Contents of this issue:
  • Former teacher union leader Feldman dies at 65

  • ACT scheduled to take the place of MEAP in 2007

  • Detroit dropout programs encourage kids to go back to school

  • Governor's letter calls on authorizers to improve charter performance

  • Greenville school buses to begin using biodiesel

  • Holland teachers prepare for strike

  • Muskegon-area parents like charter schools as alternative

  • School district takes responsibility for bus injury

New York — The New York Times reported that former American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman died of breast cancer at her Manhattan home on Sept. 18. She was 65.

Feldman, who wrote a feature for the Mackinac Center's Michigan Education Report in 1999, led the 1.3 million-member AFT from 1997 to 2004. According to The Times, Feldman was "outspoken" and a "scrappy fighter" for her organization. She had a reputation for publicly taking on New York mayors and other officials when she felt they were not looking out for the best interests of AFT teachers. Randi Weingarten, who succeeded Feldman as president of a New York local teachers union, told The Times, "People remember her take-no-prisoners kind of attitude, but Sandy was far more pragmatic than people give her credit for."

In the Education Gadfly, an online periodical published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Diane Ravitch noted that Feldman was also engaged in the civil rights movement and teacher strikes in the 1960s. Feldman most recently worked with the Bush administration to help draft the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The New York Times, "Sandra Feldman, Scrappy and Outspoken Labor Leader for Teachers, Dies at 65," Sept. 20, 2005

The Education Gadfly (Thomas B. Fordham Foundation), "Sandra Feldman, in memoriam," Sept. 22, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Unions Help Fix Failing Schools," Spring 1999

Detroit — Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced last Wednesday that the American College Test will replace the Michigan Educational Assessment Program test in high schools beginning with the class of 2008. The ACT will be administered to all Michigan 11th-graders during the spring before their high school senior year, The Detroit News reported.

The ACT is a college entrance exam currently required by all state colleges in Michigan, according to The News. Currently, students who choose to take the test have to pay a $70 fee, but the state says it will pay that cost when the ACT becomes Michigan's official high school proficiency test. The state plans to use the ACT to determine the winners of the Michigan Merit Award scholarship and to measure high schools' Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind after the change receives approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

The News reported that the MEAP was never intended to be a college admissions test. Even in high-performing districts, some students opted not to take the MEAP because it would not help them get into college, but a bad score might reflect poorly on their record. Gov. Granholm said, "To compete in a global economy, our students must continue their education beyond high school. To make this expectation a reality, we must give students the tools they need to succeed including the opportunity to take a college entrance exam."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan said he expects the switch from MEAP to ACT to "increase ... the number of students who choose to continue their education beyond high school," according to The News. But some parents are not thrilled about the government mandating a college entrance exam. The News reported that Dawn Gietzen, a parent in Macomb Township, believes that college is important but, "Parents should step in and guide (students) in the right direction."

The Detroit News, "ACT to replace MEAP in 2007," Sept. 22, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Group looks to replace MEAP with ACT," Dec. 23, 2003

Michigan Education Report, "Which Educational Achievement Test is Best for Michigan?" Early Fall 2002

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Does the MEAP Measure Up?", Dec. 18, 2001

Detroit — Three Detroit Public Schools programs, in conjunction with community and church leaders, are helping Detroit high school dropouts go back to school and learn valuable skills, according to The Detroit News.

DPS and some Detroit-area community groups are targeting 17- to 19-year-old dropouts to help them regain educational focus with mixed traditional and vocational classes, The News reported. Some programs are using later start times and more computer instruction to get kids interested in returning to school.

Last Chance, a program operated by the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, focuses on giving dropouts a combination of GED and skilled training. According to The News, Last Chance students work on building-trade projects such as renovating Detroit area homes. Rev. Horace Sheffield III, who runs Last Chance, told the newspaper, "We are bringing kids back into the public schools. It's a positive."

Detroit's Urban Arts Academy is also working closely with dropouts who want to pursue a return to education. The organization, run by the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp., is focused on academics, paired with art and animation, according to The News. Urban Arts is teaching former dropouts marketable skills ranging from computer animation to music production.

Another program, Middle College Academy, is helping students by using technology in the classroom. Rev. Jim Holley, who runs the Middle College program, told The News that some students are embarrassed by what they do not know. "A computer doesn't intimidate you like a teacher or a classroom does. Lots of kids don't participate in class for fear of what they don't know." Middle College focuses on students who typically need two years of instruction to complete their diploma. Middle College students also work part-time.

