Monday, February 25, 2008

I dissagree with your oppion. If students dont have there electives we will have no reason to come to school.

Well here’s an interesting trio of articles to place side by side:

Detroit News: Michigan schools show progress (02/21/08)

Oakland Press: Michigan needs to do better than a C+ (02/18/08)

KOAT: Errors Plague Letters From APS Students (02/20/08)

The Detroit News piece calls attention to the fact that Michigan has made progress on tightening K-12 standards. It’s based on a report called “Closing the Expectations Gap” (found by clicking here) from Achieve, Inc -- “a nonprofit established by the nation's governors”. I seem to recall that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a financial – and philosophical – supporter of the effort.

The success is attributed to the fact that Michigan, “began requiring that all juniors take the ACT-based Michigan Merit Exam in 2007, and implemented new graduation requirements this year

I think this is a welcome piece of news, and is a great start.

But knowledgeable education activist Marcie Lipsitt notes in her Oakland Press piece that, “The C+ earned by Michigan in Education Week’s 2008 Quality Counts report is devastating, and further proof of the inferior education provided to our 1.8 million students.”. She also points out that, “Michigan earned a D+ in teacher preparation and D in student achievement.

It ties in nicely to the Detroit News piece when Marcie notes, “An A- earned in standards artificially raised the state’s average grade to that whopping C+.

In other words, the Detroit News headline was a bit misleading. It’s not “Michigan Schools” that are showing progress, it’s the “Michigan Department of Education” that is showing progress. And as Marcie notes, they need to keep pressing.

But even if they keep pressing, they are likely to face resistance at the local level. In addition to the typical complaints about funding, schools were quite vocal in their resistance to the new graduation requirements. In fact, there are a few articles on this blog which addressed that opposition. One huge concern was that the requirement for more mandatory academic classes was going to get in the way of electives. I viewed those as well intentioned, but misguided concerns.

It was that memory that surfaced when I read the KOAT article from Alburquerque. It seems that there is some talk in New Mexico that students who do poorly on state tests should be forced to take remedial classes rather than electives.

I’ve posted it because it’s really an intriguing idea that merits discussion.

And, it includes some painfully evident examples of why this makes sense.

My blog headline was taken from student letters written in opposition to the plan.

I’ve pasted all three articles below in case the links don’t work.

==> Mike.

Errors Plague Letters From APS Students

POSTED: 7:01 pm MST February 20, 2008
UPDATED: 10:42 am MST February 21, 2008

The controversy over electives in the Albuquerque Public Schools curriculum heats up.

Should students who do poorly on state tests be forced to take remedial classes and not allowed to take electives?

Wednesday, students themselves responded in the Albuquerque Journal newspaper -- but may not have proved the point they intended.

The Journal said the letters are from students at Jefferson Middle School.

Of eight letters published, seven of them are full of grammar and spelling mistakes:

"I know I wont wont my eletive tooken away. wht about the sped kibs? Hae you thought about that!"

The students are responding to the possibility of APS taking electives away from students who fail state tests for math and reading.

Another student writes, "I dissagree with your oppion. If students dont have there electives we will have no reason to come to school. And if kids start not coming to school it will be your fault."

Melissa Armijo has a child at Jefferson. She agrees with the statement, but said the mistakes in the letter are scary.

I think that they should have a medium of being able to still give a child an elective and also having that child learn how to read and write correctly,"Armijo said.

The Albuquerque Journal is a partner with KOAT.

The Journal said the letters that were published were representative of the letters they received.

Many of the letters came from an e-mail sent by their teacher and then a few from the students themselves.

The Journal said they confirmed every letter that ran in the paper but chose not to run the students' names.

There were several letters the Journal did not run that had even more serious grammatical and spelling errors.

Jefferson students did well on last year's math and reading tests but the school did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.

More than half the APS high school students tested last year did not pass the math or reading sections of the standard tests.

APS said those students may soon have to replace electives with remedial classes in those subjects.

The district is waiting for guidelines from the state before implementing any new policy.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Michigan schools show progress

Karen Bouffard / The Detroit News

Michigan has made more progress on tightening its K-12 academic standards than most states, according to a national study released Wednesday by a Washington, D.C.-based education reform group.

The study by Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit established by the nation's governors, found there is a large gap nationwide between what schools expect students to learn by the time they graduate and the needs of colleges and the work force.

"This report, thanks to the governor, the State Board of Education and legislative leadership, now shows Michigan is a leader in preparing students for college and work," said State Schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan.

The study, now in its third year, looked at five key areas: academic standards; graduation requirements; student assessments; data collection; and accountability. Michigan, which began requiring that all juniors take the ACT-based Michigan Merit Exam in 2007, and implemented new graduation requirements this year -- met benchmarks in three of the five areas.

Only Louisiana, New York and Texas had more policies in place than Michigan, with four. No state had all five policies in place.

Dearborn schools Superintendent John Artis said he supports the reforms, but Michigan needs to do more. He's not yet certain if the policies will bear fruit in students' performance.

"It's really nice to rank all of those things, but it would be a whole lot better if they were funded," Artis said, echoing a common compliant by Michigan school officials. "We've seen no increases in funding, and that continues to be one of the major problems we face.

"I'm generally supportive of the changes, but if you don't fund that, we are placed in a bind that's almost impossible for us to escape from. You've got to have reading coaches at the high school level, and other support for students. Without funding, how do you make that happen?"

Michigan met the study's benchmark for aligning high school standards with college and workplace expectations, in part by implementing grade level expectations that are standard for all students in the state. Nineteen states met the benchmark. Michigan is among 19 states that have toughened their graduation requirements, and just nine that require tests -- like the Michigan Merit Exam taken by all juniors -- to assess how much they learn by the time they graduate.

The state failed to meet the study's benchmark for a common data collection system able to track students from the time they enter preschool through the age of 20. Eight states already have such a system, which is under development in Michigan.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said Michigan this year began assigning identity codes to students, which will eventually be used to track them as they move through the educational system and on into college.

"It's going to require both the technical and financial resources and the cooperations and agreement of the higher education institutions to put something like that in place," Ellis said. "It's still very much on the drawing board."

