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.
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.
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.
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.
Michigan’s early college program sends 11th graders to community colleges to take classes, but not necessarily college-level classes.
If you’re planning to be reincarnated as a poor black child, make sure not to be born in Michigan, advises Matthew Ladner, who’s graphed state scores in fourth-grade reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). If you value literacy, avoid Iowa, Maine and Washington D.C. too.
Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Florida are relative good choices. Low-income, black fourth-graders in Massachusetts read 2.5 grade levels ahead of similar students in Michigan, Ladner writes.
Massachusetts also is first in reading for low-income fourth-grade students of all races. In D.C. and Alaska, the average low-income fourth-grader reads nearly as poorly as a first grader in Massachusetts.
A fourth-grader with first-grade reading skills is doomed.
Nearly 30% of Michigan teachers report pressure to cheat on standardized exams, according to a survey by the Detroit Free Press. In addition, 34% of public school educators said administrators, parents or others pressure teachers to change grades.
At schools that don’t meet federal standards, the tension is higher: About 50% say pressure to change grades is an issue, and 46% say pressure to cheat on the tests is a problem.
Some cave in — about 8% say they changed grades within the last school year, and at least 8% admit to some form of cheating to improve a student’s standardized test score.
Another 17% report cheating by a colleague.
However, the most common cheating method — writing down vocabulary words to teach to next year’s classes — doesn’t seem like cheating to me. Does Michigan give exactly the same tests from year to year? That would be asking for trouble.
Two out of three teachers surveyed oppose using standardized tests to gauge student achievement and 95% oppose using standardized tests to make decisions about teacher salaries.
Michigan will base 25% of a teacher’s evaluation on students’ progress by 2013-14; that will rise to 50% in 2015-16.
In addition, the state education department plans to raise standards on the state exam, making it harder to score as proficient. “ACT scores show only 17% of Michigan students leave high school prepared for college,” notes the Free Press.
In a county with 11.7 percent unemployment, Lansing (Michigan) Community College is offering a money-back guarantee, reports Time Magazine. If you pass a six-week training course for a high-demand job and don’t get hired within a year, you’ll get your tuition back.
This offer applies to training for jobs as call-center specialists, pharmacy technicians, quality inspectors and computer machinists; pay rates range from $12.10 to $15.72 an hour. Training costs about $2,400.
The money-back guarantee is only open to a total of 61 students in Lansing’s pilot program. And the applicants are expected to be élite and competitive, says Ellen Jones, the college’s director of public affairs. (All must have a high school degree.) Those who are accepted can’t miss any class or assignments. They have to go through employability skill training and attend job fairs, and after they complete one of the six-week training courses, they must prove that they’re actively applying for jobs.
Russ Whitehurst, a Brookings fellow, tells Time that Lansing’s get-a-job-or-your-money-back offer is a first. “If every community college in America did something like that, they’d all be broke,” he says. “They’d be refunding all their tuition.”