Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Listen and Learn Tour Results Are Being Shared Now Via Meetings, Report, and Video

Superintendent Jeanice Swift had separate meetings with teachers and parents/community members at every single one of Ann Arbor's schools this fall. Copious notes and analysis later, there are presentations scheduled at all five traditional middle schools (open to anyone).

Also in the works:
*Project Sparkle: cleaning up all of the buildings
*Assessment Task Force--just forming. . . see my earlier post about it.  Please consider applying, here.

Where Are The Meetings?

All forums will be held from 6:30 - 8:00pm

Thursday, January 30 at Forsythe

Monday, February 3 at Clague 

Tuesday, February 4 at Scarlett

Wednesday, February 5 at Slauson

Thursday, February 6 at Tappan

Read the Report!

You will find the report here (on the left hand side of the page you are linking to--it's a nearly 3.0 MB file for downloading).

Watch the Video!

I couldn't get the video to embed here, but here is the link.

The video is not the most highly-produced thing, but it is really fun to play the "how many people do I know in this video" game. I spotted a few friends...

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Monday, January 27, 2014

High Stakes Testing: Exciting Opportunities for Information and Action

I really liked something Diane Ravitch wrote at the beginning of 2014:

More and more parents and teachers are awakening to the realization that the word “reform” has been hijacked by people who want to dismantle public education and the teaching profession. Those who have boldly named themselves the “reformers” are all too often working on behalf of turning public dollars over to private interests and to strip teachers of any due process, any collective-bargaining rights, any salary increment linked to their experience or their education. These so-called “reformers” reify test scores, making them the be-all and end-all of education and are eager to fire teachers and principals whose students don’t get the test scores that the computer says they should, and equally eager to close public schools with low scores and replace them with privately managed schools that all too often escape the same scrutiny as the public schools they replaced. The “reformers” care not at all about class size, indeed, they say they would prefer larger classes with “better teachers,” even though teachers say they can be better teachers with smaller classes, especially given the diversity of students in most public schools today, some of whom have disabilities, some of whom are learning English.Our educators and schools now live under a Sword of Damocles fashioned by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Those who cannot produce higher scores are doomed. This is madness. This is a game rigged to harm public schools, which is a fundamental institution of our democracy.
The good news is that in Ann Arbor, the agitation of parents and teachers across the district around testing and evaluation has caught the eye of the administration.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Assessment Task Force Announced: 

Apply by February 7, 2014

I am very, very, very excited that one of the first actions coming out of the Listen & Learn Tour is the formation of an Assessment Task Force to look at assessment, overall, in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. High-stakes testing (and low-stakes testing, for that matter) are part of assessment, but other things can go into assessment as well. For instance, the production of portfolios and principals' observations of teachers are both forms of assessment.

The task force needs members! For years, I have been asking the district to create opportunities for parent involvement that go beyond the school PTO, site improvement committee, or fundraiser.

Well. . . BONANZA! Finally somebody responds.

Let's talk about the time commitment for you if you were to join the task force. It's a short-term project (right now they are saying February-June), meeting approximately twice a month in the later afternoon.

Students taking a computerized test. From Wikimedia. (Link.)
They are looking for people from across the district. Count yourself in if you are the parent of a kindergartner or the parent of a high school student. Count yourself in if you are a parent at Scarlett or Forsythe or Clague, Eberwhite or Logan or Ann Arbor Open, Pioneer or Skyline or Community. (I'm not trying to list everybody here...but you're all welcome to apply.) Count yourself in if you are the parent of an elite athlete or the parent of a child who loves orchestra or a parent whose child has an IEP and struggles in school. Count yourself in if you bring professional evaluation skills or simply the skill of being a concerned parent. In fact, count yourself in if you are a teacher or an interested community member because the task force is meant "to be comprised of school leaders, teachers, parents, and community members."

From the announcement:

The purpose of this task force is to examine current assessment practices, understand state requirements, which are currently in transition, clarify core values around assessment and bring forward proposals to inform and advise an amended Assessment Plan for 2014-2015.

