With new federal regulations likely, legislators should wait on energy reform
Electric utility legislation recently passed by the Michigan Senate and now before the House continues to capture the attention of elected officials, media and energy producers.
Supporters claim the bill will save the state from energy shortfalls, protect a small amount of customer choice in the current system and expand the use of renewable sources. Opponents argue that the bill will actually kill customer choice, raise Michigan’s electric rates and expand Granholm-era mandates on electricity generation.
The bill’s supporters say its main virtue is that it ensures a reliable supply of electricity. For example, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, defended his Nov. 11 vote as a “good compromise.” He argued that out-of-state alternative electric suppliers that currently make up the choice market actually harm system reliability.
The Senate-passed version of Senate Bill 437 would solve this problem, Hertel said, by forcing electricity providers to build in-state generation and transmission facilities, using in-state workers. He argued, “An out-of-state company can leave at any time. And if the grid doesn’t work, it doesn’t really matter to them once they leave.”
DTE CEO Gerry Anderson echoed his concerns, claiming electricity choice providers could create system instability if they’re not required to keep several years of supply under contract.
Unfortunately, both arguments fall short for two key reasons. First, the incoming Trump administration is publicly committed to removing climate-focused regulations and taking a skeptical approach to international climate agreements. Thus, demands to close and replace Michigan’s coal-fueled generation stations — a key component of the rationale about system stability — are, at the very least, substantially limited.
Nevertheless Anderson has publicly stated his intention to push forward with closing the coal plants regardless of what happens on the regulatory front. Utilities claim that other regulations and market pressures are still forcing the closures, and that new natural gas and renewable generation can supply Michiganders with all their electricity needs.
And such heavy reliance on natural gas makes Michigan customers vulnerable to price swings, with volatile pricing that can at times make it a far more expensive option for generating electricity.
For example, in March of this year, NYMEX natural gas settlements were as low as $1.71 per million BTU (MMBtu), making gas an economical fuel. But as of Nov. 30, December gas settlements were $3.23/MMBtu, an 89 percent jump in price in less than one year. Industry experts confirm that coal can compete with natural gas when gas is as low as $2.50/MMBtu, which means that gas is currently a more expensive option.
Moreover, if system stability is a concern, that should raise questions about plans to shutter existing — and already paid for — generation plants. The question becomes doubly salient now that that regulatory pressures against coal plants have abated, and natural gas prices have not. Maintaining a diverse mix of fuels is the best means of ensuring system stability and low prices for Michigan residents.
The second reason these arguments fail lies in a fundamental premise of the American free-market system. People are best served when they have the freedom to choose between a variety of providers and products — even essential products like energy — as they see fit. Competition provides customers with lower prices, improved service and choice.
Michigan Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, confirmed that competition better serves Michiganders by recounting testimony employees of Clarkston public schools gave to the House Energy Committee. Teachers testified that access to the state’s electricity choice program saves their district $350,000 per year and that without the program, five teachers would be laid off.
As Glenn recounted in a recent interview, the same program saves Bay City schools $200,000 per year, but the “Midland, Meridian, Pinconning, and Bullock Creek public schools are prohibited by law from doing the same thing.”
Lastly, supporters of SB 437 argue that for all its confusing language, the bill will protect the electricity choice that exists in the state's commercial market, and ensure the existing 10 percent of that market open to customer choice remains. Opponents argue the bill will protect choice in name only.
They point to a new "capacity charge" the bill would impose on competitors of DTE and Consumers — effectively a new tax — making it difficult if not impossible for them to compete. That means that, if SB 437 passes the House, choice participants — like Clarkston Community Schools — could technically continue to “choose” an alternative energy supplier, but doing so would mean they pay much higher rates. Not much of a choice.
The Nov. 8 election dramatically shifted the national energy policy lanscape. Members of the Michigan House should listen to the voters and step back from locking the state further into Granholm-era mandates and 1930s-era electric monopolies. Concerns about reliability and shortages would be best addressed by keeping Michigan’s electricity system open to choice.
