Contents of this issue:
  • Legislature votes to replace MEAP with college entrance test

  • Lawmakers' budget shift maintains state school fund

  • School groups compete for authorization as charter schools

  • State commission recommends guaranteed "universal higher education"

  • Bill to end $20 million ISD special ed practice awaits approval

  • Opinion: Stopping social promotion improves academic performance

  • Some U.S. educators try Asian teaching methods for mathematics

LANSING, Mich. — The state Legislature voted last Thursday to replace by 2007 the Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests for high school students with a new regime based on a college entrance exam.

A package of five bills will be sent to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who will likely sign the legislation, according to Booth Newspapers. If the bills are approved, high school students could take a college entrance test — probably either the SAT or ACT exams — to satisfy part of their high school assessment requirements for state and federal testing purposes. They could then submit their scores on this college exam to colleges and universities in order to be admitted there.

The state Legislature would require high school students to take additional tests under the bills, including a social studies exam. Traditional MEAP tests would still be given to elementary and middle school students.

State Sen. Wayne Kuipers, a sponsor of the legislation, told Booth that Michigan schools would welcome the change, saying, "They want to give a test that means something to students." Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals Executive Director Jim Ballard, who favors the new testing regime, said, "It's one of the biggest educational reform steps that have been made for the last several years in the state of Michigan."

Booth Newspapers, "Legislature ousts MEAP in favor of college entrance test," Dec. 10, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/statewide/index.ssf?/base/news-5/ 110267700237201.xml

MichiganVotes.org, 2004 Senate Bills 1153, 1154, 1155, 1156, 1157

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 — A bill accepted by the Michigan House and Senate last week will transfer general revenues to the state school aid fund to cover a projected shortfall in the current state school budget, thereby maintaining the per-pupil funding originally budgeted for public schools.

The legislation was introduced in response to a projected shortfall in the state school aid fund. The state's overestimate of its tax receipts this year forced lawmakers to decide whether to cut payments made to schools or to shift money into the state school aid fund from the state's general fund, in order to cover the school fund deficit.

The state's $99.5 million transfer from the general fund to the school aid fund will maintain the minimum per-pupil state foundation grant given to school districts at $6,700. Without the legislation, Gov. Jennifer Granholm would have been legally required to reduce payments to the schools, according to The Detroit News.

The Detroit News, "Transfer from general fund saves Michigan schools," Dec. 10, 2004

MichiganVotes.org, 2004 Senate Bill 1193

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge"

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

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Grand Valley State University officials are preparing to award charters to two schools early next year, according to the Muskegon Chronicle. A number of groups have expressed interest in the openings following the university's call for applications this year.

The two GVSU charters became available after one charter school authorized by the university closed and another switched to a different charter authorizer (Bay Mills Community College). One of the GVSU charters is likely to be given to University Preparatory Academy in Detroit, according to the Chronicle, and about 20 groups are currently competing for the other charter. State law limits the total number of charter schools that can be authorized by the state's universities, increasing the competition for university-granted charters.

Two of the groups that have expressed interest in GVSU charter authorization include a K-8 academy and a K-6 Montessori school that provides day care and preschool. Claire Chiasson, founder of the Montessori school, told the Chronicle that obtaining a charter would allow her to double the school's size and strengthen its finances.

Muskegon Chronicle, "2 school groups hope to land state charter," Dec. 8, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/muchronicle/index.ssf?/base/news-5/ 1102520770191020.xml

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

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A report to Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be released tomorrow includes a proposal to guarantee "universal higher education" for students, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The report was prepared by Lt. Gov. John Cherry's Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, and it makes over two dozen recommendations meant to double the number of college graduates in Michigan during the next decade. The commission's report does not specify how to guarantee higher education for every student, but commission members speculated to The News that solutions could include streamlining state and federal financial programs or providing state-funded community college education.

Washtenaw Community College President Larry Whitworth told The News that the guarantee "would be good if it could be funded, but the possibility of it being funded is, at least in my opinion, extremely remote." State money for higher education has been cut in the past two years. Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told The News, "This (guarantee) sounds like code for, 'Let us raise your taxes.'" He added, "The state should get its K-12 system right before it tries to expand its intervention into higher ed."

