Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Tenure Bills: They're About Testing More Than Tenure

I just received this action alert from Michigan Parents for Schools. As usual, it's a clear explainer of how the tenure bills would work--and I've bolded and typed in red the parts I think are especially problematic. I hope you will join Michigan Parents for Schools in taking action. I know that my representative (Jeff Irwin) is opposed to these bills, but it's also true that legislators like to hear from you when you agree with them, and not just when you disagree with them. So please do share your opinion with your legislators! And by the way--MIPFS makes it easy to take action. Just scroll down to the last line, "Take Action Now," and follow the links to their legislative action center, where you can send a personalized e-letter to your legislators.

Tenure isn't the real issue; meaningful evaluation is what's at stake
 Dear friends,
Because you're a supporter of public education, I know you've heard from us about the "tenure bills" now before the Senate - and I'm sure you've heard from a lot of other groups, too. This is the first time we've felt we had to go in a different direction than some of our allies, and I wanted to explain personally why we're asking you to oppose these bills.

[Read our action alert here!]

People who support public schools can be split on this issue, so it helps to understand what the issues really are. Lots of folks who support these bills are focused on the need to reform teacher tenure. They want to make it less cumbersome to remove teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. And that's perfectly reasonable, as long as there are protections to make it fair.

But that's not what these bills are really about. These bills are about setting up a state-driven teacher evaluation system that relies heavily on standardized testing, gives very little leeway for local districts to develop their own systems, and provides absolutely no funds to make sure evaluations can be done right. A lot of the text seems to have been written by national "reform" groups who have been spending big money in our state drumming up support for these bills. To top it all off, the details of the evaluation system were bolted on to these bills moments before the Senate Education Committee sent them to the full Senate. They were lifted entirely from a separate bill in the House that has barely had a single hearing. The "days of testimony" people talk about never addressed this evaluation system, because it wasn't in the bills at the time!

At MIPFS, we DO support strong and collaborative evaluation systems that are designed to help teachers improve their practice and focus on evaluating the full range of their responsibilities. Adding even more "bubble tests" and calling it "accountability" just won't cut it. There are real, live, functioning systems that work - the Peer Assistance and Review systems used in many districts around the country are a good example.

These bills won't get us there.

  • I've written elsewhere about the problems with using standardized tests to judge individual teachers. [Read the article here.] These bills enshrine their importance.
  • Good evaluations, and helping teachers grow as practitioners, takes skilled people and time. And that means money. Where will that come from?
  • Systems that work need buy-in from all sides, but teachers would be locked out of the process because they will be forbidden from bargaining any of these issues. That is not a recipe for success. We need local collaboration, not more state mandates.
Finally, we're worried that the bills will end up encouraging administrators to judge teachers by how expensive they are, not how well they educate our children. We've talked with administrators who see these changes as a way to cope with shrinking budgets. But these good folks have been in the trenches so long that they are more worried about how to cut their budgets than about asking why the budgets should get cut every year. So we're back to school funding, and how it does not work for Michigan children or communities.

Please take a moment to review our arguments for quality evaluations and against these bills. Then, contact your Senator to ask them to work with all of us to make quality evaluations possible, not just write into law the half-baked ideas of some outside, big money "reform" groups. We need to do what's right for our children! Take action now!

Thanks for reading,

Steve Norton
Executive Director

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" and Physical Education

Probably because I've been thinking about the cuts to Ann Arbor Public Schools' sports teams, I particularly noticed this article in Health Affairs Blog: Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move" Is Losing Its Footing. In this article, Amitai Etzioni argues that while Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' program is predicated on both nutrition and exercise, most of the reaction to it has focused only on the diet/nutrition piece.

And here is the shocking part:
Thus, as the program evolved, the focus turned to caloric intake and not expenditure.

We were unable to find much evidence about implementing the exercise parts of the Let’s Move initiative. This is particularly relevant because of the scaling back and cancellation of physical education classes due to budget cuts. In 2006, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provided the minimum level of weekly physical activity as recommended by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (150 minutes per week for elementary-school-aged children and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students). [NB: The 2010 report says only one state meets this benchmark.] Only eight states require that students take physical education every year from first through twelfth grade. [NB: The 2010 report says five states.]  22 states (43 percent) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online courses. Less than one-third of all children ages 6-17 engage in “vigorous activity” (physical activity for at least 20 minutes that makes the child sweat and breathe hard.  [Commentary added in brackets.]
As Etzioni says about 'Let's Move,' "One cannot help but wonder how and why a program that started so well is leaning so heavily in one direction, when it would do much better if it moved on both legs."

