Ming’s Musings: What I’m reading 10/12-10/16

Monday: Obama administration: More support, fewer suspensions for kids who miss too much school

The article expresses a concern on the part of the administration that chronically absent students are being suspended and in some cases expelled. The shocking statistic provided is that 5-7.5 millions students per year have chronic absenteeism, missing 10% or more of the school year. I agree on a certain level with keeping students at school and not suspending them. The suggestions offered of finding the reason for the absence and providing guidance are both things that schools are already doing. This support, however, is also something that has been cut from budgets across the country as belts are tightened. I’ve mentioned before, and I will say it again, we need to address the root of the problems that we observe. It is a near impossible task to provide all that is asked of schools with less dollars and personnel to do so.

Tuesday:  12 Little Known Laws Of Mindfulness (That Will Change Your Life)

This one got caught up in my Pocket account for me to read later, which I finally got around to. I am pick on reading self help articles that give you a different outlook on your life. I liked the 12 suggestions in the article and found one resonate with my particularly well, “When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little”. This one struck a chord with me as I am in a position of control of a lot of elements. This year, with athletics I have tried to give some of that control back to my coaches and am feeling much happier. The other sticking point from the article is that, “Your only reality is THIS MOMENT, right here, right now.” These two takeaways combined have left me with the mentality that I need to try harder to control less and enjoy the now around me. Sometimes when you plan to much you forget to reap the happiness and benefits of that hard work. I will try not to let that happen to me anymore.

Wednesday: Guns in Michigan churches? Bars? Schools? Maybe

Scary legislation has hit the Senate floor that concealed weapons will be allowed in schools, bars, and churches where only open carry had been allowed previously. The article references the recent Community College shooting in Oregon and how firearm carriers DID NOT respond, and how a suspected shoplifter was fired upon in Ann Arbor by someone with a concealed license. These are two prime examples of what could negatively happen as a result of this law passing. Guns have no place in schools.

Thursday: Ex-Detroit principal to plead guilty in bribery probe

Sad article about an embezzlement case taking place in a Detroit high school that has been part of the state reform district of the EAA. It seems that one of the principals is pleading guilty of stealing close to $60k. Articles like this reveal the difficult nature of education in Detroit. The part that bothers me the most is that things like this are happening in the city while they amass more and more debt and do not effectively turn schools around. This combined with the plea from Detroit for the state to bail out their debt at the detriment of all the other districts across the state is troubling at best but sickening at worst.

Friday: World-famous teacher files $1 billion lawsuit against Los Angeles schools to end ‘teacher jail’

Continuing the theme of this week of the sad reality in schools, a nationally awarded and world recognized teacher from LA has filed a class action lawsuit against his former district. The root of the dispute that lead to his dismissal was a joke made in the classroom with his students that was reported and landed him in teacher purgatory, a place they have you go while being investigated. This article typifies the growing rift between society and educators and the rising tensions that are coming about as a result. This is a high profile case, but certainly not the only one out there and shows how closely scrutinized educators are and the unrealistic expectations placed on people that work with children. One could argue that the lack of respect and trust, constant criticism, and governmental tinkering have made every classroom a “teacher jail” of sorts.

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Ming’s Musings: 10/5-10/9

Monday: Duggan steps into the breach to save Detroit schools

Article touches upon the mayor of Detroit’s plan to do his part in helping Detroit schools. I like the approach that he expresses in that he will lobby for the schools but will not take them over; he will leave that in the hands of people better qualified to run the schools. I also like that he recognizes that Detroit is a powerful test subject and that if we can get things right with DPS then we can apply those same principles to other struggling school districts. The part that I am not on board with is written between the lines. I am not in favor of legislation that would require other areas around the state to pay for the debts created by the EAA and DPS.

Tuesday: How much do big education nonprofits pay their bosses? Quite a bit, it turns out.

This article questions the tax exempt status of major testing corporations such as those responsible for the SAT and the ACT and the overall salary of the top executives. The numbers are eye-opening though, especially in light of the big state contracts that these companies have and the pseudo-monopoly they have in the college admissions process.

Wednesday: We must despise our kids: Our ugly war on teachers must end now

13% of teachers leave the job field every year. Why, you might ask? The rise of charters, the elimination of collective bargaining, and the constant denigration of being failures has turned a once noble profession to one of attrition and defensiveness. The author of the article points to the above examples as reasons why the profession is losing its workforce and warns that reformers are doing more harm than good which we may not see the result of until these children are older.

