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Education is not like toothpaste

Will market competition really improve education?

As the policy debates over education “reform” continue, some of the key underlying issues – competing worldviews – are starting to emerge clearly. The first public introduction, last July, of Governor Snyder’s advisory panel on the school funding law provided one perspective (see upcoming article). They view their charge as making sure money follows the student, and their work relies on the idea that competition among many different kinds of education “providers” will result in the best outcomes.

Another perspective was offered in a blog post by noted education historian Diane Ravitch. In her post, she reprinted a reader’s comment which decried the “reform” direction of treating schools like businesses. In this model, schools that succeed will continue; those which fail to attract students will be shut down. The comment emphasized the personal and community cost of closing schools and rending relationships.

These differing views nicely bracket one of the essential conflicts underlying the whole school “reform” debate. The conflict is this: what system produces better outcomes – community decision-making, or market competition? The answer, of course, depends a lot on what kind of outcome you are trying to get.

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Getting clear about "profit" in our public schools

h4. No matter what some people say, local public schools don't make a "profit." But many charter school operators do. Is that what's best for our kids? After years of quiet, malign neglect, the issue of profit in our public schools has become a topic of public discussion. What's the problem? The problem is that we are starting to see a separation between the "school" and the companies that run the schools and hire the people who actually teach our kids. That is where the issue of profit raises its ugly head. Because where there's profit, there's also an incentive to use the political process to create more.
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First look: Snyder FY16-17 school aid budget

It's February, and as most of you know that means it's Budget time in Lansing. (You were thinking hearts and chocolate?)

Governor Rick Snyder presented his recommended budget last week to a packed room. The focus, not surprisingly, was on the water crisis in Flint and the restructuring of Detroit Public Schools. But the budget determines what kind of education can be offered to every child in the state, and the important bits are often in the details. At first glance, parent advocates have reason to be modestly pleased, though the reality is not as pretty as the picture painted on the cover. What happens in the end, however, depends on what comes out after the document has been reflected in the legislative funhouse mirrors - which may or may not resemble the original.

A little bit more
The governor's executive budget recommendation is headlined by a modest increase in per-pupil funding. Districts at the current minimum level of $7,391 - which includes some 60% of all students - would receive $120 more per pupil for their general operating needs. Districts at or above the state maximum (currently $778 higher or $8,169) would get an increase of $60 per pupil.

For most students, then, that means a funding increase of 1.6% - just a tad more than the projected inflation rate of 1.2%. But a goodly number of students will get a smaller relative increase: 0.7% or less, lagging inflation.

Advocacy update: briefing on the 3rd grade reading bill

Dear Friends,

I know you've been hearing a lot from me about this "third grade reading" bill that's in the Michigan House of Representatives. Sometimes events don't give you the time to explain as much as you'd like about what is at stake. So, I wanted to take a moment to brief you on what we're doing.

When we work in Lansing, we try to focus on getting good policy passed - and we are willing to work with anyone who is ready to do right by our kids. This bill is an example: it's got good parts, and bad parts. We've been working to make the good parts better and get the bad parts out.

School Aid Budget - policymaking as theater

The last of three budget proposals for next year was presented in Lansing yesterday. On Wednesday, the Senate appropriations subcommittee on school aid endorsed its chairman's budget proposal, just as the corresponding House committee had done the day before. These two proposals join Gov. Snyder's proposed budget, offered in February. Now we enter the second act.

As is so often the case, the public portion of these proceedings resembles theater more than open discussion. The Governor proposes his budget with much fanfare to a joint meeting of the legislative appropriations committees. Then the subcommittees begin their work, going through the motions of asking invited guests to proffer advice. But during this time, backroom negotiations ensue, out of the pubic eye. This week, to get the budgets off their plates before the legislature's spring break, the subcommittees met again. The results of the backroom negotiations were rolled out, admired, subjected to some pro-forma criticism from the opposing party, and in due course approved and sent on their way to the full appropriations committees. All according to the script. The public was definitely NOT invited to participate. The outcome was never in doubt.

These competing proposals are really the opening offers in a game of political "Pit" which will also take place mostly out of the public eye. No one but well-heeled lobbyists are invited. But we end up living the consequences of the horse-trading we cannot see.

