Sunday, March 31, 2013

Five Pieces to Read Over Spring Break

It's spring break, and I thought I would give you a few things to read!

1. Local superintendent (well, sort of local) Rod Rock from Clarkston got featured in Diane Ravitch's blog for an awesome letter he wrote to his staff. It starts out, 

I know that I write often to you and I hope that you will tolerate one more rambling (at least until the next one). Also, I may have said this already to you, so I apologize if this is a repeat.
When my daughter, Haley, who is now a freshman at MSU, was in third grade, she stood one evening in our tiny, outdated kitchen, leaning against the wall next to the refrigerator and cried. When we asked her what was the matter, she said that she was certain she wouldn’t do very well on the MEAP test the next day and that she didn’t want to let anyone down.
At that moment, I said to her that no test will ever define her. I said that she is Haley Rock and that she is talented in many ways. No matter how she performs on any test at any point in her life, I stated, she will always be Haley Rock and possess many talents. No test, person, or relationship, I reiterated, will ever define who she is or what she is capable of becoming... 
And it gets better from there. Read the whole thing here.  And as Diane Ravitch says, "Don't you wish there were more like him?"

2. Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda has said that he will not discipline the teachers who worked to oppose the MAP testing. 

Seattle schools supt. Jose Banda has backed off on his promise to discipline teachers who boycotted the MAP test and has additionally agreed to scale back the use of the MPA with students. The teachers at Seattle's Garfield High School had boycotted the administration of the MPA, saying it was a waste of money and "child abuse."
In a message to all school staff, Banda stated that the "community" had had a discussion. By changing around those staff who were required to administer the test and using some other doubletalk, Banda was able to continue supporting the MAP. But buried down in his memo a recounting of an unprecedented amount of teacher resistance and parent boycott. "We did see a higher than usual number of high school students and families who opted out of taking the test," Banda wrote. "Districtwide, a total of 459 parents and 133 students opted-out. Of these opt-outs, 265 parents (58% of total) were from two district high schools (Garfield and Ingraham), and 129 students (97% of total) were from one high school (Garfield)..."
Read the rest at

What is particularly interesting to me about this is that the parents and students were opting out of the test. Ann Arbor parents have been asking for the right to opt out of the NWEA MAP test, which is in no way state mandated. For a few more days you can still sign the "Stop Overtesting" petition.

3. Title IX blog has a post about transgender students at women's college. There is some very important information buried in there: 

I am, however, concerned about the role Title IX has played in public debate generally about single-sex colleges and transgender students.  Here in Northampton, our local paper ran a story this week in which the President of Mount Holyoke College, a women's college in neighboring Amherst, said that admitting someone who is not legally female would remove women's colleges from the Title IX exception for single sex colleges:  “We’re constrained by the law,” Pasquerella said. “If someone is not legally female, we can’t admit them and keep our federal funding.”This is not correct, for two reason.  First, Title IX does not contain an exception for single-sex colleges...
Another reason why it's wrong to suggest that Title IX prevents Smith or Mount Holyoke from considering transgender students from admissions is that the statute does not incorporate a legal definition of sex.  Therefore, even if the statute did require Smith to "traditionally and continually" admit women, the law does not prevent Smith from considering transgender women to be women.  In fact, the law in other, analogous contexts may be bending toward a definition of sex that would require such inclusion.  
Read the full post here.

4. Cheating around high stakes testing in Atlanta made the New York Times this week. If you haven't already read this article, I recommend you take the time. And then ask yourself, what would make teachers and superintendents cheat like this? Oh, wait, I gave you a clue. . . high stakes. . . we need to keep saying NO to high stakes testing. 

5. Last, but not least, there is a terrific list from Nancy Flanagan of "Ten Things Legislators Should Know and Do When Making Education Policy." There is a lot of good advice there--and not just for legislators, actually, but for parents, teachers, and taxpayers as well. 

She starts out,

A couple of days ago, I had coffee with Betsy Coffia, who ran last November--unsuccessfully--for a seat representing the 104th district in the Michigan House of Representatives. Coffia and I had never met, although we have several mutual friends. We found each other on-line, in a Facebook argument over Detroit Public Schools' Emergency Manager. She liked what I had to say, and suggested we meet.
It was a great conversation. Coffia plans to run again, and asked lots of questions: What did I think about cyber-schools? Charter chains? The value of early childhood programs? Well-known education non-profits in Michigan? Although she worked for a time in a Head Start program, she admitted there were lots of theories and ideas in education policy she found murky.
Then she said this: Wouldn't it be great if there were a guide for legislators to making useful education policy? So here it is:

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ann Arbor: Important Budget Forums

You know the space on this blog is valuable, right? Maybe not in terms of money but in terms of those intangibles, like prestige and idealism.

