Contents of this issue:

  • Six strategies key to school reform
  • Swine flu closes schools
  • DPS: Merit pay and strike talk
  • Charter buys church property
  • Schools shouldn't use race, poverty as excuse


LANSING, Mich. — The head of school turnaround efforts in Louisiana told state legislators Monday that six proven ways to improve failing schools are: early intervention, more time in school, alternative teacher certification, school choice, technology upgrades and data-based instructional management, according to the Michigan Information & Research Service Inc.

Paul Vallas, superintendent of the post-Katrina Louisiana School Recovery District, testified and took questions for three hours before House Education Committee members, according to MIRS.

The committee currently is considering a package of bills that would allow the state to identify and restructure failing schools in Michigan through a "reform officer," MIRS reported.

One bill would allow a new charter school to be placed within five miles of a failing public school. Vallas said that giving parents choices among schools, but also giving students choices within schools — through online courses, work-study and dual enrollment — are key to reform, according to MIRS. Work-study tends to stem dropout rates by giving students a financial incentive to stay in school, he said.

He also said that states that limit charter growth are unlikely to be picked for extra stimulus funding and that alternative certification expands the teacher talent pool, MIRS reported.

House Bills 4787 and 4788 will be addressed again during another House committee meeting Thursday, according to MIRS.

Michigan Information & Research Service Capitol Capsule, "Focus on Turning Failing Schools Around,"
May 5, 2009 (Subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "Accountability in education requires choice and competition,"
Sept. 21, 2001

Michigan Votes, "House Bill 4787, 4788 (Authorize failing school 'turnaround schools'),"
April 2, 2009


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — All schools in Washtenaw County were invited to an emergency meeting Monday at the county health department regarding swine flu, The Ann Arbor News reported.

Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor, Utica High School, all 24 schools in the Plymouth-Canton district and Fowlerville High School in Livingston County have announced they will be closed for varying lengths of time due to suspected cases of the flu, the report said.

At the meeting, health department staff members were to discuss the latest developments and what school officials should expect, according to The News.

Michigan reported 19 new probable swine flu cases as of Sunday, for a statewide total of 39, The News reported. Those include cases in Kent, Livingston, Macomb, Washtenaw, Allegan, Ottawa and Wayne counties.

The Plymouth-Canton district plans to disinfect buildings and reopen Wednesday, The News reported, while Utica won't reopen until May 13.

The Ann Arbor News, "Ann Arbor's Father Gabriel Richard High closed this week due to suspected swine flu cases; WISD calls for county-wide schools meeting on topic,"
May 3, 2009


DETROIT — Merit pay likely will be a sticking point in teacher contract talks in Detroit in coming months, according to The Detroit News. The News reported that the Detroit Federation of Teachers indicated it would strike this fall if the administration adopted performance pay and changed seniority rules.

However, DFT President Keith Johnson also has said that the union anticipates members will be in the classroom on the first day of school and that teachers want to help the district address a budget that overspends revenues by $306 million, The News reported.

Johnson said there is no empirical evidence showing that merit pay improves student achievement, according to The News.

State Superintendent of Instruction Michael Flanagan, reacting to the strike talk, said that, "All parties need to be respected in negotiations, but teacher strikes are illegal," The News reported.

Meanwhile, the district has received a $169 million loan from the state to help it with cash flow needs, including obligations to pay employees and vendors and to make pension contributions, The News reported.

The Detroit News, "DPS gets $169 million loan to aid cash flow,"
May 1, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Make unions accountable for illegal strikes,"
Dec. 22, 2008


YPSILANTI, Mich. — Midwest Creative Investments has purchased a former Catholic church campus as a site to expand its charter school operation, according to a report in Michigan Business Review.

Midwest is the parent company of Victory Academy, a charter public school that currently enrolls 125 students in a K-5 program. The firm has purchased the Transfiguration Catholic Church property for $1.2 million, the Business Review reported.

Midwest is owned by Mohamad Issa, who also is owner of Issa Properties, an Ann Arbor-based property management company, the report said. The church was owned by the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.

Issa told the Business Review that he had the site in mind for some time. The church sits on a 10-acre site near Willow Run High School and already has a playground, he said.

Issa said he is expecting increased enrollment at Victory and will cap student numbers at 250, according to the Business Review.

Michigan Business Review, "Dan Meisler: Charter school buys former church in Ypsilanti,"
April 29, 2009

Michigan Education Digest, "Enrollment down, charters and choice up,"
Sept. 29, 2008


LANSING, Mich. — In a critical assessment of Michigan public education, the president of Education Trust said recently that the state must stop blaming race and poverty for low student achievement, according to a report from the Gongwer News Service.

While socioeconomic factors do correlate with school performance, teachers and schools often expect less from students who historically perform below average, said Kati Haycock, head of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, Gongwer reported. She spoke at the Governor's Education Summit in Lansing.

"The schools that really work succeed by focusing like a laser on the things they can do, things they can change, not by wasting a lot of energy on the things they can't," she said.

At the same event, Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of public instruction, acknowledged that his department has given public schools a break by setting cut scores on standardized tests artificially low, but warned that practice will not continue, the Gongwer report said. Flanagan also said schools must "reimagine" education, because "there won't be any more money," the report said.

Flanagan pointed to the common practice of giving extra pay to teachers who earn advanced degrees as an ineffective practice, according to Gongwer.

"There's no evidence to support that paying extra for a master's degree has any impact on student achievement, but that's the system," Flanagan said.

Doug Pratt, a spokesman with the Michigan Education Association, told Gongwer that while all children can learn and high standards are appropriate, Michigan will not likely see improvement without additional school funding.

But Haycock argued that was yet another excuse for inaction, according to Gongwer.

Gongwer News Service, "Haycock: Michigan schools are failing and it's their fault,"
April 28, 2009 (Subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "The shell game of 'making AYP,'"
March 18, 2009

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

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at

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