Saturday, April 30, 2016

New York Times: Money, Race and Success in our School Districts: Still another ranking by poverty



Another frustrating measure of the impact of poverty (personal and community-wide), transiency, and limited English language skills. This is very much why the current educational structure of our schools no longer works (hasn't since the 1970s) and must be redesigned to provide grade-less, competency-based, 4Cs learning so all students can eventually attain a high level of learning in areas THEY are interested in, that will help them pursue THEIR dreams for THEIR futures.

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools. 
We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.
Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.
Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities...
Yet our state legislatures in Michigan and every other state continue to drag their feet by underfunding public schools while providing business tax cuts and shelters for the wealthy. They also fail to remedy the inequity of school funding and in many instances, school districts in wealthy communities receive higher levels of per-pupil state funding than in poor districts. And most poor communities cannot provide the bonding levels necessary to improve or replace aging school structures so kids often attend school in the worst conditions.

New York Times: Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares
A comparison of 6th graders in every U.S. school district. (click to enlarge)


I'm honest enough to show you where our school district stands as far as our 6th graders are concerned, and I've documented relentlessly the past eight years why that's so, much of it on this blog site.

Where does your district fall in the ranking and why? Follow the link to find out.




Friday, April 29, 2016

Life in a Kindergarten Classroom

Today, I had my first-ever experience substituting in a kindergarten classroom. It wasn't planned, but then again maybe it was.

Yesterday, I noticed that I didn't have anything on my calendar for today so I thought a Friday off to do nothing might be in the works. I have some vacation and personal leave time available so why not? But last night I began to waffle and decided to set my alarm as normal and see what the morning brings. Alarm went off, I got up, showered, downed my usual coffee and off to work I went. But decided to make it one of my occasional (not enough) "No Office Days" and spend the entire day in our schools.

First stop, the Early Childhood Center about a half hour before the start of the school day. But before I knew it, I was subbing in a kindergarten classroom because the scheduled substitute decided to turn down the assignment. And because the look on the principal's face was one of desperation. Certainly can't blame him.

So off I went to fill in for Ms. Swem and meet my 27 (only twenty-five were present) darling 5 and 6 year-olds.

What a ride! The teacher had great, detailed sub plans but pacing the day was a struggle from the start given that I lacked any recent classroom experience and never filled in for a kindergarten teacher. But the career Army in me kicked in and decided come hell or high-water, the mission will be accomplished.

Then the kids showed up and I learned a whole different set of lessons.

But we made it. As a team. Well, some of the time as a team.

Well, actually we were never really a team, but for one day it didn't matter. I think we enjoyed each other's company and learned a lot about each other's world.



Yes, there were challenges most of which I still believe are the result of our penchant for pushing academic learning down to the earliest grades at the expense of socialization and school-readiness, but that's for another blog post another time.

As for today, every superintendent that hasn't should spend a day in kindergarten. Your empathy for both kids and teachers will grow a thousand-fold.

I believe fate decided I didn't need the day off and I'm glad it did.

Enjoy your weekend. I certainly will.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another day, another mood swing in our state legislature

Proposed budget would cut free SAT, M-STEP tests | Michigan Radio
"But Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust Midwest, said the state needs to stay the course. 
"She said the states that have actually improved their education systems have raised standards and kept them high until schools met them. After a couple of shaky years, they start to see real improvement.  
She cited Massachusetts as an example: The state revamped its education system in the 1990s and is now the highest-ranked state for education in the country."
I'm not sure who has more mood swings: middle school students or our state legislature?

As I emphatically stated to Ms. Arellano earlier this week in a panel discussion sponsored by educational leaders from Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties, she conveniently fails to tell the whole story of Massachusetts, choosing instead to cherry-pick and generalize her comparisons as do many others who support school reform but are not actually working in schools.

First, she forgets that Massachusetts does not have term limits at the state level, a lazy-voter gimmick that has significantly damaged Michigan's political system and turned our House, Senate and Governor's office into a three-ring circus. Term limits are the foundation of a legislative process that focuses primarily on circus politics instead of effective policy-making with the longevity needed to make our state strong. There is no practical way for Michigan to think it can legislate a 10 or 20-year approach to improving public education as Massachusetts did when there's a short-term, swinging-door mentality in our state house.

Second, Massachusetts is a union state but their politicians are not out to gut public unions and destroy the very system they serve -- the public education and future of Michigan kids. The unfounded rage many of our short-term political leaders have brought to the once-respected chambers in Lansing have blinded them to working on effective and consistent long-term policies that improve learning in classrooms across the state. In fact, most of what the State House and Senate have accomplished in the past six years has little or nothing to do with improving a child's learning for the 21st century.

Third, there is unity in leadership in Massachusetts instead of constantly trying to neuter the state board and superintendent as Michigan's lawmakers and our governor continue to do. Educational policy should be the purview of our State Board of Education with the State Superintendent advising and implementing along with local school boards and educators. The legislature should stick to solving the continuing funding problems, especially adequacy and equity of funding, and leave the driving to the experts.

Massachusetts is not perfect, but Michigan is no Massachusetts when it comes to having the real leadership in Lansing that will make our educational system a "top 10 in 10."

Ms. Arellano and others know that.






Sunday, March 13, 2016

A concise history of American education

IDEO CEO and president Tim Brown captured what might be the most concise history of American education written to date, and I'm pretty confident he did so without knowing. Read it and see if you draw the same parallel.
The industrial revolution created not just consumers but a consumer society. The sheer scale required to sustain the economics of industrialization meant that not only did products become standardized but so did the services associated with them. This brought tremendous benefits to society, including lower prices, higher quality, and improved living standards. The downside was that over time the role of consumers became almost entirely passive.
From Change by Design, p. 113

Isn't it high time we change our industrial education system so that students are no longer passive consumers stuck in a standardized environment, designed more for economical reasons unrelated to learning?


Friday, February 26, 2016

What are we thinking? It's most likely what we're reading

I've come to believe that there are few of us in the mainstream, public school leadership arena that either read or talk with others who challenge our beliefs about what we are doing and where our schools are headed. I may be overstating this since I have no research base to prove my assertion, but I seldom see discussions through Twitter or in person that reject the idea of "better sameness" and instead challenge us to rethink and redesign our educational systems.

Pictured here is a stack of recently published works that DO challenge what we are doing in preparing our kids for a world we have little understanding of other than to know it will be quite different from the one we grew up in, or even the one we're living in today. Much of what is in these writings is "in your face" kinds of thinking that force readers like me to run away from the concept of "school improvement" and run towards "school redesign." There are more like it and many great blog posts as well as full journal articles but are they accomplishing their mission? I don't know.

What I see daily on Twitter from superintendents, principals and other educational leaders causes me to doubt it. When it comes to school leadership and moving education forward, what I tend to see more of is Twitter turned into a "brag board" of initiatives or accomplishments that look and smell like "better sameness." Not that branding our schools and communicating student accomplishments aren't important but where are the more challenging posts that move our thinking away from mindsets cemented in the mid-20th century to visions of this century and beyond? Where are those leaders willing to stand in the public square and shout, "The emperor has no clothes!?"

I'm sure there are many out there who might dispute my perception of a general lack of creativity and willingness to challenge the status quo. Perhaps things are just rosy right where they are at and haven't adopted a global view of the state of our educational system. Or perhaps the political climate in their neck of the woods isn't one that supports a design thinking effort because, heck, our football team was undefeated last year! Why should we change?

It's the end of the sixth month of the school year in the first year of the second half of the second decade of the 21st century. It's high time we throw off our restrictive, protective school improvement armor and create schools of learning designed around the needs of our students, families and communities.