According to The News, DPS graduates less than 50 percent of its students in four years. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24 in Michigan who are not in school and do not have a diploma, The News reported. DPS expects to lose 10,000 students this year. District CEO William Coleman III told The News that the district is focusing on educating eighth- and ninth- graders about DPS's vocational programs, analyzing their suspension policies and setting goals for truant officers, according to The News. Currently, Last Chance, Urban Arts and Middle College are serving hundreds of Detroit youths, but each of the programs plans to expand in the near future.

The Detroit News, "Dropouts go back to school," Sept. 22, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Census data shows troubling amounts of dropouts," June 8, 2004

Michigan Education Report, "High School Dropout Changes Course and Changes Students' Lives as Public School Teacher," Spring 1999

Lansing, Mich. — In a letter to charter school authorizers last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said she was concerned about a "troubling pattern of low performance," according to Booth Newspapers.

The letter was sent to 11 university and community college presidents, reported Booth. Granholm urged the university heads to put pressure on charter school management companies who in her view are not meeting performance standards.

According to Booth, roughly three-quarters of Michigan's 220 charter schools are managed by for-profit companies, the most of any state in the country.

Jim Goenner, executive director of Central Michigan University's charter school office, told Booth, "I'm a little puzzled. I don't think the data represents a troubling trend. It represents an improving trend." Gongwer News Service reported that Goenner was just returning from an annual conference on the topic of optimizing charter school performance when he was reached for comment. "We must have read the governor's mind," he told Gongwer.

Booth reported that last year, 82 percent of Michigan charter schools made the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standard, up from 61 percent only a year before.

Granholm is also concerned about accountability, calling the charter school's lack of a corresponding home district a missing link, according to Booth. However, Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, told Booth that he considers the universities' responsibilities over the charter schools they authorize an "additional link" in the chain of oversight, not a "missing link."

According to Gongwer, many of the university charter school authorizers said that they had been working on improving performance even before the governor's letter last week. Goenner told Gongwer, "We are on the leading edge of where educational measurement is going."

Booth Newspapers, "Charter schools need to shape up, Granholm says," Sept. 23, 2005

Gongwer News Service, "Granholm calls on charter authorizers to aid school improvement," Sept. 22, 2005 article_ID=441840105&newsedition_id=4418401&locid=1&link=news_articledisplay.cfm? article_ID=441840105%26newsedition_id=4418401%26locid=1 (subscription required)

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Charter Schools Don't Need More Michigan Department of Education 'Oversight,'" Aug. 12, 2003

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "When Will Conventional Public Schools Be as Accountable as Charters?" Aug. 16, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Setting a Higher Standard of Accountability in Public Education," Nov. 12, 2001

Grand Rapids, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Press reported last week that Greenville Public Schools will begin using biodiesel fuel in their buses. The environmentally motivated move is being promoted as a money-saving measure.

According to The Press, diesel fuel prices jumped more than 30 percent between the end of last school year and the beginning of the new school year. Greenville Transportation Director Joe Knight told the newspaper, "We had budgeted for an eight percent increase, but we weren't expecting to pay that much. If prices continue to climb, we could be looking at spending an extra $40,000 for fuel." So the district now plans to switch over gradually to biodiesel.

The diesel that Greenville wants to use is B-20 fuel, which is 20 percent soybean oil and 80 percent diesel, according to The Press. The local distributor, Petersen Oil and Propane, says that the fuel provides significant protection against engine wear and burns cleaner than conventional diesel. Jill Blair, Petersen's bulk facilities manager, said, "We're one of the first distributors in the area to make this product available, and Greenville will be our first school customer to try it."

Knight said that Greenville buses drove 376,000 miles last year at roughly $3.20 per mile per bus in total costs. Considering that cost, Knight told The Press, "You look to save money wherever you can."

According to The Press, St. Johns Public Schools was the first Michigan school district to use biodiesel beginning in 2002. St. Johns' head mechanic told The Press that the district is saving about $3,000 a year with the fuel, and that performance has improved: "We have experienced very positive results using a B-20 blend in our fleet. Our buses don't have the exhaust soot on the back that has to be scrubbed off, and the fleet average fuel mileage has increased from 8.1 to 8.8 miles per gallon."

