Michigan Education Digest Daily with Analysis

April 2008

More Michigan schools plan to restructure
April 24, 2008

LANSING, Mich. – A report from the Washington-based Center on Education Policy stated that 63 Michigan schools are planning restructuring as specified by The No Child Left Behind Act, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

That number is an increase from 46 schools in 2006-2007, but still lower than 2004-2005, when 109 schools were mandated to restructure. The increased number of schools in the restructuring phase of the NCLB is largely due to the number of high schools failing to meet standards on the new Michigan Merit Exam. The report states that the majority of restructuring is taking place in Detroit and other urban areas. Schools are required to start planning to restructure if they fail to meet federal standards for five consecutive years. After six years of sub-par performance, a district must implement their plans, The Press reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Report: More Michigan schools plan restructuring under No Child Left Behind ," April 23, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/grpress/2008/04/ report_more_michigan_schools_p.html

The Michigan Education Report article, "No Child Left Behind law demands ‘adequate yearly progress’ and offers school choice options for parents," describes the requirements for schools failing to meet federal achievement standards. If a school fails to meet AYP for four consecutive years, the district must implement reforms which can include replacing relevant school staff, implementing new curriculum and decreasing management authority at the school. After five years, the district can undergo restructuring, which means it can be reopened as a charter school, contract with a management company or turn the school over to the state.

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands ‘adequate yearly progress’ and offers school choice options for parents," Nov. 7, 2002

Belding gives teachers raises, saves at least $140,000
April 23, 2008

BELDING, Mich. – The Belding board of education has approved a contract with the Belding Education Association union that will provide yearly raises for teachers and save the district between $140,000 and $150,000 in insurance costs, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The three-year contract gives the district’s teachers a 2 percent salary increase each year, while also seeing an increase in prescription co-pays. Teachers who receive their health benefits through the Michigan Education Special Services Association will now contribute $10 to the cost of their generic prescriptions, and $20 for name-brand drugs. This is estimated to save the district $140,000 or more, The Press reported. MESSA is a third-party administrator affiliated with the Michigan Education Association school employees union that outsources insurance underwriting to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and resells the policies to school districts.

The district has also decided to set aside $25,000 in a “prescription pool” to reimburse single teachers who spend more than $125 per year on co-pays or families who spend more than $250 each year, according to The Press.

“I'm extremely pleased we were able to negotiate a contract that will be in effect for more than a year, so we don't have to go back to the bargaining table anytime soon,” board Vice President Tom Humphreys said, according to The Press.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Belding: School board, teachers reach contract deal ," April 22, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/ base/news-3/1208870156119030.xml&coll=6

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A Collective Bargaining Primer," provides a detailed explanation of and recommendations for school board members bargaining with employee groups for salaries and benefits.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Employee Salaries and Benefits," in "A Collective Bargaining Primer,” Feb. 28, 2007

DPS loses 12,000 students, $90 million in revenue
April 21, 2008

DETROIT – The Detroit Public Schools lost just under 12,000 students this year, taking with them about $90 million in state aid, according to The Detroit News.

DPS will receive state funding for 106,485 students, a 10.1 percent drop from last year. The district has lost about one third of its students since a state takeover in 2000. The trend in declining enrollment is predicted to bring in less than 100,000 students next year, and will allow for the establishment of more charter schools in the city. Community colleges are currently prohibited from establishing charters within the city, because of the district’s status as a first class school district—the only one in the state. There is currently attempt in the state legislature to lower the number of students needed to qualify as a first class district to 75,000, The News reported.

"We would encourage the state to look at a way of defining the largest school district in the state so that there isn't some number that triggers things to happen," DPS spokesperson Steve Wasko told The News. "There needs to be a much more rational way of defining what a First Class district is. Just picking a number doesn't seem to be the most rational way."

But parents are more interested in quality educational options.

