Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thinking About News: Part III

This is Part III of Thinking About News. Find Part I here. Find Part II here.

Parts I and II:
What do I think about the evolution of (And yes, this gets review-y.)
Part III:
What have I learned about my own relationship to news and information?
What are the implications for the community?

Part III: What I found out about myself and my family, and our relationship to news and information
We always knew that news was important to us. In the past year, we've increased our donations to four local NPR stations: WEMU, WUOM, WKAR and WDET. We started subscribing to the Detroit Free Press--a paper that, it turns out, I like very much--in both its print edition and its web incarnation. We're thinking about subscribing to the New York Times. We are supporting the Ann Arbor Chronicle. We tried an subscription--we have let it lapse, but I might rejoin. We are still getting the Ann Arbor Journal for free. It is my 17-year-old who is saying, "We need to get the New York Times. We need a newspaper."
I really, really miss getting a Saturday paper. I've started calling the Sunday papers the "advertising injection devices." There are so many circulars in there! I think it's often half the paper, by weight.
I miss the obituaries. I do get the emailed obituaries, but it is not the same as the serendipity of reading an obituary about someone I've never met but did something really interesting, or the obituary that I read and thus find out that in fact, I do know the daughter (whom I only know by her married name). It's essentially a list, and if your name is John Smith, well--are you the John Smith I know?
We all spend way more time on the computer, checking numerous news sources (yes, I check and the Ann Arbor Chronicle just about every day), and sports blogs. Think it's so fun to have three people in a room, all on different computers? I think sharing the paper is more fun.
I don't read on the computer the same way that I read a newspaper. I picked up a New York Times at the airport, and I read all the little articles. When the Free Press comes, I read the entire sports section--even golfing! (Maybe that is a sport you are fond of playing or watching. My point is, I am not.)
Many (actually, most) of my friends seem somewhat disconnected from the local news, relying entirely on WEMU or WUOM for their local information, unless they are specifically referred to an article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle or

What are the implications for the community?
This community--by which I mean Washtenaw County--has multiple news sources, but is not being well-serviced for news. I don't have the time to check a zillion different news sources.
Since I have spent most of my life in the nonprofit world, I have two things to say. First, I think most nonprofits cannot figure out the best way to get news out about their work. The venues for self-promotion are not so obvious. That is true for educational organizations too. Saline schools have multiple blogs and they have started tweeting. The Ann Arbor schools hired a journalist to write newsy pieces to distribute--to a limited audience. I believe that EMU has beefed up its public relations staff. Is this really just a way to transfer news costs from news organizations to other organizations? Are more press releases being "printed" as is? (The answers to those rhetorical questions are yes, and yes.)

Second, I realize that and the Ann Arbor Chronicle and the Ann Arbor Journal (all the Heritage papers) are for-profit organizations. So is the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the New York Times, the Washington Post... you get the idea. I'm not critical of that--there are entrepreneurs in my family, too.

The question is: is news really a public service? And if it is, how do we deal with that? 

In the nonprofit world, the approach to this would probably be something along the lines of a "Community Conversation." Bring the key people together to answer the question,

What do we need in this community to be well-served by news?
How do we keep an eye on our public bodies?
How do we get there?

It's not always a successful process, but at least it sets out a vision. That is how we end up with documents like the Blueprint on Aging and the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. Some of those things actually do get implemented.

For many years (I think over 100), we didn't have to think about these questions. We relied on the Ann Arbor News. They've closed. I'm over it.

But now? We need vision(s).

Thinking About News: Part II

This is Part II of Thinking About News. Find Part I here. Find Part III here.

Parts I and II:
What do I think about the evolution of (And yes, this gets review-y.)
Part III:
What have I learned about my own relationship to news and information?
What are the implications for the community?

This is Part II: Thinking About News
In this part, I am going to give specific examples about why the length of articles, the search function, and the capacity (aka the numbers) of the reporters are all related. I'm going to use education articles for my examples, but please don't take that as a critique of David Jesse's work. Take it as a critique of the organization. I could have used other subjects (government, business...) but this is, after all, an education blog.