It is a sad state of affairs, but the author has hit some points that resonate with me. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t had some tough, demoralizing days in my career that have made me question staying in the profession. The most difficult part is not necessarily financial, however, it is that the acts of the “reformers” have create this stigma around education that has eroded the once strong trust relationship between teachers and parents; a relationship that used to bridge the education of a student from school to home.

Thursday: Feeding and Fertilizing School Athletics

This article was written by the head of the MHSAA, Jack Roberts, and focuses on the importance of expanding opportunities for middle school athletics in order to interscholastic athletics to be successful. The article focuses on two major premises; that 6th graders should be permitted to participate in school sports and that we need to lift the cap on the number of contests permitted at the middle school level. These two factors will help to keep interscholastic sports competitive with outside clubs and groups.

I agree with the authors thoughts on the matter and am concerned about one particular set of comments that had the message that some school administrators believe sports take away from already limited resources. As an assistant principal and athletic director I see everyday, firsthand, the influence of sports on education. Many of the students that roam the halls of my school do so during the day because they know that they won’t be permitted to play their sports if they don’t. Sports teach important lessons about life that cannot be learned elsewhere and having a school-based system ensures that athletics remain educational.

Friday: Bill would get retired teachers back in the classroom

Proposed legislation in both the House and the Senate would allow for the return of retirees to the classroom without hurting their benefits and the hiring of non-certified teachers in areas of need.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there is a very real shortage of teachers in many areas of need and ultimately students lose in this scenario. On the other hand, bringing back retirees brings up a different problem, a generation difference that is exacerbated by the increased demands of today’s teachers. In most other professions, if you have a specialized job that has a limited applicant pool, employers will incentivize the position to make it more attractive. This is where education may be missing the mark. Pardon my crassness, but recycling retired teachers does not solve the long-term need.

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Ming’s Musing: What I’m Reading 9/28-10/2

It was a busy week and commitments got the best of me. Here is what I was able to read last week though.

Monday: More than 1 in 5 U.S. children are (still) living in poverty

Very short report/release on the state of US children in poverty. The scary statistic is that 22% or American children, 15.7 million school-age children live under the poverty line (2014 $24,008 for a family four). This is an absolutely frightening statistic. When the basic human needs of a person are not met, they cannot be expected to perform higher order thinking and intellectual development. Regardless of the quality of school/teacher, a student that is living in poverty will struggle to reach their potential. This is the single biggest issue related to education that is ignored with all attempts at education reform.

Tuesday: When Educators Act in Ways That Foster Student Misbehavior

MASSP Abstract that highlights the educator actions that lead to student misbehavior. The author does not condone the actions of students but rather focuses on how educators can tweak their behaviors to benefit students. The ways that educators act include: Highlighting ability differences, Promoting a performance-goal orientation, Establishing vague norms, Letting students choose their seats, and Using tired, old scripts.

Thursday: As Worries Rise and Players Flee, a Missouri School Board Cuts Football

This title caught the Athletic Director side of my brain and is very concerning. School districts around the country and considering, and in some cases are, cancelling football as a sport. The concern is very high from parents, and has been reflected in participation, that the dangers of playing the sport are just too great. Despite the efforts of the NFL and programs that have been created to instruct properly and make a safer environment, numbers are still dwindling to the point that schools are getting rid of the sport.

This is extremely troubling to me as the schools that I have worked at have been the center of communities that ground themselves in the pride from their football teams. Football is a contact sport and risk is inherent in that, but doing away with the sport altogether is a troubling trend. Then again, students being killed on the field is far worse.

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Ming’s Musings: What I’m Reading 9/21-9/25

Monday: Student learning accounts for half of teacher evaluations this year

Local article from my area that talks about the 50% value on student growth for teacher evaluations. This is an especially difficult situation for teachers and the evaluators alike in that the state, through legislation, has said that this is the law, but has not adequately defined what student growth is. To think that 50% of your evaluation is required by law to involve a variable that the state has difficulty defining is a difficult situation for all parties involved. Evaluations are not supposed to be punitive, but rather a measurement of where somebody is and what they can improve on.

Tuesday: Teens Need More Sleep, But Districts Struggle to Shift Start Times

The major point of the article is that school should start later in the day, especially at the high school level. Research points toward high school students optimally starting after 9am, but this poses a logistical issue for many families.

