Contents of this issue:
  • Schools to be graded
  • U.S. Dept. of Education advocates high school reforms
  • State colleges and universities face more budget woes
  • Holding students back pays off
  • Thousands misspent on Detroit schools credit cards
  • Former Washington D.C. teachers' union leader pleads guilty

LANSING, Mich. — A new system designed to grade elementary and middle schools based on standardized test scores goes into effect this fall after a decade of debate over how to develop an accreditation system that will encourage schools to improve.

The state program, called "Education YES!" will grade Michigan's 3,000 elementary and middle schools using "A," "B," "C," "D- Alert," and "unaccredited" grading scale. Grades will be determined based on each school's scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test, and will be released in November.

Chuck Anderson, executive director of the Michigan Education Association, said the system "is a process that can be damaging and hurtful to the school, the teachers, the administrators and the students." But the union has said it prefers Education YES! over previous systems.

Proponents of the system say it will allow parents to decide which schools are best for their children. "The vast majority of people in this state associate a certain level of quality with a grade mark. It's part of our culture," Jim Sandy of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce told Booth Newspapers.

Booth Newspapers, "Michigan schools brace for their letter grades," Oct. 12, 2003 1065726618258450.xml

Michigan Education Report, "State superintendent launches plan to grade schools," Winter 2002

Michigan Education Report, "State Board of Education adopts school grading plan," Spring 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Education began last week a campaign to help improve public high schools so students are better prepared for college.

Declining test scores and complaints about students' skills from colleges and post-high school employers prompted the campaign. "The number of children who leave our educational system unprepared is staggering," Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a speech last Wednesday.

The department plans to launch websites on career choices and college financial aid, hold meetings with high school leaders to discuss school improvement, give student grants to help with tougher courses and give states teams of advisors to help implement reforms.

Curriculum decisions are still made at the local and state level, said Paige, but the federal government is tying billions in funding to school performance.

CNN, "Education Department promotes high school reforms," Oct. 8, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," August 2000

TROY, Mich. — Next year's state budget may bring more news of funding cuts to state colleges and universities, worrying some institution officials.

The news is "cause for great alarm," University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman told Booth Newspapers. "This is the worst budget we've faced in 30 years. It's very, very serious." Lawmakers have cut public college funding by almost 10 percent the last two years and expect more cuts with an impending $800 million shortfall in the state's budget for the next fiscal year. Public universities in Michigan have cut 1,400 full-time jobs and $159 million in costs the last two years, while the state cut funding to the schools $152 million. Tuition has risen close to 34 percent since the 2000-2001 school year, from $4,447 four years ago to $5,942 in 2003.

Lansing State Journal, "Colleges already hit by cuts await state budget outlook," Oct. 13, 2003

Booth Newspapers, "University presidents sound alarm on funding," Oct. 11, 2003 106582560192020.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition Among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

ALGONAC, Mich. — A controversial system in Algonac and Yale that links reading level to passing grades K-3 has succeeded, based on this year's improvements on the state's standardized test.

Four years ago, school leaders implemented the system, in which children are held back if they don't read at their grade level in Kindergarten to third grade. Teachers initially expressed worries about the system. "It was a lot of pressure for teachers," Kathy Tricomo, an elementary school teacher in Algonac, told the Detroit Free Press. "If 50 percent of my kids aren't moving up, I'm going to feel pretty threatened by that," she said.

But scores on the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) tests show large improvements in students' reading comprehension. In the Algonac and Yale districts, 83 percent of fourth-graders met state expectations for reading, up from 55 percent in Algonac and 65 percent in Yale from 1999. That is above the state average of 75 percent.

Detroit Free Press, "MEAP SUCCESS: Holding kids back seems to pay off," Oct. 8, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds," July 2002

DETROIT, Mich. — An audit of charges and expense reimbursements on credit cards issued by Detroit Public Schools shows nearly $28,000 in misspent funds.

Plante & Moran, a Southfield accounting firm, found that from July 2000 to November 2002, the district lacked general financial controls to stop abuse of district funds. Detroit Public Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley revoked cards from high-level administrators in 2002 due to misappropriated expenditures, and recalled 830 cards this summer. Six hundred cards were reissued this fall after recipients were trained in using them.

The credit cards have a daily limit of $2,500 to $25,000 depending on their purpose. Close to $1 million in purchases were made during the 2001-2002 school year. Employees have repaid $21,000 of the misspent money and the district says the remaining $7,000 was properly spent.

Detroit News, "School credit cards abused," Oct. 10, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "Financial scandals exposed in Michigan school districts," Fall 2002

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The former leader of the Washington Teachers' Union pleaded guilty last Tuesday to charges of conspiracy and mail fraud in connection with the theft of $2.5 million in union funds.

The thefts by Barbara A. Bullock occurred from 1995 to 2002, and paid for items such as $57,000 silver tableware, fur coats, and season tickets to sports events.

"To put it bluntly, Ms. Bullock's conduct was nothing short of brazen greed which led to the sheer fleecing of the Washington Teachers' Union," said Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Bullock faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Washington Post, "Ex-Teachers' Union Official Pleads Guilty," Oct. 7, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Teachers Unions: Helping or Hurting?"

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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