Thursday, May 27, 2010

Landslides and Lakes: Geology, English, Hydrology

Warning: This post is not about Education. It is about my education, though.

I've been completely fascinated by a blog that Ed Vielmetti sent me to: Dave's Landslide Blog. I've been learning a tremendous amount about geology and geography (okay, I already knew a fair bit, but not about landslides). They seem to happen around the world nearly every day.

Right now there is a huge lake (at least 12 miles long and over 300 feet deep), growing daily, that was formed by a landslide in January. It is about to overflow any day now, with the possibility of a ginormous (I like that word) flood. Many villages have already flooded, more are about to be flooded. All in a part of Pakistan that I didn't even know about. And there are all sorts of politics going on in the area. The Pakistan-China road (Karkoram Highway) has been blocked and flooded. And if there is a disaster, it will be because the government didn't step up to the plate and prepare. Did I mention that the area is incredibly beautiful? Welcome to Gilgit-Baltistan, where the Attabad Lake has formed in the Hunza district. The lake is about to overtop tomorrow or the next day. How big will the flood be? I've been checking, practically hourly. (Picture taken from Dave's Landslide Blog.)

Another thing that is really interesting to me is the English of the Pakistani news sources--the English reads really differently from ours. Turn in to the Pamir Times to see what I mean. It reminds me of a debate I read about in one of my English classes, over whether there is, or should be, a single World English, or multiple World Englishes. Reading the Pakistani news sources, I lean toward Englishes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If It Seems too Good to Be True...

It probably is.

At least, that's the saying.
In the beginning, I was excited about the possible transportation consolidation, and I wrote this.
A few weeks later, I had a few concerns, and I wrote this.
But after reading a little bit more, I've come to the conclusion that this plan is ill-conceived and--if implemented for the fall--will likely be a big. fat. mess.
So--what made me change my mind?

1. Savings Oversold
Well, it turns out that there are some (read: limited) savings from saving on "deadhead miles" and combined gas purchasing, but the bulk of the savings are coming from staff--and not, primarily, from fewer staff--but primarily from paying staff an average of 17% less. There is no guarantee that current drivers will get jobs, either.
When I wrote about the custodians, I posited that there is a moral imperative, not just an economic imperative, to fairness. David Bates, the Ypsilanti school board president, noted in school board's discussion yesterday that the teachers and administrators were ("only") asked to take 5% pay cuts. In Ann Arbor, the custodians and maintenance staff just took what approximates a 10% pay cut. So--17%? That seems a bit much.
In that vein, I appreciate the Ypsilanti school board's decision to table the decision.
In fact, with the new retirement program that the state legislature just enacted, workers who are re-hired will (I believe) have a different retirement program than the one they were in, with reduced benefits. So that's another sock-it-to-the-worker problem.

According to the article
The consultant working with the WISD said that the proposed wage scale was developed after examining compensation for other counties' transportation departments.
Oh yeah? Which counties? The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area is one of the most expensive housing markets in the Midwest. I believe it is only second to Chicago. Let's pay people a living wage.

2. Cooperation and Coordination are alternatives to Consolidation
I think that some of the savings (like combined gas purchasing) could probably be achieved through cooperation and coordination, rather than consolidation. Do we need to consolidate to coordinate special education transportation? I don't see why.

3. Timeline is too Short
At this point, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District is saying that they need at least five of the districts to go in on the plan, and if Ann Arbor is not one of the five, that would be big trouble. And yet--to date--the only one to sign on is Willow Run. So here we are.  June is around the corner. And it seems to me that there is no way that laying off all of the local drivers and aides, and having a new entity hire them, and redesigning routes can possibly happen in a smooth and coordinated fashion in the next 2+ months. I don't care what promises the WISD wants to give about that, I will not believe it. Nor should you.

4. Transparency
There's one other thing, too. We're back to that transparency thing again. When I went to the AAPS budget meeting where they discussed transportation, I think I was sold a bill of goods. This is what I wrote at the time:
The main savings will come from things like buying gasoline in bulk, buying parts in bulk, routing efficiencies, etcetera. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, and my guess is that eventually there will be some cuts in staffing among mechanics and administrators (although that was not clearly said).
My nagging question, in that post, was "If it's not too good to be true, why didn't we do this five years ago?" And now I have my answer: It is too good to be true. 

