Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Computer Know-How

I was at Sweetwaters in Kerrytown and I turned on my (practically new!) laptop. Then I tried to log in to Facebook, and I got an "access denied" message, along with an invitation to provide a log-in and password if I wanted an override. Upon further investigation, I noticed that I was hooked up to the Ann Arbor Public Schools network. (Community High School is right across the street from Sweetwaters.) I switched to the Sweetwaters network, and was allowed to access Facebook (phew!).

Later that day, I was describing the situation to my least tech-savvy child, who said,
"Yeah, you couldn't get into Facebook, right? Except it's easy to hack. There are certain rooms in the buildings where the restrictions don't work, and some people know the override passwords."
"So, do you know how to do it?" I ask.
"Yes, but it's totally not worth it. Nobody else is on."

I won't tell you if my child has ever gotten in, or not. I was surprised that the kid who hates computer assignments knows how to "hack" the system.

Conclusions...the "secure" system is not so secure...where there is a will, there is a way...

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Rest Is Commentary

Here are a few thoughts about events of the last few months.

On the good side:
Maybe things are looking up in the Willow Run schools. I don't say that because their finances have improved (they haven't). At least, though, their school board has finally figured out that it is supposed to make some decisions, and it seems they may be doing the best they can. They shunted their erstwhile superintendent into a side (newly-created) position, in a way that might seem like a waste of money when they have none. Except I don't think it was--if her contract had been written better, they could have fired her for complete and absolute dereliction of duty. But it wasn't, and putting her in this position avoids a potential lawsuit. And people seem to like the principal they've made as acting superintendent, so--all in all--they appear to at least be trying to move in a positive direction.
Lincoln Schools decided not to cut all bus transportation. This probably was meant to keep people from running to charters and other schools. (Is bus transportation the only thing that keeps people in the Lincoln Schools?) Nonetheless, on behalf of all working parents in the Lincoln school district, I thank them.

On the "I thought this was a bad idea but it happened anyway" side:
Detroit school teachers approved a contract that has them taking $10,000 out of their own salaries and loaning it to the school district. The idea is ingenious on the part of Robert Bobb, but if I were a teacher I wouldn't have voted for that. First, if I'm going to loan money it will likely be to my family or friends. Second, bankers everywhere have assessed the Detroit Public Schools as a poor credit risk. Why should teachers take on that credit risk? The whole thing really shows up how weak the unions have become--despite what the press might say.
At the last minute, the state legislature approved changes that could qualify the state for federal Race to the Top money. First, my assessment of the changes--they are a mixed bag, some are good (alternate certification paths for teachers) and some will probably hurt local school districts (more charter schools?) . Don't believe for a minute that the last-minute agreements on this mean that the legislature is acting like a legislature. No--it was the chance to qualify for free money--that got them talking. Don't expect them to be able to act like a decision-making body next year. In any case, in addition to the fact that not all of the changes will be good for the state, there is a better than even chance that we won't get any of the money at all. There are more states competing for the money than there are awards. And--even if we get the money, that money won't go to all school districts, but only a select few.

I'm sure there's more, but I will stop there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Technology: Mostly, Indifferent

One idea that I have had for cutting costs is to reduce the technology in the classroom. The problem with that idea is that a lot of the funding for technology is coming from dedicated funds--so it can't be used for staff costs.
I'm lukewarm on technology for several reasons, but the primary one is that I don't think it makes teachers actually teach better. Very few teachers use technology in a way that makes outcomes any different.
Conversation with my dad (a retired professor):
Me: Interactive whiteboards are all show.
Dad: But they are really cool!
Sure, they are cool. But do they improve reading? math? Does my son know more math than I learned at the same age with a regular chalkboard? I don't think so.

Assorted Stuff has some interesting thoughts on the subject.
Assorted Stuff posits that if you could change the teacher-directed educational structure, you could probably integrate technology into teaching, and teach better.
I think that's an interesting thought, and one that project-based learning theory supports. On the other hand--direct instruction has its place, and maybe teachers shouldn't try so hard to incorporate technology into what is otherwise exactly the same exercise that it would be without technology.

And here is an example:
One of my children's teachers has a blog where he posts the assignment (write a response to the piece we just read), and they all post their responses. Do you think that really improves the thoughtfulness of the responses? Do you think it makes things easier for the children? Does it make my child understand the piece better? No, No, and No. (It did, however, let me see that the teacher writes poorly.)

Teachers: if you are going to use technology, please use it to do things that you couldn't or wouldn't do without it (for instance, build a visual model of the outcome of a physics experiment). Don't use technology just because it is there.

The Per-Pupil Problem

I was listening to an interview on WDET (and I can't find it now) but I think it was with the superintendent of the Wayne-Westland schools. [I do really like the show Detroit Today on WDET, and there is quite a lot of school news on it.]

Before this interview, I had not really thought about this particular aspect of school funding.
In the olden days (that would be pre-proposal A), schools were primarily dependent on property taxes, and that was heavily influenced by how much a particular school district was willing to approve. So the difficult aspect of this is that some school districts were much less willing to tax themselves, and there was a large inequity between districts.
There was also a plus to the property tax scheme. If enrollment went up or down a little bit, it generally didn't affect the district all that much, because probably property tax collections didn't change very much. 
The current system has (somewhat) reduced the inequities between districts--at the very least, it has brought the floor--the least-funded districts--up a lot. Now, however, that funding is tied to the number of pupils, and small changes get magnified. This is especially true when the majority of school districts in the state are losing pupils. Yes, people are moving out of state.
You might be thinking that "it seems only fair" that you should get less money if you have fewer students, but here is the problem.
Take, for instance, a district with 5,000 students. In year 1, they have 5,000 students, but in year 2, they lose 100 students and they only have 4,900 students. They just lost between 5 and 10 students in each grade (it varied by grade), and that is not enough to cut a single individual class. They still have to offer advanced math in the high school, and three 4th grade classrooms.
In pre-Proposal A days, losing 100 students out of 5,000 would not have affected their bottom line very much, if at all. Now, losing 100 students means losing something like 3/4 of a million dollars--without the capacity to cut equivalently, because remember--not all of those kids were 4th graders, so they can't cut all 4th grade classrooms.
What does this mean? As we look at revamping funding options, let's look at options that don't make school districts overly reliant on per-pupil fluctuations. Of course the number of students in a district needs to be taken into account, but it shouldn't be the only thing taken into account.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meetings and More: Budget, Elections

Ann Arbor
Public Hearing on whether to move the AAPS school elections from May to November.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library, 4th Floor, 343 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.
I am opposed to this move. It seems like it will save a relatively small amount of money, that school board candidates will get ignored (thanks to more prominent races) on even-year elections, and yet it may cost school board candidates more to run a campaign in order to get noticed. 
Ann Arbor Budget Meetings
Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be at the following dates and locations:
  • Thursday, Jan. 7 at Huron High School, 2727 Fuller Road.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12 at Skyline High School, 2552 N. Maple Road.
  • Thursday, Jan. 14 at Scarlett Middle School, 3300 Lorraine.
  • Tuesday, Jan. 19 at Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd.
Whitmore Lake School District does not appear to have a specific budget meeting, but they do have a place for you to share your ideas about budget cuts.

UPDATE: Saline Schools are putting together 3 committees related to budget issues--
If you are interested, then you can download the application here.  
  • Building/Grade Reconfiguration Committee
  • Pay to Play Review Committee
  • Activity Fee Review Committee   

Kudos to Saline for doing this. I hope Ann Arbor (and other school districts) will follow suit. That would definitely increase transparency and participation.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank You

I received two nominations for the Thank You contest. I am hoping, though, that some of you will thank those staff who have been helpful to you--directly.