"There have been promises made for years, and parents have been waiting for quality schools for years, and enrollment has been dropping. How much more time is needed?" LaMont Corbin, chairman of the Detroit Parent Network, told The News.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Detroit News, "10% drop in students will cost DPS $90M ," April 19, 2008
http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/ 20080419/SCHOOLS/804190378

The Mackinac Center commentary, "Community colleges: ‘Wait and see’ on Detroit charter schools," explains that if Detroit Public School’s enrollment drops below 100,000, two community colleges, Bay Mills Community College and Wayne County Community College, would be able to authorize charter public schools within the city. Officials at each college said they would consider authorizing charter schools in Detroit, but don’t have an application in the works.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Community colleges: ‘Wait and see’ on Detroit charter schools," April 7, 2008

GRPS union claims administrators hide school violence problems
April 21, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Union officials claim that Grand Rapids Public Schools administrators are deliberately hiding the number of violent and drug-related incident reports within the schools, according to The Grand Rapids Press.

The Grand Rapids Education Association argues that schools are unsafe and that administrators cover up violent weapon incidents by categorizing them as “disorderly conduct” or “contraband,” which undermine the severity of the problems. The union examined two of 10 boxes of incident reports and found 178 documents that mentioned weapons, as opposed to the 113 the district reported for the 2006-2007 school year, The Press reported.

"It's very clear that the district has misclassified and underclassified these reports," GREA President Paul Helder said, according to The Press. "There is no way their data is accurate. They need to stop trying to hide the truth from the voters."

Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor believes the union is using the school safety issue to get an upper hand in contract negotiations.

"I am sick and tired of these people portraying our students as savage animals, because that is just not the case," Taylor told The Press. "Maybe the problem isn't unsafe schools. Maybe the problem is unmanaged classrooms."

The reports can be filed by any staff member and include space to list the type of incident being reported and a narrative description of the problem. The bottom of the form includes an “offense code” which is added afterward by Larry Johnson, the district’s public safety chief . The “offense code” is used for state and federal reports, and the union claims there is a difference between what the code represents and what is actually written in the incident reports, according to The Press.

"I've got 30 years of experience in this field. I don't go into their classrooms and tell them how to teach. They shouldn't tell me how to file reports," Johnson told The Press.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Union: Grand Rapids school reports are misclassified to hide problems," April 18, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2008/04/ union_grand_rapids_school_viol.html

The Mackinac Center has made all local school districts’ union contracts public at michiganschooldatabases.org. According to the Grand Rapids Public Schools’ current contract with teachers, the union and district agreed to establish a “School Safety Improvement Working Group.” The committee includes “ten members selected by the District … and ten representatives from GREA (the local Michigan Education Association union affiliate) and other MEA-represented groups.” The group is responsible to make annual recommendations to the superintendent with budget implications included. The contract specifies that $10,000 be allocated to the group. One of the primary responsibilities of the group is to “(M)ake recommendations to the Superintendent regarding school safety and student discipline issues.”

Michigan School Databases, "Agreement between the Board of Education of the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Education Association 2006-2007"
http://www.mackinac.org/archives/epi/contracts/ 41010_2007-08-20_GREA_E_X.PDF

Northville schools examine contracting for custodial, transportation and food services
April 18, 2008

NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Northville Public Schools is reviewing bids for custodial and transportation contracts while also planning to accept bids from food service providers, according to The Detroit News.

School officials estimate savings of $400,000 to $1 million by contracting within the three departments. The current budget for these services is about $7 million. The district has already trimmed its budget in other areas, including textbook, operations and support positions, The News reported.

"We may have to implement some drastic measures to maintain the level and quality of our services. This concept has been out there looming ... options aren't as great in number as they were a few years ago," David Bolitho, assistant superintendent for administrative services, told The News. "Every community agonizes over this, especially if you do have a good work force. This is a tough one."