Soy diesel currently costs slightly more than conventional diesel, but The Press reported that districts like Greenville are banking on a future increased demand for the fuel and the reduced maintenance costs that biodiesel could bring to save money in the long run.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Buses bank on biodiesel to cut costs," Sept. 22, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible Public School Districts," Dec. 3, 2002

Holland, Mich. — The Holland Sentinel reported last Friday that Holland teachers are getting ready for a possible labor standoff with Holland Public Schools. The Michigan Education Association and its local bargaining unit in Holland are concerned that the district might "illegally impose" a contract on the 340 district teachers, according to the newspaper.

The MEA has set up a "crisis center" in Holland, and teachers were seen there picking up t-shirts and making signs, The Sentinel reported. Employees of public schools are prohibited by law from striking in Michigan.

Martin Lankford, an MEA representative, told The Sentinel, "If the school board imposes a contract or a portion of the contract on the teachers, this bargaining unit will consider all of its options," which, according to Lankford, include a strike.

The Sentinel reported that MEA and National Education Association personnel from the Traverse City area and Florida arrived in Holland this week to offer strike training sessions for teachers and to monitor the situation. HPS Superintendent Frank Garcia told The Sentinel, "I would be disappointed if our teachers would participate in any illegal activity. I'm also surprised the HEA and MEA would bring outsiders from as far away as Florida to assess our community."

A major issue stalling negotiations is health insurance and benefits, according to The Sentinel. The district says that it will be bankrupt in two years if they implement the teachers' demands. Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. The next bargaining session is Sept. 28.

The Holland Sentinel, "Teachers gear up for labor struggle," Sept. 23, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland district concerned about possible illegal teacher strike," Sept. 20, 2005

Muskegon, Mich. — According to The Muskegon Chronicle, parents in that part of Michigan are happy with the education alternative they find in area charter schools.

An article published in The Chronicle on Sunday, Sept. 18 noted that the fear that many charter schools would take the best students from conventional public schools has not been realized. In 2004-5, seven charter schools in the Muskegon area had a total enrollment of 1,833 students, The Chronicle reported. Some are from families struggling economically, while others simply were not satisfied at conventional public schools.

Parents seem to enjoy the alternative, according to The Chronicle. Many charter school staff members enjoy the constant parental contact. Charter schools also typically offer a small classroom atmosphere, which many parents appreciate.

According to The Chronicle, some teachers and staff work in charter schools simply because they are drawn to their unique environment. Terri Garza, a reading aide who works at Timberland Charter Academy, told The Chronicle, "My friends who are teachers in other schools always question why I don't go to public schools, but I say, 'Give me a reason to.'" Shannon Nash, a teacher at Timberland, likes working in a charter school because, "I can be free in how I use the curriculum, and the small classes allow me to make more of an impact on learning."

Parents Dave and Karen Glick told The Chronicle that their son at Three Oaks Public School Academy "will not go anywhere else." He was bullied in their district's public school, but now has no problems at his smaller charter school. Karen Glick said, "When your kids get involved with something they like, and you see them growing, you'll do anything, endure anything and try anything for them."

Many charter schools have a dress code, limited sports options and do not offer transportation, but like conventional public schools, they do not charge tuition. According to The Chronicle, many parents simply see charters as their best option.

Muskegon Chronicle, "Parents, students appreciate an alternative to public schools," Sept. 18, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Time to Stop Beating Up on Charter Schools," Dec. 2, 2002

Michigan Education Report, "Report: Charter progress outpaces public high schools," Spring 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "School Choice Has Been Tried — And It Works!", Oct. 4, 1999

Saginaw, Mich. — The Saginaw News reported last week that Carrollton Public Schools acknowledged the district is responsible for rider safety on their buses.

The statement came after kindergartener Marlon Wilkins Jr. fell asleep and missed his stop on his way home from school. His 10-year-old sister forgot he had begun full-day kindergarten and did not realize he was on the bus, The News reported. The driver called him twice when his sister got off the bus. After the driver learned Marlon had missed his stop, she had a student bring him to the front of the bus, but he again fell asleep in the front seat. When the driver braked, Wilkins was jostled out of his seat and cut his head on the bus floor, according to the newspaper.

The News reported that Marlon's mother, Maria, was angry with a district policy that states it is not the driver's responsibility to make sure children exit the bus at the correct stop.

Superintendent Craig C. Douglas told The News, "We accept responsibility for the kids' safety. We are very sorry he got a cut on his head. We are glad it was not a serious cut." Marlon Wilkins required brief medical attention, but was back at school two days later, according to The News.

The Saginaw News, "Schools accept responsibility for students' safety on buses," Sept. 22, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Parent Trap," July 1, 2005

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

Contact Managing Editor Ryan Olson at []

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