Monday, March 31, 2014

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Wondering what Smarter Balanced is?

It sounds like margarine, right?

It's not. It's a test. It's the test that is supposed to replace the MEAP test (but be given in the spring, and on computers). And it's supposed to be "Common Core aligned." And it's going to be longer than the MEAP. [It's state-mandated. So whatever school district or charter school you are in, this test should be of interest to you.]

But hey, it's got a logo that looks like it belongs to a forestry group.

Read the web page here.

According to this fact sheet by Fair Test, "Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15."

In Michigan, we will be using Smarter Balanced.
Here's a nice article on how the Smarter Balanced test is going to fund for-profit corporations. (OK, really--not so "nice." But it's worth paying attention to this!)

As Fair Test points out,
Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).
Oh yeah, and also? It's a computer-based test which means it is going to hog up the school computers. I sure am glad I voted for that technology millage...

Curious about the test? You should be. Take a sample of the test here. [Just log in as a "guest."]

And then? Please share your observations about the test sample in the comments section.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grab Bag: Open Conference Review, Same Sex Marriage

Open Conference Review

Last weekend, while I was at the County Clerk's office witnessing an historic event, the Open School Conference was happening at a lovely Lithuanian heritage camp, Camp Dainava, outside Manchester. So I didn't really know what happened there, except that one friend told me it was very interesting to hear about the progressive/open school in Boston, Mission Hill.

But yesterday I found out that Nancy Flanagan wrote the loveliest piece about the Open School Conference in Education Week! Titled, "What Professional Development Should Be," she writes, in part,

I was there to present on teacher leadership. I was prepared to share dramatic, even shocking information about the staggering gap between custom-tailored teaching practice and state and federal policy. I planned to tell them about teacher leadership "programs"--where "leaders" are selected and trained and funded, to do the bidding of organizations and promote policy initiatives. I wanted to talk about role-based leaders with defined duties, contrasted with a more organic kind of leadership--leadership that emerges from place and need. Which--it suddenly struck me--was present, in spades, in the room already. A principal who enthusiastically attends a conference planned entirely by her teachers, to learn with them? Teachers who won't let their internally-designed spring weekend together die, after three decades? Precious time set aside to talk about things that matter most in serving the 500 children in their collective care, as educators and parents? If that's not natural and authentic leadership, I don't know what is.
Read the entire article here. (You may have to register for Education Week, but you do get ten free articles a month for that.)

And another thing worth noting about the Open School Conference. Not only did Kit Flynn, Ann Arbor Open principal, attend, but so did the Ann Arbor schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, and Dawn Linden, the Executive Director for Elementary Education. That may be the first time that has happened--but if not, it's certainly the first time in a long time! Thank you, Jeanice and Dawn, for showing up! I hope you enjoyed it as much as Nancy Flanagan did.

Same Sex Marriage Redux

I was disappointed--no, disappointed isn't the right word. I'm disappointed when I go to a party and none of the desserts are my favorites.

I was infuriated, dismayed, frustrated, and saddened by the Attorney General's decision to appeal Judge Friedman's ruling. To me, it's a waste of taxpayer money. I sent the Attorney General and the Governor this twitter message, but I guess it didn't make a difference.

Don't be mistaken, this ruling affects many children, parents, and teachers in the Ann Arbor schools, and in the various Washtenaw County school districts. Let the governor and attorney general know how you feel!

At one point, on Saturday, I watched the pastor of Ann Arbor's First Unitarian Universalist congregation (Rev. Gail Geisenhainer) perform a wedding ceremony on one side of me, and on the other side, the rabbi of the reform Jewish congregation Temple Beth Emeth (Rabbi Bob Levy) performed a wedding ceremony at the same time. It's worth noting that both couples who were getting married have children in local school districts.

Then yesterday I was thinking about a quote that is sometimes attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But it turns out that both he and Rabbi Jacob Kohn (who said something similar in 1940, during World War II), were basing their quotes on the quote of someone else, most likely Theodore Parker, who was a Unitarian minister and abolitionist. And Parker wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right.* I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. 
Theodore Parker, 1857
*By "right," he didn't mean "right wing" but "morally right"
**Read the interesting history of this quote at Quote Investigator.

