Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Missed Opportunities: Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw IB/WAY/ECA Consortium

I wasn't really paying attention to the big brouhaha as to whether the Ann Arbor schools should sign the contract to continue to participate in the International Baccalaureate program, the WAY (Washtenaw Alternatives for Youth) program, or the Early College Alliance. But now I am. And mostly what strikes me is that there have been several missed opportunities. Sure, I know that hindsight is perfect, but looking back and evaluating is also a good way to learn.

So here are five missed opportunities.

1. Missed Meetings: The Ann Arbor News reported that the Ann Arbor school representatives missed many of the consortium meetings. I don't know if Supt. Pat Green or Deputy Supt. Alesia Flye was to blame for that--maybe it was both of them. They're both gone now, so I'm not sure if it matters if we figure that out. Going forward though, if we have a seat at the table, we need to take it. It's pretty clear that we can have more influence if we are there early in the process.

2. Anti-union contract: Someone called me to say that he was worried that the contract the Ann Arbor school board was discussing was anti-union. Given that the contract (click on the link to see it) specifies that if a teacher is tenured in a district and goes to work for the IB, WAY, or ECA schools they are not operating under or accumulating tenure (among other things), you could describe it that way fairly, I think. But here's the thing--this same contract was already voted on by the Ann Arbor schools for this current year in August--and by the other school districts as well. Does the Ann Arbor Education Association or the Washtenaw Education Association not care, or did they just miss this? They probably could have influenced the terms and conditions...

3. Failure to Track: When the Ann Arbor school's Count Day numbers came out, and they were below expectations, much of the attention went to the number of AAPS high school students who were enrolled in the IB, WAY, and ECA programs. And the district seemed surprised by this. To my mind, either they weren't surprised, but wanted the public to feel that they were (which would be misleading), or they were surprised. And if they were surprised, then I have to ask why that is. You might remember that my son applied to the IB program at the Washtenaw International High School--and he found out that he was accepted sometime in late winter or early spring. Now surely, as consortium members, the district could find out how many Ann Arbor students had gotten in to--and later, decided to go to--these alternative programs. The question is, why didn't they take those numbers into consideration as they constructed this year's budget?

4. Transportation Thinking: I don't think the school board and administration really took into account the way that threatening to cut high school transportation could affect the way students looked at schools. I'll probably never be able to prove this, but to my mind, when the district said--at the same time that students were looking at high schools--that high school transportation might not be available, it changed the equation for many parents. I know for myself that I was intimidated by the idea of transporting my son to the IB school. On the other hand, if I lived far from my district high school, and would have to transport my child anyway, then I would not be comparing "drive my child to one school or have him take a bus to the other" but rather "drive my child to school A or school B?" So even the threat of the transportation being cut may have influenced the debate for students at the time when the choices were being made.

5. Going it alone: I believe the ECA, the IB program, and the WAY program are all very worthwhile. But Dexter--which decided to do its own IB program, and which decided not to join the WISD transportation consortium--may have done the best job in looking out for Dexter. I am glad to see the Ann Arbor school board now considering doing its own IB program, even if the consortium IB program continues.

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  1. If no one from Balas could manage to show up for meetings, it doesn't surprise me that they didn't plan to track how many students were going out to consortial schools. Your very perceptive transportation realization ties in with what we saw in the numbers -- Huron is on that side of town anyway, so the transportation burden would be lowest (generally speaking) and surprise, that is the school that has lost the greatest number of kids.

  2. I really appreciate Christine Stead's explanation of the board's next steps, and especially that they will be looking closely at the budget costs and graduation rates for the different programs: link.

  3. Bad link in the comment.

  4. I have twins in 9th grade at WIHI, and I agree that the transportation issue played into our decision to look at the school. Comparing a school with an established carpool system with one that might have no transportation made the commute to WIHI not seem so bad. Also, making the decision during all the gloom and doom budget talks made us feel less secure about Skyline, our home school. Ultimately, we chose WIHI because it seemed to offer some of the same things we liked about Community (block scheduling, smaller size, more connection to and support from teachers.) It has been a great choice for us, although I would prefer less driving and less homework!

  5. Sorry, corrected link for Christine Stead's piece: link

  6. I really hope that AAPS seriously looks at creating its own IB program (perhaps housed at Huron?). While WiHi seems to be great so far in some ways, it is working because it seems to function on the premises of elitism. No bussing cuts out a significant population, an application further does that, the fact that it's full IB (again) limits the population (Imagine only letting students take ALL the AP classes offered as opposed to giving the option to take 1-2 AP classes), and also students who don't "cut it" are sent back to their districts (from what I hear). Also, I'd be curious to know how many students at WiHI have IEPs. My guess is not very many, thereby cutting out another population from access to the IB curriculum.

    The rigorous and intellectually stimulating curriculum has the opportunity to affect more students and increase their learning if introduced into a comprehensive high school. It bums me out when schools like WiHi are created and everyone lauds them; the reality is that when you carefully select and weed out students, you will be able to create a school with great test scores and data.