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Educational Research – I don’t trust much of it. Here is why.

May 22, 2018


Recently, I had an opportunity to listen to a respected superintendent from Canada say something I have thought for a long time, “Much of the research in education is not replicable at scale.”  There are just too many variables to control when looking to replicate results across schools and communities that are vastly different from one another. When I hear about something that “works,” it often prompts me to dig deeper and try to assess similarities to our community of learners.  No program works equally well for every student – it is the creative work of skilled educators seeking to understand why and where an application or initiative fails or succeeds that is most valuable. Simply put, it is a process.

The other aspect of some educational research that is problematic is that the research often takes two correlated trends and presents it as one situation causing the other. The real explanation is usually much less exciting.  For example, consider the claim that students who take Advanced Placement courses in high school perform better in college. When looking at the research related to this topic, it is clear that students who take AP courses DO perform better in college.  However, taking AP courses in high school alone does not establish causality. Studies that merely find that students who are involved with the AP program in high school and subsequently perform better in college do not necessarily provide proof that the AP program caused the students to be successful in college. It is no surprise that the same motivated, hardworking, and academically advanced students who take AP classes in high school are still motivated, hardworking, successful students when they get to the university. So how can we know if it was the AP program that caused these students to do better in college?  To be clear, I am supportive of students taking a challenging course load aligned with their interests. If this means AP courses, great! However, many students that have not taken AP coursework in high school do very well in college, too.

Many of these research statistics that come from what is known as observational studies. In some cases, researchers have tried to use other factors like socioeconomic status to determine if they can see an impact.  This demographic approach is a good start to try to ascertain aspects of the student profile that could help inform us of issues related to student performance.

Moving educational research from correlation to causation would go a long way to eliminating hidden effects that prevent us from fully understanding the impact of our instructional decisions.  In the end, I feel that as educators – we have played a role in this push for “proof.” Learning and education is a human function. Trying to control it to the point of highly replicable results – while a noble goal – is just not realistic.  Focusing on the whole child and understanding each student’s unique needs is critical.

Most Likely to Succeed – June 13th

May 10, 2018

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

We will be taking part in Most Likely to Succeed’s worldwide campaign to re-imagine education.  The acclaimed film Most Likely to Succeed offers an inspiring look at what students and teachers are capable of – if we have the vision and courage to transform our schools.  Directed by acclaimed documentarian Greg Whiteley, the film has been an official selection of two dozen of the world’s top film festivals, including Sundance, Tribecca, and AFI DOCS.  It’s been featured at leading conferences on education, including ASU/GSV, SxSWedu, Harvard/Goldman Sachs, and NewSchools Venture Fund.  Audience members call it the most compelling film ever done on the topic of school.  In the past year, more than 2,300 communities have booked a screening of Most Likely to Succeed.

The screening will take place at the Saline District Library at 6:00pm on Wednesday, June 13th in the Brecon Room.  This will be the second screening in Saline in the past two months. The purpose of this event is to foster meaningful discussion among educators, administrators, parents, and students about how current obstacles can be overcome and step towards change can be taken on a local level.  This event is open to the public.  Please visit for more information about the film and movement.

For additional information, please contact Superintendent Scot Graden at 734.401.4001


Community Conversation – May 22nd

April 29, 2018

Community Conversation

With the school quickly coming to an end it’s a good time to host a “Community Conversation” meeting. Over the last nine years I have had the opportunity to host numerous “Community Conversation” events to learn more about what interested community members see as the strengths of Saline Area Schools, and what areas they felt we needed to focus attention on for improvement. Through these conversations and other opportunities, I have learned a great deal about how many of you see our district and it has helped guide me, along with the Board of Education, as we move forward.

There are a lot of issues we can discuss – district growth, social & emotional health, and many more… You bring the topics.  With that said, I would like talk about the issue of screen time as it relates to parenting & Saline Area Schools.  What role do we play as a school district?  What role should we play?

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In an effort to continue this dialogue, I will be making time available on Tuesday, May 22nd from 9:30am- 11:00am at Carrigan Cafe, 107 S. Ann Arbor Street. Please stop by, say hello and bring any thoughts about the district you feel I should know.

