Monday, August 30, 2010

New Kid On the Block

Welcome to Kyle Feldscher, the new K-12 reporter. And good luck to David Jesse, who moves on to cover higher education for With EMU, U of M, and WCC, there will be plenty for him to do!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ethics Question of the Week

Are you cheating, if you let someone else copy off of your paper? Or are only they cheating?

Books, Books, Books: Racing to the Top, Middle, Bottom

Hat Tip to Assorted Stuff, who pointed me to Diane Ravitch's column in the Washington Post, where she comments on the Race to the Top, and suggests three books about education reform, from different points of view, that people might find thought-provoking.

Here is the column.

And while we're on recommendations, maybe we should be reading Ravitch's latest book (I have not read any of these books): The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jones School Documentary: Request for Help

I recently got this email, and I am excerpting it because (besides saying nice things about my blog), Charlotte Young Bowens is doing a documentary about Jones School! (Jones School was the school that is now Community High School, back when it was an elementary school. You might remember that I wrote about it earlier this year in the post A Little History.) She needs your help. If you went to Jones School, worked at Jones School, or were part of the discussions around closing Jones School, please contact Charlotte Young Bowens.
My name is Charlotte and I came across your incredible blog when I was doing some research on Jones School.  I also enjoyed your well articulated feedback about the achievement gap issues that continue to plague the Ann Arbor Public Schools featured on the Chronicle website.

I'm an Ann Arborite, born in 1967 and went through the AAPS. I was looking at some old photos, one of which featured my brother and I standing in the parking lot (perhaps just cemented) area  just outside of Jones  School. I've always loved this photo, so much so I thought as a kid I must have gone to Jones School but upon doing some research I discovered that the school had closed two years before I was born but what really struck me was this idea of Ann Arbor public schools needing to be desegregated. As a child growing up in this town, I thought, albeit naive, that Ann Arbor didn't have issues of segregation. Continued research about Jones School inspired me to start working on a short documentary about the school because I think it's an interesting story in itself, at least as a starting point for now. The more I learn the more I'm challenged to think about other themes for a documentary but I'm trying to stay focus on Jones School, it's history and then it's ultimate closure in 1965.


New York City public school teacher to New York City (public) charter school teacher:

Public school teacher: So is the pay scale the same?
Charter school teacher: No, not at all. We work more hours for less pay.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dog Days of August

Why are they called dog days? I have no idea--I thought maybe because of the idea that dogs lie around and don't do anything?

In any case, if August has the reputation that not much happens, that hasn't been true this past week.

Here are a few things you can read about (with my comments after each link):

Todd Roberts is leaving as Ann Arbor superintendent. He is going to be the chancellor for the North Carolina School for Science and Math.
What do I think? I think Todd Roberts did a fairly good job here--not perfect, but being a superintendent in Ann Arbor is a lot like herding cats--and I'm glad he's able to make a job choice that will allow him to spend time with his (and his wife's) parents. I think I'd prefer naming an interim superintendent in order to not rush the job search.

Race and ethnicity sagas continue.
So the "Skyline bus fight" was not deemed a hate crime after all. (You can go back to this earlier post or this one if you need to refresh your memory.) Of course the big bugaboo in the room: how can we de-escalate tensions before they start?

And although Mike Madison made a mistake, he won't be disciplined. I'm glad about that. Let us learn from our mistakes, and move on. That's what we tell students to do, and honestly? We are all still learners. We still have an achievement gap...

And a Willow Run building supervisor is suing Doris Hope-Jackson and the Willow Run school district for race discrimination and for discrimination based on the Family Medical Leave Act. (Todd LaPrairie is white, Hope-Jackson is black.) Is it true? I don't know, but at this point, let's remember that the school board is trying to dismiss Hope-Jackson, and it's tempting to believe almost anything...but, that's why we have courts and due-process hearings.

