Contents of this issue:
  • Tense Detroit school labor negotiations continue

  • Court rules against union in Brother Rice case

  • K-16 Coalition begins circulating petition for inflationary increases

  • Homeschooling a growing trend; critics want greater oversight

  • Colleges suggest harder classes better than high grades

  • Study concludes teachers who leave cost state millions

Detroit — The Detroit News reported today that teachers and administrators of Detroit Public Schools made progress in contract negotiations with its 10,000 school employees. When negotiations began, an 11.4 percent reduction in pay was proposed. The latest terms The News reported were for a 2.5 percent pay reduction and having teachers pay 20 percent of their health care premiums, along with some benefits reductions. According to data cited by The News from the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, the average salary for a Detroit teacher is $57,702, placing Detroit 61st out of over 500 districts.

To balance the district's budget, which already contains a plan required by the state to reduce the schools' $200 million deficit, administrators have said they need $63 million in concessions. Though he would not mention details, William Coleman, the district's chief executive, told The News that he thinks the current offer is "something (the Detroit Federation of Teachers) can live with, but they ultimately have (to) make that decision."

DFT President Janna Garrison said the union has found ways to save $47 million that do not involve pay reductions. Citing "significant progress ... between the parties," Garrison said the union has moved a vote on whether employees would return to work from today to Wednesday.

The News reported that all parties believe that a strike would "cripple" Detroit schools. Under Michigan law, teacher strikes are illegal. If Detroit teachers were to strike, The News noted, they risk penalties that include being fired or being fined one day's pay for each day on strike.

The News also reported the district estimates that its projected loss of 10,000 students this year could double in the event of a lengthy strike. The Detroit Free Press also editorialized today, "Like the airline passengers breezing past (Northwest Airlines) picketers at (Detroit) Metro Airport, some will not look twice before moving on with their lives and doing what they think is best for their children." As of Tuesday at noon, a vote on whether to strike had been delayed, with a vote on a new contract pending.

The Detroit News, "Detroit teacher pay talks progress," Aug. 23, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "Reprieve," Aug. 23, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Detroit Teachers Illegally Strike: Anti-Strike Law Proves Weak," Fall 1999

Detroit — The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled this week that teachers at Brother Rice High School cannot be represented by the Michigan Education Association, overturning the Michigan Employment Relations Commission's earlier decision to allow the parochial school's teachers to vote on whether they should unionize.

In May 2004, the MERC determined that Brother Rice teachers could vote on whether they wanted to unionize under the MEA, but Brother Rice administrators sued, saying that organizing parochial school teachers could violate the right to religious freedom, The Detroit News reported.

Paul Ryder, a Brother Rice graduate and founder of the nonprofit Friends of Brother Rice, told The News, "I don't think there's any room in Catholic education for unions, unless the people who are part of the community — the alumni, the parents, the (administration) — wanted the union to come in."

David Crim of the MEA said that the union was disappointed by the court's decision, and that teachers should have "the right to decide for themselves if they want union representation," according to The News.

The News reported that the Appeals Court based its decision on a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that did not allow employees at Chicago Catholic schools to organize under federal labor relations laws. But The News reported that union officials said teachers at parochial schools in other states have been allowed to unionize. Mackinac Center Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright called the decision "an important victory for Catholic schools and their unique role in Michigan's education community."

The Detroit News, "Court rejects teachers union," Aug. 18, 2005,

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "A Michigan Catholic school remains union-free," Aug. 22, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Brother Rice case in court," Spring 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Commission rules Catholic school must hold union vote," Summer 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Will Michigan have its first unionized parochial school?", Sept. 2, 2003

Lansing, Mich. — The K-16 Coalition for Michigan's Future, a group composed of various public school, community college and university groups, embarked Thursday on a campaign to collect 255,000 signatures for a new petition, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Their petition demands that public schools, colleges and universities receive a guaranteed inflationary increase in their state funding each year, that retirement costs exceeding 14.87 percent of the school district or university payroll would be paid by the state and that a funding gap between districts be reduced by 2012, the Journal reported.

Tom White, chairman of K-16 Coalition, told Gongwer News Service that a budget for the campaign is not yet final, but that it would take an estimated $1 million to finance a statewide signature-gathering effort.

If the coalition collects enough signatures, the proposal outlined in the petition could either be approved by the state Legislature, or face voters as a ballot question in November 2006. However, State House Speaker Craig DeRoche, when asked whether he would bring up the proposal for a vote, told MIRS News on Monday, "At this point I guess the answer would be no. But I do have an open mind." White told The Detroit News, "Our preference would be to settle this legislatively, if we can. But ultimately we have to be willing to take this to the people."

According to The News, most Republicans in the Legislature oppose the measure, in part because they believe it might force state dollars away from other important services. Similarly, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has criticized the proposal, The News said, because it does not identify a funding source.

