Friday, April 29, 2011

Great Stuff!

Here are some things I heard about and liked over the past few weeks. You might like them too.

Diane Ravitch was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross Thursday 4/28, and you can listen to it here.

Dusty Diary, an Ypsilanti-area historian, would like information from you if you know anything at all about the Thorn(e) School on Textile Road--which was active at the turn of the last century. Read more here, including how to contact Dusty Diary.  And if you are interested, here are some old pictures of Woodruff School, Ypsilanti.

Also on Thursday 4/28, there was a terrific interview by Dick Gordon of The Story with some teenage students who are into robotics competitions. Really fun! Listen to it here. Yes, we've got lots of robotics teams locally. Below is a picture from the robotics team at Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor.

Forsythe Middle School teacher and robotics club coach Ami Snapke works with two club members who are researching their topic for next fall. From AAPS News.

Did you know that Michigan Parents for Schools has a Legislative Action Center where you can write the governor and your legislators without having to look up any email addresses or anything--it figures out who they are for you and you can customize your letter. So it takes all the work out of letter writing and now you have no excuses! Try it out here. There's lots of other information on their web site too.


I've added a few blogs to my blog roll:

School Finance 101, Bruce Baker's blog on "Data and thoughts on public and private school funding in the U.S." If you want to know where to start, try these two pieces: one about private schooling (no, it's not anti-private schooling) and one about including poverty/SES in data analysis about schools.

A Fuller Look at Education Issues, Dr. Ed Fuller's blog. If you like data, you should like this (although there are a lot of Texas acronyms). Try this post on for size, about characteristics of students who enroll at high performing charter schools.

And then there is Schools Matter, a blog that "explores issues in public education policy," and "advocates for a commitment to and a re-examination of the democratic purposes of schools." Today's timely post? Rick Snyder Targets 23 Michigan School Districts for Privatization.

Ben Franklin, Jane Mecom, Public Schools & the Real Tea Party

Mark Maynard, intrepid (and prolific!) Ypsilanti blogger, drew my attention to this stellar op-ed piece in the New York Times by Harvard professor Jill Lepore, about Ben Franklin's sister, Jane Mecom. She writes,
Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.
Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.
 (In case you are counting, that is 17 kids.) Lepore continues,
Today, two and a half centuries later, the nation’s bookshelves sag with doorstop biographies of the founders; Tea Partiers dressed as Benjamin Franklin call for an end to social services for the poor; and the “Path to Prosperity” urges a return to “America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government and equality under the rule of law.” But the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.
Thanks to Lepore, I know what Ben Franklin thought about public schools.

That world was changing. In 1789, Boston for the first time, allowed girls to attend public schools. The fertility rate began declining. The American Revolution made possible a new world, a world of fewer obstacles, a world with a promise of equality. That required — and still requires — sympathy.
Benjamin Franklin died in Philadelphia in 1790, at the age of 84. In his will, he left Jane the house in which she lived. And then he made another bequest, more lasting: he gave one hundred pounds to the public schools of Boston. (Emphases added.)

Mark thinks this is required reading for Tea Partiers. I think this is required reading for everyone. But I will say this about the supposed "Tea Party." The original tea party was based on the idea that there should be no taxation without representation. Hey, we've got the representation (at least, we've got the vote--I'm not too happy with Snyder right now). So the premise of the current "Tea Party" is entirely false, and yet nobody seems to challenge them on it. Why??? It's actually a great argument for why learning history is so important. Know the real story.

[And so now I've got on my "books to read" list Jill Lepore's book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Budget Notes: Class Commentary

This is the second of two posts on the AAPS budget proposal, but let's start with this: all of the local school districts are having budget forums. At the Ann Arbor forum on Monday, the majority of parents were parents of elementary school students. Besides me, there was only one other Ann Arbor Open parent. Parents of middle and high school students. . . interested community members. . . PLEASE. SHOW UP! Share your thoughts. The next forum in Ann Arbor is this Thursday (tomorrow!) at 6:30 p.m. at Skyline. You can also write the Board of Education at

For years, Ann Arbor has been reluctant to add students from other districts through what is known as a "schools of choice" program. Originally, the district ostensibly didn't want to add other students because the per-student payment that Ann Arbor would get from out-of-district students was significantly less than the per-pupil payment for in-district students (because Ann Arbor has the highest per-pupil allocation in the county).

Lately, that thinking has shifted a little bit. If you have a partially-full school, then the incremental cost of adding a student is somewhat less, so why not add those school of choice students? And so we come to the point, now, where we have limited schools of choice for elementary and middle school students--only some Ann Arbor elementary and middle schools are open to students from other school districts.

If you have your ear to the ground at all, though, you would know that where parents feel stressed out is in the lack of options for high school students. There are fewer charter schools and fewer private schools for high school students.

It just so happens that at the budget forum, they ask you about your ideas for generating new revenue. And, if you've been paying attention to the budget discussions, then you know that bringing in students of choice from other districts at the high school level could bring in a lot of money. So, I wrote down, "Add some high school "school of choice" slots--perhaps 30 each to Huron, Skyline, and Pioneer." [In case you are wondering, if fully enrolled this would bring in about half-a-million dollars with negligible impact.]

