Monday, December 21, 2015

Last minute bait-and-switch by Michigan legislature will gag schools and local communities trying to inform their electorate

UPDATED: From the Detroit Free Press, 12/20/15
"But it wasn't just the voting process Republican lawmakers were out to re-engineer. They also made some 11th-hour changes to campaign finance laws, making it more difficult for voters to find information about ballot issues and preserving reporting requirements that allow so-called independent political donors to delay disclosing their political expenditures on behalf of candidates until after the election has taken place. 
"When (Rep. Lisa) Lyons' committee voted unanimously to recommend its passage a week ago, SB 571 was a 12-page bill that reduced paperwork, but not disclosure requirements, for political action committees across the state. It had breezed through the state Senate with nary an objection from lawmakers of either party. 
"But when it emerged from a Republican caucus room Wednesday evening, SB 571 had metastasized into a 53-page behemoth that included GOP-friendly amendments to 10 different sections of Michigan's Campaign Finance Act. It was adopted by both houses late Wednesday night without a single Democratic vote or amendment, and after the Republican majority voted to clear the Senate chamber of Democratic staffers and lock the senators themselves inside."

Moments before recessing for the holidays, the Michigan House and Senate rushed through a bill intended to improve campaign finance reporting, but included somebody's pet amendment designed to silence school districts and communities who want to provide factual information within sixty days of an election. The original bill as reported by the House Committee earlier did not contain this restriction.

Below is an excerpt of the final bill (SB 571, H-3) passed by both bodies and headed to the Governor for signature. In addition, I've included excerpts of both the House and Senate journals so you can see how this unfolded and who supported it. Click on any item to enlarge it for viewing.

From the House Journal:

From the Senate Journal:

Friday, December 11, 2015

And the #1 signal that we've become even more self-centered...

If you want to do a quick study of our growing self-centeredness, just watch how many drivers around you fail to use their signals whether turning or changing lanes.  I ran across a study not too long ago that alleged a number of "reasons" drivers fail to signal turns and lane changes, but after reading it and paying closer attention to this growing danger, I'm more convinced its simply self-centeredness and lack of empathy for others.  You can say you just simply "forget" to use them but what that really means is that you think you're the only one on the road and could care less what happens to the other drivers. The study indicated about two million crashes per year are the result of not using signals.

This makes sense because in many ways over the past half-century, we've become more detached from the needs and concerns of others and more focused on our own. I don't think it has anything to do with what political party we align with or what religion we practice, most of what we do throughout the day"signals" our desire to drive in whatever lane we want, when we want and it's none of your business what I do as long as I get what I believe is rightfully mine. After all, "rugged individualism" is what America supposedly was built on, right?

So stop making excuses why you do or don't do this or that. When it comes to driving and choosing not to use your turn signal, you're actually signaling to the rest of us precisely what your attitude is about others.

That is if you even bother to have an attitude about others.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt on confronting the dangers we face

We Americans have many grave problems to solve, many threatening evils to fight, and many deeds to do, if, as we hope and believe, we have the wisdom, the strength, the courage, and the virtue to do them. But we must face facts as they are. We must neither surrender ourselves to a foolish optimism, nor succumb to a timid and ignoble pessimism. Our nation is that one among all nations of the earth which holds in its hands the fate of the coming years. We enjoy exceptional advantages, and are menaced by exceptional dangers; and all signs indicate that we shall either fail greatly or succeed greatly. I firmly believe that we shall succeed; but we must not foolishly blink the dangers by which we are threatened, for that is the way to fail. On the contrary, we must soberly set to work to find out all we can about the existence and extent of every evil, must acknowledge it to be such, and must then attack it with unyielding resolution. There are many such evils, and each must be fought after a separate fashion; yet there is one quality which we must bring to the solution of every problem, -- that is, an intense and fervid Americanism. We shall never be successful over the dangers that confront us; we shall never achieve true greatness, nor reach the lofty ideal which the founders and preservers of our mighty Federal Republic have set before us, unless we are Americans in heart and soul, in spirit and purpose, keenly alive to the responsibility implied in the very name of American, and proud beyond measure of the glorious privilege of bearing it.

Theodore Roosevelt, April 1894
Essay on True Americanism

Monday, November 9, 2015

Petrilli weighs in (pun intended) on Michigan's M-STEP

M-STEP scores may shock, but don't shoot the messenger |

Michael Petrilli has never met a high-stakes test he didn't like. Well, that's not exactly true. He actually only likes those assessments that ensure all kids are not above average, based on his paraphrase of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. In other words, he demands assessments that ensure us a fair percentage of kids will score below average.

What's even more revealing is the statement he and his collaborator, Robert Pondiscio, make at the close of this piece:
Virtually all kids aspire to go to college and prepare for a satisfying career. Now, at last, we know if they're on track to do so.
Because words mean something, it's clear that the purpose of Petrilli's test-view of the world is to provide an accurate post-mortem on whether kids are on track for college. Of course, he assumes that "virtually all" kids aspire to go to college (guess that's why college enrollment of incoming freshmen in many areas is down this year) and we certainly want high-stakes tests that tell us often too late that they're not on track.

You would think that if Petrilli were actually concerned that all kids (including urban poor, minority and limited English speaking) be on track for college, he would recommend eliminating the traditional end-of-year "weighing of the pig" and instead advocate that the time wasted on these tests, as well as the countless hours of prep that goes into them, be exchanged for purposeful, relevant, formative assessments that provide the feedback teachers, students and parents need to know on a continuous basis to guide the student along the right path.

