CURMUDGUCATION: Foggy College Readiness

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Foggy College Readiness

Foggy College Readiness

Chester “Checker” Finn is concerned. The former head of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and current Maryland State Board of Education VP thinks that our students and families are enveloped in a giant bank of foggy lies, lies about their college readiness and their future prospects and the quality of their K-12 education.

National Affairs includes Finn in their Winter 2017 issue with “The Fog of ‘College Readiness’.” It’s a piece that wants to set off some alarms, but actually has some serious fog problems of its own.

Finn opens by saying that maybe more than half of graduating high school students are not ready for college– according to “some estimates.” This is a problem because the “vast majority” of high school students plan to attend college. This is a very foggy place to start; I teach a Pretty Large Number (to use Finn’s style of metrics here) of students who are the future welders, auto mechanics, body repair experts, home health care aids, and heavy equipment operators of America. None of them intend to go to college, and none of them need to (and in my English class, my goal is not to prepare them for college). So to summarize our starting point– some number of students aren’t ready to go to college, and some number of those students actually want to go to college.

So how does Finn think we arrived at this foggily-delineated problem?

The source of this gap between belief and reality is the K-12 education system. Our schools create a fog when it comes to academic preparation for college success. Concerned more with inclusiveness, validation, and graduation than with college preparedness, administrators encourage teachers to, for instance, consider pupil effort in their grading, and push students to take advanced courses for which they have the ambition but not the readiness. 

He devotes a paragraph to Hillary Clinton’s free college ideas (leading me to believe that this piece was wrapped up before, say, mid-November) and then notes that while ambition and optimism are swell things, there just comes a point–

But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging. 

K-12 schools and colleges and universities should stop lying. It’s an interesting position because it points in a direction that Finn never suggests or even hints at– the conclusion that some students just aren’t going to get that special level of success and they should start figuring out how to face the truth that there lives are not going to be all that great or successful. It’s the subtext of so much reformsterism– that some people are just destined for Better Things than other people, and we should stop trying to raise false hope and doomed aspirations for those other people, and we should most especially stop dumping money in a system that raises those false hopes and doomed aspirations. Instead of building Great Hope Academy, we should be offering Know Your Place and Be Happy High School.

But as I said, Finn isn’t going to go there, or even admit that such a there is implicit in his argument (of all the reformsters, only Finn’s successor at Fordham, Mike Petrilli, is willing to just say that some students are of a better type and therefor need a better type of school, away from the non-strivers).

So where does he go?

It’s no secret that possessing a college degree vastly improves one’s chances of attaining the “good life.” It helps greatly in the quest for a decent job, a living wage, upward mobility (if one’s parents had no such degrees), and full participation in American society. Indeed, a society full of college graduates is apt to be not just wealthier but healthier and more stable than one populated by dropouts and people with only K-12 schooling.

Well, no. Finn tried to muster some evidence for this by citing Coming Apart and Our Kids. But I’d argue what Robert Putnam shows in Our Kids is what is supported by other research– the best predictor of the Good Life is being raised by parents who have the Good Life themselves. A college degree is just one of those things that people on the Good Life track get; it’s an effect, not a cause. When Finn envisions a society full of these Better People, he’s not envisioning a society full of college grads so much as he’s imagining a world where more people are Better People from privileged backgrounds. Although he’s also imagining a society in which a lot of people might be cranky about being fast food managers and garbage collectors with college degrees and college debt out the wazoo. College degrees do not make college degree-requiring jobs appear, and they do not make laboring jobs disappear.

Finn rings the bell about disappearing lower-skills work, and that’s a fair point. We seem to be slowly figuring out that automation is a much a threat to our workforce as outsourcing. That means we need more college-educated folks, and Finn also wants to ring the bell of college remediation– which means that those students must not have been prepared to attend. To his credit, Finn lays some blame for this on the college’s choice to accept the student in the first place. I would love it if the right-tilted Finn recognized this as an effect of the free market on education– that if the market shrinks, the business must get fast and loose about whom it accepts as customers, and in this way, competition and free market pressures can actually lead to a worse product, rather than the high quality that free market acolytes believe must be the result of competition.

