Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Troubling Results -- please ignore them.

A very provocative headline:

Oakland Press: Oakland High Schools: Are they lagging? (12/05/07)

The article begins with:

“Several of Oakland County’s top-achieving high schools got good grades on the state’s report card but failed to achieve the adequate yearly progress required under the No Child Left Behind mandate.

Only 11 of Oakland County’s 28 school districts received an overall adequate yearly progress (AYP) rating for high schools on the state’s report card — the same number as last year. At the building level, 23 county high schools failed to achieve the required AYP and 13 were successful.”

Those are disturbing statistics that deserve attention.

But, just as parents and taxpayers might begin to show a momentary interest in what Michigan school are – and aren’t – doing, we are quickly directed to ignore the results.

“… Ernie Bauer, director of testing and evaluation at the Oakland Intermediate School District, questions the value of using AYP to rank the quality of a high school. “Let’s look at some of the schools that did not make AYP: both high schools in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham and Troy — six of the highest-achieving buildings in the state. It gives you an idea of how much value you should place in the system,” Bauer said.”

You can almost feel the relief in parents. “Phew! I’m not sure what that means, but I’m glad to hear there are no problems with our Michigan schools.”

Of course, the article dutifully misses the really boring details, like the fact that even our best performing schools still have anywhere from 10% - 20% of their high school students who are not proficient in English, Math, or Science.

I don't mean in any way whatsoever to single out any specific districts or schools; those particular schools cited by Dr. Bauer truly are -- relatively speaking -- among the best in the state. The point is that educators are so quick to dismiss anything that paints them in a unfavorable light, and reporters repeat it without hesitation and oftentimes fail miserably when it comes to making any effort to put the "education spin" in perspective. (Here's another example from the Livonia Eccentric, which completely dodges the discussion on the "Grade", and instead zeros in on this "unfair" goal of making sure that all children are tested.)

Those who are interested can read more about the report cards here:

You can begin by reading the 27 page “Guide to Reading School Report Cards”. Or, if you prefer lighter reading, you can read the IRS Tax code.


The Michigan Department of Education also provides handy links on their website so that you can examine your school’s scores. Of course they are semi-secure links, which means someone like me cannot make it easy for people by providing direct links to them. You must instead navigate through the state’s website.

Here is my (sarcasticly) easy navigation guide:

First click on Michigan School Report Cards. Then, on the bottom left, find “Browse School”. Choose the letter of the alphabet, and find your school in the list. Then click on the “View Details” link under the “Status Score 2006-07”. On the next screen, click on the “View Details” link under the “Change Adjustment” heading. This will let you see the proficiency levels.

I am really surprised more people don’t want to learn more about their schools, especially given the easy to access and easy to understand data.


I’ve pasted below the “objective” Oakland Press article below in case the link doesn’t work.


Oakland high schools: Are they lagging?

Several of Oakland County’s top-achieving high schools got good grades on the state’s report card but failed to achieve the adequate yearly progress required under the No Child Left Behind mandate.

Only 11 of Oakland County’s 28 school districts received an overall adequate yearly progress (AYP) rating for high schools on the state’s report card — the same number as last year. At the building level, 23 county high schools failed to achieve the required AYP and 13 were successful. But Ernie Bauer, director of testing and evaluation at the Oakland Intermediate School District, questions the value of using AYP to rank the quality of a high school. “Let’s look at some of the schools that did not make AYP: both high schools in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham and Troy — six of the highest-achieving buildings in the state. It gives you an idea of how much value you should place in the system,” Bauer said.

The federal No Child Left Behind mandates the AYP evaluation, which is based on several criteria, including performance and participation in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, graduation rate for high schools and student attendance for elementary and middle schools.

In addition, Michigan’s Education Yes! program also evaluates schools and gives a letter grade, such as A, B or C, to determine state accreditation. Only one Oakland County high school received an A under the Education Yes! side of the report card — Bloomfield International Academy, which serves several districts.

Both rankings are part of the state Department of Education’s 2006-2007 report card. The majority of the county’s school districts fared better when it came to progress in middle and elementary schools.

All but one Oakland County district, Madison, achieved the overall AYP grade for its elementary schools, and all but two districts, Pontiac and Oak Park, achieved AYP on the middle schools’ column of their report card.

Among those high schools achieving AYP in 2006-07 and receiving a grade of B were Brandon, Clarkston, Clawson, North Farmington, Novi, Rochester Adams and Stoney Creek, Walled Lake Northern and West Bloomfield high schools.

It is possible for a school to receive a high grade under Education Yes! but not make the AYP requirements.

Included among the high schools receiving a grade of B but not achieving AYP were Lake Orion, Troy High and Troy Athens, Rochester, Huron Valley’s Milford and Lakeland, Farmington High and Farmington Harrison, Birmingham Seaholm and Groves, and Bloomfield Hills Andover and Lahser.

Tim McAvoy, spokesman for Troy school district, said it is not students’ performance but requirements to test results for each subgroup of students that keeps some high schools from achieving AYP. Ninety-five percent of the entire student body, as well as 95 percent of students in each subgroup of 30 or more, must take and pass the exam.

“Athens and Troy high schools are among two of best-performing high schools in the nation,” McAvoy said. “At our school, it was not performance, it was the participation rate of subgroups,” he said. The subgroups include the major racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, students that are economically disadvantaged and students limited in English proficiency.

At Athens, for example, one of the subgroups included 32 students with disabilities. But only 28 students completed the testing, thereby not counting toward AYP.

“It is an issue we are going to have to take a look at,” McAvoy said.

West Bloomfield Superintendent Gary Faber said he is pleased the achievement gap between subgroups is closing.

“The efforts we are making throughout the district are paying off,” Faber said.

Each year, the states sets proficiency standards for students to achieve. And each year, the required percentage correct on the exams is moved up, challenging schools to help students reach higher achievement.

For the 2006-2007 school year, on which the report card is based, the state objective was to see 56 percent of elementary students demonstrate proficiency in mathematics and 48 percent in English language arts; 43 percent of middle school students proficient in math and 43 percent in English language arts; and 44 percent of high school students proficient in math and 52 percent in English.

The goal is to reach 100 percent in both math and English at all grade levels by 2013-2014.

The percentage of high schools not making adequate yearly progress this past year increased by more than 9 percent across the state, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

The state reports that for the 2006-07 school year, 489 high schools did not make AYP, which is required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, compared to 399 high schools that did not make AYP the previous year. Of the 489 schools not making AYP last year, 15 have been closed by their local school districts, according to the state Web site.

