Thursday, July 25, 2013

Teacher Evaluation Report Out: You May Be Disappointed

The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness has put out their report, recommending how teachers should be evaluated in Michigan. Remember, they were asked to do this by Governor Snyder, and the committee that came up with these recommendations was chaired by Dr. Deborah Ball, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Education.

I have not read it yet, but based on the comments of people who have, I think that a lot of people--maybe you, maybe not--will be disappointed in the recommendations.

On the MCEE website you will find the Executive Summary and the entire report, available for download. The Detroit Free Press has posted it here. I encourage you to read it!

As I said, I haven't read it, but some other people have. This is Steve Norton, from Michigan Parents for Schools, summary:

The full copy of the report, plus an executive summary and more, is available here.

Good news: strong recommendation that evaluation of teacher practice be a major piece of teacher "ratings."
Bad news: complies with existing law in that "objective measures of student growth" (i.e. test scores of some kind) form 50% of the evaluation, with a large portion of that based on value added models.
Issues: Contrary to the report, existing examples of VAM suffer from severe problems of statistical validity (is it measuring what you think it is?) and reliability (do you get the same results consistently?). Biggest problem: statistical correction for out-of-school factors is nearly impossible given the data legally available to schools. For example: the report says that VAM models can control for "socio-economic status." However, schools do not have access to information like family income or parental education; they only have a yes/no flag for students eligible or not eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Academic investigation into VAM has relied on much more detailed and rich data to control for home factors than is available to any school district. Without adequately controlling for these outside factors, which we already know are the largest influences on academic performance, VAM models are producing unreliable estimates.

In fairness to the committee, I think that 50% based on assessments is part of the new state law. BUT--it's a bad state law, and I think the committee could have decided to ignore it. They didn't.

Steve Norton also sent me this information:

Yes, the 50% based on student growth using VAM is currently in law for what the "governor's council" must report. Since this was a required feature of the recommended state evaluation system, one must conclude that the Legislature intended to make this a feature of whatever evaluation system they approve. 
This section of the Revised School Code was passed in July 2011. From MCL 380.1249: 
"(2) Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the board of a school district or intermediate school district or board of directors of a public school academy shall ensure that the performance evaluation system for teachers meets all of the following:
(a) The performance evaluation system shall include at least an annual year-end evaluation for all teachers. An annual year-end evaluation shall meet all of the following:
(i) For the annual year-end evaluation for the 2013-2014 school year, at least 25% of the annual year-end evaluation shall be based on student growth and assessment data. For the annual year-end evaluation for the 2014-2015 school year, at least 40% of the annual year-end evaluation shall be based on student growth and assessment data. Beginning with the annual year-end evaluation for the 2015-2016 school year, at least 50% of the annual year-end evaluation shall be based on student growth and assessment data. All student growth and assessment data shall be measured using the student growth assessment tool that is required under legislation enacted by the legislature under subsection (6) after review of the recommendations contained in the report of the governor's council on educator effectiveness submitted under subsection (5)...."
"(5) Not later than April 30, 2012, the governor's council on educator effectiveness shall submit to the state board, the governor, and the legislature a report that identifies and recommends all of the following for the purposes of this section and that includes recommendations on evaluation processes and other matters related to the purposes of this section:
(a) A student growth and assessment tool. The student growth and assessment tool shall meet all of the following:
(i) Is a value-added model that takes into account student achievement and assessment data, and is based on an assessment tool that has been determined to be reliable and valid for the purposes of measuring value-added data...."

And this, folks, is what we're up against.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pertussis Warning Hits Home, or My Brush With Fame

Once upon a time, at the end of June, we got a friendly email from the parent of a child my son has spent quite a bit of time with this summer, and it said, in essence:

Andrew (fake name alert!) has pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough), and your child may have been exposed. Andrew was fully vaccinated, but the vaccine is only about 60% effective. If your child develops a cough, go to the doctor and get tested. 

About ten days later, my son said, "Did you see this email from Andrew? Do you know that I've been coughing since Thursday?" At this point, my son's cough was so mild that we hadn't even really noticed it, but since he was set to go to sleepaway camp later that week, we thought we'd better get it checked out. . . especially since a) we didn't want to expose all those kids at camp and b) if we found out after he was at camp, we'd also have to remove him from camp for five days while he took the antibiotics!

So, off to the doctor we went--and although the doctor was skeptical that this was pertussis (especially since my son was vaccinated), he agreed that we should be cautious and he tested him for it (it's a simple nose swab test). Two days later. . . the test came back positive.  The good news is that because we found out early, his cough was gone in short order, and never entered the "whooping" phase or became very violent. 

And this is completely different from my experience 14 years ago, when my husband's coworker had "the cough that wouldn't end." And then my husband got that cough. And then my daughter got that cough. And eventually, we suspected they had pertussis. But I tried several times (and multiple doctors) to get my daughter tested. At that time, the test was not the one they have today, and it was difficult to get accurate results.  The doctors were reluctant. In any case, we never were counted as a positive case (but I was sure--my daughter had the classic whoop and my husband had the "cough until you're blue" cough.) Both my husband and my daughter were ill for quite a long time, and I am so glad that this time we caught it early.

Lessons Learned
1. Vaccinate. Even though the vaccine is only 60% protective, that's a lot better than nothing!

2. Especially if you have a known exposure (a contact who was diagnosed), or if you--or a child of yours--has a persistent cough, don't be afraid to ask the doctor whether pertussis should be considered. (Yes, adults are often the transmitters of pertussis--and frequently are not diagnosed.)

3. If someone in your family gets pertussis, don't forget to notify all the people you've spent time with, so they can be on the lookout...pertussis spreads in the air.

It turns out that our experience is not unique, because the public health department put out an alert when the number of cases this year went over 100.

And so, it came to pass, that I was asked to be on television this afternoon, to speak as a parent about my family's experiences--and as a service to public health, how could I not? 

So here, you have it--my 15 seconds (more or less) of fame! Thanks ABC News!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fun Summer Library Games--And Help Me!

Have you checked out the Ann Arbor District Library summer game? Go to and explore!

And if you want to help me get some points, and you have not registered yet, you can help me get points by putting in my referral code when you sign up:

Earn 500 points by having a Library Card carrying friend sign up as a new player for the game with code: 3G9A9F7T


By the way, if you are part of the Ypsilanti District Library, find out about their summer reading program here

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Recap: Superintendent Candidate Brian Osborne

The superintendent candidates have come and gone, and I find myself being slightly reluctant to post anything, because, after all--does it matter? The board will decide. But yes, it does matter--because I promised to share my research and thoughts--and because I think inasmuch as we know a person's strengths and weaknesses going forward, that is helpful. So, I'm sharing this in four parts: what I learned about the candidate from research; key links; what I experienced/noticed when I met the candidate in person; and if the candidate is hired, what we should make sure to communicate to them.

Research on Brian Osborne

I was able to collect lots and lots of information about Brian Osborne. I was able to find more information online about him (he does advocate for what he believes in), and I also have more contacts in South Orange/Maplewood (who helped me develop even more contacts). People wrote to me with their comments, because I asked them to.

To try and summarize, there's good and bad in there--I would say more good than bad.

Statewide in New Jersey, he has done advocacy both on school funding and on teacher tenure laws. Generally, I think teacher tenure is a good thing but I'm not an expert on either New Jersey or Michigan teacher tenure laws. I don't know how to compare them or what the replacements mean, but if you do, you can read about the teacher tenure law (and get a sense of how he advocates) at these links: 

Email #1: 

"I am attaching links to the interim report of the teacher evaluation committee that Osborne was part of [ed. note: I think he chaired the committee] and also the state dept. link to the work of the committee. 
Email #2:  
He has repeatedly advocated for tenure reform, going down to Trenton several times to testify. Here's just one example: another: "
He has been a strong advocate for reducing the achievement gap and "de-leveling" the middle schools (eliminating tracking--their middle schools had a "four track" system). They actually only have eliminated tracking to the extent that we did in Ann Arbor years ago--they still track for math. Also complicating the factor is that in New Jersey you are required to have gifted and talented programs. We don't have that requirement in Michigan. Although many people think he did a great job with pushing through de-leveling, and that it was important work, others felt that: a) he had a good idea but the follow through wasn't good; and that b) the response to no longer having a gifted and talented program has been to bring in the middle school International Baccalaureate program, which they thought of as poorly thought out, and which also ran over budget.

He also got kudos for bringing in full-day kindergarten since, as one commenter told me, "It's not 1953 anymore." In order to do this he had to convince voters to pass a tax levy (millage), so he has experience advocating for taxes. 

New Jersey did an audit of South Orange-Maplewood's Title I funding, and told the district to return over $226,000. 
Here is the full report.

Other strengths that were mentioned to me:
--He is smart.
--He "is good with numbers," "has strong budgeting skills."
--He "has charisma, is articulate, and has great instincts."

Other weaknesses that were mentioned to me:
--good communicator on things like inclement weather, but not a good communicator on other things
--can be unresponsive to parents
--two separate comments about needing to use the Open Public Records Act (New Jersey's equivalent of Michigan's Freedom of Information Act) to get information that should have been accessible without that. An example of that would be the Title I Audit.

