Monday, November 30, 2009

Rose at 20: Beshear

Over at EdJurist, Justin has begun posting videos from the recent Rose at 20 event. He says,
Today, the first of those is the Governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear. The first part of this speech, really the first 7-8 minutes, is absolute gold. I was really highly impressed with the Governor and he was really being honest in his statements because he was a player in the litigation as the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky around the time of the case. He brought a good deal of political heft and class to the event. Enjoy:

Rose at 20: Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear from UK College of Education on Vimeo.

Thanks Justin and Brad Duncan for doing the video.

Book Ruckus divides Montgomery County residents

This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:
A dispute over books at Montgomery County High School has embroiled parents, teachers, students and others over the past several months, extending to authors and censorship groups at the national level.

The continuing ruckus revolves around contemporary, young-adult novels that have been used in conjunction with classical works like The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and the epic poem Beowulf in some sophomore and senior accelerated English classes.

Some parents have complained that the novels contain foul language and cover topics — including sex, child abuse, suicide and drug abuse — unsuited for discussion in coed high school classes. They also contend that the books don't provide the intellectual challenge and rigor that students need in college preparatory classes.

Montgomery County School Superintendent Daniel Freeman has responded by withdrawing about half a dozen of the challenged titles from classroom use.
However, students can still find them in the high school library, and they remain available through a student book club...
The parents' complaints were not stated in religious terms, as sometimes can be the case. It's a good thing. Because if books were banned based on the concerns listed it would pretty much eliminate the Bible. H-L Columnist Paul Prather said it rather well:

A group of parents protested the books — which weren't required reading, but were available for students who chose to read them — on the grounds they were morally unfit for high school students. The novels apparently portray teenagers who are struggling with dysfunctional families, sexual desire and thoughts of suicide.

Dysfunctional families? Teen sex? Suicide?

I initially assumed the parents were trying to ban Romeo and Juliet. Or the Bible.

Jessamine County book banners, Sharon Cook and Beth Boisvert were recently fired for withholding books from circulation that they found objectionable.

The books being challenged in Montgomery County include:

The titles appeared on suggested book lists compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, for 12- to18-year-olds who are "reluctant readers."

Governor pegs Covington's Meyer for post

This from the Enquirer:
Joe Meyer, deputy secretary of Kentucky's Education and Workforce Development Cabinet for the past year, was named by Gov. Steve Beshear this week as secretary of the cabinet.

He replaces Helen Mountjoy, who left the post [last] week.
Meyer, 61, is an attorney and lives in Covington. He served as a state representative from 1982-88, and as a state senator from 1988-96.

He was chief of staff for Rep. Jim Callahan of Wilder in 2004, and has also served as the senior policy adviser for state auditor Crit Luallen. His reason for taking the top job in the cabinet was simple.

"Because the governor asked," Meyer said.

"It's a very interesting, very challenging position that's extremely critical to the Commonwealth."

Meyer will oversee a cabinet that has roughly 3,000 full- and part-time employees, and a budget of $2.5 billion. The education side provides services to the state's P-12 public schools. The workforce side connects Kentuckians with employment and training...

Teacher loses his license for alleged sexting

This from the Daily-Independent:

The Boyd County teacher accused of sending sexually charged text messages to a middle school student has lost his Kentucky teaching credentials forever, state records show.

Minutes of the Sept. 14 meeting of the Kentucky Educational Professional Standards Board, posted online, show that Creth Boyd, 28, agreed to surrender his teaching credentials and never to apply for teaching or administrative certification in Kentucky again.

Boyd is charged with sending the messages to a 14-year-old student at Boyd County Middle School.

His indictment, issued Nov. 13, alleges that Boyd sent at least one message to the girl with his cell phone in December in hopes of inducing her to have sex with him, said Boyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney David Justice...

A Crash Course in Texting

This from the Henry County Local:

A 16-year old male driver was typing a text message into his phone when he almost rear-ended a motorcycle, veered off the right side of the road then hit a deer.

A 16-year old girl fared little better, repeatedly crossing
the center line on a two-lane road while typing her name into her phone’s keypad.

“She was pretty much over the center line all the time,” said James Gray of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety.

It was all part of a distracted driving simulation at Henry County High School last week. Representatives of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Drive Smart division were invited by the Henry County Family Resources and Youth Services Center to the school to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving. A simulator was set up to test teenage drivers’ ability to drive while typing a text message on their cell phones.

When Jessica Booher, who has her driver’s permit, got behind the wheel she was instructed to begin driving normally.

After establishing a driving pattern, Gray told her to pick up her phone and type in her first and last names. Though she appeared to be watching the road, Booher repeatedly drifted over the center line into oncoming traffic...

Host of schools support fight to keep superintendent evaluations private

OK...but shouldn't the education groups really be pushing for new legislation? Isn't it the language in the law, rather than the ruling, that needs fixing?

This from the Courier-Journal:

The Kentucky Department of Education, its board and a host of school boards from around the state are seeking permission to file a brief in support of the Jefferson County school board’s fight to keep superintendent performance evaluation discussions out of the public eye.

“Our main thing is that there was never any intent in the legislation to require one individual in a school district to be evaluated in public. Everybody else has their evaluations done in private,” said Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, one of the entities that have filed the motion.

The Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education is appealing a state Attorney General opinion that the board violated state law when it evaluated Superintendent Sheldon Berman in closed session July 29. The Courier-Journal contested that action, seeking the attorney general opinion. The case is pending in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

Jefferson County board Chairwoman Debbie Wesslund...

...gave a lame excuse that ought to be ignored. If board's can simply circumvent the law by stating the mere potential for discipline or dismissal, then everybody would do it and the law would be meaningless. Such possibilities - absent specific actions - do not qualify as exceptions to the Open Meetings law.

Sheldon Berman already announced that his evaluation contained nothing negative. But that's another topic.

Why go to the court? A lower court, correctly in my view, held that “The exceptions to the Open Meetings Act are to be strictly construed in light of the decided preference that the public’s business be performed before the eyes of the public.” It's hard to imagine the basic principle of a strict test being overturned on appeal.

If there is to be an exception made for school superintendents - and perhaps there should be - it ought to be specifically stated in the law.

I wonder. Is it possible that school administrators have already had conversations with legislators? If so, is the idea of an exception in the law getting any traction?