Michigan also failed to establish an accountability system that promotes college and career readiness. Only Louisiana, New York, North Carolina and Texas met that benchmark, which would require tracking not only the graduation rate, but how many graduates require remedial classes upon entering college.

You can reach Karen Bouffard at (734) 462-2206 or


Michigan needs to do better than a C+

The Rev. Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Public education and Michigan children must matter. Gov. Granholm, the Legislature, policy makers and people of Michigan must make public education a top priority for 2008.

It’s decades overdue. Michiganians must take off their rose-colored public education glasses. The C+ earned by Michigan in Education Week’s 2008 Quality Counts report is devastating, and further proof of the inferior education provided to our 1.8 million students.

The C+ under the best of circumstances is not a grade worthy of accolades, but for Jan Ellis (MDE spokesperson) to reportedly say it “shows the state is doing well in areas that have been of primary focus” is outrageous.

Since when is student achievement, preparing our students for post-secondary education and the global economy and workforce not the top priority?

Michigan earned a D+ in teacher preparation and D in student achievement.

We are not teaching our teachers to teach or our students to learn.

An A- earned in standards artificially raised the state’s average grade to that whopping C+.

The Michigan Department of Education apparently has accountability standards for the children; they simply don’t educate them to compete with students across the U.S. and countries around the world.

Michigan is 49th in high school graduation rates. The only state worse is Mississippi.

And Michigan is 48th and below the national average for students that graduate with a regular diploma and the steady (or lack of) employment of our adults working full time.

Detroit has the lowest graduation rate of the nation’s 50 largest school districts.

And is among the most segregated in the country.

Michigan children now rank among the nation’s worst for their stagnant performance and lack of academic improvement.

Does anyone else see a correlation between too few attending Kindergarten compared with too few graduating high schools with diplomas and holding steady jobs?

Abuse and neglect charges could be filed against several decades of governors, legislators and policy makers for robbing millions of Michigan children of their right to an education that leads to maximally productive taxpaying adulthoods.

Many of those that have achieved grade level proficiency and gone on to college/universities, and the workforce have and will continue to flee our state for those states that offer far greater job opportunities, stability and quality of life.

Every time Michigan loses a child, we lose a future taxpayer and source of revenue and economy.

For more than 50 years, the people of Michigan have not valued public education.

Still, as Michiganians like to do, we can wear our rose-colored glasses and stand proud as the 18th best of the worst in America.

As a nation, we earned a C — which is mediocre and worse than 29 other countries. While Massachusetts is the best the U.S. has to offer, even their kids better stay away from Finland, Hong Kong and Canada.

Michigan is in a one-state depression and must redefine itself and its economy.

Our children as our future thinkers, innovators, creators, workers and leaders are critical to the recreation of a state that is drowning in its own Great Lakes.

Gov. Granholm, educate Michigan children and let them be your legacy and our state’s lifeboat and savior.

Marcie Lipsitt of Franklin is a member of the Michigan Alliance for Special Education


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Financially reward those teachers who truly make a difference!

TIME to take another look at merit pay.

TIME Magazine: How to Make Great Teachers (02/13/08)

The headline is a bit provocative. It’s an article about incentive pay based on results. It should not suggest that money alone would make great teachers. We already have some great teachers, who do what they do because they love their jobs, and are true professionals.

I’m in favor of pursing “pay for performance” so that schools can provide well-deserved rewards to those teachers who truly make a difference.

Oddly enough, I believe finding a funding source for a “pay for performance” plan would be easier than actually developing the plan itself. Schools oftentimes seem too fixated on process, and trying to develop “the perfect plan.” Perfection does not exist, and somebody is always going to think it’s unfair.

In the private sector, managers do their best to identify the needs of the company, and design a plan that will reward the employees depending on their level of success. The plans change as needs, goals, and resources change.

I want to emphasize this isn't some "silver bullet"... it's got to be part of some bigger strategy that includes more teacher mentoring, researched-based teaching strategies, more data-driven practices.

I thought the conclusion to this article was great:

“As U.S. school districts embark on hundreds of separate experiments involving merit pay, some lessons seem clear. If the country wants to pay teachers like professionals—according to their performance, rather than like factory workers logging time on the job—it has to provide them with other professional opportunities, like the chance to grow in the job, learn from the best of their peers, show leadership and have a voice in decision-making, including how their work is judged. Making such changes would require a serious investment by school districts and their taxpayers. But it would reinvigorate a noble profession.”

I’ve posted the whole article below in case the link doesn’t work. However, I’d suggest that you follow the actual TIME link above because there are some other good articles there too.

==> Mike.

Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008
How to Make Great Teachers
By Claudia Wallis

We never forget our best teachers—those who imbued us with a deeper understanding or an enduring passion, the ones we come back to visit years after graduating, the educators who opened doors and altered the course of our lives. I was lucky enough to encounter two such teachers my senior year in a public high school in Connecticut. Dr. Cappel told us from the outset that his goal was not to prepare us for the AP biology exam; it was to teach us how to think like scientists, which he proceeded to do with a quiet passion, mainly in the laboratory. Mrs. Hastings, my stern, Radcliffe-trained English teacher, was as devoted to her subject as the gentle Doc Cappel was to his: a tough taskmaster on the art of writing essays and an avid guide to the pleasures of James Joyce. Looking back, I'd have to credit this inspirational pair for carving the path that led me to a career writing about science.

It would be wonderful if we knew more about teachers such as these and how to multiply their number. How do they come by their craft? What qualities and capacities do they possess? Can these abilities be measured? Can they be taught? Perhaps above all: How should excellent teaching be rewarded so that the best teachers—the most competent, caring and compelling—remain in a profession known for low pay, low status and soul-crushing bureaucracy?

Such questions have become critical to the future of public education in the U.S. Even as politicians push to hold schools and their faculty members accountable as never before for student learning, the nation faces a shortage of teaching talent. About 3.2 million people teach in U.S. public schools, but, according to projections by economist William Hussar at the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation will need to recruit an additional 2.8 million over the next eight years owing to baby-boomer retirement, growing student enrollment and staff turnover—which is especially rapid among new teachers. Finding and keeping high-quality teachers are key to America's competitiveness as a nation. Recent test results show that U.S. 10th-graders ranked just 17th in science among peers from 30 nations, while in math they placed in the bottom five. Research suggests that a good teacher is the single most important factor in boosting achievement, more important than class size, the dollars spent per student or the quality of textbooks and materials.

