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.


Read more:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cutting off debate: When edreformers refuse to respond

Sometime back, I wrote a post describing what often happens when you are trying to explain something or reason with a child in the earliest grades. Regardless of what you are focusing on, the child's reply is something akin to, "I have a puppy!" In other words, whatever you were trying to get across just didn't quite make it.

Often, this is the tactic of adults who are trying to push their point of view or force a position on others, such as their personal agenda related to education reform, but can't quite comprehend the logic of the professionals who actually work in that field and disagree with them. But another tactic which I am seeing more of these days is to just "cut off debate" by not responding to your counter.

Here's just a couple of examples I experienced on Twitter as late as this week.

Peter Ruddell, author of the now-infamous Oxford Plan requested by Governor Snyder to change the way public schools are funded, posted the following Tweet (@ruddellp):

Many #Oxford reforms based on MN (ranked #2 in nation) State Education Rankings: The Best And Worst For Math &

Now the average individual who follows Mr. Ruddell will probably believe that whatever Minnesota has, Michigan needs. And that's precisely what people in Mr. Ruddell's camp hope. But there's more to the Minnesota story that Mr. Ruddell conveniently ignores.

With apologies to the late Paul Harvey: And now the rest of the story.

I took a quick look at the National Report Card 2012 for funding fairness to see how Minnesota stacked up to Michigan. It resulted in a couple Tweets from me in response to Mr. Ruddell (darn 140-character limit):

@ruddellp MN also ranks higher (16th) than MI (31st) in state/local funding & 3rd highest in fairness of funding distribution (MI 35th)... 

@ruddellp ...according to National Report Card 2012 #MichEd #equity

Well isn't that inconvenient! Minnesota's K-12 funding levels and fairness ranking far exceed Michigan's, which is no real revelation since Michigan absolutely sucks in comparison to other states when it comes to equitable school funding.  Because research concludes that most of our public school problems lie with low funded, urban schools serving high percentages of kids living in poverty and a growing rate of limited English proficiency, more equitable funding would move us in the right direction of reforming public education.

Had Mr. Ruddell read what I sent to the Oxford Foundation earlier this summer, he would have known that. 

Oh, wait! He did read it!

Nope. I read it. "@colonelb: Provided input to Oxford Plan back on 8/1 but guess McLellan was "too busy" to read it."

Well, so he says.  Either way, following my response about Minnesota's school funding fairness in comparison to Michigan, he went dark and has yet to respond, which puzzles me since the entire Oxford Plan is about school funding yet Mr. Ruddell doesn't appear to want to debate about the importance of school funding.

Maybe he should stick to just telling me about his puppy. But if not, I'm ready to debate Mr. Ruddell on his plan at his convenience.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two sides of the coin may be polarizing the ed reform debate

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.
The radical pessimists largely offer critiques of policy. They remind us that the obstacles to school change on a mass scale lie in the structure of our society, in, for example, the way wealth is distributed, poverty is concentrated, and race continues to operate as a means to deny access to opportunity. They force us to acknowledge that hard-working teachers and visionary principals are insufficient if these are the only forces we rely upon to overcome the obstacles.

Pedro Noguera

Continuing to focus on the wrong skills

While Michigan's Governor and legislative leaders work hard to entrap public school students with soon-to-be-expanded, high-stakes testing on disconnected core academic subjects such as reading and math, the real world is calling for greater levels of student learning and use of 21st century skills across all learning disciplines. Unfortunately, continuing to decrease state funding while increasing the emphasis on bubble testing will not help schools -- especially poor urban schools -- get there. That includes the latest school funding scheme ("Oxford Plan") that doesn't begin to address equitable funding or improving teaching and learning in public schools. That proposal calls for a portion of state funding to be determined based on student performance on high-stakes tests. Sadly, the skills in the chart above will not be part of those assessments.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Is "school shopping" good for all students?

A new study may hint that "shopping around for schools," something that so-called education reformers like Michigan's Oxford Foundation want to expand even more opportunities to do, especially in lower-performing urban areas, may not be in the best interest of all students.

