Contents of this issue:
  • Constitutional amendment on superintendent fails in state House

  • Ypsilanti superintendent considers district consolidation

  • Parents in Detroit, urban areas choose charters

  • Districts look to share superintendent in cost-saving effort

  • Survey: High school students require increased preparation

  • Schools of Choice creates better schools, savvy marketers

DETROIT — A proposed constitutional amendment to transfer the power to appoint the state superintendent of public instruction from the state Board of Education to the governor failed last week to meet the two-thirds majority in the House required to place the issue on a statewide referendum ballot, reported The Detroit News.

The tally, with 72 in favor and 32 opposed, was two votes short of the needed two-thirds majority. Some legislators pointed to a last-minute amendment introduced by House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, as one reason for the measure's failure. DeRoche's amendment added a requirement that the superintendent be responsible for keeping felons out of schools, according to The News. "This is about accountability and this is about reforming the educational system that I think everyone out there is demanding," he said.

Rep. Barb Farrah, D-Southgate, said she abstained from the vote because of DeRoche's amendment. "The concept of it to me in the beginning wasn't bad and when they interjected that amendment into it, I felt they were starting to play politics with it," Farrah said. "I guess to me, when I didn't put up a vote, it was a 'no' vote." Six legislators, including Farrah, did not vote on the measure.

The Detroit News, "Effort fails that would let voters decide if Granholm can pick state school chief," May 5, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Lansing Must Embrace Basic Reform Following the Watkins Debacle," January 2005

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

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For over 20 years, Ypsilanti interim Superintendent James Hawkins has pondered consolidating some of his district's functions with the Willow Run and Lincoln school districts, a step he says should be considered to keep the districts solvent.

Hawkins became superintendent of Ypsilanti schools in 1984, and recently returned to the post on an interim basis while the district searches for a permanent chief administrator. Both Willow Run and Ypsilanti have lost a significant number of students since 1984, but administrators outside of Ypsilanti do not share the same interest in consolidation as Hawkins. One concern of some officials is the urgency of Ypsilanti's financial problems. "I don't want to get into a situation where we get less," said Willow Run board member Clifford Smith.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said that service-sharing between districts should be considered, and is currently calling for the introduction of legislation that would give her office the power to consolidate districts if they fail to share services. "The governor is encouraging school districts to work together to share overhead," Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd told The Ann Arbor News.

The Ann Arbor News, "Should school districts merge?" May 5, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Districts: Is Less More?" July 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

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

DETROIT — An exodus of students from the Detroit Public Schools to area charter schools has taken place over the past decade, reported the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit Public Schools enrolled 180,000 students in 1995, a number that has dropped to about 140,000 today. Charter schools enroll 33,000 students, according to the Free Press, and perception of Detroit's public schools is key to those changes, said Detroit Schools CEO Kenneth Burnley. The Free Press reported that Burnley has called the enrollment drop a "death spiral." Regarding the comparison between charters and the Detroit Public Schools, Burnley said, "Perception, whether accurate or not, is often a person's reality."

Parents of students now enrolled in Detroit-area charters gave the Free Press several reasons for their departure from conventional schools. The district was "a monopoly," said Ross Hill Academy parent Derrick Bryant. "And their mind-set hasn't changed with the times. Their first question should be, 'Why did they leave? What can we do to change?'" Felisa Ware, a parent and PTA co-chair at Plymouth Educational Center, was concerned about the district's history. "Charter schools are not the enemy. It's the district's own track record," said Ware. "They've failed to be true and accountable to what they have and have not done."

Similar movements have occurred in other urban districts such as Philadelphia and Chicago, according to the Free Press. "Philadelphia and any big urban center suffers from a perception thing," said Alice Heller, executive director of the charter school office at the School District of Philadelphia.

Detroit Free Press, "CLASSROOM CRISIS: Detroit parents see charters as best hope for kids," May 9, 2005

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

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

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Playing Monopoly With Detroit's Kids," July 15, 2004

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Two school districts outside of Grand Rapids have been investigating the possibility of sharing a superintendent and other services in a bid to save both districts money, reported The Grand Rapids Press.

Though Godwin Heights and Wyoming district officials say the move would not be a consolidation, the effort would combine some administrative functions of the districts. B. Patrick Murphy, the superintendent of Godwin Heights, is retiring this summer and has suggested the move beginning with his departure; his district estimates it would save $100,000 in such an arrangement.

If approved by both school boards, the districts would keep separate sports teams and other visible functions. "This could be the starting point of a huge collaboration, not consolidation," Wyoming Superintendent Jon Felske told The Press. "I've had to look at Wyoming employees and ask them to do more with less, and it would be hypocritical if I didn't look at myself and say, 'Can I do more and get some money back to the students and the classrooms?'"

Two districts in Michigan, Bear Lake and Kaleva Norman Dickson, have a similar resource-sharing system.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Districts may share leader," May 7, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Districts: Is Less More?" July 2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Funding: Lack of Money or Lack of Money Management?" August 2001

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

WASHINGTON — A 26-state survey of over 90,000 high school students found "troubling" statistics and prevailing attitudes towards the adequacy of high schools, according to researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

According to the survey, 55 percent of students spend three or fewer hours a week preparing for class, yet 65 percent of those students said they receive A's and B's. Just 37 percent of students preparing to go to college spent more than 7 hours per week on school-related work, while 22 percent of all high school students do the same.

According to research director Martha McCarthy, a senior professor at IU, the results were "a wake-up call." "There is a need for students to work harder and do more rigorous coursework." According to USA Today, nearly 25 percent of students in 4-year institutions are inadequately prepared for college and must receive remedial attention.

USA Today, "Survey: High school fails to engage students," May 8, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "With Clear Eyes, Sincere Hearts and Open Minds," July 2002

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

PETOSKEY, Mich. — The ability of parents to choose their children's schools, which began in 1996 with the passage of Michigan's Schools of Choice law, has forced administrators in northern Michigan to rethink how they attract students to their schools, according to the Petoskey News-Review.

The Schools of Choice policy creates the possibility of competition among districts, said Char-Em Intermediate School District Superintendent Mark Eckhart, especially in light of the fact that state funding is tied to each individual pupil. "School districts are in a market-driven area now," he said. "When they put the dollar amount on every student's head and made school of choice they forced schools into a market-driven area, no question."

District officials in northern Michigan told the News-Review they use various approaches including word-of-mouth and newspaper advertising to create public awareness of their schools' positive attributes. Still, some intermediate school districts have kept competition among their local districts to a minimum. "All of our schools are working together to provide the best programs," said Eckhart.

Harbor Springs Superintendent Dave Larson said it is the job of schools to create and provide programs that will attract parents and their children. "We recognize that parents do have a choice," he said. "For us, it's how can we tailor a program and provide those programs for families that best meet their needs."

Petoskey News-Review, "Schools for sale: Financing formula forces districts to become marketing experts," May 6, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," 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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