Anyway, Finn would be okay with the over-acceptance of deficient college freshmen if colleges were any good at remediation, but they aren’t. For this moment, at least, Finn and I are in agreement. Finn also notes that remediation is now part of the business model, which matches what I hear from former students.

So where is this terrible honesty gap sneaking in?

Finn names several culprits. Grade inflation, leading to lost of students getting Bs and As. Students getting scores that have incorporated things like hard work. Kids These Days, with their droopy pants and participation trophies.

But Finn is also unhappy with standardized tests, and he argues against norming because that ends up defining “fifth grade level” for readings as “about average for all fifth graders.” Finn wants standards– hard, tough, immovable standards that will give lots of students the failing scores they deserve. It is not clear what Finn thinks the standards should be based on– who exactly will decide what a fifth grader “should” be able to do. Nor does he mention that the modern emphasis on normed testing and rating and ranking is built into the dna of the reformster movement, which has repeatedly insisted that we need standards in order to compare students, teachers and schools, to sort out the winners and losers.

Oh, and look– coming out of the fog is this large piece of baloney. Finn believes despite the “furor” raised over the Common Core, “a welcome outcome of the recent round of improvements in state standards is that young people who actually master them will be prepared for college-level academics.” So wrong, in so many ways. Do the CCSS math and English standards guarantee that someone is ready to be a biology major or history major or music major? Is there a single solitary piece of evidence that the standards prepare someone to be a math or English major? And we’ve had the standards for years now– do we see a corresponding spike in college success? No, to all of that?

Well, Finn can explain the last part. Wimpy states have balked at setting honesty cut scores for tests because they don’t want to face the truth that huge swaths of students should be labeled deficient. And the primary and middle school grades sent home form the tests are “cagey” about whether or not students are on track for college. Because surely you can tell whether a ten year old is on track for college or not, and you shouldn’t be “cagey” about it.

Finn says that high schools add to the fog with things like lots of AP courses. As with many of his other complaints, Finn skips the part where he and his reformy friends have added to the problem. AP courses (which are a product sold by the College Board, the company that is now headed by David Coleman, architect of the Common Core) are widely added because in some states like mine, offering AP courses helps improve your school performance score.

Finn does note that pressure from all (feds, reformsters, etc) over has pushed schools to increase grad rates some way, any way, and he sees ties to the Go To College rate here. That creates pressure to finagle, which creates students and families who are lied to by “adults in the K-12 system,” none of whom will suffer any adverse effects for their duplicity. But teachers who give those As and Bs are like doctors who prescribe opiates.

There are all sorts of pieces lost in the fog of Finn’s portrayal. One piece is the students and families themselves. In thirty-some years, I have lost track of the students and parents who have chosen less rigorous coursework so that they could get higher grades or have less stressful lives. Give me control of those students’ educational choices and they would have been much more prepared for college– but that’s not how the system works. Every year I have at least one or two students in my non-college prep class who want to go to college, but don’t want to take college track courses, despite my explaining in no uncertain terms the mistake they’re making.

One proposed Finnian solution? Well, colleges could be honest and tell high schools “you can give a diploma to anyone you want, but they can’t come to college without evidence that they’re ready to do the work here.” Finn envisions a two-tier graduation system, with one track for Plain Old Vanilla Diplomas and one for Ready For College certificates. Colleges would be completely upfront about who could and could not gain admittance and which students would be denied the opportunity to pay tuition to the college and again I ask, has Finn ever met the Free Market?

I do think he’s on the verge of another realization here, which is that colleges and universities, as engines and markers of the regular old systems of privilege, often make admissions decisions that have nothing to do with academic promise. Can you imagine Yale telling George H. W. Bush, “Sorry, but your son George, with his lackluster high school performance and poor test scores simply isn’t Yale material, and he’ll have to go somewhere else because, you know, we have standards here. Also, can we count on your generous donation to the alumni fund again this year?”