Quick Hits

Report - States on track with improved education data systems: A report shows that states are making progress on compiling student data, with most on track to have systems in place to monitor yearly student performance beginning in 2011. Since 2005, the number of states collecting data showing the strongest academic growth has more than doubled, from 21 to 44, and 47 states now collect data to calculate longitudinal graduation rates, according to the report by the Data Quality Campaign. Improvements to education data systems are a priority for states seeking federal Race to the Top funding. (Education Week)

Louisiana moves forward with controversial career-track curriculum: Louisiana education officials say they are working to ensure that a new career-diploma program enacted in about a dozen districts holds real value for students. While the program has been criticized as a lowering of academic standards, state officials say the program is intended to engage students who would otherwise drop out of school. While the new track was approved by legislators in July, the state board of education is expected to finish developing the specifics of the program in December. (Education Week)

Schools take part in zero-gravity butterfly experiment: Students are taking part in an experiment to see how caterpillars become monarch butterflies. Acting as the control groups for the experiment, the two classes are monitoring the progress of their specially grown caterpillars while NASA astronauts a million feet above Earth's surface conduct a similar experiment in zero gravity. More than 400 classrooms in the eastern U.S. are also taking part in the experiment, which is partially sponsored by the Monarch Watch program at the University of Kansas. (The Register-Mail)

Teach for America makes debut in Minnesota schools: The national service program Teach for America made its debut in Minnesota this year, bringing in 43 new teachers to help narrow the achievement gap in the state's most disadvantaged schools. The new teachers are recent college graduates who will earn their certifications during their two-year commitment to Minnesota classrooms. Program officials say participants are smart and willing to work hard, but representatives of the state teachers union have expressed concerns about placing untrained teachers in the state's neediest classrooms. (Star Tribune)

Seminars help Catholic educators better understand Jewish faith: A group of educators from Catholic schools in the Los Angeles area recently took part in the Bearing Witness program designed to enhance Catholic school educators' understanding of anti-Semitism and the history of the Jewish-Catholic relationship. "My understanding has been so enriched, and I can share that with my students," said a teacher who participated. Sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the Bearing Witness program was founded in 1996 and offers seminars nationwide. (Los Angeles Times)

Kansas school to be first to offer engineering at the elementary level: A Kansas school district is set to become the first in the nation to offer engineering classes at the elementary-school level. The Derby school district began offering engineering courses in middle and high schools this year, but a pilot program next year will bring aerospace engineering lessons to a district elementary school. The curriculum is designed by Project Lead the Way and will include hands-on and computer-based activities. (The Wichita Eagle)

Unlocking the methods to narrowing the achievement gap: Leroy Anderson Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., has been successful at closing the achievement gap among minority students and their white peers by having the same high expectations for all students, assessing students constantly and having a high level of family involvement. Successful schools are using data to influence instruction and creative teaching methods that include computer-based instruction, but Anderson's principal says the secret is "believing that kids can and will learn." (The New York Times)

White House to hold science fair to recognize student inventors: President Barack Obama announced plans to showcase student inventors at a new national science fair to be held at the White House next year, saying student science achievers should be honored with the same enthusiasm offered to student-athletes. "Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models," Obama said. (The Washington Post)

Maryland schools pilot hand-held devices to improve test-taking: Some students in a Maryland district will soon begin taking tests using hand-held devices resembling remote controls as part of a pilot program intended to free up time for instruction. Students will use iRespond devices to take tests more quickly, and teachers will receive scores instantly -- allowing them to tailor instruction to meet student needs. "It's going to make the life of a teacher much easier. ... It will really help us to pinpoint who needs what," one teacher said. "I feel like it's almost going to give [students] that motivation for testing again." (The Sun)

Obama administration set to announce STEM education campaign: President Barack Obama is set to unveil a campaign to encourage students -- particularly in middle school and high school -- to study science, technology, engineering and math. Focusing mainly on extracurricular study, Educate to Innovate will enlist the help of leaders in STEM fields as well as corporations. However, some say the initiative should focus instead on STEM classroom learning and teacher quality. "I think a lot of this is good, but it is missing more than half of what needs to be done," an education researcher said. (The New York Times)

Independent-study charter gives California students a fresh start: A new independent-study charter school in California's San Diego County is using personalized instruction to offer a fresh academic start for its students, many of whom are working to support families or have dropped out of more traditional schools. Much of the instruction at the charter school is one-on-one or in classes of up to 10 students. Without the extracurricular frills offered at conventional schools, a business-like atmosphere sets the stage for students to take their education more seriously, the school's principal said. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

President Abraham Lincoln had always expressed the quandary of God’s presence during the Civil War.

In September 1862 Lincoln was increasingly concerned by the tremendous growth of causalities. Following the disastrous loss at the second battle of Bull Run he wrote a Meditation on the Divine Will.

“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time,” Lincoln wrote.

But to most Americans - north or south - God was on their side. Union and Confederate soldiers both prayed to the same God. Both read the same Bible. Both invoked the same God to aid him in battle against the other side.

Lincoln’s thoughts read like an ancient philosopher’s argument. “By his mere quiet power on the minds of new contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

In a country split and ravaged by war - truth, for Lincoln, had begun to dawn. God was not at America’s beckoned call. America was at his.

In October 1863, with the Union victory in the Civil War all but assured, President Abraham Lincoln was looking for ways to reunite the country. He proclaimed a national holiday to be spent in reflection – a day of thanksgiving.

The proclamation, written by his Secretary of State William Seward, called upon each citizen to regard America’s vigorous growth despite the long war. “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”

America remains at war – not a civil war but one that divides us spiritually nonetheless.

As we pause to celebrate Thanksgiving 2009, and acknowledge our blessings, let us also remember our disobedience and “commend to His tender care those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” in our present conflicts. Let us become peacemakers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Unfinished Business

By Penney Sanders

When the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) was enacted in 1990, a founding principle was that “no child shall remain in a failing school…”.

At that time the public perception was that Kentucky was full of failing schools. While there was little data to quantify that belief; it was, nonetheless, one of the widely held assumptions about Kentucky schools.

Twenty years of assessment, professional development and accountability have brought us to today’s reality that we still do have some poor performing schools in Kentucky. Rather than based on perception, these schools are now identified based on data. We have quantified “low-performing”...

Though some would argue that the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has many problems, it is the recognized standard for indentifying failing schools.

[It is interesting that Kentucky is aggressively seeking “Race to the Top” funds but wants to quibble about how low-performing schools are designated.]

A cursory analysis of the 2008 -2009 list of low performing school reveals that
the majority of the seriously low performing schools (Tier 5) are in .Jefferson County. The remaining schools on this list are scattered around the state with no region dominating. Only one district outside Jefferson has more than one school on the list.

After 20 years, if the full promise of the Kentucky’s school reform is to be met, these failing(seriously low performing) schools must, once and for all be dealt with.

NCLB states that children in failing schools are eligible for additional tutoring and assignment to other schools. The ultimate penalty is the closing or reconstituting of the school: new leadership, new faculty.

Interestingly, KERA envisioned such provisions. The KERA framers believed that schools, after 3 or 4 years of poor performance, would be closed or the children given the option to go elsewhere. Sadly, we have not seen those sanctions-the ultimate hammers ever used.

The question is WHY NOT???

How long should students have to attend failing schools?? Why have KY legislators not demanded that students be removed from persistently failing schools??? Why have we not been more serious about turning around Tier 5 schools????

It seems that school boards, administrators and yes, legislators have escaped accountability through a myriad of excuses. My favorite is;” there is no room in other schools, so we can’t move too many of the students out of failing schools.”

The answer is simple, MAKE ROOM!!!! The response should be one of how do we make this happen not the whine of why we can’t do it.

Where is community outrage when students spend years in poor schools?? Why does tax money continue to support failing schools.

Looking at the list of failing schools, students can move from a failing elementary to a failing middle school and culminate their educational experience in a failing high school. What about this pattern is insane?? If such a pattern exists for one child in a district, it exists for too many.

This is not what the framers of KERA envisioned.

Patterns of failure can and must be altered. Such “Turnaround” is what Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks about in every speech he has made since assuming office. He is a powerful advocate for changing the culture of failure.