“This isn’t unexpected,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan. “We changed our high school graduation requirements because we knew we needed higher standards to prepare our kids for the demands of college and the work world. These results just remind us how critical that change was.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that adequate yearly progress be calculated for all elementary, middle and high schools as well as each school district. The school district must attain the target achievement goal in reading and mathematics — or reduce the percentage of students in the non-proficient category.

While Oakland Schools’ Bauer may be a big critic of the process, he also is among those who sees good coming from the intense focus ensuring no child is left behind.

“There are many of us who believe some very good things have happened because of paying attention to every student. The old mentality of scoring and selection doesn’t work. Now you need to look at the unique need of this group and that group.

“We ought to look at the individual kid and where he is now and how he has moved forward,” Bauer said.

“Many schools have responded and have seen the need for better systems for knowing who is learning and who is not. We have ways of making sure those kids that don’t get it the first time, get it.”

Bauer said he and some educators have lobbied for more explanation of the other factors that can keep a school from getting AYP.

“If there are 50 ways to not make it, it would be nice to know why you did not make it,” Bauer said.

Contact staff writer Diana Dillaber Murray at (248) 745-4638 or diana.


Saturday, December 1, 2007

I agree with the MEA

Iris Salters, MEA President, offered this article for her monthly contribution to the Detroit News “Labor Voices” series:

Detroit News: Schools get conned on privatization (11/30/07)

Her article contained a point that I absolutely agree with:

“The duping of school board members around the state is common.”

Let me say that again: I agree with the MEA.

Contractors and consultants dupe school boards. Superintendents and other administrators dupe them. And the union dupes them.

It’s a shame that the public – and the media – doesn’t pay more attention to the absurd practices of school boards.

The balance of her article is a clever mix of unrelated facts designed to spin the issue. It’s interesting to read the MEA’s perspective on Hartland’s decision to outsource, and save nearly $14,000 per custodian.

It’s even more interesting to see the MEA use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain district emails when it suits their purpose, but then file a lawsuit to block a similar FOIA when it might embarrass them. You may recall
a blog entry from May of this year highlighting a FOIA for emails from Chetly Zarko, and the efforts of the MEA to block it.

I thought it might be interesting to look at Ms. Salter’s article point-by-point, so I’ve dissected it below.


Friday, November 30, 2007
Iris Salters: Labor Voices
Schools get conned on privatization
Private firms don't deliver better services than public support employees

The U.S. military outsourced parts of its role in the Iraqi war. Now, Blackwater contractors are under investigation in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

Let’s start by setting the tone with irrelevant references to an unpopular war, and mention an incident associated with an outside contractor. Is this potential problem meant to serve as an indictment of the whole concept of outsourcing? And, didn’t we have similarly unfortunate incidents with a few rogue U.S. soldiers, who are NOT outsourced?

And what does this have to do with outsourced noninstructional services?

Manufacturing jobs were sent to China -- and we've seen millions of toys shipped here recalled because of safety concerns.

You can look here for toy recalls:

Not every recalled toy is from China. And not every toy “outsourced” to China has been recalled.

I’m sure many of the teaching tools used in the classroom today are manufactured in China too, whether it’s supplies, like pens and globes, or high tech gadgets like smart whiteboards. This has been going on for years.

What does this have to do with outsourcing noninstructional services?

As Americans, we should be gravely concerned whenever politicians and corporate chief executives fail to put safety first. We should be especially vigilant about outsourcing of public-sector jobs because taxpayer dollars are at stake -- and so, too, are some of our most vulnerable citizens, our children.

Nothing that anyone can disagree with here.

More and more public schools and other public agencies are hiring private contractors that promise to do the same work for less money. In education, private contractors are allowed to perform noninstructional jobs -- from driving buses to cleaning classrooms to coaching sports. Because they interact with children, we must make sure that those who work in the education setting meet the highest standards.

Again, nothing that anyone can disagree with here.

And yet, outsourcing of public school support personnel is accepted in many districts. Why? Because it may cost less without sacrificing quality -- or so school boards are promised. School boards are conned into believing a private company can provide the same service for a lower price. And school board members, so focused on the bottom line, ignore reasonable concerns about student safety.

Whoa… we just made a huge jump. The article sets the stage by painting the concept of outsourcing as evil and unsafe using unrelated anecdotal examples, and then reaches the conclusion here – or at least implies – that those performing outsourced noninstructional educational services are providing lower quality, and doing so in an unsafe way.

In other words, the article is trying to suggest if China makes unsafe toys, then outsourcing custodial services must be unsafe too. And therefore, any school board that outsources has been “conned”, and is “ignoring reasonable concerns”.

Sadly, some of our most cash-starve schools don't have the financial resources to pay for books, paper, qualified teachers, expert bus drivers and conscientious custodians, so privatizationi can appear to be a good idea.

Yes, union-backed school boards, agreeing to unaffordable labor contracts, have left most schools cash-starved.

The duping of school board members around the state is common. Privatization proponents tell them that private companies must perform well, or the district can fire the company. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, we've seen plenty of situations where privatization hasn't panned out, and school boards refuse to do anything, often because the cost to terminate the contract early is prohibitive.

Yes, it does sound reasonable to fire a company if it’s not doing well, just as it would be reasonable to fire an employee if they are not doing well. But it’s a bit ironic that the MEA would advocate the dismissal of a contractor when they won’t allow any of their members to be dismissed without some big legal battle. Doesn’t the contractor deserve the same chance (or 20) to remedy the problem?

Ms. Salters is probably right that some school boards are dumb enough to sign a contract without some sort of escape clause, or allow themselves to get painted into a corner with no cost-effective way to terminate. But that is a problem with incompetent school boards and their poor negotiating/management skills, and has nothing to do with the concept of outsourcing.

Consider Hartland Consolidated Schools.

The Hartland school board voted in 2006 to lay off the district's custodians and hire a private company to do their work. Despite public claims that the switch has gone well, public records obtained by the Michigan Education Association detail scores of complaints from school employees about the company's poor service.

Costly contracts with companies

The complaints, documented in e-mails requested under the Freedom of Information Act, show a range of concerns. From dirty classrooms and bathrooms to unlocked and unsecured school buildings, the e-mails illustrate the pitfalls of privatization in public education.

I have no clue whether Hartland is effectively managing its contractor.

