Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Month's Wordle of Posts: Blogathon 2013 Ends

It's the last day of the blogathon. This wordle comes from the titles of my 31 (!!) June posts. [I only needed to post one a day, but there was one day where I posted twice.] You can make your own wordle at

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Candidates: Let the Research Begin!

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board has announced the semifinalist candidates for the next Superintendent. There are six candidates. Three have local ties (Benjamin Edmonson, Current AAPS Principal; Sandra Harris, who retired from Oak Park schools but used to be director of personnel for AAPS; and Henry Hastings, who is a lecturer at EMU). The three others come from Colorado Springs, Colorado (Jeanice Kerr Swift); New York/New Jersey (Brian Osborne) and Hershey, Pennsylvania (Richard Faidley).

I very much like that three of the candidates are local and are sure to understand Michigan politics these days. I was unhappy to see a clear connection between Brian Osborne and the Broad Foundation/SUPES Academy (more on the SUPES Academy in the coming days.)

I am working with a group of parents to do our own background research on the candidates. If you have information about the candidates (did you work with one of the local candidates? Have a friend in Colorado Springs who is active in the schools?) please send me information directly at As I have mentioned before, I think I made a mistake last time in not getting as involved as I can in the search. We are not going to keep this information--good, bad, or indifferent--to ourselves. We will share our findings, probably in this space and through as many other venues as possible.

And that starts with reading the candidates' biographies and resumes. Everybody should read them.

Ann Arbor Chronicle article, with resumes and timeline for hiring.

From the Chronicle:

Interview questions are being developed and will be discussed by board members at a study session on Tuesday, July 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Balas administration building, 2555 S. State St.
Translation: Send the questions you would like to have asked to the Board of Education at before July 2nd at 5:30 p.m. [Ideas: Process skills? Budgeting? Approach to Testing? Communication? Working with parents? Working with teachers? Sense of humor?  Feelings about best ways to evaluate teachers? Approaches to special education?] 

Semi-finalist interviews will be held at the Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk, on Monday, July 8 from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Tuesday, July 9 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Interview times on those dates are tentative, according to AAPS.)
 I wish I could go to these, but I will be at work. If you are interested in being "ears" for the rest of us, please let me know. article, with resumes.

Christine Stead blog post.

Friday, June 28, 2013

An Interview. . . With Myself!

I thought that I would do an interview of myself for a change of pace. You can interview me too, and if you have a question for me you can put it in the comments.

Oh. And I have removed the form from Haiku Monday, and in its place I have put in the haikus that others contributed. Take a look, they are good!

1. What do you think of the blogathon so far? 

June is winding down, and it's a good thing, because the Blogathon pace of writing a post a day is wearing me down, and has meant a lot of late nights for me! It's been a good experience, and I've liked being part of a "blogging community." Also I have enjoyed having some guest posters. 

What is amazing to me is that some of the things I thought for sure I would get to, I haven't gotten to write about yet. For instance, I have some great material for a couple of posts on the NWEA MAP test--and now I don't think I'll get to them until mid-July!

2. This is kind of a "housekeeping" question. Google Reader is going away July 1. Have you figured out what you are using in its place, and/or how people can keep getting your blog?

For the feeds that I get, I have started using, and I really like it. There are some other alternatives as well. One of them is called The Old Reader and is like an older version of Google Reader. I haven't tried that, but you might. One other option that may be attractive to you (especially once I stop writing a post a day!)--you can sign up to get this blog emailed to you, there is a spot in the right-hand column to do that.

I think this also means that I can't get google alerts in an RSS feed anymore, and I'm not sure what I'll do about them. Suggestions are welcome! [My google alerts are set to really exciting topics, like Ann Arbor Public Schools and WISD...]

2. What was the most exciting education news in the last 24 hours?

In Michigan, it was undoubtedly the next step in the ACLU of Michigan's Highland Park "right to read" case. Nearly a year ago the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit alleging the state had failed to live up to its constitutional obligation to provide kids with an education. You might remember that Highland Park has an emergency manager now. [Said emergency manager was recently caught throwing out valuable black history books and said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Well, we're not in the business of running libraries." Yeah, because what business would schools have with school libraries??????"] Anyway--now the state was trying to say that because there was an emergency manager, the state had "broad immunity" from being sued. The judge didn't buy that, and the lawsuit will proceed. Read the ACLU press release here.

3. How do you feel about what the Ann Arbor Board of Education did yesterday?

I was very disappointed that the board turned away a lot of money ($500,000) for advertising revenue (billboards) and chose to dip even further (almost $400,000) into the fund balance, all the while keeping the ill-advised "tuition" 7th hour and having lots of staffing cuts. 

I am very very curious about who the semi-finalists for the superintendent position will be. 

And I really liked something that Christine Stead wrote on her blog: "I hope we will support reinstating domestic partner benefits as a result of the Supreme Court rulings today.  Snyder’s law banning partner benefits is unconstitutional."

4. Something that relates to your high school experience happened today. Tell us about it.

There is a new NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver. Adam and I went to high school together, and in fact had many classes together. We had a monthly newspaper at school, and at one point Adam was the boys' sports editor, and I was the girls' sports editor. So if he is the NBA Commissioner, why aren't I the WNBA Commissioner? 

