes parents should be empowered with real choices and reliable information to make good decisions about their children’s education.
  • Something Rotten in the State of NAEP?
    The 2011 NAEP included standards for inclusion, which include 95% of all students selected for testing, including 85% of students with disabilities or classified as English Language Learners. One might possibly infer that some states were playing games and tricks with excluding such students in the past, and that simply listing the rates wasn’t doing the trick. This year, they listed expected standards and provided the gory details in an Appendix. On the conference call regarding the results, the NAEP team took pains to note this innovation. So, as you can see, half of the states in the Top 10 gainers for children with disabilities just so happen to be states that violated the inclusion standards on one or more NAEP exam. Hmmm. Moreover, some of them didn’t just barely miss these standards, but instead chose to commit violence against them.
  • Teacher evaluations should not be watered down
    An effective, sustainable evaluation system will only be attainable with the collective input of principals, parents, elected officials, advocates and, most importantly, teachers. As with all evaluations, there should continue to be improvements based on this input to ensure that the system is meaningful. For the sake of every public school student, teacher and principal in Tennessee and, indeed, across the country, we hope we see the state fulfill its tremendous potential.
  • Expand supply of charter schools to ensure the weak ones ultimately fail
    Given the politically hostility surrounding charter schools, I understand why many charter school supporters want to accelerate the closing of lower-performing charters, but this is the wrong approach. At the moment we need more supply, not less. And when the supply becomes sufficient, parents will close the appropriate schools through the choices they make.
  • Race to More Ineffective Ed Spending
    We spend nearly $600 billion each year on education in this country. This is more than the entire national budgets of India, Russia, South Korea, Singapore, and Finland combined, and some of these countries are the leading scorers on international education tests. Since the 1960s, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was first passed, per pupil education spending has increased by 272 percent. Yet educational outcomes have flat-lined. The bill proposes to codify Race to the Top (RTT) and the Investing in Innovation Fund (I3), the president’s signature education initiatives, and to create a new program for education research and development, which the president first proposed in his FY 2012 budget — for a total of $90 million. This raises concerns, because results from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program are indiscernible, according to a recent GAO report.
  • Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, and the Political Lessons for School Reformers
    School reformers once again have plenty to learn about playing in the political arena. For one, reformers must get better at the ground game, especially the get-out-the-vote efforts that can make the difference between victory and defeat. Which leads to the second lesson, one courtesy of legendary political player (and proponent of Prohibition) Wayne Wheeler: Reformers must build strong coalitions with groups outside of education in order to make education a wedge issue that gets the attention of politicians. School reformers, especially those in the Beltway, have continually ignored this point to their peril. It is time to listen and work the grassroots — including the 52 million single parents, grandparents, and immigrant households ready to embrace systemic reform. The third lesson: Reformers can’t be squeamish about backing legislators and governors who support their cause — and that means taking some flack for doing so. What matters more in these situations is to back the politician who will support your positions while in office, and support the legislation and referendums that will best-advance reform. This also means that centrist and liberal Democrat reformers who oppose efforts to abolish collective bargaining will have to stop their double talk. After all, the teacher quality reforms they propose will do just as much to weaken NEA and AFT influence as those offered up by their conservative counterparts — and the two unions have already figured this out. Reformers must be more savvy in how they play the political game long before election day.
  • New county school board makeup tackled
    The Shelby County Commission on Wednesday took the first steps toward creating a permanent countywide Shelby County Board of Education with up to 13 members.
  • Panel talks to firm about leading Shelby County’s schools merger
    Shelby County’s schools merger transition commission has begun negotiations with an international firm that helped New Orleans transform its public schools and helped craft a plan for Delaware that led to best-in-the-nation ratings for innovative education reform. The Boston Consulting Group’s willingness to engage in a public, open process put it ahead of three other companies as the top choice to assist in coordinating the planning of what will be the largest schools consolidation in American history. A committee that was given authority by the full commission to negotiate with firms agreed Wednesday to pursue an agreement with BCG, which last week brought in four members of its educational arm for interviews.
  • MUST READ: Henninger: Forstmann’s Not So Little Idea
    When in 1999 Ted Forstmann started the Children’s Scholarship Fund with John Walton, he thought it was a good idea that might last about four years. An almost incomprehensible 1.25 million families from some 22,000 U.S. cities and towns applied for the four-year scholarships. In New York City, 168,000 applied (about 30% of those eligible) for 2,500 scholarships. Nor were they seeking a free ride. The scholarships were typically for less than $2,000 a year, with the parents expected to pitch in perhaps half of that. On announcement day, the fund awarded 40,000 scholarships. And Ted Forstmann took the occasion to say in public what he wanted to say about the state of education in the United States, circa 1999: “Some insist that if we would just keep doing more of what we have been doing—spend more money, hire more teachers and reduce class sizes—we will get different results. I don’t believe that anymore.” He said one more thing that day worth recalling. It was about the $1,000 or so each scholarship family was kicking in: “Consider that $1,000 over four years from the parents of 1.25 million children adds up to $5 billion. Five billion dollars from families who have very little. Five billion in scrimping and savings, in second jobs and second-hand clothes, in basic necessities not bought, and countless other sacrifices made—simply to escape the system that they’ve been relegated to and to obtain a decent education for their children.” Mr. Forstmann thought the failure of the education status quo was so obvious and the need for change so dire (he called it “an appeal to the moral middle of America”) that change of some sort would come soon to American public education. Needless to say, he was wrong. Change did not come to public, inner-city education. The teachers unions won’t allow it, and the pols in the party they support value incumbency’s power more than anyone’s notion of a moral crisis. To date, the Children’s Scholarship Fund has raised $483 million. It has disbursed scholarships to 123,000 students. It has affiliate programs in 33 states, which now administer the program on their own. Mr. Forstmann has long argued that all the money dumped into public education budgets misses the element most crucial to the schools’ success: active parental involvement. His solution to getting them in the game has been requiring the parents to contribute between 25% and 75% of the scholarship award, based on need. That’s it. The parents can pick any private school they desire. Many go straight to neighborhood parochial schools, once the sturdy adjunct to many urban public systems. Asked how they assure the quality of the choices, Scholarship Fund President Darla Romfo says, “We don’t decide what is a good school; they do.” And if they don’t like that school, they’re free to switch the scholarship to another. We live in bitter and divided political times, with optimism in short supply. It is somehow fitting that an idea Ted Forstmann and John Walton put in motion 12 years ago just had a breakout year. Sometimes, belief really does produce results.

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