Bureacrats attempt to scuttle pension reform with inaccurate and irrelevant information
Michigan’s Office of Retirement Services did a disservice to state lawmakers and the public in a Senate appropriations committee meeting Wednesday. Testifying on Senate Bill 102, which would close the state’s massively unfunded school pension system to new enrollees, ORS repeatedly told lawmakers that the proposed bills would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs to the state. The bills would do no such thing, however, meaning that ORS experts either did not read the bills before testifying or just don’t understand them and shouldn’t have weighed in.
A couple of years ago, when a similar bill was being debated in Lansing, ORS testified that closing the pension system would require huge, upfront “transition costs.” The bill currently being considered close the current pension system to new enrollees and explicitly require the state to avoid paying these optional costs. Yet, ORS officials recommended following so-called “best practices” of pension financing that are entirely irrelevant to these bills, because those “best practices” would be against state statutes if the law is implemented. ORS maintained, however, that the state still should incur these phantom “transition costs” if the law was approved.
In addition, ORS cited in its testimony extra projected costs of this reform that would not be triggered by the legislation. These costs may occur if the administrators of the retirement system would like to trigger them, but that would be an administrative decision that would happen outside the scope of the legislation.
Because ORS insisted on the importance of following “best practices” in funding and managing a retirement service, lawmakers ought to note a number of activities that are clearly not “best practices” that ORS has itself engaged in or otherwise completely ignored. Here is an incomplete list:
- Carried unfunded liabilities in the pension system for 33 of the past 34 years. This requires extra payments that have inflated the cost of the system.
- Racked up $26.7 billion in unfunded liabilities over the past 20 years.
- Continued to assume that payroll will grow 3.5 percent annually when it has steadily decreased. From 2008 to 2014, school payroll fell 15 percent — ORS assumed it would increase by 23 percent over this period and has not change this assumption moving forward.
- Pledged retirement assets to guarantee the bonds on a speculative movie studio.
- Maintained a policy to not pay the required amount of annual interest due on the system’s unfunded liabilities.
- Failed to pay the annual required contributions of the pension system 14 out of last 20 years.
- Rejected state auditors’ recommendation to lower payroll growth assumptions and ignored warning about optimistic investment return assumptions.
- Marked assets to market during good times to shortchange annual costs of the system. The last time the system had enough assets to pay for liabilities was due to this change in 1997. And lawmakers did so again in 2006 to artificially lower annual required costs.
Based on its testimony Wednesday, it seems like ORS is more interested in protecting the status quo — the $26.7 billion underfunded, defined-benefit school pension system that is ruining school district budgets and promising pensions that the state cannot afford — then they are in providing lawmakers and the public with an accurate and thorough analysis of proposed legislation. Legislators should be skeptical of ORS’s sudden interest in ensuring pension-funding “best practices” and pension system solvency.
Give taxpayer cash to developers; permissive regs for Uber; ban local bag bans and more
Senate Bill 1153, Give cash subsidies to Dan Gilbert and other developers: Passed 30 to 7 in the Senate
To authorize a new way of giving up to $250 million worth of state subsidies each year to certain developers and business owners selected by state or local political appointees. This would use the device of “abating” employee income tax withholding requirements to give virtual cash subsidies to select business owners. Reportedly the bills are intended to deliver subsidies to Detroit developer Dan Gilbert and up to 14 others around the state.
Senate Bill 1061, Give cash subsidies to smaller developers and business owners too: Passed 29 to 8 in the Senate
To authorize a new way of giving state subsidies to certain developers and business owners selected by political appointees on local brownfield authority boards. This would use the device of “abating” a particular firm's income tax withholding to give its owner virtual cash subsidies - and reduce state revenue available for other purposes - similar to the Dan Gilbert subsidies described above.
Senate Bill 627, Authorize “public-private partnerships” with broad powers: Passed 30 to 6 in the Senate
To give state and local government agencies the power to enter into joint operating arrangements with a particular business for purposes of building a transportation project or health care (hospital) or laboratory facilities. These operations could be ones solicited by a private developer, and would benefit from the government partner's tax exemptions and its power to impose property tax levies, borrow, take private property using eminent domain, levy tolls and user fees and more. Among (many) other things this would authorize new toll roads or toll lanes. The government agency involved could choose the private sector actor without necessarily having to accept the lowest bid.