But I didn't stop there. Because as soon as I thought of it, I thought, "This is so obvious that there must be a reason they haven't decided to do it, and I wonder what that reason is!" I knew that before Skyline was full, when Pioneer and Huron were over-full, they didn't want to add school of choice students. But next year, we'll be at equilibrium with all three Ann Arbor comprehensive high schools roughly at their stated capacity. 

So. I asked an administrator and a school board member why we couldn't add school of choice students to the high schools. I won't tell you which administrator or school board member because I didn't tell them I'd be quoting them and these were private conversations, but the essence of the answers were these.

Administrator: Well, we could consider doing that. We had kind of wanted to wait to see how Skyline looks as a full school, and we don't currently offer any options for students to switch between schools [except for the very limited Skyline schools of choice enrollment for freshmen]. (In other words, a student at Huron cannot decide she or he would rather go to Pioneer.)

My feeling about this: I believe that the administrator was saying that if we offer opportunities to out-of-district students that we don't offer to in-district students, we could get in trouble (politically, from parents and others). I admit, that's a good point about allowing movement between the high schools, and maybe in-district schools of choice should be open to a limited number of students too. We already do that at the elementary and middle schools.  But I don't think we have the luxury of waiting another year, and I think if we were (say) to open 15 freshmen and 15 sophomore slots at each of the main high schools, that would raise money with little stress on the district. [My only qualm is that I don't like the feeling of "poaching" on other schools.]

School Board Member: Well, we could revisit this, but at least in the past we have felt that we needed to bring kids up through our program. So they start in elementary or middle school, and move up through our system. We do look at test scores a lot. 

My feeling about this: There was no break between the school board member's second and third sentences, and therefore the implication that I took from this statement was that a) students in other districts do worse than our students and b) the students who would come into our district from other districts are likely be poorer performers on tests. So I was extremely shocked, and I told said board member that I thought this was a very snobby way to look at things. Put another way, I believe this was a classist statement.

The statement implies that only Ann Arbor teachers and only the Ann Arbor school district know how to educate students. It implies that students in other districts do worse on tests like the MEAP.  This is simply not true. Dexter and Saline schools have similar or better scores, and other districts come close. 
The statement implies that typically the students who come into the district through a schools of choice program would be lower-performing on the almighty tests. However, typically the families that search out schools of choice are the highest-performing, most involved families--in fact one argument about charter schools is that they "cherry pick" high performing students seeking the best opportunities.
The statement takes as a given that the students who come in would not have previously been in our district--even though we know there is plenty of movement in and around Washtenaw County, with students moving between school districts.  
In fact, there is no proof that these ideas are true, yet they appear to be influencing our school board's decision-making.

I was extremely disappointed by this answer. It made me wonder if the whole school board is similarly classist. I read it as assuming that students who would come in are poorer than students who are here already. Poverty does drive test scores, to a great extent, but it's not a given that poor students will do poorly on tests, and even if it were, it seems the height of arrogance to me to say that we can't take in school of choice students in ninth or tenth grade because they might not do well on tests.

I also started thinking about this: since poor people are disproportionately people of color, the issues of the "racial" achievement gap and the "class" achievement gap are closely entwined.

It occurs to me that Ann Arbor is not the only school board that perhaps feels this way, because I know Saline only takes school of choice students into their "alternative" high school, where--on average--the school of choice students have been doing better than the Saline students. 

I hope the school board reconsiders, and opens the comprehensive high schools to a limited schools of choice program.

Budget Notes: How Would Sharing A Principal Work?

I've got two posts on the AAPS budget proposal, but let's start with this: all of the local school districts are having budget forums. At the Ann Arbor forum on Monday, the majority of parents were parents of elementary school students. Besides me, there was only one other Ann Arbor Open parent. Parents of middle and high school students. . . interested community members. . . PLEASE. SHOW UP! Share your thoughts. The next forum in Ann Arbor is this Thursday (tomorrow!) at 6:30 p.m. at Skyline. You can also write the Board of Education at

One of the ideas that has been floated by the administration is that four schools would have to "share a principal." The proposed pairs are Abbot/Wines (both on the northwest side of town) and Angell/Pittsfield. At the Monday budget meeting, I sat with a table that was (aside from me) all Angell parents. The table next to us appeared to be nearly all Abbot parents. They were none too happy. They were extremely skeptical that the savings projected by splitting a principal would materialize. I'll explain why, but let's start with the way it was sketched out to us by the Interim Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, LeeAnn Dickinson Kelly.

1. The principal would split his or her time between the two schools, perhaps--but not necessarily--50/50. The "savings" is generated by saving the salaries of the two principals, estimated at about $100,000/year.

OK, so they're saying this will save $200,000. I assume that it might not be 50-50 because, for instance, Wines is quite a large school. So that would then mean that Abbot would suffer even more, right?

2.  Right now the teachers' union contract stipulates that if there are reductions in staffing, that ten teachers who would have been laid off will be retained as in-building subs. That way there is no cycle of layoff and recall for those teachers when a position opens up. SO: In this scenario, four of those teachers would be assigned as in-building subs to those four schools. Ostensibly, there is no cost to this, because those teachers would "need" to be assigned anyway.