Across the country, hundreds of school districts are experimenting with new ways to attract, reward and keep good teachers. Many of these efforts borrow ideas from business. They include signing bonuses for hard-to-fill jobs like teaching high school chemistry, housing allowances ($15,000 in New York City) and what might be called combat pay for teachers who commit to working in the most distressed schools. But the idea gaining the most momentum—and controversy—is merit pay, which attempts to measure the quality of teachers' work and pay teachers accordingly.

Traditionally, public-school salaries are based on years spent on the job and college credits earned, a system favored by unions because it treats all teachers equally. Of course, everyone knows that not all teachers are equal. Just witness how parents lobby to get their kids into the best classrooms. And yet there is no universally accepted way to measure competence, much less the ineffable magnetism of a truly brilliant educator. In its absence, policymakers have focused on that current measure of all things educational: student test scores. In districts across the country, administrators are devising systems that track student scores back to the teachers who taught them in an attempt to apportion credit and blame and, in some cases, target help to teachers who need it. Offering bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement, the theory goes, will improve the overall quality of instruction, retain those who get the job done and attract more highly qualified candidates to the profession—all while lifting those all-important test scores.

Such efforts have been encouraged by the Bush Administration, which in 2006 started a program that awards $99 million a year in grants to districts that link teacher compensation to raising student test scores. Merit pay has also become part of the debate in Congress over how to improve the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), triggering an outcry from teachers' unions, which oppose federal intrusion into how teachers get paid and evaluated. The subject is a touchy one for the Democrats, who count on support from the powerful teachers' unions. Last summer, Barack Obama endorsed merit pay at a meeting of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, so long as the measure of merit is "developed with teachers, not imposed on them and not based on some arbitrary test score." Hillary Clinton says she does not support merit pay for individual teachers but does advocate performance-based pay on a schoolwide basis.

It's hard to argue against the notion of rewarding the best teachers for doing a good job. But merit pay has a long, checkered history in the U.S., and new programs to pay teachers according to test scores have already backfired in Florida and Houston. What holds more promise is broader efforts to transform the profession by combining merit pay with more opportunities for professional training and support, thoughtful assessments of how teachers do their jobs and new career paths for top teachers. Here's a look at what's really needed to improve teaching in the U.S.—and what just won't work.

The Leaky Bucket
There's no magic formula for what makes a good teacher, but there is general agreement on some of the prerequisites. One is an unshakable belief in children's capacity to learn. "Anyone without this has no business in the classroom," says Margaret Gayle, an expert on gifted education at Duke University, who has trained thousands of teachers in North Carolina. Another requirement, especially in the upper grades, is a deep knowledge of one's subject. According to research on teacher efficacy by statistician William Sanders, the higher the grade, the more closely student achievement correlates to a teacher's expertise in her field. Nationally, that's a problem. Nearly 30% of middle- and high school classes in math, English, science and social studies are taught by teachers who didn't major in a subject closely related to the one they are teaching, according to Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and society at the University of Pennsylvania. In the physical sciences, the figure is 68%. In high-achieving countries like Japan and South Korea, he says, "you have far less of this misassignment going on."

Other essential skills require on-the-job practice. It takes at least two years to master the basics of classroom management and six to seven years to become a fully proficient teacher. Unfortunately, a large percentage of public-school teachers give up before they get there. Between a quarter and a third of new teachers quit within their first three years on the job, and as many as 50% leave poor, urban schools within five years. Hiring new teachers is "like filling a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom," says Thomas Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Why do teachers bail? One of the biggest reasons is pay. U.S. public-school teachers earn an average annual salary of less than $48,000, and they start off at an average of about $32,000. That's what Karie Gladis, 29, earned as a new teacher in Miami. She scrimped for 31⁄2 years and then left for a job in educational publishing. "It was stressful living from paycheck to paycheck," she says. "If my car broke down or if I needed dental work, there was just no wiggle room."

But money isn't the only reason public-school teachers quit. Ben Van Dyk, 25, left a job teaching in a high-poverty Philadelphia school after just one year to take a position at a Catholic school where his earning prospects are lower but where he has more support from mentors, more control over how he teaches and fewer problems with student discipline. Novice teachers are much more likely to call it quits if they work in schools where they feel they have little input or support, says Ingersoll. And there's evidence that the best and brightest are the first to leave. Teachers with degrees from highly selective college are more likely to leave than those from less prestigious schools. In poor districts, attrition rates are so high, says Carroll, that "we wind up taking anybody just to have an adult in the classroom."

How Do You Measure Merit?
To the business-minded people who are increasingly running the nation's schools, there's an obvious solution to the problems of teacher quality and teacher turnover: offer better pay for better performance. The challenge is deciding who deserves the extra cash. Merit-pay movements in the 1920s, '50s and '80s stumbled over just that question, as the perception grew that bonuses were awarded to principals' pets. Charges of favoritism, along with unreliable funding and union opposition, sank such experiments.

But in an era when states are testing all students annually, there's a new, less subjective window onto how well a teacher does her job. As early as 1982, University of Tennessee statistician Sanders seized on the idea of using student test data to assess teacher performance. Working with elementary-school test results in Tennessee, he devised a way to calculate an individual teacher's contribution, or "value added," to student progress. Essentially, his method is this: he takes three or more years of student test results, projects a trajectory for each student based on past performance and then looks at whether, at the end of the year, the students in a given teacher's class tended to stay on course, soar above expectations or fall short. Sanders uses statistical methods to adjust for flaws and gaps in the data. "Under the best circumstances," he claims, "we can reliably identify the top 10% to 30% of teachers."

Sanders devised his method as a management tool for administrators, not necessarily as a basis for performance pay. But increasingly, that's what it is used for. Today he heads a group at the North Carolina-based software firm SAS, which performs value-added analysis for North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and districts in about 15 other states. Most use it to measure schoolwide performance, but some are beginning to use value-added calculations to determine bonuses for individual teachers.