CARINA SIETZ of the Pioneer High School English Department. Her nominator says "Her class is very demanding but interesting. She is kind and inclusive."


SUSAN CARPENTER from Summers-Knoll School. Her nominator says, "She is fun, works hard, and [is] very warm to her elementary kids."

I do have a few teachers I am going to thank directly. I thought about listing them directly, but decided it would compromise my semi-anonymity. Instead, I would like to take this space to thank the administrative staff at my kids' schools,  the custodial staff at my kids' schools, and the crossing guards and lunch ladies/men.
The administrative staff have helped me track down lost kids, make last-minute copies, and solve all kinds of problems. The custodial staff have cleaned up my kids' messes, and your kids' messes. The crossing guards make sure kids get to and from school safely, and the lunch staff keep the peace. I would like to give them a round of applause. 

Now, it is your turn--take time this week to thank a school staff person. 

To the Waters and the Wild

What was the first poem that you remember memorizing? I probably learned Robert Louis Stevenson's My Shadow first, but the one I remember reciting was his poem The Cow. I was in third grade.
The friendly cow all red and white
I love with all my heart.
We are not asked to memorize, or recite, very much any more. It's an art, and it's good practice for--something--our brains, or our hearts?

My son had to memorize, and recite, a poem this past month. He enjoyed it. He came home commenting on how much he liked the poem another child had memorized. "And it was really long," he said--indirectly praising his classmate's performance.

The poem? The Stolen Child by W.B. Yeats.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

Do you think the kids all understood it? Does it matter?

In tenth grade, my teacher required us to choose one of two sonnets to memorize. I thought they were both really hard to learn, and I didn't understand either one, so I chose the one that seemed slightly easier. The road not taken--the poem I didn't learn--was Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. [I didn't learn it, but I still remember which poem it was.]

The one I did learn, but I didn't understand, was William Wordsworth's The World Is Too Much With Us. I didn't understand it then, but now? Now, it speaks to me.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
 Do you have a favorite poem? One that speaks to you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December Anxiety

I meant this post as a follow-up to my earlier post, Ramadan Mubarak. I started this around the time of the Jewish New Year, and it seemed appropriate to connect these two posts to the actual Muslim and Jewish calendars.  But the best laid it is, close to the secular/Roman/U.S. New Year, and I'm just getting back to it.

My first encounter with the experience of Jewish kids in the Ann Arbor Public Schools came before I had kids in the schools, and it was a shock. As a transplant from the northeast, I was used to the idea that even schools with fairly low numbers of Jewish kids still were closed, minimally, for the Jewish high holidays; and there were still 2, 3, or 4 Jewish kids in every class. As a young child, it made intuitive sense to me that school would start in September--of course, because that is when the Jewish holidays were. [In fact, the idea that the "New Year" would be in January made no sense to me at all.]

One day about 15 years ago, shortly before Chanukah, I was visiting a 3d or 4th grade classroom on the north side of Ann Arbor. I was setting up for my presentation in the back of the room, and I watched, fascinated, as the teacher called up "Jane," with her menorah (candelabra) and dreidel (spinning top), to explain the holiday of Chanukah. Although Jane was clearly prepared, she was also shy. The teacher tried to help her a little by asking Jane questions about the holiday, and then asked, "Can anyone else help Jane?" Nobody raised a hand. I was shocked. Was Jane the only Jewish child in the whole class? Coming home that night, I shared the story with my husband, who had grown up Jewish in mid-Michigan. He wasn't shocked at all. In fact, he had probably had that experience. But I--I was plagued by self-doubt. Could I? Should I? send my kids to school in a school system where they would be even more of a minority than I had been in my school? I wasn't sure.

Cut to many years later. My kids have never been the only Jewish kids in their classes, although they have sometimes been the most observant (which creates a different set of challenges). Ann Arbor schools are still somewhat segregated by class and race, and just as Muslim kids are not divided evenly among the schools, neither are Jewish kids. In some schools, there are quite a few Jewish kids, and in others, very few.

So--how has our experience, and the experience of the other Jewish families I know--been?

For the most part fine, but there have been a few glaring exceptions. The problem with glaring exceptions, as you know, is that they stick with you for a long, long time.

So--let's start with the fact that the Ann Arbor Public Schools have a religious holidays policy. You can read it here. Essentially, the policy addresses how to handle a religious holidays calendar, which has finally been "meshed" with the other calendars, and which labels holidays as one-star, two-star, and three-star. As you might suspect, Yom Kippur and the last day of Ramadan are labeled as three-star holidays, which means "most important." Good Friday? It's a two-star holiday. But guess which day the schools are closed on? If you guessed Good Friday, and not the last day of Ramadan, you would be right. I should note that the "stars" don't just denote observance importance. They also try to estimate how popular the holiday is as far as observance goes. For instance, the Jewish holidays of Sukkot and Passover are equally important from the point of view of Jewish observance. However, more Jews observe the Passover seder, and so. . . those first days of Passover get three stars, and the first days of Sukkot get two. On one level, that seems reasonable to me, although I think some of the star levels should be revisited. And I will say this: if any of the other school districts in the county have an articulated religious observance policy, I couldn't find it. So kudos to Ann Arbor for even having one.

Issues come up every year, and not just in December.
Just this week, I felt slightly queasy when I saw the Saline Schools twitter about kids working on wreaths.  You might not think of wreaths as Christmas-y, but I do. Poinsettias and trees, too, for that matter.

I felt even queasier when I saw that kids from Erickson Elementary in Ypsilanti were singing carols at a Christmas tree lighting in Ypsilanti

Don't get me wrong--I am happy to help my neighbors put ornaments on their trees, I enjoy listening to other people sing carols or Handel's Messiah. But. But. But I don't want that in our public schools. That is where I want separation of church and state.

I approached my first  December in the Ann Arbor schools with a lot of trepidation. I found truth in the phrase, "A best defense is a good offense," and I felt a HUGE amount of relief when I found that Ann Arbor Open (where my oldest was) had come up with a great solution to the "December dilemma." The school's Multicultural Festival--a full-scale extravaganza that involves every classroom studying a culture in depth, AND a community potluck, AND a fundraiser for the school library--was scheduled for the week before the December break. And guess what the net effect was? All of the kids' attention was on the Multicultural Festival, and (almost) none of it on the holidays. I highly recommend this approach (substitute something really engrossing, some project-based learning) as a way to deal with both Christmas and Chanukah. This year, the Ann Arbor Open Multicultural Festival is scheduled for Thursday, December 17th, 2009, 6-8 p.m. (There is a suggested donation that helps support the library, but it is NOT required.) Visitors are welcome to come eat and travel from classroom to classroom with a "passport." The Multicultural Festival? It is my favorite night of the school year.

Coming Soon: So how is that religious holidays policy working for you?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kids and Teachers

As the parent of three kids, I have found that what works for one child does not necessarily work for another child. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's not so good.

Good teachers know that is true. The student who reads easily may have trouble writing. The child who listens well may not be comfortable presenting a project in front of the class. The third grader who memorized all the times tables may have trouble with spatial math concepts.

All of which is to say--today is your day to celebrate, and thank, the teacher who manages to teach your child as the individual human being that she or he is. Nominations are accepted in the comments below, or by sending me an email at: rlk234 (at) Look here for the "rules," such as they are.

Don't I have other things to blog about? "And how!" as my grandmother would say. Willow Run changes, web site analysis, tax policy, minority/majority culture, why the federal Race to the Top is a bad thing...BUT--thank yous are important. Nominate your school staff today, and regular programming will return later.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thank A Teacher Contest

BUMP! Tomorrow (Monday, December 7th) is the LAST DAY for this contest. So far I have 3 nominations. Surely there are more than 3 school staff worth thanking in this whole entire county! You can email me directly at rlk234 (at) or write your thank you in the comments below. Thank you for participating.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I am hosting my own little Thank A Teacher "contest." I put contest in quotes because in true alternative education fashion, every nominee is a winner, although there are a few simple rules.

