Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ann Arbor School Board Candidate Websites

I've listed these Ann Arbor school board candidates alphabetically by last name, with links to their websites. Some of the websites are really nice!  By which I mean, well-developed, easy on the eyes, and informative. I wonder if, in past years, school board candidates even created websites.

If you read the information on these web sites, and you have questions for one or all of the candidates, put them in the comments. I'm going to send them some questions (and post the answers, I hope) in October.

If I know they have a twitter account I have also listed it below--just in case you want to follow them.

Albert Howard
(Yes, I know it says he is running for President; I guess you can run for school board and President at the same time. It is the same person, I checked.)
Follow Albert on twitter: @AlbertHowardUSA

Ahmar Iqbal

Patrick Leonard
Follow Patrick on twitter: @PatrickL2012

Simone Lightfoot

Larry Murphy

Andy Thomas


  1. Here's a question:
    The school year has just gotten started, and already my kids (grades 1 and 4) have spent hours of their school days doing all this new testing. And as soon as they are done, it's time to gear up for yet more testing, the MEAP. At what point is too much seriously TOO MUCH? If we are getting a NEW test, NWEA.... how bout getting rid of the old one (MEAP), especially as the primary thing it seems to measure is socio-economic status, anyway.

  2. That is a great question. The testing that they have been doing so far, is it the NWEA? Or something else? Also are they in elementary, middle or high school?

  3. Yes, it's NWEA I believe. And it lasts for several days in a row (4 maybe?). And it seems to really be disrupting the "rhythm" of the beginning of the year -- all the important things like getting a classroom culture established, and becoming a community, and finding the daily rhythms. Instead, they are plunked down for testing, and worried about it, and to add insult to injury, their scores are immediately announced on the final screen, which leads to all sorts of comparing grades. Hardly seems useful as we're trying to create a cooperative learning environment. Just Ick.

  4. Oh, and to answer your question, it's elementary school.

  5. The NWEA testing is for all k-5 students in the district. The ideology behind the evaluation is to measure academic progress sequentially throughout the year, as opposed to just the one MEAP test. We are mandated by the State of Michigan to administer the MEAP test, so that the state (and Federal Government) can evaluate the district's performance in aggregate. Our district has decided to spend upwards of $150,000 annually to introduce additional testing, known as the NWEA.

    This evaluation allows for kid-centric learning, meaning that teachers are able to instantly monitor students' proficiency in core subjects; and the test will suggest topics that students are interested in learning throughout the year. It is much like the LSAT or GMAT; subsequent questions become more difficult if you submit a correct answer, and less difficult if you answer incorrectly. This test is administered electronically, so the results are obtained instantly as opposed to the MEAP test.

    This is a great point, Anonymous. I've spoken with principles in the district that felt it disrupted the first few weeks of school; this is a time when children are trying to adjust to their environment. In addition, we can't become a data-driven district, only focused on standardized tests as the basis for performance evaluation. This business-model is what Governor Snyder and other Republican legislators are currently proposing in Lansing.

    Oh... I have also heard that Kindergartners were having a difficult time with the NWEA evaluation. Some children didn't know how to use a mouse, and others were having a hard time concentrating. Should we use other metrics to evaluate k-1 students?

    I'm an avid follower of the, "Ann Arbor Schools Musings", so I will respond to comments as they're posted.

  6. Thank you for your response, Mr. Leonard. I know several first graders who were just pushing buttons until the screen stopped giving them prompts. Yes, useful indeed. I agree that the business model of running schools is absurd, and ineffective, and basically just the wrong paradigm.

  7. Is it also true that the test results will be used to evaluate teachers? I heard that in the first few years, the results will determine 10-20% of a teachers evaluation and in later years the results will determine up to 50% of a teachers evaluation. My daughter has an incredible teacher and this is one of the reasons that kept me from writing a letter and excusing her from the test.

    How is the district justifying spending $150,000 annually on this test when the bussing situation is so outrageous?

  8. Anonymous - Below I have attached a link to an article that outlines the parameters of the NWEA. I overstated the annual amount for this year; however, after the three year implementation cycle is complete, I've projected it will cost the district $150,000 annually.


    We use the Charlotte Danielson model for teacher performance evaluations.

    If you google - " Ann Arbor Public Schools Charlotte Danielson Model for performance evaluations", the first link will be the AAPS's methodology behind the model.

