Graduation rates continue to climb

The State of Michigan has released the graduation rates as of 2014 and overall, the statewide rate for on-time graduation continues to improve.

In our district, Lee High School is to be commended as it’s already excellent, on-time graduation rate has continued to climb the past five years to an all-time high of 95.29%, while the dropout rate has dropped to just 2.35%.


East Lee Campus, our quality alternative high school that provides a last chance for students who have fallen behind to earn a diploma and gain valuable work skills, has doubled its on-time graduation rate since 2009-10, reaching an all-time high of 60.47%.


Our staff, students and parents are to be commended for these results and continuing improvement efforts focused on student learning. Godfrey-Lee’s enrollment has grown by 68% in the past 20 years with a substantial portion of students attending under schools-of-choice. It’s clear based on the graduation rates and other achievement growth factors that we are a “destination district” for students and their parents.

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Shrinking Funding Combined with Growing Regulation

The district receives grant or categorical funding from the state and federal government designated specifically for certain student populations requiring added needs programming. These are typically students who have individualized special education plans, are English language learners, are considered homeless, or have a variety of conditions in school and out of school that would classify them as at-risk of not keeping academic pace with their peers.

Godfrey-Lee is home to many students who are eligible for programming under one or more of these grants. Nearly all of our students qualify for at-risk funding which is also known as 31A. This is state categorical funding that hasn’t been increased in many years and barely covers the many interventions and supports required by eligible students who have fallen behind academically. This year, Governor Snyder is proposing an increase in this funding which, although it won’t make up for the inflationary effects over the years on the original per-pupil grant, will help in some ways to address our 3rd grade reading goals. At the same time, it’s important to note the Governor also proposes a $75 per pupil increase in the foundation grant that provides funding for not only our core academic programs, but also things like our operational costs to keep the lights and heat on in our buildings. Simultaneously, he is proposing cutting two areas (best practices and performance funding) we have come to rely on in providing quality instructional programming in reasonable size classrooms, making the net increase a mere $15 per pupil. When normal inflation is taken into account, it’s actually a loss in revenue from this year to next.

Many of our students are English language learners and under Title III, federal funding which is distributed to our district by the state and then monitored by the state as to how it is used. This is a critical but small amount of funding that has allowed us to provide a basic level of academic supports for our EL learners. It has never been enough to provide a dual academic program that ensures not only that EL learners are developing strong English skills but are also keeping pace with their non-EL peers in the classroom. In fact, most funding from the state and federal government fails to meet the significant needs of the actual learners.

Now comes the state pointing out a new demand allegedly by the federal government that our EL staffing to student ration not exceed 1 to 60. I’m sure their intentions are honest but this again will cause us to have to divert substantial more general fund dollars from our shrinking foundation allowance to shore up the inadequate Title I, Title III and 31A funding. Below is the excerpt pointing out this requirement in a February 11, 2015 memo from the Michigan Department of Education Special Populations Unit:


It’s this kind of constant state and federal interference that creates problems for individual school districts like ours who have devoted many hours to developing school improvement plans that best utilize the dwindling financial resources being allocated by the state legislature and Congress. But most of the public are unaware of the burden of regulation and requirements that drain revenues and force schools to cut programs and expand class sizes. That’s because those who provide the funding are not honest and up front with the public on what they are doing and why.

But now you know.

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Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal continues trend of ignoring higher costs

Governor Snyder released his proposed school aid budget this past week, continuing a twenty-year tradition of virtually ignoring the fact that schools as well as any organization (and your own family) face higher costs to operate each year.

As the chart below illustrates, the foundation allowance since 1996 has not come close to keeping up with the normal rising costs due to inflation. This doesn’t even include the impact due to increased administrative and academic requirements over that same period, including growing costs for educating students with special needs, limited English language proficiency, and the negative impacts of poverty and other demographic factors.

Foundation and Inflation

The above chart, as well as the one below, also doesn’t include the current Governor’s trend of providing a modest (below inflation) increase in one area while at the same time taking money from another. His latest budget proposal does just that by promising a $75 per pupil increase in the foundation while substantially reducing the “best practices” funding and eliminating the “performance funding.” Both of these decisions will cost our district $60 per pupil making the net gain (before inflation and normal rising costs) a paltry $15. At the same time, community colleges and four-year universities will be provided an even larger share of the school aid fund, originally intended only for K-12 schools, than they did previously.

