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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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Bill brief: A-F grading of schools

MIPFS response to House Bill 5112, the proposed A-F grading system for Michigan public schools, 13 November 2013

Madam Chair and members of the Committee,

school busesThank you for giving us this opportunity to share with you parent perspectives on evaluating our schools. While this letter mainly speaks to HB 5112, some later comments are also relevant to HB 5111. Other witnesses have discussed the details of the proposed evaluation system, so we do not address them here, except to point out that what we measure indicates what we value, and everyone--parents and citizens alike--value a much wider range of things about our schools than just test scores in two or three subjects. Test scores can tell us a little, but we really need to know more.

That is really the key to our perspective: any effort to sum up the "quality" of a school in one letter grade or color code does not help parents much at all. In fact, letter grades can be even more misleading because they prompt a "gut" reaction even though we might not be sure what they truly mean or measure. "Grading on a curve," specifying the relative percentage of school to receive each grade makes it worse, with the number of top and bottom grades pre-determined.

Bill brief: Teacher & Administrator evaluation

MIPFS testimony on teacher and administrator evaluation bills

We wholeheartedly support fully developed systems to assess and improve the actual practice of teachers and administrators. It may be difficult to predict the impact a teacher will have on any one student, but we can and should build systems that help all educators grow as professionals and make it clear that we expect educators to be partners in the improvement of our schools. The observation tools and other methods of assessing practice are a critically important first step. Even more important is what happens after the evaluation: how do we provide our educators with the knowledge, tools and resources to improve and fine-tune their practice? The bills only touch on this critical work.

Mandating the creation of this kind of observation system without a firm commitment to provide the necessary resources would turn a promising policy into another, hollow, bureaucratic requirement stealing time and resources from our children.

Bill brief: Third grade reading

HB 5111 — Hold back 3rd graders who don’t test proficient in reading

Introduced by Rep. Price; version H-3 reported from House Edu. Cmte.; analysis as of 12/10/2013


Why this deserves your attention:

Helping all children to read, enjoy reading, and read effectively, is one of the central tasks we expect of our public schools. This bill would focus, however, on stigmatizing students, teachers and schools who do not meet an arbitrary deadline for “proficient” reading. Moreover, that “proficiency” measure is based on scores on a state standardized test which has not yet been selected. A companion bill, HB 5144, would identify, but not fund, intervention programs. The Governor’s FY2015 budget proposal makes some existing funding for “at-risk” students available for reading programs, but includes no new funds for this.

Our story, Part II: Michigan's new "DEW" line

Rather than early warning of a nuclear strike, a package of bills now before the Michigan Senate aim to give early warning of a school district in financial distress - a "deficit early warning" system, if you will. But if our lawmakers truly want an early warning, they should simply ask the parents, teachers and staff of our schools what they have been forced to do by Michigan's persistent failure to invest in public education.

These bills escalate the penalties for districts in financial difficulty - and layer on reporting requirements that seem primarily aimed at placing blame on the locals - while completely failing to acknowledge that districts might be in distress because of the actions of the Legislature. The bill package continues the neat shift of blame: the Legislature and Governor make the decisions about school funding, but the responsibility for cutting programs and opportunities available to our children is left for local school boards to shoulder.

At base, there are two competing stories about what is happening to our schools, and one of them is driving these bills forward.

Our story, Part I: What really happened to school funding?

The election's over - can we talk reality now?

For a while, it was gratifying that school funding issues took center stage in the recent election for Michigan's governor. Unfortunately, the amount of spin and, well, dishonesty, left the situation more confusing than before. Now that the election is over, our choices about school funding need to be based on facts, not confusion.

Here are three basic facts that everyone needs to understand. The evidence for them is indisputable:

  • Starting with the 2012 fiscal year, the Governor and Legislature together took away roughly $1 billion that would normally have gone to K-12 education.
  • Schools took a major cut that first year, but they didn't have to: the tax cuts that year made the school cuts necessary.
  • The slow growth in school funding since that first year had nothing to do with the Governor or Legislature or any decisions they made. It was all automatic.

"Come again?" you might say. That's not what we were hearing from all the campaign commercials. But it's the reality we need to come to terms with. So let's go over it in a little more detail. (Go to article >>>)

It's Count Day: know where your school funding is going?

Just a few days ago, a group of Democratic state lawmakers announced that they would introduce legislation to put a hold on the creation of new charter schools until the state developed a better system to oversee their finances. The draft bill, of course, was a reaction to the stunning investigative work by the Detroit Free Press in their June expose on the questionable financial dealings of private, for-profit charter schools in Michigan. (If you haven't read it, you really should.)

Now, as the minority party in both houses of the legislature, there is essentially zero chance that this Democratic bill would be passed as-is. It's an election year, when you tend to see a lot of this kind of thing. But they were also trying to make a point. Part of that point is to say that the people of Michigan want to make sure that public funds which are intended to educate our children are not siphoned off to line some private contractor's pockets.

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Thoughts about Ferguson, Mo.

[I drafted the message below for Parents Across America, the national parent advocacy group of which MIPFS is a state affiliate. We thought it would also be appropriate to publish it here, as a reminder of why strong community-governed public schools are so important.]

As we think of the tragic death at police hands of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., our first reaction must be as parents: sorrow and anger. Sorrow because a promising life has been cut so cruelly short, and anger because his death was both unnecessary and sickeningly predictable.

Watching from outside, however, we have also seen in Ferguson problems that plague our nation still.

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MIPFS Executive Director receives human rights award

PAA Board of Directors Member honored

Steven Norton, executive director of Parents Across America affiliate Michigan Parents for Schools, and member of the PAA Board of Directors, was the 2014 recipient of the David McMahon Human Rights Award given by the Michigan Education Association. The McMahon award is given annually to recognize "individuals or groups outside the MEA which distinguish themselves by courageously accepting the challenge of moral and ethical leadership in the field of human and civil rights."

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In the news

MIPFS is working with parent group 482Forward, ACLU Michigan, and many school groups to ensure public funding goes to public schools.


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


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