What I instead thought was interesting was the MEA’s use of the FOIA laws to obtain emails. You may recall that when a private citizen tried to FOIA emails from Howell schools, the MEA sued to block that (I wrote about there here). I cannot imagine anything more hypocritical!

Claims that privatization would save an estimated $500,000 in the first year without sacrificing quality haven't materialized.

Strange how the MEA is patient when it comes to academic achievement, but is not patient when it comes to cleaning toilets. Whenever student achievement drops, such as the scores on the new Michigan Merit Exam (MME), the common line calls for patience, saying, “This is the first year we’ve taken this test. Give us some time.”

It's also worth taking note of employee turnover in Hartland: After the first six months, 15 of the 36 custodians placed by the private company in the district were no longer working there (six additional employees didn't make it past the probationary period).

What were the reasons for the turnover? Many of these privatization transitions include provisions in which existing employees are transferred to the private contractor. Could they have left out of resentment? Could they have been responsible for the poor work outlined a few paragraphs earlier, perhaps sabotaging the transition effort, and been dismissed?

Simply knowing the turnover rate does not provide us with enough information to reasonably reach a conclusion.

Despite these problems, a local newspaper quoted a top district official as saying privatization is working.

School officials are reluctant to admit when privatization doesn't work. Sometimes, it's a pride issue. Or, it may be the penalties built into contracts with privateers. In Hartland, firing the private firm in the first year would have cost $180,000 in addition to the fees for work completed, according to the contract between the district and the company.

Well again, who knows what kind of dopey contract was rubber-stamped by the board. But even ignoring that and just looking at the numbers, it would appear that the district was going to save $500,000 per year, so even paying the $180,000 would leave them substantially ahead.

In our cash-strapped state, districts are doing everything they can to pinch pennies. School employees, too, have accepted lower wages and switched health plans to help districts balance their budgets.

First of all, schools boards may be pinching pennies, but they are stepping over dollars to do so. They ignore opportunities for consolidation, most won't consider privatization, and the cost increases for health benefits continue to rob dollars from the classroom. They award contracts on a no-bid basis, and squander millions each year holding private May elections.

But that aside, consider the numbers presented in the article. The 36 staff custodians were costing the district $500,000 more than the 36 outsourced custodians. That means each custodian employee was costing the district approximately $13,900 more PER YEAR. As high as that number seems, it’s quite realistic when you look at the cost of the union health insurance and retirement benefits.

But opting to hand public money to private companies while firing the dedicated school support personnel who care deeply about students should not be a path districts follow. At the end of the day, these employees are your neighbors -- they support local businesses and pay taxes. They care about the success of their communities' children. No bottom line is worth harming a community that deeply.

Any sort of layoff is tragic. But I’m curious why it’s assumed that the employees working for the contractor are NOT our neighbors, and why we’re lead to believe that they don’t pay taxes or care about children.

We all know the adage that you get what you pay for. Privatization is proof that it's true. When districts try to do things on the cheap, students, taxpayers and the entire community pay.


Friday, November 30, 2007

U.S. News Awards... Not sure what they mean, but it's great to be recognized anyway!

Congrats to Rochester Adams High School!

They were just named one of the 505 best high schools in the country by U.S. News.

U.S. News: America's Best High Schools (11/30/07)

Adams, along with Birmingham’s Seaholm and Groves, were the only three Oakland County schools to earn a “silver medal” from U.S. News. No Michigan school earned a “gold medal.”

It was apparently based on numbers from Standard & Poors. I have pasted below the methodology, although I need a bit more time to try to understand it. I can follow the formula, but it seems a bit suspect given some of the schools that AREN'T on the list.

It seems odd that the International Academy, generally considered one of the best public high schools in the country, was only awarded a “bronze” medal.

How is it possible that Troy High and Andover didn’t make the list? Where is Grosse Pointe South? How about Jenison, Northville, and Black River Public School in Holland? There are a number of measurably strong schools that are noticeably absent from the list.

In the past, U.S. News would rank schools on the Challenge Index using a formula prepared by Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. It was subject to criticism from some who did not agree with the formula. But at least if a school was missing, or did not rank well, one could easily determine why.


Here is the complete listing:

Here are the rankings for Michigan’s Top Schools (There are a number of schools that were awarded "bronze", but I only included the IA because of it's reputation.):

International Academy
Oakland County, Bloomfield Hills, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
2.15Not availableNot applicable6.8%0.2%
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Bronze

East Lansing High School
Ingham County, East Lansing, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Ernest W. Seaholm High School
Oakland County, Birmingham, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
1.17Not available40.83.5%1.2%
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Okemos High School
Ingham County, Okemos, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Wylie E. Groves High School
Oakland County, Beverly Hills, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

East Grand Rapids High School
Kent County, East Grand Rapids, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Forest Hills Central High School
Kent County, Grand Rapids, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
1.11Not available37.73.6%3.7%
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Rochester Adams High School
Oakland County, Rochester Hills, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
1.00Not available36.35.9%1.2%
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Huron High School
Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Renaissance High School
Wayne County, Detroit, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Spring Lake High School
Ottawa County, Spring Lake, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Houghton Central High School
Houghton County, Houghton, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

H.H. Dow High School
Midland County, Midland, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

Pewamo-Westphalia High School
Clinton County, Pewamo, MI
Poverty-Adjusted PerformanceDisadvantaged Student Performance Gap College Readiness Index Minority Enrollment Disadvantaged Student Enrollment
1.21Not available21.81.1%18.4%
U.S. News Medal Ranking: Silver

The Ranking Formula
How we got from 18,790 public schools to the top 100
By Robert Morse
Posted November 29, 2007

The 2008 U.S.News & World Report America's Best High Schools methodology, developed by School Evaluation Services, a K-12 education data research business run by Standard & Poor's, is based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all its students well, not just those who are bound for college, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes that show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

We analyzed 18,790 public high schools in 40 states using data from the 2005-2006 school year. This is the total number of public high schools in each state that had grade 12 enrollment and sufficient data to analyze for the 2005-2006 school year. A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using state proficiency standards as the measuring benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepared students for college-level work.

College readiness. The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in their state. We started by looking at reading and math test results for all students on each state's high school test. We then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school to find which schools were performing better than their statistical expectations.

For those schools that made it past this first step, the second step determined whether the school's least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low-income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state. We compared each school's math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these disadvantaged student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.

