Saturday, December 29, 2012

Simple steps for profiting from the destruction of public education

Dennis Sparks outlines a simple process for destroying public education and moving public funds into for-profit hands:

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.

It's already well underway and politicians from both major parties as well as corporate CEO's are reaping the benefits. As Sparks concludes, "Money that would benefit students is siphoned off as corporate profit."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An apology to the community and our state leaders

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

Response to Governor Snyder's "Oxford Plan" Draft

To be introduced next session of the Michigan legislature, the Oxford Plan (drafted primarily by Richard McLellan, Mary Kay Shields, and Peter Ruddell of the Oxford Foundation at the request of Governor Rick Snyder) would totally rewrite the current School Aid language to allow students and their parents to “spend” their foundation grant for classes from any education provider (with or without certificated teachers).

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 student
2.     Provides online learning options with “performance funding”
3.     Funding follows the student
4.     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 introduced
o   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 (

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 that starts out by stating:

"Today, this moral imperative – to equitably provide all students with a quality education – is now a critical factor in maintaining the United State’s national economic strength." (p. 1)

Pedro Noguera points out that:

"A big part of what is wrong with the current debate about reform is that it is dominated by what I think of as naïve optimists and radical pessimists. The naïve optimists are the ones promoting simplistic solutions like: “fire bad teachers,” “lengthen the school day,” “close failing schools,” or radically expand the number of charter schools without any real public accountability. What these so-called reformers have in common is that they seize upon a single idea or set of ideas to promote change and then assume that if we just follow this narrow prescription schools will improve. The record shows that they never do, especially not in the communities that suffer from the greatest economic and social challenges." (Moving Beyond the Polarized Debate, post by Pedro Noguera in Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, Nov 27, 2012)


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Reform Recommendations

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.

Funding Equity:

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 ( 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.

Reform begins with Elimination of the Graded-School Structure:
Any true reform, including equitable financial support for K-12 public schools, should begin with a statewide adoption of a policy that eliminates the outdated graded-school structure. Research has demonstrated overwhelmingly that grading schools as kindergarten through 12th, compartmentalizing curriculum by single-year slices, and measuring success by whether or not a student moves through the system one calendar year at a time was wrong in the 1800’s, continued to be wrong throughout the 1900’s, and is a costly impediment to personalizing learning efficiently, economically, and effectively. Michigan’s education system should be anchored solely on a competency-based system of advancement which takes into account individual student and family needs. The graded-school structure was designed for efficient command and control, not to improve learning. It is the root of overall rising costs for public education due to a continuing need for remediation, special education, extended school days, summer school, tutoring, repeating grades and courses, etc. The Oxford Plan and Governor Snyder have an opportunity to revolutionize public education and once put Michigan at the forefront of real reform and improved student achievement.

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

Board calls on Lansing to rethink their lame duck reform bills

The Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved two resolutions this evening calling on the state legislature and governor to slow down, think about what they are doing and the potential impact it will have on public education, and basically stop using the lame duck session to ramrod through politically charged, poorly-conceived education reform bills.

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.

The Basic Roots of the Current Ed Reform Movement

Pseudo-education reformers like to declare that they are all about student achievement and ultimately college and career success. I don't believe it for one minute and if you take the same considerable time I have to really explore their statements and actions, you'll conclude like I have that it's more about power, building prestige for their associations or corporations, and profiteering from the public trough. They intentionally mislead the public through misuse of statistics and assessment results and their "rockstar" status garners the spotlight in the media to say whatever they feel like saying regardless of how far from the truth it is.

Two preeminent researchers and authors have much to say about public education reformers and I see their positions as the basic roots behind the entire education reform movement.

Gene V. Glass states that, "Youngsters today appear to be valued less than when they had meaningful work to contribute to the family." (Fertilizers, Pills, And Magnetic Strips: The Fate Of Public Education In America, 2008, pp. 59-73) Perhaps that is why corporate education reformers today see public schools only as a vehicle for producing employees with the specific skills they are seeking. Anything else is considered to be a waste of time and money, especially if it is connected to the ageless values that served for centuries as the purpose of educating the masses.

Glass goes on to say, "Or, perhaps, other people's children are valued less while one's own are overvalued, out of some guilt about not spending as much time with them or depriving them of siblings." (Ibid) In other words, I'll support my local schools, private or public, as long as they are serving a familial need and suage my guilt for having bought into the declining value of children (especially YOUR children), but I'm not supporting the concept of public education in general because of my paranoia about government-run enterprises or I've drunk the kool-aide served up by Gates, Rhee, Governor Snyder and others.

More recently, Richard Rothstein, research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California (Berkeley) School of Law, took exception to the reformers' penchant for playing loose with international and national assessment results ('Reformers' playbook on failing schools fails a fact check) :

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.

Rob Glass, Superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Public Schools in Michigan, posted eloquently on the problem of misusing data (MI Lame Duck Session: Just Lame) particularly by our own Governor Snyder: 

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.

