Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A PERFECT STORM: A Stretch Indeed! (NOW if WE Could Just Stretch Those DOLLARS Into the CLASSROOM!)




Editorial

Michigan schools at the starting line



The whole idea of the federal Race to the Top program, which could bring hundreds of millions in new education funding to Michigan, was to get states to stretch.

Stretch the conventional restrictions on charter schools. Stretch the typical ideas about who can be a teacher, or how teachers can be evaluated. Stretch the notions of who should be able to call it quits on school.

The good news is that Michigan will stretch with other states, thanks to recent, last-minute legislative action. Michigan lawmak ers may have spent most of the year frittering away their chances to reform the state’s finances, but their quick, collaborative work on Race to the Top showed how much can be accomplished when they’re properly motivated.

Now school districts themselves have to embrace the new legislation and stretch themselves to meet the challenge.

That could be toughest with regard to collective bargaining agreements, which must reflect new attitudes toward nontradition al teachers and historically taboo subjects such as merit pay and peer review.

Districts must make the changes just to apply, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll get any of the federal money even if they do.

But local administrators need to sell teachers, in particular, on the idea that these changes are good for Michigan’s schools and, especially, for its kids. That’s what makes them a good idea. Not the money.

Teachers will perform better if their contracts reward merit and indulge intervention for those who are struggling. They’ll do more for children if their reviews are aligned with student outcomes.

Michigan has lagged behind other states in this regard and has some catching up to do if districts here want to really compete for Race to the Top dollars. Union recalcitrance here has been stron ger than in other parts of the country.

But the Michigan Education Association ought to turn its con cerns about change into vigilance in the name of making the state as competitive as it can be. The only thing accomplished by resis tance now would be a loss for the state — both in terms of the federal cash being made available and the great possibilities opened up by the Legislature’s actions.






EDITORIAL: Local districts should back school reforms

Saturday, December 26, 2009
By THE OAKLAND PRESS
Oxford is the first school district in Oakland County to indicate to state Superintendent Mike Flanagan that it wants to support the state’s application for some of the $4.6 billion in Federal Race to the Top stimulus funds.

That’s wonderful. We urge other county school districts to quickly follow suit.

Certainly the federal funding is needed and the recently passed state education reforms actually should help improve the system.

We supported them in an editorial earlier this month and are glad to see the Legislature acting on them.

The federal Race to the Top initiative is a $4.35 billion competitive grant program for states to enact comprehensive and innovative education reforms. If selected, Michigan would receive about $400 million for its schools to implement the education reform plan.

The regulations are geared to helping students learn and to improve the quality of the educational system. The motives are admirable and the reforms seem workable.

Under the broad legislation, the state could add more charter schools and poor-performing schools could be taken over by the state. It also raises the state’s dropout age from 16 to 18, ties teacher evaluation to student test scores and provides for more flexibility for schools instituting innovative improvement plans.

Oxford officials signed a memorandum supporting the reforms and then the Board of Education approved it with a vote of 7-0. The deadline for local districts to get their memorandums to their intermediate school district is Jan. 7. The intermediate districts must have all memorandums sent to the Michigan Department of Education by Jan. 8.

Oxford is one of 14 districts in the state, and the only one in Oakland County, that is a Project Reimagine Recipient Demonstration District and is undergoing major change.

However, as noted by Superintendent William Skilling, the education reforms are a positive step for the state, even if we don’t get any federal funds.

Skilling said the legislation will provide flexibility for districts such as Oxford that are providing or want to provide programs that are not traditional. For example, as part of Oxford’s initiatives, the district will be offering a 24-7 year-round school.

Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, spearheaded the effort to draft and pass the school reforms. We commend him and we’re glad our leaders in Lansing finally were able to work together in a bipartisan fashion to pass this needed legislation. That hasn’t happened very often this past year.






Black students held back by politics, union teachers

Saturday, December 26, 2009
By WALTER E. WILLIAMS
Detroit’s (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C.

Only 3 percent of Detroit’s fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called “The Nation’s Report Card.” Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. “Below basic” is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It’s the same story for Detroit’s eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.

The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.

The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation’s average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.

What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That’s nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.

Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment’s agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT.  Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when, in fact, he can’t perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Phoenix Rising or Mirage? (WE'LL make the DIFFERENCE)







RISING FROM THE WRECKAGE: REVVING UP MICHIGAN 

Free Press editorial
 

Lessons of a near-fatal crash
 

Rx for recovery: A new commitment to education


E
ducation first, last and always.

That maxim practically leaps out of “Rising from the Wreckage,” the Free Press series ending today on the downfall of the American auto industry, and what happened across Michigan as a result.

Somehow, even in its budget struggles, this state has to find a way to invest in improving education or risk prolonging this ugly chapter in Michigan history.

