Friday, January 30, 2009

21st Century Connectedness!

Well-Connected Parents Take On School Boards

Web-Savvy Activists Push For Educational Change

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009; A01

For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it's not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance.

These parent insurgents are gaining influence -- and getting things changed.

In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties.

In Loudoun County, parents are gearing up to topple a grading scale similar to the one overturned in Fairfax. Another Fairfax group is making headway in a drive to push back high school start times.

What binds them is impatience with the school establishment and an aptitude for harnessing the power of the Internet to push for change.

"We are not our moms, who were just involved in the PTA," said Catherine Lorenze, a McLean mother who helped organize Fairgrade, the parent-led campaign to change the Fairfax grading scale by lowering the bar for an A from 94 to 90 percent.

"We worked for a number of years before we had kids," she said. "We know how to research and find information and connect the dots. To expect us to show up and just make photos or write checks does not sit well with this generation. If you are going to invite parents in the door . . . it should be more of a partnership."

School officials say they welcome the heightened interest in public education, because parent involvement often leads to student success. But they also warn that the wildfire Web-based campaigns can spread rumors quickly and tend to benefit affluent, well-connected parents. They can also distract school officials from budget deficits or other pressing issues.

Sometimes such parent groups, whose agendas tend to be limited to helping their own children, fail to carry the day against administrators, who must balance the needs of huge and diverse school systems. Thousands of Fairfax parents last year mounted a sophisticated, costly fight against a county plan to redraw high school boundaries to help fill an under-enrolled school that had higher rates of poor and minority students. Despite their protests, the School Board approved the change.

Still, school officials acknowledge the growing challenge to their authority.

"It used to be that the superintendent and the School Board made decisions and said, 'This is how it's going to be,' and the community would accept that," said Barbara Hunter, assistant superintendent for communications and community outreach for the 169,000-student Fairfax school system.

No longer. Many of today's parents are more skeptical of government and have new ways to engage with schools besides showing up for night meetings. They can make political statements by forwarding e-mails or signing petitions, all possible to do on a BlackBerry while idling on Interstate 66.

The No Child Left Behind law also has given parents more ways to challenge the official line. Since 2002, it has required schools to publish more information than ever about student performance, teacher quality and school safety. Parents back up their positions with bar charts and extensive analyses.

Former Fairfax superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said outspoken, savvy parents can be crucial allies in the fight for school funding. "The other side of the coin, of course, is you have to produce, because they are going to hold your feet to the fire," he said.

Officials caution that the new technology has turned up the volume for select parent voices. It can be especially apparent in parts of Fairfax or Montgomery where well-educated parents are not afraid to throw their weight around and register complaints with a phone call to the superintendent or the media. Blast e-mails and Web sites give these parents even more of an edge, compared with others who lack time or resources, some observers say.

Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said.

Administrators across the region are looking for new ways to encourage traditionally silent parents to work with schools. In the District, efforts are underway to encourage parents to organize their thoughts into a short speech for the school board or to approach their children's teachers if they are concerned about a grade or a problem.

In Montgomery, the five-year-old Parent Coalition manages an e-mail list with more than 300 members in which parents raise concerns about high school exit exams, school board contracts and other issues in the 139,300-student system. It also maintains a Web site stocked with public documents.

The coalition has claimed two victories in recent weeks. It successfully lobbied the school board to eliminate hundreds of course fees, and its concerns about loose credit-card spending practices among school staff were validated by a state audit.

Brian Edwards, chief of staff for Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, said the coalition is run by a "small cadre" of parents who have been longtime critics of the system. In the past, he said, their complaints would have been registered through phone calls or e-mails. Now, organized on the Web, they attract more media and public attention.

Other Montgomery parents are organizing online around issues such as gifted or special education, and they keep close tabs on pending program changes.

Sharon W. Cox, who served on the Montgomery school board from 2000 to 2008, said parents often get news out to the community before the school system does. Sometimes she learned of controversies first from parents. School officials "are always in the position of having to be defensive and to correct misinformation because they are not proactive," she said.

Kitty Porterfield, a former communications director for Fairfax schools and author of the book "Why School Communication Matters," said many school systems "are still responding to 21st-century parents with 20th-century approaches."

A strategic communications team in Fairfax monitors the blogosphere and online message boards for misinformation or rumors, seeking to update the school system Web site and drive traffic there. The school system also is trying out new ways to include parents in important or controversial decisions from the earliest stages.

