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What do we want from our schools?

At a meeting in Lansing last Tuesday morning, staffers from the Center for Michigan presented the results of their year-long series of “community conversations” about education, held all around the state.

Three panels of experts, officials and education policy specialists met to talk about the key questions facing public education in Michigan. Among the take-aways:

From the community conversations –

  • Michigan residents gave public schools a mixed review, though they were significantly more positive about their own schools than about Michigan public schools as a whole.
  • The public is willing to pay more for public education, if the money will be used in a concrete way to improve our schools.
  • Many key reform initiatives, like increasing educational “choice,” are not so high on the list of public priorities.

From the panels –

  • There’s broad agreement that preschool available to every child is an important goal – but the way to pay for it is less clear.
  • There’s agreement that it’s important for teachers get the schooling, job training, and job feedback they need to constantly improve, and that this task is harder than is often acknowledged.
  • There are serious and deep disagreements about what kinds of policy measures are needed to improve public schools and how much they should cost.

But most noticeable, perhaps, was the extent to which political operatives representing the current policy direction were out of step with the concerns expressed by Michigan citizens.

"A la carte" school funding plan ignores basic purpose of public ed

MIPFS reaction to the Oxford Foundation school funding proposal, 14 December 2012

Earlier this year, Gov. Snyder asked Lansing attorney and longtime political operative Richard McLellan to lead an effort to re-write the School Aid Act, the basic law that spells out how K-12 education is funded in Michigan. The approach that emerged was a radical change in direction, one that put the focus on students acquiring bits of knowledge from multiple “providers” rather than helping communities build and govern their local schools. More information on the proposal can be found at the Oxford Foundation web site. We’ll cover this proposal in more detail in an upcoming article.

Public comment was requested on the proposal. Our conclusion was that the proposed legislation would take Michigan in precisely the opposite direction of where we need to go.

Testimony on EAA legislation (Round 2)

Michigan Parents for Schools views on HB 6004 (H-1)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

While we appreciate that several concerns have been addressed in the H-1 substitute for HB 6004, sadly our main objections remain.

The bill assumes that the EAA will be successful. While there are provisions for a school “graduating” from the EAA, there are no provisions for handling a school that fails to improve under EAA control. Instead of calling the EAA into question, such schools are likely to be subjected to an endless round of restructurings and turnarounds – devastating the school, its students, and the local community.

Is this EAA “solution” so promising and certain that it’s worth stripping away community control? Better to implement a solution that can be done with the community, rather than to it.

Departments: 

How to help struggling schools: Do you believe in magic?

“Education is not complicated,” say some lawmakers. Really?

We keep hearing the same confident claim in Lansing: the way to fix struggling schools is to get rid of the adults keeping the kids back – the school administrators, the teachers’ unions, the incompetent or corrupt school boards. Sweep them aside, replace them with business-like management and inexperienced but enthusiastic teachers, mix in a little technology, and you will see a miracle. If only it were so. But it is not.

The same blind beliefs are behind the bills to expand the Education Achievement Authority statewide after only three months. Not only that, but the changes were forced on the local community rather than being built with them. We cannot rely on management magic or quick fixes to help kids. We need solid strategies, with good track records, and the resources to implement them for the long term. When will we finally have that conversation in Michigan?

Destory public ed as we know it? "That's accurate."

“Critics often say ‘the governor is trying to destroy public education as we know it,’ [Lansing attorney Richard] McLellan said. ‘That’s accurate.’”


Well, there it is. Doesn’t get much more “straight from the horse’s mouth” than coming from Lansing attorney and longtime political operative Richard McLellan. As a leader of the obscure Oxford Foundation, Mr. McLellan led the effort to devise a radically altered way of funding K-12 education for Gov. Snyder. He is also the author of the controversial Education Achievement Authority bill now in the legislature, as well as a proposal to dramatically increase the types of charter school that would receive public funding in Michigan. Some twelve years ago, he also spearheaded a constitutional amendment that would have permitted school vouchers in Michigan, which was defeated handily by the voters.

