Contents of this issue:
  • Michigan Senate proposes budget cuts for ISDs

  • Nebraska schools work around federal testing mandates

  • Bush pushes testing for 12th graders

  • Homeland Security Department provides training for schools

  • Houston district allows failing students to pass, make up courses

  • Princeton works to fight grade inflation

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate plans to cut state funding for intermediate schools districts (ISDs) in an attempt to rein in spending and reduce Michigan's budget deficit.

Lawmakers in favor of the cuts say state funding for ISDs has remained largely unaltered for several decades, while other education-related budgets and services have been reduced several times. "It's their turn," Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education Spending, told Booth Newspapers. "They've kind of skated in the budget reductions."

The Senate voted last month to reduce ISD funding by $12.5 million from the current budget of $91.7 million. In addition to budget constraints, some lawmakers say greater financial oversight is needed, citing embezzlement charges against former Oakland Intermediate School District officials. Rep. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, is chair of a subcommittee on ISD operations. "People deserve transparency. With public money, you should be accountable to the citizens, to the taxpayers and the parents of these kids," she said.

Booth Newspapers, "ISDs face budget cuts amid Oakland scandal," Apr. 8, 2004 1081363201264980.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Eliminate Intermediate School Districts," August 2003

Michigan Education Report, "What Are Intermediate School Districts?" Winter 2000

Michigan Education Report, "Group files complaints against districts," Spring 2000

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

LA VISTA, Neb. — The state of Nebraska, in an attempt to work around federal testing mandates under the "No Child Left Behind" Act, has implemented a portfolio-based assessment system to meet accountability requirements.

The portfolio is a combination of student work, locally defined testing requirements, a state writing test and teacher assessments, all submitted to state education officials and outside experts for official review. "We decided we were going to take No Child Left Behind and integrate it into our plan, not the other way around," Nebraska Education Commissioner Douglas Christensen told the Seattle Times.

The Nebraska system works well because of small district sizes and a smaller overall population than larger states, which allows the portfolio system to be properly implemented. "People shouldn't think No Child Left Behind is the only way you hold students accountable or measure student achievement," said U.S. Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok.

Seattle Times, "Nebraska schools skip mandatory tests," Apr. 12, 2004 2001901192_nebraska12.html

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

EL DORADO, Ark. — President Bush announced last week a proposal to add mandatory testing for 12th graders to federal law to enhance accountability for high schools.

Currently, testing is mandatory only for fourth- and eighth-graders every other year. Bush's plan would add tests for 12th graders, but would not affect official accountability statistics required by the "No Child Left Behind" Act. "I think high schools need to have the bar raised," said Bush at a campaign speech in rural Arkansas.

In addition to his testing proposal, Bush outlined a plan to replace the federal Perkins vocational program with a new $1 billion technical education program and to change the Pell grant program so it would provide $50 million to give scholarships to low-income students pursuing math or science.

Washington Post, "Bush Endorses Testing Of 12th-Grade Students,"
Apr. 7, 2004 (free registration required)

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The federal Homeland Security Department will provide $8.2 million in grants to Michigan schools as part of an initiative to help schools prepare for emergencies.

The Michigan Homeland Security Initiative will provide Michigan school districts with funding and training for emergency preparedness, with each school receiving up to $2,200 to update safety plans. "The hazards that our schools are vulnerable to are no longer just natural disasters," state police Sgt. Jerry King told the Grand Rapids Press. "Knowing what to do in a crisis can be the difference between calm and chaos."

About 530 districts have signed up for the program; the deadline for signing up is May 31. "Our children are among our most critical assets," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said. With the grants, "we are helping schools protect them."

Grand Rapids Press, "Homeland Security helps schools prepare for emergencies," Apr. 3, 2004 108099657691150.xml

HOUSTON, Texas — In an effort to reduce the high school dropout rate, the Houston Independent School District last week approved a new policy that would ease standards and allow more students to move on to the next grade.

Currently, students are held back if they fail core English and math classes. The new system would allow students to move to the next grade, but only if they pass failed classes before graduation, either during the normal school year or during summer school. "The ninth grade has become a bottleneck year," executive deputy superintendent Abe Saavedra told the Houston Chronicle. Under the new system, over 5,000 freshmen and sophomores that would have been held back will be allowed to move on to the next grade. According to Saavedra, 43 percent of freshmen in the Houston district have average scores, and over a third of 10th-graders have failed at least one grade. "I view this policy ahead of us as compassionate high standards," said district trustee Dianne Johnson.

CNN, "Houston approves new student promotion plan," Apr. 9, 2004

BOSTON, Mass. — Princeton University may begin rationing the number of A's professors can award students to help combat grade inflation, a problem academics say has impacted schools since the 1970s.

The number of A's given to students at Princeton is up 31 percent since the mid-1970s; A's have been awarded 46 percent of the time in recent years at the university. "I think it's tremendously significant that Princeton is doing this, and I do think it will have a ripple effect" on other institutions, Bradford P. Wilson, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, told CNN.

Many experts believe grade inflation began in the Vietnam War era, when professors gave many students good grades to keep them from being drafted into the military. The Princeton plan will go into effect upon a passing vote by faculty later this month.

CNN, "Princeton to fight grade inflation," Apr. 8, 2004

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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