This Week & Next (Jan 31, 2014)

The Nerd vs. Chicken Little!! Kicking off this week it was great to see Governor Snyder address the orchestrated mis-information campaign regarding K-12 funding in the state. Here’s the AP article that made the rounds.  You would think something as important as the state’s investment in K-12 education wouldn’t be subject to so many multiple interpretations. ICYMI: Check out our recent “Campaign Year Fuzzy Math” post in the MichEd Blog post for bit more information. The truth is that overall spending by the state for K-12 education has been on the increase under Governor Snyder. It’s true the per-pupil foundation grant isn’t been growing as strongly since the bulk of the increases in the School Aid Fund have been used to shore up the state’s teacher retirement program – made necessary when districts were recently capped at putting 25% of their payroll into MPSERS.

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Campaign Year Fuzzy Math

You really don’t need to look at the calendar to know it’s a campaign year — now that accusations, counter accusations and tons of “fuzzy math” are being tossed around in Lansing and across the state.

The Democratic Governors Association started running ads this week featuring Mark Schauer which are critical of the job being performed by Governor Rick Snyder (Republican), with a special reference to “cuts in education funding.” At the same time, today’s guest editorial column from Steve Cook, MEA President, trots out the standard “Snyder’s drastic cuts to public education” line. It’s clear what theme the MEA/Democratic Party will be using this year.

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This Week & Next (Jan 24, 2014)

On Wednesday, Jan 22 the House Education Committee took testimony on HB 5223 (O’Brien) and HB 53224 (Zemke), bills to create a Teacher & administrator evaluation process. We expect weeks of testimony on these bills, and we believe the Committee should be concerned these bills don’t reverse the hard-fought teacher tenure reforms passed in 2011 and that it doesn’t handcuff the state into a particular student testing assessment.

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Thoughts on MLK and Geoffrey Canada

MLK EducationToday we honor and celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the most dynamic and effective leaders in the U.S. civil rights movement.

One of Dr. King’s most repeated quote reminds us of the goal of education:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

GLEP had the pleasure of attending a MLK commemoration event hosted by Eastern Michigan University today, and the guest speaker was Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

geoffrey.canadaCanada is one of the leading education reform advocates in the country, and his innovative model for addressing the comprehensive educational, medical, and social needs of the children in a nearly 100 block area of Harlem serves as a model for breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

Candid, passionate and entertaining, it is always a delight to listen to him speak. From today’s presentation, Canada remind us it is less costly to education students than it is to incarcerate them – especially when you consider that the U.S. leads the world in putting people in prison on a per capita basis.

Canada also said great teachers are worth their weight in gold while poor teachers should choose another profession. This particular issue will get additional attention as the legislature begins debate this week on HB 5223, sponsored by Rep. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage), to create a new teacher evaluation system in Michigan.

GLEP’s mission, which is to advocate for quality education options for all of Michigan’s children, fits well with the messages from Dr. King and Mr. Canada.  We are proud of the work we’re doing to improve educational outcomes for at-risk students in the state.

Frankly, we can’t think of any other endeavor that has as much impact on our state and our nation.

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Happy Birthday, Michigan Charter Schools!!

Engler Signs Charter Bill (2)Twenty years ago, today, Governor John Engler signed one of the most sweeping and comprehensive charter school laws in the country.

Today, nearly 140,000 students in Michigan attend a charter public school, which is almost 9.0% of all K-12 students in the state. In Detroit, over 50% of students attend a charter public school, ranking 2nd behind New Orleans for charter enrollment.

Yet despite widespread public support for choice and charter public schools, education reformers continue to battle the “defenders of the status quo” who work so diligently to maintain the adult-focused traditional school establishment at the expense of children.

Today’s example is the “no confidence” vote by faculty at Jackson Community College for President Dan Phelan. President Phelan’s biggest sin? He supported JCC’s authorization of a charter public school with dual enrollment in high school and JCC, something that would be an innovative experience for the community.  Typical.

Three Good Ed Reform Reads

Getting ready for the return of the Michigan Legislature next week are three fantastic reads on some key public policy issues currently facing the Great Lakes State.  Improving early literacy, expanding opportunities for choice in education and gearing up to make waves against the defenders of the status quo are very important education reform issues that will be addressed in early 2014.

