Is it time for an Ypsi Open School?

Terry Carpenter, a teacher with our favorite local pro-farming non-profit, Growing Hope, is considering the possibility of starting an open school in Ypsilanti. A few days ago, he posted the following on Facebook. With his approval, I’ve decided to post it here, to help get the word out. As of right now, no date has been set, but, given the positive feedback he’s received this far, I imagine a public meeting of some sort will be held in the near future. Stay tuned for details… Here’s his note:

Steeped in social justice literature and practice, we know in our marrow what is right. Our imaginations take flight at night, as we plan lessons that will truly teach. Sometimes, we take that leap of faith (in our students) and try those “crazy” place-based, and/or cooperative lessons. And the kids excel and we are amazed (although deep down we always believed). Then, the principal comes around and asks where you are in the standardized curriculum for the test. You ask for forgiveness, or lie, or creatively explain how you are teaching to the test, or try to argue that what you’re doing is right. You might go back to the textbook (if your school actually has them) and begin teaching the way you are supposed to. The kids do, as Deb Meier says, the thing they are able to do in traditional education . . . sabotage. Or, they may have done this during the really cool lesson. Either way, you find yourself frustrated. You think, “Don’t they know how important their education is?”

As a student of the Social Foundation of Education I continually have an internal battle. Is education the hope for tomorrow or a tool to perpetuate society’s ills? We listen to Joe tell of his travels and how multicultural democratic education heals war torn regions of the world. Then, we realize, reading Robbins, how schooling (for many) is just the first step towards the prison industrial complex. Rebecca twists our brains through Eco-Justice philosophy and shows us how social justice and ecology are connected and how Eco-Justice is happening at the ground level. We feel both overwhelmed and empowered.

In my brief (13 year) career in education I have visited schools that work and some that do not. The bulk of my career has been in what many might call Alternative Education. I have seen the victims of mainstream education. But, I have also seen the light go on for them. I have seen them hopeless and hopeful. At one point our small alternative high school was so successful that dropouts were recruiting dropouts and we were on the cusp of creating a dynamic multi-age hands-on garden and ecology center. Throughout the rest of the district, however, families were pulling their kids out and sending them elsewhere, causing me to be laid off, and our little school to be torn apart. While this saddens me, it also gives me hope in the possibilities for urban education.

Recently, I have been having discussions with some families in Ypsilanti. They want something different but, they want to stay in Ypsilanti. They are intrigued by Ann Arbor Open School and other schools using “Best Practices.” They want their children involved in: hands-on learning, democracy education, eco-justice, place-based and outdoor education. As one friend recently said “I want Henry and Juniper [our newborns] to grow up in school systems that honor individuality along with community.” It seems to me that Ypsilanti is the place to make it happen. It is (somewhat) economically and ethnically diverse. We have EMU, Ozone Drop-in, Growing Hope, Creative Change, High Scope and great people here. Yet, we have little educational alternatives, which is causing families to look elsewhere. In my work with Transition Town Ypsi, Growing Hope, and Bike Ypsi, I see a town ready to change and live sustainably. A just practice in education is an important step. With a new superintendent coming soon, I believe the time is now to make this happen.

As I know a number of Ypsi families who presently send their kids to charter schools like the Ann Arbor Learning Community, I have to imagine that there would be a market for something similar that’s closer to home. I know very little about how such things are done, but I have to think that there’s potential.

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  1. Posted April 6, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    I completed my student teaching in an art classroom at Ann Arbor Learning Community last year and can vouch for the Ypsilanti-heavy student population. What is often missing in charter schools is a true neighborhood and community connection, and an Ypsi Open school could provide that kind of educational anchor here for parents who are looking for progressive options and driving their kids 20 minutes away twice a day.

    There are plenty of parents here who recognize the value in a progressive, hands-on education that centers around partnering with the community to raise caring, innovative, and democratic citizens. I’m not familiar with Terry Carpenter, but I do feel that the right person for the job would come from a background steeped in Social Foundations.

    He definitely has the right idea.

  2. Posted April 7, 2009 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    Clearly there’s tons of work to be done, and it would take a large, dedicated team to pull it off, but, as you say, I think the numbers are there to make something work, if Ypsi families got behind the idea. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few months… Thanks for the comment.