1. Nominations can be submitted through the comments below, or by sending me an email to: rlk234 (at)
2. You can remain anonymous, but the teacher* needs to be identified.
3. *I should put teacher in quotes too, because you could also nominate a principal, teacher's aide, school secretary, custodian, or other school staff who have made a difference in your, or your child's, life. 
4. You can nominate more than one teacher, and please write something about why you want to thank this teacher.
5. The teacher(s) you are nominating could be someone who taught you or your kids a long time ago (or is currently teaching them), but they must still be actively teaching or working in the schools.
6.  Any teacher that you want to honor needs to work in a school that serves students from Washtenaw County (It doesn't need to only serve students from Washtenaw County. For instance Plymouth-Canton, Van Buren, and charter or private school teachers can be nominated.)

And, as I said above, every teacher (or school staff person) who is nominated--and meets the qualifications above--will be a winner! 
What the teacher/staff person will get by way of thanks:
1. Their name and position/school in this blog.
2. An email from me, to them, telling them that they are being thanked through the Thank-A-Teacher contest. If you use your name, I will tell them who nominated them. (Unless you don't want them to know who is thanking them, in which case you had better say that in your nomination.)

That's all. Except maybe I should have a deadline. Say...December 7th?
Deadline: December 7, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Transparency, Part III: How To Thank A Teacher

[Did you read Transparency, Part I: What Do We Mean? and Transparency, Part II: An Example? They are the meat. This is the gravy.]

Apparently in my post on Thanking A Teacher or Other School Staff, I wasn’t transparent enough about how to nominate someone. You can nominate someone in the comments of this post or my earlier post, or you can send me an email at rlk234 (at) You can nominate anonymously, or use your name.  See the earlier post for details. Thanks! (Deadline: December 7, 2009)

Transparency, Part II: An Example

[First Read: Transparency, Part 1: What Do We Mean]

Just yesterday, I found the perfect example of what I mean when I say that there is a lack of transparency in the district. I get an email from my kid’s high school, asking me to take a survey about the possibility of a county-wide International Baccalaureate program. (I linked to the survey here.) The email assured me that “NO FINAL DECISION HAS BEEN MADE, but the county-wide IB Committee would like to determine if there is interest.”

OK, so—on the topic of the International Baccalaureate program—I don’t know all that much. I know a few kids who go to schools that use that model (one in Oakland County, one in South Bend). It isn’t an option I’m interested in, but there might be some people who are interested in it. So this is neither an endorsement or rejection of the idea.

Here are some of my questions about it:
Why is it being considered? There are a zillion and one things in the AAPS strategic plan. Specifically, what problem are we trying to solve by creating a new program at this time?
Is this the best solution to that problem?
If it is an important program, why not create it as a small magnet program at Huron or Pioneer?Why is it important to have it as a county-wide consortium, and what will that mean for Ann Arbor? Would it affect any of our other high schools?

How much will it cost?

But that is a little bit of a digression. Let’s return to the process question. I tried searching the AAPS web site to find out more about the International Baccalaureate program, and the only things that turned up were references to the strategic plan, or (in board meeting minutes), to pursuing the IB possibility because of the strategic plan.There is nothing that gives me any information at all about what an IB program includes.

The email refers to the county-wide IB Committee, but I could find no references to the committee on the AAPS web site. So, who exactly is on this committee?

A general Google search referred me to an article by David Jesse in, from September 2nd, 2009 (yes, that is 3 months ago) which says:
A countywide program for advanced students will “very likely” be started by the fall of 2011, Ann Arbor school Superintendent Todd Roberts said Wednesday.
So—a decision has been made? Or, according to the email I got, it hasn’t been made? It sounds to me as if the only thing missing is a final stamp of approval. Saying that “no decision has been made,” and asking for a survey to assess interest, when officials have publicly said it is very likely to happen is—at best—disingenuous. At least, when I ask for transparency, what I’m asking for is that the district:  a) share the process, not just the end results and b) tell the (whole) truth.

[Read on: Transparency, Part 3: How to Thank A Teacher]

Transparency, Part I: What Do We Mean?

I was sitting in a parlor meeting to hear a presentation by Todd Roberts (AAPS Superintendent). The purpose of the meeting was to promote the need for the schools millage (yes, that schools millage), and the audience was fairly friendly to the cause. One of the people present asked, “I keep hearing people talk about the need for more transparency. What do they mean by that?”

Todd Roberts answered (and despite the quote marks I am paraphrasing here), I have no idea. We have a lot of information, including our budget, on our web site.”

“Holy clear plate of glass, Batman!” Seriously, Todd, you have no idea what people mean by transparency? 

Well, I have a few ideas (and I shared one of them at that meeting), and here’s a little detail.

When my friends talk about transparency, they (we) mean multiple things.

First, we mean being able to find information that they need/want, when they need it. Hopefully by the end of the year I will be able to put up some ideas for how to improve the web site (which is an impossible mess, for the most part). But having a year-old budget on your web site, in pdf format, when the landscape has changed so dramatically, does not constitute transparency. Where do I find the ideas about what changes might happen? Without the information, what is left is FEAR. Fear that—for example—schools will be closed, and we will be the last to know.

Second, we mean being able to figure out who to contact to find something out. I just had someone email me who said, “Nobody ever answers my calls and I can’t figure out who to ask.” (That itself is quite an indictment, but in case you are interested, I sent her to my catch-all person—Todd Roberts’ administrative assistant. She should know, but if she doesn't know, she can probably find out for you.)


Second, we mean process. I have written about this before (here), but if I want to get involved in city or county government, there is a clear way for me to get involved in city/county commissions. There are plenty of public meetings. I can try to get appointed to a committee.
That is not so in the school district. Above the building level, there are virtually no public commissions or committees to sit on or even attend as a visitor. Making presentations about the budget to people (and answering questions at a meeting) is no substitute for having a committee where people can discuss, and come up with ideas. And no wonder those meetings are sparsely attended. They are poorly advertised, and they are seemingly meaningless. It’s not just about the budget, though. Are there any ongoing district-wide committees—open to community members—that look at high school policies and configuration, elementary school libraries, buildings and infrastructure, web design, extra-curricular activities? If there are, I can’t find them.  If there is one thing that Ann Arbor has, it is a wealth of experience and knowledge. Why, oh why, doesn’t AAPS tap into it?

The lack of transparency, the lack of information, the lack of process, the lack of approachability—all of these create an atmosphere of frustration and distrust. Sure, I know what to do at the building site level, but—try to move beyond that, and it’s like knocking your head against a brick wall.

[Up Next: Transparency, Part 2: An Example]

State School Funding

Blogging For Michigan has a summary of, and commentary on, the EPIC/MRA poll that says school funding in Michigan is too low. So if that is what you were thinking, well--it's nice to know you are not alone.

This morning, I heard Gov. Jennifer Granholm saying on the radio that school funding mechanisms need to be changed because so much of the money for our School Aid Fund comes from the sales tax, which does not do well "in a recessionary environment." Oh, so that's what we're in? No, seriously--hasn't that always been obvious? Those of you who voted for Proposal A way back in 1994, what were you thinking? (The rest of you escape my words of wrath.)

The Federal Race to the Top has a lot of people (educators and legislators) talking about possible legislation changes to qualify for a large chunk of change. But some of the required legislation changes are not so good, in my opinion. Take, for example, linking teacher pay and performance to the way kids and schools perform on test scores. Considering that test scores have repeatedly been shown to correlate most closely with family income, that strikes me as a dumb idea. The vast majority of school funding (by vast, I mean over 90%) comes from state and local sources, so it's interesting--but not necessarily in a good way--that the federal government is coming in with a way to force change, but not providing long-term funding.

