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Speaking out

Testimony and letters to lawmakers on school issues; other public statements

Letter to US Senate on DeVos nomination for USED

Dear Chairman Alexander and members of the Committee,

We write to you today, on behalf of thousands of parent advocates across the State of Michigan, regarding the nomination of Mrs. Betsy DeVos to serve as United States Secretary of Education. Unfortunately, we cannot support Mrs. DeVos' nomination and ask that the Committee vote not to confirm her for the post.

As advocates for strong local public education in the State of Michigan, we have considerable experience with Mrs. DeVos' priorities and efforts in the field of public education. Sadly, her priorities do not match those of the people of Michigan and her efforts have not been in the best interests of our school-age children.

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!

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.

Parents' vision for Michigan schools

We propose a better direction for education policy in Michigan: one that focuses on improving schools for all children. Our first duty is to ensure that our local, community-governed public schools can perform their Constitutional mission by providing them with the support and resources they need to serve their students.

#1 We must use our educational goals to determine funding requirements, rather than allow funding levels to entirely determine the shape of education.

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.

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 >>>)

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.

Departments: 

Action alert: backroom budget negotiations

Now that the state budget process is in its final stages, a final School Aid budget is only days away. There will be very little time to discuss it once it's made public, so it's important for parents to weigh in now.

Contact your state lawmakers today!

While we don't know what the proposal will look like, we do have the different versions proposed by the Governor and passed by the House and Senate. What we find there does not make us very optimistic.

  • Virtually all the Governor's advertised "$150 million" increase in student funding comes from money that will be left over from this year because there were fewer students than expected. This is true of the other versions, also.
  • Under the Senate and House plans, charter schools receive significantly larger increases, on average, than local school districts. In fact, the Senate plan would give charters almost $100 per pupil more on average.
  • Under the Senate plan, 340,000 students, including 110,000 living in poverty, would get the lowest possible increases in funding.
  • Most districts would fail to keep up with inflation under any of these plans. The Senate plan is again the most extreme: over half a million students (almost half of them living in poverty) would not have their funding keep up with inflation.

To top it all off, predictions for revenues next year are lower than they were when these plans were written. That can't be good news.

>>>>Click below to read more!

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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