Contents of this issue:
  • 109 Michigan districts fail to achieve federal goals

  • State school board tables superintendent's contract extension

  • Former student to stand trial for threats against school

  • Bush announces push for more high school testing

  • Rochester students, educators voice optimism over MEAP replacement

  • Bush proposes $500 increase in maximum Pell Grant award

  • Granholm, Kilpatrick pick Detroit financial advisory committee

DETROIT — A state report on Michigan's school districts last week showed that 109 districts failed this year to meet annual federal progress standards, according to The Detroit News. The report was the first of its kind, since previous federal progress reports dealt with schools, not entire school districts.

Districts that failed to meet federal goals on standardized test scores, graduation rates or attendance rates in two or more school "levels" were labeled as "failing" by the state, said The News. A traditional district typically would be evaluated on three school "levels" — elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Michigan has 557 traditional school districts, as well as 216 charter schools and 57 intermediate school districts, according to The News. Most of the districts that did not achieve federal goals were traditional school districts, meaning that roughly one in five traditional districts failed.

"Most of our districts meet the standards," commented state Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley. "We still have work to do in some districts." Districts that fail to meet standards for two years must generate plans to improve their schools; after four years, they face outside intervention, including receivership or the closing of the district.

The Detroit News, "109 school districts fail to make federal progress," Jan. 13, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Dancing Around Education: A 170-Year Waltz With Reform," December 2004

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

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Board of Education last week tabled a contract extension for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins. According to Booth Newspapers, four board members — two Democrats and two Republicans — voted to table the contract, making Watkins' future as state education chief uncertain.

The decision on what Booth called a "routine contract extension" came following a report Watkins submitted last month, in which he called for substantial reforms to Michigan's education system. Though Booth reported that a number of parents and educators praised Watkins' report at the board meeting, Watkins suggested the report had prompted disagreement. "When you lead and you propose bold action, sometimes there's fallout," said Watkins. "It certainly has stirred things up. ... It's made some people uncomfortable."

Booth noted that Watkins and Gov. Jennifer Granholm have recently been at odds over several issues, including replacing the MEAP test with a college entrance exam and the results of the state's high school report cards. Granholm gave Watkins a positive letter of recommendation for a July performance evaluation, however, and the state Board recently awarded him a job evaluation of "A-." Watkins must receive a majority vote to renew his contract, which expired in September. He is currently an "at-will" employee.

Booth Newspapers, "Board fails to extend education chief's contract," Jan. 12, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Watkins Gets It Right," January 2005

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

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. — The Macomb Daily reported last week that Chief 41B District Judge Linda Davis ordered a 17-year-old former high school student from Clinton Township bound over for trial on 13 felony charges, including an alleged terrorist threat to go on a "rampage" at Chippewa Valley High School.

The youth, Andrew Osantowski, allegedly outlined plans in conversations in an online chat room to kill a school liaison police officer at the high school. "There is a threat of terrorism in (the evidence)," Davis said in her ruling. "He talks constantly about killing people and the media attention he'll get from it."

Defense attorney Brian Legghio defended the student, telling The Daily, "The statements that he made were not made with the intent to threaten or terrorize," he said. "They were the ill-advised statements of a teenage boy who talked about things like killing his cats, his mother and himself." He also told The Daily, "This is perhaps a troubled young man, but not a criminal."

The charges against Osantowski also included possessing stolen weapons, according to The Daily. Osantowski could be sentenced to 22 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Macomb Daily, "Ex-student to face trial for threats," Jan. 13, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Choice in Michigan: A Primer for Freedom in Education: Lack of Incentives Produces Poor Results and Exacerbates Problems," July 1999

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — At a Washinton, D.C.-area high school last week, President George Bush outlined his intent to request increased high school testing nationwide, according to The Associated Press.