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale, whose recommendation to keep the 94-point benchmark for an A was reversed by the School Board after parent lobbying, said it is a challenge to stay on top of the daily avalanche of electronic communication from parents.

But he is trying to meet it. "That is what they expect from us," he said.

The FACE of Cultural Diversity and IT'S Importance to Success!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Real World: 21st Century Digital Learning Environments

Learning Environments Must Break Through the Silos that Separate Learning from the Real World Print

ORLANDO, FL — Jan. 23, 2009 —
Successful learning environments break through the barriers that separate schools from the real world, educators from each other and policymakers from the communities they serve. Yet, many schools continue to reflect their Industrial Age origins with rigid schedules, inflexible facilities and fixed boundaries between grades, disciplines and classrooms, according to a new paper released by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and sponsored by Cisco Systems.

The paper, 21st Century Learning Environments, finds that learning environments – the structures, tools, and communities that inspire students and educators to attain the knowledge and skills that are required of them – must embrace a diverse and complex world of people, places, and ideas. While a tremendous amount of attention has been paid to standards, assessments, professional development, and curriculum and instruction, the paper finds that learning environments are an essential component to supporting positive 21st century outcomes for students.

The report notes that the term ‘learning environment’ has traditionally suggested a concrete place (schools, classrooms, libraries, etc.), but in today’s interconnected and technology-driven world, a learning environment can be virtual, online and remote. In addition, physical learning structures must be designed to suit the immediate and future requirements of a community and should enable collaboration, interaction and information sharing among community members.

While the relationship of physical spaces and technological systems to learning continues to be ever important, even more important is how – and whether – these environments support the positive human relationships that matter most to learning, according to the report. The most essential element of all learning environments has always been the ‘people network’ – the community of students, educators, parents, business and civic leaders, and policymakers that constitute the human resources of an education system.

“It is critical that 21st century learning environments address the multiple and interconnected needs of the whole child,” said Paige Kuni, worldwide manager of K-12 education for Intel Corporation and chair of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. “Learning supports are only valuable if they effectively reinforce human relationships, give relevance to learning and encourage student engagement. Schools must devote themselves to more than the mind-body connection to ensure student achievement.”

Likewise, technology must go beyond merely supporting instruction to help foster personal connections to ensure students have the necessary foundations to become successful 21st century citizens. Toward that end, technology can enhance student learning and promote mastery of 21st century skills – learning and innovation skills, core subjects and 21st century themes, life and career skills and information, media and technology skills – by promoting greater student achievement, increasing student engagement, assessing student performance, facilitating communication and collaboration and maximizing administrative effectiveness.

The paper notes that the greatest challenge to incorporating technology into learning environments is not finding time and money, but finding ways to adequately support the use of these tools. Technology can only make a difference when students, teachers, and administrators are provided the necessary supports to proficiently integrate it into daily routines. Educational technology is most valuable when it functions as part of a thoughtfully orchestrated system that includes effective curriculum and instruction, ongoing professional development, authentic assessments and a positive learning culture.

“Schools are being designed for a new balance that combines the best of traditional classroom learning with leading 21st century learning methods and tools,” said Bernie Trilling, global director of education strategy and partnerships for the Oracle Education Foundation. “The learning environments of the 21st century will encompass a powerful mix of face-to-face learning opportunities with digital connections to bridge cultures and blend virtual and real-life relationships. At the same time, federal, state and local policies must help guide the creation of learning environments that serve all students in every corner of our states.”

With tight budgets and worries over the economy, policymakers face tough decisions concerning whether school design really makes a difference, notes the report. According to Georgetown University researchers, design has a bearing on achievement, as test scores can increase by up to 11 percent by improving a school’s physical environment. With that in mind, school design must also effectively address increasing enrollment, which is estimated to grow at record levels though 2013. This, in turn, signals that total spending on construction and maintenance could be as much as $30 billion annually. This is not an unprecedented occurrence – faced with similar demands a century ago, policymakers built thousands of schools that mimicked industrial forms to fulfill increased enrollment.

While, today, many schools have advanced well beyond those outdated models and classrooms have become undeniably more flexible, colorful and engaging, this is just an initial step, cautions the report. Successful learning environments must be able to adapt to the constantly evolving and ever-changing nature of technology, teaching and learning. One solution to achieve this necessary flexibility is to design learning environments that incorporate movable furniture and walls that can be made to conform to different class sizes and subjects.

"As important as it is for physical structures to be adaptable, it is even more important that class time be elastic. Instead of assigning a certain amount of time for teaching one subject per day, teachers need the flexibility of bigger and more adjustable time slots to truly impact learning," said Charles Fadel, global lead for education for Cisco Systems. "There must be a renewed focus on increasing the quality of teaching by providing teachers more time and opportunities to plan, collaborate and work with advanced technology systems."

In addition, schools cannot continue to use seat time as a measure of academic attainment. Rather, assessment of learning must include thoughtful measures of a student’s ability to apply and demonstrate knowledge in complex situations, the report concludes.

About the Partnership for 21st Century Skills: The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is the leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The organization brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century. The Partnership encourages schools, districts, and states to advocate for the infusion of 21st century skills into education and provides tools and resources to help facilitate and drive change.

21st Century Skills Leadership States include: Arizona, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Educational Technological Imperitive!

A Plea for Educational Technology

Four education leaders call on Congress to meet President-elect Obama's request to target classroom technology modernization in economic recovery legislation.

By News Report
Four leading education and business organizations -- the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) -- recently applauded President-elect Barack Obama's call to invest in technology for the classroom as part of the forthcoming economic recovery package and urged targeted action by Congress. The groups endorsed the President-elect's goals to "equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms . . . [and] provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers" to not only prime the nation's economic pump but also allow "students in Chicago and Boston [to] compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future."

CoSN, ISTE, SIIA and SETDA have recommended that Congress agree to disseminate these new classroom technology grant funds through the existing Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) program in order to ensure that the funds quickly reach the neediest schools and are used for their intended purposes.

"We're very encouraged by the economic stimulus proposal now under consideration," said Don Knezek, CEO of ISTE. "It puts a world-class, future-focused education front and center while also preserving and creating jobs now."

The four groups -- representing more than 100,000 educators and hundreds of high-tech employers -- believe that a major spending infusion on education technology will create jobs within the education, education services and technology sectors, as well as enable innovative instructional practices in America's classrooms to address the needs of today's digital-native students. For example, a federal expenditure of $9.9 billion could ensure that every classroom in economically-disadvantaged Title I schools is technology-rich.

Additionally, the groups noted that further investments in broadband would improve the nation's unemployment picture, citing a recent study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation that a $10 billion investment in broadband would lead to the creation of nearly one-half million jobs.

For the complete press release, please, click here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pontiac Promise / Update!

Pontiac pegged as Promise Zone

Sunday, January 18, 2009 12:22 AM EST

Of The Oakland Press

PONTIAC — The Pontiac school board has put the school district on the fast track in what is becoming a statewide competition to create a Promise Zone that would guarantee graduates a college education.

The board voted Friday at a brief special meeting to schedule a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at the urging of state Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, who said only 10 Promise Zones — similar to the one created in Kalamazoo — will be authorized throughout the state.

Melton sponsored the Promise Zone legislation with Pontiac School District in mind, and it was signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm this week. Melton and Granholm are expecting the Pontiac district to be the first Promise Zone in the state, he said.

Board Vice President Gill Garrett, and trustees Robert Bass and Karen Cain all had questions and concerns about the process and the details of how the Promise Zone will work.

But the board agreed to schedule the public hearing to start the process immediately with the commitment of Melton to provide the answers to all their questions during the 20-day period leading up to the hearing. The process will go no further than the hearing without approval of the board.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the city and the district,” Melton said, explaining that the promise of a college education would bring more families and businesses into the district and increase property values and the tax base the way it did in Kalamazoo.

“As I drafted the bill, Pontiac was number one in my concern. The number one reason kids don’t go to college is money,” Melton said. A district is eligible to be a Promise Zone if the youth poverty rate is above the state average and the district qualifies, he said. The state Department of Treasury accepts or rejects the applications.

Melton said once children know tuition will be paid, they begin planning and expecting to continue with education after high school.

“In the second grade in Kalamazoo, colleges begin recruiting kids. They know they are going to college. The psyche starts changing. Interest in high school goes up.”

Under the legislation, the school board would create a Promise Zone Authority board and appoint nine of the 11 members. The other two would be appointed by the speaker of the House and the leader of the Senate majority. The authority would cover full tuition to any public school in Michigan and a capped amount to any more expensive private Michigan college.

The Promise Zone Authority board would set the criteria — such as the required gradepoint average — for the scholarships and would be responsible for raising money in the private sector to fund them. No school board members would be on the authority.

In the third year, after two years of fund raising, the state would authorize the district to keep a percentage of funds generated by property tax growth to put toward scholarships. Children in all the cities and townships in the district would benefit, not just those who live in Pontiac. And the fund would reap revenue from growth in property taxes from all the entities in the school district.

Bass, Garrett and Cain said they are concerned and disappointed the board would not have any part in decision making, such as setting the criteria that makes a student eligible. That would be entirely the authority’s role.

“I want to make sure our students can take advantage of it,” Bass said.

As far as Melton is concerned, he said, “I think the criteria should be (a free college education) for any student who graduates high school,” which is the criteria set in Kalamazoo.

Melton said the school board will have some influence because they interview and select the members of the authority. School attorney George Pitchfork said trustees will also have the right to remove authority members.

Pitchford also advised the board that they could have a trustee on the authority as a nonvoting member to provide input from the board and to keep trustees up to date on the authority’s activities.

One thing that was worrisome to Bass is the fact that students and their parents would have to show they did their best to obtain other scholarships and grants before the Promise Zone fund would cover the difference.

Contact staff writer Diana Dillaber Murray at (248) 745-4638 or

Informs OUR Understanding (NSF STEM Grant)

Sunday, January 04, 2009


Sunday, January 4, 2009


Focus of New Year must be education

Forrest Gump had it right: Stupid is as stupid does.

Michigan has been doing some awfully stupid things when it comes to educating its citizens. If it doesn't commit in 2009 to smarten up, the state has little chance of joining a national economic recovery, when it finally comes.

For starters, the state has to at last match its policies to its priorities. It has said for all of this decade that improving education is the most essential task of state government, absolutely vital to developing a workforce capable of filling Knowledge Economy jobs.

But instead of diverting resources to schools and colleges, Michigan has cut education funding, particularly for universities, and has no new education initiatives to boast of except for a tougher high school curriculum, which local school districts are busy dismantling.

If it wants 2009 to be the Year of Education, here are some things Michigan must do:

Direct more dollars to classrooms. This can be done in two ways. First, education should get first claim on state budget dollars. Decide how much money per pupil is needed to provide a first-class education to every student, and then divert dollars from every other program to make it happen. Investing in schools should be considered a cost-cutting measure. Students who are failed by the education system overwhelmingly tend to end up on welfare or in prison, a far costlier place to keep them than in a classroom.

Second, cut administrative and benefit costs. School districts have been to slow to consolidate and share services. Lawmakers should force them to do so. They've also had little progress cutting the cost of teacher benefit packages. Michigan should pass a law this year that caps the cost of health care and retirement benefits.

Stop protecting failing districts. Detroit has a failure rate for students that reaches 70 percent. And yet Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature continue to protect the Detroit Public Schools from competition. High-quality national charter school operators have said they will come to Detroit if Lansing lifts the cap on charter schools. That must happen this year. Let DPS keep the schools that are making acceptable progress, and force it to contract with private operators to run the schools that are failing. That is the quickest way to save students now trapped in inadequate schools.

Make educators accountable. Michigan has very little accountability for education performance. One example is the new high school curriculum, which was a major achievement of the Granhom administration. The curriculum is nation-leading, but the state has not taken the necessary steps to make sure districts are teaching it properly. Many districts have worked harder to find ways around the new curriculum than they have to implement it. The course schedule is designed to give every student the best shot at college success. The state must take a hard line to make sure it is being taught to every student.

Address college affordability. Having world-class universities in the state does little good if state students can't afford to attend them. Incomes have been falling in Michigan and jobs have been disappearing. And yet college tuition costs keep soaring. Blame the state in part for continually cutting budgets. But also blame college and university boards that have found it easier to pass along tuition hikes to hard-pressed families than to cut deeply into operating costs. Schools should focus this year on affordability, rather than on expansion programs often motivated by status and ego.

Do these things this year, and Michigan can look back on 2009 and declare it the year it started thinking seriously about its future.

Funding Constraints could become CATALYST for Disruptive Digital Learning

Michigan school districts fear budget cuts

Declines in state revenue could create deficits


The January revenue conference -- when lawmakers meet to begin deciding how much money the state will have for next year's budget -- has an ominous feel for many Michigan school administrators this year.

They gratefully accepted an early Christmas present from the state, when Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced that midyear budget cuts would not affect schools.

