Contents of this issue:

  • Competition growing in school insurance market
  • Governor would add charters, change tenure
  • MEA mum on strike; panel OKs union decertification bill
  • DPS will appeal order to repay teachers
  • Study: Classroom observation can identify effective teachers

Competition Growing in School Insurance Market

DETROIT — Public schools and municipalities are shopping around for better rates on health insurance, with a number switching to smaller companies, according to The Detroit News. Meanwhile, the historically dominant Michigan Education Special Services Association has seen membership decline, a spokesman told The News.

Thousands of new enrollees have been reported in recent years by Health Alliance Plan, HealthPlus of Michigan and Priority Health due to new school and municipal customers, The News reported. Those firms say that their health management plans and lower administrative fees allow for lower rates, The News reported.

Some of the flux is attributed to a 2007 law that requires public employers to solicit bids for health insurance, The News reported, although the employers are not required to accept the lowest bid. Another reason is pressure to control costs in view of projected reductions in state school aid and declining property tax revenue, The News reported.

Flint Community Schools switched its teachers' health insurance from MESSA to HealthPlus and projects a savings of $3.66 million this year, spokesman Bob Campbell told The News. That move caught the eye of other districts across the state, a HealthPlus spokeswoman told The News.

MESSA spokesman Gary Fralick said that its membership has dropped from about 100,000 in 2004 to 73,400 today, The News reported. Fralick that was due to a combination of schools choosing other carriers, privatization of some school services, and school employee retirements, The News reported.  Some districts have switched out of MESSA and then back to it, Fralick noted, The News said.

The Detroit News, “Cutbacks benefit small insurers,” April 28, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “‘Controlling’ School Health Insurance Costs, Local Style,” April 4, 2011

Governor Would Add Charters, Change Tenure

DETROIT — A broad plan to improve education by allowing an unlimited number of charter schools in failing districts, removing ineffective teachers from classrooms and giving schools a bonus for academic achievement was outlined by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder last week, according to an Associated Press report.

The report, published at Forbes.com, said that Snyder wants to see new rules on teacher tenure and new ways for students to enroll in college courses as early as ninth grade, AP reported.

“We have a broken system and we need to address that system,” the governor said in an address at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.

David Hecker, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told AP that he supports many of Snyder's proposals but is concerned about the idea of basing 40 percent of teachers' annual evaluations on student test scores.

"The devil's in the details. But I think 40 percent is high," Hecker told AP.

Snyder said he plans to set up a bonus fund to reward schools that show children are learning enough to advance to the next grade, AP reported.

Associated Press, “Mich. gov outlines plans for improving education,” April 27, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Should Education Money Be Only for K-12?” April 29, 2001

MEA mum on strike; panel OKs union decertification bill

LANSING, Mich. — A House committee adopted legislation last week that would decertify teacher unions that encourage their members to strike, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service Inc. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Education Association will not release the results of statewide voting authorizing potential job actions, calling it an internal matter, the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reported.

House Bill 4466 was introduced by Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, after the MEA called for the vote, MIRS reported. Scott also considered introducing a proposal that would have decertified teachers for two years for participating in an illegal strike, but said that was taken off the table in the belief that the problem was unions, not individual teachers, according to MIRS.

The Michigan Education Association opposes both bills, MEA Spokesman Doug Pratt told MIRS in a separate report.

Michigan Information & Research Service Inc., “Teacher Union Decertification Bill Clears Panel,” April 27, 2011 (Subscription required)

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, "MEA mum on strike, strategy after meeting," April 29, 2010

MichiganVotes, “2011 House Bill 4466 (Fine union for illegal teacher strike),” March 22, 2011

DPS Will Appeal Order to Repay Teachers

DETROIT — An administrative law judge has ordered Detroit Public Schools to repay four teachers $8,500 each in deferred pay, plus interest, a move that the district will appeal in Wayne County Circuit Court, according to the Detroit Free Press.

If the ruling stands, the district potentially would have to repay all teachers a combined $50 million, the Free Press reported.

The case stems from 2009, when members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers voted for a three-year contract that allowed the district to deduct $250 per pay period from each teacher over two years, up to a maximum $10,000, and give it to them as a lump sum when they left the district, the Free Press reported.

The move was intended to help ease cash flow in the district, which already is under emergency financial management, according to the Free Press. But four teachers filed a complaint, and the administrative judge ruled that deductions to benefits require written consent from each employee, the Free Press reported.

Steve Wasko, DPS spokesman, said the district will appeal.

Detroit Free Press, “Could DPS end up repaying teachers more than $50 million?” April 27, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “It Shouldn’t Take a Hurricane to Revitalize Detroit Public Schools,” April 4, 2011

Study: Classroom Observation a Valid Way to Assess Teachers

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Classroom observation is a valid way to identify effective teachers, a study in Cincinnati concluded, although the method may not capture the full range of differences among educators, according to a report in Education Next magazine.

The study focused on the Cincinnati Teacher Evaluation System, in which teachers are observed and evaluated up to four times each year by trained, independent peer evaluators and a local school administrator, according to the report.

The study said that a student assigned to a teacher who ranked in the top quartile based on classroom observation would perform, on average, two to three percentile points higher on state tests at the end of the school year than one assigned to a teacher in the bottom quartile, according to Education Next. That assumes that the students began the school year at the same academic level, the report noted.

The authors said that the Cincinnati system of evaluation differs greatly from “perfunctory” evaluations that are common in most school districts. Less rigorous methods have led some to say that classroom observation is not a valid method to assess teacher effectiveness, Education Next reported.

Education Next, “Study Finds Rigorous Classroom Observations Can Identify Effective Teachers,” April 26, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “A Meritorious Idea: Oscoda Schools Pioneers Teacher Evaluation Program

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at med@educationreport.org

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