Rob Glass contends, and I agree, that the misuse of data is the foundation by which the ed reform community builds its entire case against public education and in support of for-profit charters. That coupled with the assertion by Gene Glass that children today have become basically an economic burden so we might as well profit somehow beginning with privatizing public education.

As Rothstein concludes, "Systems cannot improve if prescriptions rely on flawed diagnoses." Of course, the politicians and those who stand to profit enormously from the education reform battle first have to want the system to improve.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

DeVos is back in the school privatization debate -- with a vengence!

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.

DeVos attended public schools in the Forest Hills system back when it was a small, rural district. He graduated from Northwood Institute (a small, private business-oriented college) but failed to complete his studies at the Harvard Business School. He has a slew of honorary degrees most likely from his penchant for having the DeVos name hanging on the front entrances of buildings.

Watch for DeVos' money flowing freely in 2013 to support the Oxford Plan (his two buddies chair that group and authored the draft) and other anti-public education measures. If what he had said back in 2006 was accurate and he truly supported public schools, he would use his wealth and bully pulpit instead to move Michigan towards a more equitable funding scheme that would support public education reforms leading to higher academic achievement.

But that's not Dick's true colors.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Open Letter to Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature


November 30, 2012

An Open Letter to Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature

To meet the challenges of the 21st Century, Michigan must be a world leader in growing and retaining talent.  Accomplishing that goal requires a world-class education system, one that is well-coordinated and aligned with the needs of employers, families and students.

As superintendents of school districts serving several hundred thousand students, we must express our concerns at the reform agenda currently under consideration in the Legislature today, and in concepts being proposed for the next session.

Michigan needs a reform strategy that recognizes and celebrates our strengths, exposes our weaknesses, and addresses the gaps in a way that does not alienate, erode or destabilize structures that are working.  In short, we need a reform strategy that is efficient, effective and economical.  We cannot leave the reform strategy to chance, as our resources are far too scarce to squander on untested and unproven tactics.

The legislation proposed to codify the Education Achievement Authority (HB6004 and SB1358) is a prime example of untested and unproven reform. While we all hope the Education Achievement Authority is wildly successful in improving the lives of students in the 15 schools it operates, it has a track record of fewer than three months.  It also has an achievement strategy severely questioned in the previous district of Chancellor Covington, where his instructional methodologies were abandoned when the district lost accreditation following his departure.

In addition, are we concerned at the proposals forwarded by the Oxford Foundation for school funding and the accompanying policy legislation, HB5923.  These proposals are founded in school choice and make no mention of quality or demand a track record of success.  If school choice were the answer, Michigan would lead the nation in achievement because it has been a leader in choice for nearly two decades. 

Instead, the choices we have created through market-based reform have produced cookie-cutter public school academies serving middle class students while creating a permanent underclass in our inner cities.  Why? We believe that families struggling to maintain a roof over their head and food on their table simply do not have the resources to shop around for educational opportunity.  What they need is an equitably funded neighborhood school with the local control necessary to recognize and fulfill the specific needs of the population it serves.


We cannot leave reform and improvement to chance.  None of our state’s leading manufacturers would publish their specifications and accept any supplier with no track record of achievement.  They demand more of their supply chain, and so must we, as our students are the future for our employers and our economy.

Research-tested reform tells us we need to start early with preschool education.  Students need more time on task, they need extended day learning opportunities to master core competencies and they need exposure to the arts, music and cultural enrichment activities.

Our existing schools are funded at 2005-06 levels and have eliminated many of the programs students need.  The answer to that problem isn’t to invite any for-profit organization to open a competing school next door, nor is it to eliminate local control by creating a statewide school system operated from Detroit with no elected board and no accountability to the neighborhoods they serve.

Coherent reform would involve the business community and higher education, not to point fingers at K-12 districts for their failures, but to work together to identify the gaps in student preparation, to better understand the needs of a rapidly changing job market, and to recommend structural reforms that will fill those gaps.  Throwing state coffers open to anyone who would like to open a school will not accomplish those goals.

We are the educational leaders your communities hired to lead their education system.  Improving education is our passion and our life’s work.  We cannot endorse the reforms now before the legislature, but we are willing to work together to achieve a coordinated, coherent and comprehensive educational system from preschool through college.  Our children, our economy and our state deserve nothing less.

