Education

Casey Serin / Flickr

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) released the standardized test scores for schools across the state today. Students in grades 3 through 9 took the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test last fall.

Scores improved significantly in math, but remain flat in reading. The Detroit News highlighted the improvement in math scores:

Since 2005, scores have improved markedly in mathematics...In 2005, only 59.6 percent of seventh graders were proficient in math; that number has soared to 84.6 percent.

Improvement in reading scores, however, have remained flat. From the Detroit Free Press

Even though large numbers of students passed the exam, the percentage was down in 2010 from 2009 and showed little movement over the last six years. For example, the pass rate for third-graders dipped from 90% to 87%, while the pass rate for seventh-graders declined from 82% to 79%.

Some experts caution against making too much of the reading results. Elizabeth Birr Moje, with the University of Michigan's School of Education said, “schools are not necessarily neglecting literacy instruction. If anything, I see much greater attention than ever before.” Moje told the Free Press that the dip in this year's reading results could be 'anomalous.'

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan community colleges have seen double-digit growth and record numbers of students in the last couple years. But many community colleges expect that trend to slow down, or even stop, this year.

Muskegon Community College’s Dean of Enrollment Services George Maniatessays the school has nearly 20% more students now than it did in 2006.

 “The easy money for retraining, the No worker Left Behind Programs, those are all now gone. So people are pretty much on their own."

Maniates says his school is already seeing a significant decrease in the number of “adult learners” over 23 years old enrolling for summer and fall classes. He says that’s mainly because there’s less money for job retraining programs.

“We’re also seeing a lot of families who are torn between ‘well can I find a summer job – or do I go to school?”

Mike Hansen is president of Michigan’s Association of Community Colleges. He expects most community colleges will see flat or slower enrollment growth this fall.

“Now you have to remember too these are increases from historic highs. In other words if you walked onto these campuses you’d say ‘wow there’s tons of people here. There’s no spots left in the parking lot.”

He expects colleges in more rural areas will be harder hit.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

Young people are not reading like they used to, at least that’s what one teacher has recently observed. Jeff Kass teaches creative writing at Pioneer High School and Eastern Michigan University. He also runs the Neutral Zone’s literary arts program in Ann Arbor.

Kass says about half of the kids in his classes are not reading in their free time and he adds it’s noticeably worse with boys. That bothers Kass, who says it’s vital that young people read.

“Reading is incredibly important in terms of developing empathy between people and understanding other cultures and other people’s insights. I mean people have to read. Boys have got to read and we cannot give up on them! I think we have to go after boys where they live, and find out what are their fears, insecurities, hopes, dreams? We’ve got to write the literature that speaks to them and gets to the heart of what’s really on their minds.”

He’s so jazzed up on this notion that he wrote a book of short stories called “Knuckleheads.” The stories take a look at what it means to be a guy growing up in America. Kass had a specific young person in mind while writing the book.

“I hope that kid in the back of my classroom who just wants to put his head down on the desk, who hides in his hooded sweatshirt is going to pick this book up and recognize something about himself in there and maybe that will allow him to reach out to some other stories and think about literature as a place to go to learn and grow. I mean, I just want my boys to be better. I want them to be happier, I want them to understand themselves and forgive themselves for some of the idiotic things we do as boys growing up.”

But Kass says these stories are for everyone. He wants girls and women to read the book, too. In fact he’d love to see this book go to high schools and colleges everywhere, and inspire conversations and of course, more reading. “Knuckleheads” by Jeff Kass will be released Thursday, March 31, 7 p.m. at The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.

Bernt Rostad / creative commons

Wayne State University hopes its new Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program will help give an economic boost the city of Detroit.

The program is modeled after a similar program in New Orleans, which recruited folks from across the country to help rebuild the city after Hurricane Katrina.

Ahmad Ezzeddini from Wayne State University will run the new Detroit fellows program:

"If we look at the New Orleans model: Out of the cohort of 25, 22 of those folks are still in New Orleans, and 18 of them are with the same employer. And that’s four years after the program ran. We hope to duplicate the same thing here."

Ezzeddini says they plan to hire 25-30 people who have "three to five years’ experience, preferably [with] a graduate degree in urban planning, business, law." He says the fellows will be paid to work in Detroit for two years, and the jobs will focus on neighborhood and economic development. They will also get leadership training from Wayne State.

Applications are due April 15.

The program is funded with support from the Kresge Foundation and the Hudson-Webber Foundation.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s third largest school district estimates it would face a $25 million deficit if lawmakers pass Governor Rick Snyder’s budget. In an annual address to the community Saturday, Superintendent Bernard Taylor outlined how that could impact next school year

Financial challenges

The district has trimmed around to $70 million from its budget in the last decade. Taylor says to cut $25 million in one year would be difficult.

