Saturday, February 18, 2017

With both hands tied behind our backs: How the state contributes to the failure of public education

They want Michigan to be a top 10 state in 10 years, but what they want and what they do are out of sync.

What follows is just some of the insanity behind our governor and state legislators' efforts over time to weaken and destroy public education. I have to state it this way because if it isn't purposeful, then you have to conclude that they are all either idiots or at the very least ignorant in education policy and practice.

What they want in Michigan:

  • Every child, regardless of circumstances, to progress through K-8 in lock-step form and then graduate from high school within four years of entering fully "ready" for college and career.
  • All children, again regardless of circumstances, reading at the exact same level by the time they are 9 years old.
  • All high school students, regardless of circumstances or personal desire, completing a one-size-fits-all high school curriculum and course credits within four years of entering.
  • All teachers, regardless of circumstances, preparation or experience, performing at the same level of effectiveness producing consistent end-results as measured by tests.
  • All schools, regardless of circumstances, ranked at the top of the top-to-bottom lists despite the fact this is statistically impossible.
  • All children and parents, regardless of circumstances, able to choose any school they desire for their child despite the fact it is physically impossible to provide enough personalized options for the entire student population of the United States.
  • Year-round, balanced calendars for schools, particularly in low-achieving, high-poverty areas.
But what they do in Michigan:
  • Annually appropriate an inadequate level of funding for classrooms and children that continues to decline each year when inflation is factored in.
  • Continue to support a substantially inadequate classroom funding system where wealthier districts are provided with greater levels of funding, and funding is not based on the needs of students or communities.
  • Continue to deny that greater funding levels are needed for public schools basing their arguments on a single conservative-leaning study over fifty years old and ignoring the mountains of more recent research that supports significantly greater funding due to greater student needs and higher-level standards.
  • Refuse to relinquish education control back to communities that want to remove the one-size-fits-all mandates and provide more flexible and personal learning options for each and every student.
  • Allow for the growth of less-regulated charter schools, with the highest percentage of non-transparent, for-profit entities in the country, causing chaos and disintegration of community-based school districts that are then singled out for the resulting low achievement and potential closure.
  • Weaken the teacher and education administration professions by refusing to provide adequate funding to support competitive salaries, reducing take-home-pay by forcing greater out-of-pocket expenditures for benefits originally mandated by the state, and erosion of the ability of school districts to provide flexible on-going professional learning because of funding reductions and elimination of the 38-hour per year professional development time.
  • Restrict schools from beginning the school-year until after Labor Day despite lacking any valid, comprehensive evidence that this restriction is an economic boon that outweighs the needs of students.
  • Continue to underfund higher education placing the burden on students' backs despite the fact state policies virtually steer every child in the direction of college enrollment.
There's much more to add to both of these categories, but the point is to highlight the insanity of our state education policymaking that on the one hand wants greater outcomes, but on the other hand expects those better results despite weakening the one critical institution that will ensure all kids have an equitable chance -- public education.

And now comes Betsy DeVos in Washington who will surely pour more gasoline on the fire.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When are we going to get to the WHY, the HOW and the WHAT of public school debate?

In all of the Congressional ballyhoo over the Betsy DeVos nomination for Education Secretary, when mentioning "failing public schools" no one brought up WHY? nor did they approach the topics of HOW we change that and WHAT is needed to ensure equity of resources to do so. 

Instead, folks on Mrs. DeVos' side of politics simply want to continue eliminating public schools and substituting what's already proven not to be working any better, while those on the other side of the debate have little power to improve support for public schools or even change the debate towards a much more productive solution.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Recalling wisdom from an earlier time

I consider myself fortunate to have had a very interesting math professor while working on my undergraduate degree at Grand Valley State University (Colleges back then) in the '70s. My wife, although not a math major, also had him for a math survey course.

Professor Preston C. Hammer, who pretty much ran the computer lab at Los Alamos after World War II during the development of the hydrogen bomb, published a number of books and papers on a variety of math and computer topics. He was very interested in a relatively new discipline called mathematical systems theory and in the introduction to his 1969 textbook on that topic, he wrote:
These times are among the most challenging and the most depressing in the history of man. On the one hand, we begin to glimpse the possibilities of really improving the human condition through strategic use of information being accumulated and through the ability to adapt materials and energy to a variety of needs. On the other hand, never before has there been available so much destructive power -- and the power to destroy has not been matched by an equally noticeable increase in wisdom.
Professor Hammer could see the future based on what he knew about man, and while he believed that the development of computers and atomic energy had great potential for good, man might likely subvert both for his own desires. He once told Penny's math survey class that (paraphrased) computers will likely create whole new ways to commit crime. Fortunately, atomic energy hasn't -- yet.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Michigan children may lose more schools

The Michigan Association of School Administrators issued the following statement in response to the list of 38 schools being considered for closure that was distributed today by the School Reform Office.

From Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators:

“It is good news that 79 schools showed marked improvement and came off the priority list, showing that the hard work going on in districts at the local level is paying off for our students and our schools. As for the 38 schools named by the SRO as being considered for closure, we will offer assistance to the leaders in those districts in any way that we can, and MASA will strongly advocate that all schools remain under local control.”

“I will add that MASA stands firm that the School Reform Office does not have the authority to close any schools, and we will continue to monitor the SRO’s actions as critical decisions are being made on behalf of the children in our school districts.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why I cannot support the Education Secretary nominee

As a public school district superintendent, I cannot in good conscious support the nomination of Mrs. Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. After hearing her responses to the Senate HELP Committee this week combined with my reading of dozens of articles and blog posts that were both supportive and against her confirmation, here is a summary list of the primary reasons I cannot support her nomination:
  • She has no professional experience working directly in or with public schools unlike the two recent and most other Education Secretaries, yet she would be responsible for ensuring high standards and oversight of federal dollars designed to the learning of poor, indigent and disabled students.
  • She as well as a majority of the committee members gave no indication they have read and comprehend the mountains of research on the effects of poverty, limited English proficiency, and disability on learning, as well as the negative impacts of choice, charters and vouchers.
  • She comes across as unwilling or incapable of spearheading any effort to lift low-performing public schools through adequate and equitable funding, along with the lessening of federal and state mandates that hamper innovation and creativity in schools.
  • She supports market-based reform and competition which after several decades has had very little success.
  • She would not commit to restricting guns from school campuses.
  • She was unable to adequately explain the difference between achievement growth and proficiency, two of the biggest areas in reform debate over the past decade or more.
  • She appeared to not understand that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is federal law.
  • She came across as noncommittal on a number of issues critical to education reform and improvement of public education.
  • She refused several times when asked to commit to holding charter and voucher schools to the same standards as traditional public schools.
  • She is willing to spend public tax dollars on for-profit, corporate charters and private schools but appeared uninterested in applying the same logic to providing for tuition-free college for all.
  • When asked, she avoided elaborating on what she would do as Secretary to address Title IX and campus sexual assault.
  • She has not yet been cleared of any conflicts of interest from the ethics commission nor has she fully disclosed her finances to the public.
  • The Senate HELP chair appeared to do everything he could to shield Mrs. DeVos from further public questioning, artificially limiting each member of the committee to only one round of five-minute questioning, despite many attempts by minority members to have a second round or another hearing to ensure the public had a full opportunity to vet her nomination.
It appears likely that Mrs. DeVos will be voted out of the Committee and will receive Senate confirmation, but with the slimmest of margins. If so, I can only hope that she will have and take many opportunities to visit successful and struggling traditional public schools, opening her eyes to the many possibilities for strengthening our public education system instead of enriching corporations that are taking advantage of the political environment.

Local News interview 1.18.17: