Battle looming on accountability

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As we’ve reported, the DPS bailout legislation included clear requirements that chronically failing schools in the city, both traditional and charter, would be closed by the State Reform Office (SRO) if they appeared on the bottom 5% list of schools for 3 consecutive years. With the next “Top-to-Bottom” ranking expecting to be published by September 1st, we’ve seen increased push-back from the traditional school lobby for any consequences for failing schools. 

First, the East Detroit Public Schools filed a lawsuit to prevent the SRO from appointing a CEO to oversee four of their failing schools, and the working relationship between the district and CEO appears to be lacking.  Second, the head of the State Superintendents Association is looking to stop the SRO from closing any failing schools in Detroit (see MIRS story below). Third, the locals are backed up by a legal mAccountability.Schoolemo from Miller Canfield that appears to support their assertions (paid legal opinions aren’t very difficult to come by, of course). And fourth, the SRO has announced plans to order all failing schools in the state to be closed at the end of the next school year.

We are confident the SRO has the authority under state law to both appoint CEOs and to close failing schools, and it’s frustrating to see to the lengths to which traditional schools will go to avoid consequences for abject failure. GLEP supports the even-handed implementation of current law for both traditional and charter public schools, as we simply cannot excuse constant failure for our children.

Stay tuned as the battle wages as to whether Michigan will get serious about closing failing schools or will continue to accept failure without consequences.

GLEP’s Gary Naeyaert was interviewed on WILS 1320 by Dave Ackerly this morning to discuss the looming battle over school accountability.

Check out this study from New York City which showed students actually benefit from closing failing schools.

SRO Mentions Closing Failing Schools As Meetings With Locals Begin

(MIRS, August 5, 2016) – State School Reform Officer (SRO) Natasha BAKER began this week meeting with local school officials who have low-performing schools in their districts and the message some are walking away with is that closure is a real possibility.

A spokesperson with the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), the agency overseeing the SRO, said the point of the meetings is to explain how a chronically failing school can leave the list of “Priority Schools.”

But Dr. Shelly WALKER of Benton Harbor Area Schools wrote in a message to other local superintendents that, “The striking message was that Natasha indicated that unless there is a (undefined) hardship . . . (and a school) did not come off the list in 2016 it would be recommended for closure by June 2017.”

Shutting down a chronically failing school isn’t necessarily a new tool at the disposal of the state, but what makes this period of time different is the oversight and the testing being used.

The SRO is now under the DTMB, which reports to Gov. Rick SNYDER, as opposed to the Department of Education, which reports to a publicly elected Board of Education, an independent entity from the Governor’s office.

Right or wrong, there’s an inherent belief that a Democratic-control state school board would be less likely to shut down an urban district whose students are struggling than a state agency run by a Republican governor.

Also at question are the tests being used to determine which districts are considered to be in the bottom 5 percent of the state for three straight years — the criteria used to establish a priority school.

Chris WIGENT, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA), wrote in a memo Thursday to his members that the test data the SRO is using includes three different tests — the 2014 Michigan Education Assessment Program, the 2015 M-STEP and the modified 2016 M-STEP. That’s “inappropriate,” he said.

“Basic research standards dictate that it is necessary to collect multiple years of consistent (data) for a reliable accountability system,” Wigent wrote. “Michigan is not even doing the bare minimum.”

More than 180 schools are listed as priority schools, a staggering number that could leave many school districts hobbling if the state moves forward with closing schools that can’t turn around their students’ test scores, Wigent said.

Having worked in Wayne County when Inkster Public Schools shut down, Wigent said he’s seen how the loss of state student aid money from a closed school can impact an entire district.

But DTMB spokesperson Caleb BUHS said the point of the meetings is to make it clear about the higher level of accountability “priority schools” face, which could include the appointment of a CEO or closure. However, “There is no hard line in the sand” that triggers automatic closure or a CEO appointment.

“Each school on the priority list is individually reviewed for progress and those that continue to fail to educate kids at an appropriate level may be subject to further action,” Buhs said.

Either way, school officials are urging each other to network and share their stories about their meetings with Baker so they can compare notes.