Monday, November 16, 2009

The MEA is a problem, but your local school board is worse

Year after year, report after report, Michigan’s education system gets pounded.

Detroit News: Researchers from political left and right give Michigan schools mediocre grades (11/16/09)

Yet despite this sort of report card, people fail to hold school boards accountable for their failures.

This is a great quote from the article: Upon the report's release, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted the country's education system is as important an indicator of economic health as the "stock market, the unemployment rate, or the size of the GDP."

Our schools have smart kids, some great teachers, and wonderful buildings. The state devotes one third of its budget to K-12 education.

Yet school boards have allowed expenses to grow in an undisciplined and out-of-control way, they set no meaningful and/or measurable goals, and have no clear or inspiring vision for the future.

So, while the editorial is accurate when it points out that the MEA bears some responsibility, I think the lion’s share of blame rests squarely on the shoulders of your local school board.

Hold’em accountable!

==> Mike.


November 16, 2009

Editorial: Researchers from political left and right give Michigan schools mediocre grades

Michigan's education system is lagging in data collection and accountability, hiring and evaluating teachers and school management, says a new report co-sponsored by researchers on both the nation's left and right, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The "Laggards and Leaders" report, sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Center for American Progress think tanks, reflects the growing realization on both sides of the political aisle of how stagnant and ineffective the U.S. educational system has become.

Nationally the report's authors found less than two-thirds of American schools provide access to college-level coursework. Given schools' weak support for rigorous academic preparation, it's no wonder America is lagging behind other industrial countries for college-going and completion.

State finance systems are inefficient and undermine innovation, the researchers also found.

Other widespread problems include teacher evaluations that are not based on teacher effectiveness. Only four states require evidence of student learning to be a major factor in teacher evaluations.

"Without the ability to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom, school leaders cannot build a cohesive school culture, create an environment of accountability, and ensure that all students will learn," the report said.

In Michigan, the teachers unions surely have been one of the state's greatest obstacles to recent reforms. The Michigan Education Association has been lobbying fiercely against changes in school data collection and alternative certification pathways for teachers, among other ideas, stalling the state's application to win $600 million in competitive federal Race to the Top funding.

The state's higher education system also has been hurting Michigan's Race to the Top chances by resisting the development and use of a long-term data collection system to track Michigan children's growth and progress from pre-kindergarten through college.

The report's researchers noticed and gave Michigan a grade "D" for data collection. The state received "C" grades for school management; technology; staff hiring and firing; and removing ineffective teachers.

Seventy-five percent of Michigan principals studied said teacher unions or associations are a barrier to the removal of bad teachers, 14 points higher than the national average of 61 percent. Eighty percent of principals also reported tenure is a barrier to removing low-performing educators.

Overall Michigan received a mediocre grade. Just two areas, finance and its student pipeline to postsecondary learning, received a "B" grade.

Upon the report's release, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted the country's education system is as important an indicator of economic health as the "stock market, the unemployment rate, or the size of the GDP."

Michigan, failing in economic growth and job creation, must get its schools in order to educate its citizens out of the Great Recession and get them successfully working in the global economy.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Michigan Schools & MEA prefer tax hikes over $600 million in Federal Money.

Michigan parents are being bombarded with “call your legislator” messages from school boards and superintendents, asking them to pressure the state for more money.

Yet for all of the whining about funding, I haven’t seen a single message from any school asking that parents rally behind the federal "Race to the Top" initiative that would allow Michigan schools to potentially receive up to $600 million in federal funds.

I haven't seen any "Action Alerts" from the MIchigan Association of School Boards -- the MASB -- suggesting that school boards lobby legislators to advocate for this money.

Is it that schools need money, but only want it if there are no strings attached?

Here are a few recent articles on the issue:

Detroit News: Embracing promising reforms would leverage federal money to help students (11/4/09)

Detroit News: School sabotage (11/8/09)

Also note that this is not some new issue. I wrote about his back on August 2, 2009, in a blog entry found here.

Here’s an interesting test… next time you see a school board member from your district, ask them if they know ANYTHING about this legislation. My guess is that they can drone on about the need to raise taxes in Michigan, but can't talk with any depth about this Obama/Duncan "Race to the Top" initiative.

==> Mike.

I have posted the articles below, in case the links don't work.


State ignores $600M for schools

Embracing promising reforms would leverage federal money to help students


Michigan's school funding debate has been cast as a choice between two ideas: Budget cuts or tax hikes. Yet there is a $600 million alternative that has been ignored by key players in the debate.

Taxpayers should take note because the failure to explore this option suggests any tax increase for education will be wasted.