The Ann Arbor News, "Higher education for all?" Dec. 11, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-11/ 1102763441150360.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Going Broke by Degree," September 2004

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Competition Among Professors Would Help Parents Afford College," August 1999

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reported that a bill approved by the state Legislature and now awaiting the signature of Gov. Jennifer Granholm would end an intermediate school district hiring practice for special education personnel that has cost the state $20 million.

The Kent, Ottawa and St. Clair intermediate school districts had allowed some special education employees in their local school districts to be shifted to the employment roles of the intermediate district. Intermediate districts receive a higher state reimbursement for these staff than do local districts, and the intermediate districts planned to give the money back to the local districts, according to The Press.

Brian O'Connell, chief of staff for state Sen. Shirley Johnson, who sponsored the legislation, told The Press, "We had three intermediate school districts who were not providing any additional special education services, but wanted $20 million more from the state because of an accounting trick." He said, "We want to put a stop to it before it becomes a trend."

School officials in the affected districts said they had conferred with the state Department of Education and received informal approval from the state attorney general before enacting the staff change. "There was absolutely nothing underhanded about this," Forest Hills Superintendent Michael Washburn told The Press. "Yet our legislators went off half-cocked in a lame-duck session without even giving us warning that they were going to do it."

Grand Rapids Press, "Closing loophole would cost schools," Dec. 11, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-19/ 1102763793183370.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge"

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

VERO BEACH, Fla. — A recent opinion column in the Vero Beach Press-Journal reported evidence that ending social promotion has improved academic performance of students who were held back from the fourth grade for failing to pass a third-grade reading test. Florida third-graders must pass the state-mandated test to continue to the next grade.

The column, by Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters of the nonprofit, New York-based Manhattan Institute, described an empirical study they performed that compared students who were held back because of their test performance with students from the previous school year who had had similar test scores, but had been promoted anyway, since the requirement to pass the exam was not yet in effect. After tracking the subsequent performance of both sets of students, the authors wrote, "Students who were retained made gains on the (state test) greater than those of promoted students by about 4 percentile points in reading and 10 percentile points in math."

The authors opined that their conclusions give credibility to Florida's requirement that students master certain skills before moving to the next grade. "The evidence indicates that the level of a student's achievement is a better foundation for promotion decisions than the year in which he happens to have been born." They concluded, "Policymakers should consider the evidence and take heart that ending social promotion in Florida is substantially improving students' education."

Vero Beach Press-Journal, "Guest Column: Ending social promotion works," Dec. 8, 2004
http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/ _vero_beach_pj-ending_social.htm

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

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Inadequate math proficiency in American students has led many schools to import teaching methods from Asia, where students' math skills are notably better, reported The Wall Street Journal.

U.S. students' math weaknesses could mean "America risks losing even more jobs overseas," according to The Journal. The Journal quoted Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as saying in March, "Many have a gnawing sense that our problems may be more than temporary and that the roots of the problem may extend back through our education system."

Massachusetts Education Commissioner David Driscoll led a movement in his state to teach students math using a method developed in Singapore. The approach covers much less material, but explores it more thoroughly than in the United States. "Our kids just don't seem as numerate as they should be, and we decided we needed to try whatever we can to fix that," Driscoll told The Journal. About 200 schools nationwide use Singapore's method for teaching math, the Journal reported.

Some states say the system does not meet their curriculum standards, while some educators prefer other methods that they say are just as effective in improving students' grasp of math. Still, The Journal cites William Carey, principal of Beachmont Elementary school in Revere, Mass., as saying that after adopting the Singapore system, his students were behind the state average in math proficiency by only 3 percent this year, an improvement from an 8 percent deficit last year. "When something makes a difference, people notice," Carey told The Journal. "Word is starting to spread."

Wall Street Journal, "As Math Skills Slip, U.S. Schools Seek Answers From Asia," Dec. 13, 2004 (subscription required)
http://online.wsj.com/article/ 0,,SB110288916514797758,00.html?mod=home%5Fpage%5Fone%5Fus

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Asian Food for Thought," December 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Solve the Problem Any Way We Can," December 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Plummeting Student Achievement," January 2001

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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