Bush said he would push for states to mandate math and reading tests in all grades from three to 11. Currently, AP reported, the No Child Left Behind Act requires math and reading tests in grades three through eight and a minimum of one testing between grades 10 through 12. Bush also hopes to entice states to require 12th-graders to take the reading and math tests in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP tests are administered biennially.

"Testing at high school levels will help us become more competitive as the years go by," Bush said, according to AP. "Testing will make sure the diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed." National Education Association lobbyist Steve Nousen commented, "The funding in the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade is not adequate. If we try to extend it (NCLB) into the high schools, obviously it's going to take more money."

Other Bush administration proposals included $200 million to help middle and high school students who have trouble reading; $45 million to prompt more high school students to take tougher courses; and $500 million to help districts reward teachers whose students improve academically. According to AP, federal spending on education programs under NCLB has increased 40 percent since 2001, from $17.38 billion to $24.35 billion.

CNN, "Bush calls for increased high school testing," Jan. 12, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Markets, not MEAP, best way to measure school quality," Spring 2000

ROCHESTER, Mich. — Students and educators interviewed by the Rochester Eccentric voiced optimism last week over the new Michigan Merit Exam, which will replace the high school test battery of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a group of bills this month that will replace the high school MEAP tests with a test that can serve in part as a college entrance exam. The new test will be called the Michigan Merit Exam and will be implemented in the 2006-2007 school year. Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said the new test would have to meet established state standards. "We want to make sure many of the aspects of the high school MEAP test are built into the merit exam. The state board was vocal about whatever test is used, it maintain the state's high standards and reflect curriculum standards," he told the Eccentric.

Administrators praised the move to the new test, according to the Eccentric. "For the standardized test used for college entrance, the turnaround time is very quick compared to the MEAP," said Avondale High School Principal Fred Cromie. Principal Dan Hickey of Stoney Creek High School told the Eccentric, "It's a positive move. The MEAP was not held in high regard."

Rochester Eccentric, "Educators, students favor new high school test," Jan. 13, 2005

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, 2004 Senate Bills 1153, 1154, 1155, 1156, 1157

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Associated Press reported that President George Bush last Friday announced a proposal to increase the maximum Pell Grant award by a total of $500 over the next five years.

Bush also announced that his upcoming federal budget proposal would mend the grant fund's $4.3 billion deficit through cost-saving measures in the federal student loan system. "I'm going to reform the student loan program to make it more — or ask Congress to reform it — to make it more effective and efficient and thereby saving money," he said. The program has incurred debt because it must distribute grant money to qualified students even if the grants exceed congressional appropriations, AP reported.

Pell Grants, which are provided to low-income students, are currently capped at a $4,050 maximum. Bush's plan would increase that to $4,550 by 2010. Grants currently range from $400 to $4,050 based on student need.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., appeared skeptical of the president's proposal and said it might involve cost-shifting. "If the president's plan would rob Peter to pay Pell, it would be unacceptable," said Miller, according to AP.

Knox News, "Bush proposes boosting number of Pell Grants," Jan. 16, 2005,1406,KNS_350_3473846,00.html

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

DETROIT — The Detroit Free Press reported that Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick last Friday released a list of 120 members of an advisory committee that would offer recommendations on how to reduce the Detroit Public Schools' $200 million budget shortfall.

Granholm and Kilpatrick chose community, business and school union leaders for the committee, which will have no direct authority over the district's budget, but will monitor budget plans. A spokeswoman for the governor told the Free Press that the committee is also expected to propose ways to restructure the district.

The Detroit school district has until Feb. 4 to file a debt-elimination plan with the state, which could involve up to 5,400 job cuts and 40 school closures. Detroit Federation of Teachers President Janna Garrison told the Free Press, "We would like to have meaningful input into the direction of the district" and called for a focus "on the classroom."

Detroit Free Press, "Team picked to aid Detroit schools," Jan. 15, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The $200 Million Question," January 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Fewer Students = More Money?" October 2004

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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