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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy News

Before break, some happy news.

Congratulations to Adams Elementary in Ypsilanti for making Adequate Yearly Progress two years in a row. I'm not a big fan of testing, but I'd much rather have our local schools making AYP than not making it.

And did you know the Ypsilanti Public Schools Foundation now has a ReSale shop? Not only is it a 501(c)3 organization that you can donate to, but YPS students and families that need clothes and household goods can shop free there. And so can YPS teachers, looking for classroom supplies. What a great idea!

Congratulations to the Dexter school board and administration for being brave enough to admit that they need more time to plan a transition to the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, and plan the switch back to semesters from trimesters. (And hey, their reasoning looks a lot like mine! Great minds think alike:)

Congratulations to Saline Schools for a relatively user-friendly web site and to their Superintendent for his interesting blog. (The Saline Schools twitter regularly too.)

Congratulations to Pioneer and Huron high schools for taking a step toward equity by offering the PSAT in the middle of the week, and not on Saturday; and congratulations to all of AAPS for eliminating the fee for taking the PSAT. I'll bet a lot more kids took the PSAT! (Not only is that the qualifier for National Merit awards, but it also means those students will get more information about colleges and scholarships.)

Congratulations to Judy and Manfred Schmidt for being honored for all of their work on behalf of the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area. If you're looking for a nice walk over break, this could be the one for you! There are about 5 miles of trails there. I linked to this lovely article about the woods once before. You can park in the school parking lot, and enter the park right behind Scarlett.

Congratulations to Ann Arbor Open for another lovely Multicultural Festival. It's my favorite (school) day of the year, as you might remember from this post I wrote last year (now it's an oldie but a goodie).

I'm not sure if I will be blogging over break, or not, but...I hope you get some time off.



Happy 2011!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Overheard: Busing Problems

The bloom is off the rose.
That idea that if you "consolidate" busing you'll save boatloads of cash and you won't have problems, well...
First there was the decision the Ypsilanti school board made that the Ypsilanti schools had to spend up to $180,000 on non-WISD buses to solve chronic problems with buses being late. That came two months into the school year.
(And that is not a school district that is rolling in dough.)

Now this past week I heard about some problems in the Ann Arbor district, and they are mighty troubling.

Guess what? On some routes, buses in Ann Arbor are still late almost every day.
(And parents are being told by principals, it is out of my hands. Call the WISD.)

I'm told that minutes in the day count.  They do, right?

But much worse than that, I overheard a parent ask a principal, in a public meeting,
"What should I do about bullying on the bus?"

And the principal said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Well if it is between two students from the same school, tell the school. If it is kids from different schools, that is a difficult problem. You should still tell us and maybe we can help, but really you need to call the WISD."

And to make matters even worse, the parent said later to me--and was echoed by others--
"We call and we call the WISD, and nobody ever calls us back." and
"The bus drivers on the routes change frequently, and they either don't know the kids' names or don't really care."
(Does that have to do with them getting paid less, or is it just because the WISD doesn't know how to schedule drivers consistently on the same routes?)

Accountability.
Where is it?
How much are we saving?
Is it worth it?
How many bullying incidents are not being prevented?

It's time for an evaluation.
It's time to make the WISD publicly accountable.
I'd like to know...is it just a matter of time to "work out the kinks?"
If that's the case, let's identify them and work them out!
Or is it that we were sold a boatload of hogwash, and the bus drivers got sold down the river?
And if that's the case, how can we rectify the situation?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bookishness

I was standing at the counter at Nicola's Books, and I heard someone ask a staff person, "I'm looking for a book for an eight-year-old boy..." which just set me off onto a rumination of kids' books.

Fantasy
This past year, I discovered two fantasy series I liked. I'm not pretending they are new, just that I hadn't read the Charlie Bone series of books (Jenny Nimmo) or the Garth Nix series Keys to the Kingdom.

Mystery
Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered a new kids' mysteries author: Diane Stanley. (Try The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy.) They are different, but almost as good as, Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes mystery series, or Blue Balliet's art and architecture mysteries, like Chasing Vermeer. (Calling them art and architecture mysteries makes them sound lame, and they are so seriously the antithesis of lame).

Classics
Then I started thinking about The Secret Garden, The Moffats, and the book I read about fifty times in high school, The Hobbit (yes, a book can be a classic and fantasy too).

Historical Fiction
I was standing in line at Nicola's buying Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle for my 11-year-old, who said, when I gave it to him, "I heard that's a good book." (I wonder who he heard that from?)

You could also try Avi's Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? (a lighter story about the radio), or Linda Sue Park's book about the Japanese take over of Korea during WWII, When My Name Was Keoko.

Realistic Fiction
If you liked Harriet the Spy (which I will confess I did not), you will probably like Madeleine George's book Looks. At least, my husband told me the characters reminded him of the characters in Harriet the Spy. It is called realistic fiction because it has that real middle school/high school feeling--in other words, not everybody is nice...

Poetry
Ever and always, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
Or if you want a really great anthology, try A Child's Anthology of Poetry, edited by Elizabeth Hauge Sword.

Why am I telling you this? In case you end up at Nicola's like me, looking for that perfect book...

The Worst Job Ever?

OK, I admit that the poll I had up this week about the importance of principals was a little bit of a setup, and not at all scientific. Nonetheless, I was surprised that 100% of the people who answered think principals are important to schools and school culture.

When I first started thinking about schools, I didn't think principals were important at all. In my high school, the principal was practically invisible! Years later, after I had visited hundreds of schools and classrooms, and eaten lunch in many teachers' lounges, I realized that principals were important in setting the school's tone.

So anyway, when I was in graduate school in education I mentioned to a friend who had been teaching for about ten years--first in Michigan, then in Florida--that I thought I might like to be a principal someday.

"Are you kidding me?" she said. "That is the worst job ever!" (I will interject here to point out that I think she was using hyperbole...I don't really think she believes it is the worst job ever.)

She continued, "You have to answer to the administration, you have to answer to the parents, you have to answer to the teachers, and you have no power!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ann Arbor Open Principal Update

Today everyone who had written to the administrative staff or Board of Education about this issue got the following email:

Dear [Ruth],

Thank you for taking the time to write and express your concern about
the leadership changes at Ann Arbor Open.  I do appreciate our
involved parents and want to assure you that I, and my administrative
team, take the leadership of all of our instructional programs very
seriously and do value input from our parents and staff.

This response is being sent to everyone who has contacted me regarding
the administrative changes at Ann Arbor Open.  I understand your
concern for continuity and "fit" with respect to this program.  We are
very appreciative that Ms. Kit Flynn will bridge the transition
between Ms. Zikmund-Fisher and Ms. Woodworth during January and will
remain an active supportive member of the AA Open staff.  From our
conversations with Ms. Flynn and Ms. Woodworth we are very confident
that Ms. Flynn and Ms. Woodworth will successfully collaborate
throughout the second semester on behalf of Ann Arbor Open students
and families.  Ms. Woodworth is extremely excited about this
opportunity to serve the Ann Arbor Open community and we are confident
that she will attend to the students, staff and parents with the same
dedication and care that she demonstrated while at Pioneer High.

