Thursday, December 31, 2009

Race to the Top Legislation Summary

On December 19, our state legislature - the same legislature that can't find time to fix school funding - managed to pass a package of bills that were allegedly necessary to compete for Race to the Top (RttT) stimulus funds, although there is no guarantee Michigan will receive any of these dollars. We are continuing to review the requirements for participating in Michigan's RttT plan, including the benefits and potential hidden costs. The Memorandum of Understanding has to be executed (signed by the Board president, superintendent, and association president) and delivered to the ISD by Thursday, January 7, if we plan to participate and hold out hope for these one-time funds with many strings attached.

It is clear that this newest ploy for wresting control of education from local school officials is to literally starve us to death financially and then offer a free meal. For a government that can't even handle a Christmas day airline terrorist attack by a single individual who was on their watch list and was reported by his own father ahead of the attack, it is indeed a scary proposition that they want to expand their control over thousands of local school districts as well.

Regardless of the MOU and RttT, the new legislation does impact our district and I am continuing to review the language in the bills to assess just how we will be affected. I do want to draw your attention to a summary of each bill, reminding you that these now are state law even though implementation procedures have to be worked out:

HB 4787: Failing Schools - if any of our schools are in the 5% of the lowest achieving schools in the state, the provisions of this bill will kick in. At present, none of our schools fall in this category but we will be keeping an eye on it. The bill also will now allow school staff to initiate a personal curriculum modification of the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC). Previously, only the parent could request a personal curriculum. It provides greater flexibility for modifying the math requirement - specifically, Algebra II.

This bill also modifies the legal drop-out age raising it from 16 to 18. It is effective beginning with the current 6th grade class. Parents still have the option of signing a waiver if they want their teen to drop out at 16.

HB 4788: Public Employee Relations Act (PERA) - most modifications in this bill pertain to failing schools identified by the act, above, but it also contains language that requires our district to first receive a bid for non-instructional support staff services from the current bargaining unit (GLSSA in our case) before privatizing the service. Essentially, it allows the union to bid on the services being considered for privatization. It does not require that the district accept the bid, even if it is the lowest offer.

SB 926: Teacher Data System/Basic Instructional Supplies - this bill requires the state to create and implement a teacher identification system with the ability to match an individaul teacher to the individual students that teacher has taught, essentially linking pupil records for the MEAP and MME to specific teachers. The system must also enable student academic achievement data, including growth in academic achievement, to be correlated to each teacher who has taught the student. School board members, teachers and administrators must have access to this data.
The bill also included a provision for teachers and principals to file a complaint with the state whenever they feel they are not being provided with necessary basic instructional supplies (to be defined by the Department of Education in the near future). If the district does not satisfactorily respond to the complaint (also to be defined), the Department of Education is required to take corrective action.

HB 5596: Alternative Teacher Certification - this simply mandates an alternative pathway to teacher certification. Rules, guidelines and procedures have yet to be developed.

SB 981: Schools of Excellence - this expands the number of charter schools including those centered around on-line learning (cyber schools). Five of the ten new schools must be high school and can only be located in a district with graduation rates of 75% or less. There is a provision included to allow conversion of an existing public school to a charter school.

The bill also includes the return of administrator certification that was ended in 2000. Existing administrators are grandfathered in but must comply with the current continuing education requirement to keep our contracts.

Teacher an d principal evaluation systems must now include measures of student academic growth using local and statewide assessments. A significant portion of the annual evaluation must be based on student data. We'll have to revamp our new teacher evaluation system to include this component and also building it into our principal evaluation system.

The bill also requires that we use student achievement data to evaluate teacher and principal effectiveness, determine eligibility for promotion or retention, grant tenure, and use during dismissal procedures as necessary.

Merit pay is required by this legislation. We will have to pay teachers based in part on job performance and job accomplishments, measuring accomplishments based significantly on student growth data.

The bill also provides additional flexibility for the Algebra II requirement in addition to that stated above.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020

This blog posting will certainly cause you to pause and think. It was originally posted on TeachPaperless:

Last night I read and posted the clip on '21 Things That Became Obsolete in the Last Decade'. Well, just for kicks, I put together my own list of '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020'.

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is'. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.

4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.

8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.

9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. 'Nuff said.

10. Lockers.
A coat-check, maybe.

11. IT Departments
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. Centralized Institutions
School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modelled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN in their backpockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide prof dev programs. This is already happening.

16. Current Curricular Norms
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade -- in the best of schools -- they will be.