“But we can’t be afraid. We can’t show any trepidation about what our situation is because in the end, whether we have a billion dollars or we have one dollar children have to be educated.”

He proposed a pay freeze for all administrative staff, and that they pay 20% of their health care premiums. But even with those and a number of other cuts, Taylor warned the district still may have to lay off more than 180 employees.

Academic challenges

Next year, the state will raise cut off scores for what’s considered "proficient" on the standardized MEAP test. Taylor says that will have a negative impact their academic achievement. But he stressed raising standards for a high school diploma isn’t a bad thing.

“It is not a precursor of anything if you are not college ready or workforce ready, meaning you have to have pronounced academics skills in the areas of literacy, mathematics, problem solving and being able to work cooperatively with others.”

Taylor wants to do a better job determining if students are really prepared to study beyond high school.

He’s asking the state allow the district to keep those students who aren’t ready in high school longer. Taylor wants to do that in cooperation with Grand Rapids Community College.

thetoad / flickr

A few hundred college students representing all of Michigan’s public colleges and universities rallied at the state Capitol today. They are protesting Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts for higher education. Many students held signs with angry and sometimes profane messages aimed at Governor Snyder.

Cardi DeMonaco is president of the Student Association of Michigan. He says he hopes lawmakers pay attention to the concerns of students. 

"Yeah, I think they need to have just talk about this, not just cut and cut and cut, and then they’re going to have issues just keeping up the value of their education. He needs to talk to them and do things with the money they got and not cut it, and work together, and make education better, not just cut and expect them to become better by cutting.”

Snyder has proposed a 15% minimum cut for public colleges and universities. University presidents have said cuts that deep would mean tuition hikes. 

DeMonaco thinks the student voices will be heard, and lawmakers will find other areas in the budget to save, rather than through cuts to colleges and universities.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Republican lawmakers in Lansing are taking feedback on their first draft of the budget for K through 12 public schools. The plan cuts less per student than Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Senator Howard Walker chairs the appropriations subcommittee on K-12, School Aid and Education. He says instead, the Senate version gets rid of line items funds in the budget that cover specific things like school bus inspections, adult education, and money for districts with two consecutive years of declining student enrollment.

 “We’re not making broad-based cuts to programs, that we’re not increasing class sizes too broadly so that the delivery of good educational opportunities is not affected.”

School districts get a certain amount of money from the state for each student. Currently, $7,316 is the minimum per pupil allowance a district gets. Governor Snyder is proposing to cut that amount by $470 (including making permanent a $170 cut made last year) for all school districts. The plan before the Senate would cut that per pupil allowance by $290.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Demolition on Detroit’s historic Cass Technical High School has begun. But a dedicated group of alumni and supporters still hope they can pull off an eleventh-hour effort to save it.

Cass Tech was and is one of Detroit’s most prestigious high schools. Alumni include Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin, and Jack White of the White Stripes.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Many college students are expected to gather at the state Capitol tomorrow to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal for deep budget cuts to public universities and colleges. The protesting students may have the support of their university presidents.  

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon says she hopes lawmakers listen to the concerns of students who show up to protest at the Capitol. She says student voices still matter, even if the movement does not sway lawmakers in the Republican-led Legislature.  

“What happens today, what happens in whether or not all these changes actually balance a budget and move to prosperity will affect their lives forever."

Simon says this is a great time for students to be a part of the democratic process, and learn as much from real life experience as they could in the classroom. She told lawmakers that most students surveyed at MSU say they want to live in Michigan after they graduate. But, she says, fewer than half think they will be able to stay and find jobs in the state.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Even though the district has had a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years, Detroit Public Schools still face a deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Robert Bobb, the DPS emergency financial manager, was appointed by Jennifer Granholm in March of 2009.

From the Associated Press:

Robert Bobb has spent the past two years closing dozens of schools and firing principals in an effort to fix the failing Detroit Public Schools. Yet, he still hasn't solved the problem for which he was hired — erasing a legacy budget deficit that now stands at $327 million.

Now, in his final months as the state-appointed emergency financial manager, Bobb is proposing several headline-grabbing ideas — including a radical plan to shut down so many buildings that some high schools could see more than 60 students per class — in an attempt to wipe out the red ink.

The AP reports that it's unclear how Bobb might use new powers granted to emergency financial managers under a new law signed by Governor Rick Snyder last week. They say he "continues to push the charter school plan which is the one receiving the most support in the city at the moment — even from the school board."

Sarah Razak / Flickr

The Flint school board sent lay-off notices to almost all of their superintendents, principals, and other administrators, according to the Flint Journal. Linda Thompson, the paper said, was the only administrator who did not receive a notice.

From the Flint Journal:

The move comes as the district wrestles with projected revenues of $20 million to $25 million less than projected expenditures for the 2011-12 school year.

