Sunday, February 24, 2013

College remedial courses: necessary or a scam?

Over the past couple of years, I've Tweeted and commented through blogs and other social networking about the rise in unnecessary remedial courses forced on incoming college freshmen. College courses are supposed to be difficult but most do not require a remedial step between high school and the postsecondary classroom. I easily recall how difficult my first term of college calculus was following a lackluster four years of high school math (most of my high school work would fit the description of "lackluster," but it wasn't the school's fault) and then a nearly four-year break before I settled down to a serious collegiate effort. Guess what? I didn't need a remedial course and I ended up majoring in mathematics.

Education Week recently noted what I've been saying in an article title, "Remedial Placements Found to Be Overused." 

At a time when more high schools are looking to their graduates' college-remediation rates as a clue to how well they prepare students for college and careers, new research findings suggest a significant portion of students who test into remedial classes don't actually need them.

The way colleges are using standardized placement tests such as the College Board's Accuplacer, ACT's Compass, and others can misidentify students, and secondary schools and universities should work to develop a more comprehensive profile of students' strengths and weaknesses in performing college-level work.

It's important to take note of this belated realization because public schools are getting hammered by a public easily swayed by the siren's song incessantly complaining that graduates today are not academically ready for college. BS, and I don't mean a type of college degree, either. In addition, many students taking college remedial courses fail to graduate on time or at all. Is it a wonder? I just walked into your ivy-covered building and you told me I'm stupid. Try that in a high school and see what it does to the school's on-time graduation rate (or graduation at all).

Those high rates of remediation have long been used by education policymakers to suggest that primary and secondary schools do not prepare students adequately for college-level work. They were one of the key arguments behind the development of the common core and other standards-reform initiatives, and states such as Illinois include remediation rates in feedback reports to high schools.

The article goes on to point out that most students taking placement tests are unprepared to do so and expected to recall what they learned in an Algebra class taken three or more years earlier. They suggest "brushing up" before taking the test. Really? I suggest brushing up before you take the higher level course and stop wasting money on remedial courses that aren't needed. Perhaps its time to follow the money, that is the additional revenues many colleges are raking in by convincing incoming freshmen and their parents to waste thousands of dollars (and time) on unnecessary remedial classes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Still another call for equity in public school funding


The time has come for bold action by the states—and the federal government—to redesign and reform the funding of our nation’s public schools. Achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need, not zip code, and that are efficiently used.
Regardless of where they live, whether they are in the middle class or aspiring to join it, these families have a right to expect that these schools will provide their children an opportunity to share in the American dream. But all too often, reality is more complicated, as students, families and communities are burdened by the broken system of education funding in America. With few exceptions, states continue to finance public education through methods that have no demonstrable link to the cost of delivering rigorous academic standards and that can produce high achievement in all students, including but not limited to low-income students, English-language learners, students with disabilities, students in high poverty and students who live in remote schools and districts. Few states have rationally determined the cost of enabling all students to achieve established content and performance standards, including the cost of achieving those standards across diverse student populations and geographic locations. Most states do not properly ensure the efficient use of resources to attain high achievement for all students. A meaningful educational opportunity requires that states make sure all students receive the resources to achieve rigorous academic standards and obtain the skills to compete in the economy and participate capably as citizens in a democratic society.
Accordingly, this commission believes the time has come for bold action by the states—and the federal government—to redesign and reform the funding of our nation’s public schools. The deep inequities in school funding documented by another federal commission more than 40 years ago (see “Property Taxes and School Finance” box below) remain entrenched across our nation’s states and school districts at a time when more than 40 percent of all American public school children are enrolled in districts of concentrated student poverty.
There is disagreement about exactly how to change the system, but there is complete agreement that achieving equity and excellence requires sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need and that are efficiently used. The historical record makes clear that simply following the plans and practices of the past will not lead us to the outcomes we clearly need as a nation. 
Moreover, the situation has become even more worrisome in recent years. As the nation has worked to escape the distress of the recession of 2008, state fiscal difficulties have been slow to be resolved—leading to pressures to cut the funding for schools. Thus, districts in many states are faced with an imperative to improve their results as their budgets are reduced.
The problems become even more serious in some districts, where overall economic hardships, unemployment, homelessness, lack of food security and inadequate access to health care have deepened for many low-income families and where schools are losing resources. We must make sure that our most vulnerable populations do not bear the brunt of the fiscal problems of the states and recognize that across-the-board cuts and austerity budgets tend to hurt schools serving poor students the most, as they rely heavily on state funds for their survival.

