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.