That means changing the culture, too, to emphasize the value of schooling beyond the 12th grade and of continuous learning. The days of taking a high school diplo ma to the local factory and getting a tick et to the middle class are over. They were great while they lasted, but they left Michigan ill-equipped to adjust to the 21st-Century global economy.

The future belongs to the smart states — and Michigan had better be among those states if it expects a better one.

People who learn are also people who change, challenge, adapt and innovate, the very things the auto industry has struggled to do for a decade. Complacency is born from a lack of appreciation for learning and stretching. And that complacency, as much as anything else, brought Detroit’s auto industry to the brink of extinction.

You can see proof of that among nearly all the key characters in “Rising from the Wreckage.” They clung to what they had and disinvested in what they would need for the future.

That was also the grim assessment of the outsiders who were sent to help clean up the mess in Michigan. Steve Rattner, the private equity banker who became President Barack Obama’s car czar, couldn’t have been more blunt in summing up what was wrong in the board rooms at GM and Chrysler.

“They were delusional … just more of the same,” he said of the turnaround plans submitted by the car companies and ultimately rejected by the government.

For Michigan, the way forward begins with a commitment to creating a populace that’s better schooled, better trained, more adaptable and nimble. It has to start with a reinvestment in education.

Reinvestment is the right word, too, because for at least the past decade (colleges and universities would say even longer) this state has been slipping steadily away from its once-formidable commitments.

The 1990s could appropriately be called the gravy years of K-12 funding in Michigan, after Proposal A’s passage in 1994 leveraged statewide resources, rather than local millage rates, for school districts’ operating costs.

But as sales tax revenues have declined over the past decade, K-12 funding has
 lagged badly, increasing at an average rate of just 1.8% each year — well below inflation over that period and, just as important, less than many built-in cost increases for services and benefits.

The retreat from Michigan’s historical support for higher education has been just as glaring. A recent study shows Michigan dead last among all states in terms of increases in higher education appropriations over the last five years and the only state whose outlay is lower in real numbers, by more than 5%.

At the same time, an ever-increasing proportion of the funds allocated to education have gone to support a benefits structure that threatens, as in the auto industry, to bankrupt the entire enter prise.

Waning financial support is just one barometer of Michigan’s growing complacency about education. Recall how quickly the Legislature acquiesced to the idea of a watered-down Michigan Educational Assessment Program (where scoring 60% on the tests is “proficient” and a cheaper to-grade multiple choice exam has replaced one that focused more on writing) and how little resistance was put up by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Look at how quickly legislators backed away from tough high school graduation standards when parents and teachers complained about students’ struggles with it. Algebra II? Never mind that it includes skills that kids will need to compete in the workforce. It’s too hard, so not everyone will need to take it.

In higher education, Michigan also has not done enough to strengthen community colleges — so critical to sustaining lifelong learning both for college graduates and those seeking certification for technical jobs. Shouldn’t they be growing programs and partnerships with industry, rather than retrenching under severe financial strain?

Michigan must embrace the idea that rigor breeds greatness, and recognize that the jobs of the future will require more mental dexterity than physical brawn.

That’s especially true of the auto industry, which, even if it comes back to pre-recession levels, will never again be able to support tens of thousands of uneducated 
workers. A better educated Michigan will be a more stable, and more prosperous, state.

It’s no accident that the correlation be tween a state’s per capita income and the percentage of college graduates who live in that state is very strong. Mississippi, with a per capita income below $30,000, has a population in which fewer than 25% have earned a bachelor’s degree. In Connecticut, where per capita income is highest,
 the rate of college-educated citizens is above 35%. Michigan is in the middle of the pack, with less than $35,000 in per capita income and less than 30% of its citizens boasting 4-year degrees.

Michigan will need money to reclaim a competitive advantage. A revamped tax structure that halts the erosion of funding for K-12 and higher education has to be a priority. So does a plan to spend money on the things that matter in education — instruction, curriculum, connections with real-world workplaces — rather than administrative costs and overly generous benefits and pensions for employees.

Michigan will also need leadership focused intently on defining and maintaining standards, and dedicated to making the political sacrifices to keep funding
 healthy. The governor and the Legislature must work together to build a work force that won’t be as susceptible to single industry collapses. And Michiganders themselves must commit to the value of primary and secondary education, as well as lifelong learning.

Lorenzo Byrd, the former Ford worker in “Rising from the Wreckage,” had the right idea. When he lost work because of the economic downturn, he turned to more education as the way forward.

When things bounce back, he’ll be better positioned than others to take advantage.

Michigan has to become a state of Byrds, dedicated to a life whose only guarantees are predicated on a simple motto: Education first, last and always.