Not so fast, I say. First of all, it is much more likely that these in-building subs would typically be assigned to a big school (say, Huron or Tappan) than a small school like Angell. Second of all, they don't really know the number of retirements/leaves at this point. IF, instead of retaining those ten teachers, they actually needed to retain twelve or fourteen teachers because of this scenario, there goes the savings (figure $50,000/teacher--these are typically low-seniority teachers). This would typically happen if they needed to recall teachers with a certain certification, or more teachers than they expected. In past years, I think most of those teachers have been re-assigned by October, at least into long-term sub classrooms.

3.  Dickinson-Kelly says that they will increase teacher-clerk time in those schools. Teacher-clerks are paid in the range of $15-$17/hour. This, she implied, is a cheap alternative to having a full-time principal.

Really? I like the teacher-clerks in my kids' schools, but I don't think they are up to the task of being principals! (And if they are, they should get paid better.) Are we really expecting them to intervene in cases related to discipline; calm down upset parents; assist with the child having an emotional outburst; plan with, and supervise teachers? Are we expecting them to do some of the endless paperwork related to No Child Left Behind? Oh, I didn't think so.

4. When a principal is out of the building, there is a designated lead teacher who is responsible for "overseeing" the building. This is true in every building. If a principal has to go to an afternoon meeting at the Administration, the lead teacher is in charge. And that's fine every once in a while, but in this situation, we'd be talking about the lead teacher being in charge at least half of the time--and in reality, likely more, because the "shared" principal will still have to go to meetings in Administration buildings or have the occasional doctor's visit. Well, those "lead teachers" will then often need to be pulled out of their classrooms, which means that someone will need to sub for that teacher.

Whether that is an in-building sub, or another sub, I'm sure that is going to mess up that teacher's classroom. 

Here is another thing that parents brought up. For instance, all of the savings are predicated on the idea that families will stick with "their" schools, even if they lose (half) a principal. The parents from Angell felt it was quite possible that they could lose 10 or 15 students to private schools. I would guess that could also be true at Wines, another school with many wealthy families. So if 20 students left the school district over this, we would lose close to $180,000 in revenue.

Do you see the savings start to evaporate? 

So much so, that I actually have to wonder if this was proposed as some kind of a red herring. In the same way that last year the Saline Superintendent proposed cutting all of the high school math department, and going to an all-online program.

Why do I say that? The idea would be: a) distract people by getting them focused on something that "we" (the administration) already know is a really bad idea, and that we can retract, and then b) all those other things. . . like cutting 70+ teachers (or in Plymouth-Canton, 269 teachers). . . like cutting high school transportation out. . .

Well, all of a sudden those don't look so bad, do they?

Yeah, I'm an optimist usually, but today? Today, I'm a cynic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Courage in Student Journalism and Other Student Newspaper Awards

Back in the day. . . when I wrote for my school newspaper. . . it was a monthly. It was an after-school club. We laid things out by hand. My senior year I was the Girls' Sports Editor. (Yeah, they were boys' and girls' sports then.) My compatriot, the Boys' Sports Editor, is now Deputy Commissioner at the NBA. Hey. . . WNBA! You missed me!

But--back to reality. Nowadays, many student newspapers are written during class time, and the layout skills you need are not keylining and kerning, but web design and photoshop. Articles are published on the web as well as in hard copy, and (at least at the good papers) the news is published frequently.

I don't believe I ever wrote about last year's controversy at Dexter High School's The Squall newspaper, but it was a tempest! Essentially it came down to students writing about the real life of students at Dexter High School, and a subset of parents feeling that it was too squalid. Yes, there were intimations of SEXual innuendo (OK, that's really too strong a word--they were writing about teen pregnancy and about students "grinding" at dances), but, as noted by one of the co-editors in this article, they were not advocating for a certain type of behavior, but rather describing what was going on. I recall the principal at my high school being a heavy-handed censor, so perhaps it is not surprising that censorship is still an issue.

And that's why I am really, really sorry that I missed this award back in the fall. William C. "Kit" Moran, the Dexter High School principal, won the administrator's Courage in Student Journalism Award from the Student Press Law Center for standing by the students. (He also won the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association's Administrator of the Year Award in 2010.)

Principal Moran received the administrator award for refusing to censor The Squall despite fierce attacks from community members who claimed the paper was printing content inappropriate for its school-age audience. . . "I believe that journalism in America is crucial to our democracy," said Moran, a longtime English teacher and coach who has been principal at Dexter since 2006. "A free society needs a free press. This isn't new, but allowing this concept to be played out in high school may seem a bit radical. However, if we teach our students sound journalistic methods and ethics and allow them to act as journalists, we provide a rich and robust environment for their education." (Emphasis mine. Find the full press release here.)
That The Squall is a robust newspaper is very clear from today's release of student awards from the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association. They won many awards in Division III. Community High Schools' Communicator took many awards in Division IV. Kudos to both schools! Kudos also to their advisors, who are doing an excellent job.