NCLB and RTTT's appetite for ratings and rankings by annual assessment has us all headed on the wrong track and folks like Michael Petrilli are helping steer the train.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

You just cannot incrementally improve the existing K-12 education structure

Just read: The Payoffs and Pitfalls of Flagging ‘At-Risk’ Kids in Early Grades | MindShift | KQED News

Another day, another attempt by well-meaning educational professionals to close achievement gaps is shot full of holes.

One of the reasons I'm pressing for a new K-12 structure is that every time you turn around, anything we've "tweaked" in the past or any interventions used to "plug the holes" turns out to be just another problem in a long list of problems. The 1890's school structure has got to go and a basic new structure must be designed and built around the all-important, teacher-student learning relationship (without all the interfering obstacles beginning with calendars, clocks grade levels and vertical curricular designs).

We're on our way.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Natural learning the way it was meant to be

Last week was the culmination of a six-week project centered on the learning concept of the Cardboard Challenge by the Imagination Foundation. Several teachers and the principal at our early childhood center combined with our district technology integration specialist to devise a school-wide learning activity that captured the imagination of over four hundred five, six and seven year-olds. Joining them was one of our Spanish teachers at the middle and high school along with dozens of her students. They came weekly to lend a technical hand to their younger friends while at the same time, learning from the unfettered creativeness of younger children.

This is what real life learning is all about.  While some of the goals of these projects were uniform, how each child visualized and created his or her "sculpture" or "working machine" was left up to them. The school was transformed into a marketplace of ideas and a system where the fledgling talents of these young children combined with the technical skills of their older partners to create something that had meaning for both. Not all of the classes enjoyed the mixed-age partnership but the first grade class that did may have ignited a new passion for learning in our schools. Time will tell where that goes.

Peter Gray in his seminal book, "Free to Learn," claims that children learn best on their own initiative, through their own self-chose and self-directed means. Most of what I observed in art class periods and during the weekly mixed-age work sessions was based on those premises. Each child got to decide for themselves what they wanted to create from simple cardboard. They chose from discarded boxes and scraps the materials they needed to achieve their respective vision. They used the tools necessary to cut, shape and support their 3-D model or working machine. Trials often led to failure and new ideas formed. "It needs more tape," or "I think I'll try this," were commonly heard. In the case of the classroom working with older students, their heads were together as they collaborated on a specific "carnival game" (this group of students were attempting to recreate Caine's Arcade) and worked as a team on each step of its creation. The adults stepped in only when asked or if they wished to offer a suggestion, which was rare. The kids were given the time and space to play and explore with their creations. Skills like responsibility and self-direction were evident.

During the culminating event held last Friday, all of the students throughout the school had a chance to display their creations for parents, visitors, staff and fellow students who toured each classroom during the afternoon. They described their 3-D sculpture or arcade machine and answered questions about why they chose what they did and how they constructed it. As with most young children, it took some imagination to see what they saw in their creation but isn't that what creativity is centered on? The fledgling and often rough ideas of a youngster come to life. We all remember the great times we had with the boxes our Christmas and/or birthday gifts came in. We might have called that big refrigerator box a spaceship, even though it took some real imagination on the part of our parents to think of it as something that would travel in outer space. That didn't make it any less than what we kids thought it was.

As the final event, all of the kids in the school as well as parents and staff had an opportunity to play the carnival games created by the 1st graders and their middle/high school partners. There was everything from skeeball to foosball, from fishing games to bop-a-mole with hundreds of youngsters having fun while the creators of these arcade pieces looked on with pride. You can't create that same experience in a traditional academic lesson.

There was something missing throughout the weeks-long Cardboard Challenge at the Early Childhood Center: there were no written assignments, quizzes or high-stakes tests to interfere with real learning. The staff removed the pressures to perform at a high level (which naturally interferes with real learning) and to be as creative as they wished (which under pressure would actually interfere with creativity or innovation). They created learning spaces where these young students were free to exchange ideas and work as part of a democratic community as they brought their vision to life. Empathy skills, something that cannot be adequately taught in a typical teacher-led lesson, were reinforced as older students mixed with their younger partners and avoided evaluating or criticizing what they were creating. They encouraged their young friends and modeled the type of collaborative behaviors we want our students to grow up with.

No standardized test will adequately capture what went on during the ECC's Cardboard Challenge and no common core curriculum can ensure that each child has the opportunity to build on their own unique strengths and capture their dreams with a simple cardboard box. But there was plenty of learning along the seven survival skills that Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith list in their book, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing our Kids for the Innovation Era, a companion book to the incredible documentary film by the same name produced by Dintersmith that's currently sweeping the country in hundreds of locales:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative
  • Effective communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination
For another perspective on this learning activity by a first grade teacher, read her post on her blog In the Mitten with Miss Stasiak titled Cardboard Challenge 2015.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Our current school structure and policy ignores readiness to learn

