Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do Kids Count?

It looks like today--Wednesday, September 30th--is the date where we find out whether kids count, and how much they count for.

Yes, today is Count Day, the day on which 75% of per-pupil funding allocation decisions are based. (There is also a count day halfway through the school year.)

Tomorrow is also the last day before the end of the fiscal year for the state of Michigan, and as of midnight tonight, the state legislature had adjourned, and no vote had been held on per-pupil state funding. It is highly likely that the budget that eventually passes will include a significant reduction in per-pupil funding, to the tune of $100-$218 less per student.

So--when you send your kids to school tomorrow, so that they can count, remember--however much they counted last year, this year they are likely to count a little bit less.

(Yes, I'm exasperated.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ethics Question

I provide the questions, you provide the answers.

Let's say that you are an administrator at a school. You get involved with a parent of a child who is enrolled at your school. [No, you're not married or living together, but it is a serious relationship.]
As far as intervening in the student's school life, what is appropriate?

a. You treat them exactly like every other student, only accessing their records if there is a particular issue that requires your intervention.

b. You stay away from all issues related to the student, unless absolutely necessary, and when it is necessary you disclose your relationship to the parent.

c. You keep on top of the student's grades and behavior, beyond what you would do with any other student, and intervene if anything catches your eye.

d. None of the above. The right thing to do is...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Second Quote of the Day

True story: I saw a teenaged acquaintance riding his bicycle to school, with his helmet clipped to the handlebars.

I say to him, "Exactly what is the point of having the helmet on the handlebars?"

Says he, "Symbolism."

Quote of the Day

"The harder the math homework is, the more useless the math is."
--High school student

For more background reading, see this post.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Call Your Legislators

Your silence will not protect you. (Audre Lorde)

Your silence won't protect kids, the poor, people who need medical assistance. If doctors don't take Medicaid, it affects the whole system, not just people on Medicaid. If the state cuts all funding for health clinics in schools or for childcare so the working class can work, it will affect the whole system. If funding is cut to cities and counties, it will affect the whole system.

Here is an easy way to find your legislators. I'd tell you to look for the budget bills, too, but--guess what--nine days until the end of the fiscal year, and they haven't been published.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More Bad News for Willow Run?

The bad news is adding up.
In addition to the impending state budget cuts (which cannot be good news for any Michigan school district or charter school)--
In addition to the Willow Run superintendent already reporting that the district is running 150 students below projections (and yes, their projections assumed a drop in enrollment to from 1980 students 1840 students--this would indicate a drop to around 1700)

According to the [deficit reduction] plan [filed with the state], if enrollment falls below 1,840 this fall, another elementary school could close in the district. There are currently five elementary schools being operated in Willow Run, after Thurston was deactivated in 2008.

In addition to reports that make it seem that the Willow Run school board still has a lot of tension...

there is also the news that the Willow Run Airport is struggling financially.

And--to add fuel to the fire--Victory Academy, one of the county's charter schools, has moved right by the Willow Run middle school/high school complex. Although right now it is an elementary school, I believe it has plans to expand to be a K-12 school.

Need some background?
David Jesse did a comprehensive series for the Ann Arbor News on the Willow Run schools. Here is the link.

A lot of this is related to external forces, but it might be time to ask the question: Is it time for Willow Run to merge with another school district? I know, you might think I'm nuts, or that I have it in for Willow Run schools--after all, Manchester and Whitmore Lake schools have around 1200-1300 students and I'm not suggesting closing Manchester or Whitmore Lake schools. But I'm not nuts and I don't have it in for Willow Run schools.

Here is why: 5 years ago, Manchester and Whitmore Lake schools had around 1300 students, nearly the same number that they have now. Five years ago, the Willow Run schools had just over 2700 students. Yes, just five short years ago. Ten years ago, Manchester and Whitmore Lake schools had around 1200 students, nearly the same number as they have now. At that point, the Willow Run schools had over 3250 students. Ten years ago. In other words, Manchester and Whitmore Lake schools are small, but stable. Willow Run schools are shrinking.

