Education

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This week, for our series “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley sits down with Karl Covert, the Dean of Washtenaw Technical Middle College.

Located on the campus of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Technical Middle College offers high school students the chance to complete their high school education in a college setting, while also earning either an associate’s degree or technical skill certification.

The Middle College was founded in 1997 by a group of educators who were concerned about two things: high school graduates being unprepared for college and a decreasing number of vocational training programs in the area.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb defended his tenure in Lansing Wednesday.

Meanwhile, controversy over his plan to outsource more than 800 school maintenance jobs is growing.

Union leaders opposing the privatization move question why Bobb is pushing the process along so quickly during the school year.They also raise questions about possible ties between Bobb and a Sodexo executive. Both men belong to the same fraternity. Edward McNeill, with Council 25 of the Michigan Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, says the deal “makes you wonder what’s going on.”

“And we’re certainly gonna move to have this investigated by the Governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, legislative folks in Lansing, as well as the Detroit School Board.”

Bobb issued a written response to what he called the unions’ “untrue claims” earlier this week.Bobb says the outsourcing will save the district more than $75 million over five years, and improve employee performance.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A group of artists is spending frigid days this week digging through piles of rubble at one of the Detroit Public Schools demolition sites.

Detroit Public Schools officials granted access to the site of the former Munger Middle and Chadsey High Schools to artists from the 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios. Jacob Montelongo Martinez is the gallery's creative director. He’s one of the artists salvaging brick and limestone from the demolished Munger Middle School and Chadsey High School in Southwest Detroit.

Martinez says the materials will be used to build archways, paths and benches at a “reading garden” outside a Detroit Public Library branch nearby.

"For me it’s ... a metaphor. The archways are a gateway to the community, a gateway to education."

Eric Froh is an artist who’s spending a frigid day hunting for treasures in the piles of rubble left by the excavators demolishing the buildings. Many of the large limestone pieces have been broken.

"But all this stone we can rework and make it into something new again. Like this," he says, pulling a piece of limestone with carved details from the pile.

The scavenged bricks and limestone will be used to build archways, paths and benches for a “reading garden” at a nearby Detroit Public Library branch.

Chadsey and Munger are being torn down to make way for a new Pre-K through 8th grade school building on the site. 

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Update 11:15 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the financial manager of Detroit Public Schools, has asked state lawmakers to borrow funds for the school district. The Associated Press reports:

Bobb said Wednesday during an appearance before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees that draft legislation for his plan would be submitted within about a week.

The plan would include the state helping to guarantee the school district won't go into bankruptcy. Bobb said the district does not plan to file for bankruptcy.

Bobb said the plan would not cost the state "one dime."

Bobb said the district plans to borrow more than $200 million in March. He wants his legislation approved by April 1.

6:35 a.m.:

Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, will testify today at the state Capitol. He'll appear before a joint session of the state Senate and House education committees.

The Associated Press reports:

He's expected to talk about the district's turnaround plan including finances and academics. Bobb was appointed as the Detroit district's emergency financial manager by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in early 2009. Bobb has feuded with the elected school board over control of the district.

Tulane Public Relations / Creative Commons

In Michigan there are two count days each year; one in September and one in February. Count days are important to every school district’s bottom line because the total number of students on those two days helps determine how much state money the district gets year-round.

The count day in September carries more weight in determining funding than today does. September's count day makes up 75% of a district's total enrollment and the count day in February 25%. But school leaders are still notifying parents of the extra importance today holds.

John Helmholdt is with Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“Parents need to do everything they can to ensure children are in school every day, it just so happens that there’s two days a year where our state funding is based on the total count of students on that day.”

Helmholdt notes students with an excused or unexcused absence can still be counted.

Helmholdt says the district treats count day sort of like a campaign; blanketing the community with fliers and making robo-calls beforehand and hosting fun events in school today.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The state Board of Education voted in favor of raising the “cut scores” or cut off scores for what’s considered "proficient" on the state’s standardized MEAP test.

Susan Dynarski is an education professor at the University of Michigan:

"The cut score that the state has defined as indicating proficiency in math is currently set such that 95% of third graders are above that score. By moving up that score, 34 percent of third graders will be defined as proficient."

