Education

Jake Neher / MPRN

The Education Achievement Authority has been the center of controversy since its doors first opened. The idea was to create a statewide school district to take over and turn around failing schools. The EAA is now in its third year, operating schools, all in Detroit, and it remains a polarizing subject in Michigan.

Michigan isn’t the only state where policymakers have created statewide school systems to turn around their worst-performing public schools. Tennessee and Louisiana have “Recovery School Districts,” or RSDs, similar to Michigan’s EAA. Nelson Smith has been studying these state turnaround systems for the Thomas Fordham Institute. His most recent report is called “Redefining the School District in Michigan”. Dan Varner serves on the State Board of Education. He’s also the head of an organization called Excellent Schools Detroit, which is seeking ways to make school choice work better in Detroit.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Flint Community Schools Board of Trustees approved a revised deficit elimination plan last night. 

But the district’s unions haven’t signed off on a key part of the plan. 

To make the plan work, district officials factored in a 15% pay cut for employees. District officials suggest without the contract concessions, the Flint school district could potentially start down the road to a state takeover.

Ethel Johnson is president of the United Teachers of Flint. She says they’ve already given up too much. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Three of the five school districts that face more scrutiny from Michigan’s Department of Treasury have reduced their general fund deficits last school year. That’s according to independent audits recently filed to the state. But some still face serious, ongoing problems. Here’s a breakdown of how the districts ended the 2013-14 school year.

Enrollment in the Detroit Public Schools is down slightly from last year—but the district is calling that a victory after years of double-digit enrollment declines.

According to unofficial data released Tuesday, the district counts 47,238 students across its 97 schools.

That’s down 3.4% from the prior year. But district spokesman Steve Wasko said it beat the district’s own budget targets, as well as demographer’s projections.

WCN 24/7 / Flickr

State education officials are preparing to implement new science standards in schools. The state Board of Education could adopt the standards as soon as next month.

The board hopes to avoid another battle with state lawmakers over the standards. The Legislature last year threatened to stop funding new standards for math and English known as the Common Core State Standards.

“This is the role and the authority of the state Board of Education to adopt state standards,” said Martin Ackley, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). “What we plan on doing and will do is inform the Legislature on these proposed standards.”

“We plan on sending a report to the Legislature on these proposed new standards for science in the state of Michigan,” he said.

Critics of both the Common Core and these current standards claim they take away local control of what is taught in schools.

State education officials hope the Next Generation standards will boost achievement in science. Less than 20 percent of Michigan students passed the state science exam last year.

Ed. note: This post has been updated to delete references to “Next Generation” standards. It's not clear if the standards will be presented as Michigan-specific standards that borrow heavily from NG.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A new twist in the debate about children’s vaccinations: parents really have no idea how many little kids are not fully vaccinated. 

That’s one finding from a new national poll done by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The majority of parents – 74% to be exact– say they would remove their kids from day care if another child was not up-to-date on vaccines.

But in reality, one in four preschoolers aren’t up to date on their vaccinations, according to the CDC.  

School bus traversing the snow.
User Kristin Andrus / flickr.com

The latest inspections by the Michigan State Police have cataloged problems in the state's school bus fleet.

And according to Francis Donnelley of the Detroit News "small, rural school districts were experiencing the most problems with their buses during the 2013-14 school year."

According to the "School Bus Inspection Results for School Year 2014" issued by the Michigan State Police, 1,739 buses out of the 16,984 in the state's fleet failed inspection.

Some counties had worse records than others. 

  • In Mason County Central, 13 of 18 buses failed inspection.
  • In Ubly Community Schools in the Michigan Thumb, 9 of 12 failed.
  • In Vestaburg Community Schools in central Michigan, 9 of 9 buses failed.

Chalkboard
user alkruse24 / Flickr

What might the lame-duck legislative session hold for Michigan schools?

This is the time lawmakers often make a big push to pass pet bills and there are several in play right now that could mean big changes for students and teachers.

Chastity Pratt Dawsey, reporter for Bridge Magazine, and Michelle Richard, senior consultant for Public Sector Consultants, joined us today.

You can listen to our conversation with them below:


Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan universities are a major draw to international college students, according to new report.

The Institute for International Education’s annual Open Doors report ranks the state of Michigan has having the ninth-largest population of international college students, nearly 30,000. 

Biologycorner / Creative Commons

State education officials have updated standardized testing for public school students across Michigan. Details of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress were announced Thursday.

