15 March 2010

Mr. Bobb Ups the Ante

On the day that Peter Graves of "Mission Impossible" fame, Mr Bobb steps into the role with his Academic Plan for the Detroit Public Schools. (It would be rude of me to point out that Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager, was ordered by a Wayne County judge to stay out of academics. So I won't.)

Last Thursday, those self-appointed saviors over at the Excellent Schools group released their roadmap to educational Nirvana. They state that by 2015, 90% of Detroit kids will do everything good and decent.

That's not good enough for our Bobb. He sees the 90% and raises. Bobb's plan will produce a world where 98% of Detroit kids achieve all things wise and wonderful.

The report out of the Excellent Schools camp is that when the said 90% they meant 99.999%. The wanted to go the full 100%, but decided to shoot for a more realistic target.

14 March 2010

The Folks Who Have Decided the Future of Education in Detroit: Part 2

"What is happening here is no less important than Thomas Jefferson taking pen to paper and forging a charge for a new country that once was only an idea.

It is no less important than President Abraham Lincoln signing a document to change the way a country operated."

That's Rochelle Riley fawning over the plan to overhaul Public Schools in Detroit. I humbly disagree, but you can read it yourself and decide.

The Excellent Schools website lists the following "Participants":

The Politician and the Shadow Government:
Mayor Dave Bing and Sue Carnell, City of Detroit
Greg Handel, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce

The two leading Charter School groups in Detroit. They will make out like bandits if the plan goes through. They also need the money provided by the Foundations.

Clarke Durant, Cornerstone Schools (Think Catholic Schools without the nuns and crosses.)
Ralph C. Bland, NEW PARADIGM FOR EDUCATION and Detroit Edison Public School Academy (For Profit - the Dollar comes first)

The "Community."
Sharlonda Buckman, Detroit Parent Network (They say she's there as a parent.)

Robert C. Bobb, Barbara Byrd Bennett, and Robert Boik, Detroit Public Schools

The state-appointed head of the Detroit Public Schools whose many years with the D.C. Public Schools made them the acme of public education on America. The rest of the B-Team doesn't matter. No one but Bobb matters in DPS.)

I don't understand why Bobb is here. Yes this plan will destroy the Teachers Union and will strip teachers of protections against abusive administrators and wages that you can raise a family on, but it will also slowly shutter the public schools until the DPS becomes the dumping ground for the unwanted kids kicked out of the charter schools.

The controllers of the wealth of dead thieves plutocrats.

Rip Rapson and Wendy Jackson, Kresge Foundation (The man who gave us K-Mart.)
C. David Campbell, McGregor Fund (McGregor's wife was lumber baron David Whitney's daughter.)
Carol Goss, Tonya Allen, and Kristen McDonald, The Skillman Foundation (One of the founders of 3M)
Michael J. Brennan, Michael Tenbusch, and Kelly Major Green, United Way for Southeastern Michigan
Sterling K. Speirn and Gregory B. Taylor, W.K. Kellogg Foundation (The Cereal guy.)

Think tanks and local reform groups: (People who will receive the money from those above to set up more of their charter schools.)
Doug Ross, New Urban Learning
Daniel S. Varner, Think Detroit PAL
Shirley R. Stancato and David Gamlin, New Detroit
Louis Glazer, Michigan Future, Inc. (I'm not sure what to make of him.)

OK, Let's look at the plan. It is pretty and nicely formatted. It has graphs and nice pictures. It is full of talk of 90% this, 90% that, and 90% the other. (90% is to education reformers what 110% is to football coaches.) It is free of details and any explanation of why anyone should listen to them - except for the $20 million the group plans to invest.

The plan calls for the creation of a Standards and Accountability Commission. This Commission will preform many vital functions that are already being performed. It will evaluate every school in Detroit - Public, Charter, Independent, Wholistic, Ba'hai, or Imaginary. It will create a test to evaluate all these schools. It will issue a report to the community on all these schools. In other words, it will duplicate what the State of Michigan already does.