I'll close with a summary from a friend of a friend that I think encapsulates the feedback I got fairly well. My friend (who is in the district and likes Osborne, especially because of his work on the achievement gap, but is not very involved in school politics), asked for feedback from his friend. This is a person who has been very involved in school issues, and said that in the beginning Osborne was very responsive to positive or negative issues, but over time became less responsive about tricky/problematic issues. Rather than being test-score obsessed, she described him as "data driven," but noted that was true for the whole state. [Ed. Note: We are not alone--what is happening in Michigan is happening everywhere.] She also said he likes numbers, and studying trends--and may sometimes push through change too quickly. She gave as an example implementing IB in the middle schools. 

Key Links

Live blog: finalist interview 
Live blog: 90 day plan


Much of what I saw in the interview I went to matched up very well with what people from his current district said. He is obviously very smart, articulate, and has well-thought out ideas. He discussed his thoughts about tenure reform saying something like, "not everyone might agree with me," but he was still willing to share his ideas, which I appreciate. I was impressed by how much research he had done about our district (he knew a lot of details); and by his focus on the achievement gap. 

At a different interview (one my friend was at), he waded right into the education reform debate and gave me a better sense of where he stands. My friend wrote me that, at the interview she was at, 
Interestingly, he offered up early on that he wanted to dispel any notion that he was Broad affiliated.  He said he wasn't sure how it got out there because he didn't go through their academy and in fact doesn't agree with them.  He did offer that he twice taught a session at SUPES about governance but said that isn't Broad (we said yes it is). He said "they have had no influence on my learning." 
He further went on to describe his central approach to education as improving teaching and learning in the classroom.  He said he does not agree with any of the reform strategies that include privatization and corporatization of public schools, culling out 10% lowest performing teachers, teacher evaluation solely on test scores, etc.  He said his life work is to keep public education strong and not allow it to be dismantled.  He said he's attracted to AA/fits because AA because values diversity and is progressive (his term)."
Kudos to Osborne for taking this on in an interview, and giving us a sense of where he fits on the education reform spectrum. I really appreciate that!

I was able to ask Brian Osborne about the Title I audit in the session I went to, and I asked him what he learned and what he would have done differently. He said he believed the state had overreached, that they were fighting the audit, and that he probably wouldn't do things differently--there was one out of state trip they took kids on (to historically black colleges) that he would have confirmed would be legal. So I appreciated his support of what they had done. On the other hand, our district has gotten into trouble before doing things that "we" thought were okay and that turned out not to be--remember the substitute teacher lawsuit? Perhaps more concerning to me was that he got rather defensive in answering the question, and said he wouldn't do things differently. I was looking for a "lessons learned" answer.


I was convinced that he would be comfortable, in a fairly short time, advocating for school funding in Michigan--even though he is not from Michigan. I was also very convinced that he has the budget/finance/evaluation skills to work in our district. 

Although I won't always agree with Brian Osborne, I would feel very comfortable with the board offering him the position of Superintendent.

Some of the weaknesses that were enumerated above (particularly around communication with parents, teachers, citizens) and needing to get things through the Open Records Act are things that very much frustrated me with Pat Green. However, I am hoping that the school board can emphasize to him that these are essential elements of being a successful superintendent in Ann Arbor. 

Recap: Superintendent Candidate Jeanice Kerr Swift

The superintendent candidates have come and gone, and I find myself being slightly reluctant to post anything, because, after all--does it matter? The board will decide. But yes, it does matter--because I promised to share my research and thoughts--and because I think inasmuch as we know a person's strengths and weaknesses going forward, that is helpful. So, I'm sharing this in four parts: what I learned about the candidate from research; key links; what I experienced/noticed when I met the candidate in person; and if the candidate is hired, what we should make sure to communicate to them.

Research on Jeanice Kerr Swift

If I was looking for an exercise in frustration, then I found it! I was unable to uncover very much information about Jeanice Kerr Swift. I completely "struck out" in reaching people who knew her from her work in Colorado Springs District 11. There was a little bit on the web about two curriculum-related activities, which I linked to in a previous blog post, and not much else. 

At first I took this as a reflection on my research skills (which I generally think are pretty good), but then I realized something else. If you search my name on the web (skipping the blog-related stuff), or the name of one of our assistant superintendents (say, Alesia Flye, or the now-retired Lee Ann Dickinson-Kelley), you get information about work they have done. Try it, by searching yourself, and see what you find.

I also struck out in developing contacts in Colorado Springs. I did have several friends try for me, and the one person who found a person in D-11 was told that his contact didn't know Jeanice Kerr Swift.

My conclusion--in part, relates to her role as assistant superintendent, but the other piece is that I think she is a person who has probably done an efficient job staying in the background. 

