Archives for category: Michigan

In a shocking decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the state has no legal responsibility to provide a quality education to every child. The case centered on the Highland Park school district, where achievement was lagging; the state turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter operator that had no track record of improving low-performng schools. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed the suit.

 

In a blow to schoolchildren statewide, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in the struggling Highland Park School District.
A 2-1 decision reversed an earlier circuit court ruling that there is a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.” The appellate court said the state has no constitutional requirement to ensure schoolchildren actually learn fundamental skills such as reading — but rather is obligated only to establish and finance a public education system, regardless of quality. Waving off decades of historic judicial impact on educational reform, the majority opinion also contends that “judges are not equipped to decide educational policy.”

 

“This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan. “The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

 

The decision dismisses an unprecedented “right-to-read” lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Michigan in July 2012 on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, Mich. The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.

 

“Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.”

 

In a dissenting opinion, appellate court judge Douglas Shapiro accused the court of “abandonment of our essential judicial roles, that of enforcement of the rule of law even where the defendants are governmental entities, and of protecting the rights of all who live within Michigan’s borders, particularly those, like children, who do not have a voice in the political process.”

 

MEAP test results from 2012 painted a bleak picture for Highland Park students and parents. In the 2013-14 year, no fewer than 78.9 percent of current fourth graders and 73 percent of current seventh graders will require the special intervention mandated by statute. By contrast, 65 percent of then-fourth graders and 75 percent of then-seventh graders required statutory intervention entering the 2012-13 school year.

 

At the time the state of Michigan decided to privatize the Highland Park schools and turn them over to the Leona Group, some saw it as a last-ditch effort to save the district from its debt. 

 

The Wall Street Journal wrote in 2012:

 

Phoenix-based Leona will receive $7,110 per pupil in state funding, plus an as-yet-undetermined amount of federal funds for low-income and special education students. In addition, the Highland Park district will pay Leona a $780,000 annual management fee.

 

Unions have been sidelined after the district’s entire professional staff was laid off, as allowed by the state emergency law, but teachers can apply for jobs with Leona. Leona has budgeted about $36,000 a year for Highland Park teachers on average, the company said—compared with almost $65,000 a year the teachers received in the 2010-11 school year.

 

In a typical school it takes over, Leona has hired back about 70% of the teachers, the company said. Leona also will lease the Highland Park district’s buildings.

 

Under the five-year contract with Leona, the new city charter board will monitor the company’s progress in improving student performance.

 

Leona runs 54 schools in five states. Students in almost half of them fail state academic benchmarks. But of its 22 Michigan schools, 19 meet the mark, Leona officials said.

 

Leona Chief Executive William Coats said the company had no incentive to cut corners in Highland Park. “As we build equity, we give that back to the schools,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting when an audience member raised doubts about the for-profit approach. “We’re trying to manage this so you [the district] stay in business.”

 

Highland Park is where Henry Ford opened his first assembly line and Chrysler Corp. built its original headquarters. It has suffered the same ills as Detroit, its larger neighbor: an exodus of auto jobs, depressed housing stock and a surge in crime.

 

The city, which spreads across three square miles, lost nearly 30% of its population from 2000 to 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census. Nearly half of the 11,776 residents live below the poverty line.

 

Students and parents complain of dirty classrooms, exposed wiring in the schools, rationed textbook and swimming pools—once used by powerhouse swim teams—that now sit drained of water.

 

John Holloway, the school board president, said the problems became a “runaway train that we could not stop.”

 

As the situation worsened, the state gave the district a $4 million loan in July 2011 and advanced it $450,000 more earlier this year just to meet its payroll.

 

A union-backed initiative that could go to voters statewide in November seeks to repeal the emergency-manager law under which Ms. Parker was appointed to run the district. The law had been strengthened in 2011 by the governor.

 

Glenda McDonald, a Highland Park resident and laid-off teacher, said that the problem was not entirely the fault of the community. “The disinvestment in our communities led to the disinvestment in our schools, and that’s why people left,” she said. “We had nothing to offer them.”

 

After Leona took over, things did not go well. Enrollment dropped sharply. The company closed the district’s high school. It agreed to waive its fee for one year because of a lingering deficit.

 

 

Last year, the school board of Lansing, Michigan, voted to eliminate music, art, and physical education from its elementary schools. It was a budget-cutting measure. Where were the “reformers”? Silence. Do you remember the strong statement from Secretary Duncan? Neither do I.