Well, I think it's pretty obvious. I had P.E. every year and every term in middle school and high school, four days a week--and I couldn't get out of any of it thanks to my afterschool sports. Right now in Michigan, students need to get 1.0 of high school credit in physical and health education (that is the equivalent of one class for two semesters), with the recommendation being to split that 50/50. Districts and schools can permit students to substitute the P.E. credit for interscholastic sports, JRROTC, and marching band or cheerleading.
Read more about Michigan's regulations here. In case you're wondering, we don't meet the benchmarks for the amount of exercise per week or for the requirement that students take physical education every year.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Athletics in AAPS: Safety, Title IX, Process

I think this message from Liz Margolis and the Ann Arbor Public Schools is so important that I am sharing it in its entirety. I suggest that you read through to the end, at least in part because that's where I put my comments.

Dear AAPS Families, This message explains high school athletic changes for next year due to budget reductions.  
AAPS High School Athletics  2011/2012

            The Athletic Directors at all respective High Schools in Ann Arbor have been pondering budget reductions.  The economic reality facing the Ann Arbor Public Schools are a result of continued State Budget Reductions. AAPS is reducing the 2011/12 budget by $15 million. Last year the district reduced by $18 million and the previous years reductions of $35 million occurred. Funding from the state continues to impact all areas of public education, in the classroom and on the athletic fields.
            These cost cutting measures translates into fewer resources to effectively operate all of our athletic programs resulting in the elimination of teams/programs.  We can no longer provide adequate resources for all 35 programs and are forced to reduce the athletic budgets.  We will be sharing the following information with parents and students via an email in the next few days. Please review this information. It is very likely that you will get questions from parents. We all need to be consistent with our response. Always know that you can direct any questions to me.

Budget Reductions:
All three high schools will contract with an outside agency (Michigan Rehabilitation Services) for athletic trainer services.  Each school will receive two certified athletic trainers who will provide the services we currently have in place.
Reduction in half time secretary in the athletic office
Coaches who are not employed by the district in another capacity will be paid through a third party management service.  The coaches will remain the same but employed by the outside services.
Ice hockey teams at each school will be responsible for the first $12,000 for ice time rental.  Skyline will implement this system when hockey is started in 2011.

Since 1990, freshman teams as well as the following sports have been added to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Sports Menu.
Men’s and Women’s Bowling (all high schools)
Crew (all high schools)
Figure Skating (Huron and Pioneer)
Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse (all high schools)
Dance (Skyline)
Men’s and Women’s Track received a third assistant coach position
The following programs will no longer be funded by the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

All Freshmen Sports with the exception of Freshman Football.  Safety issues were a major concern with the freshman competing in football at the junior varsity or varsity level, thus we will continue to run a 9th grade football program.
Fall Crew is eliminated.  (All high schools).  (Crew was the only sport to have two seasons funded).
Dance (Skyline)
Cheer (Huron)
Figure Skating (Pioneer and Huron)
Field Hockey (Second J.V. team at Pioneer/Huron will no longer be funded).
Men’s and Women’s Bowling (All high schools).
Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse (All high schools).
One assistant track coach (Huron and Pioneer as Skyline was not yet fully staffed).
Transportation to schools in Washtenaw County with the exception of Football and Track.  (Equipment concerns).

Options for Club Sport Status
A club sport is defined as an athletic program participating in interscholastic competition operated directly under the supervision of the high school building principals and funded outside of the athletic department budget.  Club sports originate only with the approval of the building principal and athletic director.

Requirements to achieve and maintain club status shall include
1.Demonstrate adequate student interest, defined as double the minimum squad size.
2.If the faculty sponsor is not the coach, the building principal and/or athletic director will approve a qualified coach.
3.There will be no minimum number of opponents or contest required to achieve or  retain club status.
4.It is not necessary for all district high schools to offer a given club sport for that club sport to be offered at one of the high schools.
5.Club sports and coaches will comply with all Michigan High School Athletic Association and Ann Arbor Public Schools rules and regulations.
6.Other factors to consider are costs, safety/risk, and Title IX participation.
7. Varsity letters will be awarded by the school and paid for by the club

