Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Theatre. . . Competition?!

Without much notice or fanfare, high school theater* groups around the state prepare one-act plays for a theater competition--the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association competition, or MIFA, as it is known--throughout January and February.

In the theatre competition, actors and crew operate under time constraints, as well as the requirement that the play be portable--and they get feedback from judges. They present at "districts," then at "regionals," and then--if they are lucky--to "states."

One year the requirement is to pick a comedy, and the next year the requirement is to pick a serious play. Directors can choose a musical or a straight play; a play that was written as a one-act, or cut a play down.

This year, at least four local schools are participating, and in fact, a regional competition is occurring at Skyline and a state competition is occurring at Chelsea Dexter High School, although Dexter has not submitted a MIFA play. (This year, Community and Huron are not performing one-acts, but Huron will be doing Sweeney Todd the weekend of February 9th and look for Community High School's PG-version of Avenue Q in the spring.)

This coming weekend (February 3d and 4th, 2012), both Skyline and Pioneer high schools are doing public performances. Both of them are on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.

Pioneer High School is performing Spring Awakening, a play following the lives of ten teenagers as they move from adolescent to adult.

Skyline High School is performing Amadeus, about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.

Chelsea High School and Milan High School are also performing.

Update 2/6/11: So is Lincoln High School. Lincoln High School is performing J. M. Barrie's Half an Hour.

You may recall that Milan High School had four students die over the last year, and at least a couple of the deaths were suicides. The play that they have chosen is called The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note, and I understand--from someone who saw the play at districts--that the play opens with projections of news stories about the students who died. Intense? Yes. But also an important memorial to them. I've never seen the play but I think using the arts as a way to work through emotional issues is a terrific idea.

As for Chelsea--well, I'm still looking for the title of their play--and I will hope to update this.

As far as I can tell, neither Milan nor Chelsea has public performances, but I could be wrong about that.

If you get a chance to go to one of the public performances, they're short and you will probably find that the way the set and crew are integrated into the performance makes the experience more interesting. The theme for this year is "serious drama," and the topics are. They are appropriate for high school students, but these are probably not the right plays for your eight-year old.

Update 2/6/11: The current schedule for the regional event at Skyline High School has Skyline, Pioneer, and Lincoln performing there, but not Chelsea or Milan.

*theater or theatre, I can't decide which to use. Read more here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Highland Park: The New Kalkaska?

The other day I was surprised to hear, on NPR, that Governor Snyder was telling the parents of students in the Highland Park, Michigan school district, that the district might run out of money and have to shut its doors even before the end of the school year--and/or he might appoint an emergency financial manager. (Snyder has already determined that there is a financial emergency.)

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. This is a road that Willow Run could be going down as well, as I described a few days ago. Just a few short weeks ago Highland Park got an emergency loan from the state to cover payroll.

According to this Detroit Free Press article,
The [emergency financial review] team found that a financial emergency exists based on factors including ending the school year on June 30 with an $11.3-million deficit, a 51% increase from the previous year.
The district had an operating deficit in excess of revenues for five of the six years evaluated and an average operating deficit of $2.3 million over seven years, [Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendent] Wolenberg said in her presentation on behalf of the review team.
The district saw a decrease in enrollment from 1,858 students in 2010 to 1,331 in 2011. There are currently 969 students enrolled, and about 40% of them live in Detroit, Wolenberg said. (1/21/2012)

Based on this determination, Governor Snyder sent out a letter to parents of students in the district. According to district officials,
the letter sends a deceptive message and could be taken as a warning to parents to get out of the district.
"If you were a parent this would be intended to scare you," said Highland Park school board secretary Robert Davis. "This is unprecedented communication with the parents. Why wouldn't you notify district officials?"
That's not the governor's perspective.
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said the letter was meant to address the anger, fear and frustrations of the district's parents.
(Both quotes taken from a 1/24/2012 article in the Detroit Free Press, Highland Park schools 'in jeopardy of closing,' Snyder tells parents.)

Do you even know where Highland Park is? It is a small, impoverished urban community (fewer than 12,000 people) completely surrounded by the City of Detroit.

It also happens to be nearly 93% African-American. Just like many other communities that either have had emergency financial managers assigned to them or have the threat of them being assigned hanging over their heads.

And the city of Highland Park itself has been under emergency management for most of the decade of the oughts (as the 2000s can be called).

Do you even know where Kalkaska is? It is a small, poor (but not as poor as Highland Park) rural community with a population of under 2300, located in Kalkaska County in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. The school district is geographically (and populationally--yes, I know that is not a word, but I like it anyway) larger than the village of Kalkaska, with something closer to 13,000 residents. (I'm not sure of the boundaries so I can't be too exact.) 

Oh, and Kalkaska happens to be over 96% white.

So in some ways, Kalkaska is a mirror image of Highland Park. But they also have a lot in common. This article from the Ludington Daily News of March 6, 1993, "Kalkaska system on brink of early closing as funds run out," explains it nicely.

Kalkaska (and other districts, too, like Ypsilanti!) was under a lot of financial stress--and the district famously closed three months early, at the end of March, in 1993.

And this "shot heard round Michigan," (if not the world) created a lot of impetus for the development of Proposal A. And as we see now, Proposal A solved some problems, but it created a whole host of others.

In 2012, Highland Park is not the only school district faced with the possibility of closing. Only this time, rather than the decision being made by the people who live there, the decision would be made by the state.

And I wonder, will any of this be the necessary catalyst for change? And if not, why not? Would race have anything to do with it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Forsythe Has...

Many cool murals, done by students over many years.
Here is a piece of one!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Willow Run Deficit

I know a little bit about the Willow Run deficit and student counts. That's because I requested the powerpoint presentation that was made to the Willow Run board at the beginning of December. The presentation has quite a bit of information in it, and it's too bad that nobody is regularly covering the Willow Run school board meeting, because Willow Run's meeting minutes are extremely terse. As in,
Bert Emerson gave a presentation and PowerPoint update on the financial standing of the District. He stressed the necessity of financial change within our district. (Quote taken from the 12/1/11 meeting minutes.)
Yes, that's it. No details at all about the finances--although the minutes do note that district employees would be getting the information the following week. Which means what? That they get to worry about additional concessions? The teachers have already made concessions that are approximately 10% of their salaries!
Willow Run has already closed schools, reconfigured the whole flow of students in the district, and asked teachers for very significant concessions. What kind of "financial change" can possible be created?

The short story is that, although Willow Run's initial budget (which, like Ypsilanti's, was part of an approved deficit elimination plan) showed higher revenues than expenditures (positive by over $411,000), by mid-November the district had figured out that things looked much, much worse--their expenses are going to exceed revenue by $1,165,017. School fiscal years start in July, so this analysis was done about 1/3 of the way through the school year. Obviously, the further you get into the school year, the harder it is to reduce the deficit.

As you might suspect, a big part of the problem is in enrollment:

There are fewer kids enrolled in the following grades: K, 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 12. There are a lot of kids in the Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth Program, and a few in the Washtenaw International High School and Early College Alliance--but a lot of the funds that come in for those students then has to go out to pay for the kids. 

So overall, they lost 66 students, which is over 4% of their student body, following a trend that has been true for over ten years. (Honestly though, considering that a new charter high school opened nearby, I thought they might have done worse than they did.) Like everyone else, Willow Run also lost a big piece of their foundation grant from the state, $530/student, which is almost 7% of their foundation grant. And--again, like everyone else--their retirement costs have gone up again and are ridiculously high.

Here is the summary of the last slide of Bert Emerson's presentation:

Problem = Cash

• 1. State Aid is cut: out of business in 2 weeks
• 2. Keep spending = drawn out insolvency
• a. We could not get the State to authorize increased borrowing w/
August State Aid note.
• b. Can’t get “bridge loan” approved w/o approved Deficit
Elimination Plan.
• c. If we cut spending enough to get renewed approval of DEP, cash
problem diminishes.
You can take a look at the powerpoint presentation yourself here

Did I mention that cutting $1.165 million would mean cutting about 6% of their budget?