Since the majority of Tier 5 schools are in Jefferson County (3 elementary, 10 middle and 8 high schools), this would allow all the political and educational entities to focus energy and resources into this district

Models of change abound. However, one has to get beyond excuse-making - “parents are not supportive, kids don’t want to learn, they don’t come to us with the necessary skills, and they are poor” - to begin turning schools around.

Many Kentuxcky schools have moved beyond excuse-making, it is time everyone did.

A number of cities: Chicago, New York, Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and others; have aggressively embraced radically transforming failing schools. Superintendents have been replaced, mayors have assumed control of schools, and new management/leadership models have been implemented.

Apparently this journey in Kentucky must begin, as KERA did, with the political will to recognize there is a problem. The General Assembly should reaffirm its accountability and responsibility for the schools of the Commonwealth.

Turning Tier 5 schools around should become a legislative priority. This time a primary focus should be guaranteeing parents the right to remove their child from a failing school. ALL options should be on the table for legislative consideration.

Because many of the Tier 5 failing schools are in Jefferson County, the JCPS Board must be specific about their commitment to changing failing schools.

Board members have an obligation to explain to parents why their children have no options other than a failing school. An example of the insidiousness of the problem was evident on one of the failing school’s websites-the school, despite being Tier 5, notes it is a “Nationally-Recognized School of Excellence.” At one time maybe, but not now.

JCPS must develop options. It must allow students to transfer out of persistently failing schools. Room must be found to save children. Successful alternatives must be created.

Excuses and good intentions are no longer good enough. Measureable progress is the only evidence that the Board can be comfortable with.

The Board must hold the Superintendent accountable for real change. Both the Board and central office leadership must adopt a sense of urgency.

Perhaps it is time for failing schools and educational attainment to become an issue in the mayoral campaign. Other big city mayors have made educational improvement an integral part of their administration. Why not Metro-Louisville. Eighteen failing middle and high schools should be discussed by every candidate.

Finally, if after two years of local effort, there is still no progress, the Commissioner of Education and the State Board must exert the authority that is available to them to takeover failing schools. In fact, continued failure mandates their action.

The ultimate promise of KERA-no child in a failing school-must finally be fulfilled.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wis. teacher's aide accused of having sex with 12-year-old boy

This from City Pages:​
Former River Falls teacher's aide Rebecca Ann O'Malley-Tietz has been arrested and charged with first degree sexual assault of a child. The boy, a student of River Falls School District's Harbor Program, where O'Malley-Tietz worked, was 12 years old at the time of the alleged assault.

KSTP-TV reported that, in court documents, the boy said the pair had sexual intercourse 30 to 40 times from 2007 to 2008, and that O'Malley-Tietz threatened him with a gun if he spoke about their relationship. He eventually went to his mother, who notified police in October. WQOW-TV said she has since admitted to having intercourse with the boy, said that he forced himself on her.

Study: Students lose ground at charters

This from
Ohio's charter schools and magnet schools get a head start on public schools, a new study asserts, because they attract kindergartners who score higher on readiness tests than theirs peers at regular public schools.

The Ready to Learn study, a report by Policy Matters Ohio in Columbus, questions why charter school students who score well on kindergarten tests lose ground in later years, scoring no better - and often worse - than students at regular public schools.

"This report finds evidence that charter (schools) may be siphoning better prepared students away from district schools," wrote Piet van Lier, senior analyst at Policy Matters. He was referring to kindergartners.

"If charters are getting better-prepared students and producing equal or lower achievement, then they should be scaled back, not expanded." ...

Walking girl to school — and into history

This from the Herald-Leader, Photo by Steve Ueckert:




The Norman Rockwell print titled "The Problem We All Live With" features a small, black girl walking between four very tall men.

The little girl was Ruby Nell Bridges, the first black student to attend a white school in New Orleans, in 1960.

The legs of the man on the far right side walking behind Bridges belong to Jesse Grider, one of four U.S. marshals ordered to escort the kindergartner and her family the five blocks from their home to the William Frantz School.

Lucille Bridges looked at the original Norman Rockwell painting showing her daughter Ruby going to school when it was on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 2006. The painting is now at the Detroit Institute of Art. The elder Bridges moved from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

Originally from Glasgow, Grider was honored on Veterans Day for his service as a U.S. marshal and with a Kentucky National Guard unit during the Korean War. A special ceremony was held at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center...

School News from Around Kentucky

Way to Go Ryland and Hinsdale: Kenton County schools know how to contribute to the community. Children Inc. recently recognized eight Kenton County schools as a School of Contribution at the 2009 Northern Kentucky Celebration of Philanthropy. Twenty eight schools were named School of Contribution out of the 60 schools in Northern Kentucky that work with Children Inc. on service learning projects locally and globally. School of Contribution designation means each school adopted a policy supporting service learning as well as at least 70 percent of the student body participated in at least one project during the 2008-2009 school year and more. (Enquirer)

Now you see him. Now you don't: The principal of Lewisburg Elementary School was replaced by the associate superintendent of Logan County Schools, according to officials.Superintendent Marshall Kemp said because of a personnel issue, Principal Barrett Nelson has been replaced by Associate Superintendent Janet Hurt. (Bowling Green Daily News)

KDE to end Danville's Free Ride - Danville schools must pay for central office: Although Danville' school district has used a Kentucky School for the Deaf building as its central office rent-free for seven years, the state education department says this needs to change. The Kentucky Department of Education told the district it may do one of three things — purchase the property, lease it or move out. (Advocate-Messenger)

To Benefit Students, Danville Throws out Adult Ed: The Danville/Boyle County Adult Education program found out Monday it has until the end of June to find a new home, and its employees call it an injustice to the community. The Danville Board of Education voted not to renew the contract, which means the program must find a new fiscal agent. The contract ends on June 30, 2010. As fiscal agent for the program, the Danville school district is responsible for providing a space and paying utilities and has done so for the past 40 years while adult ed has been housed in Danville High School. Danville school officials say it was a hard decision, but one that had to be made for the benefit of DHS students. Adult Education employees say the decision is an injustice to the community and to the adult students who benefit from the program. (Advocate-Messenger)

Clark School Board tells state to Keep Paws out of Contingency Funds: At its meeting Tuesday night, the Clark County Board of Education approved a resolution voicing its strong opposition to the legislature’s proposal at its meeting Tuesday. “This resolution is a way for us to publicly acknowledge our concern and our opposition to any attempt for the legislature to use any portion of school contingency funds to address the state’s budget shortfall,” said Judy Hicks, board chairwoman. (Winchester Sun)

Students are Right. Laws on Texting while Driving should evolve: The students in Leslie McCurry’s class already were actively encouraging the Kentucky General Assembly to move forward with needed laws banning texting while driving. Two bills have been introduced to the House by Representatives Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, and Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro. While the bills differ in language and penalties, they share the goal of eliminating texting while driving in the commonwealth. (News-Enterprise)

Henry County Opposes Stumbo's Contingency Fund Raid: Board Chairman Donnie Tipton said HCPS has worked hard to keep the contingency fund at a rate that allows the district to plan for the future...The state requires two percent, though Abrams said the state recommends five percent. Keeping a high percentage in HCPS’ fund, he said, was a conscious effort by the board to handle emergency situations at its schools. The resolution states that using contingency funds for the operating budget is contrary to the funds’ purpose leaving some districts unable to respond to emergencies. (Henry County Local)