When school districts continually lose enrollment, and their budget is attached to pupil counts, it is not (solely) a question of how good the teachers are; how good the administrators are; or how economically stable the students' families are. It is nearly impossible to continue to provide a good school environment.

The student pupil counts are generally done on the 4th Wednesday in September--that's next week. More news will surely be coming out about them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Play-ful-ness: Noun
Play-ful: Adjective: per Merriam-Webster, frolicsome or sportive; humorous or jocular
Play-ful-ly: Adverb
Play: Verb. A very old verb, dating from the 13th century.

I've been blogging about some serious topics lately. In this post at, Kass (Pioneer High School teacher and advisor to the Neutral Zone poetry collaborative) makes the point that playfulness in teaching goes a long way. [And he also tells you about an interesting upcoming poetry event, Monday evening November 28th at the Neutral Zone.]

He's right! Playfulness in blogging probably goes a long way too, so here is the knock knock joke my nephew told me the other day:

Nephew: Knock knock
Me: Who's there?
Nephew: You are there!
Comment of my niece, who texted me the whole thing: I don't get it either.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's About Communication

Last night at Skyline's PTSO meeting, principal Sulura Jackson gave a pretty good summary of the events and AAPS follow-up to the first day of school bus fight. First, she characterized it as a fight that originated in the community, not in the school. Second, the school district does not at this point believe the fight to be a hate crime, although of course the police are doing their own investigation. The school district is following through with discipline for the students involved, as well as conflict resolution/mediation efforts that will go on throughout the year. And--finally! On Wednesday during "Skytime" (digression: everything at Skyline seems to have a "sky" pun in it--this refers to homeroom) the whole school will have a scripted/organized discussion. I believe that Ms. Jackson is right to keep the focus on ways to make the schools welcoming, and not focus on the incident itself. And, I'm relieved to hear, they are working with Peace Neighborhood Center as well.

So that's all well and good. I think they are on the right track. Yet I still have something to kvetch about: communication and transparency. Schools need to wake up and realize that they are service organizations, serving not just students but parents too. They will get a lot further if they communicate with transparency. I'm not asking for the moon--I should not have to go to a PTO meeting to find out basic information. That's what emails and letters are for! (And I didn't go to the meeting, actually, because I have found that you can't be in two places at once. I got this information from asking others.)

It may just be me, but: if I don't know what the schools are doing, then I am often not going to trust that they are doing the right thing. A paternalistic attitude that "we know what we are doing" doesn't get very far with me. I like to think for myself. I want openness and communication. At least as a place to start.

Let's Hear It For Ishpeming!

Ishpeming, you may or may not know, is a town outside of Marquette.
I've always loved the town's name, and I have met a few interesting people who come from there.

The state's budget negotiations are heating up. October 1 is the deadline. Considering that schools needed to have balanced budgets this summer, and the school year has already started, that's not all that helpful.
MLive reports that the Democrats are going to roll over and agree to the Republican Senate's proposed cuts--which include drastic cuts to early childhood education, health care, and yes--school funding.
There is a coalition opposing these cuts, and I don't think it's an accident that the coalition includes the Small and Rural Schools organization, the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation, the School Community Health Alliance, and the Michigan Education Association.

In any case: Senator Prusi, from Ishpeming, is standing up and saying NO. Thank you Ishpeming.

In a related vein: Jack Lessenberry's last few columns--related to the state budget--are also worth reading, if you don't catch them on NPR.

Last, but not least: here is the list from MLive of the proposed education cuts--but don't make the mistake of thinking that cuts to low-income families, cuts to health care, and to other areas won't affect education too, because they will.


• Cut K-12 school funding by $110 per pupil, dropping the lowest foundation grant to $7,206 per student: $174 million. The state would need to get a federal waiver to make the cuts; without the OK, it would risk losing millions of dollars in federal recovery money.