  3. Posted April 7, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I teach in the Detroit Public Schools, so I hear ya on urban education. I teach middle school special ed kids (visually impaired). I love my kiddos. But I know that the traditional route (high school, college, career) is not feasible for some of them. I wish Detroit had some sort of alternative education available for them–and by “alternative”, I mean vo-tech or something. Something that embraces the fact that not everyone is going to prance off to college and become an engineer, judge or whatever.

    This would be a public school, right? As a public school teacher, I am not at all a fan of charters, for many reasons: the for-profit status of many; the way they take special ed kids, keep them until count day and then send them back to us; the crappy way they pay and treat their teachers and, as Marcy said above, the lack of community.

    This post is very serendipitous (sp?) b/c I was just emailing a friend of mine and ranting to him about how we’ve lost the neighborhood public school and what a shame that is. I remember ice cream socials and parks’n’rec and all sorts of non-school fun stuff at my neighborhood school growing up. (And hey! I walked to school in 10 feet of snow–no snow days for us!! :)). I don’t like how we’ve gotten away from the idea of a neighborhood and losing neighborhood schools is a huge part of that.

    I don’t know Terry, but it seems like he is on to something awesome!! :)

  4. ypsilistener
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I am all for improving education for our kids. I wonder if we need to start from scratch, or could we maybe all get more involved in improving what we already have instead of dismissing it as ineffective?

    Here’s an upcoming opportunity: Attend the 3 sessions of interviews for the next YPS superintendent. They are being held next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. Listen to the questions asked by our school board, and see whether they reflect your concerns. Listen to the responses by the candidates. Lastly, ask your own questions–there is an opportunity for the public to submit questions right then and there.

    For more information, follow the link on the website for “Superintendent Search.”

  5. Posted April 7, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Yes, teacher Patti! Great ideas too by Terry, and I actually have a lot to comment on, and I will later if I have time.

    Here’s the thing though, I say instead of trying to start a new school, we choose the much more sustainable and economical model of reforming our public schools.

    We cam do everything Terry is talking about in our public schools here in Ypsi. And a lot is already being done. This “best practices” you mentioned is already being done by a number of teachers and schools. And if we really want our kids growing up in a diverse and socially just environment and school system, public schools are again the answer.

    (I had Robbins as a prof, he was one of my all-time favs. I even gave him some blues records as a thank you for reaching out to me.)

    Anyway, I have more to say but gotta go…good post Mark.

  6. Rob
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Great topic. A thing about the state of our current local education, is just how the district is stuck in a rut of teaching courses that are aimed directly at passing the various tests geared toward whatever state mandated test the kids are supposed to pass– I mean, I saw the curriculum (at Chappelle) for one of my adoptive siblings, and I must say I was rather dismayed at how “lock-stepped” the lesson plans were in regard to just passing these damned tests– No opening of young minds there….

  7. Curt Waugh
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    What is “best practice” to one person won’t necessarily be a “best practice” to someone else. My daughter currently attend Estabrook. It seems to be a very nice place run by some wonderful individuals. I’ve never felt once that anybody has anything less than the best intentions for my daughter. They are an award-winning school (aka, they follow somebody’s “best practices”). But…

    I’m not a huge fan of mass drill and wrote lessons, which seems to be the bulk of her work. It feels like a “No Child Left Behind” factory. My child is a wonderfully inquisitive, independent thinker who thrives when left to her own devices (given some direction and help when needed obviously). I love my neighborhood. I love the other kids in her school. But I simply don’t have any desire for my child to learn how to fill out little circles on a scantron.

    We tried Ann Arbor Learning Center, but it’s not conveniently located and there is no sense of local community. The folks there were nice enough, but I want her to go to school in Ypsilanti. (And don’t get me started about the “principle of the week” problems they were having.)

    I want an extremely open environment for my kid. I want her mixed with kids of other ages. How in the heck did we get to this point where all the kids are segregated for each other? Wonderfully (compared to my youth), my child mixes with children of all needs, races, backgrounds and social status. But somehow the world draws the line at ages. It’s a huge learning opportunity that everybody is missing. My impression has been that an open environment will include more age-mixing. (You know, just like a family. What a concept.)

