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.