Dynarski says the new scores will give parents and schools a more accurate representation of how well students are doing and what areas need improvement:  

"The idea of the cut scores is to provide a signal about what proficiency is and what you should be aiming for, and if you set the bar at a higher level, the idea would be then that they’d be aiming for that higher level."

The new cut scores, which are still to be determined, will go into effect for the 2011-12 school year.

user Marlith / Flickr

Scholarships for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are popping up all over the country and Lansing Community College has just created its own version of an LGBT scholarship.

The LCC scholarship is for gay students, under age 25, who have done advocacy work within the community. There are approximately fifty national scholarships for LGBT students, straight students who have supported the community, and children of gay parents.  There are more than a dozen similar scholarships for students who want to attend Michigan’s four year universities.

Candace Gingrich-Jones is with the Human Rights Campaign.  She says they’re seeing a lot of gay alumni who decide to donate money and create scholarships for LGBT students.

“It’s like if you’re a member of a fraternity or sorority, or if you’re a member of the theater club. You want to pass something on to the next group of people.”

The LCC scholarship was funded and named in honor of Betsy Lou Robson, a woman from Lansing. 

Human Rights Campaign maintains a database of LGBT scholarships, broken down by state.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

A  new Harvard University report say high schools need to do a better job preparing students for whatever career path they choose…whether it’s becoming a doctor or an electrician.

The "Pathways to Prosperity" study finds that America’s education system is focused too much on college prep and not enough on alternatives, like vocational and career and technical education (CTE).

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the release of the report on Wednesday:

The Pathways to Prosperity study envisions a new system of career and technical education that constitutes a radical departure from the vocational education of the past.

The need for that transformation is pressing.  I applaud your report’s frank discussion of the shortcomings of our current CTE system and its call to strengthen the rigor and relevance of career and technical education.

I am not here today to endorse the specifics of your policy recommendations. I want instead to suggest two takeaway messages from your study and the Department’s reform efforts.

Secretary Duncan's two takeaways?

  1. CTE, the "neglected stepchild of education reform," can no longer be ignored.
  2. CTE needs to be re-imagined for the 21st century.

Patty Cantu is director of the CTE office for Michigan’s Department of Education. She's not surprised by the report:

"The pendulum swings this way in education a lot. We focus on one area, and then we say, oh, that’s right, we have this other important thing and just as valuable thing that we also have to take into consideration."

Cantu says the head of Michigan's Department of Education, Mike Flangan, is very interested in "not only embracing academic rigor, but also the rigor of [the state's] career and technical education program."

The report says students should be able to choose career paths early, like they do in Europe. Secretary Duncan says "we can’t just copy the vocational education systems of other high-performing countries. But we can learn from them about how to build rigorous educational and work-experience programs with strong links to high-wage, high-demand jobs."

Many government leaders are debating the value of preschool programs, like Head Start.  A new Michigan State University study finds students do get an educational benefit from pre-K programs.  

 MSU researchers compared about 80 children, between 3 and 4 years old,  whose birthdays were just weeks apart.  Some were just old enough to enter preschool.  The others had to wait. MSU researcher Lori Skibbe says the students who attended pre-school got a jump start on their peers in literacy.  

"We found that children who essentially made the cut off we’re in preschool earlier demonstrated greater gains in literacy than children who were not enrolled in preschool at this time.”  

Other recent studies suggest that pre-K programs do not have long term beneficial effects on students.   Skibbe disagrees.  She says the programs do help students develop literacy skills they need. 

The MSU study appears in the journal, Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Update 3:25 p.m.:

Evening classes for Wednesday, February 2 are canceled.  NMU Public Safety and Police Services continue to have things under control on campus, but for precautionary reasons, ask that people do not wander on campus or come to the University at this time.

Students in residence halls are asked to remain there.

More information will be provided as it's made available.  The University remains closed for the day.

Update 1:29 p.m.:

NMU Public Safety is changing the status of residence halls to lockdown with NMU ID access so that residence hall students can gain access to dining facilities. Students must take their NMU IDs to return to their halls. Residents of Quad I and II can proceed to the Marketplace. Residents of West and Spooner Halls are encouraged to use the Wildcat Den. An NMU Public Safety escort will be provided.

