Archive for May, 2011

Forest Elementary Making Progress?

May 28, 2011

This is from the Star Tribune;

Crystal school launches small-group reading

by Norman Draper

At Crystal’s Forest Elementary School, reading has become a small-group exercise.

For the first time this year, teaching specialists are joining forces with regular classroom teachers in the K-5 school to break up each class into small reading groups. The idea is that, by working in groups of about six students each and separating the groups by learning ability, kids make better progress reading.

Test scores and the reports from teachers appear to bear that out. Results from school tests show improved scores and more students making above-average reading progress from last year to this year.  Especially significant is the reading progress among black students, who comprise a quarter of the district’s 671 students.  “Our goal is to close the achievement gap [between white and non-white students], and we have seen really good growth,” said Forest Principal Connie Grumdahl.

For instance, school test scores showed that 71 percent of the school’s black fifth-graders made above-average progress in reading this year, compared to 56 percent of the white fifth-graders.  In the past, Grumdahl said, school specialists have pulled some kids — such as those who are still learning English and fit into the special education category — out of their classrooms for special reading instruction. The difference this year is that the specialists are coming into the classroom to spend a half-hour with those kids. The regular teacher also has small groups of students for more individualized reading instruction.

Grumdahl said she wanted to try something different in reading instruction this year to address the reading challenges presented by the changing population of the school.  “We’re experiencing more mobility, more poverty and a different readiness level for children as they enter any grade, especially kindergarten,” she said.  One thing that helped this year, she said, was a new set of reading books written in versions for kids of different reading abilities and cultural backgrounds. Then, figured Grumdahl, it might be better to have the teaching specialists go into the classrooms, rather than having them pull kids out to go to other classes.

Those specialists now work “side-by-side in small groups” with the regular classroom teachers. That, she said, has resulted in more collaboration between the teaching specialists and regular classroom teachers, and making it easier to track individual students’ progress in reading.  “Everybody is on the same page, and we’re all moving in the same way in terms of instruction,” Grumdahl said. “There’s more conversation going on about each child. There’s a sharing that happens [that] I don’t think can always happen.”

Fifth-grade teacher Gretchen Reinholz said in her homeroom of 27 kids she has six different reading groups. Those groups are divided into kids who are English language learners, special education (two different levels), below-their-grade reading level, at-their-grade reading level, and above-their-grade reading level.  At first, the small reading group initiative was a learning experience for the teachers, too.  “Initially, it was like driving a new car and trying to learn the features that make that car exciting,” Reinholz said. One challenge is that not every small group is working with a teacher at the same time. So Reinholz has to make sure the students not being tutored are able to find ways to keep busy.

She said the new reading textbook series helps because it presents “real experiences,  There are more different cultural groups represented in the curriculum than what you might sometimes see.” The result of all this, Reinholz said, is not only the rising test scores, but more engaged students.  “They’re starting to use vocabulary more readily and there’s more participation,” she said. “I’m getting more kids to do read-alouds as part of the whole group. This year, I’ve seen kids taking more chances. It feels a little more safe to share your ideas.”

Grumdahl said she doesn’t know whether other elementary schools in her district and elsewhere are taking a similar approach, though she has talked to other principals about it.  “I’m sure there are schools doing different versions of this or parts of it,” she said.  She said she would like to expand the practice at some point to math instruction at the school.

Funny…we remember small reading groups in elementary schools and we didn’t have any “teaching specialists” or  “textbooks with different cultural groups.”  Then again, if this is closing the achievement gap and producing real results then it is fine by us.


Spending More of Our Money!

May 28, 2011

This is just sick; from

$500 Million Obama Administration Program Will Help Kids ‘Sit Still’ in Kindergarten

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
By James Zilenziger

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told on Wednesday that the administration’s new $500 million early learning initiative is designed to deal with children from birth onward to prevent such problems as 5-year olds who “can’t sit still” in a kindergarten classroom.  “You really need to look at the range of issues, because if a 5-year-old can’t sit still, it is unlikely that they can do well in a kindergarten class, and it has to be the whole range of issues that go into healthy child development,” Sebelius said during a telephone news conference on Wednesday to announce the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge.

Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan jointly announced the $500-million program, which will provide competitive grants to states to address issues affecting educational outcomes for children from birth to age 5.  On the conference call, asked: “What were the current problems that were found with the health, social and emotional development for children ages birth to 5?”  Sebelius, adding on to comments from Asst. Education Secretary Joan Lombardi, pointed to studies done in her home state of Kansas, where she served as governor. “When we looked at 5-year olds–and we tested about half the 5-year-olds in a relatively homogeneous state like Kansas — and found that about half of them were not ready for kindergarten at age 5,” Sebelius said.