But with 54% of Michigan's districts holding less than the recommended 15% of their budget in savings, and about one third of the districts approaching dangerously low levels of savings, administrators will be nervously watching the conference -- which starts Jan. 9 -- and hoping there will be enough money in next year's budget to keep their programs going.

"The thing that really frightens me for the future is, where do we go next?" said David Houle, business manager for Willow Run Community Schools. "We're going to come to a point where there are no additional cuts you can make that don't impact in the classroom."

In these uncertain economic times, state revenues could be down between $500 million and $1 billion next year, according to Mitch Bean, director of the House Fiscal Agency.

At best, any drop in state revenue could mean school districts have to make cuts in anything from supplies to transportation. At worst, cuts in school revenues would drive some districts into a deficit.

"This is not an environment in which we expect to get anything," said Tom White, executive director of Michigan School Business Officials. "It's really a question of how difficult it's going to be and what we're going to do about it."

"There are so many unknowns, it's like playing with a whole deck of wild cards," White said. His organization is recommending school administrators plan for no increase in school funding next year.

The good news is that there may be more money available for schools because there are fewer students. Michigan lost about 5,000 pupils, saving about $40 million because school money is doled out on a per-pupil basis.

The bad news is that schools don't necessarily lose pupils in cost-saving ways. A district that loses 25 students is unlikely to lose them in the same classroom or even the same building. So expenses such as teachers, heating and transportation remain the same.

What could help? Strong Christmas sales generating more tax revenue, help for the U.S. automakers saving Michigan jobs or a timely federal economic stimulus package that could include a significant savings for Michigan in Medicaid.

"As soon as those sales in the state go down, we're not funding our schools," Houle said.

But even if these situations materialize, no one knows whether they will be enough. Most worried are those whose districts are likely to fall into a deficit if the state cuts any funding.

"It's the equivalent of squeezing blood out of a turnip," said Charles Muncatchy, superintendent of Mt. Clemens Community Schools. He said his district is out of savings, and the likely result of any funding cuts would be a deficit.

East Detroit Public Schools also would be likely to end up in a deficit if state funding is cut. The district is down to a slim $57,000 in savings.

"It's a mess," said Superintendent Bruce Kefgen. "I can't tell you where we'd ultimately cut."

The Willow Run Community Schools district already was in a deficit, and files an annual plan on how it is reducing its deficit with the state.

"We've already made major changes and concessions with our employees and staffing," Houle said. "We don't have anyplace to go for discretionary spending."

Even well-heeled districts can struggle.

Bloomfield Hills Public Schools has a cushion in the form of $20 million in savings, but its officials still feel that it has to close two schools next year.

"Just because we have a fund balance doesn't mean our board wants to tap it," said district spokeswoman Betsy Erikson.

Educators say if money is tight, it's only fair for the state and federal governments to chip in by dropping some of the schools' requirements.

"If you don't have the money for us, you could cut some of those unfunded mandates," said Kefgen. He suggests cutting back on the state testing programs such as the MEAP, which he said costs districts thousands of dollars to administer, or rethinking all the databases that districts are required to keep.

Muncatchy said he would like the federal government to fund some of the requirements under No Child Left Behind.

"I'm all for rigor and that schools should be places of excellence, but other countries in the world spend 30% of their federal funds on education, and America spends less than 3%," Muncatchy said.

Contact PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI at 586-826-7262 or

Final Restructuring Community Meeting January, 13 2009 6:00PM WHRC

Pontiac school board to vote on restructuring plans, closing schools

Friday, January 2, 2009 11:50 AM EST

The Pontiac Board of Education plans to vote Monday on whether to create a system with one high school and a few elementaries or a single high school with both elementaries and middle schools.

Their decision Monday will also determine how many schools the district will keep open in the fall.However, Board President Damon Dorkins said trustees will not determine which schools will remain open until they vote on the final restructuring plan on Jan. 26.

Two options have been recommended by the Pontiac Redesign Committee for Instructional Effectiveness and Financial Efficiency that has worked for several weeks on the project.

Both options would feature a single high school made up of combined student populations of Pontiac Northern and Pontiac Central high schools — 2,460 — located at Northern. And both include keeping Frost school as a preschool academy and Kennedy School for special education programs.Most likely to be closed under either option are Central, Bethune, Crofoot, Franklin, Longfellow and Whitmer Human Resource Center.

