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.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Public Education: Divisive and Political? You bet.

This essay by Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute is over 2300 words, but well worth the read.

Oakland Press: Clashes over the Classroom (11/18/07)
(be sure to note the CONTINUATION link at the top of the article!)

It's incredibly thought-provoking, and really helps to spotlight a fundamental challenge in public education:

“Although schools and districts may confront their own, specific issues, the conflicts those issues produce are driven by the same dynamic: All taxpayers must support the public schools, but only those able to summon sufficient political power can determine what the schools will teach and how they will be run. Because of that, political fighting is inherent to the system.”

Politics should not automatically equate to "fighting." It really depends on who has the political power. Are they respecting the opposing point of view, and attempting to compromise? Or are they instead unilaterally deciding things, ramming through their own agenda, and fueling the divisions?

Another interesting thought that emerged came from these two passages. They are from different parts of the essay, but I believe conceptually they support each other, and help to summarize much of what drives the debate and polarization in school politics:

"All public school conflicts have the potential to inflict social pain, but the most wrenching are those that pit people’s fundamental values — values that cannot be proved right or wrong, and that deserve equal respect by government — against each other."


The basic problem is this: Government has the right neither to censor speech nor to compel people to support the speech of others, yet public schooling does both.

The only thing missing was a mention of the fiscal aspect. It follows the same polarizing pattern, pitting teacher unions against taxpayers. Those who are not willing to write a blank check for education are considered to be anti-education, anti-teacher, and against children. And those who want to increase the investment in education are labeled as fiscally irresponsible.

Sadly, there is no solution to this as long as public education remains in it's current form, with it's current control structure and current funding mechanisms.

Perhaps things would improve if school boards were more reflective of the communities they serve.

Right now there is an overwhelming absence of balance in the composition of school boards. There are too many like-minded people that serve together, and that's not healthy, regardless of whether you prefer conservative or liberal approaches to education. It discourages compromise, and encourages "group think", which leads to these divisive political battles.

But, that thought is a discussion best left for another day!

The full article from the Cato Institute can be found here.

The excerpt printed in the Oakland Press is pasted below in case the article link doesn’t work.


Clashes over the Classroom

Public schools more divisive than a force for unity
By NEAL MCCLUSKEY Of The Cato Institute

Public schooling, we are told, is the linchpin of American unity and democracy.

If common schools go, then we are no longer America,” writes Paul D. Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “The original critical mission of the common schools was ... to be places where the ideals of civic virtue were passed down to the next generation. They were to prepare citizens for our democracy. They were to be places where the children of our democracy would learn to live together.”

In a similar vein, Benjamin R. Barber, author of the best-selling Jihad vs. McWorld, asserts that public schools are “the very foundation of our democratic civic culture ... institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity. They are the forges of our citizenship and the bedrock of our democracy.”

These are very powerful images, and their widespread acceptance long has undergirded Americans’ assumption that government-run schools always have been, and always will be, essential to the nation’s unity. But “powerful” and “accurate” are far from synonymous.

Consider: In the 1840s, disputes over the Bible’s place in Philadelphia’s public schools sparked rioting that inflicted millions of dollars in damage and killed or injured hundreds of people.

In 1925, the Scopes “monkey trial” captured the nation’s attention as the legality of teaching evolution in public schools was fought first in a Tennessee courtroom and, then, to accommodate the thousands of people who showed up for the spectacle, on the lawn outside the courthouse.

In the mid 1970s, court-ordered busing of children in Boston precipitated constant brawling in the schools and unrest in the streets.

Finally, tensions were so high in Miami last year over the removal of books from school libraries that one school board member reported that his colleagues feared that they “might find a bomb under their automobiles.”

These and other incidents reveal deep cracks in the “unity and democracy” argument for public schooling. Moreover, history points to other American institutions as being much more important to the nation’s harmony, freedom and prosperity than government-run schooling.

Overall, it has been the nation’s commitment to limited government and individual liberty — not public schools’ ability to indoctrinate children into some civic religion or to mold them into “proper” Americans — that has been the key to U.S. success.

Decisions debated literally every day in public schools thrust Americans into political conflict, whether over district budgets, dress codes, the amount of time children spend in art classes or countless other matters.

