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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ten Things to Know About the MEAP

I had a conversation last year with a dear friend about the MEAP, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program. It was clear to me that he fundamentally didn't understand how the MEAP is different from other tests, or why that matters. In case any of you are not MEAP experts, I just thought I would offer a few observations about what makes the MEAP different.

1. The MEAP is really multiple tests. . . reading, writing, math, science, social studies.

2. It might not be obvious, but while the reading test is just that--a reading test--the other tests are really also reading tests. You might think of them as "reading +" tests. The reason I say that is that in order to answer the questions on, for instance, the social studies MEAP, you have to be able to read them. So if you don't read well, guess what? You're not likely to test very well on any of the other sections either, even if you are really good at doing experimental science or can identify the 500 most common insects in Michigan.

3. The MEAP is not like other tests, where a teacher gives the test, figures out that half of the class didn't really get the concept of a rhombus, and re-teaches the concept.  No. The test comes at the beginning of the year, the results come at the end of the year, and they're never used for anything except. . .

4. Except evaluating schools. If enough kids don't take the tests. . . if the kids who take the tests don't do well. . . if a subset of kids don't do well, then guess what? The school doesn't make "Adequate Yearly Progress," which basically feels to the schools like they are getting a big fat F. Note my commentary about Skyline's MEAP tests last year.

5. It is this "high stakes" nature of the test that leads teachers to do a lot of pre-testing and test preparation. And the stakes are not high for the students, the way that a final exam worth 40% of a semester-long class might be. No--the stakes are high for the schools. 

6. The test compares year-to-year results for a school. What I mean is that the test is comparing last year's fourth graders to this year's fourth graders, not last year's third graders to this year's fourth graders. If a student moves from School A to School B, the results do not follow the student. And if a new student comes into a school, the state's evaluation still assumes the student has been there for the last several years. That is not at all helpful for schools that have high turnover in students because of poverty and unstable households. Incidentally, the MEAP was neither designed for nor (scientifically) validated for use this way, and yet that is how it gets used. 

7. One of my biggest objections to the MEAP is that it in no way benefits the students. Why should students spend a ton of time on something that doesn't benefit them?

8. The question has been raised to me: is there a way to opt out of the MEAP? In the past, many parents did (so obviously it should be possible). However, districts have gotten their backs up about this for one reason. And again, it's not something that benefits students. If enough students don't take the MEAP (and I don't mean, if enough students don't do well, I mean if they don't take it) then the school can fail to make "adequate yearly progress" solely on that basis. In other words, even if every student who takes the MEAP is proficient or better, if 10% of the students didn't take the MEAP, then the school could fail to "pass." See how it's not about the students?

9. Well, my friend said, "Why don't people who don't want their children to take the test just pull them out of school for the test?" That turns out to not be so easy. The MEAP has multiple parts (different parts in different grades), and is given during a three-week (or so) window. Most parents don't want to keep their kids out of school for three weeks; most parents aren't able to do so either (things like work tend to interfere). If you are able to take your kids out of school for three weeks, you might be a parent who is inclined toward home schooling, in which case you would not have to subject your child to the MEAP anyway.

10. So can you opt out? I believe so, despite what your district may say. Realize, however, that if you do so you may be putting your school in an uncomfortable position (see #7 above). I have one friend who has successfully (recently) opted out her child from the MEAP, and if I get permission I will share her family's technique--and I have heard of a couple of other techniques as well.  (If you have had your own success story, and are willing to share it, send me an email at rlk234 (at)

In the meantime, I will leave you with this excerpt from our state's Revised School Code:
380.10 Rights of parents and legal guardians; duties of public schools. Sec. 10.
It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil's parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil's intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.

History: Add. 1995, Act 289, Eff. July 1, 1996
Popular Name: Act 451 (Emphasis added)
I will also leave you with this thought: the volume of tests in our schools increases every year; the high-stakes nature of the tests increases every year. It's time for us to say no to this. If you are an Ann Arbor parent, teacher, or taxpayer, I invite you to sign our petition to stop overtesting in our schools, and I invite you to join our facebook page as well!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 Washtenaw County Education-Related Election Information

I'm rather busy with the petition drive, but the election is coming and we do need to vote.

Therefore, I am going to try to put up all of the school board candidate websites in the county that I can find, as well as articles that compare and contrast the candidates, and candidate forums. This will take a few days and I will just keep adding things, so check back early and often!

Ann Arbor (Two candidates, one position available)

Dale Leslie's web site
Deb Mexicotte's web site description of the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum
Ann Arbor Chronicle description of the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum: this article also has links to the background questionnaires they filled out for LWV, as well as links to the Community TV (CTN) broadcast.