20. High School Algebra I
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we'll have finally woken up to the fact that there's no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and IT in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. Paper
In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Are Charters More Economical? Not in This Case

There's a common misunderstanding that charter schools - public school academies primarily run by for-profit companies such as National Heritage Academies - are cheaper and more economical to run. They were supposedly the answer to the alleged rising costs of public school education and would be lean, mean, education machines. But is that true? While a large-scale comparison of traditional public vs. charter school costs is beyond the capabilities of this author, I have compared the 2007-08 revenues and expenditures between Godfrey-Lee Public Schools and the sixteen charter schools in Kent County. This particular school year was used because it is the most recent data available on the Michigan Department of Education website. It is published in the Department's Bulletin 1014, a document that comes out in the spring of each year for the preceding school year. The data is both public and verifiable thus it provides an indisputable method for comparison.

Total general fund revenues per pupil for the Kent County charter schools ranged from a low of $7,889 to a high of $9,475. The average for the sixteen schools was $8,594 while Godfrey-Lee received $9,210 per pupil, primarily due to more revenue from local sources.

Total general fund instructional program expenditures per pupil for the charters ranged from a low $3,286 to $5,945, for an average of $3,984. Godfrey-Lee spent $5,897 per pupil on instruction. When you match the rate of expenditures against revenues, the charter schools spent only 46% of their total revenue on instructional programs, while Godfrey-Lee spent 64%.

If the charters spent a lower proportion of their funds on instructional programs, where did the rest of the money go? According to the Bulletin 1014, it went towards support services, including business, administration, operations, and maintenance - all non-instructional areas. Compared to Godfrey-Lee, the charters spent $1,016 more per student on support representing 45% of their total revenue, while Godfrey-Lee's support costs represented only 31% of the funds received. These numbers are even more interesting in light of the fact that charter school districts consist of a single school building and most, if not all, do not provide transportation support.

The political pundits and public education naysayers can spin it anyway they want, but the numbers tell the story: the Godfrey-Lee district dedicates a greater proportion of our total revenues directly to instruction and operates our non-instructional support services on a much more economical basis.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Fax on Digital Change

As humans, we find ourselves mired in old-school methods for teaching and learning. After all, most of what we know about school is based on the roles we played as students for 13-17 years and that is hard to overcome.

We approach the changing digital landscape the same way. Many of us are still trying to figure out how to set the clock on our VCR's, even though it's getting more difficult by the day to find something on video tape to play. DVD instead, you say? Not too much longer.

Ask a kid today what a fax is and you're likely to get a very puzzled expression.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Not About Computers - It's About Digital Learning!

I have no idea why I am obsessed with computers and newer emerging technologies. I never had any formal computer education although I did teach basic computer programming courses for a couple of years in the Commodore Pet era. I took the digital plunge and learned on my own. In fact, I'm still learning and look forward each day to exploring some new website or tool to either help me do my job better, or simply for enjoyment.

It used to be I simply used technology for productivity (office tools) and email, but in the past year, I've become somewhat of a digital junkie, with an obsession for expanding my growing network of professionals whom I collaborate with regularly. And I love the transparency and openness of Twitter, Facebook, Ning and soon, Google Wave. On some days, I feel as if I've been transported out of my office and placed in a room full of people all talking at the same time and excited about education or one of my other passions, running. But while the noise of the read/write net is growing, the clarity of what I'm capable of learning is becoming more clear. The simple beauty is that anyone with an internet connection can easily find like-minded professionals to learn from, debate with, and share critical thinking about education and learning.

The internet has transformed my personal classroom and expanded its borders to encompass the entire community and indeed the world. I'm learning everyday about the power of these connections and taking steps to model this type of self-learning with peers, staff, and students. Let's not forget the students! Although they may be digital natives (while I am merely a digital immigrant excited about my new world), they do not necessarily know how to use the power of the internet to expand their own learning and explore new horizons. That's another reason why we as teachers and administrators, and even parents, have to take the digital plunge, and identify ways to use these tools for learning.

I dabbled in Web 2.0 tools (shorthand for the ability to interact two-way with the internet environment, aka, the read/write web) before I even knew what they were. Here are just some of the digital connections I continue to explore and expand each day:

  • For me, it started with a Facebook account ( many years ago that I have used primarily to keep in touch with staff and students, mostly as an observer. While Facebook has provided me with a social platform that lately has expanded to include more of my former high school classmates and extended family members, I find it most useful in helping observe the struggles and successes of our graduates as they journey into adulthood. It sort of serves as a laboratory and provides me with nearly instant feedback that I share with teachers, administrators and parents. In addition, I have been able to provide mentoring and advice to a number of struggling youth, particularly those who have gone on to military service. Beyond than that, I find Facebook to be limited in expanding my personal learning network.
  • I've explored the use of a number of RSS feed readers to bring the news and blogs I'm interested to me. I use Google Reader ( when I'm on the go but Protopage ( is my preferred desktop (and cellphone) reader. You are welcome to visit this page and look at what I have assembled on the various tabs. In addition, I bookmark Alltop ( which is a collection of education blogs on steroids! Dozens of the most popular education blogs are contained on one single page and each lists the last five entries. I go to this site at least weekly and always learn something new.
    • Over a year ago, I established a Twitter account ( but at first didn't quite understand how to benefit from it. Over the winter, I came across examples of how Twitter was being used in classrooms and between educational professionals to provide short, instant collaboration on topics of interest. In the spring, I returned to my Twitter account, dusted off the cobwebs, and have been on an amazing ride ever since. My personal learning network of followers and friends has grown - and continues to grow - at a rapid pace. As of this writing, I am nearing 650 followers, am following 232 others, have been included on 32 lists of educators, and tweeted over 2,900 times, but I am just a fledgling user compared to many of the other professionals I network with. Here are just a few of the prolific Tweetsters I follow that demonstrate the diversity and expanse of my learning network:
      • steelepierce
        M.E. Steele-Pierce | Cincinnati OH - K-12 Administrator. Aspiring locavore. Web 2.0 explorer. Bookworm. Word nerd. Interested in how we learn and how we change.
      • irasocol
        Ira Socol - Universal Design in Education and Assistive Technology and Novelist short-story writer. He also blogs at
      • cybraryman1
        Jerry Blumengarten | Florida - Educator & Writer trying to catalogue the internet for students, educators and parents.
      • ShiftParadigm
        Mark E. Weston Ph.D. | Atlanta, GA USA - Education Strategist at Dell Inc. working to enhance learning and instruction for all students by harnessing the power of tech to support proven practices.
      • Edu4U
        Bri Brewer | Round Rock, TX - Updates from Dell's Education blog. Run by EdTech enthusiast Bri Brewer who manages Edu community development. I love food and my husband.
      • JasonFlom
        Jason Flom | Tallahassee, FL - Teacher Advocate. Education Idealist. 4th Grade Instructor. Father. Husband. Cyclist. Climber. Part-time Poly-anna.
      • ShellTerrell
        Shelly S Terrell | Stuttgart, Germany - Edtech blogger collaborating to make educational change. Focus on Edtech, Elearning, TEFL. #Edchat coordinator., Dir of Edu Outreach.
      • tomwhitby
        Tom Whitby - Professor of Education in Secondary English. Linkedin group Founder/owner Technology-Using Professors + TWITTER-Using Educators+ NING-Using Educators.
      • web20classroom
        Steven W. Anderson | Winston-Salem, NC - Technology Educator, Blogger, Co-Creator of #edchat, Character at the #140Conf, Winner of 1st Ever NOW Award, Trying to Change The World, One Tweet At A Time...
      • canyonsdave
        David S. Doty | Sandy, Utah - Canyons School District Superintendent, triathlete, BYU & Stanford grad, putting an innovative new school district together one step at a time.
      • mcleod
        Scott McLeod | Ames, Iowa - Associate Professor. CASTLE Director. Blogger. Idea generator. Solution builder. Agitator. Catalyst. "If the leaders don't get it, it's not going to happen."
      • chadratliff
        Chad Ratliff | Charlottesville, Virginia - Dad. Husband. Asst Director of Instruction. Entrepreneur. MEd/MBA. Relentless seeker of a better way.
      • chrislehmann
        Chris Lehmann | Philadelphia, PA - Principal of the Science Leadership Academy.
      • pammoran
        Charlottesville Virginia - Superintendent in Albemarle,Virginia, creating 21st c community learning spaces for all kinds of learners, both adults and young people.
      • bhsprincipal
        Patrick Larkin | Burlington, MA - Burlington High School (MA) Principal - I have the best job in the world!
      • NMHS_Principal
        Eric Sheninger | New Milford, NJ - Principal of New Milford High School (NJ) w/ interests in technology, 21st Century learning, pedagogy, resources for parents/students/educators.
      • EdTech4Me
        L Winebrenner | Augusta, GA/Fayetteville, NC - Ed Tech Doctoral Candidate, DL Student and Facilitator, Mom-Empty Nester, retired Army-still serving, Practitioner, TB Bucs fan, and 2 many 2 list here.
      • sanmccarron
        Sandra McCarron | Boston, MA - Lover of learning; Mom to many; Scientist and High School Science Teacher, Earth mother, flower child, geeky intellectual.
      • lasic
        Tomaz Lasic | Fremantle, Australia - Father, teacher, ed-tech t(h)inker, moodler, ex water polo goalie, endless 'to do' list, bad @ many things.
      • kathyschrock
        Kathy Schrock | Cape Cod, MA - District Tech Director, DEN Star, Adobe Ed Leader, Google Certified Teacher.
      • BarefootTed
        Barefoot Ted | Seattle - Learning how to flow well in life...

