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Posted on Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 11:46 a.m.

Ann Arbor school board member expresses concern about student achievement numbers

By David Jesse

As a bevy of Ann Arbor school administrators walked school board members through piles of student achievement data Wednesday, trustee Simone Lightfoot broke in.

“These (numbers) for African-American and Hispanic children are abysmal,” she said. “The seeming sentiment of ‘Hold on, we’ll get there,’ isn’t working for me.”


School board member Simone Lightfoot

Administrators said that sentiment wasn’t what they were trying to express. Instead, they said, they were attempting to highlight the numerous places where Ann Arbor students are achieving well above state averages.

And, they said, they were there to talk to the school board about hard work that remains.

“We’re continuing to look hard at these interventions and how we can help our students,” said LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelly, the district’s administrator for elementary education.

Administrators spent nearly three hours Wednesday night discussing previously released student achievement numbers, including Michigan Educational Assessment Program results, ACT results and graduation rates. Several principals were also there to explain how the data is put to use in classrooms.

“It’s active,” said Joan Fitzgibbon, the principal at Allen Elementary School. “It’s not just presented to them and put on a shelf. Our teachers and principals are always talking about students and their needs, keeping data in front of us.”

Kevin Karr, the principal at King Elementary School, showed the board some new software to help teachers record data and share it with others working with a particular student.

Among the data shown to showcase the high achievement of students was the scores of fifth-graders, sixth-graders, seventh-graders and eighth-graders in math. District administrators pointed out Ann Arbor is between 8 percentage points and 20 percentage points higher than the state average in terms of percent of students deemed proficient on the MEAP test.

Administrators also showcased the percentage of elementary and middle school students rated as advanced proficient in reading and math. Ann Arbor’s rate is, in some grades, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the state average.

Among the items that raised concerns for both administrators and school board members was the percentage of ninth graders earning less than a 2.0 grade point average in the first semester this year.

According to the district’s data, 16.7 percent of all ninth-graders had less than a 2.0 GPA. That number climbed to 39.5 percent for black students (10.3 percent of white students had under a 2.0 GPA).

Despite that, board member Irene Patalan said the district should be proud of what it was doing.

“The numbers can discourage us, but there’s improvement (over previous years). I’m confident we’re doing whatever we can to make sure all students achieve.”

David Jesse covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Thu, May 20, 2010 : 6:59 p.m.

I am an Asian student at Huron High School who has mostly Asian friends and sticks with a group of mostly high achievers. And honestly, as a group we are quite covertly racist, including myself. I think these sentiments are caused by our looking at the same situation as you all, except instead of numbers we see actual students that succeed and fail, and we have seen the trend continue through many years, since grades began to matter (probably middle school). This perception from students and from teachers doesn't help the struggling students to succeed, and the continued low performance of the struggling students doesn't help get rid of the judgmental perception of the students and teachers. The achievement gap is at least in part because of the cultures of the high achieving groups and low achieving groups. In my group at school our culture places high importance on grades, probably translated from our parents' expectations. We strive for grades- aside from that we are as lazy as anyone else. This year in math homework became "suggested" but not required, and probably 50% of a class of high-achievers stopped doing homework. In low-achieving groups little or no emphasis is placed on school or education in general. In both cases going against the group is hard- "low" (B) grades are mourned in my group while students in low-achiever groups who try to dedicate to schoolwork are tempted by friends or ostracized. Tracking does exist in our high school, as a result of teacher placements and student class choices. Teachers teaching higher level classes taken by high achievers are generally much better than those teaching regular level classes chosen by low achievers. I agree with a2flow in that social promotion or progression has to be abolished, at least for middle school. I think generally middle school teachers are not as good as high school teachers, and some are plain awful. As a whole teachers do not motivate students to do well in middle school, and automatic bumping up to the next grade does not help. This is where the split starts, I think. Middle school is where counting points and grades start, and since the motivation for students to do well doesn't exist only those who motivate themselves or are motivated by their parents actually make any effort. As a result those who slack in middle school don't learn how to operate in school, how to take responsibility for their own education, or how to take tests, which shows in high school when grades actually count for something. Those who do not learn in middle school do not learn in high school, either, as regular class standards are low and lenient. The kids, including me, who got perfect scores on the ACT simply are good at taking tests and playing the school game. Also, hi Mrs. Starrfield! I was in your class in 8th grade (I did the project on mosquitoes).

Lisa Starrfield

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 7:41 p.m.

Bornblu, You are blaming the 'greater education establishment' because you feel the school he attends is neglecting his IEP? Should I blame the medical system entire as failing children everywhere because of the moron doctor who refused to prescribe anti-biotics to my son for repeated ear infections that eventual lead to his (reversible) hearing loss? I'm sorry your grandson is doing poorly despite the success of others in the family tree. But anecdotes do not make the case. For every story of a grandson struggling, I could tell you the exact opposite; stories of our reading specialist and the dedication she shows her students despite the disrespect she endures on a daily basis. I would advise your daughter or son to speak with the person in charge of special education at the district level if they truly feel the IEP is not being followed and ask for mediation if that does not resolve it.