And that quote put me in mind of this photo that I took a couple of years ago.

Photo by Ruth Kraut. Creative Commons license.

May that arc speedily bend toward justice!

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Love, Michigan (=)

It's a New Day in Michigan. Read Judge Bernard Friedman's excellent ruling here.

My friends' daughter holds her moms' wedding rings
during their ceremony today (Saturday, 3/22/2014). The hands, of course,
are every Michigander's symbol of Michigan.

IV. Conclusion 
In attempting to define this case as a challenge to “the will of the people,” Tr. 2/25/14 p. 40, state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2694. Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.

IT IS HEREBY DECLARED that Article I, § 25 of the Michigan Constitution and its
implementing statutes are unconstitutional because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Today, at the Washtenaw County Clerk's Office, Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum had posted this sign: 

I especially appreciated this part of Judge Friedman's ruling:

Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. Obviously the state has not adopted this policy and with good reason. The absurdity of such a requirement is self-evident. Optimal academic outcomes for children cannot logically dictate which groups may marry. 


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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Myth of Sisyphus, and the Myth of the EAA, with Kudos to the Ann Arbor School Board

I've been thinking lately about the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, you may recall, is condemned to eternally push a stone up a hill, even while the stone rolls down the hill. I've been thinking about the myth of Sisyphus in regard to an endless succession (in that sense, not a single boulder, but rather a rock fall) of terrible education-related legislation proposed by the state legislature. Those of us working against bad legislation seem to be constantly fighting a losing battle.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

That losing battle was in full view this week, with education advocates working hard to defeat the bill expanding the Education Achievement Authority. Today, those efforts failed. On Facebook, Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools posted this picture of the vote in the House: 

Photo (or screen shot?) of the House TV screen showing the EAA vote.

There were 56 votes to pass the--a bare majority. Many thanks to most of our local representatives for voting No--that includes Driskell, Irwin, Rutledge and Zemke. Democrats who voted Yes were Olumba and Santana. According to Gongwer, five Republicans voted No – Rep. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo, Rep. Ben Glardon of Owosso, Rep. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle, Rep. Phil Potvin of Cadillac and Rep. Pat Somerville of New Boston. (If you happen to live near them, thank them!)

But ultimately, I'm more than hopeful that the story of Sisyphus is not the story of the EAA. I believe that the myth of the EAA as a productive school environment will be exposed. The myth of what the EAA does will be shown to be as fraudulent as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Behind the green curtain. . . if there ever is actual transparency. . . we will see the EAA schools are shadows of real schools, where intellectual inquiry and passion exist. 

The EAA, and many other terrible pieces of legislation, cannot really stand the light of day. The fact that public observers didn't get to read the bill in its latest form before it was voted on is simply more proof of that.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

The real story will not be a myth. Eventually, I really believe that the EAA will be defeated by the power of people. Sisyphus tried to roll that boulder up that hill all by himself. That's something that we don't have to do. 

We. The. People. Have. Each. Other.

Here is part of what Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton said on the floor today (she's the representative who got a lot of the FOIA'd documents about the EAA that you can read here):
Please know...that I know...those who will continue to fight against corporate education DE-FORM know...and most importantly that the children trapped in the EAA know....just how well we fought, and will continue to fight the EAA. They can pass the bill over our objections and ignoring the facts, but we know it is a failure in every way. Thank you to every Education Warrior, the thousands of you across the state. Please know...the fight begins anew....justice and truth WILL prevail.

And that's why I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the Ann Arbor Public Schools board, last night (March 19, 2014) voted to ask Eastern Michigan University to no longer authorize the EAA! The EAA needs an "authorizer" to operate.

It's an excellent resolution, passed unanimously. Read the full resolution here.