That's all for now. . . You can send me your questions in the comments if you want, and I will try to answer them. [Yes, I like comments.]

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guest Post: Meeting the Challenge of Adult Language Learning

My friend and fellow blogger Joan Lambert Bailey is doing the 2013 Blogathon from Japan! Once upon a time, however, she lived in Ann Arbor. Joan blogs about Japanese farmers and farmers' markets (read her blog, Japan Farmers Markets!), and I've been curious about how she communicates with the farmers. I myself am quite interested in language learning, so as part of a guest post swap, I asked her to address how she is teaching herself Japanese. About the pictures she has shared, Joan says, "I think the pictures pretty much capture why I study Japanese as much as I do." --Ruth

As an adult I've studied three languages seriously: Kazakh, Russian, and Japanese. Each time I was living in a particular country for an extended period of time and needed the language to go about my daily life. Kazakh and Russian came about when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, living in a small city in the flattest landscape I've ever known. Three months of intensive language training followed by tw
o years of daily life and regular meetings with a tutor brought me to an intermediate level.
Talking with Mita-san in his greenhouse during a visit to his farm in Okayama.

Now I live in Tokyo where, technically, I don't need to speak Japanese. English is everywhere - on signs, in shops, on the trains - and I could get by. But that's not really my style, and for the things I'm really interested in learning more about - food, farming, and farmer's markets - I need Japanese to ask questions and understand the answers. It is gratifying, but to say that it is challenging is an understatement.

As a writer I spend most of my time in English, alone, in front of a computer or a notebook. There are emails to editors, to friends and family. There are articles, blogs, and books to read. There are household chores, although by the small herd of dust bunnies that just went by it would be fair to say I'm starting to make excuses. Throw in weekday mornings spent at a local organic farm, a few private classes, sleep, and talking to my husband and I'm out of hours in the day. Where is the time to study?

As an adult learner I have responsibilities that I did not have as a student. There is no one, save my tutor and occasionally my husband, to hold my linguistic feet to the fire. I have to consciously choose to study, to make the time. If I don't a window that I've managed to pry open a tiny bit these last four years will slam shut.

Japanese, though, is hard, really hard. There are three alphabets - Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana - that are used all the time and often simultaneously. It looks nothing like anything I know except something, perhaps, from a Rorshach test. Japanese people often don't use a subject, because it's understood from context. Verbs come at the end of sentences. There are polite and casual forms. I could go on, but it would continue to sound like the whining that it is.

Here are my strategies to keep that window open, to keep studying.

Anki - A spaced repetition software (SRS) program, Anki only shows me the flashcards I need to see when I need to see them. Interview questions, new vocabulary from my tutor, the farmers, and the farmers markets all get added in for eventual study. Daily study on my iPhone while I ride the train, go for walks to buy vegetables or working out means I build and reinforce my language abilities. [Ed. Note: Anki is useful for any project for which you need flashcards, not just Japanese language.]

A Tutor - I meet with a tutor once a week to read, to talk, to practice. Our rule is no English unless I'm bleeding or there's a really big earthquake. (The latter, of course, is a distinct possibility.) The investment in time and money is worth every yen I give her and then some. She corrects me, challenges my abilities, and makes learning fun. I practice interviews with her, record them, and listen to them over and over. Plus, she makes a mean edamame sweet bread.

After hours bonding with Mita-san during a visit to his farm in Okayama.
From left to right, Mita-san, Joan Bailey, Richard Bailey.
Podcasts - My weekday mornings are spent working at a local organic farm weeding, harvesting, planting, and helping get vegetables ready for sale that day. If I end up working alone as the three of us go about our respective duties. I plug one ear into the podcast of a Tokyo radio show while I work. At first, I catch just a few things here and there. Multiple listens later I'm understanding the conversation, learning new vocabulary, getting the drift of syntax and pronunciation.

Farmer's Markets - Tokyo has six major western-style farmers markets and I make a point of visiting at least one every weekend. If we're on a trip, I search out a market in that city. It is excellent speaking and listening practice, and there is nothing so wonderful as a chat with a farmer to motivate me to study more.

Farm Stays - Farmers often invite me to visit their farms when I meet them at the markets. Sometimes i take them up on their offer because they seem super nice or something they're doing, like natural farming, is of particular interest. (Usually it's both.) The stays end up being anywhere from three days to a full week. I'm exhausted at the end of each day as much from farming as I am from wrapping my brain around Japanese. And maybe from the homemade sake, too, but that's another story.

What are your strategies as an adult learner? I'm all ears!

Joan Lambert Bailey currently lives in Tokyo where she is lucky enough to get her hands dirty on a local organic farm. You can follow her adventures in food and farming at

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Educating About Sports and Title IX: In Video

I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the Title IX blog.

It appears that they have been working on a TED Ed lesson about Title IX, including a video and discussion questions.