The district’s consideration of competitive contracting follows other metro Detroit school districts such as Southfield, Howell, Pinckney and Birmingham, which have considered or hired contractors, according to The News.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Detroit News, "Northville schools assess privatization," April 17, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080417/SCHOOLS/804170364/1026

The Michigan Education Report article, "Beyond brooms, burgers and buses," describes the trend of looking beyond contracts for custodial, food and transportation services and expanding the scope of what positions can be contracted. According to the article, Michigan law specifies that a district must directly employ a superintendent and classroom teachers, but all other positions are negotiable. "Aside from supers and teachers, the law classifies everyone else as supplemental and complementary," Bernie Pelc, a former superintendent and founder of Professional Contract Management Inc. told Michigan Education Report. "There are janitors and cooks and bus drivers, as well as substitute teachers, clerks, even athletic coaches." A district can expect to save about 23 percent by contracting with administrators, about seven to 11 percent on coaching positions, about 12 percent for secretarial positions and 11 to 12 percent on substitute teaching contracts. As districts begin making adjustments to balance next year’s budget, they should examine the savings possibilities of competitive contracting.

Michigan Education Report, "Beyond brooms, burgers and buses," Nov. 21, 2007

Parents concerned about possible traffic problems due to schools of choice
April 17, 2008

YPSILANTI, Mich. – The Lincoln Consolidated School District is considering participating in the schools of choice program in hopes of making up for decreasing enrollment, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The district has lost 104 students since September. By opening its enrollment and attracting nonassigned students, the district would earn the per-pupil funding allotment that follows them. Some parents were concerned about traffic problems caused by having more students being driven to school, and about nonassigned students overcrowding school buses. Superintended Lynn Cleary clarified that a schools of choice district is not responsible for the transportation of choice students, The News reported.

Parent Maria Heningburg was concerned about an influx of students with disciplinary problems. However, a schools of choice district is allowed to refuse students who have been expelled from school or who have been suspended two years prior to applying, according to The News.

"I don't think (schools of choice) is bad, if our board can do it appropriately," Heningburg said, according to The News. "...I hope (the board) follows the standards of discipline. I don't want money to be their primary reason for overlooking things like discipline."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Ann Arbor News, "Parents list concerns on Schools of Choice," April 17, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/annarbornews/ index.ssf?/base/news-27/1208443229112790.xml&coll=2

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A Michigan School Money Primer," explains the two ways in which funding follows students who choose to attend districts other than the one to which they are assigned. A full explanation of this process can be found in the subsection "Nonresident Student Adjustment Under Sections 105 and 105c."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Foundation Allowance: General Education," in "A Michigan School Money Primer," May 30, 2007

Holly schools seeking bids for food service contractors
April 16, 2008

HOLLY, Mich. – The Holly school district is accepting bids for a food service provider in hopes of alleviating part of an estimated $225,000 deficit in the district’s fiscal 2009 budget, according to The Flint Journal.

The $225,000 deficit does not include spending $200,000 the district saved to prevent laying off teachers and other money from the district’s fund balance. Holly schools hope to save $60,000 for contracting for the 20 food service jobs. Assistant Superintendent Steve Lenar said he believes the district could save even more, The Journal reported.

If the district does decide to contract for food service, current employees will automatically be granted an interview. The board voted to contract for custodial services around this time last year, according to The Journal.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Flint Journal, "Holly School District looks to privatize food service to address $225,000 deficit," April 14, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/newsnow/2008/ 04/holly_school_district_looks_to.html

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s book, "A School Privatization Primer," gives a detailed overview of the food service contracting trends in all 50 states. As of April 2007, Michigan had the fourth highest rate of food service contracting in the country at 28.8 percent.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Food Service Contracting," in "A School Privatization Primer," June 26, 2007

Some Bridgeport parents lash out against schools of choice
April 11, 2008

BRIDGEPORT, Mich. – Opposition to schools of choice was strong at a forum to discuss opening Bridgeport-Spaulding Community School’s enrollment to students other than those assigned to the district, according to The Saginaw News.

More than half of the 31 speakers at the forum, including teachers, parents and community members, wanted the district to be open exclusively to students assigned to the district. The school board decided not to accept nonassigned students in 4-3 vote, but decided that students who were already enrolled could continue to attend the schools, The News reported. Just over 200 community members signed a petition to keep the district’s enrollment closed, according to The News.

One parent called nonassigned students "retards," according to The News. Another parent responded to those remarks.

