Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Teachers: Paragon or Pariah?

Friday, I got an email from my sister at one in the afternoon.
"Lynn's kids were at that school. They are safe."

One of my sister's oldest friends has kids at Sandy Hook Elementary. They survived. The fact that I actually knew someone with kids at the school changed my relationship to the tragedy. Made it more personal, and less distant.

This weekend--like many of you, I am quite sure--I have spent quite a bit of time reading about Sandy Hook Elementary. And I have been thinking about the adults, all people who worked in the schools, with children.

I've been thinking about some of the ways we have talked about teachers and other school staff. In fact, I even heard one of the Sandy Hook parents say something along these lines in an NPR interview today. In lifting up one of the teachers who was murdered, she said something like this, "She wasn't one of those teachers who was done at 3 p.m. She always went the extra mile."

Speaking to teachers around here, many of them are feeling under attack and undervalued. Yet here we see the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook lauded as heroes and wonderful teachers. [Don't get me wrong--they were heroes. But their heroic action has to do with the way they protected their students, and not how they taught their students.] Were they also all above-average teachers? [I have no idea. Is Newtown Lake Wobegon?]

In hindsight, everyone says yes. The truth is, even though a lot of so-called educational reformers are busy slamming teachers, it has been my experience that most people I know like and value their kids' teachers.

Now I wonder, is this more proof of the feminist analysis that says that in public discourse, women [and most teachers are women] are either put on a pedestal (described as a Madonna) or vilified (described as a whore).

If you haven't done so already this year, take a moment to thank your school's teachers, administrators, custodians, "lunch ladies." This doesn't require money--a handwritten note or even an email will do.

And if you like to make resolutions, might I suggest this one? Next year, pledge not to put school staff on pedestals as paragons of virtue, or vilify them as pariahs. Next year, pledge to treat them as the people with jobs that most of them are, people who are trying to do a good job and may sometimes fall short. Next year, pledge to thank them more, and support them when you can.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Back to Local News: Ypsilanti/Willow Run

It sometimes happens that I don't get to write about what I want. Limited time on my part, and the dramatic state legislative agenda have sapped my time and energy.

And yet--things keep happening locally. 

Tomorrow (Monday 12/17) at 6:30 p.m. there is another joint Willow Run/Ypsilanti school board meeting. This is the board for the consolidated district, although technically at this point there are two identical boards, one for Ypsilanti and one for Willow Run. (I know--confusing, right? This is scheduled to change July 1, when the consolidated district officially begins, and the board will represent the consolidated district.)

Contact information for the new board can be found here:

In any case--a couple of weeks ago, after the second meeting of the combined Board of Education, Karen Siegel (the former* head of the teachers' union) sent out an email to the teachers, a portion of which is excerpted below. The meeting began with a financial presentation about Ypsilanti's finances. The audit was clean (that's good), the Ypsilanti deficit's 2012 increase was due in part to reduced state aid and in part to declining enrollment.

Siegel then notes that the "surprise" discussion came during the Michigan Association of School Boards presentation. They were there to explain what services they would provide for a Superintendent search. That is because the board needs to choose a superintendent for the consolidated district.

Writes Siegel,
During the Q & A portion of the MASB presentation, Trustee Myers asks if the board can favor an internal candidate. 
 She continues,
Mark Wilde, former, long time WR board member has been recording the meetings.  He posts them on Youtube.  However, it is NOT easy to find them on youtube.   I have posted the links to the videos below.  You can also get the links on the FACEBOOK page, "Willow Run Community Schools."  The link for the FACEBOOK page is
I didn't know that anyone was taping the meetings, and I immediately went and "liked" the page that is linked above. I hope you will do that too. You can find all of the videos through the Willow Run facebook page, and I'm only linking the ones related to the superintendent search below.
Video 4 of 8
*MASB presentation continues.*
*Around 6:11 the board questions and comments for MASB rep. begins*
Video 5 of 8

*at 1:19, MASB cautions the board about making the superintendent
search too rushed and trading off speed for quality of search.*
*AT 2:25 the questions and comments about hiring INTERNAL CANDIDATES
begins.  Trustee Myers asks the question, stay tuned for Trustee
Raglin and Trustee Garrett's comments at 5:16 (Garrett) and 6:48
(Raglin).  Stay tuned all the way through to 7:42 for the full
commentary on this issue.
Video 6 of 8

*MASB suggests doing a staff & community survey to see if there is
support for an internal candidate.*

So, here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, the superintendent issue is the first *big* thing the board has to tackle. And Willow Run, in particular, has been burned by choosing the wrong superintendent before. In fact, they are still being haunted by their (most recently former) Superintendent.

Doris Hope-Jackson was terminated by the Willow Run School District and she sued. The case went to arbitration where, according to Danielle Arndt's December 10, 2012 article in

[Hope-Jackson's] claims [against the district and former board president Sheri Washington] included allegations of breach of employee contract, verbal assault, retaliation, misconduct, the misappropriation of funds, a spurned lesbian advance, harassment, defamation of character and more.
The arbitrator did not agree with the majority of the school board’s reasons for firing Hope-Jackson, court documents show, but ruled in favor of the district in the end. He found the board’s decision to terminate Hope-Jackson was not retaliatory in nature and was not arbitrary and capricious.
 But wait, there's more! In arbitration, 

Documents filed in Circuit Court on Nov. 27 show that Washington paid Hope-Jackson $12,500 in sanctions, which arbitrator Fred M. Mester ordered after holding Washington in contempt of court during the arbitration proceedings on April 20.
That day, Washington was found to be lying under oath about her status as the administrator of the website This website frequently posted articles bashing Hope-Jackson under the anonymous pen names of “Administrator” and “Staff Writer.”
For lying under oath, Washington was forced to pay Hope-Jackson’s reasonable attorney fees and arbitration fees.
There are more details about the arbitration outcomes here.
As if that is not enough, there's even more! 