The video by itself is a good education--watch it now!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ypsilanti Community School Employee Benefits are Highly Skewed

About three weeks ago, I wrote about reports that I had heard, that while Ypsilanti Community Schools teachers and administrators would be offered both individual and family insurance, support staff would not be offered family insurance.

At the time, I wrote this:

3. At a recent combined board meeting, the head of the (I heard this second-hand, but I think it was the) Ypsilanti custodians' union got up to speak to the board about the fact that they had been told that while teachers and administrators would get benefits for themselves and their families, the custodians, paraprofessionals, office staff, and more would only be able to get individual health benefits. 
According to a May 13, 2013 report in the Ypsilanti Courier, 

Menzel said the most significant difference [in terms of employment] is that some employees won't be eligible for spousal or family coverage. While teachers, administrators, and several other groups of staff members will receive options for single, spousal, or family coverage, other groups, such as paraprofessionals and custodial staff, will only be offered single person coverage.

And at the time, I mentioned that I couldn't really find anything written saying that support staff would not get benefits. I guess the district decided that went too far (or would have left them subject to a lawsuit?). So now, the costs for health care for individuals and their families have been posted. As you can see, there is a huge inequity between what teachers and administrators will pay for family health care, and what support staff will pay.

Support staff will pay up to 4x as much as teachers and administrators for family benefits, even though the support staff group, as a whole, will make much less money. 

Sunday night I emailed Scott Menzel (WISD Superintendent) and Emma Jackson (WISD Director of Communications) asking for their comments on the rationale for this decision. I haven't heard back yet. If I do, I'll be sure to post their answer(s) here. 

[Hint: You could email them yourself and ask about this--or whatever else you want to know about YCS. Emails:;].

Reminder: YCS Board Meeting Packets and Minutes (such as they are--they are not very detailed) can be found here. It appears that almost nobody has been making public comments to the board, but the time is available for those who want to speak.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Haiku for Schools Monday

As part of the WordCount Blogathon, I've been asked to post a haiku today. Remember the format?
Three lines, and traditionally the first has 5 syllables, the second has 7, the third has 5 again. (Modern haiku sometimes stray from this format.)

I want to make it fun for you too!

First, I've got a haiku from me.

Then, enter your haiku into the form below! I will share them... (And by the way, if they are not about schools or education? That's fine too!)

I tire of posts on 
michigan funding. Prefer
pure michigan fun.

And here are the other haikus that I got: 

Privileged lawmakers
hoard resources so their kids
can always "win"

Snyder doesn't get it.
School districts going bankrupt
Come from funding cuts.

Teachers cost too much
Legislators say cut them
Prefer to fill jails
--Hunter Van Valkenburgh

Filling in bubbles
Sucks away joyful discovery
Just choose C

Data-driven laws
But without the data
That's Republicans

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Joel's Ann Arbor Open Graduation Speech: Video and Text

A fortnight ago, Ann Arbor Open held its eighth grade graduation. I alluded to it in this post. My son Joel was one of the speakers. I was very proud of the poem he wrote, and he gave me permission to post it. (Thank you Joel!) Unfortunately, I didn't have a video to post. Now I do. Many thanks to Mark for sending me the video he took. If you have a little trouble hearing it, you can read the poem below the video. A few explanatory notes follow the text.

When I Was In Kindergarten 
By Joel Appel-Kraut 

When I was in kindergarten, we would sit by the bookshelf in the classroom and read. We would read until our heads were swirling with all the 5 letter words we didn’t fully understand. When I was in kindergarten, we would stand in front of the stoplight in Char’s room and yell and scream until it turned red. Because some of us went to safety town, so we knew what that meant. 

When I was in 1st grade, we would bring in stuff on 100s day and the kids whose parents let them bring in marshmallows were instantly cool. On occasion, we would get visits from the only Superhero who ever made time for 6 year-olds. When I was in 1st grade, I would cower under the middle schoolers as my siblings told stories about their cute little brother and his golden angel locks. 

When I was in 2nd grade, we would look down on the lowly first graders as if they were our pets. Unless they were on our team in gym. We would marvel at the fact that the science Olympiad teacher was teaching us science. When I was in 2nd grade, even rock paper scissors could not decide who got pentathlon. 

When I was in 3rd grade, we looked up to our CHS buddies as if they were our future, high-school selves. When we went to West Park, a walk down the block was like a time machine, where we could walk the trails like the native-americans who started them. When I was in 3rd grade. We still didn’t have a good way to decide who got pentathlon. 

When I was in 4th grade, we would think of alliterative names for our friend group like fantastic five, or super six. We would engrave the drama in embarrassing recordings that will not be heard ever again. When I was in fourth grade, the CHS buddies didn’t seem quite as tall. We still all wanted pentathlon. 

When I was in 5th grade, we would stress all week about checking out on Friday. We would protest that Rick Hall should not be able to grade our cursive or spelling. How can you tell me that I spelled George wrong when Doover is not even a word. When I was in 5th grade we would have sweet dreams about burning our cursive sheets in a fiery inferno come November. And we would fight about who got pentathlon. 