Wed, May 5, 2010 : 7:09 p.m.

@ Lisa; One thing that I can unfortunately speak to first hand is an extremely low/poor achievement by a grandchild (not in AA district, but close). Our family is not a "minority" and within 2 generations, parents and grandparents, there were teachers, Physician, PhD, and at least 3 M.A.'s. Also, fortunately, income level is not an economic concern or issue. This grandchild is diagnosed with ADD, is on medication, and under the constant review of his Pediatrician. The child is now beginning Jr. High, yet has a significant failure rate over time. As grandparents we have attended, with his parents, IEP's, a few of which have contained specific recommendations by his Pediatrician. Over the last 4 years I have seen a systemic failure that borders on incompetence and goes to total irresponsibility by a number of teachers and administrators. While I would not let his parents of the hook, the lack of followthrough by the school system for the past number of years has eroded parental input. Just a few examples regarding one specific issue, missing assignments: 1) if not turned in no recess that day but use that time to make up work (was never followed through on); 2) folder in back pack for parents to check on a daily basis for assignments due (was never followed up on); 3) phone contact by various teachers to check on assignments due(calls never answered, returned or responded to). These are just a few examples of programs for 1 issue put in place through the IEP's. Now, after each of these methods failed we (grandparents and parents) would request a new IEP and contact with Principal. Obviously a new IEs was held but there was no change in behavior and in fact 2 different Principals said basically "don't worry, you will have a new teacher next year who will do better addressing these issues". So you see Lisa, while I firmly believe parental accountability is necessary and critical, I see/hold the total educational establishment responsible for a great portion of the achievment gap.

Lisa Starrfield

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 5:54 p.m.

Jimmy, I can't speak for the entire state. Do you have data on AAPS?

Lisa Starrfield

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 5:46 p.m.

Jimmy, What you describe is very little different for teachers. We are required now to be evaluated yearly by our administrators though they gather most of their evidence first hand rather than second hand. However, complaints by parents, students and staff could be used as evidence as well. If a teacher is not meeting expectations (and after three years the expectation is that the teacher will show mastery of all competencies), said teacher is put on an action plan and if they do not improve, removed. So what precisely is your problem with the process? It sounds like to me that either you think administrators aren't doing their job OR you are misinformed about the quality of teachers you perceive as bad.

Jimmy Olsen

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

@lisa Here are some statistics from the Grand Rapid Press: An influential reform group, the National Council on Teacher Quality, doesnt agree. It just released an encyclopedic state-by-state analysis of teacher quality policies. It gave Michigan a D- overall, and a D for its poor system of exiting ineffective teachers. Florida had the highest overall grade, but even that was a C. The groups conclusion: Taken as a whole, state teacher policies are broken, outdated and inflexible. The Press in 2008 dug into what protracted tenure battles can mean for taxpayers. It found that 17 districts had paid $763,251 in salaries and benefits in order to oust 29 teachers for poor performance or bad behavior. And that figure didnt include the cost of substitute teachers or legal fees, which often hit $75,000 per case.

Jimmy Olsen

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 4:41 p.m.

Lisa, In most other professions, you are given an annual review by your direct report (administrator). They should gather information from the people you work with and provide examples of how well or not so well you are doing. If you aren't meeting the criteria of your job, you could be placed on an "action plan", etc. If you continue to not meet the requirements (job description) of your position, you usually become unemployed. It is pretty simple. Obviously, the tenure law is very cumbersome if administrators just need to have the "will" as you said. I'm not disputing a fair process, but if Tenure worked all that well I'm thinking we would have less bad teachers. I'll ask again, do you know how many teachers in the state of Michigan actually were removed from their positions once they achieved tenure in say the last 1 year? 5 years? Relatively few, I'd bet.

Lisa Starrfield

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 3:05 p.m.

Dagny, "Why do you think that doing more of the same thing will somehow change things for these kids? Perhaps the adults in education need to change the instruction for these kids. For example, children with dyslexia need different kinds of reading instruction. Perhaps students are fail to meet expectations need something different, something else." It is so odd that you think that you clearly see the answers and us stupid educators have no idea what we are doing even though this is our profession. The kids with dyslexia are getting a different form of reading instruction. We have at the middle school level three different levels of reading instruction: regular classroom, Read 180 (a two-hour intensive reading course designed for struggling readers) and then special education classes (for those with identified special ed concerns whose needs can not be met in either of the above settings). Just so you know, we are very proactive in looking for those who are struggling and those who need extra help... especially in reading. At the elementary level, students are continuously assessed to determine their reading level. Anyone not currently reading on target is given additional support either through Special Ed., Title 1 or ESL. With Title 1 especially, students move in and out as their current assessment informs.