After evaluating all the schools in Detroit, the Commission will release a list of forty failing schools and these schools would be "closed." Closed doesn't mean closed, it means some firings, some new "programs," some bringing in of private management companies, and, in desperate cases, the ritual slaughter of a white rooster.

Marvelous new teachers from all over the country will flock to Detroit. They'll come from Teach For America, the Woodrow Wilson Michigan Teaching Fellowship Program, and the French Peace Corps.

The only mention of existing teachers is that they are old and will soon retire. If they'd make me an early retirement offer, I'd give it a look.

The reformers call for the Mayor to take over the schools and doing away with the School Board. OK, I cannot in any way defend any of the elected school boards I have known. Just google Otis Mathis, Reverend Murray, and Marie Thornton. But, come on, the Mayor? Mayor Dave Bing is a swell guy, but don't you think he's got enough on his plate? The city is imploding and he'll take time out to fix up the schools? And then what about when you get a Kwame Kilpatrick? Let's open up the School District's purse to Kwame and his ilk's greedy grasp.

The thing the report never mentions is who chooses the people on the Commission? Like the Excellent Schools group itself, the mechanism for selecting the all-powerful Commissioners is more than vague - it is non-existent. In the spirit of cooperation, I would like to offer this humble proposal - Predestination. This should go over well with the Excellent Schools crowd because, if I remember my Presbyterian training, proximity to or direct control of large pots of money is a sure sign of being one of the Elect.

And since I am not of the Elect, my Scottish heritage is no guarantee, I must rest my fingers (we've sadly lost that fond expression "lay down my pen") and submit humbly.

13 March 2010

MEAP TEST Report: Judgment Day in Michigan Schools

The MEAP Test results are in!

The MEAP test is Michigan's local flavor of High Stakes Testing. Each state has its own test because of our great American tradition of local control of education and the real fears that Obama's Muslim Socialism is poised to pounce on all the freedom loving real Americans. Fear not America! Your proud Babbitry will escape unscathed the efforts of the Professor President to destroy your way of life. He has placed education policy in the powerful hands of his Chicago hoops pal, Arne Duncan. Duncan is moving the President's agenda forward with vigor and enthusiasm. President Bush, that is. Soon Obama will preside over the death of teacher unions and public education, and the birth of Charter School America, with taxes flowing to the Christian Learning Charter School, the Tea Bagger Public Charter Academy, the Rosicrucian Pre-school, the Ayn Rand High School, and the Newt Gingrich Historical Fiction Middle School. Teachers, being a dime a dozen, will be paid a dime for every dozen students they teach. You know those private schools the monied types send their kiddos to? Soon your tax dollars will help defray the cost of polishing our future leaders. I see Obama cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Charles Grassley Charter High School of Recalcitrance, with Arne Duncan on his left and on his right, Randi Weingarten beaming up at her hero. Behind the Cheerleader-in-Chief Randi is a huge empty space where the AFT once stood before all its members were fired to the delight of our Presidents (Weingarten and Obama, that is.)

But I digress. I had intended to look at the MEAP results and so I shall, after a brief, but necessary, I assure you, bit of background.

I teach 5th grade Math and Science at a East Side Detroit Elementary school. Detroit is poor, but the East Side is POOR. Everything you've heard about Detroit is more so on the East Side.

One day before the 2009 school year started, I was sent to this school. The first week of school (six weeks before the MEAP test) I gave all 48 students (2 classes) a test that covered the 4th Grade Math curriculum. There are 79 questions on the test. This test is designed to be aligned with the state standards that will be tested on MEAP test.

The results were about what I've come to expect. The median score was 24. The MEAP test results are reported on a four point scale with 1 being the best and 4 being the worse. Scores of 1 and 2 are combined and, in 2009, a school must have 65% of its students in groups 1&2 to meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). If you don't make AYP, the principal sweats, yells a lot, and waits to get fired.

So. I started the school year with the prospect of maybe 5 or 6 kids slipping into level 2, and my principal yelling a lot. (She is an experienced yeller. I am an experienced ignorer of yelling principals.)

The district supplied me with nothing to address the impending train wreck. This is a good thing. In the past, the district has spent millions on printing materials that were no use at all, and then sending highly paid administrators to the school to make sure we used them. (I never have. Someday I need to make time to get those issues with authority looked into.)