    I’m all for this. And I disagree that it can be done within the existing schools. There are too many entrenched interests there to let it happen. If you’ve been cranking out the same lesson plans for years, you’re hardly going to let some upstart come along and tell you how to teach. An installed based is an installed base whether it’s a software or a teaching platform.

    We’d be the first to sign up if this happened. Any way to extend it all the way through high school?

  8. ypsilistener
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s a sad fact that public schools need to “teach to the MEAP.” And the districts with the lowest scores have the most at stake, so it makes sense that there is an even stronger focus on it. Now, you may wonder whether teaching to the MEAP necessitates cookie-cutter instruction, thereby effectively crushing that intellectual curiosity we all dream of for our children. I would argue that it doesn’t, though it certainly lends itself to it.

    Why does a nice charter school like AALC do better on MEAP than Estabrook (also a very nice, Blue Ribbon school)? Is it because of their curriculum? Or could it have anything to do with their population? What is the socio-economic breakdown of the two schools? I have read many times that there is an extremely strong correlation between those test scores and family income.

    Several years ago, many of Ypsilanti’s elementary schools became magnet schools. There was one for multi-age, one for arts, one for math and science, one focusing on community. One by one, those specialties all went away. I think the biggest nail in the coffin was No Child Left Behind. When test scores are the only goal, you just can’t take chances on experimental curricula, nor do you have the luxury of time to nurture these programs to a level of success. On top of it, there was certainly an equity issue at play when it appeared that some schools in the district received more attention and funding than others. And, of course, it became increasingly important that each school was basically on the same educational page as the others, since a substantial number of our students move around from place to place (“transient population,” they always say).

    It would be great if there was a quick fix. But these problems are complex and interrelated. Starting a new school would most certainly draw those families who are able to make those choices, and leave behind those who are not, exacerbating the facto segregation we already have (“haves” vs. “have nots,” even more than racial). I just have to hope the idealists among us stick it out.

  9. John Gawlas
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I have to voice an affinity for CG’s statement that this be done in our own public schools. The whole process that results with parents truly concerned about education individually questing for the better environment has a very down side to it. That is the splintering of any effort toward community solution (thereby acquiescing to the state of education for everyone else’s kids).

  10. Posted April 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink


    A good teacher and school should strike the right balance of exploratory, choice based learning with differentiated instruction AND teaching to state mandated testing. What that does, with funding tied to results, is hold teachers accountable. There is still plenty of room for teacher creativity and adaptations.

    I think a lot of us hate the idea of “teaching kids to fill in scantron bubbles”, but it’s more than that. It’s teaching kids how to effectively write, to read on grade level, ect. Now, what’s promising about Obama’s take on education reform is the calling for new ways to measure achievement. Obama said we need to teach 21st century skills that maybe don’t show up on standardized tests, even something like entreprenuership (sp?). The problem is, how do you effectively measure that to hold teachers accountable? And how do you take into consideration that there are many more ways to display the learning of something than a multiple choice test?

    My feeling is that we should solve these issues while continuing to improve our public schools. I see charter schools or a concept school like the one proposed here as being too one sided, too arts based. We just need more balance, and more choice within classrooms.

    Also, how would a new school be funded? Would it be community co-op based? Or privately owned? Would it cost money to attend? What kind of teachers would it attract? Would special needs students be able to attend? What would be the school’s philosophy? With low enrollment and funding already in YPS, is it a good idea to have another school that would draw kids out of there and further decrease funding? How many kids would make up the school? Would a smaller charter school really be more representative of a democratic, diverse society?

    I’m not saying it couldn’t work, because there are some successful, urban charter schools here in SE Michigan, but there are a lot of things to consider. Like I said before, when it comes down to it, a more sustainable and economical solution is to push for changes in our public schools. And I believe changes are coming.

  11. Rob
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Ypsilistener– Good post! Had I not been following my usual short-form of commenting on blogs, I might have touched on some of the points that you made, I certainly didn’t mean to come off so harsh, or to knock the Ypsi school system in general– They have many more at risk kids to nurture/educate than say the Chelsea district, which I’m sure makes the job all the harder especially when ‘handicapped’ by such crap as “no child left behind”, etc….. I worry about the state of our children’s education, maybe more so than my fellow DINK couples out there….

