public schools

Update 1:53 p.m.

Police in the Traverse City area have located the person described as suicidal.

From the Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office:

Grand Traverse Sheriff's deputies located Shahbaht Anderson at a residence in Grawn.  The  shotgun was also located at the residence.  Deputies took Anderson into custody  without incident on a warrant out of Leelanau County on an unrelated charge.  Anderson will be lodged at the Leelanau County jail.

The Grand Traverse Sheriff's Department is continuing their investigation into the incident which occurred in Blair Township and will forward the report  to the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor's Office for review when completed.

10:41 p.m.

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Two schools in Traverse City are locked down as police look for a person described as suicidal.

The Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Department says the person was in the area of Blair Elementary School on Monday morning. The department says there's no direct link between the person and the

But as a precaution, officials moved Blair Elementary's students and staff to Traverse City East and West Middle Schools.

In a phone message to parents, school officials say Blair and Traverse City West are locked down.


*Clarification - The Associated Press reports the police say "there's no direct link between the person and the school." But Peter Payette of Interlochen Public Radio reports that "school officials say the man was related to a student at the middle school. "

Update 11:52 a.m.

Equality Michigan, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, released a statement in response to the passage of the anti-bullying bill:

We’re thrilled that we were able to eliminate the destructive ‘license to bully’ that the Senate first approved in October. National outrage provoked by the last-minute substitution to allow bullying based on religious beliefs is a clear indicator that our Senate majority is out of touch with the voters.

That being said, we’re disappointed by the weak version of the bill passed today. Directed by the biases of a few, our Senate missed another opportunity to do right by our kids. Today’s bill will do little to stem the tide of bullying because it doesn’t enumerate commonly targeted characteristics. Case studies have found that school employees are unlikely to recognize and report incidents when bias bullying is not placed deliberately on their radar. Both Oregon and Washington passed weak bills like this one and had to go back and revise them years later when data showed the initial bills had failed. This kind of delay is not an acceptable response to Michigan's bullying crisis.

11:19 a.m.

An anti-bullying bill has cleared the Michigan legislature after the Senate passed the House sponsored bill this morning.

The bill, HB 4163, steers clear of controversial language included in an earlier Senate version of the bill (SB 137). That bill protected statements based on moral or religious beliefs.

From SB 137:

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The bill as passed by the Legislature would require all school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.

Some Democrats say the bill does not go far enough to protect kids from cyber bullying or to protect gay and lesbian students.

The anti-bullying legislation now goes to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder.

More K-12 schools may be opening virtual doors in Michigan.

The state Senate has approved a measure that would eliminate the cap that allows only two cyber schools to operate in the state.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck says kids are learning more online than ever before.

“There’s kids who can fix computers in third and fourth grade [sic]. They’re the instructors for their parents and their grandparents already, so a lot of them are already learning that stuff online and they’re more in tune with it than [we are]… It’ll help channel kids into more productive pursuits, frankly,” says Colbeck.

Colbeck says thousands of kids are on waiting lists to get into the two cyber schools already in Michigan.

Those who oppose the cyber schools say online teaching should be blended with traditional classroom teaching in brick-and-mortar schools.

State Senator Phil Pavlov says it’s time to allow more cyber schools.

“I think that this idea of trying to limit the cyber opportunities is the wrong direction. I think we open it up, we let the parents and students decide, and the track record that we do have on cybers in terms of course catch-up work is phenomenal, in terms of addressing kids that may have dropped out already or are on a path to drop out,” says Pavlov.

The proposal now heads to the state House.

We’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out how to fix our schools, which don’t seem to be working. Some people think the best solution is to essentially abandon the public schools, and turn things over to various sets of for-profit charter schools.

Others are dubious about that, even though it is clear that the public schools aren‘t working for a lot of kids.

Well, I was someplace earlier this week where they are trying something different, and it may be worth thinking about here. I was in Toledo, Ohio, just a long fly ball from the Michigan border.

CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Students were being sent home early at Plymouth-Canton Community Schools' high schools after police say a note containing a possible threat was found.

Police in Wayne County's Canton Township said in a statement that a "note indicating possible retaliation" was found before the start of classes at the suburban Detroit high school complex. Details of the note containing the "possible threat" weren't released by police.

Police say the high schools went into semi-lockdown and students were being sent home out of an abundance of caution. An investigation was under way.

The district announced the early dismissal for students at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park on its website.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

Governor Snyder on trade mission in Asia

Governor Rick Snyder and a delegation of business and government officials left for Asia over the weekend. On Sunday, the governor and the delegation met with Japanese officials in Tokyo. From Governor Snyder's press release:

Governor Rick Snyder today met with Governor Yukiko Kada of Shiga Prefecture, Japan, to discuss mutual interests in promotion of business investment, tourism and job creation in Michigan and Shiga and protection and preservation of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan and the Great Lakes, the world’s largest group of freshwater lakes.

