Friday, June 29, 2012

We know what needs to be done, so why isn't it getting done?

The Pew Center is calling out state policymakers for their handling (or lack thereof) of the recession's impact on local school districts:

The recent recession scrambled the traditional balance in education funding, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Declining state revenues increased the distance between the haves and the have-nots, (Michael) Griffith says, because wealthier districts in many parts of the country were better able to make up for fewer state dollars.

This gap and what states have done to combat it are the subject of another report released earlier this week by the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and the Education Law Center, which advocates for increased funding for poor and disabled children.

The report grades states on the basis of their level of state and local education funding in the 2008-09 school year and how funding is distributed, adjusted for poverty rates and regional wage differences, among other factors.

The report concludes that Utah, New Jersey and Ohio do the “fairest” job of funding education, as evidenced by the fact that they gave significantly more funding to schools with higher poverty rates. The report finds that high poverty school districts received less per-pupil funding than wealthier districts in 16 states, with high-poverty districts receiving less than 80 percent of the funding given to wealthier districts in Nevada, Illinois, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Here's an example of what Griffith, senior school finance analyst at the Economic Commission on the States, is talking about. The following charts compare Bloomfield Hills School District, arguably the wealthiest in Michigan, with Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, one of a handful of the poorest school districts with high poverty and low English language proficiency. One compares high school reading test scores while the other compares revenue. You draw your own conclusions. (Click on each chart to zoom in)

The second chart provides recent trends in local and state revenue, along with total revenue (including federal funds). It is measured in per-pupil dollars to account for different student enrollment numbers between the two districts. Despite the fact that Godfrey-Lee student poverty, transiency, and limited English proficiency rates are at the opposite ends of the spectrum from affluent Bloomfield Hills, often described as Michigan's version of "home of the stars," the latter district continues to receive nearly $5,000 per pupil more in revenue.

Some might interpret the Godfrey-Lee total revenue line as improving and closing the funding gap with Bloomfield Hills. In actuality, it represents the receipt of federal school improvement funds in the first of a three-year grant designed to target specific improvement efforts on our high school. These funds, which end after the coming school year, are not sufficient to address the learning gaps across all grade levels. In fact, none of the federal funds received can be used to provide every student with basic access to the core curriculum, according to federal rules. This limits their use to targeted supports beyond the basic educational program and as such, are insufficient to even begin to address severe learning gaps caused by poverty, English language deficiencies, and high transiency rates. (How much does Federal Title I Funding Affect Fairness in State School Finance Systems?)

So if we know what we need to do to begin closing these achievement gaps, why hasn't Michigan's governor and legislature begun to do anything about it? Perhaps its because the leadership in our state House and Senate all represent the more affluent school districts. Their solution for the poor, urban districts is to test kids more and increase the number of for-profit schools where even the best of these are only producing marginally better results. These are faux solutions that by the time anyone realizes it, most of the cowards in our legislature will have been term-limited and gone on to other pursuits. The kids they have ignored will be left holding the bag.

Related posts:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Test Results Show Michigan Achievement Gaps Growing Between Poor and Affluent Students

Excuse me while I adjust my eyes to this blinding flash of the obvious. 

Buried in today's media frenzy over the Supreme Court decision on Obama-Care, the State of Michigan released the annual test results for all 11th graders administered this past spring. Michigan's assessment includes a conglomeration of commercial and home-grown tests carved up and pasted together to give the overall results. Those assessments include:
  • ACT Plus Writing (administered on day one of testing)
  • ACT WorkKeys assessments in Reading for Information, Locating Information, and Applied Mathematics (day two)
  • Michigan assessments in social studies and science (day three)

According to a release by The Education Trust-Midwest, a relentless watchdog group that periodically gets caught playing loose with the facts to support their pre-disposed positions, the results, which come after the State Board of Education changed the cut scores to raise the bar, illustrate growing achievement gaps. The following was sent to me by email:

Among key findings from today’s 2012 MME results:

• Over the past five years, MME results show that the black-white achievement gap has grown in every subject (math, reading, science, writing) but social studies. Black 2012 proficiency rates are a shocking 35 percent lower than whites in reading, writing and social studies; gaps similar to those found in the NAEP.

• Even some MME gains are hardly worth celebrating. In 2008, for instance, 3 percent of African American high school juniors in Michigan scored proficient in math. This year, 6 percent score proficient. Math proficiency rates for low-income students rose from 8 to 13 percent over this period.