  12. degutails
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I am an educator at an alternative high school in Ann Arbor, and I teach biology at the community college at night. I am clear on best practices, engaged learners, motivating students, and the massive fallout of NCLB.

    And my children (four of them) are all in the Ypsilanti Public Schools, and thriving. I wouldn’t switch them for the world. All of my children (blended family) have at least one parent with a PhD and one with a masters or law degree, so we’re all quite on top of what it takes to succeed in school and in life.

    If you want to change NCLB (and it should be gutted and set on fire) and you want to bring ideas, do it with your children in public school. It doesn’t work for every kid – no setting does, but the more we all work to make it better for everyone, the more everyone benefits. It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people bashing schools they don’t have their kid in with no more information than hearsay and assumption.

    My kids have learned so much more than what was on a test – they’ve learned social justice, where their food comes from, conflict resolution, ecology, business basics, and have visualized a clear path to adulthood laid by the teachers they’ve had. These teachers aren’t in it for the money or the prestige or the idealism – they just show up and make life better for the kids in their care. I couldn’t ask for more.

    But, hey, carry on pulling resources and families away from public schools while putting no time into making changes there that might bring people in.


  13. Paw
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Can’t we just send the kids to reeducation camps?

  14. Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    What Meredith said re: NCLB. It was basically set up to dismantle the public schools. In theory, schools that don’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress as defined by test scores) have so many years to improve and then if they don’t, they can get “chartered”.

    I have read sooo many articles about folks getting rich from these for-profit charter schools (I’m sorry; I am really not a fan of charters. Don’t get me started on homeschooling!). And by “folks”, I mean the fat cat investors, not the teachers. Charter school teachers are not unionized, aren’t in our pension system and on average make far less than public school teachers do. I know that unions have their problems, but I’d much rather be in one than not!!

    Please keep us updated about this issue, Mark! Thanks for posting it in the first place…and I’m glad to see the raves for YPS!

    PS: Rob, we are DINKs too and are very concerned about public education, even before I was a teacher :)

  15. Curt Waugh
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Just to clarify: When I say “I disagree that it can be done within the existing schools.” I mean that I believe it can be done in the district, but not in the actual schools. I support public education and want it to succeed. For all of us.

    One thing that open schools emphasize is individual curriculum. There is no reason why our district can’t offer a wholly different educational environment for certain students who select it (or need it). If you think West Middle and Ypsi High are just great, then go there. I have no desire to tear them down or replace them. Enjoy the wide class choices. Go be on the basketball team. Go join a club. Use the extensive facilities. Have a blast. But why shouldn’t my kids have access to a one-room school with all ages, for example (just throwing that out there as a brainstorm idea).

    I am certain, if there was some competition even within the district, that all boats would rise. Since we keep all the kids in the district, it’s not a student funding issue. It’s an opportunity for everybody to sharpen their minds and reach out to the kids. It’s an opportunity for the district to bring new ideas close to the vest and use them, rather than ignore them and turn them into external competition. There are tons of wonderful, somewhat radical ideas out there. We should embrace them. We should try them. The worst that could happen is that we’ll be right where we are now — the WORST.

    And riddle me this: At home, my kids (3 & 7) will spend anywhere from a couple minutes to several hours on the computer per day. There are wonderful web sites from Starfall, PBS and even Nickelodeon that have all sorts of fun things to do. I spent maybe two minutes showing them how to click and really haven’t had to do much at all. My 3-year-old taught herself how to type her name. My 7-year-old DRILLED reading and writing like you can’t believe. It was fun for her. Just give her the technology and let her go. (Yeah, to some degree it sounds like I’m abdicating my parental teaching responsibilities. I’m no father of the year. But this computer time is in addition to LOTS of reading and activities we do on our own. Computers can’t do it by themselves.)

    I’m also guessing that lots of you folks sit in front of a computer ALL DAY. I earn 100% of my income from my work on a PC. So do most people I know. In any field. That’s the modern world.

    So, why is the school, with the exception of maybe a little computer time every week, still teaching like it’s Athens in 2500 BC? Perhaps because they aren’t in the habit of embracing new ideas? You want to replace those ridiculous tests? How about the development of a lifetime portfolio of learning? It can be done. But it’s gonna take some major re-tooling of the lifetime educational process. It’s also going to make massive investments in technology. Why hasn’t this been done yet?

