Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Reggio Approach: A Choice for Childhood by Shelly Humphrey

The Reggio Approach: A Choice for Childhood
By Shelly Humphrey, Teacher, Clarkston Community Schools, Early Childhood Center

Early childhood is a beautiful moment of time in a young child’s life that encompasses
the years from birth to age 8. The amazing growth, the intriguing experiences, the exciting
discoveries, and the joyful, playful learning that is intrinsic to a child’s optimal early
development happens during the first eight years.

Unfortunately, this dynamic time of growth and learning is often compromised when
children begin traditional, formal education with a focus on the acquisition of academic skills in
developmentally inappropriate ways. The beauty, the wonder, the marvel, and the play of
childhood are lost. Our children suffer when they are deprived of this gift of time and the playful
learning that takes place during their early years. It is our unique and most important
responsibility as parents and teachers to value, protect, and enrich these early childhood years for
our children. We must choose wisely when we consider their educational opportunities.

The families and educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy have provided us with a rich example
of educational excellence. For more than 50 years the teachers of Reggio Emilia, guided by their
founder Loris Malaguzzi, have carefully researched and meticulously documented the education
of their children. Their goal was to understand how children learn and how best to promote and
extend this learning. Their approach is based on exhaustive studies of the work of Howard
Gardner, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and others. A Newsweek story listed the schools of
Reggio Emilia as the best early childhood programs in the world (“The Ten Best Schools in the
World, and What We Can Learn from Them,” December 2, 1991). NAEYC (the National
Association for the Education of Young Children) revised their descriptions of developmentally
appropriate best practices to include examples from the Reggio Approach. This world-renowned
approach has garnered the schools of Reggio Emilia the respect and admiration of Harvard’s
Project Zero who partnered with them to extend their “Making Learning Visible” research. The
Reggio Approach is a true mark of excellence and quality. It is a constructivist theory of
educating the whole child based upon research, documentation, collaboration, and reflection.

The Reggio Approach begins with an affirming belief in the image of the child as rich,
strong, and powerful. Children are seen as competent, curious, full of potential, and capable of
constructing their own knowledge. Curriculum emerges out of the children’s interests and
children collaborate with each other in small groups on inquiry-based projects developed from
their own questionings and wonderings. Children learn reading, writing, and math concepts as
necessary skills to solve problems within their project work. The environment is considered a
“third teacher” with space and materials beautifully designed to provoke thinking and hands-on
learning. Time is valued as an opportunity for children to become deeply involved in their
learning. Children are encouraged to express their ideas and their learning is made visible in a
multitude of ways. Reggio educators refer to this as the “100 languages.” It includes writing,
drawing, music, dance, clay, wire, light, drama, and more. Teachers are co-learners; researchers
who observe, record, study, and document each child’s thinking and learning. Detailed
documentation guides and extends the work of the children. Family involvement is vital to the
success of the Reggio Approach. The underlying principle is one of relationships: relationships
between families, teachers, school, and the community; between the child and other children;
between children and the environment, the materials and their work. And most importantly, the
relationship between the children and the research-based knowledge we have of who they are
and how they learn and the importance of hands-on explorations, socialization, and play.

What makes the Reggio Approach the best and only choice for early childhood
education? Why use this approach for preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary grades? It is
an informed decision we make due to our uncompromising responsibility to immerse our
children in rich educational experiences of curiosity, inquiry, and investigation while
continuously protecting their right to learn as children do—through play and discovery. It is a
choice we must make.

Yet, one additional reason must be considered: It is what our children would choose. It is an educational approach that honors who they are as brilliant learners; yet, still values them as young children. It respects the sanctity of childhood while encouraging the amazing potential within each one of them. Most importantly, it provides our children a voice—an opportunity to express what interests them, to discover who they are as learners, how they are smart, and how best to demonstrate their understandings.

The Reggio Approach is exactly what the early childhood years should look, feel, and
sound like for our children. In the words of Malaguzzi: "What we want to do is activate within children the desire and will and great pleasure that come from being the authors of their own learning" (p.55).

Malaguzzi,L. (1994). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange, 96, 53-57.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Superintendent's Thoughts to Students and the Community on the M-STEP

Thoughts on M-STEP, by Rod Rock, Superintendent of Schools

As your superintendent, I work each day to fulfill the mission of the Clarkston Community Schools: to cultivate thinkers, learners, and positive contributors to a global society. As I encounter requirements and circumstances that conflict with our mission, I am compelled to call them into question. With that in mind, I am sharing with you some opinions that I hold relative to the State’s M-Step assessment, which are my own and not necessarily those of the Clarkston Community Schools.