House Bill 4637, Regulate Uber, Lyft, etc.; preempt local bans: Passed 31 to 4 in the Senate
To establish a regulatory framework to enable “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft to operate, including a preemption on local government restrictions, regulations or bans. Taxis and limousines would henceforth be subject to the same state rules. The companies would need a state permit, pay state fees for three years and carry specified liability insurance. Passengers would be covered by insurance similar to provisions for taxis but with higher liability limits. The companies would be responsible for driver background check and vehicles inspections that meet specified standards. The cars would have to bear signs, with ride requestors given specified information and options. Street hailing and the use of cab stands by the network company vehicles would be prohibited.
Senate Bill 1085, Give certain companies subsidies for hiring non-resident: Passed 23 to 13 in the Senate
To expand the definition of “new job” that makes selected businesses eligible to collect certain state "21st Century Jobs Fund" subsidies, so a firm located in a border county could get a subsidy or tax break for hiring a person who does not live in Michigan.
House Bill 5851, Limit Tax Increment Finance Authorities; require transparency: Passed 60 to 48 in the House
To establish new revenue limits and reporting and transparency requirements for downtown development authorities. The bill is part of a package that applies these new standards to different types of "TIF" authorities that have the power to skim local property taxes to support their own projects and subsidies.
House Bill 5400, Expand scope of practice for nurses: Passed 102 to 5 in the House
To expand the scope of practice allowed for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (including nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists), so they can provide more medical services without being under the direct supervision of a physician, including house calls and "doctor's rounds" in a hospital.
Senate Bill 853, Preempt local plastic bag bans: Passed 62 to 46 in the House
To preempt local governments from imposing regulations, restrictions or taxes on plastic grocery bags or other "auxiliary containers," defined as a disposable or reusable bag, cup, bottle or other packaging. Washtenaw County has already imposed a bag tax and reportedly others are considering bans.
SOURCE: MichiganVotes.org, a free, non-partisan website created by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, providing concise, non-partisan, plain-English descriptions of every bill and vote in the Michigan House and Senate. Please visit http://www.MichiganVotes.org.
Letter sent to key proponents of Pure Michigan campaign
Author’s note: The following letter was sent to Travel Michigan vice president David Lorenz and Michigan Lodging and Tourism president Deanna Richeson on November 1 via email. A physical copy was also mailed to the pair and author Michael LaFaive tried contacting each recipient by telephone. Neither have responded to any communications.
November 1, 2016
Mr. David Lorenz
Michigan Economic Development Corporation
300 North Washington Square
Lansing, MI 48913
Ms. Deanna Richeson
Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association
2175 Commons Parkway
Okemos, MI 48864
Dear Mr. Lorenz and Ms. Richeson:
I am writing to extend to you both an invitation to publicly debate Michael Hicks and myself in Lansing on the question of the efficacy of the state’s Pure Michigan tourism advertising program. The Mackinac Center will host the event at a luncheon or dinner and live-stream it on the internet. If this is agreeable I’m sure we can find a mutually convenient date and time.
As you know, the Mackinac Center has published articles critical of taxpayer-supported state advertising campaigns for the tourism industry. Our statistical study of these indirect subsidies provides evidence that the program’s economic impact is actually negative for the state.
Specifically, our work suggests that for every $1 million increase in spending on state tourism promotion there is a corresponding increase of only $20,000 in extra economic activity shared by state’s accommodation’s industry. This would mean the program represents a huge net loss for taxpayers, delivering less than negligible benefits even to those who should theoretically benefit most directly.
Our study uses publicly available data and transparent methods. Our methodology, assumptions and limitations are fully disclosed in a detailed appendix, including the rationale behind our statistical model and the tests we employed to determine its robustness. We built the model after a thorough review of the academic literature, and its output was peer reviewed by scholars who are not known to Hicks or me.
As a result, you or any other interested researchers will find our results easy to replicate. As you probably know, these things cannot be said about the claims that have been made by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation or its contractors about the Pure Michigan program.
Published reports indicate that you both disagree with our previously reported findings. Naturally we are curious regarding the basis for your dissent. Given the millions of dollars of public money at issue, we believe lawmakers, journalists and the public would also like to know this, and deserve to know it.