Report of The Equity and Excellence Commission, a federal advisory committee chartered by Congress, operating under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA); 5 U.S.C., App.2., February 2, 2013

This report is available the U.S. Department of Education Commission website at 

Monday, February 18, 2013

No, it is NOT presidents' day

Another year, another chance to watch political correctness further chip away at the image of the greatest president ever -- George Washington. We are like lemmings when it comes to believing everything the media and businesses have to offer. They could start calling today "national prostitutes' day," and within a few years we'd all believe it and follow right along. Few of us anymore stick to principles and convictions, which is precisely what Washington embodied (yes, he wasn't perfect). We'd rather be part of the "in-crowd" and go with the flow of the times. 

Heck, most of us can't actually recall much about any president during our own lifetime, at least in substance, yet we always manage to chime in with our so-called favorite and least-favorite, best and worst of the bunch. Based on what? Mythology? Celebrity appeal? Our opinions of presidents usually have little to do with their actual leadership and accomplishments. It's usually more related to whether or not they could play the sax on a late-night TV show or if they had some cute little dog roaming the White House grounds. Most of us don't take the time to analyze a president while he's in the office let alone years and decades later.

So here's to George Washington, General of the Continental Army, presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention, and first President of the United States. Happy birthday!

We are once again celebrating the nation's most nondescript holiday. Its legal name remains "Washington's Birthday." You would not know that from the ads hawking cars and linen, and from public responses to surveys asking which American president was the greatest. (In a recent Gallup poll, Kennedy, Clinton, and Reagan all placed ahead of Washington in the "hearts of their countrymen.")

The shift in the public mind over whom we are honoring on this holiday, like so many other bad ideas, originated in the Nixon administration. The year before he took office, Congress decreed that the February holiday, along with several others, be observed on a Monday. The idea was to give their constituents several three-day weekends. Until then, February 22 (traditionally Washington's Birthday), like July 4 (Independence Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day, originally "Armistice Day") was a date Americans had revered.

When Congress finally got around to declaring Washington's birthday a national holiday, at the end of the nineteenth century, it was following a local custom that began in 1777, when soldiers in the Continental Army began celebrating the birthday of their head general. Cities and towns held pageants and parades. Children competed in essay contests in which they considered Washington's place in history, what they might learn from his example, and how he might handle problems in their day. The Commission that marked the bicentennial of Washington's birthday took on, as one of its projects, distributing reproductions of Gilbert Stuart's famous ("dollar bill") portrait to schoolrooms all across the country.

Nixon, perhaps inadvertently, helped put an end to all this when, in 1971, he signed a proclamation in which he urged all Americans to honor, on the third Monday of February, all who had served as president. Unlike the "New Economic Policy," and the purported plans to firebomb the Brookings Institution, this was one harebrained idea that survived its promulgator. The coalescing of two other bad ideas, political correctness and moral equivalency, breathed new life into it.

~ It's Not 'Presidents Day'

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Quit the smokescreens and focus on the problems

No one believes that education shouldn't be improved. And no one believes the improvement of education should wait until poverty is "fixed."
So stop pretending that anyone believes that.
Poverty is a factor–a big factor–in students' academic outcomes. You can rail all you want about not using it as excuse, but you can't will it and its effects out of existence. The more you scream, "Poverty is just an excuse," the more poverty will still be living in certain neighborhoods and popping kids' dreams like pregnant red balloons. It won't stop hurting children just because you insist that its effects must be ignored.

And the public school teacher who will not remain silent says this:

"What are you going to do about this poverty that is hindering a proper education for children?"
That isn't an excuse. It is a demand for sound public policy. Reality stinks sometimes, but the reality is that the "poverty doesn't matter" brigade is full of platitudes and pomp, but empty when it comes to solving America's problems. 