And I'm telling you this because there are some really important budget meetings coming up. They are "informal" meetings with school board members, and I really hope you will show up for at least one of them! And that's why I'm using this important space with these budget announcements!

They start tomorrow night, Thursday, March 28th, and they go into April. The AAPS budget for next year has a big deficit--the schools need your help and ideas.

I had a conversation with Christine Stead (school board member), and I asked her--I had some ideas from the past that I don't think got much attention, should I still come?  She said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Yes, and bring those ideas back as well."  So I will! Plus I might bring a few new ideas too.

Note that there are meeting times in the evening, during the day, and even on a Saturday! They are trying to accommodate different schedules, and that's a good thing. Please don't pass up this opportunity.

From the School Board: 

Community Dialogue Meetings on the AAPS Budget
The Board of Education of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) invites members of the community to participate in one or more meetings on the AAPS financial situation.  The District must cut  $17-20 million from the general operating budget in the coming year due primarily to the decisions of state policymakers.  The Board would like community input to develop the principles we should follow in making cuts, and strategies to lessen the need for such cuts in the future.
The Board of Education is encouraging two-way communication with the community and board members will be in attendance to engage in conversation.   The format is such that open discussion will occur.  The content of each meeting will depend on the interests and questions of the attendees.  We anticipate discussion will include topics such as:
  • Potential measures to increase AAPS resources
  • Ideas for improved practices in AAPS
  • Discussion of respective value of various programs and services
  • Ideas for measures that would lessen the negative consequences of budget cuts
Community Dialogue Meeting Schedule:

March 28, Thursday, 7-9 pm
Clague Middle School, Media Center
2616 Nixon Road, Ann Arbor
Board members expected to attend:  Andy Thomas, Glenn Nelson, Deb Mexicotte

April 9, Tuesday, 7-9 pm
Slauson Middle School, Media Center
1019 West Washington, Ann Arbor
Board members expected to attend:  Christine Stead, Glenn Nelson, Deb Mexicotte

April 16, Tuesday, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
Downtown Ann Arbor Public Library – 4th Floor Conference Room (A)
343 South Fifth Avenue, Ann Arbor
Board members expected to attend:  Irene Patalan, Glenn Nelson, Deb Mexicotte

April 20, Saturday, 9-11 am
Scarlett Middle School, Media Center
3300 Lorraine Street, Ann Arbor
Board members expected to attend:  Susan Baskett, Glenn Nelson, Deb Mexicotte

Additional community forums will be scheduled in early May to discuss the draft AAPS budget for 2013-2014.

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Cool Is This?/My Head Is Going to Explode

How Cool Is This?

So it's here. School Report News Day 2013 is upon us - and about 1,000 schools are due to take part, making the news that matters to them.
They will appear across BBC News - on TV, radio and online and on regional news programmes.
The project is now in its seventh year, and is bigger than ever. School reporters are in Canterbury to witness the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and we also return to the Olympic Park in London to examine the legacy from the 2012 games. And there's more - the BBC School Report website has full details of the range of topics being covered.
It is all a far cry from when we began. A small team started School Report with the aim of giving teenagers the opportunity to make the news they thought mattered. Giving them hours of BBC airtime was nerve-wracking, but it proved to be a success.
Wouldn't it be great to have something like this across the nation in the US?

My Head Is Going to Explode

And then on the other hand there is this, from a Michigan Parents for Schools facebook post

Just wanted to call everyone's attention to something new: Rep. Lisa Lyons, who gave us the EAA bill, recently introduced a bill which would exempt real estate property from the State Education Property Tax. That would remove something like $1.8 BILLION from the School Aid Fund. (It would mean that no one, homeowner or business, would pay the 6 mill SET on their real property.)
What, exactly, is the agenda here? We need to make this known. The bill has been assigned to the Tax Policy committee, and we'll be watching closely. [Ed. Note: This is HB 4452]

 Yup. My head might explode. Who thinks of these things, and why? Do they hate kids?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What the #@$%^ Is Going On In Lansing?

The Michigan EAA Bill (HB 4369) is likely to be voted on Thursday for its third reading.

According to Michigan Parents for Schools:

Well, it's back. Last Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Lisa Lyons introduced the new version of the "EAA bill" - that is, a bill which would make the Educational Achievement Authority a permanent state school district and expand its authority greatly. Rep. Lyons (R-Alto), who also chairs the House Education committee, then scheduled hearings on the bill (HB 4369) for the following day. As a result, those of us who hoped to speak up about the bill had less than 24 hours to read the 60 page document and draft our reactions.

It was quickly voted out of committee.