Dexter High School winners:
Ray Carpenter, Conner Thompson, David LaMore, Nick Byma, Kelsey Heilman, Claire Berger, Travis Chaffee, Nicole Minzey, Tucker Whitley, Carly Cash, Taylor Schmidt, Sarah Molnar, Jennifer Stirling, Kaitlin Gotcher, Taylor Garcia

Community High School winners: Sarah Kerson, Mari Cohen, Eli Sugerman, Katie O'Brien, Gabriel Appel-Kraut, Murphy Austin, Jacob Garber, Liz McCubbrey, Julia DeVarti, Julia Kortberg, Brienne O'Donnell, Eliza Stein, Jordan Siden, Clare Lauer, Claire Berger, Olivia Kincaid, Jake Cinti, Kerry Fingerle, Annabel Weiner, Cooper DePriest, Kayla Stoler, Cody Pan, Ruthila Graff, Spencer MacDonald, Justine Samaha, Colleen O'Brien, Melanie Langa, Emma Share, Kyle Aaronson

(I probably missed someone or screwed up the spelling, and for that I apologize! You can read the full list here, under Newspaper Individual Contest winners.) I know that some of the other schools have good newspapers--I assume they just didn't compete. Half of life is about showing up, after all.

I will close with an excerpt from one of the first-place Community High School pieces, Sarah Kerson's "We Wore Purple. So What?" about Wear Purple Day (also known as Gay Spirit Day).
There were multiple Facebook events for Wear Purple Day, with hundreds of thousands of reported participants. The invites went out weeks before the actual event, fueling an excited buzz online.
At first, I joined in on the purple-stimulated anticipation. I invited all of my friends to the Facebook event and perused my closet for the perfect purple clothing. But as the day drew nearer, I grew more and more apprehensive: was this really it? Eight plus kids commit suicide and all we can do is coordinate our outfits? What change, if any, was this day going to bring?. . .
The kids October 20th was supposed to honor couldn’t take off their purple. They were purple. Their purple shirts were stitched into their skin. They lived with their purple every day. They were taunted and terrorized for their purple every day. They killed themselves because of the way others saw their purple. (Purple color added.)
 Read the rest of the piece here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What You Can Do To Fight The Budget Blues

I loved this anonymous comment from the other day:
I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around ANY cuts, seeing as the state's School Aid Fund is actually quite flush, and could fund an INCREASE in per pupil funding if it weren't being pillaged for other uses. This budget "crisis" is totally voluntary, created by Snyder and the legislature. They control expenses and revenue, and if they need to collect more revenue in order to adequately fund basic services, then that's what they need to do. That's their job.
That's right! Let the legislature know that it is unacceptable to cut K-12 education in order to fund higher education or anything else--there is a reason for a dedicated School Aid Fund. 

Get information about how to contact your state senator or representative right here

I mentioned the other day that there is a rally going on April 30th to protest these cuts. The rally is in Ann Arbor. I didn't put together the reason for the rally, though, which is that Governor Snyder is the UM Commencement Speaker. He's coming to "our" backyard, and one of our public schools is right across the street, so let's explain to him why education needs protection, not cuts; and why good schools are important for everyone, not just those wealthy enough to afford private school educations. The facebook event page for this rally is:

On May 3d, there is a Special Education millage. PLEASE remember to vote. PLEASE vote yes on the millage. This is a renewal millage, but if it doesn't pass, every county district will need to make cuts in addition to the cuts that are expected to come from the School Aid Fund.

Because special education services are mandated, for the most part they will be protected even if the millage fails--which means that the cuts will then come out of the funding for general education. More information is available at

All of that means that the best way to protect BOTH special education and general education is to vote yes on the millage on May 3d.

So...three things you can do to fight the budget blues.

1. Let Rick Snyder and the legislature know that you don't want the School Aid Fund poached--you want the money spent on the needs of K-12 students.
UPDATE 4/25/11: Michigan Parents for Schools has an easy way to send a personalized alert to the governor and legislators all at once. You will find it here. (Link fixed on 4/28/11.)

2. Vote yes on the May 3d special education millage.
3. Educate yourself. Ann Arbor's budget forums are coming this week; other budget forums are coming up too! (Related note: State Senator Rebekah Warren will be at the 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26 Ypsilanti school board meeting, room 138 located in the lower level of Ypsilanti High School.)

The community's children thank you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Local Budget Blues

Someone asked me what I thought of the proposed budget cuts to the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and obviously I haven't yet seen the full proposal, so this is just my first impressions based on what I've read.

And Budget Forums, coming next week, are for our edification!
Ann Arbor Public Schools Budget Forums:
Monday, April 25 at Pioneer High School - Cafeteria Annex, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 28 at Skyline High School-Commons area, 6:30 p.m.

Also, it is worth noting that the proposed budget cuts are BEFORE any cuts that might occur if the special education renewal millage doesn't pass. Please vote for that county-wide millage on May 3d.

So, anyway, from what I have read there are three large pieces to the budget cuts: cut teaching staff, share principals, and cut high school transportation. The district is estimating a need to cut $15 million.

As far as cuts to teachers go, I think that is no surprise at all. If you have a program that has, as its largest share of expenses, staffing; and if, as in the case of the schools, the largest share of staffing is teachers, then of course teacher cuts will naturally follow major budget reductions. Either that, or teachers will have to volunteer to take cuts. Personally, I think that the cuts in teaching staff and the resulting larger classes are more likely to get parents and others upset sooner, and perhaps advocate for some change at the state level. Also, if I were part of the teachers' union, I wouldn't be in a big hurry to give concessions when a) the teachers gave them last year and b) the new Superintendent is coming in making a whole lotta money.

The second piece, cutting high school transportation, raises a lot of questions--both practical and philosophical. It's true that a lot of high school students don't take the public school buses. So does that make it okay to cut? Philosophical: on the other hand, are we trying to serve the kids who have cars or parents available to drive them, or the have nots? What would it mean if a child literally couldn't get to school? Practical: because my daughter has been taking a Community Resource class after school, she takes one less class during the school day. We live about a ten-minute walk from a public bus stop, and we tried to get her to take the public bus. Day, after day, after day, that bus was 15 minutes late. The idea of taking the public bus system ended up being more idealistic than ideal, and now most days she gets a ride. But we have flexible schedules...

Third--Cutting out principals by having four schools share two principals. I guess that I would ask that question in reverse. If that is a good idea, why don't we do it with all of the schools?! Hmmm. Maybe because it is not such a good idea? Those combined schools are bigger than some of the middle schools, all of which, right now, have a principal and a superintendent an assistant principal... In fact, those schools are some of the districts' larger schools. Can we look at making different types of cuts among administrators? Cutting assistant principals at the middle schools? Cutting staff in the administrative offices?

Another alternative--The Interim Superintendent went on record in saying that the district couldn't consider closing a school because it would require redistricting.  Hmmm. In some cases, that could be true. In others, it wouldn't be. Here are two school closing options to consider that would not require any redistricting at all:
A. Close Stone School, and move that into a wing of another school (say, into Pioneer or Huron). That is an alternative program that could be housed anywhere.
B. Close Mitchell School and merge Mitchell School into Scarlett Middle School. This would make sense to me because the district is already trying to start a K-8 Lab School with those two schools together, and Scarlett actually does have room to house all of the Mitchell kids, because Mitchell is one of the smallest schools in the district and Scarlett is the smallest middle school! I also like the idea of having an east side K-8 program; Ann Arbor Open's K-8 program has proven to be very popular.

Come to the forums. Find out more, share your opinions. Share your opinions with the school board as well.

State Budget Blues

Here in Ann Arbor, where we have largely escaped unscathed from the past 15 or so years of budget cuts, we are just now starting to feel the pain that districts like Ypsilanti and Willow Run have felt.

In order to understand the problem,  first lets take a look at the state scene:

Governor Snyder is trying to poach from the School Aid Fund to give to higher education. Now, I want us to support higher education, but not from the School Aid Fund. There's a reason it's never been done before (it is, by the way, legal and so technically not poaching)--it's a bad idea. K-12 education is mandated, and higher education is not. If Governor Snyder didn't take money away from K-12 education, then the cuts wouldn't be nearly so bad. I understood this much more clearly from a report that Michigan Radio did.

In an excellent, excellent piece, "Shifting Money away from Schools," they explain,

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 
Also, today, Michigan Radio reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee voted today on party lines regarding education funding, and that what passed was a $340 per student cut, and not the $740 per student cut that Governor Snyder wants.
 So obviously, if you believe this fund shouldn't be cut, you might want to become active in influencing your state legislature. I received this note today from a school parent:

Dear Parents & Teachers,

Your kids need your help. I am calling on all parents, teachers, friends & neighbors to join the protest demonstration on April 30th @ 10 am on the corner of Stadium and Main to protest the over 1 billion dollar cut in Kindergarten to College (K-20) education.  One third of budget deficit will be "fixed" by cutting education which is wildly disproportionate and only affects the kids of the working class.
If you think that:
1) Cutting education to feed corporate tax cuts unfairly burdens the middle class and working poor...
2) A good education is NOT just for the rich...
3) Education should NOT become a for-profit business... (our kids are not commodities...)
4) Your child's education is worth you taking 2 hours of your time to stand up and be counted
Then join us. Tell your friends. Pass it on. Your kids have no voice - but YOU do!

For more information, contact Mary Krasan,

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Why?

Several years ago, we asked friends and family coming to our house for the holiday to each focus on a particular section of the Passover Seder. Seder means "Order" in Hebrew, and at Passover, Jews tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at a Seder, using a Haggadah, a book that means "Telling," and that has a certain order to it. One of the sections of the Haggadah is called Maggid, loosely translated as the Story. In other words, it's the narrative.

So, my friend brings this question about the Maggid section:
This is the Story part of the Haggadah, but there is no story here--at least, no story about the Exodus. Instead, there is a description of four kinds of children (wise, wicked, simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask)--and a suggestion as to how to answer their questions.
There are songs and activities.
There is a place where the youngest person at the table asks four questions about the Seder's symbols.
There are obscure references to historical occurrences that on the surface don't seem to have anything to do with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Why is there no story in the Story?
Is this really the Socratic Method? Depending on who you talk to, the Socratic Method means slightly different things, all involving questions and answers. Rick Garlikov describes the Socratic Method as "Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling." According to Wikipedia,
The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, Socratic irony, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1]
No, this is not the Socratic method. But the Seder uses outstanding educational techniques--requiring interaction between members of the group; hands-on activities; thought-provoking questions; and even some performance (traditionally, the youngest person in the room masters and chants four questions). And the result? The seder is probably the most observed Jewish practice in the world.