When I was in 6th grade, we would shrug off checking out as if it were nothing. By 6th grade, we had learned from experience to stay on Ko’s good side during yearbook time. And it was even somewhat sad when Rick put his doover stamp in my yearbook. When I was in 6th grade, we would have sweet dreams about that time we burned our cursive sheets in a fiery inferno last year. And we would laugh at the 5th graders' petty fights about who should get pentathlon. 

When I was in 7th grade, we would commiserate over how we didn’t get the schedule we wanted. We would meet with Allan even though we knew there was nothing we could do. When I was in 7th grade, we thought it was stupid that the eight graders said they should get first choice for Gardening. 

When I was in 8th grade, we would laugh as the 7th graders looked at their schedule to remember it. We turned lunch basketball games into two person dunk contests. When I was in 8th grade, we wanted to get first choice for gardening. 

When I am in High School, I hope to take the lessons I learned here, and apply them every day. I hope to be successful, largely because of this school. When I am In High School and Beyond I hope to be a role model for future kids standing and giving a speech at their 8th grade graduation. 

When I am 100 years old, I hope to sit around a table on the porch and drink ice tea with my friends, many of whom went to this very school. See, when I am 100, I hope to reminisce about the fun we had, the bonds we made, and the things we learned, when I was in Kindergarten.

*pentathlon=an activity in Science Olympiad (for 2nd-5th graders) that utilizes both scientific principles and basketballs, and requires using the gym.
**doover=do over; pronounced as doo-ver.
**CHS buddies=Community High School buddies, a cross-school program
The first names are names of teachers at Ann Arbor Open.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Challenges of Environmental Education in the 21st Century

Thirteen years ago, as I prepared to leave the Ecology Center, where I was an environmental educator, I wrote this piece for the Ecology Center newsletter. I recently rediscovered it, and to my (pleasant) surprise, it has held up rather well!  Here is the link to the post on the Ecology Center page, and the link to the Ecology Center main page.

The Challenges of Environmental Education in the 21st Century

September, October 2000
 Ruth Kraut
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the challenges of environmental education. I've been thinking about why it's so critical, yet often ignored by organizers and policy makers; spoken of with great passion, yet underfunded; maligned as "biased" and appropriated by corporations anxious to show environmental concern. Perhaps it's not surprising that I've been thinking about this, because I've been working in the environmental education field consistently for the last eleven years and fitfully for the last twenty. And now, I'm preparing to go back to school and of course as part of this a bit of reflection seems necessary.
The first challenge -- funding. With school spending facing its own challenges, with grantors tending to be more interested in policy rather than education, and with self-imposed limits on taking funds from polluters which we employ at the Ecology Center, finding money for our environmental education programs has always been difficult. That's one reason that we were so grateful to see a wonderful response to our Special Environmental Education Appeal. From the smallest checks of two and three dollars, to the two hundred dollar checks, every single one was also a message saying, "We believe in the power of environmental education."
The second challenge is one of delivering appropriate, relevant, and important information well. No teacher likes to teach the same thing year after year after year (it gets boring). Yet, every year we have a different crop of third graders. The material is new to them and still relevant and important. We always need to make it fresh for ourselves, too!
The third challenge is internal to the organizations doing environmental education. We do other things too, such as advocacy; we have limited time. Sometimes it seems less important to teach those third graders basic information (such as how water can get polluted) when there is a pressing policy issue. Environmental educators are prone to saying that "the students of today will be the policy makers of the future." Sometimes I would say it and not really believe it. But I recently realized just how true it is, when I found out that a student who volunteered at the Ecology Center as a high school student is now working for the Sierra Club's national office on policy issues.
The last challenge I'll mention today is perhaps the most daunting. It is educating people so that they really care about the environment. I've been thinking about the "spark." How did you become interested and concerned in the environment? Was it camping, fishing, hunting, hiking with a friend or relative? Was it participating in a biology class or reading a book like Silent Spring?
Rachel Carson, US Fish & Wildlife
Employee Photo, found online here.
The feminist movement (Ms. Magazine, actually) called the moment where you internalize the feminist world-view a "click" moment, where all of a sudden everything "clicks" into place. Rachel Carson, in her engaging book A Sense of Wonder, suggests that "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it." Developing that sense of wonder, internalizing it, and capitalizing on it is perhaps the biggest challenge, and is sometimes called the "teachable moment." The teachable moment is when things fall into place so that you can teach and others can learn.
Sometimes people ask me how I ended up an environmental studies major. I was already interested in the environment from camping and hiking and growing up on Long Island Sound. But I remember one semester in college taking a biology class, a geology class, and an environmental studies class. It so happened that over the course of a couple of weeks we studied Darwin in each of those classes. And in each class, we learned something different about his work and how it has influenced science, social science, and Western thought. This collection of experiences was my personal environmental "click" moment. I realized that I couldlearn something from the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies, and in this case, that the whole was bigger than the sum of its parts. So in this case, the teachable moment was actually a collection of moments, and my professors never knew about it.
Ultimately, the challenge of environmental education is, like all education, to find the teachable moment. And to capitalize on that moment, so that the person who is in the position to be taught not only learns the facts, but internalizes them. Then they can say, "Yes, I am an environmentalist, and I believe that what I do makes a difference." It does.
Ruth Kraut has worked at the Ecology Center since 1986. In September, she will be starting at the University of Michigan to get an M.A. in Education and an M.P.H. in Public Health.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Six Solstice Friday Notes

Not that these notes really have anything to do with the solstice. . .