To cut to the chase, 

That the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
A. Urges the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents:
 1. To discontinue its affiliation and partnership with the EAA;  2. To work in concert with local public school districts in opposing efforts to destabilize, defund and deconstruct community-based and -governed traditional public education;  3. Go on record as opposing the State’s efforts to rid communities of the opportunity to participate in and govern their local schools; and  4. Build, foster and expand opportunities to work more collaboratively with student teacher placement and similar efforts with traditional public school systems, including the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 
B. Urges State lawmakers to oppose HB 4369 which would expand the destructive model of EAA to a wider arena.

Well done, Ann Arbor School Board! Since I know sometimes I (and many others) are critical of what the school board does, when they do something we like we should also let them know. Send a quick note to the Board of Education at:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ann Arbor Schools: Budget Meetings for This Year and Next

2013-2014 Budget Needs Mid-Year Revisions

For details, you can see Amy Biolchini's article.

But here is the key point: as a result of students choosing charters, private schools, or the WISD consortium, the Ann Arbor schools were short 200 students compared to what was budgeted.

The important meeting is Wednesday, March 19th. From the article:

The budget adjustment will be a part of budget planning discussions the school board is set to begin Wednesday in a 5 p.m. study session at Skyline High School.
Immediately following the study session will be the board’s regular business meeting, which is set to start at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The meeting is a make-up session for the March 12 regular meeting that was canceled due to inclement weather.

2014-2015 Budget Planning

AAPS will be hosting a round of budget forums to discuss the 2014-15 AAPS budget. 

All forums are scheduled from 6:30 – 8pm

Tuesday, March 25, 6:30 p.m. at Slauson Middle School 

Thursday, March 27, 6:30 p.m. at Scarlett Middle School 

Monday, March 31, 6:30 p.m. at Clague Middle School

Tuesday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. at Forsythe Middle School 

Thursday, April 3, 6:30 p.m. at Tappan Middle School

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is EAA Pressure Starting to Get to EMU?

I hope so!

Forum Tomorrow at EMU: Wednesday, March 12, 11 a.m.

On Wednesday, March 12, from 11 a.m. to noon in the Student Center Auditorium, the Office of the Provost will host a forum on the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). The forum’s participants will include EAA Chancellor John Covington as well as students, staff, faculty and parents from the district. The format of the forum includes a presentation by the EAA participants about the EAA’s mission, activities and results. That will be followed by a Q&A session to support the audience’s questions. The forum will be taped for those who can not attend. Public parking is available in the Student Center parking lots off Oakwood Street and Huron River Drive.

(h/t: HSM)

EAA Board Meeting Thursday, March 13th, 4 p.m. in Detroit

This meeting will be held in the Frank Hayden Community Room, #236, on the downtown campus of Wayne County Community College (1001 West Fort Street, Detroit.)

Eclectablog notes:

After canceling their February meeting, the EAA Board of Directors is meeting for the first time since early December. Apparently there hasn’t been anything of significance happening with their school district since then that warranted them meetings. The Board, which started out with 11 members, is down to six members. In fact, three of the existing members’ terms have actually expired:
  • Mark Murray’s 1 year term expired on August 11, 2012
  • William Pickard’s 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
  • Roy Roberts’ 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
This meeting is open to the public and the announcement for it can be found HERE.On the agenda is the expansion of the EAA by adding a new high school near Phoenix Elementary in the southwest part of Detroit.

And by the way, if you are interested in going to the protest, that will start at 3:30. You can RSVP here--or just show up on Thursday.

Sign A Petition?

Also, if you are interested, there is a petition to Governor Snyder to shut down the EAA because it is a "failed experiment."

Sign here.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

OCR Complaint Resolved; Ann Arbor News Article Sows Some Confusion

Community High School. Picture taken from the CHS web page.

Last spring (May 2013), a family leveled a complaint against the Ann Arbor Public Schools regarding the admissions process to Community High School. The complaint alleges that Community High School discriminates against special education students in the admissions process and that this student was discriminated against because his/her IEP team (team that recommends how a student's special education needs should be handled by the district) was not allowed to recommend CHS as a placement for him/her.

When I read the article about the complaint in the Ann Arbor News, it led me to believe that the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was forcing the district to change its policy around the Community High School lottery in regards to the admission of special education students.