I've been told there will be other task forces coming later and I hope that's true. In the meantime, I'd be happy if there were 50 or 100 applicants for 25 slots, because I think it will show the district how important this issue is to a lot of people, and how much interest there is in having these kind of shorter-term, project-based, district-wide opportunities for parents.

Don't delay! Apply today! Here is the application link. The deadline is February 7, 2014.

(And by the way--I'm not applying. Between my full-time job, and my blog, and my kids--AND the fact that I was appointed to the Superintendent's Blue Ribbon Community Advisory Panel [which is another good thing Jeanice Swift has done],  I feel that I have enough influence in the school district, and way too much to do in my life. So I'm hoping to influence you to apply, if you think you will be able to devote some time to the project.)

Two Upcoming Events

Issues & Ale: High-Stakes Testing
Beer stein from Wikimedia. (Link.)

On Thursday, January 30th, Michigan Radio is having an Issues & Ale discussion about High-Stakes Testing at Wolverine Brewery. 
Here is the information:
Thursday, January 30, 6:30-8:00p.m.
Wolverine State Brewing Co.
2019 West Stadium Boulevard
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
According to Michigan Radio, 
High stakes tests, like the MEAP, can have a big impact on kids, teachers, and entire school districts. But are the stakes higher for some kids and schools than others? Do low income children and children of color have less of a chance of performing well on these tests? And do these tests really reflect whether a child is getting a good education?
It looks like an interesting event (they list great questions) and it is free, although you may want to buy a beer. I should warn you that the last time I tried to go to an Issues & Ale event, I got there 10 minutes late and it was standing room only (very crowded). So if you want to go, I'd suggest you try to get there a little early. Find more information here.

Opt Out Options--A Community Discussion

I'd like to invite you to an event that will be held on Monday, February 3d, 7 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library

From the Facebook page, this event is meant as:
A conversation on "Opting Out" of testing from how to and why it is an important tool in stopping education reform. Our panel consists of parents, teachers and community members who are concerned about the current state of public education and how high stakes testing will effect the students.

Find out more here. I imagine you will get some great ideas.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Understanding the Education Achievement Authority (EAA): An Activist's Guide

Are you confused about what the Education Achievement Authority is, and what some people want it to be? If so, join the club.

The Okemos Parents for Schools blog (which, by the way, is on my blogroll in the right-hand column) has just done an excellent three-part series on what the EAA is. I highly recommend that you take a look at it!

Part 1: Methods and Results

What is the EAA? Part 1, Methods and Results

To whet your appetite, here is a small excerpt from Part 1:
The EAA was created in 2011 by an interlocal agreement between the Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools, Roy Roberts, and Eastern Michigan University.  An "interlocal agreement" is one of the methods of creating a charter school.  See What are "charter schools?", Okemos Parents for Schools, June 28, 2013.  The EAA is essentially a charter district. Originally, the EAA was tasked with taking over 15 schools from the Detroit Public School district.  Before the EAA had even finished one year of operation its proponents were trying to expand it statewide with a measure which would allow the EAA to capture 5 percent of Michigan's public schools every year, with no mechanism to return them to local control. 

Part 2: Management and Finances

What is the EAA? Part 2, management and finances

In Part 2, you learn some information about who is running the EAA and how they are managing financially. For instance:

The Chancellor of the EAA, John Covington, came to the EAA after heading up a public school district in Kansas City. One Michigan blogger wrote that Covington "faked a conflict with his former employer to get out of his contract" in Kansas City and "could make as much as $1.4 million in four years" at the EAA.  New Education Achievement Authority leader’s former school district loses its accreditation,Eclectablog, September 21, 2011.  Covington's tenure in Kansas City was a rocky one.  Covington oversaw closure of nearly half the schools in the Kansas City district.  Board strips Kansas City schools' accreditation,, September 20, 2011.  As he was leaving, the district he oversaw was flailing on almost all measures of performance, "the district met only three of the 14 standards in the state's annual performance report, down from four in 2010."  Id. Less than a month after Covington left, the Missouri state board of education voted to strip the schools of its accreditation.  Id.  Recently, the EAA board "voted to hire Interactive Learning Systems LLC of Columbia, S.C., as an 'executive coach' for" Covington.  EAA collapsing, The Michigan Citizen, December 12, 2013
(And that's not all...)

