Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is it Time for Lame Duck Sessions to Be a Thing of the Past?

Hang on to your hats...and most anything else in life you cherish as the Michigan legislature once again holds another big lame-duck-session party following the election on November 4. For those unenlightened citizens out there, a lame-duck session is when legislators thrown out of office by either term limits or voters wreak as much havoc as possible on us regular citizens by passing "big government" bills that tend to take more control of our lives. And the irony is that this will be done for the second session in a row by a Republican-led gang who ran on a smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes platform in 2010 with a little “jobsjobsjobs” thrown in for good measure.  Lame duck makes them look just the opposite.

It matters not who we elect on Tuesday to the House, Senate or Governor's chair since the lame-duck festivities will occur during the dead space period before the new folks we vote in take office after January 1. In 2012, in a very short period of time, the legislature passed 282 bills mostly without committee hearings, public input and proper vetting to analyze unintended consequences and problems down the road. They also did it without regards to the needs and desires of the Michigan people who elected them. Then, likes rats from a sinking ship, they scampered out of town leaving a pile of paper for the Governor to review and sign (or veto as in the case of a small handful of bills).

Using lame duck to push through pet projects or policies is no way to bring Michigan back from the abyss of the Great Recession and post-industrial era. We need thoughtful statesmanship, not one-upmanship from elected officials succumbing to pressure from in-state groups such as the Mackinac Center and out-of-state groups like ALEC and billionaire pseudo-reformers. Bills pushed through, supported and passed by a substantial number of outgoing legislators who no longer are accountable to Michigan's citizens is just plain wrong.

We'll be watching this coming lame duck session closely and if it's anything like the debacle of 2012, it may just be time for a voter initiative to outlaw lame duck legislative sessions for anything but a declared state of emergency between the election and January 1 start of the new session.

Additional reading:

Highlight of bills passed by Michigan's lame duck legislature

Michigan Lawmakers Are Trying To Sneak Through Extreme Abortion Restrictions In Lame Duck Session

It’s a Mad, Mad Michigan

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where do our public education dollars go? A comparison of Michigan's traditional and charter public schools.

The table below provides a comparison of revenues and expenditures for Michigan traditional, community-based public school districts and charter schools. The data is available to the public taken from the annual MI Bulletin 1014 for 2012-13, the latest data available on the Michigan Department of Education website.

As readers can see, traditional public school districts put more of their total expenditures (65.51%) into basic and added needs instruction as compared to charter schools (45.36%). This is largely due to the reality that charter schools spend more of their public money on costs such as administration as well as operations and maintenance. Because public dollars that flow to for-profit charter operators is not required to be transparent by current state law, there's little the public can do to determine what exactly those funds are being spent on. This includes salaries for teachers, administrators and other corporate employees.

In an Epic-MRA poll taken this past summer and reported on by The Detroit Free Press, eighty-two percent of respondents felt charter operators "should be required to fully and publicly explain how they spend all tax dollars received." And eighty-eight percent "favor legislation to require such disclosure."

Time will tell if our legislators are listening.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Social Lives of Networked Teens: Obsession? Addiction? Or simply a way to get past growing parental restrictions?

I'm reading a very interesting book by danah boyd about teenagers' use of technology for social purposes. I just completed a fascinating chapter on so-called social-networking addiction and teens' obsession with social media. boyd concludes that much of what we (the adults) perceive as addiction and obsession is not with the technology itself, but rather with the need for teenagers to socialize with their peers. Technology is helping teens fill the void created by a world where parents are convinced (wrongly) that their children are not safe away from home or structured environments.
"Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation. Many middle-class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places— parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on— was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings . Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either." (Kindle locations 1425-1432)

Adults increasingly have become obsessed with controlling the lives of their teens and limiting their time away from home to do what they feel is either dangerous or nothing but a waste of time. Teens see social-networking through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and now Snapchat as a way to connect and "hang out" with their friends.
"Teens’ engagement with social media—and the hanging out it often entails— can take up a great deal of time. To many adults, these activities can look obsessive and worthless. Media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked. Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect. When teens orient themselves away from adults and toward their peers, parents often grow anxious and worried about their children’s future. The answer to the disconnect between parent goals and teen desires is not rhetoric that pathologizes teen practices, nor is it panicked restrictions on teen sociality. Rather, adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering." (Kindle locations 1635-1642)
For anyone who has been fascinated or exasperated by the teenage obsession with technology, reading It's Complicated is well worth the investment of time.

boyd, danah (2014-02-25). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Debunking the Assumption that Improving Educational Outcomes will end Poverty

Peter Greene, both teacher and writer, has written a testy and though-provoking post entitled, 7 Bogus Assumptions of Education Reform.  The one that caught my attention the most, because I work in this reality every day, is the following:
Better Educational Outcomes Will End Poverty
The promise of reformsters (including prominent gummint reformsters) is that once every young American is emerging from high school College and Career Ready, every adult American will be employed at an above-minimum-wage job that is personally and economically rewarding. Education reform has been presented as a means to end poverty. This is a bizarre assertion. When the day of 100 percent CACR graduates arrives, will U.S. employers declare, "Well, now that these guys are so well-educated, we will start paying them more." Did well-paying US jobs move overseas because Indian and Chinese workers are so better educated, or because they are willing to work for American peanuts? Will being a burger flipper become a lucrative position, or will it disappear as a job entirely because the burgers are flipping themselves? Exactly how will having better-educated citizens make more jobs appear? If you want to see the falseness of this promise debunked with charts and numbers, read this and this.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michigan can learn from leading states how to work together to improve schools

Bridge • The Center for Michigan : Smartest kids: What Michigan schools can learn from leading states

“'The way this stuff gets done is two or three or four or five governors in a row keep plugging away at stuff,' former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.
"That hasn’t happened yet in Michigan, where education reform vision often dissolves into political polarization, from fights over charter school authorization to name-calling about teacher unions.
“'What worries me about what I read is going on in Michigan is that (education reform) strategies have become tools of political battle rather than instruments for improvement,' said Paul Reville, a former Secretary of Education in Massachusetts who now teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
"Don Wotruba, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said Michigan lacks leadership when it comes to fixing schools.
“'I would say there is no attempt to create a plan between the policy makers in Lansing and the school people who carry out changes,' Wotruba said. 'So what we have is new legislation or edicts handed down on how schools should do things and often with conflicting directions.
“'Some real discussion on what is mutually agreeable and some time to actually implement would really help our schools,' Wotruba said, 'but few in Lansing have the patience to allow reforms to happen.'”

Additional resource: Ed Trust Midwest fact sheet on Massachusetts