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

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Expertise


Do teachers need to be experts in the subjects they teach or ‘just’ experts at teaching?

I was not the only person to see this tweet and have the following thought…

One of my college education professors drilled this into me, and my last thirty-some years of teaching have only confirmed it– half the secret of classroom management is to know what the hell you’re talking about. The best leverage for classroom management is neither love nor fear– it’s respect. And the best way to garner respect is to be competent, to display expertise in the content area, to know what the hell you’re talking about.

Yes, teaching is both a skill and an art and to do a good job, you have to know the skill and the art of teaching. But just as you can’t have waves without water or air, you cannot have “teaching skills” without content knowledge– and all the teaching skills in the world will not make up for lacking knowledge. You cannot make an awesome lesson about adding two plus two if you do not know that the result is four. You cannot lead your students through an illuminating and inspiring study of Hamlet if you have never read the play yourself. And just as students can smell fear, they can smell uncertainty and lack of knowledge. I don’t mean that you must be infallible in the classroom– but if you don’t know your content well, your students will smell it, and they will wonder why it’s important for them to learn something if the teacher doesn’t even know it.

Can you be an expert in your field and still fail as a teacher because you don’t know how to communicate your knowledge to your students? Sure– most of us have had that teacher. Can you go too far– way too far– in trying to impress upon your students how terribly smart you are? Absolutely– I once spent a very long semester with a student teacher who did not want to be a teacher so much as he wanted to be the smartest student in the room. But content knowledge is still teh foundation for everything else.

This notion of free-floating skills is a plague on our society. Management types believe that they can manage any company with raw management skills, even if they are completely ignorant of what the company does and the specifics of the industry in which they now work. I have watched the major industries in my neck of the woods brought down by people who didn’t know anything about the companies they were managing– but, hey, that’s okay because anyone can manage any company as long as he’s a super-duper manager.

It infects our government– you don’t need to know anything about an agency or sector of the economy to head a bureau or even hold a cabinet-level position. And education is an “industry” that shouldn’t be run by educators, but by business types who have the kind of management experience necessary.

But you cannot develop skills playing a musical instrument without playing something. You can’t learn how to “sport” without putting your hands on the specific object used in that specific sport.

And you can’t teach without teaching something. And you can’t teach something without knowing about that something. And the more you know, the better you will teach.

“Oh, no– I just pull something out and the students and I just, you know, explore and discover together,” you say. “And it works great.” Respectfully, I think you’re probably wrong on several counts.

First of all, unless you are a sensory deprived bat just emerging from a cave, you can’t pull out anything “blind.” You may have never tried that physics inquiry before, but you know about physics. You may never have read that Emerson essay before, but you know who he is and what he believed. And those management problems you have in your classes? Those happen because some of your students don’t think you know your material.

Whether you believe that learning is about following a carefully proscribed path, or wandering pathlessly through a vast territory hoping to find a teachable moment or a unique insight, you cannot take your students on that journey unless you know the territory like the back of your hand. That leadership skill is important, but you cannot learn the “how” of teaching without it being attached to the “what” of content. You can’t just teach– you have to teach something, and you can’t teach that something unless you know about it.

Content knowledge is the foundation of everything else. You cannot be an expert at teaching without being an expert at subject matter. Yes, even teachers of the littles, who in particular need the security of knowing they are in the hands of a grownup who Knows Things.

So the question is bizarre, like asking “Do you need to cook food really well for a good meal, or is it enough just to have a pretty plate on the table.” You cannot be a great cook without food. You cannot be a great musician if you don’t play a note. And you cannot be a great teacher without knowledge of your content.

Michigan Legislators want to pass more anti-immigrant legislation and make it illegal for cities to support the undocumented community

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

The Michigan legislature will be hearing testimony tomorrow about House Bill 4015, also known as the Sanctuary Policy Prohibition Act.

This legislation will make it law that will prohibit and city, county or township government in the state of Michigan from enacting a sanctuary policy, particularly a policy that would make it illegal for local law enforcement to NOT cooperate with federal officials as it relates to undocumented people.

Section 5 of the proposed legislation reads:

Section 9 of the proposed legislation is equally problematic. It reads:

House Bill 4051 also means that local governments must provide in writing to the state of Michigan that they have complied with this legislation, should it pass, and if it does not do so, the “state treasurer shall withhold the total annual payment amount that the 5 local unit of government receives under the Glenn Steil state 6 revenue sharing act…

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Michigan Parents for Schools Action Alert: The Great Pension Diversion 

It’s budget season in Lansing, and there are some important issues that need to be settled about school funding. But, as any good magician knows, the key to a good trick is to keep your audience’s attention focused someplace else. For that flashy bit of distraction, we have the wrong-headed effort to end the school pension system at a cost of more than a billion dollars a year for the next four decades. Right now, legislative leaders are not only insisting on closing the state public school retirement system (MPSERS) to new hires, but have cut off budget negotiations with Gov. Snyder because of his continued opposition to the retirement changes.

Dear Friends,
I’d like to thank everyone who responded to our earlier action alert on the school pension (MPSERS) closing bills. But whether you did or did not, please read on.

Whatever you may be hearing in the news, the issue here is NOT really about defending teacher pensions. Don’t get me wrong: we strongly believe in good pay and decent benefits for the folks we ask to educate and care for our children five days a week. You can’t hire, or keep, great people if you don’t offer fair compensation.

