Contents of this issue:
  • State panel recommends tougher, uniform high school curriculum

  • State Senate committee endorses legislation to phase out MEAP test

  • Nearly half of Michigan high schools fail to meet federal standards

  • Union files unfair labor practice complaint against Holland district

  • Kenowa union members may vote to authorize strike

  • Detroit voters choose traditional school board in November election

LANSING, Mich. — A panel at the state Department of Education will present a recommendation in a report this week to toughen Michigan's high school curriculum, according to the Gongwer News Service.

Many students are not prepared to enter the workforce or higher education with the current curriculum, according to the Michigan Department of Education's High School Reform Team, which has drafted the report. "Most striking is that the current high school experience is not reaching out and meeting the needs of our students, inspiring in them the desire to work hard, succeed and refine their skills to ready themselves for future challenges," the report states, according to Gongwer.

The report will recommend that the state require exams for core classes to ensure students are prepared for succeeding course work. In addition, the panel will suggest stronger connections between liberal arts courses and career and technical education, so that students see a connection between their schoolwork and job opportunities.

State Superintendent Tom Watkins indicated in a memo that he would wait to finalize the report until the state Board of Education had a chance to provide input on the findings.

Gongwer News Service, "Panel Recommends Tougher Courses for High School," Nov. 5, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," August 2000

Michigan Privatization Report, "The 'Privatized' Cost of Remedial Education in Michigan," August 2000

LANSING, Mich. — Booth Newspapers reports that the state Senate Education Committee last week unanimously approved Senate review of legislation that would phase out the Michigan Educational Assessment Program and replace it with a combination of a college entrance exam and a state standardized test.

The MEAP is difficult to administer and takes too much time out of the school year, according to some high school administrators. The new test would combine the college ACT or SAT exams with a new state test measuring science and social studies skills. State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, the bill's main sponsor, said the new test would save time because most students take the ACT or SAT anyway. "This is the right time and the right way to move," Kuipers told Booth.

But officials at the Michigan Department of Education observed that the new test could cost more than the MEAP test. "I can say with absolute certainty that the kind of assessment you're envisioning is going to cost more money," Deputy State Superintendent Jeremy Hughes said, according to Booth. The department indicated the new testing regime could cost an extra $5 million to $7 million per year to administer. The state currently spends $8.5 million per year to administer the MEAP test to high school students.

Kuipers said he is optimistic about the legislation's chances in the state Senate this week. Keith Ledbetter, spokesman for state House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, could not say for sure whether the bill would be considered in the House before the end of this year's session if it received Senate approval.

Booth Newspapers, "Ding, dong the MEAP is dead," Nov. 5, 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

DETROIT — About 47 percent of Michigan high schools this year failed to meet federal achievement standards and graduation requirements, The Detroit News reported. The number is an increase from the 33 percent that failed last year.

The federal standards for achievement and graduation rates are specified under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Schools are required to test at least 95 percent of students, meet gradually rising minimum passage rates on standardized state tests, and graduate at least 80 percent of their seniors. Schools that fail to meet one or more of those requirements can be identified as failing by the federal government.

This year's results are "unacceptable," according to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the News reported. State Superintendent Tom Watkins told the News there are no excuses for the results. "We need to get more kids up and over the bar," he said. "It's a wake-up call for our state and community."

School administrators, policymakers and other education experts cited a number of reasons for this year's results, including tougher federal standards, fewer students taking state tests and a lack of funding.

The Detroit News, "More Mich. high schools fail," Nov. 5, 2004

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

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

HOLLAND, Mich. — The support staff union for the Holland Public Schools has filed an unfair labor complaint against the Holland district in an ongoing battle over privatization of school custodial services, according to the Holland Sentinel.

In the complaint, the Holland Educational Support Personnel Association made several allegations related to the district's talks with the union prior to the school board's recent decision to contract with a private firm for custodial services. "We charged them (the board) with refusal to bargain in good faith, and we claim that they took action to split our bargaining unit apart by telling members of the bargaining unit that this didn't really affect them and they didn't have to be concerned about it," Paul Kirschner, a Michigan Education Association representative, told the Holland Sentinel.

Jim Sullivan, Holland's assistant superintendent of finance and personnel, told the Sentinel that the district found "most of the accusations to be groundless or without merit." He also denied a union allegation that a food services employee was verbally reproached by a supervisor for making comments during a school board meeting that discussed privatization.

The union's labor complaint will be adjudicated by an administrative law judge. If the parties are dissatisfied with the outcome, they could pursue the case in circuit court, Sullivan told the Sentinel. Kirschner observed that the district could be "ordered to come back to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith."

Holland Sentinel, "School union files unfair labor complaint," Nov. 4, 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Michigan Education Association: Is Michigan's Largest School Employee Union Helping or Hurting Education?"

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Advance Newspapers reports that members of the Kenowa Hills local teacher and support staff union may vote today to authorize union leadership to pursue a strike if continuing contract talks fail to achieve an agreement with the Kenowa district.

The union's contract, which covers 320 employees, expired in August 2003, and contract talks have stalled over the cost of employee benefits, particularly health insurance. Currently, the Michigan Educational Special Services Administration, an organization founded by the Michigan Education Association, provides health insurance to the district's employees. The decision over how much of the cost of health insurance the employees might bear is a main point of contention. "We haven't been able to solve any of the main sticking points, particularly MESSA cost-sharing or, if not cost-sharing, budget relief in other areas," Rob Zeitter, the Kenowa district's assistant superintendent for business, told Advance Newspapers.

Zeitter said that the possibility of a vote to authorize a strike has complicated the bargaining process. "We're committed to working it out, at the same time the union is talking about a strike," he told Advance. "Our view is that it is a clearly illegal action."

MEA negotiator Michael Stevens said that the district's failure to settle has led to higher insurance costs than necessary, and that the district is misguided in its budget priorities. "We can't balance the district's funding priorities on the backs of the teachers," he said, according to Advance. "What are the priorities here? The priorities in this district are clearly not its employees." Zeitter denied that the district is relying solely on employees to shore up deficits, saying, "We're asking for a small amount to help pay for insurance." Details of the talks are not available. A state mediator has requested that both parties not discuss proposal specifics.

Advance Newspapers, "Walkout looms over Kenowa as unions call strike vote," Nov. 2, 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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A New Day for Michigan Schools," April 1995

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table," August 1998

DETROIT — Detroit voters rejected the city's 'Proposal E' in last week's election, a decision that will eventually reinstate a traditional elected school board to govern the Detroit Public Schools.

The current Detroit school board was created by state law in 1999 and is comprised of the state superintendent of schools and six appointees of the mayor of Detroit. The district's day-to-day operations are overseen by a "CEO" selected by the board and empowered to make most decisions without board approval.

This year, state Proposal E gave Detroiters the option to vote for a modified version of the current board, thereby maintaining a mayoral role in the district, or for a traditional 11-member school board. Rejection of the proposal meant reinstatement of the traditional board.

Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony said the proposal was rejected because it raised a voting rights issue. "We fought too long and too hard for the right to vote," he told the Detroit Free Press.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who supported Proposal E, said he was disappointed the proposal did not pass. "The Legislature in Lansing gave us only 45 days to run a campaign after five years of misery with this system," he said, according to the Free Press.

Election of a new school board will take place in November 2005. The new board will assume control of the school district in January 2006.

Detroit Free Press, "PROPOSAL E: Detroit voters are negative about plan for schools," Nov. 3, 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

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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