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The first piece is a blog post from the Michigan House Republicans addressing many of the lies and distortions being published in regards to the early literacy and the “3rd Grade Reading Guarantee” bills currently pending in the  House of Representatives.  These bills, HB 5111, Price (R-Holland) & HB 5144, Stallworth (D-Detroit) include screening in first 30 days of the school year; parental notification for students with early literacy delays; intervention, mentoring and tutoring for struggling readers; retention for those still not proficient after 3rd grade (as a last, but necessary, resort); and intensive intervention for retained students.

Rep. Tim Kelly

Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw)

The second piece is a guest editorial viewpoint from State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw) on the issue of expanding education choice to include both public and private school options in Michigan.  Rep. Kelly correctly notes that since passage of Proposal A, the state foundation grant is become, in essence, a “voucher” that follows the student to the public school of their choice.  He says “It’s time to consider expanding the use of this method of funding to allow parents to send their children to any school they so desire…as nearly half of the country, including many Midwest states, offer some form of expanded school choice through tax credits, scholarships or vouchers to attend nonpublic schools.”  If we care about full opportunities and choice then this is an issue worth discussing, and acting upon.

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The third piece is a reminder of how far the defenders of the status quo will go to maintain the status quo in public education.  Policymakers in Tennessee have been debating legislation to create vouchers and expand charter public schools in the state. According to today’s article in The Tennessean, traditional school groups outspent education reform groups for lobbying by a 2:1 margin last year, and they’re gearing up for more battle in 2014.  This reminds us how far the traditional school lobby will go to maintain the adult-focused education system. Those of us trying to create a more student-focused education system will always be outspent, but our passion for kids means we’ll never be outworked!

Feel free to share this post and, as always, please contact me for additional information at gnaeyaert@glep.org.

A New Year for Kids?

Capitol IceIt’s the first day of 2014, and our highest priorities are to kick off the new year with a win by the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Winter Classic being played in the Big House followed by a convincing win for the MSU Spartans in the 100th Rose Bowl out in Pasadena, CA this afternoon.

But after these important events, the Michigan legislature has some important work to do in January/February 2014 in order to help our students achieve more through public education. Here are the four highest education priorities facing the legislature:

First, the Michigan House of Representatives needs to take up HB 5112, sponsored by House Education Chair Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), a bill to create a simple A-F Letter Grading system for our schools based primarily on academic achievement and individual student growth. This data-driven, transparent school accountability system will provide meaningful information to parents and stakeholders about school performance. This system, which is being used in 15 states, will be a dramatic improvement over MDE’s current “Rainbow Report Card” system which is so confusing and convoluted that only those with a PhD in psychometrics can understand or explain it. HB 5112 was passed on a bi-partisan basis by the House Education Committee in December and is ready for a vote on the House floor. This bill is being opposed by the entire traditional school establishment (school boards, principals, supertendents, teachers unions, etc), and one can only assume they prefer the current accountability system which is much easier to hide behind.

Second, the House of Representatives needs to pass the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee bills (HB 5111 & HB 5144), sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Holland) and Rep. Thomas Stallworth III (D-Detroit). These bills will improve early literacy through a comprehensive approach that focuses on early screening and assessment, parental notification and involvement, personalized interventions to help students succeed; and retention as a last resort for those that aren’t proficiently at the end of 3rd grade and don’t meet one of the many “good cause” exemptions. These bills were passed on a bi-partisan basis by the House Education Committee in December and are ready for a vote on the House floor.

Third, the State Senate must finish up work on SB 66 (Proos), a bill to provide additional flexibility for students to enroll in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and other vocational education courses while maintaining the high standards and rigor of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. This bill was heavily debated on the Senate floor in the waning days of session in December and has been sent back to the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), and is ready for passage so it can be sent to the House of Representatives.

Fourth, the Executive Office is soon to present the FY ’14 School Aid Budget, which includes $13 billion to fund public education for the next school year. Remaining true to the promise of Proposal A, we believe the budget should include an increased focus on the primacy of the per-pupil foundation grant and that additional efforts should be made to narrow the 20% funding equity gap between the basic and minimum foundation grants. There is no reason to continue with more than 150 different per-pupil foundation grants, whereby students in neighboring districts can receive $1,000 more than a student next door. Also, if the state continues to address the high cost of teacher retirement costs — these investments should be extended to all public schools.

These are the policy priorities for early 2014 that will make our K-12 education system more student-focused, and will put our students on a path for success in preparing themselves for college and meaningful careers.

If you’e like more information on any of these issues, please contact me at gnaeyaert@glep.org.