The article also led me to understand that the complaint alleged that the district allowed CHS to decide whether kids with disabilities would be allowed into Community High School, after they got in through the lottery.

I do not have access to the actual complaint that was filed, nor to the Agreement submitted to OCR by the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  I have read the letter from OCR confirming the Agreement, and you can read it right here. Re-reading both the Ann Arbor News article and the OCR letter, I still find the writing confusing.

The student's family did allege that the district would only allow students with disabilities to enroll at Community High School if CHS offered the disability-related services that were needed by that student. They also alleged that the student's IEP team was not allowed to recommend CHS as a placement option for him. They provided as proof some language from the CHS admissions/applications handouts.

Based on two conversations I had with AAPS staff members, it seems that the student's family wanted to go around the lottery system, and use the IEP team's recommendation that CHS would be the best environment for the student to get the student placed at Community. (I presume--but don't know for sure--that they went this route because the student did not get in by the lottery.)  The district said no, the IEP team cannot recommend CHS as a placement, the lottery determines placement at CHS.

Although the discussions that ended in the settlement are shrouded in attorney-client privilege, based on the OCR letter it looks like the district proved to Office of Civil Rights that they will provide whatever services are needed (presumably following the recommendations of the IEP team) at CHS for a student with disabilities who gets into CHS via the lottery.  But is also seems clear that the district will still not allow an IEP team to determine that CHS needs to be the placement for a student with an IEP outside of the lottery system.

In other words, the Office of Civil Rights will allow AAPS to continue to use the lottery as the way that students are admitted--or denied admission--to Community.  Only after a student gains access to a Community slot through the lottery will the IEP team help CHS figure out what accommodations/supports the student needs.

It does appear that some of the CHS admissions/applications language that was a subject of the complaint was changed.  The OCR letter indicates that the District agreed
to eliminate any statements advising or suggesting that special education services are not available at CHS or similar statements that might discourage students with disabilities from applying for enrollment at CHS
so that the district is fully in compliance with federal law.

Still confused?

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Part II: Please Take the Time to Comment on Michigan's Proposed Special Education Rules

If you read yesterday's post,

you know that major changes are being proposed by the Michigan Department of Education to the rules that guide special education in Michigan.

According to Marcie Lipsitt:

The MI Dept. of Ed states that the rule revisions will bring our verbiage in line with the federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). This is another way of misleading parents, teachers and concerned citizens.  Eliminating state-imposed rules is not done to bring rules in line with federal law. This is done to bring down costs and reduce the number of children found eligible, while reducing necessary specialized instruction...
Contrary to MI DOE’s assertion, these proposed revisions have nothing to do with “improving student outcomes.”  Rather, they will allow Michigan, ISDs and LEAs to balance their budgets on the backs of students with disabilities. Eliminating the state-imposed special education rules that govern teacher caseloads, special education programs, program sizes and student age spans will not improve outcomes. The most recent data out of the MI Dept. of Ed, Annual Performance Review (February 2014) documents that only 52-percent of students with IEPs graduated high school with a diploma. Michigan needs to turn every possible child into a productive taxpayer. Gutting our special education rules is not the answer and 188,000 students will have no reason to stay home from school in September 2014. Do we really want to send special education and students with disabilities back to the days of being unwelcome guests in our public schools? The answer is a resounding NO. 
The time to comment is short. Comments are only being accepted until March 13th at 5 p.m.!

Below, you will find information about how to comment, and what you might want to say. Since the initial announcement was made, they have added ways to comment via an online form and via email (still no fax)--so I would say that the pressure is working. Keep it up!

Links with Background Information

If you're like me, you are not a special education expert, so here is some more information.

Proposed Rule Changes, from MDE, with strikethroughs and bold text to show the changes.

MDE's Summary of Rule Changes
(Remember: the current rule changes are being described--disingenuously--as minor changes. Really, they're major!)

Michigan Protection and Advocacy's comments on the rules

What the Special Education Rule Changes Will Mean for Kids
(I took this from a parent listserve--I'm not sure who wrote it--but it has very clear examples of the effects of various changes. And did you know that if the autism rule changes take effect, Michigan will have the most restrictive rules in the nation--and they won't be using accepted medical diagnostic criteria either.)

