Parents are counting on A-F School Grades, state must deliver

This column originally appeared in the Midland Daily News.

While lawmakers wrap up their summers, they and their staffs are constructing the reforms and priorities that will dominate their discussions once they return to Lansing.

Ensuring parents get report cards from their kids’ schools — a school transparency requirement under the state’s critical new A-F grading system for schools — should top their list. Lawmakers’ action is needed, because the state’s Department of Education is only days away from violating state law and abdicating its requirements for accountability to families.

Last winter, the Legislature approved critical reforms that would empower students, families and teachers by giving every public school in the state letter grades — A, B, C, D or F — in five key areas. The grades are to be based around student proficiency and growth in reading and math, and are set to go into effect in the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.

The first school report card is required by law to head home to parents just over a month from now.

Our students bring home report cards each year so parents can monitor their progress. Families deserve the same level of transparency and accountability from their children’s schools. Unfortunately, many of our schools are failing our students in critical subject areas like reading and math, but empowering parents with more information will drive improvement across the state. Where schools are succeeding, they deserve the credit.

That’s why lawmakers last December approved a new reform to hold the state’s schools as accountable to parents as our schools hold students for their work.

It’s an innovative approach to school accountability, and it’s designed to foster transparency and spur local growth. Parents count on our schools to prepare their kids for college, careers, and a brighter future. They also pay for the privilege, pumping thousands of dollars per pupil each year into our public schools.

Families deserve to know how their schools are performing.

The truth is, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. According to the National Assessment for Education Progress, Michigan ranks 35th in the nation on fourth-grade reading and 38th on 4th grade math. The numbers aren’t much better in 8th grade, where the state ranks 33rd in math and 30th in reading. Michigan is last among Midwest states in every category. Improvement can only begin with an understanding of how each school performs for our kids.

It is important to understand that this isn’t just a problem in our urban or economically disadvantaged communities. This is a problem across Michigan, including our “good” suburban school districts. Parents deserve the truth about school performance and with that information can demand better results for their students.

Each year, the state has pumped millions more into the school aid fund. USA Today recently ranked Michigan as one of the top states in America to teach, with public school teachers the 9th highest paid in the nation.

That investment is great, and more may be needed, but parents deserve to know what it’s producing. School report cards are a critical new transparency tool to empower parents and spur growth, but now at the eleventh hour, the Michigan Department of Education is standing in the way.

The Department is required by law to develop the system for assigning and delivering the grades by Aug. 1, a month ahead of their due date to parents. That deadline is only days away, and thus far, the Department has dragged its feet. Without quick action, parents will be kept in the dark.

Parents and reformers across Michigan are demanding the Department comply with state law, and provide parents with the transparency they deserve. As lawmakers work through the summer, we’re encouraging them to hold the Department accountable, as well.

Beth DeShone is the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project

Appalling: State Board of Education Blocks $47 Million Obama-Era Grant for Public School Text Books, Classroom Equipment, School Programs

Board Votes to Block Funds Already Secured by Michigan Department of Ed, Approved by State Lawmakers

LANSING—In an appalling attack on Michigan teachers and their students, the Michigan State Board of Education last week voted to block a $47-plus million federal grant for Michigan public schools designed to provide new text books, classroom equipment and supplies, curriculum materials, and program design in many Michigan public schools.

The new five-year grant, which would pump $14 million worth of supplies, books, and programming into Michigan public charter school classrooms for the first school year alone, is part of an Obama-era grant under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and was secured last year by the Michigan Department of Education.

The State Board of Education blocked the grant after learning the funds were designed under former President Barack Obama to provide supplies specifically to public charter schools to expand opportunities for all students, particularly traditionally underserved students, to meet challenging state academic standards.

Public charter schools are one-hundred percent tuition free Michigan public schools, are open to every student, and are led in every classroom by highly qualified, state certified public school teachers.

“The Board of Education’s callous decision to block federal funds for text books and classroom supplies for many of the Michigan public school students who need them most is an attack on students, an attack on parents, and an attack on Michigan public school teachers,” said Beth DeShone Executive Director of the Great Lakes Education Project.  “The Board is holding public school teachers and their classrooms hostage because they dislike an Obama-era grant designed to help underserved public school students.  They should be ashamed, they should reverse course immediately, and they should stop standing between public school teachers and millions of dollars’ worth of text books and classroom supplies.”

For more information about the $47,222,222 public school grant from the U.S. Department of Education being brazenly blocked by the Michigan State Board of Education, please visit Michigan.gov.

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