Michigan bill: Let students choose districts

Michigan will consider letting students choose their school district, reports the Detroit Free Press.  Per-pupil funding would follow students to their public schools of choice.

The proposed Michigan Public Education Finance Act would  provide for learning at “any time, any place, any way and at any pace,” said Richard McLellan, who developed the proposal for Gov. Rick Snyder.  Districts would not “own” students.

The bill would:

• Allow students to access online learning from across the state, with the cost paid by the state. Districts that provide online courses would receive public funding based on performance.

• Provide a framework for funding based on performance, once the proper assessment and testing mechanisms are in place.

• Give scholarships of $2,500 per semester, to a maximum of $10,000, to students who finish high school early.

• Encourage year-round schooling by having a 180-day school year spread over 12 months instead of nine, with a break of no more than two weeks.

Naturally, there’s lots of opposition. Don Wotruba, deputy director for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the state already is pursuing online learning and school choice. “But it’s monitored,” he said. “The answer is not to say, ‘Here’s the money. Make your own choices.’ ”

Tennessee is considering vouchers for low-income students, reports Ed Week.

Everyone’s ‘highly effective’ — but the students

In Michigan’s Hazel Park School District, every principal and teacher is “highly effective,” but  student achievement earns an F in 10 of 16 categories, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential. Four elementary schools and the high school earned D’s and F’s. The junior high got the top grade, a C in reading.

The district’s proficiency numbers nosedived when Michigan raised cut scores on state exams. The district is 60 percent white, 36 percent black; 59 percent of students qualify for a subsidized lunch.

A state law in 2011 ordered schools to rate teachers and administrators by using one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Statewide, 97 percent of teachers were rated in the top two categories.

 Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the district would hurt morale among truly highly effective teachers.

“It does a disservice to the teachers themselves if the district is not going to differentiate and define what good teaching is,” Van Beek said. “It doesn’t help anyone. Think how insulting it is for a good teacher in that district. They know they are putting in the extra time but are getting the exact same rating as one who may not be good at all. That’s not treating teachers as professionals.”

It’s possible for a highly effective teacher to be unable to raise students to proficiency, especially if they’re years behind at the start of the school year. But when everyone’s highly effective, except for the students, there may be a problem defining “highly effective.”

The education election

The status quo was a big winner, writes Rick Hess in his election wrap-up.

Those edu-advocates who’ve been telling themselves that an Obama win would mean a big infusion of dollars are going to be disappointed– the size of the deficit, the GOP majority in the House, the need to deal with Pell, the impending costs of the Affordable Care Act, and the rest mean that there won’t be big new dollars for education initiatives, no matter how often the President says nice things about edu-investment and workforce initiatives.

. . . The next few years may be something of a slog for folks at ED, as they have to do the tedious work of trying to monitor Race to the Top and waiver commitments, while figuring out how to be impactful when they don’t have much new money to spend . . .

It will be interesting to see who quits the Education Department, Hess writes.

If Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign was “a referendum on reform,”  as Fordham’s Mike Petrilli put it, reform lost. Bennett, a Republican who championed tougher teacher evaluations and school accountability, was upset by teacher Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bennett was a reform “stud,” writes Hess. Teachers’ union opposition wouldn’t have been enough to defeat Bennett in “deep red” Indiana. He also faced opposition from Tea Party conservatives over his support for Common Core State Standards, which they call “Obamacore.”

Intentionally or not, the Obama administration has politicized the Common Core and, in so doing, is making it dangerous for elected Republicans in red states to support it. And, trust me, a lot of GOP state school board members, education committee members, and state chiefs are aware of what happened to Bennett.

Ed Week looks at Arne Duncan’s five big challenges in the next term. “Duncan will have to walk a fine line between supporting states as they implement common standards and tests, and, in the words of Checker Finn, not “loving them to death.”