You probably know (if you read this regularly) that I have a particular interest in the Willow Run schools. They should have everything that makes for good journalism: a series of past scandals, continuing poor graduation rates, a school board takeover on the part of activists (and a school board that is working really hard now). They are in a fight for survival, but there is hope for rebirth. In the new model of reporting, although the facts are there, the narrative gets lost. 

Let's try a search. We'll start with the term Willow Run. Here is what I get (see above):  Notice that the first article is an article about General Motors' Willow Run plant from April 25th. The next two articles are about the schools, from June 30th and June 24th.  OK, so they are all Willow Run, but obviously not ordered by date. As it happens, I want to focus on three articles that all came out the same day. I don't think I'm going to find them this way, but I know they were written a couple of weeks ago.
It turns out that they were written--all by David Jesse--on July 16th.
I saw the first one on the main news page.
Doris Hope-Jackson. Do you remember her? The last Willow Run superintendent? They are still trying to figure out a way to terminate her contract, and she has a history of litigiousness.

It was only until much, much later (because every few days I go back and take a second look at the education feed to see what I missed, and I generally have missed something) that I found that David had actually written, not one, not two, but three articles--all on the same day, all about the same location (Willow Run).
Here are the other two:

So, let's see:

The Willow Run schools are still holding hearings on Doris Hope-Jackson; they are revamping the high school to qualify for state funding (because their numbers are so dismal); and the state accepted a deficit elimination plan, which counts on increased enrollment (even though enrollment has decreased every year for more than a decade).

All of these articles are (if I recall correctly) between 300 and 400 words. Are they related? You bet. And yet even the interested observer might not find all three articles, even though they were published the same day.

Do you get the sense that they are related? Do you understand how the pieces fit together? Not from the articles. Further, I would submit that you cannot create a cogent narrative with these complicated stories if you limit yourself to 300 or 400 words.

Willow Run is a district with an interim finance director  and an acting superintendent. Who created the deficit elimination plan? The interim/acting people? Or the people before them? What do outside observers think--is the district likely to succeed?  Is there "digging" here? Is it investigative? I know that David Jesse is very knowledgeable, but I don't think he has much time for investigation because he is the only education reporter. (Yes, I do know there are some freelancers who fill in.) There are eleven school districts in the county, plus charter schools and private schools. Who has time for detailed investigation?

Even if David Jesse had the time, I don't think he could write up really good investigative work in 300 or 400 words. Wasn't that the promise of the web? You wouldn't be limited to "so many inches." Maybe with longer articles, this could have been two articles instead of three.

How likely is someone to know that all three of these things are happening at once? The way things stand now, it's not too likely for a casual reader of Although there are links provided in the body of the article, there aren't "related article" links in an obvious spot.

The article about the hearings has some automatically generated "related articles."

One of them seems related...the other one? An Ann Arbor police officer whistleblower lawsuit? Just because the tag is "lawsuit?"

The other two articles did not display any "related articles" at all.

What about the "tags?" Those are supposed to link articles in some way, right? (They should work like labels work in this blog: click on the label "WISD" and you should get articles that somehow involve the WISD.)

The tags for these articles are as follows:
Deficit elimination plan article: Willow Run school board
Revamping high school plan: Willow Run school district
Hearings for Doris Hope-Jackson: Doris Hope-Jackson, lawsuit, Willow Run school district

That is, in fact, how the tags work at on Willow Run school district and you get the second and third articles, but not the first--that first article was not tagged with the school district tag.

So, here is the summary. Short articles are fine for an article about the weather. When you have a district with a) a long history of trouble among both the board and staff; b) poor student outcomes; c) decreasing enrollment; d) charter schools moving into the area; e) annual deficits f) a history of rosy projections that don't meet outcomes g)more recently, hard work on the part of staff and board to tackle the problems head-on h) employees under fire who have a history of litigiousness... then short articles don't do anyone a service. They contribute to the atomization of our understanding.  They don't support the sharing of investigative knowledge.

Journalists are taught to "tell the story." Sometimes I think, though, that we mistake who/what/why/where/when/how for the story. Those are the facts. The story is the narrative. And whether the subject is education, or government, or business, at you get the facts, but you often miss the story.