• Eliminate the Michigan Promise Grant college scholarship: $140 million.

• Eliminate grants to K-12 schools with declining enrollments: $20 million.

• Eliminate adolescent health centers in schools: $5 million.

• Essentially eliminate the school readiness program: $104 million.

• Reduce adult education funding: $2.4 million.

• Essentially eliminate the Great Parents Great Start ISD programs: $5 million.

• Eliminate money to set up small high schools: $8 million.

• Reduce vocational education funding by 10 percent: $2 million.

• Eliminate math remediation grants: $1 million.

• Eliminate Math/Science Centers and Health/Science Middle Colleges: $6 million.

• Eliminate state funding for the Michigan Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a voluntary quasi-military residential program run by the Michigan National Guard for high school dropouts or near-dropouts: $1 million.

• Reduce funding for some college financial aid programs and eliminate others: $48 million.

• Stop reimbursing community colleges for property tax revenue lost because of renaissance zones: $4 million.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ramadan Mubarak: A Blessed Ramadan

First--to any Muslim readers--may you have a Ramadan Mubarak, a blessed month of Ramadan.

I started this post a few weeks ago, intending to write about whether or not the Ann Arbor Public Schools are welcoming to Muslims--and what more AAPS could do. And now that seems even more relevant, following the incident at Skyline. I have no doubt that--whether it was the "fault" of the school district or not, whether the fight was ethnically/religiously motivated or not--the perception of the fight in the Muslim and Arab communities will be that it was related to prejudice.

So--did I mention that there are two schools in the county that cater to Muslim and/or Arab families? The Islamic Academy is a parochial school with something in the neighborhood of 100 kids; and Central Academy is a charter school with over 350 kids enrolled. Admittedly, not all of those kids come from Ann Arbor, but I do know that when Central Academy opened, the Ann Arbor schools felt the loss, particularly in a few schools. Parents vote with their feet.

And remember--every pupil lost=thousands of dollars lost to the school.

So--are we welcoming? My guess is that some AAPS schools are, and some schools aren't, but institutionally--I don't think so. (Part two of this post will be whether or not we are welcoming to Jewish students, and it's my perception as a Jewish family that the schools are not too welcoming to minority religions. In general.)

The AAPS has a calendar that designates religious holidays as 1, 2, or 3 star. (3-star are the most "important" holidays.) Guess what happens on 3-star Christian holidays, and sometimes even 2-star Christian holidays? [Yes--school day off.] How about 3-star Muslim or Jewish holidays? [School day on.] It is a lot more complicated. There are lots of holidays. And yes, I know that there are way more Christians than Muslims or Jews in town. But (if you go) school by school, there can be a significant number of kids who are from practicing families. I worked in a school on the southeast side of town where 1/4 of the kids in my classes were out on the last day of Ramadan. But another couple of kids attended school, because their parents felt conflicted about the students missing schoolwork. Any time parents feel that conflict, and have another option, they may choose to go to a different school.

There is also a point to be made regarding perception. Giving one measly day off--say, for Id al-Fitr (Muslim holiday), or for Yom Kippur (Jewish holiday)--makes the district seem more welcoming to parents who are nervous about being a minority in a majority world. Yes, it is agesture--there are still other religious holidays where observant students would have to take off from school. It's a gesture, but I think it is an important action--it is not strictly symbolic. And, it raises awareness that the holiday exists.

And how about those languages? What if the Ann Arbor schools were to offer Arabic? Would that be so hard? I would think it would attract more students.

Last--but not least--where, and how, are we educating kids about prejudice. . . discrimination. . . other cultures and religions. Yes, lots of things are happening--multi-cultural festivals--SEEDS program at the Neutral Zone going into middle schools--but the only time my kids have ever had specific exposure to (some piece of) the Muslim experience was when there was a Muslim in their class. And even then, it tended to be more of the 'chance exposure' and teachable moment than the sustained effort. What, exactly, do our teachers know about Islam? What do we teach the teachers?