*   *    *    *    *    *
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most well-known book of Paolo Freire, and it is a book that, I confess, I have not been able to read all the way through (dense!)--but the essence is this:
In the book Freire calls traditional pedagogy the "banking model" because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggybank. However, he argues for pedagogy to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. (Wikipedia)
[Note: Freire is referring to "traditional pedagogy" as the pedagogy common in Europe and the Americas in the 1800s and 1900s.]

Ultimately, the Haggadah is at least a thousand years old in one form or another, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt is even older. Since it is a story of slaves throwing off the shackles of slavery, so I will close with a few quotes from Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future."
"The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves..." 
 "… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…" 
"No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are."  
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spy High: Tweeting the Night Away

Well, this is my first experiment with tweeting a meeting. I was at the Skyline High School PTSO meeting and I tweeted the meeting. (You can follow me at if you like.)
What I've decided to do is paste in my tweets here, and then add some more commentary.

Skyline PTSO meeting starts with a unanimous endorsement of the special ed. millage. Yes!
If you want more information, visit this web site:

Now Sulura Jackson is giving a pitch for security cameras. Says there are fewer community assts. and more students.
If I wondered if this would be a neutral proposal, the answer is now clear--no, it's not.

Says students are in the building after 5 with no adults.
The custodians are there, but of course their job is not student supervision. Students are there, generally, related to after school programs (athletics, theater, robotics...).

Says she read my blog! And wants to address idea of misuse. "Typically" videos are not monitored. (Of course they could be-are pub. record.)
Of course she reads my blog! Doesn't everybody? (Just kidding!) Here she is referring to my comment, in my last post, that in other districts, video cameras have been misused--to "out" kids regarding whom they are kissing; to stalk attractive students; to monitor the actions of racial minorities. So, first of all, I don't find "that will never happen here" to be very convincing, and second of all, the videos are public record. They are FOIA-able.

Says of course we will still have problems.
In other words, they're not going to solve everything. But you already knew that.

Sulura Jackson summarizes it as safe vs. Sorry. I would characterize it as waste of $ and civil rights violation.
In other words, she thinks this will make students and staff safe. I disagree. I think it will give the illusion of safety, but it won't create safety.

Walking a fine line between saying school is safe vs. not safe. Wants to say it is safe now but that it won't be.
Here Ms. Jackson is trying to say that it's safe now, but of course if it is safe now, why do you need surveillance? So then she wants to say that it is unsafe, but wait, she doesn't quite want to say that.

Says school board is the ultimate decider.
I wasn't at the last PTSO meeting, but my friend says she said there that it wouldn't go forward without the support of the PTSO. Now it seems maybe it will go forward in any case? The room seems split.

Funding not in the budget yet and doesn't have an estimate. Doesn't know how much crime went down after Pi/Huron cameras installed.
Here she says the funding is not in the budget. Later she says the funding would come from a "different source," not the general fund. I assume that she means it would come from the building bonds. That might convince me not to vote for those next time. Anyway, if there's building bond money to spend on Skyline, I've got my own wish list. How about removing the banisters from the middle of the stairs so kids can get up and down in time for class? Those were crowded when there were just freshmen in the school! How about getting some BOOKS in the library?! I think there are about 100. (OK, a few more than that, but not many. Try to find a memoir for a class assignment, and good luck with that.)

Parent says at Pioneer crime stayed the same but big fights went down.
This was in response to the question, how did crime change at Pioneer before and after the cameras were put in. This question was first put to Ms. Jackson, who didn't know the answer. Actually, I'm not sure if it was a parent, or the school's police officer, who answered this question.

Wiring at Skyline is already in place.
Presumably this means it would cost less to install the cameras than at Pioneer or Huron. But I'm just guessing there. The square footage might be different.

There is no proposal yet. No policies on how long they last.
Listening to this presentation, I'm having a hard time believing that no proposal has been batted around. The "No policies on how long they last" refers to a question a parent asked as to what the policy would be for how long the video would be kept, and what the policies are at Huron and Pioneer. Ms. Jackson said there was no proposal yet, and she didn't know the policies in the other schools.

Security cameras have not been discussed at a full teacher meeting. Dislikes the term crimes and prefers to call them "code violations."
This was in response to a question about what teachers think. Everyone is using the term crime and Sulura says she dislikes the term.

Wait-we're discussing violating civil rights for "code violations?!" Parent says, are they or aren't they crimes? Ms. Jackson says code viol(ations)--my tweeting characters ran out!
Here is an example of why we "need" security cameras. A student switched the signs of the men's and women's restrooms, causing confusion and in at least one case, embarrassment. This is not a crime, this is a code violation.

Discussing the idea of putting security cameras at Skyline at the PTSO meeting.
I'm getting tweet-happy here, the way radio stations give their call letters.