Athletic Club Team Sign - up
1.     Draft a charter and have it approved by the building principal
2.     Provide the building principal with a proposed budget, which must be approved by the principal – It is recommended that the club become a 501(c)3 organization
3.     Be sponsored by a faculty member
4.     Provide the building principal with an approved transportation plan and insurance plan
5.     Complete an annual program reports
6.     Adequate administrative resources and physical facilities be available
7.     Turn in (4) copies of eligibility list (divided by team)
8.     All club members must have current physicals
9.     All club members must meet the Districts eligibility requirements
10.  All club members must pay an insurance fee
11.  All expenses are to be paid for outside the Ann Arbor School System, for examples;
                        Coaches Salary                                    Rentals          
                        Transportation                                        Awards          
                        Supplies                                                Uniform
1. Were all the cuts consistent across all three high schools? Yes
2. Can a Varsity sport that's been cut move to club status? Yes –if funds are raised to support the fees and the requirements are followed. See above
3. How much of the overall school budget is athletics? 1%      
4. Once a team is a club can they go back to funded status? Yes
5. Since the JV coach quit can I fill that spot without having to interview? No, interviews must take place for any open coaching position including open club sport positions.
6. Whose decision was this?
The Athletic Directors were instructed that the school athletic budgets were to be reduced by $475,000. Athletic Directors were asked to assess the reductions and make recommendations to administration. These cuts are just part of the $15 million AAPS is making in response to the decrease in funding from the state.                                              8. If a team is a club do they have to pay the "pay-to-participate" fee? No, if the sport now has “club” designation participants do not have to pay the  “pay-to-participate” fee.

9. How much money has been cut from athletics over the last two years? $1.6 million has been reduced from athletics over the past two years, which  includes all three high schools.

I understand the need for most of the cuts, and some of them--such as cutting freshman sports, now that we have a third high school--make sense to me. But as is so often the case, I'd have to say that I don't agree with the process that was used. Where were parental and student input? I--even as a parent of a current athlete--didn't hear a word about this until today. I wonder if the parents of some of the teams that are being cut (e.g. lacrosse, bowling, figure skating) had been consulted? How convenient to share this after the schools have essentially closed for the summer. 

On the transportation issue, I foresee a lot of problems with cutting transportation to all school competitions in Washtenaw County. That includes schools that are nearly 20 miles away, and will require parents to take time off from work to transport their kids.  The alternative (for at least some kids) is to let them drive their friends.
In the past few years I've had two children get their drivers' licenses. However, between child #1 and child #2 the Michigan rules for younger drivers changed. The new regulations:
Prohibit a driver with a Level 2 graduated driver's license (GDL) from operating a motor vehicle carrying more than one passenger who is under 21 years of age, unless:
    a. passengers are members of the driver's immediate family, or
    b. travel is to or from school or a school-sanctioned event.

Now, admittedly, these student-athletes would be driving to and from school-sanctioned events, so they aren't asking students to break the law. But as a parent, I have to ask the question--would this law have been enacted if it was safe for teens to drive large groups of kids? [Don't be a smart aleck and answer, "Well, maybe, given our legislature!"] Statistically, it's not nearly as safe. Just ask the Centers for Disease Control. Their Teen Drivers fact sheet says:
The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.4
Among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are:

  • Males: In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 was  almost two times that of their female counterparts.1
  • Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.5
  • Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first year that teenagers are eligible to drive.4
(My auto insurance company seems to know these facts, too--my insurance is a lot higher than it used to be.) I don't want to be overly melodramatic about this, but on the other hand, I'm not interested in risking kids' lives.

There are some significant Title IX concerns embedded in these decisions. First, I think it's more likely that the reason they are continuing transportation for track is that football is only a boys' sport, and if that was the only sport being privileged by transportation "safety concerns" they felt they needed to balance that with a sport that serves both girls and boys. The track teams are a natural choice because they are large teams, and they have both genders.  

Should basketball retain the freshman teams? They field the smallest teams and often "cut" the most kids at tryouts.
Second, I wonder if the cuts to all freshmen teams except football in any way violates Title IX?
Third, does the fact that they are cutting more women's sports than men's sports violate Title IX? They are cutting 4 women's and 3 men's sports at Pioneer; and 4 women's and 3 men's sports at Huron. (At Skyline, they are cutting 3 women's and 3 men's sports.) Both Pioneer and Huron have been the subject of Title IX complaints in the past--and the district spent lots of money on those litigations.