Schools that made it through those first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step: college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement data as the benchmark for success. (AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country.) This third step measured which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. This was done by computing a "college readiness index" based on the weighted average of the AP participation rate (the number of 12th-grade students who took at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders) along with how well the students did on those AP tests or quality-adjusted AP participation (the number of 12th-grade students who took and passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher) at least one AP test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders at that school). For the college readiness index, the quality-adjusted AP participation rates were weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and 25 percent of the weight was placed on the simple AP participation rate. Only schools that had values greater than 20 in their college readiness index scored high enough to meet this criterion for gold medal selection. The minimum of 20 was used since it represents what it would take to have a "critical mass" of students gaining access to college-level coursework.

The top 100 high schools nationwide with the highest college readiness index scores were ranked numerically (ties were broken using the average number of AP exams passed per test taker) and awarded gold medals. The next 405 top-performing high schools nationwide based on their college readiness index earned silver medals. An additional 1,086 high schools in 40 states that passed the first two steps were awarded bronze medals.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Trendy Math is building a Weak Foundation for Michigan children; does Singapore Math add up instead?

More Michigan schools continue to adopt "Everyday Math" (also known as "Chicago Math") while other academically serious states are now starting to abandon it.

I've pasted below a scathing email communication from
EdWatch that addresses this growing concern over a weak math curriculum.

"Critics dub fuzzy math an “epidemic.” If so, it’s been festering for at least twenty years. “New math” goes back farther yet, but the so-called “world class” national math standards embedded fuzzy math into the classrooms by nursing it along with generous amounts of our tax dollars beginning in the early 90’s. Now Fuzzy Math is an open, oozing canker. Armies of graduates are unprepared for college math, or for life, for that matter."

Many educators seem to be drawn into trendy "new-math" techniques. But here is a great video entitled
"Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth" that shows the fundimental problems with Everyday Math:

(You'll need to click the PLAY button twice)

Writer Michelle Malkin offers this great piece too, saying:

"Do you know what math curriculum your child is being taught? Are you worried that your third-grader hasn’t learned simple multiplication yet? Have you been befuddled by educational jargon such as “spiraling,” which is used to explain why your kid keeps bringing home the same insipid busywork of cutting, gluing and drawing? And are you alarmed by teachers who emphasize “self-confidence” over proficiency while their students fall further and further behind? Join the club."

This growing drumbeat over Everyday math should be a concern to you, regardless of whether you have children in the public education system or not. This shows how public education is using your tax dollars to prepare our children for this challenging global economy.

I'd like to emphasize that schools should be encouraged to try new things, especially when "standard" techniques are not achieving desired goals. But the mistake they seem to make is that they dive into this trendy stuff and make it a systemwide standard before it is proven.

For example, the so-called "Singapore Math" shows great promise. According to this Hoover Institution article entitled "Miracle Math.", it was piloted in Montgomery County, with largely positive results. I'm not suggesting that every district convert, but given Singapore Math's proven success internationally, and given the obvious weaknesses of Everyday Math, I think more schools should be trying their own pilots.

The Hoover article is a bit "wonkish", and discusses in detail the shortcomings of the pilot process, including poor planning, poor teacher preparation / professional development, and other integration issues. But it's worth noting that

TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) has become a respected standard of international academic achievement. And in three consecutive TIMSS test rounds (in 1995, 1999, and 2003), 4th- and 8th-grade students in the former British trading colony of Singapore beat all contenders, including math powerhouses Japan and Taiwan. United States 8th graders did not even make the top ten in the 2003 round; they ranked 16th. Worse, scores for American students were, as one Department of Education study put it, “among the lowest of all industrialized countries.”

During the Montgomery County pilot, "The Singapore texts and methods were so effective in College Gardens that the scores of students there on the math computation portion of the standardized Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) rose from the 50th and 60th percentiles to the low 90s in the first 4 years they were used."

Unfortunately it seems the pilot was prematurely cancelled despite it's early success. But this math program is continuing to grow, with the lastest boost coming from California, which has stopped allowing tax dollars to be used for Everyday Math, but now allows them to be used for Singapore Math.

The significant point is that there are good, strong alternatives to this "fuzzy math" that unfortunately seems to be gaining popularity in Michigan. (It's used throughout the Rochester elementary schools, to the dismay of some parents -- including me.)

If you are serious about understanding the flaws with Everyday Math, I'd also encourage you to check out Everyday Math thread on the Livonia Neighbors Chat Board. It contains hundreds of entries by intelligent and concerned people who have collected data from a wide variety of credible sources.

My biggest concern about Everyday Math is the negative impact it might have on student achievement during a student's high school years. A strong foundation is essential when they get into advanced math, and much of what's been written on EveryDay Math suggests that the appropriate foundation might not be there when they really need it.


Fuzzy Math Faces Revolt
Integrated Math, Everyday Math

Fuzzy math has run into a bit of a buzz saw recently. When the Texas State Board of Education abandoned it this month, new controversy erupted across America. Texas curriculum sets the framework for the rest of the country.

Fuzzy math’s names are Everyday Math, Connected Math, Integrated Math, Math Expressions, Constructivist Math, NCTM Math, Standards-based Math, Chicago Math, and Investigations, to name a few. Fuzzy math means students won’t master math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Remind me­-why are we sending them to school?

Fuzzy math teaches students to “appreciate” math, but they can’t do it. They are to come up with their own ideas about how to compute, lest they come to think there’s a single most efficient way. Lessons about racism, sexism, global warming and American imperialism are melded ("integrated") into math classes. One program calls itself “radical math” to describe its political math agenda. (See "
If we really hope to improve mathematics education.")

Hear familiar ideas here? What works, what’s true, what is tested isn’t the point in education anymore, whether math, history, or literature. That’s outdated, because it implies objective knowledge larger than ourselves.

Critics dub fuzzy math an “epidemic.” If so, it’s been festering for at least twenty years. “New math” goes back farther yet, but the so-called “world class” national math standards embedded fuzzy math into the classrooms by nursing it along with generous amounts of our tax dollars beginning in the early 90’s. Now
Fuzzy Math is an open, oozing canker. Armies of graduates are unprepared for college math, or for life, for that matter. (See "AN OPEN LETTER TO UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF EDUCATION, RICHARD RILEY")

Something is stinky with education “experts” and in the halls of education colleges. The sooner the public realizes that the “professionals” have bought nutty fantasy-land drivel and are undermining our children with it, the sooner we can rise to the challenge of restoring knowledge to the classroom.