1. The legislature adjourned today without the Senate voting on Medicaid expansion. I was soooo disappointed. Sen. Randy Richardville (majority leader) does in fact represent a small portion of Washtenaw County, and he refused to bring it forward for a vote--despite Governor Snyder's support (and Snyder is another resident of Washtenaw County). I haven't quite given up hope yet. I think you'd be surprised how much Medicaid money comes into schools; and in my day job the Medicaid expansion is super important. It will provide health coverage to many thousands of Washtenaw County residents.

2. The legislature also adjourned without supporting funding for the implementation of Common Core. Americans for Prosperity (a tea party group) touted this as a great thing. Don't get me wrong, I've got issues with Common Core. But--and this is a big but--the state has committed itself, and its schools, to implementing Common Core. So if the state is committed to something, but doesn't give money for it, guess what that means? Yes, another unfunded mandate for the schools. Meanwhile the legislature did manage to support the dissolution of school districts (Inkster and Buena Vista) in a really poorly-considered piece of legislation. Read about that here.

3. I was at one of the Superintendent Forums for the Ann Arbor Schools on Wednesday. I'm guessing that most of you weren't there, because the turnout at the first three of them was quite low. (I went to #3 so I heard a little about #1 and #2, but I'm not sure what happened at #4.) I believe Deb Mexicotte that they were still useful for the board, because we were able to have an in-depth discussion about what was important. (At the forum I went to, board members Deb Mexicotte, Susan Baskett and Glenn Nelson were there.) For me, a few things that are important include: site visits; giving local candidates (at least Michigan, preferably southeast Michigan) a chance; getting an understanding of how the candidates approach decision making; finding people with an open communication style who want to set out a vision and get some buy-in; people who embrace what it means to be working under the microscope that is Ann Arbor. You might have your own list of important things. Remember that we will never see the 90% of the candidates who don't make it to the semifinal stage (which will be decided, I believe, June 26th). That's because only the semifinalists and finalist names will be made public. I think it's important to share with the board what your "essential" things are. You can do that by emailing them at, or calling them. Contact information is here.

4. While at the Superintendent Forum, before we got started, I asked about the decision to charge for seventh hour. Glenn Nelson expressed something that (at least one of) the board members had expressed at the last board meeting, which was that a) he felt that 7th hour needed to be self-supporting and that b) charging $100 this year was a way to "try out" charging money and "work the kinks out" in the expectation that the following year they will charge $350 to $400 per semester. Now, leave aside for a minute the fact that the ACLU believes that this practice is illegal; and leave aside for a minute the fact that Michigan Department of Education rules also appear to prohibit charging for seventh hour. I also have to think that there are a lot of people who might be able to afford  $100/semester for a child but not $350 or $400 per semester. And I wonder what kind of projections the district has done to try and figure out who would opt in and opt out. My guess is that they haven't done those projections. The whole idea that rather than thinking something through in advance we'll just feel our way along through the next year and "see" if or how it works doesn't sit very well with me. And (now paying attention to the points about whether this is legal) I'm concerned that the district would walk knowingly into the expenses of a lawsuit even though there is a way to avoid it.

And I bring this up, why? Well, I bring this up because today's had an article in which it says "Some 'cleanup' is needed on approved Ann Arbor Public Schools budget for fall." So, cleanup is needed? Let's clean this up. Cut out the fees for 7th hour; try and address this issue over the coming year; and if we need to bring back the billboards to do that, then--so be it.

Again, you can contact the board with your own ideas for "cleanup."

5. You might have read about the Michigan ACLU's "right to read" lawsuit in Highland Park. Well, now the State of Michigan is trying to say that they have no responsibility for literacy in school districts like Highland Park, in which there is an emergency manager, and that because of the emergency manager law the state gets "broad immunity." Also, the ACLU has been documenting the alleged falsification of records by employees of the charter company hired to run the high school. Read more here.

6. Over on the right side of my blog I have a blogroll, and for the last several years I've listed the blog Foster Parenting Adventures there. I've been following the tale of Tikun Olam (not her real name) and her family for several years, from when they first decided to be trained as a foster family to when they finally got their first fostering assignment. And Friday, June 21st, 2013 is, in fact, Adoption Day for CD, who has been with them for several years! Mazal Tov to Tikun Olam  and family. If you have a moment, take a look at her blog.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Michigan School Finance Primer: Part II, An Interview & More!

A few months ago, I sat down with Michigan Parents for Schools Executive Director Steven Norton for an interview. I had the best intentions of publishing a finished interview all at once, but--what can I say--that didn't happen, and I've decided to use the interview in several pieces. Today's piece provides some more context, information, and background for school finance discussions. You can find Michigan Parents for Schools on the web at, and on facebook as well.

Me: Looking at more recent history, how did we get into this fix, with school districts continually being in a position where they need to cut more and more?