I also wonder why there were no cuts made to the middle school sports? What about cutting all sixth grade sports? Reducing the number of middle school seasons to three, from the current five?

But most importantly--it's about the process. Why weren't there public meetings, as there were with the rest of the budget, to discuss the proposed changes? I think feedback might have changed the look of this proposal. For all I know, it still could.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Good Teacher, Bad Teacher, Red Teacher, Blue Teacher

I've become fascinated by the discussions around "bad teachers." Over and over, I read articles where teachers get their backs up when people talk about bad teachers, and insist that the problem isn't bad teachers (because, they say, there are so few bad teachers), but the problem (for underachieving students) is actually poverty, uninvolved parents, not enough funding, etcetera.

Well, they're right, and they're wrong. Of course the reasons for underachieving students include poverty, uninvolved parents, not enough funding, dilapidated but it's also some other things, namely:

1) Bad teaching (and note, that's only partly "bad teachers," because even teachers who are generally good sometimes do bad teaching) and
2) Poor use of evaluation to improve teaching performance.

That's true, at least in part, because involved (and educated) parents with access to their own money can combat bad teaching--if the parent doesn't know the material, they can hire someone who does...

When my oldest son was in the lower elementary grades, a parent with several older kids said to a group of parents, including me, "Well, you'll have good years and bad," and I thought, "WHAT?! That's not going to happen to my family." Well, she was right. We've had good years, and bad years. Sometimes it was due to the circumstances in my family, but sometimes it was due to bad teaching. 

I've experienced my share of bad teaching, and so have my kids. For the sake of this argument, I'm going to ignore the bad teaching that we've experienced when teachers have themselves been dealing with serious health issues in their own lives or the lives of their family. After all, teachers have their own lives--and if a parent is dying and they are distracted, it is going to affect their classroom performance even if they are usually at the top of their game. So even though I'm ignoring this issue (for right now, and only sort of) I want to point out that it is one of the most common reasons for bad teaching, and that there's lots of educational research suggesting that if students experience bad teaching more than one year in a row, their performance really suffers.

The other piece of the puzzle is whether, or how, evaluation happens. I know that I've had jobs where I did most of the work well, but there were areas where I had room for improvement. I think that is true for most of us. I've also had jobs that didn't suit me at all.

A continuous feedback loop would allow teachers to learn from their mistakes--which is exactly what we expect students to do. In my opinion, most principals have not been taught how to effectively evaluate staff, and if you ask me, schools would do very well to get feedback from parents and students. I am quite sure that my kids can tell you exactly what their teachers have been doing well, and not so well--and very thoughtfully, too.

So here, as a thought experiment, I am going to present some examples of bad teaching. All of these examples have been experienced by myself or by people close to me. I'm interested in which of these you think are irredeemably bad, and which of these would point to a teacher that would need more coaching. Genders and subjects may have been changed to protect the unknowing.

In no particular order...

1. A teacher who has very deep knowledge of her subject (middle school math) but little control of her classroom.

2. A teacher who has moderate knowledge of her subject (high school math) and is very kind to the students, but who has little capacity to share and teach advanced math concepts.

3. A teacher who has moderate knowledge of her subject (high school science) and is therefore afraid to deviate at all from her teaching plan in order to answer questions.

4. A teacher who is extremely knowledgeable about her subject (elementary music) and has very innovative teaching techniques, but who has anger management problems with the end result that students learn music very well and remember it for years, but are unwilling to continue in the subject.

5.  A teacher who has limited skills in his subject area (English) but a wonderful relationship with the middle/high school students he teaches and is really able to provide a "safe space" for them.

6. A teacher who has limited skills in his subject area (English) and writes so poorly it is unclear how he got certification, but who encourages discussion of literature and makes class enjoyable.

7. A teacher with strong skills in his subject area (English) but who is so boring that students fight to stay awake in the class, and who "kills the joy" in the subject.

8. A teacher (elementary) who is very strong at teaching reading, math, and history, but who knows very little about science and therefore doesn't teach it at all.

9. A teacher (elementary) who has interesting ideas and curriculum plans but is disorganized and often doesn't follow through to make sure students do the work they are assigned--and therefore, many students don't do the work.

10. A writing teacher who accepts regular assignments but doesn't provide feedback or request rewrites, even on materials that were submitted as drafts.

