Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Myths of a Stubborn Culture are Debunked

Amber Arellano writes a insightful article about the stubbornness of Michigan’s entrenched educational bureaucrats, and the change-resistant culture that permeates Michigan’s K-12 education

Detroit News: Myths undercut efforts to boost Michigan's high school standards (09/10/09)

It goes on everywhere. I see it in Rochester.

For example, I know that the Rochester Board of Education shows no interest in understanding how many of it’s graduates must take remedial courses – at their own expense – in college, despite the fact that the district receives matriculation reports from some colleges. Individually, I’ve seen the reports that Michigan State University provides to each high school, and have suggested that the board review them, to no avail. This data is notably absent from the district’s so-called strategic plan.

The district could also do more to allow advance the concept of allowing more academically rigorous Personal Curriculums, yet submissively yields to needlessly restrictive interpretations, such as expecting kids to investigate summer school before they allow a modification. Rather that challenge the status quo, the board fell right in line.

I could go on, but I don’t want to distract from Amber’s excellent article.

All of this points to the fundamental flaw in the culture of Michigan educators, which is the myth that our children are simply not up to the challenge.

And it leads to perhaps a fifth myth, which is that there is nothing parents can do to take on the system. I wrote about Rochester parents who last year stood up to the culture of mediocrity and low-expectations by protesting the decision to “round down” students in the advanced math track in middle school. It was a small victory for a small number of children, but it shows that there is hope.

==> Mike.

I’ve pasted below the article in case the link does not work.

September 10, 2009

Myths undercut efforts to boost Michigan's high school standards


This fall at Michigan's colleges, thousands of students are arriving with great expectations -- only to find themselves relegated to paying for high school courses without even receiving college credit. Those courses are called remedial classes, which students have to take because they were so poorly prepared in their K-12 schools.

At Michigan State University, the proportion of incoming freshmen who need remedial classes jumped to 28 percent today from 25 percent last year. At Delta College north of Saginaw, 81 percent of incoming students need remedial classes. That number has grown 3 percent in recent years.

The growth is a sign, some experts say, that Michigan school districts are not taking seriously the implementation of the new high school curriculum that state leaders adopted in 2006 to better prepare students to succeed in the knowledge economy. And it comes as Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers fight over whether the tougher curriculum standards should be lowered to accommodate vocational education students and others.

With so much rhetoric, it can be difficult to figure out what is based on proven research and experience, and what isn't. Here are some common myths -- and the real story behind them -- about the high school curriculum.

MYTH No. 1: Only Michigan's lowest-performing school districts, such as Detroit and Pontiac, need to upgrade their high school courses.

FACT: Well-to-do and middle-class districts are under-preparing their children, too.

Take Rockford, the upscale suburban city outside of Grand Rapids
, where most families send their children to four-year universities. What most parents in Rockford don't know: The district's latest state test scores show only 24 percent of its kids are college-ready in all subjects based on ACT indicators, which colleges use for admissions.

That suggests most of those students will have to take remedial classes, a predictor of college failure. A majority of students who need remedial classes do not earn either a bachelor's or an associate's degree, according to Education Policy Center experts at Michigan State University.

Mike Flanagan, state superintendent for schools, saw the same problem when he was in charge of Farmington Schools, a well-heeled suburban Oakland County district.

"People thought our students were doing so well because we sent 90 percent to college," Flanagan says.

Then he learned about half of those graduated from college. The knowledge spurred the district to make major changes.

"If you're sending students to college needing remedial classes, it means you're setting them up for failure not only in college but in the workplace," Flanagan says.

MYTH No. 2: All students have to take the same classes, including Algebra II and other high-level math and science classes, no matter what.

FACT: Vocational teachers and the Michigan Education Association union often call the curriculum a "one size fits all" approach. But state law does not require all students take the same specific courses. Rather, high school credits can be packaged into any course. The law allows flexibility for students who focus on the arts or, say, a trade.