High student mobility can be hard on kids because it forces them to play a constant game of catch-up, academically and socially. The study shows that the more often kids move, the lower they score on state tests.

It's also a problem for teachers and school systems. Teachers spend extra time figuring out the new students' history and academic needs, Barnett said, which can take time away from other kids. A revolving door of students also makes it hard for districts to plan how many teachers to hire. If students perform poorly on state tests, it can hurt districts' academic ratings.

The study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Community Research Partners found that student mobility is common, even in suburban and rural schools. In poor city neighborhoods, it "verges on the epidemic," according to the study.
While mobility on a limited basis may not be harmful to all students, especially those who come from advantaged homes with a strong support net, having the "freedom" to shop around for a particular school, classroom or teacher may prove harmful to children who already experience high mobility.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Governor's committee proposes shifting funding without improving learning for all

"The thought of such a change has teachers unions and others in public education up in arms. But the reality is this won't destroy schools in Michigan. It will make them better." ~ Editorial: Let dollars follow students, Oxford Foundation website

It didn't take long for those proposing to dismantle public education to blame opposition on "teachers unions." After all, it's really all they have to justify their baseless, politically-motivated proposal that offers nothing to improve learning for ALL students. It merely provides an expanded menu for students who's parents are fully involved in their education, have the assets to ensure their children get to school every day regardless of where school is, and generally enjoy the benefits of living in or on the fringe of more affluent school districts.

It does nothing for urban, poor children, many from non-English-speaking homes, struggling with keeping up in school despite the hard work of their teachers, as these students overcome the daily obstacles created by poverty. It does nothing to provide EQUITY OF OPPORTUNITY for every child, despite their economic circumstances.

To be honest, as I pour through this 300-page proposal, I can't see where it took as long as it did to come up with a draft. There's no substance to it, no attempt to raise all of the boats in the public school system which could certainly be accomplished if the focus was on resourcing our schools for success. Instead, it simply took Governor Snyder's talking points from 2011 and with very little thought or precision, inserted the language into an already over-regulated system. Not much creativity in that method. A few folks sitting around a table in a local bar could have come up with the same plan. It's easy when you avoid any attempt to improve learning for all and just stick with the kids who have parents involved in their lives and the family resources to be successful.

The lack of innovation and creativity is evident in the following statement by Richard D. McLellan, a non-educator buddy of the Governor who is chairing this committee, in a memo earlier this month addressed to the Governor's aids: "...Robbie Jameson has recommended we read "Disrupting Class," by Clayton M. Christensen. Appendix A presents a brief outline of the concepts included in Mr. Christensen's book."  I'm not positive but given the grammatical structure of this sentence, it's telling me they hadn't read it yet but someone on the team thought maybe it might be a good idea.

The very fact Mr. McLellan and his team had not read this before tells you how uncommitted they really are to true education reform. It also explains why their proposal doesn't even come close to creating a new public education model that ensures equity of opportunity in raising achievement levels for all students. Their proposal is simply a hodge-podge of disconnected changes to a complex funding scheme that has inadequately supported an industrial-era model of public education since 1979.

I'll be commenting more on specifics of this proposal throughout the coming days. I encourage those of you who are interested in public education to read the source documents for yourself. They can be found at the following links:


Friday, November 2, 2012

Two new posts on school funding inequity

Thank you for taking your head out of the sand and at least showing a bit of curiosity in the funding inequity problem.

Texas is the center of the universe right now as far as legal action to force equitable funding of public schools. As the writer in these new posts observe, equitable funding is not asking for more funding, just a measure of equity in addressing high-needs students, schools and districts so that all students have the opportunity to meet the high, one-size-fits-all college and career readiness goals set by state (and now national) curriculums.

Well worth reading this weekend:

For more detail specific to Michigan, one of the lowest ranked states as far as public school funding equity goes, read my posts at:

Response to the Michigan Education Finance Act of 2013 Project (includes a comprehensive listing of my previous posts and other research highlighting the continuing problem of inequity in K-12 public school funding)