Lisa Starrfield

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

Jimmy, No one hates bad teachers more than the good ones. They drive us up the wall. But we can't remove them ourselves. No matter what evaluation system you put in place no one has the authority to remove a peer (not in teaching, not in the public sector, not in industry). The only person with that authority is their supervisor or their supervisor's supervisor. That would be the administrator. None of your solutions will fix an administrator who is unwilling to use his or her authority. All tenure does is that ensure there is a fair process before someone is removed from the classroom so that teachers are no longer removed for disagreeing with the administration, for having an opinion, for teaching a controversial book or topic (you know.. like perhaps evolution in some places) or for giving a kid a bad grade. Why do you have problem with having a fair process in place?

Jimmy Olsen

Wed, May 5, 2010 : 12:11 p.m.

@Lisa Lisa - the union fails big time - if members know there are poor teachers - then it is just the "good ol' boy/girl - protect our own" syndrome. If you truly supported the "advancing the profession" rhetoric, then you would be on board with weeding out the bad teachers. Silence by other teachers is approval. You'd think as a professional you would seek out constructive comments to improve - no matter where (parent, administator, student, other teachers) the comments are coming from.


Wed, May 5, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

One thing to consider is that in Ann Arbor there is a larger proportion of blacks living in poverty than whites. So, if you are black in the AAPS, you are more likely to be living in poverty than if you are white. There are more whites in terms of sheer numbers, but blacks disproportionately live in poverty. Race and economic disadvantage go together mostly. a2flow, you wrote about kids who fail to meet expectations: "Those not meeting expectations, will be expected to put in extra work through tutoring, summer school, or some other remedy." Why do you think that doing more of the same thing will somehow change things for these kids? Perhaps the adults in education need to change the instruction for these kids. For example, children with dyslexia need different kinds of reading instruction. Perhaps students are fail to meet expectations need something different, something else. And if we know that students who are disadvantaged are likely to fail, then perhaps we should be proactive in our efforts.


Wed, May 5, 2010 : 6:23 a.m.

The issue of an achievement gap really has been misconstrued in the district. I would like to see less of a focus on classifying this as race-based, and more of an acknowledgment that this is driven largely by socioeconomics. One of the issues in the district is racism. Administrators are in many cases afraid of being labeled racist. This leads to policies that skews the data on referrals/detentions/suspensions because what it previously showed was how many students were black. The numbers were largely disproportionate. The reality is a higher percentage of black students do not do well, but there are high achieving black students in our district that are going on to elite universities as well. Celebrate this! Oftentimes, the higher achieving black students do not appear to be accepted by other students in their own race because they are "different." This has been my observation, for just like white people (or any other color), we tend to like people more like ourselves. High achieving students tend to high achieving students, and low achieving with low achieving. If the issue was just a matter of institutional racism as it is implied through Glenn Singleton (whom we are paying 100K a year for little work while we are cutting to the bone in many other areas), this would imply that the vast majority of teachers/administrators are racist. What is typically true with all students of any color, students typically do well or don't. Those that don't do well, in many cases no matter how low the bar is raised, still don't manage to rise up. Sometimes there are abberrations; a student will struggle in one class but in no others. What needs to happen is this... Assess reading, writing, and math (all foundational strengths) at an early age. Those not meeting expectations, will be expected to put in extra work through tutoring, summer school, or some other remedy. I would think 100K (i.e., G. Singleton) would help support this as well as maybe some low cost or free tutoring provided by community resources (UM students? Parent volunteers?) Social progression needs to end. We continually tell the students through our actions that K-8 has little bearing on anything, because in many cases they will be put in the next grade no matter if they master the material or not. Racism needs to end. No program should exist that is not inline with the states action on equality. Racism, whether from white to black or black to white, is racism. Consequences need to be established and enforced. At the three comprehensive high schools, how many consequences are handed out by the administrators for poor behavior (blatant disrespect to staff), poor attendance/punctuality, and low performance? In other comparable districts, they use consequences such as Saturday school or have a community assistant for after school detention. If a school is well run and the teacher teaches well, mostly these things are not needed. But it does take a team approach. Not all classes are created equal (yes there is tracking!). But what has happened in some of our schools is these low achieving students are not getting any consequences. Unfortunately for them, their consequences for negative behavior in achievement and getting along with others will be felt in many cases for a very long time and in the future through reduced earning potential and limited career options. There are some teachers that need to do a better job or get fired. All it takes is administrative action and documentation. Check out rate my Admins should stop into classes periodically, if only for two minutes unannounced. Is there learning going on? Is the classroom well managed with respect to all, including the teacher? In other cases, what about the administrators that don't do their jobs? Who will police them? Lastly, why not learn from those that do well. Recently they said there were 8 students at Huron (I believe?) that had a perfect score on the ACT. Almost all were Asian. Why not benchmark what we can from the students that successfully navigate the educational experience. Are we to believe that the Asian students are inherently smarter than their white and black and brown counterparts? How do they do it? Tutoring? High parental expectations? What do successful students do to achieve? Why? Students that fail, how many days do they miss (and what is being done about this?)? If 4-6 teachers a day notice a deficiency in how underachieving students go about their day, is anything going to be done about that? In most instances, the low achieving students are failing or close to failing every class. We need to end the racism and SERVE the needs of ALL students. This means that let's acknowledge the large number of high achieving students in this district. Let's also acknowledge that there are struggling white, Asian, Hispanic, and black students too. We need to end the racist ideologies present in this school district. No more divisive and exclusionary policies. HELP ALL CHILDREN LEARN.

