Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Boards to Parents: Talk to the Hand

The Rochester Community Schools board of education has determined that high school senior class valedictorian and salutatorian honors are no longer fashionable.

Moreover, class ranking - a designation which facilitates college admissions and scholarship awards - has also been given the boot by Rochester's school board.

Perhaps there's a good reason for their determination to abolish academic
ranking districtwide, but none of the current board members has been willing to explain their rationale to this parent. (Despite 2 trips to the podium and two detailed written communications.)

The sad fact is that community members who ask questions that challenge the prevailing position of the sitting board are given a stone-faced stare and a "Thank you for your comments" from the assembled dignitaries of Rochester's own "Mt. Rushmore".

Mind you, Rochester's "chosen ones" are not unique in this approach. I've attended plenty of board meeting in other districts, and it's the same story.

School boards tend to view parents and taxpayers as ATM machines, from which they can make withdrawals at will. Yet they offer nothing in return - certainly not meaningful answers.

So long as parents and taxpayers tolerate such dismissive arrogance from
public officials, local school boards will continue to practice "school
business" as usual.

Background on the valedictorian / salutatorian / class ranking issue can be
found here

Watch this short 90-second video, then tell me what you believe the
Rochester school board is trying to "communicate":

School boards claim they want to hear from you.

Go ahead.

Step right up to the altar and talk to their hand.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Trendy Schools Risk College Scholarship Dollars

Attention middle school parents: Is your school board making trendy policy changes that could cost Rochester students lost college scholarship opportunities?

There is a good chance that they are.

Is there a benefit to the students? Nobody knows.

The Rochester Community Schools board is changing the way it honors high-achieving graduates. The proposed changes will improve the recognition system. But ever-conscious of being trendy, the district will also inadvertently take aim at high-achieving students by removing honors and rankings that can undoubtedly help in admissions and scholarships.

I have yet to understand why we wouldn’t want to do everything we can to help in the competitive admissions process, and I’m dumbfounded why we would want to put potential scholarship dollars at risk.


The district currently has no mechanism for weighting grades. As far as GPA is concerned, an “A” in gym or salsa-making is equal in weight to an “A” in AP Calculus. As a result, you’ll have some of the “top scholars” consist of those that really busted their butts with a rigorous schedule, while others “not so much.”

So discussions on grade weighting began in 2006. With weighting, the grading scale is expanded; potentially offering extra points to the grades earned in rigorous AP classes. Instead of a 4.0 scale, the tough classes might work on a 4.5 scale. An “A” in AP Calc would be worth 4.5, while an “A” in Diet and Exercise would be worth 4.0. A “B” in AP Calc would be worth 3.5, while a “B” in Diet and Exercise would be worth 3.0. This would reward those students who took the challenging classes, and allow them to stand out. It might also provide an incentive for those who might otherwise shy away from AP classes for fear it would damage their GPA.

After several years of committee work, the board was presented with a proposal that looked at a different approach. Instead of adding weight to the grades of tougher classes, they were proposing to lower the grading scale. I wrote about that here in a blog entry entitled, “
Come to Rochester, our A’s are easier!


Fortunately the committee moved away from their “lower the bar” initial proposal. But sadly, they abandoned the whole concept of rewards and incentives for rigorous classes. Ironicially, the "grading committee" did nothing about grades! :-)

But they did come back with something pretty good.

Rather than the time-honored tradition of summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, which is generally based solely on GPA, the district will now implement
a more expanded set of requirements:

GPA: 3.9 – 4.0
Four AP Courses
ACT Composite of 32 or higher

GPA: 3.8
Three AP Courses
ACT Composite of 28 or higher

GPA: 3.5
Two AP Courses
ACT Composite of 26 or higher

It’s got a few warts (like no requirement to take the AP exam), but overall I like this proposal because it will acknowledge those that really applied themselves, and showed measurable success.


However, in the process of creating this new proposal, they tossed in a few footnotes. No grade weighting, the elimination of Validictorians, Salutorians, and the elimination of class rank.

They did not explain why.

At one point while I served on the board there was some talk that class rank (and Val/Sal recognition) served as an excuse for not talking rigorous classes. Kids would not want to risk their GPA or class rank position.

This is an unsubstantiated theory. There has not been a meaningful discussion in public on this. And if there were some way to prove it, then one could argue that grade weighting could solve it.

I wrote about this a few years back ("
Academic Achievement Deserves More Recognition, not Less!").

To be fair, there are some highly selective, top achieving schools that have eliminated class rank. These are schools where many students are taking rigorous classes, scoring well, only to find themselves barely making the top 25%. That is not the case in Rochester, where less than 40% of the graduates can pass all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

On it's website, The College Board states:

According to a March 2006 New York Times article, some college admissions officers disapprove of the trend away from reporting class rank, because, they say, it forces them to "make less informed decisions or overemphasize results on standardized tests."

They go on to say:

Most large state universities, however, still require applicants to report class rank (as do many scholarship programs), and rely on it to help sort through the high volume of applications received.

Eliminating class rank, and vals/sals seems to be a solution in search of a problem.


By eliminating class rank, and vals/sals, the school board is putting at risk some scholarship money. Scholarships for vals and sals are quite clear in the requirements. No val/sal, no money. And some scholarships specifically incorporate class rank into their formula. No class rank, no money.

If we are going ruin the opportunity for some students to earn scholarships, then we must have a good reason, right?

I asked that question in a letter to the board. The response: “Thank you. Please provide your home address when corresponding with the board.”

So, I waited around for three and half hours at a school board meeting to ask them in person. Check out the robust board discussion in this clip:

Is it any wonder people avoid school boards like the plague?

I followed-up with yet another letter, and finally received a response. The response did not explain WHY the honors are being eliminated, but does offer a defense that argues our kids will not be negatively impacted because Rochester will join a growing list of high schools that does not report class rank.


The response was thoughtful, but the arguement was weak. It was quite illustrative of the typical debates that happen all the time in education.

For example, one might argue that the trend is moving away from class rankings, and as a result colleges have adjusted their admissions policies to adapt. Therefore, we should follow the trend.

The opposing argument would note that over half of the colleges still consider class rank to be considerably or moderately important. Therefore, we should retain class rank to give an extra boost to the high achievers.

If you were to ask a college, “Do you value class rank?”, the answer would mostly like be “Yes. It’s helpful”

If you ask that same college, “Can you live without it?”, the answer would probably be “Yes. We must, because some schools don’t report.”

In the end, if both sides of a debate can site the same reports and sources as support for their argument, then does it even matter?

Yes, it does.

Schools should be preparing our children to be adults. Competition is part of life. Shielding them from competition is not doing them any good. It spoils them. Pampers them.

We’re comfortable ranking them as athletes, but not as scholars? We’re comfortable naming a winner in a race, but not in overall academic achievement? We can line the gym walls with athletic records, but won't honor our scholars in the same manner?

Our children are entering a world that is highly competitive. College admissions and scholarship awards are highly competitive. A good class rank, not to mention val/sal designation, is not going to be a deciding factor for a college or a scholarship board. But it would help.

We should not be taking away tools that can help.

And school boards should welcome discussion about this, not ignore it.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Of Bucks and Boards: The MEA extends its tentacles

Witness the power and influence the union can wield during May elections.

The MEA's website (found here) brags about local school election victories -- apparently satisfied the union will reap its rewards during future contract negotiations -- yet ignores the full impact of union interests trumping those of students and taxpayers.

The MEA will often funnel money into elections (as shown here), but they usually do so quietly. More often they attempt to influence behind the scenes, with the union providing "soft" backing during elections.

The claims they make are nothing short of outrageous. Look at how they connect the dots: Electing pro-union candidates equates to a pro-education mood? Electing pro-union candidates equates to support of "quality of life"? Where was the ballot question on "unstable funding" that voters reportedly recognized?

In Warren, they claim to have unseated an incumbent. Check out the vote results here. 78,042 registered voters. 7,443 bothered to show up. That's 9.53%. Rest assured that a good portion of them are MEA members, family of MEA members, etc.

In Durand, the famed epicenter of the "wake-up call... for the working class", had some 800 votes cast. I tried to lookup the vote totals, but I'm not even sure where Durand is located! I found Durand votes in Genesee County (found here), where a whopping 7.90% of the registered voters cast ballots.

These local board members live in anonymity, yet collectively control one-third of your state budget -- some $13 billion dollars -- as well as billions in local property taxes and billions in federal tax grants.

You don't think it's happening in your district? Think again.


Election results: Schools win at the polls

Will Lansing get the message?

May 6, 2010 - Voters statewide sent a strong message at the polls this week, approving taxes to pay for education and public safety, electing union-backed candidates, and unseating scores of school board incumbents.

“It’s about quality of life,” said Jim Ward, a media specialist at Forest Hills Northern High School. “The voters are supportive of activities that they define as quality of life – and that’s public service and public education. This broke the whole ‘cut, cut, cut, don’t talk about taxes’ approach. We need to support essential services.”

Hopefully, legislators will get the message: Enough is enough!

Voters support their schools – and other vital public services – and recognize that unstable funding hurts students and communities.

From St. Joseph to Adrian to Bessemer, voters were in a pro-education mood Tuesday.

In Durand, a school custodian whose job was outsourced to a private company in December, won a contested school board election. Paul Mayers, a former union president who now works for the private company, is one of two union-supported candidates who won in Durand.

“I hope it’s a wake-up call,” Mayers said. “This is a victory for the working class.”

Other election victories included:

  • In Warren, voters unseated incumbents in favor or Sue Jozwik, a job recruiter with MEA support, and Elaine Martin, a retired school secretary.

  • The Petoskey News-Review trumpeted election results – the headline was “Big night for millages in Emmet, Charlevoix” – as voters passed several millage proposals in the area.

  • Holland voters OK’d $73 million in school bonds to pay for better buildings, computers, and athletic facilities.

  • In St. Johns, voters passed a $64.3 million proposal to fund high school improvements, new buses, and technology upgrades. Funding requests were also approved in Stockbridge, Portland, Bath, and Ionia County.

  • In Ironwood, two of the three school board races went to candidates recommended by the MEA affiliates there.

  • St. Joseph voters approved a $38 million bond issue for renovations, additions, and equipment upgrades including replacing aging computers.

Despite these positive results, much work remains to secure adequate funding for public education and other necessary services.

MEA is part of a coalition – A Better Michigan Future – that advocates a four-point priority plan to help Michigan. If you’d like to learn more about the coalition and its work, go to http://www.abettermichiganfuture.org/.

You are also encouraged to take five minutes to contact your legislators and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Tell them to support efforts to provide adequate, stable and equitable funding for education!

And, finally, to learn more about MEA’s “Enough is enough” campaign, a strategic action plan, go to http://www.mea.org/Enough/index.html.

April 27, 2010