    This seems a little off-topic, but it occurs to me that any modern institution that has not embraced technology is seriously flawed. It’s evidence of the larger problem of their inability to change — for any reason. These kids have stuff at home (PC, Mac, iPod, DS, XBox, wireless) and the ability to use it that will blow your mind. (Hell, let THEM run the tech departments at the schools.) Then, they step back in time at schools. It’s 1860 all over again and Mr. Dewey just pulled out McGuffy’s Primer. It’s weird. It’s wrong. And yet, we hold this blind faith that some day our schools are all just going to wake up and do things differently without some sort of external stimulus. Why? Personally, I’d rather give ’em a kick in the ass with some new entity that scares the b’jeesus out of everybody because it’s so different. It’s the wake up call we can give ourselves. And open school is also that sort of wake-up call.

  16. ypsilistener
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    So many new things to comment on, so little time!

    I can say that, regarding technology, YPS is using our tax dollars (2007 bond–thank you!) to install new technology throughout the district. It’s not difficult to learn what they’re getting and why they’re getting it. It will help our kids catch up/keep up/get ahead.

  17. rodneyn
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    “We have EMU, Ozone Drop-in, Growing Hope, Creative Change, High Scope and great people here. Yet, we have little educational alternatives…”

    I have to object to that statement from up at the top. We have many educational alternatives, beyond the local Ypsilanti public school. However, don’t discard the Ypsi school system, either. It is large enough to offer variety, but the schools are small enough to where parents can get involved and have influence for good.

    Beyond YPSD, there are several excellent charter and parochial schools in the area for elementary and middle school age kids, such as the Huron Valley School on N. Prospect, and South Arbor Charter Academy on Carpenter Rd. (still in the 48197 zip code). For high school, the Washtenaw Technical Middle College at WCC and EMU’s Early College Alliance offer excellent alternatives to the public high school (the ECA@EMU program offering the added benefit of co-enrollment at Ypsi High for sports, clubs, band, and other extras).

    In addition, there’s always homeschooling. The Clonlara School in Ann Arbor offers help and a contact teacher to new homeschooling families that wish it (they have worked with homeschooling families around the world (they offer a campus school too, which is on the #6 bus route from Ypsi).

    Don’t discount the Ypsilanti area’s wealth of educational opportunities….

  18. Peri Stone-Palmquist
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Terry’s comments brought to mind the Community Schools model —

    With as many cool non-profits and engaged people we have in Ypsi — and with the number of students struggling economically (and academically), I think this could be a good fit and a way to maximize the resources needed to truly meet student’s needs in a holistic way. (And I think there are federal grants available to support this kind of model.)

    And I like the idea of pushing the school district to incorporate more “AA Open” type ideas into many of the existing schools. Do people have experience with the district’s Montessori program? The willingness to offer this seems like a step in the right direction.

    There are several progressive board members right now, so if community members could tell them what they wanted, I think they would listen.

  19. Posted April 7, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting idea, Mark. Though it admittedly sounds kind of cool on the surface, it also sounds like you’re advocating abandoning what we already have instead of working together to make it better. Moreover, by emphasizing what there may be a “market” for, you implicitly ignore that our public schools are not governed by market economics. They are obligated to take everyone. One thing that’s crystal clear about “alternative” schools is that they tend to have more affluent families, fewer kids with learning and physical disabilities, and less diversity.

    Instead of creating more alternatives, why not put all the effort you propose into making our public schools better than they already are? I agree with the above commenters that we have very progressive school board members. We are also hiring a new sup’t in the coming months, which is a great opportunity to move in a new direction. Perhaps more involvement in the process could lead the way to making gains along the lines you are proposing within the existing educational infrastructure we already have in place, right here within our community.

  20. James
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I sense an undercurrent of concern in your post, Mark, my assumption being that your daughter is about to enter the public school system and you are worried about what kind of education she is going to receive. While I think no public school system is ever going to provide the focus on the curricula mentioned, that an alternative school system might provide, I certainly think these kinds of ideas can and should be instilled in children at home. We shouldn’t give up on the public school system just yet.