If you can’t make it, feel free to use “Let’s Talk” and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you,
Scot Graden

Partnerships can make a Difference

March 16, 2018

We often talk about the value of community partnerships and how they can be mutually beneficial. When we are describing them, it can seem very transactional. However, when you get a chance to dig into them or in the case below watch a video, you can see that they (like most great partnerships) are built relationships.

The video below shares the story of one of our community partnerships and the difference it is making on the lives of those involved.

SHS Today takes a look at the Learner Profile

March 9, 2018

The Saline High School Video Production students did an excellent review of our Learner Profile. Thank you to Mr. Bush and the students involved.

Saline Learner Profile from Nathan Bush_SHS Media Teacher on Vimeo.

Where is the rigor?

February 27, 2018

As many of you know, I talk a lot about the Saline Area Schools’ Compass.  I talk about the Student Attributes to students, staff, parents, community members and other educators. It is vital that the Saline community, along with the SAS teachers and students, understand what the Compass means and what it means to be challenged.  

One of the topics that comes up frequently – mostly from staff and parents – is the issue of “rigor.”  I am asked, “Where is the rigor?”  First, this inquiry highlights a general bias that skill development is not rigorous. There is a perception, a preconceived notion, that skill attainment is fundamentally easier or “less rigorous” than developing content knowledge.

I get it… I convinced myself that Listerine worked better than Scope at freshening my breath and killing germs because it tasted worse.  Harder is better – that is perception.  Alka-Seltzer had to work well because it was hard to swallow.  It’s normal to feel like that and to apply that same analogy to learning.

My response to the question of rigor tends to run along these lines: we need to think about difficulty as it relates to the end product and value of the task.   Looking the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (below), you can see the eight student attributes from the SAS Learner Profile/Compass embedded in top three levels – Analyze, Evaluate and Create.  If we focus on instilling the attributes, we are also focusing the most rigorous phases of demonstrating knowledge.

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It can’t happen in Saline…

February 17, 2018

It can’t happen in Saline. That is not a statement any of us can say or an assumption we can make.  That is not a statement any of us should think is accurate.  While we have not suffered a tragedy of the scale of what we all witnessed this week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – that doesn’t mean it can’t.  In fact, in my ten years as superintendent, there have been a handful of situations that I feel, if left undiscovered or unaddressed, could have led to a perilous situation for our students and staff.  

The key was – someone came forward. Someone – a student, a staff member, a parent, a community member – came forward and said something to the administration.  Our administrative team knows that every situation brought to our attention warrants investigation.  Many times the threat is not direct, and we can get help and support for the person involved.  Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding or a comment made in jest or out of a flash of frustration.  But, sometimes it’s more.  Here in Saline, we have had situations where it was more. And we were able to address it.

Throughout the Saline Area Schools, staff and students prepare for emergencies of any kind. Fire drills, weather emergencies, evacuations, and intruder drills are part of the school safety plan. The state requires compliance with a certain number of practice drills each year and those completed drills are posted on each school’s website. The District exceeds the number of drills and required training each year. Nothing is more important than the safety of every child and staff member. Still, it is unlikely that Saline – or any other school – is prepared for an event like a mass school shooting.

I don’t have all the answers for how we, as a society, can address this complex and troubling trend of mass shootings.  However, I do know what we can do in Saline – we can talk to each other about concerns and share it with the administration.

There is youth in every community. We know who those students are, and for the most part, we get them the help that they need. Sometimes, we miss those subtle signs that tell us a student is in crisis. Someone knows. Be that awareness through negative social media posts, a drop in grades, a sense of isolating oneself from peers, an uptick in substance use, we can almost predict the student that is troubled to the point of breaking. Please, speak up. Tell and administrator, teacher, counselor, or social worker. If anonymity is necessary, use the “OK2SAY” app and report what you know. I want to remind everyone in the Saline community that it is “Ok 2 Say” something when you see it, hear it or feel it.


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