Ms. Dickinson-Kelley and I anticipate consistency to continue into the
fall of 2011 as we both have the highest regard for Ms. Flynn's
leadership skills and would like to see her demonstrate her
considerable talent on behalf of Ann Arbor Open students, faculty and
families for many years to come.  We do have to work out some
logistics before we can make any long-range announcements specific to
the fall of 2011.  I ask for your continued support and trust as we
move forward with these administrative changes.

Again, thank you for your interest and concern.

Robert Allen
Interim Superintendent

My commentary: If it turns out to be true, it will all be good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

UPDATED: It's the Principal of the Thing

Ann Arbor Open parents received an email today from Naomi Zikmund-Fisher, the Ann Arbor Open principal, saying that she is taking a leave of absence for the 2011 calendar year (January to December) to finish graduate school.

Of course the next question is: who is the interim principal?
The email continues:
For the month of January, Kit Flynn [Ann Arbor Open media specialist] will be filling in as Interim Principal.  Kit has served well in this position many times before and I am very grateful to her for her willingness to step up once again.  We are extraordinarily fortunate to have someone so skilled and so willing to help on our staff.

At the end of first semester, Tamber Woodworth will become the Interim Principal for the remainder of the school year.  Tamber is currently the Interim Principal at Pioneer High School.  As you may have heard, Pioneer Principal Michael White is returning from military duty in January, and Tamber is retiring in June.  This leaves her available to fill our vacancy beginning at the end of January.  The district will then make a decision about an Interim Principal for the fall months.
(Emphasis added.) 
So, hey...what is wrong with this picture?

First, as far as Ann Arbor Open staff goes...
I'm happy that Naomi Zikmund-Fisher has the opportunity to take a leave of absence to go back to school. In addition, I think Kit Flynn is an amazing media specialist (I'm very serious about this) and a very competent administrator--and, as Naomi points out, she has filled in as interim principal in the past.

However, if you're following along, you will recognize that this plan requires--not one, not two, but three principals in one year.

As far as Tamber Woodworth is concerned...I don't know her, but I'm sure she's a capable principal. But she's already announced a June retirement date, and she can't leave her current position until the end of the first semester, when Michael White returns to Pioneer.

In fact, it is the principle of the thing: There is no reason that any school in the district--barring a series of unfortunate medical leaves--should have three principals in one year!

Unfortunately, it doesn't serve our students or teachers well to have three interim principals. I have another idea. Let's find Ann Arbor Open an interim principal who can serve in that position for a full calendar year. I am quite sure that the district can find a worthy position for Tamber Woodworth.

Is that too much to ask?

We should, after all, have some principles, but only one principal.

UPDATE 12/5/2010

Over the weekend, Ann Arbor Open parents got another letter, this time from Tamber Woodworth. It explains her interest in alternative education, and I believe she is sincere. (I also have talked to some friends who thought she did a good job at Pioneer.) The letter also explains:
Unfortunately, I will have to honor a statutory time-limited extension of my retirement, under which I must conclude my employment by June 30.
So, that explains why she needs to leave this June--she accepted the early retirement offer from last spring.

In other words, this letter from the school administration misses the point: it's not about whether Tamber Woodworth can convince parents that she would be a good interim principal. She cannot serve through December because she is required to retire and that cannot be changed.

No school should have three principals in a calendar year.

To share that view with the administration, write:

Superintendent Robert Allen: allenr@aaps.k12.mi.us or 994-2230
Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Services Leeann Dickinson Kelly: dickinso@aaps.k12.mi.us or 994-2209
Board of Education (all in one fell swoop!): boe@aaps.k12.mi.us

Tell them that one interim principal is enough!

Thurston Pond, Millers Creek

Because I promised myself that I would try to keep this blog positive (and to balance my next post, which will be critical), I thought I would share the cool work that is going on around a tributary of the Huron River known as Millers Creek.

I read about it in the Huron River Watershed Council newsletter.

Runoff and erosion during storm events have created a situation where the water quality of the creek has been greatly degraded. In fact, Thurston Pond, which is part of the Thurston Nature Center, right by Thurston Elementary School, got so degraded that it could no longer be used by the AAPS Environmental Education field trips! (It is still a beautiful little nature center and pond, though, which you can read about here.)

So--Huron River Watershed Council has spearheaded an effort to clean up the water quality of Millers Creek. So far, it seems to be fairly successful.

I would just like to highlight the involvement of the Thurston Elementary PTO, which is a project partner, and the students of Thurston Elementary.

From the Millers Creek web site:



From the Huron River Watershed Council web site:

Thurston School Rain Garden

Thurston School students from the third grade and school neighbors helped Millers Creek by capturing rainwater in a school rain garden. HRWC and JFNew provided planning and design work, site prep, plant materials and educational signs and in June of 2009 we converted a grassy depression that was receiving rainwater runoff from the school's roof into a 1,400 square foot rain garden. The site's heavy clays were replaced with a rich porous soil and then planted with water-loving native plants. As a result, the rain that runs off the school roof now flows through the garden, infiltrates through the soil and is taken up by the plants.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good In A Very Big Education Fishbowl

I spent this past weekend in the New York area.
I was shocked to see the name of someone that I actually had met more than once running across the trailer at the bottom of the screen on ABC News. Truthfully, that doesn't happen all that often.

And I was so very, very interested to read this article in the New York Times:
Mayor and State Reach Deal On A Schools Chief.

If you've been following this issue at all, you know that New York City is a huge, urban school district. In fact, it is the largest public school district in the world, and the school chief is appointed by the mayor. And Mayor Bloomberg has just appointed Cathleen Black, who has absolutely no education background, to be chancellor. Not only that, but she never even attended a public school. Read about the requirements for the New York City chancellor--this requires a waiver, which has just been given.

[The idea is, I believe, that schools can be run like businesses. I don't believe they can--first, because kids are not a product or service, and second--perhaps more importantly--because in a for-profit business you can try to control both your income and your expenses, and in the non-profit education world, you typically only get to control your expenses. But I digress.]

So anyway, to pacify the people who are outraged that she would be chosen (because there was a possibility that the New York State Education Commissioner could veto her appointment), Mayor Bloomberg suggests a compromise. . . a number 2, a deputy chancellor, who actually knows something about education.

And this is where the "local boy makes good" part comes in, and this is why I was so interested in the article. The local boy is Shael Polakow-Suransky, who got his high school education at the fine local institution, Ann Arbor's own Community High School. He also has the distinction of having a mother, Valerie Polakow, who is a professor of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University; and a father, Leonard Suransky, with a PhD from the University of Michigan who is a professor in the Netherlands.

Reviews of Polakow-Suransky's work from the education community in the New York area seem to be pretty positive. (See Gothamschools.org for an example.) The real question of NYC activists, though, is whether Polakow-Suransky will have any power at all.

That is likely because the New York Daily News reports Mayor Bloomberg responding to this question:
Q: How much autonomy will the chief academic officer have?
A: I think it'd be inappropriate to speak while we're waiting for the. . .  for David Steiner to act but there will be one person in charge. Make no mistake about that.

I like what Gothamschools.org quotes Polakow-Suransky as saying:
At a recent panel on how federal education policy is affecting local school districts, Suransky described his interest in standardized tests as being rooted in everyday teaching:
[U]ltimately the reason for assessment is to motivate what happens in the classroom. If it doesn’t actually lead to good practice in the classroom then it’s undermining practice in the classroom. And so this is an opportunity. This is a moment where there’s an opportunity to shift the direction of practice in the classroom and to push on the level of rigor and to actually figure out what is it that kids and teachers need in order to engage in that type of practice. (Emphasis added.)