Susan Montgomery

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 8:35 p.m.

Those of us who voted for the millage and can afford it can put our money where our mouth is through the Ann Arbor Education Foundation, "The Educational Foundation provides funding for "Initiatives for Excellence" programs designed to enable students, teachers and the community to thrive.... raises funds and awards grants for teachers in order to help motivated teachers fulfill their goals for innovative programs... aspires to help make certain that proven, effective, long-time programs are protected against budget cuts."

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

Jimmy, The other teachers can't make them go. Only an administrator can do that.. yes, even with tenure in place an administrator can remove a teacher if s/he has the will to do it. This is an administration failure, not a failure of tenure or the union.

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 10:25 a.m.

Jobser, My students do in fact know how I feel about them. I tell them on a regular basis.

Jimmy Olsen

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

@lisa A qoute from a comment from the leader of the AAEA Brit Satchwell.. "Teachers, as apples in the barrel, don't like the few soft apples, but we will not say so because "Who are we to judge?" To judge out loud would be to violate a colleague's "sovereignty"... teachers WILL NOT go there out loud, but they WILL and DO go there in the privacy of their own thoughts. We don't like those very few "soft apples"... they make life much harder for all of us and give the profession less than the stellar reputation it deserves". Tenure has to go and something merit based has to come aboard - I've read all the arguemnts against it, but your claim that the administrator can get rid of a poor performing teacher that has tenure - tell me - how many times does that happen in this state? If other teacher KNOW they are bad - they need to go!!


Tue, May 4, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

Yes, Lisa I firmly do believe that. And because you don't, you can't deliver it. It takes more time and energy, but that's what is needed and that's what they deserve, and with dignity. Your pace at trying is what is off, coaxing is not as useful tool, it's like begging and they are in the driver's seat with that tool, and thinking how unmotivated that kid is as you're trying to help them, or god, I know if this were a kid from an achieving family, I just wouldn't have to do this,we;; the kids feel that kind of attitude from the staff. They know how you really feel about them.


Tue, May 4, 2010 : 7:11 a.m.

The achievement gap is a nation-wide problem, but it is also being successfully dealt with in several places. An important first step is recognizing that it is not just a problem of color, it is socio-economic. There are many books, studies and successful programs that can be utilized and emulated. With the reportedly poor teacher: parents should go directly to the building administrator with their complaints. If action is not taken they should then go to the superintendent or the administrator in charge of secondary education. Bad teaching is an administrative problem and good administrators will deal with those issues.

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 6:12 a.m.

Josber, You think that all we need do is gently coax the student to work and the achievement gap would melt away? That suddenly the unmotivated, the academically weak, the neglected (of whatever color) would catch up with the motivated, those for whom school comes easily like breathing and the nurtured? That we simply don't care or are laz No wonder people hate teachers if this is what they think of us. Now here is the reality. Some children enter kindergarten ready, more than ready really, having already mastered many of the outcomes for that year. Some children enter kindergarten with few if any of the skills needed to be successful. Elementary teachers work hard to catch these kids up and they are somewhat successful at this. The problem is that the other kids are a moving target... they continue to grow. We can coax, we can beg, we can plead, we can bribe with treats (and we do!) and for some it is enough... but not for all. It frustrates the heck out of us but we keep trying still. This is a nationwide problem, not merely an Ann Arbor problem. Still, we keep trying.


Tue, May 4, 2010 : 3:44 a.m.

There's a lot of reasons for the achievement gap, but the soft bigotry of low expectation is surely one of the biggest. Things are allowed to be let go, very little accountability about really teaching all kids and it's a systemic problem, part of the work culture. And even when school staff say they are working really hard on it, that's not so true.Doesn't mean school staff wasn't busy, they just weren't teaching, getting in there and giving lots of feedback and checking to see if the kids got it or not. How to fix it? Good positive behavior support, and the district is really lousy with that. If some kid has gently be made to sit down and get to work and adults really take the time and attention to make sure that is happening, there wouldn't be an achievement gap. The numbers tell the truth.

Lisa Starrfield

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 5:49 p.m.

Dagny If this teacher is truly what you claim, then the other teachers have made complaints. But the only one with the ability to do anything about it is the administrator.