• Moreover, the gap between poor and more affluent Michigan high school students has grown in every subject but reading since 2008, according to MME data. (emphasis added)

• Only 1-in-4 Michigan students are proficient in the MME in 11th-grade science. Among blacks, the rate is 4 percent. For Latino and low-income students, the rates are 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

We have a lot to learn from other states where students’ growth is far outpacing ours here in Michigan, including among minority and low-income students,” Arellano said. “And we must for our children’s sake.” (emphasis added)

One of the key findings that "we" can learn from this is until Michigan addresses the equity gap in school funding for districts with high percentages of students living in poverty, English language deficiencies, and transiency, the gaps between poor and affluent districts are likely to continue even if all districts slowly raise the overall achievement levels in the coming years. Addressing achievement gaps that are embedded in significant social and economic disparities requires more time for learning, smaller class sizes, more training for teachers and administrators, along with upgraded facilities, new equipment and expanded technology comparable with affluent districts. These cost money and require greater flexibility in the use of compensatory funding currently coming into the district from state and federal sources. Most of our districts, however, have experienced a steady erosion in state funding over the past decade and an extreme reduction just in the past two budget cycles under Governor Rick Snyder and his legislative accomplices.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am providing graphs of our district high school's assessment results illustrating a five-year trend. The previous years' scores have been modified to reflect what they would have been under the state's revised cut scores.

Lee High School MME Reading Proficiency

This first graph provides a comparison between all students, those that are economically disadvantaged (greeen line - about 80% of the entire group), not-economically disadvantaged, English language learners (red line - about 35% of the entire group) and non-English language learners. You can see the gaps for yourself (note: no ELL students scored proficient in 2011-12).

Lee High School MME Math Proficiency

The math scores in this second chart were lower altogether but you can still see the gaps over time. In particular, those students non-economically disadvantaged tended to score higher until this year which reflects the significant growth in the past year alone in percentage of our kids who are living in low-income and poverty households.

I encourage the folks at Ed-Trust-Midwest to read my recent post, New Study Confirms Inequity of Michigan's School Funding System, as well as the references and related posts I cite within. While it is a solid fact that affluency in school districts correlates directly with higher achievement levels, our staff is still committed to doing the best we can possibly do to mitigate the obstacles faced by our kids and get them to a high level of college and career readiness by the end of high school. We also know, however, that the odds are not in our favor given the volumes of data already produced by studies I cite in my previous posts.

I'm certainly glad Ed Trust-Midwest sees the need for addressing the growing gaps but wish that they would come down from their fairyland idea of how public education should be funded to realize that a critical part of the equation will be providing an equitable start for kids being served in poor communities. Then maybe they can use their resources to convince our policymakers in Lansing and Washington. At the bottom of the email they sent me today is the following quote: " provide honest, reliable information to our state’s families and policymakers." 

Ok, so start providing it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Imagine if early childhood learning was like school...

Many of you reading this post have experienced raising or helping to raise a young child from infancy to kindergarten age, and you may recall how he or she learned through virtually constant exploration, discovery, trial, failure and eventually success. Whether it was a physical, intellectual or emotional advancement, the cycle of learning was similar.

Now imagine that young child age 0-5 going through those same years but with the limiting structures of our compliance-based, industrial model of K-12 education applied:
  • Learning could only be accomplished between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm, Monday through Friday, limited to 180 or less days per year. Anything outside that timeframe is not to be considered "real learning" and therefore not valued.
  • Learning must be segmented so that during different periods of the day, the focus is on narrow, disconnected topics with strong emphasis on drill and other activities that can be reduced to paper and pencil exercises (okay, maybe a crayon instead of pencil but don't let them get hold of any electronic learning toys as they are nothing but a distraction from real learning).
  • The child must be grouped with at least 25 others of the same age during the learning activity who are all doing precisely the same thing and focusing on the same content, however, each child must be sitting by him/herself, remain quiet, and don't share anything they learn with others unless called on by the adult in charge and only if it is directly connected to the current learning activity.
  • Physical activity throughout the learning time will be limited to a couple of twenty-minute sessions each week. However, these will be fully regimented and adult-led to ensure the time is not foolishly used for trivial pursuits.
  • When the child produces something as a result of the learning, it will be judged on a standard of right or wrong and the child graded accordingly. We'll devote more time to pointing out the mechanical or content errors since that is much more productive than discussing ideas and valuing thinking.
  • The progress grades of these children will be shared in such a way as they understand how they rank in the group. A child who demonstrates higher proficiency will be allowed to do fun stuff while the others are forced to spend more time relearning and reassessing.
  • Periodically, a major assessment will be administered and the results used to identify proficiency and failure. The local media will gather the results from the various groups in the area and publish them in rank order.
  • Homes in the neighborhood will be identified as to the level of proficiency for any children ages 0-5 residing within the household. Parents will be required to write a plan of improvement and have it reviewed by a local governing authority. Persistent failure of the child could lead to removal of the parent.
  • The arts, physical activity, and other non-academic pursuits will be discouraged to ensure adequate time is devoted to "real learning" that can easily be tested on bubble sheets (ok, the youngest of these children can be provides assistance with filling in the circles and staying in the lines).
Gosh, wouldn't this be a much more productive way of forcing toddlers and pre-school kids to learn and getting them ready for what they'll be doing the next thirteen+ years? Shouldn't we restrict the learning during age 0-5 to only what the adults want and then use shame, humiliation and punishment to motivate these kds? After all, it's been the staple of our K-12 system for more than a century and amateur ed reformers seem to want us to do more of it, especially testing, ranking the results, and branding failures more frequently.