Hurray for the Texas Board of Education. Send them a thank-you.

Julie Quist
The New York Sun
Texas Challenges City on Math
State Abandons the Fuzzy Curriculum
By Elizabeth Green
November 20, 2007

The state of Texas has dropped a math curriculum that is mandated for use in New York City schools, saying it was leaving public school graduates unprepared for college. The curriculum, called Everyday Mathematics, became the standard for elementary students in New York City when Mayor Bloomberg took control of the public schools in 2003.

About three million students across the country now use the program, including students in 28 Texas school districts, and industry estimates show it holds the greatest market share of any lower-grade math textbook, nearly 20%. But Texas officials said districts from Dallas to El Paso will likely be forced to drop it altogether after the Lone Star State's Board of Education voted to stop financing the third-grade textbook, which failed to teach students even basic multiplication tables, a majority of members charged. One board member, Terri Leo, who is also a Texas public school teacher, called the textbook "the very worst book that we had submitted." This year, the board of education received 163 textbooks for consideration.
Read rest of the article here...
National Review Online, 11.28.07
Superbug in the Classroom
A mathematical epidemic.
By Michelle Malkin

Do you know what math curriculum your child is being taught? Are you worried that your third-grader hasn’t learned simple multiplication yet? Have you been befuddled by educational jargon such as “spiraling,” which is used to explain why your kid keeps bringing home the same insipid busywork of cutting, gluing and drawing? And are you alarmed by teachers who emphasize “self-confidence” over proficiency while their students fall further and further behind? Join the club.
Read rest of article here...
Letter to New York Sun
"Kudos for covering the important story of the Texas Board of Education rejecting Everyday Math, Grade 3 for its schools [Front Page, "Texas Challenges City on Math," November 20, 2007]. I have lived through Everyday Math with three children who are now in high school and beyond. In my community, students flock in huge numbers to Kumon Math or other tutoring services because of the deficiencies in Everyday Math. Everyday Math and other Reform Math or Standards Based Math curricula have done a woeful job of preparing students with a sound math education. Students who are taught by these curricula are typically calculator-dependent, and unable to perform basic math functions because they are de-emphasized. Instead greater emphasis is placed on making math fun and expecting the students to discover how to solve math problems on their own. This topic needs more exposure across the country if we are to produce well-educated students capable of competing in our global world. Thanks for drawing attention to it. MARGUERITE BLISS, St. Louis, Mo."
Hoover Institute
"The difference between the widely used math books and Singapore Math illustrates the problem. Look at the difference in the amount of material in the two. Singapore is step-by-step and to the point."

Dr. J. E. Stone, educational psychologist, professor in the College of Education at East Tennessee State University, and head of the
Education Consumers Clearing House.
"For years educational experts have held that the only good way to engage students in schoolwork is by making it exciting, engaging, and fun. Students have been expected to study and learn but only if the subject wasn't boring. The public has been told that school facilities must be attractive, books colorful, and, above all, studies must be "intrinsically" interesting. Teachers have been expected to be stimulating but not obtrusive, challenging but not demanding of overexertion. They have been told that if their teaching is truly enthusiastic, innovative, and creative, students will learn spontaneously, if not effortlessly.

"Laurence Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom, Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do (Simon & Schuster, 1996) takes a decidedly different view of why successful students pay attention, complete their assignments, and succeed. Distilling the results of studies carried out over ten years, Steinberg concludes that high-achieving students treat their studies as work, not fun and games. Although the central point of Steinberg's research pertains to parent and peer influences, his broader message is that successful students approach school as an important opportunity and they work hard to make the most of it. A growing number of experts agree with his observation."
Read rest of the article here...
From our mailbox:
"Everyday Math was used in the our school district. My son brought home a multiplication worksheet on estimating. He had "estimated" that 9 x 9 = 81, and the teacher marked it wrong. I met with her to defend my child's answer. The teacher opened her book and read to me that the purpose of the exercise was not to get the right answer, but was to teach the kids to estimate. The correct answer was 100: kids were to round each 9 up to a 10. (The teacher did not seem to know that 81 was the product, as her answer book did not state the same.) Not long ago, a clerk at Target, a produce of this school district, and likely a "beneficiary" of years of Everyday Math, could not figure out change for $17.23, when I gave her a $20 bill, and then pulled a quarter out of my pocket after she had pressed the "amount tendered button." Even scarier, she called the manager, who could not calculate it in his head, got out a calculator, and still got it wrong the first time. I home school now."
For more detailed information about integrated math and why it is being implemented, see the book AMERICA 'S SCHOOLS: The Battleground for Freedom.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- / 105 Peavey Rd, Suite 116 / Chaska, MN 55318 / 952-361-4931


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Special Needs: Mainstream or Specialized: Why must we choose?

This is likely to be a provocative piece:

Wall Street Journal: Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes (11/27/07)

I'm not qualified to debate the merits or flaws of "mainstreaming" special needs students. In fact, it's significant that parents of special needs children don't agree on whether it is better to have specialized schools, or to instead mainstream.

In fact, here's an example that shows the benefit of yet a third option:

Michigan Education Report: School in Focus: Learning Circle Academy (11/14/07)

In it, one of the founders explains, "Our students fall in the middle. They need academic programming that falls between regular education and special education," said Bonnie McDonald, who, along with Carolyn Morris, founded the school. "In a special education classroom, these kids would not be adequately challenged. On the other hand, in a regular education classroom, the information just gets too complex."

What's most disturbing here is that somehow schools feel the need to determine some single approach.

Schools can't be all things to all people, but to some degree schools need to defer to the judgement of parents and offer options. And, they've got to get out of this divisive "one-size-fits-all" mindset (for general education as well as special education).

I've pasted below the entire WSJ article in case the link doesn't work.

Parents of Disabled Students
Push for Separate Classes
November 27, 2007; Page A1

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.

Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others -- at one point giving a teacher a black eye.

"She did not learn anything that year," Ms. Travis recalls. "She regressed."

As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.

Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments -- including separate schools.

'Fully Included'

In 2005, more than half of all special-education students were considered mainstreamed, or "fully included," nationally. These students spent 80% or more of the school day in regular classrooms, up from about a third in 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

"The burden is on school districts and states to give strong justification for why a child or group of children cannot be integrated," says Thomas Hehir, an education professor at Harvard and former director of special education at the U.S. Department of Education.

