Billionaire Meijer Family opens store on Bridge St. now that the neighborhood is catering to the professional class

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

On Monday, Meijer executives and other members of the Grand Rapids elite showed up for a photo opportunity and to promote their own business interests.

Meijer held a “ground breaking” ceremony, where a bunch of White-connected men did the whole, “we are only mimicking that we are doing actual physical labor,” photo op.

Channel 8 began its news story with the news reader saying, “It’s an exciting day for Grand Rapids’ westside,” which normalizes the ongoing celebration of more development that will cater to the more professional/business class and further marginalize the working class and communities of color. 

The WOOD TV 8 story, like most media coverage of the new Meijer store on Bridge St, leaves out any historical context, which the billionaire Meijer family is happy about. MLive has Hank Meijer talking about how proud his father would have been about this new urban store. However, neither Hank, not…

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CURMUDGUCATION: PA: Charter Transparency Fail

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

PA: Charter Transparency Fail

Last night, my district’s school board voted to raise taxes.

They did it at a public meeting. I could have attended it easily (they meet just across the street from my home) as could any member of the public. I could also have commented on the budget situation, and I could have based my comments on having looked at the proposed budget, a document that has been available for at least a month. And if I attend all meetings regularly, I know the whole process that has gone into the board decisions, because it’s illegal for board members to get together and do board work outside of meetings, and it’s illegal for them to hold a meeting without giving public notice (PA law allows them to hold private sidebars on personnel matters).

That’s transparency in the function of a public school district.

Meanwhile, in another part of Pennsylvania, one more charter is demonstrating how the opposite of transparency works.

Down Catasauqua way, Innovative Arts charter school has been a source for some concerns. Two teachers from the charter went before the Catasauqua public school board with their concerns.

Special education teacher Ann Tarafas and Spanish teacher Elizabeth Fox, herself hired as a paraprofessional and lacking an emergency permit to teach a foreign language, rehashed their non-compliance stories now accompanied with a total lack of inclusion…

Referring to inadequate special education department staffing (down from five to three), [Special Ed teacher Ann] Tarafas declared, “We’re not in compliance with state standards nor are we holding up to the contracts we signed with parents of special ed students on behalf of the school. There is a blatant disregard for what those kids need and that’s been exhausting,” she remarked.

According to Tarafas, seven of the last eight Innovative hires were not certified teachers. Hearing the full litany of issues, the board president commented, “I don’t know what to say I’m speechless.”

The Innovative Arts charter was approved by the Catasauqua public school board just last February, and by April of this year, they were already restructuring in response to a drop in enrollment from 283 to 250 (after originally saying 300 students were needed to open). Their new principal is a veteran of NJ KIPP.

Innovative has adopted a budget, too. Only, they did it at an unadvertised meeting that did not allow public comment, and the budget is still not available for viewing. This is three or four shades of illegal, so it’s not surprising that the Catasauqua board wants some answers from the Innovative Arts people.

The board called a special meeting for tonight to look into these questions– and Innovative Arts has indicated they will not attend. “Acting on advice of counsel,” IA leaders will not attend the meeting to discuss or explain their situation. And while you may think that it’s foolhardy not to give a report to the board that is responsible for authorizing them, but as is the case in many states, Pennsylvania requires something just short of a mountain of paperwork and video proof of intense puppy abuse to rescind a charter.

The specific concerns of IA’s lawyer, Daniel Fennick, is that the meeting might involve asking Innovative Arts leaders questions “that should not be addressed in public.” For instance, those two whistleblowing teachers? They learned their contracts aren’t going to be renewed just a few days after they spoke to the public board. So, yeah, that could be an awkward question. Or “Do you really think that members of a public school board don’t know what business can be discussed in public?”– that might be an awkward question. IA’s fall-back excuse is that they’ve already answered all the questions (though their budget is still unreleased).

So, one more example of how charter schools cut the public out and do their best to avoid accountability. This is not how public education is supposed to work.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: PA: Charter Transparency Fail

Religious faith may reduce stress, helping believers live longer 

Worship, by reducing stress, may be the secret to longer and healthier lives.

People in the Old Testament lived a long time, we are told. Books like Genesis describe lifespans stretching hundreds of years. Whether or not we take those figures literally, a new paper finds there is indeed a connection between longevity and faith.

Source: Religious faith may reduce stress, helping believers live longer – Journalist’s Resource

The FAFSA form and gaps in college financial aid

More than 19 percent of college students are eligible for financial aid but don’t complete a FAFSA form, according to published research from an economics professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The issue: College students who want financial aid from the federal government must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, most commonly known as the FAFSA. The information provided on that form determines whether a student qualifies for Pell Grants, federally-subsidized education loans and work-study programs. Many colleges and universities also require students to submit a FAFSA to qualify for other aid, including grants and scholarships the school offers.

