Friday, October 29, 2010

The Theater Moon

Last Saturday night, with a double bonus of occupied children and no plans, we ended up at the UM ice hockey game--and it was fun.
However, if that same scenario happened this coming weekend, or any other into early December, I might have made a different choice, because we are now entering

High School Theater Month!

Yes, folks, between now and early December, you have your choice of many high school plays--some of which, based on past experience, will be truly excellent. Truly, it is an embarrassment of riches.
And the fun begins...this weekend!

Ann Arbor Huron High School: The Huron Players are presenting The Crucible by Arthur Miller, October 29 and 30 and November 5 and 6, at 7:30 pm. This play is a favorite play of mine, and it is about the Salem Witch Trials--a time of great shame for the accusers, as far as I am concerned. 
Look for A Midsummer Night's Dream (William Shakespeare) in the spring.

Ann Arbor Pioneer High School: Pioneer Theatre Guild is putting on the musical Hairspray, November 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, and 14th. (Sunday shows are matinees.) Hairspray takes place in 1960s Baltimore, and includes a focus on integration. Keen observers of the high school theater scene might know that high schools around the country have been waiting, and waiting, for the rights to put on Hairspray. This is the first year the play is available to high schools, so guess what--more than one local school is putting it on. It will be the spring production at Skyline. Go to both and compare!
Look for Seussical (based on the works of Dr. Seuss) in the spring.

Ann Arbor Community High School: CHS Theatre will be presenting Little Shop of Horrors, December 3d, 4th, and 5th. In a departure for CHS, they are doing a musical. In what is not a departure, it's going to be "non-traditional," yet maintaining the original's "wry blend of humor and tenderness." It's a small theater, so you will need advance tickets. I don't know about a spring play.

Ann Arbor Skyline High School: Skyline Theatre Guild is presenting Shirley Lauro's A Piece of My Heart, November 19th and 20th at 7:30, November 21 at 2:30. This play is a very unusual play (I think) for a high school production--it's about women nurses in Vietnam, and I am totally excited about it. This is the show for you if you have relatives who were in Vietnam, Korea, or Iraq and Afghanistan. I do have a child at Skyline, so of course there is a little more promotion of the Skyline play, but I think I would promote it anyway because it is such a great subject. 
In the spring, you can watch the second coming of Hairspray.

Chelsea High School: Chelsea Theatre Guild is doing a high school classic, Bye Bye Birdie, November 11, 12, and 13th at 7 p.m. Typically, they don't do a spring play.

Dexter High School: Dexter Drama Club is putting on another high school classic, Our Town, (Thornton Wilder) November 18th, 19th, and 20th.  Look for Guys and Dolls in the winter (see below--you can compare it to Lincoln's production), and Alice in Wonderland in the spring. 

Lincoln High School: Lincoln Drama Club is putting on the high school classic Guys and Dolls November 18, 19th, 20th, and 21. Look for Nevermore: The Final Mystery of Edgar Allen Poe in the spring. 

Manchester High School: Manchester Drama Club is putting on The Curious Savage by John Patrick, November 10th (understudy performance), 13th and 14th. This is a comedy about a woman whose husband dies and leaves her $10,000,000. I might point out that $10,000,000 is a lot of money now, but it was way more money back when this play was written sixty years ago. I don't know about a spring play.

Milan High School: Milan High School Drama is doing a Holiday Musical that features arrangements from the TV show Glee, December 2, 3, 4, and 5. I don't know about a spring show.

Saline High School: Saline Drama Club has also chosen an interesting play this year: The Giver, based on a book by Lois Lowry. Actually, I have no idea if the play is interesting, but the book is--and it is very frequently assigned to 4th to 7th graders to read.