Did I mention that they have lost students every year for more than ten years?

Did I mention that they now have high school grades of fewer than 75 students?

Willow Run did such a good job of restructuring over this past year. If they had restructured three or four years ago, instead of sticking their head in the sand then, maybe they would still be viable now. I do believe that their school board is much more focused, and willing to work together, then it was a few years ago.

It's my opinion (I know, most of what I write is opinion, but I really want to call this out now as opinion) that they shouldn't be talking about transportation consolidation with Ypsilanti. First of all, that is not going to solve Willow Run's problems, and second of all, the two weakest districts in the county coming together is just going to weaken both of them.

Of the two districts, I've always had more faith that Ypsilanti can pull through than Willow Run. Historically Ypsilanti has dealt with their financial issues more quickly than Willow Run. (See my last post for an example--I have not yet heard of any layoffs in Willow Run.) Second of all, Ypsilanti has a real downtown, and many community boosters.  In other words, although both districts are financially weak, Ypsilanti is by far the stronger district.

It's my opinion that Ypsilanti should not be partnering with Willow Run for transportation. Ypsilanti should look for a stronger partner.

It's my opinion that the pro-active thing for Willow Run to do would be to close their district down--whether by splitting it into pieces or by merging with another district. To me, it would make more sense to split it into pieces--it's surrounded by other districts--Van Buren, Lincoln, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Plymouth-Canton.

But--I haven't seen Willow Run be truly proactive yet, so I don't hold out much hope for them to take my advice. To wit, action on the finances wasn't even on the agenda for January 5th, 2012. In fact, in print, I have not yet seen any of their board members even float the idea of closing the district. I'm hoping that in 2012, their school board will be proactive.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
(Emily Dickinson)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ypsilanti Mid-Year Teacher Layoffs

I was very sad to hear that several Ypsilanti teachers were given layoff notices last week. The precipitating event is that based on count day, Ypsilanti lost about 118 students, or about 3% of their student population. The Ypsilanti schools are currently operating under a deficit elimination plan from the state, and there's a lot of pressure to act quickly to avoid the possibility of an emergency financial manager. I haven't seen the numbers, but I assume the bulk of the losses were at the high school level if that is where the cuts are targeted.

On, commenter ironyinthesky2 writes,

4.5 teachers, but 3 of those are coming from RCTC, where 3 programs (one full) are being shut down.
I don't know if it's true that RCTC is being targeted. In fact, I don't know anything about the Regional Career Technical Center except what I read on the Ypsilanti schools web site. RCTC has auto, building trades, and food programs, and is available to high school students from Ypsilanti, Lincoln, and Willow Run.

Does this mean that class sizes will get even larger?

Ypsilanti now has quite a few high school options, so it's understandable that they would have an "Exploring High School Options" event on 1/24/12 at 6:30 p.m. at Ypsilanti High School.

Anyway, the layoffs are not a done deal until the board votes on this. The Ypsilanti school board meets Monday 1/23/12 at 7 p.m. at Ypsilanti High School.

Friday, January 20, 2012

This Week's Observations: Banned Books, Technology, and Charters

Plymouth-Canton Schools (which actually do draw a small number of students from Washtenaw County have banned two books from an AP English class. The books? Toni Morrison's Beloved, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and which the New York Times called ""the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years." The second book is Graham Swift's Waterland, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
This whole kerfuffle came about because a couple of parents complained about the books. It's unclear to me whether proper procedure was followed. Did the interim superintendent follow procedure? Is there procedure? (I don't know the details though, so I can't say for sure about that. I understand that some of the school board members are very conservative.) In any case. . . speculation aside. . . the ACLU of Michigan has written the district a letter. According to the ACLU's press release,
the ACLU of Michigan reminded the district that although schools have broad discretion in setting curriculum, the U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly that banning books because they offend some runs afoul of the First Amendment. While parents have the right to guide their own child’s education, that right does not extend to restricting other students’ educational opportunities. (Emphasis added.)
In addition, I'll just note the tremendous irony of banning books in a high school AP class because of "mature subjects." I mean, AP classes are supposed to be like college. College is all about reading books that challenge us! In case you're wondering about the reasons that we shouldn't be trying to create colleges out of high schools, I think you just saw one reason in action--it makes some parents too uncomfortable.

