Monday, November 29, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good In A Very Big Education Fishbowl

I spent this past weekend in the New York area.
I was shocked to see the name of someone that I actually had met more than once running across the trailer at the bottom of the screen on ABC News. Truthfully, that doesn't happen all that often.

And I was so very, very interested to read this article in the New York Times:
Mayor and State Reach Deal On A Schools Chief.

If you've been following this issue at all, you know that New York City is a huge, urban school district. In fact, it is the largest public school district in the world, and the school chief is appointed by the mayor. And Mayor Bloomberg has just appointed Cathleen Black, who has absolutely no education background, to be chancellor. Not only that, but she never even attended a public school. Read about the requirements for the New York City chancellor--this requires a waiver, which has just been given.

[The idea is, I believe, that schools can be run like businesses. I don't believe they can--first, because kids are not a product or service, and second--perhaps more importantly--because in a for-profit business you can try to control both your income and your expenses, and in the non-profit education world, you typically only get to control your expenses. But I digress.]

So anyway, to pacify the people who are outraged that she would be chosen (because there was a possibility that the New York State Education Commissioner could veto her appointment), Mayor Bloomberg suggests a compromise. . . a number 2, a deputy chancellor, who actually knows something about education.

And this is where the "local boy makes good" part comes in, and this is why I was so interested in the article. The local boy is Shael Polakow-Suransky, who got his high school education at the fine local institution, Ann Arbor's own Community High School. He also has the distinction of having a mother, Valerie Polakow, who is a professor of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University; and a father, Leonard Suransky, with a PhD from the University of Michigan who is a professor in the Netherlands.

Reviews of Polakow-Suransky's work from the education community in the New York area seem to be pretty positive. (See for an example.) The real question of NYC activists, though, is whether Polakow-Suransky will have any power at all.

That is likely because the New York Daily News reports Mayor Bloomberg responding to this question:
Q: How much autonomy will the chief academic officer have?
A: I think it'd be inappropriate to speak while we're waiting for the. . .  for David Steiner to act but there will be one person in charge. Make no mistake about that.

I like what quotes Polakow-Suransky as saying:
At a recent panel on how federal education policy is affecting local school districts, Suransky described his interest in standardized tests as being rooted in everyday teaching:
[U]ltimately the reason for assessment is to motivate what happens in the classroom. If it doesn’t actually lead to good practice in the classroom then it’s undermining practice in the classroom. And so this is an opportunity. This is a moment where there’s an opportunity to shift the direction of practice in the classroom and to push on the level of rigor and to actually figure out what is it that kids and teachers need in order to engage in that type of practice. (Emphasis added.)

It's not really a side note to say that I also had lunch with a few friends whose children are making their way through the NYC public schools. Suffice it to say that ensuring that your children get into the "good" schools might require that you yourself have an advanced degree. For high school, there is a huge book of school choices--which you get to wade through and rank order. . . and if your grades weren't good in 7th grade, you may have ruined many of your chances. . . if your test scores were poor, you can forget a different set of schools.

It's also not a side note to say that I'm sure Shael is influenced in the way that he thinks by his parents' work--in particular, Valerie Polakow's work on children and poverty. As it states in her biography on the EMU web site:
My scholarship is dedicated to advocacy on behalf of women and children in poverty, and in my writings I have attempted to document the lived realities of those who have been shut out— from early childhood education, from K-12 education, and from post-secondary education; and to give voice to those whose rights have been violated by poverty, race and gender discrimination.

In fact, Valerie Polakow is the co-editor of a journal I had never seen prior to looking up her biography. It is called PowerPlay: A Journal of Educational Justice and it looks interesting. [See, for instance, the lead article in the most recent issue: The Persistent Issue of Disproportionality in Special Education and Why It Hasn't Gone Away. And that topic is very related to an earlier conversation--see the comments section--on Ann Arbor Schools Musings.]

So, I admit, I was curious to see what someone I had met when he was a teenager looks like now.

Answer: he has a lot less hair!  In any case--good luck Shael!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Opportunity to Give Thanks (All Hail the Thesaurus)

Please--take this week to thank a

bus driver
lunch lady (or lunch gentleman)
after school staff person
before school staff person
teacher's aide

or any other school staff person whom you would like to


(All hail the thesaurus, provider of wondrous synonyms.)

And feel free to post your thanks, publicly, in the comments section.

Why now? It is, after all, Thanksgiving. 
Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Piece of My Heart: Skyline

The play, A Piece of My Heart, by Shirley Lauro, has become the nation’s most enduring theatrical production that deals with the Vietnam War."
-The VVA Veteran, The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc.

