Archive | August 2013

Online Education on the Rise in Michigan

A piece by Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press today details the impact that new state legislation will have in regard to schools and districts offering online learning options across Michigan. The state has long been at the forefront of the online movement in K-12 education, but this year’s legislation offers even more choice to parents and students seeking different options.

Though the movement toward online courses has not been without controversy, I believe Michigan has been a perfect example of manageable growth and adherence to best practices. A push for online ed as a money maker in the for-profit education world has sometimes produced disastrous results. And when virtual charter school enrollment numbers aren’t capped at reasonable capacity, troubles typically ensue. Michael Barbour, a researcher and professor of instructional technology at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, is quoted in the Free Press article: “When those decisions are being driven by economics… that’s a problem.”

Here’s hoping that Michigan can continue to lead by example by grounding its online ed efforts in sound research and a moral motivation.

Creativity Being Kept Alive in Grand Rapids by WMCAT

A story from earlier this week by Michigan Radio provides a very personal look at how the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology is giving kids an outlet for creative expression and exploration. As art programs have been slashed in nearly all of Grand Rapids public schools, WMCAT has been able to fill the void. Keontay Seymour, a Grand Rapids public school student, and his mother discuss the impact the arts program has on his personal demeanor as well as his academics.

Perhaps when the pendulum swings away from the current reform and standardization ideals, districts will again realize the importance of a good arts education program in producing well-rounded and creative students.

Common Core on Trial

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A new round in the ongoing battle over implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Michigan ensued today, with testimony from the Ottawa Area ISD and a classroom teacher in the district of Kentwood. 

Troy Vanderlaan, a teacher of U.S. History at East Kentwood Freshman Campus, argued that the CCSS “teaches our students a relevant application of the skills needed to be leaders in our global market.” Vanderlaan presented evidence of CCSS-based curriculum improving student achievement at a school he helped create.

Political opposition to the CCSS has been increasing with the rise of groups like Stop Common Core in Michigan, whose members claim that the effort to implement the standards is an attempt at “progressive indoctrination.” The cause has become a hobbyhorse among those on the political right who look to block federal involvement in the educational sphere. 

The politicization of the argument was likely inevitable, but it unfortunately diminishes opportunities for substantive discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the standards. I’ve yet to hear one valid point made against raising standards in poorly performing states (I’m looking at you Louisiana). Though the transition will be a costly one, a reexamination of the proportion of government dollars that go to education is a long overdue one. 

However, states like Massachusetts have genuine concern over whether implementing CCSS will effectively lower the bar for their already high-performing schools.

From a general interest perspective, I suggest reading this 2012 profile of David Coleman, the architect of the CCSS. It will certainly provide some insight on how his personal beliefs and experiences have helped shape the standards.

The Ugly Side of Market-based Education

A featured guest column in last week’s Bridge Magazine by Margaret Trimer-Hartley, superintendent at UPrep Science & Math in Detroit, is definitely worth a read. Trimer-Hartley details, with anecdotal evidence, the attempts by schools to fill seats using some underhanded tactics, including giveaways like clothing, shoes, and even ice cream. With the existing “school of choice” structure, schools are doing all they can to meet budget marks, aiming squarely at students and parents, who’ve become customers in the educational marketplace. The author advocates for more awareness among communities as to what determines a school’s quality in hopes of directing at-risk students to more effective schools. The problem is that, as the article states, parents “‘go by word of mouth and what they see.'”

Efforts toward educating the public on school performance must be more concerted and direct, and especially include growth metrics as opposed to static high-stakes test results. Even with all of these efforts, self-report bias will still be a major factor.

When it comes to the shadier side of school marketing, can we not come up with a better system of regulation? Political campaigns and, more relatedly, for-profit higher-ed institutions are subject to more scrutiny – why not secondary ed?

Welcome

This project will be my first attempt at a meaningful blog. Posts will cover the educational trends and news within the state of Michigan, with particular focus upon the use of technology and online learning in Michigan schools. I intend to approach these topics from a position of reason and centrality with the hope of contributing to the conversation in a constructive way. Having only lived here for just over a year, I bring a unique perspective to the educational discussion and am continually learning more throughout the process, working in the field of educational research. Join me in some lively discussion and help people get the right information when it comes to Michigan’s education landscapeImage