What I did want from the district was an item analysis for each of my students from their previous years test. Then I could select topics to address and group kids by need. This information exists, but was unavailable. For reasons of economy I wont't go into them here. Suffice it to say, I was on my own.

As I mentioned several digressions ago, I had pre-tested my students. I used that test to focus instruction. I targeted areas of weakness, grouped students by need, and went at it. We spent most of the Math time over the next six weeks reviewing fourth grade math. This wasn't a waste a time or "Teaching to the Test." They did need to learn these things. I gathered materials, manipulatives, and homework for three groups at a time. That one kid who scored a 41 on the pre-test spent half his time reviewing and half working on a variety of logic puzzles.

We took the MEAP in mid-October. The kids answered the questions with no help from me. I wish it wasn't necessary to say that. Some asked for help and were frustrated when I said I couldn't. I explained why, but they were still upset. This is the third year these kids have taken the MEAP. Why did they think a teacher would help them? Shhhh! We don't talk about cheating.

And then we wait. In early Spring, the robins return to Michigan and mark our cars with the joy of the season. The state does the same with the MEAP results.

Here's how my wild things did.

Level 1: 31% 15 students
Level 2: 29.2% 14 students

Level 3: 29.2% 14 students
Level 4: 10.4% 5 students

60.4% in Levels 1 & 2.
The state requires 65%.

If 2 kids were moved from 3 to 2, 64.58% would have been in Levels 1 or 2. When I get the complete breakdown I will see how many more questions the top two level 3 students needed to answer correctly to move up to level 2. In my experience, this will come down to less than 5 questions in total. And you thought Bush-Gore was close.

So, you could say I failed. After all, most of the suburban schools made AYP. Some (Duncan, Wiengarten, Obama, Robert Bobb) will no doubt say that I've failed, my school should be closed, a charter should move into the building, and I can apply for a job at about half the pay, with even worse benefits than we agreed to in our last contract, a Teach For America "Veteran" (4 years) to coach me, and no protection when the next incompetent principal wants to fire me because I have this medical condition that makes it impossible for me to bend over to lick people's shoes.

COMING NEXT: A return to examining the Saviors of Education in Detroit

The Folks Who Have Decided the Future of Education in Detroit (& Their Invisible Suits of Clothes)

From the decayed, desolate, and desultory ruins of Detroit, a band of heroes have ventured forth from the comfort and safety of their regal boardrooms to deliver the true path to educational salvation to a city yearning for imposed solutions by people who know nothing about education. Hurrah! We are delivered!

I realize that it is the height of ungratefulness for me, who is not only a commoner, but as a teacher with a Masters Degree and fourteen years experience, I am one of those evil ones who have blighted the futures of the children of Detroit. How sad that I would rather dwell in darkness than accept the revealed truth. But as far back as when I was a kid and I saw that naked guy that everyone else was sure would be a great President, I've never known when to keep my mouth shut. You'd think I'd have learned from Mr. Invisible Clothes, but no, here I go again. It's a character flaw that I guess will be with me to the end.

So where to begin in examining our dynamic team of self-appointed saviors? There is the fact that they are self-appointed. They have no sanction, no standing, no mandate, no clothes. Now my friends at school and I have been known to sit around and discuss what needs to be done to fix the Detroit Public Schools, but when we announced our plans, there was no media coverage. The only attention we got was from the bartender who told us to keep it down. Apparently we were scaring the college students.

So why is everyone bowing and scrapping to our heroes and ignoring me and my friends? MONEY, that's MONEY. They got it, we don't. They're rich and we're poor and it's always going to be that way. Yes, I know it's a shock that in this great country of ours MONEY brings with it unlimited power and influence. If this fact is too much for you, just make yourself a nice cup of herbal tea, go on-line, and download an inspiring Horatio Alger tale or two. Your faith will return.

Let's take a look at the sources of wealth from which the paragons of educational expertise get their educational bona fides. (The difference between MONEY and wealth is that the generation that commits the crime has MONEY. The descendants have wealth. Joe P. Kennedy had MONEY. Teddy had wealth. The first generation is the thief. The latter generations are the launderers.)

