Monday, August 18, 2014

Our unexceptional schools are really quite extraordinary

The official school data website for the state of Michigan (, lists 51 districts/charter schools for Oakland County.

None are exceptional.

At least that is the impression given by the Michgan Department of Education's school accountability report cards. Official scores were released last week. Scores for Oakland County districts, like every county in the state of Michigan, were perceived to be lackluster.

No Oakland County district/charter school received the state's highest rating of green.

Over half of the districts/charter schools earned a rating of yellow.

In Novi, over 86% of our students were proficient in math. Over 95% of our students were proficient in reading.

For each district and school the state calculates its "bottom 30%". That is the state creates a group that is comprised of the lowest achieving 30% of the students in the district.

In Novi, over 54% of our "bottom 30%" were proficient in math. Over 85% of our "bottom 30%" were proficient in reading.

Yet, the Novi Community School District earned a "yellow" rating.

The state would argue that Novi has achievement gaps. That is true. We do. that appears to be the most powerful indicator of performance and the one the determines the overall rating of any individual school or district.

As a result, districts that are diverse. Districts that are large. Districts that have groups that the psycometricians can slice and dice will have a hard time being rated highly.

I am not opposed to accountability. I understand that parents want to know if their schools are being successful. Politicians want to know if the money that they are spending is being used wisely.

Schools need to be able to demonstrate that students are learning.

Any rating of schools should use test data.

But rating schools using test data alone ignores many of the good things that schools are doing.

Novi has a marching band of over 170 members. Novi has athletics and clubs that create opportunities for students not only to be engaged but to learn how to lead, how to work hard, how to set goals. Novi has a freshman orientation program that links upper-classman with incoming freshman. Novi sends fifth graders to camp and eighth graders to Washington DC. Novi teaches our elementary students about the seven habits. We have computer labs and laptop carts.

The Novi Community School District is exceptional in many ways. We have work to do. Of that there is no debate.

And Novi is not alone. There are many excptional districts and schools throughout the state of Michigan.

Can we get better? Of course.

I appreciate the state attempting to rate schools. But, in my opinion, the rating ignores many of the factors that make schools truly great.

In my opinion, many Michigan schools are quite extraordinary. Even though we are colored yellow!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Led Zeppelin teaches us about school reform

Have you ever listened to a Led Zeppelin song backwards?

I hear they say all kinds of evil things.

Simon Singh has listened to Led Zeppelin songs backwards. He doesn't hear anything but gibberish.

Yet he is able to get me to hear things that are not there.

Listen to his talk. Then play your Led Zeppelin album backwards! Oh my!

Singh states, "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

Which brings me to this editorial in the Detroit News. The writer states without qualification and without hesitation that only 17.8% of Michigan high school graduates were prepared for college. This data comes from the ACT College Testing data.

ACT in their "Reality of College Readiness" report state benchmark scores on ACT subject area assessments that "represent the level of achievement required for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of earning a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses." (page 3)

Michigan's education dashboard promotes this number. Governor Snyder in his 2013 State of the State address stated that "only 17% of our kids are college ready." The Michigan School Data portal has a link to the ACT College Readiness results. Again, only 17.7% of students are viewed as college ready.

As Singh states: "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

The state of Michigan could promote other data.

For example, they could promote the number of students who attend Michigan colleges after graduation from high school. Over 60% of the graduates of 2011-12 (the latest year for which data is currently available) enrolled in college. And this is just the students who went to Michigan colleges. The percentage would rise if students who went to out-of-state colleges were included.

Some might counter that "I'll grant you they went to college but I bet they needed to take those remedial courses when they got there!"

Not really.

The same Michigan School Data portal shows how many of the 2012 high school graduates needed remedial assistance when they entered college.

What's your guess?

Well if only 17% of the graduates are college ready it must mean that 83% needed remedial assistance.


The numbers don't lie. And they are pretty good. (Click on the percentage tab under the title.)

Only 17% of the 2012 graduates took a remedial course in math, less than 10% took a remedial course in reading, 11% took a remedial course in writing, and less than 10% took a remedial course in science.

So why would the Governor, the state of Michigan's education dashboard, and the Detroit News continue to promote this idea that only 17% of our high school graduates are college ready?

If I were the Governor I would promote the idea that our students are ready for college. I would promote that when our graduates go to college only a small percentage need remedial assistance. I would promote that our public schools are doing wonderfully well educating our students.

As Simon Singh says: "Combine bad data with a big bias and the brain fills in the holes and you end up hearing something that's not there."

So why does the Governor promote that our schools are doing so poorly?

Maybe there is an agenda and a bias against public schools. Maybe if public schools look like they are not doing a good job it will be easier to promote agenda items that favor schools of choice, charter schools, the Educational Achievement Authority, online learning, and other so called educational reforms.

I for one believe in our public school system. I think the numbers demonstrate that we are doing well.

Can we improve? Absolutely!

But to suggest that we are not preparing students to be successful once they leave high school is, in my opinion, irresponsible.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Life goes on

This is Kaya.

Kaya is a great dog. She likes to walk. She enjoys the outside. She loves the snow. She really loves her visits to Doggy Day Care.