"My daughters are college graduates," Saginaw resident Marcia Buchanan, who has a son enrolled in the district, said, according to The News. "Closed-minded adults breed closed-minded children. I'm for open enrollment. I don't live here, I used to. We need to be culturally diverse. Don't be so judgmental, don't be stereotypical."

Other speakers wanted to prevent limited open enrollment for the sake of keeping small class sizes — which are set in contract negotiations — and not straining programs that could be offered exclusively to students assigned to the district, including academics and extracurricular options. Some speakers also claimed that a limited open enrollment policy brings students with behavioral problems into the schools. Parent Sharon Leach asserted that parents who want to utilize the schools should move and purchase a home in the district.

"I want a quality education for our children," Leach said, according to The News. "There are homes for sale here. Purchase a home and become part of the community. We would all welcome you. Let's once again have a school district we can be proud of."

Bridgeport Township officials also commented on the issue, and noted that most teachers now live outside of the district.

"Choice is not the whole problem," Frank J. Morrison, a township trustee said, according to The News. "Ninety percent of the (district) teachers used to live in the township. Now, 90 percent of the teachers (don't live in district) come here and collect a paycheck."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Saginaw News, "Most Bridgeport speakers oppose schools of choice," April 8, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/news/saginawnews/index.ssf?/base/news-26/ 1207671613135870.xml&coll=9&thispage=1

The Mackinac Center study, "The Case for Choice in Schooling," states that limited educational choice, in the form of schools of choice and charter schools, has "encouraged schools to innovate and improve." To reject basic choice options is ultimately denying parents the "right and responsibility to direct the education of their children."

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Restoring a Free Market in Education," in "The Case for Choice in Schooling," Jan. 29, 2001

MEAP scores up in some areas, down in others
April 10, 2008

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Education Assessment Program test scores were released for grades 3-8 and show an improvement in some subjects, especially math, and decline in other subjects, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Math scores in all grades but fifth saw improvement. Ninety percent of third-graders, 86 percent of fourth-graders, 74 percent of fifth-graders, 73 percent of sixth graders, 73 percent of seventh-graders and 71 percent of eighth-graders are considered to be “proficient” in math, the Free Press reported.

With respect to reading, 86 percent of third-graders, 84 percent of fourth-graders, 82 percent of fifth-graders, 82 percent of sixth-graders, 72 percent of seventh-graders and 77 percent of eighth-graders were “proficient.” Third-grade scores are down 1 percentage point from last year, and eighth grade scores improved, according to the Free Press.

In addition, writing scores increased in third, fifth, seventh and eighth grades, but were down in other grade levels. Science scores also increased for eighth graders. Social studies scores, however, declined in the two grade levels tested, the Free Press reported.

Michigan Department of Education officials said that 22 percent of fourth-grade students improved their scores from last year, according to the Free Press.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

Detroit Free Press, "Michigan students’ math scores rise for third straight year on MEAP exams," April 8, 2008
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/ 20080408/NEWS06/80408048

An "Education At a Glance" feature in Michigan Education Report illustrated the percentage of students scoring at the “proficient” level on the MEAP test compared to the percentage of students considered to be “proficient” according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal test. In general, about twice as many students are considered to be “proficient” by the state based the MEAP test as are considered to be “proficient” on a NAEP test in the same subject. This has led many education researchers to question the validity of some states’ definitions of proficiency, especially in reading and mathematics.

Michigan Education Report, "Education at a Glance," Sept. 6, 2006

Legislature looks to force home school students to register with state
April 9, 2008

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Home-school parents and organizations are opposing a bill that would require the reporting of the names, addresses and ages of all home-schooled children to a local or intermediate school district each year, according to the Grand Valley Advance.

Ron Koehler, Kent Intermediate School District’s assistant superintendent for organizational and community initiatives, thinks having the information would be beneficial for parents and make it easier for the ISD to contact parents about special programs and classes. Currently, home-school reporting is voluntary, the Advance reported.

"They're still our students and families," Koehler told the Advance. "We would encourage those that are not registering voluntarily, to do so." Still, he said the KISD is not actively pushing the proposed bill.