“And some of those skills were missing: readiness for their math or reading,” she said. “A number of children were missing the social and developmental skills which would allow them to sit in a classroom or play with others or listen to a teacher for any period of time. So I think it was an indicator that you couldn’t just test curriculum readiness.”  According to the U.S. Department of Education, awards in Race to the Top will go to “states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive early learning education reform.”

Oh my God, $500 million to help kids sit still!!!!  With what, more drugs?  Wow, isn’t this hope and change great?  This is just another reason to END FEDERAL FUNDING!


Video: Teachers Unions Explained

May 25, 2011

A supporter of the teachers unions is questioned about her belief that the unions need more money and power.

STEM Favored?

May 19, 2011

From the Sun Post on Thursday May 12;

If Robbinsdale District 281 Schools plans to expand its elementary program offerings in the fall of 2012, it’s pretty clear that a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program would be a safe bet.

Public feedback was taken on expansion program preferences in an April 27 meeting at the Education Service Center in New Hope. About 50 people attended the meeting.  73 percent of the people who registered their opinions in a straw poll at the meeting said they agree or strongly agree that a STEM program should be offered.  72 percent of respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that best practices of gifted education should be incorporated into a STEM magnet program, if one is offered.

While stressing that the School Board has not yet decided on whether to expand its elementary magnet programs, Superintendent Aldo Sicoli conceded that “STEM is very hot nationwide and statewide.”  “I want to be clear: I am not recommending this now,” Sicoli said. “It’s one option to put on the table with everything else. We may have a recommendation at some point.” In response to some questions from the audience, Sicoli said the open enrollment feature would have to be included to make a magnet expansion program financially feasible.  “It’s not financially feasible with only resident students,” Sicoli said. “When you open a building, there is an additional cost.”  One of the assumptions for any expanded magnet program would be that a portion of the seats would be reserved for open enrolled students from outside the district, according to Lori Simon, District 281’s executive director of education services.

Assumptions?  The estimate we’ve heard is that anywhere from 17% to 33% of the seats will be reserved for students who are not currently attending a RSD 281 school.

Six budget subcommittees have been studying ways in which the district’s revenue could be enhanced by increasing enrollment or by slowing the rate of decline, Simon said.  “We’re taking a proactive long-term approach,” Simon said. “It gives us an opportunity to bring in and develop magnet specialty programs to increase revenue and provide more choice.” The types of programs under consideration earlier were narrowed to two options deemed most viable: expand the district’s Spanish Immersion program, or create a STEM magnet.  The numbers of students not chosen by lottery to attend Robbinsdale Spanish Immersion School have grown, Simon said. In the 2006-07 school year, 126 students were not selected; in 2009-10, 171 students were not selected.  Of the students who are not selected each year, an average of 45 percent leave Robbinsdale Area Schools and enroll in classes elsewhere, Simon said.

So if non-resident students get in ahead of resident students, these families are going to want to stay?

District 281 can either stand by and watch other school districts lure its students away, or “we can try to play the game more aggressively,” Sicoli said.  At a work session Feb. 14, the District 281 School Board indicated that if a new magnet expansion program is offered beginning 18 months from now, Olson School in Golden Valley probably would be the preferred location, rather than the vacant Pilgrim Lane School in Plymouth.  A subcommittee studying expansion possibilities earlier recommended that the district focus on the Olson facility for future expansion, though the decision doesn’t rule out Pilgrim Lane as another site for a program in the future, Simon said. “Olson is in very good condition and is ready for occupancy almost immediately,” Simon said. “Pilgrim Lane needs substantial work to be occupied by students. At this time, Olson is the most financially viable situation.”  Simon said earlier the difference in capital improvement costs between the two buildings is just under $10 million.

Good, now let’s sell the Pilgram Lane property! Anyway, despite the STEM program being “favored” residents were divided on the magnet idea as a whole;

One attendee who identified himself as a district teacher and resident, said he believes people are using the district’s programs in the primary grades and then enrolling their children elsewhere for secondary school.  “What percent of RSIS students leave District 281 after their RSIS experience is done?” he said. “What is our retention rate after grade five?”  Another resident said he believes the choice between Olson and Pilgrim Lane as the potential site for a possible magnet program “pits one group against another.” “This is not a fair and appropriate use of tax dollars,” he said. “Everyone should benefit.”  Another speaker agreed, saying, “I’m scared about the lack of opportunity for everyone’s kids. What can you do for everyone?”  Still another said, “The lottery scares me. We’re creating an elitist program.”