Sanders' method is costly and complicated, however. Under steady pressure from NCLB to raise test scores, some districts have looked for quicker, easier ways to identify and reward teachers who boost achievement. In some cases, they have made the call largely on the basis of a single year's test results—a method experts dismiss as unreliable. In Florida, for instance, one of Governor Jeb Bush's final initiatives before he left office in January 2007 was to push through a merit-pay program that offered a 5% bonus to teachers in the top 25% in each participating district, with selection based at least 50% on how much their students' test scores jumped from one year to the next. Houston had a similar initiative, though without the 25% cap.

Both schemes met with fierce resistance. Teachers rebelled against the notion that a year's worth of instruction could be judged by how students did on a single test on a single day. They objected to the lack of clarity about how teachers of subjects not tested by the state would be assessed. And they railed against a system that pitted one colleague against another in a competition for bonuses. To make matters worse, there were gruesome glitches. In Houston, a newspaper website identified which teachers got bonuses. Later, 99 employees were asked to return about $74,000 in bonus checks issued by mistake. In Florida, one county ran short of bonus funds while another had an embarrassing discrepancy between the number of awards given in predominantly white schools and the number that went to schools with mainly black students. Both Florida and Houston have improved their programs, but local teachers remain wary. "The new plan doesn't have clear goals," charges Gayle Fallon, who heads the Houston Federation of Teachers. She fully expects "all hell to break loose again."

Beyond Merit Pay
There are better ways. Florida and Houston might have avoided their mistakes if they had examined some of the more thoughtful approaches to rewarding good teaching that are being tried elsewhere—programs that actively involve teachers and look at more than one measure of how they do their job. In Denver, for example, Professional Compensation, or ProComp, is the product of a seven-year collaboration among the teachers' union, the district and city hall. Rolled out last school year, ProComp includes nine ways for teachers to raise their earnings, some through bonuses and some through bumps in salary. New hires are automatically enrolled, while veterans have the option of sticking with the old salary schedule. But in just one year, half of Denver's 4,555 teachers have signed on.

For Taylor Betz, the program is a no-brainer. A highly regarded 15-year veteran who teaches math in the city's struggling Bruce Randolph School, Betz can rack up an additional $4,268 this school year if she and her school meet all their goals. That includes $1,067 for working in a high-needs school, another $1,067 if students in her school exceed expectations on the state exams, $356 if she meets professional academic objectives she helped set in the beginning of the year, $1,067 if she earns a good evaluation from her principal and $711 if her school is judged to be a "distinguished school," on the basis of a mix of criteria that includes parent satisfaction.

Before ProComp, Betz had reached the top of the district's pay scale at $53,500 and, despite high marks from her bosses, was looking at nothing more than an annual cost-of-living raise (currently $260) for the rest of her career. "I've worked in hard-to-serve schools my entire career," says Betz. "I make home visits. I make phone calls. I'm looking at ProComp as compensation for the things that are above and beyond." Betz didn't expect performance pay to change anything about how she does her job but says it has made her even more driven. "Now I refuse to let kids fail," she says. "I'm going to bulldoze whatever the problem is and solve it." The bonus money is simply a just reward. "I'm not a money grubber. Most teachers aren't. But people in other professions get raises," she says. "Why shouldn't we?"

There's little research on what makes for a successful merit-pay system, but several factors seem critical, says Matthew Springer, director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. Denver's program includes many of them: a careful effort to earn teacher buy-in to the plan, clarity about how it works, multiple ways of measuring merit, rewards for teamwork and schoolwide success, and reliable financing. In fact, Denver's voters agreed to pay an extra $25 million a year in taxes for nine years to support the program.

It's too soon to say if ProComp will raise achievement in Denver, but a pilot study found that students of teachers who enrolled on a trial basis performed better on standardized tests than other students. The program is already successful by another measure: raising the number of teachers applying to work in Denver's most troubled schools. Jake Firman, 22, who joined Teach for America right out of college in 2007, says he chose Denver from a list of 26 cities largely because of ProComp. "I thought it was a very cool idea," says Firman, who stands to earn extra pay for filling a hard-to-staff spot (middle-school math) at a high-needs school.

Another impressive model is the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1999 and now in place in 180 schools in 14 states and Washington. TAP is more than a merit-pay program. At TAP schools, some of which are unionized, raises are based on the teachers' performance—which is measured by a combination of structured observations made four to six times a year and student test results, using a Sanders-style value-added formula. The best TAP teachers can climb the professional ladder in three ways: remaining in the classroom but becoming a mentor to others; leaving one's own classroom to become a full-time teacher of teachers, or master teacher; or taking the traditional route into administration.

The element of TAP that gets the most praise from teachers is its rigorous approach to helping them build and refine their skills and learn from one another. To do this, TAP teachers meet in small groups led by a master teacher for one to two hours a week, generally during the school day. That degree of supervision can be a tough sell to veteran teachers. "I hated it tooth and nail," says Cathy Dailey, who has been teaching science at Bell Street Middle School in Clinton, S.C., for 21 years. "All of a sudden I had to articulate my goals and know that someone was going to come in and watch me." Dailey particularly disliked being forced to reflect in writing on how well her lessons went. "I'd rather you beat me with a stick!" she says. But six years after TAP was introduced, Dailey admits that it has made her more versatile and effective. "I wouldn't be nearly the teacher I am today if it weren't for the big T-A-P," she says. "I do many more labs and more hands-on lessons. I'm always looking for new ideas on the Internet." She even likes writing the reflections. "You really evaluate what you did and how effective you were," she says. "Sometimes I give myself a pat on the back, and sometimes I think, Oh, boy, you've got to change that."

Since Bell Street Middle School adopted TAP in 2001, it has doubled the percentage of students scoring at an advanced level in math and reading and reduced the percentage scoring "below basic" in math 46%. Meanwhile, teacher turnover has fallen from a disastrous 32% a year to less than 10%. Jason Culbertson, who heads TAP in South Carolina, says such improvements in student achievement, quality of teaching and teacher morale are typical. A recent analysis involving 610 TAP teachers in six states, conducted by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, the nonprofit that runs TAP, found that 38% of TAP teachers produced above-average gains in student achievement in a single year, vs. 26% of teachers in a control group.