Jobs shake-up slams black middle class

But many say change is a chance to fix schools






F
rom 1910 into the 1930s, the black population of Detroit rose more than 600% — double the rate of nearby Cleveland and four times faster than the in crease
 in Chicago. Nobody was moving here for the weather. The influx of people to Detroit — the city tripled in size during the same period to a population of about 1.5 million— was about jobs, mainly in the auto industry, after Henry Ford made his famous offer of $5 a day.

Among the many side effects of the assembly line was the rise of the American middle class and, in Detroit more than anywhere else, the creation of a black middle class. While segregation and racism were obstacles, Detroit became a place where good factory wages enabled African Americans to afford homes and cars; where black businesses could start up with ready customers and where succeeding generations had a measure of upward mobility.

Hundreds of African-American professionals, businesspeople and academics owe their start to parents or grandparents who were able to make a decent living in Michigan’s auto plants.

That avenue to the proverbial American dream has now been largely closed off by the disap pearance
 of job opportunities at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler and the many industry supplier firms.

“What is happening now to the black middle class is absolutely devastating,” said Dr. Curtis Iv ery, chancellor of Wayne County Community College District. “But it is also much needed. We needed to come out of our comfort zone, that sense of entitlement to those jobs.”

Ivery and others said this massive
 economic shake-up should be a wake-up call for Detroit and indeed all Michigan to fix its schools and redirect young people toward higher education.

“The old paradigm was graduate from high school and get a good job,” said Daniel Baxter, director of elections for the City of Detroit and the son of an assembly line worker. “Now, it’s totally different. We have to shift
 the thought process, recognize the new dynamic.”

Juliette Okotie-Eboh, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Grand Detroit and the daughter of a Ford worker, recalled a time in the 1960s when the best-dressed among her class mates at Detroit Northern High School were the young men who had second-shift auto jobs.

“They had the cars, they had the clothes,” she said. “The point is, I guess, they didn’t need the education at that time to make the good money. But those doors have been closed for a while. Are blacks disproportionately affected? We’re always disproportionately affected. … But the lack of opportunity is more acute now.”

Michael Porter, vice president for corporate communications at DTE Energy, is the son of an auto worker. His mother started out as a stenographer but worked her way up to computer systems analyst at the Army’s Tank Automotive Command plant.

“I was exceedingly fortunate,” Porter said. “My parents placed a high premium on education and sacrificed — sending us to parochial schools to help prepare for college. … But for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to go to college, the plants were a viable option.

“Today, those manufacturing
 jobs are gone. … And even if the auto companies had the market share they enjoyed in the 1960s, the jobs our parents held would be gone. … Today, computers and robots do many of the things that were formerly done by men and women with air wrenches and paint spray guns.”

Hence the critical need, said Porter, Ivery and others, to address the ills of predominantly African-American school districts and the widespread applause for Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, who’s becoming a local folk hero as he reshapes the
 district with an emphasis on accountability. Bobb’s trying to make changes that are at least a generation beyond overdue.

“The school systems have got to do a much better job now of meeting the needs of these stu dents,” said Bart Landry, a pro fessor of sociology at the University of Maryland and author of a 1987 book, “The New Black Middle Class,” plus a 2006 follow-up, “Black Working Wives.”

“But first, students have to understand, the good dollars-for hours jobs are gone. ‘If I’m going to make it, I must go to college’ … and if they don’t get into precollege work, that road is extremely difficult.”

At WCCCD, which now has upward of 80,000 people taking credit and noncredit courses, Chancellor Ivery is more blunt about the impact of all the closed factories in southeast Michigan.

“Unfortunately, we’re exactly where we need to be, and it’s a painful thing,” he said. “But we’ve got to get something out of this.

There’s an opportunity if we take it over the next one or two years.

And if we get it right here, we can get it right for the whole country.

“We have a chance,” Ivery said, “to … turn this around.”
 





RISING FROM THE WRECKAGE: REVVING UP MICHIGAN 

Back to the beginning: Innovate


W
e have lost sight of where it began. It is not about jobs, wages and benefits. It is all about productivity and a culture of innovation.

How can you compete against a Chinese worker making 50 cents an hour? You beat him with machines, automation and robotics. One man running multiple machines can produce more parts faster and of higher quality than any cheap labor can. By using more robotic and automated systems, the overseas shipping costs would be eliminated and the time to delivery would be faster. We have focused too long on attempting to save jobs and benefits rather than increasing productivity, which would expand sales through lower prices and thus create more jobs.

Once, Detroit and Michigan were the epicenter of innovation. We knew how to build and improve on every process of automotive manufacturing and all its components. The culture of innovation and inspiration needs to be restored and rewarded to awaken the deep manufacturing capabilities that Michigan still has.

Look back at the late ’70s, in the midst of a recession similar to today’s, and no one would have believed that a giant computer industry was about to be born. But there were precursors in the form of microprocessors that the innovative entrepreneurs could see. Those precursors today are in the form of sensors, tiny microcontrollers, software and advanced machining that Michigan possesses. All together they will build a new robotics industry. Michigan can lead it.