Because I couldn't say it any better, although I have tried on many occasions and still keep trying:
     Many of us in formal learning situations are on a lockstep treadmill. It is indifferent to our needs, to our circumstances, and to our preferences and what we have to contribute to others. 
     Because it is efficient to teach in groups, we are bunched by combinations of age, required (not desired) subjects, testing, time, and space allotments. All of these ways of grouping are likely to be unresponsive to our readiness (or the lack of it) to learn. 
     Learning does not proceed in a straight line. It cannot be organized and disseminated uniformly to groups. It is not a systematic stratification of facts and schemata to be regurgitated at appointed times. 
     One does not learn by surrendering to an established order but by discovering new orders in connection with individual experience. It happens in fits and starts. It is driven by questions generated by a learner's desire to know. It makes early leaps in one individual while stumping the next, only to be leapfrogged by the stumped one when he or she finally 'gets it' on a whole new level. 
     To herd learning into an appointed linear path and into a uniform conclusion is simply folly. This is common sense, yet we ignore it....It begins to suggest the unthinkable -- throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
     It is important to recognize here that none of the continuing education reforms dictated by public policy and signed into law by 'education' governors, senators, and presidents addresses the underlying faults of traditional and institutionalized learning as addressed here. Until they do, we are 'rearranging deck chairs.'
Davis, Edward L. Lessons for Tomorrow: Bringing America's Schools Back from the Brink. Northport, MI. Orgone Press, 2006. (pp. 82-83) 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We're killing empathy in our kids

Attacking a referee in a football game? Pulling off an opposing player's helmet and hitting him with it? Smearing icy hot ointment in a player's eyes? What the heck is going on? Maybe we know but aren't willing to admit it.

I believe we are beginning to experience the depravity that may come from a general lack of free play by kids, especially in their early years. Free play, particularly with multi-ages teaches empathy, caring, as well as creativity and communications. Kids are growing up with this significant developmental void because (1) parents unjustifiably lock their kids in at home instead of allowing them free play time with other kids in the neighborhood and (2) society has forced schools to turn the youngest years into test-prep, sit-in-your-seat, segregated-by-age, learning activities instead of freedom to learn through play and discovery with a variety of age groups. As a result, more and more research shows that kids are growing up lacking empathy and becoming more self-centric. 

I recommend reading a series of articles from Peter Gray, author of a great book titled, "Freedom to Learn. "

And if you haven't watched these three videos in the past weeks, you should.

Video: Some High School Football Jerk Smeared IcyHot In His Opponent's Eyes: LAist

Football players suspended for doing this to ref

Linden player hits Immaculata player with helmet

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Wright Brothers - a guide to reforming education

‘The Wright Brothers,’ by David McCullough - The New York Times

‘The Wright Brothers,’ by David McCullough (New York Times #1 Bestseller) is one of the best books I've read this summer.

In very succinct fashion (unlike his previous abundant tomes), McCullough clearly outlines the benefits of an education centered around creativity, collaboration, communication (the members of the Wright family wrote considerably), personalized learning, problem-solving, and the desire to publish and make things. The story of the Wright Brothers is all of these and more.

If you haven't read it, you really should.  Every educator should.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Our Age-Based Grading Structure Weakens Learning

In Free to Learn, Peter Gray provides a strong indictment against our age-segregated systems of formal schooling.

Children learn by observing and interacting with other(s) (children) who are older and younger than they are....the segregation of children by age is an oddity -- I would say a tragic oddity -- of modern times.

Not until the large-scale expansion of compulsory, age-graded schooling, beginning about a hundred years ago in Western societies, were large numbers of children required to spend significant amounts of time in age-segregated settings.

Within the past three or four decades, in the United States and many other Westernized nations, the degree of age segregation imposed on children has increased further, to a startling degree.

The decline in the size of nuclear families, the weakening of extended family ties, fears about negative influences that older children might have on younger ones, the decline in free neighborhood play, the increased amounts of time spent at school, and the proliferation of after-school programs and other adult-directed, age-segregated activities for children have conspired to reduce greatly children's opportunities to get to know others who are several years older or younger than them. The graded school model has commandeered our culture's thought about childhood.  p. 182-184

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When Children are Free to Play

The player is playing for fun; education is a by-product. If the player were playing for a serious purpose, it would no longer be play and much of the educative power would be lost.

...the child at play is not afraid of failure. The playing child feels free to try things out in a pretend world that would be too risky or impossible to try in the serious world.... Fear and concerns about evaluation tend to freeze the mind and body into rigid frames, suitable for carrying out well-learned habitual activities but not for learning or thinking about anything new.

Play is trivial, but not easy.  Much of the joy of play lies in the challenges.

When children are free to play, they play naturally at the ever-advancing edges of their mental or physical abilities.

Most forms of play involve repetition.

One of the defining characteristics of play is the focus on means rather than ends, and repetitiveness is a corollary of that characteristic. The player produces the same action repeatedly in order to get it right.

But the repetition is not rote. Because the repetition derives from the player's own will, each repetitive act is a creative act. ...the player is deliberately varying the act in some way to fit the game or to experiment with new ways of doing the same thing. A side effect of such repetition is the perfection and consolidation of the newly developing skill.

Free to Learn, Peter Gray, p. 154-5

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How Monitoring and Evaluation Kill Creativity and Learning

In Free to Learn, Peter Gray talks about the "playful state of mind" and how observation and evaluation have a "debilitating effect" on learning. He relies on a number of studies, some recent and some as far back as the early 1900s in developing his thesis (pp. 132-33):

When research subjects believe their performance is being observed and evaluated, those who are already skilled become better and those who are not so skilled become worse. The debilitating effects of being observed and evaluated have been found to be even greater for mental tasks, such as solving difficult math problems or generating good rebuttals to the views of classical philosophers, than they are for physical tasks such as shooting pool. When the task involves creative thought or the learning of a difficult skill, the presence of an observer or evaluator inhibits almost all participants. The higher the status of the evaluator, and the more consequential the evaluation, the greater the inhibition of learning.