This school year South Carolina extended the program from 18 schools to 43, including all 10 schools in rural, impoverished Marlboro County, where 20% of teachers are not even certified. The challenge is funding, says Culbertson. South Carolina's TAP schools draw on a variety of federal, state and foundation funds to pay for stipends of $10,000 for master teachers and $5,000 for mentors and bonuses that range from $350 to $9,500. Culbertson is always looking for ways to attract more talent. His latest project: refurbishing an old Marlboro County mansion as an almost rent-free home for top teachers. "I treat the job more like a crusade," says the 28-year-old former social-studies teacher. "My goal is systematic change across the state."

It's a good goal for an entire nation in need of better-quality teaching. As U.S. school districts embark on hundreds of separate experiments involving merit pay, some lessons seem clear. If the country wants to pay teachers like professionals—according to their performance, rather than like factory workers logging time on the job—it has to provide them with other professional opportunities, like the chance to grow in the job, learn from the best of their peers, show leadership and have a voice in decision-making, including how their work is judged. Making such changes would require a serious investment by school districts and their taxpayers. But it would reinvigorate a noble profession.

—With reporting by Rita Healy/Denver, Hilary Hylton/Houston and Kathie Klarreich/Miami

Find this article at:,8599,1713174,00.html


Another District Moves to All Day K

Just last week I posted an article about Farmington’s move to all-day Kindergarten.

Holly Schools in Oakland County just announced that they too are going to all day K.

Oakland Press: Kindergartners to attend school for full day (02/20/08)

You may recall that Governor Granhom was going to "ask" districts to move to all day K. I had to chuckle at the thought that these two schools are likely be counted next year as those "heeding the Governor's call", despite the fact that they embarked on the "all-day" path long before the Governor's polite request. But I digress....

Boardmember Patrick McKenney noted, “When you look at what’s going to be required of these kids to graduate, the sooner we get them academically involved, the better.”

It appears they are offing a choice for half-day, just as Farmington. But the comments from Superintendent Kent Barnes are important to consider:

Barnes said he understands some parents have concerns, and that’s why the district wanted to offer the half-day option.

“All-day kindergarten has been offered in the south and in many school districts since the ‘80s, even the late ‘70s,” Barnes said.

When Barnes was an elementary school principal in Kentucky, the district he worked for had a full-day kindergarten program that offered parents the option of picking their child up halfway through the day.

“I had one parent who wanted to try that and, after three weeks, the child said, ‘I want to stay and do stuff,’” Barnes said.

Moving to a full-day, five-day a week kindergarten program was not done because of money or any other reason, Barnes said.

“The real reason is to increase student achievement for the benefit of the child — that’s it,” he added.

“We feel it’s in the best interest of the children as far as academics.”

I hope others are listening!

==> Mike.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Is the MEA a child of the UAW?

Here is an interesting piece: Blue-collar teacher contracts work against the students (02/10/08)

It's a summary of comments by Ray Spears, a former superintendent in Rhode Island. He supported the idea of the unions in the mid-60's because data showed that the teachers were truly under-compensated. However, he feels that today they've worn out their welcome. Here are a few good excerpts:

Spear was “just a young kid of a superintendent” in Michigan when that state’s collective-bargaining law passed in 1965. “When I sat down at the bargaining table for the first time, their contract proposal looked more like a General Motors contract than an education contract. They’d gone to the automotive industry for advice. Those are the roots of the situation we’re in now.”

I was unaware that the MEA roots came from the UAW.

The article makes the case for the birth of the teacher unions, but goes on to illustrate how they are actually harmful today:

Currently, Rhode Island’s teachers’ unions are monolithically powerful forces that “fail to regard the needs of students,” according to Spear. These unions protect bad teachers, make a principal’s job nearly impossible, slow or stop educational reforms, and critically, in this fiscal climate, drive the cost of doing business through the roof.


In an unfortunate accident of history, the labor contracts that won decent pay for teachers also cemented into place a factory-model design for schooling. Blue-collar labor contracts spell out and limit a worker’s obligations on the factory floor, or in this case a classroom, as if teachers were as interchangeable as die-press operators.

The key here is that teachers are professionals, and should be treated as such. The union detracts from instead of enhancing their professionalism.

UPDATE: I just received a note that has me worried some might believe I am suggesting all teachers only "work to contract". I do not believe that is the case, and want to be crystal clear about that. I know MANY teachers who go far above and beyond on a regular basis. I repeatedly see it in Rochester Schools. These teachers are, quite frankly, the saviors of public education. Ironically, the union contracts prevent them from receiving the financial recognition they deserve. The important point I saw in the passage was that it spotlights how the structure of union contracts REMOVES professionalism by establishing absurd rules and minimums or maximums behind which some will hide.

I’ve posted the full article below in case the link doesn’t work.

Blue-collar teacher contracts work against the students

01:00 AM EST on Sunday, February 10, 2008

“I’m probably the only person in the room who was actually at the negotiating table in the mid-1960s when the first collective bargaining laws were being passed.” So said Ray Spear, former superintendent in Coventry and now a member of the Coventry School Committee, addressing the Board of Regents.

Recently, the Regents held a series of public meetings to hear creative ideas about how to prevent teacher strikes in strike-prone Rhode Island. The hearing I attended was packed to the gills with school administrators, school committee members and union officials.

Spear went on to wholeheartedly endorse “the granting of the initial bargaining rights for teachers.” Later, in an interview, he elaborated. “I was sympathetic with teachers because at the time they were not being paid at a scale comparable to other workers. I personally researched what other B.A.-level workers were being paid. Teachers weren’t even close. And they weren’t getting any benefits, no personal leave, maternity leave....”

But now, this elder statesman of the Rhode Island education community told the Regents, “It is my sincere belief that the teacher negotiation process has worn out its welcome and gone far beyond the purpose and intent which it was to serve.”

Currently, Rhode Island’s teachers’ unions are monolithically powerful forces that “fail to regard the needs of students,” according to Spear. These unions protect bad teachers, make a principal’s job nearly impossible, slow or stop educational reforms, and critically, in this fiscal climate, drive the cost of doing business through the roof.