How to Comment

1. Mail:
Public Comment, Office of Special Education
Michigan Department of Education
P.O. Box 30008
Lansing, MI 48909

2. Online submissions form:
(You would think this would be the easiest way to comment, but it asks you to comment on each specific rule, so--kind of a pain! However, if you want to use it, I have a handy list down below.)

3. Email (recently added under pressure--a small victory):
Note that the name of the person making the comment must be included in the email.

4. Go to one of the two public hearings being held on Monday, March 10th:
1:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Detroit School of Arts, 123 Selden Street, Detroit, Michigan 48201
4:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.
Lansing Community College West Campus, 5708 Cornerstone Drive, Lansing, Michigan 48917

There is also a Change.Org petition, which you can sign here. The petition asks Governor Snyder to withdraw the changes to MARSE (the Michigan special education rules) immediately.

What to Say About the Special Education Rules 

You have a few options. One option is to submit a general statement of opposition, and/or ask them to withdraw the rules entirely. Another option is to focus on a few of the rule changes that concern you most. Alternatively, respond to the entire list of rules changes.

Marcie Lipsitt has allowed me to share a detailed, rule-by-rule, response that I found very helpful and have pasted in below.

R, 340,1701 a(c)(v): I oppose removing the phrase "or court decision" from the scope of the complaint. Court decisions are used to provide guidance on students rights under the IDEA and a denial of FAPE. 

R 340.1702- 
1. I oppose defining a student as a student with a disability until completing the high school graduation requirements to earn a diploma. This will allow districts to push students through in 4 years and negate the availability of a 5th and 6th year of high school. 
2. I oppose defining parents as "qualified professionals." IDEA recognizes parents as valued members of the IEP team. This rule could be interpreted to exclude parents that lack professional qualifications. This does not align with 300.306.

R 340.1706 Emotional Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. Especially when a Cognitive and Achievement battery are critical to rule out a learning disability and to understand what can be contributing to a student's emotional and behavioral dysregulation. 

R 340.1707 Hearing Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1708 Visual Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1709 Physical Health Impairment: I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. 

R 340.1709a Other Health Impairment: 

1. I oppose removal of the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility. Especially when a Cognitive and Achievement battery are critical to rule out or rule in comorbid learning deficits in written expression and math due to the adverse impact of ADHD.

2. I oppose allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for an Other Health Impairment. PA's do not have the training necessary to evaluate for the conditions eligible under OHI. 

R. 340.1710 Speech-Language: 
1. I oppose removing the MET.
2. I oppose removing the language that could suggest that a student cannot receive a Speech service without eligibility. The word "may" leaves this "service" open to interpretation. 

R 340.1711 Early Childhood Developmental Delay: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1713 Specific Learning Disability: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1714 Severely-Multiply Impaired: I oppose removing the MET. This will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine the student's eligibility.

R 340.1715 ASD: 
I am outraged by the MDE's description of the proposed changes to the ASD eligibility. 

1. You have proposed removing "such as" and changing it to "including" for "eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and social interaction." This will require students to have "all" of these impairments instead of "such as." This is an insidious change in verbiage that will dramatically reduce the number of children eligible. Even now it is too subjective when social workers, speech and language clinicians and teachers decide if a student can or can't make eye contact. 
2. I oppose removing the MET as this will reduce the depth and breadth of the evaluation used to determine eligibility. 

R 340.1716 Traumatic Brain Injury: 
1. I do not support removal of the MET as this will reduce the scope of the depth and breadth of the evaluation.
2. I do not support allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for eligibility. 

R 340.1716 Deaf-Blindness
1. I do not support removal of the MET as this will reduce the scope of the depth and breadth of the evaluation conducted to determine a student's eligibility.
2. I oppose allowing a Physician's Assistant to evaluate for eligibility. This is inconsistent with those allowed to evaluate for a Hearing Impairment and a Visual Impairment. This short changes those students with concomitant deaf-blindness

R. 340.1721: I oppose as I am completely opposed to the revisions in R 340.1721b. The verbiage is confusing and can be misinterpreted. 