This radical package of proposals is in danger of being overlooked in the wake of today’s protests over a “right to work” bill and the use of pepper spray by police to subdue protesters visiting the Capitol to express their anger at that proposal.

Click below to read more.

Testimony on EAA legislation (Round 1)

Testimony of Michigan Parents for Schools on HB 6004 to the House Education Committee, Rep. Lisa Lyons, Chair – November 19, 2012


Madam Chair and members of the Committee,

We write to you, on behalf of public school parents and concerned citizens from across the state of Michigan, to express our concerns about House Bill 6004. While our reservations range from the very broad to the very specific, they are sufficient for us to ask you not to report this bill out to the full House. In fact, we believe that effective approaches to the problems HB 6004 seeks to solve require a very different approach.

There is no question that a substantial portion of our public school student population is struggling, and that a number of our public schools are in turn having great difficulty meeting the needs of those students. We welcome efforts by the State, through the Michigan Department of Education, to provide focused assistance to struggling schools. But the approach in this bill is light on help to, and heavy on punishment of, local districts.

The “student centered learning” concept presented in last week’s testimony is an interesting and promising approach to teaching, but it is not new. In fact, we have heard similar ideas discussed in a number of districts around the state. The problem, as always, is implementation — especially in a regulatory environment that punishes mistakes.

Departments: 

Alert Flash: Your voices are being heard on EAA bill

FLASH - The pressure is working! Help stop the EAA "state takeover" bill in committee!

Friends,
To all of you who have sent messages regarding HB 6004 - the EAA or "state takeover" bill: Thank You!!
For those of you who haven't yet had a chance to contact your State Representative, the time is NOW.

Call House Education Committee members TODAY!

Click below to read the latest alert!

Action alert: Don't let them take the public out of public ed!

Legislative leaders have committed to push through a long list of bills during this "lame duck" session, including two that could be devastating to public education as we know it.

I realize that sounds over-the-top, but take a look at the bills on the fast track:

  • House Bill 6004 makes a new state-wide school district, the Education Achievement Authority, which can take over the "bottom 5%" of schools, and perhaps others - while the local district has no say. The EAA is free to hand these schools over to for-profit charter management companies, and in fact it can charter new schools anywhere in the state (whether the schools there are failing or not). The EAA would be run by a board appointed by the Governor, and even the elected State Board of Education would have no say in its work.
  • House Bill 5923 would create a host of new forms of charter school, including selective admission schools, boarding schools, single-gender schools, and potential store-front schools operated by cultural organizations, businesses and other groups. Part of the mission given to the EAA in HB 6004 is to implement these provisions.

Find out more! Click below to read the full alert.

Special sections: 

Legislative briefing on the "school choice" package - update

We’ve updated our legislative briefing on the “school choice” package of bills to reflect the passage of both SB 618 (charter caps) and SB 619 (“cyber” charters), as well as other legislative action.

The update document is in PDF format, and we will be updating it regularly as the bills make their way through the Legislature. The download link is at the end of the article.

The document is current as of 6/15/12, reflecting the bills as reported from committee or as passed by the Senate or House.

End of the last illusions

Past commitments to school aid fade away

Updated with final conference report

None of the school aid budget proposals for next year offer significant help to our struggling local school districts. Overall funding is essentially flat, though the dollars are allocated differently in the various proposals. For a detailed breakdown of the final budget and the alternatives as passed by each chamber, please see this companion story.

Nevertheless, the budget bills do outline some major changes in how we fund our schools:

  • Use of the School Aid Fund to support community colleges and state universities is now a permanent feature (the final conference report includes intent language to change the name of the SAF to the “Comprehensive Education Fund”);
  • The commitment to maintaining the funding stream for K-12 education has been seriously eroded – for example, with the failure to replace earmarked revenue lost when the Michigan Business Tax was ended.
Special sections: 

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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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