Additionally, Willow Run’s attorney filed a “motion to compel” in Circuit Court on Nov. 19. The motion asks the court to require that Hope-Jackson immediately return certain files, records and communications pertaining to students and parents in the Willow Run district, which Hope-Jackson retained after being fired.
Hope-Jackson testified to having these documents on Feb. 24, according to court filings.
So you can see why the issue of hiring a current superintendent is a sensitive topic. After all, so far it seems like Laura Lisiscki (Willow Run superintendent) and Dedrick Martin (Ypsilanti superintendent) are sane, and not thieves (remember former Willow Run superintendent Douglas Benit?). What more could you ask for?

Sure, I'm being facetious. You could ask for a lot more to make this consolidation a success--skills that the current superintendents may or may not have. And the issue is also sensitive because the Superintendent of the WISD, Scott Menzel, has said that all teachers will need to reapply for their jobs, and that there will most likely be cuts.

Remember, at the end of June the two districts will close, and thus their contracts with teachers, principals, etc. will all also end. I don't believe either of the teachers' unions took a position on the merger, and this is probably why: on the one hand, if they didn't merge, the districts would likely collapse of their own weight; on the other hand, if they did merge, teachers were not (and are not) guaranteed their jobs.

So there are a lot of employees watching the Superintendent discussion--and all of the other discussions of the new school board--very closely. And I'm sure there are a lot of teachers, and other employees, on the job market. In fact, that's just what happened with Karen Siegel, the (now former) teachers' union president, and an English and Theater teacher at Ypsilanti High School. She has just taken a new job in the Plymouth-Canton school district.

It also seems likely that many of the most motivated and talented employees (not just teachers, but social workers, administrative staff, etc.) will be the first to leave--which spells trouble, unless the school board can quickly move to set up the "application/interview/re-hire" process in a way that is reassuring.

In any case, I'd encourage you to go to the consolidated school board meeting, Monday 12/17, 6:30 p.m. at Ypsilanti High School. They will be hearing from another group that does superintendent searches. And if you can't make it, I hope it will be taped and available via the Willow Run facebook page.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Education Bills Are Still in Committee: Keep the Pressure On!

Yes, there are the Right to Work protests tomorrow, Tuesday 12/11/12.  But meanwhile, from Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools:

"There is a House Education meeting TOMORROW [Tuesday 12/11/12] at 8:15 a.m., in the House Appropriations room in the Capitol building, where HB 6004 is on the agenda, and another meeting at the normal time and place (9:15am in the HOB) for Wednesday [12/12/12], with the same two bills on the agenda." (I'm not sure if you can watch on Michigan House TV or not, but here is the link.)
If you are going to the RTW protests, think about going FIRST to the House Appropriations Room, and then to the protests outside. Assuming you can get into the Capitol.
Meanwhile, for the rest of you--please email the entire House Education Committee. Thank those who are opposing these bills currently, and ask the rest to join them. I have some links with talking points, and below that, the email addresses.

Links with talking points: 

And last, but not least, there is a new group, Michigan for Quality Schools, opposing these education bills, and they can be found at the web site Their slogan? Stop Experimenting With Our Children: Proven Education Reforms Only! Now that's a slogan I can get behind.
Here are the email addresses of the House Education Committee:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Despair. Hope. Chanukah.

It has been a rough week in the political arena. The push for privatization of public education. . . the ramming through of the freedom to freeload (a.k.a. right to work) legislation. . . and some other bills that have gotten less attention around reproductive rights (see the ACLU of Michigan letter), foster care/adoption, and the removal of benefits for people caring for disabled relatives (see the Michigan League for Human Services blog), well. . . it's a bit much.

Last night was the first night of Chanukah. And you might know that we Jews light a menorah that has eight candles or oil lamps (well, nine, actually--one is a "helper" candle), each one representing one of the nights.  As with most Jewish rituals, there are rabbinic arguments that have defined the rituals. In the case of the Chanukah lights, two famous rabbis disagreed. Shammai said that you should start on night #1 by lighting all of the lights, and each night subtract a light. Hillel  said that you should start on night #1 with one light, and each night add a light.

If you have ever heard of Hillel and Shammai, then you probably already know that they had many arguments. These are recorded in the compendium of Jewish law and stories called the Talmud. Nearly all of the time, Hillel won. (Shammai only won twice.) Hillel won in the case of the Chanukah lights--we start with one light and add one each day. And his reasoning makes sense to me, too--that we should always strive to increase light in the world.

If you were to read some of the other Hillel/Shammai discussions, what would probably strike you is that Hillel was very much a creative problem-solver; and ultimately, his decisions carried the day.

This week, I'm trying not to despair. I'm trying to be hopeful. I'm trying to believe that in the long run, the people who believe in the value of public education and in the value of democracy will win. Just like Hillel.

If you need inspiration, I've got Peter Paul and Mary's "Light One Candle" at the end for inspiration. (The version I found on youtube is rather sappy. I'm just warning you :). As they say, "Light one candle for the strength that we need, to never become our own foe. . . Light one candle for all we believe in, that anger not tear us apart. . . don't let the lights go out!"

If you support workers' rights, you're being asked to wear red on Monday.

If you are able to attend the rallies in Lansing on Tuesday about the workers' rights, reproductive rights, and the legislative process, I've received several facebook event invitations. You can drive directly to Lansing or you can get on the bus with other like-minded people. 

Leave from the Ann Arbor Education Association offices at 7:30 in the morning (get there at 7:15).

Start at 8 a.m. at Lansing Center and march to the Capitol to be there at 9:30 a.m..