Christine Stead, Ann Arbor school board member, has started a blog of her own. I'm planning to link to it in my blogroll, and you should take a minute to check it out at She tells me she's new at blogging, so if you have ideas of subjects that you hope she will cover, or reflections about what she writes, feel free to let her know in the comments. (Bloggers love comments. :)  By the way, do I think it is competition? No. I'm a parent, not a school board member. It's more like have several restaurants on the same street--the more the merrier--that way you can choose if you want Chinese or Italian. There are, by the way, a gazillion education blogs out in the world. I've only linked to a few of them on my blogroll.

The Ann Arbor schools have joined the twitterverse! Follow them at @a2schools. Follow Saline schools at @salineschools. Follow Dexter schools at @dexterschools. And follow Ypsilanti schools at @ypsischools. Saline schools also have several sub-twitter feeds (the high school principal, the athletics department, etc.) Oh, and follow me at @schoolsmuse.

Some interesting things have been going on at the first charter school I ever profiled, Ann Arbor Learning Community, and they illuminate some of the issues around charter schools, even for schools that are locally organized, non-profit charters. has an article, Parents fight for reinstatement of teacher at Ann Arbor Learning Community, which describes how a well-liked teacher was put on administrative leave. In examining this issue, let's leave aside the question of whether the administrative leave was the right decision--I don't know anything about their personnel matters.
The first thing that struck me has to do with teacher turnover--something that is often mentioned in critiques of charter schools. Not only has the "dean" of the school, Ticheal Jones, just left (in the middle of the school year!) for "personal" reasons, but according to the article, "Parents say the teacher’s forced absence is the third instance of this nature that the school has experienced in less than a year."
The second thing that struck me has to do with control of hiring and firing. In a typical public school district, the ultimate authority for hiring and firing would reside with the superintendent's office, but there would generally be a human resources department. And really, what is more important than the personnel you have teaching and working with the students? Here, it turns out, the hiring and firing is done by a group called Michigan Educational Personnel Services.

Carlie Lockwood, the vice president of human resources for MEP stressed that MEP works very closely with the dean, who is responsible for conducting teacher evaluations. But wait. . . didn't the dean just leave? I'm not sure why, or where that leaves things. There is an interim dean, and he was also recruited by MEP.

According to the article,
While AALC is a self-managed charter school, it contracts with Brighton-based MEP for its teachers and staff, said Malverne Winborne, director of Eastern Michigan University’s Charter Schools Office.
“MEP hires and places the employees,” Winborne said.
EMU is the authorizer of AALC, a K-8 school that was founded in 1997.
This is a typical arrangement for charter schools, particularly smaller charter schools--the schools hire someone else to do the hiring and firing of teachers (the teachers aren't really working for AALC, they are working for MEP) because the school (board) doesn't believe they have the skills or resources to do the hiring themselves. And by outsourcing this critical role, the school board gives up much of the local control that they ostensibly wanted in the first place.

And what does EMU's Charter Schools Office have to say about this? Not much, at least not publicly.

As much as we complain about the "transparency" issues with our local public district school boards, next to the charter schools they look crystal clear, and the charter school boards' transparency looks very muddy. In fact, that may be because as it turns out, those local charter school boards have precious little power or control. At least, right now, that's the way it seems to me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Three Years

January 18, 2012 is the three-year anniversary of my first blog post.
Although I don't think I paid attention to this factoid at the time, I started this blog two days before Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration.  It's a good thing that I don't have to run for re-election!

Where does the time go?

Have some virtual cake with me!

If you like this blog, consider subscribing via RSS feed (link on the right). 
You could also follow my twitter feed (you will find me @schoolsmuse)
You could also share individual posts with friends.

And if you want to be a guest blogger, I'm open to the possibility.