Ronald Horner
 

Clinton Township
 


Spend in Michigan


We all are responsible (“Rising from the wreckage: A story of survival,” Dec. 13-20). Instead of finding people to blame, this is what we all can do: Go to a car dealer and ask them what cars they sell that are manufactured in Michigan. Drive them.

Go to buymichigannow.com and search products that are made in Michigan. Stop buying items that are made in foreign countries — food, clothing and transportation. We can’t do any thing about what our predeces sors have done, but we can do something about what we buy.

Oh, and all those Christmas items you bought online? Write a check to the State of Michigan for the sales tax.


Jim Dundas
 

Bloomfield Township




More wrecks ahead
 

What happened to the U.S. auto industry, which the Free Press calls “creator of the middle class and home of labor victories that set a standard for generations of American workers”? Just look at the standard of lifetime pensions and health care, promised when health care costs were low, which is now suffocating American automotive companies. Now, how can any company with hundreds of thousands of paid retirees with “Cadillac benefits” survive? Unfortunately, what has happened to GM, Ford and Chrysler is now suffocating cities and states and the country.

Then tell me who believes that the new “health care reforms” of the Congress will actually reduce health care costs of companies, their workers, or their retirees?

Tragically, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this wreckage.


Arnie Goldman
 

Farmington Hills
 



State can tough it out
 

I left Michigan four years ago, not for economic reasons, but just to try something new.

I don’t think that this crisis is the end for Michigan’s staple industry. Just look at the layout of America. It’s still fairly spread out. However, the type of car that Americans are looking for has changed drastically. Gone are the excessive days of the late ’90s when SUVs were all the rage.

The rise and fall of oil prices was quick and sharp, far too fast for auto producers to adequately respond. Then, there was the financial crash in September 2008, which made everything more complicated. But at the end of the day, the majority of Americans are still commuting to work by car.

The uncertainty of change is undoubtedly scary, but there are so many talented professionals (especially in engineering) in Michigan that I trust that creative solutions will be found for the auto industry and in the de velopment of other new businesses in the state. Michiganders are just too practical and hard working a people to give up in the face of crisis.


Megan Cottrell
 

New York City
 



Where to start
 

We have to be mindful that Michigan’s leadership as the reigning capital of the automotive industry, once the driving force of this country and the world, is indeed “gone with the wind.” It is especially difficult since Michigan was the cradle of its beginning and will probably never rise to this leadership status again.

In this technical age, in order to compete with the world’s changes, we must prepare ourselves to meet and understand this challenge in order to sustain meaningful jobs and a living. It must start with the education of both children and adults, where we have fallen short.

As far as the basic need of jobs for our future success, we must continue to support entrepreneurs and serious development of our wonderful water’s potential for greatness. It will not be easy, but I hope that — with God’s help and understanding — we can develop and maintain the belief and tolerance in one another’s self worth. That would be a wonderful
 start! 

Rosetta Brooks
 

Detroit
 



A new business


After retiring from more than 40 years in the film and media business in the Detroit area, the rash of media stories about the growth of a vibrant “new” industry, employing hundreds if not thousands of unemployed workers has been viewed by me with a certain amount of amusement.

But after reading your article about Vanir Entertainment, I feel a sense of hope for the future (“Former autoworker is going green,” Dec. 16). It appears that Lewis Smith and Alex Greene have a realistic grasp on what it takes to make a successful busi ness as well as a new industry.


Starting small with a lot of dedication and hard work, as well as taking a gamble financially, will probably make them successful entrepreneurs.
At least I hope so, and I wish them well. 

Keith Clark
 

Troy
 



Diversify — and learn


The lesson for Michigan and the Detroit area in particular, is to diversify.
Never again must we rely on one industry to sustain us. I think that the introduction of the movie industry to Michigan is a good step. There will always be a need for motion pictures, and the jobs that come with it.

We must also step back into the past. Technological and green jobs might be the new momentum, but we have a population that is heavy in blue-collar experience. There will soon be an acute demand for plumbers, carpenters, electricians and welders. Apprenticeships in what were once restricted guilds must open up.

Illiteracy is not just a problem in Detroit Public Schools. People who grew up during the 1980s up until now, especially males, preferred video games to reading a good book, or — as you know too
 well — a daily newspaper. We must bring back the desire to read and learn.

We must also make Michigan more appealing for businesses to move here. We must change the negative images of Detroit.

We can do it. We can come back, but only if there is a will to do so and the willingness on be half of everyone to sacrifice.
 

Naomi Susan Solomons
 

Oak Park
 



Dealership woes
 

I realize that the abysmal rhetoric about dealers you printed, while terribly inaccu rate, is most likely from dealers themselves. Unfortunately, the dealers who have survived have turned into pirates, wooing em ployees and working behind the scenes to sabotage any dealer rights legislation.