Sicoli said it is not the district’s intent to pit one group against another.  “The key piece is we’re trying to retain and recapture our students,” Boardmember Patsy Green said. “Area districts are doing a great job of capturing our students. There is definite interest from outside the district from people who want to come in. Why not be the district of desire?” One speaker said her son was enrolled at Meadowbrook School in the Hopkins district, and if he hadn’t been accepted for RSIS he would have continued his education in the Hopkins district.  Another speaker talked about a District 281 family that wanted their child to go to Zachary Lane Elementary, but received no guarantee his siblings would be accepted there, so the whole family open-enrolled into the Wayzata district.  “We could be more family-friendly,” Sicoli said. “We have that [sibling preference] at RSIS, but not at other schools. I will do what I can do to get that changed.” “We are in the kid business, and we need to help students,” Sicoli said. “I don’t care about a kid’s zip code. My hope is that every family here wouldn’t want to leave [District 281] for academic reasons. I want us to be so good that it wouldn’t even cross your mind to leave.  “We’re in education, not in the banking business. We have to provide the best education possible for all our kids.” Plymouth resident Aileen White said she believes District 281 needs to market itself better and “change the way people think about us.”  “Once people get into our schools, they love our schools, our PTAS and our staffs,” White said.

Market itself better?  Is that the district’s biggest problem?  And how do we do that?  We respect Ms. White’s opinion but we think the best marketing is to produce GOOD RESULTS, not come up with catchy phrases or mission statements.

Another parent said that it all comes down to parental involvement. Parents who are active in their children’s school generally have children who are successful in school, she said.

There you have it folks; direct your comments, questions, and concerns to the school board.

Unions Fighting Reform

May 12, 2011

No surprise here!  This is from the geniuses at Education Minnesota!  In the blue is what Education Minnesota says, in the black is our response.

Tell your legislators to vote NO on education omnibus bill

The Education omnibus finance bill that passed out of conference committee last night is filled with harmful provisions.  The bill continues the attack on educators, weakens collective bargaining, and does nothing to help close the achievement gap.

The bill would do the following;

Take away your right to strike.

This bill does not take away the right to strike, it limits the timing to only when school isn’t in session.

Eliminate the Jan. 15 contract settlement deadline.

If we are going to have fair negotiations, then there can’t be an artificial deadline that fines the school districts and lets the unions off free.  How is that fair?

Institute a Florida accountability system that would rate your schools A-F based entirely on student test results.

We don’t know all of the details about Florida so we are going to pass on this one.  Of course, we know Education Minnesota wants no accountability at all.

End the 2 percent set-aside for teachers’ professional development.

Yes!  This gives districts local control and removes a cumbersome mandate.  Let the districts set aside what they need.

Limit your pay increases severely and allow school boards to impose caps on negotiated school employee salary increases (the so-called “qualified economic offer” provision).

The “Qualified Economic Offer” is defined as follows from House file 934;

Part 1

It prohibits teachers from striking for any issue relating to total compensation or submit any issue relating to total compensation to interest arbitration if the school board offers teachers a biennial contract that includes a percentage increase at least equal to the district’s biennial percent increase in basic revenue. Continues to allow teachers to strike or submit to interest arbitration for non-economic issues.

Part 2

Defines “total compensation” to be the sum of:
(i)                  total salary schedule costs;
(ii)                total salary costs of an alternative teacher professional pay system;
(iii)               total health insurance costs paid by the district;
(iv)              total life insurance costs paid by the district;
(v)                total long-term disability costs;
(vi)              total dental insurance costs;
(vii)             total extracurricular costs;
(viii)           total costs of lane changes;
(ix)              total Teachers Retirement Association costs;
(x)                total Social Security and Medicare contribution costs; and
(xi)              other miscellaneous costs identified by the district as payment for teachers’ services or benefits.
So in other words, we can’t spend more than we have!

Erase all integration aid.

The money is being moved from integration aid for several large districts in favor of financial incentives for any district that can improve student literacy.  So instead of just “throwing money at it” we are actually going to reward districts who IMPROVE.  As Senate Education chair Gen Olsen said;

“Years of integration aid have done little to close Minnesota’s racial achievement gap, which studies have shown are among the worst in the nation.  If we can be successful in increasing reading proficiency by third grade, we will have less students having to take the special education label.”

