Friday, February 26, 2016

What are we thinking? It's most likely what we're reading

I've come to believe that there are few of us in the mainstream, public school leadership arena that either read or talk with others who challenge our beliefs about what we are doing and where our schools are headed. I may be overstating this since I have no research base to prove my assertion, but I seldom see discussions through Twitter or in person that reject the idea of "better sameness" and instead challenge us to rethink and redesign our educational systems.

Pictured here is a stack of recently published works that DO challenge what we are doing in preparing our kids for a world we have little understanding of other than to know it will be quite different from the one we grew up in, or even the one we're living in today. Much of what is in these writings is "in your face" kinds of thinking that force readers like me to run away from the concept of "school improvement" and run towards "school redesign." There are more like it and many great blog posts as well as full journal articles but are they accomplishing their mission? I don't know.

What I see daily on Twitter from superintendents, principals and other educational leaders causes me to doubt it. When it comes to school leadership and moving education forward, what I tend to see more of is Twitter turned into a "brag board" of initiatives or accomplishments that look and smell like "better sameness." Not that branding our schools and communicating student accomplishments aren't important but where are the more challenging posts that move our thinking away from mindsets cemented in the mid-20th century to visions of this century and beyond? Where are those leaders willing to stand in the public square and shout, "The emperor has no clothes!?"

I'm sure there are many out there who might dispute my perception of a general lack of creativity and willingness to challenge the status quo. Perhaps things are just rosy right where they are at and haven't adopted a global view of the state of our educational system. Or perhaps the political climate in their neck of the woods isn't one that supports a design thinking effort because, heck, our football team was undefeated last year! Why should we change?

It's the end of the sixth month of the school year in the first year of the second half of the second decade of the 21st century. It's high time we throw off our restrictive, protective school improvement armor and create schools of learning designed around the needs of our students, families and communities.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Kindergarten in 1960

This is my kindergarten report card. Yes, I still have it as well as all of my 1st through 8th grade cards and many other mementos of my elementary and high school learning days.

The card is interesting (especially the little note about talking unnecessarily) but what's most interesting is what's not on the card:
  • Nothing about reading ability
  • Nothing about math skills or counting to any number
  • Nothing about any kind of academic testing results
In fact, nothing related to academic content period. It was all about learning through play and discovery while learning how to follow simple directions and work well with others.

This card should be a descriptor of the kind of kindergarten we value today, but tragically something happened in the U.S. and we've all gone nuts when it comes to appropriate learning activities and objectives for children 4 and 5 years old.

Educators point fingers at parents. Parents point fingers at competitive college entrance. I think it was the result of alien experimentation. How else can you possibly explain our manic effort to remove play and discovery from early childhood learning? There's certainly no rational explanation.

I offer this card as a guide to help get us back on track and I hereby relinquish my FERPA rights as to its content (something else we didn't care about in 1960).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Attaining a 4-Year College Degree: Another clear measure of poverty in schools

The State of Michigan made a little splash recently when it released data from every high school and district on College Progression by Graduating Class going back to the high school Class of 2008. It provides some interesting data that is far better at generating questions than it is providing answers.

MLive decided it could use a smidgeon of the data to generate more advertising dollars by creating one of it's cute little slide shows highlighting the alleged top 48 high schools where at least 60% of the graduates from the Class of 2008 completed a four-year degree.

Of course because MLive is primarily interested in advertising dollars and does little these days to investigate anything below the surface, it failed to use readily available data such as percent of child poverty, English language learners, or special education in a school district to tell the larger story of how each can correlate to academic success.

In the chart below you get the rest of the story, at least as it pertains to members of a district's graduating class of 2008 and the percentage that attained a four-year degree as it correlates to the percentage of children ages 5-17 in that school district growing up in federally-defined poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, SAIPE, December 2014).

Each diamond represents a traditional Michigan public school district.

Oh, look! The state has spent even more taxpayer dollars accumulating data that continues to demonstrate poverty is the number one indicator of low educational attainment. Wow, imagine that. Of course, this has already been demonstrated time and time again with ACT, SAT and the Michigan MME (now M-STEP) assessments. I wonder what our high poverty districts could have done with those tax dollars instead?

Here are several resources that provide the backstory to this data.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Governor's K-12 Budget Proposal: We're not celebrating yet!

District administrators around Michigan seem somewhat happy with Governor Rick Snyder's proposed K-12 School Aid budget for 2016-17. At the very least, I guess you could smile because it's not a cut, but of course the legislature which seems somewhat at odds with the Governor these days still has to produce their respective proposals. Anything can happen between now and the time three people huddle in a closed room to decide the actual budget.

Despite the somewhat rosy picture painted by the Governor this past Wednesday, it's important to point out that the promise of Proposal A enacted nearly twenty-two years ago is still a long way from being realized, particularly in the lowest funded school districts. Under that proposal which was passed by the voters of Michigan, the inequity of school funding between districts was allegedly going to be a thing of the past. Well, perhaps someday in the distant future, we might just be able to celebrate that realization.