The current problem is the result of flawed thinking back in the 1960s.

Spear was “just a young kid of a superintendent” in Michigan when that state’s collective-bargaining law passed in 1965. “When I sat down at the bargaining table for the first time, their contract proposal looked more like a General Motors contract than an education contract. They’d gone to the automotive industry for advice. Those are the roots of the situation we’re in now.”

Rhode Island, too, had robust textile and jewelry factories back then, and blue-collar unions to turn to. In an unfortunate accident of history, the labor contracts that won decent pay for teachers also cemented into place a factory-model design for schooling. Blue-collar labor contracts spell out and limit a worker’s obligations on the factory floor, or in this case a classroom, as if teachers were as interchangeable as die-press operators.

States reacted differently to the advent of collective bargaining. Connecticut’s law limited what could be negotiated, so school administrators never lost powers such as the right to hire and evaluate teachers. In its 1993 Education Reform Act, Massachusetts shifted key rights, such as hiring, back to management.

Rhode Island’s 1966 law, called the Michaelson Act, put “working conditions” on the table, which is to say everything that happens at a school. Spear echoed many of the speakers at the Regents hearing: “Our legislature should decide what’s out of bounds for the negotiation, and limit the scope of bargaining.” As it is, any administrative change can be a bone of contention, for which the union wants extra compensation, ever driving up costs.

Spear says, “So we’ve gotten way out of whack. The top-step teachers are getting $70,000, $80,000 a year. But the people paying the bills make $30,000 or $40,000. We need to find out what someone else, with a similar background, with a bachelor’s or master’s is getting.”

According to the Education Intelligence Agency, the average teacher’s salary nationally exceeds the average worker’s salary by about 25 percent. Rhode Island teachers are number one in the nation, by this measure, exceeding their average fellow worker by 47 percent.

Spear growls, “The unions are running this state into the ground. In fact, they’re running the whole country into the ground because they can’t get it through their heads that the reason for our financial problems is at least in part due to us trying to keep up with their demands. If you go out into the streets, you see a lot of foreign cars because they’re cheaper. They’re even better. I love the state of Michigan, but it’s going under because they’re in the same rut as Rhode Island.”

Those were the only two states to lose population last year.

The administrators at the Regents hearing were poker-faced through Spear’s tirade, probably because Rhode Island administrators are flat-out scared of the unions. Unions can make their lives miserable. If unions don’t get what they want, they call strikes, bury administration in grievances or, most perniciously, implement work-to-rule, which is when teachers do only what’s in the contract — as if a professional’s job could be described by a contract.

Spear was the only one at the hearing who had the nerve to say that the whole negotiating process, using a model designed for blue-collar jobs, is painfully obsolete, seriously impeding academic improvement and, most importantly, stealing resources from the kids.

Julia Steiny, a former member of the Providence School Board, consults for government agencies and schools; she is co-director of Information Works!, Rhode Island’s school-accountability project. She can be reached at , or c/o EdWatch, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Challenging Education Practices is not offensive

A rebuttal to my “Snow Days” op-ed appeared today:

Oakland Press: Snow Days provide quality time for all (02/15/08)

In it, teacher Doug Hill describes snow days as “gifts meant to be opened and enjoyed.”

Unfortunately he forgot to provide a gift receipt! :-)

Doug disputes my cost estimates, and that’s fine. The stuff he sites might generously represent less than 10% of the overall budget. So, instead of a daily cost of $860,000, it might only be $774,000. But the exact daily costs don't change the premise. Even reducing my estimate by 10% still leaves a big number.

And as far as his other concerns over my article, well, that’s why they call them opinion pieces and not news stories! Data or not, snow days do impact the economy either through lost wages or lost productivity. Mr. Hill even cites a few examples when he points out how teachers get paid on snow days, but other district employees like Para-Educators, food service workers, and bus drivers do not.

In the end, I think the talk about budgets, productivity, or projectile vomit is really chaff, and the heart of the matter is that Mr. Hill and “the entire teacher profession” feels offended.

That’s a shame, because schools today are facing tremendous challenges, and this serves as a clear example about how difficult it is to examine any aspect of education without someone feeling offended. Somehow the school culture has evolved to a point where the slightest suggestion that we evaluate past practices or seek improvement gets twisted into “an attack”.

Let’s look at what I said:

“Even if district superintendents feel compelled to close school, there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work. Schools are forever claiming they don’t have time for planning, collaborating, professional development, or “record keeping”. Bad weather days could easily be used for these purposes.”

Mr. Hill reacted with:

“While many are able to leave their work at the office when the clock hits 5 p.m., teachers are not among that group. I take great offense with the connotation of teachers lazing around.”

I never said teachers were “lazing around”. In fact, I didn’t even say “teacher”; I said schools (meaning administrators and boards), which don’t ask or expect all teachers to report on snow days. I am well aware that many teachers work very hard, and I’m sure some were working that day (either at home or at school). I know some come in early, and some stay late on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Hill was quick to jump to the wrong conclusion.

What I did indeed say was that district employees – yes, meaning all teachers – should report to work. The rest of us – even those with cushy 9 to 5 jobs – are expected to report to work when it snows. I’m still not sure why suggesting that teachers should report to work would be considered “offensive”.

To provide a little perspective, I wrote that piece after sitting in a meeting where I had heard that implementation of a very promising software tool – Pearson Benchmark & Inform – was progressing at what I felt was a disappointingly slow pace. (Before everyone jumps at that comment, let me emphasize that teachers are using it, and seem excited about using it. The problem I see is that it sounds like two years from now less than half of the core curriculum will be online for all grades. Teachers seem enthusiastic about the tool, and I clearly see its value, so in my opinion I think it should be implemented faster.) I was told that one of the challenges faced by the district was the limited opportunities they have to pull together groups of teachers for large blocks of time to design common assessments, conduct training, do data entry, etc.

With a little advance planning, I see no reason why they couldn’t focus on Pearson-related tasks on a snow day. Or, they could have some Professional Development sessions. In general, schools need to figure out how to do more with less, and examining how to possibly make a more “official use” out of snow days should not face immediate rejection, and it certainly should be labeled as “offensive”.

