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Our Kids Deserve Better

A Teacher’s Comment

Yesterday, a teacher had a great comment to our post about whether the issues on this blog should be shared with everyone in the District.

Rather than risk this comment getting buried in the comments section, we thought we would highlight it in a post.


Dear Anonymous,

I am confused as to why, while I have been contacted personally twice by this advocacy group, once at my home address and now at my work email, both of which can be found on public record, I cannot find any information about the people who are leading this movement, not one single group member’s name has appeared on any communication, post card, email or website. I teach my students and my own children to identify and examine the source of any information in order to make an informed and intelligent judgment about the content, and would never condone their use of material from an unidentified source, and yet you are asking an entire community to do exactly that.

As an educator, one that you claim to support, I also recognize the importance of working through the process of change; it is my stock and trade. When students come to me at the beginning of a school year, it is my job, my responsibility and my privilege to assess their strengths and areas for growth, guide them through a process of modeling and instruction, and work beside them with constructive criticism, encouragement and support. We tackle each area of growth individually, building upon each step to reach larger and larger goals. At the end of the year we are able to celebrate together the growth and development in that student. The only part of this process I see reflected in your work is criticism. If I were to follow the model of change and growth that your public statements suggest, I would assess the student, present a long list of all that I feel is wrong and tell them to go and change. Admittedly I would work far less hours than I do now (yes, I am still in my classroom working at 5:00pm on a Friday afternoon.) I would save myself the time of trying to find effective, flexible and perhaps even creative solutions to support student growth. However, I would certainly end up being a highly ineffective teacher, one that nobody your committee or any other would want as a teacher for their own child.

So. The advocacy model that EGRPS.info is following to affect change in the field of education goes against everything I’ve learned about the best way to educate. Instead it follows the sort of political rhetoric that I and many people I know have come to tune out. If you want to be heard you should be open; you should be ready to be part of the solution.

Respectfully submitted,
Bridget Rieth
Teacher, East Grand Rapids Public Schools


Dear Ms. Rieth

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad you took the time to write a comment, and I’m glad you offer a teacher’s perspective. You mention a lot of good points. I’ll try to respond to all of them.

Anonymity—Purpose

We understand the desire to know which parents contribute to this blog and are associated with it. There are reasons those involved desire to remain anonymous. First and foremost is the concern for their children. It’s very difficult to publicly raise awareness and offer criticism of special ed issues and then try to negotiate services or eligibility with those same people who control whether and to what extent your child receives services. We go into much detail regarding this on the “About” page of this blog. These parents have consistently tried to be part of the solution, to no avail. They have exhausted the normal channels of advocacy. They have met with staff, the administration, and members of the board, often over the course of years. They are told time and time again that nothing is wrong. As rational people, they look around at other districts and compare their experience with that of parents in other districts. When they find their personal experiences very different from those in other districts, they begin to look for reasons for those differences. We believe the data from the State provides a substantial level of explanation for parents’ unique experiences in East. Unfortunately, this blog is one of the only ways these parents can safely give voice to their concerns without putting their child’s best interests at risk. For these reasons and others explained on the “About” page, we hope you can understand our desire to remain anonymous.

Anonymity—Consider the Source

“I teach my students and my own children to identify and examine the source of any information in order to make an informed and intelligent judgment about the content, and would never condone their use of material from an unidentified source, and yet you are asking an entire community to do exactly that”

I would agree we need to look to credible sources.

The source of the information, the data, which is what nearly all of the posts on this blog are about, comes from the State of Michigan and is comprised of what East Grand Rapids Public Schools and other districts around the state report to the State. As such, the data and stats do not come from unidentified sources. We take significant time to research the data and present it accurately. We also ensure we cite the specific sources used, providing links to the information from the State, so readers can verify the information. In fact, we encourage them to verify the information. We are not asking the community to respond to conjecture. We are asking that people make informed, intelligent judgments about data, and the source of that data is the State.

This blog is not the source of the information; it is the vehicle for it. We are simply the ones presenting the data. The important matters are the data. Would the State’s data change based on who we are? What streets we live on? Our professions? Our incomes? Whether our kids are geeks or jocks? Our religions? No, this would not change the data. It would, however, provide opportunity to focus on the people delivering the data, rather than focusing on the data itself. It would open the door to all sorts of ad hominem arguments, rather than wresting with the data and what it means.

Change and Criticism

These parents have consistently tried to be part of the solution, often for years, to no avail. When they try to work with the administration to create change they are often greeted with indifference, sometimes hostility. If the environment were appropriate, I think there would be a large number of parents eager to engage with the administration in creating positive change. However that environment doesn’t exist presently.

