Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Things to Read

National Heritage Academies and Prep Net want to open charter schools in Ypsilanti Township. It's controversial. What do you think?

Did you watch the State of the Union talk last night? I liked most of what President Obama had to say, but not--unfortunately--the part of the speech about education. In the blogroll to the right, I've added a blog (not a new blog, but new to me) called Schools Matter, and I liked most of these two pieces (below) on the State of the Union speech.

See Jim Horn's Obama Offers Same Tired Bromides on Education with Fewer Specifics


Valerie Strauss Exposes Obama's Faulty Education Logic.

What is happening at the New Tech High School?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011: Keep your eye on...

As far as I'm concerned, the #1 thing to keep your eye on (in Washtenaw County education) in the coming year is:

The Washtenaw Intermediate School District

You probably don't even know what they do! If you had asked ten years ago, I would have said they spent most of their time on three areas of services  for all the local school districts and charter schools: professional development; coordination and services for certain special education students; and data and reporting.

Well, that was then. Now, they are increasingly coordinating lots of services. . . transportation; back-end administrative services; the Washtenaw International High School; Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth.

And in my opinion, 
they are rather OPAQUE about what they do and how they do it. 

A couple of years ago, I read an article in the Ann Arbor News about school graduation rates by (I believe) income. The article said the information was based on a study had been done by the Washtenaw ISD. Unfortunately, the online version of the article didn't have the chart I wanted. When I called to ask for the information, I was told that it was "not public." Yes, I've since learned I could have probably FOIA'd it, but pack rat that I am, I found that I had a hard copy.

More recently, I had these two interactions:

Me: "Do you have a copy of the IB presentation that you have made to Saline, Ypsi, Ann Arbor... (Latest version) up on the WISD web site? If so, can you send me the link--I couldn't find it. I am also interested in other supporting documents: proposed budget, staffing scenarios, transportation information. If that is available please send me links or documents."

The WISD: "You can find the Ann Arbor presentation and related documents here:
Ummm, seriously? You want me to open a very long presentation in a particular district's board document, and scroll through to your section? If the Washtenaw International High School is important, don't you think you could have a section of your web site devoted to it? [Side note: this is actually a really long and important piece of reading, although it was super hard to understand and had not scanned in very well. It has the consortium agreement in there. In other words: what, exactly, did the districts agree to?]
Here's another one: 

Me: "I'm also wondering about the WISD board. Is there an election for the board? Or is it appointed, and if so by whom? (I see some former school board members on the current board list.) I am confused about the board minutes. I see that you post a summary, but not the actual minutes. Why is that? The summaries don't even state who was present at the meeting. Also, how would one get the supporting documentation--for instance, financial reports or plans for service changes (e.g., consolidation)--and the actual minutes."
The WISD: "For more information about WISD and the Board see: We're in the process of updating our website and board minutes will be included.  In the meantime, if you want a copy of the minutes please contact Colleen O'Sullivan at"
So, until recently you couldn't get the WISD board minutes online. [They are now available back to 2008, which is a VAST improvement.] And, how exactly is their board made up? They didn't tell me in the email, even though it seems so obvious to me that they could have explained in a couple of sentences. Once I looked the requisite section up it was also clear why they didn't want to do so. Here is how their board is made up: 
(This information is taken from the link above referring to the board. I had to scroll through several pages there as well.)
9) How are WISD Board members elected?
Members of WISD’s school board are elected biennially on the first Monday in June by a body of electors composed of one member from each constituent local school district board of education. WISD Board members’ terms are staggered. Each member serves a six-year term.
10) Who are the WISD Board members?
The following are members of WISD’s 2010-11 Board of Education:
Mark Van Bogelen, President
Gregory A. Peoples, Vice President
Dayle K. Wright, Secretary
Diane B. Hockett, Treasurer
Mary Jane Tramontin, Trustee

In other words, there is no direct election of WISD school board members. It doesn't say who creates the nominations. . . or when board members' terms are up. . . or if they get paid and what they get paid.

It's not very transparent at all.

To the WISD, I say this: If you want me, and other people who care about process, to vote for the special education millage that is coming up, then you had better find a way to be a LOT more transparent in the coming months. And I say that even though I think the special education millage is important.

To those of you who are journalists or passionate observers of the local school scene, I say: it would be a good idea to have journalists at the WISD board meetings. The WISD is becoming a more, and more, important player.