Again, from Michigan Parents for Schools:
Dear Friends,

These are strange times. Many lawmakers insist on seeing the world as a set of simple, black and white, problems. The answers are clear, and those who know the right thing to do should brook no opposition. If you disagree with me, you simply cannot have anything of value to say. And there is never, ever, any reason for me to consider the possibility that I might be wrong.

Last Wednesday afternoon, we saw some incredible examples of this kind of thinking as the House Education Committee took final testimony and then voted on the EAA expansion bill (HB 4369). Citizens, educators, experts and even other legislators who spoke in opposition to the bill were treated by some committee members with what can only be called contempt. . .

If you want to see what I mean, check out some of the hearing videos that MIPFS is making available to the public - in particular those from this past Wednesday. 
 Video links: (March 6th) (March 13th)

Pay special attention to the question and answer period after the testimony, if there were any questions at all. See what the dialog on this issue is like...

What's still wrong with the bill?

  • Everyone admits that what the EAA is trying to do inside its schools is a kind of experiment. They are using untried techniques and strategies heavily based on technology. Will it work? Who knows? But the bill makes the EAA a statewide authority before we have even seen one year's worth of evidence that what they do is working. And once they get the go-ahead, the EAA never has to prove to anyone that their system works.
  • The whole system depends on sweeping in and taking over an individual school, tossing out all the people who work there. This kind of "restructuring" has a lousy record in the rest of the country. Instead, we could provide leadership and support to districts and schools, helping them make long-term changes and getting buy-in from students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community. Most successful school turnarounds have used this kind of strategy instead. Why doesn't Michigan?
  • Finally, there's a lot of stuff in the bill that has absolutely nothing to do with helping struggling schools. Recall that the original version of this bill was linked to other proposals to permit storefront, selective admission, and other questionable types of charter schools and to dismantle funding for community governed public schools. Those proposals haven't gone away, and you can still see their footprints in the current EAA bill.

    For example: why does the bill explicitly allow school districts to hand over the running of their schools to some other body, including the EAA? Why does the EAA need to be able to create new charter schools in districts run by emergency managers? Why does the EAA need authority to create a new charter school in a 2-mile radius of a struggling school they are supposed to be helping? How do these things help kids who are struggling? The answer is that these provisions are really designed to position the EAA to chip away at all local, community governed schools.

And that's the point. While I am sure that many of our lawmakers have the best of intentions, the EAA isn't really designed to help struggling schools and districts turn around. It's designed to slowly dismantle our local public schools under cover of "helping the kids." It's designed to be a place where schools from local districts go and never return. (The EAA Chancellor himself said that EAA schools which "graduate" might simply "go off on their own." What does that mean?) It's designed to break the bonds between school and community.

The EAA is designed, in short, to help take education out of the hands of local communities. As parents, apparently we know what's best for our children until we step into the voting booth. We will become consumers, rather than owners, choosing from among options others are pleased to offer, hoping to find a place for our children. Our communities, who have built and nurtured our public schools for generations, will have no choices at all.

According to Save Michigan's Public Schools, in today's debate on the floor, common sense amendments were voted down. For instance:
Rep. Lipton proposed two amendments, including one that would give the EAA expansion a five-year sunset. This would require an evaluation of the EAA system before it could be continued after five years. Republicans refuse to adopt it.

Rep. Brinks' amendment would put the EAA under the authority of the elected state Board of Education. Republicans refuse to adopt it. Brinks also proposed the EAA be subject to the Freedom of Information Act - that too has been voted down. WHY?!

That's the bad news. So please--contact your representatives! And not just your representatives, but all of them!

Michigan Parents for Schools action link

Now this next bit of news I find rather interesting (h/t to Jack Panitch)--I'm not sure this is so bad--I'm also not sure it is good--but the news item comes from Gongwer News Service: 
Committee Considers Repealing Common Core Standards
The bill (HB 4276*), introduced by Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills), would rescind the State Board of Education's 2010 decision to adopt the Common Core, an initiative coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Those supporting the bill said Common Core does not give parents and teachers in the state enough input about the curriculum.
Emmett McGroarty also said the curriculum was largely pushed by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation and two other private foundations that came up with the standards without input from parents or local teachers...
Mr. McMillin said if the state does not like a standard within the Common Core, it will not be able to get out of it...
Melanie Kurdys, a local schools advocate and former local school board member, said if the state were to repeal Common Core, it would then stick with the curriculum as it is now and create a committee with content experts, local teachers and parents, and come up with a state-led curriculum.
"So we remain in the control of our destiny," said Ms. Kurdys, an unsuccessful Republican candidate in 2012 for the State Board of Education.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pat Green's Salary Issue, Redux

Christine Stead, AAPS School Board member, recently commented about the Superintendent's salary on her blog, saying, "This topic seems to generate more interest than any of the way more important topics surrounding education right now."  