Tomorrow we'll start looking at the cast of characters and following the MONEY.

11 March 2010

Thinking about things at a Detroit Public School

I stopped daily accounts because it felt like the thing to do. I've been back at work and it's been pretty awful. I'm not panicking or lashing out, but it all seems pointless. Standing and looking at the faces of all these kids who are so far behind, so disruptive, so totally unaware of how their poor education and aggression will lock them into the ghetto, prison, or the graveyard. Today a drunk mother told me that hell yes some doctor told her her boys needed some drugs, but her boys weren't taking no drugs. I started to talk to her about ritalin, but finally said the hell with it. What's the point? She wasn't listening to me, she won't listen to the doctor, and she won't listen to the judge when he pronounces sentence on her boys. And her boys don't have a damn chance because of her. They lost the Great American Parent Lottery. So let's fire all those bad teachers who have failed to teach her boys to read and add.

Today the temperature was in the 60's. The gym teacher and a 4th grade teacher took their classes outside to a park next to the school. The seventh grade girls were on the playscape with the 4th graders. The older boys were on the football field. The gym teacher heard some firecrackers going off. He looked around and saw a guy with a .22 on the basketball court shooting at some other guys. The shooter was about 100 yards from the football field and about 150 yards from the playscape. The school is about 500 yards from the court. The gym teacher got the boys to the playscape and then got them and the other kids to lie down. When the gunman started walking away from the school, the gym teacher got the kids up and sent them running to the building. None of the kids were hurt. No one called the police. The incident won't make the papers or TV news. Just another East Side shooting. The sun comes up. The sun goes down. Someone shoots someone on the East Side. No news here, it just happens everyday. Time to fire all the teachers in those failing East Side schools. Bring in those Teach For America Poverty Missionaries. At least the East Side can assuage the consciences of those Ivy League darlings when they scuttle back to their real lives after a year or two among the savages. Great stories for those Manhattan cocktail parties.

A cabal of wealthy folks and their non-profit minions have gathered together in some comfy boardroom to visit with old friends, enjoy a relaxing catered lunch or two, and come up with a plan to fix the Detroit Public Schools. In a nutshell, the plan calls for chartered schools, getting rid of "bad" teachers (while never defining what a "bad" teacher is), bringing in hundreds of Teach for America Whiz kids, and chanting "Change! Change! Change!" three times while clicking their heels. I think there may be some pixie dust involved. Hey, it worked for Obama.

Now let's see. I have 48 5th graders. Five can do division with a three digit dividend and 1 digit divisor. (That's 438 divided by 5 for all you TFA geniuses. I doubt you covered how to teach division in your grueling five weeks of training.) I guess I'm a bad teacher. I will fire myself in humiliation. Does it matter that when I tested this group in September on their mastery of the 4th grade curriculum the results were about what I've come to expect? The test has 79 questions covering the 4th grade math curriculum. The high score was 41. The second highest was 32. The median was 24. These kids shouldn't have passed 4th grade. I found the final Math grades for 32 of the kids. 8 A's, 10 B's, 5 C's, 4 D's, 5 F's.

Most of these kids are failing 5th grade Math. I guess I should be fired and that 4th grade teacher should be given a bonus. Her grades prove that she is a better teacher than me. I know the parents are happier with her.

Other than that things have been great. At least once an hour one of the dozens of kids that are running through the halls at any given time will slam my door shut or pound on it if it is already closed. My radiator leaked for weeks and now the back fifth of my room is closed off due to buckling of the flooring. Mold is rapidly spreading over the area and my mold allergy is going nuts. My students are jammed even closer together. I don't take them outside everyday or show videos like my teaching partner, so the students complain every time they come to my room. I point out the quaint notion that school is for learning and they are way behind, but somehow that doesn't matter. Oh well, I'm sure the TFA teacher they have next year will quickly discover the magic formula for teaching success: videos, playtime, good grades, cheating on standardized tests, and then run on home to that Wall Street job as soon as you can. Good Luck, young dreamers. It's all yours.