Part 3: Widespread Opposition

What is the EAA? Part 3, widespread opposition

In Part 3 we learn about teaching and learning conditions, and we also learn about the local connection. As you may recall, EMU is the chartering institution.
Remember that the EAA is structured like a charter district, and so requires an "interlocal agreement" with an "authorizing institution" to receive state funds.  Eastern Michigan University is the EAA's authorizer.  We've discussed before how authorizing institutions like state universities give charters a feel of credibility, but in practice the authorizer has almost no involvement with the charter.  What are "charter schools?", Okemos Parents for Schools, June 28, 2013.  The EAA's colossal failure and the faculty's complete lack of oversight has proved too much for the EMU faculty to stomach. The faculty are protesting and their efforts have made national news:
And Part 3 ends with this:

In sum, outside the small circle of those politically and financially invested in the EAA, there is almost no one in Michigan advocating for expansion of the EAA. (Emphasis added.)

Ellen Cogen Lipton, a Michigan House
Democrat, has been a key point person on
getting the FOIA'd documents and putting
together the Inside the EAA website.
Photo taken from her state representative website.

More Information from Inside the EAA

After you've taken a look at the "primer" on the EAA, then you might me interested at reading some FOIA'd source documents and lots of other news articles at Inside the EAA.

And why is all of this important in 2014? Expansion of the EAA is one of many terrible educational initiatives we can expect to see back in the legislature...

Interviews with Teachers in the EAA

Just an hour before this post was set to "go live" I found out that today Eclectablog published an important piece about the EAA that has interviews with real live EAA teachers. Serendipity? I think that really it just highlights the fact that this is really important stuff! Read on.

As Chris Savage writes,

I spoke with several teachers, some of whom came to the EAA through the Teach for America program. What follows documents the outrageous and frightening situation in the EAA schools. I am keeping the gender of the teachers, which schools they work in, and any other identifying information hidden so that these teachers will not be fired for speaking to me. Every quote and statement, however, are real and the teachers represent both elementary schools within the EAA as well as high schools.
While much of what I learned from these courageous teachers I had heard about at least in part before, the most shocking thing I discovered was that school administrators have been seen physically abusing problem students. In addition to this, the teachers themselves are put in danger by violent students that the administration appears unwilling or unable to deal with.
It is critically important that these stories be told now because Republicans, including Gov. Snyder, are determined to expand the EAA statewide. The failure of the current EAA “experiment” shows in vivid and frightening detail what a colossal mistake that would be. I encourage you to share this information and this post with others you know so that all of us can contact our legislators and encourage them to stop the failed experiment before it is expanded even further. (Emphasis added.)

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Monday, January 20, 2014

State of the Blog: Five Year Anniversary!

Five Years

Five years ago, over MLK Weekend, I started this blog. When I mentioned this tonight, my husband said,

"What made you start it then? You were bored, right?"


 I wanted to learn more about blogging and I couldn't figure out how to do it except by creating a blog. I spent several months looking for a topic that I wouldn't get bored of writing about, and one day I was really pissed off about something that happened in the Ann Arbor schools (I don't remember what, and it really doesn't matter, because it was neither the first nor the last time) and it was as if a lightning bolt struck. "I'll never get tired of writing about the schools!" I thought. And most of the time, I haven't--although occasionally I think about writing about other things as well. On the other hand, the schools need writing about (and do not criticize the grammar of this sentence, please). I certainly haven't run out of things to write about related to education, and I didn't anticipate all the drama around education! I do sometimes run out of time to write. Work is very busy and now it's full-time. But then someone comes up to me and says, "What you're doing is a huge community service." (Awwwww....)

So, Happy Anniversary to my blog!

1. If you like the blog, make it worth my while by recruiting more readers.
2. If you like the blog, take the time to write an engaging comment.
3. If you like the blog, recruit another parent, teacher, administrator or taxpayer to protect our public schools and become a schools activist.