In other news... has an extensive special report on the idea of consolidating school districts. The full study (done by Michigan State University) can be found here. The net result: if all of the districts in the state were to undergo some consolidation, we could save 4% of our expenses. My feeling is, it might make sense to consolidate some districts, but not others--size matters, local control matters. Having to drive hours to a school board meeting matters. Closing down charters would probably save more, but nobody is suggesting that.
I wrote about some of the roadblocks to consolidation in this post. Here are the roadblocks:
First, the districts considering consolidation (or annexation) need to have their school boards decide it is worth pursuing.
Second, the voters in each district need to agree. Jack Lessenberry had a good essay about
why the Montague and Whitehall districts (near Muskegon) voted no many years ago. And the moral is that both small and large things can deter people from voting yes. On the other hand, this seems pretty reasonable to me if a district is either merging or dissolving. The people should have a say. (Want to see what the county school district map looks like? You can find it here.)
Third, the way state law is currently written, the merged district gets the average of the per pupil allocations. And the districts don't have the same per pupil allocations.
In the article, former state superintendent Tom Watkins says that the consolidation push has to come from Lansing because local schools are "too close" to the issue. NO. That is rubbish. The consolidation push has to come from Lansing because the laws which set up the roadblocks are made in Lansing. The fact that the merged district gets the average per-pupil funding of the two districts (and not the higher per-pupil funding) is a disincentive even if the difference is $100/per pupil.

Last, but not least...

I keep seeing signs up for WISD hiring bus drivers, and I am pretty nervous that my kids' routes are going to be screwed up this fall. When I was in kindergarten, I took the bus for three days. The bus driver got lost on the way to my house all three days. After that, I walked or got a ride. I WANT kids to be comfortable using the bus.

Yeah, lazy, hazy summer...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Michigan Radio, Michigan Schools

All this week, Michigan Radio is doing a series on Paying for Michigan Schools. I'm linking to the first piece in the series. (Depending on your browser, you might need to scroll down.)

One thing I learned today: the schools and state budgets used to be on the same calendar (starting July 1), until at some point--in a sleight of hand destined to make the state budget balance--the state legislature moved the state's fiscal year to October. Of course, they could never afford to go back.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the full series.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Six Things I Learned about the College Application Process Last Year

Note: The audience here is presumed to be the parent, although the information is good for students too...

1. There is a college for everyone, whether or not you have good grades. So don't panic. That said, once you determine what your "range" school should be (e.g., you think you should be able to get into MSU), apply to more than one of them! And for every "reach" school you apply to, apply to a "safety" school. The application costs only sound like a lot when you forget how much you will pay for college. In the case of my son, that meant two reach schools, two range schools, two safeties. Verdict? Admitted to ranges and safeties; waitlisted at reaches. That made me feel that this system works. (The key, however? Correctly identifying your "range" schools.)

2. Apply early! Yes, that means October. Not only does it improve your chances of getting in to the school you want, but it also makes the rest of the year much more pleasant.

3. Your mileage may vary. If financial aid offers are important to you, then "you'd better shop around." Small schools may give more money than large schools--and this could effectively neutralize the cost of going to a small private school. Some schools--Western Michigan, Indiana come to mind--advertise that if your GPA is X and your test scores are Y, you will get Z amount of merit money. And test scores do matter when it comes to racking up financial aid. Applying to more schools means you will be able to compare more offers--you might be surprised at the variation.

4. Despite that--before you decide that you must pay for Kaplan, Princeton Review, or a private test tutor, why don't you see how your child does on the PACT and PSAT? Or even on the ACT or SAT? You can retake those tests, you know. It may be totally unnecessary to pay for any tutoring at all. In my son's case, after he took the PACT, the ACT, the PSAT and the SAT, I decided to pay for three hours of a private tutor to help with the math part of the ACT. That ended up costing a lot less than a full course, and seemed to do the trick. Most of what he learned related to how to "read" (analyze) the test questions. I also heard the tutor telling my son the same things I had said. "Take your time, don't rush through the material." Somehow, when the tutor said it, it had some weight.

5. Before your student fills out the college application, have him/her make a list of all the activities she/he has done over the years. Think broadly--tutoring a neighbor? Sunday School teacher's aide? Working at Dairy Queen? Read over the essay questions. Expect a question about diversity, and remember that that question does not have to mean racial diversity.  Sure, you can discuss the essay questions and do some editing, but don't write the damn essay--it needs to be the student's work.