 

After the teachers of the arts and physical education were laid off, the job of teaching those subjects was assigned to the regular classroom teachers. No specialists, no art teachers, no music teachers, no gym teachers.

 

Remember that old idea about equality of educational opportunity? This isn’t it.

 

 

 

 

Jane Slaughter describes what she calls the neoliberal assault on Michigan, and she adds in Wisconsin as well. The assault consists of a plan to end collective bargaining and to weaken the unions so they are unable to protect the benefits for working people.

I am not sure why she calls this movement “neoliberal,” as it seems that the main movers and shakers are far-right conservatives who always hated unions.

Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the ACLU of Michigan, published this story at Detroit Metro Times, based on an in-depth exploration of internal documents of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority. The EAA was announced by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011 to “save” the lowest-performing children in Detroit.

 

Governor Snyder said in 2011:

 

In June of 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder stepped behind a microphone at Detroit’s Renaissance High School to announce the start of a revolutionary new approach to education in Michigan.

The problem of poor academic performance would be addressed in dramatic fashion.

“We do have too many failing schools in our state,” he said. “If you look at us statewide, only 16 percent of our kids are college-ready. That’s absolutely unacceptable.

“We need to focus on a new way of doing things.”

The target would be Michigan’s lowest-performing schools. The bottom 5 percent.

The stakes could not have been higher. As the governor explained it, the future of both the city and the state as a whole would be riding on this experiment in education.

“For Detroit to be successful, it depends on having successful schools. For Michigan to be successful, it depends on having a successful Detroit,” Snyder declared. “So we’re all in this together, and we’re going to make this happen as a team.”

 

A year later, the EAA opened its doors. Don’t you think the EAA would have smaller classes for intensive learning, experienced teachers, and the other research-proven methods of successful schools? No.

 

What Guyette learned was that the EAA was an experimental platform for an online program called BUZZ.

 

Buzz “came to Detroit from Kansas City, along with John Covington, the controversial figure hired by the EAA board to be the new system’s first chancellor. Along with Buzz, Covington also brought to Detroit a group of administrators who worked under him in Kansas City. A key member of that team is Mary Esselman, first hired on as the EAA’s Chief Officer, Accountability, Equity, and Innovation for the EAA, and later promoted to the position of deputy chancellor.

Covington is gone now, having departed under a cloud of scandal generated by news reports of the credit card spending that occurred under his watch.

But the software remains, significantly upgraded twice since it arrived. Those upgrades were made possible because of the students and teachers at the EAA, who were bitten again and again and again by the many bugs that plagued Buzz for the first two years of its use in Detroit.

Created by a Utah-based company called Agilix Labs, Buzz is education software that provides what its marketing material describes as an individualized learning experience. With the help of $100,000 from the EAA, Buzz was merged with other educational software created by the School Improvement Network [SINET], also based in Utah. Another $250,000 from the EAA would eventually pay for improvements suggested by the teachers, students, and administrators who were using it, according to Esselman.

 

The children were guinea pigs for product development.

 

Guyette writes:

 

What internal EAA documents reveal is the extent to which teachers and students were, over the course of two school years, used as whetstones to hone a badly flawed product being pitched as cutting-edge technology.

In fact, a SINET employee in November of 2013 informed Mary Esselman of his “fear” that another school district might want to start using Buzz (re-branded as GAGE for the purpose of marketing the product to others) before a second major upgrade could be finished and ready for use in March of the following year.

Records show that such an upgrade did finally land in April of 2014, and was installed over spring break. Another two months passed before a press release was issued announcing that the upgraded product would be available to selected school districts for the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

Agilix and the School Improvement Network began working with Covington and his team in Kansas City.

“In Kansas City, the leadership team implemented the model with limited technology…,” according to the response provided to Snyder. “In Michigan, they have had the opportunity to select staff and leverage a strong teaching and learning platform with strong, short-cycle innovation.”

By short-cycle innovation they mean this: improvements were made as Buzz moved from Kansas City (where it is no longer used) to Detroit. And in the two years since its arrival here, it has gone through technological upgrades significant enough to warrant press releases heralding the breakthroughs that were achieved.

“We’re building this plane as we fly it,” is a phrase numerous sources we’ve interviewed have attributed to Mary Esselman, who was in the thick of the technological planning.

