Contents of this issue:
  • Bad publicity for MEA follows loss in court

  • Proposals would move up MEAP testing, ease standards

  • Class of 2006 will have to choose between SAT tests

  • No significant change in minority admissions after ruling

  • Detroit residents may be overridden on reform board vote

  • Ed Secretary Paige criticizes success gap during Detroit visit

  • Texas plan would overhaul school funding system

MIDLAND, Mich. — Editorials in Michigan's largest newspapers are criticizing the Michigan Education Association's failed lawsuit against the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and MEA members are questioning the union's use of their dues to sue the research institute.

Last month the Michigan Court of Appeals threw out the union's lawsuit in a 3-0 decision. The union had sued the Mackinac Center for quoting the union's president after he told reporters, "Frankly, I admire what they [the Mackinac Center] have done...." The appeals court affirmed that the Mackinac Center's use of the quote fell "squarely within the protection of the First Amendment" and stated the union had produced "no such circumstantial evidence" that the Mackinac Center intended to mischaracterize MEA President Luigi Battaglieri's praise.

The union contends the Mackinac Center should have secured Battaglieri's permission to use his name and quote, even though the union president admitted in depositions that the union had not obtained permission to use the names "Woods," "Palmer," and "Nicklaus" to promote its own fundraising golf event. Editorials in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Oakland Press, Lansing State Journal, and Traverse City Record-Eagle have roundly condemned the union's decision to sue, calling it an "intimidation tactic," "questionable use of the union's resources," "frivolous," and "frantic recklessness." The course of the two-year lawsuit drew national attention to free speech rights by syndicated columnists including George Will of the Washington Post and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

The Mackinac Center was defended free of charge by the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C. law firm. MEA officials have not disclosed how much they spent on the lawsuit, but have stated they plan no appeal.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is the publisher of Michigan Education Digest.

Detroit Free Press, "Public remarks," Mar. 26, 2004

Detroit News, "MEA deserves thumping by appeals court," Apr. 14, 2004

Detroit News, "State court shouldn't let feud trample free speech," Feb. 7, 2004

Oakland Press, "Suit against think tank leaves union looking defensive, foolish," Apr. 19, 2004

Lansing State Journal, "MEA wastes dues," Apr. 1, 2004

Lansing State Journal, "Appellate court got it right," Mar. 27, 2004

Traverse City Record-Eagle, "MEA suit gets the boot," April 6, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Victory for free speech against MEA lawsuit: Interview with Lawrence Reed and Joseph Lehman," Apr. 8, 2004

LANSING, Mich. — Two proposals introduced to the state Department of Education last week would move up the scheduled dates for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and ease stringency on MEAP scores to help schools meet federal standards. State Superintendent Tom Watkins introduced the proposals to the Board in response to criticisms of the MEAP by school officials. The first proposal, starting in the 2005-06 school year, would move the test date to October, so results could be returned and used by schools in the same year. "It (the plan) allows us to meet the deadlines to get out report cards in time," Martin Ackley, Watkins' spokesman, told the Detroit News. "And it allows schools to get the data before the end of the year."

The second proposal would introduce a two-student margin of error to aggregate school MEAP scores. If a school falls within two students of meeting the pass/fail mark according to federal standards, that school would be granted passing status. "A test score is an estimate of a student's performance," said David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University. "There's always uncertainty surrounding a test score."

Detroit News, "Plan moves up MEAP tests," Apr. 14, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?" December 2001

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

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

Detroit News, "Test scores highlight school challenges, gains," Oct. 8, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Students in the graduating class of 2006 will be affected by the transition to a newly revised version of the SAT test, forcing them to decide whether to take the current test, the new test, or both.

The College Board, the nonprofit organization that governs the SAT, will introduce a new, revamped SAT test next March. The "new SAT" will have tougher reading and math questions, and for the first time, an essay question. The existing test, which will become obsolete, was so controversial that University of California leaders said they would no longer use it as an admissions tool.