Sign our open letter - state takeover is not the answer

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder unilaterally stripped the Michigan Department of Education of responsibility for intervening in struggling schools.

His executive order moved that responsibility to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, on the specious grounds that DTMB's role in running the state's school database somehow gives them expertise on turning around troubled schools. In fact, as the text of the order makes clear, Gov. Snyder is impatient with MDE - which answers to the elected State Board of Education - for not acting faster to take over schools. So, by moving that authority to DTMB, the governor also places that function directly under his own control.

At MIPFS, we felt this state-takeover system was bad idea from the time it was adopted in a mad rush five years ago. The fact that MDE has not taken over any schools under this provision may be an acknowledgement of what we already know: state takeover is no miracle cure. But instead of taking a better path, such as one we proposed in draft legislation last session, Gov. Snyder is determined to pursue takeover - despite the evident failures of emergency managers and the EAA to make real progress in helping schools struggling with child poverty.

Please join us in objecting to this deeply flawed policy. Follow this link to sign our open letter to Gov. Snyder and state leaders. Takeover by some distant bureaucracy is not the way to help our most vulnerable students. If we let this action stand, what takeover strategy will come next? Please speak out and sign today!

Time to stop using kids' schools as a cookie jar

When does a "supplemental" spending bill not actually supplement anything? When it's a "negative supplemental," of course! (In everyday language, that's a mid-year budget cut.) Who is being "negatively supplemented"? Our children.

It turns out that our state government is in the hole some $532 million for the current year because some tax credit promises to business made years ago are being presented for payment. In characteristic fashion, however, our state government has chosen to partly duck the issue by taking money from - you guessed it - our K-12 public schools. To the tune of $250 million. It's like a rerun of a bad TV sitcom.

Teaching to teach to the test?

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that we need to improve our country's teacher preparation programs - and that we need to use student growth and achievement data to do it.

For several years now, the US Dept of Education has been discussing proposed rules which would require states to rate their colleges of education and like programs. These ratings would also affect eligibility for Federal dollars. As a part of this effort, USED has wanted to include student test scores ("achievement" and/or "growth" data) as part of the ratings - that is test scores of K-12 students who were taught by recent graduates education degree programs. A special committee, comprised of numerous stakeholders, worked nearly a year to come to agreement on new rules, but was unable to do so. So, the Department has gone ahead with it's own ideas of how the people who teach teachers should be evaluated.

The window to comment on these rules closes 2 February 2015; you can read the details and submit your own comments to Federal regulators via this link. For those who might struggle to find the right words, we reprint our own comments, submitted earlier today, below. We hope that we were able to articulate just a few of the many objections to using standardized test scores in this manner.

Lame Duck 2014: the Final Quack

Wow. That was quite a ride. The state legislature's "lame duck" session ended early Friday morning, with final passage of the complex road funding compromise legislation coming at 5:30am after many hours of frantic negotiation and maneuvering. The road funding package includes some measures which will give meaningful help to public schools, including a net $500 million in new money available for K-12.

Even more important is the list of school-related legislation which did not pass; these measures will have to be reintroduced in the next session to move forward. Teacher and administrator evaluation, A-F school rating, 3rd grade flunking, EAA expansion, and the deficit "early warning" package all failed to become law.

Action alert: so many bad bills, so little time

TAKE ACTION!

So many bad bills, so little time

Let's play "Legislative Whack-A-Mole™"!

We're in the legislative "lame duck" session, so that means it must be time to push a lot of bad ideas into law while Michigan voters are getting ready for the holidays. And we have a great assortment of bad ideas this year: >>> Read More >>>

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Coming events

  • House Sch Aid Approps: MDE partnership model
    21 February 2017 - 10:30am
    Room 352, House Appropriations, State Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
    click for more information

In the news

MIPFS also contributed considerable background to this article, raising serious questions about the strategy of closing schools.


MIPFS presents to the State Board of Education


Founder of our Forest Hills affiliate testifies before State Board, 9 May 2013


Our op-ed on the EAA's failure and why the Parent Proposal embodied in HB 5268 is a better alternative. MLive.com, 9 Feb 2014


Our op ed on the push to pass an EAA expansion bill by year end, Free Press, 16 December 2013


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