I've been thinking about the people I'm proud of (besides, obviously, my family).

I wrote about a few of them the other day. I'm proud of the teachers who are plaintiffs in the ACLU suit about domestic partner benefits.
And I'm also proud of the Wisconsin activists who have collected about 1,000,000 signatures in the Recall Scott Walker campaign--and I'm proud of all the people who signed the petitions.

And then it occurred to me that if they were willing to put their names out there, maybe I should be willing to put my name out here--something I wasn't willing to do when I started.

So, I asked my family, and they had some funny things to say about the idea, which basically referenced the ways in which this blog is a blockbuster. . . a bestseller. . .  a breakout success. In other words. . . would anyone who didn't already know even notice? Put differently, they thought it was fine.

So--it's a little bit anti-climactic, but I'm Ruth Kraut, and I approved this message.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day and the 99%

When a people are mired in oppression, they realize deliverance only when they have accumulated the power to enforce change. The powerful never lose opportunities-they remain available to them. They powerless, on the other hand, never experience opportunity-it is always arriving at a later time.  (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., June 11, 1967, emphasis added)
I came across these three interesting articles today--two of them from my twitter feed. (I love twitter for the interesting links that come my way.)

My Kids Are Too Good for Public School, and Other Messages I Wish Wealthy Parents Wouldn’t Telegraph

And yes, Governor Snyder does send his kids to private school. I'm so glad you asked!

Martin Luther King Jr. and Education Reform: What Would He Say About the Attack on Teacher Unions and Class Size?

(I'll give you three guesses. Nah, don't guess. Read the article.) 

Among the Wealthiest 1 Percent, Many Variations

 This is an interesting New York Times article about perspectives on taxation from the top 1%, and you might like the interactive sidebar where you can determine--based on your income--on "what percent" you are.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

MLK Day and the Emergency Manager Law

By now you may have heard that a group of African-American pastors is organizing a protest at Rick Snyder's house on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And you probably know that Rick Snyder lives in Washtenaw County.

What you might not understand is this--

Why schedule this protest on MLK Day? What does the emergency financial manager law have to do with civil rights or racial justice? 

In this article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, Brit Satchwell (the head of the Ann Arbor teachers' union) explains the relationship very well:
Satchwell urged everyone to advocate for the repeal of PA 4, and pointed out that the state is considering sending emergency managers to Detroit and Inkster. “If those two cities fall,” Satchwell pointed out, “over half of the African-Americans in this state will have lost their vote and be under authoritarian rule – no mayor, no county commissioners, no school board … If you’re an American this has to bother you.” (emphasis added)
In an interview with Chris Savage of Eclectablog and Blogging for Michigan, Pastor David Bullock (one of the event organizers) said it was even worse than that.
“If Detroit gets an Emergency Manager,” he told me, “over 75% of the African American elected officials in Michigan will be essentially useless” as the Emergency Manager pushes them out of the job they were elected to do.
So. . . If you are looking for something to do. . . If you want to put your principles into action. . . if you want to have a real discussion with your kids about what, why, and when it is worth protesting. . . and (naturally) if your schedule permits. . . I would encourage you to show up at this protest. (And yes, DO bring your kids.)

NOTE: Snyder lives off of Geddes Road, and there's no parking on the road. You can park at Washtenaw Community College, and buses will take you to the protest. The march starts at 4 p.m. Get there a little bit early to get a shuttle.

For more information, you can visit the event's facebook page.

P.S. I know that a lot of people say, "Well what was Snyder supposed to do? The old emergency manager law was a mess!" Just remember that somebody can correctly identify a problem, and yet not find the right solution. In my opinion, that's what happened here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Occupy the Suggestion Box!

I get questions about the schools all the time, and often they are of the "why" or "when" variety.

In the last week, for instance, I was asked:

1. Why is my child forced to take an online class for 10th grade English because the school messed up her schedule and then there was no room for her in a regular class? (Note: this student did not want to take this class online.)  [I don't know.]

2. When is kindergarten roundup? Have the times been posted yet? [Not to my knowledge. But Community and Skyline orientations have been posted.]