    Most of the current problems with the Ypsilanti Public School system start at home, where too many parents in our school district have failed to establish an environment conducive to learning, either because of economic factors that require all of their attention, or they just don’t see the value in an education. Consequently, many of their children come to school with a negative attitude and are disruptive in the classroom.

    Suddenly the teacher is doing less teaching and more disciplining. Good teachers quickly become burned out and disillusioned by the whole process, exhausted by the daily battles they have to wage in order to keep their students in check. This problem is further compacted by large teacher to student ratios, another problem in Ypsi. And the real victims here? The students like your daughter, the ones who will come to school with inquisitive minds, the students who want to learn but who quickly become disillusioned and bored.

    What is the solution? Smaller classrooms, identifying those students at the top and the bottom, the kids who want to learn and those who are disruptive, and then separating them out into learning environments where they can receive the attention they deserve. All of this takes money of course, which the State of Michigan and the Ypsi Public School system lack and won’t be receiving much of anytime soon. What we can do is start at the top and focus on the next superintendent and hopefully get someone in that position who will refocus the school system’s priorities. Otherwise the only choice for a proper education will be some kind of alternative.

  21. rodneyn
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    The last thing our public schools need is more money thrown at them. That fact is amply demonstrated by the public charter academies which do a great job with a per-pupil funding rate that is significantly less than equivalent public schools.

    The challenge for public schools is to tip the spending balance back towards the classroom and away from non-academic and legacy spending. That means correcting past mistakes with regards to excessive benefits and retirement packages (as compared to the private sector). It also means consolidating (and even in some cases privatizing) non-academic functions like administration, HR, maintenance, transportation, etc.

  22. Posted April 8, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    James said:

    “What is the solution? Smaller classrooms, identifying those students at the top and the bottom, the kids who want to learn and those who are disruptive, and then separating them out into learning environments where they can receive the attention they deserve.”

    James, I agree that smaller class sizes are more effective, but they are unfortunately more expensive as it requires more teachers. But to simply label “kids who want to learn” and “those who are disruptive” and separate them in different classes is a violation of federal law. To place a “disruptive” student in a self-contained classroom requires a number of steps including numerous testing, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), and proof that a self-contained classroom is the best, least restrictive environment.

    A good teacher should make it so all kids want to learn, even if they would qualify for special education services. In fact, many people argue, and more schools are going towards this, the full inclusion of all EI (emotionally impaired) and CI (cognitively impaired) students in the regular education setting, with co-teaching taking place between a special education teacher and a regular education teacher.

    Inclusion for more students means a more representative, diverse, and democratic learning environment. What needs to be adjusted is the system of teaching in which this is applied.

  23. Kristin
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I would take what trusty getto said one more step. Instead of abandoning the existing schools, why not say that that they are our number one priority? One we put before all others?

    As much as freight houses and pedal-powered movies are entertaining and potentially positive for the community, what if we harnessed all of that energy for the schools? If we can get a large group of citizens to show up to protest snow removal charges, can we get them to show up for public forums that pertain to the district? I’m not negating the importance of a rich local culture, but the school situation is pretty serious. People who think it isn’t should heed the number of kids that are driving out of their neighborhoods to attend other schools, whether public or private.

    I’ve thought about this a little -but not as much as I will- as I have a young child that will eventually be going into the district. he district really does have poor test scores. Even if you don’t subscribe to the test models, it’s pretty eye-popping to compare Ypsi math and reading proficiency to other school districts near by.

    I can honestly say that I don’t know the first thing about what this engaged citizenry should be doing, and that is what keeps me from acting. Is there an example of a district somewhere else that improved dramatically due to constituent involvement? Could we follow that sort of model?

  24. ypsilistener
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink


    I appreciate your remarks about making education a higher priority than bicycle-powered movies.

    You want to know what you can do. You’ve already read my (and trusty getto’s) earlier suggestion about playing a role in the hiring of the next superintendent. When board members see the public showing interest, it has a tremendous impact. So go to those interviews, go to other board meetings, attend open houses or just call a school for a personal tour, bring your little one to one of the spring carnivals at an elementary school, attend a PTO meeting (they do welcome guests) and find out why other parents believe in their school. Watch; ask questions; listen, but don’t mistake hearsay for fact.