The Obama-Duncan education reforms are at risk, writes Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. No ChIld Left Behind waivers are letting traditionalists and suburban districts gut accountability. He hopes Obama and Duncan will work with congressional leaders on both sides to revise No Child and expand accountability. But he’s not holding his breath.

School choice lost in Florida, where voters rejected a measure that would have let parents use school vouchers at religious schools.

However, Georgia approved a special commission to authorize new charters.

After turning down charter schools three times, voters in Washington state narrowly passed a charter school measure which will let 40 charters open statewide in the next five years. A majority of parents or teachers could “trigger” the conversion of a traditional public school into a charter.

In Idaho, where Romney won in a landslide, voters repealed the “Students Come First” laws, agreeing with teachers’ unions. It was “a stunning rebuke” to Republican Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent Tom Luna, writes the Idaho Statesman.

— 57 percent opposed to restrictions on teachers unions in Prop 1.

— 58 percent voted no on Prop 2, which paid teacher bonuses based on student test scores and other measures.

— 67 percent rejected a mandate for laptops and online credits for every Idaho high school student.

In red-hot South Dakota, two-thirds of voters rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to “give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs,” reports KSFY-ABC.

Michigan voters rejected a union-sponsored measure protecting collective-bargaining rights.

Maryland voters approved in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

To my surprise, California voters approved a tax increase billed as the only way to keep schools open. A political contributions initiative aimed at unions failed.

In Arizona, a sales tax extension to fund schools went down to defeat.

States will vote on vouchers, charters, ed reform

Across the nation, voters will have a chance to change state education policies, notes the Hechinger Report.

A ballot initiative in Florida would amend the Constitution to allow religious schools to receive vouchers.

Georgia is voting on a special commission to authorize new charters.

Washington voters have rejected charter schools three times, but another charter measure is on the ballot, along with a “trigger” that would let a majority of parents, or teachers, vote to convert their traditional public school into a charter.

Idaho’s teachers union hopes voters will reject three recently passed education laws.

Proposition 1 aims to repeal a law mandating that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be tied to student growth – an increasingly common policy nationwide. The law also abolished teacher tenure, limited collective bargaining and eliminated incentives for early retirement. Proposition 2 would end Idaho’s new merit pay plan, which provides bonuses for teachers and administrators based on student growth on standardized tests. The law also allows for bonuses to be given to teachers who take hard-to-staff positions or leadership roles. And if a majority vote yes on Proposition 3, a law mandating that all students take two online classes before graduating high school will be repealed.

Voters in Maryland will decide on in-state tuition at public universities for undocumented immigrants.

Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign is “being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Fordham’s Mike Petrilli told AP. “If Tony Bennett can push this type of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.” Indiana now has the biggest voucher program in the country.

Also keep an eye on Michigan, where a union-sponsored measure would put collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. That would block education reforms, argues Michelle Rhee, who’s put Students First PAC money into the “no” campaign.

Merit mandate = $1 bonus for top teachers

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

Job performance must be “a significant factor in determining compensation,” according to state law. In Davison and Stephenson schools, that means a $1 bonus for  “highly effective” teachers. Gladstone pays a $3 bonus to “highly effective” teachers, $2 to those rated “effective” and an extra $1 to any teacher who “meets goals.”

Eighty percent of Michigan districts are ignoring the merit pay law, estimates the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  Teachers are paid based on years of experience and credits earned past a bachelor’s degree. There’s no monetary reward for teaching well.

. . .in the Troy School District in Oakland County, seven gym teachers made more money in 2011 than a biology teacher who was selected as a national teacher of the year.

A measure on the November ballot, Proposal 2, would end the merit pay mandate by letting government union contracts  overrule state laws.

A few districts have replaced the old salary scales with performance pay without spending more overall on salaries, says Michael Van Beek, education policy director at Mackinac.

99.4% of Michigan teachers are ‘effective’

Great news from Michigan: 99.4 percent of teachers in 10 of the state’s largest school districts are “effective,” according to an Education Trust-Midwest report. And 98 percent of principals responsible for teacher evaluations were “effective,” adds Michigan Capitol Confidential in News from Lake Wobegon.