Foundation Change

The chart above, illustrates the effects of normal inflation on the school aid foundation grant cuts when compared since Proposal A put all school funding in the hands of the Governor and state legislature.

The Governor and legislative leaders like to point out that the state-created and managed teacher retirement fund requires ever more dollars to make it solvent, hence less dollars for the classroom, or so they say. Just another way to blame teachers. Last year, they did just that in the budget our district is currently operating under, but this week the legislature voted to rescind a substantial amount of that one-time payment in a supplemental K-12 bill to offset declines in projected revenue within the general fund state budget.

In general, the state moves school aid funding from K-12 to community colleges and four-year universities. Then they move general fund money from both to fill holes in the budget in other areas. That’s because it is unlawful to fund non-education state departments with revenues from the school aid fund, so this provides a loophole around that inconvenient truth.


But now you know the truth.

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Setting the record straight on the Governor’s “huge” K-12 funding increase

Once again, the media jumped on the lead lines coming out of Governor Rick Snyder’s presentation this past Thursday of his 2016 school aid budget. Perhaps you heard it extolled by any one of several local radio or television news reporters. If you did, you likely heard something like: Governor Snyder proposed a huge increase for public schools by increasing the foundation allowance by $75 across the board. Well, it might have been a little different than that, and if you heard it multiple times like I did, you probably realized the exuberant reporter was providing greater emphasis each time on “huge.”

Which it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

Let’s start with the possibility that the Governor’s proposed $75 foundation grant increase was, well, actually $75. That takes our district, a minimum foundation district, to a level of $7,326, the new proposed minimum foundation. Sounds great, doesn’t it?  If it were true, this would provide our district with about $146,175 in new funding for the coming school year, money that could help reduce some class sizes, provide for more tutoring, purchase new textbooks to replace badly outdated ones, or modernize our science class rooms.

But it’s not a $75 per-pupil increase.

At the same time the Governor was selling this as an actual increase in K-12 funding, he decided to eliminate the one-time “reward” funding for academic performance and reduce the so-called “best practice” revenue (although no evidence exists that these were ever actually best practices) by sixty percent. Interestingly, the Governor and legislative leaders in the last two sessions touted their idea of providing one-time funding schemes like these instead of foundation increases. They equated these to corporate reward systems for motivating successful efforts whereas foundation increases, according to their unsubstantiated claims, simply lead only to waste. Of course the irony here is the fact that the Governor paid over $20,000 per year to educated each of his children at some swanky private school. Was $13,000 of that simply wasted? I don’t think he believes that.

Anyway, after the shell game, in terms of dollars to our district this is actually a deduction of $60 per pupil leaving a paltry $15 increase, or a total of only $29,235 in new funding.

But wait a minute, because the story doesn’t end here.

The state-created, and state mismanaged teacher retirement system will soak up another 2.8% of total payroll costs this year, and because staffing costs are the most significant part of our district’s budget, that will amount to an increased cost of approximately $144 per pupil. Now, our $15 in new funding is actually $129 in decreased funding.

And there are other cost factors involved as well. As an organization and largest employer in the Godfrey-Lee community, our district incurs normal increased costs due to inflation and mandated increases such as the cap on our health insurance costs dictated by the state. Along with these costs, the state is compelling the district to change to the new Common Core state standards in math and reading, and we’re also preparing for the next generation science standards as well. The legislature also forced the state education department to change the annual tests this spring. All of these lead to greater costs for training and new materials for teachers and students.

So in the end, the bells and whistles that went off this past Wednesday celebrating (or berating depending on where you lean politically) the Governor’s “huge” public education funding increase were for naught. In fact, they were ridiculous as I’ve just showed you.

And even if you ignore everything but the $75 per pupil change to the minimum foundation grant, it only means the district is finally going to be funded just $2 per pupil more than it was in the 2008-09 school year.

Cue the celebratory fireworks!

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When it comes to mobile technology, our students prefer notebook computers to tablets

During our recent survey of students in grades 4 though 12, we asked the following question: How important do you think it is that your school provides one of the following devices for each student?

Respondents had a choice of either choosing a laptop, notebook or Chromebook device or a tablet computer (such as an iPad but they were instructed that it could be any tablet computer of any size).

The overall response indicated that students favored the notebook-style computer (70.5% very important or extremely important) over a tablet-style device (39.8%).