Oh yeah--thank a teacher? Send in nominations, please.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bits, Pieces, Thank Yous

A few updates:

H1N1 clinic this Saturday, December 5th, at the new Manchester High School, 20500 Dutch Drive, Manchester, MI, 10-3.  (I took one child to the EMU clinic. The whole process took about 35 minutes, start to finish.)

Saline Schools Community Conversations coming up on December 14th. Details here. 

Dexter and Ann Arbor school boards are discussing finances this week. That is not the same as a community conversation.

You have until Thursday December 3d at 4 p.m. to put your name in the ring for running for Ann Arbor school board. Now is not the time for me, but maybe it is for you?

Willow Run has an interim financial manager. There is still no sign or news of their supposed superintendent, but the acting Superintendent is getting praised. (And I like the new look of

The state house is beginning to discuss some of the items necessary for qualifying for the Race to the Top (the federal one). I think it's kind of ironic that two "must do" items are a) alternative ways of certifying teachers and b) more charter schools. I'm all for a) but that's because I was looking for that for several years before I gave in and went the traditional certification route. As for b), I'm not totally against or in favor of charters, but there are lots of problems with them, even if they are a moot point. But are either of these things going to make our schools better? I doubt it.

Oh, and in that same vein (things that I don't think will make our schools better--although this is potentially another option for people looking for high school options), I got this email the other day. So--have an opinion? Take the survey. 
As part of Ann Arbor's Strategic Plan, the Ann Arbor Public Schools and Washtenaw County school districts are examining the possibility of opening a 9th-12th grade county-wide high school utilizing the International Baccalaureate Program ( This school will offer a challenging academic curriculum built on international standards as well as a variety of complementary co-curricular programs have been exploring doing an International Baccalaureate program. NO FINAL DECISION HAS BEEN MADE, but the county-wide IB Committee would like to determine if there is interest. Please complete the following survey.  The link is directly below:

Last, but not least--PLEASE nominate some teachers for thanking. So far I haven't gotten a single nominee. That makes me sad. Is it possible there is not a single teacher in the county you think should be thanked? Bushwah! The rules are simple, and everyone wins. [I know, maybe I shouldn't have called it a contest...]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Something Heavy To Chew On

If you are looking for something heavy to chew on over the holiday weekend--and I don't mean turkey--how about tax policy?

The Detroit Free Press had an editorial on November 15th in favor of expanding taxes, either via a graduated income tax and/or through expanding the sales tax to services. Whether you agree with them or not (I do), they put together some awesome charts/graphs that you should look at (link).

I believe they got a lot of the information from a couple of people who will be speaking at the Michigan League for Human Services annual meeting on December 4th. You can get information about that here. It is Thursday, December 3, 9:30 to noon in Lansing. [And their web site has lots of other interesting publications and reports as well.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How To Find A School Of Choice

This is a long overdue post I promised someone quite a while ago.
If you are a parent, looking for a school for your child, what are your choices? This is meant as a basic primer. To get you started, here is a somewhat complete (not entirely) list of choices.

Investigating will take some work. If you can't find what you want on the web site of the relevant school district or academy, then you might make a phone call--to the secretary or administrative assistant of the district superintendent or academy principal. Generally they know everything,  and if they don't they can find it out. [And if they don't help you, try the superintendent or academy principal directly.]

1. Neighborhood public school. Every home in the county is districted to a school district, and a school (or possible a choice of two schools) that may--or may not--actually be in the neighborhood.  Often your local school is a good option, but if not, there are some other possibilities.

2. In-district school choice. Many of the local school districts allow you to request an in-district transfer to another neighborhood school. I wrote about the Ann Arbor schools process here, and  I complained at the time that it was hard to find out about and was also named something that makes no sense to the people looking for it. For in-district school choice, choices are sometimes limited by grade (for instance, only open to first and third graders) or by number of spots. If you don't like your neighborhood school, but you've heard better things about a different school in the district, this might work for you.

3. In-district magnet programs. These programs are particular to a school district. Timing for applications varies, but generally will be after January first. Check the district web site or call. In some cases they might be open to kids from other districts. Magnet programs include gifted and talented programs, language immersion programs (not yet in this county), or an alternative school like Ann Arbor Open or Community High School. Districts can set their own rules for magnets--tests, lotteries, interviews, etc.

4. Out-of-district school choice. Other public school districts can become schools of choice, and they can open up their whole school district, or only certain grades or schools. For instance, they could open it up to K-1-2 only, and they could also restrict the number of openings if they want. Right now, as examples, Whitmore Lake and Ypsilanti schools have their entire districts open as schools of choice, and Saline is a limited school of choice district. Separate from the school of choice option, you can put in special requests, but they may or may not allow them. I wrote about this here and here. [If this is the option you are interested in, you should definitely read those posts.] Openings may be open to you even if you live in a different county, but the timing of the open application periods varies widely. On my facebook page the other day, I noticed ads from the Bloomfield Hills schools! Are you willing to drive? You will be responsible for transportation.

5. Charter Schools. Charter schools, also known as public school academies, are public schools of choice and they are not geographically restricted. If too many people want to get in to a particular school, they may have a lottery or some other method of choosing students. Someone asked me why there are more charter elementary and middle schools than high schools. High schools require more specialized teachers (thus they are more expensive), and they are also harder to run on a small scale. Everyone thinks that a first grade class of 15 is great; a tenth grade class with a total of 15 kids? Too small to differentiate instruction in math or give kids choices of a language... But in the high school arena, one option is the Washtenaw Technical Middle College which operates out of Washtenaw Community College. You can find the links to local charter schools, all of whom work with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, here. 
6. Consortiums. Lincoln, Willow Run, and Ypsilanti schools have a consortium that has kids learning at Eastern Michigan University. Find out about it here.

That's it for the totally free options. (Free to you as the consumer. You are paying taxes for those schools, after all.) Oh, wait--I forgot--some school districts that are not schools of choice may let you pay tuition to them, as if they were a private school. No, I am not making that up.

If you're interested in homeschooling, you will have plenty of company. Here is information on the Homeschoolers of Washtenaw, Clonlara and other groups (many of them are religious, but not all of them).

There are always parochial schools: one Muslim school, one Jewish school, several Catholic schools, lots of Protestant or more general "Christian" schools.

Local private, non-religious schools include those with Montessori and Steiner philosophies, as well as schools targeting "gifted and talented" kids, kids with learning disabilities, traditional prep schools, and alternative learning environments.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is Our Only Tool A Hammer?

I just added a new blog to the blog roll on the side: Assorted Stuff.
The most recent post asks: In the school setting, if your only tool is a hammer, do all of the tools look like nails?

Meditations on Fairness and Equity

Probably every parent has had the experience of a child saying, "That's not fair!" while alluding to why you let Jane watch an extra hour of t.v., or why the coach let Joey's friend Mark play 4 innings in baseball and Joey only played 3 innings. But maybe Jane volunteered to rake the neighbor's lawn. Maybe Mark hasn't missed any practices. Or maybe there was no rationale for it.

Probably every teacher has had the experience of having to decide when one student should get "special treatment" when it is denied to another student (for example, giving permission to turn in a paper late to one student and not another). In grading--who really deserves the A? A student who has never been able to write more than two sentences, and suddenly writes three paragraphs in ninth grade, even though most students can write three pages? The student who tries something she has never done before, and fails at it, because she refused to take the safe route? The student who takes the safe route and does exactly what is requested but doesn't challenge himself? What is fair? What is equitable?