Courtesy of Michigan Parents for Schools,
To be honest, people didn’t see this coming. Almost everything was being driven by the economy. People saw a cliff coming, but most people expected an economic recovery to give breathing room. That we would at least recover some of what we’d lost. Instead, in Gov. Snyder’s very first budget, not only did he make big tax cuts on individuals to balance the budget, but he also eliminated the Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a much much smaller corporate income tax. The direct impact was the removal of $800 million dollars from the School Aid Fund. He also took money from the School Aid Fund, $400 million, for higher education. So that in a year where the economic projections would have said that more money would have come into the School Aid Fund, in fact there were huge cuts to K-12.  [Ed. Note: Funding for K-12 schools from the School Aid Fund was cut by more than 10%.]
Me: I thought they fixed the pension system, but the school districts keep pointing to retirement costs. 
Although they ‘fixed’ the pension system, they did so by pushing all of the adjustment costs onto schools and current employees. The existence of a pension for school employees is written into the constitution, and districts do not control the amount the school district needs to donate. 
Current employees are paying a lot more [into the retirement system] (effective pay cut of 4%) and the other money is coming directly out of the School Aid Fund. They also really downgraded the benefits of future employees. And for the next five years, all of the projected revenue to the School Aid Fund will be eaten up by higher contributions to the pension system.
Me: Where do teachers fit in all of this? 

People say, “We should cut the teachers [salaries] more.” Well, these are the people who take care of our children
How do we want to treat our employees? When we have the opportunity to make smart policy for state employees, shouldn’t we do that? We have to look at the long term. And this is happening in every community. This is a conversation that we need to have.”
 [Bold=Emphasis added.]
Steve's bottom line: 
“There is a lot of work to be done changing the discourse around public education.  It’s easy to get lost in the specifics but there is an underlying misapprehension of some of the key issues. There’s a lot of work to be done with people talking to people. You need to talk to your neighbors, educate them about the facts.”

By the way, you can read more about the issues around retirement in this May 2013 report from the Citizens Research Council--Funding for Public Education: The Recent Impact of Increased MPSERS Contributions.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Save Michigan's Public Schools: Rally & Handout

Save Michigan's Public Schools Rally is 
today, Wednesday June 19, 2013

at the Capitol Building in Lansing, 
starting at 11:30 a.m. 

If you are able to be there, I hope you will!

I liked what Steve Norton, Executive Director of Michigan Parents for Schools, had to say about the purpose of the rally:
The focus isn't on trying to change minds inside the Capitol. . . but on getting all Michiganders who care about education, our children and our state to get informed and get active. There is a lot of work to do. Join us!
And, in fact, Steve Norton and Betsy Coffia have put together an excellent flyer that can be used tomorrow, or distributed anytime. I like it so much that I am sharing it here in two formats: a .jpg and a .pdf.

With the .jpg format I think you can simply click on the picture for a larger view; for the .pdf, click on the link. (Thanks Jeff Bailey for converting the link from a .pdf to a .jpg for me.)

Here is the .pdf.

And here is the .jpg: 

Courtesy of Michigan Parents for Schools, 6/18/2013. Visit

Courtesy of Michigan Parents for Schools, 6/18/2013. Visit

And remember: 
Value Menus are for Burgers, Not Schools!
Restore the $1.4 Billion to Our Schools!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Michigan School Finance Primer: Part 1 (With Awesome Graphics)

My friend and I were discussing the Ann Arbor schools budget. (I know, wild and crazy, right?) She was saying, "Why can't we do X," and "Why can't we do Y," and I was saying, "It's because of how Michigan's school finance system works." And she said, "It's so confusing. I need a graphic or something."

So here is my attempt at graphics. Over the coming year I will try and do a series of pieces about Michigan's school finance system. Yes, it's all stuff you need to know.

Shelly, these are for you (and for the rest of you too.) Apologies for the white out--my high school friends used to say I could never write a complete page without crossing something out...

This fine drawing done by Ruth Kraut (2013). It's ok to use it if credit is given.
And I think if you want to see it better, just click on it to enlarge it.

This fine drawing done by Ruth Kraut (2013). It's ok to use it if credit is given.
And I should have mentioned in the graphic that in the post-Proposal A
world, the state generally was providing 80% of the school funding.
If you want to see the drawing better, just click on it to enlarge it.

The basics come from a paper done by the Senate Fiscal Agency in 2004 by Kathryn Summers-Coty, Proposal A: Are We Better Off? A Ten-Year Analysis 1993-1994 through 2003-2004. We'll take a closer look at that in a later post, but I found this paper to be stunning. It uses certain assumptions to compare 1993-1994 (all thoroughly described in the paper) and concludes that ten years later,

out of 553 school districts, 28 are better off with Proposal A and 525 are worse off in terms of combined State and local revenue. Essentially, this means that comparing actual 2003-04 State Aid payments plus districts' actual 2003-04 local property tax revenue with estimated State payments and local revenue if Proposal A had not happened, yields less money for 95% of the districts (p. 2, emphases added).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reviewing the AAPS Budget Decisions

In another very late night meeting, the Ann Arbor school board voted on a budget. I tried and tried to keep my eyes open for it, but at 1 a.m. I had to go to bed. The board voted on the budget around 2 a.m. I think you already know my opinion of late night decisions--they often don't sit all that well in the morning. Also, there were a lot of last-minute calculations going on, and that can lead to mathematical errors. On the other hand, budgets can be amended.

