Author Archives: Robert Godfrey

A Hand Out Or A Hand Off?


An interesting idea presents itself through an experiment conducted at Liberty Elementary in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The school is now using the web to send information to parents that would otherwise have gone home on paper. The school built a website through a platform that allows users to create free sites.

Students would take home a folder once a week with information for parents.

“We were busy stuffing the folders one day and someone said, ‘We have to figure out how to do it electronically,’ ” said Jean Hudson, the school’s administrative assistant.

They found an easy to use platform to execute their plan.

“It’s a great way for the school to promote going green,” according to Hudson. The use of less paper also has saved the school money. The school, which is the largest of the district’s three elementary schools with 520 students, is saving $1,521 this year, Liberty Principal Tanja Pederson said. “We wanted to save money, but we are really more excited about being greener,” Pederson said.

Less than 10% opted to receive paper handouts, either because they preferred that form or more likely because they do not have Internet access. Important communications such as report cards and special announcements have continued to be sent home.

I’m agnostic about the potential efficacy and cost savings of such efforts and would be interested to hear the opinions of others. I do know that our principal puts quite an effort into producing a wonderful newsletter to families every month. The hurdles in placing it online may initially be a little vexing but in the long term, probably not too taxing. I can see a number of plusses, including a quicker relay of timely information. But I can also envision some minuses. There are many good things to be said about a paper document that you can refer to quite easily, especially when it is attached by a magnet to the side of your refrigerator, like ours. I worry too about the families without internet connections, which will vary from school to school. However, if, like the Harrisburg school, a choice could be offered to parents, this could be a model of both saving money and being greener that Madison schools could emulate.

Robert Godfrey

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Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Best Practices, Budget, National News

Lunchtime Enlightenment


Cap Times reporter Mary Ellen Gabriel does an extraordinarily thorough examination today of both the school lunch program and the efforts of University of Wisconsin-affiliated REAP program (Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food) to implement some changes in how we feed our children. It’s an issue I’ve had some involvement with for a number of years, including my current work with the Healthy Classrooms Foundation (more on this in a later post).

The piece, in part, examines the questions related to whether MMSD’s school lunch program is unhealthy for kids.

It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.

For critics there are a number of concerns.

A lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as “processed” or “junk food,” little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.

The piece is well worth a read in order to understand the challenges in trying to produce thousands of healthy and nutritious meals a day to students, more than half of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and to do it all with a shrinking budget. Groups have tried to step in and offer closer farmer to school efforts, a movement now in 22 states – but with some failures as well as successes. This is a noble project, still in its infancy in many ways, one that is trying to bring change to an important but constrained large institution. Let’s wish them well.

Robert Godfrey


Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, Budget, Gimme Some Truth, Local News

Stand, fidget, and learn

Ben Garvin for The New York Times

Ben Garvin for The New York Times

An interesting piece in the Times this morning really got my wife Iris quite excited, a new way to imagine the classroom setting. A good friend of hers had written her thesis on this very idea when they were studying to be physical therapists. I hope that Madison schools will continue to remain focussed on “all” approaches to quality learning in the classroom.

The stand-up desks come with swinging footrests, and with adjustable stools allowing children to switch between sitting and standing as their moods dictate.
“At least you can wiggle when you want to,” said Sarah Langer, 12.

With multiple classrooms filled with stand-up desks, Marine Elementary finds itself at the leading edge of an idea that experts say continues to gain momentum in education: that furniture should be considered as seriously as instruction, particularly given the rise in childhood obesity and the decline in physical education and recess.

Teachers in Minnesota and Wisconsin say they know from experience that the desks help give children the flexibility they need to expend energy and, at the same time, focus better on their work rather than focusing on how to keep still.

Researchers should soon know whether they can confirm those calorie-burning and scholastic benefits. Two studies under way at the University of Minnesota are using data collected from Ms. Brown’s classroom and others in Minnesota and Wisconsin that are using the new desks. The pupils being studied are monitored while using traditional desks as well, and the researchers are looking for differences in physical activity and academic achievement.

Robert Godfrey

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Schools that integrate dance, music, and art

Tucson classroom

Here’s a delightful piece about public elementary schools in Tucson, Arizona where arts are integrated into every “academic” subject, from math to social studies. For example, first graders write their own operas and fourth graders learn science by playing the violin.

A sweeping initiative in the Tucson Unified School District to improve student achievement through an interdisciplinary curriculum that fuses the arts and academic subjects. The project, Opening Minds Through the Arts, is built on brain-based learning theories and research into children’s neurological development.

And some interesting results.