Part of that build-it-as-they-go model included paying inexperienced Teach for America instructors to provide curriculum content that was loaded into Buzz when it arrived at the EAA. They were recent college grads who didn’t study to become teachers and who lacked certification, coming to the EAA with only a few weeks of training in the art of teaching. (About 25 percent of the EAA’s teachers were from TFA when its schools opened in 2012.)

 

The EAA announced dramatic score increases. They claimed the experiment was working. But documents show that students were allowed to retake tests they had failed. And the stellar results were not replicated on state tests:

 

Numerous teachers interviewed by the ACLU told us that, because of intense emphasis on producing positive test results, students were allowed to re-take tests when they failed to perform well. It was described as standard procedure throughout most, if not all, EAA schools.

Asked by the ACLU if she ever became aware of these types of improper testing procedures, Esselman responded: “Yes. We were made aware at a public meeting and immediately made the necessary steps with our school leaders to address this issue.”

Adding more darkness to those shadows is this fact:

In stark contrast to the internal test results are the state’s standardized achievement tests, known as MEAP. The most recent MEAP results show that a high majority of EAA students are either stagnating in terms of reaching math and reading proficiency, or falling even further behind.

 

In fact, BUZZ was unsuccessful. The plane built in mid-air couldn’t fly. The children were used to improve it, but it did not improve their education.

 

During the course of our investigation, the ACLU interviewed a dozen current and former teachers, one former administrator, and several students. Many of the teachers asked to remain anonymous, saying that, because they lacked the protections afforded by a labor union, they feared retaliation by the EAA if they spoke on the record. Others feared that the EAA would blackball them. Others, however, did agree to go on the record.

One of them is Jordan Smellie, a tech-savvy former music teacher now working in the IT industry.

“Buzz overall I would describe as a travesty. To say it was incomplete when it arrived is giving it too much credit,” he said. “The software was in a state that any other firm would have never released. The design was poor, front to back, top to bottom. The user experience was horrendous. It was incredibly slow, if it worked at all.”

Nearly everyone interviewed talked about the dearth of content when Buzz first arrived in the fall of 2012, which is contrary to Mary Esselman’s unequivocal written assertion that Buzz arrived on time and fully formed.

 

Even students testified that they used the classroom computers to play games and visit porn sites.

 

Were the children “saved”? Of course not. They were used to pilot new technology that could be sold to other districts. Based on the EAA’s experience, the message to other districts should be: BEWARE.

 

 

Yesterday, we remarked on the candid remarks of the StudentsFirst executive director in Ohio, who said that most charters in his state “stink” and should be closed down. That was a hopeful sign that at some part of the reform movement might be willing to bend on its anti-teacher pro-privatization agenda.

But today we learn from Eclectablog in Michigan that StudentsFirst has fired an ex-state legislator who was recalled by voters. He is, says Eclectablog, known for his homophobic remarks. When he was recalled, he was chair of the House Education Committee, and StudentsFirst gave him a campaign contribution of $73,000.

Eclectablog writes:

“Given their long history together, it’s not too surprising that StudentsFirst, which spends much of its time attacking teachers, trying to destroy public schools, and promoting for-profit charter schools across the country, would hire Paul Scott. Because, hey, nothing says “students first” like hiring an extremist homophobe who rails about the evils of teaching children about contraception while impregnating an staffer to whom you aren’t married.”

Possibly in response to the Detroit Free Press’s expose of charter schools’ lack of transparency and accountability, a majority in most recent poll (73%) want a moratorium on new charter schools until the Legislature and the State Department of Education has reviewed charter legislation.

 

Having learned from the 8-day series of articles that charters get $1 billion without oversight, the public might want some regulation of how their dollars are spent.

Jack Martin, the emergency manager for Detroitpublic schools, has canceled his proposal to cut teachers’ salaries by 10% and to increase class sizes to as many as 43. This is great news for the children and teachers of Detroit!

“In place of the pay cuts, Jack Martin will ask state education officials to extend the district’s five-year deficit elimination plan to seven years, consider layoffs for non-school employees and look to revenue increases from future property sales and possible student enrollment increases.

“Facing a fierce backlash from teachers, parents and even the state school superintendent, Martin announced the reversal of the planned cuts as part of the district’s plan to eliminate its $127 million deficit.