A Piece of My Heart is a drama about nurses in Vietnam. It is at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor tonight, Saturday 11/20 at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow Sunday 11/21 at 2:30 p.m. Buy your tickets at the door.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Want To Learn About The Lab School Proposal?

If you are interested in the Lab School proposal on the Scarlett and Mitchell campuses, here are two opportunities to find out more:

Opportunity #1: 
6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, 
Scarlett Middle School, 
3300 Lorraine St.  

Opportunity #2: 
6- 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, 
Mitchell Elementary School, 
3550 Pittsview Drive (A spaghetti fundraising dinner is also scheduled here on this night, but you can go to the event and not eat the spaghetti if you prefer, or go eat spaghetti and skip the event.)

Scarlett and Mitchell schools are located west of Carpenter Road, south of Packard in Pittsfield Township. (Enter south off of Packard at the traffic signal at Fernwood Avenue to reach both schools.) You can also enter via Platt Road onto Lorraine St.
From the press release: 
Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez said the forums are expected to offer basic information on the partnership and encourage discussion in small groups to generate ideas and raise pertinent questions. “We want parents to know that we are working on this as a process and we want them involved in the process,” he said.
Here are some of my questions, but I'm sure you have others.
Ask about how the funding will work. Will it really be cost-neutral?
Ask about why they are doing this project.
Ask whether these kids will be research guinea pigs and what protections they will have.
Ask what kind of projections they are using for enrollment. Do they really need two schools that can together fit over 1000 kids? Why not just use Scarlett? Why not make it a single K-8 school?
Ask about who will be teaching the classes.
Ask about special education integration.
Ask about how you can opt-in if you want a year-round school, even if you are not from that part of the district.
Ask about how you can opt-out if you don't want a year-round school, and you are in that part of the district.
Ask about whatever else you can think of....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Evaluation, Part II: The World Languages Partnership

Three weeks ago, I promised a second post about evaluation. The first post can be found here. I said at the time that I wanted to do this because the Ann Arbor schools are considering an alliance with UM for a "lab school," and since we already have a partnership program--the Ann Arbor Public Schools Languages Partnership--it is worth taking a look at how it is being evaluated, who is doing the evaluating, and what is being evaluated. This might offer some valuable insights for the future. As I wrote before,
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...
In other words: I am not evaluating the program itself. I am evaluating the evaluation process and product.

I've posted the documents, which I received from the district, on the web site Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository, and this is the documents link. This is a very cool web site where people can post files they have acquired from local governmental units and make them widely available.

What I got was an assessment of third graders who had gone through the partnership program. There is a "CEFR grid," which lays out the broad, overarching goals of the program based on an internationally-recognized standard. There is a sample of the assessment tool that the students filled out.  And there is a summary of the students' assessments.

Was what was done, done appropriately? Done well?
For instance--is it appropriate to use the Common European Framework guidelines? Absolutely. That reflects an international standard for language learning.
Was the assessment the students filled out appropriate for third graders? I thought so! Take a look:
It seems age appropriate to me. Later on in the survery there were some places where students had an opportunity to write more. The summary document describes that 1,034 students were surveyed, and shares items such as "60% say they learned most of what was taught."

So--that's fine. It seems like an age-appropriate, large-scale survey of 3d graders.
There's only one problem, and that is that this survey is as far as it goes.

Although this is a fine assessment of how the students felt about learning Spanish, it is a terrible fail as far as assessing the Languages Partnership Program.

Let's remember that this is a new program. 
Before we expand it, isn't there more that we want to know?

NOTE: Since this was my written request, "Can you please send me copies of any evaluations that AAPS has done about the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership," I'm going to assume that what I got is all that there is at this point. It is certainly possible that there is other material out there.

On the academic side:
It's really nice that 60% of the students say they learned most of what was taught, but does any independent assessment--say, by their teachers--bear that out?
If some students are not learning, who are those students? 
Does this appear to decrease, or increase, the achievement gap?
It's really nice that a majority of students feel their teachers (who are for the most part, I believe, pre-student teachers) teach "very" or "pretty" well, but is there any other assessment of that? By university supervisors, AAPS mentors, or principals?
What about the students' regular teachers--do they feel that this program is value-added, or that it takes away from other activities? [I think this is important to know, as the program gets expanded.]
What about the school principals? Do they feel that this program is value-added? 
If school time is at a premium, and it is a zero-sum game, do we lose anything by adding Spanish? If so, what is it? If teaching a language is important, did we give enough time to it or should we give more time?
How much repetition should teachers be expected to do as we expand the program to fourth and then fifth grade? Will they be doing numbers and colors over and over again?
What did we do with students who already know Spanish from their homes? Were they classroom helpers? Were they given other things to do? How did that work?
Does it work to use pre-student teachers? 
What happened at the end of April when the UM winter term ended? Did the lessons end then?
Were the apprentice teachers responsive and responsible?
Were community members used, and if so, did that work well, or not? If not, what were the roadblocks?