Even though there’s potentially a lot of money at stake, thousands of students skip the 105-question form, which is longer and, in some ways, more complicated than a federal tax return (The 2016 Form 1040 is two pages and 79 questions). For years, education leaders, student advocates and others have spoken out about the problem. Meanwhile, schools as well as non-profit groups such as FAFSA Day Massachusetts and the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority hold regular events to offer families one-on-one assistance.

READ MORE HERE: The FAFSA form and gaps in college financial aid – Journalist’s Resource

Fracking seems to poison groundwater within one kilometer 

As people who live near hydraulic fracking have long complained, the process seems to poison their water. A new paper measures the distance prospectors should keep from water supplies.

READ MORE HERE: Fracking seems to poison groundwater within one kilometer – Journalist’s Resource

Virtual Schools in Five Key States Show Growth but also Poor Performance 

BOULDER, CO (June 27, 2017) – Over the past five years, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) has produced an annual report called Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence. These reports provide an impartial analysis of the evolution of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual and blended schools by examining the policy issues raised by available evidence. They also assess the research evidence that bears on K-12 virtual teaching and learning, and they analyze the growth and performance of such virtual and blended schools.

Building on the April release of the Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2017 report, the lead researchers have engaged with the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) to use the data set to undertake a more in-depth analysis of five states: Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, Washington, and Michigan. The MVLRI published that work today.

These case studies describe the enrollment, characteristics, and performance of virtual and blended schools in each state over the previous year. They also examine the research related to the virtual and blended school characteristics and outcomes, as well as the legislative activities. And they consider the legislation and policies that have been introduced (and enacted) over the past two years.

Based on a national data set, the April NEPC Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2017 report included two key findings: (1) that the growth of full-time virtual schools was fueled, in part, by policies expanding school choice, and (2) that this growth is seen most among the for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) that dominate this sector. All five states follow these national trends. Also, and again consistent with national trends, students that attend the virtual schools in these five states tended to perform quite poorly compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

At the same time, these case studies revealed that the enrollment demographics in each of these states did vary from the national trends. For example, Ohio and Michigan brick-and-mortar schools and virtual schools enrolled similar proportions of White students and students of color (bucking the national trend which found that the majority of students attending virtual charter schools were White), while Idaho and Michigan enrolled higher proportions of free and reduced lunch students (which was the opposite to the national average). Another distinction highlighted by the case studies is that one of the states – Michigan – has seen considerable research into the actual practice of K-12 online learning, and this evidence-based approach appears to be paying off for the Michigan Virtual School.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S.: Case Studies of Policy, Performance, and Research Evidence, by Michael K. Barbour, Luis Huerta, and Gary Miron, at:
http://media.mivu.org/institute/pdf/VSCase-17.pdf

This report was published and funded by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute: https://mvlri.org/

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Source: Virtual Schools in Five Key States Show Growth but Poor Performance | National Education Policy Center

8 of Michigan’s top 26 Families making political contributions in the last election cycle are from West MI

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

A new report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, reports that the top 40 families in Michigan contributed a total of $44 million dollars in the last election cycle.

Not surprising, the DeVos Family contributed to the most on that last at $15 million in the 2015 – 2016 election cycle.

However, it is important for those who live in West Michigan to recognize that there were other families in this area that also contributed a significant amount of money to influence the 2015-2016 election cycle. These are all families that make up the local power structure, some have large foundation, many sit on boards of non-profits, others contribute to local colleges and many are involved with groups like the West Michigan Policy Forum, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Action and the Econ Club.

The amount of money from this list, provided by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network…

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CURMUDGUCATION: Problems with Performance-Based Compensation

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

Problems with Performance-Based Compensation

Bellwether Education Partners want to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of performance-based compensation (aka “merit pay” aka “fun ways to reduce total personnel costs for a school district”). But if you want writer Jen Bolson Meer’s fancy definition, that’s “Performance-based compensation is an approach where some or all monetary compensation is related to how employee performance is assessed relative to stated criteria.”

Meer takes a moment to attack the traditional steps and lanes payment system. Advanced degrees and years of experience, she says, do not make teachers any better. And by “better” we mean “correlated to higher student scores on a narrow, invalid Big Standardized Test.” That’s pretty much the only way we could hope to make the absurd argument that neither additional education nor years of experience make teachers any better at our jobs.

That argument poorly made, Meer is on to her main point. Why is there no model, no “playbook” for PBC in the teaching world. Meer says that’s because in all versions, there are winners and losers. She has three possible versions of PBC

1) Stick with a traditional “step and lanes” system, but teachers only move up a step if they meet a minimum specified level of performance

Nobody gets a raise unless she makes her numbers; “ineffective” teachers would stay stalled on a single step for years, just like all of the teachers in places like North Carolina. Meer says that winners would be programs that benefitted from  the “freed up” money saved  by all the people not getting raises.

