Contents of this issue:
  • Education reform group looks to bring back "local control"
  • Study: Michigan standardized tests too easy
  • Districts take out loans to pay bills
  • Questions raised about need to hold students back in school
  • Students evacuated from Swartz Creek elementary school
  • Comment and win an iPod

DEARBORN, Mich. — A report created by a committee of parents, teachers and students in Dearborn presents the components of an ideal school system based on local control and less government regulation, according to the Dearborn Press and Guide.

The 50-member group created the Model District Project and analyzed policy changes that would lead to more local investment in education and minimize the amount of money going to feed state and federal government bureaucracies. Dearborn Public Schools is planning on sending the completed, 47-page document to legislators and other school districts in hopes of spurring interest in creative reforms. The district also plans to incorporate as many of the ideas as possible into its strategic plan for next year, the Press and Guide reported.

Key suggested changes include bidding for benefits and other services and re-examining the school funding system. The group believes the state and federal government should remain in charge of levying and distributing tax money, but should do so in a more "equitable" way, the Press and Guide reported. The plan also finds problems with current accountability measures like the No Child Left Behind act, Adequate Yearly Progress, and the Michigan Merit Exam.

"There will always be a need for assessment and for government to set general guidelines for objectives," Earnie Oz, a parent and member of the Dearborn Parent Teacher Student Association, told the Press and Guide. "But as for actual implementation of programs, that should fall to local school districts. Government needs to be active, not dictatorial. In many cases it doesn't provide funding (for mandated programs) and creates a scenario for failure."

Dearborn Press and Guide, "Local group delivers report on ideal school district," Oct. 3, 2007

Michigan Education Report, "Stem the erosion of local control in Michigan," Sept. 21, 2001

DETROIT — A comparative study of state standardized tests found that Michigan's standards for mastery are lower than most of the 26 other states examined, according to The Detroit News.

The study, "The Proficiency Illusion," was conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and found that Michigan's proficiency standards decreased between 2003 and 2005. The findings also show that standards for eighth grader are, comparatively, much higher than for third grader, The News reported.

"Another big finding is that we see that these standards are not well calibrated from grade to grade. Most states are setting the bar dramatically higher in the eighth grade than they are in the third grade," Michael J. Petrilli, vice president of national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, told The News.

The study argues that one of the flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind act is its desire to let states determine their own testing methods.

"State tests really are all over the map," Petrilli told The News. "We see that some state tests are quite difficult to pass and we see some state tests that are quite easy to pass."

Michigan Department of Education officials question the methodology and argue that the findings contradict earlier studies, according to The News.

"This report conflicts with the conclusions drawn from the National Center for Educational Statistics State Proficiency Standard Study released in June that placed Michigan in the middle of other state averages," Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said in a statement, according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Michigan reading, math tests too easy?" Oct. 4, 2007

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

DETROIT — Nearly half of the state's school districts have a combined $706 million in bond debt through the state and will be paying $26 million in interest alone this year, according to The Detroit News.

Uncertainty about the amount of state aid students will receive has many districts borrowing money to pay for everything from salaries to heat and other utilities. Garden City Public Schools will pay $470,000 in interest on $13 million in loans, according to The News. The Avondale Public Schools took out a loan for $5 million and will owe $184,000 this year, despite not having any money in its fund balance, The News reported.

"It's not the best way to operate at all," Avondale Superintendent George Heitsch told The News. "The interest you have to pay directly takes away from cash that would be available for class instruction, and that's an awful thing to have to do. We're a symptom of the state's economic crises."

Business professionals find this financial model troubling.

"They're definitely not thinking like businesses," Mark Horvath, an executive with an auto supplier and a parent of graduates from the Plymouth-Canton district, told The News. "When your revenue goes down, your spending also has to go down."

Plymouth-Canton opened a credit account for $6 million this summer, according to The News.

The Detroit News, "Schools get loans amid state crisis," Oct. 8, 2007

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

SAGINAW, Mich. — A Saginaw Community Schools elementary student was pushed into the fourth grade by his teacher last year after failing in the vast majority of subjects. The incident has raised concerns about the opposition to retention prevalent in the educational community, according to The Saginaw News.

The student, whose name has not been released, was promoted to fourth grade after receiving 17 D's and E's out of a total of 20 grades. The other three grades were C's. The boy's father, Henry McClellon was astonished that his son was promoted and thinks the school is sending messages that "it's okay to fail," The News reported.

"I just couldn't believe it; he thought he was doing OK," the father told The News. "I told him he doesn't deserve to go to fourth grade. You have to earn that."

Despite the poor grades, and notes pointing out the boy's struggle with reading comprehension, third-grade teacher Ruth Anderson says she did the right thing in promoting him, according to The News.

"He was conscientious ... tried very hard to please others," Anderson told The News. "He's just a sensitive young man." The debate over when to hold a student back in school or to push them forward with their peers is heated and conclusions are generally unclear. Advocates of social promotion argue that there is no reason to hold a student back unless attendance is poor or the child has a learning disability, The News reported.

"What's the merit of repeating third grade?" asks Helene Lusa, a professor at the Saginaw Valley State University College of Education and a former elementary principal in the Livonia Public Schools. "Most kids who don't have special education needs catch up."

McClellon still finds the situation troublesome and doesn't think the school has his son's best interest in mind, according to The News.

"You have to blame the school system for wanting to push forward a child," McClellon says. "I just want him to be a successful, intelligent young man. He's failing, and he doesn't even know it."

The Saginaw News, "Pupil passed with 17 D's and E's," Oct. 8, 2007

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Rankings on National Education Test Fall in 8th Grade, Stagnate in 4th; Proficiency Scores Flat," Sept. 26, 2007

SWARTZ CREEK, Mich. — Students at the Syring Elementary School in Swartz Creek were evacuated when a teacher reported a ticking noise coming from a backpack, according to The Flint Journal.

The student who owned the backpack told the teacher the noise was coming from a CD player. The school was evacuated at 9:45 a.m. Monday and classes resumed 15 minutes later after the player was removed, The Journal reported.

"We're very pleased that the principal and staff responded so quickly and effectively," Swartz Creek Superintendent Jeff Pratt told The Journal.

The Flint Journal, "Students evacuated at Swartz Creek elementary school after teacher reports ticking noise," Oct. 8, 2007

Michigan Education Digest, "The three P's of school safety: parents, prevention and police," Nov. 1, 2000

MIDLAND, Mich. — Go to and post a comment for a chance to win one of three iPods.

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

Contact Managing Editor Sarah Grether at

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