I need and want the trees, but I also need and want the forest.

Thinking About News: Part I

It's been about a year since the Ann Arbor News closed. In its last few years, the News had been the subject of much disinvestment, and the paper was in a sorry state, as far as I am concerned. This post does not (directly) compare the News to the .com. Rather, it (tries to) ask and answer the questions:

Parts I and II:
What do I think about the evolution of (And yes, this gets review-y.)
Part III:
What have I learned about my own relationship to news and information?
What are the implications for the community?
This is Part I of Thinking About News. Find Part II here. Find Part III here.

A year of What do I think so far?
This does get rather critical. So I want to state, at the outset, that I am not critiquing the work of the reporters (or "digital journalists," gag, gag). Seriously, I think that on balance their work has ranged from good to excellent. It's just that there are not enough of them. Really, what did we expect? I see that advertises something like 35 journalists, but my count is a little different (and based on their Contact Us web page). Eight news reporters (local, business, entertainment) and five sports reporters. With the number of changes going on in education alone, Washtenaw County should probably have several education reporters. Given that the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University are huge economic engines for this county, having one higher education reporter is not enough. I'm not even sure that there are enough sports writers--but at least the balance is a little bit closer. Every time someone goes on vacation, or there is a "special report" (for instance, David Jesse and Tina Reed did one on poverty in Washtenaw County), they get pulled off their regular beats to do that--and there are not enough general reporters to cover--or to do those special reports. Juliana Keeping, the higher education reporter, got pulled to write a story about the Washtenaw County Road Commission just the other day.

Yes, I realize that there are some "producers," "copy editors,"  "community staff" and others that do some writing, but they are not  primarily reporting. Nor should they be. Editors have different jobs.
One of the great lacks of is in copy editing. If I read another article where the person's name is wrong (or different in two places), where Ypsilanti is spelled wrong, where a location is misplaced...and the correction is pointed out by a commenter...what is wrong with that picture? It is completely sloppy work. That is the job of a copy editor! I sometimes wonder--does everything get copy-edited before it gets posted? (I don't think the answer is yes. But--if the answer is yes, then my opinion is that it's not done very well.)
The name and the acorn are just poor choices. I thought I would get over it, but quite honestly, I haven't. Well, logos can change over time. But the name... here is my problem. Our town, Ann Arbor, is comprised of two words, with two capital letters. There is a space between the first word and the second. Web sites typically run words all together without capitals. When you get the print version of the paper, they print it as Ann (yes, space, capitals). On the web site, it says ANN but that won't get you to the url, which is: If you should happen to find it at the end of an article, it looks like this annarborcom. 
And I noticed that when they post a link, they write it as, as in this sentence lifted from their web site:
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at...

As an editor and an English teacher, and (I guess) as a blogger, I find this stylistically confusing and wrong.  I will quote that slim classic, EB White's Elements of Style, here:
It is an old observation that the best writers sometimes disregard the  rules of rhetoric. When they do so, however, the reader will usually  find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of  the violation. Unless he is certain of doing as well, he will probably  do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to  write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the  secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature. (Emphases added.)
My point is this: choose a style that makes sense (even if it violates the rules of rhetoric) and stick with it.  I know this could be hard, because the .com at the end of Ann Arbor didn't really make sense as a name from the start.

Regarding the "hyperlocal" focus: That's all well and good, but my interests don't stop at the borders of the city. In particular, I feel keenly the loss of Michigan news. When the state's legislators are discussing education funding, I want to know what they are saying. Why should I have to visit the Lansing State Journal web site to find out?  If something important happens in Grand Rapids, might that be of interest to me? Isn't affiliated with MLive and Booth newspapers? Since MLive has reporters that actually cover the Capitol (including the outstanding commentator Peter Luke), and reporters that cover Grand Rapids, why not make it easy to link to their feeds?

