Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Grand Valley Armory: 50 Years of Service to Community, State and Nation

Fifty years ago this month, the Grand Rapids area Army National Guard units moved from their temporary headquarters in the old Berkey & Gay furniture factory to the new Grand Valley Armory on 44th Street in Wyoming.

Built on 10 acres of land that once was slated to be part of the World War I-era Picric Acid Plant that was never completed, the 63,000 square foot armory became the new home for the following units:

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade, 46th Infantry Division
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 126th Infantry
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company A, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
Company C, 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry
46th Infantry Division Band

The 126th Infantry traces its lineage back to July 12, 1855 and the Grand Rapids Light Guard. Throughout its history, the 126th and its predecessor units from Grand Rapids and other parts of West Michigan saw action in the Civil War (3rd Michigan Regiment of Volunteer Infantry), War with Spain (32nd Regiment), Mexican Border War (32nd Regiment), and both World Wars (126th Infantry, 32nd "Red Arrow" Division).

The Grand Valley Armory replaced the old Michigan Street Armory (pictured below) occupied in 1916 by the 126th Infantry after it's return from duty along the Mexican Border near El Paso, Texas. That armory was the first in the area built with state funding and was a very popular community center until the Civic Auditorium was built in the 1930s. 

Aerial view of the Michigan Street Armory (top-left corner)

The Michigan Street Armory, which had become overcrowded due larger units and more modern military equipment, sat in the path of the new I-196 expressway and was scheduled to be torn down. The armory was vacated in 1959 but because a new armory had not yet been built, temporary space in the old Berkey & Gay factory on North Monroe became home to the 2nd Brigade and 126th units for several years.

The new Grand Valley Armory would not be formally dedicated until late May of 1965, however, by then the units would be completely settled in. The dedication program, attended by over 5,000 citizens of the Grand Rapids, Wyoming and other West Michigan communities was captured even by The Detroit Free Press that ran this photo and short article:

A number of years later, the Armory would become the site of the City of Wyoming's only official memorial to area veterans until the Veterans Memorial Garden was constructed near Pinery Park.

The military units at the Grand Valley Armory have been reorganized and re-designated a number of times over the past fifty years. Today's 126th Calvary Squadron is the senior organization.

The section of 44th Street that runs through the City of Wyoming was given the honorary designation as 126th Infantry Memorial Boulevard and a State of Michigan Historical Marker was dedicated on the site.

From Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David G. Britten. Xlibris. November 2004.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Clark Building: A Small Piece of Grand Rapids Lore

This afternoon, my wife and I ventured into Downtown Grand Rapids for lunch at HopCat, one of a number of local taverns that have sprung up in the past several years. As we sat at a window table along Ionia Avenue, I couldn't help but notice the old Clark Building sitting diagonally across the intersection from us. I'm fairly certain that most of the folks who were sitting in this establishment with us (and it was nearly to capacity) know anything about the unique history of this 107-year-old, red-brick building. So on this 378th birthday of the National Guard, our nation's oldest military service, I thought I'd take just a moment and share a bit of Grand Rapids history with you.

In December of 1896, companies B, E and H of the Second Infantry had voted to consolidate into the Grand Rapids Battalion.  The following May, the battalion moved into its new armory in the Clark Building at the corner of Ionia and Island (now Weston) streets, celebrating with its first annual ball held in honor of Governor Hazen S. Pingree.  Included in the guests of honor were former Second Regiment officers such as Brigadier General Edwin M. Irish, the first Adjutant General of Michigan from the Second Regiment and its successor organizations; Brigadier General William L. White, quartermaster general; and Brigadier General Fred H. Case, inspector general.  Heading the reception committee was Brigadier General Israel C. Smith.
Today will be a red letter day in local military circles.  The new armory of the Grand Rapids battalion will be opened this evening amid a blaze of military glory, in the presence of Governor Pingree and staff. 
Military men were as busy as bees at the armory all day yesterday.  The quarters are assuming a beautiful aspect to greet the eyes of the governor.  The preparation of the reception parlors and the companies’ quarters has been completed. (Grand Rapids Herald, May 28, 1897)

The governor arrived at Union Station shortly after one o’clock that afternoon, where he was met by all of the officers of the regiment.  With the battalion band in the lead, the party marched up South Ionia Street from the depot, turning east on Fulton Street and then north onto Division, eventually arriving at the Morton hotel.  Following visits to several of Grand Rapids’ furniture factories, the governor put in his appearance at the new armory later that evening, escorted by General Smith.
While the governor was busy visiting furniture factories, the Second Regiment had been conducting its regular annual elections at the armory:

Contrary to all expectations Capt. Vos of Company E was not elected major, although the majority vote was held by the Grand Rapids battalion.  All the boys are pretty sore, as in many directions comes the report that the officers of Company B did not support a home candidate, but nominated and elected Capt. Mitchell of Ionia, Company G, to be a major. (Ibid.)

This did not sit all too well with the members of Company E.  They felt Company B owed enough gratitude to support Captain Vos for major.  It appears that Company B had been heavily in debt prior to the consolidation a year earlier and gained the most when all three accounts were thrown together.

The Clark Building armory was thought to be one of the finest armories in the state.  Its furnishings and equipment had a value estimated at $11,000.  The drill hall was rather large, and the armory included ample equipment rooms, assembly rooms, billiard rooms, reading rooms, officers’ rooms, an indoor target range eighty feet in length, a cafe, club rooms, elegantly furnished parlors, and a library.