We can transfer these same questions to funding. What is fair and equitable to students may not be fair and equitable to taxpayers. What is fair may not be equitable, and what is equitable might not be fair.

Is it fair that kids in Traverse City have a much lower per-pupil allocation than kids in Ann Arbor?
Is it equitable that kids in Traverse City have a much lower per-pupil allocation than kids in Ann Arbor?

Is it fair that the majority of taxes raised for schools in the Ann Arbor School District get sent out of the district?
Is it equitable that the majority of taxes raised for schools in the Ann Arbor School District get sent out of the district?

Is it fair that each district can't choose to raise or lower its own taxes for schools?
Is it equitable that each district can't choose to raise or lower its own taxes for schools?

Is it fair that some PTOs are able to raise a lot of money for their schools, and others are not?
Is it equitable that some PTOs are able to raise a lot of money for their schools, and others are not?

You get the idea. Fairness and equity are often not the same. And by the way, I'm not about to argue that we should always come down on the side of equity over fairness, or fairness over equity. I am going to argue that we should make that discussion public.

On another note: 
If you listen to, or read, the American Radioworks piece that I just wrote about, you will find an astounding statistic. In the Perry School Study, the estimated Return On Investment in avoided costs (for instance, paying for someone while they are in jail) is an astounding 16%.
So while our state legislators are mired in mud, looking at the next six months only, I would say that--not only are they unable to come to any agreements, but honestly--they are missing the boat entirely. The payoff in education is a long-term one. But it can be big.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cool Early Childhood Research In Our Backyard

There was a terrific American Radioworks (Michigan Radio) story today on early childhood education. Of special interest, it features High Scope Research Center and Perry Nursery School (where a lot of the first research on preschool was done), and it also features Van Loggins, an AAPS physical education teacher at Ann Arbor Open.

The story is called Early Lessons
Scroll down on the Early Lessons page to: download the podcast, listen online, or read the transcript.

This is a story about special education, and it's a story about race. It's also about the power of a few people to right wrongs and make a difference in people's lives.
One of the key lessons learned--the preschool made a difference, but they don't really know why. (Theories abound.) Well, for a long time, nobody knew why aspirin reduced fever--but people knew that it did.

Another key lesson learned--there is a difference between low and high quality preschools, and currently, middle class white kids are most likely to go to the high quality preschools.

Entrance to Huron Valley Catholic

Entrance to Huron Valley Catholic School this morning


Friday, November 13, 2009

Race to the Top, Federal Style

I swear, when I titled the last post, I had no idea that some of the federal education stimulus money was called Race to the Top. But it is. There you have it. I, of course, meant something different than the federal government means.

And here is some commentary on the federal program.
The Michigan Messenger addresses the question of whether Michigan could even qualify for the monies.
That question will not be helped by the fact that the Michigan Senate is going on vacation. It's hard to vote on legislation when you are not in session. Do they ever work?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top 20%: Race You to the Top

A commenter asked if I would share my thoughts about what we should be advocating for up in Lansing. I will, but it will probably come out in bits and pieces over the next couple of weeks. I can't seem to muster the time to put it in one coherent package, and anyway it might get too long then.

So--first up:  Top 20%

In general, as an educator, I think that everybody should be getting a B or better. I don't mean this in a grade inflation sort of way. If you are getting a C, D, or F, you are probably not mastering the material. In fact, when my son came home with a C in math last year, I was extremely unhappy. Call me an overachiever if you like (he did--also a nerd), but the only classes I got Cs in were classes where I either didn't study, or really didn't understand the material. In fact, Skyline High School has adopted a form of mastery learning which actually sets the cutoff for mastery at 80%--in other words, a B-.

So, when we talk about what to advocate for in Lansing, let's start with the premise that this is not a race to the bottom. I don't understand why we would want to race to the bottom--on student results, on likelihood of going to college, on teacher salaries, on health outcomes like childhood obesity or smoking rates, and not even on taxes. Yes, I am saying that I want to be more like Massachusetts than Mississippi when it comes to education.

I want a race to the top, on student outcomes, on educators' pay, on numbers of kids going to college, and--if necessary--taxes too. In the race to the top, I think that the Top 20% has a catchy ring. If you are still paying attention, that means the state would be getting a B or better relative to other states. It means mastery learning. 

My first premise is that we should be driven by what will put our outcomes in the top 20% of states. Yes, that means being in the Top Ten. Why settle for mediocrity or, worse, failure? We can talk about how we measure outcomes (of course you can "manipulate" that, but it is also a matter of identifying what you value). We can talk about funding methodology.

But let's start with the idea that, if we could get a consensus goal of being in the top 20%, it would drive a lot of decision-making. 

One more thing: of course education is expensive. Kids are not robots, and neither are teachers. Which is why, next up:  School Funding--how, what, and why (or: tax structure, funding stability, what could equity/fairness mean)

Cut Proposals Begin

Lincoln Schools
Saline Schools
Manchester Schools

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

1994: Proposal A

A look back at Proposal A. Michigan Radio's Charity Nebbe interviews Craig Ruff, a policy analyst with Public Sector Consultants.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Theater this weekend

Tickets for Annie Get Your Gun at Skyline
Tickets for Oklahoma at Pioneer
Tickets for The Man Who Came To Dinner at Huron
Sorry, Community High School's production of Working was last weekend.

November 14th Kids' Health Events

For priority groups H1N1 Flu Vaccination Clinic: Saturday, November 14th, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pioneer High School. The priority groups now include all individuals from 6 months through 24 years of age and individuals 25 to 64 years old who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications.

For youth aged 4-10 years old
Ypsilanti High School Dental Screening Day: 10 a.m.-12 noon, November 14th, Ypsilanti High School cafeteria. For children aged 4-20 years old. Does your child/teen have dental needs? Bring them to Ypsilanti High School for a FREE dental screening and a voucher for free follow-up care at the U-M dental school. Each child/teen will receive a FREE dental screening and referral for a dental visit. Eligible children will receive a voucher for necessary dental care. Ypsilanti High School is accessible by bus routes 5 & 6. Questions: Call Marita Inglehart (734) 763-8073

For children and adults aged 5 and older
UM Dental School Dental Health Day at the UM Dental School
Registration 8:30 a.m.-noon; screenings and evaluations 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
University of Michigan School of Dentistry, 1011 N. University, Ann Arbor.
Call (734) 763-6933 or e-mail,
University of Michigan School of Dentistry students and faculty will provide free oral health care services—oral exams, oral cancer screenings, X-rays, and oral hygiene education—to individuals ages 5 and older. Please enter the School of Dentistry at the North University Avenue entrance. Parking will be available at the Fletcher Street parking structure.

Naomi Tutu: Race and Reconciliation

November 13–November 15, 2009

From Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor, from the University of Michigan to Washtenaw Community College, in secular and religious communities, people soon will gather in Washtenaw County to take up the national discussion on race. Facilitated by international human rights activist Nontombi Naomi Tutu, this three-day dialogue will take several forms. All events are free, and everyone is encouraged to attend.
Friday, November 13, at 7:30 pm, Ms. Tutu will share her well-considered thoughts and take questions from the audience at Rackham Auditorium, in the University of Michigan Rackham School of Graduate Studies, 915 E Washington St., in Ann Arbor. Her remarks will be preceded by a book-signing in the lobby.
Saturday, November 14, at 7:30 pm, landmark documentary Long Night’s Journey Into Day will be screened, followed by a panel discussion. The panel, including Ms. Tutu and local Fox 2 News personality Huel Perkins (moderator), will consider the ways in which this intimate film about post-apartheid South Africa and its attempts to heal itself with truth might enlighten Washtenaw County’s efforts. The location is the Towsley Auditorium in the Morris Lawrence Building at Washtenaw Community College, 4800 E Huron Dr.
Sunday, November 15, Ms. Tutu will share commentary at the 10 am service at First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, 608 E William (corner of S State St), and The Our Own Thing Chorale, conducted by Dr. Willis Patterson, will perform.