What about the blogging?
I think this has been a partial success, and the part of the paper where it seems like evolution has made sense. I see that the bloggers are now a smaller part of the paper, and that's good. Some of the bloggers are very good. In addition to "lead blogger" Ed Vielmetti (from whom I have learned a lot about the FOIA process and the possibilities of blogging), I have loved reading educators Jeff Kass and Scott Dzanc Beal (who works with Dzanc Books--talk about my own need for copy editing!), and I recently linked to excellent articles by Annie Zirkel and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. They are not the only good bloggers by any means.

I have two complaints about the blogging. First, they suffer from the same problem as some of the reporting: not enough copy-editing. Some of the bloggers are excellent writers...others are not. Copy editing (and general editing) would make a big difference. Second, if you look at the "Contact Us" page, there are many bloggers who have not blogged in months. In fact, there are bloggers still on the list who have publicly stated on their own (home) blogs that they are not going to continue contributing to as a blogger. That's fine--but why does persist in listing them? I think it is probably to make the staff list look larger. I would encourage to make it an accurate list of current bloggers.
How long should articles be?
My ninth grade English teacher introduced me to the (somewhat sexist) explanation, when asked that question about a required essay, "Like a woman's skirt. Long enough to cover the subject, short enough to make it interesting."  So in case you are wondering, if you have read this far into this post, we are at somewhere between 1100 and 1200 words. And you are still reading. may or may not have told their reporters that they had to keep their articles short (my money is on yes, although publicly has said no, they haven't), but I tested a few articles out, and most of them are 300-400 words.  Articles on the Free Press web site, by comparison, tend to range from 300-600 words or more, and it's easy to go to the related articles because they are listed clearly.
On, that is not so true. The search function is terrible. The site now holds a large volume of material, but try to find it. Is there a way (for a non-tech savvy person, a "regular Joe") to find articles that were written within a certain date? How about for a certain subject? With a particular "tag?" Want to find related articles? For instance, suppose you know about a certain crime and you want to know if there was a follow-up article written--can you find the article? There are people who organize things like this. They are called librarians, and many of them are trained in digital media organization. If you are going to an all-digital format, that doesn't mean you don't need organized archives. You need them more than ever.

Sure, there's more to critique. I would like to see more photographs. I would like to be able get an overview of the articles that there are to read when I glance at the front page (see or for examples). I don't really care what the journalists look like but I would like to know if it's really just a link to an AP article, another news source, or homegrown writing. (That's still not always clear.) As far as layout, I assume it's a design that is driven by trying to sell ads, but I don't find the ads very attractive and I know I miss articles I would like to read because they are not "featured." When it comes to layout, especially, I assume that there is going to continue to be evolution. I'm told that it's still a Work In Progress.

In Part II, I am going to give specific examples about why the length of articles, the search function, and the capacity (aka the numbers) of the reporters are all related. I'm going to use education articles for my examples, but please don't take that as a critique of David Jesse's work. I could have used other subjects (government, business...) but this is, after all, an education blog.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ancient Knowledge, Modern Knowledge

You may remember that I have been following the happenings at the landslide-created Attabad Lake on the Hunza River in northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) ever since I was introduced to them by Dave's Landslide Blog. In fact, I wrote about the dramatic occurrences, in a land far away, at the end of May.

Recently, I was very interested to read a piece in the Pamir Times about how risks increase when ancient knowledge is lost.
In their interaction with local environment, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been able to acquire knowledge that was embedded in the geography. It is this knowledge which enabled local communities to survive in the harshest climate and terrain of the world with meager resources. The indigenous knowledge pervades every sphere of life in the traditional society. Isolated from knowledge of the outside world, the inhabitants had to rely on indigenous knowledge, gained through experience, and perfected through trial and error.
This scribe [the piece's author, Aziaz Ali Dad] visited Ghich village in district Ghizer last year. This village faced death and destruction in a flash flood in the summer of 2006. The old people shared their knowledge about dealing with an approaching flood, landslides, formation of artificial lakes, relocation of settlements etc. Farzand Shah, a shepherd, said ‘there was no system to transfer that knowledge to the new generation.’ The local community was more vulnerable because it neither had traditional knowledge nor modern technology.  (Emphasis added.)
He continues with an example:

Most of the old settlements in Gilgit-Baltistan contain houses concentrated in the ‘kot’ or fort settlement as a safeguard against threats from nature as well as human beings. The settlement around the fort is safe from rock falling, avalanche, flood and human invasion. This pattern is visible across Gilgit-Baltistan...With the passage of time growing populations started to spread from the nucleus settlements of the fort to open areas defying the barrier between human settlement and nature. Cultural ethos also plays a crucial role in rebuilding of risks.
I think that is probably true for communities everywhere. Our educational systems don't really accommodate the transfer of traditional knowledge.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are minority populations in Pakistan, with their own ethnic identities and languages. One of these languages is Wakhi. Wakhi is an Indo-European language, a branch of the (south)eastern Iranian languages.

In any is an ancient language that is endangered and is getting used less and less. So I find it interesting that some people are trying to use modern technology to teach this traditional knowledge. Witness this blog: Let's Learn Wakhi.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To I.B. or Not to I.B., That Is the Question

I've been reading that International Baccalaureate programs may be coming to Washtenaw County. I wrote about the programs before here.

Take, for instance, this article from Dexter's Squall newspaper, written by Brittany Martini (Squall co-editor) and featured in on March 13, 2010--it features the process that Dexter High School is going through in preparation for switching from a school with AP classes to a school with an IB program.
Tentatively, in the fall of 2011, juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to either enroll in International Baccalaureate classes or enter an IB program and eventually receive an IB diploma... Dexter High School currently offers Advanced Placement (AP) classes to upperclassmen, but, according to [social studies teacher Susan] Walters, there is a definite difference between the two.“In terms of students, IB classes offer an opportunity for them to earn college credit, just like AP.... Also, the more challenging and greater variety of courses we can provide for students, the richer our curriculum will be.
"Students who take individual IB classes can test for college credit; students who only take IB classes during their junior and senior years can earn enough credits to enter college with sophomore standing or close to that.”
Besides a different approach to the test, IB and AP classes differ in price as well. 
According to Pam Bunka [Fenton English teacher]... Fenton recently adopted the IB program and has seen elective enrollements fall because of this adoption...The IB test is approximately $224 dollars, which is significantly more than the AP test.”...“The IB program allows students no room for electives,” Bunka said. “The electives a student in the diploma program has to take must be IB-approved classes. This means they can not take a band class; they have to take a band theory class instead. This applies for art classes as well. A student would have to take an art theory class instead of a regular art class."...
The IB diploma program forces students to take only IB classes...Regardless of the potential benefits and drawbacks from the program, whether DHS will become an IB school is still up in the air.
 At the same time, the WISD is looking at creating an IB program in East Middle School.  [Sarcastic side notes: 1) The WISD apparently doesn't have enough to do with taking on the "countywide" transporation; and 2) isn't it so convenient that Ypsilanti happens to have an empty middle school that could be used. Oh, but "no decisions have been made." OK, sarcasm over.]
Seriously, I am open-minded about the IB program, and I don't know much about it, but I want my questions answered.

According to this June 30, 2010 article by David Jesse,
"The Washtenaw County Superintendents Association has been talking about adding an IB program at the high school level for much of the last school year.
“This spring, they voted to move ahead with the planning of a countywide magnet high school using the IB Diploma Program, beginning with a target of 150 students with a goal of up to 600 students by year four,” Allen said."
 It happens that this article sparked a lot of comments, which I will get to in a minute. My basic problem is that I still didn't know what this program is/was.  Luckily for me, the New York Times posted an article a few days later that at least explains the details. 
The lesser-known I.B., a two-year curriculum developed in the 1960s at an international school in Switzerland, first took hold in the United States in private schools. But it is now offered in more than 700 American high schools — more than 90 percent of them public schools — and almost 200 more have begun the long certification process.
Many parents, schools and students see the program as a rigorous and more internationally focused curriculum, and a way to impress college admissions officers.
To earn an I.B. diploma, students must devote their full junior and senior years to the program, which requires English and another language, math, science, social science and art, plus a course on theory of knowledge, a 4,000-word essay, oral presentations and community service. (Emphasis added.)
Translation: devoting their full junior and senior years means no electives.