Chelsea (Four candidates, two positions available)

Laura Bush (no, not that Laura Bush)
Dana Emmert
Kathy Keinath
Steve Olsen

Chelsea Update Part 1 of Meet the School Board Candidates
Chelsea Update Part 2 of Meet the School Board Candidates
Chelsea Update Part 3 of Meet the School Board Candidates
Chelsea Standard article on the Chelsea School Board Candidates

Dexter (Two candidates for the two full terms; two candidates for the one partial term)

Larry Cobler (unopposed)
Bonnie Everdeen (unopposed)

Chris Gordon (for partial term)
Barbara Read (for partial term)

Dexter Leader election preview

Lincoln (Five candidates, two positions)

Meet the Lincoln School Board Candidates Thursday October 25th at 6:30 PM in Community Center at Brick Elementary.

Bradley R. Labadie's facebook page
Connie Marie Newlon
Thomas Rollins
Joseph Washburn
Yoline Williams

Ypsilanti Courier article about the five candidates (The headline says four, but the article identifies all five.)

Lincoln also has two school-related millages on the ballot

One is a millage to continue operating funding for the district, and the other is a very small (.1) millage that funds community education, youth recreation, and senior programs. article about the millages
Ypsilanti Courier article about the millages

Manchester (three candidates, two positions)

Melanie Nau
Sheryl Purol
Marlene Wagner

Milan (two candidates, two positions)

John L. Leacher
Kerri A. Moccio

Milan News-Leader article about the candidates

Saline (four candidates, two positions)

Saline High School student group STRIVE (Students Reinvesting in a Valuable Education) is hosting a school board candidates' forum, Thursday October 25th, Saline Middle School auditorium. 6:30 p.m. [Side note: I think it is so cool that a student group decided to host a forum?]
Diane L. Friese
Paul Hynek
Karen Delhey
Smita Nagpal

Saline Patch article
Saline Patch: Friese and Nagpal run together
Saline Patch: Delhey and Hynek run together

Saline Reporter article on the four candidates

Saline Post article: Would the candidates support a bond proposal? 
Saline Post article: Why do you want to serve?
Saline Post article: Guiding beliefs and principles
Saline Post article: Foundation for Saline Area Schools director?
Saline Post article: Board/Administration Relations?

Whitmore Lake (two candidates, two positions)

Kenneth James Dignan III
Bob Henry

Willow Run (one candidate, one position)

Mark Wilde

Ypsilanti Courier article about Ypsilanti, Willow Run election

Ypsilanti Courier article about what happens to the school board if consolidation passes

Ypsilanti (two candidates, two positions)

D’Real Ryan Graham
Daniel L. Raglin

Ypsilanti Courier article about Ypsilanti, Willow Run election

Ypsilanti Courier article about what happens to the school board if consolidation passes

Washtenaw Community College (three candidates, two positions)

Richard Landau (for six-year term)
Diana McKnight Morton (for six-year term)
William Hazen Figg (for six-year term)

Patrick McLean (unopposed for partial term)

 State Board of Education (two eight-year terms)

Todd A. Courser
Melanie A. Kurdys
Michelle Fecteau
Lupe Ramos-Montigny
Andy LeCureaux
Karen Adams
U.S. Taxpayers
Gail M. Graeser
U.S. Taxpayers
Candace R. Caveny
Dwain Reynolds III

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Was on the Radio about our Petition Drive!

Tonight, I was on the radio! I was talking about our petition and the overtesting of students.

Read it here--it doesn't look like there is a "listen" option.

Sign the petition here.

I was also quoted in about the same issue!

I'm not sure I've ever been on the radio before--if so, it has been a long time. And I actually didn't even get to hear myself. I think I missed it when I ran in to pick up my son from a friend's house. Which maybe is just as well, I probably sounded dorky. (If you did hear it, tell me what you think.)

As I said to the radio reporter, "We don't need students spending time learning how to take standardized tests. We need them to spend time learning how to talk to radio reporters!" [Yes, he laughed.]

While we're on the subject of the radio, we have two local radio stations that I really appreciate for their focus on issues like this. Guess what? Both of them are having their pledge weeks this week.

Share your love for their support of local and state news. Get a tax deducation. Make your pledge to:

WUOM, Michigan Radio

WEMU, Eastern Michigan Radio

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ann Arbor: Stop Overtesting Our Kids!

Ann Arbor: There's a new group in town. 