The next meeting is Tuesday, January 25th, at 5: 30 p.m., at the WISD. They will be discussing the Superintendent search (they have an interim Superintendent now) as well as Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth.

I would tell you to contact the WISD board members by email or phone and ask them to develop a better process for sharing information with the public, but their emails are not posted, only a central phone number: 994-8100 x1300.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Not a Black and White Question

According to the New York Times' Caucus Blog of 1/16/2011, the Children's Defense Fund has found the following:
Four in 10 black children are born into poverty. Fewer than one in 10 white children are. Fewer than four in 10 black children live with two parents, compared with three in four white children.
Black children are significantly more likely to die before their first birthday or to become obese. In school, black children are more likely to be held back, suspended, drop out of high school or end up in prison.
A report by Andrew Sum, director of Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, documents how the Great Recession has exacerbated the lagging economic status of young black workers. Fully 40 percent, nearly twice the rate among whites, are what Mr. Sum called “underutilized” in the labor force — either unemployed or underemployed.
Moreover, the trend toward income inequality in America over all is most pronounced among blacks. The top 10 percent of black families, with average incomes of around $95,000, “received as much income as the bottom 70 percent of young black families combined,” Mr. Sum found.
But you knew that, right? The question is, how can education make a difference? And how can we stop racism--both in terms of personal actions and structural decision-making?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reprise: MLK Day

What do you do with your kids on MLK Day? (Last year's post, but it is still relevant.)

As I said, I have wanted the Michigan Theater to have some MLK movies, and this year...they do!

This one is not appropriate for kids, at least not below high school age--it's about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. 
UM Institute of Social Research presents DEADLY DECEPTION on Monday, January 17 at 1 PM at the Michigan Theater. Admission is FREE!
This one is appropriate for kids, I believe. In fact I hope to take mine!
BILAL'S STAND, a special MLK Jr. screening directed by Michigan's own Sultan Sharrief, is playing Monday, January 17 at 5 PM at the Michigan Theater. Tickets are $6!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ypsilanti's Turnaround Problem

Now that you've read about Detroit, let's turn our attention to Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti has two interrelated problems. One problem is their deficit. The other problem is that their high school has not achieved adequate yearly progress in the last few years--giving it the dubious distinction of being a "failing" school. [And having said that, I also have to say that I know several people who have been very satisfied with their children's education at YHS.]

Their high school turnaround plan has been accepted by the state, and there is a lot of discussion going on about their deficit elimination plan--which includes the systematic dismantling of custodial and food service staff as district employees, as well as making YHS into a grade 7-12 school.

In Kyle Feldscher's article, trustee Andy Fanta is quoted as saying this:
“We’re not asking the right kinds of questions when addressing this budget,” he said. “We’re focusing on cutting, cutting, cutting. We’re not focusing on what we’re doing and what kind of district we want, and we’re not answering the parents who are asking those type of questions.”
There is some excellent analysis in Mark Maynard's post:

More school consolidation in Ypsilanti, and its long term ramifications 

Mark has been blogging for a long time about Ypsilanti, and he puts something interesting up at almost every day, sometimes more often than that. Oh, and by the way--if you want to see the actual documents, you can find the submitted deficit elimination plan on the YPS financial page (scroll down). And here is the approved YHS turnaround plan.

PS I neglected this piece from the article: 

Trustees asked Houle to present another version of the plan at a board district operations committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the East Middle School building. The meeting is open to the public.
The district has to turn a plan over to the state by Jan. 25.

Shell Game?

The Detroit school district is facing a huge deficit.

As it is right now, classes are overcrowded, even in the schools that are not "failing" schools; some teachers have been transferred so often they couldn't even provide grades to their students; there has been a teacher shortage in critical specialties; and there is a new technology initiative paid for by stimulus funds but it is very unclear how teachers will be trained to use the technology or how they will replace it as it needs replacement. (See John Sowash's post about that here.)

Robert Bobb is supposed to be in charge of the finances. And he estimates that if he were to balance the budget now, the average class size would be 62 students. That is what would happen with the deficit elimination plan that he was required to submit to the state. And that would obviously be a bad idea. He also doesn't prefer it.

The Detroit media has been highlighting Robert Bobb's other ideas--one of which involves splitting the Detroit school district in two. At first I thought that this idea was inspired by the division of GM as it went through bankruptcy. With GM (and I know I'm oversimplifying here), the "new" GM got to keep the GM name, and all the "good" assets--and the old GM got stuck with all the "bad" assets, but it has freed up the "new" GM to move forward. OK, that might be a controversial idea, but as Rochelle Riley said in a Detroit Free Press column, it might get people talking. And I'm all for thinking outside the box.

But what, exactly, is he talking about? NOT what I thought. No, according to this Detroit Free Press article, he's talking about

Over the past month, Bobb has also suggested two other proposals that would require lawmakers to amend state law, but he has yet to gain traction in Lansing.
One proposal would securitize $400 million in state tobacco settlement funds to distribute to all of the state’s deficit districts.
The other proposal also would require a significant -- but undetermined -- amount of state funds. That plan would split the district into two entities on paper -- one that would pay off the debts and one that would be debt-free and need start-up funding.

According to Rochelle Riley, Free Press columnist,
One would have 9,000 students and use all of the per-pupil dollars the state distributes to DPS next year to wipe out the debt and to operate.
The other would educate the district's other 66,000 students, using unknown start-up funds.
Bobb declined to discuss the plan, which he's still working up, but his spokesman, Steve Wasko, said the move would be "seamless to parents" and students, and a financial, not academic, step. (Emphasis added.)
Wait--the "good" district gets 9,000 students and the "bad" district gets 66,000 students? That sounds fishy to me.

In that same article,
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said his first reaction to the plan was: "Brown v. Board of Education. That was the first thing that popped into my mind, separate but unequal. My biggest fear is ... that you're designating a segment of this community and children as being less than and thus educably expendable.
"We know that the schools that would be debt-free would be those schools that are consistently high-performing and those schools that are being newly built. So we're talking about the Casses, the Bates, the Ludingtons, the Langston Hughes, the Charles Wrights, the Renaissances... Who's going to be left in the debt-ridden district? Those schools that are low-performing, schools like Denby, Osborn, Central High School, some of our low-performing elementary or schools that service children with the highest degree of learning disabilities."

Think this is only a Detroit problem? Think again. We've got our own districts in this situation. You can only cut programs so far, and who would fund this other district? Let's just remember: it's one thing to put "bad assets" into a bankrupt district. But there's this sticky problem. Schools are not about assets. They are about kids. What about the kids?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Name That School!

Recognize this school?

I know what you are thinking: "That postcard says "Tappan!" But I know that's Burns Park!"

According to the Burns Park school website:
Burns Park is named after Professor George Burns who was the Ann Arbor Commissioner for a time. In 1910 the old [county] fairgrounds, located here, were changed to a park and named in his honor. Before 1925, there were trolley barns here. In January 1925, they burned and this school building was built as Tappan Junior High. In 1951, Tappan moved and took its name with it. This building then took its name from the park. (Emphasis added.)
So I guess that really, we should call Tappan Middle School: Tappan Middle School II.
By the way, this picture was found on the Ann Arbor District Library's web site, where there is a lovely and large selection of historic images and information from and about Ann Arbor.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

When we came home from the preliminary round of Future Stars last night, my husband said to me, "I don't think they sang that well at my high school!"
They didn't sing that well at my high school either.

Future Stars, if you don't already know, is a competition that is "Ann Arbor's American Idol." High school students compete in a singing and dancing competition, and move forward based in part on the opinion of judges, and in part on voting (cheering). Just like in the original American Idol, the judges' comments are often insipid. [Seriously. Could they use a thesaurus before they get to the show? Find some alternative words for "amazing," "fantastic," and "you guys?" I don't think it is too much to ask.]

The singing and dancing, on the other hand, ranged from very good to unbelievably wonderful. The competition is hosted by Pioneer's Theater Guild, and though it is open to students from all schools--and there were a few I knew from Community and Skyline, though I'm not sure about Huron, Clemente, or Stone--it is dominated by Pioneer students. At this point I also have to give a shout out to the band that backed up most of the students; they didn't get much attention but they were truly attention-worthy.

Most theater programs--including the one at my high school and my husband's high school--tend to try to offer a diverse array of theater experiences, including musical theater, but not primarily musical theater. Part of it is related to size--my high school, and my husband's high school, had about 1000 students--Pioneer, even in its reduced state, will be a lot larger.

At Pioneer, the emphasis is clearly on musical theater, which is why, if the district ever decides to do a theater magnet, it would probably make sense to put it at Pioneer. Those who prefer straight plays at Pioneer get their day, but less frequently and with a smaller audience.

The net result, in this case, is that students get a lot of practice at singing. And in fact, I know that many of those students also take singing lessons. It pays off.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, Practice, Practice.

The Future Stars "finals" are this coming Saturday evening, 1/15/2011.
If you want a seat, get there early.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Milan: Sad News

There have been three deaths in the Milan Area Schools in the last few months--the deaths of senior Eric Harrison and junior Brian Copiacu are believed to be suicides. The death of junior William Bowers is believed to be an accident. Milan has just under 1000 students in their high school, so this has to have a huge impact.

The Milan News-Leader has a story here.
More information is available at

Teens and families of teens: Ozone House has a crisis line: 734-662-2222.
U of M Psychiatric Emergency Services also has a 24-hour line: 734-996-4747.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Business

Here are a few things you might want to know about coming up VERY soon.

1. You might remember that a year ago, during the AAPS budget forums, participants were invited to indicate interest in working on strategic planning subcommittees. I had thought that would happen last spring, but it was delayed, and delayed again--at least the public participation part was. Although there are, I believe, 8 subcommittees of the strategic plan, they are only asking for assistance on three of them. [Why only three? I don't know. At the budget forums people were asked to indicate which of 8 subcommittees you might be interested in joining.] In any case, there is a January through March timeline for this--at least, that is the plan. I also can't really tell what some of these strategies mean. For instance, if you were interested in the education achievement gap, or school funding, what would you choose? Here are the details from AAPS News: 
Action Teams will reconvene in January to discuss these strategies:
  • Strategy  No. 1–  “We will create a complete educational program featuring personalized learning that realizes student aspirations and meets international standards.”
  • Strategy No. 5 –  “We will implement a system to ensure continuous development of staff capacity.”
  • Strategy No. 6 – “We will engage and inform our constituents to engender trust and support to accomplish our mission and objectives.”
Contact Liz Margolis by Jan. 7, 2011 if you would like to be a member of one of the Action Teams listed above. E-mail her at or leave a message at 734-994-2236.
UPDATE 1/5/2010: Read the comments from Liz Margolis of AAPS if you would like more information about the strategic planning process.

2.        My friend asked me last month, "Would you send your child to the International Baccalaureate school?"
           I said, "Probably not, but I'm glad it will be there for someone else. I'd be more interested in Washtenaw Technical Middle College where you could get actual college credit for the classes."
          He said, "Really? I would have thought you would be really interested in an immersion language program."

OK, so let's get something straight: International Baccalaureate schools are not immersion language schools. You can read more about them in this earlier post (and its links). It is possible--but not guaranteed--that an IB program will give you college credit. Many of our local school districts are banding together under the auspices of the WISD to set up an IB school. [Dexter is planning on integrating an IB program into their own high school.]

Why am I telling you this? Because, if you have a student entering ninth grade, you might want to check out the International Baccalaureate question and answer sessions (mandatory for application):
Please plan to attend one of the following sessions:
  • Wednesday, January 12: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, January 18: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 27: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Monday, January 31: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 9: 7:00 p.m.  – 9:00 p.m.
Information sessions will be held at:
Washtenaw International High School (WIHS)

510 Emerick Street, Ypsilanti, MI 48198.
For more information, please call 734-994-8100 x1263, or visit the web site at

3. Ann Arbor's Community High application packets are available now and are due on or before 2/11/2011. Information can be found here.

4. Ann Arbor's Skyline High also has an application and information here, also due on or before 2/11/2011.  It looks like they have reduced the number of outside-of-Skyline-district student openings from 125 to 100. I am guessing that this is related to the fact that the number of in-district students has been increasing, but I'm not positive. (Nor am I sure about how that decision is made.) Also, if you are in-district, there is a curriculum night on January 12th (which seems early to me!).

4. Similarly, Ypsilanti's New Tech High School is also taking applications for incoming freshmen. Find more information here. Unlike Community and Skyline, New Tech High School is open to students from other districts.

4. I changed the blog design. I'm not sure what I think--and comments are welcome.