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Telling Congress to stay out of the states' business

Federal Control
The Towner-Sterling Educational Bill providing for a large measure of federal interference in state education and the creation of a Department of Education in the national government was blocked in Congress largely through the efforts of Dr. Charles E. Sawyer, the President's personal physician and now chief co-ordinator of the Federal Hospitalization Board, who wishes to see a Department of Public Welfare with four branches: Education, Public Health, Social Service, Veterans' Relief. Senator Sterling serves notice of a finish fight for a separate Department of Education. And the National Chamber of Commerce continues its attack upon the whole scheme as an improper usurpation of local authority by the general government. 

From my personal copy of the first edition of Time
Vol. 1 No. 1, March 3, 1923

One can only hope that we someday soon return to this form of federalism.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Graduation Rates Continue to Soar!


Michigan's high school graduation rates have hit a record high despite the addition of the tougher, one-size-fits-all Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) requirements. High school graduation rates in 2012 were up 1.9 percent from 2011, bringing the statewide percentage to 76.24 percent, the highest-ever percentage recorded by the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI) using its current methodology. The class of 2012 was the second to go through the more rigorous MMC graduation standards. 

Lee High School's graduation rate in 2012 far exceeded the state-wide average 94.03% graduating on time and a paltry dropout rate of only 4.48%. Black and Hispanic students at Lee have graduation rates that exceed 95% and dropout rates that are negligible. The statewide rate for Black students is 59.93% and for Hispanic students, 64.3%. It's important to remember that in a small high school such as Lee, one or two students graduating on time or dropping out can impact the percentages more significantly than larger high schools.

East Lee Campus, our alternative high school that provides a last-chance opportunity to students who interrupted their education or fell behind for a variety of reasons, has continued to improve with a 4-year graduation rate of 39.53%, a 5-year rate of 58.62% and a 6-year rate of 52%. This demonstrates that even though students have fallen behind, the East Lee Campus staff is dedicated to helping as many as possible graduate before state law prohibits them from attending a public school due to age limits. A growing number of alternative ed and adult students are successfully working on and acquiring a GED certificate if they do not earn a diploma.

The overall numbers show that both our traditional comprehensive high school and our alternative programs are working despite the many obstacles dealing with poverty, transiency, health and English language proficiency confronted by our students and their families every day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union in an Alternate Universe

Here's what I wish President Obama would have said in last night's State of the Union:

"The federal government cannot overcome the problems created or exacerbated by the sovereign states of this union. In fact, we're tired of trying and essentially failing. It's time to get back to the original concept that we are merely a union of sovereign states and it is the state's responsibility to educate their children and prepare them for the life ahead. As such, I am abolishing the federal Department of Education and sending back that portion of federal funding normally wasted by this department to the states. However, I am putting the states and DC on notice that if you fail to set high standards for your students, if you fail to make reasonable progress towards achieving those standards, and if you fail to equitably fund each student based on his or her needs in order to achieve those high standards, the federal government will withhold any and all federal funds from all agencies and departments until that situation is remedied."

Sigh. I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Equity, Equality and Adequacy -- Let's at least debate with a common vocabulary

Texas is spot-on when it comes to differentiating between equity and adequacy of public school funding. As they point out, "equity is not the same as equality." Perhaps Michigan and particularly Governor Snyder, can learn something from the Lone Star state advocates of fair funding for public school children?


Equity vs Adequacy

Equity: n. fairness 
Adequacy: n. the minimum amount to be sufficient 
Excellent: adj. of the highest or finest quality

Education Equity

For many years in Texas, there were huge differences in the amount of money available to educate children in public schools. Before 1995, some of the wealthiest school systems spent $10,000 per student and had low school tax rates. Poorer school systems often had as little as $3,000 per pupil and had much higher taxes.

What is at stake?
See photos and stats on Texas schooling before and after fair funding.

or an equitable system, means that all communities – whether rich or poor...have equal access to similar amounts of revenue per student.

Equity is not the same as equality
; it does not mean that every school district gets the same amount of funding. Some schools need additional funding to serve students with disabilities, to provide bilingual education, and to provide free and reduced-price lunches. In a truly equitable system, every school district has enough funding to provide a quality education to all of its students.

Why Fight for Equity?

Americans agree that a child's future should not depend on his or her heritage, parents' income or neighborhood. Our sense of justice insists that wherever a student comes from or lives, she or he should have the opportunity to succeed. Just as we insist that Texas have a quality highway throughout the state so that all Texans can travel easily and safely from north to south, so we believe that schools should have the resources to serve all students, to build the skills and capacities they need to reach any destination.