Mary E. Remington wrote earlier that year:
The battalion is at present, the largest and strongest organization of its kind in the state and stands a credit to its promoters and the city whose name it bears.  The financial standing of the battalion is firm, and its debt is in a fair way to be entirely extinguished, leaving the corporation the owner of a large amount of valuable property.
The fourth floor of the building was entirely occupied by the battalion. Divided into two sections by a hall running the entire length, one side provided rooms for social functions including two parlors, toilet rooms, a library, cafĂ©, kitchen and pantry.  The other section provided space for the military functions including four company rooms, four officers’ rooms, equipment rooms, and an assembly room. The main drill hall was located on the fifth floor, large enough to accommodate the entire battalion although each company continued the practice of holding drill nights on separate evenings.

A fourth company joined the original three providing Grand Rapids with a complete battalion for the first time since the Guard’s founding in 1855.

The Grand Rapids Battalion remained quartered in the Clark Building until 1914 when it moved to a temporary armory on LaGrave Avenue until the new state-funded armory on Michigan Avenue could be completed. During those sixteen years on Ionia Avenue, the Grand Rapids Guard would experience mobilization and deployment to Tampa, Florida during the War with Spain in 1898, respond to the 1909 nationwide railroad strike, and serve in the Upper Peninsula during the 1913 copper strike.

Excerpted from Courage without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David G. Britten. Xlibris. November 2004

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Education Shouldn’t be an Unfair Game! | School Finance 101

Education Shouldn’t be an Unfair Game! | School Finance 101

"...there exists no reasonable justification for districts like those identified in my recent report onAmerica’s Most Financially Disadvantaged schools to be saddled with double the poverty and substantially fewer resources to apply toward achieving common outcome goals with their far more advantaged peers."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Has the Time Gone?

Tuesday this week is one of those anniversaries that periodically pop up in our respective lifetimes.

On December 9, 1974, having been out of high school for a year and a half going nowhere, I walked into a recruiting office and as a result my life has never been the same. Over the course of the next forty years:

  • I still made some dumb mistakes early on but meeting my wife in September 1977 helped pull me out of a terrible tailspin. I love her immensely for that and for everything after that.
  • Received an Army commission as second lieutenant of Infantry.
  • Completed a four-year degree in three years while working forty hours a week in a factory to pay for it and serving as a reservist on weekends as well as the summer.
  • Married a beautiful woman (inside and out) who bore us a son whom I am deeply proud of every day.
  • Taught two years as a high school mathematics and computer programming teacher in a parochial school where "your time was their time," piling up a number of additional duties including basketball and track coach, yearbook photographer, senior play and musical technical director, and business office computer programmer to name just a few; oh, and I drove the bus from time to time.
  • Entered on active duty because teaching in a parochial school didn't pay the bills.
  • Earned two graduate degrees that helped set the stage for a new and extremely rewarding challenge.
  • Completed a twenty-two-year military career, no small task given the often cut-throat politics of the commissioned officer corps.
  • Retired from active duty with the rank of lieutenant colonel and marched right into school administration without the slightest break in service (that's vacation to civilians).
  • Researched, compiled and published a full-length local history book (and working on a second one).
  • Competed in marathons as well as 50K, 50 mile, 100K and 100 mile ultra runs.
  • Embarked on a new career as a public school administrator with tours of duty the past nearly-nineteen years as an elementary principal, middle school principal, combined middle and high school principal, and for the last six years as superintendent.  And despite the many challenges, I look forward to every day as if it were my first.
So while I feel like I've been running a continuous sprint these last four decades, I'm thankful for the many opportunities I've been able to take advantage of and those yet to come. Mostly, I'm thankful for the support I've received not only from my adorable wife (and my best friend) and our incredible son (and his wife), but from everyone I've ever had the pleasure to serve and to serve with over all these years.

And you know what? I'm just as excited for the next forty!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jeb Bush's Misguided View of Education Reform

Jeb Bush's opening address to National Summit on Education Reform | Tampa Bay Times

Education reform is about renewing this country. It is about protecting and promoting the right to rise. We all know the challenge we face: Schools run by entrenched monopolies, more intent on serving the adults who work there than the kids who learn there. 
What he doesn't mention is that he's for schools run by entrenched corporations, more intent on enriching the CEO's who run them than the kids who learn there.

#FutureReady Requires a "National Highway Program" to Ensure Internet Connectivity for Every School

Implied within the Future Ready District Pledge that has now been signed by over 1,200 superintendents across the country is the necessity of ensuring every school and every student has access to high-speed Internet connectivity. Without it, much of the seven commitments contained in the pledge have little chance of being successful.

I was somewhat taken back by President Obama's claim during our session with him that less than two out of every five schools have access to high-speed broadband Internet.
Right now, fewer than 40 percent of public schools have high-speed Internet in their classrooms — less than half. That’s not good, since we invented the Internet.  That’s not good. It means that in most American schools, teachers cannot use the cutting-edge software and programs that are available today. They literally don’t have the bandwidth.
I’ve said before, in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired.  
Looking back at his ConnectED plan released two years ago, the goal is for 99% of schools to be connected within five years. Given that we're less than three years from his self-imposed deadline, I'd say we have a lot of work to do as a nation to achieve that goal.