Parent. If we're talking abt code violations, need to teach students to be citizens. Jackson; doesn't want to be reactive.
Here the parent's point is that if it's not about crime, and it is about "code violations," then this is not about safety, it's about civics. Jackson doesn't want to be reactive.

Student describing gay harrassment. Believes cameras would help but not solve the problem completely.
Now a student is talking about being harrassed because he is gay. This upsets me (and a lot of other people there too!) because I've heard some other stories about LGBT kids being harrassed at Skyline--in fact, that it is the least LGBT-friendly school in the district. I don't know that the school has done a good job bringing in really good speakers and programming on this issue.
However, based on his accounts, I think this harrassment would just move off-camera, if there were cameras. That commonly happens at other schools.

Another tweeter asks me about ethernet in the school and about the foia coordinator for the video footabe.
Liz Margolis is foia coordinator. Question came up of how long video footage is kept. The school is already wired.
(I think she's the foia coordinator. She's the communications director.)

Passionate students. If we react to video isn't that reactive? Students are req'd to be in schools. Crime rate (data provided) very low.
I thought this student had a great point--if you are responding to video, you are still being reactive. Prevention is proactive. The ACLU FOIA'd data about crime rates. They are really low. (No wonder they want to call the issue "code violations!") I'm going to try to figure out if I can upload the data, if I can I'll point you to the right place here.

Parent summarizes statement of Mike Steinberg of @ who says it is a civil rights violation.
That is, that putting in surveillance cameras would be a civil rights violation.

Officer Morales, cameras everywhere. It is a tool to investigate. We don't have time to review & misuse cameras.
Officer Morales is saying that in the greater world, cameras are everywhere, and that he just sees them as a useful tool. He doesn't believe they will be misused because "we don't have time."

Parent: Cameras everywhere, it is reality. Thinks it will help with harassment.
This parent is pro-surveillance cameras.

Ath. Director: he and custodians only one in building here late. Thinks it would help w/ security.
That is the Athletic Director. Goes into the "if it were my child here I'd want cameras here." Honestly, I find that a little patronizing. I have a child here, and I don't want cameras. But I think he might have a child here, and he does! Call it a draw--just don't tell me what I should think. I think most people like to think for themselves.

Jackson: staffing mtg abt more comm assts; funding diff set of funds (I guess bonds); wants to form a committee; if get CAs won't go 4 cams
Ms. Jackson says there is another staffing meeting about adding community assistants--they are the people who patrol the halls. She believes that Skyline will not get additional community assistants even though the school is growing, due to the budget cuts. She sort of implies that if she got the community assistants she wouldn't feel the need to go after the cameras, but another parent (later) told me he got the impression she would go after the surveillance cameras anyway, so I might have mis-tweeted. Anyway she does want to form a committee--apparently of teachers, administrators, students-and then she does add parents after someone asks. She also says she's going to have a "debate" with the students.
I don't actually think she's at all interested in what the parents or students have to say, she's made up her mind. But of course she can't say that.

Refers to Chelsea murder of Piasecki as reason for cameras. That would not have been prevented with cameras!
She says that "all" the comprehensive high schools in the county have cameras except Skyline. (I wonder--is that true?) She says, "Of course" Chelsea has cameras "after what happened." People want to know what happened. She suggests people google it(!). What happened is that the Superintendent was killed, and the principal and the union representative were also shot, by a disgruntled teacher who had been fired (or was being fired?). You can read more about it here. It was tragic, but surveillance cameras wouldn't have made any difference. As she pointed out in the beginning, they're not typically monitored. As a student pointed out, they're typically reactive. There was no question of the identity of the killer, and the killer went to prison. 

Jackson is planning on moving forward with the proposal for video cameras at Skyline.

Just one more addendum--Jackson said that she "couldn't" get the costs without an RFP. That is not true, and what we've seen from our City Council is that RFPs take a whole lot of staff time and pull you very far down a path that you may not want to go down. Sure, if the school board wants to go down that path they can put out an RFP, but way before that some companies could give some ballpark estimates. I think when people see the cost, they might be unhappy.

They should be. Have you seen the interim Superintendent's budget presentation? Find it here

Heck, I'm unhappy already. You can contact the school board at

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Spy: More Than a Game at Sky High

Hot off the presses:
This coming Monday, April 11th, at 6:30 p.m, the next Skyline PTSO meeting will be held in the Media Center.  This month's agenda will include a discussion of the possibility of installing video surveillance cameras in the parking lot and some public areas in the building (hallways, commons).

Please come.
Come if you are a current parent, student, teacher.
Come if you are a prospective parent, student, teacher--this decision will affect prospective students, parents and teachers for years to come.