    Below I've posted the changes to teacher evaluation taken directly from the Teacher Tenure Act (PA 100 and PA 101):

    Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the performance evaluation system must include at least an annual year-end evaluation for all teachers. Student growth and assessment data must be a factor in the year-end evaluation as follows:

    a. For the 2013-2014 school year, at least 25% of the year-end evaluation.
    b. For the 2014-2015 school year, at least 40% of the year-end evaluation.
    c. Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year and thereafter, at least 50% of the year-end evaluation.

    However, these state mandated revisions do not apply to the Ann Arbor Public Schools, for now. Why? Because these policies do not apply when there was a collective bargaining agreement in effect on July, 19, 2011, which the AAPS had. The Revised School Code (PA 102) reads, " In such case, these policies do not apply until after the expiration of that collective bargaining agreement." The AAPS collective bargaining agreement does not have an expiration date.

    The only testing that is required by the State of Michigan is the MEAP. The Ann Arbor Public School District decides its model for evaluating teacher performance (The Danielson Model). The State Government, as I’ve indicated above, is trying to increase accountability by making standardized tests a significant percentage of the year-end evaluation (forcing this on school districts).

    Don’t be alarmed; the NWEA will not be a determining factor in teacher evaluations. I have always advocated for a model that is less data-driven; gives teachers more autonomy; and an evaluation that diminishes the competitiveness between teachers. Do I support merit pay? Yes.

    Please let me know if I failed to answer your questions. Thanks.

  9. I just posted a fairly in-depth response, but it seems to have been deleted or lost in cyber space.

    Here was the summary:

    These NWEA results may be used to evaluate teachers, but it's not mandated by the state and it would have to be agreed on in collective bargaining. Therefore, the NWEA test scores, in the short-term, will not be used for teacher evaluations.

    The only test the state mandates is the MEAP.

    The AAPS uses the Danielson Model for teacher evaluations; the parameters can be found by google searching " Ann Arbor Public Schools Danielson Model for performance evaluation" - it should be the first link.

    The following is an excerpt from the changes to the revised school code (PA 102) :

    Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the performance evaluation system must include at least an annual year-end evaluation for all teachers. Student growth and assessment data must be a factor in the year-end evaluation as follows:

    a. For the 2013-2014 school year, at least 25% of the year-end evaluation.
    b. For the 2014-2015 school year, at least 40% of the year-end evaluation.
    c. Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year and thereafter, at least 50% of the year-end evaluation.

    The good news for our district - these policies do not apply when there was a collective bargaining agreement in effect on July 19,2011, which the AAPS had. In addition, "these policies do not apply until after the expiration of that collective bargaining agreement." The AAPS collective bargaining agreement does not have an expiration date.

    I overstated the cost of the NWEA test. I was looking at the aggregated total cost over the three-year implementation cycle. Here is a link -

    Hope this answers your questions. Again, I had a more descriptive response but I somehow lost it.


  10. Hi -- Anonymous number one here :) This is so interesting.... Am I reading this correctly that given our collective bargaining agreement and lack of an expiration date, we do not have to add this testing at all, there is no mandate for it? So if that's the case, WHY are we mandating it in our schools??? I have never had a teacher unable to tell me how my kids are doing in any given subject at any given time. The teachers don't need this data -- they already know! Or, if someone thinks it could be really useful in some ways and for some classrooms, then why not make it voluntary?

    Really, the entire beginning of this school year has been and continues to be predominated by testing -- NWEA and then MEAP right after. At serious classroom time expense.

  11. We didn't have to add NWEA testing; however, we feel it can help produce data that can be used to better address the achievement gap. The administration has also stated, that it will benefit the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaboration with the University of Michigan.

    Research has shown that children have a wide variation in language and shape recognition at the age of four. The achievement gap starts early (pre-k), and we feel this metric will provide us with data that will help diminish these disparities. The debate is that teachers can undoubtedly recognize student achievement without evaluation testing - I wont get into that.

    In addition, if children are below proficiency by third grade, they have a high probability of remaining below grade level throughout their middle school and high school years. It’s important that we address the achievement gap early on; however, the methodology behind how we do so is controversial.

    One important note: Any policy that affects teachers’ salaries, fringe benefits, tenure, or evaluation, has to be agreed on in collective bargaining. That’s why Governor Snyder is proposing legislation that would dismantle teachers unions and collective bargaining.