The new tests, known as M-STEP, replace the 44-year-old Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Last spring the state was set to switch over from the MEAP to a test called "Smarter Balanced.” But lawmakers balked at the idea, because the test aligned with the controversial Common Core standards.

Twitter

The state Board of Education has taken a big step toward hiring a new state superintendent. On Monday, it selected a search firm to find possible candidates.

The board still needs to iron out contract details with Iowa-based Ray & Associates. Assuming that goes smoothly, it expects to hire a replacement for retiring state Superintendent Mike Flannagan before May.

Board President John Austin says members have made clear what kind of candidates they are looking for.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

When students are failed by their school, who is legally responsible? 

Is a basic education a constitutional right?

And if it is, can the courts enforce it?    

These are the questions at the heart of this case, in which the ACLU of Michigan sued Highland Park schools and the state of Michigan, saying students were not taught basic literacy skills.

The Michigan Court of Appeals says the ACLU cannot sue the state and the school district on behalf of students – even if those students were “abysmally failed.”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Take a book. Leave a book.

This is the simple idea behind the Little Free Library movement.

It was launched in 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. In just a few short years, the movement spread to the point where today there are thousands and thousands of Little Free Libraries all over the world.

Now the Little Free Library movement is taking root in Detroit.

Whitmore Lake Public Schools / https://sites.google.com/a/wlps.net/wlps/

Next week, voters will decide whether Ann Arbor schools should annex the small, struggling district next door: Whitmore Lake.  

And some Whitmore Lake students say this may be the best way to save the small-town schools they love.

The 11th-graders in Jill Henry's advanced-placement government class are bright kids.

Even before they started doing their election projects about this possible annexation, they obviously knew their district was struggling.

After all, the whole district is down to just about 1,000 kids.

It’s $60 million in debt.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Eli Broad  is writing another big check at Michigan State University.

  Broad and wife Edythe are giving $25 million to Michigan State's College of Business, which bears the Broad name. The donation increases their total giving to MSU to nearly $100 million.

  The latest gift was announced Friday. MSU President Lou Anna Simon says it's "extraordinary and will have a lasting impact."

Ou yang Youheng / Flickr Creative Commons

The National Institutes of Health has made a $21.2 million grant over five years to a group of four Detroit institutions of higher education. 

The University of Detroit Mercy, Marygrove College,  Wayne  County Community College, and Wayne State University make up the consortium.

The goal of the NIH award is to encourage minority and low income students into biomedical research careers.

MSU

There has been growing interest in recent years in using computer simulations to teach human anatomy to college medical students.

But new research at Michigan State University finds the computers are not as effective as teaching tools as real human cadavers.

The MSU study found students who used real human cadavers did better identifying organs and their functions than students who learned from a computer simulation alone.

University of Michigan's Burton Bell Tower
User Matthew Britt / flickr.com

According to a University of Michigan press release, the university's "total net position" has increased by $1.6 billion to $13.1 billion, and its endowment has grown by $1.3 billion to $9.7 billion in the past budget year.  

The endowment figures were presented in an annual investment report to the Board of Regents on Thursday in Flint. The report showed an 18.8% investment return for the endowment in fiscal year 2014, up from 10.7 percent last year.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder (left), and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer (right).
Gov. Snyder's office, and Schauer campaign.

Update 11:20 a.m.

As predicted, the debate rages on.

Tons of people have written about this issue over the last year, and today the Citizens Research Council released some more analysis on this question, so we thought we'd add their findings to this post we published last May. (Our investigative reporter, Lester Graham, is also looking into this question and will have more for us in the coming weeks.)

What did the Citizens Research Council find?

You can read the full-report here, but in short they tackled these three questions:

Ian Freimuth / Flickr

If you grew up in Michigan, your history books showed you images of slavery: black men and women picking cotton in the South.

Michigan, we learned, was a very important part of the Underground Railroad, helping African-Americans across the border to freedom in Canada.

But what we weren’t taught was this: Slavery helped build Detroit.

Some of the best-known names used for roads, counties, cities and schools around Southeast Michigan belong to old families who owned slaves.

Bill McGraw dug into "Detroit's Big Bad Secret" for Deadline Detroit.

"This is why I hate Ann Arbor's bigotry," one Whitmore Lake parent whispered to her neighbor at an information meeting today to discuss whether Ann Arbor schools should annex the Whitmore Lake school district. 

So yeah, things got a little heated towards the end. 