But for now, let's take a look at reality.

One of the highest funded school districts in Michigan is in Oakland County on the east side of the state, a district considered a very affluent area where parents pretty much provide their kids with rich learning opportunities in and outside of school. That district (I'm not going to name it as this is not a sticks-and-stone post) had a foundation allowance (the basic operational funding source for all Michigan public schools) of $10,454 per student back in 1995. This current year, the district's foundation allowance is $12,004 per student (taken from the legislative conference report) and if Governor Snyder's proposal wins out, will likely be $12,064 per student next year. The average annual increase for this district since Proposal A is $73 per student.

Now my school district on the west side of the state, a district that according to the federal government has the 19th highest rate of child poverty (ages 5-17), the foundation allowance in 1995 was a paltry $5,365 per student (51% of the funding provided to the more affluent district). This year it is $7,391 (but is only worth $4,752 when adjusted for 1995 dollars) and under the Governor's proposal, it may rise to $7,511 (62% of the affluent district's funding). This represents an annual average increase for our district of $98 per student since 1995.

So as you can see, the gap is closing but how long until both districts are equitably funded through the foundation allowance?

Over the past twenty-two years, my district has received on average $24 more dollars per student from the foundation allowance, but is still behind the more affluent district by a difference of $4,553 (proposed for 2016-17) per student. At the rate of $24 per year, it will only take another 186.9 years for the two districts to be at foundation allowance parity.

Until then, those with the least will continue to be...those with the least.

Is it too early to get a committee together to plan the celebration?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Comment on Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY

Most Charter Schools are Public Schools in Name ONLY | gadflyonthewallblog

This post outlines the entire fallacy behind the charter school movement. It was sold to the citizens based on the "laboratory school" promise that never to this day has been fulfilled. It was a lie and the charter school advocates that backed the concept are simply liars. The only purpose for charter schools is to inch Michigan and other states closer to vouchers and the destruction of our public school system.

The only reason.

"They don’t teach like public schools, they don’t spend their money like public schools, they don’t treat students or parents like public schools – in fact, that’s the very reason they exist – to be as unlike public schools as possible.

"Advocates claim charters exist as laboratory schools. They are free to experiment and find new, better ways of doing things. Once they’ve proven their successes, these improved practices will eventually trickle down to our more traditional houses of learning.

"At least, that’s the ideal behind them. But to my knowledge it’s never happened.

"As a public school teacher, I can never recall being at a training where charter operators taught us how to do things better with these time-tested strategies. I do, however, recall watching excellent co-workers furloughed because my district had to meet the rising costs of payments to our local charters.

"Moreover, if the freedom to experiment is so important, why not give that privilege to all public schools, not just a subset?"

Think of this: Before the charter hoax (and it's wicked step-sister, school choice), the Detroit Public School system was solvent and one of the best big-city school districts in the country. Charters, choice and yes, white flight, turned the tide.

"The charter school movement that started as a dream of a few starry-eyed liberals who thought they knew more about how to teach children than did professional educators. The movement has now been co-opted by Educational Management Companies. These companies bribe politicians and dodge state laws with phony non-profit foundations that have set their sights on tax monies collected for public schools. My own half-time home state of Arizona has long been a leader pointing the way toward everything that is wrong with the charter school movement." ~ Gene V. Glass

And the lemmings who call themselves citizens have bought into the charter school hoax hook, line and sinker.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis

The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Flint water crisis isn't the first man-made or natural disaster we've had to respond to but it is one of those unusual eye-opening events that elevates the underlying problem in plain view: we have a substantial problem in this country (in this world) adequately maintaining our natural resources and providing a healthy environment for everyone, regardless of levels of affluence.

As this interview with Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech points out, we have a national problem with science in general. I'm simplifying what he actually talks about so I encourage you to read the entire article and then come back to hear what else I have to say.

Politics aside (because I think this country also lacks a strong, ethical political system focused on the public good), we have a big need to strengthen our science programs beginning in the K-12 system and before any lame-brain ed-reformist gets ideas, I'm not talking about making curriculum standards tougher and testing kids more. Our science education programs should be place-based learning experiences where kids are exposed to the current, real-world problems and asked to help solve them. Not more memorization of easily retrievable facts and figures (I avoided a science minor in college to go along with my math major because I hated memorizing the periodic table of elements in high school - HATED IT), but hands on work in the community to analyze problems, develop hypothesis, design experiments, collect and analyze samples, design blind tests, synthesize data, and develop possible solutions. At a minimum, this rigorous and relevant learning should begin at the 5th grade but should be on steroids by the time kids reach their high school years.

Other content areas should join in wherever it is obvious that science is not separate from language arts, math, civics, health and physical education. In fact, the best schools would make it difficult to determine where one ends and the other starts. You wouldn't be able to find the "English classroom" simply by walking the halls and seeing a sign. The core classes would blend into a rainbow of real life.

So if we want to help solve a growing litany of mostly man-made problems, and at the same time convert our factory-model schools into laboratories of relevant learning, let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis.

And let's stop talking about it and start now. In every school.