Nontombi Naomi Tutu, global citizen and daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, will help guide the three-day discussion. Her sustained and visible commitment to education, dialogue, reconciliation, and social justice on issues of gender, race, and international relations has made Ms Tutu a leader in her own right. With her immediate knowledge of the realities of a divisive society and the promise of communities that work to protect and sustain the dignity of all people, she encourages us to "be willing to speak and hear the truth because then we will have our just society." Tutu, King-Chavez-Parks Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan, is Associate Director of the Office of International Programs at Tennessee State University, founder and chair (1985–1990) of the Tutu Foundation, which provides scholarships and support to South African refugees in African countries. Born in South Africa during apartheid, Tutu has lived, worked, and studied in South Africa, the U.S., and the U.K.; is a graduate of Berea College (BA, Economics and French) and the University of Kentucky (MA, International Economic Development); and is also recipient of honorary degrees from the Universal Orthodox College of Ogun State in Nigeria and Bentley College in Massachusetts. She is author of Words of Desmond Tutu and I Don't Think of You as Black: Honest Conversations on Race.

Additional Information:
Race and Reconciliation: A Community-wide Conversation on Race with Nontombi Naomi Tutu is co-sponsored by Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation; First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor; Second Baptist Church of Ann Arbor; Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan African Studies Center, Office of the President, Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; Washtenaw Community College.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Few More Thoughts

OK, so first of all--the (schools) world didn't stop on Election Day.
In Willow Run, the new acting superintendent is the principal of Kaiser Elementary. Her name is Laura Lisiscki. She was appointed because the current superintendent had a car accident--bad enough to be on bed rest for more than a couple of days--yet it has been hush hush.  I understand about HIPAA (health privacy rules), but still it seems that Dr.Hope-Jackson and the school board were less than forthcoming. I mean, we can argue about whether she's meeting performance objectives, but isn't showing up for work a very minimal baseline? And doesn't a superintendent owe it to the staff and the public to let them know why you are not there? It makes me think there is more to this than meets the eye. [Do you wonder if history repeats itself? Reading this article about one of Dr. Hope-Jackson's earlier positions, I think maybe it does.] The way the public found out was through information provided by a board member, Harold Wimberly, who resigned a couple of weeks ago. That was also hush hush. The Willow Run School Board appointed a new board member last night, and his name is Don Garrett. I guess the good news is that the acting superintendent and the new board member both have a lot of experience with the Willow Run school district.
In other news, Thursday is a big day--a massive vaccination clinic for H1N1 flu. It's at the EMU Convocation Center, starting at 10--but you should probably get there earlier if you want to get the vaccine. Public Health will be handing out wristbands with vaccination times, and they have 4,000 doses. High Priority groups only... Since Huron Valley Catholic has closed school due to flu,  I have to wonder whether the flu or the vaccine will get to people first.

OK, now back to school funding. I concur with Jen Eyer's analysis in today that the community needs to be a part of the decision-making on budget cuts. At least for the long-term. I heard loud and clear that people want "transparency," although I'm not sure there's agrement on what that means (I will try to take a crack at that sometime soon). And obviously promoting a millage in these economic times is harder. I wonder if the pro-millage groups really made a strong case. I kind of think not.
I also wonder about the extent to which not having a newspaper made a big difference. The blog Inside Out pointed me to this analysis of a recent conference held in Ann Arbor, and a lot of what is said here rings true to me. In this Poynter Online piece, Bill Mitchell writes that:
Much of the discussion involved the role a newspaper plays in facilitating in-person discussion -- in homes as well as broader communities -- in ways that online news might not. Other gaps mentioned by the group included newspaper-as-common-document for the community, the story-telling form of a newspaper article and a popular re-use of newspaper delivery bags.
Julie Weatherbee... [said]... "What I miss is not necessarily the Ann Arbor News or the news in it but the physical sitting with someone and sharing, having your breakfast and talking," she said. "The paper became a physical connection between people ... and I don't think (other forms of) journalism are making those connections." She also said she misses hearing the phrase, "Did you read in the paper last night that...?" She added: "Now there's no (single) water cooler. There are 80 water coolers, and (visiting them) is very time consuming." She pointed out that many people simply don't have time to do what it takes to fill the gaps left by the paper. As a result, she said they "have simply dropped out" out of the community's news network.

 Regarding the schools (still excerpting):  
Liz Margolis, director of communications for the local schools, noted that the same reporter who covered the schools for the Ann Arbor News is on the beat for But she said she finds his online stories "not as in-depth," and she said many of the comments attached to the articles are "truly destructive and ugly."
I find myself agreeing with all of those points.  I have an awful lot of friends who are not getting local news now, or are only getting it from WEMU and WUOM. I feel sick when I read some of the comments on, so it makes me read it less. And I really don't like the way the subfolder of News that is "Education" is not just news, but is largely...LARGELY...opinion.
SO--did not having a daily print newspaper make a difference? I guess we can't KNOW, but I think it did.
In any case, to turn my attention to the problem at hand: every single district in this county, and all of the charter schools, will need to make budget cuts in short order, unless some miracle happens in the halls of the state legislature. These cuts fall into two basic categories--short-term, and long-term. In the short-term, for this fiscal year (which for schools is just about half over), the options are rather limited. For those of you with grandiose ideas, you can take off the table ideas about consolidation, health insurance, reopening teacher contracts, and even--likely--school closings. Those might be things to discuss long-term, but they take too long to implement to generate the cost savings this year. Even ideas like cutting seventh hour may be hard to implement and still have kids get the credits they need for this year. In the short-term, I think it's going to be rocky and horrid.

Long-term, I hope the school districts will invite engagement from parents, students, and taxpayers. And I'm also slightly more optimistic that things will change for the better (school funding-wise) in Lansing. So on that mildly optimistic note, I'll close.

Sad Day

Well, it's a sad day for Washtenaw County schools. Even though the millage was not "the" solution to the financial stresses in the county schools, it was a part.

The other part is getting the state legislature to restore funding to the school aid fund.

I will have more thoughts, later. What are your thoughts?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Join Me In Voting Yes On The Schools Millage

I am voting yes on Tuesday on the county-wide schools millage. I hope you will join me.
Here is background reading:
Ann Arbor Chronicle

Here's my opinion:
Does It Take A Millage?
$13.65 Per Vote

Remember, when you vote: You are voting for our county's kids.Also remember: The real action needs to happen up in Lansing. Tell your legislators that you value education.

Racial Discrimination and Tracking

There was an interesting story on NPR the other day on how tracking plays out in one middle class community.

Here's the link, and I suggest you listen to the story rather than simply read it.

My friend in Pittsburgh described to me his daughter's high school. It's an "urban" school, and it has metal detectors and the kinds of rules you primarily find in large urban schools. However, the neighborhood they live in is a middle class neighborhood, and in an effort to keep the middle class in the city, and in the school system, this is what tracking looks like in her school.

Four levels.
The top level has an average of 18 kids in each class.
The second level has closer to 22-25 kids in each class.
The third tier has close to 30 kids in each class.
The lowest tier? Over 30 kids in each class.

Guess which classes have the most white kids?
Guess which classes have the most middle and upper middle class kids?

And who, he asked me, needs the small class size?