My husband, a GM dealer who got a “surprise” wind-down letter on June 2 — two weeks after the massive cut — has had his fellow dealers call employees at home, offering them signing bonuses and assuring them that life will be better at their new place of employment. Other dealers were privy to the lists of dealers being cut and shared that with their employees. We first heard about our dealership’s cut when an employee from another dealership told one of our salespeople.

As the industry declines, so does human decency. As much as I hate what GM and Chrysler did, they were doing their jobs. The surviving dealers, who prey on those who are losing, are greed riddled vultures.


Emily Tennyson
 

Grosse Pointe Farms




Maintain direction
 

Being a GM retiree of 31 years from the Hydromatic plant, I can assure you the ups and downs I experienced over my years as an employee are something I’ll nev er forget, from the oil embargo times in the early ’70s to now. I still lose sleep worrying about my future and if the company I gave my life to is going to stand behind


its promises.

It’s hard to show loyalty to a company that has no clear bearing, and seeing the face of the skipper change almost monthly doesn’t make me warm and cozy in any way. I know I’m a lot bet ter off than most people nowadays, and, believe me, I’m grateful for that.

But I think it’s time for Gener al Motors to point in one direction and keep on that path, if not for the workers that make it a strong company now, then for the people who gave years to make them profitable and respected.


Robert Denstedt
 

Canton
 



Henry Ford’s lesson
 

It has been the policy of many state governments to provide our foreign competition what can be considered tax welfare to locate assembly plants mainly in the anti-union South. These tax breaks, along with the inherent cost advantages of having no significant legacy expenses, have created huge capital advantages for the foreign companies. What did we expect from 100-year-old companies such as Ford and GM, but to eventually mortgage the farm or go bankrupt in the face of such an unlevel playing field?

Secondly, the American consumer needs to be educated on the importance of buying domestic automobiles.

To illustrate the lack of appreciation for the domestic industry, all one has to do is to drive around the country. Other than the Midwest, it appears the American consumer prefers foreign cars over domestic cars.

This shift to foreign cars has eliminated over 50% of the manufacturing infrastructure in the Midwest. Because the auto sector has an extremely large economic multiplier, affecting direct, in direct and spin-off employment, the unintended consequences of this shift has resulted in huge unemployment numbers, decline in property values and taxes at every level.

Government should level the field for fair competition and
 keep in mind our national interest.

Educated consumers will ultimately do what is in their own best interest.

The car companies should remember that Henry Ford changed the world in two unforgettable ways. He built an affordable car efficiently and he paid a wage that enabled his workers to buy their own products right here in America!


James Sturgill
 

Flat Rock




Get a license

I have wanted an electric car since I had the opportunity during the ’40s to drive electric milk delivery trucks, which were as quiet as elevators. So I bought a 2001 Prius, then a 2005, and I already have a deposit on a 2011 plug-in model.

During 2001, I immediately recognized the Prius technology as transformative and essential to our U.S. product mix. In my judgment, all of our auto compa nies should have licensed this technology immediately. If the Japanese balked, we would have been justified in excluding their vehicles from the U.S. market.

Did anyone at our auto companies ever explore such licensing?

It would have been a steal even if we had paid Toyota $1,000 per vehicle.


Richard Rosenbaum
 

Bloomfield Hills




Future is electric


Whether you are opposed to fighting global warming because of your religious beliefs, your political hatred of anything tagged as “progressive,” or because you are not willing to accept the science, there is still a large benefit to Michigan should federal climate change legislation be signed into law. Electric cars are the future of automotive manufacturing, and nobody builds them better than us — even if you don’t think they are necessary.


Tina Moore
 

Warren

WITHOUT (much) FANFARE: Alignment "Tent-Poles" for SWEEPING CHANGE Achieved! (NOW to the WORK of CRAFTING the INTENTIONAL-FABRIC for Same)

School reforms finally get through Legislature 

State positioned to compete for $400 million in U.S. aid



By CHRIS CHRISTOFF


FREE PRESS LANSING BUREAU
 CHIEF

LANSING — With $400 million in federal money at stake, lawmakers finally approved sweeping reforms Saturday to reward good teachers, turn bad schools over to the state and allow more charter schools. But the reforms won’t give Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager Robert Bobb control over the academically challenged district’s curriculum. Instead, a state reform manager will be named, with authority to intervene in the academically worst 5% of schools.

The legislation also allows two cyber schools — at-home, online curriculums — aimed at dropouts. And the minimum drop out
 age increases to 18 from 16.

The five-bill package will allow Michigan to compete for up to $400 million from President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, in cluding as much as $70 million in Detroit. The reforms have been sought for years by some but opposed by teachers
 unions.