First, the good:

  • The school board saved high school transportation. I think that is fantastic. Even though I don't think anyone spoke on behalf of high school transportation during that evening's public commentary, they saved it anyway.
  • They managed to save Pioneer's theater tech person while putting it on Pioneer Theatre Guild to raise more money. That seems reasonable, and I think the Guild will be able to pull it off--they have a good fundraising machine.
  • They managed to save middle school sports that were scheduled to be cut.
  • At the time of the school board meeting, the district had received 37 announced retirements. It seems possible to me that the district will be able to avoid most of the layoffs.

Second, the "I think this is good but I'm not positive" category:

  • The school board saved most of the reading intervention specialists. My question continues to be--does the program work? I haven't seen evidence that it does, or it doesn't. (That doesn't mean the evidence doesn't exist, by the way. It just means I haven't seen it.) I do wish they would share their evidence.
  • The school board settled on a mid-point in trying to figure out how much money they will get for best practices from the state. The possible numbers were $70/student, $40/student, and $0/student. Last year they budgeted for $70 (and qualified for it) but more school districts than expected qualified and so the state gave everybody less money. This year, the school board settled on a number between $40 and $70 and I think that was the right decision--however, if we get less than budgeted, that will further erode the fund balance.
  • The school board assumed that they will get concessions from the administrators' union, curriculum coordinators, and tech support staff unions equivalent to the 3% concessions from the teachers union and the cabinet members. That will probably happen, but I'll just note that it hasn't yet.
  • The school board assumed flat enrollment. Since they saved high school transportation, I am more optimistic that this is correct. Note, however, that the state is rolling back the entry dates for kindergarten (by a month each year for three years, until the birth date cutoff will be September 1). I hope that the estimates for reduced kindergarten enrollment are correct.

Third, the "I'm not sure this was the right thing to do" category: 

  • The board continued to choose to dip into the fund balance. I share Christine Stead's feeling that this puts the district in a more vulnerable position, because the state of Michigan is not working with the district's best interests in mind. On the other hand, I'm sure I'm not the only parent who is tired of class sizes getting bigger, and fewer electives being offered. 
  • The board cut the physical education requirement to match the state standard. I don't have a problem with that per se, but: a) I'm really skeptical that this will save the money they expect it to save (which I think was 4 PE teachers, or $400,000) because those students still need electives, and other teachers still need planning time periods, and b) PE classes tend to be on the larger side already, and in any case, kids need PE. [In high school, I had gym four days a week every week of school, for four years.]

Last, the "this was clearly the wrong thing to do" category:

  • The district restored seventh hour, but only with a "you have to pay to take the class" option for those schools on the semester schedule (Pioneer, Huron, Community). This is wrong-headed in so many ways. First, before last week's board meeting the ACLU of Michigan had notified the board that they believe this practice to be illegal and unconstitutional. Yet the school board proceeded, risking a lawsuit and all of the fees associated with that, to bring in something like $100,000. [They estimated slightly more income, but in the last-minute rush, I don't think they put in any costs for running a pay-to-play program. So let's call it $100,000 in income.] The school board proceeded, despite the fact that it appears they will be allowing Skyline to continue with a trimester system, and under the trimester system, Skyline students will get three classes more a year for free than the other schools. And that might lead to a different kind of lawsuit. [One thing that could be worrisome about this whole issue--the new interim Superintendent, David Comsa, is the district's attorney. Did he tell the district not to worry about a lawsuit? I don't know, but if he did, I worry about that advice!]
  • Adding insult to injury, the board could have kept seventh hour, without any "pay to take the class" option, by accepting Adams Outdoors' offer to pay for three billboards on school property, for $100,000. But the school board rejected the offer, because they didn't like the way the billboards would look. Yup. I'm not a billboard fan, but the budget is very tight. Several years ago the district agreed to put up some cell phone towers to bring in income, and I thought they would look ugly too. But after a very, very short while, I didn't even notice them. Putting up billboards is not like making a deal with the devil. If it allows us to keep seventh hour without a fee, and without risking lawsuits? That says to me--"no brainer!"

And you know, school board, when it comes to these last two issues? You can still change your mind.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Forums and Timelines: Ann Arbor's Next Superintendent?

The Ann Arbor Public Schools is invited the public to upcoming Superintendent Forums. From

Wednesday, June 19: 
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education is hosting a series of public forums to hear from the community about key criteria they would like to see in the next Superintendent of Schools. 

> 9:00 -11:00 a.m. - Pioneer High School Cafeteria Annex
 > 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. - Ann Arbor Public Library, 4th Floor Board Room
> 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. - Skyline High School Commons 
> 7:30 -9:30 p.m. - Huron High School Cafeteria 
Please join various Trustees in conversation about these important next steps in the selection process for the next AAPS Superintendent.