Immediately upon our return from Spring Break, the Clarkston Community Schools, along with every other school district in Michigan, will begin administration in our elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools of the state of Michigan’s M-Step Assessment .

For our students, I have three words to share with you regarding this test: Do your best. That’s all there is to it. There’s no reason to be stressed or to worry about this test. No matter what happens--if computers do not work perfectly, if you feel rushed, if you are unsure of answer--just do your best. You have worked hard in school. Your teachers have prepared you. You are ready. Do your best. That is it.

For us as a community of educators, parents, and citizens, I have one word for you: Why. This test, in my opinion, is not ready for our students. No matter how much time we have put into preparation, the state often cannot answer our questions relative to the assessment, regularly releases new software, and often issues new requirements. The test was supposed to be computer adaptive, adjusting according to how students answer questions, and it is not. The data were supposed to be available to us in a timely manner in order to affect our instruction, and they are not. Our principals and teachers have spent countless hours away from their classrooms preparing for a test that is not yet ready for kids. We will spend thousands of dollars in substitute teaching costs to proctor these tests. Our students in computer-related classes for the duration of the school year will have very limited access to course content due to the technological requirements of the assessments and the limited number of computers in our district. Our students who struggle most will lose invaluable support time due to the demands the tests placed upon our teachers. All of our students will lose out on content time due to the length of the tests.

It is not okay with me that our state is requiring us to disrupt school in this way in order to test our students. The State PTA recently passed an emergency resolution, as petitioned by the the Clarkston PTA Council, calling for the cessation of this test; that results not be used to limit financial resources to schools; and that future tests include flexible, localized options already in place. I am hopeful that parents will become aware of how much time, how many resources, and how much of a disruption this test will cause and will ask, Why?

Thank you for allowing me to share my opinion with you.

Stop the M-STEP: It's Not Ready for Kids

Stop the M-STEP: It’s Not Ready for Kids
Op-Ed, Detroit Free Press (submission)
By Rod Rock, Superintendent, Clarkston Schools and
Arina Bokas, President, Clarkston PTA Council

On Monday, April 13, 2015--the day after spring break--Michigan’s schools will embark on a new undertaking: the M-STEP (Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress) to assess students in grades 3 to 8 and 11. The 2015 M-STEP, in its current form, is not ready to be administered to students and will disrupt education in many school districts. For these reasons, the Michigan PTA adopted an emergency resolution, brought forth by the Clarkston PTA Council, calling on the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the state legislature to halt the administration of the test.
First, the short development time frame of the test resulted in important deviations from its original conception: a computer-adaptive format and a short turn-around time for M-STEP data, which are not attainable. This means that the test will not deliver usable data reflective of individual student progress and beneficial for instruction this school year.

Additionally, there are several adverse consequences for the majority of school districts, which, through a state process, were unable to obtain a waiver from the computerized format.

M-STEP’s duration and timing place strains on students. As estimated by the MDE, each student will spend 7 to 11.2 hours taking the test over a six week period at the end of the school year. For Michigan’s  juniors, who prior to this year spent 3 days in March on state testing, this new time frame overlaps with other assessments, such as  AP, IB and Career & Technical certifications. This is too much time spent on testing.

M-STEP will also negatively affect school operations and budgets. MDE often cannot answer administrators’ questions relative to the assessment, while changes and new software releases come dangerously close to the testing deadline. For instance, M-STEP requires a unique login number for every student in each portion of the test, which districts must print off on special paper in advance of the first testing session and give to students. The management software used to print these logins (over 27,000 for an 8,000 student district) is not accessible to most schools until April 13--the first day of testing, causing delays in the state's testing window before M-STEP even begins. Also, testing schedules require classroom teachers to proctor the tests, leaving it up to schools to cover thousands of dollars in substitute teacher costs. This is too much uncertainty, energy, and cost for a standardized test.

Students will lose out on fundamental learning supports and content knowledge. As teachers proctor tests, special education and at-risk students will be left without essential learning supports. Students in computer-based classes  and otherwise will not have access to technology. Students will leave classrooms at various times, meaning that they will miss content covered in their absence. This is too much interruption to students’ learning.

