Friday, May 20, 2016

In DPS Legislation, Aim to Make Kids' Lives Better

This letter to the editor appeared in the Detroit Free Press on May 14, 2016

In DPS Legislation, Aim to Make Kids' Lives Better

Research at the Western Michigan University Children’s Trauma Assessment Center finds “trauma occurs when there is an overwhelming event or events that render a child helpless, powerless, or creates a threat of harm or loss to the child or to someone critically important to the child. Toxic stress has a cumulative effect. Children who have experienced untreated trauma [including poverty] have a greater likelihood of developmental delays, academic failure and future mental and physical health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, and earlier death.”
Absent in the debate about the future of Detroit Public Schools is discussion of the wellbeing of the children of Detroit, the traumatic conditions in which most of them live, and the additional trauma to children caused by the chaos of their schools.
While some Detroit neighborhoods are humming with growth, development, and hope, others are teaming with desolation, poverty, and fear. Children live in both places. The landscapes represent their multiple realities. When uncertainty becomes the norm of school--places that are supposed to foster learning, which requires safety and predictability, coupled with the effects on the brain of poverty and trauma, the ability to learn is challenged and children become powerless.

As the Legislature debates this issue, we implore you to think of the children. Please consult researchers over special interests. Please give children hope. Please use precious resources to improve the social, emotional, and educational well being of the children of Detroit. An unprecedented investment in DPS must make better the lives children live.


James Henry, Ph.D., Project Director,
Western Michigan University’s Children's Trauma Assessment Center

Rod Rock, Ed.D., Superintendent, Clarkston Community Schools

“Family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size — specifically, the surface area of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that does most of the cognitive heavy lifting.”

“Poverty depletes parents’ cognitive resources, leaving less capacity for making everyday decisions about parenting. Parents in poverty are also at far greater risk for depression and anxiety.  When parents are distracted or depressed, family life is likely to be characterized by conflict and emotional withdrawal rather than nurturing and supportive relationships with children. Parents don’t talk and read to their kids as often and make less eye contact with them.”
(Nature of Neuroscience, 2015).

“More than 59 percent of Detroit children lived in poverty in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.... The number of poor Detroit kids has increased 34 percent since 2006.” (Detroit News,
February 19, 2015).

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Give Michigan's Schools Flexibility in Assessment, Please

Below is the original and expanded version of my Detroit News piece:

Give Michigan Schools Flexibility in Testing, Please
By Rod Rock, Superintendent
Clarkston Community Schools

A recent Detroit News Editorial called upon state lawmakers and the Michigan Department of Education to offer stability to school systems by continuing the use of the two-year old M-STEP assessment. This would be a backward leap for Michigan’s schools and children.

Case in point: Two students I know--one is a recent high school graduate, Jake, who enrolled in Clarkston’s advanced and accelerated educational programs to achieve more than 20 college credits upon his high school graduation. Advanced Placement, accelerated math and science, hard work, and high academic achievement prepared Jake well to pursue his dreams and passions in mechanical engineering at a highly regarded and competitive university.

The other is a ninth grade student here in Clarkston, Noah, who is a brilliant welder and artist. In the shop he built with his father below his elaborate treehouse are tools that any professional welder would envy. Noah has perfected several forms of welding and is also a blacksmith and a sandblaster. He sells his artistic creations to people all over the community, who are awed by his expertise, creativity, and craftsmanship. For Noah, standardized tests, the Michigan Merit Curriculum, and limited access to career and technical education programs represent barriers in the pursuit of his dreams and passions.

In 2001, the Federal No Child Left Behind Act mandated annual standardized testing for all American students in grades three through eight and eleven. Since then, educators, parents, communities, and lawmakers have come to accept single, annual test results as the be all and end all of student potential, school accountability, and teacher effectiveness. Rarely is this mindset called into question.

For the engineering student mentioned above, standardized tests assessed performance well. But asking the second student who is equally yet uniquely brilliant, to demonstrate his knowledge on the same test is both impractical and nonsensical. Despite his vast knowledge and demonstrated aptitude, a standardized mathematical and language arts assessment cannot adequately measure his capabilities.

Standardization makes sense in several areas of life, such as bridge construction, disinfection and sterilization in healthcare facilities, traffic signage, 911 emergency systems, and water treatment. However, it does not make sense when it comes to measuring the intelligence and potential of children.

The new Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states flexibility in student assessment, teacher evaluation, and school accountability. It is incumbent upon Michigan to embrace this flexibility in order to move our educational and assessment systems into a post-standardization era. It is time that the assessments utilized to measure the intelligence and potential of future engineers, welders, dancers, civil servants, computer programmers, and neurobiological psychologists match the technological, scientific, and research advancements of the 21st Century.   

Standardized testing is the enemy of creativity and personalization. It is inaccurate and exclusionary in it its intent and capacity. In the 21st Century where innovation,critical thinking, and perseverance are at a premium, Michigan should abandon the M-STEP.