Saturday, November 16, 2013

School Aid Fund takes another hit, boat/car/RV buyers get tax cut

Last month we wrote about how the School Aid Fund is being slashed on multiple fronts with targeted tax cuts sapping revenue from public schools.  Defunding of public schools happening on multiple fronts, Okemos Parents for Schools, October 12, 2013. The Legislature and Governor Snyder have signed into law one of these measures which will cost the School Aid Fund $200 million per year. 

The new law "will exempt the value of a trade-in from the taxable purchase price of a new car, boat or RV."  Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signs tax break for car, boat buyers with trade-in: 'They deserve it',, November 6, 2013.   Gov. Snyder said tax payers "deserve" the tax cut, and Senate majority leader Randy Richardville (R - Monroe) said "This is one of those rare instances where we have a win, win, win," calling the bill good news for manufacturers, dealerships and customers. Id.  Okemos Parents for Schools has not independently reached Gov. Snyder or Sen. Richardville, to get their reaction on the impact of the legislation on the School Aid fund.  MLive reports the following:
The current budget includes a $20 million cushion for tax relief that will cover current-year costs, but the Senate Fiscal Agency has projected annual revenue losses could eventually top $200 million. [Id.]

Q and A: OPS Deputy Superintendent Patricia Trelstad

We're very pleased to bring you a discussion with Okemos Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Patricia Trelstad regarding HB 5111.  Deputy Superintendent Trelstad's responsibilities include curriculum, instruction and assessment.  She also oversees the administrators in the areas of special education, secondary education, technology and community education programming.  Her lengthy educational career in the mid-Michigan area has included opportunities as a resource teacher for K-12 students with disabilities, elementary reading consultant, elementary principal with the East Lansing Schools, and as a central office administrator since 2001 in both Charlotte and Okemos.

Deputy Superintendent Trelstad enjoys the extensive collaboration with other professionals, parents, and community leaders that her professional positions have afforded her.  Of particular interest is assisting teachers with curriculum consistency, integrating technology, utilizing data to assess each child’s response to instruction, and professional learning communities to improve instructional practice and student learning.   She is also deeply motivated by making certain that the uniqueness of all students is recognized and embraced so that each can reach his or her fullest potential.

We reached out to Superintendent Trelstad to get her opinion on HB 5111.  We summarized HB 5111 in a previous post:
Currently the decision of whether to promote a student is made at the local level by teachers, principles and other professionals that know a child and have an understanding of his/her abilities and the larger context his/her daily existence.  A bill under consideration in the Michigan Legislature would mandate that any student who doesn't pass a standardized reading test would fail third grade. [House Bill would require schools to flunk 3rd graders, Okemos Parents for Schools, November 9, 2013. ]
Deputy Superintendent Trelstad answered the following questions via email.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you learned about HB 5111?

A: I was surprised and then saddened that this legislation would be considered in our state given the extensive research that exists on the topic of grade retention.  It is also troubling that legislation is put forward without consulting with the educational experts that might better inform these decisions.

Q: There is some intuitive appeal to tying promotion from 3rd grade to an objective benchmark like a score on a standardized reading test.  Do you see problems with this approach?

A: Those of us who work with children on a daily basis know the limitations of utilizing one assessment measure to determine the full picture of a student’s academic skills.  Given the complexity of reading and the multiple skills that are involved in becoming a fluent reader, it is critical that we use multiple measures to assess a student’s on-going growth and development.

Q: Why would you promote a student from 3rd grade if they were not reading at a 3rd grade level?

A: As the research suggests, it is not grade retention or social promotion that make a difference for students who are lagging in reading development. The best approach to addressing the continued reading growth of students is through a multi-tiered system of support that provides targeted, consistent, and intensive interventions, specific to each child’s needs.  

Q: Strictly from the perspective of what's best for the student, what would be the ideal process for determining whether a student is promoted to fourth grade?

A: There are times when grade retention is appropriate for specific students.  This decision should be made after extensive collaboration between the student’s parents and the professional educators who know the child best and can consider all of the variables that contribute to on-going success.

Q: Do you think HB 5111 reflects an understanding of the current thinking about how children learn to read?

