Education

Barbara Webb (left) sitting with wife Kristen Lasecki
User: I Stand With Barb Webb / facebook

The congregation of nuns that manages Marian High School in suburban Detroit said it will review the policies that led to the controversial firing of a pregnant gay teacher in August.

That's according to a letter sent Monday to the Marian High School community and its alumnae on behalf of the leadership council of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters.

Sister Mary Jane Herb wrote the letter. It says the IHM sisters will work with Marian Catholic Board of Directors' executive committee to re-examine policies and procedures in light of Catholic identity and IHM values.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

For years, kids have been leaving Benton Harbor schools in droves.

Meanwhile, per-pupil money from the state has been flat. 

Now the school district has signed a consent agreement with the state to wipe out a $15 million deficit.

Ask school board member Joseph Taylor how Benton Harbor schools got here, and he says, simple:

"It's what's called debt. You know, we had an $18 million deficit. We knocked it down some, but the state only gives you so much time. And when that time ran out, we had to consider other options."

Cass Tech High School in Detroit.
DPS / Flickr

The Michigan Education Department and four of the state's school districts have been awarded nearly $3 million in federal grants to improve school safety and learning conditions.

The U.S. Education Department announced the grants as part of its effort to improve school safety around, reduce gun violence, and improve mental health services.

More from the U.S. Department of Education’s press release:

To help keep students safe and improve their learning environments, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $70 million to 130 grantees in 38 states…

“If we can’t help protect kids and staff, and make them feel safe at school, then everything else that we do is secondary,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “If kids don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. It’s that simple. Through these grants of more than $70 million, we are continuing our commitment to ensure that kids have access to the best learning experience possible.”

Here are the grants awarded in Michigan:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Benton Harbor Board of Education may take a step this evening toward getting its financial house in order. 

Benton Harbor Area Schools faces a $15 million deficit.

Last month, a state panel determined the school district is in a "financial emergency."

Monday, the state Treasury department announced that an agreement has been crafted that will “restore financial stability to Benton Harbor Area Schools as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As part of the agreement, a consultant will assist district leaders in implementing the plan.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - There are many bumps in the road to social and economic mobility in the U.S., and 11 large research universities are taking steps to level one of them.

Michigan State University and 10 other schools have launched a program they say seeks to boost the graduation rates for students from low-income families or from groups that are historically underrepresented among college graduates.

Last week, the University Innovation Alliance announced it's raised $5.7 million from six major funders.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a new national push to address the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses.

President Barack Obama says campus sexual assault is "an affront to our basic humanity." The president  unveiled a new campaign to change the way people think about campus sexual assault.

A new public service announcement features Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other familiar faces telling viewers they have a responsibility to stop sexual assault.

Kalamazoo College campus
user: Kalamazoo College / facebook

 

When it comes to recruiting and graduating low-income students, one school that is clearly getting it right is Kalamazoo College.

The New York Times ranks Kalamazoo College No. 12 in the nation among elite colleges that enroll a large percentage of PELL-grant eligible students.

The PELL grant is a solid indicator, since many students in families above the poverty level do not qualify for these grants.

Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran is president of Kalamazoo College. She says attracting and keeping low-income students have been a priority of the college and part of its institutional mission: 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for a halt in new charter schools until there are rules that ensure more transparency and accountability.

They say the rules should require private, for-profit charter operators to reveal more about how they spend their per-student state aid payments.

“They’re not willing to tell us how they’re spending taxpayer dollars and, unfortunately, we’ve just seen too many cases of the temptation to make money getting in the way of providing the best quality education for our children,”  said state Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores.

User: COD Newsroom / Flickr

As college students explore their campuses, they're likely to find a wide array of student groups that pertain to race: The Black Student Union, Asian-American groups, or Hispanic and Latino groups.

Universities say they're spending time and money on trying to increase the number of minority students, especially since the Supreme Court ban in 2006 on affirmative action.

But Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution says the challenges for American colleges should be not only racial diversity, but also economic diversity. 

Especially when universities, including elite schools, haven't upped their percentage of low-come students in generation. 

Haskins says that's what happens when colleges maintain admission standards.

Half of all college students in the U.S. drop out, according to Michigan State University, and another 25% wind up on academic probation.