Schools are presumably places for learning and practice, not for experts to show off. Yet, with their incessant monitoring and evaluation of students' performances, schools seem to be ideally designed to boost the performance of those who are already good and to interfere with learning. Those who have somehow already learned the school tasks, maybe at home, generally perform well in this setting, but those who haven't tend to flounder. Evaluation drives a wedge between those who already know how and those who don't, pushing the former up and the latter down. Evaluation has this pernicious effect because it produces a mind-set that is opposite from the playful state of mind, which is the ideal state for learning new skills, solving new problems, and engaging in all sorts of creative activities.

If you knew nothing more about the learning processes, how might Gray's points about observation and evaluation alter your view of they types of learning activities children need? What might you do different as your students walk in the classroom door this fall?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning to Do: From Unschooling Rules

According to Clark Aldrich, schools spend most of their time focused on learning to know the knowledge that comes from textbooks, lectures and other instruction typically delivered by a teacher.  Little time is spent on learning to do through skills that can then be applied in what he refers to as, "the productive world."

Aldrich provides an interesting list of 25 critical life skills which he claims are "seldom taught, tested, or graded" in schools:

  • Adapting
  • Analyzing and managing risks
  • Applying economic, value, and governing models
  • Behaving ethically
  • Being a leader
  • Building and nurturing relationships
  • Communicating
  • Creating or process reengineering new actions, processes and tools
  • Developing security
  • Efficiently meeting complex needs
  • Gathering evidence
  • Identifying and using boards of mentors and advisers
  • Maintaining and practicing stewardship of important systems and capabilities
  • Making prudent decisions
  • Managing conflict
  • Managing projects
  • Negotiating
  • Planning long term
  • Prioritizing tasks and goals
  • Probing
  • Procurement
  • Scheduling
  • Solving problems innovatively
  • Sourcing/buying/procuring goods and services
  • Using containment strategies
How do we move away from learning only what's tested in school to learning what will be tested in life?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My #ISTE2015 Topic List

Going back over my notes and Tweets during the recent ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, I highlighted a list of key learning terms that are changing the face of K-12 education and, to the extent they are finding their way into schools, are finally moving us forward:

  • Unlearning
  • Maker education (or simply maker ed)
  • Maker spaces
  • Culture of making
  • Design thinking and learning
  • Connected learning (for both the kids and the adults)
  • Global learning
  • Learning through creation versus consumption
  • Future ready
  • SAMR
  • STEM and STEAM
  • Coding
  • Online professional learning using social networking (e.g., Tweet of the Day)
  • Writing and publishing
  • Genius Hour (for both kids and the adults)
  • Putting technology in students' hands:
    • leveler
    • door opener
    • deeper learning
    • adjacent possibilities
    • student voice
    • agency
    • social justice
    • passion
    • digital citizen
    • digital leader
  • Learning is still based on relationships

Compilation of #ISTE2015 Tweets

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Efforts to Improve Teacher Equity Hinge on Funding Equity

As federal and state debates heat up over the inequities of quality teachers and the need for more regulation to ensure every child is served by a well-qualified teacher, Bruce Baker reminds us that regulations without equitable funding (e.g., greater funding for students and schools with higher needs) will fall short.

About those Ed Regs for Improving Teacher Equity: A preview of new (old) findings | School Finance 101

As states roll out their plans, this topic is again getting some ed media attention, most of which (if not all) misses entirely the point that regulatory pressure passed by states along to local public districts will achieve little or nothing in equalizing the distribution of teacher/teaching/instructional resources across schools and children statewide. That is, without any attention to inter-district disparities in school funding, which as I have noted, have only continued to get worse. Bottom line, you can’t fix cross-school, statewide disparities in resources without fixing between district disparities in funding. 
As a basis by which inequality should be determined, the administration places significant emphasis on variations in concentrations of children in poverty across schools. That is, resources should be equitably distributed across children by their economic status.[5] Just what “equity” means under the circumstances is left to states to articulate in their proposals, but the language of the regulations suggests that, at the very least, children in high poverty settings should not be subjected to fewer total resources or teachers with lesser qualifications – that there should not be a negative correlation between poverty concentrations and resources. 
Put simply, the amount of funding available to any school district determines the amount it can spend on its schools and, in turn, the combination of wage competitiveness and staffing ratios the district can provide. Those with more can spend more; those without can’t. Where inter-district inequities persist – especially where districts serving needier student populations have substantially lower spending – so too will inequities in the various indicators suggested for review by the U.S. Department of Education. Regulatory intervention without more substantive changes to state school finance systems will likely achieve little. So too will legal challenges to statutes and regulations which fail to correct inter-district disparities in available funding. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Learning is not necessarily what you know but how you think

In the midst of movement to industrialize public education, there was a voice of reason and sanity, who like those same voices today that are drowned out by politicians and pseudo-reformers, was pretty much ignored. However, his message rings through in truth one hundred and twenty years later.

