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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Waiver to NCLB Disappointing for Children

MBOE President John Austin
Superintendent Michael Flanagan
Trustee Eileen Lappin Weiser
Michigan Department of Education

Dear Michigan Education Leaders,

I am writing regarding a recent article I read in the Kalamazoo Gazette,, reporting that the Michigan Board of Education sent a letter seeking a waiver from the Federal Government to the goals of No Child Left Behind from 100% proficient in 2014 to 80% in 2014 and 100% in ten years. The article contained a caveat that perhaps 100% will never be attainable, though I realize this is not necessarily the opinion of your Board.

As the highest level of educational leaders in our state, you hold the key to balancing the need to improve educational outcomes for all of Michigan’s children with the institutional resistance to change and accountability. Overall, I believe the Michigan BOE and MDOE have been doing an excellent job with this incredibly challenging task. Your commitment to creating high expectation state exams, useful online reporting, regular assessment and continuous improvement is notable. Some have complained about the “tests constantly changing” or “the cut scores constantly changing”, but I see these changes as a reflection of your commitment to continuously raise the bar for yourselves and for the education community in Michigan. Unfortunately, I do not believe most of the K-12 educational institutions in Michigan have demonstrated a similar commitment.

Let’s review a little history. NCLB became law January 8, 2002. The original goal was that all children would pass their state proficiency exams by 2014. This meant every child beginning school in first grade in 2002 and every year after would need to be proficient. It is true that at the time, not all states had robust exams, so the definition of “proficient” was debatable. However, it seems absolutely logical that educators would assume that minimally this would mean that every child should be able to read at grade level by the end of third grade and until graduation. (You know the old saying, up until the end of third grade, we learn to read. After third grade, we read to learn.)

I have been active with Portage Public Schools since 2001. When NCLB became law, PPS did not establish district goals to achieve 100% of students proficient in reading. As a matter of fact, PPS has never set a 100% proficient goal for reading. Just this last year, PPS discovered that 25% of the freshman class was reading below grade level. This is the class of children who were in fact first graders in 2002! The sad truth is that finding any school district in Michigan truly committed to 100% proficiency is very difficult.

So it seems, after 10 years of a 12 year target, to ask for another 10 years is to let our children down. School districts and the adults who run them must be held accountable now. If a significant number of our schools fail NCLB, it is because we are failing our children, perhaps not all children, but too many children. This visibility of failure, though at first will be defended with excuses, can create a motivation for real change that has yet to permeate a public school system whose leaders believe they will never actually be held accountable.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet and hear Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. If you have the chance to hear him speak, it is well worth the time. His message is clear, we must respond to the urgent need to be accountable to teach all children now. He refers to a 2009 Military Readiness research report to make the urgency and magnitude visible. The future of our country depends on it.

An Assessment of the Parent Empowerment Reform Package

Analysis for Consideration September 2011
From Melanie Kurdys
Assessment of the Parent Empowerment Education Reform Package

This legislative package is very powerful in that it does not prescribe a solution to achieving the important goal of “All children learning at high levels and ready for college”. It offers a range of opportunities and choices and puts those choices in the hands of parents and students.
The assessment documented here includes discussion regarding:
1. The need for something different than the status quo
2. Evidence indicating this approach would work
3. Potential issues remaining unresolved
4. Hurdles you might encounter as the legislation moves forward