Key Links

Here are the live blogs: 
Semifinalist interview
Finalist interview
90-Day Plan presentation

My original writeup about Jeanice Kerr Swift

My impressions

Jeanice obviously is very comfortable and knowledgeable in the curriculum/instruction realm and I feel comfortable that she really thinks about special education kids and at risk kids. I might disagree with her about outcomes and results. For instance, she did say “a rising tide lifts all boats” and in my experience with vulnerable kids that is not always true—the tide that lifts the majority of boats often leaves vulnerable kids behind.

She also just seemed to accept that teacher evaluation laws (that use tests of students to evaluate teachers) are coming and didn’t express any opposition to them, but I have big problems with them. She "said" she would be a big advocate in Michigan as superintendent around school funding issues, but I don't see experience in her background that makes me think she would be good at that. This is in part because I couldn't find any examples of her advocating for anything to the public or government. Maybe she has done it and I couldn't find it. (She gave an example of working with the legislature to cost out a proposal, but that was really operating in the background--I want someone who will be out front on school funding and in opposition to bad "educational reform" ideas.)

Also importantly, there were times in the interview where I thought she should know something (detailed, but not super detailed) about the Ann Arbor schools, and it made me wonder how much research she had done on the district. 

I didn’t get a sense of her administrative skills (budgeting, etc.), the 90-day plan was a puff piece (we should “DREAM!!”) and almost all of her answers had a curricular focus. If this were a curriculum job that would be great, but I don't think she demonstrated her skills in budgeting, union negotiations, etc. She relied on the word "we" far too much, as in "We did X," and it's unclear to me (in, for example, redistricting) what part was her role and what part were other people's roles.


I think there would be a very steep learning curve for her if the job were to be offered to her, and that would probably not be a good thing for the district. If the job were to be offered to her, she would need a very strong support team (more than a few parents, teachers, principals, and the board) to orient her to the district, to the media, to Michigan politics, etc. I would rather see the board reopen the search. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Blueberries and Kids

I will post about the superintendent search after both candidates have come for their final visits.

From Wikimedia Commons
In the meantime, I saw this piece--(I have read this story before)--and decided I would share it.

I may have been influenced by the fact that I just tasted the first blueberries from my yard. Without being judgmental... they may have been a little bit too tart.

In a Washington Post blog, "The Answer Sheet," Valerie Strauss recaps
Why Schools Aren't Businesses: The Blueberry Story.

Larry Cuban’s 2004 book “The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can’t be Businesses,” is nearly a decade old but still highly relevant to the education reform debate.
In the introduction, Cuban introduces readers to Jamie Vollmer, a former ice cream company executive who became an education advocate and author of the book ” Schools Cannot Do It Alone.” He quotes Vollmer about “an epiphany” he had in the 1980s:
“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long! I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of inservice. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife. I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that had become famous in the middle 1980s when People magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.” I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure, and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly. They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance. As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant. She was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload. She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.” I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.” “How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?” “Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.
 “Premium ingredients?” she inquired. “Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming. “Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?” In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap…. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie. “I send them back.” She jumped to her feet. “That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! Every one! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
Read the rest here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Search for Todd Roberts 2.0

On an email I saw recently, someone referred to the search for a new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent as "the search for Todd Roberts 2.0."

Todd Roberts, you might remember, was the well-liked superintendent of Ann Arbor schools before Pat Green. He left for greener pastures in North Carolina.

Todd Roberts. Picture taken from the
University of North Carolina School of Education
Before Todd came to Ann Arbor, he was a deputy superintendent in Oakland County's Birmingham school district--but he lived in Ann Arbor. He was named 2009 Superintendent of the Year for Michigan Region 8.

I think this Ann Arbor Chronicle article offers some insight into what people liked about Todd Roberts.

Roberts Will Be MissedThe fact that Roberts’ contract was just extended was a sign of the board’s confidence in his leadership, according to Mexicotte. “He’s the whole package,” she continued, “You can’t replace somebody like Todd Roberts – you just hope you can find someone as good.”
Satchwell echoed that sentiment, crediting Roberts with stabilizing a district fraught with conflict when he was hired, and establishing a strategic plan to carry AAPS forward. “He is a realist and a troubleshooter,” Satchwell said. “He is good at bridging, and has worked well with every corner of the district. He’s one of the most approachable guys in the world.”
In a phone call earlier today, long-time board member Glenn Nelson praised Roberts’ humility in creating a team atmosphere where people could truly work together productively. He also acknowledged Roberts’ role in getting the Comprehensive School Improvement Program (commonly known as “the Bond”) improvements back on track when he was hired in 2006, and by leading the district’s strategic planning process in a way that made it more useful than it had been previously. While allowing that he expects a smooth transition, Nelson admitted, “I very much regret his resignation. I think he’s been an excellent superintendent, and I’m sorry to see him leave.”
This time round, will we get Todd Roberts 2.0? I don't think so.
Todd Roberts had experience as an assistant superintendent; he had excellent people skills; and he had experience working in education in Michigan.

