Sunday, July 13, 2014

Test scores and school quality

Julie Mack: Test scores, school quality and public vs. private schools |

"The findings of the Coleman Report transformed educational theory: Turns out that a child's life outside of school has a far greater impact than the school he or she attends.
"Those findings have been reconfirmed by countless studies over the past 48 years. Educators now recognize test scores are hugely influenced by sociodemographics, including household income, mother's educational attainment, and the child's neighborhood and social circle.
"School quality certainly matters, but largely on the margins. It also turns out that "school quality" is much more nuanced than the conventional wisdom assumes."

Shocking news said no one ever who has any substantial knowledge at all about how learning works and doesn't think of children merely as pets who will do any tricks for treats.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Comparing higher education tuition increases with K-12 public school foundation revenue

Just imagine if K-12 public schools could raise revenue the same as four year colleges and universities.

Yesterday, it was announced that West Michigan's Grand Valley State University was raising tuition by 2.9% (on top of the average 5.9% revenue increase provided earlier this spring by the state legislature and signed by Governor Snyder). The increase in tuition alone brings the annual tuition rate up to $10,752 per undergraduate student.

Thirteen years ago, my wife and I sent our son to our alma mater GVSU which that year had an annual (two semesters) tuition rate of $4,660. This of course doesn't include all the added fees, books, room-and-board, and other costs and by the time he graduated, tuition rates had already risen by 41%. Compared to that same year, the GVSU trustees just approved a rate for this fall that will be...wait for it, wait for it...131% higher than in 2001-02!

Now compare it to our K-12 public school district's foundation allowance, which one could argue is a similar funding source providing for core academic instruction and basic operations, although unlike postsecondary institutions like GVSU, public schools do not enjoy any control over how much this combined state and local funding will be each year. In 2001-02, the same year my son entered the hallowed halls of GVSU, our district received a foundation allowance of $6,666 (okay leave out the jokes about the end times, mark of the beast, etc). Following a severe per-pupil cut in the foundation allowance the year Governor Snyder came to office, despite the fact this key source of revenue already fails to keep up with the rate of inflation, our per-pupil revenue rate has now been set at $7,251 for this fall. That equates to a new level of per-pupil revenue that is merely 8.8% higher than thirteen years ago
Let me summarize.

GVSU, which is also benefiting to some degree by Governor Snyder's raid on the School Aid Fund that had been designed solely to support K-12 public education, has raised its annual tuition rate by 131%. At the same time, public schools like ours nearby have been expected to operate at a greater level of efficiency and provide a higher rate of college and career readiness while taking on more difficult curriculum standards and graduation requirements, working with a greater percentage of students who are struggling due to poverty, limited English proficiency, transiency, and a growing lack of parental support for learning, all while making due with an 8.8% increase in our foundation revenue.

To be fair, colleges and universities claim their revenues are not keeping up with costs. Oh, really? Try walking in the shoes of a K-12 public school administrator some time. That rationale doesn't seem to resonate with those folks in Lansing holding all the power and making all the decisions on school funding.

And then we wonder how to make sense of allegations that K-12 schools are not adequately preparing our charges for college?  At the same time, should we question if it make any difference if no one can afford to attend a four-year institution any longer?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Standing in the Way of Real, Meaningful Change

This is an update to my previous posts from awhile back about the need to radically alter our school systems.

The structure of today's K-12 schools was embedded in our national psychic well over a hundred years ago in response to industrialization and the rapid growth in manufacturing. We needed efficient, well-organized schools that could stem the growing chaos of our swelling cities, enhance productivity through basic skills for assembly-line and other low-paying jobs, model compliance as a virtue, select out a handful for higher education (management class), and serve as the bedrock for thousands of local communities. It was all about standardization through factory-model learning.

And while the occupations and industries of today and tomorrow have changed significantly in the past forty years, schools have not. They still retain the basic assembly-line structures that once were seen as necessary (even though they may have had an immoral foundation to them that ensured most students would be locked into their place within society's respective class structure, especially if they were poor or minorities), and no matter where you go, whether it be traditional public, charter or private, for the most part schools today resemble the same as those attended by our grandparents.