Whatever we are doing--it seems like it is not enough. Can we do more?

Tonight, 9/14/09: Skyline Parents

Skyline parents: Tonight is the first PTSO meeting of the year. If you want to talk more about what happened on the first day of school, and how we can promote tolerance at Skyline, it seems like this would be a good opportunity. The meeting will be held in the Skyline Media Center at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

School Income

We're still waiting for the state to decide what they are going to do about school funding for the year that just started. Ann Arbor Parents for Schools explains the ins and outs here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Skyline "Hate Crime" Incident, Ypsilanti Death: 11 Things I Want To Know

A female, Muslim, Iraqi refugee is attacked by a group of mostly boys, reportedly African-American, and needs stitches and a hospital visit. Was it a hate crime, as defined? Was it a neighborhood fight? Was it bullying, unrelated to the girl's national origin or religion or gender? I don't know. The kids are from the same neighborhood, and there may be a back story. I'm sure there is a history. . . I believe in innocence until proven guilty, so I am not proclaiming anyone's guilt.

But--hate crime or not--it is definitely going to be perceived that way by the Muslim and refugee communities.

Things I Want To Know

1. I asked my daughter today whether anything had been said to the students. Any mention of the incident? Any discussion of prejudice? Any offers of crisis support for kids who might themselves feel nervous about being picked on because of who they are?
NOT. ONE. WORD. From the administration, that is. For the kids, of course it was the talk of the town. Which seems really, really odd. And I want to know--WHY DIDN'T THE ADMINISTRATION SHARE ANY INFORMATION WITH SKYLINE STUDENTS?!!

2. Did the incident in question take place only after the kids got off the bus, or did it start on the bus and continue afterwards?

3. How is the school district working with the students who witnessed the incident?

4. Is the transportation department reviewing its policies, and are any parents or students helping with that review?

5. In a letter home to Skyline parents (a useless letter, I might add, in that it said virtually nothing), parents are told the district has completed an investigation and taken appropriate action. Who have they investigated? What kinds of actions have been taken? And why should we believe the actions have been "appropriate?"

6. If the FBI decides it is a hate crime, how will the district deal with that?

7. If the FBI decides it is not a hate crime, how will the district deal with the perception (which I believe will persist) that it is a hate crime.

8. My daughter reports that only a handful of kids at Skyline wear a hijab (head scarf). How is the district planning on being more welcoming to Muslim kids? (I hope to have more of my thoughts on this by the end of the weekend.)

And a couple of thoughts about the shooting death of a 17-year-old in Ypsilanti.
Whereas the Skyline incident prompted many many comments on, the death of a 17-year-old in a shooting on the south side of Ypsilanti drew very few. I want to know:

9. Was the 17-year-old a high school student, or had he (I think it was a he) dropped out?

10. Why does the death get fewer comments than the attack which results in stitches?

For both incidents, I want to know:

11. What can we do to teach kids that violence is not the way to solve problems?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Depressing and a Hate Crime

5 teens attack, injure Muslim girl on school bus in Ann Arbor (Detroit Free Press)

What a great way to be a welcoming community. (SARCASM. HEAVILY LADEN.) And I do wonder, what was the bus driver doing during this and why didn't he or she notice this going on?

Meanwhile, John Conyers is working on an expansion of a hate crimes bill, and it looks like we need it.

The ACLU says:

The House hate crimes bill is pitch-perfect. It punishes only the conduct of intentionally selecting another person for violence because of that person’s race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identify or disability.House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and more than 40 bipartisan co-sponsors deserve credit for introducing what could become the first federal law of its kind to protect against violence due to someone’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identify or disability.But this bill doesn’t punish bigotry, as ugly as those beliefs are.So let’s really explore concerns that the hate crimes bill will chill free speech and association.For years, the ACLU was concerned enough to withhold support for this bill.That problem was fixed in 2005.

Now, the ACLU strongly supports the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevent Act of 2009. For four years, the ACLU has fought for this legislation as protecting both civil rights and free speech and association.

