Contents of this issue:
  • Michigan charters outpace conventional public high schools

  • Holland privatization plan leads to outcry at board meeting

  • Groups call for greater funding for environmental education

  • 81 Michigan high schools fail to meet federal standards

  • Detroit teachers union opposes school governance ballot proposal

  • U.S. college tuition rises more slowly than last year

DETROIT — Scores on this year's MEAP tests suggest that charter high school students are improving faster than their counterparts in conventional public high schools, according to The Detroit News. The News also reported that charter high school MEAP scores improved more quickly than, and had now surpassed, those of conventional public high schools in Michigan's urban areas.

"This is evidence that choices in education are improving scores for kids," said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. According to the News, 63 percent of high school seniors in charter schools met or exceeded state standards on the MEAP test in reading, an improvement of 11 percentage points from the year before. At other public schools, 76 percent of seniors passed the reading test, an improvement of 9 percentage points.

Statewide, 38 percent of seniors in charter schools met state standards in math in 2004, compared to 31 percent of seniors in urban districts.

This comparison to urban schools is a reasonable measurement of charter high schools' progress, say experts, because charter high schools draw most of their students from urban areas.

"What this shows is that charters both outperformed urban schools and improved faster than urban schools," David Plank, director of Michigan State University's Education Policy Center, told the News. "It looks like charters are proving they can be more effective in reaching a population that's been underserved. But there are still significant differences, and kids in charters tend to have parents who are more involved."

Detroit News, "Progress outpaces public high schools," Oct. 22, 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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reports that a Holland Public Schools plan to privatize custodial work led to an outcry from parents and employees who oppose the idea at a district board meeting last week.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance Jim Sullivan said the district needs to cull approximately $750,000 from its budget this year. "We have to consider all cost-saving options," said Sullivan. "We cannot afford to function in a business-as-usual fashion. The decision to consider subcontracting custodians could potentially save the district many hundred thousand dollars per year."

One concern expressed by those against the idea was the safety of students who would be in the vicinity of custodians hired by private corporations. Though Board President Bob Carlson said private workers would have to meet the same background-check standards that are currently in place for custodial workers hired by the district, many attending the meeting still opposed the idea. "I object to privatization and hope you take every step, explore every avenue and exhaust every possibility before you make a decision," said Sarah Forster, a Holland teacher.

The district said its budget had been strained by the cost of new retirement payments that are being mandated by the state. The new rules require that over the next two years, the district contribute 15 to 19 percent of the salaries it pays to its staff into a retirement fund.

According to Sullivan, the district will lose $1 million per year for the next two years just due to that mandate. "This is not good news to have to spend an extra 15 percent on every dollar of salary we pay this year," he said.

The Grand Rapids Press, "District's privatization plan ripped," Oct. 19, 2004 1098197168124730.xml

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

Michigan Privatization Report, "Survey Says: Privatization Works in Michigan Schools," September 2001

Michigan Privatization Report, "Substituting the Private for the Public," February 2000

SEATTLE — The Seattle Times reports that groups supporting environmental education in schools have called on Washington state lawmakers to increase funding for environmental programs, saying that environmental education can improve student behavior and test scores.

The Environmental Education Association of Washington and Audobon Washington this month released a report that gave state government a D on its support of environmental education programs. The report was commissioned by the Washington Legislature and co-authored by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Though the state Legislature's $75,000 grant last year to support such programs was "a great start," according to EEAW President Tom Moore, it was not enough to meet a state mandate that requires "interdisciplinary" environmental education in Washington schools.

Supporters of environmental education programs say the programs can spark enthusiasm in students who are disenchanted with the traditional school curriculum. "Math makes more sense, reading has context, and science comes alive," John Warjone, president of the nonprofit Pacific Education Institute, told the Times.

Seattle Times, "Ecologists aim to change nature of learning," Oct. 14, 2004 2002062658_enviro14m.html

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Clean Michigan Initiative: An Assessment: Environmental Education," October 2002

Michigan Privatization Report, "Chartering Environmental Education: Teaching from the Ground Up," Winter 1999

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The (New) Three R's: Recycling, Rationing, and Regulation," November 2001

LANSING, Mich. — Booth Newspapers reports that state officials have set a Nov. 8 deadline for 81 state high schools to comply with sanctions mandated by the federal government because of the schools' failure to meet federal progress standards this year.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act places sanctions on schools that fail to meet annual "adequate yearly progress" standards for two years in a row. The 81 high schools and 370 elementary and middle schools in Michigan that failed to meet test score standards for two years running must now provide transportation so students can attend other schools or provide tutoring services for poorly performing students. Funding for the services must come from the schools' federal Title I monies.

Experts say that more schools will fail to make adequate progress in the future, since the standards will require higher percentages of a school's students to pass the standardized tests. "What these 81 represent is the warning shot to everyone else that this, too, will arrive at your doorstep," said Jim Ballard, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

Booth Newspapers, "81 high schools fail federal standards," Oct. 20, 2004 1098267001325640.xml

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

DETROIT — The Detroit Free Press reports that following a vote by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the union is officially opposing state Proposal E, which will decide the future governance structure of the Detroit Public Schools.

A 1999 state-imposed restructuring of the Detroit school district changed the district's governance structure from a traditional elected board to a board comprised of mayoral appointees and the state superintendent of public instruction. On Nov. 2, Proposal E will allow Detroit voters to choose whether to revert to the original, traditional board system or to a modified system that would allow the mayor of Detroit to continue to exercise some power in running the district and its finances.

According to the Detroit Free Press, 19 percent of the union's 10,500 members voted on the issue, with 54 percent of voting members coming out in opposition to the proposal. If the proposal is defeated at the polls, the district will revert to a traditional elected school board.

In response to the union's opposition of Proposal E, Bob Berg, a political consultant for supporters of the measure, told the Free Press, "When we go out and explain what Proposal E does, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. ... People do remember what the old board was like."

Detroit Free Press, "Detroit teachers union opposes schools proposal," Oct. 22, 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

DETROIT — The Detroit News reported that a survey of American college tuition costs found that although average tuition had increased this year, the hike this year was smaller than it was last year.

Tuition at public universities is up 10.5 percent this year, while tuition at private colleges increased by 6 percent. Last year, however, tuition at four-year public schools increased 13 percent, the first double-digit increase in ten years.

The News reported that David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, hailed the slower rate of tuition hikes, but called for a broader discussion of the "quiet cost-shifting from state support to tuition that continues in far too many states." Student aid from federal sources rose 10 percent above the inflation rate last year.

Detroit News, "College tuition rises again," Oct. 20, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Recommendations to Strengthen Civil Society and Balance Michigan's State Budget — 2nd Edition: Higher Education: Grants and Financial Aid," May 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Student Loans and the High Cost of College," November 1997

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private Prepaid Tuition Programs Can Help Make College Affordable," September 2001

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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