Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hit the Reset Button on K12 Schools!

Tom Watkins, Michigan’s former State Superintendent of Schools, has become a prolific opinion writer who offers insightful perspectives on how K-12 education and Michigan’s international business future – particularly in China – have somewhat symbiotic relationships.

He penned the following article:

The Oakland Press: Education needs radical reformation (07/19/09)

The opening paragraph sets the stage:

“Nothing short of radical change in our education system, from cradle to grave, is what will be required for America to regain its international competitiveness. This is a theme I have been championing for years and it was reinforced by a powerful panel presentation at the National Summit recently in Detroit. There is a need to hit the reset button when it comes to reforming our schools. We have yet to get it right.”

He goes on to say:

“Change is often the most talked about and least acted-upon concept in school reform today. Most of our schools believe they have changed. The panel’s assessment: You have not seen anything yet.”

Sadly, his article was buried in the opinion section on page F11, while in the same edition the front-page headline screamed:

The Oakland Press: Oakland students are tops (07/19/09)

The article regurgitates boasts from officials in Oakland County school districts about their test scores on the ACT. Rochester brags that, “We are in the top four or five districts in Oakland County and our per pupil money is right in middle,”

This is exactly the sort of “head in the sand” perspective that is preventing Michigan schools from reforming, and is precisely what Watkins is referring to when he says that schools believe that they have changed.

Consider the “top performance” of Oakland districts. Statistics in the article point out that Rochester saw 76 percent of it’s students pass the math section of the MME (Michigan Merit Exam), which is largely based on the ACT.

While that may be better than others, it doesn’t erase the fact that nearly one out of four children in Rochester could not pass the math minimums. And this is from one of the top districts!

The statistics are even worse if you parse the data and try to look at how many are ready to do college level calculus.

School boards are the root cause of the problem. They tolerate this narrow goal of being the local star, and completely ignore a national or international perspective.

For example, look at Rochester’s so-called “Strategic Plan” , which largely
aspires to keep Rochester MEAP/MME scores in the top 95th percentile of Michigan schools.

That would be a worthwhile goal if Rochester students would only be competing with other students from Michigan. But they’re not. They’re competing for college seats – and jobs – with students from around the nation, and around the world.

So, while Rochester is content to say, “… we are giving a big bang for your buck.”, Wayne State Unversity President Dr. Jay Noren more correctly observes, “High school for far too many of our students is not serious — we need high national educational standards, having 50 separate sets of state standards does not make sense in this global, knowledge economy. We need a longer school day and year, increased compensation for effective teachers and a minimum of 14 years of basic education.”

There is nothing wrong with recognizing success. But most schools, like Rochester, spend more time focusing on how to provide positive spin on whatever results are achieved, rather then establishing aggressive and meaningful goals.

While Rochester crows that, “We do well because we’ve got a great teaching staff and good support from parents and we work together as a team.”, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan instead acknowledges “…we still are not where we need to be overall, in getting all students to be college-ready.”


Ryan Olson said...

I am confused - an art or music student who excels in their area of interest but yet struggles with math and does poorly on the MME is a reason for blaming an entire district, let alone an entire educational system? I understand how the right uses hyperbole to make their arguments, but this is a tad ridiculous.
I am disheartened that you are using a standardized test as your basis for discussing how "flawed" your Rochester schools are. I can't tell you the number of adults who still have difficulty in math but yet managed to make successful and profitable careers for themselves. Are you going to come down on individuals who excel in other areas for not being as proficient in math?

Mike Reno said...

My opinion is no more hyperbolic than your assertion that poor math scores are caused by students interested in art or music, or that the district scores are the direct result of art/music students, or that those interested in art or music may be incapable of excelling in math.

You imply that people can be successful without math, and I'm sure we can all site examples. But 20 years ago, people were making the argument that not everyone was "college-prep" material, and they could still lead successful lives by working in a factory. The failure of that logic is more apparent now in Michigan than anywhere else.

This isn't about trying to turn every student into a mathematician... it's instead about doing everything we can to prepare our children for the world that awaits them. In this information age, I cannot understand how that would not include strong emphasis on math, science, and English.

Certainly some will have careers in the arts and music. But if we fail to give them what most industrialized nations now consider "the basics", which includes a rigorous math curriculum, then we are limiting their options as they get older. They will simply not be prepared to pursue any career other than arts and music -- or factory work (if there is any available).

The point wasn't about math... it was instead just an example. But math is an incredibly important aspect of a students journey of learning, and is clearly a key to higher-order thinking. I guess I don't view math, science, or English as "an elective".

Schools need to prepare students to become productive members of society, and I believe that academic achievement is critical to that goal.

As far as standardized testing goes, there is no winning that debate. You either believe it has value or not.

Anonymous said...

Mike... you are in the MEA's crosshairs again!


Not sure why they find this particular post "offensive to the MEA"...

Anonymous said...

