Contents of this issue:
  • Upper Peninsula charter school unionizes

  • SOS Holland gets involved in contract talks

  • Improvements seen under No Child Left Behind

  • Michigan students average; black students lagging

  • Algebra required in just one-third of Michigan high schools

Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. — Teachers at a charter school in the Upper Peninsula have voted to unionize, according to the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News. Teachers at the Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe Public School Academy, operated by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, voted 23-9 to approve representation by the Michigan Education Association, the newspaper reported.

In response to the action, the tribal board passed a resolution refusing to lease its property to a union-affiliated organization, and voted to stop acting as a fiduciary for federal funds, the Evening News reported. More than 50 percent of the school's funding comes from a Bureau of Indian Affairs grant, awarded to the Sault Tribe.

The MEA filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, accusing the school administration of retaliating against teachers for the vote, the Detroit Free Press said.

The tribal board also discussed allowing the school's charter, which expires at the end of the current school year, to lapse, and then open a new school on the same property with non-union employees, the Evening News said. The school is now chartered through Northern Michigan University.

The Sault Ste. Marie Evening News, "Bahweting School Board offers teachers separate deal," Oct. 17, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "Briefs from the Upper Peninsula," Oct. 18, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "A Looming Charter School Re-Union?" May 25, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Charter School Ousts MEA Union In Historic Vote," Oct. 29, 2001

Holland, Mich. — A community group calling itself "SOS Holland" has paid for two newspaper advertisements detailing issues surrounding contract talks between Holland Public Schools and its teachers union, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

Joe Hoffer, a former HPS school board member and spokesman for the group Save Our Schools, said the ads are designed to explain the issues surrounding contract negotiations, The Press said. The district and union have met twice with a state mediator, with a third round set for Oct. 26 or 27, The Press said. Previous stories in The Press said the main point of contention is how much, if anything, members of the Holland Education Association will contribute toward health insurance.

"This is not just an insurance issue," Hoffer told The Press. "This is a struggle over who will control the financial future of Holland Public Schools. The district's health and viability is at stake."

SOS has more than 20 members, The Press said, including district parents and business representatives, but none wanted to be identified. Hoffer said they fear alienating those who teach their children.

The Press said two ads ran in a local newspaper last week praising Holland teachers, while criticizing the Michigan Education Association for its stance on health insurance bargaining. The union's health insurance administrator is the Michigan Education Special Services Association.

"The real issue is how Holland Public Schools, with its extremely limited resources, can continue to pay $5.5 million in health-care benefits," Hoffer told The Press.

The MEA's Marty Langford disagrees with Hoffer's characterization of union efforts in the talks.

"They're making it sound like we're limiting the district's right to bid out insurance when all we're asking is that they bargain in good faith and not impose a contract," Langford told The Press.

Hoffer went on to say, "The MEA clouds the issue with allegations of not bargaining in good faith, keeping negotiations private, and complaints about telling employees that the law says it's illegal to strike."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Secretive group weighs in on Holland teacher contract," Oct. 21, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland District Concerned About Possible Illegal Teacher Strike," Sept. 20, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Holland Contract Talks Stall," Oct. 18, 2005

San Diego — Elementary school test scores have risen in the three years since the federal No Child Left Behind Act was implemented, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The 2005 Nation's Report Card, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, includes math and reading assessments given to students in fourth and eighth grades.

In elementary schools nationwide, math and reading scores have gone up, The Union-Tribune reported. But reading scores for middle schools showed a fairly flat trend.

Overall, the Nation's Report Card showed better math scores for fourth-graders and a narrowing divide between white and minority students, but less reading improvement for minorities, according to The Union-Tribune. President Bush said it was "encouraging" and that NCLB was working, but that there was "more work to do," especially for eighth-grade reading scores.

Schools like Milton Elementary in Milton, Vt., have seen progress directly related to the legislation. The threat of sanctions for the school under NCLB prompted a response that appears to be raising student proficiency there. According to the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, Milton kindergartners are learning to read much earlier than Milton students of previous years, mainly due to a new program put in place in order to meet NCLB standards.

The "Fundations" program is teaching Milton kindergarteners — who now attend class all day — to read using certain phonetic techniques. Milton kindergarten teacher Cheryl King said she has seen marked improvement as kindergarteners are learning to put together simple sentences and entering first grade with better literacy skills than their predecessors, the Burlington Free Press said.