We aren’t sure if this is the best solution, but clearly what we are doing isn’t working.

Establish private school vouchers.

No, the bill does not establish a voucher system.  Article 2 Section 33 of HF 934 states the following;

A student who attends a persistently low-performing school located in a city of the first class for at least one school year and whose family income is equal to or less than 175 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible to enroll in a nonpublic school under this section or in a nonresident district school or program under section 124D.03.

In other words, a student has to be poor and then go to a bad school first.  Then they are “eligible” to enroll in a non-public school.  That’s hardly vouchers.

End tenure for teachers, and replace it with five-year contracts based on your “effectiveness.”

Tenure should either be earned or ended.  Nobody should get endless job security because they have been on the job for 3-5 years!

Establish a state-mandated teacher evaluation system tied at least 50 percent to student test results.

So what is the other 50% base on?  Are test results (what kids are actually learning) irrelevant?  What percentage should be tied to test scores?

Determine the order of teacher layoffs by test-based “effectiveness” ratings.

So Education Minnesota objects to having the lowest performing teachers laid off in the case of job cuts.  And remember it’s all about the children.

These Provisions do nothing to improve our schools or support our students.  Please contact your legislators today and urge them to vote NO on the omnibus education bill.

So more school choice, more accountability, fewer mandates, and offering incentives to improve literacy won’t help improve our schools or support our students?

What should we do Education Minnesota?  Oh, that’s right “more money/lower class size.”  You know, all those new ideas!

Public Skeptikal on More Education Spending

May 7, 2011

From Rasmussen Reports:

Voters overwhelmingly believe that taxpayers are not getting a good return on what they spend on public education, and just one-in-three voters think spending more will make a difference.

Nationally, the United States spends an average of about $9,000 per year per student. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 11% of voters think the taxpayers are getting a good return on that investment. Seventy-two percent (72%) disagree and say taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. Sixteen percent (16%) are undecided. 

Talk about an indictment against the public schools; only 11% think they are getting their money’s worth?

Thirty-four percent (34%) voters believe student performance will improve if more money is spent on funding for schools and educations programs. A plurality (41%) disagrees and thinks that increased spending will not lead to improve student performance. Twenty-five percent (25%) aren’t sure.

The survey also found that voters tend to underestimate how much is spent on education.  Thirty-nine percent (39%) say the average per student expenditure is less than $9,000 per year while only 12% think it’s higher than that. Nine percent (9%) estimate the right amount but a plurality of 40% is not sure. There is a wide range of expenditure on education depending upon the state and region.

Most voters (54%) continue to believe that the government does not spend enough on public education, unchanged from a year ago. But that figure drops to 38% when voters are asked specifically if $9,000 per year is too much, too little or about the right amount to spend per student on education. Twenty-two percent (22%) of voters say, generally speaking, the government spends too much on public education, and that edges up slightly to 24% when voters are given the $9,000 per year figure.

This is the most perplexing part; on the one hand people seem to think we aren’t spending enough, but when they get the figures, that opinion seems to change.  Still, most people are skeptical of more spending!

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on April 25-26, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.   Most Democrats (63%) agree with the majority of Republicans (78%) and voters not affiliated with either party (77%) that taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth from the current investment.

Sorry, but it’s called spending, not investing!

Still, Democrats feel much more strongly than GOP voters and unaffiliateds that more money spent on funding for schools and education programs will improve student performance.

Or it will add more union members.

Male voters are more skeptical about the level of school funding and the need for more funding that female voters are. But women feel nearly as strongly as men that taxpayers are not getting a good return on their current $9,000 per student investment.

No gender gap?

In April of last year, just 29% of Adults were willing to pay higher taxes so more money could be spent on schools.

So are people just sick of getting taxed to death?  Are they tired of government whining that they don’t have enough, never have enough blah, blah, blah or are Americans finally willing to change the public school system completely?

Talking More Education

May 6, 2011

Just a programming alert; tune into the Andrew Richter Show on Thursday May 12, 2011 channel 19 at 6pm as guest host Dennis Holman and guests Andrew Richter and Ron Stoffel discuss the following topics;

*The possibility of opening up Olson Elementary to new magnet program

*The achievement gap in District 281

*The current education bills being debated in St. Pual

The show will replay at 2 am and 10am on Friday.