Education

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Flint school district is sending out some 250 pink slips this week.

They're laying off non-classroom staff, from janitors to secretaries to school safety workers. 

 Administrators say they have no choice: they're coming up against a state deadline to eliminate the district's $10 million general fund deficit. 

Now the district will look to outsource those positions through a private company.

Karon Grubb is a secretary in the administration office.

Catherine Ferguson Academy

It's kind of heartbreaking. 

The Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit is closing at the end of this month, due to low enrollment and financial trouble.

That's the announcement from the Wayne RESA, the intermediate school district that held the school's charter, and the whole thing feels like deja vu.

A beloved school repeatedly finds itself on brink of closure    

The end of the school year is upon us. It puts high school administrators on high alert.

Sometimes they don't have to worry about much.

Even though their seniors try it, no, their high school won't be sold on Craigslist. Seniors at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor gave it a go. As did seniors at Freeland High School in Mid-Michigan.

This kind of prank is harmless and fun. Even the more mature members of the community can appreciate this type of prank – as this news segment shows:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Thousands of new Michigan college graduates entered the workforce in the past month.

Many can relate to the findings of a new poll on student loans.

A new poll by a credit counseling group shows people with student loans believe by a two to one margin that borrowing money to pay for college was a good investment. But most people in that same poll would not recommend taking out a student loan now.

Older people were more pessimistic than younger college grads.

Common Core: the future of testing for Michigan's school kids

May 29, 2014

As the school year comes to end, parents, teachers and even kids themselves are wondering what kind of testing they'll have to endure when they return in the fall. 

Michigan's adopted a set of standards called Common Core. With it, the state wants to give kids an applied knowledge kind of test called Smarter Balanced.

But not everyone's happy. State lawmakers are trying to stop the new test and trying to take the power to oversee school testing away from the Michigan Department of Education. Some of them want to bring back the MEAP. 

MDE

Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski (say "stroh-dow-ski") wants you to know that administrators get it: Nobody likes closing schools. 

"We look at a school as the anchor or the center of a  neighborhood. And for us to take it away could do some serious damage, and we don't want to do that," she says.

But they do have a $120 million deficit this year.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

If you've got a charter school management company and you'd like to run the chaotic, broke school district of Muskegon Heights, today is your last day to submit a bid.  

That's because the school system's emergency manager recently announced a mutual split with their previous contractor, a company called Mosaica Education.

Mosaica was losing money.

And it was getting a lot of flack for hiring teachers without proper certification (which earned the district state fines) and not delivering all the required special education services. 

Jennifer Guerra visits a Catholic High School using an apprenticeship model to give their students a competitive advantage.

UltraViolet

"University of Michigan has a rape problem. Find out more before you decide."

"Accepted to University of Michigan? You should know about its rape problem."

Those are the Facebook and mobile ads seen recently by some prospective Michigan students and their parents.

They ran during the critical weeks when students have their acceptance letters and are deciding where to enroll.

“This is information a lot of colleges have been trying to hide.”

Five thousand Lansing school students will be riding buses operated by a private company this fall.

The school board voted last night to privatize its bus system. Dean Transportation currently provides bus service to a consortium of Ingham County school districts.

When the Lansing School Board tabled a proposal to privatize its bus service in January, the issue seemed to be put on the back burner until next year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Despite a previous state takeover, a slew of surprise costs and a dramatic drop in student enrollment have led to a new budget deficit for the public school district in Highland Park.

A multi-million dollar deficit prompted a state takeover of Highland Park Public Schools in 2012. The state appointed emergency manager restructured the district’s deficit into long-term debt with over $7 million in emergency loans from the state.

The manager created a new charter school district to educate students. In 2012  The Leona Group LLC., a charter company,was hired to run the entire district for an annual fee of $780,000.

But now the district is running a deficit again.

There's a state law that gives a special board up to $50 million that can be loaned to struggling school districts.

The long-term, low-interest loans are supposed to help these districts restructure and pay down their debt.

But this emergency loan board has already given out $48 million. That’s 97% of the money that was supposed to last until 2018.

How did this happen? And is there a way for struggling school districts to get back on their feet without needing an emergency manager or having to ask for another loan?

Jeff Guilfoyle with Public Sector Consultants joined us today to talk about this problem.

*Listen to the interview below.

Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

Grand Rapids police used to use a state law outlawing panhandling to arrest hundreds of people over the years. But a federal judge struck down that law as too broad, saying it impinged on free speech rights.

So now the city is trying to narrow when, where, and how people can ask for money.

Panhandling from drivers on the side of the road, for example, would be illegal.

Grand Rapids’ attorney Catherine Mish says it can cause accidents and be dangerous for the person asking for money. Mish says a person panhandling was hit by a car just this week.

A state wide teacher evaluation system is finally seeing some movement in the legislature. The plan would rate teachers and administrators based on student growth on standardized tests and in-class observations. If teachers and administrators are found to be ineffective for three year in a row, they would be fired.

Representative Lisa Posthumus Lyons is the Chair of the House Education Committee. She joined us today.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A University of Michigan student is suing the school over a sexual assault case, but this time, the student says the school took its investigation too far.

Drew Sterrett was a rising sophomore the summer of 2012, when he was accused of sexual assault.

He says the school suspended him until 2016, at least, without ever giving him a fair shot at defending himself.

There's no indication that there was ever a criminal complaint or investigation.

flickr/Schlüsselbein2007

As many as 200 kids per year from the west side of Grand Rapids will get a chance at a free college education, thanks to a new scholarship program announced today. 

The scholarships come out of a program that started a few years ago at Harrison Park Elementary in Grand Rapids. The Challenge Scholars program, a project of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, started with a single class of fourth-grade students, with the goal of doing whatever it would take to prepare those kids for college. 