The measure is something of a technicality, a precaution that allows the district flexibility when the time comes to decide how many administrators will stay on board, said Thompson.

Thompson said its hard to predict when the district will know precisely what it's revenues for next year will be and how many  administrators will be called back.

"When are they going to settle what's happening at the state level?" she asked.

School districts across the state are anxiously awaiting state budget decisions in Lansing.

In the past few years, the districts have had to make fiscal decisions with no firm guidance from legislators in Lansing while they haggled over the state's budget well past fiscal planning deadlines.

Governor Rick Snyder hopes to change that. He's set a deadline of May 31st for legislators to settle on the budget.

The Flint Journal reports on cuts expected, "Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget includes a $300 per-pupil cut to school aid that comes on top of an already-planned $170 cut. Factoring in an expected rise in rates schools pay to a state retirement pool and districts across Michigan are expecting $700 less per student next year."

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

Corvair Owner / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver the main address at the University of Michigan's Spring Commencement this year. The governor will also receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. From the University Record

Snyder was inaugurated as Michigan's 48th governor Jan. 1. Honorary degrees for Snyder and five additional recipients have been recommended for approval by the Board of Regents at its March 17 meeting.

It is customary for the university to extend an invitation to a newly elected governor to receive an honorary degree and provide the commencement address. The university community is honored that Snyder was able to accept the invitation and looks forward to his address, President Mary Sue Coleman says.

"As a Michigan alumnus and the state's chief executive, Governor Snyder is uniquely positioned to tell our graduates about the challenges and rewards of leadership. We look forward to his message, and to presenting honorary degrees to the exceptional individuals who will join us in celebrating the Class of 2011," Coleman says.

From U-M, Snyder obtained a bachelor's degree in general studies in 1977, a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979, and a Juris Doctorate in 1982.

The University's Spring Commencement will take place April 30th at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Lester Graham

A bill passed by the Michigan House would freeze educators’ salaries during contract negotiations.  It would require employees (and not their employer) to pay for increases in insurance fees during negotiations. The bill would also ban retroactive bargaining. So if an agreement was reached six months down the road, employees would not be reimbursed for the higher rates they paid.

Doug Pratt is with the Michigan Education Association.  He says the M-E-A wants the Senate to reject the bill.

“I’d like to see a real conversation in this state about what’s driving our financial crises. It’s not the compensation we provide to dedicated educators. It’s a broken tax structure; it’s a failure on the part of our state leaders to make tough choices to invest in the kind of state we all want to live in.”

Supporters of the bill say school districts cannot afford to pay the rising benefit costs, nor pay for the raises teachers get with time and experience.

The emergency financial manager for Detroit's public schools is floating a new proposal to cut into the district's costs by turning over the operations of 41 academically struggling schools to outside groups or charter school operators.  

The district says Saturday in a release that Robert Bobb's "Renaissance Plan 2012" would reduce operating costs by up to $99 million and address the district's declining enrollment heading into the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year. It also would mean closing fewer schools as called for in a state-approved plan to eliminate the district's $327 million legacy deficit.

The deficit elimination plan would close 70 schools and increase class sizes in some high schools to 62 students. Bobb has said that plan would not be good for the district or students.

mconnors / morgueFile

Officials at Eastern Michigan University are investigating two former student employees who allegedly stole personal information when they worked for the University. At least 45 EMU students could now be vulnerable to identity theft.

Walter Kraft is EMU’s Vice President of Communications and said the university discovered the breach during another investigation. He says the university is working with federal authorities to investigate the breach:

"We’re obviously pursuing it aggressively. Our department of public safety has notified federal authorities that are joining us in the investigation."

Students whose information was compromised have been contacted. EMU officials have not said if the stolen information was used.

Though the investigation is ongoing, Kraft encourages those with questions to visit the University's website for more information.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Flickr user Dextera Photography

The University of Michigan is reviewing its trespass policy after faculty members have requested an update.  The review follows an incident last fall when former assistant state attorney general Andrew Shirvell was banned from campus. He allegedly harassed the U of M student body leader in person and online. The ACLU has complained about banning Shirvell from campus.  

The Detroit News reports that court records show DPS Board president Anthony Adams is not meeting the Board's residency requirements.

From the Detroit News:

The estranged wife of Detroit school board President Anthony Adams has accused him of living outside the city — a violation of board policy.

Deborah Ross Adams, a judge in Wayne County Circuit Court, contends Adams lives in Oakland County, according to court records related to their divorce proceedings, and that he is improperly using their marital home in Detroit's Palmer Woods as the basis of residency for his school board seat.

Adams filed for divorce from his wife in June 2009 in Wayne County after 31 years of marriage. In his filing, he says the couple separated in January 2009.

One board member is quoted as saying she doesn't have any concerns about the matter.

The board's vice president, Tyrone Winfrey, says the school district has more important things to worry about at the moment.

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