Let's Try Again for Consolidation
Let's use a more realistic timeline. (January? Next September? ) Let's bring the transportation unions to the table. Let's use a reasonable amount of pay rollbacks (5-10%?).

In the meantime, let's try cooperation and coordination to save on gas and deadhead miles.

Picture from the rally at Skyline.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fostering and Adopting

This month--May--is National Foster Care Month. And I think that's why the Michigan League For Human Services has been tweeting away, referring people to the AdoptUsKids website. And that is how I found myself at the MARE (Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange) website.

And that is where I got seriously depressed. And fascinated. And more depressed.

On the MARE website, children's photos are posted, along with descriptions. I have tried to paste in a description. Twice. And Failed.

So I will just ask you to compare these two descriptions:

The photo listings must work. But it makes me feel ill that we compare kids and pets, and in saying that, I mean no disrespect to the pets. 
I've linked to the foster parenting adventures blog, and
I'm interested in your experiences as a foster parent (or adoptive parent through the foster system).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

School Aid Fund Rallies: Monday, 5/24/10

The theme is: Enough is Enough.

On Monday, 5/24/2010, there will be school aid funding rallies around the state. Here is the list of locations statewide. That link is to the Michigan Education Association web site, but it is worth noting that all ten Washtenaw County districts are asking that all school employees, parents, students, administrators, and Board trustees attend.

In Washtenaw County, the rally will begin at 5 p.m. (going until 7 p.m.) at Skyline High School's football stadium (map).
Essential message: demand reliable and sustainable educational funding without further legislative gymnastics or punitive coping measures
Right now it looks like the state school aid fund is running a slight surplus (sales tax is coming in higher than what was expected), but the general fund is running a deficit. It's my understanding that the bright lights in state government would like to steal from the "rich" (it seems ironic to call the school aid fund rich) to give to the "poor."
To wit, from the Detroit Free Press:
Directors of the House and Senate fiscal agencies said lawmakers have several options to cover the $244 million shortfall in the general fund, including shifting the surplus from the school aid fund.
How about keeping that money in the school aid fund, and maybe restoring some of last year's cuts? Or planning to restore it next year? Even $10 in restored aid would be better than nothing...

And a month from now, on June 24th, there will be a march to the Capitol to send the message that "we will no longer allow them to under fund public school education."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Work!

It sometimes amazes me how well my graduating senior can characterize settings, situations, and people.
Take this example:

When my oldest was in first grade, he was a rather reluctant reader.
I love to read, so I was starting to despair, and I said to him, "Why don't you like to read? Reading is fun!"
"No mom," he said to me. "Maybe someday reading will be fun. But right now, it's work!"

These days, he reads quite well.

Side note: The Annie E. Casey Foundation has ranked states based on the proportion of proficient readers by fourth grade: # 1-3 are four New England states (yes, I can count, but #3 was a tie): Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. Michigan ranked #34. That came up in a Lansing State Journal article which says that "governments are cutting programs that could help families raise better readers."

Monday, May 17, 2010

To Retire or Not to Retire, That is the Question

What will the early retirement deal mean? Will the floodgates open? Will huge numbers of teachers retire?
I'm skeptical.
For one thing, many school districts (if not many around here) have already offered early retirement incentives.
For another thing, time is passing quickly. On May 14th, the state's Office of Retirement Services posted this on its web site:
New retirement legislation (SB 1227) has passed and is expected to be signed by the governor early next week. Public school employees who are eligible to retire or may be eligible to retire will be mailed a personalized letter when the governor signs. (Emphasis added.)
In other words--the bill has not been signed yet, the letters have not been sent out yet, and  a teacher I spoke to today told me that he was having trouble getting on the system to even update his address and contact information.
If the state wants people to retire, they had better have their systems ready to receive them! It sounds like the systems are not ready. 
This, by the way, was a teacher who was already planning on retiring this year. When he heard there might be a retirement incentive, he held off on filing--and I'm sure he wasn't alone.
 On the other hand, I know a lot of teachers who are eligible. But if they were planning on teaching another 3-5 years, they are probably still going to be better off financially by sticking with teaching. 
 Generally, the shorter the time period for filing, the less likely it is that people will take advantage of it. The smaller the incentive, the less likely it is that people will take advantage of it.

