Contents of this issue:

  • Michigan students score on par with national average
  • Low MEAP scores blamed on test wording
  • NEA chief denounces "No Child Left Behind" Act
  • Watkins speaks about state budget problems
  • COMMENTARY: Achievement gap between states a problem
  • D.C. voucher plan revived in House and Senate
  • Houston district improving dropout tracking, says state agency

DETROIT, Mich. — A mandatory nationwide test shows that Michigan students are on par with the national average in math and reading, according to data released last Thursday.

A random sample of 2,500 fourth and eighth graders in 150 schools took the test as mandated by the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2002. This is the first year the tests are required, although Michigan participated on a voluntary basis in previous years.

In math, Michigan students averaged several points above the national average score, 236 out of 500 for fourth graders and 276 for eighth graders. In reading, fourth graders scored 219 and eighth graders averaged 264. "We're not the highest, but we're a tad above average," Roger Swaim, legislative liaison for the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, told the Detroit News.

Though math scores are up compared to earlier years, more than two-thirds of students nationwide do not meet proficiency according to federal standards. "We clearly should be doing better, but it's not horrible," Barbara Kapinus, a reading specialist for the National Education Association, told CNN.

Detroit Free Press, "Michigan students about average," Nov. 14, 2003

CNN, "Math test scores up, reading holds steady," Nov. 13, 2003 index.html

U.S. Department of Education, "Paige Issues Statement on Results of Nation's Report Card: Reading 2002," June 19, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "What Is the Best Way to Teach Reading?" April 2003

LANSING, Mich. — Consistent poor performance by high school students on the social studies portion of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test has administrators and officials wondering about the cause of the failures.

Three-quarters of Michigan's high school seniors consistently fail to achieve proficiency on the social studies exam. This year, 25.5 percent of graduating seniors passed the social studies portion — slightly up from the class of 2002 — while 61.1 percent passed science, 66 percent passed reading and 60.9 percent passed writing.

Some blame the wording of the social studies exam for the students' consistent poor performance. "It looks like there could be three right answers," said Meghan Pace, a senior at Mott High School, said of one of the test's questions. "They seem to be asking opinions."

Michigan doesn't take the social studies portion into account when distributing the $2,500 Michigan Merit Award scholarships.

Detroit News, "MEAP scores blamed on curriculum, wording," Nov. 14, 2003

Grand Rapids Press, "District moves to raise MEAP social studies scores," Nov. 13, 2003 1068740281260340.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "POLICY BRIEF: Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" May 2002

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA) spoke to Southfield Public Schools officials and teachers last week about contract negotiations that have been ongoing since August.

As part of his remarks, Weaver, denounced President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" Act, and called upon Michigan educators to "fight a common enemy." He said, "Those enemies don't care if you're teacher or a school board member. They simply don't share our philosophies in providing a great public education."

School officials say they have experienced funding cuts and have had to increase spending to meet federal standards under the Act, and that these steps have forced them to increase class sizes and made it impossible to give pay raises. Advocates of the federal law say the Act simply sets up incentives for achievement and penalties for not meeting acceptable academic standards.

Southfield Eccentric, "NEA chief: End bargaining impasse," Nov. 17, 2003 default.asp?Page=11-16-2003/FullStory/11_16_03.1st.htm

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. — Speaking on state budget issues with parents, staff and administrators at a West Bloomfield elementary school last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins asked whether they would favor a budget measure that "pauses" the planned income tax rollback set in motion by former Gov. John Engler. The audience gave him a positive response.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm plans to cut state funding $196 per pupil to help stem the state's projected $900 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year. "In the immediate future there are going to be some extremely difficult budget choices. We know at this point that cuts school districts may be able to make aren't going to come from figuring out how to save more money in paper clips," Watkins said.

Granholm also is considering pausing the rollback of state income taxes, and reducing the amount of the $2,500 one-time scholarships for graduating seniors that perform well on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests.

West Bloomfield Eccentric, "State school chief spells out crisis," Nov. 17, 2003 default.asp?Page=11-16-2003/FullStory/11_16_03.1st.12.htm

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "2,948 Jobs Won't Be Created if State Income Tax Cut Delayed, State Economic Model Shows," Oct. 9, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "No: Michigan Can't Afford to Postpone Reducing Taxes, Attracting Growth," Feb. 4, 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A commentary published in the New York Post this weekend states that, contrary to prevalent stereotypes of the big city vs. "backwoods" states, African American students fare far better academically in West Virginia schools than in New York schools.

According to Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, African-American students in West Virginia are "far more likely than their New York counterparts" to graduate from high school, opening up opportunities for jobs and higher education that the same students in the Empire State may never receive.

In New York, the graduation rate for black students is 47 percent (below the national average of 51 percent), compared to 70 percent in West Virginia. "The data seem to indicate that West Virginia is holding its black students to a higher standard, and with outstanding results," wrote Greene and Forster.

New York Post, "Falling Behind West Virginia," Nov. 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A plan to give District of Columbia students vouchers funded by the federal government was revived by House and Senate Republicans yesterday and may pass by the end of the week.

The plan is now attached to a $5.6 billion District budget as part of a larger omnibus bill that cannot be voted down without shutting down many government operations. Because of this tactic, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said it was "more likely" than not that the new bill will pass, according to the Washington Post.

Voucher proponents praise the Republican's move, which would provide $10 million to the District for a multi-year voucher program. "It's about time," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform. "It's such a small amount of money that has been taken out of context. This is a modest attempt to give kids in the District choice in education."

Washington Post, "Republicans Revive D.C. Voucher Plan," Nov. 17, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Friedman Says Vouchers and Tax Credits Useful Route to Greater School Choice," March 19, 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling: Restoring Parental Control of Education," Jan. 29, 2001

HOUSTON, Texas — The Houston Independent School District is making improvements in tracking dropouts, according to the agency monitoring the district's efforts.

A state investigation of under-reported dropout rates in August forced district officials to repair the problem in six months or face repercussions. Marvin Crawford, a representative from the Texas Education Agency, says the district is on its way to improving the problem.

Several schools in the Houston district claimed they had no dropouts, while an audit found that 3,000 dropouts were unaccounted for in the 2000-2001 school year. The state docked the pay of several district employees and administrators for falsification of records.

CNN, "Schools improving dropout record-keeping," Nov. 15, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Less Government, Not More, Is Key to Academic Achievement and Accountability," Oct. 3, 2001

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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