If you are a parent of an NMU student and have questions, you may call 906-227-1226

Update 11:34 a.m.:

Northern Michigan University has issued the following statement:

NMU Public Safety and Police Services has things under control on campus, but for precautionary reasons, ask that people do not wander on campus or come to the university at this time. Students in residence halls are asked to remain there. More information will be provided as it's made available.  The university remains closed for the day.

Update 10:51 a.m.:

Northern Michigan University was closed down around 9 a.m. this morning because of a "serious threat."

Spokeswoman Kristi Evans says an online threat was made to harm students, faculty and others at the campus. Employees already at work were evacuated from buildings, and students were turned away by Public Safety officers. 

Detective Captain Gordon Warchock is with the Marquette Police Department. He says there is an ongoing investigation:

We're assisting Northern Michigan University public safety in any way we can with the investigation and providing manpower.

An unconfirmed source says a blogger threatened to "shoot up" campus this morning. Nicole Walton is News Director at public radio station WNMU.  She says even essential personnel were told to go home, so the radio station is on autopilot:

When we think of closures usually it's because of several feet of snow falling, and shooters coming on campus, it's just not on our radar.

Students at Marquette Area Public Schools have also been sent home, and Marquette General Hospital has posted security at entrances.

Update 10:44 a.m.:

The Associated Press reports:

Spokeswoman Kristi Evans says Wednesday an online threat was made to harm students, faculty, staff and administrators at Northern Michigan. Evans had no further details about the nature of the threat, which was discovered shortly before 8 a.m.

Evans says an emergency notice was transmitted on laptop computers that are provided to all 9,400 students. Text messages were sent on cell phones.

She says it's uncertain whether the closure will extend beyond Wednesday.

Evans says the message did not mention the public schools. But interim superintendent Deborah Veiht said they also were closed as a precaution. Marquette Senior High School is next door to the university campus. The public schools have 3,000 students.

Update 10:33 a.m.:

The Mining Journal reports from Marquette:

Northern Michigan University was closed today because of an anonymous threat received early this morning.

Effects of the threat rippled outward from the NMU campus, resulting in the closure of all Marquette Area Public Schools.

According to Cindy Paavola, NMU director of communications and marketing, the unspecified threat would have caused harm to students but it was unknown what part of campus it would impact. More information will be released as it becomes available throughout the day, Paavola said.

Troopers from the Michigan State Police Negaunee Post said NMU Public Safety told them they were responding in a cautious way by closing down the university.

Update 10:18 a.m.:

Northern Michigan University was closed down around 9 a.m. because of a "serious threat" received by officials. Employees already at work were evacuated from buildings and students were turned away by Public Safety officers, who were parked in the middle of campus. Marquette Area Public Schools were locked down, but students have since been released to their parents. Although open, the local hospital has limited the number of entrances to five and has posted guards at each door.

It has not been confirmed, but a source says a blogger threatened to "shoot up" campus Wednesday morning. A California resident read the blog and contacted NMU officials. No reason for the threat has been given

Update 10:11 a.m.:

City police say area schools are also taking precautionary measures.

The university is shut down for the day because of a threat that university officials are taking seriously, according to a Public Safety spokesperson who could not provide additional information.

Students, staff and employees, including essential personnel, were notified this morning that the university is closed, and security personnel were turning away employees who did show up to work.

Update 10:07 a.m.:

Northern Michigan University has been evacuated and Marquette General Hospital is also reportedly under lockdown with limited entrances open because of the threat to NMU. We’ll have more information as it becomes available.

9:59 a.m.:

Northern Michigan University is closed today... not because of the weather but due to a serious threat it has received. The closure includes essential personnel. We have anecdotal reports that security personnel are turning employees away and telling them to go back home. We’ll have more information as it becomes available.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools wants to open a public boarding school for the 2012-13 academic year.  But first the district  needs to find a charter operator to run the school.

Jennifer Mrozowski, a spokeswoman for the district, says the boarding school will serve high school students:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools officials have announced their biggest wave of outsourcing yet.

The district will eliminate more than 800 custodial and engineering jobs next month, and contract the work out to the facilities management giant Sodexo. Sodexo, in turn, will subcontract to seven local business.