Here is what CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) has to say about it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

School Starts: Odds and Ends

1. Have you been to the Thurston Nature Center? Thurston School in Ann Arbor has a new rain garden--worth checking out. It was worked on by the third grade classes. (And apparently the nature center was used for filming "Flipped" as well! A movie was also filmed on the Ann Arbor Open at Mack playground, but I don't know what move it was.)

2. Small victory on the AAPS web site. This Week, the internal feature that I wrote about here, has been moved to the front page under publications. If you read This Week, you will see more good news about the AAPS.

3. Also on the AAPS web site--a new survey on cafeteria offerings. It's short, and there's lots of space for comments. Tell them what you think! (See the image, both This Week and the Survey can be found on the right-hand side of the page.) I hope you have a good year.

4. There's also new information on the AAPS web site around H1N1 flu. The upcoming season promises to be challenging. For one thing, all kids are recommended to get the H1N1 flu shots (yes, that is plural--they are supposed to be given one month apart), and many kids who have underlying health conditions (say, asthma) are also expected to get a seasonal flu shot. In case you are having trouble adding, that's 3 shots, and my guess is that a lot of people won't get them all. The new absence-reporting procedure asks you to tell the school why your child is sick (i.e. sore throat, fever, broken arm) and this is supposed to help them keep track of the flu. The only thing is that I bet a lot of parents won't follow it. I wrote about how my brother-in-law told the school his son had a 100 degree fever, and they said he had to stay home for a week. It wasn't the flu. My nephew was fine the next day, but he still couldn't go back to school. Will you tell, if you don't think it's the flu and it might mean staying home for a week?

5. How do you feel about school starting? You can take my unscientific poll if you like (right-hand side, top). I always feel like a Mack Truck has hit me--the change in pace is striking.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Adequate Yearly Progress

The ripples of No Child Left Behind continue. The 2008-2009 results are in, and David Jesse has a lot of the Washtenaw County data posted online at here.

Overall, the schools in Washtenaw County did fairly well. The only schools not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) were Stone High School in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti High School, and Willow Run High School.

Ypsilanti High School: It appears that Ypsilanti High School is a lot closer to reaching AYP than the other two schools. For instance, at Ypsi High School, Black/African American, Economically Disadvantaged, and White student subgroups all meet 4/5 of the target areas. (The special education subgroup subset is not shown, but I think that in Ypsilanti special education students and/or Limited English Proficiency students are not meeting the targets, because the "overall" Ypsilanti High School standards are only being met in two areas.) One thing that stands out is that NONE of the subgroups in Ypsilanti, and in fact NONE of these three high schools, are meeting the graduate rate requirements--but Ypsilanti High School is only a few percentage points away from the targets.

Stone High School: According to the Stone School web site,
Stone high school is an alternative high school serving two hundred students, ages 15 through 19, who have been unsuccessful in traditional education. Stone High School is a full day, full school year, academic NCA accredited high school based on William Glasser's theories of Reality Therapy.
What is reality therapy? Read more about it here, but this is an excerpt:
The reality therapy approach to counseling and problem-solving focuses on the here-and-now of the client and how to create a better future. Typically, clients seek to discover what they really want and whether what they are currently doing (how they are choosing to behave) is actually bringing them nearer to, or further away from, that goal.
I'm not sure that we can conclude that reality therapy doesn't work based on AYP scores and graduation rates, but it might be worth a second look. Because at Stone School, it is not just that graduation rates aren't being met (which isn't surprising--many of these kids already dropped out once). In fact, NONE of the goals are being met. Stone School is too small to have subgroups.

Willow Run High School: At Willow Run, the subgroups meet some of the goals, but overall NONE of the goals are being met.

The way that AYP is calculated is complicated, and it is getting more complicated every year, because a 100% compliance goal is only about 5 years away (I think the 2013-2014 year). In any case, if you want to understand more about how the calculations are done, you can look at the Michigan Department of Education Adequate Yearly Progress page.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


OK, I got a twitter account for the blog. You can find it at

I'm still not sure
what twitter is useful for
when I will use it
how I will use it.