Are you wondering about Whitmore Lake, Willow Run, and Ypsilanti? Whitmore Lake does have a drama club, but I couldn't find any information about a fall performance. I've been told by Emma Jackson, Ypsilanti Public Schools communications staff person, that the Ypsilanti High School fall show fell victim to budget cuts several years ago, and there will be a spring show but it hasn't been announced yet. I couldn't find any evidence of a drama club in the Willow Run schools. So that makes me a little bit sad. 
I haven't even mentioned that most of these schools do interesting one-act plays in the winter for theater competitions. I know, it's hard to believe that you can compete in theater, but you can, and they do--there are rules for set-up and take-down, costumes and length of the play. Read about the competitions, and the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association, here.

So, now that I've solved your weekend entertainment problem...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In the Meantime

Part II of the Evaluation piece has been delayed by technical difficulties, so in the mean time, I'd like to share some informational links and comments.

Regarding LGBT issues and the Saline schools:

There's a contested election for the Saline school board. The two candidates on the ballot are against the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, but there is a write-in candidate (Marian Faupel) who is in favor of their addition. You can watch the video of a school board debate here. (The candidates are all a mixed bag though, if you read their opinions about privatization and unions, among other items.)

Here is an article about a Saline resident who wants the school board to reconsider its vote, and is starting a PFLAG chapter (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). is blogging about why a gay-blind approach to bullying won't work.

 Ypsilanti schools: unions, homecoming, voting and more

There's a contested election for the Ypsilanti school board too. WEMU has coverage of this here and here.

WEMU also has coverage of the teachers' union contract: concessions, concessions, concessions.

I felt bad for the students that Ypsilanti's Homecoming Dance was cancelled. According to a friend of mine in the district, it was the right call because there was a fight Friday night (the night of the Homecoming football game), with non-students fighting, and one of them (the one who hadn't been captured) reportedly had a gun. First of all, students do spend money and make plans around Homecoming, so I feel bad for them. I also couldn't find any reports regarding whether the bozo in question was captured. Combining the Homecoming and Halloween dances is just not the same--and I say that as someone who never went to Homecoming or Prom.

I'm very curious to hear more about how New Tech High School is working out. (Anyone with direct experience who would like to send me a note, I will post it.) I did know that the New Tech model is a national model, but I didn't really realize that the New Tech High School model involves lots of project-based learning.

Willow Run: Is there news?

News from Willow Run has been mighty silent. But I did pick up that Joseph Yomtoob (former Superintendent, many years ago) is now serving as the middle school principal.

I also noticed that new teachers who start in Willow Run are starting at just over $33,300 (if you have a BA), and around $3,000 more if you have an MA. I'm pretty sure that is lower than most of the surrounding districts.

At the end of their last approved board meeting, they went into closed session to discuss negotiation strategies. Didn't they just reach agreement with the teacher's union?

Still not a peep about Count Day. Anyone know how their numbers have turned out?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Career Choices

There is a fascinating post over at Teacher, Revised about prostitution and high-stakes testing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Part I: What Is Evaluation and Why Does It Matter Anyway?

Once upon a time, when I first started working for a nonprofit, I didn't think evaluation really mattered. I mean, sure--it mattered for outside funders, and if I needed to convince you that the sky was red, I could probably write a report that convinced you. If I couldn't quite do that, I usually could explain to you why the program plan to turn the sky red hadn't worked. I could do pre- and post-tests, I could analyze data. I could convince you that a program had worked, or come close to working, but what I couldn't do is tell you why evaluation should really, truly be important to me.

The dawning of the age of which I mean my understanding of evaluation as critical to doing good work, came in a graduate school class where I finally understood how you could create a theory, and test that theory's outcomes mathematically. In other words, if you embed evaluation in the beginning, you can really understand whether you are getting the effects you want. And in the spirit of scientific inquiry, you have to be open to the idea that your hypothesis is just an idea, a theory. . . and it might or might not be doing what you want it to do. 

For instance, the drive to get women to have mammograms rests on the premise that mammograms save lives through early detection. But do mammograms save lives? This question sounds simple, but turns out to be pretty complicated!

Anyway, back to education.
Typically, teachers develop lesson plans in a "student will be able to do x, y, or z," and evaluation of a lesson would relate back to that plan.  