The advisory committee’s goal is to come up with a structure that will be more efficient for the district, which has declined from 20,000 to only 6,700 K-12 students. It also is designed to help eliminate a $10 million projected deficit and improve instructional programs.

Option One, which seemed to be most popular with the board, would keep open two middle schools and seven elementaries. It would be similar to the existing system with kindergarten through sixth-graders in elementaries, seventh through ninth-graders in middle schools and 10th through 12th-graders in high school.Schools recommended for this configuration are Northern; Madison and Jefferson/Whittier middle schools; and Herrington, Rogers, LeBaron, Emerson, Owen, Alcott and Whitman elementary schools.

Closed under Option One would be Central High School, Bethune School (with alternative high school moved to another location), Lincoln Middle School, and Crofoot, Franklin, Longfellow, and Whitmer Human Resource Center elementaries.

Option Two, which would close more schools, would feature one high school for ninth through 12th-graders and five kindergarten through eighthgrade elementary schools.

Under that option, the district would keep open Northern, all three middle schools and only four elementary schools.It would incorporate combined middle and elementary schools of Jefferson/Whittier and Lincoln/Whitman; Madison Middle School; and Herrington and Rogers elementary schools.Closed would be Central High School, Bethune School (with alternative high school located elsewhere); and Alcott, Crofoot, Emerson, Franklin, LeBaron, Longfellow, Owen, and Whitmer Human Resource Center elementaries.

Vice President Gill Garrett has proposed an option of his own.

Garrett would move all seventh and eighth graders into Madison Middle School, which has a capacity of 1,180 and is on the same campus as Northern. He would move elementary students from Crofoot, Longfellow, Franklin and Whitmer Human Resource Center to the Jefferson Middle School/ Whittier Elementary campus. In this scenario, Lincoln Middle school would be closed.

Before the board approves a total restructuring plan that names schools to remain open and defines instructional features to be included, two additional meetings will be held.

The first is the fourth and final public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, at Whitmer Human Resource Center in the city-school complex off Auburn Road and Woodward northbound.

The second meeting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, will be a board study session. Besides reviewing information gathered at the public forum, trustees have asked administrators to provide more in-depth data about capital outlay per pupil, energy cost per pupil, building capacity, feasibility, necessity for improvements, and density of student population around each building.Some trustees said the data provided the advisory committee for their recommendations are from two different sources that do not agree.

In addition, the board wants to consider the geographical impact of the schools closed before their final vote.

Disruptive Digital Learning equals Cheaper, Better, Faster!

Waivers free high school students to study online, off-campus

State steps up role in Web-based high school education


Eleven Michigan school districts and one charter school can now allow students to take more courses -- and in some cases all of their classes -- online and off-campus, moves that could further cement the state's reputation as a leader in online education.

Michigan already broke new ground in 2006 by becoming the first state in the nation to require students take an online class or have an online educational experience in order to graduate.

Just in November, the Center for Digital Education ranked Michigan second, behind Florida, for online education.

Two metro Detroit districts -- Waterford and Avondale -- are among the handful moving farther ahead, winning approval from the Michigan Department of Education to allow larger numbers of students to take online courses wherever they want.

At least two dozen of the state's 552 districts and 230 charter schools have applied for the waivers from rules that require students be in a school building for nearly 1,100 hours each school year. Students also are currently limited by state law to taking only two online courses outside a school building during a semester.

"That would be so much easier," Kayla Jacques, 18, of Waterford said of the chance to take online courses from the comfort of home. She is a senior at Waterford Alternative High School and stays late after school several days a week to take an online class.

The waivers are a result of a challenge issued to districts earlier this year by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, with the goal of seeing what innovative ideas school districts could come up with if they were allowed to bypass some rules that might be "standing in the way of schools reaching more kids," said MaryAlice Galloway, senior adviser to the chief academic officer at MDE.

Most of the 24 districts that submitted proposals targeted struggling students, particularly those attending alternative high schools. That's not surprising given that a quarter of the state's students fail to graduate on time, including 15% who drop out altogether.

Nearly all of the districts made online education a key component of the plans.

"It gives them a shot at catching up," said George Heitsch, Avondale superintendent.

Virtual enrollment boom

Online education has soared in Michigan in the last decade, illustrated by growth in enrollment at Michigan Virtual University, one of the options students have to take online classes. MVU offers more than 200 high school courses and enrollment has spiraled upward from 100 students in the 1999-2000 school year to an expected 15,000 this school year.

