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Letter to my elected officials March 24, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Politics, Society.
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To my Elected-Officials,
I am a resident of Milford, MI. I moved to Michigan in 2001 having grown up in Pennsylvania and living for a while in Virgina. I truly love living in Michigan for all the natural resources. But now that I have two young children, I am more concerned about protecting the educational and economic environment of our state.

I am gravely concerned that the actions being taken to reconcile the budgetary issues are going to cause more problems than fix. I completely agree that in order to get out from under the problems we face requires a shared sacrifice. But what is being proposed is not equal or fair sharing. The need to draw new businesses and industries seems to be taking a precedence over helping the people of Michigan who elected you to office. But reducing funding to schools, we are destroying the future opportunities of all children in the state. By reducing taxes to businesses we are giving back more profits to people who are already successful. Let me be very clear, tax give backs DO NOT CREATE JOBS. They only create more profits. Sure, the business owners have the OPTION to hire more people. But why would they hire more if their consumers can not afford their products or services? Or who are they selling to if the people who live here have to move to find new jobs that pay enough for them to afford these products? Or who are they going to hire if the people are not educated enough to fill their roles?

The first priority of the state needs to be to educate it’s children, not cater to businesses. Please consider this message as you approach the budget deadlines in the coming months. I hope that the great state of Michigan can recover from this low place to become great again. I am afraid I am part of one family that might have to move out of state to find work and find educational opportunities for my children. I really hope it does not come to that.

Thank you for your service and time.

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Education in the 21st Century March 10, 2011

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I want to be this inspired, inspirational and simply brilliant!

You can find this FREE effort everywhere. Start with the website, but there also iOS and Android apps. This is crazy brilliant.

Boys These Days…. January 17, 2011

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Society has always been conscience of differences between boys and girls. I think we just don’t know the right way to deal with it… what is fair? What makes sense and most importantly, what will help our kids all grow to be the most they can be?

This TED talk really resonated with me, of course. I think we have gotten to the point that differences between boys and girls can no longer be ignored or attempted to assimilate them in each direction. All kids are different, but there are differences that can be grouped and this is an obvious one. We need to acknowledge it and deal with it. Any change causes stress, but the stress of not making these adjustments will be devastating.

Movie Review: Waiting for Superman January 7, 2011

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I saw this one a couple of months ago, but it was powerful and something I think every parent and educator should be watching. Here is the Netflix synopsis, followed by my thoughts. It is going to get long because it is an important topic and I thought the different responses from two different perspectives are important and valid.

Dynamic documentarian Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) weaves together the stories of students, families, educators and reformers to shed light on the failing public school system and its consequences on the future of the United States. In this Sundance Audience Award winner for Best Documentary, Guggenheim deftly examines the options to improve public education and provide America’s teachers and students with the help they need.

This topic is controversial right now. There is lots of talk about how the American educational system is falling behind the rest of the world. I think our democracy is maturing and showing its age. We have a variety of problems and no vision and way to fix them. The Educational System is broken in many ways and we are stuck in a rut. I think this documentary reveals some honest truths. Many people have their heads in the sand and until everyone recognizes that we are not rising to the occasion, we can not move forward.

I purchased Geoffery Canada’s book “Whatever It Takes”. I hope to have a review of that story in the next month or so. Please let me know if you read it.

Working for an educational organization I get an interesting insight into the topic. Here is the response from our Communications Dept:

Waiting for Superman talking points
Waiting for Superman tells a moving story about injustice in public education—a story that those in the education community have been telling for decades. But we must remember that this film is ultimately just entertainment. It lacks a policy analysis based in fact and research.
• While great charter schools do exist, not every school can be a charter, and not all charter schools outperform traditional public schools. Only one in five charter schools outperform traditional public schools; two in five charter schools perform worse than traditional public schools.
• While there are struggling public schools, there are also successful public schools across the country that are helping children from all backgrounds achieve success in them, unheralded teachers, administrators and school board members are doing extraordinary things every day. Unfortunately this film doesn’t feature those schools or educators. Given that the vast majority of American students attend traditional public schools, change in a single classroom, school or even district is not enough. We need replicable, scalable, effective ways to provide all children the education that they need. No solution is as scalable, accessible or accountable as a great neighborhood school.
• Detroit’s Carstens Elementary School, where nearly 100% of students are African-American and over 90% receive free or reduced-price lunch, is a beacon of light for its surrounding community. Back in 1997, “student achievement was zero,” but today students thrive. 100% of 3rd and 4th graders met state standards in math in 2010. They also outperformed the state as a whole in reading. And in addition, students here are good citizens: Despite being disadvantaged themselves, they know the importance of donating to relief efforts in Haiti or to a canned food fundraiser. The staff work hard to meet all the needs of students, and they pride themselves on their shared leadership. (Learn more at http://www.learningfirst.org/motor-city-miracle)
• While this film focuses only on the challenges of urban schools, we must not forget that there are significant challenges in educating rural and suburban students as well. In addition, there are challenges in working with certain student groups who were completely ignored in this file, such as high needs populations or students with disabilities. Yet as in urban areas, there are great schools overcoming those challenges every day.
• While it is important to examine the challenges that exist in public education, which this film does, we must not merely criticize the system. Rather we must use them to begin a dialogue about how to ensure that every student succeeds.
• We commend the film’s call to action on behalf of public schools, opening an important conversation, and beginning a dialogue about the changes that need to take place, including but not limited to community involvement.
• Public schools are charged with offering ALL students an opportunity for education. Not everyone can win a lottery or meet the admission and financial criteria of a private or parochial school, but public schools provide all students an opportunity for success.
• The message that “charters are good” and “teachers unions are bad” oversimplifies complicated issues and threatens to thwart thoughtful discussions about education reform. This creates an “us versus them” mentality and promotes division rather than collaboration.
o While unions can become more accountable and transparent, they have historically played leading roles in improving public education.
o Most nations with strong public education systems have strong teachers unions.
• Members of the education community are at the forefront of developing and implementing ways to improve teacher quality. No one wants teachers in the classrooms who don’t belong there. We need to deal with the reality that teachers need tools, resources and support to do their jobs well.
• School boards recognize that it takes leadership that shifts expectations to higher levels. It takes dramatic changes in instruction to produce new results. It takes new forms of professional development to help teachers develop skills to reach struggling learners. It takes assessment systems that help us diagnose and improve, rather than rank and penalize. It takes greater levels of parent and community engagement that creates a support system for every child.
• While money will not solve all problems, (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any school) most successful schools receive significant financial support from private sources.
• Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress. However we need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.