Koehler also added that the ISD will probably not address the legislation, noting the generally positive relationship the ISD has with home-schoolers already.

"Unless we're specifically asked, we probably would not address this legislation," Koehler told the Advance. "We've developed a better relationship with our home-school families. We don't want to do anything to roll back the clock."

Many home-school families and organizations are threatened by the legislation.

"The public school establishment doesn't like home schools," Dennis Smith, executive director of Information Network for Christian Homes told the Advance. "The information provided (by parents) could be used against us in the future. This happened in the past when home-schoolers were requested to fill out a non-public school report form by the Department of Education to be considered 'legal.' Many of the families who complied with this request were later contacted and some were prosecuted for truancy."

A 2004 study by Columbia University showed that home-school students, on average, out perform their public school peers. Home-school students average a 1093 on the SAT, compared to 1012.6 for public school students and 1123.8 for private independent school students. Another study from 1998 found that home-schooled students averaged a 22.8 on the ACT, compared with the average score of 21 for all students taking the test, according to the Advance.

Many colleges have special programs to recruit home-schooled students, while local high schools often allow home-schoolers to participate in certain academic or enrichment classes. This sort of cooperation is in opposition to the National Education Association’s position on home schooling. The NEA is generally opposed to the practice and also advocates that any parent educating their child at home should be a licensed teacher.

Recently, Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, removed his co-sponsorship of the bill.

"I fully support home schooling," he told the Advance. "I co-sponsored House Bill 5912 out of a desire to protect legitimate home schooling from abuse by those who use home schooling as an excuse for truancy. However, due to concerns from home-schoolers in my district, I will withdraw my co-sponsorship and support for this bill in its current form."

In addition, many Republican representatives spoke out against the bill from its inception, the Advance reported.

"Representative (Brenda) Clack and I must have very different experiences with home schooling and home-school families to lead her to introduce this bill," Rep. William Huizenga, R-Holland, told the Advance. "Virtually every family and student that I have met over the years that is involved in home schooling has chosen that option for a variety of reasons that fit their family needs. I believe they must continue to have that option free from mandated government involvement."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

Grand Valley Advance, "Proposed home-school legislation ignites local opposition,"
April 7, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/advancenewspapers_news/2008/04/ proposed_homeschool_legislatio.html

The Mackinac Center commentary, "Home Schooling: an ‘Encouraging and Robust’ Movement," describes many of the academic achievements touted by home school students. A 1999 study of 20,000 children found home-schooled students at third grade could read as well as public school sixth graders. Home-schoolers on average score higher than their public school counterparts on standardized tests, and typically place highly in the National Spelling Bee and National Geography Bee. The commentary quotes Lawrence M. Rudner, Director of ERIC Clearing House on Assessment and Evaluation, University of Maryland, who conducted the 1999 study, and states “clearly and undeniably, home schooling works.”

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Home Schooling: An ‘Encouraging and Robust’ Movement," May 24, 2004

Royal Oak tries to win back its own students
April 7, 2008

ROYAL OAK, Mich. – The Royal Oak Public Schools has decided to focus marketing and promotional efforts towards students living inside the district boundaries but who choose to attend school elsewhere, according to the Royal Oak Mirror.

About 1,100 Royal Oak students attend private or parochial schools, while an additional 270 students attend other districts through schools of choice.

"We're trying to make sure they know what the options are for their students," Royal Oak Superintendent Thomas Moline told the Mirror.

The district offers a “pod” program at the elementary level, which promotes multi-age learning, while one high school offers the International Baccalaureate program. However, Moline noted that 84 percent of residents don’t have school-aged children. The schools are considering using their buildings for more public events, to draw a closer bond with the community, according to the Mirror.

The district also has plans to work with the city administration to help promote the city to homebuyers.

