education

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Governor Snyder has appointed eleven people to oversee the state’s Education Achievement System. That’s the system designed to turnaround the state’s worst schools – starting with Detroit.

Three unions representing about 10,000 Detroit Public Schools employees have sued over a 10 percent pay cut and 20 percent contribution to health insurance imposed by the district.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson tells The Detroit News the cuts are "an unprecedented power grab." Secretary's union President Ruby Newbold tells the Detroit Free Press employees will fight them any way they can.

The federal court suit seeks an injunction to block the changes, which were made under new state legislation expanding emergency financial managers' power.

The suit is against emergency financial manager Roy Roberts and state Treasurer Andy Dillon, who approved the cuts.

Roberts declines comment on the suit but says he's encouraged by the "overall attitude of the unions" in showing willingness to work with him.

Shannon Muskopf / Flickr

A number of Michigan public school teachers are feeling pressured to cheat. A recent Detroit Free Press survey shows one-third of Michigan educators feel pressure to cheat on standardized tests and adjust students’ grades. The problem has surfaced in public schools across the country.

Emily Richmond is with the National Education Writers Association. She says measuring teacher performance and political pressures are the reason.

"Teachers are feeling a lot of pressure – I think a lot of them are feeling threatened and I think they feel their job security is on the line," she said.

About 3-hundred public schools in the country have recently faced suspicions, claims or cases of cheating to improve test scores.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

DETROIT (AP) - Wayne State University is cutting 200 jobs, including 80 that are currently filled due to a loss of $32 million in funding from the state.

The Detroit Free Press reports Friday that an email about the layoffs and cuts was sent Thursday to all university employees by school President Alan Gilmour.

Gilmour writes that the school has "notified most of the affected employees."

The Detroit university looked at each of its schools, colleges and divisions for cost savings and hiked tuition for undergraduate and graduate students to keep its budget balanced.

It says no additional job cuts are planned.

(courtesy of the Detroit Public School District)

Public school teachers in Detroit are getting a wage and benefit cut.  The state appointed emergency manager informed Detroit Public School unions this morning that he is imposing a 10 percent wage cut this year.   Emergency Manager Roy S. Roberts is also imposing an 80/20 split on health care benefits.    

The move is expected to save the district nearly 82 million dollars this year.  

Roberts issued a written statement explaining the need for imposing the concessions. 

These are tough times for teachers.

Actually, this is an even tougher time for education. Yet the  way in which all sides have been approaching this major and growing statewide crisis is, at the very least bizarre.

Take the Michigan Education Association, for example. It is by far the state’s largest teacher’s union, and has been around since before the Civil War. It proudly proclaims “the mission of the MEA is to ensure that the education of our students and the working environments of our members are of the highest quality.”

That sounds good. But if you watch what they do, rather than what they say, you might conclude their charter statement really says: “The MEA’s mission is to prevent our members’ salaries and benefits from being cut by any means necessary.”

That’s really what the union is about. I was reminded of this yesterday by the revelation that the MEA spent $25,000  dollars to try and get Paul Scott, a state representative from Grand Blanc, recalled. Why the union is doing this isn’t clear.

Except out of sheer vindictiveness. Scott, who chairs the House Education Committee, voted this year to slash elementary and high school funding by twice as much as was actually cut.

I wouldn’t expect the union to support him for reelection. But recalling him would in no way change the balance of power in Lansing. If you are a teacher in Holly, say, you might wonder,“Is that what I pay several hundred dollars in dues for?"

That doesn’t mean the education community should be pleased with government. Most members of the Republican majority in Lansing would enthusiastically agree  that this state needs a much better educated workforce. However, most are entirely capable of uttering in the next breath that we need to cut teacher salaries and, especially, benefits and pensions.

What is especially puzzling is that so few people see this as a contradiction. These days, Republicans control every branch of state government, and have been energetically cutting  spending on education, to give business large tax breaks instead.

State Budget Director John Nixon says Michigan State University and Wayne State University did not violate the state's tuition cap of 7 percent when setting fall tuition rates and they will receive their full state aid payments. Nixon still needs to make a decision on whether Northern Michigan University exceeded the cap. 

Kevin Wong / Flickr

Teachers in our country rarely get the respect they deserve -- a uniquely American pathology. But this year they’ve endured not just indifference, but disrespect – and from Congressmen, no less. Teachers are now blamed not just for falling test scores, but failing state budgets and rising healthcare costs.

There was once a politician who took a different view.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson's Northwest Ordinance – what some scholars believe to be one of the three most important documents in the founding of America, along with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – provided funding for public schools and universities. In it, he declared, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The new teacher tenure law that Governor Snyder signed this week makes it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling.  As Rick Pluta reports, the law "eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions."

