Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May's Sad News

Men's 1600 meter race; May 31, 2011
Larry Steeb Memorial Track Meet, Ypsilanti High School

Today I was at the Larry Steeb Memorial Track Meet (named after a Whitmore Lake coach, but held this year at Ypsilanti High School).
I was presented by many students, coaches and parents wearing yellow ribbons in recognition of great sorrow for the family of Maya Long, whose mother was injured and whose father died in a domestic violence incident. You can read about it here. Maya is a junior and an extremely talented runner for Huron High School.

Last week I got news of the death of Seth Harsch. Seth was a junior at Huron High School, a football player and a railroad fan. When I knew him as a preschooler he was fun-loving and generally had a smile on his face. Yet he took his own life. You can read his obituary here.

And Ian Jenkins, a Milan High School sophomore, died just over a week ago in an accident--the fourth Milan student to die this year. Ian was a wonderful hockey player who had just been drafted into the Ontario Hockey League.

All in all, these events add up to a very sad month of May.
Let the families at Huron High School and Milan High School know you are thinking of them.

If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you can get help at 734-995-5444.
If you are considering suicide, or know someone who is, get help by calling 734-662-2222 (Ozone House for youth) or 734-996-4747 (for anyone).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our Newest National Park: A Field Trip Away

Much of my spring has been taken up by my son's baseball games. At a recent tournament in Monroe, we were cold and hungry and in the break between games we went in search of a) food and b) Lake Erie. We did find food, and we never made it to Lake Erie (we got stopped by an industrial and private property), but we did find the United States' newest national park, and it seems appropriate to write about it on Memorial Day.

Yes, folks, the 393d unit of the National Park Service is the River Raisin National Battlefield Park! This was signed into law in March of 2009, and began operations in October of 2010.
What, you say--there was a battle in Monroe? Whatever for?
The war that is well-remembered in Canada, but barely known in the United States. The War of 1812.
“Capture of the City of Washington," based on an engraving from Rapin’s History of England, published by J. & J. Gundee, Albion Press, London, 1815. From the Smithsonian Institute and found online at:
http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/the-capital-captured.aspx
The war in which the White House and the Capitol were burned.

And yesterday, sitting at a Tiger's game, I remembered that our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, was also a product of the War of 1812.

You may remember, from your U.S. history classes, the cry "Remember the Alamo!" But did anybody ever teach you the cry, "Remember the Raisin!"?
I thought not.
The other three national battlefield parks in the U.S. are related to the Civil War. 

According to Wikipedia,
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire, including those of present-day Canada.[nb 2] The Americans declared war in 1812 for a number of reasons, including a desire for expansion into the Northwest Territory, trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, and the humiliation of American honour. Until 1814, the British Empire adopted a defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. However, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie in 1813, seized parts of western Ontario, and destroyed Tecumseh's dream of an Indian confederacy.

Yes, that's the great Chief Tecumseh, after whom Tecumseh Michigan is named.  Tecumseh was allied with the British during the War of 1812, which went from 1812-1815. Chief Tecumseh himself was killed in a battle in Chatham Ontario (near Windsor) in October 1813.

Back in Monroe, which was then known as Frenchtown, there was a great battle in January of 1813. According to the National Park Service web site,
The battle at the River Raisin (Frenchtown) was among the largest military encounters during the War of 1812. More American casualties occurred here than at any other battlefield during the war against the British and their Indian allies.
That's fact. But it turns out that--as with all good historical narratives--there is some controversy. 
The above print received wide circulation through recruiting posters issued by the U.S. War Department. It clearly (and wrongly) shows the British camp in the background, seemingly looking on as Natives murder and scalp wounded Americans. The print caption reads: Massacre of American prisoners at Frenchtown on the River Raisin by the savages under the command of the British General Proctor, January 23rd 1813. (Sandy Antal’s collection--taken from the War of 1812 magazine, October 2008.)