In the first three years, the nonprofit research firm WestEd tracked the OMA schools along with demographically matched controls: All six schools had high percentages of low-income students, English-language learners, and children of transient families. OMA students significantly outscored their counterparts in reading, math, and writing, and although the benefits held across all ethnicities, Hispanic students, in particular, made substantial gains in writing.

WestEd also found that teachers in OMA schools did better than their peers on every indicator, including lesson planning and design, arts-integrated instruction, and the creative use of varied learning activities. Today, 40 of Tucson’s more than 70 elementary schools have at least some elements of OMA. Pilot projects are under way at 4 of the district’s 20 middle schools.

Corbett, a Title I school with about 600 students, was one of the original OMA sites, and the program initially met resistance there. Teachers worried about sacrificing precious minutes in an already jammed day to music or dance, recalls Principal Joyce Dillon. “Now they say, ‘It’s so completely related to what we’re teaching. I never want to give it up.'”

Robert Godfrey

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And they all shined on . . .


A couple of days ago, NPR had a feature on All Things Considered that was quite intriguing.

One county in Virginia has found a new way to reach taxpayers: an automated phone system calls thousands of residents and asks them to participate in school board meetings.

It has proven successful.

It can be tough to attract an audience for local government meetings. School boards and city councils cannot compete with prime-time TV, cable and the Internet. So, some cities are trying to bring the meetings to the people by phone.

The piece highlights the difficulties people have in making evening school board meetings and how one of the most basic technologies is offering citizens the chance to  “vote” on proposal’s and to register their opinions. Could this be a solution for Madison, especially during crucial budgeting meetings?

And while were on the subject of communication, I wonder why the last two meeting agendas have not been emailed to MMSD agenda subscribers and why several “special board meetings” from November still do not have minutes posted?

Robert Godfrey

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Thank You Madison


Robert Godfrey

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Filed under AMPS, Elections, Local News, Referenda, School Finance

Let’s build a pro-education Democratic majority in the State Assembly

Click on image for PDF flier.

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A breezy need for money

(1924 National American Ballet)

Contrast the excellent coverage of what’s at stake for the various referendums taking place this coming Tuesday by my colleague TJ Mertz, in the post immediately below this one, with what was reported yesterday in the Wisconsin State Journal regarding three local ones chosen for coverage.

Three area school districts are holding referendums Tuesday — two say it’s to avoid the presidential election hoopla and another wants to finalize its budget as soon as possible.

Deerfield, Mineral Point and Weston school districts are each asking to exceed the revenue limit in order to pay for everything from daily operating expenses to maintaining staffing levels.

This type of coverage reflects the difficulties Madison will face in it’s referendum in November, this breezy piece failed to mention one of the basic W’s of good journalism – “why.” Why are these districts forced to go to referendum? For the low information voter reading about about one of these referendums for their community for the first time, they may wonder, why haven’t these school boards learned to live within their means during these tight economic times? Legitimate question, but the piece doesn’t provide the answer – it’s a dysfunctional state school finance system. A sentence or two would have sufficed. Instead, the reader is left to draw their own conclusions. I’ve brought up this issue previously of troubling referendum coverage that ignores the “why” of the story, with another journalist from the State Journal who replied to my critique (ironically enough, part of his piece was on the last failed referendum in Weston). It’s a pity the editors at the Journal have missed another opportunity to explain this budgeting shortfall, for one of the most critical functions of our government, educating our children.

Robert Godfrey

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Filed under "education finance", AMPS, Budget, education, Elections, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Uncategorized

“Stools for Schools”

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Yes, you read that right. In another sign of how municipalities must cope with the lack of community resources to ensure the necessary access of their citizens to a quality education. The mayor of Akron, Ohio

Has proposed leasing the city-owned sewage system to a private contractor for up to $200 million and using the money to finance college scholarships for Akron’s public high school graduates.

He said money for the scholarships would help students attend the University of Akron or a trade school in the city, and turning over the system to a contractor would include rate caps and service guarantees.

Plusquellic said the plan would address brain drain — a migration of talented students out of the city. The city’s population also has dropped 4 percent, to 207,934, since 2000 because of a decline in the manufacturing industry.

Plusquellic’s plan is a twist on programs in other U.S. cities, including Kalamazoo, Mich., that offer scholarships to students with the hope that they eventually stay. But the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators knows of no other program that leases a sewage system to pay for college scholarships.

Are band-aid solutions going to remain the “go to” panacea for public education in America?

Robert Godfrey


Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, National News, School Finance

The high price of “eductaion”

During a segment this weekend, Fox News’ Brett Baier said that “the high price of gas may be costing your kids some of their education. We’ll explain here.” At the same time, though, the word education was misspelled on-screen as “eductaion.”

Robert Godfrey

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