And, of course, she is right. There are many (many, many) more important topics related to education than the paltry just-under 1/3 of a million dollars Pat Green gets in compensation.

I know, you think I'm using the word "paltry" facetiously. I am not. Do you realize that the Ann Arbor Public Schools budget comes in between 185 and 190 million dollars?! Baby, it's big!

Given its size, not only is Pat Green's salary pretty much a drop in the bucket, but it also provides something of an explanation as to why the board wanted someone with excellent skills, and thought they might need to offer a lot of money to do so. [Do I think they were right? About the skills part, yes; about the money part, no--but I don't blame them for trying to get the right person.]

And as I've said before, it's not Pat Green's fault that she gets paid well. Can anyone out there seriously tell me that if they were offered a job that paid $245,000 that they would say to the person offering them the job, "Oh no, that's too much. I think you should pay me a lot less?" Give me a break. I don't think so. So that's on the school board. 

I'm not sure who negotiated the language in Pat Green's contract that says, 

"The district shall pay the Superintendent a base annual salary of $245,000 (the “Initial Salary”). The District retains the sole right to adjust the base annual salary of the Superintendent during the term of this Contract; provided, however, the District will not decrease the Superintendent’s base annual salary during the term of this Contract."  (emphasis added)
But--it takes two to tango, so I guess that the school board--or their attorney--is also responsible for that.

I felt a little bit differently, too, after hearing from a recently-retired staff person who explained to me the school board's rationale this way. She said to me, "I loved Todd Roberts. I thought he was fantastic. And I thought, if paying someone a lot of money is what is required to get someone who is really great and will stay around, that will be worth it." [Attentive readers may remember that Todd Roberts left Ann Arbor Public Schools for greener pastures--a job in North Carolina that offered more money and was believed to carry a whole lot less stress.]

So is Pat Green that person--the one who is really great? And why, nearly two years after Pat Green joined the district,  are people still focused on a salary that the school board gave her, as if she is the villain for accepting it?

I've been thinking about some things that maybe are, and maybe are not, related.

Consider, for one, the rumor that Pat Green only works 4 days a week. I heard that rumor nearly a year ago. I've read the recent refutation. And to some extent, I believe the refutation. That's because I can't imagine anyone in her position not answering emails and phone calls on evenings and weekends. (She's not alone in this. So, too, do lots of teachers, lots of engineers, lots of businesspeople, social workers, doctors, nurses, hairdressers, etc.) If you are asking, "Does Pat Green work at least 40 hours a week?" I am quite sure the answer is yes. But the rumor that I heard had a slightly different twist. It was that staff people had been told not to schedule any meetings after noon on Fridays, so she could leave early. That, quite honestly, seems more believable to me. It would be easy to put that rumor to rest, and the solution does not involve sending your Director of Communications to refute the rumor for you (which is what she did). The solution involves being in the schools, or deliberately scheduling visible meetings, on Friday afternoons. When, after all, school is in session. 

Consider, for another, the ongoing grumpiness about one of Pat Green's early decisions--to put up a glass wall between her office and the rest of the Balas building. What kind of signal do you think that sent? An commenter named local described it well on 5/10/2012: 

Anyone been to Balas lately, can't get in to see Dr. Green. She had a glass wall built to her office to keep out the same people she works for, the residents of Ann Arbor. Her inability to connect with the people of Ann Arbor is becoming more evident every day.

What about the fact that Pat Green is rarely seen in school buildings or at school events? For instance, last year, when the district proposed closing Roberto Clemente, one of the complaints from teachers and families was that she had only visited the school once or twice. This is a complaint that persists. She doesn't go to many weekend events (Friday night football games, for example)--perhaps because she is often out of the district. That, however, doesn't explain the lack of visits to schools during the school day.

In other words, I think some disgruntlement persists around her pay, not because of the amount, but because people don't see her doing the "public persona" part of her job.

So her salary has remained a flash point, even though it's a drop in the budget bucket. Therefore, it's nice that Pat Green recently said that she will take a pay cut because "as a leader of the school district, you don't ask people to take compensation cuts and not do it yourself."

It's especially nice because, the way that I understand her contract, the school board could not impose cuts if they wanted to (which they could do for some of the other non-union positions) because of the contract language. In the article in which she discloses that she plans to take a pay cut, Pat Green wouldn't talk about what the amount would be yet, and I understand that too. The budget is very much in draft form, union negotiations are going on, etcetera.

But I seriously doubt that she was thinking about a 20% pay cut, which is essentially what the administrators' union just proposed. (They proposed a $50,000 pay cut.) My breath was taken away by that proposal. 