Whatever you think of Jeanice Kerr Swift and Brian Osborne, neither of them has the experience in Michigan that I think is critical. Thus--without assessing their superintending or people skills--in my opinion they are missing a key piece that would make them capable of being "the next Todd Roberts."

Would the "local" candidates have been able to be "the next Todd Roberts?"
I don't think so. Henry Hastings was an "outside, different" candidate who had not worked at a high administrative level in a school district. Ben Edmondson was missing the classic "middle step." Most candidates for a school district the size of Ann Arbor's would have first been a deputy superintendent or a superintendent elsewhere. Although Sandra Harris, on paper, looked like she did have that experience, she hadn't even bothered to update her letters of recommendation--from 2009! That is not a mistake Todd Roberts would have made.

[I did not go to the interviews, but I think Kellie Woodhouse did a nice job with her live blog. Day 1 here; Day 2 here.]

Of course I was left wondering--did the school board overlook another "Todd Roberts?" An assistant superintendent or a superintendent in a southern Michigan school district?  There were 61 applicants, and we only know about the six semifinalists.

After the last two years, I really hope that if the two finalist candidates do not suffice, that the board feels that they can reopen the process, and does not feel that they have to hire someone immediately.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What's Next With Those Superintendent Candidates?

From the Ann Arbor Public Schools: 

The Ann Arbor Public School Board of Education is pleased to welcome the two Superintendent finalists, Dr. Jeanice Swift and Dr. Brian Osborne, to Ann Arbor.
The community is invited to attend a forum with each candidate. The candidates will each start their forum with a brief introduction and there will be a Q & A for the attendees.
Dr. Jeanice Swift

  • Tuesday, July 16 at 7 p.m at Skyline High School
Dr. Brian Osborne
  • Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Skyline High School
This is the opportunity for the community to meet the two candidates and ask questions as the Board of Education finalizes the selection of the next Ann Arbor Public School Superintendent of Schools. 
The public may also attend a presentation and meeting with the Board from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. at Skyline on July 16 and July 17.  
The Board will hold a meeting on Friday, July 19, 5:30 at the Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State Street, for the purpose of making a final selection for the Superintendent position.
According to Christine Stead, school board member,

Let us know which candidate resonated the most with you and why.  We will have feedback forms for attendees at the end of each session.  We will have time to review your feedback prior to making a decision on Friday, so please come, meet our candidates, see how they engage with you and which one is a good fit for Ann Arbor and the AAPS. 
If you don't like either of them and feel the board should reopen the search, that is something you can share with the board as well.(By the way, I haven't come to that conclusion--yet--but I have had other people tell me that they have.) Email the board with feedback:

How's My Research Coming?

In a nutshell--

I have plenty of information coming in from Maplewood/South Orange about their experiences with Brian Osborne. I'd say it's a mixed bag, some really good things and some not-so-good things, and I will be able to write up a post about Brian Osborne by Sunday.

From Colorado Springs, on the other hand, it's a completely different story. I have very little information. In Maplewood/South Orange I a) knew a few people who lived there already and b) there is a a robust online discussion board which facilitated me getting even more information. In Colorado Springs, I don't know anybody. And Jeanice Kerr Swift, as an assistant superintendent, has less published information about her.

So I ask you: Do you know anybody in Colorado Springs? Please put me in touch by emailing me at

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Audio Interviews: Osborne & Edmondson

A friend sent me audio interviews of (part or all, I'm not sure) of the Brian Osborne and Ben Edmondson interviews. I know Ben was not chosen as a finalist but he is a local candidate so I thought people would like to listen to both of them.

I don't have an audio file of Jeanice Swift but if someone else does you can send it to me and I will add it.

Osborne and Edmondson interviews

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finalist for Superintendent Background Research: Jeanice Kerr Swift

Time presses. The school board is on a very fast timeline to make a decision about semi-finalists, and I don't have half the information I would like to have! I will add more as I find out more (at least for the finalists), but for now I'm just going to share a disorganized group of information, take from it what you can. For the finalists we will try to find out more information.

Jeanice Kerr Swift--comes from Colorado Springs, Colorado district. Went to University of Texas-Arlington, University of Colorado, and University of Denver, where her dissertation was titled Realizing School Improvement. I couldn't find a copy of the dissertation, so I have no idea what it says or whether I agree with her. Her background is clearly in curriculum. 

Youtube videos on Jiji Spatial Temporal Math (I'm not clear if these are promotional videos. They were put up by the MIND Research Group, which I think is the owner of ST Math).