1. The Need (Items in parenthesis offers additional areas of research for background if needed.)

Currently, students are required by law to attend school from age 6 to 18. Most attend a school determined for them based on where they live. If parents and students are unhappy with their defined school, some alternatives do exist:
- They can enroll in a local charter school at no additional cost if there is one accessible and if that school has openings. (Assessment of # of communities served and enrollment versus demand.)
- They can enroll in a private school at additional cost (enrollment & average cost to parents)
- They can seek “school of choice” reassignment with permission of their home school superintendent assuming a neighboring school participates in choice. (Number of districts opting out, number of students taking advantage of the option)
- They can move to a different community (Could do a recap of the difficulties in Michigan in selling homes and losing home value)
- They can homeschool. (Report participation levels, student achievement, hurdles to implementation.)
A brief review of the MEAP, MME and ACT scores in Michigan clearly show that 10 years into the No Child Left Behind effort to teach all children to high levels, the results are nowhere near 100%. This is true in the best and worst school districts. This is true even with the noted choices that are available.
Some will argue the goal is too hard. Some will argue some children just cannot be expected to achieve at high levels. Ask them, “Which children will you look in the eye and tell them they are the ones we will not teach?”
Some will argue the tests are an unfair or inaccurate assessment. Challenge these people to give an alternative. In the 10 years of NCLB, no viable alternative to assessing achievement has been offered. And then ask them, “Suppose a better measure was in fact available today, would that measure indicate that all children are achieving at their highest potential?” I would be seriously surprised if anyone said yes.
Ask “If we surveyed Michigan parents of school age children, would 100% of them say that their children are receiving a high quality education that allows them to be ready for college and life?” If so, then perhaps there truly is no need to offer something else. (Find research reporting parent satisfaction with current schooling in Michigan).
Are we satisfied with the educational outcomes return on our educational investment? Governor Snyder does a good job clarifying that this is in fact not acceptable when we benchmark ourselves nationally.
So if we are committed to providing an environment in the State of Michigan where all children are truly provided an opportunity to achieve, if we are committed to leaving no child behind, at a investment level that our state can spend, then something other than the status quo must be available.
2. Evidence
Stay away from the specific debate about any one of the alternatives being offered. The list includes a wide variety of strategies. None of these alternatives has developed a track record of un-debatable success (although there are research studies I have found showing trends and improvements over time). But none of them are untested in some regard and all have shown some level of success and all have a constituency of believers. In addition, the list includes mechanisms for both the private sector and existing public schools to enter this new arena and innovate. What this package is doing is reducing the monopoly public schools have by one more big step.
The most powerful research I found in support of this strategy is from the Urban Institute Research of Record:
Public School Choice and Student Achievement in the District of Columbia by Austin Nichols and Umut Ozek
Publication Date: December 15, 2010
Permanent Link:
This study examines the multi-faceted public school choice environment in the District of Columbia and the effects of alternative public schools on the achievement levels of students who exercise this type of school choice. The results indicate that students who attend out-of-boundary public schools and charter schools significantly outperform similar students who attend in-boundary public schools in both reading and math tests. We rely on instrumental variables framework to disentangle the underlying reasons behind this achievement gap and find that the observed differences are likely due to the positive effects of alternative public schools.
The bottom line of this research is that it does not matter very much what parents choose, choice itself increases the performance of students. It takes into consideration the likelihood that parents who choose are more engaged in their children’s education, which is a supporting factor in student achievement. 3. Potential Unresolved Issues
There will likely be significant push-back from superintendents and even school boards. Reently the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) reported the results of a survey of their members. They were asking if the members wanted to roll into the membership scope Charter School Boards. The results were mixed, but the majority said NO!! (A sad commentary on the MASB membership in my opinion, since it clearly shows a bias to protecting schools over children…editorial comment, sorry.) But the legislation contains opportunities for public schools toexpand these choice options to their parent/student market!
School districts may begin to spend precious funds on advertising and marketing. I have seen it already in some communities where they pay to post on billboards in neighboring districts. I suppose one could argue that this use of money should be permitted and the natural consequences of not spending the money in the class room for better teachers or smaller class sizes will ultimately impact the school’s performance in student accountability. But this line of discussion assumes you can hold a tight line on dollars allocated and accountability measures and consequences. Neither of these assumptions exists right now, so I am concerned about this potential “mis-use of funds”.
There is a legitimate concern among public schools as to “who is stuck with the most difficult to teach students?” Currently, it is the neighborhood school. Let’s assume these are the very students whose parents will not even try to choose an alternative and are highly disengaged. This really does pose a problem for these schools. I cannot offer a solution to this yet but I am thinking about it and raising the thought to others in an effort to find some workable ideas. (Like schools can reject a student if…). Nonetheless, a response to this argument might be…”The resistance of some parents to be good parents should not prevent those who want to be good parents from having the resources they need to be successful”.
Public schools may be left with empty buildings or an insufficient supply of children to be cost effective. First, I would argue that if that many parents are choosing something else, this school should close. Schools are not meant to be employment agencies for teachers and administrators. Perhaps then the legislation may benefit from some supporting legislation allowing charters or others to buy or rent school buildings or space within buildings. This option may already exist, but I am not certain.
4. Hurdles
I think it is safe to assume most parents not employed by a school district or supporting organization will support this legislation. I have found this in my informal discussions with people. I was surprised to find that a fair number of early childhood people reacted negatively, even though they strongly advocate for parent choice in early childhood programs. To be honest I was quite baffled by this reaction. Not only that, but the emotion in the reaction made coherent, logical discussions difficult first time around.
It appears there issome amount of support in the sitting school boards (maybe as much as 40%) around the state and a faction within the administration of MASB and MASA.
I was not sure where I stood, although philosophically I support the concept of a competitive market for education. I have been incredibly disappointed with public education “powers that be” and their unwillingness to commit to the goal of educating all children. It is certainly not possible to achieve a goal you are not even trying to achieve! The research I found really makes me believe this is a worthwhile effort in the right direction, though probably very politically challenging.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 20, 2011 Board Comments