Education Adequacy

What is adequacy?

Since the late 1980s, the issue of equity has taken a back seat to the topic of finance adequacy. Unlike the equity debate – which focuses on the disparity in funding between districts – the adequacy debate focuses on defining a minimum level of funding needed for every school to teach its students.

Why does adequate set the bar too low?

The problem with adequacy is that it provides for education that is "just enough" rather than excellent. We have to ask ourselves, if we had adequate education, wouldn't we have adequate, not excellent, employees? Wouldn't we have adequate, not engaged citizens? Wouldn't we have adequate, not excellent, opportunities for our children to go to college?

All children deserve the best possible education, adequacy for some and excellence for others is, by its very nature, discriminatory.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Insanity of Continuing Inequity

You’ve probably heard this said before, but insanity is continuing to do the exact same thing over and over while expecting different results. I sometimes feel that our school district is caught in this type of maddening cycle, with ever-increasing expectations and obstacles that prevent student success while receiving declining financial support from our state legislature.

We’ve operated with a continuing deficit in our budget for the past five years. Costs have risen through normal inflation, student learning needs have expanded, state mandates have increased, and yet our current per-student funding from Lansing has fallen to 2005 levels. This has forced us to cut a number of programs, services and material support for the classroom while trying our best to keep class sizes small and avoid laying-off teachers. But because the state continues its stance of providing less funding, we are finding it very difficult to avoid reducing the number of teachers, cutting more programs, and expanding class sizes.

The state took over funding of public schools like ours back in 1994 when the voters approved “Proposal A” that year. Prior to that, our district would periodically ask the voters in this community to approve an increase in the operational millage if more funding was needed to meet higher costs. Besides taking over the funding responsibility, the state has also increased graduation requirements dramatically and under the federal No Child Left Behind laws, also mandates high proficiency rates on the annual MEAP and MME tests. Yet, the state has done nothing to improve school funding and provide equitable resources, including school buildings, technology, science labs, and other facilities. As a result, there are school districts in Michigan that get as much as 35% MORE in state per-student funding than Godfrey-Lee.

Here’s an example of the unfairness in school funding perpetuated by our leaders in Lansing.  In 2010-11 (the last year the state provides financial information for each school district), Godfrey-Lee received $9,594 in state and local funds for each of our students, while a certain district on the east side of the state received $17,338 per student. That equals 81% more funding per student for a district that is property-rich in a county that has a paltry 4% poverty rate for children ages 0-17, while the Godfrey-Lee community, fifth lowest in property values in the entire state, struggles with a 34% poverty rate (highest in Kent County). Something is not right yet our elected officials in Lansing continue to bury their collective heads in the sand.

We have just begun a new legislative session in Lansing and unless our senators and representatives hear from all of us, this unfair school funding will continue despite all students being expected to achieve the same college-and-career-readiness standards. Your voice will make a difference but only if you speak out.

Real School Reform is Blocked by our Perceptions

"...the way we see "education" is colored by two things: our own personal memories of schooling - which are remarkably similar across the past 100 years - and our national conversations about schooling - which are remarkably negative, dispiriting, and two-dimensional. 
"Combine these two influences, and what you get is what we have - a society that views K-12 education reform via a default set of images and memories that inhibit our collective ability to imagine something better, something new."
A Different Story About Public Education - Of, By, For: In Search of the Civic Mission of K-12 Schools - Education Week

Friday, February 1, 2013

Which Schools Are Not Following Arne Duncan's Public School Reforms

Be aware of what is happening to one of America's pillars of democracy.
"This is not an exaggeration. Allow me to explain it further: Education reform proponents, whose backgrounds are primarily from management, finance, technology, government—and not education—are trying very hard—to the tune of billions of dollars—to sell the public a rather interesting bill of goods. You will see, among other things, the championing of common core standards, standardized assessments, data-collection systems, and an expensive technological infrastructure to make this all possible."

Why America's Prep Schools Aren't Following Arne Duncan's Public School Education Reforms | Education on GOOD

Concentrated Poverty and Education

With the recent publication of Kids Count 2012 showing a growing percentage of school-age children grappling with poverty while their schools, despite reductions in funding, pull out all the stops to help close the gaps, this is a timely read:

This Week in Poverty: Time to Take On Concentrated Poverty and Education | The Nation