A program that provides free assistance with state and federal tax forms is preparing for a new tax season. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program of the Milwaukee Asset Building Coalition will begin filling out and filing taxes on Tuesday, January 22. This free service will be offered at locations across Milwaukee County including offices for the Social Development Commission and MATC’s Downtown Campus. For a complete list of sites, dates they are open and their hours, visit the SDC website at http://www.cr-sdc.org/Programs/VITA.htm.
by John Chubb
Everyone agrees that America’s high schools need to do a better job of preparing students to be “college- and career-ready.” But the big problem is, how do we get them to do that?
One state has just come up with a bold solution – and it could serve as a model for education reform throughout the entire country.
California recently passed a law that reduces the weight of standardized test scores for ranking high schools. Now, crucial factors like graduation rates, attendance and student advancement will play a larger role in grading the ability of public schools in preparing students to succeed after high school
This law is a big step in the right direction — and it paves the way for other states to pass similar reforms aimed at preparing students for college and beyond.
Why the change? Since 1999, every California public school has been granted an Academic Performance Index, or API, score based almost entirely on how its students fare on a handful of standardized tests. Other states are also similarly reliant upon test scores to evaluate their schools’ successes.
These scores help determine everything about a school’s future — whether it receives funding, whether parents can move their children to a better school, even whether home values rise or fall. So the pressure to get a high score is enormous.
The intention, of course, has been to hold schools accountable for their performance and to give them incentives to improve. The problem is that the system puts too much emphasis on tests that don’t necessarily predict how well a student will actually do after high school. In the end, students were being prepared to succeed on tests while they were in school, not to succeed beyond graduation.
Sure enough, a closer look at the numbers reveals that, when based primarily on these tests, a school’s API score can be an unreliable predictor of how well its students will perform in college. A 2012 study conducted by Education Sector found that one school with the relatively high API score of 778 out of 1,000 had a 91 percent graduation rate but sent just 66 percent of its students to college. Meanwhile, a school with a score of just 698 had a graduation rate of 95 percent and sent 86 percent of its students to college.
The API’s true shortcoming is revealed when the scores are applied to schools with a high proportion of low-income students. According to our study, three of the five high-poverty schools with the lowest API scores were among the top five overall in sending their graduates to college. And the school with the lowest API score had the highest postsecondary enrollment rate: 79 percent of its graduates in 2009 went on to a postsecondary institution, 5 percentage points above the state average.
Standardized test scores certainly provide one valid measure of student success. But it is clear that they are not entirely accurate in measuring whether students are really ready for life after high school.
And this problem has serious real-world consequences. Only 25 percent of high school students taking common college entrance exams in California are deemed college- and career-ready. And two out of every five college students must take remedial classes for basic skills before they can qualify for credit-bearing work. Our nation’s high schools have been failing to provide the requisite tools for students before sending them out the door.
The new law does much to fix how California ranks its schools. It ensures that, as of 2016, test scores can count for no more than 60 percent of a school’s API score, and it says that the state superintendent must add graduation rates and measures of college- and career-preparedness to the mix.
The reality of today’s economy is that students must start preparing for life beyond high school from the moment they enter a freshman classroom. It’s our job to make sure that our high schools are helping them do just that.
If we want America’s students to arrive at college ready for postsecondary work, then we must improve our country’s systems for evaluating high schools. California just put forward a great model for reform. What we need now is for the rest of the country to follow.
John Chubb is CEO of Education Sector, an independent think tank, and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
As cooler weather approaches, homeowners should start preparing their lawns and gardens for winter. Fall is the ideal time to spruce up the yard and ensure success in spring. Before homeowners grab their tools, Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for more than 51 years, offersfall lawn and garden tips. Individuals can also learn more about lawn maintenance at the free Consumer Panel Discussion on Wed., Oct. 10, in the Ron Ziglinski, CR Education Center in the Milwaukee/NARI office, 11815 W. Dearbourn Ave., Wauwatosa. Lawn Care
- Rake the leaves. Fallen leaves can smother the grass and lead to insect or disease problems. Homeowners can compost dead leaves, use them as winter mulch, or bag them for proper disposal.
- Fertilize the grass. Fall is a great opportunity to fertilize the lawn. Do it early in the season and again after the last time the lawn is mowed, around late October or November. Plants will absorb and store the nutrients, so they’re ready to thrive when spring arrives.
- Water the lawn. Even though the temperatures are falling, it’s important to continue to water the grass. Lawns that are stressed by drought, which could be the case for many yards after the dry summer, do not bode well during the winter months.
- Establish or repair the grass by seeding or sodding. Complete seeding or sodding by mid-September on bare or thin patches. There are fewer weeds in autumn, and planting this time of year will give the seedlings time to establish.
- Mow the lawn. Adjust your mowing height to about two inches tall in the fall. A lower cutting height will help prevent the grass from matting down under leaves and snow.
- Check for thatch. Thatch, a dense mat that can form on the lawn, can lead to disease and insect issues. Check for it by removing a chunk of grass and soil and measuring its thickness. One-half inch of thatch or less is acceptable. Raking and vertical mowers can help control the occurrence of thatch.
- Use aeration. Aeration makes room for new grass to spread, breaks up compacted turf, and allows water, oxygen, and nutrients to reach the roots.
Gardening and Planting
- Attack weeds. Apply post-emergent herbicides and pull weeds to prevent their seeds from spreading in the fall wind. Homeowners can also spot-treat weeds with a nonselective herbicide like glyphosate.
- Spread mulch. Protect plant roots by applying mulch after the ground freezes. This will help shield frost and keep soil temperatures more stable.
- Plant spring-blooming bulbs. Plant bulbs like daffodils and tulips during the fall season. This will add a burst of color to a home’s spring landscape.
- Cut back perennials. While some perennials can be left alone because they have attractive foliage or provide food for birds, others need to be cut down to fight off pests and diseases or for aesthetic reasons. Cut the dead foliage within two to three inches of the crown after they’ve gone dormant, usually following several frosts. Some plants to cut back in the fall include daylilies, peonies, hostas, and more.
- Give the fall garden color. Once your summer plants have faded, give the yard a punch of color with plants such as mums and pansies.
- Clean and put away tools. Take the time to clean up your shed or garage. Properly toss out old chemicals, take note of what will be needed in the spring, sharpen everything that needs it, and complete other cleaning and organizational tasks.
- Drain the irrigation lines and hoses. It’s essential to turn off and drain water out of the irrigation system and hoses before freezing temperatures, so pipes and sprinkler heads don’t get damaged.
The Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council was chartered in July 1961, as a Chapter of the National Home Improvement Council. In May of 1982, the National Home Improvement Council mergedwith the National Remodelers Association to form NARI – the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
The Council’s goals of encouraging ethical conduct, professionalism, and sound business practices in the remodeling industry have led to the remodeling industry’s growth and made NARI a recognized authority in that industry. With over 800 members, the Milwaukee Chapter is the nation’s largest.
For more information or to receive a free copy of an annual membership roster listing all members alphabetically and by category, and the booklet,“Milwaukee/NARI’s Remodeling Guide,” call 414-771-4071 or visit the Council’s website at www.milwaukeenari.org.