The Governor's office say the Michigan-Shiga partnership "is one of the oldest sister state relationships between the United States and Japan."

Snyder will head to Beijing, China on Tuesday and to Shanghai on Thursday. While there, the governor's office says Snyder and the Michigan delegation will "meet with senior government officials, executives of some of China's largest companies and a number of Michigan companies that operate there."

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is in China covering the trip. You can read about her trip by following her travelogue.

New state aid formula for Michigan schools

Changes in how state education officials calculate per-pupil aid to public schools could mean an overall decline in state school aid. The Detroit News reports officials have changed how they count attendance numbers:

The number of students counted in classrooms during the fall Count Day next week will be worth 90 percent of state aid, rather than 75 percent as in past years. A winter count in February will be worth 10 percent instead of 25 percent.

The change in the state formula was prompted by research that showed as student enrollment continued to decline statewide, the state was paying for students counted in the spring who were no longer there in the fall.

Under the new formula, districts with falling enrollment stand to lose money, while those adding students each school year will get more cash from the state.

Overall, the state's public schools could receive $12.6 million less in school aid this year because of the change.

Michigan National Guardsmen head for Afghanistan

1,200 members of the Michigan National Guard leave home today to make their way to Afghanistan's Konduz Province, reports the Detroit Free Press:

Family and friends are saying farewell this evening to members of units of the 125th Infantry.

The Headquarters Company gets a send-off at Grand Blanc High School. Wyoming-based Company C gets a send-off at Grand Valley Armory, Bay City-based Company F gets a send-off at Dow Diamond in Midland and Big Rapids-based Company D gets a send-off at the Big Rapids Armory.

Detroit-based Company A gets a send-off at the Detroit Light Guard Armory.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Today, the Michigan House of Representatives passed legislation that would keep public schools from automatically deducting union dues from an employee's paycheck. The vote passed 55-53 and goes onto the Republican-led Senate.

From the Associated Press:

Supporters of the bill say it will put more money in teachers' paychecks, at least up front. Teachers could write checks to unions later to cover their dues.

Opponents say the proposal is another attempt to weaken teachers' unions and inconvenience teachers in the state.

A separate proposal that could soon come up in the Michigan Legislature would make Michigan a so-called "right to teach" state.

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger released a statement about the bill, saying that the legislation "empowers school employees.":

We are hearing from teachers, in particular, who are not happy with how union leaders are using their dues. Because that has led to disagreement, we need to make sure our public schools stay out of the middle of collecting union dues.

The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, says the legislation does nothing to improve education or put money back in members pockets:

"This kind of legislation is a blatant example of political payback for our involvement in recall elections."

Dan Wuan / Michigan Senate

Former NBA player and one of the “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan, Jalen Rose, told lawmakers at the state Capitol today parents need more school options for their kids.

Rose testified before a state panel in support of allowing more charter schools and schools of choice in Michigan.

He sponsored a charter academy that opened in his hometown of Detroit.

Rose says the school selects students based on a lottery, rather than test scores, so every kid would have a shot at getting in.

user frank juarez / Flickr

According to Michigan State University researchers, many educators in the state are not using some of the most effective teaching methods  when working with the more than 15,000 Michigan students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Summer Ferreri, an MSU assistant professor of special education, and Sara Bolt, an MSU associate professor of school psychology conducted the study.

Using data from more than 200 school professionals, 34 parents of students with ASD, and classroom observations, the researchers found that more than 40 percent of the educators were not using techniques known as "Applied Behavior Analysis", and "Social Stories" (a method for teaching social skills to children with autism).

They also found it difficult to "access statewide data on students with ASD" and "concluded that better access is crucial to determine whether the services schools provide are actually helping students succeed."

From the MSU press release:

Suzanne Wilson, a University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at MSU, said autism education is one of the most pressing issues facing educators today.

“While autism rates have rapidly increased, many new and experienced teachers have little to no experience working with children with autism,” Wilson said.  "Without the appropriate education, new teachers could, at worst, marginalize these students and, at best, be supportive but not effective.”

The researchers also found that 26% ASD students in Michigan "never or rarely had learning opportunities that reflected the general education curriculum."

And "one-third of the 194 Michigan teaching professionals responding said their students with ASD wouldn’t meet any grade-level achievement standards."

The findings of the research will be presented to the State Board of Education tomorrow (September 13). The study was conducted with funding from the Weiser family, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Skillman Foundation.

Ed Work / Flickr

Update 3:14 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan say he "couldn’t be more hopeful" about the future of Detroit's public schools.