She also happens to be blind. (If you look closely at the picture above you will notice that she only has one eye.)

She wasn't always blind. When Kaya was four she developed glaucoma in her right eye. She eventually lost sight in that eye. We continued with daily eye drops to contain the swelling and reduce the pain from inflammation. But after a few months it became obvious that the drops were not working. The eye continued to swell.

So we decided that surgery to remove the eye was the best option.

We continued to give her daily eye drops for the other eye. Eventually she lost sight in that eye as well.

For the past two plus years we have given Kaya daily eye drops in hopes of saving her remaining beautiful blue eye.

But the eye drops have lost their potency.

So today Kaya will have surgery to remove her eye.

We decided not to have prosthetic eyes added. It seemed a little silly. While the prosthetic eyes would give her a normal appearance they clearly would have no value. Kaya's life would not be enhanced with prosthetic eyes.

In some ways this is a sad day. Part of me wishes that this was not Kaya's life.

But Kaya reminds me each day that setbacks and roadblocks and difficulties are a part of life. You accept them and continue to move forward.

Every Friday Kaya goes to Doggy Day Care. She bounds into the car, she eagerly enters the facility, her tail wags and her head bobs as she is lead to the back. She plays with the other dogs. She loves her time there.

Sure she bumps into walls. She occasionally finds herself all alone as the other dogs wander off without her knowing it.

But she still loves going.

At home she goes in and out of the house on her own. She wanders our yard by herself - wearing her Invisible Fence collar. She goes up and down the stairs to our deck. She hides her bones in the bushes.

She still tries to sneak up on birds that she hears. She has even caught a possum that wandered into our yard.

In the house, she knows the location of her favorite chair. She can navigate the hallway and jump onto our bed.

When we take her for walks she leads.

Kaya continues to live her dog life - and as far as I can tell she continues to be happy and healthy and involved.

Is her life different than what it was? Undoubtedly.

But life goes on. In a positive and productive way, life goes on.

I am grateful to Kaya for reminding me of that every day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why tests alone fail

A sports quote with unknown attribution captures perfectly why standardized tests alone will never truly be able to identify if a child is going to be successful:

They measured my height,
They measured my weight,
But they never measured my heart.
We could slightly alter this sentiment and it would communicate what teachers, parents, and even students know to be true:
They measured my proficiency in math,
They measured my proficiency in reading,
But the never measured my passion for learning.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What have we learned this year?

Today (June 12) is the last day of school in my district. As students get ready to leave our schools later this morning for summer vacation it is an appropriate time to ask:

What have we learned this year?

I hope we have learned how to be better readers, writers, and thinkers.

I hope we have learned more about math and science.

I hope we have learned to play the trumpet or the sax or the violin or cello better.

I hope that we have learned more about how to sing and dance.

I hope we have learned to build things and fix things and create things.

But, more importantly . . .

I hope we have learned how to listen better.

I hope we have learned to build friendships.

I hope we have learned that while people are different that is OK.

I hope that we have learned that our similarities are much more important than our differences.

I hope that we have learned to be passionate about things that matter.

I hope that we have learned that words and actions can hurt others.

I hope that we have learned that lifting people up is so much better than pushing people down.

I hope that we have learned that problems can be solved, even really big and difficult problems.

I hope that we have learned that even though people disappoint us we should still believe in the goodness of others.

I hope that we have learned to assume the best about people.

I hope that we have learned that we should lead lives full of trust, hope, and love.

I hope that as we have become better students . . .

we have also become better people.

Monday, June 9, 2014

"The mule's in the ditch!"

Next Sunday is Father's Day.

My father died in November 2009. Ever since then Father's Day has been somewhat bittersweet.

When my father died, my sister and I helped my mother go through what he left behind. I brought home some of his tools, some clothes, and, most importantly, his work gloves.

The gloves, beat up and used though they were, have become one of my prized possessions. Every time I work around my house I use these work gloves.

And when I do, I think of him.

My father was a school teacher. In his professional life he did not use work gloves. Yet these work gloves represent the kind of life that my father lived.

My father grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. His parents were sharecroppers. His childhood was spent on a farm. He attended a one room school house. He worked on a farm until he went away to college.

From this beginning my father developed a strong set of values that are represented by these work gloves. He was a doer. While he was not adverse to thinking about the best possible solution, he would often say, "The mule's in the ditch." It was his way of reminding me that it was time to get busy. We could talk about solving the problem, but every minute spent talking left the "mule in the ditch."

My father believed that working hard was important. No matter what profession you were in, a person needed to work hard, to do the job.

So I try to live my life that way. As a way to honor my father. But more importantly, to get the mule out of the ditch.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Seniors Rule!

Today was the last day for seniors at Novi High School.

In the proud tradtion of Novi High School the seniors were "clapped out." Both to honor the seniors for their work and, truth be told, to encourage them to leave the building.

Congratulations Seniors! Enjoy the next few days. Life will intrude on your celebration soon enough.

But today I was told by a junior, who believes that she is a newly minted senior, was the first day for the senior class of 2015!

Welcome 2015 Seniors!

Time, it seems, stops for no one.