On ST Math:


And here she is talking about the Response to Intervention Network:

According to wikipedia, RTI is: 

RTI is a “method of academic intervention used in the United States to provide early, systematic assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. RTI seeks to prevent academic failure through early intervention, frequent progress measurement, and increasingly intensive research-based instructional interventions for children who continue to have difficulty.” One of the “core assumptions” of RTI is that “data should drive decision making.” “The first level of data collected in the RTI process comes from universal school-wide screenings...Screenings usually occur three times per year (fall, winter, and spring), and the data from these assessments help to guide instruction through the three tiers of the RTI process.”
There is a lot of talk in the video (although by teachers, not Dr. Swift) about: data gathering at the school in order to gauge student ability; graphing student progress; and one teacher goes so far as to say “We don’t sit around and discuss the student; we sit around and discuss the student’s data.” (this quote at around 2:20 in the video).

On the positive side, during her interview today she did seem to have an interest in having a diverse array of schools, pointing to successes in the district she is in now, highlighting arts-oriented and Montessori focused schools.

She seems passionate about curriculum and I don't get a strong sense of her budget or communication skills.

Colorado Springs District 11 has nearly 30,000 students, but a declining number of students and a similar funding setup to Michigan's.

Finalist for Superintendent Background Research: Brian Osborne

Time presses. The school board is on a very fast timeline to make a decision about semi-finalists, and I don't have half the information I would like to have! I will add more as I find out more (at least for the finalists), but for now I'm just going to share a disorganized group of information, take from it what you can. For the finalists we will try to find out more information.

Of the three non-local candidates, Brian Osborne is coming from the district that is most like Ann Arbor. South Orange-Maplewood is a highly diverse district, bordered by some very low-rent areas (like Newark). It is home to many high-achieving professional families but has a formidable achievement gap and the student population is something along the lines of 50/50 people of color (mostly African-American) and white. In addition, it has a very active and engaged population, probably comparable to Ann Arbor.

However, where Ann Arbor's per-pupil allocation is just over $9,000, it appears that South Orange-Maplewood's is nearly double that. Although they have had to make budget cuts, I'm pretty sure they still have the opportunity to tax their citizens if they want to. And my friend in Maplewood tells me his son's high school classes are closer to 25, where my children's high school class sizes were over 30. So is it really comparable?

Partly because I know a few people in Maplewood, and partly because there is more material available on the web about Brian Osborne, I probably have the most information about him.

My friend alerted me to a conversation that is going on in the forum Maplewood Online, about Brian Osborne leaving and whether that is a good thing. It seems to be a fairly civil forum, and you can read the discussion here

Probably the main thing that I've gotten from the discussion so far is that he is probably looking to leave because Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has decided that school administration costs too much, and that superintendents are getting paid too much. So he has put in place a hard salary cap. One commenter writes, "To put this in perspective, Osborne's salary will go down almost 20% under the cap, from $204,088 to $167,500. No one with other options would take that kind of hit."

Brian Osborne's Background

Brian started out as a Teach for America teacher. You might know what TFA is--it's a program that takes high-performing college graduates and puts them in inner city schools with only a small amount of training for a two-year commitment. Some of them (most of them, I think) leave teaching after their two year commitment is up. It's attractive to urban school districts because the TFA teachers cost less. I'm kind of agnostic regarding TFA. For the most part, I think it's a great experience for the TFA teachers, but may not be so great for the students, who get constant turnover and new teachers. Teachers who are new to teaching are not going to be as good as teachers who have a few years experience.

Anyway, Brian stayed in education. Of the three non-local candidates, he certainly has the most elite (as in competitive universities) background, with an A.B. from Colgate University, a M.A.T. from New York University and an Ed.D. from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

He went through Harvard's Urban Superintendents program, and he is affiliated with the SUPES Academy. I know, I haven't had time to write this post yet, but the SUPES Academy appears to be (since 2011) the successor to the Broad Academy that I have written about previously. He is also connected to several people who are affiliated with the "education reform" movement--most notably Joel Klein, whom he worked with in New York City, and Andres Alonso, who wrote a recommendation for him, saying that he "recruited him to be part of the Children First reform.

He is a member of the “Education Equity Project, Joel Klein’s vanity non-profit that supposedly works for education reform.” Discussion about that found here:

First, the good:

He's bilingual in English and Spanish.

He has experience running a school district. 

He seems to be well-liked in his school district. According to my friend who is in the district, Brian has been very focused on the achievement gap in the district. His primary effort has been to "de-level" classes; to open up pathways for students to move up to higher levels (so they don't get stuck in a lower-level class); and to encourage students to take more higher level classes (like AP classes). My friend felt that most of the people who don't like him have wanted to maintain tracking. I know, Ann Arbor has to a great extent (though not entirely) eliminated tracking, but I think that is an important initiative and does show some of his priorities. Here is a discussion of it:

He is a good communicator. I liked his twitter feed:

It reminded me of Scot Graden's (Saline Superintendent).

