Education

COCOEN daily photos / flickr

A newspaper analysis shows standardized test score gains from 34 Michigan schools over a one-year period are statistically improbable.

The Detroit Free Press joined a nationwide investigation with USA Today and other partners. The analysis of millions of test score results found 304 schools in six states and the District of Columbia had test scores so improbable they should be investigated.

The analysis that was specific to Michigan scores found that in 2008 to 2009, 34 schools, including 32 in the Detroit area, had test score deviations that statistical experts say are virtually impossible to explain through improved instruction alone.

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The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan's most staggering provisions: 60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools.

The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with regional ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

Chicago 2016 photos / Creative Commons

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

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Eastern Michigan University will offer a program to single parents ages 18-24 to help them earn a college degree.

EMU says the "Keys to Degrees" program is open to low-income men and women each with only one child age 18 months or older when the program begins.  

The program will start with availability for ten students who will live in University apartments on campus. While parents are in classes, children will be cared for on campus at EMU's Children Institute.

Because classes are conducted year-round, students could earn a college degree in three years.

In a press release, EMU's assistant vice president of retention and student success, Lynette Findley, said:

"Single parents have been historically marginalized and shut out of higher education, due, in large measure, to the expense of high quality, licensed childcare. This program is an outstanding opportunity to serve the large number of single parents in the greater metro Detroit area in order to improve quality of life for them and for their children."

There are few programs like it around the country.

The Detroit Free Press writes that EMU's program is one of seven colleges offering such benefits:

The Higher Education Alliance for Residential Single Parent Programs lists just seven colleges nationwide that have programs that house single parents and their children on campus through a targeted program. One of the seven is Endicott College, located in Beverly, a Boston suburb.

Endicott College established its program in 1992 and, with a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will partner with EMU to recreate the initiative in Michigan.

EMU and Endicott College hope to replicate the program at two more Michigan colleges.

Grand Rapids Public Schools

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor is one of two finalists for an opening at a school district in New York.

Matt Newton / Creative Commons

Although Michigan universities face huge funding cuts from the state, this rate hike has been years in the making. The change will affect a few thousand undergraduates studying at Western’s business school and school of fine arts.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than half a million Michigan kids qualified for free and reduced lunches last year. But only about 1 in 6 of them took advantage of the programs offered during the three month summer break.

By the numbers

  • The nation: 18.5 million children are eligible – 3.3 million (18%) participated
  • In Michigan: 546,000 children are eligible – 92,500 (17%) participated
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Fourth and eighth graders who took a national science test in 2009 posted the worst results among 17 big-city districts.

The scores are from the 2009 Trial Urban District Assessment in science, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test – which is often referred to as the “nation’s report card.”

Results for the fourth and eighth graders in Detroit who took the test were worse than 16 other big cities that participated.

Detroit Public Schools officials are touting new numbers that show the district’s graduation rate is rising.   Those statistics show a 62% graduation rate in 2010. That’s up from about 58% rate in 2007, when the district began using a new method to count graduates.

Something happened this week which will, unless something changes soon, have the effect of finishing the job of effectively destroying the Detroit public schools. And maybe, Michigan’s future.

The state department of education has ordered Detroit to put in place a financial restructuring plan that would close half the district’s schools within two years. That would result in an  average high school class size of sixty-two students.

User mrd00dman / Flickr

The state Department of Education has ordered the Detroit Public Schools to implement a drastic deficit elimination plan.

The plan includes closing half the district’s remaining schools within two years, and increasing some class sizes to 60 students by next school year. It would also create "regional" prinicpals rather than school principals, and cut transportation services for most students.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder wants to cut state funding for K-12 schools by about four percent, or roughly $470 per student.

School districts across the state are now combing through their budgets to see where those cuts could be made.

Tom Goulding is deputy superintendent for West Bloomfield public schools. He says the proposed cuts, which amount to $3.2 million for Goulding's district, don't come as a complete surprise, but they're still "problematic" just the same:

"For example, that type of a cut, if you looked at certain departments or services, could wipe out our K-12 transportation system; not that it would, but the dollars are equivalent to that. Or, based on our total payroll to make up the $3.2 million, it would mean approximately an 8.5% pay cut for each employee working for our school district."

Goulding says neither of those options would go over well in his district.

(sha3teely.com)

The Grand Rapids Public Schools is teaming up with First Steps and Great Start Collaborative to launch what they are calling  "Early Learning Communities". 

  Early Learning Communities are focused on enriching the early learning experiences of young children by strengthening the skills of early childhood caregivers and educators.  The program is intended to improve readiness for school success by:

Students at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon will no longer vote for a prom king or queen.

Instead, they’ll vote for a gender-neutral prom court.

The change is the result of pressure from the ACLU of Michigan and Mona Shores students after a popular transgender student was elected homecoming king.

The school denied the student, Oak Reed, his crown because school records list him as a female.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Michigan college students might have a more difficult time affording summer school classes.  There’s a debate in Congress that might put restrictions on one certain type of federal tuition assistance. 

Pell Grants help many financially needy students afford college classes.   For example, 15 hundred Wayne State University students used their Pell grants to pay for classes last summer.  

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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.

Blue Ocean Faith is an all-inclusive Christian community in Ann Arbor
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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 http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

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.

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