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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clarkston Community Schools Placed on the College Board’s 5th Annual AP® District 
Honor Roll for Significant Gains in Student Access and Success
A Record 547 School Districts Across the Nation Are Honored

CLARKSTON, Mich.— Clarkston Community Schools (CCS) is one of 547 school districts in the U.S. and Canada being honored by the College Board with placement on the 5th Annual AP® District Honor Roll for increasing access to AP course work while simultaneously maintaining or increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams. 2014 is a milestone year for the AP District Honor Roll, and more districts are achieving this objective than ever before. Reaching these goals indicates that the district is successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are ready for the opportunity of AP. Since 2012, CCS has increased the number of students participating in AP while improving the number of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher.

“The Clarkston Community Schools maintain highly rigorous learning standards for our students. This recognition from the College Board, ranking us among the top 547 school districts in the country, verifies this,” said Rod Rock, Ed.D., superintendent of Clarkston Community Schools. “In fact, CCS is increasing Advanced Placement participation, achievement and minority participation. Our teachers, community and students require the very best, and CCS provides it.”

Data from 2014 show that among African American, Hispanic and Native American students with a high degree of readiness for AP, only about half of students are participating. The first step to delivering the opportunity of AP to students is providing access by ensuring courses are available, gatekeeping stops and the doors are equitably opened so these students can participate. CCS is committed to expanding the availability of AP courses among prepared and motivated students of all backgrounds.

“The devoted teachers and administrators in this district are delivering an undeniable benefit to their students: opportunity. When coupled with a student’s hard work, such opportunities can have myriad outcomes, whether building confidence, learning to craft effective arguments, earning credit for college or persisting to graduate from college on time,” said Trevor Packer, the College Board’s senior vice president of AP and Instruction. “We applaud your conviction that a more diverse population of students is ready for the sort of rigor that will prepare them for success in college.”

Helping more students learn at a higher level and earn higher AP scores is an objective of all members of the AP community, from AP teachers to district and school administrators to college professors. Many districts are experimenting with a variety of initiatives and strategies to determine how to simultaneously expand access and improve student performance.

In 2014, more than 3,800 colleges and universities around the world received AP scores for college credit, advanced placement and/or consideration in the admission process, with many colleges and universities in the United States offering credit in one or more subjects for qualifying AP scores.

 Inclusion on the 5th Annual AP District Honor Roll is based on the examination of three years of AP data, from 2012 to 2014, looking across 34 AP Exams, including world language and culture. The following criteria were used.

Districts must:
 Increase participation/access to AP by at least 4 percent in large districts, at least 6 percent in medium districts, and at least 11 percent in small districts
 Increase or maintain the percentage of exams taken by African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students
 Improve performance levels when comparing the percentage of students in 2014 scoring a 3 or higher to those in 2012, unless the district has already attained a performance level at which more than 70 percent of its AP students are scoring a 3 or higher

When these outcomes have been achieved among an AP student population in which 30 percent or more are underrepresented minority students (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native) and/or 30 percent or more are low-income students (students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch), a symbol has been affixed to the district name to highlight this work.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Replacing the MEAP: A Statement of our Values

Standardized Tests: A Values Statement
By Rod Rock, Ed.D.
Superintendent, Clarkston Community Schools

This week, Michigan’s Legislature is considering the future of standardized testing in Michigan. Having recently approved the adoption of the Common Core Curriculum, our elected officials must now determine which standardized test they will use to measure student achievement, teacher and administrator effectiveness, and to grade schools.

In school, students study math, science, social studies, language arts, physical education, art, music, and technology. The Federal Government, through the No Child Left Behind legislation, requires states to assess all students in grades three through eight each year in math and language arts. States must also assess students in grades ten through twelve at least once in math and language arts, and less frequently across all grades in science.

With these single test results, the Michigan Department of Education determines school, administrator, teacher, and district effectiveness. These results also identify how much money a school gets from the State of Michigan. If a school does not perform at a level set by the state, it can be shut down or the principal and a majority of teachers may be fired. Teacher tenure and administrative advancement rest on test results. And there’s merit pay. These are very high stakes, for one test.

In preparation for this decision, Michigan’s Legislature received a report outlining the positives and negatives of a variety of potential assessments. This week, legislators will hear testimony from stakeholders regarding their opinions on assessment.

The fifty states spend over $1.7 billion to assess all students as required by federal law--approximately $34 million per state. Test publishers are certainly in the game, affecting policy, assessment, and budget decisions.

As our policy makers consider the options, they will most certainly weigh costs, validity and reliability, how long it takes to return results, accessibility, and relationship to the Common Core. This makes sense.

What they most likely will not consider is that ultimately, how we assess our students is a reflection of what we as a state value. Assessments reflect what we believe about intelligence, knowledge, success and failure, teachers, schools, work, and the future. The questions that we ask students and the problems they must solve show them what adults think is important. Since these tests are such high stakes for teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, parents, and students, kids who take them feel a tremendous amount of pressure to do well. They hear their teachers remind  them to get a good night’s sleep and to eat a healthy breakfast. They sit in their seats and work through practice tests for weeks in advance of the actual tests. Those students who did not perform well on last year’s test may be taken out of their gym, music, science, social studies, or art classes to get an extra dose of math or language arts, since these are the subjects that really matter to the federal government.

When Henry Ford was transforming America through the production of the automobile in the early part of the last century, standardized tests in Michigan and America reflected an assembly-line values system. It was not necessary for a person to be able to think at a high level in order to make a good living. This was the value of the day and it carried through on standardized tests well into the 21st Century.

We know definitively that today’s workers must understand how to collaborate, solve problems and think critically, adapt and be agile with their thinking, demonstrate initiative and entrepreneurialism, communicate effectively, analyze large amounts of information, imagine, and be curious. The level of these skills in today’s workers must match their level of knowledge. This is a much different skill set then was required in the day’s of Henry Ford.

Henry Ford passed away in 1947. His company lives on and is a vibrant part of Michigan’s economy. Many of our high school graduates will after college go on to work for the Ford Motor Company and make a great living. These workers will encounter a very different work environment. They may not have a pension to count on. They will start their careers with significant debt from college. They will fund a good portion of their own healthcare. If they do not already, they may be independent contractors as opposed to union workers, thus having less protection between themselves and management. And, unlike the past generation, today’s graduates will work in a global market competing against college educated workers from other countries who are willing to work for less and have accumulated lower amounts of debt.

If we adults know the skills that our children require in order to succeed in today’s world, then we must select a standardized test that reflects these skills. If we wish for our children to compete in a global marketplace and we are interested in student achievement between countries, then we should select an international assessment. Otherwise, it is impossible to compare and to know definitively how our students stack up against their global counterparts.

Let’s choose the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which asks students to demonstrate higher order thinking skills. The results are highly correlated with a nation’s economic vitality. Let’s show our students what we value by asking them to match their thinking skills with children from all over the world.

Henry Ford was an amazing entrepreneur. His genius, problem solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, imagination, agility, curiosity, and ability to analyze information made him the world’s first billionaire. These are the exact skills that each one of today’s high school graduates needs. Let’s prepare our students for the future by asking them to take a test that measures today’s skills. Let’s not miss this opportunity to show them what we value.