DarkRoomIllusion / flickr

President Obama said earlier this month that he would lift many of the restrictions currently prohibiting many students from studying in Cuba.

The restrictions were established by the Bush administration in 2004. As a result, Michigan State University relocated programs based in Cuba to the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries.

Jeffery Riedinger is the Dean of International Programs at MSU. He says he looks forward to rebuilding the University’s programs in Cuba, but will need further guidelines from the Obama administration before moving forward.

The Detroit School Board has approved a settlement that could end a
long-running lawsuit with the district’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb.
 
The Board voted ten-to-one in favor of a settlement that would give them control over the district’s academics.
 

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools has a brand-new, state-of-the-art police headquarters.

It’s part of a $42 million initiative to improve security in the school district.

The facility includes a detention center, K-9 kennels, and an alarm system that will alert officers when doors to school buildings are opened when they shouldn’t be, said DPS Police Chief Roderick Grimes:

"We have a command center that will house state-of-the-art camera systems, which will allow us to look at the interior and the exterior of every school, 24 hours a day."

Money to pay for the building’s construction came from $500.5 billion bond initiative voters approved in 2009.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids Public Schools is revising how it lets people comment at school board meetings. The district has a unique policy (see page 51-54). A Grand Rapids school board member says he couldn’t find any other district in Michigan with a similar provision.

Wayne State University

The Wayne State University Board of Governors has named Allan Gilmour its 11th President.

Governor Rick Snyder met with the state’s largest teachers union today to talk about funding and standards for the state's public school system.

Laura Weber, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, reports the Michigan Education Association (MEA) teachers union presented Snyder with a plan that includes expanding the sales tax to services to raise more money for schools.

Weber reports that Governor Snyder has said he wants to reform Michigan’s tax structure, but says now is not the time to expand the sales tax.

Even so, Iris Salters, the director of the MEA teachers union, said she's glad the new Governor was willing to meet with them:

"We’re encouraged by the governor’s willingness to garner a lot of input from people who not only work within the education system, but those who are consumers of the education system. And that’s got to be good."

Another reform being considered by the Michigan legislature is to make Michigan a "Right-To-Work" state, something the MEA opposes. Doug Pratt, with the MEA, told MPRN's Laura Weber that he is concerned about the push to make Michigan a "Right-To-Work" state:

"It is a false premise that has proven not to work in other places, it is wrong for this state. And we are heartened by the governor’s comments as well as comments from others in the business community that now is not the time to take such an action."

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Board of Education will meet Tuesday to go over a proposed settlement with Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager.

A Wayne County judge ruled last month that the Detroit school board is in charge of academics for the district, not the district’s financial manager. But both sides have to come to an agreement on how to implement the ruling, since Bobb’s team implemented several classroom reforms while the lawsuit was pending.

Anthony Adams is the school board’s president. He says it’s in the district’s best interest to keep most of  Bobb’s reforms in place:

Albion Public Schools

Many Michigan school districts are struggling to stay afloat.  Some have to borrow money to pay employees.

The city of Albion boomed in the 1950s and ‘60s, but fell into a steady decline in the 1970s when auto-related industries began to close.

Albion’s population shrank and so did the property taxes the school district depends on.

To make matters worse, state revenue sharing has been in tumult the past several years.

John Waugh is Albion Public Schools’ accounting supervisor.

myarabicwebsite.com

 Michigan teachers who want to be certified to teach the Arabic language will get the opportunity beginning this fall.

Jeff Bale is an assistant professor at MSU.

He says the program responds to a growing need for Arabic-speaking teachers.

Bale says the program is not without controversy.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A new report out today paints a grim picture of Michigan’s schools.

Education Trust-Midwest says students in Michigan’s schools are not doing as well as test scores suggest, and the state’s education problems reach far beyond Detroit.

“We are far from a leader in education right now. Though glowing reports from state education leaders regularly inform us that the vast majority of our children (around 80 percent in elementary and middle schools) are meeting state standards, performance plummets when those students take the more rigorous national examinations.”

The report goes on to cite what it calls Michigan’s inflated standardized test scores (you can see some of the charts in the slide show above).