According to the New York Times article, the most common opposition comes from a belief that it is too internationally-focused (follows a "United Nations agenda"),  and the cost.
Others object to its cost — the organization charges $10,000 a year per school, $141 per student and $96 per exam — and say it is neither as effective as the A.P. program nor likely to reach as many students.
 Side note: I like the idea of a United Nations agenda.

 The Times article also looks at a school implementing the program in Maine:
Because it is so rigorous, the I.B. is not for everyone. At Greely, only 21 juniors started the full program this year, and three subsequently shifted to a mix of I.B. and regular classes. But those who stayed with it seemed enthusiastic. “It’s like a little club of scholars,” said Maggie Bower, a junior.
 In the comments on the article, I thought there were some really good questions, which I will aggregate here:

Will the teachers at the IB program have to move from their current school district in Washtenaw County to the ISD? Will there be countywide busing available? How will students be selected for the program, using standardized tests or recommendations and grades? And, will students who attend the program be able to play sports at their "home school" or will the IB program also offer a sports program as a comprehensive high school? Is this just another way to funnel resources to elite students? How would this compete with the new High School program the Ypsilanti district is planning for the former Ardis elementary building? Will teachers remain employees of their home districts? How will districts fund this, and what will it cost them? How is the WISD going to be held accountable to the local voters? Will this program "cream" the most motivated students from each district, leaving fewer options for those left behind? How much money for renovations to a school building, and what will that cost/where will the money come from?

And I have a few more questions:
What kind of impact would this have on electives--music, art, gym?
What kind of impact would this have on after-school activities--theater, sports?
What kind of impact will this have on smaller schools in the county--for instance, Manchester, Willow Run, Whitmore Lake--will it mean they have to cut sports programs because they don't have enough enrollment to support them? Will this support disinvestment in local schools?
How do we keep the Washtenaw Intermediate School District accountable?
Why is the IB program preferable to AP?
We already have the Early College Alliance, connected to EMU (as well as the charter school, Washtenaw Technical Middle College). With both of those, students end up with actual college credits. Why is the IB program preferable to expanding these (ECA and WTMC) programs? 

Is there anything that I missed? Add your questions below.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Online Learning Question

In my last post I expressed some concerns about online learning. John Sowash asked why, and I started to respond, but my answer got too long. Better to just put it in its own post!

He also references a post I haven't read yet, but you might want to look at:
Clayton Christenson, author of Disrupting Class, put up a new post recently in which he says that online learning is continuing to expand rapidly in the K-12 sector:
Regarding the role of online learning: I think it is fabulous for people who can't learn any other way--for instance, kids in northern Alaska wouldn't have good access to advanced science classes without online learning. Soldiers on duty around the world can now pursue college courses. And I imagine that online learning works really well for highly motivated students in any location. (Those students, of course, can probably learn under most conditions, so they may not be a good sample.) If you are motivated to (for example) learn Portuguese, and you live in northern Michigan, then an online course may be the best way to go (or the next best, after being an exchange student).
On the other hand--my daughter's friend had the experience this year of signing up for an online course to replace her 10th grade English class. She told my daughter she wouldn't do it again. Even though she is a high-performing student, she found that she was not motivated enough to do the work regularly.
Most of the studies of online learning, to date, have been done with highly motivated students. I predict that as you open the doors to less motivated students, you will see diminishing returns. It's a lot harder to identify, and motivate, slacker students in an online class. It may also be hard for students who find material difficult to get the additional help they need.

As for this prediction:
I believe that a hybrid model will emerge as the most effective solution. Students will go to school 2-3 days a week and work from home the other days. This will save districts a tremendous amount of money in heating, electricity, busing, and janitorial services.

