Sunday, December 29, 2013

Contemplating Donating to Schools, and My Other 2013 Ann Arbor Chronicle Posts

I started writing for the Ann Arbor Chronicle, an important local online news source, earlier this year, in a column that appears approximately every other month.

Today I have another column in the Ann Arbor Chronicle. This one is about donating to public schools, and advocating for the public schools, as we close this year out and start another year.

Here's how I start out:

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor ChronicleIf you’re like me, then every January you think to yourself, “This year, I’m going to spread out my charitable giving over the course of twelve months. It would be so much better for my cash flow, and probably it would be better for the nonprofits as well.”
And then, come November and December, I realize that once again, I failed to spread out my giving – and I had better pull out my checkbook. Writing the bulk of these checks at the end of the year has a benefit, in that it allows me to look at all of my donations at once. But it also means that I’m in a rush and I don’t always take the time to reflect. So this is my opportunity.
Like many of you, we make donations to local, national, and international groups that focus on a wide range of issues. For us, those organizations do work related to health, the environment, politics, women’s issues, Jewish groups, social action, human services, and more.
Although I do give to some groups that, loosely speaking, fit the category of “education,” those entities do not make up a significant proportion of our donations. I confess to a certain ambivalence to giving to such groups – because, in many ways, I’m already a big contributor to public education. And it’s likely that you are, too.
Read the rest here.

If you are interested in the other articles I wrote for the Chronicle in 2013, here they are.

Taking a Long Look at Redistricting (November 9, 2013)

The Case for Free Public Schools (August 9, 2013)

Disparate Impact of AAPS Cuts? (June 7, 2013)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top Ann Arbor Schools Musings Posts of 2013

Starting with the most popular post from 2013, and working my way down the list...

1. Who is the Broad Foundation and Why Do We in Ann Arbor Care? (May 6, 2013)

In which I explain the association between then-superintendent Pat Green and the Broad Foundation.

2. The (financial) costs of (NWEA) testing in Ann Arbor (Sept. 22, 2013)

In which I discuss the hard costs, and soft costs, of NWEA testing--to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Plus there are a lot of great links to other information about the NWEA test.

3. Principal Principles, Perspectives, and Publicity (Nov. 24, 2013)

Sulura Jackson at Skyline High School graduation.
Photo from

Why did Cindy Leaman leave Pioneer High School for the new Ann Arbor Virtual Academy? Did Sulura Jackson, former principal of Skyline High School, plagiarize?

4. Superintendent Background Research: Richard Faidley (July 9, 2013)

I think this was the first profile I did for superintendent background research during the recent hiring of the AAPS Superintendent. Richard Faidley didn't make it to the next round.

5. State Board of Ed Roadshow Gives (A Lot of) Food for Thought (March 12, 2013)

Julie Roth wrote an excellent guest column for me using the perspective of a "non-teacher, non-educator, non-union Parent Stakeholder."

6. Ypsilanti Community Schools: Meditations on Employment (June 10, 2013)

Willow Run Flyers logo (old)
Ypsilanti High School Phoenix logo (old)
In 2013, we said goodbye to Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts, and hello to the consolidated Ypsilanti Community Schools. The Ypsilanti and Willow Run consolidation of schools led to the loss of some staff positions, the loss of some staff compensation, and the loss of both the Ypsilanti and Willow Run teachers' unions. Plus I tell a fun family story.

7. AAPS Superintendent Pat Green Resigns. What Do You Think Of That? (April 11, 2013)

When AAPS Superintendent Pat Green resigned, I did a survey. The links to the results are in this post.

8. Finalist for Superintendent Background Research: Brian Osborne (July 9, 2013)

Brian Osborne was offered the AAPS Superintendent position. He didn't take it, and we got runner-up Jeanice Swift. So far, she appears to have embraced the position.

9. Funny Common Core Video Raises Serious Questions (June 8, 2013)

I like this video so much (and I need some pictures in this post) that I'm putting it right in here!

10. Are You Following the NWEA MAP Controversy In Seattle? (Feb. 6, 2013)

In Seattle, teachers refused to administer the NWEA MAP test. Read more recent updates at the Scrap the Map web site.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Student Advocacy Center: Solutions, Not Suspensions Campaign

The Student Advocacy Center in Ann Arbor is part of a Solutions, Not Suspensions Campaign. This is part of a national movement to reduce suspensions in schools and promote positive behavioral interventions.