At today's town hall meeting at the Charles H. Wright Academy in Detroit, Duncan praised Governor Snyder and DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts for their commitment to education reform, and he urged everyone at the event to rally around those efforts:

"You have all the building blocks in place to do something remarkable here. Has Detroit struggled? Absolutely, no question about it. But my challenge, and the opportunity here is: Can Detroit become the fastest improving urban district in the country? And I see no reason why that can’t happen."

Duncan says he takes the work he does in Detroit "very, very seriously." He adds that if Detroit public schools haven’t improved by the time he leaves office, he’ll consider his tenure "a failure."

The Secretary also gave a shout out to the Kalamazoo Promise, the anonymously-funded program that pays for almost every Kalamazoo public school graduate to go to a state-supported college or university. Duncan said if Detroit could develop something similar it would be the "best economic development tool" for the city:

"If we could make that guarantee of not just a 2-year but a 4-year university education possible for every young man and woman who graduates from Detroit Public Schools, that would be absolutely amazing."

Governor Snyder, who was also at today's event, says the state needs to do a better job when it comes to educating Michigan’s children. "When we looked at the numbers we only have 17% of our kids college ready," says Snyder. He calls that percentage "absolutely unacceptable."

11:23 a.m.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is visiting Michigan today as part of his "Education and the Economy" bus tour of the Midwest.

This morning he made a stop in Detroit where he joined Governor Rick Snyder, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, and DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts to discuss the status of Detroit Public Schools.

The bus left Detroit and headed for Ann Arbor. Right now, he's participating in a panel discussion at the University of Michigan.  Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra is covering that and will have more for us later.

In Detroit this morning, Duncan told a crowd at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science that he takes the progress of Detroit Public Schools personally. Duncan called the district "ground zero" in education reform two years ago. From the Detroit Free Press:

He said that if DPS does not see significant improvements during his tenure in office, he will consider it a personal failure.

“I take the work here very, very personally,” Duncan said.

Since Duncan’s visit in 2009, the district has implemented a five-year academic plan and the graduation rate has grown to 62%, up by about 4%.

The Education Secretary's visit comes a day after the Detroit Public Schools had 55 percent of enrolled students show up for the first day of classes, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported.

Duncan said the success of the Detroit Public School system is tied to the overall success of the state. From MLive:

"Just as you can't have a great state without having a great city of Detroit, you cannot revitalize the city of Detroit without a great public education system. Those two things are inextricably linked."

Duncan praised the leadership of Governor Snyder, Detroit Mayor Bing, and DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts for their "alignment of courage" to turn the Detroit school system around.

After the panel discussion in Ann Arbor, Duncan is off to Indiana. Here's a Google Map of Duncan's bus tour:

View Larger Map

A new United States Department of Agriculture program will provide free lunches and breakfasts to all K-12 students in the Detroit Public School system and the Flint School District.

The free meal service, known as the "Community Eligibility Option," is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act singed into law by President Obama in December of 2010.

From the USDA:

[The] universal free meal service option...makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The "Community Eligibility Option" will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

In a statement, Mark Schrupp, DPS Chief Operating Officer, said the program is aimed at eliminating stigma:

"One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said Schrupp. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."

Blake Thorne reports in the Flint Journal that a district has to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the new "lunch for all" program:

The program evaluates the economic eligibility of an entire school or district, rather than individual students, and if 40 percent of the school or district’s students qualify for free lunches, all students get them...

Last year, 81 percent of Flint students qualified for free lunches, according to Michigan Department of Education data from last fall, the most recent figures available.

Education Department figures show about 41 percent of the state’s 1.57 million students qualify for the meals.

The program is in its pilot phase this year and only a limited number of states can participate.

Once a district signs on, they're required to participate in the program for 4 successive school years.

The Community Eligibility Option will be available to all states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

In the Detroit News, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questioned whether the new program is a good use of taxpayer money:

"Under this program, it appears we would be subsidizing school lunches and meals to students who currently don't qualify under the federal program."

Van Beek said there are more creative solutions than giving away meals to everyone at a school where less than half of the students may qualify.

The news reports that "the federal government spent $338 million on free and reduced school meals" in the state in fiscal year 2010.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The school system in Highland Park is getting closer to the possible appointment of an emergency manager because of its troubled finances.

Michigan schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan sent a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder this month saying "probable financial stress exists" in the Detroit-area school district. The letter says a recently revised state law requires that the governor appoint a review team to dig deeper into the district's finances.

The letter summarizing a preliminary financial review of the 1,300-student district was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. The letter cites "unsatisfactory progress" in eliminating budget deficits and audit problems.

A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from School District of the City of Highland Park officials.

The district still could avoid the appointment of an emergency manager.


Education officials from the state of Michigan released two lists on public schools today.

I posted earlier on Michigan's list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools."

Here's a look at the state's "Top to Bottom Ranking" (follow the link to find the list, it's an excel spreadsheet).