Join Planned Parenthood Advocates at the Capitol at 9:30 a.m.

Oh, and one more thing. If you would like to strategize with Ann Arbor school board member Andy Thomas, he's got an open "coffee hour," also on Tuesday, December 11th, from 7-8 p.m. at Sweetwaters Cafe, 123 W. Washington St. in Ann Arbor.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

How A (Zombie) Bill Becomes A Law in Michigan, Featuring Schoolhouse Rock

Here is what we say happens through the legislative process:

from Schoolhouse Rock, "I'm Just A Bill."

But in Michigan, the Republican leadership in the legislature apparently does not want to follow any regular bill-making process. Instead, in order to avoid committee hearings, discussions, or the required five-day waiting period, for the so-called "right to work" legislation, the Republican leadership did a "full text substitute," replacing some appropriations bill language with entirely different language. I saw someone on facebook calling this a "Zombie Law!" [I like calling the legislation "freedom to freeload" legislation myself, since it basically says you don't have to pay dues to a union that represents you, even though the union is doing the work of negotiating on your behalf.]

I feel that Rep. Dillon's speech gets to the heart of the matter. This is a travesty of the democratic process.

Need a class assignment?
Students: Compare and contrast the process explained in the Schoolhouse Rock video with the process described in Rep. Dillon's speech. 

 Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, speaks on the floor of the Michigan House on 12/6/2012.

*Further, because it is tied to an appropriations bill, citizens are barred from pursuing a referendum.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Opposition Rising and More

Let's start out with some good news. These terrible education bills have not passed (yet), so let us keep the pressure on! One friend wrote me, "The world is falling apart!" OK, that might be a little hyperbolic, but there is definitely cause for concern.
How to keep the pressure on? Write; call; sign the petition to "Stop the Takeover of Public Education in Michigan." (No--that's not the "Stop Overtesting Our Kids" petition, although you can sign that one too! I've been temporarily diverted from stopping overtesting to keeping public education public.)

There is a new facebook page, "Save Michigan's Public Schools." What is really nice about this page is that there are lots and lots of superintendent and school board letters and statements of opposition. You can get some really good ideas of what to say if you want to personalize things. Or just get inspired, remember that you are not alone, don't despair, and give a "like" to some of the statements!

It's nice to see opposition from superintendents and school board members from all parts of the state, including some Republican strongholds. I noticed letters from Tuscola County (the Thumb); Calhoun County; Genesee County; Macomb County; Oakland County (Bloomfield Hills' Superintendent Rob Glass's letter to parents and taxpayers is terrific): Washtenaw County (Chelsea, Milan, Dexter, Ypsilanti, Whitmore Lake, Lincoln Consolidated and Ann Arbor for sure--there may have been others); the State Board of Education; and more.

A Michigan coalition is also opposing the fact that the EAA (which has only been around for three months!) is the only Michigan "school district" that is a finalist in the "Race to the Top" (which, as I've said before, is truly a race to the bottom, but unfortunately it is one that comes with funding).

Save Michigan's Public Schools has also posted the 302 page Michigan Public Education Finance Act Draft Legislation (and I'm linking to it) in case you are looking for some light reading [joke!]. This would replace our current school aid legislation, but it would make things much worse, not better.

Here is why:
"In a nutshell, the proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act (which would replace the existing School Aid Act of 1979) erases school attendance boundaries, allowing students to take their assigned chunk of funding and use it anywhere
they like (if the receiving school agrees), including taking courses in multiple locations. The legislation also throws a big, juicy bone to the Wild West of on-line education, reinforces test-based 'performance,' and gives students $2500 per semester for early graduation." (Nancy Flanagan in EdWeek, in a blog post titled, "What's the Matter with Michigan?"
Dr. Vickie Markavitch, Superintendent of the Oakland Schools (I think of the Oakland Intermediate School District) has an excellent video on the subject of the pending legislation, and I encourage you to: a) watch it and b) share it.

UPDATE:  Also, there is this--

Michigan for Quality Schools
Supporting proven education reform
What: A news conference unveiling new coalition of education, parent and business leaders opposed to continued experiments on Michigan children and supporting proven education reform.
When: 1 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3
Where: Room 424, Michigan Capitol
Who: Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools, Michigan Association of School Boards Executive Director Kathy Hayes, State Board of Education President John Austin, Michigan Association of School Administrators Executive Director William Mayes and others.
Why: To reject efforts to experiment with Michigan children by ending locally controlled school systems and introduce a for-profit education system in Michigan.
To support proven quality reforms by examining policies of states with a track record of success in Gov. Snyder’s education dashboard metrics.To call for public hearings across Michigan to expose these issues to the parents of Michigan, not shove them through the lame duck session of the Legislature with minimal debate.
A wide coalition of varied interests have been galvanized by campaigns to pass major education experiments in the lame duck legislature, including bills to allow for-profit education companies to cherry pick students and to give the still-unproven Education Achievement Authority the ability to create an unlimited number of schools without regard to quality. The organization also opposes the Oxford Foundations’ plan to gamble with Michigan students, which would end locally controlled school districts.
For more information contact David Waymire at Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, 517-485-6600

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Calling All (Education Committee) Legislators

A Favorite Quote

"It is not up to you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it."
(Rabbi Tarfon, Sayings of the Fathers)

Did You Already Write Your Legislators and the Governor?

[If not: Step 1 is to go to the Michigan Parents for Schools web site and use their nifty action alert system to contact them. Here is the link. It takes just a minute.]