    You ask: “Is there an example of a district somewhere else that improved dramatically due to constituent involvement?” MEAP scores aside, I’d say that community involvement produced significant, positive changes right here in Ypsi, only 5-6 years ago (really, there are some cool things going on here). It’s a lot of hard work to make change happen; it’s even harder to keep it going. I still wonder, what is the secret to maintaining that kind of activist energy? New like-minded souls must step up to replace those “rebels” who’ve moved on, and to energize those who are still active.

    Will you be one of them?

  25. James
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    “Everybody will be super, which means no one will be.” That’s a quote by Syndrome, Mr. Incredible’s nemesis in the Incredibles (Yes I just tied this conversation to a Pixar cartoon). The movie of course simplifies the issues, but argues that there is a problem with an education system that sees every child as special and no child as special. Children who are gifted and who are troubled both need special attention. In a smaller, more intensive and focused environment all children will receive an education. I think this preferable to the current system, where gifted children stare out the window day dreaming, and troubled kids get sent to RMO.

    Anyone who thinks that the main problem is that there are not enough good teachers inspiring our children to learn has perhaps spent to much time studying another movie, Stand And Deliver, with Edward James Olmos’ star turn as the inner city teacher who motivates a group of listless children. Anyone who has ever spent any time in a troubled school knows which of these two films is the real fantasy.

  26. Posted April 9, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    As someone who is not up on current education theory (or any education theory, for that matter), what is an “open school”? How is it different from other schools? Why would it be better (at least for Ypsi)?

  27. Curt Waugh
    Posted April 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    This gentleman has some good thoughts on topics related to education (among others):

  28. Terry Carpenter
    Posted April 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I really want to go through and comment on everyone’s comments. But, I really do not have time right now. So, I try to keep this short…
    I must say that I am very excited to see this discussion on Mark’s blog. As mentioned, by others, there are several ways you can get involved in public education from going to board meetings to writing the president urging as one response said to burn NCLB (one also might encourage him to choose another Secretary of Education), or visit the public schools. I visit the public schools often and must say that Ypsilanti has some amazing teachers. I must also concur that WTMC and EMU ECA are good “alternatives” locally for some High School Students. But, as others mentioned, a community public school has a lot of benefits and I am unsure of alternatives for Middle School students. Furthermore, there are a variety of learning styles and while a good teacher can differentiate, sometimes different settings are the way to go. I am all for trying to support and improve the existing system but the fact still stands that Ypsi is losing kids to charters. I have also seen how different settings can make a world of difference in lives of some kids. At the Coalition of Essential School’s national conference I met kids in similar districts that are doing amazing work. As an “Alternative Educator” I have seen many local kids “turn around”. But, having been to the Michigan Alternative Education Organization conference three times and having been an alternative educator for years, I must disagree with Trusty Getto, “alternative” (outside of Ann Arbor) means “at-risk” and generally includes mainly those populations Trusty said were excluded. However, that is sometimes an issue at charters and/or magnets. It is important to be cognizant of things such as race and class in the formation of such schools. So, I am glad that that was mentioned.
    The short statement that Mark published on his blog is actually something I wrote for the SOFD Newsletter at EMU. It was part of an ongoing conversation I have been having with some people at SOFD and in Transition Towns Ypsi. So, I apologize if any of it is unclear. As a former (and hopefully future) Public School teacher , I am a strong proponent of unions and public schools. I hope that this change that we have been discussing will happen within the the Ypsi School District. It could happen as a wing or as a school…or perhaps an additional teacher who pulls out small groups to do hands-on learner-centered lessons. Ultimately, a full building community effort would be best. There are organizations such as the Coalition Essential Schools or that help make these things happen. Much of CES’s work is with city schools.

    Someone asked about “Open Schooling”…
    Open Schooling is a philosophy that is learner-centered and helps to facilitate student curiousity through diffentiated lessons that are usually cooperative and hands-on. The Ann Arbor Open School is a local public school with a huge waiting list. Democracy is practiced through out the school.
    Locally, Cheney Academy of Math and Science, a Willow Run public school, has been quite successful with “Best-Practices.” But, I heard through the grapevine that they may be shut down this year.
    And finally for information on NCLB you might check out the articles at
    Thanks for reading and caring about education. Hopefully, we can get a new superintendant open to innovative educational practice. I will post our meeting to discuss this here when a place and time are set.