This was an interesting four years. I think the most challenging aspect was keeping everything about our students. When the Board and the administrators are in the midst of building projects, financial challenges, strategic direction debates, even discussing school improvement plans, it is hard to keep in mind that every child in our district is facing personal challenges every day.

Many Portage students are very successful facing their challenges and go on to very rewarding lives. I myself know a graduate from West Point, a reporter at National Geographic, a Broadway performer, the CEO of a Leadership Institute in South Africa, just to name a few. The success of our new Alumni Newsletter is testimony to the hundreds of Portage graduates living their dreams. We are all quite proud of the achievements of these people who graduated from our school.

But our challenge is to also remember those who are not as successful facing their challenges. I met a mother of three Portage students, the oldest had dropped out, the second was struggling to read in Middle School. This mother couldn’t read past fifth grade. She was embarrassed to reach out to her son’s teachers. She was afraid for her children. I have known Portage students who struggle reading, who cannot multiply, who have been bullied, who have been unfairly punished, who have dropped-out, who got mixed up with drugs. I have shared the pain and sadness of parents whose children suffered great tragedy.

Just as a school district cannot claim all the credit for their graduates successes, nor can we be held totally accountable for the lack of success. But I believe my fellow Board members and our staff realize that we do play an important part in the lives of all our students and their families. We do make a difference. And yes, we can and we should be very proud of all the wonderful things we do for our students, but the challenge is to do all we must to enable each and every student to succeed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 9 2011
I would like to thank the voters of Portage for supporting the Enhancement Millage. Continuing these funds will make it a bit easier to move forward with the anticipated reductions in revenues.

I would also like to thank those community members who voted for me. I appreciate your ongoing support. And we have heard from the majority of voters who are looking for a change in the board membership. As such, I hope the incoming board members will support this Board’s efforts to move ahead on the two most important tasks remaining this year, approving the budget for 2011-12 and hiring a new superintendent.

The upcoming budget discussions will be difficult. We need to work openly and honestly with everyone to determine which reductions are least offensive to our community. To those who received potential layoff or reassignment notices, please remember, the Board has not approved a budget yet. These notices are preliminary. I would have liked the Board to have been informed about the notices before they went out, but in the end, sending the advance notices is the correct process.
The selection of a new superintendent is equally challenging. Hopefully qualified candidates will not be discouraged by the uncertainty created with a change in board membership. I do believe all nine of us share the goal of finding a strong leader who will focus on student achievement as the number one priority. As we will hear in the results from the most recent Community Survey, our community has high expectations for our schools and our students.

It is time to set aside our differences and remember we are here to work for our students. Our actions do indeed set an example. Many are aware that a recall petition has been initiated to remove highly qualified board members before their term expires. Of course, recalls are perfectly legal. However, this effort is divisive for the community at a time when we need to come together. This recall can only further discourage potential superintendent candidates as well as new families moving into the area.

And so, in a move toward unity of purpose, would all Board members, current, past and incoming, as well as community members, please join me in formally and unequivocally denouncing the recall efforts. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thank you

Today is election day. No matter the outcome, I want to thank all those who have supported me these last four years. It has been challenging, to be sure. But I can honestly say, I believe good things have happened.

Here is a small sample of the most important changes:
- The teachers and building administrators are using more data to drive decisions, most importantly, in support of student learning.
- The District has the beginnings of a real scorecard which will serve as a common understanding of key elements of student achievement.
- The Board has put more emphasis on fiscal accountability to our taxpayers, actually reserving funds to minimize potential tax increaases to pay down the building debt.
- More Board members, parents and community members feel confident in asking questions about how we allocate our resources and they expect good answers.
- The District has posted online the checkbook, Board minutes, Board Policies, Board member contact information.

