Monday, July 25, 2016

Election News: National and Local Developments

Note to Readers: Before I share any national or local news, I just want to say that I think that this (November) election is super important. [Don't forget, there is also an election August 2, 2016!] I'll be working on both national and local campaigns and I hope you will, too!

National News

It's no surprise that Hillary Clinton has picked Tim Kaine as her running mate, or that Donald Trump has picked Mike Pence.

Here is what Diane Ravitch has to say about Tim Kaine, in a post titled "Tim Kaine Loves Public Schools." By the way, his wife Anne is the Secretary of Education in Virginia, and by all accounts she is a friend to teachers and a foe to the education reform agenda. This sounds pretty good!

You can also read an op-ed he wrote a few years ago about what he learned as a parent in the Richmond Public Schools.

Here is what an Indiana teacher has to say about Mike Pence, in an article titled "A Negative Impact." For education, it's pretty bad.

In Indiana, small, rural schools are shutting down because funding has been cut, families are moving out of district, and whole communities are losing jobs where school corporations are the largest employers.
Inner-city schools, like Indianapolis Public Schools, are urban nightmares as charter schools take away public school funding, yet only meet the needs of a fraction of the population.

Local News

School board candidates need to turn in their petitions by Tuesday. In Ann Arbor, three school board positions are open. I believe current school board candidate Simone Lightfoot has already turned in her petition.

On Monday, at least one slate of candidates is turning in their petitions: Jeff Gaynor, Harmony Mitchell, and Hunter Van Valkenburgh.

You can read their full press release here:

Their platform and principles:

All three candidates agree on the following principles: Our district should be focused on instructional opportunities in a broad variety of subjects, not just those emphasized in the standardized testing regime now in place. To the greatest extent possible, our Board should resist the push for school “reform” propounded by politicians whose real goal is to undermine public education and recapture education funds for private gain. Within the requirement to balance the district’s budget, the emphasis should be on lowering the student-teacher ratio to levels that maximize student-teacher interaction and allow teachers to reach all of their students effectively. Where adjustments to compensation must be made to balance the budget, we believe it should be done in an equitable and cooperative fashion rather than on the backs of the poorest-paid and least-powerful employee groups.
In addition to budgetary priorities, we want to emphasize the professional competence of our instructional staff in a number of ways. Teachers should be given academic freedom to design creative learning opportunities and not be shackled to the requirements of an externally-imposed standardized test and evaluation instruments. Students’ primary means of assessment should be teacher-generated, not imposed by for-profit testing companies. Teacher evaluation should be designed by a collaborative effort between teachers and administrators. Our current evaluation system wastes untold hours of teachers’ and administrators’ time in what amounts to a huge data-production effort, leaving little opportunity to actually address any needed areas of improvement.
We also want to improve the democratic process where Board decision-making is concerned. Too often, meetings extend past midnight, in violation of the Board’s own rules. This term, several controversial measures were voted in by unanimous votes, with little or no public discussion at the regular meeting. Public comment time is overly restrictive, and the lack of public dialogue on controversial issues is disturbing. We want to explore the possibility of setting aside meeting time to engage in public dialogue between Board members and representatives of community groups with a stake in major decisions.

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  1. From the above platform statement: "Our district should be focused on instructional opportunities in a broad variety of subjects, not just those emphasized in the standardized testing regime now in place."


    AAPS currently emphasizes world languages (all schools, all levels), art (all schools, all levels), instrumental and vocal music (all schools, all levels) and technology (all schools all levels, but especially at STEAM Northside and in the magnet program at Skyline). None of these areas are involved in standardized testing.

    AAPS currently has one of the strongest arts programs in the State,and indeeed, in the country. Very few public school systems have world languages being taught at the elementary and middle school levels. Languages taught have recently been expanded to include Arabic,Mandarin Chinese and American sign language.

    So in other words, they are trying to differentiate themselves by saying we should be doing what we are already doing?

  2. As a teacher in the district, there is no question that the increased testing and the new teacher evaluation system taken together have decreased quality instruction programs. It's hard to see when you're not in the classroom, but students and teachers across the district see it daily. When you are required to do more and more paperwork, test prep, pre and post testing, Student Learning Objections, canned curriculum, and actual testing, other opportunities are missed.

  3. Admittedly, with the greater funding we have than neighboring districts, and with the pay to play policies for after school activities, we have been able to maintain many programs. However, a deeper look looks less sanguine. For example, Middle School electives have gone from three periods a day to two; that's a 33% decrease. Offerings in most electives are shrinking: art, physical education, tech ed, etc. One Theater teacher is spread across three schools and the comprehensive high schools no longer have a full time theater teacher. Life Skills classes in the Middle School no longer exist.

    In "academic" classes teachers are being evaluated on keeping to the pacing guide, on narrow "Learning Objectives," and on student performance on multiple choice items, rather than on authentic learning that matches the developmental levels and needs of each student. The result has been the trivializing of teaching and learning. Staff Meetings pay more attention to data than to the real needs of students.

    I taught with the expectation that my students would think critically about what they read and were told, and not to accept or issue platitudes. I expect the same of the Board.