Contents of this issue:
  • Appeals Court stops union election at Catholic school

  • Michigan public universities rank among top, bottom tiers

  • New York Times analysis says charters not performing well

  • State college scholarship to require community service

  • National, Michigan ACT scores up slightly

  • Study: High school graduation tests don't ensure readiness

  • Detroit summit discusses African-American test gap

Bloomfield Hills, Mich. - The Michigan Court of Appeals has issued a stay of a faculty vote to decide whether the teachers at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills will be represented by the Michigan Education Association. The vote had been scheduled for Aug. 20.

The case has gained attention because it could create the state's first unionized Roman Catholic school and would potentially open all of Michigan's private religious schools to union organizing and collective bargaining.

Brother Rice High School officials have opposed the MEA election, arguing that it would violate the school's religious freedom. A 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, NLRB vs. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, declined to extend the National Labor Relations Act to cover schools that are operated by a church and teach both religious and secular subjects. The ruling did not prohibit possible future applications of government labor laws to religious schools, however, and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission recently concluded that state regulation of the school's labor relations did not violate state and federal constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

The unionization dispute at Brother Rice began in 2003, when 30 of the 42 teachers working at the all-boys Catholic school requested an election to determine whether to join the MEA. The teachers who initiated the unionization effort had mostly criticized cuts in teachers' compensation and in the budgets of award-winning programs, such as the debate team.

In an e-mail to staff, parents and alumni, Head of School John Birney recently stated: "We believe there is an inherent conflict in the concept of a public employee union representing teachers in a private parochial school under the jurisdiction of a state agency. ... We recognize and accept the faculty's right to organize and bargain with the administration -- indeed, this is a fundamental concept endorsed by the Catholic Church."

Brother Rice has recently been accepted as a pro-bono client by the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit public-interest law firm in Ann Arbor. The Center has asked the Court of Appeals for a short delay in order to familiarize itself with the details of the case, but briefs must be filed by Sept. 7, after which the MEA will have 35 days to respond. The court is then expected to schedule an oral argument on the appeal within six to eight weeks. A final ruling would follow thereafter.

Order of the State of Michigan Court of Appeals, Docket No. 256256, LC No. 03-000088, "Michigan Education Association vs. Christian Brothers Institute of Michigan," Aug. 4, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Commission rules Catholic school must hold union vote," Summer 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Will Michigan Have its First Unionized Parochial High School?" September 2003

DETROIT, Mich. - An annual ranking of the nation's colleges and universities placed the University of Michigan and Michigan State University among the best in their category in 2005, while Central Michigan University and Wayne State University received the lowest tier rankings.

The rankings guide, published by the U.S. News & World Report, graded the institutions based on selectivity, average SAT scores and a host of other categories.

The magazine ranked the University of Michigan 22nd overall among 248 nationwide universities, while Michigan State University placed 71st. Central Michigan University, Oakland University, Rochester College and Wayne State University did not receive a ranking but were placed in the fourth quartile, among the 25 percent lowest-scoring institutions in the country.

The U.S. News guide is one of the best known college guides in the United States, but MSU spokesman Terry Denbow said the rankings are only one way that parents and students choose the right school. "People definitely use the rankings. But they also look at other things, and consumers are becoming very, very savvy about picking a school," he said.

Detroit News, "U-M, MSU ranked among best in U.S.," Aug. 20, 2004

U.S. News & World Report, "America's Best Colleges 2005 Rankings"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Declining Standards at Michigan Universities," November 1996

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Privatize the University of Michigan," March 2004

NEW YORK, N.Y. - An analysis of public charter and traditional public school test scores by the New York Times published last week suggests that charter schools are not performing as well as traditional public schools.

The test score gap reported by the Times was based on data from an American Federation of Teachers report analyzing test scores from around the country last year. According to the analysis, charter students are a half-year behind traditional public school students in reading performance. "There's a very strong accountability issue here," observed Bella Rosenberg, a special assistant to the AFT president.

Responses to the analysis have claimed that it contains several flaws, including that it failed to note that in the states with the highest relative concentration of charter schools, the schools outperformed their traditional peers on several measures. In Michigan, for instance, charters posted greater gains in achievement than traditional public schools in nine out of 10 subjects on the 2003 MEAP test. In a statement issued last week by the U.S. Department of Education, Education Secretary Rod Paige said that the Times did not mention that "public charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act."

New York Times, "Nation's Charter Schools Lagging Behind, U.S. Test Scores Reveal," Aug. 17, 2004

Department of Education, "Education Department Spokesperson Issues Statement Regarding New York Times' Articles on Charter Schools," Aug. 18, 2004

Denver Post, "The reality of charter schools," Aug. 18, 2004

Wall Street Journal, "Dog Eats AFT Homework," Aug. 18, 2004

California Charter Schools Association, "AFT Report Actually Bolsters California Charter Schools' Effectiveness at Improving Student Achievement," Aug. 18, 2004
http://www.edreform.com/index.cfm? fuseAction=document&documentID=1819§ionID=125&NEWSYEAR=2004

American Federation of Teachers, "Charter School Achievement on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress," August 2004

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

HOLLAND, Mich. - The Michigan Merit Board, the state authority that oversees the Michigan Merit Award, decided last week it would require students to record 40 hours of community service during their high school tenure in order to receive the state- funded scholarships.

The Michigan Merit Award was first given to graduates of the class of 2000. Funded in part by monies from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement, the program has awarded scholarships to students who earn Level 1 or Level 2 scores on their Michigan Educational Assessment Program high school exams. The award varies depending on a student's choice of school: a $2,500 scholarship for in-state colleges, and a $1,000 scholarship for schools outside of Michigan.

The recent decision makes a community service component part of the requirement to earn the cash award. "What should a student do to deserve a state scholarship?" asked State Treasurer and Michigan Merit Board Chairman Jay Rising, according to the Holland Sentinel. "I think it goes beyond getting good grades. This recognizes, just as colleges do, that academics alone won't get you in."

Zeeland East High School counselor Mary Colenbrander commented, "It's a worthy cause, but I guess when you start to require it, it's not truly volunteering."

The service requirement will go into effect beginning with the class of 2006.

Holland Sentinel, "Service work tied to Merit Award," Aug. 19, 2004

Booth Newspapers, "Students must volunteer to win Merit," Aug. 18, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "Gov. Granholm Proposes 14 Expansions of Government, 6 Limitations," February 2003

Michigan Education Report, "College bound students receive new state scholarships," Early Fall 2000

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan's State Budget - 2nd Edition," May 2004

DETROIT, Mich. - Composite scores from this year's ACT assessment show mixed results among students nationwide and in Michigan.

The national average score on the test increased this year, from 20.8 last year to 20.9 this year (out of a possible 36). The increase was the first improvement in seven years; scores have remained flat or declined since 1997.

Michigan students, on the whole, fared above the national average, with a mean score of 21.4, up from 21.3 last year. Of the four subjects measured on the ACT test, Michigan high school students gained one-tenth of a point in reading over last year's results. Scores remained flat in English and math, but declined by one-tenth of a point in science.

Though the modest score increase is a positive indicator of student achievement, ACT Inc. Chief Executive Officer Richard Ferguson observed, "Too many high school graduates have not mastered the key academic skills they need" for higher education. An ACT assessment of 10th graders found that only 36 percent of test-takers will be prepared for college algebra and just 24 percent will be ready for college biology, if current trends continue.

Detroit News, "Michigan ACT scores inch up this year," Aug. 18, 2004

USA Today, "Average ACT scores rise for first time in 7 years," Aug. 17, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," Aug. 31, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - A study of high school exit exams released last week said that only one state's test ensures students are ready for higher education, while several states fail to establish the purpose of their test.

The study, published by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy, found that most states' exit exams fail to provide a real measure of students' readiness for college. According to the report, only Georgia's test ensures its students are prepared for college or a job, and even the 20 states that require students to pass their test to earn a diploma fail to truly measure students' comprehension of English and math, among other subjects.

Some states lack a clear purpose or mission in requiring an exit exam. "If they're not clear, then they can't write an exam that's legitimate," Center director Jack Jennings told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We're urging states to re-examine their policies."

Colleges and employers are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of students graduating high school, reporting that students lack basic skills in communication and reasoning skills, said the Tribune. Many states promote their exams as measures of student achievement in these areas.

Keith Gayler, lead author of the Center's report, said if states suddenly implemented compulsory exit exams that truly measured student readiness, with "so few students passing at this point ... the reforms would crumble under their own weight."

Though Michigan high school students are compelled to take a statewide exam, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests, it does not determine whether students will receive a diploma.

Salt Lake Tribune, "Study: Exit exams don't ready high schoolers for college," Aug. 19, 2004

Center on Education Policy, "State High School Exit Exams: A Maturing Reform," August 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," Aug. 31, 2000

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

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," January 2002

DETROIT, Mich. - A three-day summit held in Detroit last weekend focused on closing the test score gap between African-American and nonminority students. The summit involved some 500 school board members from around the country and was hosted at the Marriott Detroit Renaissance Center by the National African American School Board Members group.

The program featured workshops and panel discussions on how to improve the academic achievement of poor and minority children. "There is a lack of performance of African-American students in reading, writing and math," said Ron Price, the founder and president of the group. "When you look at national test scores, our youngsters are always lagging behind."

According to the Detroit News, 60 percent of white children passed the reading portion of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests in 2002, as opposed to only 33 percent of black students. "It's time to step up to the plate and say we're not going to take this anymore and demand more from ourselves and our children," said Price.

Detroit News, "Summit focuses on black test gap," Aug. 20, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "What Can't Brown Do for You?" May 2004

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report ( http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at

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