Basically, I see this as a much larger discussion. Schools have a limited number of instructional hours, and a limited amount of “official” teacher hours. I think choosing to cancel any of them should be a big decision. The fact that students can miss – so far – four days of school without impacting their education merits a discussion. That’s a fair question, and it’s sad that it needs to be delicately worded so as not to offend anyone.

My beef isn’t with teachers… it’s with a system that doesn’t tolerate discussions about these and other issues.

==> Mike.

I’ve pasted below the full article in case the link doesn’t work.

Snow days provide quality time for all

Like many of my fellow teachers, I read Rochester Community Schools Trustee Mike Reno’s recent guest opinion “Snow days waste money, insult parents” and walked away, well, insulted.

Reno managed to misrepresent the district’s daily expenditures, offend an entire profession and make assumptions that are neither true nor can be substantiated.

True, the Rochester Community Schools’ annual budget is roughly $155 million, and if you divide by 180 days, you’d have a daily expenditure of approximately $860,000. The trouble with his math, however, is that you can’t simply divide by 180. There are many tasks vital to the day-to-day operations of the school district that are necessary 365 days per year.

Further, when school is not in session, substitutes for teachers, para-educators, bus drivers and custodians aren’t paid. Nor is any bus fuel consumed, and the building utilities aren’t running at full capacity. It could therefore be said that a snow day actually saves the district money.

When he states “there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work” on snow days, he managed to offend an entire profession. While many are able to leave their work at the office when the clock hits 5 p.m., teachers are not among that group. I take great offense with the connotation of teachers lazing around.

On one of the snow days Reno has issue with, I spent the better part of two hours printing — on my own printer — and stuffing my report cards. Once completed, I went about the task of getting plans ready for the coming social studies unit. Those were four-plus hours that would’ve taken place following the school day — at the expense of my family. I know I was not alone in my endeavors to get caught up from home.

Reno also made several assumptions that can’t be substantiated.

A snow day “negatively impacts our local economy”? Where is his data to support this? There’s no way to quantify this statement with any form of data. If we’re simply making assumptions without support, I’d fathom to say a snow day actually boosts the local economy. Suddenly, high schoolers everywhere are earning money as baby-sitters, movie theaters and malls see an uptick in net revenues, and I’m willing to bet a few more pizzas are delivered.

Perhaps the biggest assumption he makes is that parents must scramble at 6 a.m. to find child care. Darn right they do! And it’s a real pain, too. How is this different from walking into little Billy’s bedroom at 6 a.m. and having him projectile vomit all over the place? It’s not! As soon as you make the decision to become a parent, you make the decision to have a Plan B. I have one, you have one and every other parent in the world has one. If you have children, you have a Plan B and a snow day should be no more stressful than any other day.

Finally, he says a child’s education is too important to give a day away on a snow day. On this point I agree. I invite all parents to embrace these days and enjoy some of the amenities a day like this can offer. If and when the roads become safe, take a trip to the library and read with one another, go to one of our area’s many wonderful museums and expose your children to the exhibits they offer, or turn off the TV and video games and spend time with your children.

No, Mr. Reno, snow days aren’t wasteful or insulting. They’re gifts meant to be opened and enjoyed. As we struggle in this nation to maintain “family,” a snow day offers six hours of uninterrupted togetherness and a chance to reconnect with our loved ones.

Doug Hill is a fourth-grade teacher at Long Meadow Elementary in the Rochester Community Schools district.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

All-Day Kindergarten -- An End to a District Cash Cow?

In her State of the State Speech, Governor Granholm indicated that she was going to “ask” school districts to begin offering full day kindergarten.

Unfortunately, most districts are likely to resist her polite request.

Kindergarten is a cash cow for districts. They are able to bill the state -- and taxpayers -- for the full state allowance, but only provide a half-day of instructional service. And, many will then turn around and offer additional aftercare programs, which cost parents thousands per year.

Most districts are unlikely to give up this hidden source of money without a struggle.

You’ll hear plenty of concern over “additional cost”. Yes, it will cost more, but it’s hardly fair to consider it as "additional". These are services that have been denied to kindergarteners since the passage of Prop A and the creation of a state per-pupil grant.

Fortunately some districts have been bucking the trend. A few have been offering full-day kindergarten for years. Yesterday there was an article about another moving to full day:

Oakland Press: Board approves all-day kindergarten classes for fall (02/11/08)

Farmington Public Schools will begin offering all-day kindergarten in the fall. Parents will have the option of enrolling their children in “satellite schools” if they prefer half-day. This sounds like a great step, and I certainly hope other boards are watching.

Making an interesting point, Farmington's district spokesperson notes, “If the program attracts the 72 students that in the past have gone elsewhere but then come to the district in the first grade, it could be a revenue gain of $734,400, which would offset the cost of implementation.”

In Rochester, the district has – for years – documented this same phenomenon. From a recent district report, “Rochester Community Schools has traditionally experienced a significant increase in the number of first graders from the previous year kindergarten class.” The average “jump” over the past five years exceeds 6.6%, which puts Rochester on par with Farmington.

But money aside, I believe the biggest value is in the education gains. There are plenty of studies showing the learning increases that come from all-day kindergarten. Some studies suggest that they long term benefits aren’t as significant, with some of the gains disappearing by fifth grade. But I believe that is probably because the schools move to all-day kindergarten without making corresponding changes to their curriculums for the subsequent grades.

There is a discussion on this topic at the
Livonia Neighbors forum that is worth your time if you are interested in all-day K. (The Livonia Neighbors formu, incidentally, is a great online destination. There is always something interesting being discussed there!)

Anyway, I’ve posted the full Oakland Press article below in case the link doesn’t work.

==> Mike.

Board approves all-day kindergarten classes for fall

By JERRY WOLFFE Of The Oakland Press

All elementary schools in Farmington Public Schools will have all-day kindergarten classes starting in the fall of 2008, a school official said.

The proposal was passed Jan. 29 by the school board, said Diane Bauman, director of community relations for the 12,000-student district.