Example: Students will be able to write all 26 letters in lower case and upper case.

Now, that's an easy example, because you either can or can't do that. And obviously, process objectives are harder to measure--those small steps along the way that allow you to finally master a skill.
It's not always so easy, anyway--if a student does poorly on a test or other evaluation, does that mean that the teacher did a bad job teaching? Was the test simply too difficult? Did the student run out of time?

And then there is the question of the value of what is being taught. My friend told me today that her grandfather used to drill her at the dining room table over the fifty states and their capitols. Is that important? (Because if it is, we are doing a lousy job teaching it! I will bet most kids don't know them.) But we can certainly argue about whether or not this is an important concept.

So, that's about evaluating the student. But what about evaluating the teacher? My kids have asked me why bad teachers get to be teachers. Was it because they were good teachers, and now they are bad? Was it because a thorough an honest evaluation of them was never done when they were student teachers? [Schools of Education don't like to give up on student teachers.]

And then there is the question of the organizational evaluation--in this case, the schools. Some things could be useful for the students, and working for the teachers, but not working for the organization. For instance, plenty of programs have been cut because they were too expensive for the organization--even though they appeared to be working for both students and teachers.

What bothered me twenty years ago was that evaluation seemed like a waste of time and money. What I think now is completely different. I think now that it can save time and money if you are doing the wrong thing--or give you peace of mind and let you know you're on the right track if you are doing the right thing. But I think that most people, and most organizations, are in the place where I was twenty years ago--doing evaluations to prove a point that has already been pre-determined to be correct, instead of using evaluations as a way to improve.

You might think this was kind of long-winded. I have a feeling, though, that if we (by which I really am referring to all schools, but Ann Arbor schools in particular) had used rigorous evaluations, we would have found out a lot earlier that many of the programmatic attempts to reduce the "equity gap" were not working.

The point will become clearer in Part II, where I take a look at the assessment of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Language Partnership Program, a program that I discussed a few weeks ago. Think of that as a case study. The point of assessing the assessment is decidedly NOT to point fingers at what is not working, and it is NOT to praise what parts of the program are working. The point is to see what is being evaluated, who is doing the evaluation, and whether and/or how those things that need to be evaluated are being examined...

And the reason for using this program as a case study is this: the Ann Arbor Public Schools are in serious discussions with the University of Michigan about setting up a lab school in Ann Arbor. Aside from the fact that they are doing this without a community planning process (which I have a BIG beef about, and blogged about last month), I would like to use this mini-cooperative program (the Language Partnership Program) as a lens through which we can see how evaluation of a larger cooperative program might work.

UPDATE 11/14/2010: Part II can now be found here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When Does It Cross The Line?

All of this discussion about bullying (see, for example, the It Gets Better Project) has had me thinking about what it takes to feel bullied, and when is a behavior--or in the case I'm going to describe, a non-behavior--bullying?

I started thinking about a girl in my high school, a girl in the same grade as me. She was a head taller though (and I was never short), which makes me think that she might have been held back at some point. She had long curly hair, and a tough-looking jean jacket. (We all wore jean jackets, but hers--to me--looked tougher.) DM, as I shall call her, fought with other girls--especially another girl with the same first name! Cat Fight!
DM used to proclaim, loudly, to teachers, that her boyfriend Frank was in jail, but when he got out...

DM used to walk home the same way as me, through the same graveyard shortcut. To be honest I never had any idea where she lived (though obviously near me). I never looked behind me if I knew she was there. I was terrified that she would notice me there, and threaten me or beat me up. If she was ahead of me, I would slow down so I could put some distance between us.

I'm not sure she ever noticed me, and strictly speaking, it wasn't bullying. At least, she wasn't directing any bullying attention at me. But I felt terrified when she was in the same hall as me.

When does it cross the line?