In the next few months, the U.S. Department of Education will dish out $4.35 billion in "Race to the Top" money to the states. Michigan would be more likely to receive $600 million of this money if it adopted four reforms: Expand the number of charter schools, create a stronger alternative teacher certification program, link student performance data to individual teachers and systematize reform procedures for failing schools.

There are good reasons to be skeptical of federal money, which often bureaucratizes the schools and advances a questionable agenda. But such concerns are typically overlooked by the governor and many in the Legislature, who desperately seek a school spending fix. In this case,
the proposed reforms show promise.

Consider charter schools. A growing body of evidence indicates that charter schools improve student achievement, and a recent study demonstrates that New York City charter schools have closed achievement gaps at an unprecedented rate.

But charter school expansion in Michigan is effectively blocked by a legislative cap on the number of charter schools that can be authorized by state universities, which approve most of the charter schools in Michigan. School employee unions traditionally have fought raising this cap, arguing that there is insufficient evidence that charter schools improve student improvement.

As for alternative teacher certification, Michigan law theoretically permits it. But every teacher is still forced to obtain a degree specifically in education -- no other specialty will do.

This approach discourages many talented individuals from becoming teachers. Yet research shows teacher quality is key to student performance, and Race to the Top's multiple certification routes would permit accomplished professionals to enter teaching without needing to obtain a new degree.

Michigan's student performance measurements, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program and the Michigan Merit Examination are reported school by school. But the results are not linked to teachers to allow teachers' successes to be more easily analyzed. Of course, such an analysis is complex -- many factors go into student achievement -- but the analysis is prohibitively difficult if the raw data is hard to obtain, a point that Race to the Top recognizes.

As for the fourth reform, the Legislature is advancing bills to more aggressively reconstitute perennially failing schools. The bill most likely to pass, however, would make it harder to privatize noninstructional services, robbing districts of a major cost-saving tool.

So why hasn't Michigan adopted these reforms, especially when the state could land an extra $600 million for schools?

The school employee unions view them as threats. They fear more charter schools because the schools are not typically unionized, and reconstituted schools may follow their example. Tracking individual teachers' progress could lead to performance pay and threaten the union's rigid compensation system.

Yet such concerns are primarily about union power, not better educational outcomes for kids.

If the governor and Legislature refuse to consider constructive change, taxpayers should reject any proposed tax hikes. There's no reason to feed more money into a system that refuses the most moderate reforms.

Michael Van Beek is the education policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland. E-mail comments to">

Additional Facts:

Among the policies states should adopt for "Race to the Top" grants:

Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments of student performance

Using state data to improve instruction

Differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance

Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools

Turning around struggling schools

Source: U.S. Department of Education


School sabotage

With Michigan schools facing an enormous funding gap, the Michigan Education Association is attempting to sabotage an effort that could bring in more than $600 million in federal education money.

State policymakers are working to put together one of the essential pieces of legislation required to win federal "Race to the Top" grant money. President Barack Obama is using the money to give states an incentive to enact long-overdue education reforms.

Next month state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan must turn in the application for the competition, now being watched by U.S. foundations for signals about which states are serious about education reform and merit even more funding.

But the prospects for Michigan aren't good. The MEA, the state's largest teacher union, is pressuring cowardly lawmakers to block the Race to the Top legislation, which includes provisions making it easier for nonteachers to secure classroom positions, if they have critical skills.

This seemingly innocuous change has stirred up intense political fighting, pitting teacher unions against Gov. Jennifer Granholm and others, such as the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, who want the Race to the Top funds for Michigan.

Teach for America -- the heralded non-profit that prepares and places highly talented educators in struggling schools -- says it must have an alternative certification pathway for its members to become full-time teachers in Michigan.

MEA leaders say they oppose alternative teacher certification because they believe teacher training is essential to properly instruct students.

"This is not an union issue," MEA spokesman Doug Pratt says. "This is a fundamental belief ... that teachers who go through a traditional teacher prep process are going to be better for students in the long run."

But urban districts are having trouble finding highly qualified math and science teachers, in no small part because of the failure of traditional teacher training programs in the state.

That was one of the driving forces behind a Friday announcement by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that it is investing $16.7 million to establish a new statewide fellowship program to provide 240 teachers for hard-to-staff schools.

If the MEA is allowed to sabotage Michigan's Race to the Top effort, it will mean the loss of about $600 million in federal money at a time when every classroom is facing an unprecedented budget cut. Ultimately, that will mean fewer jobs for teachers, hurting the union's own members.

It is absolutely essential that Michigan gets this money, and the education reforms that come with it.