Quoting Democrat Tom Watkins is hardly "hyperbole of the right"

Anonymous said...

You can rant and rave all you want about how China is besting us but...

I work with dozens of new engineers from all over the planet.

I'll take a Michigan kid any day over the Pan Asian who can integrate an inverse hypoerbolic tangential function in 60 seconds.

I find that they can't even put air in their own car tires.

Hell we have to get them driver's training to test cars.

So Mike...

Blow up the whole system for 5% that only needs tweaking?

Irish Salter said...

"Ryan" might be onto something.

As Michigan burns, we could use an orchestra of fiddling K-12 Neros to ease our pain.

Write your state legislators now to turn the entire state treasury over to the MEA and let the therapeutic fingerpainting and other creative self- expression begin.

Mike Reno said...

Hello Automotive Anonymous! :-)

There are certainly Asian engineers who are more than capable of driving cars and inflating tires, so this probably speaks more to the hiring practices of your company than it does about Asian engineers.

But this allows me to segue into a good point.

A very successful education leader told me a story about a large networking company in his district who was having problems hiring American engineers. He could find plenty of foreign engineers, all of whom were very competent, but not particularly creative. He was looking for American engineers, and they are really in short supply. He felt that American engineers are generally more "out-of-the-box" thinkers and creative problem-solvers, presumably because of the American "free-spirit" and independence.

So the question becomes, do we find a way to guide our more-than-capable children towards an education that will allow them to integrate an inverse hyperbolic tangential function in 60 seconds, as well as apply their creative approach to problem solving? Or, do we wait for the children from other industrialized nations -- who are already exposed to rigorous curriculums -- learn how to evolve their creativity? Do you think the latter is not possible?

I really don't think it's wise to scoff at the computational prowess of our foreign competitors. You imply they have no common sense, yet somehow they have done such a good job of academically preparing their children and are gobbling up the high-paying information-age jobs that historically would've gone to our children.

I am not looking to "blow-up" anything... I am trying to reform the system so that our children are not limited to careers in tire inflation.

Rochester is certainly a great district when compared to other districts in Oakland County, and around the state. But only about 40% of Rochester's students graduate meeting all four of ACT's College Readiness Benchmarks. So I think it's far more than 5% that needs tweaking.

Here is an amusing link on this very serious subject:


Andrew said...

Nice to see more content coming from my favorite RCS Board member.

There are problems with schools and too often the teachers and administrators are content with thinking and saying that things are just fine; they aren't. Even if you think that Mike goes a bit far with his comments, I think you'd be foolish to argue that we don't need to constantly change and improve. These are our kids and this is the future, if we can not improve upon the education we provide, then we will no longer be able to compete globally.

I was educated in one of the Michigan's best districts and have been dismayed to see the apathy and acceptance of the status quo from teachers, administrators and most disappointing of all from parents (at RCS).

Wake up to the world around you and demand better for our kids. @anonymous Even if it is only 5% (it's not though), why be content with that, why let even 5% fall behind.

We Like Mike said...

Mike Reno is the BEST school board trustee Rochester has seen in decades. He is an outstanding advocate for putting student needs before all others.

Anonymous said...

The 5% is not the kids left behind. It is the content and quality my kids get from our district. But... I invest a large amount of my time in my kid's education. They both get straight A's.

And my Stoney Creek freshmen already meets all four (4) ACT readiness benchmarks.

Not too shabby. How does this happen? The kid is self motivated and I got lucky. But as far as pushing her toward advanced engineering things... It isn't happening.

So blame the schools and the unions all you want.

Energized and involved parents can and will overcome these obstacles.

But if the kid won't perform... now what?

No Spin said...

Rochester has freshman taking the ACT?

Mike, is that true?

That would really be impressive.

If not, then how does the Anonymous union defender know his kid meets the ACT College Readiness Benchmakrs?

Anonymous said...

It's called the ACT Explorer.

It is a standardized test that finally allows me to benchmark my kid and RCS versus the rest of the country.

It has the various parts of math, science, etc... AND it has a four part area with a scale of college readiness. The scale has several output levels. The top level states college ready or something to that effect.

Other posters here have scoffed at the grades my kids get. Well "spin" this ACT based test confirms that at least my kid id not getting inflated grades.

I'm no union "defendrr" and I'm no union basher either. Just because some won't find a way to work with the unions doesn't mean they are all bad. Our AFSME union just took a big pay/benefit cut to help the budget. That needs to be rercognized.

Also regarding unions. Our REA president is getting top scale teacher pay. What classes does she teach? None. As a tax payer I can not support paying for teachers that don't teach.

Lastly a quiz for Mr. Reno.

I asked if Mike knew what OCALC was. I'm waiting.

You see my Stoney Creek freshmen also has North Central acredited college credits thanks to this program. And if the program goes as expected there will be many more.

It's not dual enrolement either.

So Mike. It's IP marco polo time again.