3. Why do the Skyline announcements come out in an email at 7 p.m., when many events are already over? [I don't know. But my guess is that nobody has thought of adjusting the time the automated email goes out to an earlier time of day.]

4. Why is it so hard to figure out how to access the school board packets? [I don't know. Somebody thought it was a good idea to embed it in the web site's google calendar, but how would you guess you need to click "details" to find it.]

And for all of these, if there was an easy communications link. . . a way to reach somebody. . . but who? how?

School board member Christine Stead pointed out to me that there is now a virtual "budget suggestions box" on the Ann Arbor schools home page. You're forgiven if you hadn't noticed it. I'm not sure how long it's been there, but I know that I hadn't noticed it despite looking at the home page several times.

It's tucked away on the left side, as can be seen in this screen shot.

And really, it's a good start.

DO share your budget ideas! (They say they will post suggestions and responses on the web site, but I don't see them yet.)

But let's not stop there.

What we need is a real suggestion box--virtual, and maybe the old-fashioned kind in the schools as well.
We need a place for questions, and suggestions that might improve things even if they don't save money.

So what I suggest is this:

OCCUPY that suggestion box. 
USE that suggestion box. 
INFILTRATE that suggestion box.
SHARE that suggestion box. 

Use it for all kinds of questions and ideas--not just about the budget.
(But just to be perfectly clear--do use it for your budget ideas!)

And if you want a direct response, leave your name and email address, and ask for a response.

Here is a link to the suggestion form.

My first suggestion? To create a multi-topic suggestions box!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Save the Golden Frog! A View of the Ann Arbor Open Multicultural Fair

Sure, there's lots of hard-hitting news to be written, but I thought I'd start off, post-winter break, with a look back at the last week before winter break, and a peek at my favorite school event of the year. My favorite school event of the year is Ann Arbor Open's Multicultural Fair.
What do I like about this event?
To begin with, it is the culmination of several weeks of project-based learning for each and every class in the school.
Second, it begins with a gigantic potluck that enhances the sense of community.
Third, it is a fundraiser for the library. Families are asked to bring a potluck dish and a $10 donation, but nobody is turned away.  A lot of people come, and the event raises a couple thousand dollars for the Ann Arbor Open library every year.
And last--but not least--I really appreciate the timing of the event. Since the Multicultural Fair takes place the week before break, the entire focus of the school that last week is on the Multicultural Fair exhibits. That's right. The focus is not on Christmas. As a Jewish parent, I find this to be a huge relief--even when the fair itself takes place on one of the nights of Chanukah. (After all, there are eight nights of Chanukah.) I've been in other schools just before Christmas and the Christmas fever is a little bit overwhelming.
So this year I took some pictures (with a cell phone). They are not going to win any awards, but they will give you some of the flavor.

Some of the first and second graders were studying Malawi, and they built a village.

All of the seventh and eighth graders worked together on a spectacular exhibit around Africa.
During the event, the students took turns drumming. I did take pictures of them drumming, but since I didn't ask permission to use their photos, the only one I'm posting is where everybody is blurry:). On the far left is Papa Tito, who is an African drummer by training and who came in and worked with the students.

Here you can see the baobab tree that some students built.

I have to say that the Africa exhibit made me realize how terrible my African geography is. I do have a basic grasp of the larger countries, and I did know a lot about a few of the countries. But had I heard of Sao Tome and Principe? No, I had not. Did I know that the Second Congo War has been the deadliest war since World War II? It sounded familiar, but I couldn't tell you the reasons for the conflict. Yes, I did learn some things from the students' exhibits.

 The third and fourth graders studying Panama decided to do something about the demise of the golden frogs of Panama. There were students sitting at a table collecting donations. I took a picture of the sign.

I made a donation and I got one of these really cute bookmarks in return. Do you notice the pink tongue? And I love how that is a "corner" bookmark.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I'm Proud. . .