Writing in the War of 1812 magazine (October 2008 issue),  Sandy Antal states:
After “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights!” the most popular American slogan during the War of 1812 was “Remember the Raisin!” It refers to the circumstances associated with the battle of the Raisin River (22 January 1813), known to Canadians as the battle of Frenchtown.
The destruction of the fighting wing of the Northwest Army at this engagement derailed the overall American winter offensive against Upper Canada. Coming on the heels of the capture of Detroit, this second major defeat in the west prompted Washington to suspend offensive operations on that theatre for seven months, until mastery on Lake Erie was acquired.
But it was not the military defeat that Americans commemorated in the slogan. What they remembered was the “Raisin River Massacre.” A cursory glance at the legacy of this event reveals wide-spread inflammatory assertions that are notably short on substantive specifics...
When it comes to the Anglo-Native alliance, American and Canadian writers have substituted a negative, personality-based approach for military history. But they differ in one important respect. Unlike Canadians who usually explain away a complicated series of events through the alleged incompetence of the British commander, Americans have persistently demonized Colonel (later Major-General) Henry Procter as a bloodthirsty commander who either directed or permitted the murder of defenceless American prisoners. It was these alleged atrocities that gave rise to the slogan, Remember the Raisin!

 I've written before that
The point is--the East Coast experience of colonial history is very different from that experience here. Trying to teach colonial history in the Ann Arbor schools--in my limited experience--is not that different from teaching about the Greeks and Romans. It seems very distant, not immediate.
 And then I pointed out that there are places where that is less true.
And yet...what about Ojibway culture? What about the French settlements in Detroit? What about Fort Mackinaw? What about les Voyageurs? What about the War of 1812? I think we could find ways to make that history--Michigan history--present.
At the time, someone pointed out to me that there are natural tie-ins for Michigan history with certain years of the elementary school curriculum (I think third and fourth grade, depending on your school), and of course the U.S. history curricula in middle school and high school are relevant.

History can live for us. I remember the Tall Ships coming into New York Harbor for the bicentennial. And in less than a year, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 begins. It will continue for until 2015.

I attribute part of the reason that I'm a peace activist because I have seen the dark side of war. We should use Memorial Days as a a clarion call to end war for all time, and I believe that tangible historic experiences make that more possible. Every person needs to relate to an Antietam.

The River Raisin National Park is attached by a nature trail to Sterling State Park (where there is a Lake Erie beach). 


The newest national park, less than an hour from Ann Arbor, with a bicentennial coming up? This should be an irresistible field trip to teachers and to parents, even though the park is still under development (read: limited visitor hours, but you can call for more information). You can even make this a bi-national trip by visiting Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario. The Canadian perspective on the War of 1812 is very different from the U.S. perspective on the war.

For more information:


National Park Service web site
Friends of the River Raisin battlefield web site
Read about Chief Tecumseh here
Detailed historical analysis of the War of 1812 Battle of River Raisin in the War of 1812 magazine

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Puzzling Principal Decisions

Eleven Ann Arbor principal assignments were announced this week

There are clearly a lot of politics going on behind the scenes, so to analyze the changes, I'll start with the ones that make sense to me.
  • Ann Arbor Open School — Kit Flynn, the media specialist at Ann Arbor Open.
This makes sense because Kit Flynn has been the interim principal on and off, as well as the lead teacher for several years. She also had a lot of support from parents and staff, who wanted someone who really understood open education.
  • Bryant Elementary SchoolRoberta Heyward, the interim principal at Bryant and a teacher at the school.
This makes sense to me because Roberta Heyward has been the interim principal and a teacher at the school.
  • Forsythe Middle SchoolJohn Reece, assistant principal at Pioneer High School.
This is a product of the elimination of some of the (grade-level) principals at the high school level. Pioneer and Huron each lost a principal (see Burns Park down below, which got an assistant principal who was bumped from Huron High School). Skyline High School was prevented from adding a principal. I believe that John Reece is filling a position at Forsythe left open by retirement.

Eberwhite Elementary School has a new principal in Bill Harris, the district’s assistant director of special education. At one point, Bill was an assistant principal at Scarlett, but perhaps he didn't want to go back to middle school. I am under the impression that the special ed parents like him. Special education is another area that has had a lot of turnover, so I hope they find someone good to replace him!

So--now we come to the puzzles. And there are some puzzles.


It's confusing, but in this discussion the schools to keep your eyes on are Mitchell and Carpenter (especially Mitchell). Also keep an eye on Haisley, which I heard did not send any representatives to the large group interviews of "teachers who were interested in becoming principals." And at the time, people wondered why that was. Now I wonder if the Haisley teachers and parents weren't given any choice.