On behalf of children in our Region, the following school leaders are issuing this collaborative message on behalf of each of our respective school districts:


Mark R. Dobias

Allegan Area ESA


Kevin Harness

Allegan Public Schools


Daniel Jonker

Allendale Public Schools



Stiles X. Simmons

Baldwin Community Schools


Sara Shriver

Belding Area Schools


Tim Haist

Big Rapids Public Schools


Daniel L. Takens

Byron Center Public Schools


Randy Rodriguez

Caledonia Community Schools


Ronald McDermed

Cedar Springs Public Schools


Ethan Ebenstein

Comstock Park Public Schools


Ron Veldman

Coopersville Area Public Schools


Paul Blacken

Delton Kellogg Schools


Sara M. Shubel, Ph.D

East Grand Rapids Public Schools


Dirk Weeldreyer

Fennville Public Schools


Dan Behm

Forest Hills Public Schools


Jim Hieftje

Fremont Public Schools


Bob Szymoniak

Fruitport Community Schools


David Britten

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools


William L. Fetterhoff

Godwin Heights Public Schools


Keith Konarska

Grand Haven Area Public Schools


Ron Caniff

Grandville Public Schools


Jonathan M. Whan

Grant Public Schools


Peter Haines

Greenville Public Schools


David Tebo

Hamilton Community Schools


Jason J. Kennedy

Holton Public Schools


Chris J. Stephens

Hopkins Public Schools


Nick Ceglarek

Hudsonville Public Schools


Robert Kjolhede

Ionia County ISD


Thomas M. TenBrink

Jension Public Schools


Gregory D. Warsen

Kelloggsville Public Schools


Gerald Hopkins

Kenowa Hills Public Schools


Scott Palczewski

Kentwood Public Schools


Kyle Hamlin

Lakeview Community Schools

Michael O'Mara

Lakewood Public Schools


Paul Shoup

Mason County Eastern Public Schools


Curt Finch

Mecosta-Osceola ISD



Dave Peden

Mona Shores Public Schools


Shelly Millis

Montabella Community Schools


Nathan Robrahn

Montague Area Public Schools


Dr. Scott M. Koenigsknecht

Montcalm Area ISD


Jon Felske

Muskegon Public Schools


Dr. Lori Tubbergen Clark

Newaygo County Regional ESA


Dr. Peggy A. Mathis

Newaygo Public Schools


Dr. Curtiss Babcock

North Muskegon Public Schools


Michael F. Paskewicz

Northview Public Schools


Tom Livezey

Oakridge Public Schools


Patricia Walstra

Orchard View Schools


Dennis Patzer

Otsego Public Schools


Karen McPhee

Ottawa Area ISD


Susan Wakefield

Plainwell Community Schools


John B. VanLoon

Ravenna Public Schools


Steven Westhoff

Reed City Area Public Schools


Steve Edwards

Reeths-Puffer Schools


Michael S Shibler, Ph. D.

Rockford Public Schools


Rolfe Timmerman

Saugatuck Public Schools


Kent Swinson

Sparta Area Schools


Dennis Furton

Spring Lake Public Schools


Tom Enslen

Thornapple Kellogg Schools


Allen Cumings

Tri County Area Schools


Jeff Beal

Vestaburg Community Schools


Michael Sweet

Walkerville Public Schools


Norman L. Taylor

Wayland Union Schools


Randall Howes

West Shore Educational School District


Barry S. Seabrook

White Cloud Public Schools


Jerry McDowell

Whitehall District Schools


Dr. Thomas G. Reeder

Wyoming Public Schools



Rich Satterlee

  Alba Public Schools     

      Thomas K. Martin

    West Ottawa Public Schools


Kevin Konarska

 Kent ISD

  Ron Koehler

  Kent ISD


Greg Pratt

  Lowell Public Schools







Thursday, November 29, 2012

Want to have an education system as successful as Finland? Here's how...

 Focus U.S. and state edreform efforts and resources on the following twenty-six points:

1.     Finnish children don't start school until they are 7 (but they have universal pre-school childcare).

2.     They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens.

3.     The children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.

4.     There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are 16.

5.     All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms; there are no lower or higher achieving schools.

6.     Finland spends around 30 percent less per student than the United States.

7.     30 percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school.

8.     66 percent of students go to college.

9.     The difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World.

10.  Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class.

11.  93 percent of Finns graduate from high school.

12.  43 percent of Finnish high-school students go to vocational schools.

13.  Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day in Finnish versus an average of 27 minutes in the US.

14.  Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for "professional development."

15.  Finland has the same amount of teachers as New York City, but far fewer students.

16.  The school system is 100% state funded; there are no charter or for-profit schools.

17.  All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized.

18.  The national curriculum provides only broad guidelines.

19.  Teachers are selected from the top 10% of college graduates; in 2010, 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots.

20.  The average starting salary for a Finnish teacher was $29,000 in 2008. (Compared with $36,000 in the United States.)

21.  However, high school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what other college graduates make. (In the US, this figure is 62%)

22.  There is no merit pay for teachers.

23.  Teachers are given the same status as doctors and lawyers.

24.  In an international standardized measurement in 2001, Finnish children came in at the top, or very close to the top, for science, reading and mathematics.

25.  And despite the differences between Finland and the US, it easily beats countries with a similar demographic (Neighbor Norway, of a similar size and featuring a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same strategies as the USA and achieves similar rankings in international studies.)

26. Teachers are not evaluated based on student achievement scores. They are trusted.


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