Lastly, there is concern that Michigan’s educational technology network will not support the test. During the recent pilot of 30 elementary students in Clarkston, the portal froze, and after 3 hours, teachers abandoned the pilot.

Students are ready for the test. They and their teachers have invested much time and attention to master the Common Core Curriculum. Yet, M-STEP is not ready for students. If students are our priority, we must stop this test.

Stop the M-STEP: Letter to the Editor

Stop the M-STEP: It’s Not Ready for Kids:
Letter to the Editor, Detroit Free Press
By Rod Rock, Superintendent, Clarkston Schools and
Arina Bokas, President, Clarkston PTA Council

The Michigan PTA adopted Clarkston PTA Council’s resolution calling to cease the State’s test administration for the year 2014-2015, set to begin on Monday. M-STEP, as it now exists, compromises the education of many students without the benefits.

M-STEP isn’t computer adaptive and data aren’t reliable.

M-STEP’s 6-week duration and time frame, overlapping with other assessments (AP, IB, Career & Technical certifications), place a strain on children and disrupt learning. Reallocation of technology resources and staff for proctoring means no new content learning, no technology for instruction, and, in some cases, no learning supports.

Administration-wise, the management software required to print thousands of login tickets, isn’t accessible to many schools until April 13, causing delays before M-STEP begins.

Michigan’s statewide portal will likely struggle to accommodate such large data flow. During a recent, not state run, pilot of 30 students, the portal froze making it impossible to complete the test.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Michigan PTA Adopts M-Step Resolution

The Michigan PTA recently adopted the Clarkston PTA Council's resolution calling on the State Legislature and the Michigan Department of Education to cease the administration of the M-Step assessment, scheduled to begin on April 13. The resolution follows:

Michigan PTA's

Resolution(Adopted 2015)

WHEREAS the State of Michigan

  • implemented a new statewide, standardized test on November 13, 2014, after the school year
    had begun;
  • put in place required testing windows after the curriculum was set, meaning some content
    included in the M-STEP may not yet be covered;
  • communicated changes in test requirements on January 29, 2015, resulting in potential shifts in schedules for the computer-based version;
  • released the test software on February 26, 2015, a month and a half prior to testing, revealing
    the need for updates to the existing technology in a number of districts;
  • notified schools on March 12, 2015 that the management portion of eDIRECT, used to print test tickets (27,357 tickets for an 8,000-student district) and to input test accommodations and student related information, will not be released until April 3, 2015, the first day of a week-long holiday for many school districts, which necessitates the re-work of test schedules to allow for completion of above tasks on the first day of testing, April 13, 2015;
  • requires the presence of test proctors paid by school districts;
  • will discontinue the M-STEP assessment after one year to create a different tool for the school
    year 2015-16 and beyond; and
    WHEREAS the State, in November 2014, notified school districts that the M-STEP would utilize a computer-adaptive format, meaning that it would individualize the assessment questions for students based upon their responses; and on February 9, 2015, notified school districts that M-STEP is not computer adaptive; and
    WHEREAS the State originally notified school districts that M-STEP data would be available to schools shortly after the tests were administered so that schools could use the data to inform instruction; and as of March 24, 2015, cannot confirm when M-STEP data will be available to school districts after the test is completed; and
    WHEREAS the M-STEP, due to technology limitations in a number of school districts, will disrupt schooling, render technology inaccessible for curricular needs, and interrupt the exploration of content from April to June, meaning that secondary students will miss out on classroom time and new learning in order to take the M-STEP; and
    WHEREAS the State has determined that it will use M-STEP results to prescribe how districts will allocate At-Risk funding, which the State has historically targeted toward students at risk of failing in school due to adverse factors in their lives;
    WHEREAS the M-STEP process, in its entirety, is largely out of the control of local school districts;
  • ●  Calls for the immediate cessation of the M-STEP assessment process and administration for the year 2014-2015;
  • ●  Calls for not utilizing M-STEP’s results to negatively impact school district funding and funding allocations.
  • ●  Supports a balanced, localized, nationally normed assessment system.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Legislature Considers Overturning Proposal A

Legislature Considers Overturning Voter Enacted Proposal A

In March, 1994, Michigan residents considered a referendum, entitled Proposal A. Inclusive in Proposal A was a new mix of tax changes that would provide funding for Michigan schools. Different from previous proposals, voters in 1994 were not able to keep the status quo, should they have voted against Proposal A. Instead, they were asked essentially to decide between an increase in the sales tax rate (Proposal A) or increase the income tax rate if Proposal A failed (Statutory Plan).