And then I thought about what the recently-retired administrator had said to me, and I thought, "Wow. The majority of the members of the administrators' union (mostly principals) really must not respect or support Pat Green." Because the administrators understand that $50,000 is only .026% of the budget. If they liked her work, they would find value in spending that $50,000 on her salary. They might still propose a pay cut, but it would more than likely be proportional to the cuts teachers and/or administrators will take. 

What is it people say? Actions speak louder than words.

Back in the day. . . Labor Day Weekend 2011, when Pat Green started, I wrote that we should not judge her on her salary. I wrote: 
Do judge Patricia Green on her body of work.
To you, Dr. Green, I have these words of advice: Really listen to your constituents--a lot of the time they know more of what is going on than you will.  Show up at meetings and be present in the community Putting up videos and sending deputies to community meetings is no substitute for your presence
Prescient, eh? [No, I'm not Canadian. But I do like the "eh."]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

State Board of Ed Roadshow Gives (A Lot of) Food for Thought

As I noted the other day, I was unable to be at the recent forum at Pioneer High School with the State Board of Education. Luckily, my friend Julie Roth was able to go, and she consented to write a blog post. Thanks Julie!

Initial thoughts on the State Board of Education Forum meeting, by a non-teacher, non-educator, non-union Parent Stakeholder:

I am a bit sad that I feel I must first mention my non-teacher status to somehow ensure my credibility to have an opinion that is not automatically suspect or dismissed as self-interest.  Be that as it may…..

I am grateful to the state BOE, the hosting Washtenaw Alliance for Education, and all the many state legislators, superintendents, teachers, school board members, parents, students and others who PACKED the “little theater” at Pioneer High School.   There is certainly plenty of community interest in the future of our public schools.  No apathy here!

As a parent, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the Michigan State Board of Education.  I never really knew who or what they were.  Never directed any of my concerns to them, instead sending comments to my legislators, local school board members, and governor.  But now that I know a bit more about their role, that will certainly change.

Two of the four panelists were state BOE members:  President John Austin (D-Ann Arbor), and member Eileen Weiser (R-Ann Arbor).  The other two were Prof. David Arsen (MSU expert on school finance) and Peter Ruddell (Lansing attorney and primary author of the Oxford Foundation Report).   The meeting started with comments from each of the panelists regarding the report (formally called the Public Education Finance Act) and the proposals for changing our education system that are included in the bill going through the House.  David Arsen authored a strong critique of the report here, and it is definitely worth reading. 

The visions for the future of Michigan’s public education system were all over the map.  What I gathered is that the bill currently being discussed would do several things, including “un-bundling” the funding that the state provides to the school for each student.  If the student took 3 classes at Pioneer, 2 online classes provided from an online “school,” a class at a local charter, and one at a community college, then the funding for that student would be split between all those places.  How a student would actually do all of this is not clear.  I seemed to get the impression that most if not all classes taken outside a student’s primary school would be taken by distance, or online.  In addition, all these “schools” (I put this in quotes, because it seems anything now could be called a “school”) could have money taken away from them depending on how the kids did on standardized tests.

Austin and Arsen brought up a number of concerns.  If funding were scattered around all over the place, then what exactly would that do to our comprehensive community schools that provide so much more than the math and reading that are on the assessments?  What about sports, arts, science labs, community building, after school clubs?  What would be our schools’ ability to continue to provide these things that are not tested as “core” subjects, but are an integral part of our kids’ education?  Arsen talked a good deal about our disastrous funding nose-dive, and he has a great, very clear graph of what has happened to school funding over the past decade in the document I linked above.  He also cited research that showed a direct correlation between funding / resources and student achievement. 

Weiser acknowledged that studies show only 10% of students learn well in an online environment.  She then talked about the idea of “blended learning” which involves face-to-face instructors PLUS online instruction.  But this made no sense to me, because the online learning being discussed here (taking classes at lots of different places) could never be with instructors physically present, because students can’t get from one district to another and another all day.  So here we are, talking about “innovation” that would be a bad idea for 90% of our kids? 

Another concept that Arsen discussed was the fact that the current system of charters and other “alternatives” incentivizes these schools to attract those students who will do best on standardized tests.  That is, the students with high socioeconomic levels, involved parents, no learning disorders, no IEPs, no disabilities…..  you get the picture.  Since the standardized tests are so high-stakes, and funding is tied to so-called “achievement” (defined, as far as I can tell, as doing well on tests), then schools profit from culling from the herd.  And when successfully done, this leaves those kids with greater needs and fewer resources in schools that have increasingly fewer funds (as more kids leave), creating a horrible, inequitable death-spiral of sorts.  You really should read his critique – it covers these things much more thoroughly than I can.