Part of the growth is influenced by students who need to make up credits required to graduate. But there also are students who want to take on larger course loads, those who want to take courses their schools don't offer and those with scheduling conflicts that prevent them from taking classes they want.

Most of those students who enroll at MVU, however, take one course at a time. The seat-time waivers will give students in districts that win approval an opportunity to take most or all of their course work online. And, in most cases, it allows them to take classes anywhere they can find an Internet connection.

That's what has Jacob Carman, 18, intrigued. A student at Waterford Alternative High School, he said being away from school would mean fewer distractions while he's learning. And there would be the convenience of not having to follow a school schedule.

The Avondale district, approved for a seat-time waiver last month, already has 10 students taking all of their classes online. Conor Helmrich, 16, is one of them.

"I'm able to wake up, turn my computer on and get going," Conor said. It's a lifestyle that has made him the envy of his friends. "They wish they could sleep in until whenever, and then do their work."

It may sound unstructured, and for the student who lacks inner motivation, online classes from home may not work. It helps that Conor's parents play an active role in his education. And the school closely monitors online students' progress and how often they log into the system.

"I got my parents all over my back on this," Conor said. "They're calling me like every hour making sure I'm on track."

No one is expecting hordes of students to sign up for a schedule in which they don't have to show up for school every day, if at all.

Jacques and her friend Katie VanOvermeer, 17, say they wouldn't want to take all of their classes online.

"I like coming to school here," Jacques said.

The Waterford district is beginning the program with alternative high students and those who are homebound for medical reasons. It will then expand it to its traditional high schools, said Lynn Kosinski, supervisor of secondary education.

But the district's plan includes limiting participants to 10% of the student body.

Trial program

The state is looking at the seat-time waivers as a pilot program and will closely monitor how well it works.

"What we're going to learn is not only which kids do well, but what kinds of support a district can give them to help them succeed in a virtual learning environment," Galloway said.

One thing they do know is that students taking online classes need support. Districts allowing students to take their course work online will assign a teacher mentor who regularly will meet face-to-face with them and monitor progress between meetings. Some districts also require students to take exams on a school site.

The Avondale district last spring piloted an afternoon program in which 12 students came into a computer lab and took all of their courses online. That program is still going on, but the seat-time waiver has opened it up to allowing up to 80 students to complete their course work outside of school.

Among the 10 students enrolled are four who would just rather not come to school. But there are others who have been expelled and can't come to school, said Chuck Granger, director of community education, adult education and the Avondale Academy, the district's alternative program.

Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or

Thursday, January 01, 2009

FIT for Acheivement!

Plan for schools fit for achievement, some say

Obama's program to modernize schools around the country could make big difference, educators say


WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama probably cannot fix every leaky roof and busted boiler in the nation's schools. But educators say his sweeping school modernization program -- if he spends enough -- could jump-start student achievement.

More students than ever are crammed into aging, run-down schools that need about $255 billion in repairs, renovations or construction. While the president-elect is likely to ask Congress for only a fraction of that, education experts say it still could make a big difference.

"The need is definitely out there," said Robert Canavan, chairman of the Rebuild America's Schools coalition, which includes both teachers unions and large education groups. "A federal investment of that magnitude would really have a significant impact."

Obama is promising to give every student access to the Internet. Outgoing Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pointed out that billions already has been spent through the E-Rate program.

"We should never spend money in the public sector, especially in education, unless we're getting something for it, unless it's to some good end," Spellings said. "I commend him (Obama) for taking that on. That's another very ripe area. But not unless it's moving the needle for kids."

There's widespread agreement, however, that improving classrooms helps student performance.

Studies in Houston, New York City and North Dakota have made a link between classroom conditions and performance; in the New York study, researchers found students in crowded classrooms scored lower in math and reading.

Nearly half the principals in primary and secondary schools said deteriorating conditions are interfering with learning, according to the Education Department.

Judi Caddick, a middle school math teacher in Lansing, Ill., just south of Chicago, said in the older part of her World War II-era school, classrooms had just two power outlets, forcing teachers to string extension cords into the rafters or to unplug a TV power point presentation in order to plug in a computer for a child.

"It looked like a spaghetti bowl," Caddick said.

A new school is almost complete.

"It's a huge difference," Caddick said. "We don't have to have necessarily state-of-the-art and fluffy stuff. But at least when you don't have mold problems, and you don't have things that are broken, and you don't have an inability to use the technology, it's an investment."