Here are a few facts from the campaign:

Michigan ranks 5th in the country for highest rates of student suspensions, with students of color, students with disabilities, and students in foster care being suspended at significantly higher rates. 
Every dropout costs society an estimated $250,000 over the student’s lifetime in lost income. Research shows that students who are expelled are more likely to drop out of school and/or get arrested.  
Michigan law does not currently require schools to work to reduce suspensions and expulsions and informal guidance by the State Board of Education, while a step in the right direction, has been largely ignored.

Here is the current list of organizational endorsers. (There are also individual endorsers. You can be one of them!) The Student Advocacy Center recently approached the Ypsilanti Community Schools with an informational letter, asking them to be the first school district to sign on to this pledge. That would be timely, too, considering that the YCS school board recently voted on some expulsions, including an expulsion of an elementary school child!  (I believe they were all mandatory, but I'm not positive about that. Did you know that students who are suspended are twice as likely to drop out? Or that black students are are 2-1/2 times more likely to be suspended than white students, according to the U.S. Department of Education?)

  1. ACLU of Michigan 
  2. Ann Arbor Concerned Citizens for Justice
  3. Association for Children's Mental Health 
  4. Better Detroit Youth Movement 
  5. Cherish Our Youth
  6. Citizens for Prison Reform 
  7. Education Trust – Midwest 
  8. Greater Works Youth Empowerment 
  9. Harriet Tubman Center 
  10. Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice
  11. Keeping Them Alive 
  12. Matrix Human Services
  13. Michigan Alliance for Families 
  14. Michigan's Children
  15. Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency
  16. Michigan County Social Services Association
  17. Michigan League for Public Policy 
  18. Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc. 
  19. National Association of Social Workers - Michigan Chapter
  21. Sower Center for Successful Schools 
  22. Student Advocacy Center of Michigan 
  23. The Arc of Michigan
  24. Youth Voice 

You can sign the pledge, or work to get your school district to sign on to this.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Housekeeping Notes--But They Are Really Interesting, I Promise

How Can You Follow This Blog? Let Me Count the Ways

My friend asks me, "How do I know when you've posted?"

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow
follow, follow, follow, follow

Seriously, there are many ways that you can find out when I've posted.

1. Visit here--a lot! (I usually post 2-4 times/week, but not on a schedule. So you have to check back to find out. Some people think that is a pain. Therefore, there are some easier (painless :)) ways to follow me.

2. Subscribe to the blog by email. I have now made this very easy by setting up a link that shows up at the bottom of every new blog post. [Thanks to Jenna Bacolor of the Ann Arbor Schools Rec & Ed blog--when she did it on her blog I realized there must be a way for me to do it too. And there is!] So just scroll to the bottom of this post, click on the link, and put in your email.

3. Follow me on twitter. My "handle" is @schoolsmuse, and can be found at I now (finally) have the blog set up to auto-post to twitter so every post gets tweeted. Just be warned though, that although I don't use twitter every day, I use it a few times a week, and I re-tweet things that catch my eye. Some of those things are about education, but I also will retweet local events, public health news, environmental news, news from the Middle East, and other things that catch my interest. 

4. Join the Ann Arbor Schools Musings Facebook group, which I started to have some more informal discussions--and allow people to post things that interest them about local education as well. You can find the group here: 

I usually--but not always--put my posts up there. Sometimes I forget, and sometimes it just seems like too much self-promotion.

5. Follow me on an RSS feed. That is a way of looking at a lot of blogs, or web pages, all at once. I used to use Google Reader, but Google closed that down, and I now follow myself--and many other blogs--on There's a link to feedly on the right hand side of the blog. I think it will work, also, to click the links with the orange rainbow on the top right-hand side of my blog. There are other options too: Newsblur, Inoreader, Digg... Readers, feel free to make suggestions about these in the comments.

Commenting Guidelines

1. I love comments. Really, I do. Please comment. On the one hand, I dream of having a comments section that is as robust as Mark Maynard or Dov Bear. On the other hand, I think they have more tolerance for rudeness and snarkiness than I do. (Is that a guy blogger thing?) So having said that, I think my commenting guidelines are very modest, but it's worth mentioning them.