  • Burns Park Elementary SchoolVirginia Bell, assistant principal at Huron High School.
On the surface, this is a product of the elimination of principal positions at the high school.  But why is the Burns Park principal position open? That is because Kathy Morhous, current principal at Burns Park, has been assigned to King Elementary.

Well, why is that?

Kevin Karr has been the principal of King (and before that he was a principal and a teacher at Northside.) And according to published reports, people thought that he kept bullying "under control" at Northside and was a strong manager. So perhaps that is why he is getting assigned to Mitchell, which is a) a Title 1 school (in other words, there are a lot of poor kids there) with b) poor test scores--perhaps the lowest in the district--and c) about to undergo a major transformation in the the "lab school" partnership with Scarlett Middle School.

This carousel only makes sense because... at Haisley, they've got a new principal assigned to them as well. And as noted above, I understand they weren't part of the larger interview process--probably because they had already been told that  Kathy Scarnecchia, current special administrator working on the Mitchell/Scarlett - University of Michigan Partnership and former principal at Mitchell was being moved to them. You might wonder why she wasn't returned to Mitchell. Yeah, you might. Could it be because Mitchell's MEAP scores are dropping? I've certainly heard rumblings of dissatisfaction from parents there. She may be a better curriculum-planner than administrator. Oh wait--if that is the case, why is she going to another school? Or perhaps that is not the case--perhaps she is a strong administrator--I am very clearly speculating here. (On the other hand--interesting factoid--she was actually a student at Haisley once upon a time. So perhaps she requested that post.)

Meanwhile, Edward Broom has been the interim principal at Mitchell, and now he's going back to Scarlett as an assistant principal again. Did he prefer middle school? Why wasn't he made the permanent principal at Mitchell? Or perhaps--with the ongoing lab school partnership--and the relatively small number of students at Scarlett--they could have used this as an opportunity to cut costs and not replaced the assistant principal at Scarlett. Just a thought... (I digress here but I think if they are going to do the lab school, they could consider all moving into one building.)

Meanwhile, Haisley is a school that has had its own fairly recent principal turnover. In the 2008-2009 school year, Tamber Woodworth went from principal at Haisley Elementary School to an assistant principal position at Pioneer. (She was then the interim principal at Pioneer while Michael White was on military leave, and is now at Ann Arbor Open until she retires in June.) Meanwhile, Mary Anne Jaeger, the former principal at Dicken Elementary School who was on leave in the 2007-2008 school year, took over for Tamber Woodworth at Haisley. She is also retiring.

But wait! Why didn't they put... Charles Davis, the lead teacher at Haisley Elementary School, in the principal position there, as they did at Ann Arbor Open or Bryant? 

Instead, they moved him to a school on the other side of the district--Carpenter.

Meanwhile, a teacher who has been at Carpenter--Natasha York--gets moved to be the principal at Thurston...

Does it make sense to you? Not to me. Which is why I'm sure there are other forces at play.

Whatever Happened?

To the state budget? The House votes tomorrow; the Senate voted today. You'll find more information at mipfs.org. This rolls back funding to what it was in the 2005-2006 year.

To our Local Boy Makes Good story about Shael Polakow-Suransky? I got this note from my New York City activist parent friend this morning, and she writes, "Do you know anyone who can talk some sense into Shael?" She pointed me to this New York Times article: Tests for Pupils, but the Grades Go to Teachers.  And she said to especially read the comments. Then, if you do know Shael, feel free to give him a call or an email...

To the WISD Superintendent Search? Scott Menzel has been chosen to be the district’s next superintendent. Menzel is in his fourth year as the superintendent of the Livingston Educational Service Agency (LESA)--yes, that's our sister program. By the way, I'm super annoyed that I couldn't find the information about the new superintendent on the WISD web site. It's really hard to find things. I had to go outside the web site and google it to get the press release!
In addition, I couldn't find any information about his compensation. The press release says it will be "brought back" after a subcommittee negotiates with him. Recent agendas have closed sessions for "Authorization." I think that this probably violates open meetings notice, I think you have to specify why you are closing the meeting. The last approved minutes published, are from mid-April, even though they've met several times since then. I am not impressed. This is a group that needs a watchdog!