The purpose of the blog is to raise awareness of what’s happening in our district concerning special education and academic performance compared to other districts and the State as a whole. All of the data on the blog comes from publicly available, verifiable sources, from various reports and websites run by the State of Michigan. Our sole motivation is to improve the District for the benefit of the kids, the parents, and the teachers in the District.

It’s important that people know how our district compares to others. And, yes, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable. Are we critical? Yes. And I think we should be. We need to take a hard look at the data and be honest about what it tells us.

There is an incredible amount of things that are outstanding about this district; but we have to be honest enough with ourselves to know that not everything is, and that there are some specific, significant problems that need to be addressed.

There’s a tendency in East to say everything’s great, and we don’t have any problems. Lots of people seem to believe that. So, before we talk about solutions, people—parents, teachers, special ed staff, and members of the administration and board—need to become aware there even is a problem that requires a solution. That’s part of the mission of this Blog.

The solutions will ultimately come from (and need to come from) a variety of stakeholders. However, where possible, we have indeed offered some direct and easy solutions, such as specific changes the District’s eligibility policy on Specific Learning Disabilities. For broader solutions, however, there will need to be substantial investigation into why special education has been cut 45% to the lowest levels in the state; why, for instance, out of 246 seventh-graders last year, there were only 5 receiving special education services; and the extent to which such practices contribute to the wide achievement gaps that earned the district Focus School designations. These things are happening even when we know that early intervention yields the best long-term outcomes. The solutions aren’t simple ones; and for the solutions to be effective, we need to better understand the current situation and how we got here.

I don’t think we can simply toss seemingly easy solutions out there without further study. To do so would be merely guessing at what might work. Also, more people need to be earnestly involved in the solution, including members of the administration, members of the Board, special ed staff, teachers, and parents. We need to have open, honest dialogue and a true desire to change. To date, the administration has said nothing is wrong. Based on the data and our related personal experiences, we think otherwise. So, we’re trying to raise awareness of the data and the issues. And we’re more than ready and willing to be part of the solution when others honestly recognize there is a problem and a need to change it.

Regarding Teachers

I’m really glad that you, as a teacher, offered your opinions; and I appreciate the thoughtful way in which you did it.

I rarely hear anything negative about teachers at East. Instead, parents regularly witness the skills, quality, willingness, and dedication of the teachers at East. No one I know sees teachers as the problem here. To the contrary, most parents I know have respect, empathy, and sometimes even surprise when we witness everything you do for our kids. If anything, we want you to get more help to make the great job you do easier and more effective. When classroom supports are reduced, and when kids who need extra help don’t receive the ancillary services they need, it makes teachers jobs even harder. This hurt not only those with special needs, but also the general ed students and the gifted and talented students.

Thank you for what you do; and thanks again for being willing to talk.

2 Comments

  1. I believe Ms. Rieth is uninformed about how often parents do approach the administration & are brushed off. Admin strategy is to get parent in meeting & hope the problem goes away.

    Bridget does not appear to understand the potential business & personal relationships that can/will be hurt by speaking out about our district. I know many families who believe their children have had negative actions taken by the principals at the Middle School & High School because of their parents actions—sad but true!!

    I believe the teachers do a terrific job at EGRPS but the results show our district had gone backwards in every possible way. This blog communicates many of the problems that are impacting our district & our administration has continuously attempted to sweep these problems under the rug.

    You can’t fix a problem until you know it exists. Our administration is aware of the problems yet has chosen to ignore the issue & control the message. Glad to see they are feeling a little backlash.

    If they are the quality of administrators that EGRPS deserves they will fix the problems or we should be looking to replace them. At the income level these administrators receive from our district we should have no shortage of quality administrators lined up to replace them

    • Neither Ms. Rieth (nor the school leaders) dispute the facts that are shared on this site but instead wants to take the approach of shoot the messenger.

      Her approach appears consistant with the administration, that is, we will listen to only those who support us. Perhaps this approach is how we have found ourselves with declining test scores, lack of funding in special ed etc.

      In the real world you don’t keep a job or receive pay increases with subpar performance. I suggest that until our school test scores improve to the same standards as previous classes that our school administration receive no pay raises. If the performance does not improve within a reasonable amount of time we should look to make changes—starting with our superintendent & staff.

      Each six weeks our students receive grades –based on performance. How can we expect to hold our students to high standards when our administrators are not held accountable?

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