Being someone who has been involved with high school education for 11 years, I can attest to the observation that teenagers have a tough time functioning early in the morning and have noticed how much better those same students do in the afternoon. The article takes the viewpoint, however, that schools are not aware of the benefit of starting later, which is false. Educators are aware of the benefits of the teenage mind starting later in the day, but cost (though we wish it weren’t) is a driving factor in many school decisions. Fundamentally, everything from busing, to teacher contracts, to after school activities (including sports) would need to be changed in order for this to be beneficial. The difficult ask with this type of proposal is that it almost requires an entire community to alter their schedule for the schools and that seems to be too big of a reach in most areas.

Wednesday: Grand Rapids schools teacher layoffs spark evaluation system discussion

Another article, this one out of Grand Rapids, about the effect of teacher evaluations. The article brings up that multiple probationary teachers were released from a district due to not achieving effective status on their evaluation. The troubling part of the article for me is that the point was made that school data is used for student growth for the teachers that teach subjects that are not directly state tested, often times when teachers didn’t teach those students. This is an example of how the failure of the state to define student growth has led to dire outcomes. Another part of the article that was bothersome to me is that one of the board members, that was a former teacher and administrator, claimed a lack of consistency in the year-to-year evaluations citing his own record of being highly effective one year and effective the next. In the education world, as in many other professions, there are up years and down years that are determined by many different factors. It is not a fair claim to say that the evaluator or evaluation system is unjust based on the information provided.

Thursday: Judge rules Ann Arbor school district can ban guns

A short article about Ann Arbor schools and a court case that upheld the right of the school district to ban guns on school property.

I am not against denying anyone their rights that have been granted by our Constitution. With that being said, however, I do not see having guns on school grounds as a good thing. Any gun, whether properly licensed or not, poses a security concern at the very least.

Friday: Five ‘dumb’ things one educator used to think but doesn’t anymore

Interesting take on five topics that have undoubtedly come up in classrooms across the country. “1. School is your job. Just like I have a job and your parents have a job, you too have a job. 2. Algebra teaches you how to think differently. 3. Homework will teach you how to do things you don’t want to do. 4. My strict deadlines are teaching them accountability and responsibility. 5. Difficult/strict teachers help you learn how to deal with those types of people…it’s good for you.

I really enjoyed how the author reflected on his experiences as an educator and challenge the conventional logic above. Anybody that has been in education will tell you that it is cyclical and that there are no new ideas. I don’t believe that this has to be the case if more people challenge why we do what we do. My thoughts on education have changed a great deal over my career and are now reflected in my simple philosophy of creating opportunities. Education should be exciting and learning should be fun while opening doors to areas that otherwise may have been blocked off.

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What I’m Reading 9/14-9/18

Monday: Why borrowing from the ‘best’ school systems sounds good – but isn’t

Interesting article about adapting “successful” models from other locations and trying to put them in place in other places. The author points out that principles of successful systems can be borrowed and used, but not whole policies as these are dependent on the context and culture where the implementation is to occur. This carries particle meaning in the view of the current educational changes that are taking place in our country. It is important to examine all aspects of a successful system and determine why they are successful and what the contributing factors are in that location. A more thoughtful approach is taking bits of successful programs and creating a hybrid model with what your area is already doing well. Good read.

Tuesday: Why Generation Y is unhappy

This one caught my attention as I am a member of Generation Y. The major idea is that our generation has a lot of motivation and drive but has a lack of understanding when it comes to expectations. With a lack of perspective we are ultimately unhappy as our expectations are not met. The lesson to take away is to continue to work hard, appreciate generational differences, and be more content in the moment.

Wednesday: In Education “Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional” or the 3 Types of Educators

Blog post about educators and their views of change; indicating that there are three. Those views of change (in my own words) are a resistance/wait it out approach, go through the motions and buzzwords out of fear, and to embrace it as a means of advancing one’s self. The last option is the ideal option and the type of educator that, though fearful of change, operates out of that area of being uncomfortable and does what is best for the advancement of student knowledge.

Thursday: More Michigan school districts shedding deficits

Report that states that 40 of 56 school districts that operated out of deficit in the previous year have made positive progress, with 20 of those 40 eliminating their debt. This is an encouraging report about the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices that school districts have made to bring themselves out of debt. While 40 of 56 have made progress, others (Detroit for example) have gone deeper into debt and will be taken over by the Treasury Department.

A major concerning point that is “between the lines” of this article is that school districts have made large cuts from pay reduction, to benefits, to outsourcing of services. Many districts are now at the point that there is nothing else to cut and if the financial situation of the state does not improve there is a grim picture of what that can mean for the future of schools and the retention of quality educators.

Friday: Why are US Teacher so White?