6. Work with the school counselor to get the best recommendation letter possible. At Community High, the counselors ask studentss to provide names of people whom the applicant thinks would provide a well-rounded picture of him/her. The counselors then email those people asking for a few sentences about said student, and that detail becomes the backbone of the counselor's letter. I really like this approach and wish more counselors would use it, because many times, students switch counselors partway through a high school career, and the counselor doesn't know the student from Adam.

OK, I lied in the title. Here's one more thing:

7. Despite what all of those education manuals will tell you, college is not for everyone, and certainly it's not for everyone just after they graduate from high school. There are many fabulous gap year programs. (I went on one many, many years ago and boy did it open my eyes.) There is a great big world to explore. And the world still needs electricians and plumbers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Assorted Notes

Schools of Choice
Ann Arbor has a limited schools of choice open enrollment period again. That's because they didn't have enough kids apply in round one. It is only for students entering grades K, 1, and 6. It is for select elementary schools and all of the middle schools. Find out more here. Open enrollment period closes August 12th. Other school districts have broader schools of choice options available--check with the district for details.

Saline Schools Bond Vote
The Saline Schools bond lost by 153 votes--2782 to 2629, or 51.4% to 48.6%. This proposal essentially extended a millage that would have expired (and will expire, unless something changes) in 2025, in order to qualify for federal recovery funds (ARRA). I think it was probably hard to understand that it wouldn't cost anything immediately.

In any case, a friend of mine who lives in Belleville pointed out to me that all of the local school districts are coming around and asking for funding for infrastructure and technology costs. I believe that in Belleville (Van Buren schools, which draw a small number of kids from Washtenaw County) they are building, or have built, a new high school. "Now is not the time," she said.

It's worth looking at why these proposals seem to be becoming more frequent. I'll give two reasons, and there are probably more. 1) There are some projects (technology comes to mind), where funding could come from a bond issue, or from per-pupil operating monies. Since the per-pupil operating monies keep getting cut, it's not really an option to take money for these projects from those monies, and we cannot go to local voters and ask for an increase in per-pupil funding, thanks to Proposal A. In other words, it is a function of the state school funding climate. 2) In a competitive world of school choice, and a world where we like shiny new things, school boards and administrators believe that we gain a competitive edge with new and updated schools. In other words, parents will choose to enroll their kids in a school based in part on facilities and technology.
Do you agree? 
On the one hand, I think I learned perfectly well without computers or whiteboards in my classrooms--and I expect that I am not the only voter who wonders "do we really need" this technology? Couldn't we teach without it? (The answer is clearly yes.)
On the other hand, if you expect teachers to orient their teaching around technological innovations (which, increasingly, we do)--well, I can say that there is very little that is more frustrating for a teacher than having technology not work. If we want all kids to learn computers, we need to give them computers to use. And what about having a roof that doesn't leak? Heating and cooling systems that heat and cool?

The WISD Transportation Mess:
In the end, only three districts decided to join the WISD Transportation Consolidation Plan. Yes, that is the number 3 (Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Willow Run). Yes, they originally said they needed 5, minimally. I still don't have an answer on how the math works out for that. The WISD is now advertising for school bus driver applicants. Are we going to have a major snafu come September? It does seem likely. Other districts are trying some other ideas. Dexter is going to a one-tier bus system. In that system, school times are coordinated so that you only need to drive through a neighborhood once, rather than different times for elementary/middle/high school. The tentative schedule will be to have the school day running from 8 a.m. to 2:51 p.m. Lincoln bus drivers agreed to significant concessions.

Ypsilanti Superintendent:
Ypsilanti is evaluating new superintendent Dedrick Martin. Share your opinions with the Ypsilanti school board now.

Did anyone notice that the new Ypsilanti high school principal resigned before he started? And there are four new elementary school principals coming in to Ann Arbor. Three of them are from out of district. Do we really not have the skills and expertise in the district to hire from within?

Adequate Yearly Progress:
The state Department of Education has determined that most public schools in the county have made Adequate Yearly Progress. According to David Jesse at,
The schools that didn’t make AYP were Ann Arbor's Stone High School, Lincoln High School, Ypsilanti High School, Willow Run High School and Willow Run Middle School. Coming off the AYP problem school list was Ypsilanti's Adams Elementary School.
If you want to see the school-by-school details, you can find them on the state web site here.
I'm curious: those of you with fairly recent experiences at the schools that did not make AYP, have you been satisfied with your children's education? I have heard that some of these schools are "great for kids who need second and third chances" but are not doing so well with kids who don't need them. Do you agree?