Comments policy: All are welcome to comment, but please be respectful, and assume that everyone wants the best for the schools.

2. Also, I don't mind anonymous comments. Really. I was an anonymous blogger for a while so it would be a little hypocritical to say no to anonymous comments. But the other day, looking at this post (which got 19 comments! maybe a personal record!), my husband said to me, "The same person had all those different opinions?" He was confused. I explained to him that "anonymous" was actually several different anonymi (is that a word?).  If you comment occasionally, even if you log in as anonymous, consider typing a name that you will use consistently every time you comment here. You can put it in the text, as does--for instance--someone who posts as Ypsi Anon. That way, I can (and readers can) separate out multiple opinions.


People are really enthusiastic about this blog, and I really do appreciate that. But I would love some help, in two ways.

1. Want to guest blog about something you know about and are passionate about? I would love informants from local schools and different districts (Ypsilanti, in particular). I would love to have some one write regularly, or occasionally, about their experiences with special education services. I would love to have a teacher or two write about how Common Core and other new legislation is affecting them. Those are just a few ideas. No fortune from this, and not much fame either--but you'll get the thanks of a lot of people in the community who are hungering for more news about local schools and education. [And my thanks to Ypsi Anon, Julie Roth, and Steve Norton who have each stepped up and written things for me over the past year or so.] If you are at all interested, send me an email to rlk234 [at]

2. Don't want to write, but like doing research? One of my most-visited posts, on the Broad Foundation, was easy for me to write because Sharon Simonton had done most of the research for me. I have lots of ideas for things to research that I don't have time to do.

Some of the things I'm interested in:
--local schools history--there is a lot of it, and some of it is very relevant to today!
--Title IX--how are local schools doing with compliance?
--teacher work conditions, union bustings
--effects of testing
--race and class disparities
--language learning
--charter schools--funding, who is going there, work conditions...
--online learning--
--legislative intrigue
and more

If YOU are interested in researching something and have a specific idea, let me know and I'll tell you if I think I might be interested. If you like research but don't have any ideas, I have more than enough for both of us.

See? Housekeeping. Who knew it could be so interesting!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Answers: Holiday Gifts for Teachers

Here are the questions, and the answers, that I got to my survey about holiday gifts for teachers. It is also applicable to year-end gifts. Read the full report here.

Did you know that Ann Arbor has guidelines for holiday gifts? So does Plymouth-Canton, apparently, so you might want to check with your school district to see what their guidelines are.

(The guidelines, by the way, address much more than just holiday gifts.)

As far as holiday gifts go though, the most important line is this: 
  • Employee Handbook – As employees of the district, individuals shall not accept gifts of more than token value from students or their parents or guardians or from vendors or businesses.  (Exception:  gifts to a retiring or reassigned employee.)

Below, I've got some choice quotes. The "Other Comments" all addressed the fact that in the situation I described families were asked to give around $20, which "seems excessive," in the words of one commenter.

Parents: What Do You Usually Do For Teacher Gifts? 

Key ideas: group gifts (but maybe $2-$5 per family); homemade items and food; donations to an educational foundation; gifts for the classroom (for instance, books for the class library) personal notes.

We have always made donations to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation to thank teachers at the end of the school year, but not in December. And we participate in the PTO sponsored activities to thank teachers/staff in May.
When our children were younger, I appreciated when parents organized and we would contribute to that, but not $30 per family! It was maybe $5 per family, or whatever you could afford. Even if you only get half of the parents participating, I know my own teacher-spouse would feel VERY uncomfortable having families who may be struggling feel pressured to contribute that amount, or feel badly for not being able to contribute so much… If a parent has the income to be so generous that great, but not appropriate to ask others. There are families at every one of AAs schools who struggle financially. 
Once a kid knitted a scarf himself for a favorite teacher; twice kids have made pens or spoons on their lathe for teachers. Often the kids choose and help make the baked goods.

Parents: What Guides Your Decision Making on Teacher Gifts?

Key ideas: make it meaningful and show you appreciate their time over the year; personalize; large group gifts are ok if they don't require to spend a lot of money; no bath salts, coffee mugs, or tchotchkes (teachers get too many).

And a question: What about high school teachers?