Mon, May 3, 2010 : 5 p.m.

Lisa, so should all the other teachers look the other way? People are often angry when doctors do this, or lawyers, when one of their own is incompetent. If it's OK for teachers, then it's OK for other professionals as well.


Mon, May 3, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

@Dagny That is a horrible situation you are experiencing and I agree with Lisa that the teacher and administration are the ones to blame. I certainly hope you've written your fair share of letters to the administration about it and not just vented here. That said, I don't understand how one situation translates into no one else putting in any effort to help struggling kids. From where I sit I see nothing but time, money and effort being thrown at these kids. As to whether any of it is working or not, well, that's debatable I guess. But certainly I have never seen a lack of effort or concern on the part of any teacher or administrator. Maybe high school is different. I don't have kids that far yet.

Lisa Starrfield

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 3:01 p.m.

Dagny, Perception is not always reality. Assuming though that you are correct and there is a teacher who either through incompetence or negligence is neglecting his or her duty, there are only two people culpable. The teacher and his or her administrator.

Lisa Starrfield

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 2:48 p.m.

Zulu, Why don't you look here ( at the district's user friendly budget? If you do, you will find on page 49 a list of the schools and the per pupil expenditure for each school. I do not know all of the elementary schools in this district well but I do know my feeder schools and there is clearly a relationship between the number of struggling students and an increase in expenditure per student. That is, the feeder school with the greatest number of students gets almost a thousand dollars more than the others. I suspect you will find this in other clusters as well. Clearly the district is putting MORE resources where we have struggling populations.


Mon, May 3, 2010 : 1:32 p.m.

Are you sure about that Steve? Here's a real situation at an AAPS HS: There is a math teacher who is not offering high quality instruction to his students. It's not a mystery. Parents with resources--meaning those parents with time to visit the school, talk to other parents, who aren't working two jobs or parenting alone--they pulled their children out of this classroom early on. The only students who are left are those whose parents are not as involved. Educators in the school know this goes on. They know that some teachers are not competent, and they stand by while involved parents move their kids into other classrooms. Kids with less involved parents get screwed. Explain to me how the educators are not culpable for this.

Rork Kuick

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 9:23 a.m.

"climbed 39.5 percent" actually wants to be "climbed to 39.5 percent", and maybe just "was 39.5%" would be better. There are some table/figure failures in the achievement update as well, like the tables on page 3 - nice colors, but it doesn't say what the numbers in the table are, or their units. Some graphs have unlabeled Y-axis. I hope the students and science teachers know better.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Mon, May 3, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

DagnyJ, To whom are you responding? While some posters here may be putting most of the responsibility on the parents, there is a huge leap from that to saying that most or all educators feel that way. In my own experience, it has been quite the opposite. We all do what we can. My kids' school does not receive Title I funds simply because we do not have a high enough percentage of qualifying children. But that doesn't make the need go away. So, instead, parents are organized to come in and help regularly in the classroom - sometimes to work with individual kids who need help, and sometimes to do group activities with part of a class so that the teacher can focus on the needs of the other part. The only reason to talk about home life and its effect is to remind ourselves that kids who struggle usually haven't made some sort of choice to do poorly and are almost certainly not any different in innate "intelligence" (whatever exactly that means). Kids who struggle academically deserve more time and effort to bring them up to speed - and that is what they get from our schools, subject to the limits of available resources. And THAT's where the problem lies.


Mon, May 3, 2010 : 7:19 a.m.

Yep, no wonder the schools can't do anything with these kids. Blame the students for being born to lousy parents. That is such baloney. How easy for educators to decide how much effort to put into a child's education based on the behavior of his parents. That attitude is exactly why poor and minority children in this district get short changed and do not achieve as well as they could.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 11:46 p.m.

I'd like to second all that Andrew Thomas wrote above. Nearly all of the disparity in resources across schools, especially elementary schools, stems from the fact that the district has had to pull back from funding many activities. That leaves them to the school PT(S)O to fund, or not, as they are able. (For instance, though few parents know it, our elementary school's PTO pays for just about every single assembly, and certainly for every single field trip that the children take. That includes the cost of transportation, which is paid to the district for their buses.) Unfortunately, not all are equally able, and this is a problem that the AAPS Educational Foundation is trying to tackle head-on, as Andy describes. Secondly, I also agree that we must work to stop the re-segregation of our schools. In fact, one of the main points made by Glenn Singleton of PEG at the school board study session on equity issues was that we need to identify and spread teaching strategies that educate ALL students. Techniques that are aimed at one group or another simply won't cut it in our schools. I should also say that I wasn't the only one to notice, and be disappointed by, the absence of any representatives of the news media at that study session. In contrast to the presentation given at the board meeting, the study session was less focused on numerical results and more focused on what teachers and administrators have actually been doing at each school to address equity issues and what the impact has been. These efforts began district-wide about six years ago, and included not only intensive discussions among teachers about working in diverse classrooms but also critical changes to the curriculum to better meet the needs of all children. The "balanced literacy" approach and the new writing curriculum, starting at kindergarten, is an example of that effort. The first cohort of children to have experienced these changes is just now in middle school; their impact will not yet be reflected on high school tests like the MME. You can see it in the data trend that shows the "achievement gap" being smaller in elementary school and then widening noticeably at middle school. This isn't so much an artifact of the transition to middle school as evidence of how the changes made years ago are now rolling up through the grades. Lastly, another key point about the data made at that study session was the evidence showing that the "gap" between white and African-American and Latino students in high school GPA was smaller for students who had been in AAPS for all four years than for students who came to AAPS part-way through high school. Singleton of PEG pointed to that and said it was one of the most promising things he'd seen in the data, since it was hard evidence that what AAPS was doing was making a measurable difference.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 10:57 p.m.

