Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guess Who's Evaluating Those Standardized Tests? (I Wish This Were a Joke!)

From an ad on Craigslist:

"The starting pay is $10.70 per hour." For that sum, I'm sure they are getting
some highly skilled staff. Screenshot from Craigslist.

Who? Measurement Incorporated

We are a diverse company engaged in educational research, test development, and the scoring of tests administered throughout the world. 

What? Reader/Evaluator Position

If you qualify as a reader/evaluator, you will be eligible to work on a number of our projects. Many projects require readers to score essays for content, organization, grammatical convention, and/or the student's ability to communicate and to respond to a specific directive. Other projects involve scoring test items in reading, math, science, social studies, or other subject areas. The tests you will score come from many different states and from students at all grade levels, elementary through college, depending on the project.

Where and when? 

Starting in March of 2015 , day and evening shift, in Ypsilanti!


Bachelor's degree in any field
Ability to perform adequately on a placement assessment

HOURS: Temporary, but 5 days/week.

PAY: The starting pay is $10.70 per hour. 

Yet we are going to use these temporary employees to evaluate our students' work, and our teachers. Yippee.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Governor's FY 2015-2016 Budget: What Does All This Mean To You?

This is a guest post by A3 Teacher:

As the State lays out its K-12 budget for the 2015-16 school year, there are some interesting things to note.  

First, Governor Snyder is claiming a $75 per pupil increase across the board for all schools.  

While on the surface this seems wonderful, the reality for some school districts is that this will result in a net loss.  While increasing the per pupil amount, other aspects of funding are being reduced or disappearing (for example the “best practices” incentive and performance incentive). 

 According to MLive’s article and database, Ann Arbor Public Schools would stand to lose $55 per pupil, Ypsilanti Community School would stand to gain $176 per pupil, Saline Area Schools would lose $10 per pupil, Dexter Community Schools would lose $44 per pupil, Chelsea would gain $28 per pupil, and Whitmore Lake would gain $25 per pupil.

[Ed. Note: Here is a nice piece about the implications of this so-called increase for one school district, written by the Superintendent of the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools.]

Now for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, there is a surplus in the K-12 School Aid Fund to the tune of $284.4 million; conversely the General State Budget is short $454 million.  Right now the Michigan legislature is figuring out ways to take that K-12 surplus to pay for our general fund shortfall. 

Wouldn’t it make sense that money allocated for K-12 education should go towards education?  

A surplus in the K-12 School Aid Fund should be reinvested in students, not used to pay a general fund deficit.  

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

You Should Be Super Mad Right Now: Legislators Rob School Aid Fund

As a friend wrote on Facebook, 

"This just makes my blood boil."

What was she talking about? She was talking about today's House vote to steal money from the School Aid Fund to fill a General Fund deficit. 

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Excerpt #1 from Kyle Feldscher's MLive article, or 
How are we screwing our school districts this time?:
HB 4110 would shift $167 million from the K-12 portion of the School Aid Fund to the community college portion of the fund. The money that would be freed up by the move would then go toward the general fund deficit.
The legislation also uses $80 million that was initially intended to be paid toward Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) to pay down the deficit. That payment would have been above and beyond the required payment to MPSERS, according to state officials.
"Two hundred and fifty million dollars is being siphoned from the School Aid Fund," said Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores. "This money could be used to significantly increase the foundation allowance in support of improving education here in the state of Michigan."

Excerpt #2: 
In which the Republican legislators try to make this sound like it's budget-neutral. It's not.

The School Aid Fund was projected to end the fiscal year with a $283.5 million surplus.

Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said he was voting in favor of the bill in order to balance the budget and "uphold the Constitution." The Michigan Constitution requires a balanced budget.
"I'm proud of the fact that we are balancing this budget without touching kids, without touching colleges, without touching universities," Pscholka said.

The House passed the bill 62-48. Surprise! It was mostly Republicans who voted for it, and Democrats who voted against it.

And here's Excerpt #3, which explains something you might be wondering:
Why do we have this deficit after all? I thought there was going to be a budget surplus! (You weren't dreaming.)

The budget shortfall in fiscal year 2015 is the result of businesses in Michigan cashing in old Michigan Business Tax credits issued between 1996 and 2011. Representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation said Wednesday the state is on the hook for $9.38 billion in leftover tax liability until 2032 due to the credits.
Right. You read that correctly. 9.38 BILLION DOLLARS. I can predict how this story goes over the next ten years. Unless we change what we're doing.

Translation: We could have shored up our schools' foundation allowances. We could have supported the school retirement funds and thus reduced the burden on our schools (which now spend something like 1/4 of their foundation allowance on pensions). We could have protected the school aid fund for K-12 funding. [And really--I'm all for community colleges! But as I mentioned the other day, we already pay--quite a bit--for them.]

In any case, we should not be subsidizing businesses at the expense of schools.
I suppose you could still say something to your state senator...if you live somewhere else. I'm pretty sure Sen. Rebekah Warren already agrees with me.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Why Is Washtenaw Community College So Inexpensive? We Pay For It!