Most importantly, I am proud of the positive working relationship I have developed with my fellow board members, Kevin Hollenbeck, Randy VanAntwerp, Rusty Rathburn, Bo Snyder, Joanne Willson, and Geoff Howe. And this applies to those who left during my tenure, Wendy Mazer, Dale Posthumus, and John Whyte.

Most importantly, thank you to all of you who have voted for me. Your confidence in me is truly humbling.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Leadership & Student Achievement

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. — Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader

As I have been campaigning, there has been an interesting dialogue about all the good things happening in Portage Schools and the apparent disconnect that the Board is not satisfied with the performance of the superintendent.

The answer may be found in a 2007 Educational Research Service article by J. Timothy Waters and Robert Marzano called School District Leadership That Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement.

The authors found a statistically significant relationship between superintendent leadership and student achievement. Effective superintendents focus on creating goal-oriented districts.

But here is the catch. "By focusing on district goals that are unlikely to impact student achievement (like new building projects), a seemingly strong superintendent can have a minimal or even negative effect on student achievement".

Another important finding from the study suggests long term stability of a superintendent is a positive factor to student achievement. However, with an important caveat, "obviously assuming the superintendent is focused on the "right" priorities"!

The study found that the factor most significantly correlated to student achievement is the establishment of "Non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction". It has not been the practice for Portage Boards or superintendents to establish highly visible, district-wide, non-negotiable goals.

I believe this is what we must do. And I believe this current PPS Board is poised to begin this conversation. As we begin the difficult task of establishing our budget for next year, we must incorporate the four critical principles of this study:
- Establish non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
- Commit Board alignment and support to the goals
- Align resources in support of these goals
- Monitor the progress toward these goals.

As the study says, "we must ensure that these goals remain the top priorities in the district and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals".

Bottom line, Leadership matters.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 Assorted Community Comments

I'm glad you're running and am hopeful that the voters of Portage recognize your contributions. You are smart and pragmatic; detailed and big-picture. These are important issues that are seldom well balanced in public life. You take care. Janet

I am proud and happy to support all of you. I have to say to you, personally, that I believe you are just about the smartest person I know. You investigate all of the facts and figures, and present a case (whatever it is) that's well thought out for the benefit of everyone. I know that you've taken a lot of heat, and I wish there was a way to make others understand that if anyone is not making decisions based on emotions or personality conflicts, it would be you. Thanks for your courage and "thick skin". Terri

Melanie, I KNOW how hard it has been to get your concerns heard these past 4 years. I am very aware that the school system’s problems run far deeper than just “petty bickering amongst yourselves” and it’s been going on far too long. I voted for you for a reason. I would encourage you to “stay the course” in working to see our school system as a nationally ranked school system, rather than an “ok” school system. If that means tackling a controversial decision, then so be it. Do what needs to be done. It’s time. To say “Thank you” to you doesn’t really seem enough, but I appreciate your continued dedication to your position, to our school system and to my kid’s education. Jody

Thank you for your diligent and courageous commitment to address the tough issues facing Portage Public Schools. I encourage you to stay strong in your pursuit to do what is best for our present and future students, staff and community. Margie

Just wanted to shoot you a brief note and say thanks for all you have done and will do in the future for PPS. Kurt

I feel that people are being unfair to Melanie, due to the fact she is not a rubber stamp and goes along with everybody without asking questions. At least she is out looking for the best possible way to do things. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND QUESTIONS, MELANIE. Harry

Hello, Melanie. I watched the School Board Meeting. I thought you were right on target with your comments on accountability and choices. There are a lot of people counting on you to continue speaking for the tax payers. I am very impressed with the way you brought up the research you’ve done and the seminars you attend. I only hope the Superintendent will listen and act. Keep up the great work. Stan

Melanie Kurdys: I have to admit that I didn't vote for you before. But I've seen you work through this whole situation, and I'm convinced that you have the students' and taxpayers' best interests at heart. Yours is a thankless job at best, and you and the rest of your colleagues are to be commended for hanging in there.
Next election, you've got my vote. Ecomcon blogger