A: Absolutely not!  Decisions that affect the rest of a child’s life should not be based on one test, at one moment in time.  As I mentioned before, there are so many factors that go into learning to read.  

Q: Describe what Okemos Public Schools does now to monitor the progress of individual students as they learn to read?

A: We utilized a nationally-normed universal screening instrument to monitor the progress of all students in grades K-8 three times each year.  This screening instrument measure early literacy skills in K-1(phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, letter and sound fluency), and oral fluency (grades 1-8), and reading comprehension (grades 3-8). These measures are used in conjunction with other common, district assessments to place students into flexible groupings to facilitate their on-going reading development.  The students with intense needs are provided with daily, targeted interventions in addition to the core reading instruction to accelerate their growth.  The progress of students with intense needs is assessed weekly and the interventions are adjusted as necessary to promote more growth.

Q: Describe what mechanisms OPS has in place to help students who are falling behind?

A: All students receive core instruction in their classrooms with age-appropriate peers.  In addition, students who have been identified with strategic or intensive needs in reading are provided with interventions that target skill areas where their performance is below the benchmark.  Our teachers meet regularly to look at student assessments, monitor student growth, adjust groupings of students, and plan instructional strategies that may yield positive outcomes for students.  We begin this process when students are in kindergarten and follow a student’s growth throughout their school career.  

Q: If a student is struggling to read as they complete third grade, does OPS have mechanisms in place to help them catch up through 4th grade?

A: We don’t wait until students are in third grade, but rather monitor student growth in reading throughout each year.  We have systems in place to address student reading needs whenever the established benchmarks are not met on universal screeners or common assessments that are given in all of our elementary schools.

Q: If HB 5111 becomes law, what positives/negatives will OPS students experience?

A: The biggest negative is that teachers and parents will be forced to retain students who might be negatively affected in the long-term by such a decision.  There are no positives that I can see.

Q: Proponents of HB 5111 might argue it doesn't make sense to promote a student out of third grade if they haven't learned all third grade has to offer, and might worry that without a measure like HB 5111, schools will simply pass a student along without anyone being accountable for the student's progress.  How would you answer?

A: I would express, yet again, that it is not grade retention or social promotion that makes a difference for students who are not “typically developing” as readers.  It is frequent assessments, targeted and intensive interventions, adjustments to instruction, and knowledgeable educators who work in tandem with parents that can make the difference.  

Q: What is the downside to retaining a student in 3rd grade?

A: Retaining students can have a number of negative consequences that aren’t realized until children are older. The one thing that we can’t possibly anticipate is a child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth into the future.  When children are retained at a young age it may yield positive, but short-term outcomes.  As that same child reaches adolescence, they may be significantly out-of-sync with their classmates…physically, socially, emotionally and/or academically.  This may place them at greater risk during a particularly tumultuous time of their lives.    

Q: Do you think there is one policy regarding retention that makes sense for all Michigan schools (big, medium, small; rural, suburban, urban)?

A: This “one size fits all” policy, dictated by Michigan law would be inappropriate and ineffective for grade retention.  As mentioned previously, the responsibility for making decisions about grade retention should held by the parents and educators of the individual students being considered.

Q: If the Legislature asked you what it could do to help kids read satisfactorily by the end of third grade, what would you say?

A: The legislature might consider providing more funding for the things that can truly make differences…instructional coaches, staff to deliver interventions, software to track and analyze student achievement data, intervention materials, and summer programming.  They could set the expectation that each district establish a multi-tiered system of support for all students and provide adequate funding to accomplish it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Our policy makers are ignoring the poverty in our schools, and slashing funding

The narrative behind many of the plans to radically change K-12 public education is that public schools are failing.  This is a myth.  There is nothing wrong with American public education.  The problem with troubled schools is the poverty-stricken communities they serve. 