In sum: I like early retirement incentives. Someday, I would like to be offered one! But I don't think it's going to deliver the savings that the state is counting on; it has a big downside in terms of the "sticks" (as in, carrots and sticks) that ongoing and new teachers will be stuck with; and I don't expect to see a lot of new teachers hired because there are so many layoffs proposed. [There may be some administrative openings--a lot of administrators, I believe, are eligible.]

In addition, now that teachers who stick around (perhaps because they aren't eligible) are going to be required to put an additional 3% of their income into the retirement health benefits system, how do you think those union negotiations--where Ann Arbor, for instance, wants a 4% wage/benefits rollback--are going to go? That would mean that teachers, essentially, would be losing 7% of their compensation next year. I don't think that will go over too well...

Finally--at best this offers short-term relief. With or without a retirement incentive, the state needs to properly fund the School Aid Fund. Say it now, say it out loud.

Exodus, aka Graduation

Who thought it would come to this, so soon? When I heard people say that the hours would drag by but the years would fly by, I didn't know what they meant, but it's true. I have a graduating senior. Over the next few months, you can expect to see some posts on this. moment. in. time.

Transportation Redux

Would you like to know more about the proposed school transportation solution? (Consolidation.) So would I!

I am posting the link to the WISD transportation pages. There are three pdfs at the bottom of the page.
I thought the most interesting one was the school board presentation pdf.
I didn't realize, when I wrote the post, Heads You Win, that if the consolidation is approved, bus drivers will have to apply for their posts (no guarantees), and there will be cuts both in numbers of employees and in wages (for most districts). And--no guarantee about unionization, either.

Key point--the bulk of the savings do not come from better routing and savings on bulk purchasing of parts and gas. There are some savings there, but the bulk come from...staffing.

Expected savings:
Operations 6-7%
Wages and Benefits 8-13%
Overhead Reductions 3-5%

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Week: Bullying and Safety Meetings

Monday, 5/17/10: The Saline School District is having a meeting to discuss safety, racism, and bullying--6:30 p.m. Pleasant Ridge Elementary School cafeteria. Read more here.

Thursday, 5/20/10, 7 p.m.: Bullying panel, hosted by, at 301 E. Liberty in Ann Arbor.
Robin Batten, Washtenaw Area Council for Children
Annie Zirkel, a relationship and parenting consultant (and Ann Arbor Public Schools parent)
Michael Benczarski, principal at Whitmore Lake Middle School

The Washtenaw Area Council for Children is an excellent, if little-known, group in the county that works to prevent abuse and increase safety for kids. I've heard and read Annie Zirkel before and really like what she has to say. (See her work at Michael Benczarski has a very interesting personal history and is living proof that you can overcome significant disadvantages. I'm excerpting his biography from this article which gives more details about the event.
Michael Benczarski, principal at Whitmore Lake Middle School, was emancipated and became his own legal guardian at the age of 16. A high school dropout, he became a graduate of high distinction from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's in education in 1999, and graduated from Marygrove College in 2002 with a masters in education. Benczarski has 12-plus years experience in education including work as a paraprofessional, fifth-grade teacher, eighth-grade teacher, elementary principal, middle school assistant principal and middle school principal. He is trained in Love and Logic and has experience utilizing the concept of Restorative Conferences.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Slightly More Than Half of All I Am Is Thanks to You (Mom)

I love this video! Thanks to the Stanford SCOPE Medical Blog for pointing it out. It just shows what you can do with a scientific (and musical) education. The professor at the end is saying, "It's not an even fifty-fifty split."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I learned today, listening to NPR's Here and Now, that "At least 12% of all children in the U.S. have disabilities – or special needs."