Melanie Kurdys has been "out there" and completely open and transparent about what she wants for the school district. If you don't like what she says, fine, vote against her. But don't throw around this "personal agenda" crap and try to smear her as unfit for the board. You folks are lucky to have someone who thinks for themselves and is not a rubber stamp for the administration. Most elected school boards--heck, most boards at any level--have a "go along with the herd" mentality and little courage to do what's right. That's why our governments at all levels are in such a mess. Truthavenger blogger

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 Impressive Leadershipt Traits

As a civic minded retiree, I am fortunate in knowing and interacting with people able to choose their lifestyle options. Traits I admire most in such folks include intelligence, community involvement, focus, dedication to principles and a spirit of generosity.
Melanie Kurdys impresses me as possessing these and other favorable characteristics. Her personal options could include staying home, family activities and lots of “fun for Melanie” stuff. Significantly, however, she gives both her time and energy to our community through her continued leadership with the Portage School Board, the Drug Task Force and numerous volunteer, advisory and steering involvements.
Being both a math major and executive, Melanie expects numbers to balance and the organization to operate effectively. As the mother of three graduates of Portage Schools, she adds a human dimension and a female perspective. Her leadership style is steadfast, of excellence, integrity and the courage of commitment. Concerned and informed citizens are urged to join me in voting for Melanie Kurdys, Portage School Board, 3 May 2011.
Robert El Henicky, Psychotherapist, Portage

Vote for KURDYS May 3....Letter in support

We in Portage have two very important items on the May ballot: the renewal of the county mileage, and filling 2 school board positions.

Renewing the county enhancement mileage will continue giving Portage three million dollars which supports instructional programs. Our vote on the board positions will indicate what kind of board we want.

I have been attending Portage School meetings for the past 4 years. I have witness the interaction of the members of the board as 3 elected members have resigned in the past 3 years. I have witness the change in how the current board members get along, respect each other, listen to others opinions, and are able to have open discussions. These are good, honest people who want only the best for PPS.

The school board trustees are elected to oversee their EMPLOYEE, “the superintendent, and expect accountability from this employee. If you or I, ignored a directive from our boss, we would be without a job and it is call “insubordination”. I think they are doing what I elected them to do: to monitor their employee, ask questions and expect answers. The board is being criticized for not letting the superintendent do her job, or are they advocating that the board not do its job? I hear that some in the community criticized the board for approving the $272,000 buyout for the superintendent’s mutually agreed upon resignation. If these community remembers are so concerned about the dollars spent, why are they trying to recall the board members and spend more of the districts money. I think it is time to stop the blaming, let the board operate openly, honestly and strive for accountability.

Vote to support our current Board, for incumbents, Kevin Hollenbeck and Melanie Kurdys.

Judith Santek, Portage, Mi

Monday, April 4, 2011

Does Michigan demonstrate a commitment to education in spending priorities?

You be the judge...Here are some facts... This table shows that even with the proposed reductions, Michigan's Education funding remains 34% of the total state spending and of that, 60% goes to K-12.

The top five spending categories in 2011 then 2012 including the percent of the total budget in Michigan, in order, are:

1) Education - $14.4 $13.8 34%

2) Health Svcs $14.1 $13.9 34% (87% is Medicaid)

3) Human Svcs $7.0 $6.9 17% (52% is Food)

4) Transportation $3.2 $3.4 8% (77% Roads & Bridges)

5) Corrections & Public Safety $2.5 $2.5 6%

Source-The Governor’s Budget

How much does the state spend on K-12 education? K-12 spending is the largest single component of the state budget. In fiscal year 2010, Michigan spent $13.0 billion to support K-12 programs. Meanwhile, spending for community colleges and higher education have both stayed relatively flat with a slight decline. Since 2000, K-12 spending has increased.

Why should community colleges get more money? A key component of Michigan’s education system, Michigan’s 28 community colleges provide over 480,000 residents per year with affordable access to postsecondary educational opportunities. The average annual college tuition for a full-time in-district student is approximately $2,400. These institutions offer general academic courses for students who intend to transfer to a four-year institution, as well as instruction in basic skills, technical training, and customized job training to prepare students for immediate employment.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Changing Socio-Economics in Portage

The poverty rate in Portage has increased over the last 10 years, from 4.8% to 9.1%. The percent of PPS students in the low socio-economic category has increased from 19% in 2007 to 24% in 2009. Since research shows a correlation between student achievement and socio-economic status, some have suggested flat test scores are a reasonable outcome of this change.