I was concerned about Weiser’s inability to follow her own arguments to conclusion.  She would conflate some idea about “community center” schools where kids all go and get what they need, including online courses, activities, physical instruction, etc….  open longer hours and more days…..  With talk about splitting up funding to all these other entities, so how exactly is that school supposed to provide all this rich activity?

I was also concerned about Ruddells’ comments.  He skirted difficult questions from the audience – those for which he had no good answers, arguably because his position on these issues seems to come from a place of running some sort of business model of schools.  The problem with this is fundamental, in my opinion…..  The bottom line of business is profit.  The bottom line of schools is learning.  They are not, and will never be, the same thing.  His answers were brief, at times dismissive, and he used humor to deflect.  But I’m not laughing.

It’s worth noting that this entire piece of legislation was written by lawyers.  Lawyers!  With no input whatsoever from actual educators.  How telling! 

Christine Stead
After the initial comments by the panelists, the audience was given about 45 minutes for questions.  I’d estimate Christine Stead, the AAPS Board of Education member charged with manning the microphone, was able to get to something like 10% of those who had questions.  The energy in the room was palpable, with moments of spontaneous applause, and at other times anger and frustration.    The questions ranged from the EAA to preschool funding, and I can’t recall all of them here.

I was unable to ask my questions in person.  So since I have been given this blog as an outlet, I will leave you with them, unanswered:

Q:  If the sole primary measure of “outcomes” in all these non-bundled online learning experiences and charter “schools” and other school-like entities (including the public schools) is the scores on the standardized tests, then what is to prevent the logical trajectory of our educational system becoming one big Kaplan Test Prep class?  Kaplan is allegedly really good at making good test-takers.  Why don’t we all just send our kids there, and call it an education?

Q:  Part of the success of community based public schools is due to active, engaged, invested parents.  No, not all of them are so engaged, but the ones that are benefit ALL the kids, via Boosters and PTOs and fundraising and helping in classrooms and helping with after school clubs and all the zillions of ways that we engage in our schools.  If our kids are scattered all over the place, what happens to that investment?  Where do we focus our energies?  Or, in the currently favored business-speak – we are free labor!  Don’t dismiss the importance of that so readily.

Q:  Standardized tests are touted as a great way to evaluate kids.  But really, they are being used to evaluate teachers.  And sample sizes are TOO SMALL and NOT randomized.  Anyone with any understanding of statistics knows that this renders them useless in evaluating individual teachers.  In addition, I have talked to teachers, parents, principals and union members who all agree with me on this:  Everyone knows who the problem teachers are.  Just ASK.  Ask the parents, the other teachers, the principal, and the kids.  And when 3 of the 4 groups agree there is a problem, then intervene.  STOP using standardized tests to dismantle our education system in the name of teacher evaluation.

Q:  Final Question.  At what point, exactly, do we acknowledge that we are, quite simply, unable to provide adequate education NOT due to horrible teachers or horrible schools, but due to inadequate funding as well as all the issues that come with poverty and lack of privilege?  We CANNOT deliver a fabulous, innovative, engaging, project-based education to every student with ever-increasing class sizes, decreased classroom aides, reduction in arts and enrichment, and ever-increasing focus on teaching to the never-ending tests.   We need to change our priorities.  ALL our students deserve what the kids of our legislators get in their private schools.  And when they get it, believe it or not, it’s good for ALL of us.

This whole thing just feels like a big, convoluted, thinly-veiled scheme designed to take yet more funding away from the public schools, in the ultimate effort to dismantle public education, one step at a time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Should High Schools Be "College" or Be for Getting Ready for College?

I met Georgina Hickey at the recent Ypsilanti Community Schools meeting that I went to--yes, the one where they chose the Superintendent Triumvirate. (In fact, while there I took a picture of a sign a woman was holding. You can see the picture here.) Although Georgina was holding the sign, she was not in the photo.

In any case, Georgina has just written this letter, reproduced below, to the Ypsilanti Community Schools board. I asked her if I could reproduce this because she raises an issue I've been thinking about a lot. On the one hand, new state rules about credits mean that it's hard for even motivated students to graduate from high school early, and on the other hand we appear to be very focused on getting kids to "do" college before they are even out of high school. Anyway, I could say more, but I'll just say that Georgina's letter raises some really important issues, not just for the Ypsilanti Community Schools but for all schools, and I'm hoping for some discussion about these issues in the comments. (Please?)