It’s part of the research MSU is doing with 10 other big schools to better understand why so many students don’t make it to graduation, and what colleges can do about it.

For low-income and first-generation kids, getting to graduation is harder

Students who are from low income families or the first generation in their family to go to college are more likely to struggle, says MSU provost June Youatt.

Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to public universities in the U.S., the University of Michigan is truly the leader and the best, according to QS World University Rankings.

U of M was named the No. 1 public university in the U.S. In the worldwide rankings, U of M came in at 23. 

It is one of 14 U.S. schools that made the top 30, and, along with the University of California, Berkeley (ranked 27th), is one of only two public universities to make the top 30. 

Senator Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Twp, introduced Senate Bill 727.
Michigan Senate Republicans

New legislation in the state Senate would close Michigan’s teacher retirement system to new teachers. Instead, all new teachers would get a “defined contribution” 401(k)-style plan.

Under a partial overhaul of teacher retirement approved by state lawmakers in 2012, new teachers can choose between that or a “hybrid” plan, which combines elements of a defined contribution plan and a traditional pension. The new legislation would end that choice, giving new teachers only the 401(k)-style defined contribution plan.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Moderate to vigorous exercise in the morning may help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder be better prepared for the school day.  

Michigan State University researchers studied 200 kindergarten, first and second grade students for 12 weeks. They found children at-risk for developing ADHD were more attentive in class after exercising.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The emphasis on “high stakes testing” in America’s schools may be having an unexpected side effect.

A Michigan State University researcher says teachers are citing the testing as their reason for quitting the profession.

Alyssa Hadley Dunn is a professor at the MSU College of Education.  She also was once a high school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia.   

She says she decided to quit after years of pressure to “teach to the test.”     

Kalamazoo College

An analysis by the New York Times ranks Kalamazoo College 12th in the nation among elite colleges that enroll a large percentage of PELL-grant eligible students.

The eligibility for PELL grants is a strong marker for low-income status, since many students in families above the poverty level are not eligible for the grants.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan students have a new way to report potential threats in state schools.

Starting this fall, students who believe they have information about potential criminal activities at schools can use the OK-2-Say hotline to call, text or email tips to law enforcement.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton joined other officials at a Flint area school today to promote the statewide program.

Sharon Drummond / Flickr

Michigan’s top education official says he supports legislation designed to prevent schools from getting into financial trouble.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan today released a report showing the number of districts with budget deficits has not improved in recent months. He says the legislation would create an “early warning system” so the state can intervene before districts fall into deficit.

But Flanagan says the legislation should not be so broad that hundreds of schools get flagged.

“I think right now they have to reduce the number of factors so that you don’t have 250 on call. You want a reasonable number that you’re watching that are potentially deficit, not so many that you can’t really do justice to it.”

The bills would free up money in state loans and bonds for schools that show signs of budget problems.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker is sponsoring the legislation. He says it would also make it easier for the state to appoint an emergency manager if districts don’t cooperate.

“Let’s identify them early. Let’s help them. And if districts are willing to blow through those red flags, well, then there’s going to be consequences. And I think those consequences being out there will serve as a deterrent.”

Schools groups worry it would be too easy for the state to put districts under an emergency manager. They also say hundreds of districts would be flagged the way the legislation is currently written.

images money / flickr

Here's how the scam works: A Michigan school might get a fake bill for new “Common Core standards aligned” language arts materials. The bill isn't huge; it’s always been reported as $647.50, so it might slip under a school’s radar.

Lisa Dilg works at the Eastern Michigan Better Business Bureau. She says the other reason the scam might work is because the fake invoices closely resemble invoices from a known education materials supplier.

User: Max Lib / Flickr

New federal data shows Washington now holds more than $1.1 trillion in student loans taken out by nearly 40 million people.

And that dollar amount is up by more than 112% since 2007.

But should student debt get blamed for a wide range of economic troubles?

Beth Akers says maybe not. Akers is a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

In her article, Akers says there are a lot of narratives about how student loan debt is potentially creating a huge drag on economy through reduced consumption, depressed home ownership, and lower rates of entrepreneurship. But she says it's hard to back up that blame. 