To the Achievement Gap? It's still there. I liked this article, which reminds us how long it has been there! This Week in Ann Arbor History: 1967: Future mayor Albert Wheeler alleges racial discrimination in Ann Arbor schools, police department.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Last Chance to Influence School Funding for This Year!

In the last couple of days I have gotten two alerts from Michigan Parents for Schools (mipfs.org). I'm publishing the most recent alert--which I got early this morning--because I think they explain things really well. Now go try and get those decision-makers to change their mind and restore the surplus funds to per-pupil funding.

The most interesting (read: depressing) thing that I learned from these alerts is that the only reason that Gov. Snyder can refer to these monies as "one-time" funds is because of the business tax breaks that he decided to give. It doesn't have to be that way...

At the bottom--where it says "Act Today," you can click on the link to send a letter to your legislators. Please do!

Our last chance to be heard before the school aid budget is finished
We must all speak out before the state school aid budget becomes final.

Dear friends,

The new "budget deal" hammered out in Lansing is a tiny bit of good news for our public schools, but we are unimpressed. The deal still includes major cuts for K-12 education and fails to fix any of the long term structural issues that have been slowly strangling our children's schools.

The budget deal is likely to move very quickly once the details are worked out. Act NOW to  make sure your voice is heard!

As many of you surely know, last week the Governor and majority leaders of the Legislature announced a budget agreement that reduced cuts to public schools. They were able to do this because of the projected $430 million increase in State revenues for the current year. These are considered "one-time" funds, however, because a potential surplus for next year will be eaten up by the business tax cut recently passed by the Legislature.

As a result, our political leaders do not want to spend the extra money on "programming."
  • Of the added $300 per pupil cut to K-12 schools requested by the Governor, $100 per pupil will still be cut. (That's in addition to the $170 per pupil cut that would have taken effect this year were it not for Federal assistance.)
  • The other $200 per pupil will not be added to districts' foundation allowances. Instead, an amount equivalent to $100 per pupil will be used to reduce districts' required payments to the state teacher pension system (MPSERS). The final $100 per pupil will be distributed to districts that engage in certain financial "best practices."
We haven't seen the actual legislation yet, and some details are very vague. No one yet knows precisely what "best practices" will be rewarded, or how they are to be measured. What is certain is that this is all about money, and not the quality of instruction in our schools. Likewise, if the MPSERS contributions are somehow allocated on a per-pupil basis, it will disadvantage districts with relatively higher payrolls - usually because they have a higher proportion of experienced teachers.

I suppose we are meant to be relieved that the cut is much smaller than anticipated. On the other hand, the original surplus in the school aid fund would have made any cuts unnecessary had it not been for the Governor's dramatic business tax cuts.

So why aren't we cheering? Let me count the ways:
  • The "compromise" still includes a $270 per pupil cut to public schools that would not be necessary if the tax cut for business had been more moderate and funds for colleges and universities weren't being siphoned from the School Aid Fund.
  • The school aid shortfall will be larger the year after next, the first full year of the Snyder business tax cuts. We're supposed to rely on promises of larger transfers from the General Fund budget, but that's a promise we've seen broken before.
  • The budget does nothing to provide a stable and adequate revenue stream for public education.
  • The proposals on the table do the very opposite of investing in our children and our communities - something we need to do now more than ever.
Join us in letting our lawmakers know that this budget deal is still poor policy and it does not reflect the values of Michigan residents.

Act TODAY to make sure your voice is heard before the final bills are rushed through to passage. Tell your representatives how you want your schools to be treated!
Steven Norton
Executive Director

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michigan Board of Education Comes To Ann Arbor! May 26th

The State Board of Education is coming to our town, and I think it's important for you to give them a piece of your mind.

The State Board of Education will host a series of regional forums across the state over the next month. The forums are designed as listening and discussion sessions on current education conditions, reforms, and the future direction of education in Michigan. Read about the State Board of Education right here

Here's your opportunity to share your thoughts with our Michigan State Board of Education Members. 

According to their press release, "The forums are an opportunity for education stakeholders to meet with State Board of Education members, discuss current education conditions, reform and budget proposals, and the future direction of education in Michigan. All forums are open to the public and participants are invited to make written or oral comments. For more information on the forums please contact: John Austin, State Board of Education President, jcaustin@umich.edu; or Marilyn Schneider, State Board Executive, Schneiderm@michigan.gov."