This is a group dedicated to reducing the amount of standardized testing and "assessments" that are going on throughout the year.
This is a group that believes there is a better way to spend the school day than testing, testing, testing.
This is a group that is organizing parents, teachers, students and taxpayers to oppose the amount of testing going on.
I'm a proud member of this group,  

Ann Arbor STOP: Stop overTesting Our Pupils!


We'll be organizing; sharing strategies for opting out of tests; addressing research; and working to convince the school board and school administration to change their testing programs.

And no, we didn't plan it this way, but it's a telling coincidence that the night that we unveiled our new petition and facebook page was also the night before the MEAPs started in Ann Arbor.

If you live in the Ann Arbor school district, and you agree with us that there is too much testing in the school district, taking away valuable time from instruction, then consider doing the following:

1. Sign our petition, Please Stop Overtesting Our Kids!

Here is how the petition begins:

Dear Ann Arbor Board of Education, and the AAPS,
We, the undersigned, object to the over-use of standardized testing and assessments in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.The ever-increasing focus on standardized testing is hurting our kids and diminishing their education.Standardized testing has been shown to reflect one thing quite successfully: socioeconomic status. We do not feel that repeated measuring of socioeconomic status is a good use of classroom time. We feel there are too many tests, with too much overlap, cutting dramatically into classroom time that should be used for learning...

You will find the petition here:

2. Join the facebook group, Ann Arbor: Stop Overtesting! 


There you will find some sample opt-out letters and lots of discussion.

Do we think we'll change things overnight? No. It may take some time. Don't be discouraged--we're in it for the long haul. 

Here's a little inspiration: 

Step By Step

Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

--From the preamble to the constitution
     of the United Mineworkers of America

Sunday, October 7, 2012

On the Ballot: The Willow Run/Ypsilanti Possible Consolidation

I'm going to try to do an occasional series in the next month on issues that will be on the ballot in November.

First up: the Willow Run/Ypsilanti schools possible consolidation.

I knew that the possible consolidation would be on the ballot, but it was only last week that I found out that there will actually be two ballot questions regarding the consolidation. Question #1 asks whether the school districts should consolidate. Question #2 asks for funding for the consolidation.

I asked Scott Menzel, the WISD Superintendent, a few questions about the votes. He offered to do an interview with me, and I may take him up on it. I'm just providing the most basic information right now. I'd like to collect your questions about the potential consolidation--just put them in the comments. (Here's an example of mine: What happens to the collective bargaining agreements? How will teachers be assigned to schools? Which schools will be used?)

My first question to Scott Menzel was: Where would I get the actual language of the ballot questions? 

And lo, it was provided:

Obviously, if both of these proposals pass, consolidation happens. If they both fail, consolidation doesn't happen. If the consolidation fails but the millage passes (unlikely!), the millage does not take effect--that is even written into the ballot language.  But what happens if the consolidation passes but the millage fails? (I could definitely see this happening.)

Per Scott: "If consolidation is approved and the operating millage is not, the consolidation will take place and the new district will need to revisit the millage in the future (the State expects that each district levies 18 mills on non-homestead parcels as that value is calculated into the foundation grant)."

In other words, the new district will have to go back to the voters and ask, again and again, for funding, until it is approved. The district can't exist without funding.

So then, I asked, how does this compare to what current Ypsilanti and Willow Run families are paying now for their millage? What will the per-pupil funding be if consolidation happens? (Currently, Ypsilanti per-pupil funding is $7513/student and Willow Run per-pupil funding $7310/student.)

Answer: If both parts pass, the millage rates in the two districts will remain the same as they currently are--there will be no change.

But there is a change in the per-pupil funding. That is, there will be a blended payment "that would equate to the same amount as if each district were still receiving their separate foundation grant."

See the problem here? Ypsilanti is the bigger district, and their per-pupil funding is higher--and averaging the payments could reduce the amount of money that the consolidated district gets. 

Scott Menzel did say this: "We have raised this issue as a concern to the chair of the school aid committee and hope to get language in the school aid budget this year that would give a newly consolidated district the higher foundation grant for all students."

All well and good, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that. It's my understanding that some school districts up north previously tried to convince the legislature that consolidating districts should get the higher foundation grant, and they got turned down. If the legislature does approve it, then I think you could expect a rush of consolidations. Why wouldn't everyone in the county want to consolidate with Ann Arbor, which has a per-pupil payment of over $9,000? And that would cost the state some real money. . .

Send me your questions about the consolidation--just put them in the comments!  And there are several meetings about the consolidation coming up (posted in the top right-hand corner of the blog).