Demonize public education, teachers, and teacher unions. Use the imprimatur of "reform" to shift public resources to for-profit companies.
Exploit this country's financial crisis to achieve ideological ends. Blame public education for economic problems, including the outsourcing of jobs.
Begin with low-performing schools because of the long-standing challenges they face. Then expand "reform" to suburban schools using low standardized test scores and teacher evaluations as evidence of their ineffectiveness.
Transfer public money with minimal public oversight and accountability to corporations that manage for-profit schools and provide standardized testing, among other services.
Consign to "traditional public schools" students whose high-cost special needs make them less profitable. Then blame resource-starved schools for not succeeding with those students and begin anew to find new ways to drain those schools of their remaining resources.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Saturday, December 15, 2012
This past week’s political activities in Lansing, Michigan were upsetting to many as evidenced by media reports and the many comments made through social media across the Internet. Concerns for our district and our students – now and in the future – put me in the middle of this conflict and I admit that I let my emotions cloud my professional judgment. As a result, I made statements on my personal Twitter account about two of our elected representatives – Rep. Lisa Lyons and Rep. Dave Agema – that I sincerely regret and I apologize to both as well as the entire Godfrey-Lee community.
I firmly believe it is important to advocate for the needs of our community and the future of our children, but to do so with the utmost professionalism especially since our students watch and learn from everything we do. I’m in a position as superintendent not only to demonstrate for our students how to effectively use the advocacy tools available in our political system, but to do so by focusing on the point of disagreement without resorting to name-calling and personal conflict. While I realize that many these past weeks have resorted to a lower level of debate, it does not excuse my inappropriate use of social media and disrespectful comments regarding Representatives Lyons and Agema. We may disagree on the political process and product, but I truly believe that each of us are seeking what we believe to be in the best interest of Michigan’s children and our state's future.
I regret shining a light on the Godfrey-Lee community that is not deserved.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
The “enrollment district” would be mandated to serve as a clearinghouse, receiving an undesignated fee per student for the task of managing and administering their students’ “vouchers” for the education choices they make. These choices can be either to attend full time in the “enrollment district” or concoct a number of ala-carte choices for taking classes including online, early college (if accepted), dual enrollment, or taking a class in a high school across town (or multiple classes in multiple high schools scattered throughout the area). No counseling is required for students or parents to assist in making programming choices that are appropriate to their abilities, fit their graduation needs, and support their college and career choices.
The following provides a skeletal outline of the 300-plus-page framework:
1. Removes district “ownership” of a student2. Provides online learning options with “performance funding”3. Funding follows the student4. Provides for performance-based funding for all courses (not clear on details)5. Grants early graduation scholarships (up to 2 years early)6. Promotes concept of year-round schools for economically-challenged students
While on the surface, these may sound enticing, there are a number of shortcomings within the Oxford Plan which I attempt to address through the points that follow. At the end, I make some recommendations on which Michigan’s public education reform movement should be built.
The Minnesota Experience
This is in no way criticism of Minnesota’s education system, but the Oxford Plan’s authors have contended that Minnesota served as a model for their plan. If that’s true, it would be important to know whether the group considered a recent comprehensive study titled, False Choices: The Economic Argument Against Market-Driven Education Reform, conducted by Michael Diedrich, Minnesota 2020 Policy Associate, and released in January 2012.
Here are key findings from this study:
· Home to the oldest charter school law, Minnesota’s experience does not conclude that increased competition improves educational outcomes.o Math national test scores increased by less than 7% over 20 years since charters introducedo Reading scores increased by less than 1% during same period· The market approach to education doesn’t produce the gains needed to raise achievement levels for ALL students.· Public education cannot replicate the five necessary conditions for pure competition between traditional public schools and charters.· A Michigan study shows for-profit charters have a lower performance outcome than traditional public schools (Hill and Welsch White Paper).
“…there is significant evidence that for-profit schools are less likely to have students scoring at a level that meets Michigan standards…even when adjusting for numerous school and district characteristics…” (Hill, Cynthia D. and Welsch, David M. Is there a Difference Between For-Profit Versus Not-for-Profit Charter Schools? University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Working Paper 08-02)
· Market-driven approaches incentivize schools to increase public relations (advertising), sales pitches, and teaching-to-the-test that do little to improve real learning and achievement.· Minnesota’s (and Michigan’s) large rural makeup lacks the concentrated populations necessary to support a truly open market and choice throughout much of the state.· Voucher programs in states or cities where they have been approved have not demonstrated the ability to improve student achievement; students who change schools through school choice programs do not succeed at any higher rate than students who applied but were denied based on a random lottery.· Instead of being about innovation, charter schools have become about competition; this grows with the increase in for-profit charters.· The economic rationale that open enrollment policies foster competition between traditional public schools is flawed; they only serve to redistribute students based on individual or familial motivation and will not prepare ALL students for post-secondary success.· The fallacy that competition will drive all schools to produce universal college and career readiness assumes that teachers and administrators aren’t already driven to that goal and assume a self-interest that impugns the motivations and professionalism of school staff, further alienating those responsible for improving learning and student achievement; this naturally leads to resistance towards “carrot and stick” approaches that are based on flawed economics-centric thinking (versus student-centric).
Additionally, the Oxford Plan leaves out a very important fact about Minnesota which is how the state far exceeded Michigan on a national ranking earlier this year regarding the overall level of K-12 funding and equity of funding across school districts. I refer more about this important relationship in later points. The data comes from Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card Second Edition: June 2012 (http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/).
Quality, Choice, Funding and Accountability
The Oxford Plan leaves serious doubts about its ability to reform the Michigan K-12 systems in such a way so that it guarantees ALL students will be better served through higher levels of achievement as well as college and career readiness. Specifically, there are three main areas of concern:
· Opens the door to for-profit entrepreneurs without establishing sound quality assurances to protect families exercising choice.· More choices that are based on a market-driven philosophy already shown in Minnesota to be deficient will not guarantee quality choices.· As in Minnesota, the creation of more choices has not made any significant improvements in Michigan education; the only recent reforms that can be linked to improved student achievement is increased graduation standards (MMC) and ACT testing for all students.
· Virtually all of the choices in the Oxford Plan are already available to families and students.· Districts already work collaboratively with other districts for sharing of courses one or the other cannot afford.· Expanded dual enrollment options and a growing number of K-16 partnerships are already in place.· The illusion of increased choice by opening up ala-carte options to students across multiple school buildings and districts is not well thought out and presents a number of problems for the student and the districts involved:o Students deciding to skip the offerings of their “enrollment district” (Oxford’s term) and enroll in an online or nearby district class will end up costing the enrollment district significantly since the course still has to be offered to a smaller number of students; additionally, the course may need to be cancelled due to insufficient numbers of students enrolled creating havoc for student schedules and meeting graduation requirements.o Students travelling between districts for classes will lose the opportunity to carry a full load since the travel time will eat into the school day; this causes the student to be less than an FTE between the “sharing” districts and more funding is lost as a result; this is already a problem for students in dual enrollment or attending the Kent ISD CTE programs.o School schedules, term calendars, and credit designations are not standardized across Michigan schools; transfer students during the year often experience difficulties with this that the individual schools try to mitigate as much as possible; expanding the ability of students to take courses from multiple districts creates an undue burden on the districts involved and potentially hurts more than helps a student complete graduation requirements on time.
· The Oxford Plan will further erode an already sorry state of affairs for local and state K-12 funding in Michigan.· Michigan already has one of the worst school funding systems in the nation for fairness and equity; districts with large concentrations of students living in poverty, struggling with the English language, and other societal and demographic characteristics that impede their educational progress are already underfunded substantially based on the needs of students to have equitable learning opportunities.· Recent budget reductions have left Michigan districts with less funding than received in 2005-06.· The slow economic recovery, threat of another recession, and a shrinking population base and birth rate already impact Michigan’s public school districts.· The Oxford Plan will make it difficult for districts to project student revenues; furthermore, the competitiveness of the plan will force districts to utilize diminishing resources to advertise and promote their schools.· Further economic instability for schools will simply erode programming choices for the vast majority of students who will not have the support system in place to move about the public education arena.· As has been pointed out in a number of studies, simply creating a market-place competitive education system does not lower costs; in fact, it leads to duplication of services and administration; the state’s own data shows the schools with the highest administrative expenses in the state as a percentage of per-pupil revenues are charter schools and the DPS district.· The Oxford Plan does not provide a method for ensuring that federal revenues are not lost by virtue of qualified students choosing to attend non-qualified districts or schools; with declining state revenues for K-12 education, Michigan can ill-afford to lose federal dollars.
It’s worth repeating that the Oxford Plan does nothing to improve equity of opportunity for students who because of family, societal, mobile or demographic obstacles find themselves behind in school with little hope of catching up to their more affluent peers. In fact, it can be easily argued that the Oxford Plan’s basic foundation of ala-carte choice will serve to create a greater divide between upper and lower income students, and this in turn will lead to more segregation and inequity of opportunity.
The Alliance for Education released a report in November 2012 (Inseparable Imperatives: Equity in Education and the Future of the American Economy retrieved from www.all4ed.org) that starts out by stating:
Pedro Noguera points out that:
The Oxford Plan in its current iteration creates conflicts in accountability measures and procedures between Federal NCLB requirements (with state waiver) and proposed changes to State requirements.
- Graduation on time: The bedrock foundation of the Oxford Plan calls on Governor Snyder’s vision of an “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way and Any Pace” public education system (emphasis added). However, current federal law labels a school as failing when students do not graduate on time, within four school years of entering their freshmen year. Thus “any pace” does not square with federal law even though this district agrees with the concept and does not feel any school should be labeled as failing if students in that school – especially those attending urban, poor, high ELL school districts – need a year or two more to master the Michigan Merit Curriculum standards and achieve college and career readiness. However, until the State of Michigan thumbs its nose at the 4-year mandate set by NCLB, this is not a reality. This district supports flexible, personalized learning for all students but regulations prohibit any real effort to provide such for students who want or need it.
- Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP): There are many accountability problems associated with the ala-carte system of public education. It is simply not fair or equitable to expect that an “enrollment district” will be saddled with high-stakes achievement scores, graduation rates, and the potential for falling into the 5% PLA group when a student may be taking some core academic courses online, at a school in a nearby district, or at a local college. The enrollment district will have no impact on learning outside of its own jurisdiction and should not be penalized to support the ala-carte options. If the ala-carte plan is adopted, schools and districts should be exempt from including any scores of students not attending the enrollment district in a full-time capacity.
While public education reform of the magnitude envisioned by Governor Snyder requires more than a handful of people sitting around the table tossing narrow ideas back and forth, I offer the following starting point recommendations.
Any successful reform effort has to begin by first recognizing that Michigan’s school funding is both inadequate and lends itself to creating inequity between students based on their demographics and zip code. The Oxford Plan, as I previously mentioned, fails not only to address inequity but also may contribute to lower revenues for struggling districts based on the ala-carte concept. A student with limited English communications skills, growing up in poverty, coming to school sick on a regular basis, or residing in a violent neighborhood is going to need more costly interventions that go beyond the classroom. Even within the classroom, this student is going to need a higher qualified teacher trained extensively to provide a learning environment designed to achieve high standards. The state’s base foundation allowance is insufficient in the current system and would only be worsened under components of the Oxford Plan.
Several legislators recently introduced Michigan House Bill 6086 calling for the State to conduct a comprehensive statewide cost student to determine the basic cost per pupil that is necessary to provide a public education that enables every pupil to successfully complete all of the MMC credit requirements, demonstrate proficiency in all subject areas of the MME, and that meets the standards for adequacy and equity, defining equity to mean:
…whether public resources being committed to public education are distributed in a way that all children, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, and geography, have an equal opportunity to succeed in school.
It is likely that without the strong support of the Governor, this bill will not see the light of day in the current super-charged state of political conflict evident in our state legislature. Any effective, real education reforms hinge on this foundation of equity.
Four Pillars for Education Reform:
The NAACP recently released a research-based comprehensive reform plan for public education titled, Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America’s Children, 2012 (http://www.naacp.org/blog/entry/naacp-2012-education-report). The report provides an eye-opening comparison of some of the top achievement countries in the world versus the United States and notes the percentage of variance in student performance due to socioeconomic status differences.
Governor Snyder should organize a broad coalition to undertake a critical analysis of this plan and how it could make a positive impact on Michigan.
The four pillars are:
· Prekindergarten prep for achievement – “One of the most important steps we can take to improve the life opportunities for children is to ensure that they have language- and literacy-rich early care environments.” (p. 6) This is particularly true in Michigan’s urban, impoverished communities, especially those with a growing percentage of limited English proficiency.
· Effective teaching – more support should be put in place to ensure a high quality teacher entry program, ongoing job-embedded professional learning including instructional coaching, and an effective teacher/principal/superintendent evaluation program that is designed to support professional learning as it’s primary goal. In addition, Michigan has a tendency to only fund learning time when students are in front of a certificated teacher. Like Finland and other high-achieving countries, we need to place a higher value and financially support time during the day when teachers can gather to plan, collaborate, learn, analyze student learning, develop curriculum and assessments, etc. Squeezing more state and local revenues from district budgets makes this reasonably impossible and the constant anti-teacher rhetoric makes it difficult to gain public support for using time during the day for these critical improvement functions.
· More time for learning – while the Oxford Plan mentions a longer school year for low achieving students, it fails to provide any insights into how this is to be funded and does not take into account how students can literally “escape” a year-round school system with the Oxford recommendation of an “ala-carte” education system. Most urban poor school districts have facilities that are inadequate for summer learning (spend a summer in our high school and you’ll agree) and lack the property values and bonding support make the facilities year-round. Beyond that, declining state and local revenues make it difficult to operate a facility over four Michigan seasons. However, if Governor Snyder can provide resources to make schools conducive to learning in any climate, we welcome the discussion of what elements comprise quality extended year programs. Until that discussion occurs with resulting financial resources made available for planning, training staff, and transitioning to a year-round calendar, this should not be forced upon schools that are not ready to provide a high-quality program.
· Target spending for widespread success – basically, Michigan underinvests in its most neediest students through the inequitable funding process I’ve already identified. The state also underinvests in preschool, leadership development, and whole-community supports for urban, poor, and ELL students necessary to compete with their more affluent suburban counterparts. Michigan has got to restructure its public education financing system to target more program, equipment, and structural resources to poor districts, aligning funding with student needs and investing in on-going teacher development. Programs like the Kent Schools Services Network (KSSN) have proven their worth in providing health and social services supports, but are stymied by limited financial resources to impact all students and their families needing help. Michigan should address this as a holistic approach to providing equitable financing and resources so that every K-12 student has a solid platform for achieving success.
This is just a start. Building stronger K-16 ties and encouraging collaboration between all school districts – public, charter, for-profit, and private – are also critical enhancements. All Michigan school districts should have equitable access to instructional technology and the infrastructure necessary to support high-speed internet access. The burden of transportation should also be reduced through a funding scheme that provides resources based on the proximity between a student’s home and the school she attends. A better, more equitable system of financing facility construction and upgrades along with equipping state-of-the-art science and technology labs is also crucial to ensuring success for every child in achieving college and career readiness.
Working collaboratively with the entire public education community would be a step towards achieving our goals.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Resolution A - the EAA and charter expansion bills
WHEREAS, our public schools, with a tradition of local control embedded in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, are the core of a free, responsible and democratic society; and
WHEREAS, Michigan was a leader in democratizing elementary and secondary education, and in creating a public education system central to every Michigan constitution since 1835; and
WHEREAS, the Michigan legislature has before it several legislative bills that go against the very principles of public education system, including House Bills 6004, 5923, 4052 and Senate Bill 1358 that would allow unprecedented acquisition of control of our local school districts by state actors; and
WHEREAS, the legislation seeks to overlook the education reform ideas offered by professional educators and school boards across the state, instead creating a new, untested, parallel system of school governance with no record of successful performance, rather than focusing on issues that most affect our lowest performing schools and our most vulnerable populations; and
WHEREAS, the proposed legislation is being promoted as “education reform,” with no research to support these reforms nor data from the Education Achievement Authority that demonstrates increased student performance or school success; and
WHEREAS, the nucleus of these reforms creates a parallel, duplicative and undemocratic system of public education that bypasses the duly elected State Board of Education and their appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as hundreds of locally elected school boards across the state; and
WHEREAS, the Godfrey-Lee Public School District, currently serving over 1,800 students with diverse backgrounds and a majority growing up in poverty, transient, and limited English-speaking conditions, provides students a wide variety of educational opportunities, curricular offerings above and beyond basic provisions, technology support for personalized learning options, holistic supports to overcome family and community problems, and a highly qualified, dedicated instructional staff;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Education of the Godfrey-Lee Public School District assembled in Wyoming, Michigan implores legislators and our governor to reject proposals that are untested and unproven, instead looking for ways to collaborate with and empower local public school boards, parents, concerned citizens and professional educators to solve local and state pressing educational problems.
Resolution B - elimination of the Personal Property Tax
WHEREAS, our public schools our funded by a hybrid of state and local taxes, each crucial to the provision of an equitable and quality education for all students; and
WHEREAS, Michigan public school communities are responsible for providing adequate and safe school facilities and classrooms purchased and maintained primarily through local millages and property taxes; and
WHEREAS, the Michigan legislature, assembled in lame duck session, has before it several legislative bills that provide for the repeal of the industrial and personal property taxes over ten years, including House Bills 6022-26 and Senate Bills 1065-72, which eliminate the Personal Property Tax without full replacement of lost revenue; and
WHEREAS, school districts such as Godfrey-Lee Public Schools will be forced to raise taxes on constituent property owners to pay for outstanding School Bond Loan millages, shifting the burden of taxes on Michigan residents by $20 million in compliance with the provision of the Michigan Constitution requiring automatic rate increases on all remaining taxable property; and
WHEREAS, the proposed legislation without full replacement of lost revenue will cause districts and ISDs to lose millions of dollars for key programs such as special education and career and technical education, in particular forcing our district to use declining general fund revenues to make up for lost special education funds and offer fewer programs for students; and
WHEREAS, the estimated impact of elimination of Personal Property Taxes on the Godfrey-Lee Public Schools District and its students is $89,000 for special education programs and a shifting of $104,553 in debt millage to residential property owners; and
WHEREAS, the Board of Education of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools supports the repeal of industrial and Personal Property Taxes but not until the state legislature comes up with a plan for immediate and full replacement of lost revenue;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Board of Education of the Godfrey-Lee Public School District assembled in Wyoming, Michigan implores the House and Senate to table the current Personal Property Tax reform legislation until a suitable plan is developed for immediate and full replacement of lost revenue for districts and ISDs.
Education "reformers" have a common playbook. First, assert without evidence that regular public schools are "failing" and that large numbers of regular (unionized) public school teachers are incompetent. Provide no documentation for this claim other than that the test score gap between minority and white children remains large. Then propose so-called reforms to address the unproven problem – charter schools to escape teacher unionization and the mechanistic use of student scores on low-quality and corrupted tests to identify teachers who should be fired.
The mantra has been endlessly repeated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and by "reform" leaders like former Washington and New York schools chancellors Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein. Bill Gates' foundation gives generous grants to school systems and private education advocates who adopt the analysis. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel makes the argument, and in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has frequently sung the same tune.
Data have been misrepresented and selectively cited to build a false case that public schools in general are failing, and by extension, that most parents are dissatisfied with their children's schools.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Dick DeVos, one of only several conservatives acting as puppeteers of the current Michigan governor and Republican-dominated legislature, is back in the anti-public education arena under the guise of "right to work" and restructuring public education funding.
One of the most surprising assertions of the night was Dick DeVos' statement that "the people of Michigan will not see a stronger advocate for public education than me" (emphasis added) even as he has taken an active role in the national voucher and privatization movement, including the formation of the group All Children Matter (ACM) in the spring of 2003 in order to coordinate a national movement in support of pro-voucher political candidates.