I have been struggling with and thinking over the new education legislation working its way through the state legislature right now. These bills include expanding the EAA, the ability to create new schools and of course there is the Oxford Foundations Report. Dr. Harwood did an excellent job on explaining the legislation and the impact on Grosse Pointe on his latest blog http://gpschools.schoolwires.net/Page/11563.
I myself am trying to keep an open mind but am very skeptical that any of this legislation is about improving academic outcomes. I realize that something needs to be done, but there is nothing substantial in these bills, that address the core issues of failure, such as poverty or parental involvement. I have been reviewing the Civic Marshall Plan, and the benchmarks that they use to make data driven decisions. These benchmarks include but are not limited to, early childhood education, addressing chronic absenteeism, an early warning intervention system, high school credit recovery programs, mentoring programs and early reading programs. All of these interventions have been shown to improve academic performance, and should be considered best practices, yet funding is not tied to these types of programs. Funding will now be tied to performance and proficiency. My first question is, why not fund these interventions, so the performance and proficiency develop?
Some of my questions that surround how the new funding will be implemented or even distributed have been met with; we will work that out later. Richard McClellan has stated not everything is worked out yet. I cannot imagine implementing any type of funding policy in the GPPSS and then tell the community; oh we can work that out later. I expect to be able to answer what impact that policy will have on our academic programs and our students. I expect no less from our state legislature and neither should you. Any time our children's education is being legislated every “I” must be dotted and every “t” crossed before it is brought to a vote.
My next question goes to choice. Michael Van Beek has stated that choice has been available in Michigan for 18 years, over 85% of school districts participate in some form of choice, why expand? After 18 years of choice we still have over 138 failing schools. The research on Charters has shown that they are performing the same or worse as public schools, although there are some successful and good charters out there. In a recent survey, parents overwhelming supported strong community neighborhood schools. This is what they want, yet this is not what the new legislation is offering.
Last year the cap on charter and cyber schools was lifted, signed into law by Governor Snyder, I am not opposed to the idea of charter schools, but let us make sure there is a rigorous review process in place for any proposed new school. This is one of the bills working its way through the legislature’s lame duck session. Michigan Virtual High School had no 11th graders proficient in math on the MME. If this had been a public school, the administration and Mackinac Center would have held that school up as an example of all that is wrong with public education. Yet this option has been expanded, why?
Michigan has 277 charter schools, 75% are for profit, more for profits than any other state. Of the 138 failing schools 5 are charters. According to the Civic Marshall Plan, Michigan increased its drop out factories by 3 this year. The percentage of 4th graders reading proficiency decreased from 32% to 31%. The good news is math proficiency increased from 28% to 31%. After 18 years of choice why is Michigan not seeing an improvement in academic outcomes? Why continue down a path that clearly is not working?
The EAA is less than 3 months old, the chancellor that was appointed to oversee the 15 failing schools in this new district, came from Kansas, where there were no academic gains and the curriculum he instituted had to be abandoned and rewritten, it was that poor. Why does anyone think he is good for Michigan students? The new bill allows this authority to write his own curriculum. He does not report to the State Superintendent, he reports to the Governor. What is wrong with the State of Michigan’s curriculum that this new district won’t be held to the same standard? This is making my head spin.
The EAA will not be in charge of academics alone. They will also be in charge of every school building in the state. Every district will need to catalogue every district building on a yearly basis. If one of those buildings becomes empty, it must be maintained at the districts expense in case a charter school would like to use it. I am reading that this portion of the bill may change. Meanwhile my question is how does this improve academic outcomes and is this an entitlement program?
I have many, many more questions. But my last question for now is, if this is good sound legislation that is going to improve the education landscape in Michigan, why is nearly every superintendent in the state against it? Why is the Michigan PTA against this, the Michigan Association of School Administrators, The Michigan Association of School Boards? If this is the right thing to do why is the House and Senate rushing it through now? Shouldn’t it be debated and discussed with professional educators from both the private and public school sector? My big question after today is how come Grand Rapids got an exemption from the EAA bill? The author of the bill is their representative, if it’s good enough for the rest of the state why not Grand Rapids?
Please start asking questions of your legislators and the Senate and House Education Committee. Contact information can be found at Michigan.Gov