P.S. And since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I will note that child witnesses to domestic violence have some of those same issues, sometimes feeling that they have personally experienced the domestic violence. It didn't physically touch them, but they felt it anyway.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Could These Ideas Save Local Schools Money?

I spent last weekend in the Boston area at a bat mitzvah and seeing my family. My sister's children go to a public school system that--size-wise and demographically--looks a lot like the Ann Arbor school system. I heard about two things that this school system does that might be worth implementing locally.

1. For elementary school children, Tuesdays are an early dismissal day (12 or 12:30, I don't remember). For teachers, Tuesday afternoons are time for planning meetings and professional development. Professional development days are not scheduled throughout the year, and local child care settings (including the public school's own) are set up to accommodate the short Tuesday. That would seem to simplify things for parents. Would it also save money? Sometimes subs are hired for planning or professional development.

2. In the elementary and middle schools, substitute teachers are called on for both short-term and long-term assignments, as they are here. But in the high school, it's a different ball game. The only subs there are long-term subs. If a teacher wakes up with a sore throat, she or he calls in sick, but no substitute is called, no emergency lesson plan called upon. For the students, that class is cancelled. Instead, students go to study hall. The study hall is a large room (fits about 100), supervised by one teacher (teachers apparently take turns like you would for lunch duty). Overflow goes into the commons (although I believe that 11th and 12th graders are allowed to leave campus). My niece tells me a class is cancelled for her approximately once a week, and she likes it because it gives her extra study time.
Think about it--how much do substitute teachers, there for 1-2 days, actually teach? Based on my experience as a high school sub, precious little.
The cost savings, I would imagine, are pretty significant.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Oman Can Teach Us

My favorite piece of this Nicholas Kristof essay:
The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it. 

For me, the lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let’s try investing less in bombs and more in schools.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I'm so disappointed

...that the Saline school board voted against adding the non-discrimination language protecting sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The vote was 4-3. I'll post the names when I know them.

Updated 10/13/10: According to, this was the vote breakout. Please do thank the three who supported the change--
Weeks of meetings culminated in Tuesday's 4-3 vote, with trustees Lisa Slawson, David Medly, and President David Friese voting in favor of the change. Board members who voted against it were Amy Cattell, Chuck Lesch, Paul Hynek and Craig Hoeft.

Dan Savage, founder of the It Gets Better Project, will be speaking at EMU tomorrow evening tonight. Free.
Dan Savage, author of numerous books and columnist for The Stranger's sex advice column, "Savage Love," will visit EMU Oct. 13, 7 p.m., Grand Ballroom, Student Center. Savage will present a lecture, followed by a question-and-answer session. The event is free and open to the public.

I hope--for the Saline Schools--that THEY get better. At creating a diverse and welcoming community.

MICHIGAN: Granholm vetoes legislative spending plan for federal education dollars (2010-10-12)

MICHIGAN: Granholm vetoes legislative spending plan for federal education dollars (2010-10-12)

 Why don't we plan well? Who loses? Kids...oh yeah, but kids don't really count, do they?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It Gets Better: Dan and Terry

Have you seen the "It Gets Better" Campaign? It's an anti-bullying, anti-suicide campaign, with LGBT Adults, describing why and how life got better the day they left high school. You can find more at

It does make me wonder: does high school have to suck if you are different? What difference can a kind administration make?

This one is from Dan and Terry (and I think they started the project). Dan is better known as Dan Savage of Savage Love. Who, by the way, is talking for FREE at EMU Oct. 13, 7 p.m., Grand Ballroom, Student Center.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Less Serious/More Serious

Less Serious:

Tomorrow is Todd Roberts' last day as AAPS Superintendent, and he is being replaced in the interim by Robert Allen. Good luck to both of them! I just realized, though, that they both have Robert in their name. Should the job posting specify that you must have Robert in your name?

One of my children turned 11 today. Walking out of Washtenaw Dairy (with doughnuts for the class), we met a man who is turning 101 shortly. Math lesson: Hearing that my son is turning 11, the gentleman says to my son (who cannot believe he is meeting a man who is 100, who still walks and drives)--"I'm turning 101, and those are the same digits!" Yeah...a mere 90 years apart...