Even if the state doesn’t win all the money, reforms were needed, said proponents. “Today’s action is all about helping kids get a first-class education in a world that demands nothing less,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who spent Saturday urging legislators
 to pass the bills.


OUR EDITORIAL 

Better than expected
 

Race to Top legislation doesn’t accomplish everything, but it’s a good start to reforming state schools


G
etting there wasn’t pretty, and some of it was pure nonsense. But finally, the Legislature finished the job of preparing Michigan schools for a leap in quality and accountability.


Michigan’s Race to the Top legislation, months overdue and needed so the state can compete for more than $400 million in federal dollars, came to fruition on Saturday— nothing less than a holiday miracle for a bitterly divided Lansing.

It is a good package that will bring reform to Michigan classrooms. But whether it goes far enough to win the grants — other states seem to have done more — will be up to the Obama administration.

The Legislature took a measured approach to charter school expansion that is expected to open dozens of slots under the state cap of 150 charter schools.


Under the new law, existing charter schools could convert into
“schools of excellence” and not be counted against the cap — if their students score well on tests.

The existing alternative public schools would either have to exhibit 90 percent proficiency in math and science or 75 percent proficiency if at least half of the students come from low-income households. High schools with 80 percent proficiency in student learn ing and high rates of graduation and college attendance also would qualify for
“schools of excellence” status.

Opening more alternative public schools will help push traditional schools and existing charter schools through competition for stu dents and their state school aid dollars.

Overcoming fierce resistance from the state’s largest teacher and school employee union, the Michigan Education Association, Michigan will use student achievement data to measure teacher performance for the first time. This is essential to meeting the White House’s call to move toward a more perform ance-
 based education system.

The legislation says student progress must be weighed in teacher evaluations, pay, bonuses and tenure. This is not a state requirement for merit pay for teachers, but it certainly gives districts ammunition to demand the practice in their contracts if student achieve ment is stagnant or dismal.

In addition, the Race to the Top reforms imply that teachers with poor performance should not be protected by the tenure law.

Although this is not the straightforward reform of the tenure system that is needed, it is an important legislative admission that the rigid tenure system lets bad teachers hold schools and their students hostage.


There are some disappointments. The Detroit Public Schools’ elected school board and its legislative allies effectively squashed giving the district’s Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb the official legal authority to reform academics, and not just finances.

The need to give Bobb academic control is obvious. This month, Detroit set a new national low in student test scores on a national assessment. House leaders promise to hold a public hearing on the matter in January.


But the legislation tries to make up for this by giving the state more power to take over the state’s worst academically failing schools.

Two cyber schools were also created — in part to meet federal preferences. While such experiments are worth trying, taxpayers de serve to know much more about these schools and how they will be held accountable.

The Race to the Top legislative package is a good start to making Michigan schools better for all children. But the work — on merit pay, tenure and charters — must continue.



Reforms hailed, but issues linger

Bobb doesn’t get control; teachers fear losing input







By CHRIS CHRISTOFF and GINA DAMRON


FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS


LANSING — Even if Michi gan doesn’t win a piece of the $4.3 billion the Obama administration will dole out to states for at-risk schools, reforms approved by the Legislature on Saturday are worth it, said lawmakers who led the way.

The reform plan had to be in place for the state to apply next month for as much as $400 million in federal grants under the Obama administra tion’s Race to the Top initia­tive to improve at-risk public schools.

But it’s not a victory for the Detroit Public Schools emer gency financial manager, Robert Bobb, an appointee of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The legislation does not grant him the power he wanted to control the district’s academic programs.

Instead, a state reform manager will have authority to shake up or close down specific schools based on their students’ achievement.

“The community and ev eryone involved really was looking for the single line of accountability with academ ics that they now have with fi nances,” said Steve Wasko, spokesman for Bobb.

Wasko said the legislation “threatens to dismantle the school district as we know it.” The question of giving Bobb academic authority over Detroit schools will be aired before the House Education Committee on Jan. 14, said committee Chairman Tim
 Melton, D-Auburn Hills. Mel ton, who led House Democrats in negotiating the reform package with Senate Republicans, successfully argued for a state-level school reform manager to tackle failing schools or clusters of schools. Senate Republicans and Granholm preferred appoint ing individual crisis managers who could take over districts’ entire operations — as Gran holm wanted for Bobb. 

Opening way for charters


One thing Detroit could see under the reform plan is more charter schools. In fact, Michigan could have a few dozen new charter schools within 10 years under the guidelines.

Currently, state law limits to 150 the number of charter schools established by universities. Michigan has 240 char ter schools in all.

The new law sets high standards for charter schools that cater to large numbers of low income, at-risk students. If the charters meet those standards, the authority that created them can open more schools.