It's not really a side note to say that I also had lunch with a few friends whose children are making their way through the NYC public schools. Suffice it to say that ensuring that your children get into the "good" schools might require that you yourself have an advanced degree. For high school, there is a huge book of school choices--which you get to wade through and rank order. . . and if your grades weren't good in 7th grade, you may have ruined many of your chances. . . if your test scores were poor, you can forget a different set of schools.

It's also not a side note to say that I'm sure Shael is influenced in the way that he thinks by his parents' work--in particular, Valerie Polakow's work on children and poverty. As it states in her biography on the EMU web site:
My scholarship is dedicated to advocacy on behalf of women and children in poverty, and in my writings I have attempted to document the lived realities of those who have been shut out— from early childhood education, from K-12 education, and from post-secondary education; and to give voice to those whose rights have been violated by poverty, race and gender discrimination.

In fact, Valerie Polakow is the co-editor of a journal I had never seen prior to looking up her biography. It is called PowerPlay: A Journal of Educational Justice and it looks interesting. [See, for instance, the lead article in the most recent issue: The Persistent Issue of Disproportionality in Special Education and Why It Hasn't Gone Away. And that topic is very related to an earlier conversation--see the comments section--on Ann Arbor Schools Musings.]

So, I admit, I was curious to see what someone I had met when he was a teenager looks like now.


Answer: he has a lot less hair!  In any case--good luck Shael!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Opportunity to Give Thanks (All Hail the Thesaurus)

Please--take this week to thank a

teacher
secretary
custodian
principal
bus driver
librarian
administrator
lunch lady (or lunch gentleman)
after school staff person
before school staff person
counselor
teacher's aide

or any other school staff person whom you would like to

appreciate
laud
notice
applaud
recognize
acclaim
cheer
boost
commend
magnify
praise
recommend
plug
rave
glorify
cheer
encourage
extol


(All hail the thesaurus, provider of wondrous synonyms.)

And feel free to post your thanks, publicly, in the comments section.

Why now? It is, after all, Thanksgiving. 
Happy Thanksgiving!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Piece of My Heart: Skyline

The play, A Piece of My Heart, by Shirley Lauro, has become the nation’s most enduring theatrical production that deals with the Vietnam War."
-The VVA Veteran, The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.

A Piece of My Heart is a drama about nurses in Vietnam. It is at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor tonight, Saturday 11/20 at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow Sunday 11/21 at 2:30 p.m. Buy your tickets at the door.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Want To Learn About The Lab School Proposal?

If you are interested in the Lab School proposal on the Scarlett and Mitchell campuses, here are two opportunities to find out more:

Opportunity #1: 
6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, 
Scarlett Middle School, 
3300 Lorraine St.  

Opportunity #2: 
6- 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, 
Mitchell Elementary School, 
3550 Pittsview Drive (A spaghetti fundraising dinner is also scheduled here on this night, but you can go to the event and not eat the spaghetti if you prefer, or go eat spaghetti and skip the event.)

Scarlett and Mitchell schools are located west of Carpenter Road, south of Packard in Pittsfield Township. (Enter south off of Packard at the traffic signal at Fernwood Avenue to reach both schools.) You can also enter via Platt Road onto Lorraine St.
From the press release: 
Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez said the forums are expected to offer basic information on the partnership and encourage discussion in small groups to generate ideas and raise pertinent questions. “We want parents to know that we are working on this as a process and we want them involved in the process,” he said.
So--GO!
Here are some of my questions, but I'm sure you have others.
Ask about how the funding will work. Will it really be cost-neutral?
Ask about why they are doing this project.
Ask whether these kids will be research guinea pigs and what protections they will have.
Ask what kind of projections they are using for enrollment. Do they really need two schools that can together fit over 1000 kids? Why not just use Scarlett? Why not make it a single K-8 school?
Ask about who will be teaching the classes.
Ask about special education integration.
Ask about how you can opt-in if you want a year-round school, even if you are not from that part of the district.
Ask about how you can opt-out if you don't want a year-round school, and you are in that part of the district.
Ask about whatever else you can think of....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Evaluation, Part II: The World Languages Partnership

Three weeks ago, I promised a second post about evaluation. The first post can be found here. I said at the time that I wanted to do this because the Ann Arbor schools are considering an alliance with UM for a "lab school," and since we already have a partnership program--the Ann Arbor Public Schools Languages Partnership--it is worth taking a look at how it is being evaluated, who is doing the evaluating, and what is being evaluated. This might offer some valuable insights for the future. As I wrote before,
The point of assessing the assessment is decidedly NOT to point fingers at what is not working, and it is NOT to praise what parts of the program are working. The point is to see what is being evaluated, who is doing the evaluation, and whether and/or how those things that need to be evaluated are being examined...
In other words: I am not evaluating the program itself. I am evaluating the evaluation process and product.

I've posted the documents, which I received from the district, on the web site Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository, and this is the documents link. This is a very cool web site where people can post files they have acquired from local governmental units and make them widely available.

What I got was an assessment of third graders who had gone through the partnership program. There is a "CEFR grid," which lays out the broad, overarching goals of the program based on an internationally-recognized standard. There is a sample of the assessment tool that the students filled out.  And there is a summary of the students' assessments.

Was what was done, done appropriately? Done well?
For instance--is it appropriate to use the Common European Framework guidelines? Absolutely. That reflects an international standard for language learning.
Was the assessment the students filled out appropriate for third graders? I thought so! Take a look:
It seems age appropriate to me. Later on in the survery there were some places where students had an opportunity to write more. The summary document describes that 1,034 students were surveyed, and shares items such as "60% say they learned most of what was taught."

So--that's fine. It seems like an age-appropriate, large-scale survey of 3d graders.
There's only one problem, and that is that this survey is as far as it goes.

Although this is a fine assessment of how the students felt about learning Spanish, it is a terrible fail as far as assessing the Languages Partnership Program.

Let's remember that this is a new program. 
Before we expand it, isn't there more that we want to know?


NOTE: Since this was my written request, "Can you please send me copies of any evaluations that AAPS has done about the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership," I'm going to assume that what I got is all that there is at this point. It is certainly possible that there is other material out there.

On the academic side:
It's really nice that 60% of the students say they learned most of what was taught, but does any independent assessment--say, by their teachers--bear that out?
If some students are not learning, who are those students? 
Does this appear to decrease, or increase, the achievement gap?
It's really nice that a majority of students feel their teachers (who are for the most part, I believe, pre-student teachers) teach "very" or "pretty" well, but is there any other assessment of that? By university supervisors, AAPS mentors, or principals?
What about the students' regular teachers--do they feel that this program is value-added, or that it takes away from other activities? [I think this is important to know, as the program gets expanded.]
What about the school principals? Do they feel that this program is value-added? 
If school time is at a premium, and it is a zero-sum game, do we lose anything by adding Spanish? If so, what is it? If teaching a language is important, did we give enough time to it or should we give more time?
How much repetition should teachers be expected to do as we expand the program to fourth and then fifth grade? Will they be doing numbers and colors over and over again?
What did we do with students who already know Spanish from their homes? Were they classroom helpers? Were they given other things to do? How did that work?
Does it work to use pre-student teachers? 
What happened at the end of April when the UM winter term ended? Did the lessons end then?
Were the apprentice teachers responsive and responsible?
Were community members used, and if so, did that work well, or not? If not, what were the roadblocks?