Although I do not believe poor children cannot learn or this outcome is reasonable, let’s assume for a moment that it is true. The premise would be that some number of poor children moved into PPS district from somewhere else making an impact on PPS achievement scores.

Here is a spreadsheet of my calculations on the change in the number of students in the low socio-economic group.

What this analysis shows is that PPS has approximately 400 more students considered low-socio-economic now than in the past. This represents about 5% of our student population, which could impact our academic achievement outcomes by as much as 5%. So looking at our MEAP scores, we could be 5% higher in any category if you follow this logic.

But here is where the logic breaks down. This scenario assumes we lost 550 students between 2007 and 2010, and gained 400 students, all of whom were in the low SES category! This is incredibly unlikely. To be absolutely certain, we would need to verify the transience data within our district, information not readily available.

What is much more likely is that some significant number of families in Portage suffered economic distress in the last couple years which changed their status. And I for one do not believe that our kids become less able to learn just because mom or dad lost their job. Of course, a job loss is a significant negative impact on families and we need to do all we can to provide support to our students. But for anyone to suggest that families’ lose their commitment to their children’s education simply because they suffer an economic setback, well, that just does not make sense to me.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vote for KURDYS May 3, 2011 A letter to voters

Dear Concerned Citizen and Taxpayer,
There is an important election coming up on May 3. The question for you, an informed voter in Portage, is “Who should lead Portage Public Schools during these challenging times?”. Expectations for student achievement are high while funding remains flat or falling. If you want Board members who are:
- Visionary in setting a direction of excellence for our district
- Fiscally responsible, spending every dollar as if it were their own
- Able to hold administrators accountable
- Willing to be accountable to YOU

I am your candidate. This is not campaign rhetoric. Over the last four years, I have demonstrated my commitment to these exact points:
- Called “unrealistic” to expect that all children can learn
- Named “the self-appointed fiscal watchdog” by the Gazette
- Voted to change leadership despite political fallout
- Analyzed student achievement to highlight areas of improvement

I believe the School Board holds the administration accountable for achieving the highest levels of educational outcomes for every tax dollar we pay.

Portage is a very good school district, but we know from community surveys and focus groups that our community expects more. We must teach all our children to read. To expect less means giving up on the over 2000 (20%)of Portage children who cannot read at grade level. We can not rest on our laurels.
What do we need to do? We must:
- Believe that all children can learn at high levels and teaching all is our moral obligation
- Maintain open communication with teachers around resource
allocation to effectively deliver results
- Systemically engage parents as partners in decision making for
their children and for their schools

PPS can become a place where our children can become all they want and more than they imagine.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Portage Students NOT Reading at Grade Level

I have recently stated that Portage Schools has nearly 25% of our students reading below grade level. Today, the MEAP scores were posted showing Portage scores in the 90 percent passing rate. How can both statements be true?
2008 2009 2010 Change from 2009

3rd grade reading 94% 96% 94.30% -1%

4th grade reading 94% 94% 93% -1%

5th grade reading 93% 95% 91.9% -3%

6th grade reading 93% 96% 92% -4%

7th grade reading 91% 92% 89.8% -3%

8th grade reading 86% 88% 91.9% 4%

Here are the test scores as published. In addition, note that we had four elementary buildings report 100% passing rates for reading. First let me acknowledge and recognize this level of achievement. Clearly, even though the overall numbers are mixed, there are areas where we are making notable improvement.
The disconnect in the data is in the process the State of Michigan uses to define passing. The State of Michigan DOES NOT DEFINE MEAP PASSING AT A LEVEL EQUIVALENT TO READING AT GRADE LEVEL. This is incredibly important for parents to understand. In order to be certain your child is reading at grade level, they need to score a “1” on the MEAP. A “2”, which is considered passing, is NOT necessarily reading at grade level for 3rd through 5th grade. When you hear the discussion about changing “cut” scores, this is what it means to you.
Why should you believe what I am saying? Well, Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools is saying the same thing. Quoted in today’s press,
Michael Flanagan, the Michigan state school superintendent, in comments from a press release, acknowledged that an increase in the cut scores will cause proficiency rates to drop. But he said it's necessary to "move beyond a basic skill level to becoming career and college ready ..."
"We want to provide an authentic view of where students are academically," Flanagan in the statement.

From The Detroit News:

As the School Board has visited the individual buildings, we have discovered that our principals know this to be true. I commend them for recognizing the problem and beginning to work on really helping our children read at grade level.