If yes, then you may have already gotten a response from the Governor. A response that, as a friend of mine wrote to me, "didn't really answer any of the concerns I expressed about maintaining local input into schools and the possibility of profit motives undermining charter and other school 'reform.'" The letter just blathered on about wanting schools to be good (yes, we all want that) without making any note of the fact that the "Education Achievement Authority" (EAA) has absolutely no track record and may turn out to be a terrible program. (Sure--it could be great. That's what pilot programs are for--to prove that a program is worthy. However, according to MIPFS, "The EAA Chancellor, Dr. John Covington, argues that his system was tried successfully in his former district, Kansas City public schools. After his abrupt departure last year, the Kansas City schools lost their state accreditation, which gives us pause about the quality of the EAA's program.) [link]"

Bottom line: Taxpayers have the right to have input into schools. The Governor's children go to a very fine school in our fair county--Greenhills--but it is a) a private school with small class sizes; b) a not-for-profit school with a board of directors, and yes, parents have lots of input; and c) tuition is nearly $20,000, more than twice what the Ann Arbor schools get per pupil, and nearly three times what some other districts get. All I want is what he's got.

But I digress.

Here's the thing. No votes were taken today (even though both the Senate and House Education Committees met), but potentially votes may be taken tomorrow. We need to keep the pressure on.

Therefore, Let's Make Some Phone Calls

Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools put out this email alert today, and it's useful because it has phone numbers. I don't think any of these legislators are in our county, but they are all on the House Education Committee and they will be voting on bills that affect us!

Action Alert To Public School Supporters!!! Please Forward!!!!

House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 must be stopped, and we need your help to stop them!!!! The bills would create a Governor-controlled Education Achievement Authority (EAA) that would usurp our local control and kill public education as we know it. We should be focusing on proven quality education reform, not setting up a system of "haves" and "have nots" that will make all of our state's children one large experiment. The following representatives sit on the House Education Committee, and your phone call could sway them to oppose the EAA--please call and tell them to stop the experiment and VOTE NO ON HB 6004:

Rep. Thomas Hooker (Maj. VC) (517) 373-2277
Rep. Jon Bumstead (517) 373-7317
Rep. Hugh Crawford (517) 373-0827
Rep. Ray Franz (517) 373-0825
Rep. Kurt Heise (517) 373-3816
Rep. Aric Nesbitt (517) 373-0839
Rep. Margaret O'Brien (517) 373-1774
Rep. Amanda Price (517) 373-0838
Rep. Deb Shaughnessy (517) 373-0853
Rep. Ken Yonker (517) 373-0840

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Let the Legislature Take "Public" Out of "Public Schools"

Michigan Parents for Schools (whom I thanked in this post, just this past week!) has just put out an important action alert.

They write,

Legislative leaders have committed to push through a long list of bills during this "lame duck" session, including two that could be devastating to public education as we know it. I realize that sounds over-the-top, but take a look at the bills on the fast track:
  • House Bill 6004 [link] makes a new state-wide school district, the Education Achievement Authority, which can take over the "bottom 5%" of schools, and perhaps others - while the local district has no say. The EAA is free to hand these schools over to for-profit charter management companies, and in fact it can charter new schools anywhere in the state (whether the schools there are failing or not). The EAA would be run by a board appointed by the Governor, and even the elected State Board of Education would have no say in its work.
This bill also requires school districts to sell or lease unused school buildings to the EAA or any other charter school, and requires the district to maintain empty buildings, at their own expense, until someone wants to use it. (Senate Bill 1358 is a twin of the House bill.)
  • House Bill 5923 [link] would create a host of new forms of charter school, including selective admission schools, boarding schools, single-gender schools, and potential store-front schools operated by cultural organizations, businesses and other groups. Part of the mission given to the EAA in HB 6004 is to implement these provisions.

Michigan Parents for Schools also notes that:

On the horizon

The third leg of this effort to take away community control emerged last week in the form of a draft replacement for the School Aid Act. [link] The proposal, slated to become part of Gov. Snyder's next budget, represents a radical shift in how public schools work.

What can I say? It is really important that we contact our legislators right now. Why rush these things through during lame duck sessions? I try to be an optimist but the cynic in me says that they are doing this during lame duck session because they think if enough people find out about these bills, they will not survive.  I've written about these bills before here.

The Michigan Parents for Schools Action Alerts make things really easy.

Please click on this link and send the Governor and your legislators a note

(And you should feel free to call the Governor and legislators as well!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Michigan Legislature Taking Action on Some Bad Education Legislation This Month

Christine Stead, AAPS school board member and avid watcher of the state educational policy scene, has a couple of stellar posts on some Michigan legislative action that is happening during the lame duck session. . . in a rush. . . and nearly under cover of darkness.

I thank Christine for highlighting these bills.

First up--let's discuss the Educational Achievement Authority, which has the authority to take over school districts. (And you thought we took care of that by overturning the Emergency Manager law. Sadly, no.)

Let's start with a Diane Ravitch post, because she explains the roll of the Educational Achievement Authority rather clearly.

Diane Ravitch writes:
Last week, voters in Michigan repealed the state’s draconian emergency manager law, which allowed a hand-picked appointee of the governor to abolish public education in financially stressed districts. In two of those districts, the emergency manager turned the children over to for-profit charter chains.
To compensate for the repeal, the Legislature in Michigan plans to expand the powers of the Achievement Authority Chancellor. The Achievement Authority is a non-contiguous district into which the state will cluster all low-performing schools. It is currently headed by John Covington, who was trained by the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. Covington previously served as superintendent of Kansas City, where he proposed to close half the district’s public schools but resigned on short notice to take the higher-profile job in Michigan. Soon after his departure, Kansas City lost its state accreditation.
Under the new law, if it passes, Covington will have a free hand with the state’s lowest performing schools.
 Read the rest of Diane Ravitch's post here.

