Contents of this issue:
  • Kentwood contract talks remain stagnant for over a year

  • Detroit power outage closes dozens of schools

  • State Senate bill would allow high schoolers longer work hours

  • Benefits of calculator use doubted

  • University of Michigan admits fewer minorities in next incoming class

KENTWOOD, Mich. — An eight-hour mediation session last week between Kentwood district officials and union representatives did little to relieve tensions between the two sides, leaving district employees without a contract and prolonging a battle over health insurance. At issue is a disagreement over health insurance plans in a new contract. Kentwood board members have offered teachers two options using plans provided by the Michigan Education Special Services Association (MESSA) or an HMO-style plan through Priority Health.

The teachers' union's counter-offer is "based on the model used in Rockford and Caledonia," according to union president Jane McDaniels. That model provides salary increases for teachers while switching to a lower-cost MESSA plan, called Choices II, which is fully funded by the district. In those districts, teachers can keep their current plan but must pay the difference.

MESSA's own rules specify that districts cannot offer a non-MESSA plan if MESSA is the designated policy holder, which precludes teachers from choosing the Kentwood board's HMO-style plan if any MESSA plan is offered simultaneously. That limits options for the district and for teachers, a problem that has stalled contract talks. "I don't believe we can settle for a one-size-fits-all solution," Kentwood Assistant Superintendent Scott Palczewski told the Grand Rapids Press. The board announced last month it would give teachers only a few weeks to negotiate with the district until it imposes a contract.

Grand Rapids Press, "Neither side budges on school pact," May 25, 2004 1085496532154650.xml

State of Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, "Report of the Fact Finder,"
Mar. 12, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998

DETROIT, Mich. — A power failure by Detroit's city-owned plant forced dozens of Detroit schools to close for several days last week, sending many students home early in the day.

Recent storms caused power outages at 35 schools last Monday, 46 on Tuesday, and 19 were still without power on Wednesday. Eight of those schools were without power for over 2 1/2 days. Some schools lost power after school began, forcing administrators to send students home mid-day. The city's electricity provider "Should be treating the schools second only to hospitals," District spokesman Mario Morrow told the Detroit News.

Power in Detroit is provided by the city-owned Detroit Public Lighting Department, which costs Detroit taxpayers millions of dollars per year for sub-par service. A Detroit Free Press Editorial last week suggested that the city sell the Department to a private contractor, which "could do the job more efficiently and for less money, and provide the necessary investment to upgrade equipment."

Detroit News, "Power loss shuts 19 schools," May 27, 2004

Detroit Free Press, "Power Switch," May 28, 2004

Michigan Privatization Report, "The Power to Privatize," Winter 2001

Michigan Privatization Report, "In the Dark about Sale of Detroit's Public Lighting Department," Spring 2001

LANSING, Mich. — A bill passed by the state Senate last month allows high schoolers to work more hours during the school year.

The demand for student labor has increased since the last standard was set in 1978. That law, the Youth Employment Standards Act, restricted 16- and 17-year-olds to a total combined work and school week of 48 hours. The new bill, Senate Bill 320, introduced by Sen. Tony Stamas, R-Midland, would amend that total to 52 hours per week, allowing students to work up to 22 hours outside of school. "I talked to small-business folks and they wanted this," Stamas told the Gaylord Herald Times. Critics of the bill include the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, which expressed fears that increased work hours for high schoolers could take away work from unemployed adults.

Stamas' original bill allowed 24 work hours per week, but a compromise among several groups, including unions, lowered that to 22 hours.

The bill is currently in committee in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Gaylord Herald-Times, "Longer work hours for high schoolers under Stamas bill," May 26, 2004 top_stories/top_stories02.txt, Senate Bill 320, Mar. 19, 2003

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The use of calculators by elementary students on standardized tests may be skewing the students' proficiency measures on basic arithmetic, according to a new study.

Average math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the country's standardized test for measuring student progress nationwide, increased during the 1980s and 1990s. However, a study published by the Washington-based Brookings Institution found that scores for fourth-graders using calculators on basic math problems were substantially higher than those not allowed the use of calculators.

The achievement difference between students using calculators and those not using the devices is large for subtraction, multiplication and division, according to study author Tom Loveless. Using calculators on multiplication problems, for instance, more than doubled scores, from 42.5 percent correct to 87.9 percent. ""Calculators change everything," Loveless told USA Today. "For a large number of 9-year-olds, when calculators ... are not available, they get wrong answers."

Detroit News, "Calculator use in schools questioned," May 26, 2004

Brookings Institution, "Computation Skills, Calculators, and Achievement Gaps: An Analysis of NAEP Items," Apr. 15, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Giving Laptops to Sixth Graders Won't Improve Their Education," July 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This fall's incoming class at the University of Michigan will likely have more white students and fewer African-American students than last year's class, according to statistics released last week. Applicants' pledges to enroll show that the number of white students planning to attend the university is up 8 percent, while the number of black students planning to attend is down 13 percent. University of Michigan officials say that much of the decline is attributed to confusion over last year's Supreme Court decision striking down the use of a points system for race-based admission to the institution. The new application requires students to submit a 26-page application that includes more essays, a new system implemented following the Supreme Court's ruling. "I don't think interest has changed, but because of the essays there's a little more apprehension," said Lucille Burkey, a counselor at King High School in Detroit. "I think the essays have a deterrent effect."

Curt Levey, a lawyer for the plaintiffs that sued the university over the points-based system of admission, told the Detroit Free Press that, "These numbers appear to indicate a shift from their obsession with racial diversity to broader diversity."

Detroit Free Press, "U-M's next class looks whiter; why is debated," May 28, 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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