11. A middle school teacher who never rejects an assignment that was poorly done.

12. A high school social studies teacher who is an expert in his subject matter and an entertaining lecturer but who belittles and picks on some students, playing favorites with others. 

13. A high school chemistry teacher who is competent in his subject but calls some of the girls "princess" and "helps" those girls on tests.

14. An elementary art teacher who develops interesting activities and then stifles all creativity by requiring students to replicate them exactly the way she set up the example.

15. An elementary teacher who goes to have lunch with two children on a field trip, leaving the other 28 with a single teacher's aide who is technically assigned to one of the class's students.

16. A teacher who effectively teaches social studies, but doesn't respond to emails and phone calls from parents.

The world is a complex place. People are complex. All of these teachers are doing some bad teaching. Which of these teachers needs evaluation and coaching to work on specific problems? Which of these teachers need to find another career?

(Feel free to respond with comments specific to some of these examples. And I'm curious--what percent of teachers in your average school do you think is doing bad teaching, or is a bad teacher?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Poem for a Graduating Senior

Be safe.
Have fun.
Call me.
I love you.

Note: I wrote this last year. I wonder why it took me a year to publish it?

Friday, June 17, 2011

School's Out!

Enjoy your summer, whether you end up juggling soccer balls, lying on a beach, swimming in a Great Lake, hiking a steamy trail, or reading a favorite book.

A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball  
by Christopher Merrill

   after practice: right foot
to left foot, stepping forward and back, 
   to right foot and left foot,
and left foot up to his thigh, holding 
   it on his thigh as he twists
around in a circle, until it rolls 
   down the inside of his leg,
like a tickle of sweat, not catching 
   and tapping on the soft
side of his foot, and juggling
   once, twice, three times,
hopping on one foot like a jump-roper 
   in the gym, now trapping
and holding the ball in midair, 
   balancing it on the instep
of his weak left foot, stepping forward 
   and forward and back, then
lifting it overhead until it hangs there; 
   and squaring off his body,
he keeps the ball aloft with a nudge 
   of his neck, heading it
from side to side, softer and softer, 
   like a dying refrain,
until the ball, slowing, balances 
   itself on his hairline,
the hot sun and sweat filling his eyes 
   as he jiggles this way
and that, then flicking it up gently, 
   hunching his shoulders
and tilting his head back, he traps it 
   in the hollow of his neck,
and bending at the waist, sees his shadow, 
   his dangling T-shirt, the bent
blades of brown grass in summer heat; 
   and relaxing, the ball slipping
down his back. . .and missing his foot.

   He wheels around, he marches 
over the ball, as if it were a rock
   he stumbled into, and pressing
his left foot against it, he pushes it
   against the inside of his right 
until it pops into the air, is heeled
   over his head--the rainbow!-- 
and settles on his extended thigh before
   rolling over his knee and down 
his shin, so he can juggle it again
   from his left foot to his right foot
--and right foot to left foot to thigh--
   as he wanders, on the last day
of summer, around the empty field.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Top Eleven List: Things to Think About Tonight. Or Tomorrow.

1. The tenure bills passed the House. All of them. One major change, given how many layoffs have happened this past year...the seniority rule of "last in, first out" changes (this was pushed by a group championed by Michelle Rhee, the highly controversial former Washington DC superintendent). Another bill limits topics that can be bargained to wages and benefits.  I think this could be a sea change for many school districts. Read more about it in this Grand Rapids Press article.
As far as evaluation goes, of course it is important. It also strikes me that many principals are lousy at it. Principals are typically trained to be administrators, not managers. If we're going to ask them to be managers, then we'd better make sure we're training them on that!
It also highlights for me how disorganized the teachers, and teachers' unions have been. And by the way, it has always surprised me how many Republican teachers I know. And there are plenty of teachers who live in districts represented by Republicans. So tell me--do those teachers agree with the new laws? Or did they just forget to press their Representatives? 