Many parents don't know they can request a personal curriculum in which courses are specially designed for their teens.

Why does this seem to be a secret? Many schools and districts have dragged their feet on implementing the curriculum. Many schools also do not publicize these options.

MYTH No. 3: Michigan's dropout rate will go up under the new curriculum.

FACT: There's no evidence of that. The opposite has been found true in some states.

Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts are among 25 states that now require Algebra II or equivalent skills learned to graduate, as Michigan does. None of their dropout rates has risen.

That fear arose in Michigan after Derrick Fries, an Eastern Michigan University assistant education professor, told reporters that he anticipated a rise in the dropout rate. However, more academic rigor has been found to raise graduation rates, according to the Education Trust and other researchers.

How could that be? Because boredom is one of the leading causes of dropping out. By making school more challenging, many students stay longer.

MYTH No. 4: Michigan's high school curriculum is one of the nation's toughest.

FACT: Other states are leading in school standards and quality. Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts are just some of the states that have higher standards and more demanding high school curriculums than Michigan.

Indiana requires students take chemistry, physics and trigonometry, and more writing and foreign language than Michigan students do.

In Ohio, high-schoolers have to pass a competency test to graduate.

"There would be many high school students in Michigan who could not pass it," says Sharif Shakrani, co-director of Michigan State University's Education Policy Center.

In Maryland, the new high school standards are far tougher than Michigan's. They are modeled after the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the only nationally representative test that compares American students with one another by state.

The Obama administration is calling on states to adopt a common core of standards to make sure the United States better competes in the global economy. It is pushing states to ramp up their schools' curriculums to be modeled after the NAEP.

Already the Detroit Public Schools' new leadership team is adopting a curriculum modeled after the NAEP.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, its academic chief and a respected national educational leader, says those who think Michigan's state curriculum is too tough are fooling themselves and shortchanging students.

Look at Michigan students' test scores for proof. Only about 30 percent of students are considered proficient under NAEP.

MYTH No. 5: The curriculum was designed for college-bound students -- not kids who aim to go into a trade or directly to the workplace.

FACT: Young people who attend community colleges, technical schools and other universities are actually more likely to be underprepared to succeed in life -- and need higher-skilled classes to make sure they do.

"A lot of people think if your kid is not going to the University of Michigan or Michigan State, then there are no negative consequences for not taking higher-level math and science classes," says Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

"This fight about the curriculum is about the students who go to Delta, to Grand Valley, to community colleges," Ballard adds. "They are the ones who need remedial courses, who are dropping out, who are not finding good jobs."

Even students going directly to entry-level jobs or entering technical schools need higher-level thinking and math skills, researchers have found across the country.

The more math Americans learn, research shows, the more money they earn. Students who take challenging high school courses, especially in math and science, will earn $1 million more than students who do not.

Algebra II, in particular, is a predictor of success in college and in getting a good job in the knowledge economy -- more than race, socioeconomic status or family income.

The Wacker Chemical plant in Adrian is a case in point. Factory leaders found local high school graduates woefully lacking skills to work there a few years ago. They teamed up with school leaders to change that.

"My question to the legislators who want to undermine the math requirements in the state curriculum is: 'What kind of jobs do you want in Michigan? Do you want your children to get good jobs or any job at all? Look at Ohio and see what they're doing,' " MSU's Shakrani says.

"Because that's who we're competing with: Ohio and Indiana. And they are out-competing us in school preparation."

E-mail Amber Arellano at"> or send letters to the editor to"> or mail to Letters, Editorial Page, The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226.

Additional Facts
Importance of education
Why Michigan's high school curriculum standards are considered critical:

Nine of 10 jobs will require education beyond high school, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

An estimated 80,000 jobs go unfilled in Michigan and an additional 30,940 jobs could go unfilled in the near future, according to a 2007 EPIC/MRA future business study. This indicates Michigan's high rate of unemployment has more to do with a lack of necessary education and training among residents than a lack of employment opportunities.

The state Department of Education finds that 84 percent of those who hold highly paid professional jobs had taken Algebra II or higher as their last high school math course.

The more math you learn, the more money you earn. Students who take challenging high school courses, especially in math and science, will earn more than $1 million more than students receiving a general education, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Studies indicate there is a strong correlation between increases in average test scores and national economic growth. In country after country, a boost in test performance was linked to a distinct rise in annual per capita gross domestic product growth, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

A study by the Michigan League for Human Services and the Economic Policy Institute forecasts a decline in U.S. per-capita personal income if America doesn't educate "all of our students well."


clayh said...

How interesting and telling!

As of this moment, 48 comments about students "being subjected" to the President's address to students and 0 comments about this post.

In the early 70s, I used NAEP test results and analyses to assist in restructuring the English curriculum in a large suburban Detroit high school. I encouraged others to look at their work, their testing, etc. In fact, we "pre-tested" the first 10th grade English MEAP, and I encouraged the State to look at NAEP testing instead. I was rebuffed.

As a new principal of a small rural high school in 1994, I said that I'd like to see all Seniors take the ACT because it was the truest reflection of what we were doing in school. The Guidance Counselor publicly derided such a ridiculous suggestion because it would do the kids such a "disservice." Fortunately, he retired before the start of the second semester. I was delighted to see ACT finally become the basis for the Michigan Merit exam.

However, I still believe high school administrators should rely on and publish the annual ACT results they get, comparing their school's scores with both state and national scores. The trends indicated there are extremely helpful.

Moving along, in 1990 the Mich. Department of Labor surveyed over 7000 businesses, asking the question: "What type of education will new workers need entering the workforce in this decade?" The overwhelming response was that, to get a decent jobe, by 1995 new workers would need the equivalent of one year post-high school education and by 2000 the equivalent of two years of post-high school education.

How did the public education establishment respond? It took 15 years to establish state-wide graduation requirements that even now are being criticized because of their "difficutly."

Research indicates that new workers can expect to change CAREERS 10 to 12 times during their working lifetimes. What one perceives as an educational need now may not be sufficient 5 years down the road. It behooves the public education sector to see to it that the students get the most and the best possible education NOW so they do not have to spend time remediating later on, no matter when that may be.

Jerome Bruner said 50 years ago that the most important thing schools can do is teach young people how to adapt to change, and giving them the basic knowledge they need so that they can adapt is the vital mission of the schools.

I've worked with students from affluent suburbs, with students from the inner city, and with students from the most rural areas. Two things bother me about many of the students and their families: 1)Low expectations. For too many, there is no vision, no looking at potential, no dreams. They are besotted with the desire for a middle-class wage, and their experience in Michigan says they can get that -- even while performing lower class jobs with a lower class education. Michigan has been unique in providing that picture, and now we're paying the price.

2) Parental subservience to children's wishes and desires. Just because a student says he "doesn't like" a course, or he has no plans "to go into that field" (remember the number of potential career changes?) or it's "too hard" does not mean parents have to listen. It's their job "to train up a child in the way that he shall go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it" says the writer of Proverbs. Amd that means more than morals or ethics or beliefs. It means total responsibility for what a child is to BECOME -- that's true parental responsibility.

Sorry to go on so long -- but it was time to get out some basic philosphical/educational thoughts, after reading several of your last posts, Mike.

TeachYourChildrenWell said...

BRAVO clayh!

SO good!!!

ACT offers workshops to help ANYONE (not just high school administrators) put ACT scores to work to improve instruction.

Imagine if professional development bucks were used to spread that wealth around, huh?

Anonymous said...

Question for Clayh:

Since we have ACT and some pre ACT scores, will they tell us if an individual student is lacking in these remedial areas Mike writes about?

If so any district can and should move to at least notify parents and the student.

Having gone back to college in my late 30s, I saw first hand the remedial courses taken by RCS students. It just adds time and frustration to them on their journey.

These data can also be used to close acheivement gaps as one individual at the board meeting last night spoke about.

clayh said...

To Anonymous:

Students used to (I assume they still do) get a report on their ACT scores, indicating their personal Composite Score, along with their scores in individual subject matter areas. They also recieved the State and National scores so that there was a comparison. However, degree of specificity was not helpful (at least, it wasn't) as it gave the curriculum area of Mathematics, but not a Trig or Calc score.

However, one certainly would know how we compared with State and National testees in Math Science that year, in general. And the school could look at the scores for that cohort as a whole and see how students were doing in Science or Math or English Composition, in general terms. And it also provided a five-year history, to get a view of the trends.

That's what I found valuable -- to be able to say that our students performed as well or better than a comparable State or National group in a particular curricular area; or that they didn't, and it was a continuing problem that we needed to address -- data that justified curricular improvement -- data that a school board SHOULD find irrefutable.

And then I would be delighted when the Board would tell me: "Go for it. Get it fixed." Data is definitely preferable to anecdotal reports or popular trends when one wishes to improve education.

Mothers Against Useless School Boards said...

The frustration for many who are finally awakening to the realization that "we've got miles to go" academically, is why we - as a nation - have only just begun to have reasonably intelligent public dialogue about the quality of education we profess to care so much about.

Naturally politics has poisoned the well - as it always does - yet one of life’s delicious ironies is that George W. Bush & Teddy Kennedy’s great legislative collaboration – No Child Left Behind – was THE gamechanger when it comes to defining the issues and the future of US education .

Even more scrumptious is Obama / Duncan’s near total buy-in and assertive expansion of NCLB.

You gotta love the bipartisan spirit!

The teacher unions can P & M all they want (as they have & will continue to do), but the genie’s out of the bottle. The data’s in and s-l-o-w-l-y, the US education sector is accepting the scrutiny of its practices and outcomes for what it is – an effort to make the process more relevant, effective and accountable.

In school districts across the land, local school boards now have information about what works in their community classrooms. Yet if these boards don’t establish expectations from their school district managers, minimum expectations are good enough.

Stir in a pinch or a bucketful of indignant union agitation over know-nothing civilians asking questions about education issues - Oh the outrage! – and local expectations flatline faster than you can say “adequate yearly progress”.

In the school district where Mike Reno serves as a much-appreciated trustee, the local school board used to be a back-slapping, mutual admiration society that couldn’t explain their own district’s ACT participation stat’s, much less establish goals from them.

Yet when Mr. Reno began to ask for district testing outcomes so that he could responsibly exercise his duties as a trustee, a cadre of business-as-usual backslappers was positively indignant that he dared to question such sensitive matters, especially in public!

That’s gotten better, thankfully (with ALL the local credit going to Mike!). And now, with national legislation and a state superintendent slowly, deliberately moving education’s ball upfield, the strategic tools to strengthen Michigan student outcomes for real-world expectations are in place.

Whether the ball remains in play or Woozle-tracking regains favor in Rochester is up to those in charge.

Board Watchers United said...

Smart money's on a 7:0 Woozle-friendly school board for
'good enough' Rochester.

Bill said...

not sure where all these other districts are here...but our local k-12 districts all supply act scores in math, writing, and reading to us for purposes of college registration. if those scores are missing (as is the case for non-traditional students, which this article completely ignores), there are on-campus tests available.

we are also starting to deal with students who are just "rusty" and don't need a full-semester course but only a couple of weeks of refresher stuff to get back up to speed.

there does need to be flexibility in the system, that's the bottom line--not in any attempt to exploit some loophole, but as a method to deal with the diverse student populations we serve.

in an open-enrollment environment, the 2013-2014 goal of "100 percent compliance" is laughable, political, and ignorant. but it plays well in the basher quarters.