The devil is in the details

user frank juarez / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that will make it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling. It also eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions. 

The governor says seniority is an outdated system for deciding which teachers are laid off first, and where they should work.

"We need a performance-based system that recognizes the very best that teachers can deliver and gives them good recognition and reward for those opportunities and that's what this is all about," said Snyder. "It's about moving forward and stop looking at a broken world of the past."

School employee unions say the new law will remove critical job protections and lead to districts getting rid of veteran teachers for financial rather than academic reasons.

Louise Somalski, with the American Federation of Teachers, says the new law takes away teachers’ rights to bargain for job protections as school districts face growing financial pressures.

"I’m afraid that when it comes right down to it, there so tight on money at the local school district level because funding has been cut, that the most-experienced teachers are going to be let go – and we want the most-experienced teachers with the kids and it's going to hurt the students in the long run."

A commission will make specific recommendations to the Legislature next year on how to measure teacher performance.

The new rules will take effect at the beginning of the school year that begins in the fall of 2012.

Woodley Wonder Works / Flickr

Governor Snyder is set to sign new teacher tenure rules into law today. Changing the state’s tenure laws has been a priority of Governor Snyder and the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate. The Associated Press reports:

Gov. Rick Snyder is preparing to sign into law changes to the state's teacher tenure system that supporters say will make it easier to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

Supporters say the legislation… makes teacher performance rather than seniority the key factor in awarding tenure and deciding layoffs within a district.

Democrats say the proposals are part of a continued legislative attack on teachers and union rights and won't improve the state's schools.

Teachers already are reeling from state budget cuts to education that could force layoffs in many districts headed into the next academic year.

GOP lawmakers also are working on legislation that would require many teachers and other public employees to pay a larger share of their own health insurance costs.

Jack Amick / Flickr

Lansing teachers have approved a new one year contract that includes benefits cuts and layoffs.  Under the deal approved by Lansing teachers, the district will eliminate up to 95 positions.   The one year agreement also freezes wages, while increasing employee contributions to their health care plans.

The contract concessions are tied to the Lansing School District’s need to reduce a projected $18 million dollar budget gap.   The school board is expected to vote on the district’s budget for the next fiscal year this evening.

Patti Seidl is the president of the Lansing Schools Education Association.   She’s worried that the school district may seek additional wage and benefit concessions next year, when the new contract expires.   

(courtesy of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's Office)

An incoming University of Michigan student has taken her fight against being deported to Washington D.C.  Ola Kaso testified before a U.S. Senate committee in favor of the Dream Act.   The bill would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. to pursue their educations. 

Kaso says she has tried to take advantage of the education opportunity given to  her, an opportunity now threatened by deportation to Albania.

Tim Melton / Tim Melton

All teachers in Michigan may be evaluated based on the success of their students.

That’s the goal of legislation introduced by state representative Tim Melton this week. He wants student achievement to be 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Governor Rick Snyder’s dramatic plan to save the state’s failing schools is that it has sparked essentially no opposition. Though it is being talked about primarily in terms of Detroit, the new Educational Achievement System is eventually meant to be extended statewide.

Here’s how the governor says it will work. Those individual Detroit schools among the lowest-achieving five percent in the state will have the coming year to clean up their act. If they haven’t shown drastic improvement by next June, they will no longer be governed by the Detroit Public School system.

Instead, they will move to a new authority, the Educational Achievement System, which will be run by what sounds like a state school board. It will be chaired, at least for now, by Roy Roberts, the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, and consist of eleven members. Seven will be appointed by the governor, two by the Detroit schools and two by Eastern Michigan University.

Eastern, which was originally a teachers’ college, will be heavily involved in both running the new authority, and in helping these failing skills get up to speed. It is suspected that some of them struggled in part because of difficulties dealing with the notorious and often corrupt or incompetent Detroit school bureaucracy.

Supposedly, the new Educational Achievement System won’t just replace one set of officials with another; it should give individual schools and teachers and principals more freedom to figure out and solve their own educational problems, using whatever works.

Within a few years, the plan is to extend the authority’s reach to other failing public schools around the state. Now, there are a lot of questions for which we apparently don’t yet have answers.

How much does it cost to educate a child in Michigan?

The answer to that question is causing controversy for Gov. Rick Snyder.

Greenhills School -- where Gov. Snyder's daughter attends -- in Ann Arbor released a video asking for donations. In the video, officials from Greenhills claim that $20,000 per year per student isn't enough to keep the school running.

