Sunday, December 27, 2009

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


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
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
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.

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