Michigan city outsources all its schools

One of Michigan’s lowest performing — and highest spending — school districting is turning over its three schools with nearly 1,000 students to a for-profit charter company, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In Highland Park School District, adjacent to Detroit, “only 22 percent of third graders passed state reading exams last school year and just 10 percent passed math,”  reports the Journal. Only 10 percent of high school students were proficient in reading and none in math. Phoenix-based Leona Group will run all three schools.

Highland Park decided to privatize its schools after years of enrollment decline, poor fiscal stewardship and allegations that a board member stole more than $125,000 by submitting false invoices; the charges against the member are pending.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the district spent $16,508 per student. By comparison, Michigan districts on average spent $9,202 per pupil that year. In the process, Highland Park ran up an $11.3 million deficit over its $18.9 million school budget.

Joyce Parker, appointed emergency district manager by Gov. Rick Snyder, ruled out merging Highland Park with a nearby district. “The financial problems were immense and we had to look at nontraditional ways to get the district back on track,” said Parker.

Under Leona’s management, the schools will receive $7,110 per pupil in state funding and an undetermined amount of federal funds for low-income and special education students.

Under the state emergency law, all the district’s professional staff has been laid off.  Teachers can apply for jobs with Leona, but the company “has budgeted about $36,000 a year for Highland Park teachers on average . . . compared with almost $65,000 a year the teachers received in the 2010-11 school year, reports the Journal.

So Leona will have much less money per student, inexperienced teachers and students who are way, way behind academically. It doesn’t look promising.

 

ACLU: Students denied ‘right to learn to read’

Michigan and a small Detroit-area district are violating students’ “right to learn to read,”, charges an ACLU lawsuit. A 1993 state law says schools must provide “special assistance” to bring students to grade level if they’re not proficient in reading on fourth-grade and seventh-grade tests.In Highland Park, a three-school district,   three-quarters of students read below grade level — often many years below — but haven’t received extra help, the ACLU charged.

One student in the Highland Park district, a 14-year-old boy named Quentin, just finished seventh grade. Quentin, whose mother asked that his last name be withheld, reads at a first-grade level, according to an expert hired by the ACLU.

When asked to compose a letter to Snyder to describe his school, Quentin misspelled his own name, writing, “My name is Quemtin .?.?. and you can make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.”

The district, which is running an $11 million deficit, was taken over by the state earlier this year. In June, “officials announced plans to turn the district’s three schools, with fewer than 1,000 students, over to a charter operator, starting this fall,” reports the Detroit News. That’s a very rapid turnaround.

The Highland Park district is among the lowest performing in the state: In 2011, 10 percent of third-graders in the district were proficient in math, and 22 percent were proficient in reading.

 

Parents, grade thyself

Tennessee may ask parents to sign a school-involvement contract and grade their own effort, writes Lucas L. Johnson II in the Huffington Post. But parents who “fail” will suffer no consequences.

Under Tennessee’s contract legislation, parents in each school district are asked to sign a document agreeing to review homework and attend school functions or teacher conferences, among other things. Since it’s voluntary, there’s no penalty for failing to uphold the contract – but advocates say simply providing a roadmap for involvement is an important step.

Michigan has enacted a similar measure.

In the case of Tennessee’s report card proposal, a four-year pilot program will be set up involving two of Tennessee’s struggling schools. Parents of students in kindergarten through third grade will be given a blank report card at the same time as the students, and the parents will do a self-evaluation of their involvement in activities similar to those in the parental contract. Parents will give themselves a grade of excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory

Utah will ask parents to evaluate their involvement in an online survey.  Louisiana is considering legislation to grade parent participation.

 

High school or college?

Michigan’s early college program sends 11th graders to community colleges to take classes, but not necessarily college-level classes.