"It's a mutual benefit for the city and the schools to work together to promote the community," school board member Christine Hartwig told the Mirror. "That looks like it's going to be an exciting new area for us."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

Royal Oak Mirror, "Royal Oak schools want to bring back their own," April 6, 2008
http://www.hometownlife.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080406/ NEWS18/804060304/1035/NEWS18

The Mackinac Center study, "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," found that charter public schools and cross-district choice programs "are beginning to replace the ‘assignment system’ — whereby children are assigned to a particular government school based on where they live — with school choice, where parents have the right, freedom and ability to choose the safest and best school for their children." The effect is much more limited when public schools have more choices than parents do, as under Michigan’s current system.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Conclusion: Competition Is Improving Public Schools for Michigan Children," in "The Impact of Limited School Choice on Public School Districts," July 24, 2000

Ypsilanti schools sell building to private Muslim education organization
April 7, 2008

YPSILANTI, Mich. – The Ypsilanti school board voted 7-1 to sell its vacant elementary school building to Hidaya Muslim Community Association, which plans to use the building as a private school and community center, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The building was sold for $3.9 million and will result in a revenue surplus of $2.3 million, which the district will apply to a projected 2008-2009 deficit of $2.6 million. This will save the district from making cuts that seriously impact students or staff, The News reported.

The Hidaya Muslim Community Association runs Michigan Islamic Academy, with an enrollment of 175 students pre-kindergarten through high school. Most of the students live in Ypsilanti Township. The Association made the purchase primarily because it has outgrown its original building and needed a gym and other recreational areas, according to The News.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Ann Arbor News, "School board sells Ardis Elementary," April 6, 2008
http://www.mlive.com/ annarbor/stories/index.ssf?/ base/news-5/1207464009248980.xml&coll=2

The Mackinac Center commentary, "Private special ed school might be forced out of building," discusses how Learning Circle Academy, a private school for students with severe learning disabilities, may be forced to relocate or close. The school leased a building from a Jewish congregation that purchased it from the Birmingham Public Schools in 1996. Under that purchase agreement, the congregation agreed to not use the building for any educational purposes that may draw students away from the district. Many districts, including Birmingham, are unwilling to directly promote competition to allow for the best education for students.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Private special ed school might be forced out of building," March 24, 2008

Willow Run Schools invest in radio advertisement
April 4, 2008

WILLOW RUN, Mich. – The Willow Run board of education voted to allocate $65,000 on radio ads to promote the district’s academic offerings, according to The Ann Arbor News.

The 30-second radio ads will be broadcast on four Detroit radio stations over a three-month period. The vote was 7-1, with the dissenting vote cast by Harold Wimberly, who questions whether this is something the district can afford, The News reported.

"I don't think we are ready for something of this magnitude yet," Wimberly said, according to The News. "We are improving in some areas ... but I think it's too much money and I don't think it's time for it now."

"It's all about getting a return on our investment," board member Clifford Smith said, according to The News.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Ann Arbor News, "Willow Run schools to spend $65,000 on radio ads aimed at boosting student enrollment in district," April 4, 2008
http://blog.mlive.com/annarbornews/2008/04/ willow_run_schools_to_spend_65.html

The Michigan Education Report article, "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure ‘customers’,” describes a number of the advertising campaigns put on by school districts throughout the state. Although this is a fine example of competition at work, Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, thinks the emphasis should be on increasing access to information about schools. "We as a society need to get better information to parents," he told Michigan Education Report. "What we have found is that parents want a quality school. They want to know what you are doing and how."

Michigan Education Report, "Advertising for students: Schools use radio, TV, billboards to lure ‘customers’,” May 24, 2007

Detroit plans to restructure five schools
April 3, 2008

DETROIT – The Detroit Public School district has announced restructuring plans for five of its schools, after years of missing federal achievement standards, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Turn Around School plan will affect three high schools, a ninth grade academy and an elementary school. Each preexisting school will be split into three or four specialized schools within a school and will specialize in a specific curriculum. The schools will have about 450 students and have an entirely new staff and administration, the Free Press reported.

"National studies show that students perform better in smaller, more personalized settings," DPS Superintendent Connie Calloway said. "Models in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Providence and elsewhere are working and give hope for this initiative."