From a parent's perspective: I have no doubt that there is a lot of interest on the part of school administrators for the very cost-saving reasons that you mention. Nonetheless, as the parent of three children, two of whom are teenagers, this makes me feel very queasy. Don't we already know that the most likely time for kids to get in trouble is after school, before parents are home from work? Aren't most high schools even afraid to create "open campuses" (students can leave school during open blocks) instead of "closed campuses" (students are restricted from leaving) for fear of the students getting into trouble? If I were to leave my kids home all day while I was at work, five days a week, year round, I would spend the whole day worrying about them.  How would I ensure that they were doing their work, and not (best case scenario) sleeping until noon? Worst case scenario? Alcohol, weed, sex... As far as I am concerned, that old quote, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop" has a lot of currency--even though I don't believe in the devil!

And let's think about the costs to families: Am I then responsible for making sure that each child in my house has a computer? That the house has a working printer? That I have a reasonable-speed cable or DSL connection? Essentially, that is a transfer of costs to me--and that may not be feasible for poorer families.

Last, but not least, there is a philosophical question: do we want kids tied to the computer all day? I have one child who loves it, and would probably learn well that way, one child who is agnostic about it, and one child who hates time on the computer.

I'm not saying that these problems are unsolvable. I'm just saying that they haven't yet been solved.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Long Tale: A Few Links I Missed

I posted a few links, but in the last two days I remembered (or discovered) a few more that I wanted to share.

Just for fun: Summer cartoon from the Saline Superintendent's blog.

Is there bias in foster parenting placements? By the way, I don't know the author of this blog, and I believe she lives on the East Coast, but I feel like I should know her. 

I found these two posts about families with children with special needs both moving and interesting: Annie Zirkel's post about fences here and Heather Heath Chapman's post about her sister's Asperger's Syndrome here.

Another contributor from, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, has written two posts I want to share. The first one I characterize as brave because she took so much flak from the commenters. (That would be: Why Are People Not More Upset about the Achievement Gap than the Field Trip?)As for the second one--anyone with an "unusual" name can likely relate to it.

[Boy did it take a long time to find those posts--their search engine might be powered by Google, but it doesn't seem to work very well.]

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about branding and marketing in public versus private schools. John Sowash of the Electric Educator blog picks up on that (and links to my post). He uses a normal distribution curve (I'm referring to statistics, here) to discuss the "types" of students/families and schools, and the role of niche marketing and choice in an internet-available world. I don't agree with the entire post (especially the parts about whether online education is good), but I'm still thinking about which parts I agree with--and thinking is good, right? (And I really liked the name of the post: The Long Tail, which refers to the "tail" of a distribution curve. Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I have named this post The Long Tale--even though this post is not really all that long.)

My friend was asking me about the School Aid Fund budget. Michigan's Children publishes Budget Basics. One came out today on school funding. Maybe it will answer some of your questions. You can get on the list to get them emailed to you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Links to Make You Think

An analysis of special education issues in New Jersey. I know, it's not Michigan, but what I found especially interesting is just how variable the percentage of students diagnosed with special eduction needs is, state to state. Why?

From National Public Radio's On Point, a discussion of the ramifications of laying off so many teachers nationwide.

Tonight, while watching the Tigers game on the television, I saw an ad for Cornerstone Schools. I was curious, so I checked it out. Cornerstone Schools is a private school with a Christ-centered mission (their words, not mine) in Detroit. That's all well and good, but they have spun off two charter schools. Read this article, and you--like me--will likely worry about the division between church and state in charter schools. I don't really get it, and I don't really believe there's much separation going on here.

I generally like Kym Worthy, but jail time for missing parent-teacher conferences? Come on! Don't we have enough people in jail as it is? Let's start with offering more opportunities for parent-teacher conferences, okay?

And, as usual, Sharon Parks of the Michigan League for Human Services has a stellar blog post--in part about foster care--focused on the state budget. Is state government unraveling?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why Word Choice Matters

Apparently, at the last minute, Thomas Jefferson changed a word in the Declaration of Independence. Today, we call ourselves citizens, not subjects.

According to this article in the Washington Post, the Library of Congress used spectral analysis to figure out that Jefferson made this change in word choice while the ink on the paper was not yet dry. 

Here is a description of the process they used. And here is the Library of Congress press release.

Citizens, not subjects--that has made all the difference. Happy Independence Day!