This is also as good a place as any to note another giant gaping fogbank in Finn’s reasoning which has been typical at every step of the College Ready reformster movement. College Ready is not a single, measurable thing. Not even a little. “Ready to major in art history at Harvard” does not look remotely like “ready to major in biology at Penn State” which does not look remotely like “ready to major in Spanish at Outer Dipwillow Community College” which does not look like “ready to major in underwater basket weaving at Bob’s For-Profit Online University.” When Finn says that colleges should be frank with high schools about what students need to be admitted there, I am imagining a 300-page document from every single college in the country.

If Finn or anyone else wants me to take this College Ready baloney seriously (because I’m sure he’s losing sleep worrying about my approval), they should show me a specific list of exact skill and knowledge areas that they believe defines College Ready for all schools for all courses of study. It cannot be done. College Ready is not a thing.

Finn imagines the ripples that would spread if colleges implemented his policy of hard honesty:

If colleges stopped admitting sorely unprepared students — or Washington curbed their access to financial aid — there would be an initial uproar, with cries of discrimination, narrowed opportunity, and fresh barriers to social mobility. A number of colleges would lose enrollment and some — especially community colleges, but also some private colleges, including a number of “historically black” campuses — would shrink. At least a handful would likely close.

Yes, Checker Finn just said that if we tightened college standards, black students would be hit hardest.

Finn imagines that high schools would get a whole lot of pushback from parents who discovered that Junior was not doing well enough to get into college.

But those schools, too, need to be part of the solution, not just by preparing their pupils more effectively but also by advising parents — in those annual test-score reports, of course, but also in teacher conferences, quarterly report cards, and other bulletins — as to the kinds of colleges that their kids are or are not on track for.

Yeah, we could add new staff– we could call them Know Your Place counselors.

Somewhere in all of this classist mess is the notion that college is not for everyone, which is dead on, because there are plenty of rewarding, well-paid, and absolutely essential jobs that are necessary, as Mike Rowe sayd, “to make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” In fact, if folks like Finn want to help with this issue, one thing they could do is stand up for unions and advocate for solid union protection and good union wages, thereby helping folks realize that blue collar jobs are not the jobs people “settle” for because they’re not “smart” enough to go to college. That would be a huge help!

But in the meantime, we will float in the fog where the proposed solution to a problem that may not even exist is to assess a quality we don’t know how to measure to foster outcomes that we don’t know how to create, all in the name of separating out the winners from the losers, the Betters from the Lessers, even though we’re so lost in a fog with our non-existent measuring tools that we can’t tell our elbows from our ears. Should be a piece of cake.

How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’ : NPR Ed : NPR

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones says school segregation will continue to exist in America “as long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children.”


When everyone picks what’s best for their kids, segregation and disparity are what’s left

“We can’t say ‘this school is not good enough for my child’ and then sustain that system,” reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones tells Terri Gross. “I think that that’s just morally wrong.” That’s why she chose to keep her kid in her neighborhood school. It’s an unusual choice when U.S. schools have been resegregating since 1988. The question:

Did the country ever really want integration?

Source: How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’ : NPR Ed : NPR

Highlights From The Betsy DeVos Hearing: School Vouchers, Oligarchy And Grizzlies : NPR Ed : NPR

Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department got a grilling on a range of issues, from private school vouchers and charter school oversight to guns in schools. How did she fare?


Vouchers, charters and grizzlies: Betsy DeVos tries to sell senators on school choice, local control

Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department got a grilling from Democrats in her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, especially on issues of federal education funding, regulation and standards. She had some direct answers, but dodged at times too.

Read the full exchanges

Source: Highlights From The Betsy DeVos Hearing: School Vouchers, Oligarchy And Grizzlies : NPR Ed : NPR

Transcript And Analysis: President Trump’s Inauguration Speech : NPR

Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. NPR reporters and editors have annotated his remarks.


President Trump’s inaugural address, annotated

The new president’s first speech to the nation echoed many of his populist themes from the campaign trail, says political reporter Sarah McCammon: rejecting the political establishment and promising to return power “to the people.” Trump’s speech also touched on education, crime, the military, jobs and “the forgotten men and women of our country.”

NPR reporters break it all down here

Source: Transcript And Analysis: President Trump’s Inauguration Speech : NPR

CURMUDGUCATION: School Accountability Diet

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

School Accountability Diet

One of the best things the feds ever created was the nutritional information panel for food.