Frankfort Board Opposes State Taking Funds: The Frankfort Independent school board joined the chorus of educators publicly opposing the use of district contingency funds to balance the state budget. Superintendent Rich Crowe and Board of Education members signed a resolution Tuesday opposing the use of the funds to offset a predicted $161 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. The Franklin County Board of Education and other Kentucky school boards have signed similar resolutions. (State Journal by way of KSBA)

Middle School Hazing Incident: In Montgomery County, a group of McNabb Middle School basketball players are back on the court after being suspended for three games for hazing younger players. Some parents think the punishment was not severe enough. “No one should have to go through anything like this especially a 12 year old child. All they wanted to do was play basketball. They didn’t expect anything like this to happen,” 6th grade parent, Chandra Davis, said. (WTVQ)

Campbell Co. Staff Under Stress: There's no disagreement in Campbell County Schools that teachers are being asked to do more with fewer resources. Roseann McCafferty, a special needs teacher at Campbell County High School expressed her concern about increasing stress being put on teachers. McCafferty says she spoke up in the interest of bettering things for teachers in an impossible situation. McCafferty's speech drew a response of understanding from the board and superintendent. (Enquirer)

School annexation is under review by Cumberland council: The Cumberland City Council hopes to expand by annexing Cumberland Elementary School.City attorney Parker Boggs explained to the council the city just needed to ask the Harlan County Board of Education to let the city annex the school and bring it in officially as part of the city.Cumberland Mayor Loretta Cornett said it would be nice to have the school that carries the city’s name be part of the city. (Harlan Daily Enterprise)

What a Lecture Hall is Supposed to Look Like

Miami's new business buliding was the venue for Doug Eder's presentation on the Joys of Assessment yesterday. Very nice. The photos show the left-hand third of the room.

Eder, who is on the neuroscience faculty at Southern Illinois University, suggested some old school measures to raise the bar on college writing. One that I am considering: a fatal error list.

Suppose professors got together and agreed that certain kinds of common errors needed to be erdicated (instead of simply being complained about year after year). The faculty might identify problems such as verb tense confusion or writing-as-though-a-text-message as fatal errors. Students exhibiting two or three such errors in any paper, get the paper back ungraded, and are given one week to correct it at a one letter grade reduction. Instructors might also include commonly confused terms on the list: affect/effect; principal/principle; desegregation/disaggregation...

Eder claims that he only had to impose penalties once (at the beginning of his course and on an assignment of lower point value) for the idea to catch on with his students.
This seems intuitively correct to me. We know that students perform better when appropriately challenged. It seems to me that we are only going to get the performance we teach - and insist upon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Student Protest Blocks Regents After 32% Tuition Hike

This from MSNBC:

University of Calif. OKs 32 percent tuition hike

Some officials blocked by students
from leaving UCLA building

As hundreds of students demonstrated outside, University of California leaders on Thursday voted to approve a 32 percent hike in undergraduate fees, arguing the increase is crucial because of the state’s budget crisis.

Some of those UC regents were later trapped inside a UCLA building as protesters blocked the exits.

UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said chains of demonstrators have linked arms to block the exits. One person inside the building says the regents have been held there for two hours. It is unclear how many remain inside.

Hampton said he could not confirm any injuries, although television footage shows one person was treated after being sprayed by an unknown substance.

The UC Board of Regents approved a two-phase increase that will boost the average undergraduate fee $2,500 by next fall. That would bring the average annual cost to about $10,300 — a threefold increase in a decade...

Race to the Top Guidelines

While I've been busy being swamped by advising, evaluating, and marrying off a daughter - others have been hard at work.

This week the US Department of Education finally released the application for Race to the Top (RTTT) grant funding. Susan Weston has the scorecard at Prichard.

It looks like this:Great teachers and leaders = 27.6%

State success factors = 25%

Standards and Assessments = 14%

Turning around the lowest achieving schools = 10%

Data systems to support instruction = 9.4%

Emphasis on STEM = 3%

General = 11%

Note: Charters, state funding, and other reforms are part of the "general" section. They are shown separately in Weston's pie chart "because the charter issue has received so much discussion."

Under the General Category...

"Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools" figures to 8% of the application.

"Demonstrating other significant reform conditions" (which Kentucky may have been counting on for support) is worth 1%.

"Making education funding a priority" is worth 2%.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick Hits

...starting to get caught back up after last week's wedding.

Department of Education to request school salary data: The Department of Education is planning to require school districts receiving federal Title I stimulus money to report the salaries of teachers and staff. It is expected that the data will be used to compare salaries at schools that receive Title I funding for at-risk students with those that do not. The request is reportedly the first to look at such data, prompting speculation about possible changes to address disparities. (Education Week)

Wide variety of charter schools has mixed outcome in Arizona: In Arizona, which has the largest percentage of public-school students in the country enrolled in its 500 charter schools, Stanford University research shows that students who attended charter schools did not make as much academic progress as peers in the state's conventional public schools. Supporters of charter schools dispute the research but allow that there is variation in quality among charters. Skeptics say Arizona's wide-open school choice should serve as a warning to ensure quality over quantity when promoting charters. (The Washington Post)

Girls-only program targets gender gap in technology study: Voluntary girls-only technology classes are an attempt by New York's Fairport Central School District to interest more female students in the subject. Statistics show women make up more than half the workforce but only 28% of technology jobs. "What Fairport is doing makes sense, especially at a young age, when you see girls losing interest in math and sciences because they are not getting much encouragement about pursuing careers in those areas," said Margaret Bailey, a Rochester Institute of Technology professor. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Indiana colleges take different approaches to training teachers: Indiana colleges that train new teachers have begun to rethink their methods. Some, such as Indiana's Marian University, are adopting popular fast-track alternative certifications such as The New Teacher Project. Meanwhile, educators at Indiana University are moving more slowly and basing their curriculum on established research. "I don't think it's a matter of one is better than the other," said one educator. "We need a lot of different ways to train people to be effective teachers." (The Indianapolis Star)

New plan would link N.Y. teacher certification to classroom performance: New York education officials approved a framework to tie teacher certification to classroom performance. Teacher candidates would be required to meet tougher initial standards but be offered financial incentives to teach math, science or special education in struggling schools. The proposal, aimed at helping the state qualify for federal Race to the Top money, is part of an overhaul to state teacher-education programs that includes an expansion of alternative certification offerings. (The Buffalo News)

BEE answers EduQuestions: What programs have been proven to increase student achievement? Johns Hopkins University's Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE) website helps educators answer that question with free, easy to read Consumer Reports®-style reviews of reading, math, ELL, and other programs for grades K-12. Visit the BEE now to find out what works in education. (Best Evidence Encyclopedia)

Online-learning programs are on the rise in U.S. schools: A survey shows that 26 states offer online learning options for K-12 students, up from 15 states in 2007, and enrollment in online-school initiatives has increased by at least 25% in 12 states. Many states face funding issues and other obstacles to starting or expanding virtual learning but are including it in education-reform strategies to enhance curriculum, increase access and provide relief from overcrowded schools and teacher shortages. (Education Week)