But, as Tom Jones wrote in the song Try to Remember for the Fantasticks,

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow.

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow,
Follow, follow, follow, follow.

What is Math Good For?

This summer, while up north with my friends, my 10th grader and my friend's 12th grader had the following conversation. (My daughter goes to school in Ann Arbor and my friend's daughter goes to school in Grand Traverse County.)
"Math class is a total waste of time."
"Yeah, it is. Really, there's no need to teach math past middle school."
(Now, note that both of these kids took Algebra in 8th grade, so understand that comment as including Algebra I. Oh, and the issue here is not grades--they are both straight A students.)
Here I interjected that "I use math all the time." But they interjected semi-sarcastically,
"Do you use geometry?"
The truth is that I mostly use algebra (I) and statistics. Although the statistics might sometimes be based on geometric or algebra II or calculus concepts, I don't "see" that background. I don't need to know the difference between a cosine or tangent in order to push the button on the calculator. Yes, the concepts help somewhat, but does everyone really need geometry or algebra II?

"Really," my friend's daughter continued, "I asked my math teacher last year (algebra II) what math was good for, and he said to me, 'Well, if you become a math teacher you will use it teaching math!" (As if. . . ) She laughed.

I really think that--minimally--math teachers need to be able to come up with better explanations!
The fact is that currently, at least in Michigan, math is driving the rest of the curriculum, and it's driving student placement in other classes. How does it drive the curriculum? Here are two examples. In middle school in Ann Arbor, the only subject that is "tracked" is math--so your class placement for other classes is often based on the math class placement. (If you have math third hour, then you can't have Social Studies third hour. Therefore, advanced math kids often have similar schedules--and the same is true about remedial math kids.) The state's math requirements have been upped substantially (although the Detroit News reports that they may be removed). In high school, everyone is now expected to pass Algebra II. If you do poorly in math, you may have to repeat math at the expense of your electives. And if you've been wondering why several local schools have switched to a trimester system--this is a piece of a reason (you get additional electives over the course of the year, and if a student fails a math class they can repeat it in the same year).

So: let's either explain why we teach math, or. . . stop expecting kids to learn it or think of it as relevant. I liked this take on the subject of Why We Learn Math.

This writer points out that,
the subjects that apply the math are always taught after the math itself. Physics, economics, and so forth make the need for quadratic equations very clear, but you would never teach someone physics unless they had first mastered quadratic equations
and that
judging math by its usefulness is missing the point. Why do math teachers need to prove that their material will be vital for daily life in order to make it worth learning? Poetry would never be able to pass that test, nor would history or art. . . We fully recognize that sonnets aren’t “useful,” but we still learn them. We think it makes your life better to have the wider, deeper view of the world that comes with having studied art and literature.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Noteworthy News: Clemente, Take Two

Apparently, Roberto Clemente Student Development Center has a new principal--Ben Edmondson, former Scarlett Middle School principal--and the Scarlett position is posted. Edmondson sparked controversy at Scarlett Middle School in choosing to hold back 5% of kids at the school--mostly kids who were not doing well academically. Clemente (see my earlier post about the school) actually is a grade 8-12 school.

Holding kids back in middle school is controversial because it is associated with higher dropout rates. Whether this is because kids are "over age" for their grade, or because these kids would have dropped out anyway is, I think, still somewhat of an open question (but if you know more, share your knowledge!) On the other hand, social promotion has its drawbacks too, in that if kids get promoted through high school, but never learn the basics, what is the point of school? (See here for my earlier post on adult literacy.)

One thing that is for sure is that the "retention or promotion" debate shows just how limited our toolbox is for dealing with kids who need significant help, and Roberto Clemente expands the options. I'm sure that was what made Clemente attractive to Ben Edmondson, and vice versa.