During the President's remarks, he noted that several other countries are substantially outpacing us in providing high-speed connectivity even at speeds many times higher than we experience in the U.S.  Susan Crawford, law professor and telecommunications policy expert, makes the claim that, "(I)n cities like Seoul and Stockholm, high-speed, high-capacity networks are taken for granted. 'It really is astonishing what's going on in America,' she says. 'We're falling way behind in the pack of developed nations when it comes to high-speed Internet access, capacity and prices.'"

The blog site Speed Matters argues that by falling behind in high-speed connectivity, we're doing damage to our economy at a level that may be difficult to overcome if as a nation we don't take positive action soon. Specifically regarding education, the site claims:
High speed Internet enhances every level of education from kindergarten through high school to college to graduate school. Advances in information and communications technology means that education is no longer confined to the classroom. New broadband-enabled educational tools allow for remote collaboration among fellow students on projects, videoconferences with teachers and real-time video exploration of faraway areas. The educational advantage possible with high speed Internet has become indispensable to students preparing to enter the 21st Century workforce. Those students with limited or no access in their formative elementary school years are falling behind. Computer skills must go beyond technical competency, to include higher-level skills such as critical thinking and problem solving as well as the creative use of technology. The earlier every student in America is connected to high speed Internet, the brighter our country’s future will be.
So it seems clear to me after spending time with the President, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and high-level administration folks this past week, a national effort on par with Dwight D. Eisenhower's federal highway act is likely the only way we're going to catch up, ensuring every school and community is connect to the high-speed Internet highway. In a special message to Congress on February 22, 1955, President Eisenhower noted that:
Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways criss-crossing the Country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south. 
Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear--United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.
One can easily see the parallels to our current world whereby the Internet has become a critical -- some may even say most important -- part of our economic and communication infrastructure, similar not only to our highway transportation network but also our telecommunications network that spans the country. Neither of these two networks were left to the whims of states, local communities or private enterprise.

Eisenhower noted four key reasons why Congress needed to get onboard with his highway plan. He knew that failure to move ahead with his initiative would mean another half century before the highway network reached any level of reasonable efficiency or connectivity.  I've boiled those four down to illustrate two reasons for today's need to push for universal high-speed Internet access on a national scale. If we don't we'll continue to experience:
  • Growing economic loss due to a fractured system and inequitable access by communities, schools and students.
  • Inability to keep pace with future technological growth and change, with their ultimate impact on communications, demand for access, and college/career readiness.
In the June 2006 issue of American History, Logan Thomas Snyder noted that:
(T)he interstate system, more than any other project in the past 50 years, has encouraged an unprecedented democratization of mobility. It has opened up access to an array of goods and services previously unavailable to many and created massive opportunities for five decades and three generations of Americans. It has made the country more accessible to itself while also making it safer and more secure, outcomes that in almost any other undertaking would prove mutually exclusive. ‘More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America,’ Eisenhower wrote in 1963. ‘Its impact on the American economy — the jobs it would produce in manufacturing and construction, the rural areas it would open up — was beyond calculation.’ The clarity of his vision and the resiliency of his words are inarguable. The Eisenhower Interstate System has grown to be valuable beyond its original intent and is a lasting tribute to American ingenuity, ability and strength of purpose. 
I believe it's time for a national effort replicating Eisenhower's vision by ensuring that by the end of President Obama's five-year ConnectEd plan, all schools and every community are fully connected to high-speed Internet with sufficient bandwidth to support access to a variety of technology tools by every student and their families. Only then will America move forward with Future Ready schools for every child.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Week: Study Gauges 'Risk Load' for High-Poverty Schools

Poverty is not just a lack of money. It’s a shorthand for a host of other problems—scanty dinners and crumbling housing projects, chronic illnesses, and depressed or angry parents—that can interfere with a child’s ability to learn. 
If you think about the community context, you would be able to better understand when students come into the school building, what they are carrying with them,” said Kim Nauer, the education research director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, and an author of the study. 
“From a child-development perspective, it’s not status that disadvantages you or advantages you. It’s your experiences … abuse or homelessness. … Some very concrete sets of experiences are more powerful predictors than free and reduced lunch,” Mr. Fantuzzo said. “We have to build capacities that make visible important, mutable variables that we can do something about.” 
“Everyone talks about the achievement gap and says, ‘Well, it’s up to the teachers to make these kids smarter.’ But if you look at the risk-load gap, it explains the achievement gap,” said Ms. Nauer of the Center for New York City Affairs. “So then, what do you do? You create a series of things within the classroom environment that are known to be protective or helpful to students who have these risks.”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Did the Michigan Appeals Court just neuter achievement standards?

I'm certainly no legal expert so I cannot offer a valid analysis of the Michigan Court of Appeals decision regarding this case, but I do take issue with the follow excerpt provided by Kate Wells at Michigan Radio:
So the state has a more supervisory, indirect role in a student’s education, and they’re fine so long as they’re providing schools with the necessary tools – which they are, the state argues, because other schools are doing just fine in the same system.
The "doing just fine in the same system" is the root of the problem in Michigan as well as other states. This assumption concedes that if all schools are basically operating off the same or similar school funding under the same or similar achievement expectations, then all is well with the world. Right?

Wrong. The court obviously failed to include in its analysis and ruling the fact that many children come to school at various age levels seriously behind and basically handicapped in the classroom. Should not this be the third ingredient to determining just how much the state and each school district must support those kids, financially as well as with other resources? I agree that the district and the state should not be sued based on existing law and many courts are loathe to force legislation where there is none, but this ruling basically says that no matter what the condition or levels of prior learning achieved, there is no compelling responsibility on the part of the school or the state to ensure each child attains an adequate level of learning to reach the same expected outcomes.

Therefore, in my humble and non-legal opinion, this court has just concluded that the state's curriculum standards, high-stakes testing achievement standards, and four-year graduation requirements are null and void since no arm of the state is compelled to ensure all students achieve them.

Probably not a valid argument but certainly a basis for interesting debate.

Michigan court rules against ACLU in "right to read" case | Michigan Radio

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Is it Time for Lame Duck Sessions to Be a Thing of the Past?

Hang on to your hats...and most anything else in life you cherish as the Michigan legislature once again holds another big lame-duck-session party following the election on November 4. For those unenlightened citizens out there, a lame-duck session is when legislators thrown out of office by either term limits or voters wreak as much havoc as possible on us regular citizens by passing "big government" bills that tend to take more control of our lives. And the irony is that this will be done for the second session in a row by a Republican-led gang who ran on a smaller government, less regulation, lower taxes platform in 2010 with a little “jobsjobsjobs” thrown in for good measure.  Lame duck makes them look just the opposite.

It matters not who we elect on Tuesday to the House, Senate or Governor's chair since the lame-duck festivities will occur during the dead space period before the new folks we vote in take office after January 1. In 2012, in a very short period of time, the legislature passed 282 bills mostly without committee hearings, public input and proper vetting to analyze unintended consequences and problems down the road. They also did it without regards to the needs and desires of the Michigan people who elected them. Then, likes rats from a sinking ship, they scampered out of town leaving a pile of paper for the Governor to review and sign (or veto as in the case of a small handful of bills).

Using lame duck to push through pet projects or policies is no way to bring Michigan back from the abyss of the Great Recession and post-industrial era. We need thoughtful statesmanship, not one-upmanship from elected officials succumbing to pressure from in-state groups such as the Mackinac Center and out-of-state groups like ALEC and billionaire pseudo-reformers. Bills pushed through, supported and passed by a substantial number of outgoing legislators who no longer are accountable to Michigan's citizens is just plain wrong.

We'll be watching this coming lame duck session closely and if it's anything like the debacle of 2012, it may just be time for a voter initiative to outlaw lame duck legislative sessions for anything but a declared state of emergency between the election and January 1 start of the new session.

Additional reading:

Highlight of bills passed by Michigan's lame duck legislature

Michigan Lawmakers Are Trying To Sneak Through Extreme Abortion Restrictions In Lame Duck Session

It’s a Mad, Mad Michigan

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where do our public education dollars go? A comparison of Michigan's traditional and charter public schools.

The table below provides a comparison of revenues and expenditures for Michigan traditional, community-based public school districts and charter schools. The data is available to the public taken from the annual MI Bulletin 1014 for 2012-13, the latest data available on the Michigan Department of Education website.

As readers can see, traditional public school districts put more of their total expenditures (65.51%) into basic and added needs instruction as compared to charter schools (45.36%). This is largely due to the reality that charter schools spend more of their public money on costs such as administration as well as operations and maintenance. Because public dollars that flow to for-profit charter operators is not required to be transparent by current state law, there's little the public can do to determine what exactly those funds are being spent on. This includes salaries for teachers, administrators and other corporate employees.

In an Epic-MRA poll taken this past summer and reported on by The Detroit Free Press, eighty-two percent of respondents felt charter operators "should be required to fully and publicly explain how they spend all tax dollars received." And eighty-eight percent "favor legislation to require such disclosure."

Time will tell if our legislators are listening.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Social Lives of Networked Teens: Obsession? Addiction? Or simply a way to get past growing parental restrictions?

I'm reading a very interesting book by danah boyd about teenagers' use of technology for social purposes. I just completed a fascinating chapter on so-called social-networking addiction and teens' obsession with social media. boyd concludes that much of what we (the adults) perceive as addiction and obsession is not with the technology itself, but rather with the need for teenagers to socialize with their peers. Technology is helping teens fill the void created by a world where parents are convinced (wrongly) that their children are not safe away from home or structured environments.
"Today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generation. Many middle-class teenagers once grew up with the option to “do whatever you please, but be home by dark.” While race, socioeconomic class, and urban and suburban localities shaped particular dynamics of childhood, walking or bicycling to school was ordinary, and gathering with friends in public or commercial places— parks, malls, diners, parking lots, and so on— was commonplace. Until fears about “latchkey kids” emerged in the 1980s, it was normal for children, tweens, and teenagers to be alone. It was also common for youth in their preteen and early teenage years to take care of younger siblings and to earn their own money through paper routes, babysitting, and odd jobs before they could find work in more formal settings . Sneaking out of the house at night was not sanctioned, but it wasn’t rare either." (Kindle locations 1425-1432)

Adults increasingly have become obsessed with controlling the lives of their teens and limiting their time away from home to do what they feel is either dangerous or nothing but a waste of time. Teens see social-networking through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and now Snapchat as a way to connect and "hang out" with their friends.
"Teens’ engagement with social media—and the hanging out it often entails— can take up a great deal of time. To many adults, these activities can look obsessive and worthless. Media narratives often propagate the notion that engagement with social media is destructive, even as educational environments increasingly assume that teens are networked. Many adults put pressure on teens to devote more time toward adult-prioritized practices and less time socializing, failing to recognize the important types of learning that take place when teens do connect. When teens orient themselves away from adults and toward their peers, parents often grow anxious and worried about their children’s future. The answer to the disconnect between parent goals and teen desires is not rhetoric that pathologizes teen practices, nor is it panicked restrictions on teen sociality. Rather, adults must recognize what teens are trying to achieve and work with them to find balance and to help them think about what they are encountering." (Kindle locations 1635-1642)
For anyone who has been fascinated or exasperated by the teenage obsession with technology, reading It's Complicated is well worth the investment of time.

boyd, danah (2014-02-25). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Debunking the Assumption that Improving Educational Outcomes will end Poverty

Peter Greene, both teacher and writer, has written a testy and though-provoking post entitled, 7 Bogus Assumptions of Education Reform.  The one that caught my attention the most, because I work in this reality every day, is the following:
Better Educational Outcomes Will End Poverty
The promise of reformsters (including prominent gummint reformsters) is that once every young American is emerging from high school College and Career Ready, every adult American will be employed at an above-minimum-wage job that is personally and economically rewarding. Education reform has been presented as a means to end poverty. This is a bizarre assertion. When the day of 100 percent CACR graduates arrives, will U.S. employers declare, "Well, now that these guys are so well-educated, we will start paying them more." Did well-paying US jobs move overseas because Indian and Chinese workers are so better educated, or because they are willing to work for American peanuts? Will being a burger flipper become a lucrative position, or will it disappear as a job entirely because the burgers are flipping themselves? Exactly how will having better-educated citizens make more jobs appear? If you want to see the falseness of this promise debunked with charts and numbers, read this and this.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michigan can learn from leading states how to work together to improve schools

Bridge • The Center for Michigan : Smartest kids: What Michigan schools can learn from leading states

“'The way this stuff gets done is two or three or four or five governors in a row keep plugging away at stuff,' former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis.
"That hasn’t happened yet in Michigan, where education reform vision often dissolves into political polarization, from fights over charter school authorization to name-calling about teacher unions.
“'What worries me about what I read is going on in Michigan is that (education reform) strategies have become tools of political battle rather than instruments for improvement,' said Paul Reville, a former Secretary of Education in Massachusetts who now teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
"Don Wotruba, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said Michigan lacks leadership when it comes to fixing schools.
“'I would say there is no attempt to create a plan between the policy makers in Lansing and the school people who carry out changes,' Wotruba said. 'So what we have is new legislation or edicts handed down on how schools should do things and often with conflicting directions.
“'Some real discussion on what is mutually agreeable and some time to actually implement would really help our schools,' Wotruba said, 'but few in Lansing have the patience to allow reforms to happen.'”

Additional resource: Ed Trust Midwest fact sheet on Massachusetts

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Breaking the Bonds of the Past to Envision a New Future through Human Centered Design

Everyday we hear someone lamenting the alleged poor quality and outcomes of our public schools, particularly those serving low-income areas often with high concentrations of minorities, immigrant families and English language learners. Then in the next breath, one hears someone else touting a public school – traditional, community-based or charter – they deem is the absolute model of perfection kicking out high concentrations of college-and/or-career ready students.

The puzzling part of all this is there really is no set of perfect performance standards to which one can measure either type of school. It’s just assumed that schools in more affluent suburban areas produce better results while those in urban poor areas are lacking.  But no one can point to a definitive waypoint to which we can draw valid comparisons. It’s as if we’re simply supposed to accept that the schools on the top of the top-to-bottom lists are what every school should aspire to.

But I say that’s not good enough. What if the school that produces the best results and sits atop the list of all other schools still isn’t as good – or great – as it can be? What if it’s only an illusion that the top schools are performing at their best? And what if the one thing that’s holding ALL schools back – low or high performing – is the very structure of K-12 school itself?

To put it another way, what if we were to completely re-invent our traditional, industrial assembly-line model of education and remove the constraining shackles of clocks, calendars, and age-based grade-levels? Now some parents, community members, politicians, education reformers and even teachers will ask why since they feel there are many districts and schools that are “successful” under that model. But how do they know if those schools are performing as high as they possibly can since they don’t have anything but our antiquated structure of schooling to measure it by? What they are really thinking even if they are not saying it is that our schools are “good enough.” They were good enough for me, and they’re still good enough for our kids.

And that shortchanges the potential possibilities our students of today will never get to experience. It also means that for schools on the bottom of the list to get better, they have to do more of what is working for schools on the top, independent of the factors outside of school that create barriers to learning and regardless of the fact they have the same number of days and hours, and the same constraining grade-based promotion system as those schools achieving at higher levels. Logically speaking, this means the same thing as saying if a school with a preponderance of students achieving at one, two or more grade levels behind should be expected within the same structure of schooling to be achieving at high levels and graduating all students college-and-career ready, then schools already achieving at high levels each year should be able to graduate their students by age twelve! In other words, if a low-achieving student is expected to learn two or three years of content in one year to get caught up, then a high-achieving student can also be expected to learn two or three years of content in that same year and graduate early. My, what an efficient and economical system!

But we know that little of what I just said is practical in real world terms and my point isn’t about contracting the K-12 system, it’s about completely changing it. Not just throwing out politically-driven ideas such as charters or cyber schools which are structurally not any different than our current public school system and generally produce the same or worse results, but literally inventing a new idea that breaks through the artificial barriers of our outmoded factory model.

To begin with, this would have to be a model that is constructed around the needs and desires of children, not simply the wishes and hopes of adults. Today’s schools continue to be adult-driven enterprises that incorporate a variety of features and processes designed to mold and shape the child into the student we want, with efficiencies and economies-of-scale that meet our adult needs. Nothing about schools today provides personalization so that no matter where a five year-old (or older) is at on the day he or she walks through the door, and no matter how fast or slow that child develops and learns over time, in the end success will be measured based chiefly on how effectively the school and its teachers helped that child achieve his or her dreams regardless of how long the journey took.

What would this school look like? How will all of this work and still keep our educational system as the core process of preparing children to be contributors to society both socially and economically? I have no idea and that’s what excites me the most. The very fact I can’t envision this type of learning institution means that I’m not falling into the trap of simply reinventing or transforming the current system with the same or at least similar existing constraints. The system that worked when we needed it to simply pump out a massive number of industrial workers speaking fluent English and becoming the core of the consumer class, which following World War II became known as the middle class, no longer works for a 21st century world. That’s why any real attempt to fix our K-12 educational system will only be successful once we virtually abandon the model that holds us back.

Our district is developing a core team of dreamers and thinkers who are learning how to use human centered design as a vehicle for completely reimagining a whole knew structure for our school system. We are a relatively small school district with the highest concentration of children living in low-income households within the surrounding area. Coupled with the second highest percentage of limited English-speaking students, we are severely limited by the current structure to meet their needs and provide each with the same educational outcomes as other schools in more affluent areas. To think we can keep doing what we’ve always done – even if it were “better sameness” – and produce substantially higher results is foolhardy and gambling with the lives and future fortunes of our children. Using an HCD model to identify, test, and produce a better system through inspiration, ideation and implementation is the least we owe our kids regardless of how long the process takes, how many roadblocks we run into, and how tedious it might be as we learn through a system of test-fail-reflect-learn-change.

Looking back over the past several decades, we have to wonder why much of the change that’s occurred throughout the world has been more of a system of replacing an existing mode with a completely different one, while education has stuck to a process of refining the existing structure and relying on better-sameness?  I think it was Henry Ford that said something to the tune of, “If I had listened to the people, they’d want faster horses.” Can you imagine what life would be like right now if instead of the computer, we’d have been satisfied with a more souped up version of the slide rule? Or abacus? What if the Bissell company had decided we didn’t need a newfangled sweeper or vacuum cleaner, just better brooms? And our varied types of transportation systems were not always designed based on existing methods at the time. If that were the case, instead of flying to cross an ocean we'd simply have invented a way of building a long floating version of existing road bridges and driven there. Flying is not a better-sameness method of transportation than automobiles. It's completely different.

These are just a few of examples of how often we’ve invented a new model rather than refine an existing one because it became clear the new was far better than the old and ultimately better served the needs of the user. Isn’t it time we did the same with education?

In our district, that's precisely the direction we're headed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Factchecking K-12 Education Funding in Michigan

"As the following chart from the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget shows, the per-pupil spending for basic operations dropped a bit in Snyder’s first year. It has only recently, and just barely, exceeded the pre-2012 level — even as the state’s contributions to the school employees’ retirement system and total per-pupil spending has increased every year.

"Whether retirement system contributions ought to count as education funding is a political argument, and we take no position on it. We simply note that it is credible for Snyder to claim that the state’s share of education funding has increased under his leadership, while it’s also credible for his opponents to criticize claims about $1 billion in extra school funding, when a larger share of those dollars is going to the retirement system rather than the classroom."


Do Governor Snyder's cuts to K-12 classroom funding help widen the wealth gap?

While our governor and state legislature continue to keep most of the deep cuts to public school classrooms from 2010-11 in place, a report by the Associated Press contends that school spending by affluent families similar to Governor Snyder have helped widen the wealth gap between the top 10 percent of earners and the rest of us.
Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they're widening the nation's wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids' futures. 
Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich. 
"People at the top just have so much income now that they're easily able to spend more on their kids," Kornrich said. 
The sums being spent by wealthier parents amount to a kind of calculated investment in their children. Research has linked the additional dollars to increased SAT scores, a greater likelihood of graduating from college and the prospect of future job security and high salaries. 
The trend emerged gradually over the past three decades but accelerated during the worst economic slump since the 1930s. Now, enrollments at pricier private schools are climbing. Parents are bidding up home prices in top public school districts. Pay is surging for SAT tutors, who now average twice the median U.S. hourly wage of $24.45. The patterns suggest that the wealth gap could widen in coming years, analysts say. 
"If you're at the bottom and the top keeps pulling away, you're just further behind," said Melissa Kearney, a senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institution.
This is from Josh Boak, Associated Press: School spending by affluent is widening wealth gap. I encourage you to click on the link and read the entire article before proceeding.

Michigan's public education system is sorely underfunded and continues to be hurt by wrong-headed policies that are designed to pick winners and losers, with urban school districts servicing poor, minority, and limited English-proficient students squarely in the losers category. Some of these politically-motivated policies include expansion of an unproven (and under-fire) charter school movement, reducing payers to the state teacher retirement system which as a result is collapsing under its own weight, and spending far too much time, energy and money attacking schools and teachers when poverty and reduced K-12 funding for classrooms and basic operations are the real problems.

Remember when you vote on November 4, Governor Snyder was fine with the idea of spending $20,000 per year for his own daughter's education at the Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, despite the fact the rest of us (the 90-percenters) are expected to continue getting by with less. The governor has recognized the problem with the gap between higher and lower-spending districts and here's his response as reported from an interview with MLive's Dave Murray, now the governor's deputy press secretary:
“At some point I would like to start addressing that. But right now I want to look at the bigger picture of school aid and the funding formulas. But not this year.”
Well, he's done little since this comment thirty months ago to solve the problem and there's no indication funding for kids and classrooms will be any better in the next four years sans a change in leadership.

Anyway, the title of this posts posits a question and I'll let you answer it for yourself.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Just why are Finland's schools top notch?

"Some aspects of the American school system are not helpful in improving education quality and equity. First, education in the United States is too much defined by testing and data. If getting the data using frequent standardized tests occupies up to one-third of all available time to teach, that will alone prevent students from making the marks they should.

"Second, American education places too much faith in marketplace choice, which parents have because of expanded access to charter schools. This weakens the public school structure that is fundamental to many successful education systems elsewhere.

"Finally, more students in America have novice or nonprofessional teachers in their classrooms today than ever. Frequent turnover of teachers in thousands of American schools undermines the entire education system."

Pasi Sahlberg

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Evolution of Digital Technology Tools Explained

"1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

― Douglas Adams

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters

From Bruce Baker's Anatomy of Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters:

We are being led down a destructive road to stupid – by arrogant , intellectually bankrupt, philosophically inconsistent, empirically invalid and often downright dumb ideas being swallowed whole and parroted by an increasingly inept media – all, in the end creating a massive ed reform haboob distracting us from the relatively straightforward needs of our public schools. 
Many of the issues plaguing our current public education system require mundane, logical solutions – or at least first steps. 
Money matters. Having more helps and yes, having less hurts, especially when those who need the most get the least. 
Equitable and adequate funding are prerequisite conditions either for an improved status-quo public education system OR for a structurally reformed one. 
It’s just that simple.

Anatomy of Educational Inequality & Why School Funding Matters | School Finance 101


Monday, September 1, 2014

How to have a successful school year: run it one step at a time.

Those who know me know that I greatly enjoy distance running.  Long distance running. And while I've had to battle back from a chronic Achilles injury sustained several years ago when I bit off a few more ultra miles than I probably should have, it hasn't dampened my love for getting out on the open road and pointing my face into the wind.

Some years ago, I had the chance to run with Dean Karnazes, ultra runner and author of the best selling book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (2006). Prior to that, I had read his book met him at a local signing and from there, I was hooked. A little more than a year later, and several 50K and 50-mile runs under my belt, Dean came to Grand Rapids during his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days tour and I signed up along with several dozen others to join him on the local marathon route, running stride for stride --- for the first twenty miles, anyway. The guy was an impressive running machine and a true inspiration.

Dean Karnazes (front, fifth from right) and the Grand Rapids contingent for the Endurance 50 marathon. I'm in the third row, fourth from the right (glowing bill of my running cap).

I started listening to Dean's latest book, Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, first published in 2011 but updated as an Audible Book this year with a new chapter on his incredible 3,000-mile run across America. I did what any runner might do. I strapped on my iPhone, plugged in my earbuds, selected the book, and headed out the door for a short fifty-minute run. Just enough time to listen to the first chapter with Dean describing the trials and tribulations of 3,000 mile run. Trying to absorb myself in his vivid descriptions while keeping both eyes on the road and my surroundings, the last few minutes really hit home:

How do you run across America?  Simple. One step at a time. 
(T)here are no shortcuts or paths to least resistance on the road to reaching something worthwhile.  The secrets for success are really no secrets at all: Hard work, dedication, commitment and sacrifice. 
(P)assion and conviction are more important than talent. Find that which you truly love and pursue it with heartfelt fervor. You will realize an inner strength that is boundless, and an external energy that is indefatigable.  Do what you love, dream big, be restless, sleep little, don’t play life safe, dare boldly instead. Live as though you really mean it. 
(I)f you keep tireless chasing your dreams, one day you just might catch one. You don’t always have to go fast, you just have to go. 
We runners are a unique breed. We like chasing dreams. When you distill it all, we don’t run for the trophies or the records or the recognition; we run because a rapidly beating heart pumps more life through our veins. Our ultimate calling is not to arrive at the finish line in a composed state but rather to stagger in breathlessly, totally annihilated and on the verge of collapse, proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious. 
Whether you end up with a medal being place around your neck or an IV line being place into your arm, the inner bliss is the same. You have waged your war and you have emerged victorious. The job is done. That is, until the next one. Yeah, every runner knows the feeling.  ~ Condensed from Karnazes, Dean. Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss. Audible Audio Edition (2014)
I know, it sounds like typical distance runner stuff but this being the day prior to the start of a brand new school year, his words reflected not only what it takes to complete a run but what it will take each and every day if we want to face up to the many obstacles that make our days difficult and help our 1,900-plus young charges reach their own finish lines. Think about the next 177-school days we face and then go back and read Dean's words again. Every teacher and school administrator wants to finish the year "proudly knowing in our hearts that we have run our race and it was glorious."

The biggest fear most folks have for long distance running is fear of the unknown. What will happen to me when I get tired? If I get hurt? Should I become lost? If I get thirsty? And it goes on. Often those same fears confront us when we embark on a new school year, whether we are new to our profession or a seasoned educator. It probably doesn't help lately with all of the negative attacks on public schools and teachers but there's little we can do about that. We have to focus and run our race.

Earlier this summer, my wife read a book titled God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours by Regina Brett. She shared with me a quote from chapter two, When in Doubt, Just Take the Next Right Step. Brett is describing her inability to get her life moving forward and her fear of choosing a goal and pursuing it. Once she got started, however, one step led to another and another.  Once she achieved success and looked back, she realized that pursuing your goals, especially when they involve change and fear of the unknown, is something like "driving a car at night." She goes on by quoting E. L. Doctorow, "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." In other words, as Brett puts it, we've all experienced driving at night (or running at night as most of us ultra runners have done) and even if we've never before driven (or run) in that direction or by that route, we can always see in front of us, and "even with that much light, I can travel all the way to California." We each only need to see just enough light to get us going and to take the next step.

So here's to whatever race you'll be running this school year. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, just remember to take it one step at a time. And then another. And then another. Keep moving forward.

And don't forget that even if darkness comes, you can always turn on your headlight.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Digital Leadership Requires Leading from the Front; #leadershipday14

As a retired career military officer, I have always operated under the firm conviction that whether you serve children as principal or superintendent, you are obligated to lead the technological journey into 21st century learning from the front. Ultimately, as superintendent I’m responsible for providing a level of professional learning for leaders in my district that help accomplish this objective. There are many ways to provide quality learning experiences but I believe that the more personally involved I am and the more I set the tone by my own use of technology in my role as district chief executive officer, the greater the credibility for asking the members of my team to do the same.

This recent spring and summer, our administrative team has been engaged in an ongoing study of what it means to be digital leaders in our schools as well as our district as a whole. We’ve been reading Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (Corwin, January 2014) as the basis for our discussion and plan to wrap up our study during a one-hour, face-to-face discussion and development of coordinated action plans later this month.  Eric identifies what he calls seven pillars of digital leadership: 
  • Communications
  • Public relations
  • Branding
  • Student engagement/learning
  • Professional growth/development
  • Re-envisioning learning spaces/environments
  • Opportunity 

This is the first concerted effort we’ve made as an administrative team to delve more deeply into the use of technology in the performance of our daily work. My own use of technology has become well known throughout the area but for the most part, I saw the majority of our team limiting themselves to email and texting. Most of our past focus on technology has been on its use in the classroom with the main effort towards building a supporting infrastructure and equipping teachers and students with the latest tools. Very little has been accomplished in the area of engaging and enabling our school and district administrators to be visible leaders in this area by using and modeling digital tools on a daily basis.

To facilitate our study, I set up a free Blackboard Learn site to host our online discussions centered weekly around several threads based on Eric’s book. Here’s an example of the type of thought-starters I’ve been using to drive our discussion (from Chapter 2: Why Schools Must Change):

Sheninger argues that today's industrial-model schools no longer meet the needs of students. What are some of the common practices found in schools that are outmoded? 
Which of these practices are evident in our school district? If you could, which would you change and why?

I wasn’t quite sure at first how this would go since besides myself our team includes our two assistant superintendents (finance and teaching/learning), principals and assistant principal from all grade levels, business manager, tech director, dean of students, athletic director, special ed director, my executive assistant and HR coordinator, and the community education director. This variety ensured that our online conversations were not necessarily always focused on teaching and learning, and it’s been important that the discussion threads have been open to a wide variety of ways for using digital leadership in the workplace.  That way, no matter what our individual roles, each response may serve to directly or indirectly support the work within the classroom. The results have been better than I expected and the general feedback from members on our team has been very positive, to say the least.

Here’s one sample response to a question on professional connectedness as a digital leadership standard. It demonstrates the depth and breadth of thinking and reflection about digital leadership I’m looking for this summer:

Connectedness has always been the standard for anyone who desires to expand his or her ability to learn and grow. Digital resources and a self-created PLN help expand the opportunity and range of ways to become connected, to connect both to and for others. The greatest benefits to me have been:

·       The realization that the challenges in education are universal.
·       The affirmation that schools and school personnel worldwide are positive forces for change and growth for societies. 
·       The creative challenge to take what has worked for others and use it in some way to transform my own work.

All of these are enhanced by my own digital PLN. I am mostly a consumer of information, and have some growing to do begin more production of information. Guess it's time to dust off the blog I started a few years ago…

The variety of leadership viewpoints that have been expressed each week have demonstrated to me that while we all see the use of technology from different perspectives, we can certainly come together as a team and develop the synergy needed to further move our district towards a 21st century learning community. Ultimately, approaching our professional learning in this manner is providing me with a roadmap that I can use to further steer our learning over time. Use of the Blackboard Learn tool also enables me to capture our conversations so that eventually we can utilize everyone’s input in collaboratively developing a common theme for digital leadership that will serve as our joint resolution and basis for action planning in the coming year.

Ultimately, real change will require each member of the team to internalize what we've collectively and individually learned over the past ten weeks. But the driver of that change must be the leader of the organization, leading by both example and participation in the process. There's no room in 21st century schools for leaders who stand on the sidelines. It's time for all of us to lead from the front.

Read other Leadership Day 2014 posts.