On the financial side:
What was the original budget? Did we go over the budget? Under the budget?
Did either the University or AAPS have unexpected costs that they had to cover, and if so, what was the cost?
What lessons did we learn about the financing?
Is this program sustainable going forward?


On the partnership side:
Is the partnership working overall?
Were there any surprises? What were they?
What parts went smoothly and what parts did not?

And two more things...
First, from the A2LP web site:
While classes this year were taught in the Media Center at each school, and Media Specialists served as mentors for our ATs, in the 2010-2011 school year, classes will be held in students’ regular classrooms, with classroom teachers as mentors.
Under which setting do things seem to go more smoothly...in the media centers or in the classrooms? Do the classroom teachers feel prepared to be mentors for Spanish language apprentice teachers?

Second, from the A2LP web site:
Future research studies will include the perspectives of community members, whether or not they are parents of students participating in A2LP.  While many community members expressed their opinions at board meetings and in online discussion forums prior to the program’s start, the Partnership is interested in formally documenting the response to the program after several months/years of operation.
In fact, the A2LP brochure specifically states:
The Partnership will be advised by a community committee, which will be chaired by the Superintendent and the University’s Director of Teacher Education.
 But when I asked about the committee, I was told that:
There is not a committee as of yet. There is a plan to initiate the committee in the coming months. The main goal of the committee will be to help secure funding for professional development and promotion of the programs.
 Uh-Oh. As far as I'm concerned, that's a piece of the assessment that I can comment on: Fail. First of all, the program is a year-and-a-half in (if you include planning time, it's more), and there is no community committee yet. Second, the goal of the committee is no longer advising, but securing funding?

[It's no accident, I think, that I signed up for a committee during the budget forums last year, and have heard nary a word about them yet.]

On the AAPS web site, the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership program information is embedded in the World Languages page. There is a fuller description on the UM web site. The UM one closes with these words:
The program is the first of its kind in the School of Education and we want to ensure that its development is data-driven.
From the AAPS side, don't we absolutely agree? In order to make our work data-driven, our evaluations cannot simply be about students' assessments of themselves. They must be about the program operations as well, and they should be reflective in nature so that the partners know whether the program is working and/or financially sustainable, how well it is working, and what could be done to make it work better.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is THIS the price of bullying?

HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Samantha Kelly endured merciless taunting from classmates after they learned that the high school freshman had accused a senior of rape.
The weeks of harassment eventually became too much. Samantha went home from school Monday and hanged herself in this community southwest of Detroit.

UPDATE, 11/11/10: After I posted this (I wrote it last night), I thought about a book that can be taught in middle school and high school. At the time I read it, I didn't like it. I thought it was too much in the genre of dealing with current problems (yes, that is a genre--I just don't remember what it is called). I'm inclined to prefer nonfiction for this kind of issue.

And yet--last night--falling asleep, I wondered: would Samantha Kelly have been helped by reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak? Or had she read it, but it wasn't enough?

As Audrey Clark notes, "Rape is not a word that falls freely from the tongue."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Means of Production

I was on my way to Gallup Park today and I passed a street with lots of signs opposing any privatization of the Huron Hills Golf Course.

Which made me think about the proposed privatization of City of Ann Arbor composting, where--in addition to privatizing--they want to consider an out-of-state company over an in-state company that would save the city more money.

Which made me think about why it is that when I get a City of Ann Arbor parking ticket I have to send it to New York state. Is there no local company that could process parking tickets?

Which made me think about the privatization of school bus transportation, and why it is that it is not working out so well for Ypsilanti, which now has to shell out up to $180,000 more to cover routes that aren't being covered properly, despite previous assurances by the WISD that they would ensure proper coverage.

And that made me think about Karl Marx. No, I'm not a Marxist (except maybe for the Groucho kind), and I'm definitely not a Marx expert, but I believe that Marx was on to something when he said that we should be concerned about who controls the means of production.

In the case of the golf course, the land itself is the means of production.
In the case of the compost, the compost and the composting technology are both the means of production.
In the case of the school buses, the buses are the means of production. (Marx's idea of means of production separates out human capital, so it's not the drivers.)

In the case of schools, the schools themselves are means of production--even when it's not an assembly-line education.

And we the people should be careful about giving up control of the means of production...it turns out to be not so easy to get it back, sometimes.

On a related note (well, I thought it was related), you might be interested in Mark Maynard's post: Bill Moyers on Plutocracy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roundup: Dexter, Ypsilanti, Howell

From the Dexter Schools web site:

All who are interested in learning more about the IB Diploma Programme are invited to attend one of the informational parent meetings scheduled for Nov. 10 and 18.  All meetings will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at the Media Center at Dexter High School.  The IB Diploma Programme is an esteemed and rigorous two-year course of study that spans the high school junior and senior years and is intended for university bound students.
Dexter is doing an International Baccalaureate program on its own. (In my earlier article, To IB or Not to IB, one of the commenters had gone to a very small IB school and had a successful experience.) Several other school districts s are "consorting" with the WISD. 

I wonder how that will work? Today I read that the Ypsilanti schools, which started out "consorting" with the WISD for transportation, in order to save money, are now spending up to $180,000 additional to pay for a private company to provide more transportation. Some savings, huh?
(I actually saw one of the Trinity buses today in Ypsilanti, and I wondered why the bus said Trinity on it. I thought maybe it was a Catholic school. But now I know.)

Now it is time to ask for some more accountability and evaluation from the districts and the WISD, regarding the actual (not projected) savings from this privatization project.

I don't usually comment on schools outside the county, but I did find this news item very interesting. In the Howell district, a teacher got caught up in issues around bullying, LGBT rights, and religion. He got a two-day suspension, and now a protest of the suspension is planned at the school board meeting. Here is the Detroit News article, which ends with this information: "The district has planned a diversity forum for 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Howell High School Freshman Campus." Hey, maybe I have some readers from Howell...

And back to Dexter, where I just saw in annarbor.com that apparently an 8th grader has committed suicide. I don't know anything more, except that it makes me sad, and there is help for those who need it. 


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Awesomely Beautiful Murals

While looking up the information about high school theater productions this fall, I came across this little note on the Lincoln Schools web site:
During the Depression years as part of a WPA project three large murals were painted by brothers Leon and Bronislaw Makielski. The murals depict the development of our rural community from the pioneer days to the industrial days of the 1930’s. The murals are still present in the rooms above the Senior Citizens Center. (November 2010)
I'm pretty sure that the high school I went to was built by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration,  so I was curious. And I found this web site. (You can read about the Chelsea murals there as well.)


Boy are these murals beautiful. I'm inserting one of them here--photographs by Einar Einarsson Kvaran. Go to the web site to see the rest of them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"No Bow Lesbo," or Straight Pressure

A friend recently reported to me that--not so much in Ann Arbor, but in some other parts of southeastern Michigan, it is common for girls who play high school softball to wear bows in their hair. And if you don't?