"From about 2008 to 2011, we just did a deep dive into 'what are we going to do?'" says Diana Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. "We started with the fourth grade, but really what we're trying to do is influence that whole school."

So the school got what Sieger calls a "college pathways coordinator," a person who basically prepares kids and their families for what it will take to be ready for college. The school also got added support in math and literacy. 

But 97 percent of kids at Harrison Park Elementary are eligible for free or reduced lunch, which means many of them are living in poverty. Just getting them prepared for college wasn't going to be enough. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Mary Sue Coleman has spoken to graduates for the last time as president at the University of Michigan.

Coleman got a standing ovation from graduates Saturday at Michigan Stadium. She says they're off to pursue their first job or an advanced degree while she is ending 45 years in higher education.

Coleman leaves the Ann Arbor campus this summer after 12 years. She mentioned students who have inspired her, including football player Denard Robinson and Chris Armstrong, an openly gay student government president.

Editors of the New Republic saw this tweet from NYU professor and Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer:

In the classroom.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The way Michigan schools are funded is complex and emotionally charged.

Proposal A was passed in 1994. It was a new system for funding schools. It stopped the use of local property taxes as a source of school funding. Instead, it created a new state education tax, and it boosted the state sales tax from four to six cents on the dollar. The extra two cents goes to the school aid fund.

Twenty years after the changes, one thing many Michiganders agree on is that it's time to overhaul Proposal A, but there are many views on how to do that.

This week, Bridge Magazine is featuring a series of reports by Chastity Pratt Dawsey looking at how we fund schools in Michigan.

Dawsey joined us today.

*Listen to our conversation with her above.

The Detroit Public Schools is hiring new teachers for the upcoming school year.

The district is hosting a teacher recruitment fair Wednesday at Renaissance High School.

The district is looking to fill 300 to 400 positions, says DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski.

In its ongoing effort to cut costs, the district is offering more generous buyouts to some of its more highly-paid teachers.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A White House task force will release recommendations today for dealing with sexual assaults on college campuses. It’s an issue that has attracted a lot of attention at some Michigan colleges.

President Obama formed the ‘White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault’ back in January and gave the panel 90 days to return a list of recommendations for dealing with the problem.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

State law gives a special board up to $50 million to loan to schools in financial distress. The long-term, low-interest loans are supposed to help school districts restructure and pay down their debt.

But it appears $50 million isn’t going to be enough.

With the loans the Emergency Loan Board issued Monday, it's nearly reached that cap, four years ahead of schedule. Treasury Spokesman Terry Stanton says the board has issued $48.5 million to schools so far.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

In 2011, state lawmakers passed a measure that was designed to toughen up Michigan's teacher evaluation system. The idea was that a teacher who repeatedly got poor evaluations could be fired.

How do you measure a teacher's effectiveness? 

One big way is to determine how much students learned and grew during the school year, and that is done through academic testing. 

But, three years out, the Legislature hasn't managed to agree on how those evaluations should be conducted, or even which test should be used to measure student growth.

And, left twisting in the wind, are school administrators, principals, and teachers who are wondering which standardized test they're supposed to start giving this fall. 

Brian Smith joined us to give an update on where things stand as this school year winds down. He's the statewide education and courts reporter for MLive.

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group of Michigan athletes and coaches is calling on state lawmakers to spend more money on early childhood education.

Governor Snyder is asking for an additional $65 million for the Great Start Readiness Program.

Jeff Kirsch is with Champions For America’s Future. He says children learn important skills in pre-K, like teamwork, getting along with people, and sticking to tasks.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Updated 5:10 p.m.

Mosaica Education and Muskegon Heights Public School Academy have come to a mutual agreement to end their working relationship.

“This was a difficult decision for us and our board,” Mosaica Chief Executive Officer Michael Connelly said in a written statement.

“We are very proud of the academic turnaround we were able to achieve under the leadership of Alena Zachery-Ross, our regional vice president and the superintendent for the system,” he said.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan is warning Michigan lawmakers against trying to take a step back on school testing.

An amendment to next year’s school aid budget would require schools to give the MEAP exam next year. Some lawmakers are upset the state has contracted with a new company using a test tied to Common Core standards.

Flanagan says the MEAP test is not an option at this point. He says changing now would cost the state.

David Schott / Flickr

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says he hopes there will be a final vote this week on a bill to expand the state’s controversial Education Achievement Authority.

That’s the state-run authority meant to turn around some of Michigan’s lowest-performing schools. Right now, the EAA runs 15 schools in Detroit. The bill would pave the way for it to expand up to 50 schools statewide.

Michigan Public Radio Network’s Lansing reporter Jake Neher joined us to talk about the EAA.

Listen to the full interview above.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools has been running a deficit since 2007. A review in 2011 found financial stress, but the district was in the middle of making changes to save money. No emergency manager was appointed under a previous version of the law.

But State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says BHAS isn’t making enough progress on the deficit.

The deficit is $14.7 million. For perspective, its revenues this year were $31.8 million.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Dozens of high school students have completed a trek from Detroit to Lansing to highlight their concern about ‘zero tolerance’ policies in Michigan schools.

The students say violating even minor ‘zero tolerance’ policies may land them on suspension.

gracey/morguefile.com

Hundreds of girls from across Michigan will have the chance to try out some hot technology this week in the hopes they see a fit for themselves in a high-tech career. Eastern Michigan University will host the fourth annual "Digital Divas" conference on Friday.

EMU Program Manager Bia Hamed says the free one-day event for middle and high school girls aims to help close the gender gap when it comes to careers in science, math, engineering and technology-related fields, often referred to as "STEM."

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