State of the State vs. State of the Blog

I couldn't really stand to listen to Gov. Snyder's State of the State address (although I'm glad that Rep. Jeff Irwin invited Jeanice Swift to be his guest, and I did like what she had to say about the speech.)

Looking ahead, there are lots of things I haven't gotten to yet. . . I'm hoping to write more about charter schools (especially for profits). . . more about competition between schools. . . more about ending high-stakes testing. . . more about good things going on in education. As always, if you're interested in contributing to the blog as a researcher or writer, just let me know.

One thing that is still true, and still motivates me, is something that I wrote in my first post on Sunday, January 18, 2009:
Sometimes I find the schools satisfactory, and sometimes not, but in general I have a lot of questions. Questions about why things run the way they do. Questions about whether things could run better. Critiques about the schools. Ideas to improve them.. . . I believe that these are our schools--yes, the taxpayers--and we need to know what is going on. These are our schools--yes, the parents--and we need to be able to make decisions for our kids. These are our schools--yes, the staff--who often don't have a voice in decisions. These are our schools--yes, the students--and what students think also matters.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Marking Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

If you're like me, you want to find a way to mark MLK Day with your family (besides doing something like shopping, even if you are shopping at the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop 20% Off Sale--which, by the way, has to do with having a 20% off sale on the 20th of every month in honor of their 20th anniversary, and not with MLK Day.)

On the other hand, what exactly do you do with a 5 year old, a 10 year old, a 15 year old?

Here are a few ideas.

1. From 2-3p on Sunday, January 19 the Pittsfield Branch will honor Martin Luther King Jr. with award-winning author & illustrator Bryan Collier highlighting his 2002 book Martin's Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. The event is geared towards elementary school aged kids (grades K-5).

2. There will be a second event to honor Martin Luther King Jr on Monday, January 20 from 1-2p at the Downtown Branch with the Biakuye Percussion Group. The event is for grades K through adult.
A Cuban stamp with the image of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King. Found online here

3. University of Michigan is hosting the MLK Children and Youth Program, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, at the Modern Lanagues Building, 812 E. Washington. This is targeted to K-12 students, and you can go in and out of the program. (It's really a series of events. I've found some to be very good, and others rather boring.)

4. University of Michigan is also hosting a Black History Mobile Museum on MLK Day from 10-7 in the Art Lounge in the Michigan Union. This year it is focused on 15 Black people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, and there is also a special section focused on Harry Belafonte, who is the MLK Day Keynote Speaker at UM.

5. Older kids (especially those interested in the connection between music, acting, and social activism) may be interested in hearing Harry Belafonte, who will be speaking at Hill Auditorium at 10 a.m. on MLK Day.

(Find out more about the University of Michigan MLK-related events here.)

6. Really, this is more for adults: Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem Children's Zone will be the EMU keynote speaker at 10 a.m. at the Student Center. I've been told that he's quite impressive--but remember that the HCZ has had millions and millions of dollars spent on it. Given the per-pupil funding of an Ypsilanti or Lincoln school district, you might ask him what aspects are easy to implement without tons of additional fund. 

7. Ypsilanti District Library--Main Branch has a concert with Rev. Robert Jones at 4 p.m.--he is a wonderful Detroit-area performer and huge supporter of American Roots music. (And you may remember his show on WDET.)

8. Ypsilanti District Library--Whittaker Branch has the You Can't Stop Me Project singing at 6:30 p.m. They are a group of kids who sing and perform. 

9. Read or listen to a related book (something about the Little Rock 9?)--there are lots of great ideas for books.

10. Watch a movie with your kids. Right now the movie 12 Years A Slave is at Rave Cinemas but of course there are many other options. Want a sports movie? How about Glory Road or 42 or the Jackie Robinson Story?

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Michigan Radio Focuses on High Stakes Testing Jan. 16 and Jan. 30, 2014

Michigan Radio is devoting quite a bit of attention to education in general, and in the next couple of weeks, to high stakes testing in particular. And that is great news.