When I go shopping, I can quickly and easily access information about the food I buy. There’s how much fat in these power bars??!! Look– twinkies have far fewer calories than I imagined!

The panels are a model of transparency, because the information is there for me to do with as I will. Years ago I didn’t care at all about dietary fiber; nowadays, it’s something I can stand to pay attention to. Protein was never a big deal, but since my wife is currently constructing a pair of twins, we pay attention to how much protein there is in the food we bring home. And we can shift our attention as new information becomes available– different types of fat or cholesterol used to be non-issues, but now informed consumers know there are distinctions that matter.

Think of how much better this system works than one in which food was rated or ranked. If the feds slapped on labels that said “These bagels get a B+” or “These frozen waffles are the 215th-ranked food in this grocery store.” I would have virtually no information on which to base my judgment, with the whole complex issue of the many characteristics of food and how it balances against what I need and want in my diet– that would all be reduced to a piece of data so narrow and limited and opaque as to be meaningless, useless for me in making a decision.

This is how I know that many reformsters who advocate for school grades and rankings “so that parents can make an informed choice” are lying– they are neither supporting parents nor choice.

To support a grade or ranking, rather than a simple transparent data system like the nutritional information labels, you would have to believe one of the following

1) Parents aren’t capable of understanding and processing the information, so we’ll have to process it and evaluate it for them.

2) Parents will make the “wrong” choice, so we must stack and sum up the data in a way that pushes parents toward the choices that we want them to choose. We must decide what decision they should make.

3) It has nothing to do with the parents. We want a basis on which to attack and close certain schools, and that’s what the ranks and grades are for.

If the food system worked like this, government bureaucrats could rate Pop Tarts an A because they have bright colors and lots of sugar, or C because they don’t have very much actual fruit or F because  the bureaucratic system is operated by people who have stock in the Toaster Strudle corporation.

Choice advocates love to talk about letting parents vote with their feet, but in fact rating and ranking are all about making sure that the Powers That Be get to pick the winners and losers. It’s about creating the illusion of choice without the real, complete, transparent information to make a real choice. It’s no coincidence that A-F systems are particularly popular in states where policy leaders are intent on dismantling public ed and replacing it with a profitable charter system.

One of the biggest problems with school choice in this country is that choice fans are, for the most part, not really trying to create a choice system. If they were, we would be collecting all sorts of data about schools and putting it out there for parents to decide, based on whatever criteria they think is important, like a giant nutritional content label. But that’s not what we’re doing– choice advocates are keeping the definition of “good” and “bad” schools gripped tightly and secretly in their own hands, making sure that they retain the right to pick winners and losers (and there is no free-floating information that might contradict charter/choice school marketing).

There are many reasons that a public school advocate would oppose charter and choice systems, but one of the reasons I oppose the particular system that we are seeing implemented from Michigan to Florida is that it’s dishonest, it’s a lie. It’s not really a parental choice system at all, and we can tell that from the label, which is designed in a rating or ranking system, to keep all choice out of the hands of parents and in the hands of the people who run the system.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: School Accountability Diet


CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: The $1 Salary

The $1 Salary

So apparently billionaire heiress and presumptive Head of the Department of Things She Knows Nothing About, Betsy DeVos intends to take a salary of a mere $1 when she ascends her education throne. I think that’s a lousy idea.

I know it’s meant to make her seem magnanimous and willing to take on the office just out of the sweet public servicey goodness of her heart. I suppose there may also be some rich person tax dodge here– the DeVos family can now claim all school children in the US as their dependents now, or some such accounting trick. Maybe, having never really pulled down a paycheck, DeVos is unsure what to do with it. But mostly I think we’re supposed to be impressed that she’s not taking our tax dollars to do the job.

Well, I’m not.

First of all, I don’t care for the model that says federal leadership jobs are best handed over to the wealthy. It’s a kind of backwards method of barring non-wealthy people from powerful leadership positions. It’s a model for a benevolent plutocracy. You folks don’t need democratically elected representatives– we rich folks will take care of you and provide what we think is best for you. Now shut up and go back to your homes to await further instructions.