More Serious:

Willow Run schools have not divulged their count for count day. I assume if it was good news, they would have shared it.

This week I helped a man in his 20s with an application for something, because he told me he couldn't read. And he had a high school diploma from a local school. He spent all of his years in special education classes, I don't know what for--but it did make me wonder about why we give out high school diplomas. What are they good for, if not reading?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Proof of the Pudding...

Is in the Eating.

That is the traditional text of the proverb that you may have heard shortened into, "The proof is in the pudding."

But either way, you probably could have figured out that what it means is that:

Results Matter.

And in the same way that one might try to improve pudding, we should be working to evaluate our school programs with an aim toward improving them.

Seriously, people DO work to improve their puddings! Just today I was reading the blog Kitchen Sin Carne, which has this little gem (no, we did not coordinate. . . and I even thought of the proverb before I saw the post!):
I've had various attempts this week on making vegan pudding. That's right. So first I tried chocolate pudding...FAIL. I tried it again, even more of a fail! Today I tried pumpkin pudding, and the first time it was so runny, and I tried to reduce it more and little pearls formed of like, cornstarch. I was really confused. Now in the fridge I have a little pumpkin 'pudding' but its more of a weird custard. Whatever. I'll try again!! I know I can do this!!
 So...where am I going with this? This is not really a food post. No, it's about language learning.

A couple of years ago, with big fanfare, the Ann Arbor schools announced that they would be working with U of M to get some Spanish language lessons into all of the third and fourth grade elementary school classes. To be specific, UM would provide the students to teach two 30-minute lessons a week to the third and fourth grades. Here is an article about the program launch. Here is the UM web site about the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership

At the time, I didn't say anything about this. I sort of thought it was a dumb idea because there is plenty of evidence that 60-minutes a week of a language, in isolation, is not going to teach anyone a language. Other countries actually teach kids languages by using daily instruction. On the other hand, I understood that the Burns Park PTO (a powerhouse fundraising group) was raising money to pay a foreign language teacher, which made some of the other schools want some foreign language lessons as well. So there was some internal pressure. I also thought that maybe any step forward in promoting second language acquisition could be a good thing.

Side note: the way second languages are taught in the Ann Arbor middle schools (6th-8th grade) has not been at all consistent from school to school, and it hasn't consistently promoted language learning either. In some schools, a program that gives you a "taste" of several languages has been promoted. How many languages can you count in, or say "pencil," "desk," and "teacher?" In others, it is "pick a language and stick with it."

Well, now this program has been in existence for a year. It is time to evaluate the program publicly.
"The proof of the pudding..."
Did the students learn a lot of Spanish? My guess is "no."
Did the UM students learn a lot? My guess is "yes."
Were parents satisfied?
I can't speak for all parents, but I do know that some parents were very satisfied...very happy...that their kids were getting some lessons in a second language. And guess what? NOW, they are pissed!

Q: What happens to Spanish language learning in fifth grade?
A: Nothing.

I don't know why 3d and 4th grade were chosen, but we have now instituted a program where students learn Spanish in 3d and 4th grade, nothing (second-language related) in 5th grade, and then in 6th grade either get some kind of exploratory language program or start taking a language which may or may not be Spanish. Does that make any sense at all? Not to me.

So let's look back now: why are we doing this? What outcomes would constitute success? Cui bono? Who benefits?

I don't know, because I haven't done or seen an evaluation (has one been done?), but I will conjecture that the beneficiaries, in this case, are the UM students--not the AAPS students.
It's not bad, by the way, for UM students to benefit. They just cannot be the only ones.
If in fact that is the case, then we [by "we" I mean AAPS parents, students, and taxpayers] need to be extra careful, in considering a "lab school" partnership, to make sure that the AAPS students benefit.

Friday, October 1, 2010