On the financial side:
What was the original budget? Did we go over the budget? Under the budget?
Did either the University or AAPS have unexpected costs that they had to cover, and if so, what was the cost?
What lessons did we learn about the financing?
Is this program sustainable going forward?

On the partnership side:
Is the partnership working overall?
Were there any surprises? What were they?
What parts went smoothly and what parts did not?

And two more things...
First, from the A2LP web site:
While classes this year were taught in the Media Center at each school, and Media Specialists served as mentors for our ATs, in the 2010-2011 school year, classes will be held in students’ regular classrooms, with classroom teachers as mentors.
Under which setting do things seem to go more the media centers or in the classrooms? Do the classroom teachers feel prepared to be mentors for Spanish language apprentice teachers?

Second, from the A2LP web site:
Future research studies will include the perspectives of community members, whether or not they are parents of students participating in A2LP.  While many community members expressed their opinions at board meetings and in online discussion forums prior to the program’s start, the Partnership is interested in formally documenting the response to the program after several months/years of operation.
In fact, the A2LP brochure specifically states:
The Partnership will be advised by a community committee, which will be chaired by the Superintendent and the University’s Director of Teacher Education.
 But when I asked about the committee, I was told that:
There is not a committee as of yet. There is a plan to initiate the committee in the coming months. The main goal of the committee will be to help secure funding for professional development and promotion of the programs.
 Uh-Oh. As far as I'm concerned, that's a piece of the assessment that I can comment on: Fail. First of all, the program is a year-and-a-half in (if you include planning time, it's more), and there is no community committee yet. Second, the goal of the committee is no longer advising, but securing funding?

[It's no accident, I think, that I signed up for a committee during the budget forums last year, and have heard nary a word about them yet.]

On the AAPS web site, the Ann Arbor Languages Partnership program information is embedded in the World Languages page. There is a fuller description on the UM web site. The UM one closes with these words:
The program is the first of its kind in the School of Education and we want to ensure that its development is data-driven.
From the AAPS side, don't we absolutely agree? In order to make our work data-driven, our evaluations cannot simply be about students' assessments of themselves. They must be about the program operations as well, and they should be reflective in nature so that the partners know whether the program is working and/or financially sustainable, how well it is working, and what could be done to make it work better.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is THIS the price of bullying?

HURON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Samantha Kelly endured merciless taunting from classmates after they learned that the high school freshman had accused a senior of rape.
The weeks of harassment eventually became too much. Samantha went home from school Monday and hanged herself in this community southwest of Detroit.

UPDATE, 11/11/10: After I posted this (I wrote it last night), I thought about a book that can be taught in middle school and high school. At the time I read it, I didn't like it. I thought it was too much in the genre of dealing with current problems (yes, that is a genre--I just don't remember what it is called). I'm inclined to prefer nonfiction for this kind of issue.

And yet--last night--falling asleep, I wondered: would Samantha Kelly have been helped by reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak? Or had she read it, but it wasn't enough?

As Audrey Clark notes, "Rape is not a word that falls freely from the tongue."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Means of Production

I was on my way to Gallup Park today and I passed a street with lots of signs opposing any privatization of the Huron Hills Golf Course.

Which made me think about the proposed privatization of City of Ann Arbor composting, where--in addition to privatizing--they want to consider an out-of-state company over an in-state company that would save the city more money.

Which made me think about why it is that when I get a City of Ann Arbor parking ticket I have to send it to New York state. Is there no local company that could process parking tickets?

Which made me think about the privatization of school bus transportation, and why it is that it is not working out so well for Ypsilanti, which now has to shell out up to $180,000 more to cover routes that aren't being covered properly, despite previous assurances by the WISD that they would ensure proper coverage.

And that made me think about Karl Marx. No, I'm not a Marxist (except maybe for the Groucho kind), and I'm definitely not a Marx expert, but I believe that Marx was on to something when he said that we should be concerned about who controls the means of production.

