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School Reform Office explains school closure system to education committee

Feb 9, 2017

Credit Flickr user Frank Juarez / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

As the state School Reform Office moves closer to potentially closing multiple schools across Michigan, a bill ending the law is being hotly debated in the Legislature.

Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee, Phil Pavlov, is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the law allowing the SRO to close consistently low performing schools.

During last week’s meeting about the new bill, the School Reform Office was criticized by school administrators and parents. They said there is not a consistent method for measuring school progress and quality.

But State School Reform Officer Natasha Baker said having multiple methods for testing schools is beneficial.

“The goal is for parents to understand they do have options,” she said. “And the SRO’s mission is to turn priority schools into the highest performing schools in the state.”

“However, while we’re going through that process, parents have to choose the best options for their children and they can’t do that if they don’t know what they are,” Baker said.

Pavlov and the committee have been working on a plan to not just repeal the so-called “failing schools law,” but to also replace it. They said they want a more consistent method for determining school progress.

Pavlov said they would like to partner with the School Reform Office, but the current system for evaluating schools isn’t working.

"We heard a lot today about process and systems and accountability, but we didn’t hear much about what’s happening in that school building, in that classroom, with the direct student centered education that’s so necessary,” he said.

The SRO isn’t perfect, Baker said, but they are able to be transparent with districts in ways they haven’t been before.

When asked what she would like to see if there is a replacement to the current law, Baker said, “I would like for the State of Michigan to clearly define what they – what we see as high performing.”

“Growth is not enough,” Baker continued. “Kids have to be able to be proficient, however we define that.”

Meanwhile, the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Board of Education has authorized the school district to take legal action, “when timely and appropriate” to explain why they feel the school closures cannot legally happen.