Research - Harlem Children's Zone closes black-white achievement gap: A new study shows that Harlem Children's Zone -- a New York City program in which charter schools are rounded out with community support services such as parenting workshops, early-childhood education and health initiatives -- effectively closed the achievement gap between black and white students in most categories that were looked at. The Obama administration has praised the initiative as a model for community schools, but some education experts warn the model does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution. (Education Week)

Storywalks are used to promote reading to preschoolers: A Pennsylvania elementary-school program used an "Everyday Heroes" theme to get preschoolers excited about reading and learning. As part of the Storywalk program, preschool-aged children toured classrooms staffed by a police officer, a school nurse and other "heroes" on hand to answer questions after children were read stories about their professions. Early-childhood education efforts like Storywalk are paying off, kindergarten teacher Betsey Wilson said. "Some kids are coming in here reading," she said. "It's unbelievable." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

NYC's School of One makes Time magazine's best inventions list: A pilot program to teach math to sixth-graders in New York City has been named one of Time magazine's 50 Best Inventions of 2009. The School of One provides students with a daily playlist of educational games, online tutoring and classroom instruction, all designed specifically to meet the individual learning style and pace of each student. (TIME)

Houston's KIPP wins $10 million Gates Foundation gift: Houston's largest charter-school group has been awarded $10 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help with its $100 million expansion plan. The Knowledge is Power Program wants to double enrollment to 21,000 students over the next 10 years. Charter programs in Houston such as KIPP have become popular because of their extended school days, weekend programs and their effectiveness in boosting college enrollment among low-income and minority students. (Houston Chronicle)

Race to the Top guidelines to include point system for states: The Obama administration is expected to announce a plan today to rate states' progress on education reforms -- rankings that will determine which states get a piece of $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top stimulus funding. Improving teacher and principal effectiveness will carry the most weight in evaluating states' applications. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, criticized initial plans but is supportive of this final version, saying it will measure teacher effectiveness based on several criteria, not just student test scores. (The Washington Post)

Some N.J. high schools replace electives with test preparation: A growing number of New Jersey high schools are providing test-preparation courses during elective and study periods for struggling students at risk of failing a state graduation exam. While some parents have expressed concerns about the increased focus on testing, especially for younger students, educators say the new classes allow them to spend less time in subject classrooms discussing test preparation. "You don't want algebra class to be teaching to the test," said one teacher. "You want it to be teaching algebra." (The Record)

Ford Foundation pledges $100 million for urban-school reform: The Ford Foundation has pledged $100 million over seven years to fund reform efforts at urban high schools in seven cities: Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and Newark, N.J.. The initiative will focus on teacher quality, student assessment, funding and the amount of time students spend in school. Jeannie Oakes, a school-reform advocate who will lead the initiative, said it will not support any one political ideology. "We just want to cut through this and think about building an outstanding public-school system for the kids who are least likely to have one now," she said. (Los Angeles Times)

Georgia looks at authorizing new virtual charter schools: Georgia state education officials are considering a proposal to fund five new virtual charter schools. The would-be schools decided against seeking local funding, opting instead to make their case with the state. While supporters of online learning and expanded school choice were expected to stage a rally today outside the state capitol, members of the state school board are wrestling with policy questions including how the virtual schools should be funded and how to best meet the needs of struggling students at online schools. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

ACLU sues Florida over district's low graduation rates: The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action lawsuit against Florida on behalf of students and parents in Palm Beach County, alleging the state has failed to provide a high-quality education to students in the district as required by the state constitution. In its suit, the ACLU is seeking oversight by the courts to ensure the district improves its high-school graduation rates, which currently hover around 75% overall and only about 60% for black students. (The Palm Beach Post)

Monday, November 16, 2009

School News from Around Kentucky

Beshear asks some agencies to plan for 6 percent cuts this year: Gov. Steve Beshear notified some state agencies Friday to plan for 6 percent cuts to their current budgets to make up for an estimated $161 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year. However, many of the state's major spending areas — including Medicaid, universities and the funding formula for public schools —will be exempt from this latest round of cuts, Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said. “We expect revenues to fall short $161 million from budgeted levels in this fiscal year,” Richardson said in a statement. “We are gathering information on the potential impacts of additional reductions.” (Courier-Journal)

School district officials oppose money grab: Kentucky school districts fear the state legislature will tap their contingency funds by 50 percent to make up for budgetary shortfalls come January...“We want the legislators to understand that it’s not money that we just sit on,” said Sam Dick superintendent of the Caverna Independent School District. “We are using the money in those ways.” The Metcalfe County School System is using its contingency fund to support a BG-1 for construction of a new middle school. “If the funds were reduced, I would have to cancel the BG-1 and forego addressing our grave facility needs,” said Patricia Hurt, superintendent. (Glasgow Daily Times)

Murray resolution opposes capture of contingency funds by state: The Murray Independent School District board of education passed a resolution Thursday to oppose potential state capture of district contingency funds.During the monthly board meeting, MISD superintendent Bob Rogers said the speaker of the house went on record saying a possible way to balance the state budget would be to claim contingency, or carryover, funds from school districts in Kentucky. Rogers said there was initial opposition that has since died down a little, but school boards across the commonwealth are passing the resolution to further show their objection. (Murray Ledger Times)

Education Commissioner visits Bell County: The state's highest ranking education official was in the Mountains. Video from WYMT TV.

Boyle and Danville school superintendents plan town meeting: Danville Superintendent Carmen Coleman and Boyle County Superintendent Mike LaFavers are teaming up for a community forum to discuss the challenges that educators everywhere are facing. Coleman and LaFavers will outline the approach their districts are taking to prepare students for the changing workplace, economy and interconnected world. (Advocate-Messenger)

Congratulations Lizzie and Rob

...with "Pop" and Mother of the groom, Alice Edwards

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Stroll

This from the Eastern Progress:
Anglin Falls is a spectacular afternoon hike that often goes unnoticed due to its "hidden" location. For anyone deciding whether or not to take the hike, here is some advice: Take it. Not only is the short mile walk pristine, but the area is relatively unpopulated, making for a very relaxing hike.

John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest State Nature Preserve in Rockcastle County protects a 123-acre wooded gorge with a rich spring floral display. The preserve honors John B. Stephenson, the former president of Berea College who enjoyed the area's beauty and solitude and worked hard to preserve the forest surrounding Anglin Falls.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Build a Value-Added Assessment System for P-12 Before Moving on to Teacher Prep Institutions

"A key assumption of using test scores to judge teachers
is that students are randomly assigned,
first, to schools, and, second, to classes.
Neither is true."

Recently, there has been increased talk of holding teacher preparation institutions accountable for the performance of Kentucky teachers - in effect holding colleges accountable for student achievement in the state's public schools.

It's a good motivation, but in practice, there's a lot wrong with the idea.

It simply takes all of the problems associated with teacher-accountability-by-standardized-test-score, a central tenant of the Obama Administration, and multiplies that unfairness many times over. While it may feel good to teachers to know that they are not the only ones tied to an unfair system, it does not fix what's broken.