Thursday, May 26, 4-6 pm: 
Ann Arbor, University of Michigan League
Hussey Room, 911 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor

Other Education Forum Dates and Locations:  
Grand Rapids
Monday, May 23, 4-7 pm, Grand Rapids Community College

DeVos Campus, 415 Fulton Street, Grand Rapids.
http://cms.grcc.edu/parking
On-site contact: Kathy Mullins, GRCC,
kmullins@grcc.edu

Macomb County
Wednesday, May 25, 4-7 pm, Macomb Community College
Center Campus, Professional Development Center, University Center, 44575 Garfield Rd, Clinton Township.

Attendees should report to Assembly Hall.
The closest parking for visitors is in lot 3 or lot 5B as indicated on the campus map:
http://www.macomb.edu/NR/rdonlyres/948667EB-EA86-4567-B053-0AB241531CF7/0/CenterCampus.pdf
On-site Contact: Jennifer Anderson, MCC,
andersonje@macomb.edu

Detroit
An additional Forum will be held in Detroit, details to be determined. 

Mt. Pleasant
Tuesday, June 7, 4-7 pm, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant

Voigtman Family Seminar Room
Room 413, CMU College of Education and Human Services Building.
http://www.cmich.edu/visit/campus_map.htm
On-site Contact: Jen Cotter, CMU Development,
reihl1jm@cmich.edu

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Guy Is Really Embarrassing Me!

Do you know that Randy Richardville, our Senate Majority Leader, represents part of Washtenaw County?????

Just now, we find out the state has a lot more money coming in than expected, and the Free Press editorializes that some of that money should go back to the School Aid Fund.

What does Randy Richardville say?

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville urges another business tax cut in Michigan

According to MLive.com, 

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said the GOP-led Legislature could slash personal property taxes on businesses after lawmakers cut taxes on most companies last week.

Read the rest here

If you live in his district, PLEASE. . . LOBBY HIM!

(I would say to vote him out, but he's term-limited.)

 

Charter #1: Ann Arbor Learning Community

I promised I'd start looking at Washtenaw County's charter schools, and I'm starting alphabetically, which brings us to:

Ann Arbor Learning Community is a non-profit public K-8 school that opened in the fall of 1998, and is located at 3980 Research Park Drive in Ann Arbor, MI. Find them online at http://www.annarborlearningcommunity.org.
In AALC's fall 2010 (unaudited) student count they had 270 students, but they believe they have space to grow to 320 students in their current site. That number--270--has been fairly steady for a couple of years, and it appears there is a waitlist so maybe they are not trying to grow. There are many more students in the K-5 years than in the middle school years.  Their "Dean" is Ticheal Jones. (Using terms like "dean" is one way that charter schools try to appear more like private schools than public schools.) I like that their web site is uncluttered and easy to navigate.

In Michigan, charter schools need to have an institution of higher learning that holds the school's charter. In AALC's case, that is Eastern Michigan University, which has re-authorized their charter through 2013. The EMU Board of Regents appoints their board members, who are:

Jason Johnson, President
Valerie Mates, Vice-President
Simon Whitelocke, Treasurer
Mary Packard, Secretary
Joe Capuano, Member
Ted Layher, Member

(I cannot tell if these are mostly parents, or mostly local people.)

The school sees themselves as part of the progressive education movement, and their classrooms are multi-grade--like Ann Arbor Open (an AAPS school), Summers-Knoll (private) and Honey Creek Charter School, all of which also seem themselves as part of progressive education. According to the AALC web site, this is their philosophy:
Ann Arbor Learning Community is committed to the rigorous development of student intellect, curiosity and cooperation with a focus on helping students value themselves, their peers and their community. A safe and nurturing environment supports the social and emotional development of children, which is fundamental for effective student learning. Our learning community – made up of students, teachers, staff and families working together -- affirms and supports a variety of learning styles and believes that students require multiple opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of concepts. Student’s understanding of how they learn empowers them. In our pursuit we promote participatory learning that is experiential, student-centered, developmentally based and individualized to student’s particular learning styles and strengths.
The EMU Reauthorization Resolution (3/20/2008) notes that:
The Ann Arbor Learning Community provides a student-centered, integrated curriculum. Its strong, basic core curriculum consists of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies supported by a stimulating, hands-on thematic approach of environmental education.
As the authorizer, EMU is the fiscal agent but
As fiscal agent, the University Board assumes no responsibility for the financial condition of the Academy. The University Board is not liable for any debt or liability incuned by or on behalf of the Academy Board, or for any expenditure approved by or on behalf of the Academy Board.
In its role as authorizer and fiscal agent, EMU gets 3% of of the state school aid. EMU gets the aid, and then forwards the other 97% within 10 days of receipt.
 