If you are not a parent, why should this matter to you? Well, did you know that states predict the number of jail cells needed in 20 years based on the number of third graders who cannot read at grade level? Children who cannot read at grade level in third grade are less likely to graduate and more likely to end up in jail. We should all care!! This is a huge problem even in good school districts like Portage. 25% of a big district like ours is over 2000 students.
It is not my intent to disparage our school district. It is my intent to speak truth in order to compel people to action.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 28, 2011 Special Board Meeting

My views on a few important outcomes from last night's meeting - 1) We selected Michigan Leadership Institute, Craig Misner, to help us with our search for an interim superintendent. Likely this interim person will be from Michigan and he has good connections to help us find good candidates. We expect this person will be superintendent for a year. 2) We kept undecided the selection firm for the permanent superintendent. There seems to be a fair amount of support to using a more national firm in this process to open up our candidate pool from other states as well as consideration to non-traditional candidates who might bring strong leadership where they would leverage the good educational leadership we have within our district. And of course, we are encouraging internal staff to consider their qualifications in applying. 3) We renewed our building administrators contracts for two years. This is in recognition that we have good work underway in the buildings and we wanted to send a strong signal of confidence to our principals as they continue their efforts to teach each and every child. 4) We renewed central office contracts for one year. This year will provide continuity during our transition to a new superintendent, while maintaining the flexibility to make organizational or personnel changes as a new leader would determine appropriate. 5) We discussed the process for hiring three new principals, which is underway. An important change to the process was agreed upon, to make the building level interviews open to the public. I hope many parents and staff choose to attend. 6) The next few months will involve the development of the 2011-12 budget. Please watch and comment as we proceed. We will be using the priorities developed as a result of the community surveys and forums to assist in setting priorities. Our next meeting is scheduled for 4PM Wednesday, March 30, 2011 to work with Mr. Misner on the specific plan for hiring the interim superintendent. As always, this meeting to open to the public.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kurdys Comments from February 21, 2011 Board Meeting

PPS Trustee Comments February 21, 2011 Melanie Kurdys

I want to take a few minutes to talk about our vision of “Super-tier”. Just what does “super-tier” mean? “Super-tier” is a term this Board coined last August to communicate what we believe is our vision for Portage Schools, our vision of what our school system needs to become to meet the challenge of educating each and every student. Back in 2008, the then sitting school board articulated in its policy ends statement, a starting point for this vision. I paraphrase:

“All students..…will…be enabled to succeed at the next stage of their lives….”

That means they are prepared. Prepared means every Kindergartener is ready for first grade. Prepared means every third grader can read at or above third grade level. Prepared means every 5th grader is ready for the transition to middle school. Prepared means every 8th grader is ready for the challenge of high school. Prepared means every high schooler passes Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2 and every other math class a student needs in preparation for his or her future. Prepared means every student in our district can read at or above grade level. Prepared means students develop skills, like problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills. Prepared means every student graduates with not only the minimum education required by the State of Michigan, it also means each child graduates ready to meet his or her personal next stage, be that college, the military, technical training or employment.

This Board took that vision to another level last summer. We embraced the concept of “super-tier” in recognition that other school districts are making better progress toward actually achieving success for each and every student. “Super-tier” means we want to be among the first districts reporting 100% of our students meeting the vision of being prepared. We want to be among the districts reporting:
“Of course our students meet the state minimums, but more importantly,our students become all they can and want to be.”

Is this vision difficult? Yes. But if public education is to survive, we must believe it is possible. We must believe that every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children.

Some have suggested Portage is good enough. Do you realize, if only 10% of our students are not meeting the state minimum, this represents more than 850 students? Would you be willing to stand before an audience of these 850 children and their parents and say Portage is good enough? What might they hear? You are not worth the effort?

Some have suggested teaching all children would be too expensive. Research shows there is no correlation between spending and student achievement. But we may need to re-allocate resources to meet all student needs. Would you be willing to stand in front of those 850 children and their parents and say, we can’t teach you because it is too expensive? What might they hear? You are not worth the investment?

Some have suggested expecting all children to learn is to be too demanding and unfair. I ask you, from whom shall we expect less? Which child will you look in the eye and say, “Never mind, this is too hard for you.” What might they hear? You are not capable, so don’t even try?