Now, on to Christine Stead (Christine's blog), who was actually at the most recent hearing and has a lot to say. She writes:
While there is still substantive GOP control of all houses of government, here’s my recent experience at the House Education Committee meeting yesterday [November 13, 2012].  By the way, please read HB 6004 here:
This bill seeks to hurry up an codify the Educational Achievement Authority, which has been functioning since October 1st.  This bill will give the EAA sweeping authority to take over local schools, render all local government moot, among other things (my concerns are listed below in bullet points)...
Through the course of witnessing testimony, new concerns arose for me.  These include:
  • The EAA can be much broader than the bottom 5% of schools.  In fact, since they exclude participation in state standardized tests AND only the chancellor determines when they have made progress, it is quite possible that they can expand to eventually encompass many schools in Michigan.
  • The Chancellor could not articulate how they were governed – now or in the future (although this is part of the bill he was there to testify on behalf of).
  • The Chancellor could not articulate how they were funded (I think they get the foundation allowance of the school they took over, plus some additional funding from the state of $35M and philanthropy from ‘other organizations’ that want to see this work).
  • The Chancellor, nor anyone else in the audience – including Bill Restum – did not know what would happen to a school that failed to make progress after 3 years.
  • The EAA can take over all assets of a school without the approval of the local school board.
    But wait, there's more. Read the rest of Christine's post here.  
    As if that were not enough, a few days ago Christine wrote about HB 5923. 
    Republicans are pushing through two more major changes to public education in lame duck sessions: the kinds of changes that a reasonable person might want to do a bit of thinking about and research on before slamming through more massive changes with very little concern and understanding of the consequences.  They both risk decimating public education...
    HB 5923 will allow any ‘thing’ (employer, municipality, etc.) to become a school.  There are no quality controls that they will be held accountable to.  Schools today will become focused on accounting: tracking where each child goes to school, accepting all credits, tracking GPAs from a myriad of programs, etc.
    Many issues need to be worked out – or even thought of – for this bill.  Clearly our legislators aren’t thinking about the impact on our students and our families.  If they were, they would be including academic goals, ensuring robust programs that also provide a framework for social and emotional learning and growth that is a foundation for so many other characteristics that seem to determine success more than grades: curiosity, tenacity, empathy, etc...
    Please review the language of the bill:
      Read Christine's full post here.

    I am hoping Michigan Parents For Schools will have an action alert out soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skyline "Cares"

Every now and then something comes along that I find both very funny, and very sad at the same time. My daughter's friend gave this to me. She is a Skyline High School alum, and noticed on her return to Skyline that they have put these new signs up in the halls. 

Yes, thanks to these signs, we now know that Skyline is a warm, welcoming, and--dare I say it--caring place.

For Pete's Sake. . . Jeez Louise. . . Holy Cow. . . 
Who thinks these things up? Who decides to spend money on this?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why This Student's Making A Movie About Testing

My college friend posted this link on Facebook, with a note that "This is why I left teaching." (She works as an attorney now, but was a third grade teacher for many years.)

The piece in the Washington Post, entitled "One teen’s standardized testing horror story (and where it will lead)" starts out this way:

Ankur Singh is a freshman at the University of Missouri-Columbia who is making a documentary film about how standardized testing has impacted young people. Here’s Ankur’s personal testing story and an explanation of what the movie is all about. Ankur published this here with the headline, “Who am I and why should you care about this silly documentary?” It sounds like anything but silly.
 By Ankur Singh
Hello, my name is Ankur Singh and I’m 18 years old and just began my freshman year at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in journalism. I’m making a documentary film to capture the stories of students and how standardized testing has impacted them. If you’re reading this hopefully you’ll come to understand who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish as well as how you can help me.
This film isn’t a school project or an assignment I was given by some production company, but a personal project that I am pursuing independently.
After telling "his" story about tesitng, he continues:
I’m looking for stories to tell. If you’re a parent or a teacher or a student who knows someone who has suffered from testing as I have please contact me. I want to film a few students go about their day and capture how testing has affected them. How does it affect their love of learning? How does it affect their self-esteem? What if what they’re truly passionate about isn’t measured by a standardized test? This is the story I want to tell, and every student has one worth telling.
Read the full story here.

So, the election is over. Testing is still here. Arne Duncan is one part of the problem. He is not, by any means, the only part of the problem but there is a campaign to contact him and the White House that is being started. The focus of Stop the Race to the Top is to call the president weekly at 202-456-1111 on your state's designated day with this message: Strive toward giving ALL students access to the same type of schooling your girls enjoy! Abandon Race to the Top & stop privatizing public schools!
Read more here

And now that the election is over, our focus turns back to too much testing in Ann Arbor. Whether you are a parent, teacher, taxpayer or student, you should feel free to sign our petition protesting over-testing in the Ann Arbor public schools. Find the petition here. And please--share it with your friends!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ypsilanti-Willow Run Consolidation Begins With 18 Candidates for 7 School Board Spots

And the Ypsilanti-Willow Run Consolidation starts off with a bang.

Monday and Tuesday, yes--this Monday and Tuesday, November 12th and 13th, there will be interviews of 18 candidates for 7 slots. Yes, that's 18 candidates for 7 slots. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District Board of Education gets to do the choosing, but they are asking for the public's input. Read more about who is on the WISD Board of Education here.

The interviews start at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 12 in Willow Run High School's forum room.
The interviews continue at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Room 138 of Ypsilanti High School.

The Ypsilanti Courier has links to all of the applicants' applications. (I will put the links below, attached to each person's name.)