They then broadcast some parents reading excerpts from the book, My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities.

It's the May 12, 2010 edition of Here and Now, scroll down to the bottom (it was the last segment), Reflections from Parents with Special Needs Children, and click on the Listen button. Or--go buy the book.
The essays are very moving.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Oh, the Irony! MI-Access Testing

Twice a year, my children take a computerized standardized test now, the MI-Access test, which is supposed to assess writing skills. The computer does the grading. That is why we got such a kick out of my graduating senior's essay. The computer gave him a 5.9 out of 6.0. The prompt asked students to write an essay explaining why a foreign exchange student should pick their school. (Reproduced with my son's permission.)

A good education is the basis of our entire system.  Without a proper education it is impossible for students to grow into proper and successful adults.   Our economy relies on highly skilled individuals capable of doing the work in which they are employed.  If we ignore their education we will ignore our future as well.  Community High School has a different way to go about this idea.  We at Community not only focus on a full education but we care about each individual student as well.   It is necessary to care about each student and not just their test scores, on a test in which little can be taken away about their true intellect.  A standardized test ignores the fact that the student may have started with less knowledge and actually learned more than a kid who scores higher on the test.  When we give our kids numbers we ignore the individual and we take away from their potential.  Community High is the best suited school for educating kids because it does not ignore the individual and allows each kid to succeed.
Standardized testing does help colleges know whom they are accepting and what they understand.  This does not mean that a high school should follow the same method.  We begin to punish those who do not make the benchmarks and in turn we allow them to fail more.  Here at community we try our hardest to stay away from standardized testing.  Sometimes we are required to take a test, although it is insufficient at allowing us to help kids.  Computers only work with numbers, so we are forced to number our children and students so they can fit into our current mold of education.  I do not want to be a number, but to take this test each student had to write their student identification number.  Community asks students to use identification numbers and it sees each one as an individual.  All foreign exchange students should know, going to a different school will allow them to be a number, going to community will let them be a person.          
Thomas Jefferson once said, "Every generation needs a revolution".  He could not be more correct.  The time has come for our society to revolt.   The computer reading my test has no idea how ignorant I believe we as a society have become.  To think that a student from a poorer, less educated background should hurt his or schools funding by scoring low on the test is not only inaccurate but also an insult to humankind.  The schools we should give the most funding to should be the ones who score the worst.  If a student is not educated, taking away their funding does not help them.  Community High can be the next revolution.  Come to this school and experience what learning truly feels like.  Thomas Jefferson not only would support it but also would know how necessary it truly is.          
There are thousands of students taking this test at the same time.  It could be argued that we must sometimes allow less analysis of each individual to expedite the process and allow more students to be tested and understood.  This idea will be the downfall of our society.  People will become a part of the machine and if those in charge were at the bottom looking up they might not think this so called reform truly betters our nation.  America has the potential to allow millions to be extremely educated and for all to have a job, and a future.  Instead we have chosen the same route Darth Vader did, the dark side.  We do not care about the individual, just money and power.  Maybe we can do our younger generation right, just like Darth Vader redeemed himself by saving Luke.  It may seem too farfetched but the time of our revolution has come.  Community High knows this, and it teaches kids to be the next great leaders of our revolution.           
Community High School will one day be seen as the only practical school in the district.  Every student, parent and teacher should want to come hear because if needs to be known, this computer will not keep us quite.  Whether the grade is a one or a six it is irrelevant because community has taught me one truly great thing.  Actions can be forced, whether by the district, the state or the country but thoughts cannot be controlled.  Community allows students to develop their thoughts and know that this test means less than nothing.  This test is trying to destroy our society and it is our job to win it back.  Fight The Power.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day: Senior Year

Mother's Day, growing up, was not a big deal. We might make my mom a card (or not), and have dinner with one or both sets of grandparents.

Because I have a high school senior now, I find myself flashing back to my senior year. What was it like for me, applying to college? Did I have senioritis? Who were my friends? Yesterday, I found myself thinking about Mother's Day of my senior year.