    Ok, admittedly this last guy has nothing to do with education but he certainly has educated me on the joy of barefoot running, something I would have known little about without the internet and my desire to be a self-learner.

    Jump in!

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    ABC's of the 21st Century Learning Environment

    Kimberley Ketterer, PhD, instructional technology coordinator for the Eugene, Oregon
    School District, wrote the following to highlight new forms of communication that have a place in today's classrooms:

    Using the alphabet as a framework, the following is a glimpse into what you will find in a 21st-century learning and teaching environment:

    Access to all technological tools needed for learning
    Beacons of global asynchronous conversations
    Confident universal engaged learners
    Dynamic online information made available anytime-anywhere
    Engaged cohorts of learners immersed in simulations
    Forecasted possibilities of collaborative solutions to real-world problems
    Global awareness through real-time participation in major events
    Harnessed creativity through multimedia for authentic learning
    Innovations encouraged by out-of-the-box thinking
    Jpegs that augment reports and storytelling
    Knowledge transfer across curricular areas
    Legal and ethical discussions fueled by overproliferation of opinion and fact
    Morphed teaching strategies from passive delivery to multisensory presentations
    Networked video resources for worldwide information exchange
    Opportunities to enroll in online courses
    Production of analyzed and synthesized information presentations
    Quantitative data showing increases in academic achievement
    Responsibility for learning shifted from solely the teacher to mainly the student
    Streaming video access 24/7
    Transfer of technological skills that are seamless between tools
    Ubiquitous access to the technical tools needed for learning and teaching
    Virtual tours and immersive learning opportunities

    SchoolCenter Picture

    Web 2.0 tools integrated across the curriculum
    Xerox copies as an archaic practice
    Yearning to express oneself in a multimodel way is quenched
    Zoning-out of learning is prohibited

    As 21st-century educators we must continue to shift the paradigm of our teaching to meet the needs of the newest generation of learners.

    Leading & Learning with Technology, December/January 2009-10, p. 35

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    The Short Course on School District Consolidation

    After a careful and thorough review of the Michigan Department of Education's most recent Bulletin 1014 for 2007-08, one can easily conclude that the four combined Wyoming public school districts are considerably more economical to maintain as separate districts rather than a large consolidated one. The evidence is contained in the cost factors associated with the twenty Michigan school districts that would be in the same group as a consolidated Wyoming district. These twenty districts have full time equivalent enrollments ranging from 10,000 to 19,999 and are located in ten different counties within the lower half of the state. They include suburban and urban districts similar in many respects to the Wyoming area. Because a consolidated city-wide district in Wyoming would have a combined enrollment of more than 12,000 students, it is logical to assume that this new district would incur similar costs by being forced to operate as a large single district over a broad geographical spread. You can almost see in your mind's eye the eventual bureaucratic growth and resulting added costs that would quickly follow any such merger.

    Using per-pupil revenues and expenditures to make a valid comparison, the four Wyoming districts are much more economical to operate separately than the twenty Group C districts. Comparing the Group C districts with the combined revenues and costs of the four Wyoming districts on a per-pupil cost basis illustrates the stark differences:

    • The Wyoming districts received a combined $8 million less in total general fund revenues from all sources ($690 less per pupil).
    • Despite receiving less total general fund revenues, the Wyoming districts expended $388,000 more on instructional programs ($32 more per pupil).
    • Total instructional salaries on a per-pupil basis were $1.9 million less for the Wyoming districts than the Group C districts ($157 less per pupil).
    • Total instructional support expenditures on a per-pupil basis were $3.1 million less for the Wyoming districts ($257 less per pupil).
    • All four non-instructional-related expenditures were less for the combined Wyoming districts than the Group C districts:
      • Business & Administration = $1.4 million ($118 less per pupil)
      • Operations & Maintenance = $3.3 million ($274 less per pupil)
      • Transportation = $755,000 ($62 less per pupil)
      • Total Support Services = $8.6 million ($711 less per pupil)
    • Total support services salaries on a per-pupil basis were $12.8 million less for the Wyoming districts than the Group C districts ($1,060 less per pupil)

    SchoolCenter Picture

    This chart illustrates the difference in non-instructional expenditures.

    So while the four Wyoming districts combined, on a per-pupil basis, received less general fund revenue, they also had considerably less in general fund expenditures than the Group C districts. Teacher salaries were lower in the combined Wyoming districts by more than $2.7 million in total per-pupil costs ($228 per pupil) as well. It makes perfect sense to continue to operate the four Wyoming districts separately rather than adding a twenty-first district to the same level of expenditures as the existing Class C districts. In fact, the four Wyoming districts with their existing separate structures should be considered a bargain.