Second, I think it’s a fundamental principle that you pay people to do work. It is part of a system of accountability. If you accept a salary, you are accountable to the people who pay you that salary.

The corollary is clear– if you accept no salary, you are accountable to nobody.

It’s true that there are some exceptions. Lawrence Pelletier, the president of my college when I attended, supposedly led the college for $1. And there is a world of volunteers who keep so many organizations (my own retired parents run an antique music museum that you should visit if you’re ever in town). Heck, for over forty years I have played in an all-volunteer town band, and as it turns out, nobody is paying me to write or maintain this blog.

Of course, being a volunteer means that we can pursue what we’re passionate about, set our own priorities, and do it at the time of our own choosing. We answer to ourselves, follow our own conceptions of how the job should be done, set our own standards, pick our own priorities.

These are not qualities I’m looking for in officials holding major federal offices. I do not someone running the Department of Education (or any other high-level department) answering only to themselves. I do not want them deciding that as long as they are achieving their own personal goals, there’s no need to consider anyone else.

I want DeVos to take her damn salary. I know it’s a drop in her big billionairess bucket, but I want her to take it anyway.  I want her to be regularly reminded that she works for the American people– all of the American people and all of their children and all of their schools. I want her reminded that her employment comes with a variety of rules and regulations that she is not free to heed or ignore as the feeling strikes her. I want her reminded that in that office, the American taxpayers and not the DeVos family pay her salary.

“Follow the money” is a thing because when you follow the money, you find out who is really in charge, who is really calling the shots. And if DeVos is only being paid a buck, the money trail may lead to many dark and interesting places, but it will never lead to the American people.

“Creating Quality Education” Making Michigan a Better Place for Kids

Making Michigan a Better Place for Kids
By Bill Cobbs
Candidate for Governor of Michigan, 2018

Education is a fundamental building block for Michigan’s future. Investing in a quality k-12 education for our children is a moral imperative. The investment we make today will be the dividends we gain tomorrow.

Literacy Is Fundamental

Literacy is important to both our democracy and freedom as a nation. From all that I’ve read, one of the most important aspects of the slave trade was denying slaves the ability to read and write to maintain servitude. While slavery has ended, even to enjoy Freedom of the Press, we must be able to read what our journalists print.

Without literacy, we can’t study our nation’s history, to understand why our nation granted the freedoms we now enjoy. Without literacy, what remains is a dumbed down society plagued by the virus of cognitive dissonance eating away one by one, at our critical thinking, our attention span, and our very moral fiber. And here we are. Trump.

Today’s bondage may not be physical, but it is even more insidious. Children are being deprived of basic literacy both in our schools and in the home.

In educational policy, we are being drawn into the trap of privatization by “school of choice” marketing. This marketing is not for our benefit. Listen closely when a Governor says he is taking over academic control of your school, but he is not accountable for a quality education! A Governor that would rather spend $35,000 to imprison an illiterate juvenile, than $10,000 to teach a child, has another agenda. Governor Snyder has been deaf to our cries, and out of touch with the components of good Governance. Literacy is all the more difficult to achieve when the average charter school teacher has only one year of experience.

There are four steps to this immoral and unethical scheme to profit from the destabilization of our neighborhoods:

  1. Defunding neighborhood schools so they lack books, staff, and proper maintenance
  2. Labeling public schools which lack critical resources as “failing” to drive students away
  3. Closing the schools lacking critical resources
  4. Privatizing by giving away publicly funded community assets to for-profit charters

There was a time that brothers and sisters went to the same school, knew the same teachers, and were proud to root for the home team at high school football games. The viability of every neighborhood and its cultural institutions is important to literacy. When neighborhoods have safe, clean schools, people desire to put down roots and property values rise.

Conversely, destroying our neighborhood institutions creates crime and instability. It has been shown that closing schools and making children cross into unknown territories increased gang activity and gang membership in Detroit. Poor areas are easy victims because more families are renters, and these families have fewer connections to the neighborhood. Therefore, children who attend charters may have an even more difficult time forming stable positive relationships.