And then this, I thought was a very interested and different viewpoint from the school district superintendent where we live… just a few miles from my work.
Short Version:
· “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary on public education created by the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” has come to metro Detroit. http://www.waitingforsuperman.com/
· In Huron Valley Schools, we are not waiting for Superman.
· Our GRAD 100 program is focused on graduating 100% of our students with the skills necessary to be successful in the global work place.
· Although the film does not acknowledge the extra effort required to educate all students, especially at-risk students or students with disabilities, in Huron Valley we have initiated support systems to ensure every student is successful.
· Our hard work is paying off. District MEAP and MME scores exceed the state average and, with few exceptions, meet or exceed the Oakland County averages.
· Improving public education is a shared responsibility between parents, teachers, administrators, Board members and other elected officials, as well as community members to ensure every child succeeds.
· We will continue our “super” efforts to provide Huron Valley students the relevance, rigor and relationships necessary to develop into well-educated, successful adults. We greatly appreciate the super support of our parents and our community for joining with us as we stay focused on this critical mission.

TED: Changing the Education Paradigm December 29, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Politics, Society, Technology, Work.
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Education First… students first… after watching this video, be sure to go to Students First . Org and sign up.

Movie Review: Blind Side January 18, 2010

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Saw this in the theater, but… Netflix Synopsis: Oversized African American Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), the teen from across the tracks and a broken home, has nowhere to sleep at age 16. Taken in by an affluent Memphis couple, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) and Sean (Tim McGraw), Michael embarks on a remarkable rise to play for the NFL. Based on Michael Lewis’s bestseller, this inspirational sports tale also stars Kathy Bates as Michael’s persistent tutor, Miss Sue.

I am pretty sure I know why it has taken me some time to write this review… besides maybe that I just cranked out about 15 others in the last few weeks. But this was one of the best, most inspirational stories of the lot. Bullock was exceptional as usual… and seeing the pictures that played during the credits was awe-inspiring to see how well they cast her. I thought Tim McGraw was also better than expected. But the “child” actors really stole the show here. To think about how well they can present different characters and make it feel like you were there was the most enjoyable part.

The thing that is hard to admit about this movie is that age old … “what would you do in this situation?” question. This movie is moving and uplifting, but in the same light it opens our eyes to the problems of our society and weaknesses that we all have. I wish I could sit here and say, “heck yea, I would have opened our home and been able to be as strong and supportive as this family.” What happened in this story could play out over and over throughout our country and we would not even scratch the surface. And add to that the horrific happenings in Haiti going on at this moment and I think anyone that can read this on their own computer should/would feel inferior.

Without a doubt, this movie makes me want to be a better person in 2010 and beyond. To be a better husband, parent, son, sibling, friend, co-worker. Just better. I will strive to volunteer more of my time and energy into things that are important to me in the coming years. Thank you to all involved in the production of this movie for sharing a tremendous story of giving.

What is the USA becoming? December 7, 2007

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It has been over a year since my last entry. I seem to only make time to add something when I come across something truly thought provoking. Tonight, I finally watched the Micheal Moore movie “Sicko.” It is an amazing,eye-opening film. Whether you believe him or think it is propaganda, their are some obvious facts in the movie that can not be disputed. Get rid of the very specific detailed facts and think about the things are can not be questioned. The Health care industry is making millions of dollars and there are still millions of people that are refused coverage and care. If you don’t believe that your head is in the sand, or you are rich enough that you can ignore the facts. Every day people make decisions that we don’t know how things are going to turn out, but sometimes there just some obvious things happening that have to be fixed. Health care, education and the government all need to be fixed in the US.
 
It does make one consider moving to another country. I just left a well paying job at a large consulting firm for a decent paying job withing the local education system. I did it so I wouldn’t have to travel and my family could be closer to other family for support. Does it have it’s down sides? Sure. But there are just some basic needs that have to addressed before all else.
 
I think the biggest problem we have in the US is that the rich have too much power and influence. It is quite clear that greed runs this country, not what is best for its people. One of the subtle points that Moore makes in his film is how the community will come together to help people in need. But “we” are so fearful of paying higher taxes to take care of the people in need. We wouldn’t have to have fund raisers all the time if the government was doing its job and taking care of those in need.
 
Would people take advantage of the system? Sure. But would the system take care of that? Absolutely. I realized when I was first out of college, in a great job, living in a downtown apartment that if people need things they are going to take them. So when my apartment was broken into and $700 or $800 dollars worth of “stuff” was taken from me, I could afford to use insurance (and my regular paycheck) to buy them back. The person(s) that stole from me probably don’t have the luxury.
 
The middle class is disappearring and we are developing such a large lower class because the rich are getting richer and greedier and more powerful. Just ask Congress, if you work in a job that you approve your own salary increases, how hard it is to make yourselves rich? We need to find away to make our government accountable and honest. The jokes about not being able to trust a politician are not funny anymore.