Lansing State Journal, "Educators start drive to secure increases in state school funds," Aug. 19, 2005

The Detroit News, "Group ups school funds fight," Aug. 19, 2005

Gongwer News Service, "Coalition prepares school funding petitions," Aug. 15, 2005 (Subscription required)
http://www.gongwer.com/programming/news_articledisplay.cfm? article_ID=441570104&newsedition_id=4415701&locid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm? article_ID=441570104%26newsedition_id=4415701%26locid=1

MIRS Capitol Capsule, "A Conversation with Speaker DeRoche," Aug. 22, 2005 (Subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "Jen and the art of education," Summer 2005

Michigan Education Report, "K-12 spending guarantee ignores economics," Summer 2005

Detroit — A Detroit News article last week highlighted homeschooling in Michigan as "a growing trend of parents pulling their kids out of the classroom and teaching them at home," and cited critics' concerns that the state's homeschool oversight laws are too lax.

Michigan requires only voluntary registration with the state, so many homeschooling parents simply choose to educate their children beyond the state's purview. The News reported that of an estimated 126,000 Michigan homeschool students, 1,566 students and 943 households are registered.

Michigan State University Education Policy Center Co-Director David Plank told The News, "I believe that 95 percent of homeschoolers are probably better off at home than in a school, but the state's concern should be about the other 5 percent. We have no information about what kind of education they are receiving from their parents. Not finding out is a failing on the part of the state of Michigan."

ACT score comparisons show that Michigan children who are homeschooled earned an average of 23.1 on the test in 2004, while other Michigan students averaged 21.4, The News reported.

The article also reported an emerging change in parents' motives for homeschooling their children. Whereas most of the parents who began the homeschool trend in the 1980s did so for religious reasons, today many are dissatisfied with public schools on other grounds. One homeschooling parent, Katherine Jackson of Detroit, told The News, "It's not the education; it's the social issues in the schools ... There's no cure in sight." The News noted a Home School Legal Defense Association nationwide survey that found that about 31 percent of homeschool parents are motivated to homeschool because of the negative social environment in schools.

Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, The News reported that about 2 percent of American school-aged children are homeschooled.

The Detroit News, "Kids learn at home, but no one's watching," Aug. 14, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "'A' student succeeds in homeschool after negative social experiences at Middle School," Spring 1999

Michigan Education Report, "Home school heroes," Winter 1999

Detroit — A Detroit News article last week pointed to the likelihood that taking harder classes in high school better prepares students for college, even if the preparation comes at the expense of earning exceptional grades.

According to The News, it is often a temptation for Michigan high school students, especially seniors, to "go for the fluff courses and slide into college without much unpleasant exertion." However, some students are proving that college preparation through rigorous coursework may be more beneficial than breezing through easier classes. College testing services such as ACT also recommend such a strategy.

St. Clair Shores graduate Christina Safar told The News, "By senior year, all my friends were taking blow-off classes ... but I was the opposite. When I'd exhausted my high school's hardest courses, I took classes at Macomb Community College." Safar is now excelling at Wayne State's Honors College in the pharmacy program.

According to Kalamazoo College Director of Admissions John Carroll, parents are often concerned that lower grades resulting from more difficult coursework may hinder their child's chance of admission to premiere institutions. But Carroll told The News, "We recognize when a kid takes the ambitious courses. We look at the rigor of the course work."

The Detroit News, "Hard classes help the college-bound," Aug. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Momentum builds for tougher curriculum," Summer 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Educators react to governor's proposed curriculum changes," Feb. 15, 2005

Detroit — A study released last Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education proposes that Michigan schools could spend more than $179 million to replace teachers who leave the profession, transfer or retire, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The study said that schools must do a better job providing mentoring programs and training for new teachers because, according to Alliance President Bob Wise, "For every $1 you invest in a new teacher ... you get back at least $1.37." Wise, who is also the former governor of West Virginia, reportedly told the Free Press, "Right now we're losing millions of dollars nationally and in Michigan."

Using U.S. Department of Education and Department of Labor statistics, the group determined that 4,558 Michigan teachers will have left teaching for various reasons by the time school starts this year.

Michigan Education Association Communications Director Margaret Trimer-Hartley says the union believes that teacher turnover is disruptive to the classroom, and that, "We need to figure out how to create stability in the school setting to carry out the curriculum and provide the continuity kids need."

The $179 million figure is calculated from estimates of benefit and payroll expenses for departing teachers, and recruiting costs for incoming teachers, the Free Press reported.

Detroit Free Press, "Teachers who leave cost state millions," Aug. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Teacher shortage forces states to relax rules for educators," Fall 2000

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 140,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ryan Olson at

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