If you want to look at a school district that is doing well in state rankings with limited resources (they are on the low end as far as per-pupil funding amounts), I suggest you check out the Manchester school district.

Budget and Salary Transparency Reporting:
I just noticed that the Saline and Manchester and Ypsilanti schools have Budget and Transparency Reporting up on their web sites. Look for it on their home pages, in a link. It turns out that it is a state requirement, to have this information posted on the home page of the district's web site within 30 days. When I first looked, I didn't see it on the Ann Arbor web site. When I read the state's documentation, that says it needs to be up and on the home page, I went back again. It is in the weirdest place on the AAPS web site, almost "off the page" on the far, far top right.

School Board:
If you haven't read my last post about school board elections, please do!

Just Do It: Democracy In Action

Yes folks, that's right--it is time for you to consider running for school board. 
In fact, it is almost past time!
The filing deadline for the November 2, 2010 election is 4 p.m. on Tuesday August 10th. 

Applicants for any school board position in the county file at the Election Division, Washtenaw County Clerk Office, 200 North Main Street, Ann Arbor MI.

From the County Clerk:
Local School Board candidates, Community College Trustee candidates and District Library Board candidates who wish to seek office at the November general election file an Affidavit of Identity and a nominating petition. (A $100.00 nonrefundable fee may be filed in lieu of a petition.) Withdrawal deadline elapses at 4:00 p.m. on Aug. 13. (168.303; 397.181; 389.83, 152)
So--that's how you do it. Your local school administration office, and/or the county clerk, will be happy to help you with the details. 

For instance, in Ann Arbor, there are 5 seats up for election--two 4-year positions, one 2-year term, two 1-year terms. That is more than there have been in quite a while. There are at least two open terms in Ypsilanti, get the idea. I didn't check every school district, but most of them have people whose terms end in 2010. 

And this is what I've been contemplating. There were more candidates than positions every time the Ann Arbor school board had an opening this year. And yet, when there was an information session earlier this summer about becoming a board member, only people who were already on the board showed up. What is wrong with this picture?

So why is it that when there is a board opening (which we saw in several school districts this past year), there are plenty of people who submit their names to be replacements for board members who resigned. We had some outstanding candidates! Some of them were chosen, some were not. [I am not implying anything about current board members. In my opinion, there were more outstanding candidates than there were positions. Isn't that what you want to see?]

And yet, in general, school board elections are rarely contested. Is the experience of being chosen (or not) through an election so much than being chosen by the school board itself? In an election, the people choose. 

It is not necessarily the best thing for a school board to choose its colleagues. I think it probably reduces the chance of having minority opinions. Aren't school board members more likely to pick people who agree with them rather than people who don't?

Demonstrate the democratic process! File to be a school board candidate.
And I'll tell you what--to sweeten the deal--any school board candidate is welcome to post a candidate's statement on this blog--how's that for generosity?

What I'd like to see is some competition! I'd like to see competing ideologies. I'd like to see a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I'd like to see a variety of skill sets. I want people with finance skills; I want people with education skills; I want people with experience lobbying Lansing; I want people who know about child development. I want people who don't have a "hard" skill set, but who play well with others. I want people who care exceedingly about the education of the kids in their community. 

So--if you think that describes you, why not throw your hat in the ring?

Monday, August 2, 2010

If You Think Education Matters...

Then please remember to vote Tuesday, August 3d!
Information about the Saline Schools bond issue is here.
Information about the gubernatorial candidates is here. (Information from the League of Women Voters.)

I'm voting, in the Democratic primary, for Virg Bernero. I don't think that Dillon's really worked to support education--instead he let the Republicans set the agenda. (And he's anti-choice, too.)


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Valedictorian's Unschooling Speech

You may find it ironic that a valedictorian speaks out against schooling (I did), but it is a compelling speech. The speaker was Erica Goldson, and the speech was delivered at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010.