That point of view frustrates many parents. Some have struggled to get services from their local school districts; others have seen their disabled children falter in integrated settings.

Mary Kaplowitz, a special-education teacher in Kingston, Pa., was a bigger supporter of mainstreaming before she had her son, Zachary, who has autism and is mildly retarded. She says his preschool classmates rarely played with him and he came home from summer camp asking why the nondisabled children laughed at him. On a visit, she saw them drawing away from her son.

"They shunned him and it broke my heart," says Ms. Kaplowitz. Earlier this year, she and other parents fought successfully to preserve separate special-education classes in Kingston like the one Zachary, now 9 years old, attends at a local elementary school.

Such parental pushback has prompted local school districts across the country to delay or downsize mainstreaming initiatives.

Last year, parents of disabled kids in Walworth County, Wis., clashed with an advocacy group over the creation of a new special-education school. As part of the battle, Disability Rights Wisconsin sued the county in Milwaukee federal court to try to block the school. The new school is currently under construction and the lawsuit is under appeal.

And earlier this year, parents in Maryland's Montgomery County asked the state to continue a special-education program their school district was scheduled to discontinue. After initial protests, the district agreed to phase out the program -- letting enrolled kids continue -- rather than close it outright.

The debate has grown contentious in New Jersey, a state with a strong tradition of separate education for the disabled. Only about 41% of the state's 230,000 special-education students are deemed fully included, compared with 54% nationwide. About 9% of the state's disabled students -- triple the national average -- attend separate schools.

New Jersey passed some of the nation's first special-education laws. In the 1950s, it began requiring public schools to pay for special-ed services that they didn't offer. State law also gave counties and groups of school districts broad powers to build stand-alone schools for the disabled. Today, there are 80 publicly funded separate schools for the disabled in New Jersey and about 175 private ones. They receive tuition from public districts for handling special-ed students.

But in 2004, the state, which had faced federal pressure to mainstream, placed a year-long moratorium on the opening of new special-education schools. Since then, it has stiffened the approval process for private facilities and bolstered funding for local districts to broaden in-house programs.

In a budget-strapped state where voters have been demanding tax relief, cost has been a factor. On average, New Jersey spends about $16,100 a year on each special-education student, including those who are mainstreamed. The average annual tuition at the various, separate public schools for the disabled range from $28,500 to $42,000; at private schools, it's $44,000.

Overall, tuition and transportation costs for out-of-district placements accounted for 39% of the $3.3 billion a year that the state spends on special education. "That's a huge cost driver for our education budget," says state Sen. John Adler, who last year co-chaired hearings on school funding reform.

Many parents, including state Sen. Stephen Sweeney, bristle at moves that could foreclose their options. His daughter, Lauren, who has Down syndrome, attends a regular middle school. But Mr. Sweeney says her nondisabled classmates never visit or ask her to hang out. Next year, he's moving Lauren to a separate high school operated by the publicly funded Gloucester County Special Services School District. The system's special-education facilities also include a new $14 million school for children with autism and multiple disabilities.

'The Choice of Parents'

"Just to put my child in a building to make people feel better because it's inclusion is outrageous," says Mr. Sweeney. "As long as I am in the legislature, they are not going to take away the choice of parents with children with disabilities."

The school funding hearings, held in various towns and cities last fall, were emotional. Ruth Lowenkron, a special-education attorney, testified that beyond being the right thing to do, mainstreaming would save money. "Repeat after me," she told the legislators, "inclusion is cheaper than segregation."

But the panel also heard often from parents who argued for continued access to separate schools.

They included Adela Maria Bolet, of Teaneck, N.J., whose suit-clad son, Michael, sat beside his mother while she testified. The 17-year-old, who has Down syndrome, now attends a private high school on the state's tab. In earlier years, Ms. Bolet fought to get Michael into regular public schools only to find that he sometimes became depressed and had little positive interaction with nondisabled peers.

Until high school, he had few friends, says Ms. Bolet. Her voice still quivers when she talks about what happened when the family rented a pool in town and invited classmates from Michael's neighborhood elementary school to a swimming party for his 13th birthday. "Nobody came," she says.

Concurrent with the funding hearings, another debate was boiling at New Jersey's publicly funded Middlesex Regional Education Services Commission. It had already supported and built a network of six special-education schools, and planned to open two more, including a 24-classroom facility. The commission, controlled by a consortium of school districts, had built its other schools using bonds guaranteed by Middlesex County's governing board. Its school projects had never faced significant opposition.

This time was different, as the proposed schools became a target for mainstreaming advocates. Critics like William England, a school board member in South River, N.J., wrote to local papers. To endorse the sort of segregated special-education schools that most of the country is busy abandoning would be "a waste of county resources," he said in a letter to the Home News Tribune, East Brunswick, N.J.

Mark Finkelstein, the Middlesex commission's superintendent, scoffs at such criticism. He estimates his schools save local districts $10 million a year over the cost of placement in privately owned facilities. "It's easy to say that all kids should be in mainstream schools but let's talk reality," he says.

On a recent morning at the Bright Beginnings Learning Center -- one of the Middlesex schools -- a hallway painted mint-green was lined with children's wheelchairs and walkers. In one classroom, a teacher and four aides were working with seven disabled students, most strapped into devices designed to help them stand or sit.

Mary Lou Walker, an aide, crouched beside the desk of Teresa Condora, a petite 7-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy and is largely nonverbal. "All right T, come on," Ms. Walker said, gently urging the girl to press a big red plastic button attached to a buzzer. Responding with a soft moan, Teresa pushed against the button as though it were impossibly heavy.

Factions Face Off

Last September, pro- and anti-mainstreaming factions faced off at a meeting where the fate of the proposed new Middlesex schools was to be decided.

At the microphone that evening, Paula Lieb, president of the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education, cited multiple examples of severely disabled children who had been successfully mainstreamed. She said that "the vast majority of children can be included in the public schools."

But the parents of children already attending the commission's schools had also been organizing, urging each other to come to the hearing and bring their disabled children.

Sandy Epstein's family had moved to New Jersey from Oregon a decade earlier to take advantage of specialized schools for students like her son, Brandon, who has autism. For the hearing, the 48-year-old homemaker dressed her teenager in a bright red polo shirt and sat near the front. "I wanted him to stand out," she says. "I wanted these politicians to see what we are talking about."

Ms. Travis, a 41-year-old bookkeeper from Milltown, N.J., says that while waiting to speak that night, she grew angry with the criticisms of the inclusion advocates. She thought they had no idea what her daughter Valerie, now 11, needed.