Dear Board and Superintendents,
I would like to express my concern about the "college credit or career credentials" pillar that somehow became one of the goals of our new district (I participated in all the public meetings this summer and it was never clear to me who decided these were the pillars). 
I won't speak to career credentials as I have no experience in that area and what I have heard others discussing, such as the culinary arts program, seem realistic and well tended. I can speak to college credit, however, as I am a professor and I regularly teach freshmen and transfers from community colleges.
My recollection from YPSD's strategic planning a 2-3 years ago is that a surprising number of Ypsi students say they intend to go to college (good) but most don't make it through to a degree or even more than one year (bad). This is the disconnect where we need more focused attention: kids think college is an option for them, but for some reason it is not workable once they get there. I strongly advocate we work on excellent college preparation: particularly math and writing skills for the academic realm. Based on what I see at UM-Dearbon students also need more help information literacy and mastering independent learning skills.
My thinking is that college should be a viable option for all of our students who want it. Getting students a handful of credits here or there before they graduate HS is a distraction from the larger issue: making sure they are ready for college with the academic, emotional, and social skills they will need to pursue a degree.
I would far rather promise parents that, should they and their kids want it, this district can prepare the kids to succeed in college. That is a higher and harder goal but more meaningful than 6 credits they will never use because they weren't actually prepared to take a wide range of college classes on a college campus.
I have raised this issue repeatedly since the first time I saw this pillar. It came up again at the forum on Saturday but since no one from this advisory group was there, I wanted to be sure the message got through to you. I know that WCC is helping with this initiative, which is wonderful, but you should know that transfers from community colleges often struggle with the rigors of a four year institution. I hope that at the very least we can include Eastern and other 4-year colleges in the discussion. I think they have much to tell us about where and why students struggle. I'm happy to connect you to college staff and faculty at UM-Dearborn who can help with this.
Thank you,Georgina Hickey

Friday, March 8, 2013

Yesterday's EAA Hearing Available on Video

I am so very grateful for all of the work of Michigan Parents for Schools.

Yesterday, Steve Norton taped* the House EAA Expansion Bill hearings (HB 4369), and I really appreciate it!

Steve  has set up a Vimeo page and you can watch and hear Rustem, Covington, and others.

Find it here.

*Sticklers for correct technological wording may feel I shouldn't use the words "taped" and "video." Too bad.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Give the State Board of Education A Piece of Your Mind

Jack Panitch, former Angell PTO President and Tappan parent, sent me a note that he had sent out to some other people, along with some attachments. I'm putting the attachments first--they are background reading if you want them.

I think Jack's key point is--turnout is important. Invite your friends. And this is not just an Ann Arbor event. These are members of the STATE Board of Education--so invite your friends from other school districts as well.

In any case, these are the attachments Jack sent.

State Board of Education Comments on Finance Proposals

Michigan Parents for Schools: What Do We Want From Our Schools?

Professor Arsen Letter to Governor Snyder

Ruddell Rebuttal on "Resisting School Reform"

Traverse City Record Eagle: Report on a Forum

And here is Jack Panitch's note, which he originally wrote to PTO leaders. I think he is very kind to the so-called "reformers" who are trying to destroy public education. I'm not so interested in "balanced" discussions but, in some ways, that is an important reason to be there--to learn what the "other side" has to say.

March 11, 2013, 6:00 p.m.  Little Theater at Pioneer High
Two weeks ago, I wrote to ask you to urge your members to fill Pioneer High School’s Little Theater on the evening of March 11th, for the State Board of Education’s forum on the future of K-12 education and funding reform in Michigan.  This is an opportunity to show Lansing that large numbers of informed voters are watching their actions and that we care about our kids’ futures.  It is also an opportunity to fall flat on our face if attendance is thin.
Here’s a little more about the format and content.  A balanced panel will discuss the most important current topics targeted for legislation in the near term.  A neutral moderator will lead a discussion of the issues among four key panelists.  The panel is constituted to present a balanced view: State Board of Education President John Austin and MSU Professor David Arsen will represent the viewpoint of education professionals.  State Board of Education member Eileen Weiser and Attorney Peter Ruddell will represent the viewpoint of Governor Snyder and the Republican Party.  Following the panel discussion, the floor will be opened up to questions from the audience. . . 
John Austin
But first, let’s set the scene.  Here’s what has happened to public education in Michigan over the past several years and what will continue to happen if nothing changes: whether their intentions are noble or otherwise, the radical reformers in the legislature and working with the Governor, individuals who are listening to lobbyists and special interest groups and not really listening to what parents want for their childrens’ future, are attempting to supplant actual experts in the field of public education to apply unregulated, free market forces that may work for the delivery of energy or other public utilities but have no arguable application to the way we need our children to be raised in a democratic society.  The result will be the diminished capacity of our public schools and the diminishment of our community: parents of means, including those who can obtain the financing to do so will quickly move their children into private schools containing all of the enrichment programs they expect their children to be exposed to, and the children of parents without means will be left in a diminished educational environment with wholly inadequate funding.   The proposals are radical and extremely harmful both to public education and to our democracy.  Their promoters would argue that the established education community is vested in maintaining the “status quo” and that a conservative approach no longer serves the interests of Michigan’s students.  Legitimate leaders in the field of public education see it differently.
The materials you should review to determine for yourselves whether you agree with this characterization and to form questions in advance are included with this email.  They consist of a letter panelist David Arsen recently wrote to Governor Snyder about a proposal the Governor requested to replace the current system for funding public education, as well as an article panelist Peter Ruddell, one of the proposal’s drafters, penned in rebuttal to Professor Arsen’s letter.  Also included is the State Board of Education’s analysis of the same proposal.  To amplify the discussion beyond the panel, I must refer you to a study conducted by the Center for Michigan: this study is an attempt to determine what it is that Michigan parents actually want, and you can find it here (I don’t include it, because the file size is much too large): I am also throwing in a piece drafted by Steve Norton, Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools, Tappan PTO officer and Treasurer of the Ann Arbor PTO Council.  Finally, there is a short article from the Traverse City Record-Eagle reporting on a recent State Board of Education forum. (Emphases added.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Key Forum in Ann Arbor March 11th 6-8 p.m.