i agree with motheroffour concerning the aforementioned school. while closing the achievement gap is what we should all strive for, the ways to go about need to be ways that don't cause other problems. when a school is allowed to have a lunch group that meets separately and has their own field trip and the one criteria to be in this group is to be a particular race, that is not solving the problem. it is creating resentment in the other children. as parents, how do you try and teach your children about inclusion of all races when they see the opposite in their own classroom?

Andrew Thomas

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 10:17 p.m.

Seems to me we are talking about two related but very distinct issues. On a district-wide basis, there is no doubt that substantial additional resources are provided to assist struggling students. Title I and Title II funds are focused on those schools with the greatest needs. It is disappointing that these efforts have not produced better results. However, it is not for lack of effort or lack of resources. The other issue has to do with equity in the overall educational experience, particularly with add-ons such as field trips, assemblies and other forms of enrichment. Because there is virtually nothing in the district budget for these activities, the responsibility for funding them has, by default, gone to the building PTOs, PTSOs and booster groups. A school with stronger parental involvement (and hence a stronger PTO) will, all else being equal, have a much stronger enrichment program. (I would note that, independent of PTO support, some buildings have teachers and principals who place more emphasis on enrichment than others.) The Ann Arbor Public School Educational Foundation has provided a grant to support enrichment coordinators, whose job it is to help ALL buildings find ways of enriching the core curriculum. The Ed Foundation sponsors other initiatives which address the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots", notably the Village Fund (which provides assistance to students who cannot afford yearbooks, school photos, field trips, etc.), and the Karen Thomas Memorial Fund, which sponsors reading initiatives for economically disadvantaged students (projects are underway art Pittsfield and Mitchell, two of our most economically-distressed and racially-diverse schools).


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:43 p.m.

I spend a lot of time volunteering at my son's school and I see the Reading Specialist, the ESL teacher, the Title I tutor, the free after school rec and ed classes for Title I kids, and the kids who are struggling getting one on one time almost everyday with the classroom teacher. I have no problem with this and I support it both in volunteer actions at school and with my tax dollars. I have never seen a special teacher come in and say, "Hey, I noticed you are the only kid who can read in Kindergarten. Why don't you come work with me for a bit on something more challenging?" We attend one of those "less desirable" elementaries. I am torn between feeling really resentful of the people who are implying that all affluent white kids are receiving lots of wonderful services when I know that isn't true and feeling a touch jealous if it's actually true that at other schools they do. If anyone knows of any specific programs for high achieving kids at an elementary I'd love to hear about it. We have an enrichment coordinator but she mostly focuses on bringing enrichment opportunities to the whole school i.e assembly type things.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 7:16 p.m.

We are spending a lot of money with negative results. It is time to look at the real issue. At Dicken School on Ann Arbor's west side we have segregated classes. We have segregated school sponsored events. We have segregated special class trips. Unofficial school opportunities and things only become available to certain students because of the color of their skin or economic standing of their families. All parents are not told of every opportunity that exists or are they informed of what is going on at the school. It is almost as if the school opperates under a shroud of secrecy. If we don't get beyond this segregation mentality all of the money spent to reduce achievement gap differential will be wasted beacuse we are modelling a society that accepts segregation. The challenge is go and examine-look at where a certain class files into public transportation. Look and see the groups that are formed after school. It is obvious. Our money is being wasted if we allow segregation. Don't let our schools become smaller schools within schools becuase that is a large step in the wrong direction. Adults must model. Adults must not create what they see as a favorable racial/ethnic/econmic elite school groups. Do not segregate. Go look and watch. See for yourself. What is very perplexing about the situation at Dicken is that our Principal should be in position to be a better model and eliminate segregation. School numbers need to be broken down into every class and school function and activity. The first step in reducing achievement gaps is to make all students and families feel equally loved, welcomed, and secure at our schools. That is not happening.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 7:12 p.m.

