Monday, June 25, 2007

My interview on The Frank Beckmann Show

School boards are an aberration of government.

No other form of government is so devoid of discussion or debate. And no other government body gets such a free ride from the media.

This is especially puzzling given that there are so many issues that should be tackled, or at least discussed.

Sadly, many in the public pay little attention to school matters. For example, most school board elections attract less than 10% of the registered voters.

This is likely caused by the fact most media outlets pay little attention to school matters, and school politics. They repeat what they hear from schools, and never bother to check the facts, or consider the story from other angles. For example, a story on teacher layoffs typically includes a superintendent quote calling on Lansing for more funding. What the story doesn’t point out is that salaries and benefits are driving 6.5% increases, and the district would need nearly $400 per pupil in increases to avoid layoffs.

Anyway, there are exceptions to this rather negligent media approach. The first is
The Detroit News (, whose editorial staff in particular truly understands the problems caused by school boards. The other exception is Frank Beckmann, whose daily talk radio program airs on WJR 760 in Detroit ( Frank also writes a column for The Detroit News.

In the interest of full disclosure, The Detroit News has published articles written by me, and I was recently a guest on The Frank Beckmann show
(the interview can be heard by clicking here). But my contributions to the debates have been small when viewed in the entirety of what they both provide on a regular basis. The point is that The Detroit News and Frank Beckmann follow these issues, and dedicate a lot of ink and airtime.

the Beckmann interview, we cover many topics, including benefit costs, MESSA and the MEA, district mergers & consolidation, and union influence over elections.


Anonymous said...

I listened to the Beckmann interview and agree with some of your comments and concerns.
One that troubled me was the suggestion made by one viewer that if you have a degree you can teach. I was amazed that you didn't grab that comment and explain why that would not work. My research reveals the hundreds of hours potential teachers spend learning their craft that far exceeds just getting a degree.
At that point I started to believe that you truly want education to be a business much like the automotive industry. I'm not sure children can be bent like metal and infused with computer chips.

As a trustee I admire your efforts to stay out of the red, but often wonder if you see the big picture.
Is there anything you can go public with that is positive about Rochester Schools? You certainly don't make it a place to want to be.

Mike Reno said...

OK, you’ve asked some short questions that need long answers!

First of all, I too was disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to comment on the question about certification. Teaching is unique job, and a degree alone doesn’t qualify someone to be a teacher. In fact, I believe there are people that have gone and earned their certificate that are shouldn’t be teachers. It takes a unique combination of skills to be a good teacher. I did not agree with the caller.

As far as running a school like a business, well, it is a business. It may not be like a manufacturing business, and schools certainly don’t “stamp out widgets”. But, the behind-the-scenes operations, such as payroll, purchasing, maintenance, and custodial is absolutely no different than comparable a private-sector positions. And I also recognize that teaching is an art, but there are other businesses that are comparable, such as advertising. They’re certainly “artsy”, but they’re a business too.

As much as teaching is an art, it’s also a science. We know the curriculum that needs to be delivered. Professional Learning Communities help teachers to collaborate and share effective ways to deliver the curriculum. We have assessment professionals that can help to monitor results, and target areas of curriculum that need improvement.

There are many measurable things, and none of that substantially distracts from “the art” of teaching.

Beyond that, I think I do see the big picture. The particular interview you heard with Frank Beckmann was intentionally focused on financial questions raised by the host. That does not mean I’m not concerned about other areas.

If you look at my work in Advanced Placement, I’m sure you’ll conclude I’ve spent far more time researching and studying that issue than I have any other. I’ve collected the data for this year and will be releasing the updated version as soon as the ACT/MME results are released.

I’ve advocated for all-day kindergarten, world language in elementary, and IB programs. I’ve supported the Career-Technical Education (CTE) goals.

At the end of the day, my objective is to help improve the learning opportunities for all of our kids, and do so in a measurable way. My focus on the financial issues is largely because the poor choices of school boards either eliminates existing learning opportunities, or instead prevents the investment in new learning opportunities.

And finally, Rochester is a fine district. Relatively speaking, it is among the best in the state in many measures.

* I have publicly discussed the achievements of our German AP program, which is undoubtedly the best in the state.

* I’ve said before that Rochester might have one of the best infrastructures I’ve seen: nearly all of our buildings are new, or have been remodeled within the past 10 years or so, and we’ve been able to do that while keeping our bond millage rate low relatively to other Oakland County Districts. Our facilities manager just won an award for an innovative “in-sourcing” program, and he does a spectacular job of maintaining the substantial investment our taxpayers have made in this district.

* I did an extensive study of countywide MEAP scores in order to see how Rochester stacked-up to others in Oakland County in certain demographic groups, and found that Rochester was clearly the best in the county, and probably in the state.

There are plenty of positive things that can be discussed.

I suspect your concern is with the fact that I point out areas where the district can improve. And unfortunately, there’s a stubborn refusal by the board, and many within in the administration, to acknowledge there’s any room for improvement. This tends to escalate the discussion.

I raise a suggestion. Board members pounce with rebuttals that attempt to paint my suggestion in a negative light. I try to reverse the spin. You can see how it then spirals downward.

Believe me, I’d much rather see compromise, and eliminate the need to pursue my suggestions in such a public way! But, that’s not up to me.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your answers, and through past readings know you have played a part in programs other then budget. Glad to hear there are some good things about Rochester, and if the funding was there it does appear they're earning their pay.