Summary: Tracking is great for the kids at the top.
For everyone else, it's not so hotsy-totsy, and it's not so ai-yai-yai.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

H1N1 New Vaccination Clinic Date

UPDATE 11/19/09: Next Clinic Date is Sunday November 22 at the EMU Convocation Center. The priority groups list has been expanded. Find details at

A mass vaccination clinic for high priority groups is scheduled for Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Convocation Center on Thursday, Nov 5th from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. The Center is located at 299 North Hewitt Road, Ypsilanti MI 48197. All school-based clinics tentatively scheduled to begin next week are now cancelled.

High priority groups ONLY.
According to CDC guidelines, high priority groups eligible for H1N1 vaccine while supplies remain limited

• Pregnant women
• Household and caregiver contacts of children younger than 6 months of age
• Children from 6 months though 4 years of age
• Children and adolescents aged 5 through 18 years who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications
• Health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient care

More details here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Willow Run Update & Can Consolidation Happen?

According to Dan DuChene of the Ypsilanti Citizen, tonight's emergency meeting of the Willow Run School Board was cancelled--primarily because the notice requirements for an "emergency meeting" are stricter than for a "special meeting." The other news is that the precipitating problem is that the Willow Run Superintendent, Doris Hope-Jackson, has been absent a lot. A new meeting will be posted.

The question that I have heard raised several times is, "Can the Willow Run school district consolidate with another district, or be split up among several districts?"

The answer, I think, is that there are several roadblocks to that, at least the way state law currently works.

First, the districts considering consolidation (or annexation) need to have their school boards decide it is worth pursuing.

Second, the voters in each district need to agree. Jack Lessenberry had a good essay about why the Montague and Whitehall districts (near Muskegon) voted no many years ago. And the moral is that both small and large things can deter people from voting yes. On the other hand, this seems pretty reasonable to me if a district is either merging or dissolving. The people should have a say. (Want to see what the county school district map looks like? You can find it here.)

Third, the way state law is currently written, the merged district gets the average of the per pupil allocations. And the districts don't have the same per pupil allocations.

So--last year, Ypsilanti's per-pupil allocation was about $150 more than the allocation for Willow Run, but they have more than double the population--so a merger would cause Ypsilanti to lose quite a lot of money. In this climate, that is likely a major deterrent. For Ann Arbor, it would be a much much larger loss.

On the other hand, Lincoln's per-pupil allocation was about $500 less than the allocation for Willow Run. In a merger, Lincoln would gain. So would Plymouth-Canton and Van Buren schools, although not by nearly as much.

So--that's the quick lesson of the day. The explanation (if it seemed at all clear) is due to the clear explanation of Todd Roberts, Ann Arbor superintendent, in response to a question at one of the informational meetings about the millage. I hope you'll vote yes on Tuesday.

And--errors of fact will of course be corrected. Tell me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Willow Run: Major Shakeup

David Jesse has some breaking news about the Willow Run school district over at

We will have to check for more news tomorrow night, after their emergency meeting to appoint an acting superintendent--and possibly an acting chief financial officer as well. I'm hoping this is all for the good.

The Thinking Teacher

One column I have really been enjoying at is the column that Jeff Kass is writing. I find myself almost always having a reaction--I can't write about all of them, although maybe occasionally I will. In any case, you can find the updated list here.

The best teachers continue to process and reflect on their work, with the goal of improving it. That's one thing that burned-out teachers don't do. In fact, one way to get un-burned-out is to place increased and renewed emphasis on reflection. (Don't think that this is only true of teachers. The best engineers, writers, managers, electricians and gardeners all reflect on their work, with a goal of making their end results better.)

If you like Jeff Kass's writing, and you want to know more about the "inner lives" of reflective teachers, then you will also like the writing over at Teacher, Revised (linked on the right, as well).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick or Treat for UNICEF

No, the millage is not the only thing going on around here, although it might seem that way sometimes.

I grew up in a New York suburb, just a train ride away from the United Nations, and every year, starting in kindergarten, we would "Trick or Treat for UNICEF."

Along with candy bags, we would carry our little orange boxes and people would give us candy AND money--mostly pennies and nickels. The next school day, we would bring that money in to be counted.

UNICEF is the United Nations Children's Fund, and it upholds the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

When my kids started trick-or-treating, I discovered that nobody around here knew from UNICEF.
Until last year. For the first time, I saw the boxes. The message is getting out.
If a kid comes to your door this year, and says, sings, or shouts, "Trick or Treat for UNICEF,"--
you know what to do.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

$13.65 per vote

I was more than a little bit shocked to read, in an article on the proposed schools millage, that

Al Berriz's company--McKinley--donated


to the anti-millage campaign.

Yes, you read that right. 


I know--silly me. My thought process went like this...local millage election...big donations will be in the $1,000-$3,000 range.


In 2007, the last "off-year" November election, 10,992 people voted in Washtenaw County. (That is not quite a 9% turnout.)
Assuming the same turnout, McKinley/Al Berriz have just donated $6.82 per vote.
But actually--each side only needs to convince a majority to vote the way they want, so McKinley/Al Berriz have donated $13.65/vote.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to imply that Al Berriz, or McKinley, or anybody else,  is "buying" votes. It's all legal.

I'm just saying: $75,000 is an awful lot of money to spend to try to defeat a millage, and I don't "buy" that this donation is about the kids, or the schools. No. Al Berriz is just spending from his company's pocketbook, to preserve his company's (and his) pocketbook. After all, who is Al Berriz? What is McKinley? Al Berriz is the CEO for McKinley, Inc., and McKinley is a real estate company which owns and operates at least 15 apartment complexes in Washtenaw County, and a whole lot more nationally. According to a 2008 article in Ann Arbor Biz News, in 2008 they owned or operated at least 5000 apartment units in the county, plus commercial real estate.

In an interesting side note, less than a month ago, Albert Berriz joined the editorial board. But on October 18, Tony Dearing of wrote,
Albert Berriz has been serving as one of two community members on our editorial board, and recently became treasurer of the PAC opposing this millage request. Because of his involvement in this issue, Albert has recused himself from any of our discussions. He has no role in our coverage or in any editorial position we may take on this issue.
Umm, it's a little too late for to distance themselves from him when he is obviously so completely, over-the-top involved in this campaign.

As if to prove my point, obviously--when the financial statements came out. . . with the editorial position coming up. . . recusal was, and is not enough. Hence today's announcement: Albert Berriz stepping down from editorial board.

And then--surprise, surprise--and proving my point even more--the editorial board wrote an editorial that we should vote no on the millage. I'm sure there's no relationship. Yeah, and I've got some swampland to sell you too. . . (no offense meant to swampland--it's important for the environment).

Well, I'll tell you something. I don't like feeling that someone is trying to buy my vote to line their own pocket. I want to make up my own mind. You--make up yours.

P.S. You might or might not think the Ann Arbor schools are struggling, but there are NINE other school districts involved, and they educate 63% of the affected kids. NONE of them had per-pupil funding (before the most recent cuts) that came close to what the state said should be the minimum of $8400 per student.

P.P.S. Kudos to Scot Graden and his administrative staff for keeping anyone interested in the Saline schools informed about the budget and other happenings. I've been learning a lot--you can link to the Superintendent's blog, and/or the Budget Blog. I'm learning from those blogs, and I know that they would like to reach more people. Go to: and visit all the blogs--including one on art! Oh, and: Saline Area Schools will be holding a public forum to discuss the millage on Monday, October 26th at 6:30pm at Union School.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

High Stakes Poker Time

School bus inspections will end 11/1/09.

More per pupil spending cuts: $165 + $127= $292

PLUS for the "hold harmless" districts another $300-$500 per pupil.

Update: The Saline Schools Budget Blog has a good explanation although it is ALREADY out of date!

H1N1 Updates

We've got "flu days." I understand that over 50 200 schools in the state are closed due to high levels of flu circulating--most of them on the southwest side of the state.