  12. Patrick, you do a good job of explaining why NWEA was chosen, but I can't tell in your last comment by your use of "we" whether you are quoting someone else (e.g., district opinion) or if this is your point of view as well?

  13. Here's a question: I'd like to know how the candidates will bring discussions of race to our district? We seem to hedge around it - talk of closing the achievement gap, the incident at Dicken, etc.. but it is not openly talked about. IF we want a community to behave a certain way, it seems to me there should be communication, expectation, discussions about why certain decisions are being made etc...

  14. different Anonymous here -- P. Leonard, I appreciate your taking the time to come here and respond. Bodes well, thank you.

  15. Anon--It does bode well, but--just to be fair--I will note that at different times Simone Lightfoot, Albert Howard and Ahmar Iqbal have all commented on this blog.

  16. For the record, while I am active in a lot of educational issues, I'm also working on Andy Thomas' campaign. But I'm speaking for myself here, really.

    On testing: AAPS hopes that its contract situation will allow it to continue to develop its own evaluation system. From what I have read, they have made tremendous progress (admin and union working together) and have a solid system nearly ready to go. However, the legislation passed this summer would mandate any district which did not have an operating evaluation system in place on 19 July to use the mandatory state evaluation system (to be named later) or completely copy an approved existing one. The legislation requires that acceptable evaluation systems must rely heavily on "student growth and assessment data" - tests.

    It's not clear how much flexibility AAPS will have, though they hope to offer up their model as an idea to the state. But it is clear that at least pre- and post-testing will have to be part of the equation.

    Also, testing can be useful for diagnostic purposes, but the required MEAP tests do not return results until the end of the school year. So they are not very useful to teachers who hope to catch issues early.

    On race: the district has, in fact, been quietly engaging in an internal discussion on race and education, following an outline created by the much-maligned PEG. Every school is supposed to have an equity team, which leads important discussions among school faculty. Some schools have "CARE" teams which help teachers experiment with different teaching methods aimed at removing barriers to learning and allow teachers to observe and evaluate each others experience. The sad part is that all of this is going on unnoticed by our community.

    Andy's not a very "techie" person, so please don't read his absence here as a lack of interest. If you visit the web site, you'll see notices of various opportunities to meet him in person and talk about our schools.

  17. I put a comment up here a couple of days ago, but it got lost in the ether, I guess...?

  18. Steve--

    Thank you for asking! I just checked the spam filter and apparently both your comment and one from Patrick Leonard got marked as spam. I believe I've corrected the problem and they are posted now.

  19. And now that I've read your comments, here are just a couple of responses.

    1. The district has had lots of internal discussions about race over the years; and that appears not to have worked. I think much more external discussion is in order. By "external" I don't mean truly external. I mean involving parents and interested taxpayers in a meaningful way.

    2. I understand the reaon for the evaluation system moving ahead so quickly, and I'm happy about teachers getting a quick turnaround on feedback, but I think we still need to answer the question: how do we evaluate the evaluation process? What plans are in place for evaluating the NWEA program? Some ideas that seem good at first work well; others don't. I'm not sure how I feel about having K-1 students doing computerized testing.

    3. Of course I'd like to have Andy Thomas commenting, but if what is keeping him is techie skills, then why don't you teach him how to comment on a blog? It will be a lifelong skill, I'm sure. :)

  20. I am also skeptical of the value of these tests for the lower grades (K-2). They don't follow any model that kids with experience of using computers understand, and a lot of the littler ones may not have used laptops before. Also, what does a "year's worth of learning" mean? My son has been taking swim lessons with the same teacher for three years. The first two years he maybe got six months better (that is, he consented to stick his face into the water and at least acted like he was trying to follow instructions). This summer he became one of the best swimmers in his camp group. Was his teacher "worse" the first two years? Or is learning and growing an uneven process?

    Another anecdote: the third year of the MEAP (fifth grade) my older child did below grade average for the first time ever. Why? Because she decided that "these tests don't really matter -- they don't really have anything to do with what we do in school" and rushed through so she could have more time to read the book she had in her desk. When I told her that they were used to evaluate her teacher and her school, not her, she was shocked and found that "unfair." So I share a previous commenter's doubts about a child's performance on these tests necessarily telling you something meaningful on any given day.