The Travises had spent eight months on a waiting list to get Valerie into the Academy Learning Center, one of the Middlesex schools located in Monroe Township, N.J.

During that time, she says, the progress Valerie had made learning to speak all but disappeared. Along with reports of her outbursts at school, Ms. Travis says the family had to cope with frequent meltdowns at home. Valerie slept fitfully, ripped up her homework and beat up her little brother to the point that he once needed stitches.

"It was the worst eight months of our lives," Ms. Travis told the county officials, adding that families like hers needed schools like the Academy, where Valerie is now learning geography and double-digit subtraction.

Mr. Finkelstein believes parents' testimony helped convince county officials to unanimously back the bonds needed for the new construction, which is under way.

"If inclusion worked for all of our residents," the superintendent says, "they wouldn't be fighting so hard for these new schools."

Their efforts are far from over. In June, a coalition of disability-rights groups sued the New Jersey education department in U.S. District Court in Newark. Taking a page from the racial desegregation battles of the 1960s, it alleges the department isn't moving fast enough to integrate disabled students and asks the federal court to take over the process.

Write to Robert Tomsho at


Monday, November 26, 2007

Another Technology Black-eye

Another article today makes me feel like I'm a broken record:

Detroit Free Press: TECHNOLOGY CLICKS WITH KIDS (11/26/07)

It highlights innovative technology usage at a few area schools. Rochester is noticably absent.

One of the first pieces of board business I witnessed after being elected in 2004 was the sale of nearly $65 million in bonds. The community had generously approved the bond issue, which included $6 - $8 million for technology. Sadly, three years later, much of that technology money continues to languish in a bank account somewhere -- unused -- while other schools investigate, experiment, and implement.

Rochester does have smartboards -- like those being installed in Bloomfield. But instead of having one in every classroom, Rochester is limited to one or two in each building. And that is only because the Rochester Foundation raised money through it's annual golf outing and bought one for each building.

Some will argue there is a good reason for being a laggard; it allows others to go through the pain associated with being first to try something. And perhaps the equipment costs will be lower when Rochester finally decides to play copycat / catchup. But keep in mind there is no free (or reduced) lunch here; students are losing opportunity RIGHT NOW because of a lack of technology leadership.

Consider how Rochester had an idea to look at video-distance learning -- essentially linking classrooms using video-conferencing technology. Great idea... that took something like 6 years to implement.

Media center specialists and teachers around the district have done some great things with technology, but there is no organized method for allowing them to share ideas. Even the smartboards -- as innovative as they are -- require teachers to invest of time upfront to plan lessons. Rochester has no formal method that I've seen for teachers to share these lesson plans, so they all basically reinvent things. It seems teachers must rely entirely on social structures, such as a teacher in Building A knowing a teacher in Building B. Wouldn't a little help here be appropriate?

And smartboards might not even be the best idea. Shouldn't teacher input be solicited to identify promising technology? I'm sure they have some great ideas. How about clipping technology ideas and sharing them in a newsletter with teachers, asking if anything catches their eye? Perhaps try smartboards at a few buildings, and something else at a few others. Measure the results and solicit feedback from the teachers.

This lack of technology vision is not only shortchanging students, but it's also unfair to teachers. The tools described in the Free Press article clearly help teachers by making them more productive, potentially easing their workload, and by making their jobs more rewarding, interesting, and fun. In some cases, as described in the article, it helps them to build a stronger bond with the students, and helps to engage children who are otherwise distant.

Given the importance of technology, and the lack of progress, perhaps Rochester should delegate new technology investigation and implementation responsibility to the media center specialists in each building. The projects described below, such as classroom blogs, podcasts, games-based learning, and computer-to-computer video conferencing, are all things that could be conceived and implemented at the building level. They've already done some pretty cool things all around the district. If you cannot lead, then get out of the way so others can!

Finally, as an aside, notice the examples below that are being used to showcase the technology: Spanish and Chinese language instruction in elementary. Rochester has no world language instruction at the elementary level. Certainly a worthwhile topic for another day!

P.S. Here is an interesting look at technology used in Birmingham, put together by Rob Lawrence.

I've posted the entire Free Press article below in case the link doesn't work.



Computers transform classrooms
Gadgets get students excited to learn
November 26, 2007


The kids grab small voting devices on their desks, then punch in their answer to a question posed on the screen above them: "¿Cual es verde? "

In an instant, teacher Nancy Conn pushes a button and up pops a chart showing the correct answer -- the green square -- among six squares of varying colors.

All of this is happening on a large interactive white board -- a cross between a blackboard, computer screen and projector -- that Conn uses in her Spanish classroom at Hickory Grove Elementary School in Bloomfield Township.
The boards -- which will be in every classroom in the Bloomfield Hills Schools district by the beginning of next year -- are among the ways schools in metro Detroit are using technology to teach and capture the minds of a generation growing up in a digital age.

At Lottie Schmidt Elementary School in New Baltimore, students in Jim Alvaro's fifth-grade class create podcasts of their lessons, broadcast for anyone on the Web to hear. Rob McClelland, a teacher at the Oakland Technical Center campus in Wixom, has created computer games that help solidify students' understanding of key lessons.

And at Fisher Elementary School in the South Redford School District, students are learning Chinese and interacting with pen pals in China via a webcam, computer, projector and software.

"You always learn something new by using technology," said Natalie Joniec, 10, a Fisher fifth-grader.

Technology boosts performance

While some schools are pushing forward with plans to fully integrate technology, others struggle to do so in ways that engage kids and help them learn, said Ledong Li, an assistant professor of education at Oakland University.

And that's a problem, he said.

"If we deliver information like we used to do in the traditional way, kids are bored in the classroom," said Li, who organized a workshop in June on using video games in the classroom. "They don't feel they are engaged."

Li said technology can be intimidating to teachers who aren't familiar with how to use it, or how it can benefit their lessons. And so much is focused today on improving test scores that it's easy to see technology as an extra. Yet, Li said research shows technology can improve student performance.

Still, some teachers "look at the requirements for raising test scores as the kind of signal that they have to do things in a traditional way," Li said.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has announced proposed changes to teacher preparation programs, and he's making the integration of technology into teaching practices a priority. Last year, Michigan became the first, and still the only, state in the nation that will require students to take an online class or have online experience to graduate high school.