Michigan public schools receive an average of $6,846 per year per student, and that number has dropped since Gov. Snyder took office.

From the Michigan Messenger:

As the debate over deep cuts to the state’s per pupil allowance in education funding continues, Greenhills School in Ann Arbor has released a fundraising video in which school officials say the $20,000 per year tuition per student is not enough to keep the school running.

The video features students and faculty from the school, where Gov. Rick Snyder sends his daughter, reading from a script and saying that money raised from an annual auction was necessary to keep the school going. One student, who is not identified, says, “Tuition alone does not cover the costs of a Greenhills education.”

The video asks viewers to consider a donation of “$10,000, $500 or $50″ to help the school defray the school’s operational costs.

At the same time that the school to which Snyder sends his own child can’t make ends meet with funding of $20,000 per pupil, the governor recently pushed through and signed legislation that cuts per pupil public school funding by $370 per student, bringing state funding to $6,846 per student. Some schools could qualify for an additional $100 per student if they adopt what Snyder and GOP lawmakers call “best practices.” Those practices include reducing employee costs by forcing an increase in insurance cost sharing and privatizing or consolidating some services.

According to an opinion piece from the Battle Creek Examiner, academic and athletic facilities at Greenhills include Smartboard technology in all classrooms, a state-of-the-art theater, an indoor batting cage, a climbing wall, and a weather station. The average class size is 15 students and the school scores 100 percent college entrance rate for graduates.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Mark Wolfe / FEMA

Since he left office in 2008, former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush has been heading up the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.

The foundation's goal is to "ignite a movement of reform, state by state, to transform education for the 21st century."

Today, Bush is in the state of Michigan.

Governor Snyder's office reports that Snyder and Bush will meet with Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, and Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan at 11:30 a.m. this morning today to discuss education reforms.

From the Associated Press:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is coming to Michigan to meet with Republican leaders and testify about how he thinks states should change how they approach education....

Bush will testify before the Senate-House Education Committee Wednesday morning. He'll also join Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, state superintendent Mike Flanagan and the House and Senate GOP leaders for a news conference to discuss education improvements.

Snyder outlined a sweeping education proposal this spring that included new rules for teacher tenure, anti-bullying legislation and new ways for students to start taking college classes as early as the ninth grade. Lawmakers are working on the changes.

The good news: "At all grades, the average U.S. history scores in 2010 were higher than the scores in 1994, and the score for eighth-graders was also higher than in 2006."

The bad news: "Less than one-quarter of students perform at or above the 'proficient' level in 2010."

That's the word this morning from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, part of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

Teacher Tenure

Jun 10, 2011

Everybody whose life has been at all successful has had at least one really good teacher. But most people have had some really bad teachers too. In high school, I had an algebra teacher during the last hour of the day who gave out assignments and promptly left for the racetrack. As far as I know, he was never fired.

On the other hand, there are many good teachers. I was married to one whose students topped the state, year after year, in their performance on the AP history exam. I don’t think she ever worked less than 70 hours a week.

The Ann Arbor school board passed its budget last night which eliminated teaching positions.

Kyle Feldscher from Annarbor.com reports:

Trustees passed the $183 million budget by a 5-2 vote, filling a deficit that eventually grew to about $16 million. The budget originally included the elimination of high school transportation and 70 full-time teacher positions. The final budget passed Wednesday included high school transportation and eliminated 62.3 full-time teacher positions.

Feldscher reports that teacher layoffs are not expected:

The budget includes no layoffs of full-time teachers, with all of the position reductions coming through attrition and negotiations with the Ann Arbor Education Association.

School districts would have an easier time firing teachers under changes to tenure laws approved by the state House.

The tenure proposal would rate the effectiveness of teachers based on student test scores.

The bills have begun their march through the Legislature after many years of debating changes to tenure rules.

Democratic state Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton says tenure laws came about to protect teachers from administrators that tried to ban certain books from being taught in the classroom.

She says of course tenure rules should be updated and changed, but she says these changes go too far:

"Rather than go in with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel, identify a problem and fix it, what these bills do, really, I think, absolutely flay the tenure act with all the zeal of a butcher’s knife," said Lipton.

Republicans say the proposed changes would ensure bad teachers with failing student test scores are removed from classrooms.

The tenure bills were approved along mostly party lines, with one Democrat saying he would discourage his granddaughter from ever teaching in Michigan. The bills now head to the Republican-led state Senate.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham moderated a panel discussion looking into the current state of education in Michigan (K-12 and higher education) at the Mackinac Policy Conference last week.