Does AALC rent or own their building? They rent. Right now they pay close to $40,000/month for the building (around 26,000 sf) and their lease goes through 2015.
How do they hire teachers? They work through a for-profit educational administration company, CS Partners LLC, and they pay them 3% of their per-pupil allowance from the state.
What kind of calendar do they follow? Currently, they are on the WISD's Common Calendar that the other school districts use.
Read the Charter and the Reauthorization Agreement
I learned those facts because their charter is on file with EMU, and you can read the whole thing here.
You can also read the re-authorization agreement that the EMU Board of Regents passed. Their charter has been renewed until June 30, 2013.
On GreatSchools.net, AALC's 2010 MEAP passing scores were pretty good: 96% 3d grade math, 81% 3d grade reading. (In comparison, here are two nearby Ann Arbor Public Schools: Lawton--97% and 99%; Pittsfield 84% and 88%.)
In 2009, 5% of the students qualified for Free or Reduced Price Lunch (13% Lawton; 47% Pittsfield), and the school was not nearly as diverse as our two comparison schools of Lawton and Pittsfield.
  • White 78% (Lawton 57%; Pittsfield 47%)
  • African American 14% (Lawton 10%; Pittsfield 18%)
  • Asian 6% (Lawton 34%; Pittsfield 12%)
  • Hispanic 2%(Lawton 2%; Pittsfield 12%)
  • Native American less than 1% (the same for all of them)
Also on GreatSchools.net, AALC got a 6 out of 10 rating, and community reviews give them a 3 out of 5. The reviews are a mixed bag (which is true of lots of schools)--they imply that there has been a significant amount of turnover in teaching/administrative staff over the past few years; that some kids love it and learn a lot and others don't do well academically; and that the teachers are uneven in terms of the strength of their teaching.

The reviews state that many of the board members are parents. (I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. I definitely prefer a locally-"owned" charter model than one that is controlled from far away.) What does concern me is that only the past three months of minutes are available on the web site, and no supporting documentation (say, for example, proposed budgets) appear to be available. In addition, the latest information says that "the board is meeting on April 21," which has obviously passed. There is no notice posted for a May or June meeting. The AALC is subject to the Open Meetings Act so they should be posting their meeting notices.

From their January 2011 minutes, I understand that they did a survey of parents asking how parents found AALC, what they like and don't like, and this is the summary:
1. Why they chose AALC: Top reason "community;" second reason "better option than local public school."
2. How they heard about AALC: Word of mouth.
3. What they like: mixed responses: small classes, teachers having a voice.
4. How can we improve? The summary response here was "most were not new things." I'd say that's rather unhelpful information to the casual reader! I'd hope that the board got better information.

(I've heard that there is a fair amount of turnover among students there as they hit the intermediate and middle grades, and I wonder if that is true, and if so, is it related to "how can we improve?")

The EMU Reauthorization Resolution notes that AALC continues to have students do well on the MEAP; meet Adequate Yearly Progress on the No Child Left Behind Act, and was recognized in the 2006-2007 year by the Michigan Association for Public School Academies for "Closing the Gap" in the area of Outstanding Academic Achievement.

Please feel free to share your experiences with the school in the comments section.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taxes and the School Aid Fund

Brian Dickerson's piece today in the Free Press, Don't Call It A Tax Cut, is awesome.