Second, the neutral:

I wasn't able to get the full text of his dissertation, A Qualitative Study of One District's Efforts to Improve Mathematics Instruction to Scale, but I did read the abstract. However, I liked that he did a qualitative study that looked at math as a gatekeeper to achievement, and that he looked at a multi-faceted approach. 

He has written the governor about state funding of schools. At least he is advocating! There is some good stuff in this letter, and a couple of things I didn't like so much:

This paragraph gives me some pause: 
By capitalizing on technology and blurring the lines between high school, college and highly skilled work, we can develop in New Jersey richer, more engaging and relevant learning opportunities for our young people while reducing the burden on our taxpayers. No district can do this alone. We need the creativity of an entire state galvanized by the vision of a forward thinking leader. Otherwise, I fear that despite rhetoric emphasizing the importance of education, the path we are on will inevitably lead to the dismantling of public education in our State.

Third, things that make me nervous/I would like to know more:

He is the Chair of the New Jersey Dept. of Education Teacher Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee. Does that mean that he supports using test scores to evaluate teachers? A friend who teaches in a different New Jersey district tells me that they are engulfed by teaching to the test and narrowing of the curriculum. 

Where does he fit on the education reform scale? What does he think about testing? My friend in the district says he doesn't think this is a major issue for Brian Osborne, but this is an area I would like to know more about.

What about his SUPES/Broad connections?

He says he has advocated at the state level for changes in tenure reform laws. What kind of changes?

In his interview (based on what I read in, he was fairly well-informed about the district and had pretty specific answers. But when he asks if the teachers understand the economic situation? Well yeah, I'm pretty sure that they do, given that they have been "giving back" to the district for years. So is it just a matter of educating him?

Superintendent Background Research: Ben Edmondson

Time presses. The school board is on a very fast timeline to make a decision about semi-finalists, and I don't have half the information I would like to have! I will add more as I find out more (at least for the finalists), but for now I'm just going to share a disorganized group of information, take from it what you can. For the finalists we will try to find out more information.

But first. . . a fun fact! Did you know that there is a well-known Australian cricketer with the same name?

Dr. Edmondson currently serves as the Principal of the Ann Arbor Public School’s Roberto Clemente High School. Dr. Edmondson holds a B.A. from University of Virginia, a M.Ed. from Ohio State University and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University. He didn't list his dissertation topic in his resume, although he did list a student presentation he made about Acting White, a Theory for African-American Underachievement. I'm not sure if that became his dissertation.

Here is an Ann Arbor Observer article about him:

Ben has served in several principal positions in Ann Arbor (at King Elementary, Scarlett Middle School, and Roberto Clemente High School). He has been active in "Quad-A," the administrator's union. His list of references is quite impressive, including both Todd Roberts and George Fornero (two past superintendents), as well as David Comsa (current interim superintendent) and Linda Carter (current teachers' union president). He has children in the Ann Arbor schools.

I was very impressed at the way that he got Clemente students engaged in saving their school last year. I think their experience of talking at the school board meetings was a wonderful example of performance-based learning. He also probably annoyed some members of the school board with his tireless advocacy for Clemente and its students.

I spoke to three people who had worked with him in various capacities, and (both those who love him and those who don't) basically agreed on his key characteristics. You see one of those in his advocacy for Clemente students--his focus is on the kids.

You see another characteristic in the description that two people gave me that he is, or could be considered, arrogant. I think this is, oddly enough, confirmed in his cover letter, in which he used the word "humbly" twice, as in "I humbly submit. . . "

Here are a few comments, I'm keeping them all anonymous:
"I suspect I’m biased: he’s charismatic, rooted in the community, and he has relationships with teachers and students and administrators in this district. Too, the BOE has been told over and over that it should strongly consider local candidates for the superintendent job; I will be writing and reminding them of that strongly held community opinion over the next week." 
"He has a HUGE ego. Case in point: While principal at King School, he took down the big portrait of MLK in the lobby (it was a big portrait) and replaced it with his own. Underneath it said: visionary.”  
[My question to that--it was several years ago. Would he do that today?]
"I think the world of Ben Edmondson" 

"He did some amazing things in efforts to turn Scarlett and Clemente in the right direction. He expects and gets respect from some of our hardest to reach kids.There are people who find him arrogant."  