  29. kristin
    Posted April 9, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Good tips, Ypsilistener. I’ll start with that superintendent thing.

  30. Posted April 9, 2009 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    here is the link to the superintendent interview schedule

  31. Michael K
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    My children attended Hi/Scope and after extensive research Ann Arbor Learning Community was chosen. We couldn’t be happier with it. It provides structure which I like yet the more granola/touchy feely things that my wife like including a strong focus on community/caring about others and green things. The drive to AALC is reasonable. Something like that shouldn’t even be a consideration when looking at your childs education….if you wll go shopping at Meijer just a bit more up the road is AALC. If there was a new school in Ypsi we would likely not consider it unless something significant happened at AALC to make us change our perception of it. And as far as “community” goes, if we did everything in our community (live, school, work, shop) we’d have pretty sheltered lives. Branch out and experience more. What could be more diverse than my child attending school with kids from Ypsi as well as Ann Arbor, Milan, Saline, etc. Maybe they raise their urban chickens differently elsewhere.

  32. Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Is Tom Dodd still alive and around? He used to run the Depot Town Rag and was the soul of Community High School for years. He’d be a great one for advice.

  33. Posted April 10, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Interesting ideas all around. Just a little perspective on someone whose child was in public school for 10 years, almost all of them in the Ypsilanti schools: one thing really lacking in YPSD are outlets for creative children. The only real alternatives were in band and choir. Art has just about disappeared in public schools. Phys Ed has disappeared. Recess has disappeared. My daughter was doing OK until middle school and then it was a slow slide downhill, missing assignments without any followup by teachers, until she was so far behind she was failing. This, from a really bright girl. We tried everything: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, got rid of TV (and never re-installed it), rewards for small steps, helping out with assignments–to no avail.

    Finally, we moved her to the Steiner High School for 11th & 12th grades. There she was in smaller classrooms where there was teacher accountability, and oodles and oodles of ART. They did mosaics, clay, silk painting, weaving, oils, charcoal, they illustrated their own textbooks, and choir was mandatory for all. Some children are absolutely fed by this kind of creativity, allowing them to develop the internal resources to do the academic learning that’s essential. She excelled there, got into college, and actually went directly on to get her Masters. (And she’s still a weaver.)

    So, those are some of the “alternatives” that I think are still missing in YPSD.

  34. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Rodneyn wrote, “The last thing our public schools need is more money thrown at them. That fact is amply demonstrated by the public charter academies which do a great job with a per-pupil funding rate that is significantly less than equivalent public schools.”


  35. rodneyn
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink


    I started to make a snarky reply that when I used the word “fact” in that context, I was referring exclusively to the type, quality, and character of “facts” as would be permitted to be taught in our public schools today….

    …but I thought better of myself and decided to fess up and acknowledge my poor use of language – I should’ve said, “That commonly understood judgment of reasonably objective observers is amply demonstrated by…..”

  36. Dirtgrain
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    That’s still an assumption, right? Or is it verifiable?

  37. Terry Carpenter
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Here is an excerpt from an article on that is sort of relevant to the discussion above. Although, I think we put too much emphasis on standardized test score (especially pre-high school). Do we want or have standardized learners?

    Did state overrate charter schools?
    April 14, 2009 02:40 AM

    The Michigan Department of Education is expected to change the way it reports charter school performance after the Free Press and others raised questions about how the state concluded charter schools were outperforming traditional public schools.

    The annual report from the MDE compares test scores in all charter schools to the average score of 20 districts — many low-performing — that are home to about 75% of the state’s charter schools. By that measure, charter schools do better.

    But a Free Press analysis shows that almost three out of five charter schools score worse on the MEAP than the average score of schools within the district where the charter school operates.

  38. Terry Carpenter
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    The first article (at the link below) makes some very good points. One being that the current version of ESEA (NCLB) seems to punish schools for not fixing societies problems. Studies have shown that non-school factors play a huge factor in test scores. Two significant ones are health care and screen time (kids who watch over 5 hours of tv a day generally do terrible on the tests).
    This brief article also gives suggestions on how the ESEA(NCLB) could be improved to be more equitable (and do what it is supposed to do).

  39. Tribia Raisign
    Posted February 20, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Is this more or less likely given the current cuts in the Ypsi school system?

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