2. I've written previously about how Carolyn King broke the Little League barrier for girls nationally in Ypsilanti.  Well, it turns out that there is a very elite all-girls' baseball team (yes, not softball) called the Dream Team--and they are coming to play in an elite baseball tournament in Ypsilanti this very weekend! Read about it in this Detroit Free Press article. What's even better is that you can go watch them, as well as some other very good teams, this weekend--and it's free! These are very high-level teams. That story reminds me that my older son had a girl on his baseball team for several years, and she was just as good as the boys. . . better than some of them.
Details of the tournament, from the Detroit Free Press:
Check out the Dream Team
WHERE: The Michigan Major Elite will be held at the baseball fields at the Eastern Michigan Recreation Complex on 100 Westview Street in Ypsilanti.
WHEN: The Dream Team will play at least five games in the tournament, which features 28 teams of 13-year-olds:
Friday: Brighton Black on Field 1 at 2 p.m.
Friday: Great Lakes Cardinals (Canton) on Field 2 at 8 p.m.
Saturday: Boys of Summer (Ohio) on Field 3 at 10 a.m.
Saturday: Strongsville Stallions (Ohio) on Field 3 at 6 p.m.
Sunday: Consolation and championship games, beginning at 8 a.m.

3. Scarlett News--I was sorry to hear about the sudden death of the science teacher James Bryant. I had met him, but I had no idea that he was an Olympian!

4. The special education department (SISS) has at least two vacancies right now--Bill Harris is moving to Eberwhite to be a principal and there is another vacancy. Parents with special education concerns should make sure to keep an eye on the process of filling these positions. The other day I heard a story about a parent whose child has an IEP. The child was not doing well in school. They had a parent meeting a couple of weeks ago and one of the teachers says, "Oh, so s/he's a visual learner?" Umm. Yeah. That's what the IEP says. Teachers, read the IEPs. That's what they are there for--so you can tailor your teaching to the needs of the students you are teaching. Parents, don't be afraid to be your child's advocate...even if you have to keep repeating yourself!

5. I recently heard that the number of graduate students in the University of Michigan's elementary-school-age one-year Masters and Certification program (El-MAC) has dropped substantially. So maybe people are getting the idea that there are very few jobs out there. . . I've written before about how we are training too many teachers

6. I'm glad to hear that busing won't be cancelled for kindergarten or high school students in Ann Arbor. Although I understand the rationale for asking high school students to walk further, in my neck of the woods,  for Skyline students that would mean walking down a fairly busy street (Newport) with no lights or sidewalks while it is still dark out in the winter. It would only take one hit-and-run accident to change the whole cost-benefit analysis. I'm glad the school board has recognized this!

7. Speaking about millages. . . did you know that even though we approved the special education millage, it is still not enough money to keep special education funding flowing at the same rate as last year? Read the background here. Since special education funding is mandated, that means that money needs to come from somewhere--and yes, that somewhere is general education. What, you say? How could that happen? Well, I believe it was the WISD board that put this millage on the ballot. Why did they decide to ask for less money than last time? I believe it's because the WISD board operates behind the scenes. Nobody elects them; nobody goes to their meetings; nobody gives them any feedback about their ideas. By "nobody" here I don't actually mean "nobody." I'm referring to the general public that bothers to give the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dexter, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Lincoln, Willow Run, Chelsea and Manchester boards of education a piece of their minds. That public process sometimes keeps school boards (which are, after all, just groups of people) from making bad decisions. [Yes, not always. It was a bad decision to offer the incoming Ann Arbor superintendent such a high salary, and the school board was told that. On the other hand, the school board was also told it was a bad idea to cut high school transportation, and they listened.]  Scott Menzel, I hope you are planning on making the activities of the WISD more public. 

8. The Manchester School Board is conducting a non-traditional search for a Superintendent (they have informally identified a preferred candidate). The first interview will be June 21. Read about it here. In addition, according to the Manchester Enterprise article, the next regular school board meeting is scheduled for at 6:30 p.m. June 20 in the Ackerson Building and will begin with the budget hearing.

9. School of Choice enrollment for Ann Arbor fell short. Surprise, surprise. Remember when I discussed the school board and administration's rationale for not opening up the high schools to school of choice students? I was pretty critical of their reasoning. You know, Ann Arbor school board, there is actually still time to do that. And if not this year, there is always next year.

10. It looks like James Dickson has joined the Ann Arbor Journal/Heritage Newspapers and has been assigned the local schools beat. I believe he was one of the layoffs from a couple of months ago. I personally welcome any additional coverage of local school districts. They deserve much more coverage than they get, despite the best efforts of Kyle Feldscher (; Jennifer Coffman (Ann Arbor Chronicle); Tom Perkins (stringer for several local news sites); and other freelancers. I appreciate all of you!