The Top to Bottom ranking lists all public schools in Michigan that have more than 30 students who were "tested over the last two years in at least two state-tested content areas." (You can read more about how the schools were ranked here - warning - It's Power Point file.)

There are 3,010 schools listed.

The Michigan Department of Education says "this list is being published to provide information to all schools and to provide 'light of day' reporting on the achievement, improvement, and achievement gaps of all schools in the state."

The rankings are based on graduation rates and the following three areas of student achievement:

  1. Achievement at the elementary, middle, and high school levels
  2. Improvement in achievement over time
  3. The largest achievement gap between two subgroups calculated based on the top scoring 30% of students versus the bottom scoring 30% of students

The school districts that had schools in the 99th percentile rank (highest) were:

  • Forest Hills Public Schools
  • Ann Arbor Public Schools
  • School District of the City of Birmingham
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Bloomfield Hills School District
  • Rochester Community School District
  • Berkley School District
  • Lake Orion Community Schools
  • Grand Blanc Community Schools
  • Novi Community School District
  • Saginaw City School District
  • Farmington Public School District
  • Spring Lake Public Schools
  • Hudsonville Public School District
  • Detroit City School District
  • Ottawa Area ISD
  • Grand Haven Area Public Schools
  • Troy School District
  • East Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Livonia Public Schools

And school districts that had schools ranked at the bottom (0 percentile rank) were:

  • Detroit City School District
  • Buena Vista School District
  • Benton Harbor Area Schools
  • Center for Literacy and Creativity
  • Willow Run Community Schools
  • Ecorse Public School District
  • Tuscola ISD
  • Monroe ISD
  • Flint City School District
  • Pontiac City School District
  • Lansing Public School District
  • River Rouge School District
  • Saginaw City School District
  • Southfield Public School District
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Education has revealed its list of "Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools" (follow the link to see the list - it's an excel spreadsheet).

The annual listing is required by state law. The state started the PLA listing last year, when 92 schools were called out.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The number of schools in Michigan meeting federal "Adequate Yearly Progress" goals dropped off in the last academic year.

Adequate Yearly Progress goals are part of the No Child Left Behind law.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett has more:

Fewer schools in Michigan met federal benchmarks for students’ academic progress this year, and state officials blame the slide on higher standards required by the federal government.

Kevin Wong / Flickr

Teachers in our country rarely get the respect they deserve -- a uniquely American pathology. But this year they’ve endured not just indifference, but disrespect – and from Congressmen, no less. Teachers are now blamed not just for falling test scores, but failing state budgets and rising healthcare costs.

There was once a politician who took a different view.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson's Northwest Ordinance – what some scholars believe to be one of the three most important documents in the founding of America, along with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – provided funding for public schools and universities. In it, he declared, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

user: NonOther /

Many students attending summer school in Detroit will have the day off today.

From the Associated Press:

Detroit's school district says it's closing more than 70 schools in the afternoon that don't have air conditioning as a heat wave continues.

The Detroit Public Schools made the announcement Wednesday morning.

The district says power outages also forced the closure of three schools Wednesday. And heat and mechanical problems closed two others.

A DPS spokesmen said more than half of the school district's summer population of 38,000 will be affected. The district has also opened 13 cooling centers.

user frank juarez / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that will make it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling. It also eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions. 

The governor says seniority is an outdated system for deciding which teachers are laid off first, and where they should work.

"We need a performance-based system that recognizes the very best that teachers can deliver and gives them good recognition and reward for those opportunities and that's what this is all about," said Snyder. "It's about moving forward and stop looking at a broken world of the past."

School employee unions say the new law will remove critical job protections and lead to districts getting rid of veteran teachers for financial rather than academic reasons.

Louise Somalski, with the American Federation of Teachers, says the new law takes away teachers’ rights to bargain for job protections as school districts face growing financial pressures.

"I’m afraid that when it comes right down to it, there so tight on money at the local school district level because funding has been cut, that the most-experienced teachers are going to be let go – and we want the most-experienced teachers with the kids and it's going to hurt the students in the long run."

A commission will make specific recommendations to the Legislature next year on how to measure teacher performance.

The new rules will take effect at the beginning of the school year that begins in the fall of 2012.

Flickr user bookgrl

Millions of kids eat free or reduced-price meals at their schools during the school year. But during the summer, those numbers drop dramatically. Last year Michigan schools served 144 million free meals. But during the summer the state only served 2.6 million meals.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan will try a drastic new approach to fix its failing public schools.

The state will put what it designates as “persistently low-performing schools” in a special, statewide school district.

The effort will start in Detroit. The city’s public school system has gained national notoriety for its rock-bottom test scores, and is already run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

That manager will jumpstart the effort to put some Detroit schools in what the state is calling an “Educational Achievement System” starting in the fall of 2012.