"If the district wants a superintendent who is serious about equity and about closing (not narrowing, not working on) the achievement gap, Ben is the right guy for the job. If the district wants someone who is going to nitpick the budget for a living, then Ben is probably not the guy." 
"I'm not sure I’ve ever been more inspired by anyone but him talking about reaching kids and changing kids lives. It’s always about kids first, as a teacher and administrator. I’ve seen him change kids’ lives. He’s got all kinds of charisma and he’s super smart. I know some people had trouble working for him because he had high expectations for his staff. Some people didn’t like being held to those standards. Some teachers felt they weren’t being treated like professionals.
I think the decisions in this district need to be made with kids in mind. They’re not thinking about students first. He's a leader, and he's got vision."

Superintendent Background Research: Sandra Harris

Time presses. The school board is on a very fast timeline to make a decision about semi-finalists, and I don't have half the information I would like to have! I will add more as I find out more (at least for the finalists), but for now I'm just going to share a disorganized group of information, take from it what you can. For the finalists we will try to find out more information.

Sandra Harris worked her way up through the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and then moved on to Lincoln Schools, then Oak Park Schools. She even went to the Ann Arbor Public Schools! So, she is well-acquainted with Michigan school politics and with Washtenaw County in particular. All of her degrees have come from Eastern Michigan University--a degree in Business Education, an MA in Guidance and Counseling, an Ed. Spec. in Educational Leadership and an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership. 

Dissertation: A Strategy for Leadership in the School Workplace for Managing Staff Diversity. I wasn't able to access it. 

She is an executive coach for the Michigan Association of School Administrators, and she has lots of experience making budget cuts in Lincoln and Oak Park schools. 

She has some very nice letters of recommendation. Should we be concerned that she just re-used the ones she had from a 2009 application to be superintendent of the Ypsilanti schools? Some of them are from people I respect...

Dr. Harris was considered for Ypsilanti Superintendent in 2009, at the same time as Ben Edmondson:

She describes her approach as collaborative and participatory: Harris described her leadership style as one of collaboration. She told the board that in the past, she’s worked to get a ‘buy-in’ from those she worked with. ‘My leadership style is participative,’ Harris said. ‘I seek input from all stakeholders.’”

Sandra worked as a teacher and principal in Ann Arbor and superintendent in Lincoln so I'm hoping some of you will have comments about her!

Superintendent Background Research: Henry Hastings

Time presses. The school board is on a very fast timeline to make a decision about semi-finalists, and I don't have half the information I would like to have! I will add more as I find out more (at least for the finalists), but for now I'm just going to share a disorganized group of information, take from it what you can. For the finalists we will try to find out more information.

Dissertation: Making Choices About School Choice: A Study of the Legal and Ideological Issues of Education Vouchers in the United States. I couldn't find this (I am sure it is in the UM library), and I have no idea what position he takes on vouchers. Most of his other articles have been about business ethics, law, etc.

Michigander through and through. AB from University of Detroit-Mercy, JD from MSU, Ed. D. from University of Michigan.

Comments about his class on Rate My Professor are uniformly (and very, very) positive--this is not so easy to do. Here are a few examples:
Interesting will not fall asleep in his class! You can expect drama, exercises in critical thinking, discussions concerning moral and ethical delemas, a trickling of philosophy, and a good dose of business law in every class session. If you have trouble forming opinions about things, this class is a pill you need to take. 
EXCELLENT guy, I highly recommend him. Very clear, very concise, very fair. 
Phenomenal. Probably the best teacher I've ever had. Engaging, lucid teaching style.
You can watch him on video on an EMU TedX talk about moral values:

TedX EMU: The Importance of a Moral Point of View: A person must have a willingness, and ability, to live in a world of should and should not, rather than in a world of can and cannot. When the moral dimension is lacking, it often leads to a nihilistic view of life. Without a moral point of view, you are more likely to suffer a harm of some sort or another. You only need to view the news on any given day to witness the countless social tragedies that result from an insufficient consideration of others. A moral point of view is necessary for a life of meaning and fulfillment.

Warning: the video has an annoying whine in the background.

Dr. Henry Hastings was Acting Director, Michigan Institute for Safe
Schools and Communities, Michigan State University. In that capacity, he drafted the definition of unsafe schools for NCLB for the state:

This policy is widely viewed as an effort to expand use of public funds for charters. The document above says he used Don Witherspoon’s work as a starting point. Don Witherspoon is the emergency financial manager of Muskegon Heights. 

From the MEA: “Emergency Manager Don Witherspoon’s ruthless takeover of Muskegon Heights Public Schools is an unimaginable attack on democracy and public education.”

My question is: Where does Hastings stand? Is that what he intended to do? It seems possible that this is not what he intended to do, but that the statement he wrote has been misused.

I love that Hastings included a statement of philosophy in his application.

Hastings clearly has varied experiences, and a long history with K-12 education. I'm not clear they add up to Superintendent, though.