R 340.1721a: I oppose as the verbiage is confusing and will be misinterpreted by too many school districts 

R 340.1721b (1): I support none of these proposed revisions with the exception of firmly establishing the 30 school days to evaluate and have an IEP team meeting. I strongly oppose excluding the IEP team from the 30 school days and requiring that parents sign the consent for special education prior to an IEP team meeting. This is virtually requiring parents to consent blindly to the contents of an IEP when they are valued members of the IEP team. 

R 340.1721e: I oppose removal of the short term objectives. Parents fought this removal hard in 2008 and oppose it for the same reason in 2014. Short term objectives are the only way to measure a student's progress on an annual goal. 

R 340.1722: I oppose this revision as it will be open to interpretation and misunderstanding between districts and parents. This could lead to parents being forced to file more written complaints and due process hearings. 

R. 340.1724: I oppose as I am opposed to the state superintendent's dictatorial authority due to Gov Engler's 1996 executive orders. 

R 340.1724: I oppose requiring school districts to notify the MDE when a parent files a civil suit following an ALJ's decision in a Due Process

R 340.1724: I oppose giving school districts additional time to pay their share of the cost of a Due Process hearing. 

R 340.1832 (d): I strongly oppose giving school districts and ISDs permission to determine special ed staffing annually. MI districts and ISDs will balance their budget on the backs of students with disabilities.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Part I: Michigan Proposes New Special Education Rules--You're in the Twilight Zone!

Michigan's Special Education System is Under Fire by the Michigan Department of Education

I was first apprised of the proposed changes to the state's special education rules about a week ago. I hadn't heard anything about them before that. I'll bet you haven't either. Perhaps you, like me, were more focused on local school initiatives, or on your paid work, your family, or the wintry weather.

Even those of us who try to pay attention to the state's endless list of education-related legislation have had a "pay no mind" attitude to rules. Rules, essentially, guide the implementation of legislation. They can be changed, with a much less public process than legislation. [It is a public process--in the sense that it requires public notice, there is the opportunity for public comment, etc. But it is a less public process in the sense that it often escapes notice.]

In researching this post and the next one, I found myself at the web site for the Michigan Department of Education's Special Education section, on the page devoted to public comment for the changes to MARSE--the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education.

And there, I found a very interesting, SEXY video. JUST KIDDING! Really it's kind of dry. (I've been told if you put the word "sexy" in your blog posts you bump up your readership!)

But it's only five minutes long, and it explains the rule making process in a way that is clear, and at the same time makes you think that there is nothing to worry about for these rules.  That--by the way--is not at all true, as I will explain in tomorrow's post.

For today, I would like you to watch this sexy, dry, mundane, essential, scintillating, slightly terrifying, stupendous video. It was there that I learned about the state's Office of Regulatory Reinvention--who makes these names up? NOW do you see why I thought I was in the twilight zone?

Essentially, when the Michigan Department of Education decides to revise rules, they run it by the Regulatory Affairs Office at MDE and the Office of Regulatory Reinvention--which is part of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

[By the way, the Office of Regulatory Reinvention is sending out press releases that say things like: Office of Regulatory Reinvention Eliminates 1,500 Rules, Implements 100 Recommendations Making Regulations More Efficient.]

The Office of Regulatory Reinvention would have you believe that the main points of the special education rules revisions are that
The rules are being revised in order to incorporate currently used terms and law numbers to protect the rights of students with disabilities by: 1. Aligning Michigan administrative rules with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its implementing regulations, 2. Providing consistency with other state offices and departments, and 3. Clarifying inconsistencies with other rules or regulations. (Link)
But that is not true. It is much, much more.

The rules would change the implementation of special education in our schools in ways that go way beyond providing consistency. Advocates tell me they would gut the system and make it much harder for kids to access special education services.