11. Do you know what the #1 post on this blog has been? It's (very) hard for me to believe, but a lot of people apparently want to know why some female softball players wear bows. Yup, that's right. I invite you to read my post, No Bow Lesbo, to find out the answer. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teacher Tenure Battle

It's hot, hot, hot--and I don't just mean the weather outside. I mean the battle over teacher tenure rights.

Everyone agrees: there are some bad teachers.
I don't think everyone agrees on how many. My own estimate would be--depending on the school--from 5-15%. And I'll have more to say about that, hopefully later next week.

The question is, what should you do about bad teachers? As with so many of these education issues, we sometimes agree on the problem but not the solution. I think the proposed tenure reforms are (most of them) misguided--but they are barreling through the legislature so you should certainly know about them.

Here is an overview from the Detroit Free Press.

And an advocacy piece from Grand Blanc and Michigan Parents in Support of School Funding (you can also join their Facebook page if you like):

HB 4625 (Rogers, R-66 Brighton) Amends the Tenure Act to do the following:
• Increases probationary period from 4 to 5 full years.
• Replaces 60 day notice with “end of school year “notice to a probationary teacher as to whether their work is satisfactory.
• Allows probationary teacher to be dismissed at any time.
• Requires probationary teacher to be dismissed if he/she has been rated ineffective on two performance evaluations within a school year.
• Gives School Board authority to determine format and number of classroom observations.
• Eliminates assumption of satisfactory performance if an evaluation is not conducted.
• Allows a tenured teacher to be returned to probationary status if he/she is not rated effective or better on the two most recent performance evaluations.
• Requires dismissal of a teacher who fails to have an effective rating on two consecutive performance evaluations.
• Establishes a limit of one probationary period.
• Mandates annual evaluation.

HB 4626 (Scott, R-51 Grand Blanc) Amends Tenure Act to do the following:
• Redefines demotion to mean a suspension without pay for 20 or more consecutive days or reduced compensation equivalent to 40 days.
• Replaces “reasonable and just cause” with “not arbitrary and capricious” for teacher tenure discharge.

HB 4627 (O’Brien, R-61 Portage) Revises the School Code to do the following:
• Requires School Board policy to provide for the placement of teachers based on mutual consent of the teacher and principal.
• Ensures that a principal has the authority to select teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness and who have appropriate qualifications.
• Requires that a teacher be placed on unpaid leave if a mutually agreed assignment cannot be reached to within 30 days.
• Requires evaluation system to include ratings of Highly Effective, Effective, Minimally Effective and Ineffective.
• Prohibits the use of seniority in the reduction of staff unless all factors are equal than seniority will count as the tie-breaking factor.
• Requires that during a staff reduction a teacher’s effectiveness must be considered, which includes individual performance is a major factor, increased student achievement is a predominant factor, demonstrated pedagogical skills, significant contributions above the normal expectation, demonstrated record of exceptional performance and relevant special training other than professional development or continuing education.

HB4628 (Yonker, R-72 Caledonia) Amends PERA and adds the following prohibited subjects of bargaining:
Decisions about the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption and implementation of personnel policies and decisions for:
o the placement of teachers;
o personnel decisions of all employees;
o elimination of positions, recall, & hiring after a reduction;
o evaluation systems;
o discharge and discipline;
o number of observations or format of classroom observations;
o method of compensation and performance based compensation.

WRITE or CALL the House Representatives listed below. Give them this message:

While some aspects of the tenure law could use revision, the prohibitive subjects of bargaining proposed in the four House bills being considered today are punitive and anti-worker. Local bargaining has been able to create very comprehensive and objective evaluation systems in our school district. Compensation, discharge, placement, and other personnel policies have been bargained in cooperation with our administration and if amendment is needed, it should be done with the local voices of educational professionals who have researched and trained to implement the "best practices" for an educational community.

Please consider legislation that will truly make our educational system better. For instance, smaller class size. With smaller class sizes we could spend more individual time with each student. Individualized instruction designed for a student's specific needs would be a reality. Make rules that will truly improve education. Quit demonizing the individuals who care most for the education of children - the public school educators of Michigan!

Representative Bill Rogers – R, Brighton
Phone: (517) 373-1784

Representative Paul Scott – R, Grand Blanc
Phone: (517) 373-1780

Representative Hugh Crawford – R, Wixom
Phone: (517) 373-0827

Representative Eileen Kowall – R, White Lake
Phone: (517) 373-2616

Representative Cathy Denby – R, Handy Township
Phone: (517) 373-8835