Friday, January 30, 2009

It's not THAT bad

I admit, there are too many burned out, bored teachers. But there are also a lot of hard working, energized teachers. A D+ for teacher quality in the state? I don't think so. And I'm a little tired of bashing unions for every mediocre teacher. There are mediocre teachers in non-union and right-to-work environments too. It would help if teachers had more options to leave when they got tired of teaching...say, after 10 or 15 years...and more opportunities to try different things if they wanted to stay (i.e. new subject, new grade, new school, new school district).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AAPS: Don't you know I'm a Major Donor?

A large chunk of the Ann Arbor Public Schools funding comes from its per-pupil allocation. Every child in the schools is worth over $9600--for that year--to the AAPS. So if I enroll my child, in kindergarten, in the Ann Arbor schools, and I stick with them for the next 13 years, I have effectively given the Ann Arbor schools $125,000 (more, if the per-pupil allowance goes up at all). Leaving aside the fact that I am trusting the schools with my most precious kids, this donation makes me, by the standards of any non-profit, a VMD (Very Major Donor).
Now any fundraiser can tell you that the path to raising money from a donor is based on a) developing relationships and b) getting buy-in for the cause. And that's why many potential donors get wined and dined.
If you figure that I might have more than one child (say, 3, because that's how many I've got)--I am now worth a whopping $375,000 (minimally) to the schools. And if I don't "buy in" to the schools, they have lost that money. And if I choose not to send my first child to the AAPS, then most likely my others will not follow either.
So--if I'm a new potential parent--will I get wined and dined? Will I get to see what's going on? There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, the answer is no. What will I get? I will get...Kindergarten Roundup! (And yes, the first one starts tonight.) That I find this totally inadequate is hopefully apparent. More about why it's inadequate, coming soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


The Ann Arbor Chronicle found me, and I got my first two comments! How cool is that?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Open House Update and Schools of Choice

I was at the Ann Arbor Open School Open House this weekend. There was lots of interest--which is good! But I was struck by how many families of middle elementary kids were there, whose parents are unhappy with their current school. They are looking for an alternative. Unfortunately, the chance of getting in to AAOS on the waiting list in those middle years (2nd-5th grade) is pretty low if you didn't sign up for the waiting list during kindergarten. It would be nice if there was another magnet school in the district (another post).
But parents, don't despair just yet. There are some alternatives--I mean, if you want to stick to the public schools and not go to a charter or private school. For the past several years, some of the AAPS elementary schools have opened their doors to kids who are out of their boundaries but still live in the AAPS district. Several parents that I know, have gotten satisfaction from enrolling in a different neighborhood school.
Hey, I would point you to the location on the AAPS web site that explains the process. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it. Almost anytime I am looking for something, I find the AAPS web site disappoints. Send me the link if you find it, and I will post it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ann Arbor Open and Community High School

'Tis the season. Open Houses and Orientations. Here are the links to the information for Ann Arbor Open and Community High School. Both schools run lotteries to get in. Both schools have class sizes that are targeted to match the average district class size. Both schools require orientations to go there. No, there is no "automatic in" if you went to AAO, to get into CHS. (Nor do I think there should be.

And if you are looking for high schools? Well, Skyline also has a lottery for kids outside the Skyline district. And maybe you want to consider being a non-traditional high school student at (gasp) a Charter school. I don't automatically recommend them, but it seems like Washtenaw Technical Middle College, located at Washtenaw Community College, is worth looking at. (For more detail, click on the Admissions Process link.)

In any case--it is good to shop around. Remember, as Sy Syms used to say, "An educated consumer is our best customer." (You don't remember that ad? I guess I'm dated.)