“This bill allows for modest growth of charter schools based on quality,” said Gary Naeyaert, spokesman for Michigan’s Charter Schools. “The state is saying, ‘You have to have excellent academic achievement among an at-risk student population. If you figure out how to do that, we want to do more of that.’ ” Even if the state wins federal grants, it won’t solve what Granholm and others call a
 funding crisis for public schools.

Public school funding was cut $350 million in the 2009-10 budget and faces a $212-million hit next month.

“This is just incentive money that gave us the impetus to get some reforms done that would not have gotten done in another 20 or 30 years,” Melton
 said. 

Results will take time


Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R Holland, said the full impact of the reforms won’t be felt for 10 years, as more charter schools open, bad schools are shored up or closed and good teachers are rewarded with money. The legislation will allow school districts to judge teachers in part by academic achievement of their students. It doesn’t eliminate teacher tenure laws, but it could affect merit pay and promotions.

“We took big steps toward rewarding high-performing teachers,” said Kuipers, who
 led negotiations for the Sen ate Republican majority. “But at the same time, you’ve got to get rid of bad ones. We didn’t get there with this package.” 

Teachers have concerns


Still, teachers unions were upset with a bill that gives the state reform manager broad powers to take control of individual schools, fire people and
 impose work rules apart from negotiated contracts.

“This strips employees of their voice in helping students in these struggling schools,” said Doug Pratt, spokesman for the Michigan Education Association. “It is completely inappropriate.”

He said the MEA and AFT Michigan, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, went along with other reforms they have resisted in the past, such as al­ternative certification for teachers and merit pay.
 


Reform highlights


 Expands the number of high quality charter schools (at least 10 over five years), including two online schools.

 Gives state greater authority to take over up to 5% of schools with worst academic perfor mance.

 Increases the dropout age from 16 to 18.

 Allows some professionals to teach in public schools without a four-year teaching degree (example: engineers teaching math).

 Permits schools to give merit pay to teachers based in part on the academic performance of their students.


Next steps in the Race to the Top


 Governor signs the bills.

 State identifies underper forming schools.

 State officials develop federal Race to the Top application by Jan. 19.

 Feds announce first-round winners in April.

 Feds announce second round of grants in September.

EXAMPLES OF WHAT’ S AVAILABLE


 Detroit Public Schools: $70.6 million

 Flint Community Schools: $6.3 million

 Southfield Public Schools: $724,197

 Warren Consolidated Schools: $938,853

 Ecorse Public Schools: $519,020 



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hold the Drumroll.......and prepare for the Cymbal Crescendo! (These guy's are even bad-actors at theater-Film at Noon)



POSTED: 6:50 P.M. DEC. 18, 2009 | UPDATED: 4:29 A.M. TODAY

Legislature works past midnight, but no decision

BY DAWSON BELL
FREE PRESS LANSING BUREAU




The Michigan Legislation departed the Capitol after midnight for the second straight day early Saturday, unable to complete work on school reforms aimed at qualifying Michigan for up to $400 million in federal stimulus funds.
Leaders from both the House and Senatepledged to be back at their desks this morning. But tempers flared near the end of Friday's session as Senate leaders accused House negotiators of trying to insert last minute changes into an agreement reached 24 hours earlier.
"They're starting to ask for changes," saidSenate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, "We're not going to re-negotiate the whole deal."
Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, denied those charges, describing modifications being made to the legislation as "tweaks."
"We still have a deal," he said.
Lawmakers arrived at the Capitol Friday evening, after having departed about 1 a.m., ostensibly to begin voting on so-called Race to the Top bills. Instead, they spent their time listlessly waiting, chatting and sleeping, in part because the actual legislation had yet to be printed.
The content of the bills - to expand charter schools, address chronically struggling schools and inject greater accountability for teachers and staff - had been agreed to in concept by House and Senate negotiators early Friday.
In theory, it would allow for the creation of about 30 new charters in areas where existing schools have under-performed, tie teacher evaluations, pay and job security to student performance and create the framework for state-appointed officials to takeover management of failing schools.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Friday afternoon that she endorsed the conceptual agreement and would sign it if it reached her desk.
That remained an open question early Saturday.
The complexity of the legislation, coupled with a myriad of side issues (such as raising the high school dropout age to 18 from 16 without parental consent), kept a small army of lobbyists at work along with the lawmakers and their staffs.
Bishop said Democratic House leaders "just got to tell us. Do you want to do it or not? We don't want to blow it up."
Melton, who said he had had three hours of sleep in the last 48, said not to worry. "We're going to get it done. This is about 20 years of reform packed into one year. But we're going to get there."
Contact DAWSON BELL: 517-372-8661 or dbell@freepress.com

Friday, December 18, 2009

Turning the Page (From the Money Conversation to a Fresh, Insighful, Introspective Message of Hope by merely DOING the RIGHT THING) A SEA CHANGE to SEE CHANGE!





HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN DETROIT’ S KIDS

O
ne of the biggest problems facing the Detroit Public Schools is the lack of faith that some of its employees have in the children.

