Contents of this issue:
  • Legislature approves Detroit ballot for governance of schools

  • Home schooling on the increase in the United States

  • Commentary: Charters bring relief to crowded Florida schools

  • More Michigan schools make "adequate progress"; nearly 400 still failing

  • State fixes delays, publishes school report cards

  • SAT classes popular for new version of test

LANSING, Mich. — The state Legislature last week approved changes to a ballot measure that will allow Detroit residents to choose the type of governance and power that city and state leaders will assert over the Detroit school district.

A 1999 state law gave control of the Detroit district to the mayor, but required that Detroit voters be given the option to revert to a traditional board in five years' time. The new legislation, however, provides voters with two choices on November's ballot: to revert to a traditional board, or to approve a system that gives Detroit's mayor a continuing role, including the authority to hire the district's chief executive.

After the new legislation was announced, two local coalitions announced plans to fight the added option. Keep the Vote/No Takeover Coalition and By Any Means Necessary say the Lansing decision to place two options on the ballot will confuse voters and is an attempt to keep Detroiters from controlling their local school board. Protesters in support of these groups gathered in downtown Detroit last Friday. "Instead of allowing the citizens to vote as was promised, they've come up with this," said George Washington, an attorney representing the groups.

Detroit News, "Detroiters get option on control of schools," Aug. 6, 2004

Detroit Free Press, "Activists fight school vote," Aug. 7, 2004

Detroit News, "Opponents of Detroit schools proposal ask court to keep it off ballot," Aug. 7, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Compromise Gives Archer Control of Detroit Schools," Spring 1999

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Figures released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics show that nearly 1.1 million children in the United States are homeschooled, up 29 percent from 1999.

When the NCES survey asked parents who homeschool why they do so, 31 percent said they were concerned with the environment of public schools; 30 percent cited the ability to teach religious or moral lessons; and 16 percent cited dissatisfaction with academics at public schools.

The National Center for Home Education, a homeschool advocacy group, said that the number of homeschooled children is actually 2 million, but that the NCES data correctly shows the growth of the homeschooling option. "Home schooling is just getting started," said Ian Slatter, spokesman for the homeschool group. "We're getting that mainstream recognition and challenging the way education has been done."

Associated Press, "Home Schooling Is on the Rise," Aug. 3, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Home Schoolers Make Case for School Choice," May 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Home schooling works, study finds," Aug. 15, 1999

VERA BEACH, Fla. — A commentary published last week in the Vera Beach Press-Journal reports that Florida schools are less crowded than ever due to an increase in the number of charter schools in that state — one of several positive impacts that charter schools have had in Florida in recent years, according to the author.

Jay P. Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said that during the late 1990s, public schools in the state served an average of 735 students per building, up from 712 per school earlier in the decade. But since 1998, noted Greene, "The average number of students per school in Florida has actually been declining, reaching 685 students per school last year."

Much of the easing of crowded schools coincided with the introduction of new charter schools in the state.

Charters, with construction funded in part by previously untapped sponsors, including community foundations and corporations, "have drawn students away from crowded traditional public schools, easing those crowded conditions," Greene observed.

Charter schools stay small because it is an attractive feature for parents. "Traditional public schools face less pressure to reduce their size because students are assigned to those crowded, large institutions by the county school district, whether attending families like it or not," wrote Greene.

Vera Beach Press-Journal, "Charters ease Florida public-school crowding," Aug. 6, 2004 0,1651,TCP_1127_3089459,00.html

Viewpoint on Public Issues, "Class Size Reduction Is Expensive,"
October 1998

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "When Will Conventional Public Schools Be As Accountable as Charters?" July 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," November 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

LANSING, Mich. — Report cards issued last week by the Michigan Department of Education showed that although 100 fewer elementary and middle schools qualified as "failing" by state standards, nearly 400 schools still did not make the grade. Many of these schools will face severe sanctions if they continue to fail for a prolonged period.

Of the schools classified as failing, 101 have been on the list for five years, which is the longest time a school can remain on the list before facing major sanctions, such as restructuring of administration and staff. According to state officials, nearly 40 of these schools received a reprieve that will hold off sanctions for a year, during which they must improve.

According to the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that fail for five years in a row to make "adequate yearly progress," a federal baseline standard for improvement, must face major sanctions. "Next year we've got a huge challenge," said Jeremy Hughes, deputy state superintendent. "The bar is going up."

Detroit News, "More Michigan schools meet No Child rules," Aug. 6, 2004

Detroit News, "39 schools avert major overhaul," Aug. 5, 2004

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

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" Winter 2002

LANSING, Mich. — State officials report that they issued state report cards for elementary and middle schools on time and with fewer glitches than last year, when the grades were delayed by months.

Last year, hundreds of schools received grades that were late or incorrect, standardized tests went missing and some failed to receive grades at all. Over 2,000 schools appealed their grades.

Ed Roeber, the state's assessment coordinator who oversaw this year's overhaul of the program, said that a number of changes were made. Those changes ranged from changing the company that reports test scores to altering the grading measure to reduce grade penalties on previously high-performing schools. But even high-performing schools will still have to show some improvement, says Roeber. "If a high-performing school is starting to fall apart, we shouldn't cover it up," he said.

Some administrators expressed frustration with the disruption caused in their schools by the report cards, which are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Pete McFarlane, superintendent of Portage schools, said, "Do I think it's at a place where it's transparent and not getting in the way of our regular work? No. But nobody likes bureaucracy when it's over their head."

Kalamazoo Gazette, "State works bugs out of report-card system," Aug. 5, 2004 1091721055292390.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

DETROIT, Mich. — A new version of the popular SAT test has high school students scrambling for test preparation courses that they hope will improve their chances of securing college admission.

The new test, which debuts next spring, will include a persuasive essay and will no longer contain a section that required students to understand complex analogies. Scoring will be altered, with a top score increasing from 1,600 to 2,400, and the test will be lengthened by 45 minutes, for a total of three hours and 45 minutes.

But the College Board, which owns and oversees the test, says it will not be any more difficult than the current one, which has remained largely the same for more than a decade. "The difficulty level between the current math section and the new math section, and between the current verbal section and the new one are the same. Those sections are not getting more difficult," said Board spokeswoman Kristin Carnahan.

Test preparation courses are becoming more popular with students in Michigan, even though most students take the ACT, a competing test. The growth "is bordering on remarkable," said Jennifer Karan, director of SAT and ACT programs at New York-based Kaplan, a company that offers test preparation courses. Karan told the Detroit Free Press that Kaplan saw a 78 percent increase in the number of students taking its online SAT practice test.

Detroit Free Press, "New SAT sets off a flurry of classes," Aug. 9 ,2004

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

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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