The REAL issue here is that these bills would hang a $46 BILLION millstone around the necks of our public schools for the next four decades.(1) And if recent budget moves are any indication, that cost will be borne solely by the students and staff of our “traditional” local public schools.

After all that we have seen, can anyone seriously believe that the real issue driving all this is pension costs?

This issue came out of nowhere last December, and was suddenly the top priority of our state lawmakers for no apparent reason.
Legislative leaders have cut Gov. Snyder out of budget negotiations, a stunning step, because he opposes the MPSERS closing bills and are forging ahead on their own.
These bills will do NOTHING to reduce the existing (old) pension system debt.
Just five years ago, lawmakers created a new hybrid system after rejecting the idea of closing MPSERS entirely. Many of those folks are still serving in the legislature!
The current hybrid retirement system is fully funded and in good shape.
The $400+ million the legislature set aside to cover “up front” costs by reducing the the state and school aid budgets will only cover the first year of the added cost of these bills.

Who will pay for years 2 through 40?

Yeah, you guessed it. Our children pay for it as the added costs of these bills eat up any increases in funds available for school aid over the next 40 years. By that time, current kindergartners will be approaching middle age!

Please don’t fall for the spin. This isn’t about the pros or cons of teacher retirement plans. This is about the very survival of our community-governed public schools.

Please contact your state lawmakers today and let them know that you’ve seen though this absurd plan. Insist that they abandon this irresponsible and harmful proposal and get to work creating a budget that strengthens our schools!

Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools

(note 1) This isn’t a typo, and sadly it’s not “fake news” either. The nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency’s analysis of HB 4647, and the Senate Fiscal Agency’s write-up of the identical SB 401, both come up with the same number: $46.43 BILLION in ADDED costs over the next 40 years.


Source: Action alert: The Great Pension Diversion | Michigan Parents for Schools

Community Schools Show Promise As School Improvement Strategy | National Education Policy Center

Washington, DC (June 5, 2017) – Community schools can be a successful strategy for improving schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), according to a report released today by the National Education Policy Center and the Learning Policy Institute. The report, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, reveals that community schools, an increasingly popular school improvement strategy, are strongly supported by research evidence, as required by ESSA. The report was released at an event organized by the Coalition for Community Schools.

Community schools are schools that partner with community agencies and local government to provide an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, and youth and community development. They provide expanded learning time and opportunities, engage families actively, and emphasize collaborative practices. Lead author Jeannie Oakes noted that, “Although the approach is appropriate for students of all backgrounds, many community schools serve neighborhoods where poverty and racism erect barriers to learning, and where families have few resources to supplement what typical schools provide.”

Authors Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel examined 125 peer-reviewed studies, program evaluations, and published research reviews investigating the impact of community schools or their component parts on a range of outcomes. The authors evaluated the studies against the criteria set forth in ESSA for determining which interventions may be considered “evidence-based” and found that there is sufficient evidence to support the broad use of community schools as an “evidence-based” reform strategy. The report stresses that community schools can be a particularly important strategy for transforming high-poverty schools.

Community Schools details how implementing the community schools strategy affects multiple domains—achievement, attendance, behavior, adult and peer relationships, and attitudes—but cautions that those effects will likely take time to be fully realized. Accordingly, the report provides research-based lessons that describe the evidence-based characteristics of well-implemented successful programs.

These lessons stress the importance of:

  • taking a comprehensive approach;
  • adapting the strategy to local contexts;
  • providing sufficient planning time to build trusting relationships between the school and partners;
  • involving young people, parents, and community members as part of the needs assessment, design, planning and implementation processes;
  • using evaluation strategies that provide useful information about implementation and exposure to services, as well as progress toward hoped-for outcomes; and
  • using data for continuous program refinement, while allowing sufficient time for the strategy to fully mature.

The report also recommends support for further rigorous studies of community schools in order to develop a better understanding of the conditions under which the various elements of the community schools strategy are most effective.

Jeannie Oakes summed up the report’s significance: “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires that federally funded interventions be ‘evidence-based.’ Our review makes clear that policymakers, educators, and communities can make community schools part of their evidence-based ESSA state plans.”

Find Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, by Jeannie Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel, at:

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) conducts and communicates independent, high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, the Institute seeks to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the Institute connects policymakers and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels with the evidence, ideas, and actions needed to strengthen the education system from preschool through college and career readiness. Visit LPI at:

The research underlying this brief was supported in part by grants to LPI from the Ford Foundation and the Sandler Foundation.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. The Center’s publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our goal is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Visit NEPC at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by support provided to NEPC by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

The DeVos Family now wants to remake part of a southeast Grand Rapids neighborhood: Part II

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

Last week we reported on the organization known as AmplifyGR, an organization that is a non-profit, created by the DeVos family’s RDV Corporation.

We reported that AmplifyGR was working with Rockford Construction Company and the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation to develop parts of the Southtown neighborhood area, particularly, the Boston Square area and part of industrial area surrounding Cottage Grove SE.

In the March 15, 2017, Southtown Corridor Improvement District meeting minutes it states in part, “Longer term they are asking how do they reposition the properties in Boston Square and Cottage grove in a way that provides employment to people living in Southeast Grand Rapids.

While these minutes reflect the notion that AmplifyGR and Rockford Construction want to provide employment opportunities to people in the area, Rockford Construction had purchased more than two dozen properties in these neighborhoods more than a year before these…

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