Thursday, March 26, 2015

How to kill a profession

So you want to kill a profession.

It's easy.

First you demonize the profession. To do this you will need a well-organized, broad-based public relations campaign that casts everyone associated with the profession as incompetent and doing harm.  As an example, a well-orchestrated public relations campaign could get the front cover of a historically influential magazine to invoke an image that those associated with the profession are "rotten apples."

Then you remove revenue control from the budget responsibilities of those at the local level. Then you tell the organization to run like a business which they clearly cannot do because they no longer have control of the revenue. As an example, you could create a system that places the control for revenue in the hands of the state legislature instead of with the local school board or local community.

Then you provide revenue that gives a local agency two choices: Give raises and go into deficit or don't give raises so that you can maintain a fund balance but in the process demoralize employees. As an example, in Michigan there are school districts that have little to no fund balance who have continued to give raises to employees and you have school districts that have relatively healthy fund balances that have not given employees raises for several years.

Then have the state tell the local agency that it must tighten its belt to balance revenue and expenses. The underlying, unspoken assumption being that the employees will take up the slack and pay for needed supplies out of their own pockets. 

Additionally , introduce "independent" charters so that "competition" and "market-forces" will "drive" the industry. However, many of these charters, when examined, give the illusion of a better environment but when examined show no improvement in service. The charters also offer no comprehensive benefits or significantly fewer benefits for employees. So the charters offer no better quality for "customers" and no security for employees but they ravage the local environment.

Then create a state-mandated evaluation system in an effort to improve quality. Require the system to use a value-added measure (or VAM) that may or may not be equipped to do what its advocates say it can do. The American Statistical Association states:

Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.

Then make high stakes employment decisions based on the VAM.

Then you create an accountability system that purports to evaluate the quality of organizations. Then, using this system, rate over 80% of organizations as average or below average, furthering diminishing the respect of the profession.

It's easy to kill a profession.

All of these things have happened to public schools in Michigan. While I don't want to believe it, the argument could be made that some people are trying to kill the profession of public school educator in Michigan.

Some might argue that what I should focus on is the students. Student needs are the most important.

I agree.

But unless you create a meaningful, respected profession - who will teach the students?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Do something!

Last week the Governor and the Michigan legislature officially took a stand. Schools, education, and the students in Michigan are not a priority.

How do I know? I watched what they did. 

Instead of using money that is dedicated to the students in Michigan - the Michigan State School Aid Fund - the Governor and the legislature used money from that fund to plug a general fund budget hole. 

Instead of using the State School Aid for its intended purpose, the Governor and the legislature made the point that the State School Aid Fund is a pot of money to be used as they see fit. 

Instead of saving the $167 million surplus in the State School Aid for the next fiscal year or instead of giving some of the State School Aid to schools for this school year, the Governor and the legislature spent the money to plug a hole in this year's state general fund budget.

So that is done. We can't go back and get that money for the State School Aid Fund.  

So now what do we do?

It’s easy to get depressed. It is easy to think that there is no use in trying to get the Governor and the legislature to do the right thing.

But I would encourage you not to give up.

Let the Governor and the legislature know that you don't believe that was the right thing to do.

Call them. (House. Senate. Governor.)

Write them.

Email them.

Be specific.

Let them know the State School Aid Fund should be for K-12 education. That is its purpose. That is why the State School Aid Fund exists.

The Governor’s proposed budget for next year has a planned reduction for the Novi Community School District and only a marginal increase for most school districts in Michigan.

Why? Because the State School Aid Fund does not have enough money to provide for a larger increase. Yet the governor and the legislature just gave away $167 million to the General Fund to plug a budget hole.

If we communicate clearly with our legislators that the State School Aid fund should be used for schools and schools alone, I believe that the legislature will do the right thing.

But they won’t do the right thing unless the hear from you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Data is not the savior of education

Standardized tests will not save American education.

It's not that I don't need data to help me make decisions. It's just that the data I receive from standardized tests does not give me a complete picture of whether or not my students are learning.

Don't get me wrong. Data is important.

I need data to analyze how well the students who sit in my classrooms are learning. I need data to measure if students are mastering the standards.

I need data so that I can figure out how I can help a student learn what they need to know.

I need data to analyze if my teachers are doing a good job. How can I tell if a student is really benefiting from a teacher's instruction unless I can measure the impact that teacher is having on her students?

Without data I would not be able to tell if a student is learning and a teacher is doing their job.

But data alone is not what I need. In fact, if I rely only on the data from standardized tests I will have a distorted view of my students and my teachers.

Standardized data cannot capture what happens in a classroom. Learning is about engaging ideas. Learning is passion, following ideas, understanding the why.

I want students who are engaged, who care about what they are learning, who understand not just the information but why it is important.

I want students who will dig for answers. I want students who don't just memorize information but who wrestle with ideas. I want students who grow excited about what they are learning and lose themselves in learning. 

No standardized test can measure that.

Tests are also artificial. They measure a very narrow slice of learning and certainly do not capture the breadth and depth of all that students know and care about.

There has been a lot of conversation about the value of our American testing program. Many would argue that our current form of standardized testing is not very good.  (See this article.)  Some parents are going so far as to opt students out of testing. (Here - #myoptoutletter, here)

But I believe that parents deserve to know if a student is making progress. I believe that taxpayers deserve to know if the investment that they are making in schools is really making a difference.

Standardized tests give us one perspective.

But we have come to rely on them as the only arbitrator in learning. We have come to see standardized tests as the only true measure of whether or not a student has learned anything.

And that is just not the case.

The question is how can we balance our need to know if students are learning and teachers are making an impact with our understanding that standardized assessments are not completely or wholly accurate reflections of all that students know?

It is a delicate balance.

But we have to figure out. We have to get the answer right.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Diverting attention

School funding in Michigan is contentious.

There are some school districts in the state that receive more money than other school districts.

There are several ways to show what school districts receive.

There is the per pupil calcuation (shown by the Senate report). Most districts are in the $7,100 to $7,500 dollars per pupil. Some in the $8,000 range. And there are some in the $11,000 range.

The Bulletin 1014 report that is published by the Michigan Department of Education shows all the money that comes to a district. This report lags real-time a bit. The latest report is from the 2013-2014 school year. Here everything is calcuated and the range for each school shows more that what the per pupil range from the Senate report shows.

What is undenialable is that most schools are more or less at one level of funding, some schools are higher, and a few schools are very high.

While the conversation could be about why do schools receive different amounts of money (and that is a worthwhile conversation to have), the real conversation should be about what is the true cost of educating a student in Michigan.

Last year's legislature passed a bill that would complete an education adequacy study. The question that is more important to answer is not what each district currently gets per pupil. The real question is what does it really cost to educate students in Michigan?

Focusing on what each district currently receives diverts attention from the more critical question of what is the true cost of educating the students in Michigan.

I would encourage the legislature to fully fund this study. It is time for us to know the cost of educating the students in our state.