Although schools and districts may confront their own, specific issues, the conflicts those issues produce are driven by the same dynamic: All taxpayers must support the public schools, but only those able to summon sufficient political power can determine what the schools will teach and how they will be run. Because of that, political fighting is inherent to the system.

All public school conflicts have the potential to inflict social pain, but the most wrenching are those that pit people’s fundamental values — values that cannot be proved right or wrong, and that deserve equal respect by government — against each other. Whereas most conflicts have unique immediate causes, there are several common refrains that arise time and again.

Below are the general categories of these recent school battles. None, clearly, garnered more national attention than the wrestling matches over intelligent design, with 18 states reporting some debate over it and conflicts in Kansas and Pennsylvania grabbing headlines across the country.

Other controversies were almost as widespread, including clashes over students’ right to protest government policies without facing punishment from governmental entities (i.e., public schools) and tussles over “abstinence only” sex education. Simply put, forcing diverse people to support monolithic government school systems inevitably causes political and social conflict.

What follows are some of the major national flash points:

Conflicts over the inclusion of intelligent design theory in science classes actually were just the most recent skirmishes in the seemingly endless evolution-creationism struggle, a battle that pits people who want only evolution taught in biology classes against those who want children to learn about perceived flaws in Darwin’s theory of evolution or alternative explanations — often religious — for the origins of life.

There were two major intelligent design battlegrounds: Dover, Pa., and the entire state of Kansas. In Dover, a school district policy requiring biology students to hear a disclaimer stating that Darwinian evolution is a theory, not a fact, and directing students to the intelligent design book, “Of Pandas and People,” eventually ended up in a federal court. There, the policy was declared unconstitutional. The damage, however, already had been done. As ABC News reported a few months after the school board approved the disclaimer, the people of Dover were deeply torn over the school board’s actions, and it was not uncommon for townspeople to refuse even to speak to those in their community who came down on the opposite side of the issue.

Kansas, for its part, continued a long-running roller coaster ride that has seen the state board of education change its stance on evolution several times in recent years. In August 2005, the board voted to include greater questioning of evolution in state science standards, returning to a policy akin to one it enacted in 1999, but reversed two years later. This appears to have been followed by yet another reversal: In August 2006, the evolution-skeptic majority on the board was eliminated in primary elections, likely switching the board back to a pro-evolution majority.

The fundamental conflict in freedom-of-expression battles is between students’ rights to say or wear what they want, and other students’ ability to obtain the education to which they are entitled (and for which taxpayers have paid) without disruption or feeling threatened. In these cases, the federal constitutional prohibition against government choosing what expression is acceptable collides head-on with the schools’ obligation to provide children with the education that they are entitled to. Included under this heading are such common grounds for dispute as dress codes, administrator oversight of student journalism and simple student speech.

By far, the biggest cause of free expression fights was the series of immigration protests that swept the nation. Numerous schools and districts struggled with how to discipline students who skipped school to attend rallies, and many others faced challenges maintaining peace on school grounds as students took sides in the highly flammable debate.

A situation that illuminated the quandary school administrators found themselves in last year occurred at Fallbrook (Calif.) High School, where student Malia Fontana had an incident report placed in her file after a school security officer saw an American flag in her back pocket. The district had prohibited students from displaying flags on the heels of a violent student demonstration at the nearby Oceanside school district, in which pupils threw milk cartons and other objects at police, who then responded with pepper spray.

All told, a minimum of 20 states experienced freedom of expression controversies.

From the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to “The Catcher in the Rye,” fights over what books should or should not be in school libraries or taught in classes have been a permanent feature of public schooling. The basic problem is this: Government has the right neither to censor speech nor to compel people to support the speech of others, yet public schooling does both. Whenever a school district buys a book with public funds, it forces every district taxpayer to support the speech contained in it, and whenever it removes a book from a library, it condemns that speech.

Nowhere did book banning prove more divisive than in the Miami-Dade school district. There, the school board ordered the removal —from bookshelves districtwide—of Vamos a Cuba, a book charged with portraying Fidel Castro’s country in far too rosy a light, as well as all the other volumes in the 24-book collection to which it belonged. The removal did not occur, though, until tempers in Miami had reached feverish levels.