I think this is a terrible idea, and I'm opposing it because:

  • Haven't we been talking about MILLIONS of dollars in budget cuts in the district? How inappropriate to waste our money on this stuff. And if you tell me the money is coming from the bond that pays for construction, then let me say that I think there are plenty of better things to spend that money on. NOT a PENNY should be spent on surveillance cameras. Let's spend our money to limit the damage caused by the cutbacks.
  • I'm opposed to surveillance cameras downtown too. But at least I have a choice of whether or not I want to go downtown. Do students have a choice about going to school? Not really. We should not be teaching students to believe it is normal for the government to be monitoring their every move. Schools are supposed to use their precious resources to teach students to appreciate the freedom and privacy we have in this country, not create a police state atmosphere.
  •  Surveillance cameras have the potential for misuse. In other school districts they have been used to "out" kids about who they are dating or what kind of political advocacy students are doing. They've been used to stalk attractive students and monitor the actions of racial minorities. Sure, I know that's illegal but that doesn't mean it wouldn't happen here too. 
  • Most thefts that happen at Skyline High School are minor thefts that occur in locker rooms, classrooms, and other areas where there would be no cameras. In other districts, surveillance cameras haven't stopped bullying, they've just moved it into off-camera areas
  • We don't need cameras. It's a waste of money and creates a host of potential civil liberties problems. We are already paying for a police officer in the school! Let's teach students, parents, and teachers how to keep track of and lock up their stuff; report problems when they see them happening; and encourage pride in the Skyline community.

Be there! Monday, April 11th, 6:30 p.m., Skyline High School Media Center
If you can't come, feel free to share your opinions with
Sulura Jackson, Principal, and
Brian Mielewski, PTSO President,

Extra Bonus! Come to the meeting and learn some more about the Special Education Millage too.

Some Charter Schools "Outsource" Management

I am preparing a series on charter schools in Washtenaw County, and I've decided I'm going to start alphabetically. (I know, you're wondering when? Hey, I've got another life besides blogging! Plus other interesting stories keep coming up!)

But this came across my twitter feed (Hat Tip to, and I thought it might interest people to know that some charter schools are actually managed by for-profit companies. Heritage Academies, which runs at least one charter school in Washtenaw County, is referenced in this article.

Charter Schools Outsource Education to Management Firms, With Mixed Results 

So one thing to keep an eye on when we discuss charter schools is whether or not they retain local control. Who is on their board? Who runs the school?

You might be wondering why a charter school would outsource anything, and basically, it's because running a school can be pretty complicated.  According to the article, 

About half of charter schools with for-profit management companies met their adequate yearly progress targets, according to the National Education Policy Center’s report, which used the most recently available information. By comparison, 63 percent of charter schools overall and 67 percent of regular public schools met the benchmark in 2009, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an industry group. (Emphasis added.)

 In any case, this article is part of a series by  According to their web site, ProPublica is "an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with 'moral force.'"
And guess what? You can donate to them, if you think their work is important, right here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New School Lunch Standards Coming Soon!

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been developing new standards for school meals. They are designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, decrease sodium content, cut saturated fat, increase whole grains consumption, combat childhood obesity, and more. In the proposed rules, starchy vegetables like potatoes cannot only be served in limited quantities. The standards are largely based on Institute of Medicine guidelines.

The nutrition standards for school meals would change dramatically under the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Among the proposed changes:
  • Milk: One-cup servings of unflavored milk must be 1 percent milk-fat or fat-free, and one-cup servings of flavored milk must be fat-free.
  • Bread products served must be made with 50 percent whole grains. Two years after the USDA implements the nutrition regulations, all breads served must be made entirely of whole grain.
  • Students must be offered one full cup of fruit at breakfast. Only half a cup could be juice, and that would have to be 100 percent fruit juice. Fruit could be replaced with vegetables.
  • A meat or meat alternative, such as eggs, yogurt, or cheese, would have to be served every day. Tofu is not an approved meat alternative.
  • The calorie range is 350 to 500 for elementary students, 400 to 550 for middle schoolers, and 450 to 600 for high schoolers.
  • No starchy vegetables—potatoes, corn, peas, or lima beans—are allowed.
  • Over the course of 10 years, schools must reduce sodium to 430 milligrams or less per breakfast for elementary students, 470 milligrams or less for middle schoolers, and 500 milligrams or less for high schoolers.
  • Elementary and middle students must be offered a one-half cup serving of fruit every day. High school students must be offered a cup every day.
  • The calorie range is 550 to 650 in elementary school, 600 to 700 in the middle grades, and 750 to 850 in high school.
  • Elementary and middle school students must be offered at least one ¾-cup serving of vegetables every day; one cup for high school students.
  • Starchy vegetables must be limited to a one-cup serving a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of dark-green vegetables must be offered at least once a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of orange vegetables must be offered at least once a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of legumes—black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, green peas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, soy beans, split peas, and white beans—must be served once a week.
  • Over 10 years, schools must reduce sodium to 430 milligrams or less per lunch in elementary school, 470 milligrams or less in middle school, and 500 milligrams or less in high school.
The proposed rules were put out in January and you have until April 13th to send in your comments. It is spectacularly easy to send in your comments. Just click on this link, type in your name and your comments, and press send.

According to this article in Education Week, school districts are worried about the cost (what's new!) and they are also worried about whether kids will actually eat whole grains or fruits and vegetables. Predictably, nutrition groups are all for it.

Why does it matter? A lot of schools serve many, many subsidized meals to kids who get free and reduced price meals, and in addition (alert: fun factoid coming!) some students may get half their calories at school.