  21. Chris -- EXACTLY!!!! Ugh, who decided that children learn in some linear fashion? These NWEA tests are administered so often, they leave no room for the bumpy, non-linear learning that actually occurs to be accurately tested. In addition, they further curtail any kind of teacher innovation and creativity. Sorry class, I KNOW you are completely fascinated by the greek mythology you are reading about in Percy Jackson, or by what's going on with Greece's economic system, or with the cool bugs we dug up on the playground.... but we don't have TIME to actually explore your interests and see how they tie in to social studies / science / etc, because right now we have to go over these math equations again because they are on that bloody test. Again. And you need to show progress now. Not later. I hate how confined the classrooms are getting. I don't know why anyone would want to be a teacher any more.

  22. Ruth, thanks for resurrecting my comment; I despair at having to reconstruct it.

    As to your questions:
    Conversations on race - I don't think I'd say it hasn't worked, but it has not been well described. I agree that the conversation needs to be broadened, but the work teachers are doing on reassessing their practice in light of the varying needs of children is important in its own right.

    NWEA testing: I don't personally know what kind of evaluation system the district has for the test program, though one of Andy Thomas' major priorities is for the district to focus more on such program evaluations. I do understand that the test system is used widely and is generally well-regarded.

    Teaching my candidate how to blog: no comment ;) [Actually, he does post from time to time, but he wasn't familiar with your blog before. Now he is!]

    Lastly, to Chris and the latest Anonymous: no one I know who seriously cares about education thinks that this testing regimen makes any sense at all. I have made precisely the same argument about non-linear learning when my organization lobbied against the tenure/evaluation legislation. The majority of the House and Senate did not see fit to listen to these cautions, from anyone.

    I don't envy the position of AAPS, having to find a way to implement poor policy in a way that wreaks as little damage as possible. But implement it they must, or the 50% of our funding that comes via the School Aid Fund could be suspended with the stroke of a pen. The only solution lies in Lansing, since that is where the problem also lies.

  23. Steve, thanks for weighing in here. But as to your last comment, according to P.Leonard above, the AAPS didn't have to implement ANY new testing, due to our collective bargaining agreement and lack of expiration date. So if there is no mandate that affected us, why do something nobody likes? Why not create a REAL system for teacher evaluation that we really do like?

  24. has not featured/covered any of the Ann Arbor Public School Board of Education candidates in the hard copy edition of the newspaper on Thursday or Sunday. Furthermore, they have not sent any of their reporters to the debate forums. reporter Kyle Feldscher responded to my @AlbertHowardUSA tweet: ' I don't know off the top of my head if the story ran in either print edition - been moving and haven't had a chance to look'.

  25. To Anonymous just above: I think Mr. Leonard was perhaps being optimistic. AAPS leadership sincerely hopes that this is the case, but it has yet to be tested legally. In any case, the law does make clear that any local system has to meet the standards listed in the legislation. I don't think we can get entirely away from that.

    All this said, many knowledgeable people think that the NWEA test is far superior to the MEAP in its design and implementation, and will give the district more actionable information about both teaching and achievement gap issues. In this view, it's the MEAP which is the waste of time, and the NWEA test which may help us improve our schools.

    Personally, I feel testing can be useful, in certain contexts and only if the test itself is well-designed for what you want to use it for. It should be one of many, much broader, tools we use to keep and eye on how are schools are serving our kids. The problem has been the rush to use testing as the sole criterion of educational success, and the the rush to develop tests simply to meet these requirements.

    (Of course, many of the testing companies are for-profit firms, eager for new business. NWEA is a non-profit which has operated since 1977. For some policymakers, it's easier to direct money to the private testing firms than to plow it back into schools for better administrative capacity to do evaluations.)

  26. Albert, Unfortunately, Kyle Feldscher has moved on to Crime and Courts reporting (good for him, but...) at this point nobody has replaced him as a K-12 Education Reporter at It took months before they replaced David Jesse as higher education reporting and I'm hoping it doesn't take as long this time. In case you haven't noticed, the K-12 reporting is being covered by more than one freelancer. I imagine that when you have a regular reporter assigned to K-12 reporting, you end up with more of a "presence" in the Thursday/Sunday paper because you have someone advocating for that subject area.

    And just as an aside, the situation is even worse for schools like Ypsilanti, Willow Run, Dexter, Saline. . . there is a lot going on there, but with the exception of the Heritage newspapers coverage it's hard to find out about it!

    Steve, thank you so much for keeping track of, and advocating for, school stuff in Lansing.