Waiting until spring could make comparisons between test scores difficult for colleges. "We want to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges," John A. Blackburn, Dean of Admissions at the University of Virginia, told the Washington Post.

Washington Post, "First Test for College-Bound: Choosing an SAT," Apr. 20, 2004

DETROIT, Mich. — Three universities experienced only slight declines in minority admissions last fall following a Supreme Court decision requiring the removal of the point system admissions policies for minorities.

The University of Michigan and Ohio State University reported declines of one percent and two percent respectively, while the University of Massachusetts reported no change in minority admissions after the ruling.

The University of Michigan reported a 40 percent increase in the cost of evaluating applicants after the ruling. "The changes in our admissions process did not signal any change in our commitment to having a diverse student body," Julie Peterson, a University of Michigan spokeswoman, told the New York Times.

Curt Levey, a prosecuting lawyer in the case against University of Michigan, said the results prove that the points system was unfair. "If it's one school, I could say it's a coincidence. But if it's all three schools, it's really suggestive that it's deliberate engineering."

New York Times, "After Ruling, 3 Universities Maintain Diversity in Admissions," Apr. 13, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Less Government, Not More, Is Key to Academic Achievement and Accountability," Oct. 3, 2001

DETROIT, Mich. — A vote to restore local control of the Detroit school board may be delayed if the state Department of Education chooses to retain control.

Former Gov. John Engler instituted state control of the Detroit school district in 1999 after a series of financial and management problems. When the state took over the district, it gave Detroit voters the option of restoring local control five years later, in the fall of 2004. However, the state may choose to override that decision if the district fails to improve its finances within the next several months.

District officials currently predict a $91 million budget shortfall, but they are currently studying the state's definition of a district in deficit while closely watching daily expenses. The state announces the list of districts in deficit in November. Michigan ties state funding to student enrollment, and the Detroit district has lost 12,000 students since last spring.

State Superintendent Tom Watkins stated that he believes the problems in the district can be resolved before resorting to another state takeover. "It appears that [Detroit CEO Kenneth] Burnley, his staff and the board are putting together a thoughtful and reasonable plan to deal with the projected deficit."

Detroit Free Press, "Schools' control is at stake," Apr. 16, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Detroit's Reform School Board Would Be Wise to Privatize," June 1999

DETROIT, Mich. — U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige visited Detroit last week to speak at a meeting of PATCH, a national coalition of churches based in Detroit, about reducing the performance gap between white and African-American students.

The group held a town hall-style meeting at the Tried Stone Baptist Church that was attended by a crowd of over 400. Pointing out 2003 national test averages, Paige said the achievement gap is "a defacto apartheid system." Test results from that year show that 41 percent of white students attained proficient scores in reading, compared to 13 percent of African-American students.

"This is unacceptable," he said.

The "No Child Left Behind" Act aims to close the gap, but many parents and school officials said their district is not utilizing the full extent of the law to provide services to failing students, such as free tutoring. Some critics also accused the federal government of not enforcing penalties that the district has incurred for its test scores. Enforcing the law is "really difficult," said Paige. But, "we can become aggressive at the appropriate time."

Detroit News, "U.S. schools boss criticizes success gap," Apr. 16, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Less Government, Not More, Is Key to Academic Achievement and Accountability," Oct. 3, 2001

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced last week that a special legislative session will be held to look at alternatives to Texas' current school funding system. The current system relies heavily on revenue-sharing and property taxes.

Texas' current funding system is nicknamed the "Robin Hood" system because it requires wealthy districts to share tax revenue with poorer districts. But, many school officials say the system leaves both wealthy and poorer districts short of money and overburdens homeowners with high property taxes.

Perry's plan to switch the source of school funding would cut property taxes by $6 billion and replace that source with taxes on cigarettes, gambling and adult entertainment. Allowing video gambling in Texas would require a constitutional amendment, which would require a large majority of legislators to support the plan.

CNN, "Texas considers school finance overhaul," Apr. 13, 2004 index.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Finance Reform Lessons from Michigan," Oct. 12, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "'Proposal A,' 10 Years Later," February 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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