Classroom Size and Planning

Several friends--especially those who were lukewarm or unhappy about Skyline High School's debut--were especially unhappy to see this article:

Pioneer, Huron hallways remain crowded Skyline's open, but won't ease class sizes until 2011

As far as planning goes, wasn't it possible to: a) fix this earlier (i.e. add teachers at Pioneer and Huron first semester); b) let Skyline's first class be slightly larger; c) do more teacher sharing. Yes, all of those have some downsides. Adding teachers costs money. Making Skyline's first class a little larger could unbalance things later. (BUT--kids move and there are kid dropouts--that's for another post, but the first class will undoubtedly shrink.) Maybe it would be too hard to share teachers with Pioneer and Huron, due to the trimester system, and/or distance. But maybe Skyline could share some teachers with Forsythe, and Forsythe could share with Pioneer? Forsythe, after all, is a lot closer to Skyline.

And not fixing this problem until 2011 is inexcusable. I don't blame parents at Pioneer and Huron for grousing. "So you have a new school? Why should our kids suffer?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Role of Outsiders in Public Education

I really liked this post about the role of "outsiders" in education, and I thought I would share it. Actually, part of the problem is that a lot of the "outsiders"--for example, parents--are actually not (I would argue) outsiders. In any case, I added the blog it comes from (k12-information) to my blogroll. I think they are Michigan-focused, blogging about some of the same issues that I am interested in.

Michigan is Old: Yes, or No?

Recently I had a meeting in Howell. I hadn't been there in several years, and my colleague said to me, "Oh, Howell is a very old town." Well, really? (I didn't say that, though.) I think Howell is about as old as Ann Arbor, a town founded in the first half of the 19th century. Since I grew up in a town on the East Coast that was settled in the 1600s--a town where pre-Revolutionary War era houses and gravestones still stand--I think--well, not really! Is Howell old? Definitely not old, when you compare it to the 15th century house my father-in-law lived in, in Europe. Yes, old is relative.

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 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. But at the present time, I don't believe it is.

Inauguration Day

I was happy that my kids' schools took time out of the day so that everyone could watch the Inauguration. I wonder what kind of follow-up will be done, to connect that moment to a better understanding of how politics affects children's lives, and how we can affect politics?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Want to join the school board?

The school board recently shrank in number. Which means that there are fewer positions available. Whether this is better (more efficient) or worse (less diverse, less transparent) might be debatable. I tend to think it will be worse in the long run.

What is not debatable, is that now is the time to start thinking about joining the school board. The pay is terrible and the time commitment is pretty significant, but then again, your contribution can be pretty significant too. And those who have been on the school board before have described the work as quite interesting.

What is also not debatable is that school boards work best when they have intelligent, hard working members who are invested in improving the schools.

Which is why I am telling you that according to the AAPS website,
three seats on the Board of Education will be available this spring:
one 2-year term, expiring June 30, 2011;
two 4-year terms, expiring June 30, 2013.

Sorry, I don't know if any incumbents are running, but don't let that stop you, even if they are.

And an information session is scheduled for Inauguration Night (great timing!), Tuesday, January 20, 2009 5:30 p.m., Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State Street.

You don't have to go to the information session to run for office. The details can be found here, with detailed nuts and bolts information from the county clerk (who now runs school elections).

Why I'm writing about the schools

I have a lot of time invested in the Ann Arbor Public Schools--as a parent, as a volunteer, as an outside presenter, and even as paid staff. My children have even more time invested in the schools.

Sometimes I find the schools satisfactory, and sometimes not, but in general I have a lot of questions. Questions about why things run the way they do. Questions about whether things could run better. Critiques about the schools. Ideas to improve them. And--in general--I believe that most of the staff wants the schools to work. But for whom? Are we teaching to the masses? To the top 10%? The bottom 10%? And are we succeeding? Anyway, what does it mean to succeed?

In addition, as the Ann Arbor News shrinks its coverage of everything (except maybe sports--which are important too), we are not getting the news we need about the schools. I believe that these are our schools--yes, the taxpayers--and we need to know what is going on. These are our schools--yes, the parents--and we need to be able to make decisions for our kids. These are our schools--yes, the staff--who often don't have a voice in decisions. These are our schools--yes, the students--and what students think also matters.

I also am interested in the other school districts in Washtenaw County, and about educational ideas in general, so you may occasionally find some news about other schools and ideas as well.

What are you interested in?