According to the Burlington Free Press, Milton Elementary has made several changes in an attempt to improve after two years of underperformance by NCLB standards. School officials were reportedly worried about future sanctions if they did not improve test scores and start closing an achievement gap for low-income students. They took steps to do better, including developing a documented school improvement plan, the Burlington Free Press reported.

Many parents and teachers are pleased with the improvements, although critics charge that the NCLB is underfunded and punitive for proposing to close underachieving schools. Proponents believe accountability is motivating some schools to do better, the Burlington Free Press said. Teachers also like the improvement, but have mixed feelings about a perception of NCLB being too focused on standardized testing.

President Bush reiterated his support of NCLB, The Union-Tribune said.

"It shows that a system that measures and focuses on every child is a system that can help us, and achieve a goal that we really want in America, and that is every child learning to read and ... add and subtract, and no child being left behind," Bush said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, "U.S. school scores rise under 'No Child Left Behind,'" Oct. 19, 2005

Burlington Free Press, "A new read on Milton," Oct. 15, 2005 AID=/20051015/NEWS01/510150308/1009/NEWS05

Michigan Education Report, "NCLB Underfunded?" April 11, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Making the Grade," Jan. 27, 2004

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "No Cop-Out Left Behind," March 23, 2005

Detroit — Michigan's public school students score at or near national averages in reading and math, according to the 2005 Assessment of Educational Progress, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press reported. Also known as the "Nation's Report Card," the NAEP includes math and reading assessments given to students in fourth and eighth grades.

The News said 164,000 fourth-graders and 159,000 eighth-graders across the nation took the test last fall. In Michigan, 4,025 pupils in 353 schools took the test.

The Free Press said Michigan fourth-graders scored an average of 218 in reading and 238 in math, using a scale ranging from 0 to 500. The national average for fourth-graders was 217 in reading and 237 in math. For eighth-graders, Michigan students scored 261 on reading and 277 on math while the national average in reading and math, respectively, was 262 and 278. The Free Press reported that compared with 2003, the number of Michigan fourth-graders who are reading at a basic level is down one percent while basic math is up two percent. The number of Michigan eighth-graders reading at basic levels is down two percent from 2003 and the number of eighth-graders basically proficient in math is the same as two years ago.

Sharif Shakrani, acting co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, suggested Michigan may need to re-evaluate its education system.

"I'm not satisfied with being average, not at all," he told The News. "These results tell me we are not moving in the right direction."

Shakrani also pointed to a persistent achievement gap between white and minority students.

The Free Press reported that Michigan's African-American fourth- and eighth-graders did considerably worse on the NAEP than African-Americans nationwide, a trend that the Free Press said has grown over the past decade.

Robert Green, a professor and researcher in Urban Affairs Programs at MSU, told the newspaper that poverty may be a factor in NAEP scores. The Free Press reported that Detroit, whose public school system is 90 percent African-American, has the most people living below the poverty line of any city in the country, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

The minority achievement gap in Michigan has begun to close slightly, and there were some improvements in math scores, the Free Press reported. But overall Michigan's African-American students are lagging behind their counterparts across the country.

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, associate dean for science and mathematics education at MSU, tried to focus on the root cause of the lower scores, telling the Free Press it has to do with "the importance of high expectations and standards. Particularly for students who are being underserved, particularly black students and urban students."

The Detroit News, "Michigan pupils on par with nation," Oct. 20, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "Little change in performance seen in Michigan students," Oct. 19, 2005

Detroit Free Press, "Black Mich. students lag nation's," Oct. 20, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Cost of Remedial Education," Aug. 30, 2000

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How Ideology Perpetuates the Achievement Gap," Feb. 2, 2005

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Is Michigan Public Education Improving?" Nov. 7, 2001

Lansing, Mich. — A recent curriculum survey found that only one in three of the responding public school districts requires algebra for graduation, the Ann Arbor News reported.

Only 293 districts, or about 45 percent, responded to the curriculum survey from the Michigan Department of Education. Of those, just 95 require algebra for graduation, the News said.

"I was shocked," Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan told the paper. He said he expected the number to be much higher.

The state Board of Education is currently considering mandated curriculum requirements, a decision now left up to individual school districts, the News said. The only class required statewide for graduation is one semester of civics.

Most districts responding to the survey require four years of English, three years each of math and social studies and two years of science, the News reported. Among those fields, however, are several options from which students can choose.

Ann Arbor News, "Algebra may be required by state; Only one-third of districts in survey mandate course," Oct. 17, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Flanagan says survey shows need for state-mandated curriculum," Oct. 11, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Nationalizing curriculum and testing," July 27, 2002

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 Ted O'Neil at

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