Here are the updated guidance and vaccination clinics list from Washtenaw County Public Health.
School clinics right now are scheduled for the first week in November in Ann Arbor, Dexter, Milan, and Ypsilanti.
At this point, vaccination supplies are limited, and are only available to the high priority groups as follows:

Children and adults fitting within the following priority groups are currently eligible for H1N1 vaccination:
� pregnant women,
� household and caregiver contacts of children under 6 months of age,
� children 6 months though 4 years,
� children 5 to 18 years who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications (i.e. asthma), and
� health care and emergency medical services personnel who provide direct patient care.

If you like graphs, you might be interested in this Washtenaw County influenza surveillance data.

Other school-related health information can be found on the County public health web site here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WOW! Hold Harmless Districts Slashed

Hardball Politics, from the Detroit Free Press: Governor Granholm vetoes school aid related to hold harmless districts. Yes, that includes Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor stands to lose 3.7 million more dollars.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Teens Get Depression; Men Get Depression

The other night I was watching a very interesting documentary on PBS called Men Get Depression. The UM Depression Center was featured. Some takeaway points:
--Depression often first manifests for 15-25 year olds.
--Depression is a biological illness, just like diabetes or cancer.
--Depression in men and boys often shows up as anger and irritability.
--Many people self-medicate depression with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
--There are health disparities (differences between racial/ethnic groups) in depression.

You can read more at this web site,
I was thinking about writing about this anyway, because I know too many people whose lives have been touched by depression.
Anyway, there is a group in Saline, called Saline Alive, that was founded by parents whose son died of depression/suicide. It turns out that they are having a meeting this week: Thursday, October 22nd. It's open to everyone, not just Saline families.

Date: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time: 7:00 pm
Middle School Auditorium
7190 N. Maple Rd., Saline MI 48176

This session will provide information on:
Recognizing the signs & symptoms of depression in the adolescent vs. an adult
Understanding what role that the genetic factor can play in depression
The difference between self-harm and suicide risks

7:00 – 7:15 pm Saline Alive Update – Brad Bezeau, SHS Assistant Principal
7:15 – 8:00 pm Guest Speaker – Mary Grambeau Gass, LMSW
Mary is a member of the U of M Depression Center and has worked as a clinical social worker in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Outpatient Department for 20+ years. Mary also has a private practice, where she treats children, adolescents and families in Ann Arbor. Mary has a special interest in treating adolescents and their families.
8:00 – 8:15 pm Questions and Answers
If you would like to more information please contact Brad Bezeau at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Does It Take A Millage?

I have been hearing, and reading,  a lot of discussion about the proposed county-wide 2 mill education millage. If you are a county resident, you get to vote on it this coming November 3d. And if you've been reading this blog semi-regularly, you know that I have said Please, Raise My Taxes. Still, when I first heard about this county-wide millage proposal, my first reaction was NOT, "Oh, goody! Someone is listening to me." My first reaction was to get even madder about Proposal A than I already am. Under Proposal A, the Ann Arbor schools get pointed at critically because Ann Arbor is a "hold harmless" district and gets "so much money" (when Proposal A was developed, 44 [corrected 10/19/09] hold harmless districts were told if they bought in, they wouldn't lose money on the deal).  Yet thanks to Proposal A, we have lost control of how much money we can raise for our district, because that authority is ceded to a bunch of clueless state legislators. AND, to add insult to injury, we are still a "donor" district, meaning that more of our money goes out of the district than stays in the district.
As far as I am concerned, Proposal A was a deal with the devil. We lose control of our own destiny, and we don't get the security that was promised. So here's the essence of my thoughts. When I said, "Raise my taxes," I had in mind a state-level solution, one that would likely include a progressive income tax, instead of a flat income tax, which is what we have now. It doesn't look like that is happening anytime soon, but understand this: the real action around school funding is happening at the state level. The local millage question is peanuts in comparison.

Further, the choice of a county millage is simply the product of a loophole at the state level. We can't have district operating millages (only ones that cover things like construction). And one thing that I really don't like about this kind of millage is that it seems unfair to some parts of the state. Sure, Kalamazoo and Monroe counties might have supported county education millages, but I don't think we'll be getting all 83 counties on board. Which means even more disparities. And the *only* thing that Proposal A got right was the goal of reducing disparities among school districts.

After reading comments about the millage question on and, I get the feeling that a lot of people are upset that (here are some arguments that I have heard, along with my response):
  • Teachers get paid too much. I don't believe they do--teachers are generally over-educated and hard-working. Sure, I want the burned out teachers to leave. But the millage vote will not affect their decisions. Why shouldn't a teacher make what an engineer makes? They have about the same amount of education.
  • Teacher health insurance is too good. I might argue instead that other people's insurance is too crummy. But even if I were to agree, it's not something I can control. It's a very clumsy tool to think that voting "no" on a millage will mean that teachers have to pay more for health insurance.
  • I'm suffering, you should suffer too. Well, of course, if you need to--if you are suffering--vote your pocketbook. But remember, it's not about the administrators suffering. It's about whether the kids need to suffer. So if you are not personally suffering, don't rely on this for your agrument. And since as the schools go, so go property values, it's likely that school cuts mean we will suffer even more. Schools are major economic engines, and employ thousands of people who live in our county.
  • I don't like that the district built Skyline--or closed Kettering, or moved the sixth grade into the elementary schools.  It's done. Let's move on.
  • I don't like that the new Ypsilanti superintendent is getting paid so much. I agree, especially since the district is asking the teachers for concessions. But it's done. Next time, you run for Ypsi school board and make a different decision.
  • I don't want money to go to Willow Run--it's not well-managed. I agree that it's not well-managed, but their huge deficit does not make it any easier for them. It makes it harder, and I'm hoping times will change and that the management will change.  
  • If I vote for a millage, I want it to be "value added." This seems like maintenance. It is. That is because of the state budget cuts. Call your state legislators and tell them to fund schools adequately.
  • The schools should cut administration first. I agree. And I think the school boards shy away from that. So why is it that so few people actually ran for school board in the last go-round? You should run for school board! I mean it. I would like to see contested contests in every district in the county. And when you do win the election, remember--even if you cut administrative costs in half, the vast majority of school costs are related to instruction.
  • The millage doesn't guarantee accountability. That's true, but that is not just true about the millage. We need to demand accountability, with or without the millage.
The truth is, the choices we get are shaped by the choices we have. Since I didn't run for school board, I don't get to vote on the superintendent's salary. I don't get to negotiate with the teachers or principals union. I don't get to decide what should be cut from the budget--and I think it's a lot harder than it looks. Perhaps, given a choice of cuts, you and I wouldn't agree. You might want to cut athletics, and I know that sports made the difference in my high school experience. I might want to cut all AP classes, and you might think Advanced Placement classes are essential.

The choices we get are shaped by the choices we have. We can't have a single district millage because that is forbidden by Proposal A. Anyway, would that be for the best? The Washtenaw County area is a more-or-less integrated economic unit. In my neighborhood in Ann Arbor, I know there are teachers from Dexter, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Willow Run school districts. Those are just the ones I know. So what happens to teachers in Dexter or Willow Run will affect my neighborhood.

It's all about the kids. And voting is not enough. Public schools need caring people to run for school board, join committees, advocate at the state level, and volunteer in the schools. So however you vote, take that next step too, and ENGAGE.

But, yes. I am voting yes. I will be putting up a yard sign in my yard. And I have the literature for making a donation to the vote yes campaign sitting in my "in" box. I invite you to join me.

P.S. I've been very fortunate that so far I haven't had to remove a single comment or stop anonymous commenting.  That's because people have generally been respectful. Regarding taxes, passions run high. You don't have to agree with me, but please don't be snarky, mean, or rude. Thanks!