“The district’s deficit elimination plan, submitted to the Michigan Department of Education and approved last week, was intended to make up for the loss of a projected $18.5 million in revenue from a countywide school tax that voters rejected Aug. 5.

“Detroit Public Schools’ sole focus is and must remain providing the highest quality education possible to the children of Detroit,” Martin said during a news conference.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140826/SCHOOLS/308260087#ixzz3BWxXkqaf

Governor Rick Snyder long ago made it clear that the state of Michigan has no intention of saving public education in Detroit or anywhere else. The city’s emergency manager announced a 10% pay cut for teachers, larger class size, and the closing of 24 schools. The schools have a deficit of $127 million. The wage concessions by teachers will save $13.3 million.

“Parents, educators and community stakeholders met Wednesday morning in front of Ludington Middle School to denounce the cuts, as well as the district’s previously announced plans to increase class sizes.

“Brian Kindle has two children beginning Head Start in the fall, and a 15-year-old at Cody High School. He said he’s worried about how pay cuts will impact his kids.

“I say hands off first responders, kids and teachers,” he said. “I’m here to support parents and their children, and to ask Gov. Snyder not to vote for the proposal.”

“Kindle said he fears additional cuts will result in further neglect of students in the classroom.

“We should have classrooms on every corner, instead of liquor stores,” he said. “That would be great, but we don’t have a society that encourages it. But I will remain on the forefront supporting our children.”

Dr. Thomas Pedroni of the Detroit Data and Democracy Project contends that the cuts to classroom instruction are NOT necessary. He shows in this analysis that the emergency manager has allowed other categories of spending to grow, while cutting the single service that matters most: classroom instruction.

As we learned from the Detroit Free Press series on the state’s charter industry, it collects $1 billion from taxpayers without producing better results than public schools for the state’s neediest children.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan acted to warn the authorizers of the state’s lowest performing charters that he was warning them they were “At Risk of Suspension.” This warning applied to 11 of the state’s 40 authorizers.

He said:

““We want all public schools to provide a quality education for Michigan’s kids,” Flanagan said. “I am using the authority provided me in state law to push for greater quality, transparency, and accountability for those who aren’t measuring up as charter authorizers.”

“The authorizers on the At Risk of Suspension list are being given until October 22 to remediate those deficiencies before Flanagan makes his final determination in November to suspend the authorizer’s chartering ability.

“If an authorizer were to be suspended, it would not be a death sentence, and we’re not closing down their existing charter schools,” Flanagan said. “They wouldn’t be out-of-business. They just won’t be able to open any new charters until their deficiencies are fixed and the academic outcomes of their schools are improved.”

So he won’t close down their failing schools, he just won’t let them open new ones.

Here are the authorizers:

“The charter school authorizers At Risk of Suspension are:

Detroit Public Schools
Eastern Michigan University
Education Achievement Authority
Ferris State University
Grand Valley State University
Highland Park Schools
Kellogg Community College
Lake Superior State University
Macomb Intermediate School District
Muskegon Heights Public Schools
Northern Michigan University

“Each of the named authorizer’s charter school portfolio; that is, all of its charters schools considered as a whole, is in the Bottom 10 percent of the state’s academic Top to Bottom list. They, likewise, have deficiencies in their contract and transparency requirements.”

The Michigan State Board of Education passed a resolution calling for reform of the state’s charter law. The vote was along party lines; the state board is dominated by Democrats but the legislature is not.

The resolution was passed following a series in the Detroit Free Press showing that the state spends nearly $1 billion each year on charters, which are neither transparent nor accountable.

“Among the recommendations: The board wants the Legislature to require private management companies that run charter schools to post online the same kind of information that traditional public schools must post, bar management companies from also being a charter school’s landlord, require lease agreements to reflect fair market values, set clear standards for who can open charters and hold charter authorizers accountable for the academic performance of their schools.

“The resolution, which was rejected by the two lone Republican members of the eight-member elected board, came after more than an hour of debate. Eileen Weiser, R-Ann Arbor, argued the board should delay voting because she believes some of the recommendations are already covered in state law.

“And then we can have a conversation that’s different than what we’re having now,” Weiser said.

“She and Richard Zeile, R-Dearborn, developed an alternate report…..

“The “State of Charter Schools” series showed that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money from the state, often with little accountability, transparency or academic achievement. No state superintendent has ever suspended an authorizer since the charter law was adopted in the mid-1990s.”

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