Education does not consist in knowing certain definite things, as Greek, Latin, or mathematics, but in that power and versatility of thought and emotion which elevate life into truth and virtue, and which may come from any form of true and deep experience which the individual has with the world about him. (p.39)

Today's reformers are stuck in a world of test-prep and measuring learning strictly based on what one knows versus how one thinks. Measuring rote knowledge is far simpler and much more profitable in a world of paper and online assessments. And on top of it, measuring rote knowledge instead of evaluating learning holistically provides an opportunity to point blame at the teacher.

Contact with the world, as well as the tuition of the school, produces wealth of experience and ripe wisdom. The individual's whole environment educates him; and the teacher, being but a small part of this, must not be accredited nor charged with the whole result. (p.39 continued)

Twelve decades ago, academic leaders knew that the school and the teacher are but a small part of the education of a child and that whether or not that child succeeded in reaching a desired level of learning could not be solely the teacher's fault. Today, the reformists prefer to place the full blame on teachers and the schools they labor in, despite the overwhelming evidence that the home and community, complicit with socio-economic status, English language deficiencies, disabilities and crime, have an often greater impact on whether the child learns or not; all factors that cannot be accurately measured by achievement tests.

Tompkins, Arnold, PhD. The Philosophy of School Management. Ginn and Company, Boston. 1895

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Michigan Continues to Stick it to the Poor

We already know that the socio-economic gap between the highest incomes and those living in poverty has grown over the past couple of decades, and the percent of school-age children in Michigan and across the country living in poverty continues to climb. But Michigan lately seems bent on extracting even more pain from low-income families and children:
Students from low-income families now represent a growing majority of the school children attending the nation’s public schools, the Southern Education Foundation has found in its policy research. ~ The Leadership Conference Education Fund, 2015
1. When Governor Rick Snyder took office back in January 2011, the state moved to reduce the Earned Income Credit for low-income families. Ironically, this was a program championed by conservative President Ronald Reagan.

2. When Proposal 1 to repair the state's roads and infrastructure was presented to the people back in November 2014, it was defeated by a resounding no vote in part due to a portion of the new taxes that would restore the Earned Income Credit for low-income families and repair the recent funding cuts to public schools.

3. A bill to cut much-needed welfare funds for low-income families if a child is truant from school has passed the Michigan Senate, ensuring that the most at-risk kids who are absent in large part due to the many hurdles faced by those growing up in poverty will be even more impoverished as a result.

4. Last week, the House Appropriations School Aid Subcommittee chair expressed his desire to shut down the Detroit Public School District despite the fact state policies, "white flight" over many decades, and a general decline in school-age population were the primary sources of the district's problems, not the thousands of low-income kids and families the district has tried to serve.

5. And just this week, the Michigan Department of Education indicated it will cut federal funds (a.k.a., Title I funding intended for schools to support low-income, at-risk students) if parents continue to opt-out their children from the annual high-stakes testing game.

6. Earlier this spring, Education Trust published a report that illustrates how the state legislature sticks it to school districts serving high percentages of students living in poverty. Michigan is one of only six states where the funding for high poverty districts is at least 5% less than low poverty districts.

Certainly looks like the state is spot-on when it comes to reforming public education and addressing the impact poverty has on learning. Just keep sticking it to the poor until things shape up.

What's the old saying? "The beatings will continue until morale improves?"

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Census Confirms Post-Recession Drop in State, Local School Funding | Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Census Confirms Post-Recession Drop in State, Local School Funding | Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
"Most states began to reinvest in K-12 education during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, our research shows, but these increases don't come close to offsetting the post-recession cuts. Thirty-five states funded schools lower in 2014-15 than in 2007-08. (Our research focuses on the major form of state funding for schools, usually known as "formula" funding. Census looks at total state and local funding.)"
This is very true in Michigan where K-12 foundation funding cuts at the time Governor Rick Snyder came into office were so severe ($470 per pupil in 2010 dollars) that even modest increases in the past two years have not recovered this lost funding (see chart, below for one district's example). The current budget awaiting the governor's signature continues the recent trend of providing for a modest increase without considering the damage done by the recession-era cut. When inflation factors are applied over the past twenty years, one can see why districts are struggling financially and unable to afford the reforms necessary to turn Michigan's educational outcomes around.

While these cuts continue their crushing impact on public schools in Michigan and across the nation, governors, legislative leaders and other pseudo-reformers are continuing to ask for more while choosing to pay for less.
"Deep school funding cuts make it difficult for schools to implement promising reforms such as high-quality teacher recruitment, class size reductions, learning time expansions, and high-quality early care and education. In addition, these cuts prompted school layoffs and pay and benefit cuts for the staff that remained. And the effects of the cuts will reverberate for years to come, as states' forgone investments in high-quality education -- leaving students ill-prepared for higher education and the workforce -- may continue to hold back their economies."
In 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Michigan ranked a mediocre:
  • 20th in total revenue per pupil
  • 24th in total spending per pupil
  • 23rd in instructional spending per pupil
  • 27th in teacher salaries per pupil
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a number of charts that validated Michigan's per pupil cuts to K-12 public education.  You can click on the link to see two of the most revealing charts that show Michigan in the red when it comes to funding public education.