Aside from the fact that the results produced by schools today are now measured against a very different yardstick (ALL students graduating on time, college and career ready) then those from the first half of the twentieth century, the one basic structure that most hampers learning and contributes to the growing costs of education is the graded-school system. This is a system that says regardless of the "inputs" a student comes with to school, that student must progress through primary, elementary and secondary education based on age. So even though a student might enter the first grade in command of half the vocabulary of his peers, having rarely been read to in the first six years of life, and having virtually few out-of-school learning experiences due to his family's economic situation, that student is expected to magically catch up and progress to the next grade following the same number of days of instruction as her classmates.

Ridiculous? Yes. Here's an analogy (a poor one at best) to show you why it is ridiculous to use chronology to measure achievement. Suppose you and your cousin from the other side of the state decide to paint your homes which just happen to be approximately the same size.  But it turns out that your cousin (1) has more pre-existing knowledge and experience with painting a house, (2) has a higher income level that allows him to purchase high-quality, easier to spread paint, (3) has access to better equipment for painting, and (4) is enjoying better weather on that side of the state conducive to painting. Being from a competitive extended family, the pressure is on from everyone else to see which one (1) finishes the job on time (an arbitrary time set by all the "experts" in the family) and (2) does so with the highest quality (an arbitrary assessment of what a quality outcome looks like). All other factors being equal, your cousin easily "wins" even though eventually you too have a newly painted home that given the inputs could be considered a quality outcome. Doesn't matter though. You're a loser and that's that.

My point is that students do not come to school with the same backgrounds and do not learn at the same rate but yet are expected to achieve the same levels year-after-year, graduating precisely twelve years after entering that first grade door. Or they and the school are losers.

It doesn't have to be that way anymore since we no longer place as high a value the same purposes schools once served. Learning can be accomplished at a pace that is consistent with the child's background and development, with the goal of achieving the highest possible results even if it takes more time.

Sounds simple, so why don't we change? Mostly because our own communities place roadblocks to such change since it is so radically different from the schools they attended. However, some of the most serious obstacles are embedded in ridiculous state or federal regulations such as that illustrated in the excerpt below taken from a handbook for understanding (if that's possible) Michigan's color-coded school rating system (forced on us by NCLB but only because we allow the federal government to have that power over us). As you can see, ungraded school systems are fine as long as students take the state-mandated assessments designed for each grade level at the same age as students stuck in a graded school structure.

So in the end schools can be innovative in the 21st century as long as they maintain the key problematic innovation of the assembly-line, industrial-era: age-based progression.


Related posts:

Change begins with removing the root of the problem...

Reincarnation of the Efficiency Movement is Here!

Random Thoughts about REAL School Reform

Real change not "better sameness"

Let's Ditch the Limiting Language of Education

Are We Too in Love with the Past?

The Problem with the Graded Schools

Taking Action During a Storm

12 Things I'd Do Right Now to Improve Education

School or Balloon Factory?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Straight up on why our K-12 foundation allowance increase is really NOT