It starts with this:
The intramural haggling among Republican lawmakers is nearly over, and Gov. Rick Snyder will soon sign legislation that changes what state government does -- and who pays for it.
• Businesses will be relieved of much of their current state tax burden.
• Individual taxpayers will pick up a larger share of the bill for state services.
• Michigan will reduce spending on education at every level from pre-K to graduate school.
Many Republicans who supported these changes are describing them as an overall tax cut, on the grounds that, as a whole, taxpayers will pay less.
If you're buying that, please send me a check for $1,000. I'll use the money to make a down payment on a new car , you can keep your old one, and our transportation options -- as a whole -- will improve (although you might be a little short on gas money for a while).
Remember: We're in this together.
On this side of Alice's looking glass, most people recognize that what has happened is a massive tax shift -- one that takes much of the load off employers and redistributes it among those they employ -- or used to employ.
Peter Luke's article on how the legislature will have some 'splaining to do if they cut the School Aid Fund even though there is now more money in the till is quite good as well. 

Not every legislator has a university in his or her district, or a community college. But they all have a K-12 school district populated with currently angry parents of all political persuasions.
That fact is why the idea of cutting schools by hundreds of dollars per student, when there’s a sizable revenue surplus in the main state fund for education, should be causing such legislative angst.
In annarbor.com, Lucy Ann Lance interviews Liz Margolis of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, who explains why she believes that the School Aid Fund should not be used to pay for colleges.

Lucy Ann: What’s the idea behind calling it K-20 funding now?
Margolis: That is what the governor’s calling it. He’s caging the education budget as a PreK-20, and that’s one of our issues. He’s taking some of the money that he calls surplus; but I’ll tell you, Lucy Ann, that it’s really not surplus. It’s money that they pro-rated and took from the public school districts from the past two years in the middle of the school year. They’re calling it a surplus but the governor is proposing that that money goes to universities, and that is very troubling to us because universities raise money and, obviously, can raise tuition. Public schools have no way to gain that revenue. So we’re really unhappy about the move to take that money out of the PreK-12 budget and move it to the universities and sort of cage this as a PreK through the end of college, because it’s apples to oranges.
All of which is reason that we should KEEP the PRESSURE on our legislature to restore funding to K-12 schools. 

Yes, it matters. Less funding translates into bigger classes and fewer teachers. For example, in Detroit, tomorrow teachers find out what exactly Robert Bobb is proposing in terms of the teacher's contract. (Remember, the entire teaching staff got pink slipped recently and Bobb said he was going to unilaterally modify their union contract.)

So, keep the pressure on. Michigan Parents for Schools is putting out action updates, and you can send information to your legislators--where ever you live in this state--at their legislative action center page.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Struggle

"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will." Source: Douglass, Frederick. [1849] (1991) Letter to an abolitionist associate. In Organizing For Social Change: A Mandate For Activity In The 1990s. Edited by K. Bobo, J. Kendall, and S. Max. Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mapping Tool, or Charter Promotion Device?

(Post revised, 5/10/11, shortly after it was first published.)

Grand Valley State University has developed a mapping tool, found here, and as more Census 2010 data is published, I think it will be very useful.

However, full disclosure:
Mi-School.net was developed by the Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office in collaboration with Grand Valley’s College of Education and Johnson Center for Philanthropy, as well as the Michigan Council for Charter School Authorizers


I was puzzled by this--why would the charter schools office be interested in developing a mapping tool? Now that I've looked over the web site a little, I think the answer lies in the Charter Applicant tab. I thought that this tab would take me to a special map of charter applicants. NO. That tab takes me to a tab on how to apply to be a charter school. Note that there is nothing wrong with telling people how to apply to be a charter school. However, it strikes me as a little bit underhanded to appear to be one thing (a cool mapping tool) but have a different primary objective. Nonetheless, it is a cool mapping tool, so caveat emptor (buyer beware)--it is, after all, free.



Here's the press release:
Grand Valley State University has developed a website designed to help Michigan residents and educators learn more about their schools and communities, and how they impact one another.
The website, Mi-School.net, combines 2010 U.S. Census data with information from the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Community Health and local police departments and clerks. The website features visual markers that represent all traditional, charter and private schools in the state. Each marker representing a school can be selected to view information about that specific school and/or district including enrollment characteristics and standardized test performance.
Mi-School.net, is built on a platform similar to Google Maps and allows users to visually display information such as an area’s population, housing, vital records, crime, education, income, voting and transportation through color-coded maps. The site also features a comparison tool that allows users to compare up to five schools and/or districts using 40 different indicators.
Each data set can be narrowed to feature more specific information. For example, an area’s population can be analyzed based on total population, race, average household size, population under 5 years old or population under 18 years old. The geographic area being analyzed can be customized as well, featuring an area as large as the entire state or as small as a city block.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

DNA and Mother's Day

My favorite line in this Biologist's Mother's Day Song is: 
"Slightly more than half of all I am, is thanks to you."