From Michigan Radio's Facebook page:

Philco Cathedral Radio. Found online
from Wikimedia here

"High Stakes Testing" Call-in Show

This Thursday, Jan. 16, 3:00 pm and 10:00 pm (repeat)
Join Jennifer White as she hosts a live call-in special on this important topic. You can submit your questions by phone at 866-255-2762, on Twitter @StateofOpp, or on Facebook here

Yes, that is correct--that's a CALL IN SHOW, or you can TWEET IN. Do it! Share your opinion! (I assume you have to call in for the 3:00 pm show.)

"The Big Test" Documentary

Thursday, Jan. 30, 3:00 pm and 10:00 pm (repeat)
Then, on January 30, Dustin Dwyer goes inside a struggling school, from the first day of the year until the last testing day for the MEAP. He brings us a rare look at all the things the tests don't tell us about kids, schools and what it means to get a good education."

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Water, Ice, School Damage, Parent Power, and More Thoughts About Two-Hour Delays

Ready, Set, Freeze...

A cardinal in the snow. Taken from wikimedia

Where there's ice and freezing temperatures, there may be. . . burst pipes.

Indeed, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti schools did not escape unscathed.

There was major damage in the Rec & Ed occupied area at Pioneer High School, with not one but two pipes bursting--one with hot water!

At Skyline High School, there was water damage to the gym and athletic area.

And Ypsilanti schools will be closed (Day 4 of Snow Days!) because of major building issues--in particular, water pipe breaks at Holmes Elementary and the YCS Middle School.

Lincoln schools will also be closed.

On the Subject of Two-Hour Delays

Yesterday I posted about two-hour delays. There has been an interesting discussion on the Ann Arbor Schools Musings Facebook page from parents who grew up in school districts where two-hour delays were common. One person had been told by the Ann Arbor schools that two-hour delays were "too complicated" to implement here.

They are implemented in many places around the country (not, apparently, in Washtenaw County--yet) so it can't possibly be "too complicated" to implement here. Yet obviously the schools would need to have a plan in place to do that. Maybe that could be part of planning for next year.

Kind Words for Parents

On the one hand, a lot of parents have been going stir-crazy. Winter break and then another three days
of snow days?

On the other hand, a lot of parents have been concerned about kids being out in the cold, waiting for buses or walking to school (teens are not known for dressing for the weather), and have appreciated the districts' decisions to not risk life or limb by having snow days.

And probably some people think maybe we should have a fourth snow day tomorrow. (Thursday morning it is still supposed to be around -5 degrees Fahrenheit!)

Which is why I really appreciate these words from AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift in the district's latest email:

We know that tomorrow morning the temperatures and wind chills will continue to be very low and many of the roads and sidewalks may not be completely cleared, especially at some of the neighborhood bus stops.We remind parents and guardians that you are the final decision-maker in determining if it is safe for your student(s) to get to school, whether they are walking or arriving via bus or car transportation. 
We have advised our schools that student absences related to the weather will be considered an excused absence (if phoned in by the parent) and students will be able to make up assignments and class work. If your student will be absent, please follow the standard procedure and call the school to report their absence. (Emphasis added.)

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Introducing (Again): The Two-Hour Delay

Happy New Year!
Happy Cold Snowy New Year!
Happy Cold Snowy Beautiful New Year!

I am reposting this post from last year (Feb. 11, 2013), because it has been soooo cold, and tomorrow morning the warning is as follows: 

... Wind chill warning remains in effect until 7 am EST Wednesday...  

And kids are waiting for the school bus before 7 a.m. in some cases. So do we do another snow day? Or could we start a two-hour-delay trend? Why not?

Just saying...

Today was a snow day.

Now don't get me wrong. I love snow days, especially when there is snow to play in.

And I know that it was icy on the rural roads in the district at 5 a.m. But then it warmed up.

My friends in Pittsburgh (a city of many bridges that freeze) tell me that their schools often get a two-hour delay on days when it is icy in the morning but likely to warm up later.

I'm really not sure why none of our local schools seem to do this. It seems like this would have been the perfect solution in weather like today's.

And that is my bright idea!