In fact, read the entire article.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Education is all about Unity in Relationships

Two great thinkers separated by 120 years of an outmoded school structure that today more than ever serves primarily to interfere with the fundamental law of education -- unity in relationships between teacher and student.
Teacher and pupil, in co-operative touch to the end for which the school exists, of themselves constitute the school.... A clock and a blackboard may be parts of the school machinery; but the teaching process can go on without them, and the school is not destroyed by their removal.
 A right act in school is one which secures, or tends to secure, unity between the mind of the teacher and the pupil in the teaching process; while a wrong act is one which destroys, or tends to destroy, such unity.
... for the school is the organic unity between the teacher and the pupil. 
Prof. Arnold Tompkins. The Philosophy of School Management. Ginn & Co. Boston, MA, 1895. pp. 15-33 (emphasis added)

Now spring ahead 120 years.

"Theater" is the whole relationship between the audience and the drama. For theater to have its most transformative effects, it's essential to focus on that relationship and make it as powerful as possible. Nothing should be added ... unless it deepens it.
For me, the analogy with education is exact ... The fundamental purpose of education is to help students learn. Doing that is the role of the teacher. But modern education systems are cluttered with every sort of distraction ... But the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Everything else depends on how productive and successful that relationship is. If that is not working, then the system is not working. If students are not learning, education is not happening. Something else may be going on, but it's not education.
Ken Robinson, Ph.D. Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that's Transforming Education. Viking. New York, NY, 2015. pp. 71-72 (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, much of the trappings of so-called modern education reform is simply "stuff" that detract from the real law of education and appear bent on destroying teacher-pupil unity. We haven't learned much over the last twelve decades.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering a Forgotten Hero from Grand Rapids

A common slogan around Memorial Day or during a heartbreaking funeral for a recent war casualty is, "We'll Never Forget!" Well, I'm fairly certain that most of the citizens of the Greater Grand Rapids community do not remember Alfred Medendorp.

Young Alfred Medendorp in Grand Rapids
Born in 1907 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, young Alfred had moved to Grand Rapids with his parents several years later where his brother and two sisters were born. Like many in the area at the time, his father had been born in the Netherlands marrying his mother upon arrival in the United States.

Alfred attended South High School and then at just nineteen years of age, married Dorothy Schutt from Dayton, Ohio during the summer of 1927. He set up a chiropractor business while they lived on Division Avenue near Burton Heights and shortly after, they moved to Griggs Street.  Alfred and Dorothy parented three children. He was a graduate of the National College of Chiropractic in Chicago.

Sometime toward the end of the 1930s, Alfred joined the local 126th Infantry National Guard unit at the old Michigan Street Armory near Ionia and Division. When the Guard nationwide was activated in the fall of 1940 for a year of training, then Lieutenant Medendorp left with the 126th for Camp Beauregard, Louisiana where they trained for "modern" warfare on potentially a European battlefield. But December 7, 1941 changed all of that.

U.S. Soldiers on the beach at Buna
Federalized after just completing a year away from home, the 126th, which included National Guard companies from Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Big Rapids, Ionia, Adrian and Kalamazoo, was first entrained and sent to Fort Devins, Massachusetts for deployment to Northern Ireland as part of the planned invasion of Europe in the war against Nazi Germany. But General MacArthur was screaming for more troops in the Southwest Pacific to stave off the Japanese Imperial Army's juggernaut and eventually regain the Philippines. He specifically asked for the 32nd "Red Arrow" Division, a combined Michigan-Wisconsin National Guard unit that earned fame during World War I and included the 126th Infantry from West Michigan. His public rants and tendency to pressure President Roosevelt worked and the 126th along with the rest of the division turned around and headed cross-country to San Francisco. Now a captain, Medendorp was in charge of a section of the vehicle convoy that made the 2,200-mile trek sans any decent transcontinental road network. The balance of the 126th travelled by train.

Medendorp and the regiment were shipped that summer to Australia where they continued to train and for what they thought would be the defense of that continent. But MacArthur had different plans and instead threw the unprepared Red Arrows -- with the 126th in the lead -- into jungle warfare in an grueling effort to defeat the Japanese on New Guinea. Medendorp was put in command of two companies that would attempt to traverse the Owen-Stanley Mountain range that split the island in two. The purpose was to beat back the Japanese forces and eventually drive them into the sea.

In his unpublished memoirs, written aboard a troop ship returning home following three years in the South Pacific, Medendorp reminisced that, "Words cannot describe the hardships of that march over the mountains. Besides the steep climbs and descents, there was the daily rain, rivers to ford, wet cold nights, and lack of proper and sufficient rations (the 126th's commander had been killed in a plane crash trying to resupply Medendorp's men and the rest of the 2nd battalion during this trek). The men straggled and lay exhausted all along the trail, but most of them managed to get through, although it sometimes took them until late at night.... With the rest of the men, I went through the pass over the dreaded GHOST MOUNTAIN. One man died on that part of the march."

The Red Arrow Division went on to route the stubborn Japanese at Buna at the cost of hundreds of dead or missing soldiers and thousands of wounded. After rebuilding with new replacements during a rest-and-recovery period in Australia, the 126th continued the fight through Leyte, Luzon and eventually the Philippines. The regiment's last duty of World War II was the occupation of Japan. Along with the rest of the 32nd Division, it had seen a record 654 days of combat.

Posing with his sister-in-law
Medendorp returned home and resumed life with his family and continued as an officer in the local National Guard. In 1954, he volunteered to serve as an advisor to the Nationalist Chinese on the tiny but strategically important island of Quemoy who were staving off an invasion by the mainland Communist Chinese.  On September 3, artillery shelling of the island had been underway for nearly five hours when now Lieutenant Colonel Medendorp and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Lynn of Illinois were both hit by the shelling and killed during what was supposed to be a routine visit to the island for training and inspections.