Carroll County, Md., was beset by a censorship controversy when, at the request of some district parents, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker pulled “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” from school shelves. The award-winning book depicted such things as self-mutilation and date rape that the aggrieved parents thought inappropriate for children. After a great outcry from members of the community who wanted the book restored, Ecker consented to returning the book to high school shelves while maintaining the ban in middle schools.

Book-banning battles were not as prevalent as evolution or expression fights, but they still were common, occurring in at least eight states — and those were just the ones for which we found major media stories.

Perhaps nothing— not even creationism — has produced as much anger as the portrayal of different races, ethnicities and cultures in America’s schools. What groups should be included in history textbooks? What aspects of their histories? How does a school handle disputed “facts” about different groups? Questions such as these have produced a geyser of vitriol, as states and school districts try to decide what every student under their authority will learn — or not learn — about the numerous groups that make up our society.

California was the site of perhaps the most fierce dispute, as Hindus expressed great discontent with history books currently approved by the state that they say egregiously misrepresent Hinduism — and, as a result, Indian history — by focusing on the caste system and oppression of women. Those are common smears, they claim, dating back to British rule over India. Many historians, though, have disagreed with their complaints, arguing that rightwing Hindus are trying to whitewash history. Hindu reaction to the dispute has been intense. According to Glee Johnson, president of the state school board, the board received more than 1,500 letters and e-mails from the Hindu community in a single week.

For the year, fires over the inclusion and treatment of different cultures, races and ethnic groups in school curricula and textbooks burned in at least 11 states.

Forced segregation by race has been a blot on American society since the nation’s earliest days. However, government-mandated integration also has been problematic, often robbing people of control over their own lives to atone for past discrimination. At issue in disputes between segregation and freedom often is whether different racial groups, genders or ethnicities should be allowed to go to schools and classes intended to serve them specifically or whether integration is of overriding importance.

Integration versus self-determination became a very high-profile issue in Nebraska when the state’s only black state senator amended education legislation so that it split Omaha’s school district along racial lines. “Several years ago, I began discussing in my community the possibility of carving our area out of Omaha Public Schools and establishing a district over which we would have control,” Sen. Ernie Chambers said during the debate on the floor of the Legislature. “My intent is not to have an exclusionary system, but [one] we, meaning black people, whose children make up the vast majority of the student population, would control.” Despite Chambers’ intent to give Omaha’s African-Americans control over their own schools, many black leaders in Nebraska disagreed with his efforts.

Struggles between integration and self-determination were limited to only about five states but, where they occurred, passions ran high.

Parents who wanted their children to receive no sex education in schools or just abstinence education were in regular fights with parents who wanted their offspring to be provided more comprehensive sex education. From upper-middle class Montgomery County, Md., to the Kyrene Elementary School District in Tempe, Ariz., the determination of what children should be taught about sex created significant political tension. At a minimum, 13 states saw controversies over this issue.

The treatment of homosexuals personally, and homosexuality in principle, repeatedly led to clashes between parents and students who opposed homosexuality on moral grounds and those who wanted all students to learn about — and to tolerate — it. Public schooling’s mission to unite diverse people came into direct conflict with varying moral and ethical values. In Lexington, Mass., conflict broke out when a teacher read the book “King & King” to second-grade students. The book is about a prince who falls in love with another prince and marries him, and at the end it shows the two kissing.

“My son is only 7 years old,” Robin Wirthlin told the Boston Globe. “By presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they’re trying to indoctrinate our children. They’re intentionally presenting this as a norm, and it’s not a value that our family supports.” Lexington Superintendent Paul Ash countered that the schools’ obligation is to be inclusive and expose students to all types of lifestyles.

In Utah, the homosexuality debate was a little different from Lexington’s, but had the same roots. There, a state legislator tried to ban Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, while club defenders argued that they are entitled to equal protection and, hence, to have their organizations in schools just like any other group.

At least eight states suffered disputes over homosexuality’s treatment in the public schools.

Though overlapping several of the other categories, the treatment of religion itself in public education brought Americans into regular conflict. Whether it was dealing with prayer in public school districts, accommodating the holidays of all faiths, giving equal access to religious student groups or teaching about the Bible, the friction between religious freedom and compelled support of religion in public schools was constant.