But it may become a better idea, if those who are enthusiastic for change slow down long enough to create a system that addresses fairness by trying to address the many technical problems, and that might actually work to an acceptable degree. That means building Kentucky's new accountability system from the bottom up:
  • Curriculum standards, first
  • Assessments built on those standards
  • Lessons taught on those standards (in that order)
  • Assessment results fed into a value-added accountability system that is sensitive to the great variability in children and one that establishes an individual baseline for each child and controls (to the degree possible) for that demographic variability.
  • At this point the public should consider a cost benefit ratio: the investment, in relation to the reliability and validity of the system.
  • Professionals should gauge the practical limitations of social science research, both quantitative and qualitative. Unlike the natural sciences, our variables refuse to hold still; which bears heavily on the precision of the system.
  • Individual student progress is measured from each individual student's established baseline
  • Individual student achievement data is collected over the student's entire academic career
  • The teacher accountability system should be quantitative and qualitative.
  • The principal accountability system should be quantitative and qualitative
  • There should be a planned review of the accountability system after collecting about three years of data (barring some unforeseen data catastrophe), with any significant adjustments to the accountability formula made at that time.
  • Then, and only then, a teacher preparation institute accountability system should be ready to track the performance of teachers who graduated from each institute, based on that value-added system; and that system should be quantitative and qualitative
Tying teacher accountability to test scores is going to happen. Fairly or unfairly, states are now scrambling to meet the strictures of RTTT grant funding. But desire for much needed funding doesn't make the myriad technical problems go away.

The Century Foundation recently outlined their Eight Reasons Not to Tie Teacher Pay to Standardized Test Results. In a nutshell,
Reason #1: Tying test scores to teacher compensation suggests that teachers are holding back on using their experience, expertise, and time because they are not being paid for the extra effort.

Reason # 2: The standardized tests in most states are lousy and so are the standards they are designed to measure.

Reason #3: The idea of compensating teachers individually in order to differentiate their performance from their school colleagues defeats a principal tenet of good instruction—that teachers need to learn from one another to solve difficult pedagogical challenges.

Reason #4: Most teachers do not teach a grade or subject that is subject to standardized testing.

Reason # 5: Even reliable standardized tests are valid only when they are used for their intended purposes.

Reason #6: A key assumption of using test scores to judge teachers is that students are randomly assigned, first, to schools, and, second, to classes. Neither is true.

Reason #7: State data systems are in their infancy. It turns out that it is harder, is more expensive, and takes longer for states to produce reliable, accurate, and secure longitudinal data on students and teachers than widely assumed.

Reason #8: The rationale for tying tests to compensation is not clear.

The non-profit, non-partisan Century Foundation argues that No Child Left Behind has narrowed instruction too much already, that one does not need a standardized test to identify the worst and best teachers, and no system could be constructed with sufficient precision to withstand the inevitable court challenges.

At the heart of the argument in favor of tying pay to test scores is the idea that it will improve practice. But that can only work if the economy provides the anticipated financial incentives. In this recession,

"if teacher compensation does not keep up with inflation because of poor student performance, then teachers will . . . what? Work harder? Dig deeper? Stay longer? There is no evidence that such measures improve instructional practices or student outcomes."

Secretary Duncan is correct when he catalogues the weaknesses in the present system of preparing, recruiting, mentoring, retaining, inspiring, retraining, promoting, and dismissing teachers. but this is an idea that is way ahead of just about everything it would need to have even a chance of working fairly and reliably, if at all.

Does CNN's Anderson Cooper Shape His News?

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday was supposed to be on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 the other night.

Then, he wasn't.

Here's the way his non-appearance rolled out, according to Holliday.

This from Commissioner Holliday's Fast Five for Friday email:

Anderson Cooper 360-

The appearance that did not happen.

Tuesday, we received a call from CNN that the producers wanted the commissioner to appear on the AC360 show to talk about national standards.

Wednesday, I got a call from staff of the show, wanting to talk about details of the program.

It became apparent that they did not really want to discuss national standards, but a recent report that compared state test scores to NAEP scores. The show was basically trying to allege that states had actually lowered standards so more schools would meet adequate yearly progress (AYP).

While I was not in Kentucky in 2007 when the Kentucky Core Content Tests were changed, I do know how the standards-setting and test development procedures are handled. I also knew that while the NAEP comparison cut score on our 4th-grade mathematics had actually dropped one point, I also knew that our NAEP proficiency levels had increased, and Kentucky was one of only a handful of states whose levels actually had increased.

Apparently, they did not know that last part.

I also told them that national standards and national assessments would resolve this issue and that I supported the efforts of CCSSO and NGA.

Apparently, that was not the type of show they wanted ... so, they called back in 15 minutes and canceled the appearance.

Never mind - I got to see the final game of the World Series!!!!

Commissioner Contemplations

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is still on the road; meeting, greeting, getting to know more and more Kentuckians.

Say what you will, but I think most Kentucky political observers will tell you that this is a necessary component of effective advocacy in the commonwealth. So much depends on personal relationships in this state.

Another necessary component is effective communication and I can't remember a commissioner who has communicated more.

Holliday tweets his day-to-day meet and greets. Facebook is use as a tool for personal accountablilty. His weekly blog and other communications to the state board, superintendents and other key stakeholders are regular, informative and visionary; in the sense that they outline where the department of education is heading. When conditions change, he updates.

For example, key state leaders receive an email blast called, "Fast Five on Friday."

Meeting with Co-op Directors - Kentucky is very lucky to have excellent regional education cooperative agencies. I met with the leaders of the co-ops this week to discuss how KDE could partner with them to roll out Senate Bill 1 and Race to the Top initiatives. See this week's blog for additional information:

Superintendent Advisory Committee - Over 30 superintendents joined us this week to discuss key issues surrounding the upcoming legislative session, December Kentucky Board of Education agenda, federal Race to the Top efforts and Senate Bill 1 deployment. The group also discussed how we could create a partnership between
superintendents, KDE, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and co-ops to provide more support and stronger voice for superintendents. We have a great group of superintendents in Kentucky, and I have been very impressed with how well they work together to support student learning for ALL children.

Visits - I visited this week with the Prichard Committee, the Kentucky School Board Association’s Bill Scott, the SACS/CASI conference in Paducah and McCracken County schools.

Senate Bill 1 - The steering committee met this week, and agenda information and a PowerPoint presentation can be seen at this link:
We have been very impressed with the commitment from our legislators to the work of this committee.

Anderson Cooper 360- The appearance that did not happen....

State Superintendents receive Monday emails to update state leaders on activities and opportunities, like this:


As part of our effort to streamline communications and cut down on the number of e-mails you receive, here is a Monday E-Mail that combines several items into one

If you have questions about the specific items, please see the contact information for each item.

Items from KDE

Enhancing Education Through Technology –ARRA—Request for Applications (RFA)
The Kentucky Department of Education has recently posted an Enhancing Education Through Technology -- ARRA -- Request for Applications (RFA) on the KDE website. Eligibility is limited to specific districts based on poverty factors using the 2007 Census Data. District eligibility is based on percent and numbers of children ages 5-17 in poverty and a substantial need for assistance for acquiring and using technology.

Please see Appendix A included in the RFA for eligible districts. This is a competitive grant section as defined in NCLB legislation passed in 2002 and the ARRA Act of 2009. Please note the deadline to submit Intent to Apply is Friday, November 6. The RFA can be accessed at the link below:

Competitive Grants from KDE
Please note the following important dates and deadlines:
Deadline to Submit Intent To Apply November 6, 2009 – 4:00 p.m. (EST)

Technical Assistance Web Cast (TBD) – Details will be posted on the KDE website when available.

Deadline to Submit Questions
November 30, 2009 – 12:00 Noon (EST)

Deadline to Submit Application
December 14, 2009 – 4:00 p.m. (EST) -- Applications received after this date and time will be deemed non-responsive and will not move forward in the evaluation process.

If you have any questions, please feel free to submit those questions to the KDE RFP Inbox at

Should you have any questions, please contact Leah Settle at (502) 564-2351 or via e-mail at

Items from Outside Agencies...

Plus - word is - most folks in the department are accepting of Holliday's direction and appreciative of his experience in the field.

Holliday's ability to effectively move the program is severely hampered by the current recession -- and it looks like it is about to get worse. There is no sign that the legislature will conjure up the necessary courage to reform the state's tax code in 2010 and that will cause legislators to resort to the more typical patchwork approach of special interests, structural imbalances and attacks on essential governmental services.

But for Holliday - all things considered - so far, so good.

Friday, November 06, 2009

More Travels with Shelly

Back in May, Page One Kentucky was raising questions about the amount (and nature) of travel Jefferson County Superintendent Shelly Berman was engaed in - what with all the failing schools and other pressing business in Louisville and all.

At Page One, Jake Payne counted "a total of 18 missed work days for non-JCPS-related meetings... throughout the school year."

But Berman told KSN&C, that over a two-year period (Dec 2007-Jan 2009), at most it should have "calculated to about 9 days out of the district rather than 18."

I asked for comment from a few Jefferson County Board of Education members and no one wanted to comment. But finding no tangible evidence of concern, I blew it all off saying, "Perhaps more information will come to light that will cause me to change my assessment, but at this point it sure doesn't look like it."

This week, in the wake of revelations at the Bluegrass Airport, The Kentucky League of Cities and the Kentucky Association of Counties, Adam Walser at WHAS TV thought it might be a good idea to check up on Louisville school district executives. Are they living high-on-the-hog off tax dollars as well? Surely not.

This from Walser at WHAS by way of KSBA:

Are Dr. Sheldon Berman’s travels

raising funds, and prominence or are they excessive?

Using an Open Records request, WHAS11 discovered that Dr. Sheldon Berman took 40 days of professional leave during a 13 month period.

Berman says he’s raising JCPS’s stature, but local education leaders say they want him home more often.

During a time of tight budgets and layoffs, most school districts are cutting down on travel. In Jefferson County Public Schools, teachers and administrators are limited to one district-funded trip per year for professional development.

But we’ve learned that Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman is on the road a lot more than that.

WHAS11 filed open records requests to see how many days Sheldon Berman has taken Professional Leave and to find out where he’s going.

We determined that between June 30th, 2008 and July 31th of this year, Berman spent 40 work days, or two full months, on the road.

While Berman says much of that time was spent seeking new sources of funding and raising the district’s profile, some local education leaders believe he’s spending too much time away from the office.

The destinations reach across thousands of miles to Austin, Boston, Orlando, Washington, California, Canada, and even Cape Town, South Africa.

These are not the travels of a pilot or a movie star, but of Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman. He sits on several organizations’ boards and often attends national and international educator meetings.

“The vast majority of any travel I’ve had has been paid for by other organizations or grants,” said Berman. “We’ve had some outstanding grants.”

Berman says part of his job as Superintendent of the nearly 100,000 student Jefferson County Public Schools district is to meet with foundations, businesses and government leaders.

“If the travel is related to a grant that brings a great deal of money into the district and benefits the district and the students, then that travel’s probably worthwhile,” said Brent McKim, President of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

But McKim says all trips are not worth Berman’s $1,000 a day salary.

“Certainly at that salary the superintendent makes, it’s appropriate for him to look at that. It’s appropriate for the school board to look at that,” McKim said.

Some school board members are taking a closer look than ever. “If I’m on the fence on go here or not go there, I’d like the superintendent to be here in Louisville, Kentucky,” said School Board Member Stephen Imhoff. Imhoff says Berman’s main job is overseeing children’s education.

This year, only 33 of the system’s 133 schools met “No Child Left Behind” goals, representing a 13% drop from last year. In August, Berman received a “C” from the majority of respondents to a teacher’s survey. Teacher’s used the words “hypocrite”, “arrogant”, and “self serving” to describe him.

Former JCTA Executive Director Steve Neal, who sat on the selection committee that brought Berman from a small district in Massachusetts in 2007, is now critical of Berman. “Dr. Berman is way out of the norm in the amount of travel,” said Neal. “He’s hired at almost 300-thousand dollars a year to run a billion dollar business and he has no place being gone so much.”

Neal says some of Berman’s trips were not necessary, including a visit to Manitoba, Canada to see polar bears with the director of the Louisville Zoo last October. Neal says at that time, he was trying to address important school-related issues with Berman. “I think it was a poor judgment of timing to go look at polar bears,” said Neal.

Berman says the trip was important. “I think it drew attention to one, the endangered species and two, the work that the Louisville Zoo is doing,” Berman said. Berman was appointed to the Zoo Board after the trip, but that isn’t why he said he took it. “I did a broadcast back to four schools here while I was on that trip,” he said.

School board member Imhoff questions its impact. “I even looked up the North Pole on the Internet, so that was a little bit of a benefit to me,” Imhoff said.

In late May, Berman left the United States again, attending the World Congress on Civic Education Conference, in Cape Town, South Africa, where he was a presenter.

Since wind and ice storms pushed back the end of school, the trip ended up corresponding with the last week of classes.

“We did hear from a number of our teacher members who were concerned about the superintendent being away during the last week of school,” said Brent McKim. “And they point out that they’re not allowed to take personal days or take off during the last week of school, even though they have a daughter or a son getting
married.” “They only work a 187 day year and I work a 260 day year. That’s a much different context,” said Berman.

Berman missed every single graduation.

“Not attending graduations is symbolic in a negative way,” said Steve Neal. “It sends a wrong signal to the staff, the teachers, the parents and the students.”

“I Think the only thing I really missed was the graduations. I really didn’t miss the end of school. In fact, I was in touch with the district all the way through that by both cell phone and e-mail,” Berman said.

That’s not acceptable to school board member Imhoff. “We would not like for that to happen again,” Imhoff said. “The last few weeks of school are very important.”

Berman says there was another reason he didn’t alter his plans.

“At the end of that, which was after school ended here, I planned a vacation attached to that,” Berman said. “So that was one period of time when I actually was gonna take a little bit of a break.”

Despite criticism of his travels, Berman says it’s vital to bringing JCPS more national
prominence. “There’s a fine balance between restricting funding and preserving resources and saying we have to be out there and hustle for more resources. And at a time like this, we need to pursue as many competitive grants as we possibly can.

Most of the costs of Dr. Berman’s trips were paid by outside sources. In most cases, the money didn’t come directly from the school district’s budget.

So, Page One counted 18 days.

Based directly on information from Berman, KSN&C counted 5 days from Dec 2007 to June 2008 and another 4 by January 2009 - for a total of 9 days.

WHAS's open records request showed that between June 30th, 2008 and July 31th of this year, Berman spent 40 work days on the road.

If Berman refuted WHAS's claim it didn't get into the story; but that seems unlikely for a professional journalist.

So unless Berman traveled 35 days between Jan 22 and July 31st of 2009, it sure looks like I got myself ...snookered. I have written to Berman for clarification.

There's more; again from Walser:

Superintendent’s credit card bills
reveal taste for fine dining
When WHAS11 asked for Dr. Sheldon Berman’s credit card statements, we discovered expensive meals at some of Louisville’s finest establishments. Some education leaders believe now’s not the time for those types of expenses.

Jefferson County Public Schools has nearly 100,000 students and 16,000 employees, so what’s a few hundred dollars here and there?

It’s a lot, when you’re laying off dozens of janitors and cafeteria workers and cutting back on district programs, according to some local education leaders.

In this time of budget cutbacks, we thought it was only fair to take a look at Dr. Sheldon Berman’s credit card bills.

The expense reports look like those you might expect from the Chief Executive Officer of any large corporation here in Louisville. After all, JCPS Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s budget is bigger than most at almost $1 billion.

But the difference is that these bills aren’t being paid by shareholder, they’re being picked up by you, the taxpayer.

We found bills for meals at some of Louisville’s most exclusive restaurants, including Lilly’s, Napa River Grill, Seviche and Le Relais.

Dr. Berman says the $200 or $300 dinners are few and far between.

“You would find very few of those on my credit card bill,” said Berman. “If you found more than 4 or 5, I’d be surprised.”

But we found twice that many bills from three or four star restaurants at a cost to the district of more than $1,400.

The delicacies Dr. Berman’s guests enjoyed included crusted sea bass, snapper and trout. Berman says the expensive meals were mainly to reward outside review committees and to impress applicants for some of the school district’s top jobs.

“When you’re trying to bring somebody from a major district and you’re trying to show them that Louisville’s a great place to be, you want to share with them not the most expensive restaurants because these are not the most expensive in Louisville, but a nice place that would interest them and make them feel more at home,” he said.

School board member Stephen Imhoff says he was not aware of all the meals. “You just mentioned this to me. Sometimes, school board members are the last people to know things,” Imhoff said. “Because of the economic situation, we need to save as much money as we can,” said Imhoff. “A hundred dollars here and a hundred dollars there is significant.”

“It sends a horrible signal to people that are working hard everyday to make a living and paying taxes to see somebody do so much spending,” said former Jefferson County Teachers Association Executive Director Steve Neal. “So much money that could be better directed toward the education of children.”

We also discovered a bill the district paid for a $300 a night hotel room.

Not [the way] teachers would like to see money spent, especially at a time with declining student test scores, [Neal says.] “They see textbooks. They see reading materials. They see extended school services, even if it’s only for a few kids,” said Neal. “If we’re in a hard budget time, I share in that pain of that time as well,” said Berman.

Berman says he’s declined his allotted raise in recognition of the economic downturn, which was much more than all of the expenses at fancy restaurants on his credit card.

And your superintendent says cutting back on costs like travel and fine dining could damage JCPS’s image nationally.

“You want to be very careful to not lose the prominence that Jefferson County has achieved in the national arena,” said Berman. Prominence Berman says helps bring in millions of dollars in grant money…for what he considers a very small investment from local taxpayers.

Berman told us that he travels and spends far less now than he did as superintendent of the Hudson Public Schools system in Massachusetts, which is much smaller.
Writing at The Ville Voice, Jake is doing the happy dance.

Told Ya So: Berman Wasting Your Money

Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent Sheldon Berman loves to spend your tax dollars (and grant money) on fancy travel around the world. Places like Austin, Boston, Orlando, Washington, California, Canada, South Africa...

Quick Hits

Does sorting students by ability exacerbate achievement gaps?: Educators in a New Jersey district are questioning whether grouping students by ability -- called leveling or tracking -- may be perpetuating racial achievement gaps, but teachers and parents are divided on whether embracing mixed-ability classes will solve the problem. Raising expectations in lower-level classes is a goal, says school Superintendent Brian Osborne, but the question remains whether sorting systems undermine students' confidence and send the wrong message. (National Public Radio)

Texas may link teacher-training programs to student achievement: A proposed rating system in Texas is aimed at holding teacher-training programs accountable for their graduates' success in the classroom. Given preliminary approval by the State Board for Educator Certification, the rules would use student achievement to help determine which programs are producing the most -- and least -- effective teachers. Final approval could occur in February.(Houston Chronicle)

Group wants authors of common standards to disclose potential conflicts: The authors of new common national academic standards are being asked by a literacy-research group to make clear any ties to commercial entities that could constitute a potential conflict of interest as the standards are being written. The Literacy Research Association wants the disclosures because of concerns about relationships between the authors and companies that stand to profit financially from the sale of curriculum-related materials and assessments. (Education Week)

N.J. university creates urban-residency program for teachers: New Jersey's Rowan University will prepare five graduate students for teaching careers by immersing them in one year of supervised teaching at a local urban school -- creating a master's program that will be comparable to a medical residency. The program will accept candidates studying math, science or Spanish -- disciplines that traditionally graduate fewer teachers -- and will pay them a living wage of $30,000 through a federal grant for new professional-development programs. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Private-school data is public domain on education Web site: An unheralded database on the Department of Education Web site is proving to be a comprehensive resource for families interested in private schools. Although not mandated, some 91% of private schools respond to survey questions about demographics, length of the school year and college-enrollment rates, among other things. Survey results are posted to the site in a searchable format that provides information that may not be otherwise available to the public. (The Washington Post)

Election could change busing policy for schools in N.C. district: A school board election today in North Carolina's Wake County has become a referendum on school busing and integration, with the expected results set to create a majority in favor of returning the county to a system of neighborhood schools for the first time since the 1970s. According to this newspaper analysis, neighborhoods in the county have become racially diverse but are still divided by income, leaving some opponents of the possible policy change worried about the potential negative effects on schools in poorer neighborhoods. (The News & Observer)

Former Apple executive is named educational technology head: Karen Cator, a former educator and Apple executive, has been appointed to lead educational-technology initiatives for the Department of Education. Cator said her immediate goals include updating the National Education Technology Plan and capitalizing on federal funding available for technology initiatives. She will also oversee the Enhancing Education through Technology grant program, which promotes digital learning and best practices in educational technology. (Education Week)

Low-income and black students raise scores in N.C. district: In a significant turnaround from a 2004 assessment, low-income and black high-school students in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district performed better than peers in the Raleigh area and better than the statewide average on state tests. But with a significant achievement gap remaining and just more than half of low-income and black students earning high-school diplomas in four years, district officials said, there is still much work to be done. (The Charlotte Observer)

Teacher-quality report receives criticism from union leaders: A report by a national education task force that called for a sweeping policy overhaul to improve teacher quality received sharp criticism from the American Federation of Teachers. Union representatives felt that the panel ignored much of the teacher input when developing the final report, which one union leader said did not address the "professionalization of teaching at all." The panel called for raising entrance requirements for teacher-education programs and the inclusion of residency-type internships for teacher candidates. (Education Week)