Lisa: Thanks for pointing out one of the Elephants in the room or maybe I should say classroom. You, from my knowledge and experience with the district, like other educators and administrators, are already pre-disposed to defending the resource allocation for white/asian students when in most cases these students have more than enough resources, including family, school and community support. For example; the mere mention of closing community high earlier this year drew tons of blogs to this site voicing their opposition, many from family, friends, former students and the community. The mere suggestion of closing Roberto Clemente generated mostly concerns from the students who attend the school. Even though the population of RC is mostly African American, there was no outcry from the African American community about the value of maintaining this school. If the African American community was better organized and more consistent in its support of African American students, some of these inequities could be significantly decreased.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 6:15 p.m.

BasicBob, Clague is not the only school in this district I have taught at nor are all inequalities simply white versus black. The school district has put enormous energy and resources towards closing this gap. To accuse the district of only funding the white and ASian kids as you do is to lie. No other middle school got laptops for students but Scarlett. I don't know if they suspended the program because it failed or because of funding but that alone is evidence they are trying to support our minority students.

Basic Bob

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 5:44 p.m.

@Lisa, you are fortunate to teach at the school you do. You should request a transfer to Scarlett. Your experience would be much appreciated. Clague is 73% white/Asian, Forsythe 73%, Slauson 73%, Tappan 68%, but Scarlett is only 40% white/Asian. I will excuse your ignorance of conditions for ALL students in Ann Arbor. But please do not portray the substantial inequity as fundamentally fair, or your adversaries as clueless.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, May 2, 2010 : 3:22 p.m.

basic bob, If you believe that the school district spends all its money on white and Asian students, you are sorely misinformed. There is no extra dollar amount allotted for white or Asian kids. In fact, I would say that this district tries very hard to put extra resources towards those who are struggling. There are no gifted programs in this district but there are many programs in place to support students who are struggling. We have title 1 reading programs at the elementary level and remedial two hour reading classes at the middle schools. We offer math support classes at the middle schools as well as general support classes. Our advanced math class at the middle school level tends to be overcrowded while our regular math classes have fewer students per hour. I suspect that is true at the high school as well but have no direct experience. It concerns (but doesn't surprise) me that so many who are against funding the district do not have a clue what actually happens in our schools.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

For anyone that blames the school district for the achievement gap, they need to remember that the students are only in school approximately 38 hours a week. The students are at home approximately 138 hours a week.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

KLK, sh1; Parent Involvement and a supportive community. That's the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about with any degree of earnestness. If you want to see parent involvement, go to any athletic function during fall and winter sports. Parents who don't show up for academic related functions, are there for athletic events.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

KLK, I agree. Show me an involved parent and a motivated kid and I can promise you a success story every time.


Sun, May 2, 2010 : 6:31 a.m.

I believe the real achievement gap starts at home. When I was in grade school,my parents only academic help was when I got my report card they would complain about the grade. Parents need to be involved, if you don't know how to help your children with math, writing, reading, ASK. Time should be set aside at home for learning just like time is set aside for sports, and other extracurricular activities.

Basic Bob

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 11:55 p.m.

@Rusty Shackleford, why should I send more money to a school board that spends all its attention and money on wealthy white and Asian students? It is nice that so many of these students are achieving beyond the state average, but what about the rest of the students? Being a middle class white family at Scarlett Middle School, we see the plight of other middle class families at this school. Now that they put a fresh coat of paint on the building, the situation has returned to normal. The laptop program is gone, the outstanding principal is gone, and we hear from parents all over town about how this is a ghetto school is compared to their intellectual enclaves. Yes, Rusty, some people in Ann Arbor are not willing to pay extra. But that is not an issue for me when the politically advantaged people are not willing to apply the existing resources fairly. Since more money for the schools means more money to sustain programs like CHS, they don't have my support for an increase.

Elizabeth Nelson

Sat, May 1, 2010 : 6:26 p.m.

The choice to focus on this issue is not surprising-- too often, leaders in this town would much rather focus on an issue of national significance than focus on the details of LOCAL significance. This achievement gap is a serious issue, but it's one that exists all across this country. As nice as it is to imagine that the brilliant minds of AA are going to 'crack the case' and solve it overnight, if it's happening everywhere, the solution is probably not so simple and easy and fast. The district is doing a handfull of intelligent things to tackle this problem, e.g. conferencing with similar towns like Madison, Wisconsin, to compare notes about strategy, but random talk about concern is just a lot of hot air AND a distraction from other more tangible issues. I am more interested in finding out how our schools can be more equitable in offering the same opportunities whether, for example, you live in Burns Park or Bryant districts. I've never heard anyone discuss this kind of issue, because no one in this town likes to acknowledge that we have such a divide among the 'okay' schools and the 'best' schools. I've heard folks say with a straight face (in answer to the question, "Which are the best schools?") that "all the AA schools are good." Pretending that we live in a utopia of fabulous schools providing equal opportunity for all... well, I wish we could step out of that mindset and acknowledge that there ARE "haves" and "have lesses" in this town. Teacher friends of mine tell me about specific buildings (in poorer AA districts, natch) that are in decrepit condition. We have PTOs in wealthy schools that can fund tons of extra-curriculars, some schools that benefit from hundreds of hours of parent volunteerism, others not so much. These are LOCAL disparities that we can actually analyze and address but it's uncomfortable... much easier to spin our wheels on a problem that is national in scope and makes us feel less personal (i.e. local) responsibility. -sigh-