While all of this is intended to be satire, I do believe it represents in a way our limited thinking and courage to make the radical changes necessary for our schools to provide the type of learning environment our kids need today. After all, we actually value the way our children learned and what they discovered about the world before they ever even started school, so why does our traditional educational system discourage it? Why does the scientific management model persist?

One of my favorite sayings: Every organization is perfectly structured to get the results it gets (author unknown). But are they the results we want?

We are responsible!

"Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature.... If the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces." ~ James Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, 1877

Given the ignorant, reckless and corrupt decisions regarding public education policy these past ten years, it's easy to see where this nation is headed if we don't elect higher quality representation to Congress and our respective state houses.

We will only have ourselves to blame.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Study Confirms Inequity of Michigan's School Funding System

 Evidence continues to mount proving that Michigan shortchanges the educational needs of children growing up in high-poverty school districts such as Godfrey-Lee Public Schools:

"Six states have regressive (school) funding systems, meaning districts with higher poverty rates actually receive less funding than more well-off districts. The most regressive state is Illinois, followed by North Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, and Colorado." ~ Huffington PostSchool Funding Practices Unfair Across States, National Report Card Finds

"...having a predictable, stable and equitable system of education finance is of critical importance to the success of any improvement effort. Sufficient school funding, fairly distributed to districts to address concentrated poverty, is an essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education through the states. Without this foundation, education reforms, no matter how promising or effective, cannot be achieved and sustained." ~ Introduction, National Report Card 2012

The data behind conclusions of this new study pinpoints the Godfrey-Lee district as one of three in West Michigan unfairly funded in comparison to surrounding districts in the same labor market, despite having the highest rate of school-age poverty in the county coupled with one of the highest percentages of limited English proficiency across the entire state.

"Put very simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don’t just require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done....The districts in these tables not only don’t have the “same” total state and local revenue per pupil than surrounding districts. They have less and in some cases they have a lot less! In many cases their child poverty rate is more than twice that of the surrounding districts that continue to have more resources." ~ America’s Most Screwed City Schools: Where are the least fairly funded city districts? 

The obvious question is whether or not this will be enough to wake up Governor Snyder and our legislative leaders in Lansing?

Related posts:

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Open Letter on Michigan's Inequitable Public School Funding

Dear State Sen. Mark Jansen and Rep. Tom Hooker:

Attached you will find a very revealing blog posting (America's Most Screwed City Schools: Where are the least fairly funded city districts? by Bruce D. Baker, School Finance 101) that lists the least well-funded districts in the country centered around large and mid-sized cities. This includes the Grand Rapids Metropolitan Area. It compares state and local revenue and U.S. Census Poverty rates within the same labor market for 60 of the lowest funded districts. As you might suspect, with the highest percentage of school-age children within Kent County living in poverty (37%), Godfrey-Lee ranks very low on this list and is one of only three school districts within West Michigan identified. Godwin Heights and Holland are the other two. Both Godfrey-Lee and Godwin are in your legislative districts and I would think you would find the results of this study to be outrageous.

Based on the data used here -- before the draconian cuts to school aid this past year and with little coming back to us this next year -- Godfrey-Lee receives only 92% of the average per pupil state and local revenue while having a poverty index of 1.81 times the average index within the surrounding labor market. Little in this ranking is news to us at Godfrey-Lee since I have been researching and writing about it going back to January (K-12 Funding Perpetuates the Inequity of Opportunity). In that post, I compared the inequity of opportunity between Godfrey-Lee and the other school districts in Kent County. In subsequent posts, I took a look at the horrific inequities between our district and the affluent suburban districts in Oakland County. In that county, Bloomfield Hills alone receives approximately 40% more per pupil than Godfrey-Lee.

Of course, little has been mentioned of this problem in the main stream media or by our elected officials in Lansing. There seems to be no stomach for confronting this institutionalized inequity and instead, the legislature chose in the 2012-13 budget to merely boost all districts receiving a low foundation grant even if those districts do not have to confront the significant problems associated with poverty, limited English language skills, and transiency. It was laughable that the legislative leaders interviewed actually claimed this as an "equity increase" in funding when in fact, it continues to advance the inequity of opportunities for students attending urban poor schools. It might serve to decrease the "inequality" of school funding, but that is not the same as creating equity.