He spoke with Peter Spadafore, the Assistant Director of Government Relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards, and Michael Van Beek, the Director of Education Policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

They explored how education funding can be improved in the state; and the potential impacts of Governor Rick Snyder's reforms on school districts, teachers and students in the state.

You can watch the discussion below.

Education Panel: Cutting the Costs of Educating Kids

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate handed a complete state spending plan over to the state House today.

That leaves just a couple more steps before the budget bills go to Governor Rick Snyder for his approval.

The arguments on both sides of the aisle in the Legislature have been cyclical in recent weeks; Republicans have offered up departmental spending plans with deep cuts, and Democrats have said the cuts help businesses and hurt working poor families and children.

When talking about the K-12 schools budget, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said:

"Amidst a long day of voting on bad budgets, we find ourselves looking at the absolute worst of the worst."

The K-12 schools budget makes additional cuts in per-pupil funding with the possibility of offsetting those cuts by consolidating services and by encouraging other Republican-proposed “best practices.”

Overall the complaints of Democrats have had little impact on the budget process. The party lacks enough votes to get in the way of a budget that has thus-far rolled quickly through the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It appears any debate on this budget will be over by early next week.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Senate has approved a bill that would cut funding for the state's public schools.

The measure approved 21-16 mostly along party lines Wednesday would cut per student funding by an additional $300 per pupil in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. A portion of those cuts would be offset by money to help schools pay employee retirement system costs. Some districts also could get about $100 per student if they meet certain so-called "best financial practices."

The cuts will come on top of a $170 per student cut that's already in place and would be carried over into next fiscal year.

The bill will be sent to the House, where it will be folded into a larger budget bill and likely approved this month.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers may be closing in on a compromise plan related to education spending.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said Wednesday negotiators are working on a proposal that would lessen the projected cuts to K-12 school funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder in February proposed cutting per-student funding by an additional $300 in the next budget year. The developing revised plan would provide $100 per student to all districts to offset or restore part of that cut. The cut could be reduced by another $100 per student if districts adopt so-called "best financial practices."

The proposal would cut university funding by 15 percent and community college funding by 4 percent.

Richardville stressed negotiators are still working toward the possible agreement. Talks are continuing between Senate, House and Snyder administration leaders.

user BES Photos / Flickr

This week, What’s Working focuses on education by taking a look at one Michigan school that went from academic mediocrity to being a model for educational reforms in the state. North Godwin Elementary is located just south of Grand Rapids in a working class community with a high immigrant population. Many families in the area are refugees from countries such as Bosnia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Liberia. A high number of students spend a few years learning English as a second language. 

When Arelis Diaz arrived as a teacher at North Godwin Elementary in 1995, the students were struggling to reach proficiency in basic skills. She spent five years as a teacher, and then served as principal of the school from 2000 to 2005. In that time, North Godwin’s students began excelling on standardized tests, bringing student proficiency rates to upwards of 80 percent across all subjects. That academic success at North Godwin continues today. The school has been the recipient of praise and awards for its turnaround, including the “Dispelling the Myth” award in 2010, given by The Educational Trust. 

screen grab from HDNet clip

Detroit public schools face many challenges, and Dan Rather wants you to know how bad it is.

HDNet, a cable and satellite television channel aimed at "men's interests", will air "Dan Rather Reports: A National Disgrace" tonight at 8 p.m. (and again at 11 p.m.).

Here's a clip from the program:

HDNet says the program is "full of heartbreaking images: children sitting in class for days without a teacher; a principal addressing graduating seniors with stories of the violence they’ve seen; and abandoned schools left to rot in an increasingly empty city."

Dan Rather spoke with Paul W. Smith on WJR this morning. He told Smith that he hopes people learn that the nation's public education system needs to be changed:

"What I hope the takeaway will be is that we all, not just people in Detroit, we all should be ashamed of what's happening to our schools and we can change it. But we can't change it on the present course where all decisions are top down instead of being bottom up."

user ppdigital / morguefile

Michigan and other states may soon compete against one another to try to win a new round of grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Congress allotted another $700 million to Race to the Top, the education reform program where states compete for federal grants.

Dani Davis

A new national survey shows that, despite what many may think, students who major in the arts are not destined for a life of unemployment.

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) surveyed more than 13,000 alumni from arts schools around the country were surveyed.

matthileo / Flickr

This past Wednesday, the Michigan State House of Representatives approved their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. Some pieces of the bill include a forty-eight month limit on welfare benefits, a cut to clothing allowances for poor children, a twenty million dollar cut to local bus systems, a ten million dollar cut to funds appropriated to the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as the cutting of thirty-four State Police officers. 

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