Time, we have limited time so we can't bake anything. Money, we have limited money (spouse is teacher!). Our children's teachers are some of the people we value most in this community. And knowing how beat up teachers are feeling these days, we find it particularly important to let them know how much we appreciate them.
I recently realized that we haven't done anything for the high school teachers, in large part because we parents hardly know them (little interaction except for capsule night) and because our high schooler doesn't necessarily enjoy school. This oversight (?) makes me somewhat sad - I suspect they would appreciate it, but don't know what to do.
Teachers are busy, busy people, so I try to think of something related to the gift of time. That's why I like the bread idea. Who has time to bake bread?
Teachers deserve our thanks and appreciation. I think it's important to express that and to have our children express that too. But I think it is more meaningful for a child to write a note, or for a parent to send an email that lays out what a wonderful job someone does, and cc: their principal. I also like donating something to the classroom that is aligned with the teachers goals; rather than personal gifts. 
I think it's very important to recognize all that they do year round -- but the holidays offer a great pause to take stock and give thanks where due given these often tense and embattled times when teachers and schools are so under siege in Michigan. I also have my child make cards for her teachers and write personal notes to them. Sometimes give a small homemade gift with the gift certificate and card. Try to make it personal & hopefully useful/meaningful and keep clutter to a minimum.
I talk with my kids about what might be a good gift for their different teachers, and then try to follow through on our ideas.

Teachers/Administrators: What Kind of Gifts Do You Usually Get?

As I high school teacher, I usually get very few gifts. While gifts can be nice, what I love more than any gift card, plate of cookies, or prepackaged holiday present are sincere notes from students or parents. A real note that does more than just sign a name, but actually engages on a personal level, trumps any actual object. Plus it's pretty much free and and doesn't take much time to do!

I'm fortunate in that gifts I've received from parents/students have always been pretty thoughtful and personal. Anything from homemade treats or crafts to my favorite snacks to wool socks. Lately, I've had parents pool their money together and buy items for the classroom and a gift certificate to Nicola's to keep our classroom library well-stocked.

Teachers/Administrators: What Are Your Favorite/Least Favorite Gifts? How Do You Think About These Things?

Key idea: personalize. 
I also note, especially, this first comment: 
I find it really difficult when a family chooses to give a gift to one person and not to another with whom they work (e.g. the teacher but not the aide, or the secretary but not the clerk). I've had my feelings really hurt at these moments in some years.
While the best things are always gifts for the classroom that we can all use, my favorite personal things are always the thoughtful, homemade things. A ceramic vase a parent made for me, a crafty tile/dry erase message board, a heartfelt letter from a student.
[Spouse of a teacher]: It's nice to be recognized but more than anything sincere words of appreciation from students and parents are the gifts my spouse loves the most. Home made cards, or cards with nice words are the best. Home made food/treats is the second best. Gift cards to Zingerman's and books stores always appreciated by my spouse. (who is not a coffee drinker)
My favorite things are personal messages from families and especially from kids. I'd rather have a heartfelt greeting than just the name on a preprinted card, and the gift matters pretty much not at all (although, honestly, I love me some good holiday sweets!!)

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gifts for Teachers: Take My Survey Please!

A friend, whose child is in kindergarten (so this is her first experience with a child in public schools), posted this question on Facebook (paraphrased here):

Another parent suggested that every parent donate $20 for a holiday gift for the kindergarten teacher, and $10 for the teachers' aide. This seems a little excessive to me, with almost 25 kids in the class, but is this what people do?

So please, take my survey.

If you are a parent, what do you usually do (if anything) for holiday gifts?
If you are a teacher or an administrator, what would you like parents to do?
If you are not a parent, teacher, or administrator, what do you think about teacher gifts? Do you remember giving them?
(For those of you who are both teachers and parents, feel free to answer from both perspectives. I will publish the results later this week.)

[Update 12/11/2013: The survey is now closed. But the results are here!]

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

New York Parents Have A Message--What Would Michigan Parents Say?

My friend Kemala is part of a group of parents that sent a message to Bill de Blasio (the incoming mayor--New York has a mayor-controlled school system) about what they are looking for in a new schools chancellor.

It's a really good video! I like that it has a narrative and a clear message.

And it made me wonder--if parents put together a video in Ann Arbor, or Ypsilanti, or Dexter, or... for the school board, what would the key messaging points be?