Yet, the opportunity to send our child to a charter school across town with a fancier name is so tempting; we may forget momentarily the impact on our property values when our neighborhood school is boarded up. Let’s remember, we are in this together. Destabilizing neighborhood institutions to benefit a business is counter-intuitive to government efficiency, transparency, and accountability. It also creates segregation by dividing children into two classes:

  • Children who will be accepted at a charter and have transportation
  • Children who are not accepted at a charter and do not have transportation
Around the country, brown and black communities are being pushed off the precipice into privatization. Have you noticed that when the public accountability of an elected board is removed, we have the Charles Pughs, and Eddie Longs, eager to step right up to “mentor” a fresh crop of fatherless victims?
There are many examples I won’t name, but you have heard about them, too. If we want literacy, we have a moral responsibility to shore up deficiencies that exist in our neighborhood schools and empower teachers and parents with the resources they need.
In our homes, we must reinforce the importance of reading. Some families have every game system and shoes with three-figure price tags. These same homes may not have a book. This is the Slavery of Consumerism which keeps us in a financial bondage our children may never escape from.
There are still lessons to be learned from Oliver Twist, and I Know Why the Mockingbird Sings. Books can teach us about faraway places. Books can show a child that his or her self-worth cannot be determined by things. When we hunger for things, we can never have enough things. Things are secondary to character and community pride. Things are secondary to dreams.
At home, we must reinforce education’s role in opportunity. We cannot allow the television and gaming systems to be the educational tools in our home. Whatever neighborhood we live in, we as parents must expose our children to reading at an early age.
Reading is power. We must find creative ways to make learning fun. We break the stranglehold of illiteracy by having strong community-based schools and homes that stress reading skills early. We must praise education and make it paramount to the children’s future.
We can fix this. We must properly fund public K-12 education. We cannot abandon our neighborhood schools. We must stop blaming educators and empower them. We must not allow education of our children to be driven by economic standing. We must not abandon our special needs students. Some charter schools have done excellent work, but destabilization of our public institutions for school privatization is not the answer.
We must increase educational spending, and use our resources more effectively. We must move money from the incarceration process to the educational process. We have to provide our children with the tools to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and public servants and productive contributors to our community.
After nearly 17 years of school choice, it is estimated that Michigan is 40th of 50 states in child literacy. With this in mind, we can no longer allow one family in West Michigan to decide the fate of every child via political contributions.
If we want to throw off the choke hold of illiteracy, we must do our duty as citizens. Many died for our right to vote. Staying home on Election Day has laid the red carpet for politicians beholden to corporations which turn our children into commodities for sale like corn or wheat.
We must care about the policy being written for our community and make our voices heard. We must groom leaders with moral character. We must get in the voting line and we must pull the lever for people who value funding quality education in every Michigan neighborhood. We must open a book, and read to our kids. Literacy is fundamental.

Source: Creating Quality Education – Bill Cobbs for Governor in MI

WUS’ Alumni Hall of Fame nominations sought

Image result for Wayland Union Schools

Wayland Union Schools, MI – Wayland Union Schools is seeking input for the 2017 Alumni Hall of Fame.

Nominate a candidate for consideration by sending the nominee’s name and qualifications to Tom Cutler, Principal, Wayland Union High School, 870 E. Superior Street, Wayland, MI 49348 or email to

Deadline for submitting nominations is at noon, March 10, 2017.

Nomination Criteria:

  • Nominees must be a graduate of Wayland Union High School
  • Individual must have made an important contribution to Wayland Union Schools, the Wayland Union Schools Community, or society in general
  • Posthumous induction is possible
  • Students of Wayland Union High School may be considered for induction ten years after graduation

The Alumni Hall of Fame Ceremony will take place on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 7:00pm in the Wayland Union Fine Arts Center as part of the Scholastic Honors Night celebration.


Contact:  Laurie Zywiczynski, Director of Community Relations, 269-792-2281 x2811

*Please note my email address has changed to

MDE identifies WUS’ Steeby Elementary as ‘Reward School’

Image result for steeby elementary wayland miJanuary 20, 2017

Wayland Union Schools, MI – The Michigan Department of Education released the state’s score cards today and Steeby Elementary has been identified as a Reward School. The Michigan Department of Education defines schools as a reward school when one or more of the following criteria is met:

  • The school is in the top 5 percent of schools on achievement in the Top-to-Bottom ranking, OR
  • The school is in the top 5 percent of schools on the improvement metrics, OR
  • The school is designated as a “Beating the Odds” school (a school that is outperforming schools with similar demographics).