Indeed, Michigan’s residents in 1994 approved Proposal A, changing the formula for funding public education from property taxes to a 2% sales tax on consumable purchases. Before Proposal A, Michigan’s property tax burden was more than 33 percent above the national average with the sales tax 32 percent below the national average. Since then, Michigan’s residents and businesses have seen large decreases in the millage rates assessed on their property. In 1993, the average statewide millage rate for all property was 56.64 mills. In 2000, the statewide average homestead millage rate was 31.54 mills and the non-homestead rate was 50.10 mills.

Clearly, these were big, mutually beneficial changes, with school districts realizing more equitable funding (the funding ratio between the highest and lowest funded school districts went from 3:1 to 2:1) and property owners benefiting with decreased taxes. Twenty years ago, these were much needed adjustments to taxes.

Without question, in Michigan, our votes count. We go to the polls to voice our perspectives on many issues ranging from our representation in Lansing to our opinions on taxation. It’s essential that, when options come before us, we vote. When we do so, our government must listen.

Yet, within the current lame-duck legislative session, House Speaker, Jace Bolger, is floating a plan to repeal the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline and replace it with a tax on the wholesale price of fuel. This is estimated to reduce public school funding by more than $600 million per year, or over  $400 per student. Seemingly, the Legislature has the power to make the move — unlike other sales tax road proposals that require voter approval under the state Constitution.

Recently, I had a conversation with a preschool teacher who shared with me how her students had worked together through a difficult situation related to their classroom rules,  necessary to ensure student safety, security, and happiness. When asked for ideas of what to do for children who do not follow the rules, the class could not come up with a consequence, and they responded that in fact they fully intend for everyone to follow the rules--especially their leaders. Their reasoning? “Everyone just has to follow the rules because the students in the class made these rules.” In so doing, they collectively decided what was best for the class and everyone in it. There are no exceptions. To not follow the rules is not an option. The rules are for the class, created by the class, and a shared expectation of everyone in the class.

How is our legislature any different? How can the people of Michigan voice their opinion on public school funding via a statewide referendum and then have the legislature unilaterally overturn it twenty years later? This seems as undemocratic to me as breaking the collectively agreed upon rules do to a classroom of four-year-olds.

There’s no question that Michigan’s roads and bridges are broken. Safe roads matter greatly to everyone. We need a solution. Diverting public school funding to fix the roads is not a solution. Instead, it creates deeper potholes, destabilization of bridges to the future for Michigan’s children, and cuts to essential programs and services.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moody's Upgrade

Moody’s Investors Service Upgrades Clarkston Community Schools Bond Ratings

CLARKSTON, Mich.— Clarkston Community Schools today announced it that Moody’s Investors
Service upgraded the district’s $19.9 Million 2015 Refunding Bonds (General Obligation –
Unlimited Tax) to an A1 underlying rating and Aa2 enhanced rating. An A1 underlying rating on
the district’s outstanding general obligation (GO) debt was reaffirmed, and Moody’s removed
its “negative outlook.”

Moody’s noted multiple strengths leading to the assigned rating, including recent improvement
to the district’s financial operations resulting from significant expenditure reductions, above
average socioeconomic indicators and a sizable recovering tax base.

“Moody’s upgrade to Clarkston Community Schools’ rating reflects the health of our district and
the hard work that has gone into keeping the schools financially sound even in a continually
challenging environment for education,” said Rod Rock, Ed.D., superintendent of Clarkston
Community Schools. “With a high rating, we are better equipped to borrow at better rates to
maintain our vigorous standards for student learning. Our rating proves we are a good
investment for bond buyers, as well as parents and students.”

Moody’s summarized its ratings rationale in its report:
The A1 underlying rating reflects the district's sizable tax base and affluent demographic
profile; limited reserves; maintenance of some revenue and expenditure flexibility
despite the sectors weak institutional framework; and elevated debt burden. Removal
of the negative outlook is based on recent improvement to the district's financial
operations that is expected to stabilize the district's reserves. Also incorporated is
recent recovery in the tax base, that will likely reduce the district's debt burden going
forward despite ongoing borrowing from the state School Bond Loan Revolving Fund
(SLRF) to support debt service.

The Aa2 enhanced rating is based on the SBQLP [School Bond Qualification and Long
Program] programmatic rating of Aa2, which reflects sound program mechanics and the
strength of the state's GO credit.