I'm proud of the brave teachers who are plaintiffs in the American Civil Liberties Union suit over the ban on domestic partner benefits. The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit today asking the court to strike down a new Michigan law that bans many public entities from providing health care insurance to the domestic partners of their employees.

Two of the plaintiffs are teachers, and they are both teachers in the Ann Arbor public schools. I'm so proud of Peter Ways (Ann Arbor Open teacher) and Theresa Bassett (Slauson Middle School teacher)--and their families. (The other plaintiffs work for the City of Kalamazoo and Ingham County.)

Ways is quoted as saying, in the ACLU press release,
This is not about politics or ideology for us,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher whose partner will lose his benefits. “This is about real families who are facing the real consequences of discriminatory laws. Just like our colleagues whose families will continue to receive health insurance, we want to care for our families.”
Kary Moss, the ACLU of Michigan executive director, said, “Although justified by the Governor as a cost-cutting measure, the numbers don’t hold up,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “The reality is that the legislation was intended to disenfranchise LGBT families."

According to the ACLU web site, 

Peter Ways and Joe Breakey of Ann Arbor have been in a committed relationship for more than 20 years and have a nine-year-old daughter. Peter works for Ann Arbor Public Schools. The district extends insurance coverage to his partner Joe who is self-employed as a licensed therapist. Being self-employed gives Joe the flexibility to be home for their daughter after school. Due to the added expense that comparable individual coverage will cost, Peter and Joe are considering a move back to Washington so that Peter could take a job that provides family benefits.

Theresa Bassett and Carol Kennedy of Ann Arbor have been in a committed relationship for 25 years and have six kids ranging in age from six to 20 years old. Theresa has worked for the Ann Arbor Public Schools for 28 years and currently teaches 6th grade and 8th grade math. Theresa’s employer extends health insurance coverage to Carol who is self-employed as a daycare provider. Because of Carol’s family history of breast cancer, individual comprehensive insurance coverage will be extremely expensive. In fact, Carol estimates that purchasing comprehensive coverage on her own will cost the family an additional $800 a month, putting considerable pressure on their finances, which are already strained by a mortgage and the cost of sending two children to college.

If you see these teachers, tell them you're proud of them too.
And if you have some change to spare, support the ACLU's work by donating now.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 High School Sports Summary

There's a very nice summary of the important prep sports (high school sports) stories of 2011 by reporter Pete Cummingham. The story that I missed was this one:

Whitmore Lake cross country coach Larry Bostwick was ousted for soliciting teen sex online.

Read the rest of the stories here.

A Wish for 2012: To Be More Like Finland (in Education)

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to an article from Nathan Bomey's Why does Michigan have 77,000 unfilled job openings?

What interested her--(and me!) was this comment from Carrie Houtman, a senior analyst at Dow, that was right on the money:
Houtman said universities need to design training programs that meet industry needs and public schools need to prioritize “project-based learning.” At the elementary level, that means book reports, science projects and field trips, she said.
“The reality is these experiences get fewer and farther between as the student progresses, and this shouldn’t be the case,” she said.
I have many years of experience with students at Ann Arbor Open, which has always focused a lot of time on project-based learning, and my observation--comparing my oldest child's experience and my youngest child's experience--is that we've been getting less and less of it lately. More and more testing, less and less hands-on learning. And that's everywhere, not just at Ann Arbor Open. It's not the teachers' fault. It's the fault of testing, which a) takes time from the day--lots and lots of time and b) prioritizes certain types of learning (not the project-based type) over others.

Rick Snyder, your own business experts say that's the wrong way to go about things.

The Atlantic has an article, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success (by Anu Partunen), which says:
Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore.
 And then...
Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model -- long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization -- Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.
And then...

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? . . .

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."
This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

And last but definitely not least...

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.
Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools. As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."
For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.. . . As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.
Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.
In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

Read the rest of this article here.

As for us, I wish for 2012:
Less testing, more project-based learning
More emphasis on equity, and less corporate, for-profit, fake educational reform
More support of teachers, more support of students
More parents speaking out.

I realize that I'm not likely to get my wishes, but hey--a woman can dream, right? 

Welcome to the world, 2012!