It didn't take long for anti-public school groups to come out and attack school districts for our honest representation of school funding facts. So in the interest of making sure readers have balanced information, here are the facts regarding the latest K-12 budget produced by Lansing as it relates to the last eighteen years in our district:
  1. The foundation allowance provided by our legislature each year is the primary state and local funding source for K-12 education. It is the only source of funding that provides the flexibility necessary to operate the full spectrum of core, basic and accelerated programming necessary to ensure all students achieve college and career readiness levels.
  2. Yes, the conference committee-produced budget, which ended up looking very different than any of the three budgets proposed by the Governor, House and Senate, did in fact give our district an additional $50 per student (all districts received this) and a one-time equity payment of $125 per student (despite the fact this is an inaccurate use of the word "equity" to describe it).
  3. This additional $175 per student for the 2014-15 school year brings our foundation allowance up to $7,251 which is still $223 per student less than 2010-11 when Governor Snyder took office. At that time, Lansing cut our foundation allowance by $470 per student which that year was at a high of $7,474.
  4. The additional foundation allowance approved for our 2014-15 school year represents a modest increase of 2.05% in state and local revenues, however the current rate of inflation is 2.10% annually.
  5. If the legislature would have passed a budget that negates the Governor Snyder-cuts to K-12 public schools, our district would be in line to receive an additional $418,000 this coming year which would restore many of the cuts we've had to made and provide greater opportunities to address 3rd grade reading levels in a high-limited English proficient student population.
  6. In 1996-97 adjusted dollars, our foundation allowance has actually shrunk by $875 per student dropping from an equivalent of $5,673 to an inflation-adjusted $4,798 per student. Two-thirds of this slide, or $579, came under Governor Snyder's watch.
  7. Yes, it's true that the state passed legislation in 2011 mandating caps on health insurance plans to help districts keep costs down. It is also true that the state alone controls the setting of those caps each year and as a result, the district's costs have risen.
  8. Yes, it's true that the state is attempting to shore up a sickly MPSERS retirement system by spending additional dollars on it from the School Aid Fund, but the state created the retirement system, manages it independent of school districts, and is fully responsible for the mess the system currently is in. Neither school districts nor students had anything to do with creating this problem. In fact, many of the state's anti-public school policies over the last twenty years have contributed significantly to the problem yet our legislators and Governor continue to send the bill to our schools.
Below is a chart illustrating our district's foundation allowance since Proposal A was passed essentially centralizing school funding decisions in Lansing and placing the burden of adequately and equitably funding K-12 education for every child squarely on the shoulders of our Governor and legislators.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This Memorial Day, Remember the Gallant Third Michigan

While many will be focused this weekend on those who gave their lives in the cause of more recent wars, it should be remembered that 150 years ago, boys from Grand Rapids and surrounding communities were wrapping up their third year of bloody conflict and witnessing their hometown friends lying dead on distant battlefields.

The Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry had left Grand Rapids over 1,000 strong on June 10, 1861. Nearly three years later, they were left with just a few hundred capable of carrying on the fight. The regiment had been engaged at Spottsylvania since the 8th of May. Just prior, the valiant Third had lost about half it’s men in the Battle of the Wilderness. The regimental surgeon had written to his brother the evening before:

“We engaged the enemy here on Thursday night last, and he is still in our front. … Our regiment has lost in killed, wounded and missing, more than half it numbered when the contest opened. … The fighting has been desperate on both sides. … Colonel (Byron) Pierce had his horse shot, but has so far escaped unhurt. He is praised fro his gallantry by every body.” ~ Dr. James Grove

The following Sunday, the regiment despite its recent casualties, together with the Fifth Michigan, moved out towards Spotsylvania, Virginia. By the end of the week, the Third was back in the thick of battle. By Friday morning, Colonel Pierce had reported the regiment having a mere 119 men for duty.

“We have suffered terribly.” Since May 6, we “had been in severe engagements with the enemy [and] lost upwards of two hundred men…. Many a poor fellow whose time was most out was slain. This has been the severest battle of the war.” ~ Charles Clark

The battle of the North Anna River concluded on May 26, 1864 – one-hundred-fifty-years ago this Memorial Day.  The Cold Harbor battlefield loomed ahead. It would be the final call to battle for the proud Third Michigan, Grand Rapids’ own. The Third’s term of service ended on June 10 and other than those veterans who voluntarily reenlisted or those who joined the regiment after it left Grand Rapids, the tattered remnants began their journey home. Seven days later, about sixty of what was once 1,040 enlisted men and officers returned to a welcoming celebration at the old train depot by Leonard Street.

“While we welcome the return, with open arms and joyous hearts, of the comparatively few surviving heroes of this once large and proud regiment, we cannot but feel to sympathize deeply with the bereaved who mourn the loss of brave sons, brothers, and husbands who, fallen on the deadly strife, are not among the returned; but whose names are written on the scroll of honored dead, and whose spirits, we trust, are in the land of the blessed.” ~ Grand Rapids Eagle, June 18, 1864

Third Michigan Regiment Reunion