Ric Wiltse, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning, said budget crunches have impacted how schools integrate technology.

But, Wiltse said, "teachers are getting more and more creative about how they use the technology tools students have these days."

That includes Alvaro, whose classroom has a blog called the Skinny as well as the podcasts. The students worked on a project that had them research and write about when their ancestors arrived in the United States.

Games that teach

Today's kids are steps ahead of their teachers, in many cases. They instant message, text message, play video games, blog and use social Web sites like MySpace and YouTube.

"Everything we do is about technology," said Kala Kottman of Commerce Township, a senior at Walled Lake Western High School and the Oakland Technical Center campus in Wixom. "It's a big deal."

Kala, 17, is enrolled in the culinary arts program at the technical center. She was among a group of students in a computer lab playing a game created by McClelland, who provides support to fellow teachers.

There are about 100 culinary tools students must memorize, and while they still use rote memorization tricks, McClelland's game gives them a fun way to test their knowledge. McClelland has produced a similar game for two other technical center programs.

In the game, which is timed, students must quickly match a picture of a tool with its correct name.

McClelland programmed the game using popular phrases familiar to kids. For instance, if they click on the wrong answer, they're likely to hear the "D'oh!" popularized by Homer Simpson. If they get it right, they might hear a "Woo hoo."

Instant feedback

The Bloomfield Hills district is making a significant investment in the Promethean white boards. About $2.1 million has been committed to put them in all of its classrooms.

Conn was among the first to try them, and she said they make a difference in the classroom. The screen is connected to a computer, and it takes just a few clicks for her to call up lessons. The board also is interactive, allowing students to manipulate it.

The voting system allows Conn to constantly assess students, asking them to record correct answers on the hand-held device.

The instantaneous feedback means that instead of waiting until she grades a quiz to see who is struggling and which concepts students aren't getting, Conn finds out "just like that," she said with a sharp snap of her fingers.

It also means she can do some re-teaching on the fly if she sees many students answering a question wrong.

Mitchell Shults and Destiny Lynch, both 8-year-old third-graders, said the boards make classes more fun.

"You can play games on it and learn a lot of stuff," Mitchell said.

The voting, Destiny said, gets kids excited, especially when the whole class records the correct answer.

Technology makes it possible

At 7:45 on a Tuesday morning at Fisher Elementary, Deborah Reichman and her students were sitting around a table in a small conference room learning to speak the Chinese language. Reichman, the school's intervention specialist, doesn't know how -- she's learning with her students.

They go over a worksheet, practicing saying words and numbers in Chinese. When they get to a word they're unfamiliar with, Reichman has a plan.

"We may have to change or alter how we pronounce it when Mr. Nemo gets online," she said.

Nemo Ma is a teacher at the Nanao School in Guangzhou, China, and he is usually online when the kids meet to provide assistance and give them a chance to interact with a native Chinese speaker. Often, he places his mouth close to the lens of his camera and slowly enunciates the words so the students in Redford Township can see how his mouth moves. His image is projected on a large screen in the conference room.

The two schools are partnered through a program they call A Classroom Without Walls. The idea here isn't to create fluent Chinese speakers, Fisher Principal Brian Galdes said.

"Our goal is for the students ... to be global citizens, to interact with students from another culture one-on-one," Galdes said.

About 30 kids are involved in the program, in which they also use an online program to learn the language. And they have pen pals at the school in China. They chat with their e-pals, exchanging stories about their lives. But they also work on projects together.

Without technology, "we wouldn't be able to communicate," said Bradford Thomas, 10, a fifth-grader. "We'd have to write letters. And it'd probably take too long for them to reply."

Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Valuable Opportunity for Elementary Parents

I received this email earlier this week and wanted to share it with every elementary school parent I can find!

The MATS test -- the Midwest Academic Talent Search -- is an outstanding opportunity for you to allow your child to participate in an "above grade-level" test.

Per the website, MATS is, "a program that offers above-grade-level testing to bright students. MATS provides students and parents with assessment and counseling tools that enable them to make wiser academic decisions about courses to take and paths to choose."

It is essentially the ACT Explore test, which is normally administered to 8th graders. But they will allow children as early as 3rd grade to take it.

Obviously there is much on the test that a third grader will not know, but this is one of the benefits because it really allows how much they know and understand, rather than trying to determine their skill level based on acing test after test in school.

Here are a few of the FAQ's from the website:

What is the EXPLORE test?
The EXPLORE is a paper-and-pencil test. It is a multiple-choice format that was developed for 8th graders to measure educational achievement in English, mathematics, reading, and science. It is an appropriate test for talented 3rd to 6th graders. The English test measures understanding of standard written English and rhetorical skills. The mathematics test measures mathematical reasoning. The reading test measures reading comprehension, and the science test measures developed scientific reasoning skills.

Why should I take the EXPLORE test?
Not every student should take the EXPLORE test. MATS uses this challenging test because it is more appropriate for academically talented students in grades 3 to 6 than standardized tests designed for their age group. Qualified students who take the EXPLORE test will get a more detailed picture of their true abilities. In addition, taking the EXPLORE test allows students a “practice run” to become familiar with the test format which many high schools are using as entrance exams.

The test results have help us to monitor our daughter's development in an objective and independent manner. We have found this particularly valuable given that the school really doesn't provide any objective data, and the MEAP is largely irrelevant.

Plus, she now has experience in taking a long assessment, and has no apprehension about sitting down for a 3-hour test.

Some districts encourage this test by notifying parents. In Troy, for example, the Assessment department reviews MEAP scores as well as scores from other standardized tests they administer in elementary, such as the IOWA, to identify students that might benefit from taking the test. They then notify parents of this opportunity.

Sadly, Rochester does not do this.

==> Mike.


Dear MATS participant and family,

Test again through MATS and reap two benefits: increase your test-taking confidence and better track and understand how much you have grown academically since the last time you took the test.

Registration is easy. Go to http://www.ctd.northwestern.eduand click the link on the top right hand side, Register now for the 2008 MATS….

Testing dates are as follows:
EXPLORE (grades 3 to 6), January 26 or February 23, 2008
ACT (grades 6 to 9), February 9, 2008
SAT (grades 6 to 8), January 26, 2008

Give yourself a chance to do even better in school by signing up today to take a MATS-sponsored test again. Register TODAY to increase the possibility of testing at your first-or second-choice test center. Test centers do fill up!

If you have already registered for this year's MATS, please forward this reminder to a friend.