Back in Grand Rapids, his father said he had written the previous June that "Chinese Reds" were then firing on the island. Colonel Medendorp told him the Reds had offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of any American officer and that the situation was such that he and other U.S. Army men did not dare step outside their quarters unarmed.

A simple military headstone marks the grave of Medendorp
Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Medendorp was laid to rest in Rest Lawn Memorial Cemetery on Eastern Avenue near 32nd Street.  On May 30, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson mentioned Medendorp along with eight others in a special honor roll during traditional Memorial Day ceremonies, although he got the year he was killed wrong. The President remarked that, "These men represent all those Americans who have risked their lives -- and lost them -- in the peace-building efforts that America has made since 1945. They were sent on their missions because this Nation believes that peace is not something that just happens. Peace does not come just because we wish for it. Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone."

Nearly forty years after his death, a memorial was erected on the spot where Medendorp had been killed by the shelling.

A Chinese epitaph states:

US military Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorp, a former member of the U. S. Army Military Assistance Group was killed in combat at the Kinmen Shuitou Wharf during the Artillery Bombardment of September 3rd (September 1954). He died in action under the fire of the Communist China’s artillery. He was 47 years old (1907-1954).

In the fall of 1954, on the eve of the Southeast Asia Convention, Communist China attempt to exert pressure over the nations attending the convention to influence the agenda of the convention. Driven by a desire to pound the Kinmen area in a surprise offensive, China bombarded a navy vessel docked at Shuitou Wharf to strengthen its international clout, thus bringing to reality its political blackmail scheme. Since Communist China dared not launch a direct offensive, it resorted to the violent bombardment of Kinmen.

September 3, 3:00 p.m. Communist Chinese artillery began pounding the islands of Kinmen (Greater Quemoy and Lesser Quemoy), and sending surprise attacks on Shuitou Wharf. Kinmen Defense Commander Gen. Liu Yu-Chang immediately ordered the artillery troops to launch counter strikes to suppress the Chinese attacks. Communist China pounded Kinmen for two straight hours that day, and continued to launch fragment cannon attacks until 8 in the evening. None of the villages along the coasts of the Kinmen Islands had been spared. The military accounted over 5,000 rounds had been fired to Kinmen. The offensive was a prologue of the cross-strait artillery battles between Communist China and Taiwan.

(Artillery Bombardment of September 3rd) In the fifteen-day period that followed September 3rd, Communist Chinese fired 8,767 cannon rounds towards the Kinmen area. The attacks damaged the Shuitou Wharf and several civilian housings, as well as killed over 10 military personnel; Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorp of the United States Military was among those killed in action. The heroic fighting spirit of the front defense line awed the Communist Chinese troops and earned the respect and admiration of the ROC and foreign nationals.

In memory of the unselfish and heroic sacrifice of Lt. Col. Medendorp, the R.O.C. Government issued a “Cloud and Banner Medal” of honor award to him. In 1992, upon the request of the National Guard Association of the United States, the government erected a monument at the spot where Lt. Col. Medendorp was killed. The monument was designed and constructed under the supervision of the contemporary Lieh-Yu Division Commander - Army Major General Kao Hua-Chu and the incumbent Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Commission. Following the completion of the stone, the Chief of the General Staff, General First Class Liu Ho-Chien inscribed the memorial epitaph. The stone (Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorp monument) was erected on August 7, 1992.

The monument inscription:

In Commemoration

Lieutenant Colonel, Army of the United States 
U. S. Army Military Assistance Group
first U. S. soldier killed in action 
at this location during hostile artillery bombardment
3 September 1954

Colonel Medendorp, a National Guard officer from the
State of Michigan, volunteered to help defend freedom
After distinguished combat service in WWII.

Awarded the Republic of China 
Order of the Cloud and Banner 
November, 1954

Dedicated. 1992 Republic of China
in coordination with 
National Guard Association of the United States

Sunday, April 12, 2015

President Thomas Jefferson's Birthday

Few American presidents are as complex as Jefferson nor do they invoke as much debate over their respective places in history. While arguments abound over his morals, particularly in regards to slavery, there is little doubt about his intellectual superiority for the time, and his gift of writing for the ages.

April 13 marks the birthdate of President Jefferson, a date that is encoded in federal law:

36 U.S. Code § 141 - The President shall issue each year a proclamation—
(1) calling on officials of the United States Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on April 13; and
(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe April 13 in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies in commemoration of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.
While best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence, he was a prolific writer on many topics, including education:
Jefferson understood that freedom depends on self-government: the cultivation of self-reliance, courage, responsibility, and moderation. Education contributes to both the knowledge and virtues that form a self-governing citizen. By proposing a bill in Virginia that would have established free schools every five to six square miles, Jefferson sought to teach “all children of the state reading, writing, and common arithmetic.” With these skills, a child would become a citizen able to “calculate for himself,” “express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts,” and “improve, by reading, his morals and faculties.” 
Jefferson viewed this basic education as instrumental to securing “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for Americans because it helps an individual “understand his duties” and “know his rights.”
In one of his writings, a "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," Jefferson noted that education in general is important to guarding against tyranny:
...experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes ... whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance...
At the very least, folks should take time to better understand one of our greatest presidents and a good place to start is right here: After all, debate is only purposeful when it comes from learned minds.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Road with the Class of 2015 - Part 4

As I’m writing, we’re somewhere in Georgia winding our way home at the end of a whirl-wind, eight-day senior trip to Orlando, Florida. We just completed a driver switch and we’re back on the road. We bid farewell to Lew and his wife Carol who not only provided our transportation this past week, but also became our friends and a deeper part of our famiLEE. This is not the first time Lew has driven for the senior trip and we hope not the last. The couple is from the Grand Rapids area and their familiarity with our district served to deepen the bond. It was heartening to see the number of students that gave Carol a hug and Lew a handshake goodbye.