Then you might be tagged a 



"No Bow Lesbo."

In other words, if you don't wear a bow in your hair, you must be a lesbian. Since kids generally don't want to be tagged a lesbian by others (whatever their personal identity)...the pressure to wear bows is on.

And it's this kind of insidious pressure...this semi-conscious use of name-calling...that is emblematic of the ways in which issues around sexual orientation are not just about BULLYING.

I mean, I wouldn't call that bullying. But is it name calling? Yes. Is it a culture of respect? No. Is it wrong? Yes. What are we doing about it?

Technology Lesson

I do really miss teaching, BUT it is not every day that I read or see a piece of information that makes me think of a bunch of lesson plans I could teach based on that piece.

This evening, though, I read Dusty Diary's post:
Percentage of Rural Homes with Four Technologies: 1930-1950.
Yeah, it's about the Census.

You might think this would be dry, but the numbers just hint at the story, and Dusty Diary's questions at the end are thought-provoking.

5. Last, a mere seventeen years before DD was born, a 62% majority of homes in areas like Augusta Township did not have a phone. Contrasted to today, that is astonishing. How were people's lives changed by this absence, compared to today? Were their minds quieter? Were their lives calmer? Did things move more slowly? What else might have been different?

So--history teachers, technology teachers, teachers trying to teach kids to turn dusty archives into something new...I hope Laura Bien's post gives you some great ideas.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Theater Moon

Last Saturday night, with a double bonus of occupied children and no plans, we ended up at the UM ice hockey game--and it was fun.
However, if that same scenario happened this coming weekend, or any other into early December, I might have made a different choice, because we are now entering

High School Theater Month!

Yes, folks, between now and early December, you have your choice of many high school plays--some of which, based on past experience, will be truly excellent. Truly, it is an embarrassment of riches.
And the fun begins...this weekend!


Ann Arbor Huron High School: The Huron Players are presenting The Crucible by Arthur Miller, October 29 and 30 and November 5 and 6, at 7:30 pm. This play is a favorite play of mine, and it is about the Salem Witch Trials--a time of great shame for the accusers, as far as I am concerned. 
Look for A Midsummer Night's Dream (William Shakespeare) in the spring.

Ann Arbor Pioneer High School: Pioneer Theatre Guild is putting on the musical Hairspray, November 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, and 14th. (Sunday shows are matinees.) Hairspray takes place in 1960s Baltimore, and includes a focus on integration. Keen observers of the high school theater scene might know that high schools around the country have been waiting, and waiting, for the rights to put on Hairspray. This is the first year the play is available to high schools, so guess what--more than one local school is putting it on. It will be the spring production at Skyline. Go to both and compare!
Look for Seussical (based on the works of Dr. Seuss) in the spring.


Ann Arbor Community High School: CHS Theatre will be presenting Little Shop of Horrors, December 3d, 4th, and 5th. In a departure for CHS, they are doing a musical. In what is not a departure, it's going to be "non-traditional," yet maintaining the original's "wry blend of humor and tenderness." It's a small theater, so you will need advance tickets. I don't know about a spring play.


Ann Arbor Skyline High School: Skyline Theatre Guild is presenting Shirley Lauro's A Piece of My Heart, November 19th and 20th at 7:30, November 21 at 2:30. This play is a very unusual play (I think) for a high school production--it's about women nurses in Vietnam, and I am totally excited about it. This is the show for you if you have relatives who were in Vietnam, Korea, or Iraq and Afghanistan. I do have a child at Skyline, so of course there is a little more promotion of the Skyline play, but I think I would promote it anyway because it is such a great subject. 
In the spring, you can watch the second coming of Hairspray.


Chelsea High School: Chelsea Theatre Guild is doing a high school classic, Bye Bye Birdie, November 11, 12, and 13th at 7 p.m. Typically, they don't do a spring play.


Dexter High School: Dexter Drama Club is putting on another high school classic, Our Town, (Thornton Wilder) November 18th, 19th, and 20th.  Look for Guys and Dolls in the winter (see below--you can compare it to Lincoln's production), and Alice in Wonderland in the spring. 

Lincoln High School: Lincoln Drama Club is putting on the high school classic Guys and Dolls November 18, 19th, 20th, and 21. Look for Nevermore: The Final Mystery of Edgar Allen Poe in the spring. 


Manchester High School: Manchester Drama Club is putting on The Curious Savage by John Patrick, November 10th (understudy performance), 13th and 14th. This is a comedy about a woman whose husband dies and leaves her $10,000,000. I might point out that $10,000,000 is a lot of money now, but it was way more money back when this play was written sixty years ago. I don't know about a spring play.


Milan High School: Milan High School Drama is doing a Holiday Musical that features arrangements from the TV show Glee, December 2, 3, 4, and 5. I don't know about a spring show.

Saline High School: Saline Drama Club has also chosen an interesting play this year: The Giver, based on a book by Lois Lowry. Actually, I have no idea if the play is interesting, but the book is--and it is very frequently assigned to 4th to 7th graders to read.

Are you wondering about Whitmore Lake, Willow Run, and Ypsilanti? Whitmore Lake does have a drama club, but I couldn't find any information about a fall performance. I've been told by Emma Jackson, Ypsilanti Public Schools communications staff person, that the Ypsilanti High School fall show fell victim to budget cuts several years ago, and there will be a spring show but it hasn't been announced yet. I couldn't find any evidence of a drama club in the Willow Run schools. So that makes me a little bit sad. 
I haven't even mentioned that most of these schools do interesting one-act plays in the winter for theater competitions. I know, it's hard to believe that you can compete in theater, but you can, and they do--there are rules for set-up and take-down, costumes and length of the play. Read about the competitions, and the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association, here.


So, now that I've solved your weekend entertainment problem...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the Meantime

Part II of the Evaluation piece has been delayed by technical difficulties, so in the mean time, I'd like to share some informational links and comments.


Regarding LGBT issues and the Saline schools:

There's a contested election for the Saline school board. The two candidates on the ballot are against the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, but there is a write-in candidate (Marian Faupel) who is in favor of their addition. You can watch the video of a school board debate here. (The candidates are all a mixed bag though, if you read their opinions about privatization and unions, among other items.)

Here is an article about a Saline resident who wants the school board to reconsider its vote, and is starting a PFLAG chapter (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Child-psych.org is blogging about why a gay-blind approach to bullying won't work.

 Ypsilanti schools: unions, homecoming, voting and more

There's a contested election for the Ypsilanti school board too. WEMU has coverage of this here and here.

WEMU also has coverage of the teachers' union contract: concessions, concessions, concessions.

I felt bad for the students that Ypsilanti's Homecoming Dance was cancelled. According to a friend of mine in the district, it was the right call because there was a fight Friday night (the night of the Homecoming football game), with non-students fighting, and one of them (the one who hadn't been captured) reportedly had a gun. First of all, students do spend money and make plans around Homecoming, so I feel bad for them. I also couldn't find any reports regarding whether the bozo in question was captured. Combining the Homecoming and Halloween dances is just not the same--and I say that as someone who never went to Homecoming or Prom.

I'm very curious to hear more about how New Tech High School is working out. (Anyone with direct experience who would like to send me a note, I will post it.) I did know that the New Tech model is a national model, but I didn't really realize that the New Tech High School model involves lots of project-based learning.

Willow Run: Is there news?

News from Willow Run has been mighty silent. But I did pick up that Joseph Yomtoob (former Superintendent, many years ago) is now serving as the middle school principal.

I also noticed that new teachers who start in Willow Run are starting at just over $33,300 (if you have a BA), and around $3,000 more if you have an MA. I'm pretty sure that is lower than most of the surrounding districts.

At the end of their last approved board meeting, they went into closed session to discuss negotiation strategies. Didn't they just reach agreement with the teacher's union?

Still not a peep about Count Day. Anyone know how their numbers have turned out?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Career Choices

There is a fascinating post over at Teacher, Revised about prostitution and high-stakes testing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Part I: What Is Evaluation and Why Does It Matter Anyway?

Once upon a time, when I first started working for a nonprofit, I didn't think evaluation really mattered. I mean, sure--it mattered for outside funders, and if I needed to convince you that the sky was red, I could probably write a report that convinced you. If I couldn't quite do that, I usually could explain to you why the program plan to turn the sky red hadn't worked. I could do pre- and post-tests, I could analyze data. I could convince you that a program had worked, or come close to working, but what I couldn't do is tell you why evaluation should really, truly be important to me.

The dawning of the age of Aquarius...by which I mean my understanding of evaluation as critical to doing good work, came in a graduate school class where I finally understood how you could create a theory, and test that theory's outcomes mathematically. In other words, if you embed evaluation in the beginning, you can really understand whether you are getting the effects you want. And in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you have to be open to the idea that your hypothesis is just an idea, a theory. . . and it might or might not be doing what you want it to do. 

For instance, the drive to get women to have mammograms rests on the premise that mammograms save lives through early detection. But do mammograms save lives? This question sounds simple, but turns out to be pretty complicated!

Anyway, back to education.
Typically, teachers develop lesson plans in a "student will be able to do x, y, or z," and evaluation of a lesson would relate back to that plan.  
 

Example: Students will be able to write all 26 letters in lower case and upper case.

Now, that's an easy example, because you either can or can't do that. And obviously, process objectives are harder to measure--those small steps along the way that allow you to finally master a skill.
It's not always so easy, anyway--if a student does poorly on a test or other evaluation, does that mean that the teacher did a bad job teaching? Was the test simply too difficult? Did the student run out of time?

And then there is the question of the value of what is being taught. My friend told me today that her grandfather used to drill her at the dining room table over the fifty states and their capitols. Is that important? (Because if it is, we are doing a lousy job teaching it! I will bet most kids don't know them.) But we can certainly argue about whether or not this is an important concept.

So, that's about evaluating the student. But what about evaluating the teacher? My kids have asked me why bad teachers get to be teachers. Was it because they were good teachers, and now they are bad? Was it because a thorough an honest evaluation of them was never done when they were student teachers? [Schools of Education don't like to give up on student teachers.]

And then there is the question of the organizational evaluation--in this case, the schools. Some things could be useful for the students, and working for the teachers, but not working for the organization. For instance, plenty of programs have been cut because they were too expensive for the organization--even though they appeared to be working for both students and teachers.

What bothered me twenty years ago was that evaluation seemed like a waste of time and money. What I think now is completely different. I think now that it can save time and money if you are doing the wrong thing--or give you peace of mind and let you know you're on the right track if you are doing the right thing. But I think that most people, and most organizations, are in the place where I was twenty years ago--doing evaluations to prove a point that has already been pre-determined to be correct, instead of using evaluations as a way to improve.

You might think this was kind of long-winded. I have a feeling, though, that if we (by which I really am referring to all schools, but Ann Arbor schools in particular) had used rigorous evaluations, we would have found out a lot earlier that many of the programmatic attempts to reduce the "equity gap" were not working.

The point will become clearer in Part II, where I take a look at the assessment of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Language Partnership Program, a program that I discussed a few weeks ago. Think of that as a case study. The point of assessing the assessment is decidedly NOT to point fingers at what is not working, and it is NOT to praise what parts of the program are working. The point is to see what is being evaluated, who is doing the evaluation, and whether and/or how those things that need to be evaluated are being examined...

And the reason for using this program as a case study is this: the Ann Arbor Public Schools are in serious discussions with the University of Michigan about setting up a lab school in Ann Arbor. Aside from the fact that they are doing this without a community planning process (which I have a BIG beef about, and blogged about last month), I would like to use this mini-cooperative program (the Language Partnership Program) as a lens through which we can see how evaluation of a larger cooperative program might work.

UPDATE 11/14/2010: Part II can now be found here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When Does It Cross The Line?

All of this discussion about bullying (see, for example, the It Gets Better Project) has had me thinking about what it takes to feel bullied, and when is a behavior--or in the case I'm going to describe, a non-behavior--bullying?

I started thinking about a girl in my high school, a girl in the same grade as me. She was a head taller though (and I was never short), which makes me think that she might have been held back at some point. She had long curly hair, and a tough-looking jean jacket. (We all wore jean jackets, but hers--to me--looked tougher.) DM, as I shall call her, fought with other girls--especially another girl with the same first name! Cat Fight!
DM used to proclaim, loudly, to teachers, that her boyfriend Frank was in jail, but when he got out...

DM used to walk home the same way as me, through the same graveyard shortcut. To be honest I never had any idea where she lived (though obviously near me). I never looked behind me if I knew she was there. I was terrified that she would notice me there, and threaten me or beat me up. If she was ahead of me, I would slow down so I could put some distance between us.

I'm not sure she ever noticed me, and strictly speaking, it wasn't bullying. At least, she wasn't directing any bullying attention at me. But I felt terrified when she was in the same hall as me.

When does it cross the line?

P.S. And since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I will note that child witnesses to domestic violence have some of those same issues, sometimes feeling that they have personally experienced the domestic violence. It didn't physically touch them, but they felt it anyway.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Could These Ideas Save Local Schools Money?

I spent last weekend in the Boston area at a bat mitzvah and seeing my family. My sister's children go to a public school system that--size-wise and demographically--looks a lot like the Ann Arbor school system. I heard about two things that this school system does that might be worth implementing locally.

1. For elementary school children, Tuesdays are an early dismissal day (12 or 12:30, I don't remember). For teachers, Tuesday afternoons are time for planning meetings and professional development. Professional development days are not scheduled throughout the year, and local child care settings (including the public school's own) are set up to accommodate the short Tuesday. That would seem to simplify things for parents. Would it also save money? Sometimes subs are hired for planning or professional development.

2. In the elementary and middle schools, substitute teachers are called on for both short-term and long-term assignments, as they are here. But in the high school, it's a different ball game. The only subs there are long-term subs. If a teacher wakes up with a sore throat, she or he calls in sick, but no substitute is called, no emergency lesson plan called upon. For the students, that class is cancelled. Instead, students go to study hall. The study hall is a large room (fits about 100), supervised by one teacher (teachers apparently take turns like you would for lunch duty). Overflow goes into the commons (although I believe that 11th and 12th graders are allowed to leave campus). My niece tells me a class is cancelled for her approximately once a week, and she likes it because it gives her extra study time.
Think about it--how much do substitute teachers, there for 1-2 days, actually teach? Based on my experience as a high school sub, precious little.
The cost savings, I would imagine, are pretty significant.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Oman Can Teach Us

My favorite piece of this Nicholas Kristof essay:
The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it. 