Michigan State Board of Education
and Washtenaw Alliance for Education
present a community forum...

The Future of 
Public Education in Michigan
Monday, March 11, 2013
6-8 pm
Pioneer High School - Little Theater
601 W. Stadium, Ann Arbor

Please join a panel of four experts in an 
open discussion of educational issues, 
policies, and proposed reforms:

John Austin
President, State Board of Education 

Eileen Weiser 
Member, State Board of Education

David Arsen
Professor of Educational Administration, MSU

Peter Ruddell
Attorney, Weiner Associates 
Michigan Education Finance Team

RSVPs are not necessary, but would be appreciated 
for planning purposes:

Amy Osinski - 734-994-2232

By the way. . . I don't think I will be able to make it to this. . . if you are interested in going and writing a blog post about this (it is fine to have it be informed by your personal perspective), please let me know via email: rlk234 [at]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Education Achievement Authority Legislation is Back

From Steven Norton, Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools:

FLASH: As you can see . . . they have re-introduced the EAA legislation.

And here is the link to the bill:

Tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. the House Education Committee will begin to receive testimony on House Bill 4369 - a bill that would codify the controversial Education Achievement Authority (EAA). Committee convenes in room 519 of the House Office Building and is open to the public. I encourage you to attend and be engaged on this important issue.

The bill was just made available today, and they are holding hearings on it tomorrow [Wednesday March 6th] afternoon at 2:30pm. (That meeting is in addition to the regular one at 10:30am on the 3rd floor of the HOB, which will be about early childhood education.) It will be important to show that Michigan parents are still opposed to this measure, which makes takeovers the preferred method of "helping" struggling schools.
This time, a number of members of the House Education Committee are listed as co-sponsors, so they may be better able to line up votes. This bill is essentially identical to the last-ditch compromise offered in December (the H-6 sub of HB 6004, for those keeping track). Key features: limits EAA to running 50 schools, limits chartering authority to a 2-mile radius around EAA takeover schools or in districts with an emergency manager. There are also clearer standards for entry into, and exit from, the EAA's care. They also retained language that would require the chancellor to create a school advisory panel if at least 25 parents requested it.

We're still opposed to this bill, even in its current form. 1) State takeover is not an effective, long-term strategy for improving struggling schools - successful efforts involve working with the local community and existing staff to make lasting change. 2) The bill still smacks of empire-building: why on earth would the EAA need to be able to create brand new charter schools less than 2 miles from a school they are supposedly trying to "help"? 3) All their protestations to the contrary, the technology-driven techniques they are using in the classroom are experimental and have not been shown to work anywhere. We should not be experimenting with the most vulnerable children without giving families a full understanding of what might or might not work. In particular, we should not be turning the EAA into a state-wide "recovery" school district with a one-semester track record.

Please come and make your concerns clear tomorrow!

We're still opposed to this bill, even in its current form. 1) State takeover is not an effective, long-term strategy for improving struggling schools - successful efforts involve working with the local community and existing staff to make lasting change. 2) The bill still smacks of empire-building: why on earth would the EAA need to be able to create brand new charter schools less than 2 miles from a school they are supposedly trying to "help"? 3) All their protestations to the contrary, the technology-driven techniques they are using in the classroom are experimental and have not been shown to work anywhere. We should not be experimenting with the most vulnerable children without giving families a full understanding of what might or might not work. In particular, we should not be turning the EAA into a state-wide "recovery" school district with a one-semester track record.
Please come and make your concerns clear tomorrow!