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Now, Back to Budget Cutting?

The Michigan House passed a really bad education bill today, which will mean lots more budget cutting. It doesn't have to be that way--the School Aid Fund has enough money in it to avoid cutting our public schools, if we didn't try to fund our higher education programs with that money at the same time--something that has never been done before, and that will effectively do a poor job serving both K-12 education and higher education.

Here is what Ann Arbor Representative Jeff Irwin had to say about it, as recorded in the House Journal:
Mr. Speaker and members of the House:
Despite the protestations of the majority, deep cuts to education do not create jobs. Indeed, the passage of this budget bill will mean less jobs today and less jobs tomorrow. Today, this bill represents layoff notices for the dedicated public servants that educate our children. The passage of these deep cuts will take educators out of the classroom and compromise Michigan's ability to compete for jobs and investment. Tomorrow, this disinvestment in education will stay with us. Michigan will struggle to attract and retain the type of employers that provide good jobs. Michigan kids won't have the skills, knowledge and training that children from other states and other countries enjoy. With this action, the Michigan House of Representatives threatens to leave our state behind in the competition for prosperity, innovation and a high quality of life.

Yes, that's what we're up against--the cutting of (mandatory) K-12 education in order to have money for (non-mandated) higher education. What ticks me off is that everybody says that "kids are our future." Well, if they really believed that, they would fund that. They must not believe it. I think this budget passed along party lines--and did you know that the head of the House Republicans is Randy Richardville, who actually represents a small part of Washtenaw County (and Monroe County).

The education budget hasn't passed the Senate yet, there's still time to lobby.

Find out more about what is going on at the state level at the legislative event being held at Pioneer High School tomorrow (May 6th) at 5:30 p.m. The details are below. Note that you can call in advance to 994-2232 to provide comment during public commentary, or provide written testimony to the legislators.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education will host a legislative roundtable on Friday, May 6, 2011 at Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.
The legislative roundtable, hosted by the AAPS Board of Education as a study session, will present state funding issues affecting the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Confirmed legislators who will be attending the roundtable study session are;
Representative Mark Ouimet (R-52- Scio Township), Representative Jeff Irwin (D-53- Ann Arbor), Representative David Rutledge (D-54-Ypsilanti), Representative Rick Olson (R-55- Saline), Senator Rebekah Warren (D-18-Washtenaw County) as well as members of the House Appropriations School Aid Subcommittee, Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) and Representative Jim Ananich (D-Flint).
Senate Majority Leader Senator Randy Richardville and Governor Rick Snyder have been invited.

The agenda includes:
AAPS Budget History – what AAPS has done in the past 5 years to address the ongoing structural deficit
Governor Snyder’s Budget Implications – 2011/12 AAPS Proposed Budget including $15 million in reductions
Ideas for Reform – recommendations of areas to address and put forward change to adequately fund pre-K-12 public education
Public Commentary – there will be a limited time for public commentary by signing up in advance by calling 734.994.2232 or to leave a written testimony for the School Aid Subcommittee members.
 Show up, and give our representatives and senators a civics lesson!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day! SOS! Yeah!!!!

May 3d: And. . . The Millage Passes. Thanks Everyone!

May Day=today's date. Happy May Day! Those words are also an international sign for needing help. I'm told it comes from the French, venez m'aider, or come help me.

SOS=Save Our Schools. SOS is also an international sign for needing help, chosen (I am told) because it is very simple to spell those letters in Morse code: . . . - - - . . .

Washtenaw County schools need YOUR help this week.
Which is why I say: May Day! SOS!
On Tuesday, May 3d, please go out and 

VOTE!

Why? The Special Education Millage Renewal Needs Your Support!
And if you live in Dexter or Chelsea (and some districts that just touch on the county: Grass Lake, Napoleon, Stockbridge, Clinton, Columbia...you've got some school board elections too.)
See the complete list of candidates here
Read about the special education millage at washtenawfriends.org or at your nearest public school web site.
Thank you! 

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