For me, the lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let’s try investing less in bombs and more in schools.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm so disappointed

...that the Saline school board voted against adding the non-discrimination language protecting sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The vote was 4-3. I'll post the names when I know them.

Updated 10/13/10: According to annarbor.com, this was the vote breakout. Please do thank the three who supported the change--
Weeks of meetings culminated in Tuesday's 4-3 vote, with trustees Lisa Slawson, David Medly, and President David Friese voting in favor of the change. Board members who voted against it were Amy Cattell, Chuck Lesch, Paul Hynek and Craig Hoeft.

Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better Project, will be speaking at EMU tomorrow evening tonight. Free.
Dan Savage, author of numerous books and columnist for The Stranger's sex advice column, "Savage Love," will visit EMU Oct. 13, 7 p.m., Grand Ballroom, Student Center. Savage will present a lecture, followed by a question-and-answer session. The event is free and open to the public.

I hope--for the Saline Schools--that THEY get better. At creating a diverse and welcoming community.

MICHIGAN: Granholm vetoes legislative spending plan for federal education dollars (2010-10-12)

MICHIGAN: Granholm vetoes legislative spending plan for federal education dollars (2010-10-12)

 Why don't we plan well? Who loses? Kids...oh yeah, but kids don't really count, do they?


Saturday, October 9, 2010

It Gets Better: Dan and Terry

Have you seen the "It Gets Better" Campaign? It's an anti-bullying, anti-suicide campaign, with LGBT Adults, describing why and how life got better the day they left high school. You can find more at youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject.

It does make me wonder: does high school have to suck if you are different? What difference can a kind administration make?

This one is from Dan and Terry (and I think they started the project). Dan is better known as Dan Savage of Savage Love. Who, by the way, is talking for FREE at EMU Oct. 13, 7 p.m., Grand Ballroom, Student Center.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Less Serious/More Serious

Less Serious:

Tomorrow is Todd Roberts' last day as AAPS Superintendent, and he is being replaced in the interim by Robert Allen. Good luck to both of them! I just realized, though, that they both have Robert in their name. Should the job posting specify that you must have Robert in your name?

One of my children turned 11 today. Walking out of Washtenaw Dairy (with doughnuts for the class), we met a man who is turning 101 shortly. Math lesson: Hearing that my son is turning 11, the gentleman says to my son (who cannot believe he is meeting a man who is 100, who still walks and drives)--"I'm turning 101, and those are the same digits!" Yeah...a mere 90 years apart...

More Serious:

Willow Run schools have not divulged their count for count day. I assume if it was good news, they would have shared it.

This week I helped a man in his 20s with an application for something, because he told me he couldn't read. And he had a high school diploma from a local school. He spent all of his years in special education classes, I don't know what for--but it did make me wonder about why we give out high school diplomas. What are they good for, if not reading?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Proof of the Pudding...


Is in the Eating.

That is the traditional text of the proverb that you may have heard shortened into, "The proof is in the pudding."

But either way, you probably could have figured out that what it means is that:

Results Matter.

And in the same way that one might try to improve pudding, we should be working to evaluate our school programs with an aim toward improving them.

Seriously, people DO work to improve their puddings! Just today I was reading the blog Kitchen Sin Carne, which has this little gem (no, we did not coordinate. . . and I even thought of the proverb before I saw the post!):
I've had various attempts this week on making vegan pudding. That's right. So first I tried chocolate pudding...FAIL. I tried it again, even more of a fail! Today I tried pumpkin pudding, and the first time it was so runny, and I tried to reduce it more and little pearls formed of like, cornstarch. I was really confused. Now in the fridge I have a little pumpkin 'pudding' but its more of a weird custard. Whatever. I'll try again!! I know I can do this!!
 So...where am I going with this? This is not really a food post. No, it's about language learning.

A couple of years ago, with big fanfare, the Ann Arbor schools announced that they would be working with U of M to get some Spanish language lessons into all of the third and fourth grade elementary school classes. To be specific, UM would provide the students to teach two 30-minute lessons a week to the third and fourth grades. Here is an annarbor.com article about the program launch. Here is the UM web site about the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership

At the time, I didn't say anything about this. I sort of thought it was a dumb idea because there is plenty of evidence that 60-minutes a week of a language, in isolation, is not going to teach anyone a language. Other countries actually teach kids languages by using daily instruction. On the other hand, I understood that the Burns Park PTO (a powerhouse fundraising group) was raising money to pay a foreign language teacher, which made some of the other schools want some foreign language lessons as well. So there was some internal pressure. I also thought that maybe any step forward in promoting second language acquisition could be a good thing.

Side note: the way second languages are taught in the Ann Arbor middle schools (6th-8th grade) has not been at all consistent from school to school, and it hasn't consistently promoted language learning either. In some schools, a program that gives you a "taste" of several languages has been promoted. How many languages can you count in, or say "pencil," "desk," and "teacher?" In others, it is "pick a language and stick with it."

Well, now this program has been in existence for a year. It is time to evaluate the program publicly.
"The proof of the pudding..."
Did the students learn a lot of Spanish? My guess is "no."
Did the UM students learn a lot? My guess is "yes."
Were parents satisfied?
I can't speak for all parents, but I do know that some parents were very satisfied...very happy...that their kids were getting some lessons in a second language. And guess what? NOW, they are pissed!

Q: What happens to Spanish language learning in fifth grade?
A: Nothing.

I don't know why 3d and 4th grade were chosen, but we have now instituted a program where students learn Spanish in 3d and 4th grade, nothing (second-language related) in 5th grade, and then in 6th grade either get some kind of exploratory language program or start taking a language which may or may not be Spanish. Does that make any sense at all? Not to me.

So let's look back now: why are we doing this? What outcomes would constitute success? Cui bono? Who benefits?

I don't know, because I haven't done or seen an evaluation (has one been done?), but I will conjecture that the beneficiaries, in this case, are the UM students--not the AAPS students.
It's not bad, by the way, for UM students to benefit. They just cannot be the only ones.
If in fact that is the case, then we [by "we" I mean AAPS parents, students, and taxpayers] need to be extra careful, in considering a "lab school" partnership, to make sure that the AAPS students benefit.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tomorrow is...

Count Day. 
Schools depend on count day for their per-pupil funding allotments.

Just remember:

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Death Spiral, or Revival?

It's time to turn our attention back to the east side of the county, and Willow Run schools.

Good News
There has been a little bit of good news from WRCS over the past few months. For one thing, they officially fired their superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, and that frees them to move on! In addition, according to the Ypsilanti Courier, Holmes Elementary just won an award, the "2010 Robert and Patricia Muth Excellence in Leadership Award from [the] Middle Cities Education Association, a coalition of 33 urban school districts in Michigan. The annual award honors K-12 schools in Michigan's urban school systems that demonstrate leadership in school improvement, specifically improvements that reflect gains in student achievement." And WRCS actually came to agreement with its teachers' union, and the union gave up big concessions. [I'm not sure the big concessions are good news, but having an agreement certainly is.]