Schools are assessed on the progress students make on M-STEP, the annual state assessment. In the spring of 2016 fourth grade students at Steeby Elementary made tremendous growth from the assessment that they took during the spring of 2015 as third grade students.

Across a district, the percentage of students identified as proficient or advanced increased in 12 out of 16 areas tested. Students in Wayland Union Schools continue to show significant gains in language arts and math. Wayland Union Schools has made a commitment to providing students with intervention and enrichment opportunities that meet their needs.

All of our schools have implemented the practices of Professional Learning Communities. Professional Learning Communities are groups of teachers of the same grade level or content area that work together to monitor student growth. Over the course of the year the district utilizes five early release days so that teachers can work together to refine curriculum and instructional strategies, design and analyze assessments, and plan intervention and enrichment opportunities for students.

“The designation of Steeby Elementary as a Reward School, and the demonstrated growth in all of our buildings, is a testament to the hard work of our staff and students to increase academic achievement in our district” stated Teresa Fulk, Director of Instruction. “We will continue to work to ensure that our students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in college or in a career after high school.”

Contact:  Laurie Zywiczynski, Director of Community Relations, 269-792-2281 x2811

CURMUDGUCATION: How Not To Improve Schools

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: How Not To Improve Schools

How Not To Improve Schools

The report is in from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences– “School Improvement Grants: Implementation and Effectiveness.” It is our last lesson in school reform from the Obama-Duncan-King education department, and although that version of the department is being bulldozed under even as I type, there are still important lessons to be learned here.

The full report is over 400 pages long, and if you want to read the whole thing, be my guest. But I don’t think there are any devils lurking in these details. Because the fourth-of-five findings pretty much tells the story:

Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG -funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment. 

The Obama administration spent $3 billion dollars on school improvement grants (actually $7 billion by the time you factor it all in), and it did not produce any measurable improvements, at all.

Some folks are going to jump straight from there to their favorite conclusion– throwing more money at schools doesn’t do any good. But that’s the wrong conclusion, for two reasons.

First, this results of the study are inconclusive because they checked only for Big Standardized Test scores, graduation rate, and college enrollment. For the sixty gazzilionth time, let me point out that these are narrow, twisted, not-very-good measures of education. I would argue, for instance, that if the three billion had been used to add music and art teachers to every single school in America, education would have been vastly improved– but that improvement would not show up in a study like this. Likewise more guidance counselors, more welding instructors or field trips would improve education, but not in ways that would show up in these metrics.

Second– and this is probably the more important lesson– is the question of how SIG money was spent. Because the feds did not at any point say, “You know, you are the experts there on the ground who best know what your school needs to be better, so we are going to trust your judgment.” No, as the report aptly sums up, the money was not just tied to strings, but wrapped up in strings, bound in strings, woven into a menacing macrame of strings:

SIG allowed grantees to implement one of four school intervention models (transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure). These models promoted the use of many improvement practices in four main areas: (1) adopting comprehensive instructional reform strategies, (2) developing and increasing teacher and principal effectiveness, (3) increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools, and (4) having operational flexibility and receiving support.

SIG was like food stamps that could only be spent on baby formula, ostrich eggs, and venison, and it didn’t matter if the families receiving the stamps lived on a farm with fresh milk and chicken eggs, or if they were vegetarians, or if they lived where no store sells ostrich eggs, or if there are no babies in the family.  USED used SIG to dictate strategy and buy compliance with their micro-managing notions about how schools had to be fixed.

The moral of the story is not that money doesn’t make a difference. The moral of the story is that when bureaucrats in DC dictate exactly how money must be spent– and they are wrong about their theory of action and wrong about the strategies that should be used by each school and wrong about how to measure the effectiveness of those strategies– then the money is probably wasted. We’ll see soon enough if anyone left at the Department of Education can identify that lesson.