Phew! Those trustees are going to be very busy on June 19, running from place to place!  If you can't make it (perhaps you will be at a very exciting rally up in Lansing on that same day? It starts at 11:30 at the Michigan Capitol Building) here are a few suggestions:

1. Write the school board: as a group, or individually (emails here);
2. Call one or more school board members

Choosing a superintendent does not have to be
a game of roulette!
I will admit that last time round I didn't pay enough attention to the superintendent choice process. This time, I'm going to pay a lot more attention. I think those of us who care about the schools should do our own background research into all of the semi-finalist candidates. If you are willing to help me, email me at rlk234 at Thanks!

[Why? Remember that Ray & Associates, the search firm the school board is using, has been associated with the Broad Foundation. Read more about why you should care about that here. We need to chart our own path.]

The board has laid out the following timeline, per

The board intends to review applications for the position with Ray & Associates, the consulting firm hired to conduct the search, on June 26. That evening, the board will announce the semi-finalists for the position at its regular meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.
Semi-finalists will visit the Ann Arbor Public Schools district for tours and interviews the week of July 7, and the week of July 14 the school board will conduct its interviews with the finalists.
Green announced her plans to retire in April. Her resignation is effective July 9.

Oh, and by the way, in case you missed it, the Board appointed David Comsa, the deputy superintendent for legal and human resources issues, to be interim superintendent. It's my understanding that he doesn't have the educational leadership credentials that would allow him to be a permanent superintendent, and perhaps that was one factor in why he was chosen. He was chosen in one round of voting. The other candidates were Randy Trent (current deputy superintendent in charge of buildings and facilities); and two principals--Gary Court and Kevin Karr. In a single round of voting, Comsa got four votes, Court got two, Karr got one.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Key Upcoming Events: June 17 & June 19, 2013

Monday, June 17th: Educate Yourself about K-12 Education in Our State

Monday, June 17th, by K12.MI

1001 Green Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105
(First United Methodist Church at Greenwood)
7:00 pm-9:00 pm

From the organizers: This event is a forum to discuss the current challenges of k-12 public school education in the State of Michigan. Our panelists will be Michigan State Representative Jeff Irwin, Pioneer High School teacher and Director of Bands, David Leach, and Steve Norton from Michigan Parents for Schools. Mr. Irwin, Mr. Leach, and Mr. Norton will discuss and highlight perspectives from legislators, teachers, and parents on issues and tasks that interested people should be aware of and act upon over the summer. This event is open to all

The Facebook invitation is here. Invite your friends!


Statewide, June 19th, at the Capitol: Save Michigan's Public Schools Rally by Rochelle Noel

Please join us on the Capitol lawn beginning at 11:30 am on Wednesday, June 19th. We're still working on lining up our speakers for the event, but we've already confirmed the following superstar advocates for public education:

* Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (Senate Minority Leader)
* Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park)
* Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids)
* John Austin (President, State Board of Education)
* Thomas Pedroni (Associate Professor, Wayne State Univ)
* Superintendent Rod Rock (Clarkston Community Schools)
* Jeff Kass (Ann Arbor Public Schools Teacher & Poet)
* Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (Education Chair, National Congress of Black Women)
* Steven Norton (Michigan Parents for Schools)
* John Stewart (former member MI House of Representatives)
* Mary Valentine (former member MI House of Representatives)
* Stephanie Keiles (Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Teacher & Michigan Friends of Public Education)
* Betsy Coffia (Save Michigan's Public Schools)
* K-12 Students Representing School Districts Around Michigan

And Master of Ceremonies . . . Tony Trupiano (Progressive Talk Radio Show Host/Night Shift with Tony Trupiano)


Save Michigan’s Public Schools is a non-partisan grassroots network of concerned citizens. Our goal is to connect parents, students, educators and communities across Michigan and raise awareness of threats to public education.

We believe a free, quality public education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. We believe every child in Michigan deserves access to equal and excellent educational opportunities through public education. We believe public education must be locally-controlled, fully-funded, delivered by highly qualified professional teachers, and devoid of corporate involvement.

To this end, we support policymakers and public officials who reject the corporate, profit-motivated takeover of public schools, massive school closures, and meaningless high-stakes testing. We support wise policies and laws that forward sound, research-based, evidence-based solutions to support and improve our existing public school system.

Here is the facebook invitation. Invite your friends!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Graduation: Goodbye Ann Arbor Open!

Ann Arbor Open graduation was tonight. We've put 16 years into this school, and we're going to miss it.

In the great Ann Arbor Open auditorium

there was a fake balcony

and purple and white balloons

and a mobile of. . . the world.

And there were many family members sitting on chairs

Goodbye music instruments

Goodbye music room

Goodbye mural

Goodbye stairs
Goodbye chairs

Goodbye to all the friends (kids and parents) I've made there.

Goodbye teachers everywhere! (at Ann Arbor Open)

Goodbye to the Ks (Kit, Kathy, and Karen) 
in the A2O office too

Goodbye to me, and Goodbye to you.

Goodbye cafeteria

Goodbye whale jumping over bookshelves


And good luck graduates!