There are two problems with that. One is that money would be “freed up” which h is an idea carried over from industry, where merit pay systems are based on the amount of money that the business made in that year. That is not how public school systems work– we do not have an annual “profit” to divvy up.

Second, the system assumes, as do all PBC systems, that there is a bunch of Bad Teachers out there that we will just root out and pay less money. After years of various evaluation systems that keep saying that 98% of teachers bare just fine, reformers are wedded to the theory that the results prove that the evaluation systems are messed up, and not that most teachers are just fine.

Meer says the losers here are the high-performing teachers who wouldn’t get the Big Bucks because the well-reviewed crappy teachers would be glomming up all the money. Which highlights another problem with PBC systems– the amount of merit pay would be based not on actual quality, but on the amount of money the district budgeted for teacher pay. I’ve read many merit-based policy ideas and not one has ever said, “And at this point, if it turns out that the district has a plethora of great teachers, they’ll just have to raise taxes to meet the merit payroll.”

2. Earn one-time incentives such as bonuses

As a teacher, you basically take a cut in your base pay so that you might one year get a one-time lump sum. Meer says the winners would be teachers who actually get the bonuses, “especially teachers who find particular meaning and recognition in one-time ‘gifts.'” and I do not even know what that means. Somewhere there are teachers who say, “I don’t want a dependable, predictable salary. Just surprise me with a wad of cash every several years. My family will take ‘surprise’ vacations.”

And Meer acknowledges that if districts go cheap with these bonuses, they won’t actually motivate anybody to do anything like, say, stick around in a district with crappy pay.

3. Adjust base salary based on performance

Meer notes that this system is supported by people who feel they’ll beat it, and opposed by people who think it will beat them. She even acknowledges that this confidence may be rooted in faith in the system, not just teacherly self-confidence. Her language acknowledges another issue with PBC– that such a system is built to measure a teacher’s built-in awesomeness, assuming that such a quality is a solid state hard-wired feature of each educator, and not a quality that ebbs and flows over decades.

Discussions about performance-based compensation are hard because there will be winners and losers with any approach, and defining high and low performance can be challenging and controversial

It’s a start to admit that any PBC system must have winners and losers, but it skips over the question of why we need a system with winners and losers. There are all sorts of assumptions embedded here, from flushing out the Secret Society of Terrible Teachers noted above to the Motivate the Lazy fallacy– the notion that teachers could be teaching students well, but just don’t bother because we haven’t been sufficiently bribed or threatened. This is not only hugely insulting (Yes, I could teach the children better in this profession that I’ve made my life’s work, but I choose not to just to be a dick) but it reveals a profound lack of understanding of what a classroom is like. Teaching badly is hard– it’s exhausting and stressful and the students will punish us much more in that moment than any reformster ever dreamed of.

But even if the perfect plan is elusive,  a “works for us” compensation approach doesn’t have to be, whether it’s a variation of one of the categories above or another creative approach.

Yes, actually, it does have to be. Because the biggest weak point of all of these systems, beyond the funding of them or the insulting nature of them or the tendency to turn colleagues against each other as they fight for that money or even the dishonesty behind systems that aren’t about paying more for the best as much as they’re about finding ways to pay less for average teachers– beyond all of that is the problem of measuring teacher performance.

We can’t do it.

We have no reliable, valid, tested, proven method of definitively distinguishing good teachers from mediocre teachers. And we must choose the method carefully, not merely because of justice and fairness, but because of what that system will do to the work of the school.

We have ample evidence of what happens when you tie the definition of “effective” to the scores on a crappy standardized test– education is re-organized around teaching to that test. And nobody– nobody– has jumped up in the last decade to say, “This is working awesome!”

A performance based compensation system is another way to tell your staff, “This– and just this– is what we’re paying you for. This is what matters.” So before you install any such system, you’d better be damned sure that you have c hosen well. Otherwise all you’re doing is installing a system of perverse incentives. So no– a “works for us” or “good enough” or “close enough for jazz” system is not easy or okay.

The obstacles to all PBC systems are many, and largely unacknowledged by the people pushing them. Meer has scratched the surface.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Problems with Performance-Based Compensation

Rockford Construction has been working on the Southtown Development Project since at least 2014

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

In our ongoing coverage of DeVos-led AmplifyGR group and their partner, Rockford Construction, we want to continue to ask relevant questions and raise the level of awareness about those who are part of the local power structure are planning to do in neighborhoods across the city.

In our original story, we looked at what the AmplifyGR/Rockford Construction efforts were proposing in the Southtown area of Grand Rapids. We reported that over the past 6 months AmplifyGR and Rockford Construction have been meeting with city planners and people who make up part of the Southtown Corridor Improvement District committee.

In Part II of this series, we looked at the number of plots that Rockford Construction has already purchased in both the Boston Square Area and the Cottage Grove area. We made the point in this post that AmplifyGR is really a project that amplifies the voices of developers and…

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