All the adults in our school system must believe every single child can learn AND it is our moral obligation to teach all children. Once we commit to this belief, we can all work together, in partnership with our students’ parents, to begin the hard work required to achieve the “super-tier” vision. Committed people can achieve amazing results.

Who can forget the incredible story of Helen Keller and her dedicated teacher, Ann Sullivan? Ms. Sullivan broke through the barriers of blindness and deafness to reach and teach Helen. Helen Keller went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliff College. Most of us were not around back in 1825 when Braille was invented, but before then it was believed that blind people would never read. And it was not all that long ago that we believed people without legs could not ever walk again, and certainly never drive again. Both of these are not true anymore, due to the commitment and innovation of people who believed in the impossible.

I am hoping the resistance to this vision is not about the children at all, but is about our fears and our concerns in our ability to meet this incredible challenge. We all know this is an incredible challenge. If it were easy, we would already be there. Every single child comes to us with issues. We cannot be deterred by this fact of life. Instead, let us focus on the fact that every child comes to us with dreams. It is our job to create a system that effectively leverages all our collective resources, talent, time and money. It is our job to create a system where caring adults know each and every child, where we teach each and every one the information and skills they need, where we inspire each and every one to think creatively, to solve problems, to invent, to think beyond our limits of possibilities. It is time for us to come together to commit to becoming a “super-tier” district, a district renowned in its ability to enable all children apply their strengths, overcome their challenges and achieve their dreams.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Super Tier...What would it cost?

Some have suggested that Super-Tier would be too expensive. Truth is there is no correlation to spending and achievement after some base spending. You see evidence of this in Detroit and Washington DC, two of the most highly funded school districts with terrible results for kids.

There is evidence that districts in wealthy communities have high achievement, but most research shows it is less about the funding and more about the students, their backgrounds and family support.

To move every student to reading and doing math at or above grade level, certainly new resources will be needed. But we should look for realignment, utilizing evidence based pratices and eliminating programs that are not as effective.

I have been asked if this means I would support eliminating other programs like art, music and PE. Certainly not. Research shows that these other programs help develop the whole child and provide a context for student engagement. Additionally, good supplemental programs have been shown to improve student learning in math and reading.

The key here is that we need to be thoughtful about our how we leverage our limited resources, talent, time and money, through evidence based practices, to enable each and every student to achieve.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Super Tier...what does it mean?

OK, simply, the phrase came up in a board retreat recognizing that Portage Schools is good, but we are not considered "top-tier" in Michigan in the same vein as Ann Arbor Schools, Forest Hills Schools, Novi, Bloomfield Hills, Midland, you know the list. We are good, but we are not among the best in the state.

Last year, and it turns out again this year, our community outreach says they expect us to be among the best, not just in the region, not even just in the state, but in the nation. Super-tier means we are one of the best in the entire US. Not an insignificant challenge.

But really, what does super-tier mean for us? What would we be, what would we be doing, if we were super-tier?

My first objective would be that we have "every child reading at or above grade level". One reasonable caveat is kids with an IEP, who would have the goal of reading at or above the IEP target. More on this if you need it.

The next objective would be to have "every child doing math at or above grade level". Same caveat as for reading.

If we achieved these objectives, we would move from the around the 90th percentile in achievement to well above the 95th percentile in the state and even better in the nation.

One problem talking about super-tier in terms of numbers is that it masks the important fact that we are talking about real people here, our students. In our school district, every single percent reflects the reality for more than 86 children. Improving the success rate from 90% to 95% means we have found a way to move more than 400 children to more successful learning and achievement. Imagining and working to realize that every single one of our children can learn at the highest level, now that is super-tier.

A real stretch goal is college readiness. Given that over 90% of our student want to go to college, how many of them should be prepared so they can take college freshman courses and pass, ie, NOT placing in remedial classes (that cost them money and do not count as credit toward graduation)? I would propose well into the 90 percent, if not 100%. After all, these kids are the ones who say they want to go to college. These are the most motivated students. Shouldn't these kids, and their parents, expect that if they attend a good high school and graduate with B's or better, when they go to college they can place into freshman classes and pass? Seems like a reasonable expectation to me.

But you know what? According to ACT, only 24% of our students are actually ready for college! Now before you go dissing Portage, the best schools are not much better, only at a 50% college readiness level. But that's the real problem. If we benchmark our success against even the best schools, we may not reach the levels of student achievement that our kids, and our taxpayers, expect and deserve.