Article had an attention grabbing title and makes mention of the fact that minority teachers has risen from 12 to 17 percent from 1987 to 2012. The article then went into depth about overall teacher attrition, but especially within urban areas which typically employ more minority teachers. The end result of this attrition of minority teachers is that minority students have less role models and examples to look to. I’m not certain of the correlations that the article claims to make but I do think that the point that is made about targeting historically black colleges as well as tribal areas etc to enhance teacher preparation programs is a good idea.

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Too Much Power is a Bad Thing

Last week I read an article and a short summary about Governor Snyder’s plan to improve for educational reform in Michigan. In the Detroit Free Press article it is stated that the Governor intends to fix Michigan schools by putting in place an additional layer of oversight by putting in place an appointed CEO/Superintendent in financially distressed/under-achieving districts. The oversight by an education manager of an empowerment zone would see the state government gain further control over education while ignoring the major issues that have landed these troubled districts in this spot in the first place, namely limited funding and a lack of resources to address the needs of students and their families.

Here is where my Assistant Principal and Athletic Director worlds collide. Has the Governor not learned anything from the debacle that has been the Deflate-gate saga in the NFL?

Recently, a court has found Tom Brady’s punishment for his involvement in the deflation of footballs during last year’s playoffs to be unjust. More importantly the court determined that Commissioner Roger Goodell’s action as judge, jury, and executioner of all things discipline in the NFL was an overstepping of power.

This educator sees the governor’s approach to education reform in the same light; too much power in the hands of one person (or branch of government) is a bad thing. We have a Department of Education composed of educators that understand the real problems; let’s trust them to do what is right by kids.

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Goal for the 15-16 School Year

Summer went by fast but with every beginning there must also be an end. The summer has ended and with it my self-imposed break from social media. While I strive to be as connected as possible, the summer was a time for me to be connected with the people that I hold most dear, my family. In order for me to be truly with them, I made the conscious decision to not be connected in blogging and on other social media platforms.

This week marks the return of students to Michigan schools. It also marks the beginning of a new school years’ goals. The primary goal that I am setting forth for myself this year is to be more informed. To accomplish this goal my intention is two-fold; first, I intend to read one article per school day. This may take the form of an online article or in one of the journals that I receive. The second fold of the goal is to reflect on that reading by posting a blog entry per week. My hope is that I can accomplish this before Sunday of each week, but alas, the weekend will likely be used at times to catch up.

The articles and thoughts on those articles will be posted to my Michigan Education Issues website as well throughout the year.

Here are the articles I read this week:

Tuesday: Bills reveal Snyder’s Plan Schools Plan: Increased Oversight

Governor Snyder plans on addressing the needs of under performing and financially stressed districts with the hiring of additional layers of bureaucracy. To address the needs of “failing” districts, he is proposing legislation that would “education managers” that would have universal control over both traditional public as well as charter schools that are deemed to be part of empowerment zones.

My personal thoughts on this are that a government appointed official that is appointed, not hired, by Lansing to be the CEO and superintendent of a school district is not the answer for struggling schools. Until we examine the reasons why schools (and students) are struggling and work to provide support in those areas, schools will continue to fail. Additional oversight is not a step in the right direction, but rather an attempt to do something, be it misguided.

Wednesday: Late Again?

Insightful article written by a college professor about what motivates students to show up on time for class. The author reveals that gimmicks do not carry much weight with students and that public shaming has a larger effect. This flies a bit in the face of convention as educators are geared more toward nurturing than shaming of students. Another big takeaway is that students want to be engaged and not lectured to, a trend that has been developing more and more in my time in education.

Thursday: Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is in 

This Detroit Free Press article focused on the new Michigan Science Standards. Though there is some resistance about the new standards, in the same vein as the Common Core State Standards and in the name of a loss of local control, there are many positives pointed out by the author. The article recognizes the importance of the need for standards that require students to take the lead in their own learning rather than memorizing or following step-by-step instructions. The PROCESS of critical thinking is more important than perfection in the end product.

Friday: A Referee’s Take on Blown Calls, Game Control and Fans’ Misconceptions

This Sports Illustrated article from December of 2014 was passed along to me at an MHSAA Athletic Director’s Update meeting. The article provides clever insight from a high ranking hockey official about the role of referees in athletics. The major point of the article was that referees cannot control a game, but rather they only make calls when the play falls outside the rules of the game. The responsibility of control in a game falls on the players, coaches, and parents. This is an important lesson for coaches, players, and parents as it puts the emphasis on them to control and learn from their actions rather than assigning blame to the officials.

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