Are there lessons in these results for Michigan, where hot debates rage over reforming education and developing better teachers?Yes, although adopting the central elements of Finland’s education system would be difficult. Per pupil spending, generally less than in the United States, is roughly level across the country (The Finns are big on redistribution of wealth). There are few standardized tests.
Finnish children don’t start school until age 7, but parents of newborns get a gift pack from the government that includes a picture book. Reading is encouraged at a young age. College is free. Different attitudes about parenting in Finland also could factor into its educational success.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
"I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun."
~ Benjamin Franklin, 1787
It was the close of the Constitutional Convention and the last few delegates were affixing their signatures to an new plan for a United States of America. The picture he was referring to was on the high back of the chair that had been occupied by George Washington as he presided over the contentious debates during that long, hot Philadelphia summer. Franklin's remark to one of his colleagues, overheard by James Madison, exemplified the importance of looking beyond the months of heated arguments and disagreements to a vision of a unified republic that would draw its strength both as a single nation as well as separate states. And while not perfect by any measure, the events of that summer continue to be the foundation of the longest existing constitutional republic.
Franklin's uncertainty throughout the Convention could be looked at as a forerunner to the heated debates going on today regarding the purpose, effectiveness, and future of K-12 education in America. Is the sun rising or is it setting?
A setting sun.
We can't always help it. We're humans. We still have an innate fear of the dark and things that go bump in the night. In education, those things are everywhere and we (the professionals in the field) see them as destroying public education in this country:
The hard-headed dependence on high-stakes testing to determine if our students are receiving an adequate education has caused extensive narrowing of the curriculum, test preparation, and less time for developing innovation, creativity, and critical analysis skills in our students.
As a result of this zealous reliance on testing, there's an unwillingness on the part of our political leaders to tackle the most important problems with our education system: growing child poverty, expanding cultural and language diversity, single-parent families, low teacher compensation, and a general lack of respect for our public education system and the teachers who work in it. Couple this with the constant increase in expectations that schools not only provide a basic education but also take over the role of the parents and community with everything else a child needs, including basic nutrition, and you can see why more and more promising teachers are leaving the profession.
The old saying, “Put your money where your mouth is,” doesn't seem to apply to the contentious arguments surrounding public education. Despite the fact that it could easily be considered our number one national security strategy, politicians are convinced by private sector business that cutting funding for schools so their taxes can be reduced is the only way to build a thriving economy. If kids are graduating with low skills, simply blame it on the teachers and their unions. It's a cheaper solution. Really? Is it?
A rising sun.
Every cloud has a silver lining. A tired, old cliché but appropriate given the current debate surrounding K-12 education. The trick is looking beyond the darkness of the cloud and finding that silver lining:
Our K-12 system clearly has not changed much over the past 100-plus years. While we have seen improvements in student achievement, as measured by national and international assessments, those improvements have not been robust enough to keep up with the changes in the world economy. In other words, we've been moving the football down the field but the goal posts are moving, too, and we're not making enough changes in our game plan to catch up. The current political and economical pressures, while wrongheaded in their focus on narrow student testing, may still force us in the end to become a better system.
Technology has the promise and the ability to help our K-12 schools become relevant once again in the lives of our kids. If we truly believe that, we'll do everything within our capabilities to protect instructional technology from the blades of the budget cutters. Expanding our visions for teaching and learning to include mobile, wireless technology tools, even allowing our students to connect school with their real worlds by using their own devices in the classroom, can help move our classrooms in the direction of innovative, collaborative, project-based learning environments. Using multi-modal instruction that incorporates social-networking into the equation can increase student engagement and focus learning on individual student needs and desires. Technology tools are not the be-all, end-all, but they definitely provide us with a tool that can leverage declining budgets with growing achievement demands.
Yes, despite the frustrations we're all experiencing as K-12 education takes a public beating, I truly believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel (okay, that will be my last cliché) and if we remained focused on that light, open ourselves to expanding our own collaborative personal learning networks, and be willing to question our own beliefs and mental models about what K-12 schools should look like, we will be well on our way to experiencing Franklin's rising sun.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Picked up this information at a session of the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference:
The State of Michigan is moving to require public school districts and public school academies to report Personnel Skilled in Technology, measured by the “21things for Educators and Administrators” rubric, starting in December 2011. Districts and academies will have to report eighth grade technology literacy measured by “21 Things for Students.”
Get on top with the following excellent web resources:
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
As we consider the Governor's proposed state budget and its potential devastating impact on education and specifically our district, it's clear that the only sector (K-12, community colleges, and state universities) that will experience real pain is K-12 due significantly to the reduction in the school aid fund (SAF).
- The K-12 SAF was projected to have a balance of $600 million prior to the Governor's budget proposal and tax restructuring.
- The Governor has proposed community colleges receive $196 million from the K-12 SAF, and state universities be allocated $700 million from the SAF.
- Owing to the Governor's tax restructuring proposals and the above reallocations to community colleges and state universities, this will place the SAF in deficit. To offset the deficit, the Governor is proposing reducing the student foundation allowance an additional $300 per student over the $170 mid-year reduction school districts received in 2009-10.
- When we combine the proposed cuts to K-12 of $470 per student, PLUS the cost of 3.8% increase to our district's contributions to the state retirement system, PLUS the likely increase by at least 15% (and possibly higher) in health insurance premiums, this has a net effect of reducing our district's scarce operating revenues by an additional $800 to $900 per pupil. This means the district stands to lose nearly $1.7 million for 2011-12 just from the governor's proposal and failure on the part of the state to act on rising retirement and health insurance costs.
- When you add these to other contractually obligated increased costs such as salary and wage step increases as well as the drop-off in federal stimulus funding, the district faces an unprecedented deficit of $2.86 million for the 2011-12 school year. That represents nearly 15 percent of our current year operating budget.
While we believe that right now provides an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine and reshape our district, schools and classrooms around the 21st century learning needs of our students, we cannot readily meet this challenge while facing a massive deficit and potentially going broke in a year or two. When the plane is on fire and spiraling towards impending doom, that's not the time to build a better airplane. We must have financial stability in our school system at the same time we're restructuring to provide more individualized, project-based innovative learning. WE MUST ADVOCATE FOR OUR KIDS!
In order to effectively inform our parents, community, and other constituents to help influence our state legislators and the Governor, we have identified across Kent County three specific priorities that we should focus on to amend the Governor's proposed budget:
Priority #1 Protect the K-12 SAF from being raided by community colleges and state universities.
Priority #2 Lobby our state legislators and the Governor to implement cost containment and cost savings legislation, such as cost-sharing for health insurance and freezes on steps during the financial crisis.
Priority #3 Project our #1 role as advocates for Michigan's children. We are not whining or complaining; we are advocating for the #1 resource that guarantees the future prosperity of Michigan - our kids.
Economic Impact Combined, the public schools are the largest employer in Kent County but are slated to lose another 400-plus jobs under the Governor's budget proposal, in addition to hundreds of jobs already lost over the past decade due to declining state support.
- This will be a minimum $32 million hit to the local economy.
- Local businesses will suffer from lack of spendable income.
- There will be less taxes collected and submitted to the State of Michigan to assist with recovery.
- This economic “hit” doesn't guarantee that 400 “new and better” jobs will be created in Kent County.
- There is absolutely no guarantee that any of the net savings realized by severely cutting K-12 public education
will be returned to the taxpayer or used for the good of the county. On the contrary, much of it will be siphoned off and used for other governmental purposes.
Impact of a $2.8 million deficit on Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
- Larger class sizes despite a high, urban at-risk student population.
- Erosion of services for high percentage of English language learners and special needs students.
- Loss of well-rounded educational programs including electives such as art, music and physical education.
- Reduction in athletic programs.
- Reduction or elimination of daily bus transportation for elementary students.
- Potential elimination of of all-day Kindergarten.
- Erosion of facilities, culture and climate including less cleaning and maintenance.
- Potential 20% reduction in teaching staff.
- More responsibilities placed on an already overloaded administrative staff.
- Reduction of professional development of teaching staff.
- Reduction in extra-curricular activities for students.
- Unstaffed or potential complete closure of school library & media centers.
- Less staff available to support students in and out of the classroom.
- Non-replacement of aging technology and curriculum materials.
- Elimination of extended day and year learning opportunities for at-risk students.
Steps we have already taken to prepare We have been facing smaller deficits regularly for the past several school years and have taken a number of steps to maintain our fiscal stability:
- First in the county to privatize food service operations which produces an annual profit used to upgrade food services and facilities.
- Privatized custodial services in 2008
- Eliminated four key administrative positions since 2004 (high school principal, curriculum director, early childhood center principal, and alternative education director) and consolidated duties and responsibilities..
- Contracted with a neighboring school district to provide bus maintenance and support.
- Entered into a collaborative agreement with several area school districts to operate regional special education. programs and privatize special education transportation.
- Opened our doors to additional students through schools of choice to fill vacant seats in classrooms.
- Collaborated with the teacher and support staff unions to reduce costs.
- Completed multiple energy saving projects to reduce utility costs.
- Contracted services to provide substitutes and coaches at a lower rate.
- Entered into a collaborative agreement with the City of Wyoming for police liaison and crossing guard services.
- Provided elective classes such as art and music to local private schools (shared-time services).
- Offered early retirement incentives to reduce payroll costs and staffing.
- Participated in a bulk purchasing cooperative.
- Collaborated with the KISD to receive services and grant opportunities.
- Promoted KCTC for instruction of elective classes.
- Applied for and utilized several federal grant programs for technology and student support (ERATE, WIA, Title I, Title II.).
- One of the few districts to be awarded an extensive school improvement grant.
- Shared itinerant staffing with Kent County through the KISD.
- Incorporated a two-year salary freeze for non-union personnel.
- Participated in the West Michigan Health Insurance Pool to purchase non-union benefits at a reduced rate.
- Reduced daily district transportation services.
- Partnered with GVSU, Aquinas College, GRCC and Calvin for tutoring and grant services.
- Eliminated staff conferences and travel expenditures.
- Eliminated curriculum purchases over the past two years.
- Reduced all building budgets by as much as 25%.
Key highlights of Godfrey-Lee
- Constructed and opened the 6th Grade 21st Century Learning Center.
- Offer an outstanding English Language Learners program.
- Established and maintain a collaborative partnertship with employee labor associations.
- Continue to promote the district and open doors to new students through the Schools of Choice program.
- Three time recipient of U.S. News and World Reports “America’s Best High Schools” bronze medal award.
- Facilitate early learning by housing a completely grant-funded, accredited preschool program.
- One of the few districts to provide a full-day, every-day Kindergarten program.
- Participate in Kent School Services Network (KSSN) to provide access to a variety of health, community and social services to students and families while targeting a reduction in chronic absenteeism.
- Provide an excellent after school program in partnership (TEAM21) with the City of Wyoming to facilitate extended-day learning in grades 1-8.
- Operate an adult ESL program to provide English language learning for the community.
- A quality Alternative Ed program providing GED programs, night school and credit recovery opportunities.
- Proven success of the Scholastic Read180 and System 44 Programs which have increased student reading levels.
- Administer and implement innovative programs through the School Improvement Grant.
- Ongoing expanding technology innovation and integration.
- Proven to have the lowest administrative cost in the State of Michigan.
- Collaborate and have a direct partnership with Central Michigan University’s Center for Excellence in Education (CEIE).
- Recipient of the Carter Award.
- Utilize service learning experiences through local colleges.
- Educate the highest percentage of Limited English Proficient (LEP) students in the State of Michigan.
- Service a high economically challenged demographic with approximately 90% of families that qualify for free or reduced meals
- Facilitate free dental care to low income students in partnership with Cherry Street Dental.
- Increased opportunities for differentiated learning are made available to students.
- Distribute mini-grants to teachers and classrooms through the Godfrey-Lee Education Foundation, funded by private donations.
- Graduation rate at Lee High School exceeds NCLB and state standards.
- High staff retention rates provide longevity and stability to support students and programs.
- Individualized student attention is given through low teacher/pupil ratio.
- An award winning secondary instrumental band program.
- Proven success of the K-12 Response to Intervention (RTI) reading programs.
- Currently hold a college acceptance rate of over 90%.
- Provide K-12 targeted intervention to students.
- Data proven safe schools supported by NCLB standards.
- Promote staff development through in-house “Rebel U”.
- Implemented trimesters to increase opportunities to students.
- Incorporated several summer programs such as Global Safari, TEAM21 and GVSU Reading Recovery.
- Instruct an algebra camp for increased secondary math support.
- Multiple online learning opportunities (E2020, PLATO, MVU, GenNet) available to engage students.
- Dual Enrollment programs are provided and encouraged.
- Advanced Placement options for English and Spanish are offered.
- Recognized as a leading school district in the integration of mobile wireless technology and the use of technology for staff development and transparent district-wide communications.
- Currently implementing a One-to-One program placing mobile technology tools in the hands of every student.
- Provide a rigorous ACT prep program for high school students.
- Freshman Focus and 9th Grade Advocacy program mentors and monitors incoming freshman to ensure success.
- In-School success room creates targeted intervention for discipline issues.
- Currently educating the highest enrollment in the history of the district with one-in-five students enrolled from outside the district through schools of choice..
- Multiple credit recovery options are available to promote and ensure student success.
- High School graduate requirements at Lee High School are more rigorous than state standards.
- Mandated senior capstone and service learning projects facilitate real-world growth and college preparation.
- District structural changes and improvements are accommodated easily due to smaller size.
- Fully-functioning Early Childhood Center is provided to offer development at an early age.
- Partnership and collaboration with the Wyoming Senior Center to benefit both students and community through volunteerism.
The essential question
While simplicity is a desirable feature of planning for Michigan's future, the question remains: “Can you help me understand how we did not prepare, how we have not been innovative, and how the proposal to reduce another $470 per student will force us to be more creative and more innovative?”
Contact Information for Godfrey-Lee area State Leaders:
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
PHONE: (517) 335-7858
FAX: (517) 335-6863
State Senator Mark Jansen
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
PHONE: (517) 373-0797
FAX: (517) 373-5236
State Representative Thomas Hooker - 77 th District (includes Wyoming)
N-1096 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909
PHONE: (517) 373-2277
TOLL FREE: (855) 866-4077
State Representative Brandon Dillon - 75 th District (includes Grand Rapids)
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514
PHONE: (517) 373-2668
FAX: (517) 373-5696
TOLL-FREE: (888) 750-3326
State Representative Roy Schmidt - 76 th District (includes Grand Rapids)
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909-7514
PHONE: (517) 373-0822
FAX: (517) 373-5276
TOLL-FREE: (877) 976-4769
Or, you can locate your State representative at: http://house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
1. The K-12 SAF was projected to have a balance of $600 million prior to the Governor's budget proposal and tax restructuring.
2. The Governor has proposed community colleges receive $196 million from the K-12 SAF, and state universities be allocated $700 million from the SAF.
3. Owing to the Governor's tax restructuring proposals and the above reallocations to community colleges and state universities, this will place the SAF in deficit. To offset the deficit, the Governor is proposing reducing the student foundation allowance an additional $300 per student over the $170 mid-year reduction school districts received in 2009-10.
4. When we combine the proposed cuts to K-12 of $470 per student, PLUS the cost of 3.8% increase to our district's contributions to the state retirement system, PLUS the likely increase by at least 15% (and possibly higher) in health insurance premiums, this has a net effect of reducing our district's scarce operating revenues by an additional $800 to $900 per pupil. This means the district stands to lose nearly $1.7 million for 2011-12 just from the governor's proposal and failure on the part of the state to act on rising retirement and health insurance costs.
5. When you add these to other contractually obligated increased costs such as salary and wage step increases as well as the drop-off in federal stimulus funding, the district faces an unprecedented deficit of $2.86 million for the 2011-12 school year. That represents nearly 15 percent of our current year operating budget.
● A minimum $32 million hit to the local economy.● Local businesses will suffer from lack of spendable income.● There will be less taxes collected and submitted to the State of Michigan to assist with recovery.● This economic “hit” doesn't guarantee that 400 “new and better” jobs will be created in Kent County.● There is absolutely no guarantee that any of the net savings realized by severely cutting K-12 public education will be returned to the taxpayer or used for the good of the county. On the contrary, much of it will be siphoned off and used for other governmental purposes.
1. Larger class sizes despite a high, urban at-risk student population.2. Erosion of services for high percentage of English language learners and special needs students.3. Loss of well-rounded educational programs including electives such as art, music and physical education.4. Reduction in athletic programs.5. Reduction or elimination of daily bus transportation for elementary students.6. Potential elimination of of all-day Kindergarten.7. Erosion of facilities, culture and climate including less cleaning and maintenance.8. Potential 20% reduction in teaching staff.9. More responsibilities placed on an already overloaded administrative staff.10. Reduction of professional development of teaching staff.11. Reduction in extra-curricular activities for students.12. Unstaffed or potential complete closure of school library & media centers.13. Less staff available to support students in and out of the classroom.14. Non-replacement of aging technology and curriculum materials.15. Elimination of extended day and year learning opportunities for at-risk students.