Applicants include current Ypsilanti school board members:

David Bates
Ellen Champagne
Andy Fanta
Linda Snedacar-Horne

Applicants include current Willow Run school board members:

Don Garrett, Jr.
Greg Myers
Kristine Thomas
Mark Wilde

Applicants also include two Ypsilanti school board candidates who ran uncontested this week but can't be seated because the consolidation passed:

D’Real Graham
Dan Raglin

Applicants also include several members of the public who have not previously been school board members (at least, if they have been, it wasn't recently):

Maria Sheler-Edwards
Scott Elliot
Celeste Hawkins
Greg Johnson
Robert Oliver
Venus Strong-Smith
Anthony VanDerworp
Althea Wilson

We have an interesting group of candidates. It is a nice thing that so many people want to serve--and of course it raises for me the question--if it was an election, would all of these people be running?

Some of them present much better in an academic/literacy/resume sense. Does that mean those people would make the best board members? How much weight should we place on the letters of reference that each applicant included? I encourage you to read the individual letters, resumes, and statements and put your comments/questions about them in the comments section. Many thanks to and the Ypsilanti Courier for posting the links to these documents.

One question I would like to see asked of each of these candidates: if you have children who are school age or older, have they gone to the Ypsilanti or Willow Run school districts? If so, what have you liked about it? If not, why not?

If you live or teach (or otherwise work) in the Ypsilanti/Willow Run area, I really encourage you to go to hear these candidates be interviewed. I believe there will be a way to submit your input/feedback. This is a really important decision as it sets the stage for so many others!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Should Be An Interesting Year!

The Willow Run/Ypsilanti consolidation passed, and so did the accompanying millage. (In Willow Run, the consolidation millage passed did not pass by very much.) Over the next year, we'll see how that will play out in many different ways.

The emergency manager law was repealed--it is unclear what that will mean for school districts that have emergency managers, but there are several districts that currently have emergency managers--although none in Washtenaw County.

Deb Mexicotte won in the Ann Arbor school board election, which means that we have the same school board that we have had for the past year.

Diane Friese and Karen Delhey won in the Saline school board election, which is interesting because they each ran on a slate with someone else, so essentially one person from each "slate" won. Friese is a retired teacher who now illustrates children's books. Delhey works as the senior director of marketing for The Guild of Artists and Artisans, a non-profit artist membership organization that produces five art fairs, including the Ann Arbor Art Fair. She is also vice president of the Foundation for Saline Area Schools. (Can she stay on as vice president of the Foundation for Saline Area Schools? I don't know.) Given their arts backgrounds, it would be nice if that meant that the arts got a special focus in the Saline schools. (In reality, I think giving the arts a special focus is a nice thing in any school district.)

Lincoln schools were able to renew their operating millage and their recreation and education millage.

Oh, and Landau and Morton won for Washtenaw Community College--which is a good thing because I'm not really sure how someone who was barred from the campus (Figg) could serve on the board of WCC.

On the national and state level, we'll have to see how changes affect the educational landscape.

Update: Diane Ravitch points out two of the most important national votes affecting education.

She says that the most important education related vote took place in Indiana, where the Indiana Superintendent of Education, Tony Bennett, was ousted. According to Diane Ravitch's blog, he was:
. . . the face of rightwing reform in America.
His mission was to bring the ALEC agenda to life in the Hoosier State.
He was head of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, the group of state superintendents that were most eager to privatize public education, expand charters and vouchers, turn children over to for-profit corporations, and reduce the status of teachers.
He was honored by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute as the “reformiest” state superintendent in the nation.
 In another important set of votes in Idaho, the "Luna Laws" were defeated. According to Ravitch,
Voters in Idaho gave Mitt Romney a landslide  but simultaneously voted overwhelmingly to repeal the “Luna Laws,” the brainchild of state superintendent Tom Luna...
The Luna Laws imposed a mandate for online courses for high school graduates (a favorite of candidates funded by technology companies), made test scores the measure of teacher quality, provided bonuses for teachers whose students got higher scores, removed all teacher rights, eliminated anything resembling tenure or seniority, turned teachers into at-will employees, and squashed the teachers’ unions.
The campaign to support the Luna laws was heavily funded by technology entrepreneurs and out-of-state supporters of high-stakes testing and restrictions on the teaching profession, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The voters in this reddest of red states overturned all three of the Luna laws (which he called “Students Come First”; anything in which children or students or kids come “first” is a clear tip-off to the divisive intent of the program).
Ravitch also reports on a charter schools law that (just barely) passed in Washington state.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Eve: Voting Reminders

Of course it's important that you vote, and remember--an educated voter is the best voter. To get your personalized ballot and read candidate statements, visit the League of Women Voters web site:

Another useful source of information is the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. Look for information on their web site at:


Here are links to the pieces I've written about the election: 

School board races and more: 

2012 Washtenaw County Education-Related Items on the Ballot (with lots of links to other information)
This includes information about school board races across the county, including school board races in Ann Arbor, Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Manchester, Ypsilanti, Whitmore Lake, Lincoln Consolidated, Willow Run, and Milan.

On the Ballot:

1. Non-partisan candidates matter for education (and I give some examples of why)

2. The proposals really matter for education (and I give some examples of why)

3. Washtenaw Community College board election (and I share some important background information) about why I am voting for Morton and Landau.

Ypsilanti/Willow Run Consolidation:

1. On the ballot: Ypsilanti/Willow Run Consolidation 

2. Thoughts about the consolidation from a guest poster (YpsiAnon)

Here are the things I am thinking about as I figure out who and what I am voting for:

1. In some of the cases above I've told you who I'm voting for:
For Supreme Court, I'm voting for Kelly, Johnson, and McCormack. I don't usually know too much about the Supreme Court candidates, but I had the opportunity to hear Bridget Mary McCormack, and she was truly impressive in discussing how the administration of law can change lives. Lots of educational issues do go through the courts (as I discuss, linked above) and I believe these three candidates will make an important difference.

2. On the proposals, I'm voting:
Proposal 1--No (ends the current emergency manager law)--as I explain, I see this as a civil rights issue--here is why.

Michigan Parents for Schools suggests you vote No on Proposal 1 because:
1) We urge you to vote NO on Proposal 1, the referendum on the most recent emergency manager law (PA 4 of 2011). A NO vote is a vote to repeal the law, leaving the previous emergency financial manger law in force (PA 72 of 1990).
Why? The nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan said it best: "The great departure in PA 4 [from previous law] is the granting of powers to emergency managers that are significantly greater than those that may be exercised by locally elected officials and the extension of those powers into every aspect of the local government." [emphasis added]
In short, PA 4 was an unprecedented intrusion into local democratic control of our schools and communities. Emergency Managers of school districts were given power not only over financial matters but also over curriculum decisions. Locally elected school boards were stripped of all power and effectively disbanded. Perhaps the most startling use of this power by EMs was the decision to close local school districts and replace them with charter school networks in two Michigan communities.
While the state government may have legitimate cause to intervene in local finances when things go awry, the extraordinary powers granted by PA 4 take this much too far. We urge a NO vote on Proposal 1.

Proposal 2--Yes (puts collective bargaining in the constitution). I think teachers and other workers need this protection.
Proposal 3--Yes (energy)--I don't see this as an education issue but I'm worried about climate change.
Proposal 4--leaning toward Yes (home health aides being allowed to organize--I don't see this as an education issue)
Proposal 5--No (supermajority for taxes)--this proposal is probably the most important one on the ballot regarding education, and it's funded by Matty Moroun--please, please, please vote no (read why using the link above).

Michigan Parents for Schools suggests you vote No on Proposal 5 because:
2) We also strongly urge you to vote NO on Proposal 5. This proposal, backed by a narrow array of anti-tax groups and special interests, would require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature for any increase in taxes. This notion might be appealing to some citizens, but the consequences for our schools and our state would be devastating.
The share of state personal income which state taxes now collect is close to the lowest levels seen since the Headlee Amendment was approved in 1978. The Michigan Legislature has been underfunding education for years and has locked our school funding into a tax structure that is not keeping up with inflation, let alone educational needs. This proposal would give a handful of legislators veto power over all efforts to increase revenue for education and other public services. For example, as few as 12 State Senators could block new sources of school funding.
Proposal 6--No (bridge proposal--another proposal funded by Matty Moroun

3. Ypsilanti/Willow Run consolidation--Ypsilanti and Willow Run are very much between a rock and a hard place here. I don't believe that this is the best deal they could have gotten, and there are significant risks associated with it. On the other hand, this is the deal they got, and it might be better than the alternatives. You can read more about the choices at:

4. I know, you want to know how I'm voting for the Ann Arbor school board. I am voting for Deb Mexicotte. I appreciate that she works very hard, has educated herself on a lot of school issues, and appears to be honest and tell people what she's thinking and not necessarily what they want to hear. Having said that, I've had several occasions where she and I have not agreed, and if there were other candidates whom I thought agreed with me more I would probably support them. There aren't. At least not in this go-round.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On the Ballot: Washtenaw Community College

I got this email from a friend about the Washtenaw Community College election:
"I am voting for Morton and Landau. I had initially planned on voting for Figg and Landau based on the recommendations of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council. Then I saw that Figg did not respond to the League of Women Voters site and he is banned from the WCC campus as part of a resignation in lieu of termination agreement."
I suggest you read the article in the Washtenaw Voice, linked above. After reading it, I am also voting for Morton and Landau.

*Note: WCC runs the local charter school, Washtenaw Technical Middle College. Plus, we pay taxes to support WCC.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On the Ballot: These Proposals Will Affect Education

There are six proposals on the ballot. Three of them could have a direct, discernible impact on education in our state. These are non-partisan and toward the bottom of the ballot. Don't miss them!

Michigan Radio has done a terrific series on the ballot proposals, and you can find it here. Each proposal has its own story.

For the back story on the proposals, I would start with the Michigan Radio pieces, but I'm just going to give you a thumbnail sketch regarding the potential impact on the educational system from the ballot proposals--and I'm telling you how I am going to vote on them.

Proposal 1: This is a referendum on the Emergency Manager law

The current emergency manager law gives emergency managers a vast array of tools at their disposal, but in the process it completely disenfranchise the voters. The city council members, mayors, or school board members who have been elected by the residents of a particular locale have no say in what happens, and there is no specific timeline for returning power to them. A no vote says that this emergency manager law goes too far, and a yes vote says that you like this emergency manager law. Although I believe that the old emergency manager law should have been tweaked, I believe this goes too far and I am voting no. If you are interested, I have written about this emergency manager law and its connection to civil rights and justice here; and its connection to school taxation, here.

Proposal 2: This is the proposal that puts collective bargaining as a right into the constitution

Should collective bargaining be in the constitution? That is the essential question here. Lately there has been talk of attempting to turn Michigan into a right-to-work state. If Proposal 2 fails, I'm not sure there is any guarantee that Michigan would become a right-to-work state, but there isn't a guarantee that it wouldn't, either. I think it's reasonable to protect collective bargaining, and I'm voting yes

Proposal 5: This proposal would require a supermajority for any tax hike

You may remember that Proposal A, a 1994 proposal, is responsible for much of the difficulties in the ways that education is funded in Michigan. Steve Norton, executive director of Michigan Parents for Schools, a terrific watchdog agency, has also described the problems with Proposal A and state funding. Oh, and I've written a little bit about it as well, here.

When Matty Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, got this on the ballot, he wasn't really thinking about schools, but I am. Any reform of state education funding is likely to affect taxation; in fact, any reform of state funding period is likely to affect taxation; and I don't want a supermajority for that. Our legislature is "stuck" enough as it is. So, I am voting no on proposal 5.

