Archives for category: Michigan

The Attorney General of Michigan ruled that it was appropriate to use school funding to build a new hockey arena for the Red Wings.

“Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette quietly issued an opinion that said state taxes for schools can legally be used to fund the arena’s construction. The opinion came in response to a request in October from state Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit), who asked if it was a constitutional use of the funds.

“In her request, Robinson pointed to a section of the Michigan Constitution, which says that money from the state School Aid Fund is to be used “exclusively” for public schools and colleges in Michigan.

“Some quick background: Robinson’s request stems from the structure of how the Red Wings arena will be financed. An estimated 58 percent of the cost to construct the arena will funded by public tax dollars, about $261 million….”

“Whether you agree that public tax dollars should be used for the project, or decry the idea of subsidizing a billionaire’s arena, the fact is that schools in Michigan could use all the help they can get. Even if it is only $15 million.

“For example, this past May, Michigan officials lowered revenue projections for state school taxes over the next year by nearly $80 million. This was seen as a big deal when the revised projections were released. And if facets of a recent state House plan to support road funding — by phasing out the sales tax on gasoline and replace it with an increase to fuel taxes — gains traction when lawmakers hash out a compromise this week, that could cost deplete school taxes of “hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to one study.

“And while Robinson hasn’t said this outright, her point speaks to a larger concern about the current revitalization in downtown Detroit: No one questions the fact that it’s a positive sign to see young millennials moving into the city. But what will those transplants do when they have children later in life and want to send them to school — in Detroit?

“I represent Detroit, and I represent the center of Detroit, the core,” Robinson told MLive. “And our priorities are our children, schools, police protection, basic essential city services. Give us that. Take your arena … it’s just not fair.”

Larry Miller is a member of the Milwaukee school district. Milwaukee has been a district subjected to the reform nostrums of choice for the past 25 years. It has a large charter sector and a large voucher sector. The shrinking public schools have a much larger proportion of students with disabilities than the other two sectors, which don’t want them. Despite the skimming practices of the two privatized sectors, neither the charter or voucher sectors outperform the public schools. Choice has not lifted all boats; in fact, it has shown no results other than to shrink the public schools. The city’s “independent” evaluator says that the voucher schools have a higher graduation rate, but that higher rate is accompanied by a 44% attrition rate.

 

Now the business community and other “reformers” in Milwaukee decided that having lots of charters and voucher schools is not enough. They want the whole district to be converted to a New Orleans-style charter district. Apparently no one told them that the majority of charter schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans are rated D or F by the charter-friendly state. Or that the New Orleans district is ranked 65th out of 68 districts in the state in academic performance.

 

Milwaukee school board member Larry Miller here briefly reviews the nation’s four “recovery-style school districts”: the one in New Orleans, the Achievement School District in Tennessee, the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan, and the Opportunity Educational Institution in Virginia. The bottom line: parents lose representation and voice; staff are fired; academic achievement is stagnant.

Here is Mercedes Schneider with a brilliant post about the Obama U.S. Department of Education. She writes brief sketches of eight key appointees, each of whom is tied to the privatization movement.

 

When the President wonders why his party was so badly beaten at the polls earlier this month, he might think about the millions of educators who work in public schools and the millions of parents whose children attend good public schools; they are disgusted by Race to the Top, non-stop testing, test-based teacher evaluation, the Department’s preference for charter schools over public schools, and the millions of public dollars directed to TFA and charter schools. Educators were at one time a key part of the base of the Democratic party. As states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee lashed out at teachers, no protest was heard from Arne Duncan. As billions were cut from school budgets in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Obama administration was silent (Duncan wrote a letter to Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania about the defunding of Philadelphia, but it was a faint protest, not like actually showing up). At present, educators and parents feel abandoned by both parties.

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

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