But the first chunk of the meeting was spent tackling parents' questions about how the logistics and numbers would play out.

Ann Arbor Board of Education President Deb Mexicotte kicked off the event with her argument for annexation: right now, the Whitmore Lake district is barely operating in the black.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan testing scores are treading water. Ron French and Chastity Pratt Dawsey of Bridge Magazine traveled across the country to study states that are getting education right. They say they discovered what it will take to pull Michigan's schools out of the mire of middling-to-poor student achievement.

Stopping in both red and blue states –  Massachusetts, Tennessee, Florida, and Minnesota – French and Pratt worked to avoided bias. 

While Massachusetts is widely known as the gold standard in education, the reporters found that Minnesota, a mid-western state comparable to Michigan, ranks No. 1 in math scores and in the top 10 in every other category.

Ten years ago, Florida and Tennessee scored lower than Michigan. In the last decade, both have ascended in the ranks and surpassed Michigan.

Jake Neher / MPRN

The state superintendent of schools is refusing to weigh in on the debate over school funding ahead of the November election. That issue has been a central talking point in the governor’s race.

Gov. Rick Snyder says he has increased education funding every year he has been in office. He includes money that went to shore up teacher pension funds. Democratic nominee Mark Schauer says Snyder has cut funding by about $1 billion.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says he is not interested in getting involved in the debate this close to the election.

T.D. Ford / Flickr

The only scheduled joint appearance between Governor Rick Snyder and former Congressman Mark Schauer wrapped up last night. One of the top issues of the debate was education. If you turn on a television, there's no escaping the "dueling teacher" campaign ads for Snyder and Schauer.

Schauer's ads feature teachers saying Governor Snyder slashed $1 billion from school funding. Snyder's ads feature teachers who say Snyder's been great for schools, that he's increased K-12 state funding every year he's been in office.

John Bebow is president of the non-partisan Center for Michigan. Bebow says let's stop talking about the past and, instead, look ahead to the future of education spending.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

  EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - East Lansing and Michigan State University's Center for Language Teaching Advancement say they're trying to open up local services to non-English speakers with a program that provides translations of materials into Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Korean and Spanish.

  The university says the project goes by the name "MELTing POT, MSU East Lansing Together: Promoting Outreach through Translations."

user krossbow / Flickr

Updated:

Black men have some of the lowest graduation rates among college students.

Nationally, just 33% of them finish their degrees within six years.

At Eastern Michigan University, it's even lower: around 18%, according to their numbers from 2004-2006.

“We have [about 1500] black males. We can’t connect with all of them, but we can cast a wide net.”

EMU likes to boast about their diverse student body – one of the “most diverse in the Midwest,” according to the school’s website.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

This fall, thousands of college students in Michigan are going through a new kind of training aimed at stopping sexual assaults before they happen.

It’s called "bystander intervention training,” which is exactly what it sounds like: trying to get students to feel comfortable stepping in when they see a potentially shady situation.

It’s ambitious, when you consider what kind of bravery it might take for an 18-year-old to put themselves in the mix when some stranger at a party heads off with a very drunk young woman.

Detroit Public Schools

Detroit’s elected school board has lost its bid to oust the district’s emergency manager immediately.

Board members voted to get rid of Jack Martin this week.

And they sued to enforce that, citing a portion of state law that allows elected officials to remove emergency managers after 18 months.

Martin hasn’t yet been in office for 18 months, but the Detroit Public Schools have been under some form of emergency manager for years.

The question is whether that 18-month limit applies to all emergency managers, or just individual appointees.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Flint school district once again fell short of its student count day forecast.   

90% of a district’s per-pupil funding from the state is based on the fall count day number.    

Flint fell about 150 students short of its projection for this year. Flint gets roughly $7,500 from the state for each student.  The district will now have to redo its plan to eliminate its $20 million deficit. 

Larry Watkins is Flint’s interim superintendent. He’s not disappointed by the number.

One of the assignments in the Big History course is to have students use their personal narratives to understand the importance of scale.
User: Big History Project / facebook

 

If you had a typical American high school experience, chances are you trudged through the day, going from one period to another – maybe starting with algebra, then over to American lit, then chemistry or biology, on to history, and so on.

History in particular gets a bum rap, with grumbling about memorizing dates and names.

What's missing? A sense of all of this knowledge being connected.

Enter the Big History Project. Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has become a champion of this new way to teach history, and he's using his own money to develop this new history curriculum for high schools.

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