Its author, Amber Arellano, a former Detroit Free Press education reporter and Detroit News editorial board writer, says people tend to think of Detroit as the only school district in the state with major problems:

“Michigan really has a statewide education problem. This isn’t just about Detroit kids. It’s not just about African American kids. It’s about white kids, it’s about brown kids, it’s about black kids. It’s really about kids all over the state.”

Arellano says it might surprise people to know that students in other districts – including Flint, Lansing, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo – have all registered lower proficiency rates than their Detroit counterparts.

Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder met yesterday with the presidents of the state's universities.  They told the governor they are ready to help improve Michigan's economy. The Associated Press reports:

...Snyder says universities likely will have to sacrifice in the short run, but he wants to invest more in higher education when times get better. Michigan Technological University President Glen Mroz said in a statement that the meeting set a positive tone for the relationship between universities and the new Snyder administration.

Reports say Snyder did not give any specific details on what he plans to do for universities in the state's next budget. Michigan faces a projected $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins October 1st.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A couple of geology professors conducting research in Haiti want to help the people they met there. And on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, their idea to give young Haitians a college education is becoming reality. Grand Valley State University is launching a fundraising effort to offer scholarships to promising high school students in Haiti.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

Michigan students who think standardized tests are tough now may be in for a rude awakening.

The Michigan Board of Education is considering tough new performance requirements on the MEAP and merit exams.

Joseph Martineau is with the Michigan Department of Education. He says this is the last step in a plan the state’s been working on for the last seven years.­

“It really is time for us to look at the end result of K-12 education being readiness for college and career, and not readiness to perform in what we might term the old manufacturing economy.”

Michigan is in need of more volunteers, especially men / State of Michigan

Plenty of kids in Michigan need an adult mentor.  That’s according to Paula Kaiser VanDam, executive director of the Michigan Community Service Commission.

“This year the network of mentoring organizations that we work with are serving about 24,000 children. What we know is that there are thousands more kids that want a mentor that currently do not have one.”

Kaiser VanDam says the time commitment is one hour per week. Mentors are expected to spend time with their young person and listen to them.

user motown31 / wikimedia commons

Update: 3:23 p.m.:

The Detroit News has changed the number of schools it reported in the DPS school closing plan -  going from 100 schools to 70 schools.

2:38 p.m.:

Facing a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a new plan calls for closing more schools in Detroit.

The Detroit News reports:

A proposed deficit-elimination plan for Detroit Public Schools calls for shuttering 100 additional schools by 2013 and increasing class sizes from 35 to 62 for high school students by 2014.

The plan was submitted to state education officials by the Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb.

DPS and Robert Bobb are in the midst of a current school closing plan. It calls for closing 45 schools over three years. Here's a map of the current closing plan:



View Michigan School Closures in a larger map

Public forums on bullying will be held this month in Detroit and later this year elsewhere in the state.

But not everyone agrees that more school or government programs are needed to curb bullying.

Glenn Stutzky is with Michigan State University's School of Social Work. He says the solution lies in the home.

Detroit Public Schools officials are getting ready to submit their latest plan for shoveling the troubled district out from under a crippling deficit.

The plan could include a proposal to split the district in two. It’s an idea Michigan Radio first reported last April, and the concept is similar to the way General Motors restructured.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says he’s reduced expenses by more than $500 million in the last several months, but there’s still a “legacy” deficit that tops $300 million:

"We’re whittling away at it, but we have to create a long-term plan so that we’re not in this situation 12 months from now or two years from now."

 DPS officials say another option is a New Orleans-style overhaul that would convert many schools to charters. A third option is to use the state’s tobacco settlement money to erase the district’s debt, or the state could opt for some combination of all the above options. Lawmakers rejected a proposal last month to use the state's tobacco settlement to pay off the district's debt.

Detroit Public Schools is recruiting businesses to adopt schools for academic and beautification projects. Angela Hoston heads the program:

"The goal is to have every school have a partner, and not just one partner but multiple partners. We want to raise the academic achievement levels of the bottom one-third of every classroom, and get them to the highest achievement level possible."

Hoston says each business can work with a principal to craft a unique program based on what the school needs and what the business can offer.

The initiative was announced at Gompers Elementary, where staff from the Doubletree Fort Shelby Hotel have built a garden and mentor students.

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