Contents of this issue:

  • Test scores: Too good to be true?
  • Judge puts school accreditation plan on hold
  • Districts negotiate in shadow of Wisconsin
  • College promotes maritime jobs
  • Union suspends activist member

Test Scores: Too Good to be True?

DETROIT — Higher test scores at 34 Michigan schools are so improbable that they should be investigated, the Detroit Free Press reported.

A nationwide investigation by the Free Press and other organizations that included reviewing millions of standardized test scores showed that 304 schools in six states reported improvement that is statistically improbable, the newspaper reported. In Michigan, 32 of the 34 schools were in metro Detroit. 

Education reformers cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that the higher scores reflects cheating, the Free Press reported, but experts in test procedures said the increases exceed what could be reasonably expected.

Test scores are increasingly important as states turn to student performance as a way to evaluate teachers and meet the federal No Child Left Behind law, the report said.

Most states, including Michigan, investigate alleged cheating when a complaint is made, but do not routinely examine swings in yearly scores, the Free Press reported.

If an investigation shows the school is making "profound changes" that correspond with the gains, "I would give them the benefit of the doubt," said John Tanner of Test Sense, a San Antonio consulting firm that works with schools across the country, the Free Press reported.

But massive improvement may also signal that the scores might be too good to be true, he and other experts said.

The Detroit Free Press, “When test scores don't add up: 32 metro Detroit schools show improvements too good to be true,” March 6, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “The shell game of making AYP,” March 18, 2009

Judge Puts School Accreditation Plan on Hold

LANSING, Mich. — The state education department may not move ahead on a new school accreditation system that it says is necessary to hold schools accountable for their performance, a judge ruled Thursday, according to the Detroit Free Press.

An Ingham County Circuit Court judge granted a temporary injunction barring the Michigan Department of Education from implementing the new system, which would evaluate schools based on standardized test scores, graduation rates, teacher certification and other factors, the Free Press reported.

The existing system also considers test scores, but allows school districts to self-evaluate themselves on a number of other factors. Some school districts are expected to lose accredited status under the new system, the report said.

The Middle Cities Education Association and other plaintiffs sued the MDE to halt implementation, saying the plan was not properly approved by the House and Senate education committees in advance, the Free Press reported.

“We are currently going through the legislative process for approval,” Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the department, told the Free Press Thursday.

“We need a new system that will shine the ‘light of day’ on schools that are doing well and hold accountable those that are not,” Ellis told the Free Press in an e-mail response.

Detroit Free Press, “Lansing judge blocks Michigan school accreditation system,” March 3, 2011

Michigan Capitol Confidential, “State Gives Failing Schools Perfect Grades for Paperwork,” Aug. 27, 2010

Districts Negotiate in Shadow of Wisconsin

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed K-12 school budget and an ongoing dispute in Wisconsin are both affecting teacher contract talks in Michigan, according to The Battle Creek Enquirer.

Snyder has proposed a $470-per-pupil reduction in state funding next year as part of a plan to fix a $1.8 billion state budget shortfall, The Enquirer reported. He has suggested local districts adjust employee pay and compensation to handle the reduction.

Teachers unions and school districts alike have called on lawmakers to reject the cuts, and the uncertainty may be one reason for prolonged negotiations, The Enquirer reported. In the Battle Creek area, some unions and districts are at odds over how much money districts should retain in their general fund balances, with districts saying they need enough for cash flow between state aid payments and to offset state cuts, but unions saying districts are saving more than necessary, The Enquirer reported.

The education community also is watching Wisconsin, where government unions and lawmakers are in a contentious battle over reducing the scope of collective bargaining to wages only, as Gov. Scott Walker has proposed, The Enquirer reported. Results there could affect the bargaining climate in Michigan, Greg Saltzman, an Albion College professor of economics and management, told The Enquirer.

The Battle Creek Enquirer, “Teachers face tough negotiations,” March 6, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “Benefits in Balance

College Promotes Maritime Jobs

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon area colleges are putting fresh emphasis on the maritime industry as a career track for students, The Muskegon Chronicle reported.

Positions such as engineering officers and mates are in demand, a Muskegon Community College official told The Chronicle, one reason that the college and Northwestern Michigan College have signed a new agreement under which MCC students can transfer into the Great Lakes Maritime Academy at Northwestern.

Attracting and retaining young workers has been a struggle, given that it’s common for maritime workers to spend weeks or months away from home, Bryan Powell, an assistant vice president of the Seafarers International Union, told The Chronicle. But in today’s worsening economy, the jobs may be gaining appeal, he told The Chronicle.

Muskegon Lake is the largest deep-water port on Lake Michigan's eastern shore, according to The Chronicle. While it is currently mainly used to ship raw materials, community leaders are exploring potential expansion into commercial shipping, the report said.

The Muskegon Chronicle, “Muskegon Community College launches partnership with maritime industry,” March 5, 2011

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “More Good News for Michigan’s Economy,” Feb. 4, 2011

Union Suspends Activist Member

DETROIT — A well-known activist in the Detroit Federation of Teachers has been suspended by the union for seven months due to allegations that he physically intervened in the swearing-in ceremony of new union officers in January, The Detroit News reported.

Steve Conn, a Detroit Public Schools teacher for 25 years, recently lost a close race for the union presidency to Keith Johnson, who was re-elected by 40 votes, The News reported. Conn alleged there were irregularities in the vote tally, according to The News.

Conn was accused of “physically imposing” himself on the union’s executive board members during the ceremony, and a YouTube video shows him shouting and knocking papers from officers’ hands as they took an oath of office, The News reported.

The union’s executive board has suspended Conn from the union until Oct. 1, according to The News. He will retain his teaching position but cannot attend membership meetings or hold office in the union, the report said. Conn told The News he would appeal.

The Detroit News, “Detroit teachers’ union suspends activist for 7 months,” March 3, 2011

Michigan Education Digest, “DFT recall organizers rally,” Jan. 8, 2010

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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