In the case of the golf course, the land itself is the means of production.
In the case of the compost, the compost and the composting technology are both the means of production.
In the case of the school buses, the buses are the means of production. (Marx's idea of means of production separates out human capital, so it's not the drivers.)

In the case of schools, the schools themselves are means of production--even when it's not an assembly-line education.

And we the people should be careful about giving up control of the means of turns out to be not so easy to get it back, sometimes.

On a related note (well, I thought it was related), you might be interested in Mark Maynard's post: Bill Moyers on Plutocracy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roundup: Dexter, Ypsilanti, Howell

From the Dexter Schools web site:

All who are interested in learning more about the IB Diploma Programme are invited to attend one of the informational parent meetings scheduled for Nov. 10 and 18.  All meetings will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at the Media Center at Dexter High School.  The IB Diploma Programme is an esteemed and rigorous two-year course of study that spans the high school junior and senior years and is intended for university bound students.
Dexter is doing an International Baccalaureate program on its own. (In my earlier article, To IB or Not to IB, one of the commenters had gone to a very small IB school and had a successful experience.) Several other school districts s are "consorting" with the WISD. 

I wonder how that will work? Today I read that the Ypsilanti schools, which started out "consorting" with the WISD for transportation, in order to save money, are now spending up to $180,000 additional to pay for a private company to provide more transportation. Some savings, huh?
(I actually saw one of the Trinity buses today in Ypsilanti, and I wondered why the bus said Trinity on it. I thought maybe it was a Catholic school. But now I know.)

Now it is time to ask for some more accountability and evaluation from the districts and the WISD, regarding the actual (not projected) savings from this privatization project.

I don't usually comment on schools outside the county, but I did find this news item very interesting. In the Howell district, a teacher got caught up in issues around bullying, LGBT rights, and religion. He got a two-day suspension, and now a protest of the suspension is planned at the school board meeting. Here is the Detroit News article, which ends with this information: "The district has planned a diversity forum for 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Howell High School Freshman Campus." Hey, maybe I have some readers from Howell...

And back to Dexter, where I just saw in that apparently an 8th grader has committed suicide. I don't know anything more, except that it makes me sad, and there is help for those who need it. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Awesomely Beautiful Murals

While looking up the information about high school theater productions this fall, I came across this little note on the Lincoln Schools web site:
During the Depression years as part of a WPA project three large murals were painted by brothers Leon and Bronislaw Makielski. The murals depict the development of our rural community from the pioneer days to the industrial days of the 1930’s. The murals are still present in the rooms above the Senior Citizens Center. (November 2010)
I'm pretty sure that the high school I went to was built by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration,  so I was curious. And I found this web site. (You can read about the Chelsea murals there as well.)

Boy are these murals beautiful. I'm inserting one of them here--photographs by Einar Einarsson Kvaran. Go to the web site to see the rest of them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"No Bow Lesbo," or Straight Pressure

A friend recently reported to me that--not so much in Ann Arbor, but in some other parts of southeastern Michigan, it is common for girls who play high school softball to wear bows in their hair. And if you don't?

Then you might be tagged a 

"No Bow Lesbo."

In other words, if you don't wear a bow in your hair, you must be a lesbian. Since kids generally don't want to be tagged a lesbian by others (whatever their personal identity)...the pressure to wear bows is on.

And it's this kind of insidious pressure...this semi-conscious use of name-calling...that is emblematic of the ways in which issues around sexual orientation are not just about BULLYING.

I mean, I wouldn't call that bullying. But is it name calling? Yes. Is it a culture of respect? No. Is it wrong? Yes. What are we doing about it?

Technology Lesson

I do really miss teaching, BUT it is not every day that I read or see a piece of information that makes me think of a bunch of lesson plans I could teach based on that piece.

This evening, though, I read Dusty Diary's post:
Percentage of Rural Homes with Four Technologies: 1930-1950.
Yeah, it's about the Census.

You might think this would be dry, but the numbers just hint at the story, and Dusty Diary's questions at the end are thought-provoking.

5. Last, a mere seventeen years before DD was born, a 62% majority of homes in areas like Augusta Township did not have a phone. Contrasted to today, that is astonishing. How were people's lives changed by this absence, compared to today? Were their minds quieter? Were their lives calmer? Did things move more slowly? What else might have been different?

So--history teachers, technology teachers, teachers trying to teach kids to turn dusty archives into something new...I hope Laura Bien's post gives you some great ideas.