Proposal 6: The Bridge proposal

True, this has nothing to do with education. It has everything to do with Matty Moroun (see Proposal 5 above), who wants to preserve his monopoly on bridges. Bridges should be public, not private, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, one of the best things Governor Snyder has done has been to work out a deal with Canada where they pay the costs of an international, public bridge. Let's support that, and vote no on proposal 6.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the Ballot: Non-Partisan Candidates Matter!

A lot of people, confronted with a long ballot, just check the party line and vote for all the candidates of a certain party. I've never done that, partly because I like filling in all those bubbles, and partly because I like thinking that I am deciding about each candidate based on her or his merits. [Even though I do usually vote just one party. . . it's not 100% of the time.

If like me, you vote each candidate individually, you probably won't miss the other half of the ballot, but if you vote the party line with a single mark, you might.

That's right, there's a non-partisan part of the ballot. It includes the proposals (more on those in a few days); any millages; judicial candidates; library boards; school boards; and community college boards. I've got links to the school-related candidate information here.

The judicial candidates are extremely important for education too. Here are just two examples of cases that are education-related that are going through the court systems right now. Both of these have been brought by the ACLU of Michigan.

Case #1: Lawsuit over domestic partner benefits for public servants. Two of the plaintiffs are Ann Arbor teachers.

Case #2: Lawsuit over the right to an education. The lawsuit focuses on the Highland Park school district's failure to educate students.

So yes, it does matter that you vote in the judicial elections. For some unbiased information, try the League of Women Voters.

In the case of the state Supreme Court, the candidates are nominated at the state party conventions, and then they run on a non-partisan ballot. (To my mind, that makes even less sense than if they just had a non-partisan ballot, but that is how it is.)

So the Democrats in the Supreme Court race are: Judge Connie Marie Kelley, Judge Shelia Johnson and Bridget Mary McCormack. That's who I am voting for!

Bridget Mary McCormack has a sister who was an actress on the West Wing. She brought the cast of West Wing together to promote voting the non-partisan part of the ballot.  

Yes, DO vote on proposals, millages, boards, and judicial candidates. Please.

This video is actually quite fun, even if you (like me) never really watched West Wing, and no matter which candidates are the ones you support.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Introducing Ann Arbor's Special Education Committee

Ann Arbor has a hard-working group of parents, primarily parents of children who qualify for special education services, who have their own committee: AAPAC (Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee).

I agree, it's not entirely obvious from the title that it is a special-education focused committee.

You can get on their email list (lots of resources shared) by asking to join

They also have representatives from each school. I am listing the representatives below, with their email addresses partially redacted to keep the spammers away. If you are in a school that has a representative, and you have concerns about getting your child special education services, I would highly recommend that you contact your school's representative.

If you see a blank next to the name, they are still looking for a representative, and you can can send an email to Barbara (babmay11 at and volunteer yourself!

Barb writes:
Hi all,

I have attached the current AAPAC representative list that has
been recently updated. We are doing better, particularly at the
middle and high school levels, but still need quite a few reps
for many of our elementary schools
. So if you might serve as a
rep, or know someone who might, please let us know, thanks!

We can always still use alternates for all levels too, if you
just want to be a "backup" even if your school has a person
We really would like to have a point of contact for
people at each school, so please think about it - the officers
are always there to back you up, so you don't need to have any
special knowledge. Just email me if interested. Thanks so much!
Barb (emphasis added)
Preschool/ Early On

ECSE           Candace Cackowski cackowskicandace at
                     Heather Eckner*   heathereckner at
                     Johanna Mabry  jomabry at

Elementary Schools

Abbot   Jessica Koch jkcreationsinc at

Allen    Karen Meints  kameints at

Angell--Needs a representative

Ann Arbor Open    Kate Remen-Wait  kateremenwait at
                               Karen Gottschalk  kjgotts at

Bach  Nancy Kupina  Nck12613 at

Bryant--Needs a representative

Burns Park--Needs a representative

Carpenter--Needs a representative

Dicken--Needs a representative

Eberwhite   Erica Melnykowycz   melnykowycz at
                   Linda Rowse     Linda_rowse at

Haisley       Scott Zeleznik

King--Needs a representative
--Needs a representative

Lawton--Needs a representative
Logan    Karli Hildebrandt*     cjwhildebrandt at

--Needs a representative

Northside     Hope Carroll   worldhandcrafts at

--Needs a representative

--Needs a representative

Thurston     Kirsten Mogbo          icemogbo at
                   Genevieve Adams     designedbygenevieve at

Wines          Kelly Van Singel    kellycansingel at

Middle Schools

Ann Arbor Open   Kate Remen-Wait, Karen Gottschalk, see elementary school listing

Clague      Michelle Barnett       mckinnea at
                 Dawn Baker              Dawnb999 at

Forsythe     Kathy Zager-Doxey   Alliz7 at

--Needs a representative

Slauson       Barb Byers*          Babmay11 at
                   Jackie Mann          Jackie at

Tappan        Maria Huffman     encarnin at
                   Amy Shepherd      Amyshep4 at

High Schools

--Needs a representative

--Needs a representative

Huron           Kathy Grijalva         Kathy.grijalva at
                    Scott White               laurensdad at
                    Ann O’Connell*       AMOC at

Pioneer         Melany Raubolt*     mraubolt at  

                     Katy Held                ktheld at
                     Rick Altschuler       shuler at

Skyline         Barb Byers*             Babmay11 at
                     Mary Duerksen        Duerksena2 at

A2Tech(formerly Stone)   Nancy Kupina     Nck12613 at
                                          Akio Fujimaki     StoneAAPAC at

Other Reps

WISD PAC Reps for AA

Barb Byers, Scott White

Young Adult       Kathy Natelborg (Industrial Ave)         natelborgs at

At-Large Member     Ann Telfer