The weekend of Mother's Day during my senior year, I was at a youth group weekend convention. As I was a senior, this was my last one. They were always a lot of fun, and this one was no exception. It followed the usual pattern--lots of activities during the day, and almost no sleep at all on Friday or Saturday nights. By the time I would get home Sunday afternoon, I would be extremely bleary-eyed. As I was not a napper, I would stay awake Sunday until bedtime, and then go to sleep. In the morning, I would not be at all caught up on my sleep, and would argue with my parents about going to school. They always won. This, I felt, was truly unfair, as many of my other youth group friends were allowed to skip school on those Mondays.
This time, I had determined, was going to be different. This time, I would stay home. I was a senior, damn it!
Monday morning my mom came to wake me up. I was sluggish. She came back again.
"No," I said, "I'm not going."
She sat down in the rocking chair in my room.
"Yes, you are." And then she said, "Aunt N. died last night. You're going to school today because the funeral will be Tuesday and you will miss school tomorrow."
My plans were foiled, but her words woke me up right away.
Aunt N.--my mother's first cousin and best friend--had been sick with breast cancer for quite a while. But I think I didn't really believe she would die, probably because Aunt N. had three kids, all fairly close in age to us.

I went to school that day.
Thirty years ago Monday.
My cousin says, "My mom made sure we would never forget Mother's Day."

May your Mother's Day be sweeter, and less bitter.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Wisdom of a Three-Year Old

When my oldest was three, some dear friends of ours (graduate students) were moving out of town. We had a goodbye picnic at Gallup Park. They had two kids, and the younger one was (and still is) exactly one month younger than our son.

After we ate, the kids were off playing on the playground. We looked over, and found them doing something that we didn't like. (No, I don't remember what it was.) We intervened and called them over.

And as they walked away, back to the playground, we overheard their daughter saying to our son, "Let's not do that again."

I imagine that is how the Ann Arbor schools are feeling now, regarding the Dicken lunch bunch field trip.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Race/ism & Disparities

Just a few days apart, two thought-provoking articles show up in In the first article, Simone Lightfoot--relatively new AAPS school board member--says that she is concerned about student achievement numbers.
“These (numbers) for African-American and Hispanic children are abysmal,” she said. “The seeming sentiment of ‘Hold on, we’ll get there,’ isn’t working for me.”
I appreciate Simone Lightfoot's honesty. As I noted several weeks ago in a series of posts (start here), segregation--and its cousin, the so-called achievement gap--have been with us for over thirty years. And note, that by "us," I don't just mean Ann Arbor schools, although we're obviously talking about Ann Arbor. This is true throughout the U.S.

This gap is not only true in education outcomes. It is true in health outcomes and it's true in housing outcomes. Have you ever looked at the difference in how many African-Americans (and Hispanics) are likely to get diabetes, compared to whites? What about heart disease? Age until death? How about rates of foreclosure? The numbers are not pretty.

Sure, we can research, and act, and research, and act, but a lot of things that we thought would work to improve outcomes have not actually improved outcomes. (A few have.) Is that simply how it is? Does race stand in for something else? Is it racism?

Just over a year ago, the Ann Arbor News reported this:
The Ann Arbor school district has started correcting problems that were causing a disproportionate number of black students [47%] to be labeled as cognitively impaired, the district's special education director told the school board Wednesday night.
47%!? How do those numbers look today, a year and a half later?

Interestingly (but I'm not happy about this), in the Ann Arbor school district, we have been sued for reverse discrimination. In the late 1990s, there was a Saturday Academy for African American Youth--but the focus on African-American Youth was considered a problem by some. (I couldn't find a link to any of the news stories, or the summary, of the case. Point one my way if you know it, or write more in the comments.) It's my understanding, though, that part of the settlement was that the Saturday Academy could not be largely focused on African Americans.

And this week the same issue raises its head, when Mike Madison, a principal and an African-American man, offers a field trip to a select group of kids: African-American kids. Talk about controversy! The article doesn't explain why they could only invite a certain number of kids, and I'm troubled by the allegation that some African-American girls were disinvited. 
Do I think that this is the solution to the achievement gap? No.
But do I think that this is the worst idea ever and Mike Madison is a total idiot? No, that is not it either.