I have some mixed emotions from my experience this week. Earlier as we embarked on our journey home, the kids gave me a Disney coffee mug for coming along and helping out. It was a considerate gesture and if there’s something I learned about Godfrey-Lee kids over the past thirteen years, they love to express their thanks in often small but meaningful ways. I saw that early on when I came to Lee Middle School as principal during the summer of 2002, when I drove past a car wash on Burton Street where high school kids were raising money to help out a family that had just lost a child in a tragic mishap. I’ve witnessed it time and time again since.

In truth however, my reward was far greater than a symbolic gesture of a coffee mug, which I happily place on my desk on Monday morning as a reminder of this unique experience. I can’t begin to quantify what I learned over the course of our adventure from these young men and women, who in just twenty-eight school days will each pass from student to graduate of Lee High School. If the past is prologue, after that eventful day it is unlikely that I’ll see or hear from most of them again. They’ll move on. Others will take their place. But having lived with them in close quarters these last eight days, I’m confident that despite some blemishes (we all have them), their teachers and parents have done a good job and each will be ready to move on to new challenges and adventures. To witness this firsthand and have the opportunity to know each of them just a little more is all the reward I could ever want.  It was also a joy to watch them
interact with their two teacher chaperones; not only the fun the students were able to have with or at their expense, but the genuine respect they have for Mr. Cahoon and Mr. Snyder.

Despite all the fun we had this week, I see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they’re ready to be home, to see their family and friends and get on with their lives. As is often typical, a few got on each others nerves, likely as much from the exhausting agenda as it was from not being used to sleeping four in a room. After only a short time some behaviors became predictable: the little conflicts, the minor struggles to meet curfew, the difficulty of waking them up in the morning, and consistent tardiness of one group in particular wherever we went. It was all part of the extended learning experience this trip provided for each senior along with responsibility of managing themselves 1,200 miles away from home.

With the exception of a few years, the tradition of a senior class trip is well embedded at Lee High School dating back over many decades. Some of the earliest trips were short, over-night excursions to Chicago by rail and steamer for a day in the Windy City. During Congressman Jerry Ford’s time, the senior class would venture first by rail and later by bus to Washington, DC. Many of these classes were able to pose with the eventual president in a photograph on the Capitol steps. In the latter half of the seventies, the trip was changed to a week in Florida. A lot of work goes into planning and preparing for each trip, and ultimately in supervising the trip itself. The dedication of teachers like Mr. Brian Cahoon, Mr. Pete Foote and others before them are just another part of what makes Lee High School that much more special. All week long as I was able to post photographs of our adventure to Facebook, many alumni commented on their respective class trips and the memories that came flooding back.

I know now first-hand how they feel.

On the Road with the Class of 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On the Road with the Class of 2015 - Part 3

It’s been non-stop action since we left Lee High School early last Thursday morning. Thus far, we’ve journeyed over 1,200 miles by bus, toured the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; enjoyed a few hours of sun, sand and sea at Daytona Beach; spent our first evening in Florida at Downtown Disney; enjoyed two full days at all four Disney theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom); spent a day at Universal Studios; and, just got back from the Tampa area and a full day at Busch Gardens. We’ve accomplished all of this in just six days.

Of the three chaperones (two teachers and myself), I probably have had the least contact with these students and so I’m less likely to know all of them as well as their teachers do. However, I have known a handful of them since they first entered middle school but this trip has given me pause
to think about what I really do know about them outside of school. In other words, while I know them as students and in some cases athletes, I know very little about them as whole persons on the precipice of becoming adults. While that might be expected of a superintendent who is most often removed from the lives of students, I find myself wondering how much our teachers and school administrators really do know about our kids, K-12? Beyond books and computers and classrooms and desks, how aware are we of our students’ dreams, hurts, cares, concerns, and everyday lives away from school?

While the focus of this trip is to provide a final bonding experience centered on having fun and seeing a part of the U.S. where most have never been, I think there’s a lot more gained by those members of the senior class who chose to join us. Just the process of earning and saving their money,
making the deadlines for payments, and then determining how much to bring along with them for meals, souvenirs, and whatever they want to spend it on is a tremendous accomplishment itself. Couple that with the growing anticipation over the trip, you have a great recipe for teaching kids about delayed satisfaction and the power of budgeting wisely. That’s not to say that all of them had to struggle to earn and save their own money to get here, but those that did are definitely being rewarded this week for their labors.

Today, we head first to Sea World and later on return to Universal Studios (more butter beer from Diagon Alley!). Tonight’s our last evening in Florida. Tomorrow, we check out of your motel before heading to Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon for the morning followed by one last swing through Hollywood Studios or other parts of Disney. We’ll be on the long road back home after that.

More pics from Busch Garden: