Friday, June 06, 2014

Burning Bridges and Lifting Spirits

First the burning bridges, or “How to lose credibility and wreck a relationship in four easy steps:”

First, negotiate and craft a process with your partners in “good faith” and then explicitly agree to the metrics of that process. Second, allow the process, as negotiated, to proceed. Third, flame the fires of anxiety and misperception regarding the process and its metrics while “conveniently” forgetting that you helped to craft the process and its metrics. Fourth, berate your partners in public by implying that you had nothing to do with the process or the metrics of that process.

Such is the state of relationship building today. 

Second, the lifting spirits, or “Thank you for writing!”

Today I received a note from a parent that wanted to share their experience. I will not divulge the particulars, but I have to share the heart of the message. This person’s child moved from a difficult situation into Birmingham Schools as a new student. In praising the building’s staff, special note was made regarding the principal and homeroom teacher. Both individuals were dedicated to ensuring this child not only felt safe in a new school, but helped to weave this child into the fabric of the classroom and school community. This principal and teacher worked together to make the life of this child better. In the child’s own words these two helped to “…give me the chance to be a better student.” They made a difference in the life of this child.

It does not get better than that, which makes the first half of this post tolerable. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Boycott the MEAP if it returns…

The unmitigated legislative hubris of Michigan’s lawmakers is fully exposed as demands for the return of the much reviled MEAP ring loud in the capital’s cambers. For those that are unaware, Michigan schools have, for many years, supported the framework offered by the Common Core Standards. In the Birmingham School District, we built our curriculum around the common core foundation because we, like other districts, choose to support stronger standards and higher student achievement. The standards are our baseline and we move higher from there. 

The legislature's  zealous pursuit of a return to the MEAP is due to the federal government’s support of the Common Core initiative with funding. Current federal funding includes monies further supporting the Michigan based and funded implementation of the Common Core Standards and the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. 

It is this new “federal support” that has our legislators agitating for a return to an outdated, non-aligned, and ineffective MEAP test.This agitation come from the misrepresentation that accepting federal monies lessens Michigan’s control over it’s schools curriculum and testing. IT DOES NOT.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a superior tool designed to gauge understanding, and help support student progress. This computer based test adapts to the students level of understanding which allows districts and teachers to support, accelerate, or reinforce the learning that happens in the classroom. The results are returned quickly which makes the data relevant and actionable. The MEAP, in contrast, simply tests to a flatline of knowledge; the results are returned so late in the year that districts and teachers can do nothing in the current year to help students. The MEAP is a backwards looking test; it tells you where you were and does little to help districts and students move forward. Relative to helping students today, the MEAP is a waste of time and money. 


Lansing must listen to and support the work of parents, school boards, administrators, and teachers who are working for a better educational future; this sudden shift backwards will hurt us all. I am calling for school boards, administrators, and parents to support a boycott of the MEAP should Lansing implement its return. It’s time to push back. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Representative Tom McMillin - Working to keep Michigan’s Kids Behind!

Once again “Representative” Tom McMillin shows his contempt for raising the educational bar for Michigan’s school children by insisting on using the outdated MEAP exam next year. An article in MLive highlights his position: “McMillin, a frequent critic of the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced exams based on the standards, believes the department could prepare the MEAP for next school year.” He’s trying to force the state to use the old MEAP test rather than the new smarter balanced assessment. 

Insisting on using the MEAP is like riding a bike with both hands tied behind your back, you might stay upright for a time, but you’re guaranteed to crash. Educators across Michigan have long understood the problems with the MEAP, and the list of the test’s deficiencies is long. Here are just a few problems related to the old MEAP:


  • The results are worthless for improving learning outcomes (nearly a full school year passes prior to getting results)
  • The test is not aligned to important critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Most Michigan districts have adopted the Common Core to guide their own curriculum development, the MEAP is not aligned with what schools are teaching
  • MEAP is specific to Michigan making comparative analysis between our results problematic.

I’ve already commented on how McMillian has perverted the idea of the common core. In fact, his “understanding” rests on manufactured misrepresentations (i.e., lies). An important disclosure, I’m a fiscally conservative republican, and I’m elected school board member that supports the common core initiative. I’ve studied the common core and I’ve researched the development of the standards. I am a witness to how our district is working to ensure our own curriculum (my emphasis) supports the core standards, and then moves to exceed those standards. 

If we have any hope of moving out of the stone age of educational assessment and comprehensive learning, the polluted ideas of people like Tom McMillin should be exposed for the misrepresentations that they are.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bill Schuette’s History Lesson

Attorney General Bill Schuette notes that it’s his job to uphold Michigan’s Constitution (Free Press editorial, 3/27/14), I agree that he is only doing his job. But as Mike Thompson’s editorial cartoon illustrates Mr. Schuette is tilting at windmills. 

His “rational basis” for the 2004 voter support of a ban on gay marriage is the notion of how marriage was traditionally understood “by virtually all civilizations throughout the centuries.” Those civilizations also understood slavery to be normal, child labor to be cost effective, and until 1920 in the United States, suppressing women’s ability vote to be morally acceptable.

My wife and I have been married 18 years and we never questioned our civil and legal rights in making this commitment. For gay couples, Michigan’s amended Constitution denies these same civil and legal rights based entirely upon their sexual orientation.

It’s Bill Shuette’s job to presses his case all the way to the US Supreme Court. I suspect that only there will his last editorial comment be amended to read: “…it is fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”  

Monday, December 09, 2013

2013 MEA Compensation Comparision

Recently the annual LM2 report for the MEA was filed with the Department of Labor. This report (required by the Department of Labor) details the compensation for all officers and employees of the Michigan Education Association; you can find the simple analysis of the report here (also shown below), and the complete report here. As has been the case for years, compensation at the parent organization (the MEA is the state level organizing unit of the NEA) is consistently stronger than for the rank and file teachers. This years report shows a small increase of staff, reversing last years reduction. Compensation at the top decreased again for the third year. The average increase continues to outpace the CPI at over 6.6% but this is influenced by timing issues (some individuals may have come onto the payroll mid year, etc.) and other adjustments. The median increase in compensation for all MEA staff was 0.30%. Once again, all top ten MEA officers continue to earn more than Governor Snyder (his annual compensation is $159,300).

If you are an MEA member, you can search these reports by name to see what your UniServe director's compensation - to find your UniServe diretor see this link to the MEA website.

The Top Ten salaries of the MEA are listed here:
These salaries are all based on the Department of Labor LM2 filings.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Common Core Support


In an attempt to address the political bluster that has infected the conversation regarding the common core efforts, Chester Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli (both from the Fordham Institute) offer some common sense insights.  An interesting quote is the observation from Governor Rick Snyder: “I think the Common Core is a really important opportunity. ... Unfortunately, it’s been too much about politics. Too many people in our country ...are looking to fight someone for the sake of fighting.”

That quote is worth it’s weight in gold; some politicians (see prior post) are using Common Core in a hypocritical attempt to create controversy solely for political points. Facts and research mean nothing to this type of “politician,” only the red-meat sound bite matters. What is it about politics that attracts this type of person? More to the point, why do we keep electing them? Maybe we should pay more attention, and maybe we should call them on the facts, not the sound bite.... 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Representative Tom McMillin Seeks to Dumb Down Michigan


Tom McMillin’s wrong headed and dangerously misguided legislation seeks to ensure and enshrine underachievement for Michigan’s school children.  His actions to subvert the common core and the next generation smarter balanced assessment is based on misinterpretations and manipulations designed to promote his own narrow agenda.  

McMillin’s objections expose a fundamental flaw in his knowledge about how and why the common core was developed; or perhaps it just pulls the curtain away from his close association with charter school operators. What better way to promote charters, than to help kill public schools? After years of lagging behind nearly every state in graduation requirements, Michigan moved to raise the bar in 2006. The framework of the Common Core and the implementation of improved testing tools helps support that higher bar for all students. McMillin’s actions run counter to the objective of dismantling quality public eduction.   

Some facts about the common core. It is not a perfect framework (nothing is), but the CCS does support higher CORE standards and the subsequent achievement expectations. Lost in the rhetoric is that the standards are CORE standards, not a predigested package of fully prescribed material. There are thick layers around the core which are controlled at the state and local levels. The common core is research based and provides the scaffolding for State and Local School Boards to build around that core:

  1. The standards were developed through the work of 48 states 
  2. The standards emphasize core competencies -- which means there is plenty of content controlled locally which will surround that core
  3. Michigan signed up to help develop the smarter balanced assessment. I’d like to highlight this fact; MICHIGAN WANTS TO HELP DEVELOP THE ASSESSMENT TOOL (i.e., have input, help shape, design, and ensure the tools work for Michigan).
  4. Leading the Smarter Balanced Assessment develop are:
    1. State Superintendents of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, MICHIGAN, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, N. Carolina, Oregon, S. Carolina, S. Dakota, Vermont, Washington, W. Virginia, Wisconsin as well as support from Alaska, N. Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.
    2. Each of the states listed above also provide K-12 input through personnel working for School Board Associations, or State Level Education Administrators.
    3. Every state listed includes Higher Education representatives (i.e., College) or administrators to ensure that college ready standards are supported.

As a local school board member I support the common core. I support higher standards and expectations, and I support Michigan’s desire to be part of designing a better future for our children. Representative McMillin is either genuinely misinformed, or dangerously duplicitous regarding his intentions. Neither option is good for Michigan. 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

2012 MPSERS Financial Statement Released

Thirty days late is better than never; the MPSERS Annual Report has been posted. You can view the report here. Upon first review there is good news and bad news. I'll provide a detailed analysis once I've worked through all 111 pages. A few notable items jumped to the front including:

  • Funded ratio (using the "smoothing" accounting trick) has fallen to 64.7% (pg.36)
  • Total unfunded liability of pension fund is $22.4 BILLION and $25.9 BILLION for Other Post-employment Benefits (health care). Total Unfunded position: $48.3 BILLION
  • Investment assumptions continue to remain insupportably high at 8% (pg. 37)
  • Total portfolio returns lagged market indexes but reported a solid 13.5% return (pg. 7)
  • Five year total return on portfolio is annualized at 1.6% (pg. 7)
The one thing that accounting gimmicks (smoothing) and inflated assumptions cannot hide is the demographic wave which continues to threaten the school aid fund... soon there will be more retirees drawing from the pension system than there will be employees paying into the system. The following chart on page 102 of the report is clear:


There is little to no likelihood of reversing this trend. All demographic studies support the fact that Michigan is getting older. There will be fewer school age children added to the system and there will be a declining need for additional teachers. With only 27,108 more active members than retired members, it's likely that the lines will cross in the next two to three years. The recent changes enacted to bolster the system might delay the need for more dramatic actions, but like all political acts it only kicks the can further down the road.