Q10 All

Equally as important was the fact that one in five students overall felt the provision of a table computer was not important.

High school students preferred the notebook-style computer over a tablet device by an even wider margin (76% to 34%) while elementary students chose a more even split between the two.  Middle school students had similar response rates to high school.

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Bridge Rankings of School Districts

Bridge Magazine has released its annual rankings of school districts, public and charter, taking into account the income levels of families in the district as measured by free-and-reduced lunch rates. I am only posting this here in the interest of transparency. This ranking along with a similar one published each year for schools by the ultra-conservative “think tank” Mackinac Center do little to advance the cause of continuing to improve our public education system.

Each focuses only on limited test scores given to students one day each year which is not an accurate measure of overall learning, let along college and career readiness potential. Those of us grounded in reality not obfuscated by “multiple-guess” test scores know that many other factors in school and out of school contribute to the success of our children. As a matter of record, we have witnessed a number of students who have scored low on the annual ACT actually go on to major universities and not only graduate with baccalaureate degrees, but also graduate degrees in their chosen fields. We’re proud of them as well as every child who walks through our doors.

Godfrey-Lee ranks well against other school districts across the state with 80% or more of their students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. This is the only filter provided by Bridge Magazine so I ran the chart and provide it, below. It depicts the 40 top districts ranked in order of achievement (or over-achievement as Bridge Magazine terms it) taking this particular demographic in account.  Godfrey-Lee ranks in the middle of this group as a district and 178th out of all 507 public school districts that have enough data to be included in this ranking.


Remember, this is not a measure of actual achievement but how schools and districts did when family economics is factored into the equation. The Mackinac Center publishes a similar ranking but using the state’s ill-designed top-to-bottom list that comes out in August of each year. What is interesting is the difference in the line-up produced by each of these two ranking schemes, despite the fact that the state’s top-to-bottom list is a product of achievement scores. In that ranking, Lee High School comes out 12th best in the state and 3rd best in traditional public school rankings. The top-t0-bottom list includes not only achievement levels but growth as well. The Bridge Magazine only uses achievement levels. It also includes all of the high schools in the ranking which means a district like ours which is performing a tremendous public service by taking kids off the streets and giving them a second chance in an alternative high school setting, is penalized by combining the scores of the alternative school with our traditional high school. But then, public school districts have gotten used to the punishing (mis)use of testing and test scores to serve narrow interests.


(Above) Mackinaw Center’s 2014 Michigan Public High School
Context and Performance Report Card (p. 5)

What neither of these rankings consider are a whole slew of non-school factors that have been proven to impact learning: Child poverty rates, infant-mortality rates, economic mobility across generations, social stress including rates of violent and drug-related deaths, births to teenage parents, immigration, family supports, abuse and neglect, family structure, education of parents, school supports including equity in revenue and spending as well as other school resources, average class sizes, teacher workload, and teacher preparation.

When a ranking includes all or most of these factors, it will be worth paying attention to as long as it comes with evidence-based recommendations for mitigating out-of-school while strengthening in-school factors.

Recommended: Complicating Poverty

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Students Speak Out on Future Ready Vision – Part 3

Students were asked as to whether they have taken online classes in the past and to what extent were they successful in completing the course(s). While the district has provided online learning options for at least the past five years, only a small percentage (15.4%) of students in grades 4 through 12 indicated they have taken one.

At the high school level, the percentage of those who took an online class increases modestly to 19.8%.  This is likely more accurate since few of our students in grades 4-8 have had an opportunity to take an online course. During the survey, younger students may have confused taking an online class with blended learning, particularly those who have been enrolled in the Scholastic Read 180 or System 44 reading improvement classes.

So looking only at our students in grades 9-12 who have taken an online class, we wanted to know the level of success they experienced as to completing the course by having them respond to the following: You answered that you have taken an online class. Please select the statement below that represents your experience with the last online class you took.

Q15 HS

Two out of five students who have taken an online course fully completed the course (43.2%) while the remaining completed most or some of the course.

Questions remain as to why so few are successful but in some respects, it’s not surprising given the added needs of the majority of our students. One could surmise that over 80% of high school students want courses that are teacher-led and provide for that personalized contact and supporting relationships on a daily basis. Of the 20% who have accessed online courses, in most cases to provide for credit-recovery, independent learning of this nature has not proven successful.

Students Speak Out on Future Ready Vision – Part 2

Students Speak Out on Future Ready Vision

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