By our count, 17 states experienced some sort of religious conflict instigated by public schooling.

Neal McCluskey is an education analyst at the Cato Institute and author of the recently published “Feds in the Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education” (Rowman and Littlefield).


Saturday, November 17, 2007

C’mon… one more bite… it’s good for you!

I found this opinion piece from Amber Arellano to be important – not only because it's accurate – but also because it's a clever and timely way to “lure” Michigan’s residents into paying attention to education. (The hook is the ongoing football rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State, with the annual contest being played today.)

Detroit News: Ohio beats Michigan on field of education (11/16/07)

It’s clever because the reference to football in the opening paragraph might catch someone’s attention, and prompt the reader to learn a little about the declining condition of Michigan’s education system; a system that's not doing a very good job of preparing our children to compete globally, yet somehow manages to consume nearly HALF of the taxes collected at the state level.

It reminds me of trying to hide a few vegetables behind the more desirable food as I was spoon-feeding my children. Without those tricks, they'd refuse to eat their vegetables.

Similarly, many Michigan parents and taxpayers seem to refuse to understand or acknowledge the problems facing our education system in both achievement and in fiscal responsibility.

I have no clue whether this was an intentional strategy when Amber crafted the article. But regardless of the intent, I suspect the article was peppered with enough football talk that it might’ve held a few readers who otherwise might never have read an article about education.

C’mon… one more bite… it’s good for you!

As I reflect on the article, I’m not sure which is more alarming… the fact that Michigan’s education system continues it’s downward spiral, or the thought that we need to consider more communication strategies that will spoon-feed a complacent state.

I have pasted below the whole article in case the link doesn’t work.


Amber Arellano:
Ohio beats Michigan on field of education

Ohio State University has defeated the University of Michigan football team for the past three years and is favored to win again tomorrow at the Big House. And the athletic field isn't the only place where Ohio is beating Michigan.

On the academic field, Ohio is outpacing Michigan in student achievement. And we should be paying attention: As much as we love our college football rivalries, it's our educational competition that will revive our economy and make our state a future viable place to live. There are lessons Michigan can learn from Ohio.

Once the two states were closely matched in student achievement. Now Ohio is beating us on multiple fronts.

In fourth and eighth grade reading and math, Ohio is surging while Michigan falls behind, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, an important federal test.

State policymakers and educators often like to argue money is the difference. However, the states have almost identical per-pupil expenditures. Ohio spends $9,064 compared with Michigan's $8,953.

Ohio and Michigan share similar demographics. Both have white, African-American and Hispanic residents. Their urban areas are struggling with economic decline and middle-class flight.

As in football, what appears to be the difference is leadership. In the mid-1990s, Buckeye leaders developed a smart plan to raise education standards -- testing to make sure the strategy continues to be carried out; and professional development and state guidance to move the plan forward in classrooms.

Ohio also works more collaboratively with its major urban school districts, national observers say. State experts assess weak points in instruction and develop appropriate guidance for districts.

In comparison, Michigan failed to make major headway in education reform in the 1990s. More recently, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state legislators' shared plans have stalled since they passed one of the best high school curriculums nationwide. Since then, they have fought over who's to blame for the state deficit.

Michigan has been moving backward. This fall, state legislators cut end-of-course exams, the mechanism that states use to ensure schools are teaching more rigorous courses.

By contrast, Ohio is one of 33 states moving in the opposite direction. It is part of 13 pioneering states that are working to jointly develop and pay for an end-of-course exam to make sure their schools are teaching rigorous Algebra II classes, an important class for college preparation and success.

"Ohio is the leader of that effort," says Sandy Boyd, vice president of advocacy and outreach of ACHIEVE Inc., a nonpartisan think tank created by the nation's business leaders and governors to raise academic achievement. "Michigan isn't part of that effort."

The Buckeyes likely will continue to beat our state educationally unless Michigan's political and business leaders join together to create effective strategies.

Let this be the last year Ohio beats us on the academic field. Some football success would be nice, too.

Amber Arellano is a Detroit News editorial writer who also writes a weekly online column. Reach her at