"Put very simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don't just require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done. They require more." ~ Baker

Mr. Baker's organization has produced previous reports on funding inequities and has pointed out that Michigan is one of several states that fails to address the funding problems associated with urban poor districts. This apparently is now being perpetuated by the latest funding bill with no hope in sight for the kids at Godfrey-Lee. The research is very clear that urban poor students and those with limited English language skills require smaller class sizes, longer school days and school years, and access to both remediation and accelerated course work to be successful and meet all of the academic requirements mandated by the state -- and to do it on time. Federal grants are certainly made available to us and other districts like us but they are targeted and very restrictive. They cannot be used simply to ensure every single student has access to a high quality core curriculum and instruction program, including smaller class sizes that will help ensure students' personalized learning needs are met. Federal funds are only available for supplemental supports and are insufficient to meet the needs of a growing population of kids in poverty. Washington is adamant that state and local funds must be used to provide equity of opportunity for our students but those funds have declined by 15% in the past ten years while costs for everything continue to go up.

I implore you to read the attached summary of the findings that Mr. Baker claims will be released in more detail in an update of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card. I also request that you stand up for the kids in our district as well as Godwin Heights by insisting that your leadership stop whatever they are doing to prevent consideration and passage of a more equitable school funding scheme. This is a moral issue that requires an equitable solution if kids in underfunded districts like Godfrey-Lee are to have any chance at substantially competing with our more affluent neighbors.

I and other concerned citizens and leaders in this community will be calling on you this summer to discuss and map out an equitable solution.


David Britten
Superintendent of Schools

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"I have a puppy!"


Anyone who teaches or even visits an early childhood classroom for any length of time is bound to hear the statement, "I have a puppy." Usually, you'll hear it when you least expect it because five, six and seven year olds have no solid skills in following a logical conversation. You might be reading a story about cars or even Curious George, when all of a sudden, one of the youngsters veers off topic to tell you about one of her pets. In most instances, this opens the floodgate to a number of seemingly disconnected announcements about puppies, cats, brothers, cousins and even what they had for breakfast that morning. Occasionally, you get a bit more information than you care to hear, ala Art Linkletter and his hilarious Kids Say the Darndest Things.

We think this is something that's restricted to kids and then one day we're reading the comments to blog posts, particularly on our Michigan Mlive website, the electronic version of "news" that is pushing The Grand Rapids Press, Kalamazoo Gazette and a host of other regional newspapers onto the trash heap of history. Just a quick perusal of the anonymous comments demonstrates that the art of disconnected, irrelevant conversation is not restricted to kindergarten.

Here's a perfect example. A couple days ago, one might have read "Meth lab found in Wayland attorney's office, one block from police station." It's not all that unusual of an article since Allegan County, Michigan appears to be competing for the title of meth capitol of the world these days. I guess it caught my attention because that's only a block away from Pine Street Elementary, the 5th and 6th grade school where I served as principal from 1997-2002. I still have a number of connections and friends in Wayland and I get down there often to either run, go to the farm store, or occasionally meet up with old friends. I suppose too that operating a meth lab in an attorney's office smack dab in the middle of downtown and within shouting distance of the police station is also a bit unusual.

I don't often read the blog comments because (1) they make me feel like I have been wallowing around in the mud with four-legged swine, and (2) I feel a strong need to shower afterwards. But, curiosity often overwhelms common sense so I scrolled down to the comments (something inside me was shouting, "don't do it!" but I did anyway) and it doesn't take long before I regain a sense of why I don't read the comments. Just like five or six year olds do, a couple comments by some intellectually challenged reader named well spoken (I use that term loosely because the commenter doesn't demonstrate a high enough level of literacy skills to actually have read the original article, let alone be "well spoken") with no logical connection to the article are shouted out:

well spoken
too bad dan miller cant do his news 8 interview for something he wasnt involved in, as usuall! Good job to those county and state investigators on the wmet team.
well spoken
oh, the puppet for miller has nothing to post anymore about his firing, so real news is the priority.....pull dem'strings

Really? What the hell does this have to do with a meth lab found in an attorney's office?

For those of you who don't know, Dan Miller is the former police chief in Wayland who was suspended and then fired but that's a whole other story about small town politics and the ignorance of the former acting city manager as well as his replacement. But this has nothing to do with the topic of the article.

"I have a puppy!"

I've suggested before that the intelligence level of the conversations created by Mlive's blog posts would increase dramatically if posters were required to identify themselves, just as they used to do in writing letters to the editor for print editions. However, in well spoken's case and others like him/her, I'm not so sure it would matter. To be honest, the comments and responses by most 1st graders make more sense.