I was getting my hair cut the other day, and the hair dresser's assistant, who is currently at Washtenaw Community College, mentioned that she was planning on going to cosmetology school.

The hairdresser then said, "It's not cheap, either! It costs a lot more than WCC!"

And I said...

"That's because we pay for WCC. In our taxes."

"We do?" she said. 

I'm pretty sure she is not the only one who doesn't know that we pay a millage for WCC. 

We pay 3.46 mills for WCC, and that is higher than the Ann Arbor Public Schools operating millage (2.18), higher than the Ann Arbor District Library millage (1.55), and just about one mill lower than the millage for Washtenaw County's general operating budget! (4.55).

So next time you are thinking about how "inexpensive" WCC is, remember--that's because we are subsidizing it. 

And that is today's public service announcement.

WCC--yet another of our public schools.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Five Updates: Who's Covering the First Elected Board, What's Your First Choice, Where's the Money Gone, Who's Listening Anyway, Why Keep Testing

1. Ypsilanti Community Schools board voted 4-3 not to do a superintendent search--their superintendent's contract will automatically renew in April for another year if they don't do anything.

It's not that I have an opinion about whether the school board should continue with Laura Lisiscki as superintendent, but I first heard about this issue on a facebook group. As a rumor. The rumor turned out to be true.

It also turned out that did cover the school board meeting, but that is not always a sure thing.

Who is routinely covering the school board meetings now? (Good question.) Does it matter that a discussion like this ends up with a 4-3 vote? (I would say that it does.) What is the best way to keep the community informed?

2. Ann Arbor schools has opened its doors to students from other districts. Part of me feels that this is poaching. On the other hand, the other school districts had already opened their doors to schools of choice.

But also--perhaps more interesting--you can also choose to send your kids to a different school within the district. Here's some information, the "window" for applications ends February 27th:

3. Local state representative Jeff Irwin explained how we can follow the money the other day on Facebook: 

I just finished my first meeting of the Appropriations committee. Chairman Al Pscholka offered some thoughtful and well-offered commentary at the beginning of the meeting focused on encouraging committee members to get educated on Michigan's budget. Then, we received a report from the House Fiscal Agency on state revenues.
This report highlights the impact of the massive changes that were made to business taxes in 2011. In summary, business taxes are expected to net just over $180M in the next budget. This represents only about 2% of the state's general fund. Just a few years ago, corporate taxes brought in around $2B per year in state taxes (about 25% of the GF). If you're wondering why tuition is going up, class sizes are going up and taxes on individuals are going up, now you have your answer. (Emphasis added.)

4. Ann Arbor Superintendent Jeanice Swift is on her second listening tour. I thought the first one was pretty successful, and I'm planning to attend at least one of these. I hope you will go to one too--so you can bring up your most important issues, whether they be transportation, testing, trimesters, trigonometry, tenth grade, or (I'm running out of "t" words here)...

All discussions run from 6:30-8 pm unless otherwise noted:

Clip art taken from:
Monday, February 9 at the Administration Building hosted by the PTO Council
Tuesday, February 10 at Scarlett Middle School
Thursday, February 12 at Slauson Middle School
Monday, February 23 at the Downtown Library, 4th Floor at 12noon-1:30pm
Tuesday, March 3 at Tappan Middle School
Monday, March 9 at Peace Neighborhood Center
Thursday, March 12 at A2 STEAM at Northside
Thursday, March 26 at Pathways to Success Academic Campus
Monday, March 30 at Community High School
Tuesday, March 31 at Ann Arbor Open

5. Last, but not least, we come to testing. 
This spring there will be the M-Step, which is Michigan's "not" Smarter Balance and "not" the MEAP and "not" the ACT [but 11th graders will still ALSO have to take the ACT]...the last minute, untested, unvalidated, uncomparable to last year's MEAP but being used because state officials couldn't agree on using Smarter Balance standardized test. And this will probably be replaced by something else next year. Read all about M-Step here.

Well--if you want to know what is going on with testing at the state level, then I suggest you subscribe to the Michigan Department of Education's Spotlight on Student Assessment and Accountability

If you were paying attention a few months ago, you might remember that several local superintendents voiced the concern that there was too much testing in the 11th grade. And so I was interested in this tiny concession that was published in Spotlight: 
Due to concerns around testing time, the Classroom Activity andPerformance Task components of the 11th grade M-STEP are optionalfor high schools. While there are some benefits to administeringthese components, they will not be required. There will be noaccountability penalty in terms of participation or scoring for highschools that choose to not administer the classroom activities andperformance tasks. This does not apply to the classroom activitiesand performance tasks in grades 3 through 8 — those are required.

Anyone want to opt out? Here is an article about some strategies.
Also, you can find some local resources (people!) at the Facebook page, Ann Arbor STOP: Stop Overtesting.

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