There will be an undetermined number of satellite sites offering half-day kindergarten within the district. Bauman said the sites will be determined by the end of February.

The district, composed of 13 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools and an alternative high school, will hold Kindergarten Information Nights for the 2008-09 school year from 7-8 p.m. Feb. 27-28 at the Maxfield Training Center, Room 1, 33000 Thomas St. in Farmington Hills, she said.

The all-day kindergarten proposal was brought to the Board of Education at the January meeting by the subcommittee of the Learning Configuration and Facilities Study Committee, Bauman said Tuesday.

Several studies presented to the board indicated that students do better when they attend kindergarten for full days, she said.

Currently, the district has an “EduCare Option Program” in the afternoon or morning, Bauman said.

Students now can attend a half-day of class either in the morning or afternoon.

The Feb. 27-28 meetings are designed to provide parents information on the kindergarten program.

It will not cost parents money to have the all-day kindergarten sessions, said Bauman.

“We haven’t decided on the location or number of satellite programs, but will have by the night of the February meetings,” she said.

Some of the studies indicated that all-day kindergarten programs provide more time to meet the academic and social needs of children, said Sarah Haskins, a public relations spokeswoman for the district. Students in all-day programs also score higher on achievement tests, she said. In recent years, higher standards have been established in language arts, math, science and social studies for all students at the kindergarten level.

Providing all-day kindergarten throughout the district also allows for equal opportunities for all students, Haskins said.

All-day kindergarten is available to students at only three neighborhood schools at this time, she added.

Farmington will offer all-day kindergarten at each neighborhood school and other half-day programs at satellite schools, Haskins said.

Transportation will not be provided to satellite schools but will be provided to traditional classrooms.

If the all-day program attracts the 72 students that in the past have gone elsewhere but then come to the district in first grade, it could be a revenue gain of $734,400, which would offset the cost of implementation, said Haskins.

Contact staff writer Jerry Wolffe at (248) 745-4612 or jerry.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Snow Days -- Let's be more judicious

I wrote the following opinion piece after two snow days in one week. My district had another today.

Oakland Press: Snow Days Waste Money, Insult Parents (02/04/08)

I believe that’s at least four this year for Rochester.

Four schools days – lost forever. And, by my calculations, that’s over $3 million in lost productivity.

In my drive to work this morning -- joined, incidentally, by every other private-sector employee -- it appeared to me that most main roads, and many subdivision roads were easily passable. In Rochester, it seems that if a few dirt roads at the northern-most end of the district are not deemed passable by the transportation department, then the entire district is shut down for all 15,000 kids.

The comments I’ve received on this topic have been interesting, and if I find time later today I'll post some of them. It’s disappointing that some people seem to miss the fact that I was really calling for a discussion on this, and NOT advocating that we never have another snow day.

And, as predicted, I was accused of not caring about the safety of children.

I don't fault superintendents for snow days; they're following the guidelines -- or lack thereof -- of school boards. The solution here is for school boards to have discussions on this, and to try to establish better guidelines and other alternatives.

==> Mike.

P.S. I haven’t posted much lately because I’ve been busy with my “other” full-time job. Lots of stuff building up on my list of blog topics, so stay tuned!

I've posted the full piece below, as originally written, in case the link doesn't work.


When schools ask for money, it’s always “For the kids!” Anyone daring to question that is accused of being “anti-kids”. That same dismissive logic would undoubtedly apply to anyone challenging Michigan’s costly school “snow day” tradition.

Schools are closed “for the safety of the children”, and anyone questioning that must not want to keep our children safe.


Snow days are a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars, and aren’t necessarily the best thing for our children or community.

In Rochester, each school day costs approximately $860,000 (based on a $155 million dollar budget and 180 days of school). Across Oakland County, public schools collectively spend $10.2 million dollars per school day. All that’s wasted on snow days.

It’s time we question whether school closures are truly the best option. In addition to insulting parental judgment, these closures negatively impact our local economy, cause unnecessary stress and hardship on working parents (who are expected to work), and most importantly they rob our children of a days worth of education.

Evidently two factors are considered when closing schools. The first is whether children walking to school – or to bus stops – can do so safely. The second applies to the transportation system itself, and examines whether buses can operate safely, and on-time.

The first factor – while well intentioned – suggests parents are unable to make responsible decisions about their children. In recent years school has even been called off because it’s too cold in the morning. Perhaps the best rebuttal ever came from the parent who said, “Does the school think I’m going to send my kid out barefoot and in a tee-shirt?”

Parents will bundle-up their kids when it’s cold, and will be cautious when streets are bad. They’ll stop teens from driving if they don’t feel they’re ready for the road conditions. Parents aren’t dumb, and they’re free to exercise options like keeping students home, or driving them to school themselves.

If schools truly think parents are unable to assess conditions, then they could issue “weather alerts”.

There are legitimate concerns about the bus transportation system. Diesel fuel begins to gel on really cold mornings, so some buses won’t start. And slow travel resulting from snowy roads can impact the complex bus routing schedules.

But canceling school isn’t the only alternative.

A district could call a “delayed start” or a “no transportation day”. This might pose logistical challenges, but seems preferable to simply quitting for the day.

School closings also have a ripple effect on local businesses. Some families can cope with last-minute closures, but those with two working parents are forced to scramble at 6:00 AM trying to find childcare. Those who can’t must then decide who will miss work, forcing businesses to struggle with worker shortages and lost productivity.

Even if district superintendents feel compelled to close school, there’s no reason district employees shouldn’t still report to work Schools are forever claiming they don’t have time for planning, collaborating, professional development, or “record keeping”. Bad weather days could easily be used for these purposes.

But perhaps the biggest problems with school closures are that they represent an education day that is lost forever. The closure announcements don’t read, “School is closed today, and the makeup day will be on…”

Instead, we tolerate a system that bakes in enough “idle time” that we can afford to skip a few days and not impact a child’s education. What’s worse, what does it say about our schools when parents say, “Big deal. So they missed a day of school. So what?”

We are spending a staggering amount of money to educate our children, and ought to view each day as critically important to their future. Examining wasteful traditions like “snow days”, and searching for better alternatives is in the best interests of our students and our community.