My personal experience of Mike Madison is that he is a creative thinker. And quite honestly, dealing with the achievement gap requires thinking outside the box, and probably providing multiple solutions. If the achievement gap were easy to deal with, it would have been dealt with already! And when we think outside the box, we often find that our attempts are not successful. 

So--Simone Lightfoot--thank you for keeping your eye on our failures as well as our successes.
And--Mike Madison--thank you for trying out a solution. Try a different one next time.
As Thomas Alva Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
We need to keep working on this.

Image is from here.

Promises, Promises

Last year, I wondered if my oldest had qualified for a Promise Scholarship. Despite the fact that I have two masters' degrees, I couldn't find the spot on the test results paper with the answer. (Who writes those forms, anyway?) Finally, after reading the damn piece of paper about ten times, I figured out that he had, in fact, qualified. Woo hoo!

Of course, that was all theoretical. Someone else told me that their family called it the False Promises Scholarship. After all, it was cut.

Which brings me to today's news:
The U.S. Department of Education is funding 5-year studies, at MSU and U of M, of the Michigan Merit curriculum and the Michigan Promise Scholarship.

So--umm--how does that work? Because the scholarship that was promised, was vanished. So how can anyone study its impact?

Monday, May 3, 2010


When I was in high school, I often wondered about the point of outlining. Natch, I was good at it, but--it was so boring, and it seemed so pointless.
Yet in this Dave Askins' column in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, I finally see the light. Read the column, and see how outlining can be used to good effect--not just to list, but to synthesize and analyze.
Column: Making Sushi of Obama’s Speech

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Bike Angel

It's not too late to sign up for the Commuter Challenge. If your school or office hasn't done it yet, that's okay, there is still time. (Hey, sign up on the last weekday in May and I think you would still get that ice cream coupon to Washtenaw Dairy. UPDATE: Nope. You need to sign up by May 7. )
A few years ago, I was on my way to work, on my bike, when my bicycle basket broke on the EMU campus. It got stuck in my spokes. I was thinking about walking my bike to my friend's house and taking the bus the rest of the way. How could I fix it? The bike looked terrible! And I had forgotten my cell phone at home! (Truthfully, I didn't really look at what had happened, I just kind of freaked out.)
Just then a guy on a bicycle came riding by. I still call him my bike angel.
He quickly assessed the situation, reminded me that I had a quick release wheel, helped me untangle my basket from the spokes, and I was on my way. But first, because I was doing that thing that women do--that "I'm sorry to bother you" thing--he told me that "bicycle commuters are going to save the world."
(Well, I doubt it--but it was a very nice thing to say.)
I also found out he was a new professor at EMU, teaching about Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which--coincidentally--is a special interest of mine. Thanks James Perren! You made my day.

You too can save the world. Sign up for the Commuter Challenge. (And if you should happen to need a bike angel, I am now convinced that they are everywhere.)

(Bike Angel picture taken from a t-shirt shop. You can buy your Bike Angel t-shirt at

This Week: Elections & Bonds

May 4th--Tuesday--school board elections in Dexter, Chelsea, Lincoln. The Dexter election is contested--with a write-in campaign.
There's also a vote on an infrastructure and technology bond in the Lincoln Schools. You might be wondering why to vote for a bond, when the Lincoln school district has just closed a school. Well, the short answer is that this is one of the few areas where school districts can levy monies. In fact, in the past few years nearly every district around has passed one of these.
When the boiler breaks...when the roof needs to be repaired...when the computers are too old to function you really want those expenses to come out of the per-pupil funding which has been cut, and will probably be cut again, from the state? That's why school boards propose these, and that's why I will generally support them. If I lived in the Lincoln School District, I would vote for this one.

The Ann Arbor election was moved to the fall, and given how many people have applied to fill the empty school board positions (we're on #3 now), I hope we will have a lot of candidates for school board in the fall.