We recently posted some graphs which show that public school performance correlates directly with the number of students receiving free or reduced lunches.  Poverty is biggest obstacle for public schools, Okemos Parents for Schools, October 27, 2013.  A recent column sums up the situation:
As I’ve reported before, we know that American public school students from wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. This proves that the education system’s problems are not universal — the crisis is isolated primarily in the parts of the system that operate in high poverty areas. It also proves that while the structure of the traditional public school system is hardly perfect, it is not the big problem in America’s K-12 education system. If it was the problem, then traditional public schools in rich neighborhoods would not perform as well as they do.
So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing education data, researchers found that a majority of all public school students in one-third of America’s states now come from low-income families.
How much does this have to do with educational outcomes? A lot. Social science research over the last few decades has shown that two-thirds of student achievement is a product of out-of-school factors — and among the most powerful of those is economic status. That’s hardly shocking: Kids who experience destitution and all the problems that come with it have enough trouble just surviving, much less succeeding in school. [We need a war on poverty, not teachers., November 7, 2013.]
The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that Michigan has a staggering 50 percent of Michigan kids ages 0-8 live in low income families.  The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success, Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Besides the poverty that many schools in Michigan have to grapple with, they also have to deal with ever-increasing micromanagement from Lansing, but inadequate funding from Lansing.  Some schools receive as much as $12,000 per student from the state, which others receive as little as $7,000.  What kind of education do you get if you spend $12,000 per student?, State of Opportunity, November 6, 2013. Rather than addressing these problems, the current administration has imposed draconian cuts on K-12 education. And because of Proposal A, schools are prohibited from raising additional revenue fro operating expenses locally. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

House bill would require schools to flunk 3rd graders

Currently the decision of whether to promote a student is made at the local level by teachers, principles and other professionals that know a child and have an understanding of his/her abilities and the larger context his/her daily existence.  A bill under consideration in the Michigan Legislature would mandate that any student who doesn't pass a standardized reading test would fail third grade.

If this bill were in place this year, a staggering 30,000 third graders would have been failed.  Should state flunk 3rd graders who can't read?,, November 4, 2013.
A state House panel could vote this week on a bill that would require schools to hold back 3rd graders who do not pass a state reading test.
Schools would have been required to hold back more than 30,000 third graders this school year if the measure was already in place.  As the bill is currently written, it would take effect next school year.
But opponents of the measure say the decision to hold a child back should not be based on one standardized test. They say it should be up to local schools.
“This would mandate. So no matter what the situation, no matter what was going on for this child, it was mandated. That’s what’s wrong,” said Rep. Theresa Abed (D-Grand Ledge).
“And I think we keep taking away any ability of our schools to function in an independent matter.” [Id.]
State Superintendent Mike Flanagan opposes the bill. The Michigan League for Public Policy testified in opposition to the bill noting this policy would cost millions of dollars and could end up failing as many as 7 out of 10 third-graders:
While we totally support the intent of the bill to increase the numbers of thirdgraders reading proficiently, we would contend the roughly $262 million that this proposal could cost could be better spent. (This amount is based on an extra year of K-12 foundation allowance of $7,500 x 35,000 students.) Furthermore, the cost could double when the state implements common core standards: Almost seven of every 10 Michigan fourth-graders do not demonstrate proficiency on reading skills on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). More could be incurred for students retained for more than one year—the mandate is silent on this issue. [Testimony to the House Education Committee on HB 5111  Mandating Retention for ThirdGraders Based on MEAP Reading Performance, Michigan League for Public Policy, November 5, 2013.]

The MLPP pointed out that students who are retained are more likely to drop out during high school.  Further, even in states which have mandatory retention, they have added other complementary programs such as "intensive summer reading camps, tutoring, smaller classes and reading specialists." The policy also sets an arbitrary cutoff line where one marginal student will fail where another marginal student will pass by virtue of getting one more answer correct.  The policy would also disproportionately impact low income students and students of color.  The MLPP also offered constructive alternatives:
If the Michigan Legislature seeks to improve reading proficiency among third-graders, it might  consider supporting intensive, evidencebased, well financed and guaranteed interventions that begin long before children reach the third grade. Unfortunately, funding for education has  been cut rather than expanded to address the need for supporting initiatives to promote better outcomes for students. Since 2008, Michigan has cut its education budget by 9%—deeper than  33 other states.  [Id.]
This is a troubling development we'll keep you advised of.