The Big Questions
You might recall that Willow Run was asked to file a deficit elimination plan (for I believe the third year in a row), and that the state accepted it, even though it is predicated--once again--on an increase in enrollment (50 students). For more than a decade, WRCS has lost student population every single year. Count Day is coming up this week. The number of kids that show up on Count Day determines the vast majority of the per-pupil funding for the school year for each district. Accurate projections (even if the numbers go down) are key to balancing the school district budget.

Steve Norton, of Michigan Parents for Schools, once wrote in a comment on this blog that chronically losing students leads to lack of funding which leads to losing students which creates a "death spiral" that is hard to break.

Is it possible that WRCS can push back against a more-than-decade-long trend and increase enrollment this year? We will know later this week, but my sources in the district say "I doubt it."

The Bad News
You might also remember that Willow Run High School was in the bottom 5% of high schools in the state. That's not good, but that's not the bad news part. [Well, really it is the ultimate bad news part; no school wants to be designated Persistently Lowest Achieving.] What I mean is, that's not the bad news I am discussing here. Every high school in that bottom 5% had a chance to compete for additional grant funds that would allow the district to remake the high school. There were four choices:

*turnaround model--replace the principal and 50% of the staff, change governance structure
*transformation model--replace the principal, change instructional methods
*restart model--close the school and reopen it under the guidance of a charter school operator
*close the school

Now, in fairness to Willow Run, the competition for the grants was relatively stiff. According to the Michigan Department of Education Frequently Asked Questions document, in the first round of funding, 108 schools were eligible; 84 schools applied; and only 28 schools would be funded.

But according to my sources in the district, it didn't help that Willow Run applied for a model that required the replacement of the principal, and proposed. . . keeping the principal. Does that make any sense? NO. It's not rocket science, it's grant writing. MDE says, "The award of a grant was based primarily on the merit of the grant application." Typically, you need to meet the grant requirements in order to get the grant. Or really, why bother spending all that time writing the grant?

It doesn't make me too hopeful.
Count day, later this week, will give us some more information.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saline Non-Discrimination Policy: More News

Saline Schools Superintendent Scot Graden has a blog post that describes the recent history of the Saline Schools non-discrimination ordinance. Most usefully, it has current and proposed language, as well as information about what the bullying ordinance says.

This post also says that at the board's next meeting there will be discussion (not a vote, as previously reported) of the ordinance, and that it is scheduled as an action item (likely vote--but it could always get tabled) will occur on October 12th.

The bullying ordinance includes language about sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Of course there are concerns about safety, because hate crimes and bullying do occur based on individuals' sexual orientation.

But--just for the record: Not all bullying involves sexual orientation, or gender identity. And not all issues around sexual orientation and gender identity involve bullying.

Including this language is important as a matter of basic civil rights, fairness, and human dignity.

All meetings are held at the Liberty School Media Center, 7265 Saline-Ann Arbor Road, and start at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More about the International Baccalaureate Program

Saline schools superintendent Scot Graden has a blog post about how the International Baccalaureate program could work for Saline. He writes that it is "set to open" in 2011. It's about time for at least a little bit of public commentary. There is also a link to the presentation that was made to the school board about the program, and a request for your comments.

From his blog:
Enrollment for each district is proportional to the percentage of students in the county.  For Saline, this means approximately 18 students in each grade, or 72 for the full program would be eligible.  The school is being designed for 9th to 12th grade students with 150 students per grade.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Blame the Messenger

Last week, I came home one day and found this email message:
Ann Arbor Public Schools sent an important automated phone notification using their SchoolMessenger system. You are receiving this message because your email address was included to receive the notification.
If you missed the call, or if your phone number was not included on the notification list, you can still listen to the message. Simply follow the message link below to play the message in your web browser.
I asked my husband, "Did you listen to the message from the SchoolMessenger system?"
(And to be perfectly honest, I thought it was either a reminder about a PTO meeting, or that perhaps my child had been "absent or tardy.")

"Yes," he said. "It was a reminder about Skyline's Spirit Day. The kids are supposed to wear blue."

Really? That was the "important message?" Aren't high school kids old enough to remember their own spirit days? But. . . whatever. I don't care about it, but maybe someone else does. I don't mind the "important message system" being used for that. At least I didn't care. . . for about. . . five minutes.

That's when I opened the web site of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, and I was shocked. . . Shocked. . . SHOCKED to see Jennifer Coffman's article that said this:
AAPS, UM to Open "Lab School"
The Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education’s planning committee heard a presentation this morning on a “lab school” partnership being planned between the University of Michigan and Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools.  The Mitchell/Scarlett/UM lab school, as it’s currently being called, has been under development for six months.
At today’s meeting, Mitchell principal Kathy Scarnecchia described the lab school as creating an integrated K-8 campus between the Mitchell and Scarlett buildings, as well as extending the function of the schools to serve as a community center for local families. She also noted that the lab school will use a year-round, extended-day academic calendar.
Had I heard of this before? No. And here is the kicker: 
The Mitchell/Scarlett/UM lab school will pilot two projects during this school year, then begin its full program in the 2011-12 school year.
So, just like the International Baccalaureate program, it's a fait accompli? Is predestination something more than Puritan theology?

Look--I'm not opposed to schools of choice. I've said before that I think Ann Arbor should have more magnet schools. I've dreamed of an elementary immersion Spanish program. . . perhaps another open school. . .  a high school arts magnet. . . something on the east side, maybe? I completely understand why Scarlett and Mitchell--both underperforming and underenrolled schools--would be targeted. I understand why schools of choice, and the money that follows them, are key. [What do you think is a top search term for this blog?]

When I was at the UM in the School of Education, reading John Dewey, the man who pioneered the "lab" school, I used to wonder why the SOE couldn't have its own lab school. (In fact, the School of Education is actually in a former Ann Arbor high school!) I get all that, but. . . But. . . BUT. . .

HEY! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! WHEN IS THERE ANY PUBLIC PROCESS? 
Is everything determined by professional staff now?

I really, really hope that significant public process comes before the "i"s are dotted and the "t"s are crossed.  Let's recall that our successful alternative schools (yes, I mean Ann Arbor Open and Community High School), in the past, have been developed through a ROBUST public process and with a GROUNDSWELL of support from parents and teachers--NOT from the top down.

Let's have some discussion: what do you think of an extended day and a year-round program? [I wouldn't send my kids to a year-round program. Would you send yours?] What do you think of sending your kids to a "lab" school? Why both Scarlett and Mitchell? Scarlett alone could accommodate between 800 and 900 students, which would be large for a K-8 program. Mitchell can accommodate over 300 students. Do we need a program for 1000-1200 students? How will this be cost-neutral? Etcetera.

Ann Arbor Administrators and School Board: I don't need to know about Spirit Week. I need to know where the schools are going.

This is the message that I should have gotten from the SchoolMessenger system.
This is a reminder that the Ann Arbor Public Schools are considering a partnership with the University of Michigan School of Education to create a "lab" school. Please come to the planning committee meeting on [DATE] or one of the three public hearings scheduled for October. You can also read the concept paper on the front page of the Ann Arbor schools web site, a2schools.org.
THAT is what we need.

P.S. A concept paper? Yeah, that would be a nice idea. I couldn't find that on the Ann Arbor schools web site either.

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