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

Whites/Asians achieve at greater rates on tests than blacks/Hispanics. Affluent students achieve more than disadvantaged students. So if you are a middle-class black student, you achieve less than middle class whites. Not so complicated. Breaking achievement down by race is only part of the story. We need to look at wealthy and poverty too. And then we need to look at which kids in AAPS get the most support--affluent or impoverished, white or minority.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 2:22 p.m.

ironyinthesky2: If the problem can be largely attributed to socioeconomics, how do you account for the fact that African American students from middle class family backgrounds tend to also achieve at at a lower academic level than their white and Asian counterparts. Again, there's an elephant in the room that we all do not want to acknowledge.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 8:19 a.m.

Rusty I am total agreement with you. The money that could have been used to address this issue was swept right from under the Washtenaw County students. Now we are looking at larger class sizes due to fewer staff members. The dollars that could be used to give extra support to students is gone. As the class size increases, the one-on-one attention that teachers can give to these students is much less.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 5:25 a.m.

We tend to look at achievement gaps on the basis of race. It is much more accurate if we break achievement down by socioeconomic status. Students from poor homes tend to achieve on the lower end, students from wealthy homes tend to achieve at the higher end. Poor whites and poor blacks tend to achieve at the same levels. Maybe the BOE could publish statistics based on family income? Just sayin'...


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 6:26 p.m.

I do not believe that taxpayers are to blame for the achievement gap or the teachers. I have seen it up close and personal in many of the Ann Arbor schools and firmly believe that the breakdown in family values and parental expectations are the root cause for the gap. There are programs in place and dedicated well qualified teachers working their butts off to educate all the school kids. Why not blame the parents or at least hold them accountable. Far too many parents are not engaged in there children's schooling. Too many find it easy to blame the system and the teachers rather than look in the mirror and realize that the problems are home based and that mom and dad are the problem.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Well, here we go again. We are coming up on the 10 year cycle of discussing the achievement gap so Let's have a series of meetings to discuss student achievement and the achievement gap and at the end we'll hire a consultant and by the time this process is over everyone will have forgotten about the fact that some students are not striving in the district. We know what the problem is but no one wants to tell it like it is. Until then, it will remain the 500 lb Gorilla in the room.

Kathy Griswold

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 5:07 p.m.

AAPS leaders devoted three nights to discussing student achievement and the achievement disparities among student groups: a study session on Tuesday, the BOE meeting on Wednesday and a community forum at the Peace Neighborhood Center on Thursday. Hopefully this is the beginning of an effective process to improve student achievement for all students.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

AAPS spends a lot of time and money making it look like they are inclusive and serving everyone. But, the fact is, it's all about elite students from a certain class of parents. Not a dime will ever be taken from them. My experience in trying to get intervention for a real live student is that there are layers of administrators passing the buck and refusing to get involved.

David Jesse

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 1:02 p.m.

For those interested, you can get a copy of all the reports to the board, including the achievement one, on the board's Web site. Just scroll to the date of the meeting and click on the report you want.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 12:46 p.m.

Yes, I would love to see if AAPS has made any progress closing the achievement gap among white/Asians and minorities. One thing that might also be helpful is to link achievement to socioeconomic status. One things AA does well is provide opportunities for affluent, white students. (Just look at the demographic data for Community to see this in action.) The district has done less to improve student learning among disadvantaged students.


Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

I'm not sure what is meant by "advanced placement" in elementary and middle school, but, gee, we're 30% above the State average. I contend that is due more to our population of university professors and other cerebral types providing us with children that are excellent students. Jim Mulchay is on target; the term used to be "achievement Gap", and AA even had an administrator devoted exclusively to reducing the gap. It didn't happen and the position is gone. I doubt the achievement gap has been reduced any, if at all, in the past 20 years (AA Schools hasn't, to my knowledge, published any charts with this information). Maybe it's not really the priority that AA schools says it is?

Jim Mulchay

Fri, Apr 30, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

In the past (the 1990s, maybe later?) this was an annual issue, I think often called an "achievement gap". Is it possible to revisit any of that old information and compare it to the current data to see if we have progressed or regressed? It is possible that it is comparing apples to oranges but it seems like this has been an issue for a long time, and I can see where a parent might express concern. However, short of encouraging students and families to make use of existing programs, teacher visits, etc., any AAPS changes will have to be realistic in expense.