What if the video was targeted at state legislators?

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Today, at the Michigan Capitol: Will Two Terrible Bills Go to the Full House?

Michigan Parents for Schools is reporting:

They may try to push the 3rd grade retention and A-F ratings bills out of committee and through the full House tomorrow. 

Bill #1: Third Grade Retention

The third grade retention bill says that kids have to read proficiently by third grade, or they'll be held back. MIPFS calls it an "all stick, no help" bill.

Writes MIPFS: 

They've softened the bill a bit since it was first introduced, but the basic thrust is still the same. Instead of helping schools serve challenged students, instead of providing the resources schools need to run quality reading programs, the bill proposes simply to hold students back. Does this make any sense to you? It certainly doesn't to us.

Take action on the third grade "read better, or else" bill here

Bill #2: Grading Schools Like an Appliance

Last year the schools were given a color-coding system as a way to "help" inform the public about school quality (based, naturally, on standardized testing). That system didn't make any sense to me,** and now the proposal is to scrap that for a replacement system in which schools would be graded from A to F. 

According to MIPFS, 

Now we have HB 5112, which proposes to scrap that whole (brand new) system and replace it with a simplistic rating that gives every school and district a letter grade from A to F. Not only that, but this "grade" would be based almost entirely on standardized test scores and would grade schools "on a curve," ensuring that some will always "fail." 

We're not shopping for toaster-ovens here.

Take action on the "grading schools like appliances" bill here.

Also, PLEASE: Share this information about these bills on facebook, twitter, your email lists--the children of this state thank you!

**By the way, if you are interested, Okemos Parents for Schools nicely dissected the ridiculousness of the color coding system in this post

Under the new model, every school receives a color on a scale of green, lime-green, yellow, orange, or red - in descending order:
A school earns a color based on the number of points it amasses — two points for each goal met, , one point for each goal met by demonstrating improvement, and zero points if the goal isn’t met at all. Schools that earn 85% or more of the points possible are assigned a green color. To get lime green, they have to earn 70% to 84% of their points; yellow, 60% to 69%; orange, 50% to 59%; and red, below 50%.Michigan to debut color-coded system for measuring school performance, Detroit Free Press, Aug. 19, 2013.
You can see how Okemos scored on the state's Accountability scorecard. As a district, Okemos scored "Orange," the second to lowest rating.  However, every building scored "Yellow," one step higher.  Yet, in every category, every building scored "Green."  How can that be?

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Monday, December 2, 2013

EMU Dean Resigns from Education Achievement Authority; Protests Tomorrow

Eclectablog is reporting that the Dean of the EMU School of Education has resigned from the Education Achievement Authority.

As Eclectablog notes: 
Not only have EAA administrators been evasive and failed to produce evidence to support their claims of success, they have been found to be leaving special needs students behind.
All of this has led to a number of teachers groups to boycott student teachers from EMU’s education program. Why? Because EMU is has partnered with the EAA since 2011 and is, in fact, the only one of Michigan’s 15 public universities to do so.
And the Dean of the School of Education's resignation is short and to the point. Basically, "I quit. Thank you." 

Why? Well, the faculty was up in arms about EMU's involvement. And without EMU's involvement, the EAA would need to find another university to participate to stay alive. 

According to Eclectablog, 

She [Jann Joseph] has given no reason for her resignation but faculty members’ outrage plus a planned protest during the EAA’s board meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, December 3rd may have played a role. The protest will be followed by a “Teach-In on the Education Achievement Authority” and starts at 7:45 a.m.

Here are the details from the Facebook Event page:

Stand in solidarity with EMU faculty as they picket on Tuesday, December 3rd, in front of the offices of President Martin and the Board of Regents at Welch Hall on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. Your presence will help illustrate the misstep that the EMU administration made as they entered this agreement under a cloak of arrogance. Hosted by Professors Steven Camron and Rebecca Martusewicz.
There are two half-hour informational pickets outside Welch Hall:- 7:45 to 8:15 to coincide with the 8 AM start of the EAA Audit Committee meeting- 8:45 to 9:15 to coincide with the 9 AM start of the EAA Executive Committee and Regular Board meeting
Teach-In to follow from 10:00-12:30 at Halle Library Auditorium

Thanks to Eclectablog for pointing all of this out! 

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