Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Peer work

The University of Michigan held their annual student show this past month, and the work of four students in particular kept catching my eye: Jason Andre, Andrew Frame, Tarlton Long, and Diana Tomatova.  The former two built models that were a fantastic supplement to their drawings.  The latter two in particular used their overall format as a succinct organizing method for their graphic materials, which were comprehensive, relevant, and informative.  The attention of all four to detail made reading about their projects a pleasure at any scale, from far away to close up.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Detroit Charity | Non-profit | Motor City Blight Busters | Detroit Blight Busters

Detroit Charity | Non-profit | Motor City Blight Busters | Detroit Blight Busters

In its remarkable 18 year history, Motor City Blight Busters in conjunction with its coalition of community partners can proudly claim 120,000 volunteers, who have contributed more than 658,000 volunteer hours.

About Blight Busters

The Motor City Blight Buster Volunteer Network Gets The Job Done

In its remarkable 18 year history, Motor City Blight Busters in conjunction with its coalition of community partners can proudly claim 120,000 volunteers, who have contributed more than 658,000 volunteer hours to paint 684 homes, board up and secure 379 abandoned buildings, renovate 176 houses and build 114 new ones to make suitable housing for 1,160 people.

In the process, they used 21,000 gallons of paint, 15,500 pounds of nails and 15,470 sheets of plywood.

They demolished 113 houses with sledgehammers and people power and undertook 3,850 neighborhood clean-ups, that resulted in 1,550 dumpsters of trash and 70,000 garbage bags.

Over the years, 3,900 neighborhood residents have participated in Angel’s Night patrols from the Motor City Blightbusters headquarters. City officials have expanded the program and last year it attracted more than 65,000 volunteers city-wide.

Blight Busters fed 350 people at its first annual Thanksgiving dinner, provided space for 300 students to learn building trades and culinary arts at ACCOSS Training Center in the Motor City Resource Center and offered free health screening to 500 citizens.

Always working to bridge the gap between groups, Motor City Blightbusters has hosted more than 500 suburban teens over the last two years who volunteered for inner city projects through the “Summer in the City” program, brought together 150 people in the JACOB (the Jewish and Chaldean Opportunity Builders) to assist in projects and helped 20
urban teen-age girls find fun and healthy activities in another Motor City Blight Busters program, Girlfriendz.

Motor City Blight Busters Founder, John J. George, has been awarded the “Points of Light” award by President Clinton. This award honors people who have done outstanding volunteer work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yale Law School to Counter Stress With a Dog - NYTimes.com

Yale Law School to Counter Stress With a Dog - NYTimes.com

Black’s Law Dictionary? Check.

Details about Monty, the Yale Law School therapy dog, have been kept quiet. The dog pictured is Mugsy, who had a stint as Yale's mascot, Handsome Dan, starting in 2005.

An Introduction to Legal Reasoning? Check.

Small, cute dog? Check.

Yale Law School, renowned for competitiveness and its Supreme Court justices, is embarking on a pilot program next week in which students can check out a “therapy dog” named Monty along with the library’s collection of more than one million books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Decentralization: Lessons From the Detroit Public Schools

Decentralization is a concept that elicits a broad range of reactions from Detroiters. It invokes enthusiasm and support in some and hostility and opposition in others. This article explores how decentralization is evolving in the Detroit Public Schools and why it continues to be controversial. In it, we review the past and examine the lessons we've learned.

The History
On January 1, 1971, the Michigan Legislature mandated that the Detroit Public Schools become decentralized. Detroit was divided into eight administrative areas, each with its own school board. The major power of each of these regional boards was the authority to hire and fire its regional superintendent.

This decentralization effort was designed to:

  • Increase citizen participation and autonomy in educational decision-making
  • Enhance school-level curriculum development
  • Stimulate interest and confidence in education
  • Restore faith in school boards
  • Improve communications
In 1973, New Detroit, Inc., a civic organization, issued an assessment of the Detroit Public Schools' decentralization effort. Concluding that there was a need for improvement, New Detroit offered the following recommendations:

  • Establish short- and long-range policies to reduce the "excessive cost" of operating regional boards and offices.
  • Distribute more power from the Detroit Board of Education to the regions and their communities (i.e., empowerment).
  • Design and implement a communications network to inform the public about school issues.
  • Make parent involvement a priority of both the Detroit Board of Education and the regional boards.
  • Enhance interpersonal relations through team building and professional development.
  • Enhance multicultural sensitivity and respect.
Despite efforts to implement these recommendations, on September 15, 1981, Detroiters voted to eliminate decentralization by more than a two-to-one margin. As a result, the state superintendent of schools eliminated all existing regional school boards and replaced them with an 11-member central board of education with the power to hire or fire area (formerly regional) superintendents.
Seven years after the governance of the school district was recentralized, then General Superintendent Arthur Jefferson introduced two new decentralization efforts: participatory management in education (PME) and school-based management. PME was a joint effort between the school system and the unions, nine of which signed an agreement to sponsor the project. PME's goals were to improve the quality of work life for employees and the quality of learning for students. The school-based management project was grounded on the assumptions that educational reform efforts must focus on student achievement and that these efforts are most effective and long-lasting when carried out by people who are affected by decisions and who feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the decision-making process.
While the Detroit Public Schools were carefully fine-tuning their two decentralization initiatives, other Detroiters were focusing their attention on a staggering $160 million deficit. In November 1988, a team of four new board members were elected who promised fiscal reform and continued expansion of decentralization/empowerment efforts. A blue-ribbon Citizens Education Committee to Enhance Public Education in Detroit endorsed the board's reform strategies in October 1989, saying:
In an empowered school, the staff will:

  • Have effective control over the allocation of the school's budget, personnel, and other resources
  • Have considerable discretion over curriculum, instruction, and other school activities
  • Be required to use their own creativity and talent to design their school's program in a way they believe will be effective
  • Be held accountable for the results of the school's program - the most important result being student learning
On June 5, 1990, Interim General Superintendent John W. Porter and the Detroit Board of Education received the endorsement of the administrators' and teachers' unions through a "Memorandum of Understanding: Empowerment and Schools of Choice." This memorandum outlined voting procedures for becoming an "Empowered School" and called for the establishment of districtwide and local school governance structures.
The following month, July 1990, the board approved a "Proposed Policy on Empowerment and Schools of Choice." In this document, empowerment and choice were restricted to schools that were rated as "excellent" or "satisfactory" by the interim general superintendent. This policy was a significant departure from the previous belief that empowerment and school-based management offered great potential for all schools. Instead, they were offered as rewards only for schools that were already successful.
The newly proposed policy also specified benefits and sanctions. Benefits were associated with school ratings. "Excellent" schools received more freedoms than did "satisfactory" schools. However, following three years of empowerment, schools that failed to meet established standards could be reorganized, designated for intensive support, or closed. For the first time, the element of punishment was introduced. One year later, as a result, only eight schools voted to participate in the empowerment initiative.
In full concert with the board, the new general superintendent, Deborah M. McGriff, moved to learn from Detroit's past and to open dialogue, mend fences, create harmony, and share the decentralization experiences she gained in New York City, Cambridge, and Milwaukee.
First, empowerment, diversity, and choice objectives were included in the district's strategic plan, Design for Excellence. Next, the board made all schools eligible for empowerment and advocated one accountability system for schools. Meetings were held with union members and a study by Arthur Andersen was initiated to consolidate and refine the board's empowerment policies. Finally, the superintendent appointed a liaison for empowerment.
Despite these efforts and the "Memorandum of Understanding," the Detroit Federation of Teachers' and the Organization of School Administrators and Supervisors' presidents issued an embargo on empowerment. This action virtually blocks all progress.
Before the end of the 1991-92 school year, nearly all Detroit Public Schools' unions went on record against this new definition of empowerment. One of these unions, the Organization of School Administrators and Supervisors, indicated in its newsletters that administrators and supervisors were deeply concerned about the lack of clarity regarding the:

  • Definition and merit of empowerment
  • Procedure for removing a school from empowerment status
  • Equity in handling requisitions and maintenance requests for all schools
  • Possibility of accountability linked to pay for performance
  • "Out-sourcing" or privatization of members' and colleagues' work
  • Transfers of staff into and out of empowered schools
  • Loss of jobs for union members
Moreover, despite more than 20 years of decentralization efforts, some parents still were skeptical of the benefits that this new version of decentralization might bring. At public and private meetings with the general superintendent, parents and community members objected to empowerment because they had not received enough information to make an informed decision. Community members also assumed that empowered schools were "elitist" and had access to more resources than traditional neighborhood schools.
Near the end of the school year, the Coalition of Unions of Detroit Public Schools, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, produced a document called "Educational Empowerment...Which Choice is Best for our Kids?...Flawed Empowerment." The Coalition claimed that, through the empowerment program:

  • Employees were treated more like the enemy than as partners
  • The board had abdicated its statutory responsibility to govern the schools and serve as the exclusive negotiator with unions
  • The per-pupil allocation ignored fixed-cost disparities and had the potential to result in violations of reduced revenue - especially designated state and federal funds
  • Current school employees would be displaced through out-sourcing
  • Schools that were not performing well would be closed rather than targeted for positive intervention strategies
As a result of this history and the desire to make decentralization work, the general superintendent created an Office of Empowerment, Diversity, and Choice, which is led by an interim assistant superintendent.
Unfortunately, the 1992-93 school year began with a four-week strike - from August 27 through September 28, 1992 - by the 10,500 members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. However, the resulting contract gave Empowered Schools the power to waive specific provisions of the contract if 75 percent of the teachers in a school agreed. The contract also reaffirmed the original "Memorandum of Understanding: Empowerment and Schools of Choice" and the district's objective to increase the number of empowered schools to 45.

Lessons Learned
Decentralization in Detroit has been a rocky road, cluttered with short-lived pilot projects. If the power and benefits of decentralization are to contribute to systemic change in the school district, many changes must occur. Advocates of decentralization must avoid:

  • Threats of punishment, legislation, and mandates as facilitators of decentralization by modeling the cooperation, coordination, and collaboration needed to develop the ownership of all key stakeholders
  • The perception of elitism by ensuring that all schools are able to participate on an equal basis and by providing an equitable distribution of human and financial resources for all change initiatives
  • Expecting changes in school governance and structure to transform schools by insisting that these changes be simultaneously combined with curriculum innovations, public school choice, other school improvement initiatives, rewards, incentives, and accountability
  • Delegating inappropriate authority to local schools by placing decision-making authority at the appropriate level of the organization
  • Promoting decentralization as a panacea and quick fix for the problems of urban education by realizing that there is no one best system and that change requires a three- to five-year time perspective
  • The expectation that decentralization will be readily accepted by adopting change management strategies that overcome resistance and promote ownership
  • Implementing local school decision-making without simultaneously transforming central and area offices into service units
Formulating these lessons is easier than generating the political will necessary to ensure that decentralization has the opportunity to contribute to the systemic transformation of the Detroit Public Schools. I believe that the community, parents, and educators of Detroit will accept and meet this challenge. We will become the first large urban school district to successfully educate all of its students.

_from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory's Policy Briefs
 _published 26 April 1995 by Deborah M. McGriff, Ph.D., General Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools. Deborah McGriff is the first female superintendent in the history of the Detroit Public Schools. She has been a participant observer in decentralization efforts since 1970. Before coming to Detroit, she was a teacher in New York City, the first female assistant superintendent in Cambridge, MA, and the first female deputy superintendent in Milwaukee, WI. Her entire career has been dedicated to the pursuit of excellence and equity in urban education.

I Am a Dancer. By Martha Graham

I am a Dancer

By Martha Graham

I am a dancer. I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God.

To practice means to perform, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. Even as I write, time has begun to make today yesterday – the past. The most brilliant scientific discoveries will in time change and perhaps grow obsolete, as new scientific manifestations emerge. But art is eternal, for it reveals the inner landscape, which is the soul of man.

Many times I hear the phrase “the dance of life.” It is an expression that touches me deeply, for the instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived — the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of life are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love. Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths. Then I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory, a tenacity of faith.

It takes about ten years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. First comes the study and practice of the craft which is the school where you are working in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored, and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. This might be called the law of the dancer’s life — the law which governs its outer aspects.

Then comes the cultivation of the being from which whatever you have to say comes. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it comes out of a great curiosity. The main thing, of course, always is the fact that there is only one of you in the world, just one, and if that is not fulfilled then something has been lost. Ambition is not enough; necessity is everything. It is through this that the legends of the soul’s journey are retold with all their tragedy and their bitterness and sweetness of living. It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up with the mere personality of the performer, and while the individual becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith — faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.

In a dancer, there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker, there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.

At times I fear walking that tightrope. I fear the venture into the unknown. But that is part of the act of creating and the act of performing. That is what a dancer does.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding Solutions

I am continually and pleasantly surprised by the vibrant support Detroiters give to artists.  I came across this organization and am fascinated by it; if I'd come across it earlier in the semester, I probably would have addressed it with an architectural proposal.

SOUP, via atWORKdetroit

Monday, March 14, 2011

Using a Formula to Rate Teachers - NYTimes.com

Using a Formula to Rate Teachers - NYTimes.com

Letters to the Editor following: Grading New York Teachers - When the Formulas Lie - NYTimes.com

President Obama: "It’s Not Enough to Leave No Child Behind. We Need to Help Every Child Get Ahead." | The White House

President Obama: "It’s Not Enough to Leave No Child Behind. We Need to Help Every Child Get Ahead." | The White House

"I want every child in this country to head back to school in the fall knowing that their education is America’s priority. Let’s seize this education moment. Let’s fix No Child Left Behind." The audience at Kenmore Middle School in Virginia gave loud applause when the President announced that mission this morning. It's no small task, but it will be work informed by about a decade of lessons from NCLB's successes and failures, as well as two years of lessons from the President's innovative approaches like Race to the Top that leverage small investments to incentivize big reforms from the bottom up. The President's priorities and key changes from No Child Left Behind are laid in the White House fact sheet put out this morning -- here's the topline:

  • A fair accountability system that shares responsibility for improvement and rewards excellence, and that is based on high standards and is informed by sophisticated assessments that measure individual student growth;
  • A flexible system that empowers principals and teachers, and supports reform and innovation at the state and local level;
  • And a system focused on the schools and the students most at risk -- that targets resources to persistently low-performing schools and ensures the most effective teachers serve students most in need.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mad Hot Ballroom

The ballroom dance program in New York City schools that inspired the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom: http://dancingclassrooms.com/