Michigan Department of Education

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education released overall standardized test results for Michigan's high school students this morning.

Test results for all subjects in the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) were down slightly when compared to last year. ACT results showed a mix bag when compared to last year's results.

When looking back over the last four years, officials at the Michigan Department of Education say the test results show an "upward trend in student proficiency on both the 2013 Michigan Merit Examination (MME) and ACT college entrance exam."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

New reports show special education students in Muskegon Heights didn’t get all the services they should have this year. The company that runs the state’s first all-charter public school district is working to correct the problems.

Problems with charter company’s handling of special ed services

Federal law and state regulations outline the rules that are supposed to make sure kids with special needs still get a fair education.

Michigan’s Department of Education found more than a dozen ways the new Muskegon Heights charter district violated those rules, affecting a couple hundred special education students.

“In my opinion this was probably the worst delivery of special education services I’ve seen in my career,” said Norm Kittleson, a former special education teacher at Muskegon Heights. He’s been teaching for 15 years.

Kittleson started teaching a small class of students with learning disabilities and emotional issues at Muskegon Heights last October.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Bake sales, magazine subscriptions and car washes ... it seems school systems are perennially low on money.

But with one Michigan school system closing its doors before the school year ends, others consolidating to save money, and still another giving up on its high school; Michigan schools seem to be in an especially bad spot.

Blame gets spread around.

It's the economy - mismanagement - declining enrollment - excessive funding cuts - high retiree costs - or cumbersome union contracts.

Pick whatever reason you like best, it doesn't change the fact that many Michigan schools are in trouble.

The State's Deputy Superintendent of Schools wrote this in a recent memo to local school officials:

"... we have seen a marked increase in the number of districts that have experienced a deficit fund balance. The magnitude of some of these districts seems almost insurmountable."

Let's give it a little perspective.

Over the last decade, here are the number of schools that ran a deficit in a given school year.

Michigan had 742 school districts in 2002-2003. Today, the state has 805 districts.

Of the 805 districts today, as the chart shows, 49 are running deficits.

Here are the fifteen schools in Michigan with the biggest projected budget deficits as a percentage of their expected overall revenue. It should be noted that these numbers could change as the school year advances.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update: As of February 14th, these teachers have now obtained valid Michigan teaching certificates or permits.

MI Teachers Get First Report Card

Nov 29, 2012
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Michigan just completed a review of its 96,000 teachers.

Even at the state's lowest performing schools, almost no teachers received poor ratings.

Teachers can be rated highly effective, effective, marginally effective and ineffective.

Statewide, only three percent of teachers got "ineffective" ratings.

And at the lowest-performing schools, not one teacher was rated in the lowest two categories.

Jan Ellis is with Michigan’s Department of Education.  She says “I think this is pretty much what we expected for the first year…and given that the evaluation components and the weight on what districts use to determine teacher effectiveness are very different.”

Ellis says next steps are developing common standards, and how to best observe teachers in action.

- Chris Zollars, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Image of the homepage for the WayPoint Academy charter school in Muskegon.
www.4waypoint.com

Student Count Day just took place across Michigan earlier this week. The amount of state aid a school receives is dependent on the number of students attending.

Now we hear news about a charter school director who may have falsified student count records.

Officials at a southwest Michigan school district are asking the state’s superintendent to return close to half a million dollars. The state deducted the money from the Gull Lake Community Schools district last school year over mistakes the state says the district made with its new virtual school.

"For an online course there has to be two way communication a number of times during the semester. And what happened is that – well they weren’t able to meet that requirement. They weren’t able to show us there was two way communication,” Ellis said.

The Michigan ACLU has filed what it calls a “groundbreaking” lawsuit against the Highland Park school district, and state education officials.

At issue: The state’s responsibility to make sure every child can read.

State law says school districts must provide any special assistance “reasonably necessary” to bring a child up to grade level in reading.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The graduation rate for the high school class of 2011 remained relatively steady compared to the previous year, despite new science and math requirements students had to pass in order to graduate.

Wendy Zdeb-Roper is executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. She says most educators had "a certain degree of trepidation" when the requirements were introduced because they were concerned about graduation rates and how students would fare.

According to the Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average graduation rate drop by only a little more two percent – from 76 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2011, which is statistically insignificant:

"That number is pretty minimal compared to the Armageddon that was predicted," says Zdeb-Roper.

Alberto G. / Creative Commons

The state is launching a pilot program that’ll cover the costs of some standardized tests over the next two years. The Michigan Department of Education hopes the data from the tests will help public schools meet tougher state mandates.

About two-thirds of Michigan’s 8th and 10th graders already take the pre-ACT exams. But individual districts have to pay for them. The exams line up with state standards for graduating high school. 

The Detroit Tigers may win the American League pennant this year, and I don’t like that one bit. It reminds me, in fact, of one of the reasons that our schools are so screwed up.

If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, hang with me for a moment. First of all, I grew up a huge Tigers fan, and can still remember everything about the World Series-winning 1968 team.

But this year, while Detroit has been in first place for much of the last month, it doesn’t mean as much. The teams are divided into many divisions now, so there can be more winners.

It is likely that the second-place team in the more powerful Eastern division will end up winning more games than the first-place team in the Central. To me, that isn’t right, and means a tainted first place finish. Now, what does that have to do with our schools? Simply this. Virtually all Michigan public schools are accredited by the state.

Accreditation ought to mean some guarantee that a school is doing what it should, that you can put your child in it and  expect that he or she will get a proper education.

Provided, of course, you do your part as a parent.

jdurham / morgueFILE

Education professionals from around the country met in Louisiana this week to talk about the “next generation” of student assessment tests.

More than 30 states – including Michigan – are part the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition, which received $176 million from the federal government to develop these new tests.

The online English and Math tests will be rolled out in 2014. The state will still use the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) and Michigan Merit Examination (MME) to test students in science and social studies, as well as students with cognitive disabilities.

Joseph Martineau is with the Michigan Department of Education and was the the National Council on Measurement in Education conference in Louisiana.

He says the new tests will not just be “end-of-year” high stakes tests. He says there will also be "interim assessments throughout the year so that people can track the progress of their students."

Martineau calls the tests "game changers" because of their focus on higher-order thinking skills:

"Things like analyzing data or synthesizing something to create an argument, or doing a project that requires you to do some problem solving while you’re doing the task. Things like that that are typically costly for us to create on a test."

The new tests will be for Michigan students in third through eighth grade, and eleventh grade.

Pilot testing will begin in 2012.

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.

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