But here is the main thing. I'm writing about rule making because it happens behind the scenes--this is not a legislative process. The public commentary on the rules is open only until March 13th, 2014. They will not take comments by email or fax. Mailed comments go to a PO Box (which means, I'm told, that mail can't be sent certified). Bowing to pressure, MDE recently added the option of giving commentary using an online form, but the comments are set up in a very specific way which is--frankly--a pain in the butt to use. And there are only two public hearings planned for these revisions. Coincidentally, both of them will be held on the same day!

Wait--there's more! There is a small legislative component to this. The rules get forwarded to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which is made up of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats from each chamber. But they can only reject the rules under very specific circumstances. So even though I'm listing the legislators names here, the legislators should not, and cannot,  be the primary focus of complaints about the rules. Those comments have to go to the bureaucrats who are writing up the rule revisions.

JCAR Members

State Senators

Senator John Pappageorge, Chair in 2014
Senator Arlan Meekhof
Senator Jim Marleau
Senator Tupac Hunter
Senator Bert Johnson

State Representatives
Representative Tom McMillin, Alternate Chair in 2014
Representative Jim Stamas
Representative Amanda Price
Representative Harvey Santana
Representative Douglas Geiss

And there is a meeting of JCAR coming up Wednesday, March 12, 2014, but I don't believe it is the main one where they will be discussing the special education rules, because public comment on the rules is open until Thursday March 13th. 

If you can't wait until tomorrow to read the details of the rules and find out action steps for public commentary, here are a couple of preview links:

Blog post by Marcie Lipsitt

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates action alert

Read Part II--how to comment, and what to say, here.

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winter Tales: Reading for a Snowy Weekend

Today is March 1st, and although technically (and based on the weather around us!) winter goes until March 20th/21st, I learned recently that in Australia people say that the season has changed on the first of the month in which the season changes. In other words, I could say that today is spring (although if I lived in Australia, I guess I'd be saying that today is fall!).

This is Andersen's cut out (he was a
papercut artist) of the Snow Queen.

The Snow Queen, and Other Hans Christian Andersen tales

In any case, I fell asleep last night thinking about the story of the Snow Queen in a favorite book of mine growing up--Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. I haven't seen Frozen (until I started this blog post I didn't know it was based on the Snow Queen), and I haven't seen any of the other movie versions of the Snow Queen, and it was one of my least favorite stories in the book (too long! seven parts! too difficult to read! and icy, icy, icy!). Probably it was the icy! icy! icy! part that made me think of it last night, but I found myself remembering one of the illustrations in the book I owned, in great detail.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

The cover of the book.

Dad takes his daughter out one night, owling. She explains, "When you go owling, you have to be quiet!"

Have you gone owling this winter? I did go looking for (and found) the snowy oils at Willow Run Airport on Christmas Day. And I did hear a screech owl. But that's about it, so far. March can be a good time to look for Great Horned Owls.

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

Taken from wikimedia. This is an illustration from the 1876
French translation of the novel. It is in the public domain
because the copyright has expired. Les Patins d’argent,
éditeur Hetzel et Cie, bibliothèque d’éducation et de récréation

It has been a long time since I read this book, where Hans and his sister Gretel are hoping to win teel bladed skates in a race, rather than the hand-carved wooden skates they have. I thought I would include it because--after all--we did just finish the winter Olympics, and it does give you some insight into how speed skating became a Dutch sport.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I wrote about this book once before. Reading it as an adult, I realized two things. 1) It is truly a tale of near-starvation. 2) It is very hard to imagine how isolated, and bored, we would be living in blizzard after blizzard, far from other people and with little to entertain us.

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

Cover of the first edition.

Strictly speaking, this is not a book about winter at all. It is about the lives of four children and their mother, living in Connecticut. I love Eleanor Estes, and I love the Moffats series.
But there is one scene that is so vivid to me, when they run out of coal in winter and need to get more coal, that I thought I would include this anyway.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Cover of The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats.
Last, but not least, let's hope that in all this snow we are able to still enjoy, and wonder at, the snow--just as Peter does, in The Snowy Day.

"He walked with his toes pointed out, then he walked with his toes pointed in. 

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