The planning is in its preliminary stages, but Calloway hopes to have one new school up and running in the fall. Teachers at the existing schools will probably transfer to other schools in the district, but will have an opportunity to reapply for their jobs. However, many principals may lose their jobs. These sort of restructuring plans are allowed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the Free Press.

Kurt Metzger, a demographer for the United Way of Southeast Michigan was surprised by the selection of two of the schools on the west side of the city.

"I'm not sure what their current student body is, but in terms of the neighborhood itself, no it doesn't wash," Metzger told the Free Press. "The northeast section ... the southwestern part of the city or along the Dearborn borders, those areas are growing in terms of kids."

The Michigan Department of Education says this restructuring is a trend throughout the state. "Today's large, impersonal high schools were designed for a different era and a different economy and are leaving far too many young people behind," MDE spokeswoman Jan Ellis said. "Smaller high schools like those just proposed by both the Detroit and Lansing Public School districts have been shown to keep more students engaged, interested and attending school."

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Detroit Free Press, "Drastic changes planned at 5 schools," April 1, 2008
http://www.freep.com/ apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080401/NEWS01/804010325

The Michigan Education Report article, "No Child Left Behind law demands ‘adequate yearly progress’ and offers school choice options for parents," describes the requirements for schools failing to meet federal achievement standards. If a school fails to meet AYP for four consecutive years, the district implements reforms which can include replacing relevant school staff, implementing new curriculum and decreasing management authority at the school. After five years of failing to meet AYP, the district undergoes restructuring, which means it can be reopened as a charter school, contract with a management company, or turn the school over to the state.

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands ‘adequate yearly progress’ and offers school choice options for parents," Nov. 17, 2002

Detroit graduation rate worst of 50 major cities
April 2, 2008

DETROIT – A new study measuring graduation rates in the country’s 50 largest cities ranked Detroit Public Schools at the bottom, according to The Detroit News.

The study was released by the Washington D.C.-based America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition of education policy specialists. Graduation rate studies can cause controversy, sometimes due to the variety of calculations used. Detroit Public Schools’ graduation rate has been estimated to be 66.8 percent by the Michigan Department of Education, while a Michigan State University study calculated the district’s graduation rate at 31.9 percent, The News reported.

The new study, released by America’s Promise Alliance, found an average graduation rate of 51.8 percent among the country’s 50 largest urban areas. With 71.8 percent, Mesa, Ariz., had the best graduation rate of the urban areas studied The study calculated Detroit’s graduation rate to be 24.9 percent. Chris White, a parent and member of the local Committee to Restore Hope to Detroit Public Schools, told The News that he thinks the number is inaccurate, but doesn’t deny there is a dropout problem.

"I have to question the numbers within the study; however, that doesn't negate the fact that district officials have to develop good programs that encourage learning, especially at the high school level," White told The News. "Even if the graduation rate were 50 percent, that's not good enough. We have lot of work to do."

The study used the method of calculation being implemented by the Michigan Department of Education beginning this fall. As opposed to calculating a graduation rate by comparing the number of students who were seniors in the fall with the number who graduate at the end of the year, the study’s method estimated the number of freshman who graduated in four years. The study found that suburban districts nationwide graduate 74.9 percent of their students, while all districts in urban areas graduate 60.4 percent of their students. The study also found that 17 of the 50 districts had a graduation rate less than 50 percent, The News reported.

For Mackinac Center analysis of this story, please see here.

The Detroit News, "Study: Detroit schools rank last in graduation rate," April 1, 2008
http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/ article?AID=/20080401/SCHOOLS/804010308/1026

The Mackinac Center commentary, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," presents some of the underlying problems with using graduation rates as an independent measure of educational performance. The authors note that "high school graduation rates have little or nothing to do with educational quality. The reality is that schools could have graduation rates of 100 percent and still have students who can’t add, subtract, read, or write." Progress in improving education doesn’t come strictly from a high graduation rate, but from continuous improvement as a result of a competitive market. Nonetheless, because parents have few school choices and there are few objective measures of school performance available, a graduation rate estimated with a rigorous, sound method can provide a valuable metric.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Graduation Rates an Imperfect Measure of School Excellence," Jan. 7, 2002