Ohio university reviewing sex-crime policies

Sep 7, 2014
UT/Facebook

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - University of Toledo officials are reviewing how it handles investigations of sex crime allegations following a reported rape at the school.  The Toledo Blade reports that the head of the university's board of trustees called for the review. This comes after a male student who was accused of rape was placed on academic probation, ordered to undergo counseling and fined $25 by the school's Student Conduct Board. The female victim appealed the decision and wa

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Dozens of students, alumni and supporters rallied in front of Marian High School in suburban Detroit this morning to protest the firing of chemistry teacher Barb Webb. Webb is gay, and says she was fired after informing administrators at the Catholic high school she was pregnant.

Webb taught chemistry at Marian for nine years. She also coached volleyball and soccer. She says administrators felt her “non-traditional” pregnancy ran afoul of a morality clause that allows personnel to be fired for “lifestyle or actions directly contradictory to the Catholic faith.” 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is celebrating its new president, Mark Schlissel.

He's being officially installed in office today, with a long list of lectures and ceremonies to mark the occasion, including a cross-campus procession of faculty in full caps and gowns.

Schlissel has an impressive resume: Princeton, Johns Hopkins, an M.D. and a Ph.D., a residency in internal medicine, and most recently provost at Brown University.

And he is going to need all the smarts, diplomacy, and mediation skills he picked up along the way.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan is one of only two states (the other being Iowa) that does not meet any of the minimum standards for disaster planning for schools and child care operators, according to Save the Children.

An annual report by the group says Michigan schools are not required to have a "multi-threat" disaster plan, which would include drills for active shooter events.

And the group says, while large child care centers are required to have disaster plans in place, family and individual day care operators are not.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state has signed off on a plan to eliminate the Saginaw school district’s budget deficit.

Teacher pay cuts and closing a high school are part of the Deficit Elimination Plan the district sent to the state Department of Education back in July. 

Today state education officials approved the plan, which “is largely dependent on staff reductions and employee concessions.” 

Michigan Radio

Cracking up is funny, except when it involves going completely to pieces, but cracking down often isn't funny at all. 

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan hadn't really deeply pondered the many meanings of the word "crack," until Rina Miller mentioned getting a chuckle from a road department's press release about crack sealing, prompting the predictable plumber's butt joke.

What Curzan discovered is that the word goes back to old English, starting as a verb. 

Even the Romans had their dog days of summer

Aug 31, 2014
Michigan Radio

Michiganders didn't really get much of a chance to refer to "the dog days of summer" this year, but what you might not realize is that the expression didn't come from sizzling weather, but from the stars.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says people have come up with some very good explanations that relate to dogs on scorching days.

Michigan Radio

It appears vinyl records are causing some folks a bit of grammatical angst.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says one of those people experiencing discomfort about the plural of the word "vinyl" is Michigan Radio's Mike Perini, who happens to be an avid music collector.

Curzan says she was surprised to find quite a debate about the word. It's been in newspapers and blogs.

"There are even t-shirts and magnets that say the plural of vinyl is vinyl," she says.

EMU upgrades campus security after murder of 2 students

Aug 30, 2014
MorgueFile

 

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University is completing security upgrades as students return for fall classes.

The Ann Arbor News reports that the work is aimed at improving campus safety.

The Ypsilanti school is spending $485,000 to upgrade security cameras. Eastern Michigan has more than 500 surveillance cameras on campus. Another $273,000 is being spent on two lighting projects.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

There is much at stake for the Michigan Education Association in these waning days of August.

That's because teachers and school workers who are MEA members have until Sunday to decide whether to remain in their union.

Dave Eggert covers Lansing for the Associated Press. He says this is a big litmus test for right-to-work in Michigan because the MEA is Michigan’s largest public sector union. There's a one-month window every year to allow members to opt out.

There are 112,000 active members. There isn’t an estimate on how many may opt out this month. Last year, only about 1,500 members left during the opt-out window.

Read Dave Eggert's story in the Detroit News here

*Listen to the full interview with Dave Eggert above. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

When the final bell rings, students stream out of Lansing’s three public high schools. And sometimes that’s when the trouble begins.

In 2013, an after-school shooting outside Lansing’s Sexton High School injured four students.

City officials are hoping a new team of volunteers may help head off problems in the future. 

Police Chief Mike Yankowski says the “school watch” program will operate similar to a “neighborhood watch”, keeping an eye out for trouble during the hours after school.

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