That is the word from Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor, who has spent months completing an extensive and not-yet-released analysis of how the district educates students.

There is nothing wrong with the city’s children or parents that cannot be remediated, she said. But there must be a sea change in the way district employees
 — from top to bottom — deal with their clients.

“Sometimes people revel in the despair,” she said in an interview
 where she gave a sneak preview of her findings. They include: 

 Children in the same grade with vastly different and defi cient curricula.

 A lack of progress reports to parents.

 A total failure to evaluate and improve the performance of struggling teachers.

But the saddest thing Byrd Bennett discovered in conversa tions with hundreds of students, teachers, parents and principals? Some people just don’t believe in the kids.

“There has got to be a suspension of their disbelief that children can achieve,” she said.




What kids need: A dream and a chance


B
arbara Byrd-Bennett recalls being a 19-year-old volunteer teaching reading to inmates with life sentences at the prison on Alcatraz off the coast of California.

“They were in there for life, and I could still see the hunger in their eyes,” she said. “They wanted to learn.”

Byrd-Bennett, chief academic and accountability auditor for the Detroit Public Schools, said she has seen that same hunger in the eyes of some DPS students. She also heard directly from ded icated teachers, heroes who work their butts off and still want to be even better, to reach kids more.

“You can’t move a district until you … change the culture of a district, and the culture doesn’t change until people begin to change,” she said.

For months, Byrd-Bennett has quietly guided the finan cial decisions of DPS emer gency financial manager Rob ert Bobb while examining all aspects of academics and teaching across the district.

Her extensive, not-yet-re leased audit shows that decades of poor administration, little communication with parents and inattention to students have left standing a
 district that is a monument to chaos, a district that will take years of innovation and a sea change in attitude to fix.

“There has got to be a suspension of their disbelief” in these children. “If you can get a group of people to believe in the children and their parents, you can change things.”


Where are the standards?


Among the problems Byrd Bennett outlines in her audit:


 The district does not use the uniform, core curriculum system that was designed to keep all students on the same pace.

Students at one school learn more — and more effectively — than kids in the same grade at another school.

“As a parent, as a kid, I should know that in ninth grade, here are the core requirements. In order to move
 from freshman to sophomore, I need to complete this num ber of classes. And there’s something deeply wrong when you think foreign lan guage is an add-on.”

 There is little regular communication between teachers and parents, and few progress reports on how students are doing.


 There are no standard, uniform evaluation tools for teachers or principals.

“I don’t know any job that where you’re never evaluated, assessed or helped and supported,” she said. “That is obscene.”


 Many teaching methods used in the district are out dated, some from the 1970s.

The good news, Byrd-Bennett said, is that “as I went into schools and talked with teachers, I found that people are hungry for the support.

People want to know how to do a good job. People want to know how to get out of the frozen ’60s and ’70s teaching methods.”


 There is a belief among many employees that DPS children are inferior students. Rampant social promotion, a statewide problem, places students in classes where they are ill-equipped to learn and mainly mark time until they drop out. Teachers must deal with students who are years behind in reading and math, who have behavioral problems or, in the case of a teacher I recently reported about, had a class of 28 stu dents who were on 10 different reading levels. And I get heartbreaking e-mails from teachers who have to adapt their teaching plans to the arrival of students at different academic levels all through out the year.

“What I’ve learned is that the academics have been subordinate to finances here for longer than anyone could have imagined,” Byrd-Bennett said.

There is nothing wrong with the children or their parents that cannot be remediated, she said. But there must be a sea change in the way district employees — top to bottom — deal with their clients.

“Sometimes people revel in the despair,” she said in an exclusive interview. “I’ve said this over and over. There has got to be a suspension of their disbelief that children can achieve.”

Core course requirements should be the same at every high school, but students should have the chance to try different career paths without affecting their college prep.

“But people push back and say these kids won’t do that.

They don’t believe in these kids.”
 

The gift of a dream


Byrd-Bennett has found what’s wrong. When she releases the final academic audit, we better pay attention. This time.

“Sometimes a superintendent, an associate sup has to stand for the kids. All the adults have their representation. We are the union for the kids. I’m the union rep,” she said. “Every kid I’ve met wants to learn. I’m the kid from the low-income projects of Harlem. The difference was: There was a group of significant adults who believed that I could be some thing better. … “Nobody has suspended their disbelief.”

I remember those dreams.

Every adult on my street in Tarboro, N.C., had that dream for me. They lived it.

They made me live it. I always saw beyond that street.

Now we must give that gift to Detroit kids.


 CONTACT ROCHELLE RILEY:  

“IF YOU CAN GET A GROUP OF PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN THE CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS, YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS.”
 


BARBARA BYRD-BENNETT, chief academic and accountability auditor for the Detroit Public Schools