We are also curious as to why claims of extraordinary Pure Michigan returns on investment made by your consultant should be taken seriously, given this contractor’s lack of transparency.
We believe that valid empirical scholarship is the means by which our knowledge of the world is expanded. Policymakers and the public benefit when knowledgeable experts engage in a fair and robust exchange of views.
Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative
Best available research shows Detroit charter schools are successful
President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Michigan philanthropist and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. DeVos has worked on education policy for decades and her record shows that she believes in parental freedom over centralized control when it comes to deciding where kids go to school.
Unions, conventional school district leaders and leftist academics are not happy about the pick. Charters, vouchers, tax credits and homeschooling have all been increasing across the nation and when parents and kids get a choice, they are increasingly choosing something other than their government-assigned school district.
Since the DeVos family is in Michigan and generally support public charter schools, much of the critique has focused on these schools’ performance. These are the only publicly funded independent schools here, because, unlike most other states, the Michigan Constitution prevents using vouchers or tax credits to help parents afford tuition at private schools. Nevertheless, the best research available shows that charter schools in Michigan have been successful, especially in Detroit.
But the New York Times and others are heavily distorting the results of Michigan’s charter schools (CapCon has a few examples). And many of these critiques rely on a front-page news article from the New York Times from this past summer (see here, here, here). The article was heavy on anecdotes and just factually inaccurate in a number of instances.
A full take-down can be read here, but I’d like to focus on one point to show the level of distortion the article resorts to. Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute notes how Times reporter Kate Zernike words the performance of charter schools in the Motor City: “[H]alf the charters perform only as well, or worse than, Detroit’s traditional public schools.”
This information comes from a 2013 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. The way the NYT article summarizes the findings isn’t technically incorrect, it is just cherry-picked in such a way as to totally distort what the study actually says.
Here is a chart from the 2013 CREDO study:
As the table shows, it’s true that half the charters in Detroit are doing “only as well, or worse than” district-run schools in the city. By lumping together the charters that are doing about the same and those that are doing worse, Zernike masks the inconvenient truth that only one charter in Detroit performed worse in reading and only seven performed worse in math.
As Bedrick notes:
Grouping the very few underperforming charters with the approximately half of schools that perform at roughly the same level as the district schools distorts the picture. It’s just as fair to say that more than nine out of ten Detroit charters performed as well or better than their district school counterparts. The most accurate description would note that about half of Detroit’s charters outperform their district school counterparts, about half perform roughly the same, and a very small number underperform.
No matter how the NYT and others try to spin the data, the best research shows that Michigan charter school students are outperforming their peers in district-run schools. Detroit charter students are doing even better. This is why, in a later report, CREDO researchers suggested Detroit’s charter schools “serve as models to other communities.”
How Can New Education Secretary Best Advance Opportunities?
Last week’s announcement of Betsy DeVos as President-elect Trump’s pick to head the U.S. Department of Education cheered school choice supporters. That’s because DeVos, a long-time advocate of school choice, will have a bully pulpit to highlight successful choice programs around the nation.
In her own state of Michigan, an especially onerous constitutional provision prohibits voucher programs or tax credits that other states use to help children enroll in private schools. The DeVos family backed a 2000 statewide initiative to change the constitution to provide these options for some students trapped in failing public schools. But voters rejected the initiative.
Nationwide, however, the landscape has changed greatly in the years since. In 2000, only a handful of states offered voucher-like programs. This year, the number sits at 25 — half the states. Across the country, about 380,000 students receive a total of $1.83 billion in aid, distributed through vouchers, education savings accounts or tax-credit scholarships.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump talked about shifting $20 billion of federal money to states that would expand school choice. That number would mean many more children could benefit from having more options at other schools. For now, the number is just a piece of campaign rhetoric. Any plan to redirect funds away from existing agencies and to students in schools of their own choosing would require congressional approval. The effort would also face hurdles that include rolls of red tape and complex, ingrained funding formulas.
In Michigan, nearly 10 percent of all public school revenue comes from federal government sources. The largest pots of federal education money are intended to help provide services to low-income students ($459 million in 2016-17) and those with special needs ($441 million in 2016-17). Most of those dollars are earmarked for school districts and charter schools, not families and students who need extra help.
There is a compelling case to ramp up educational opportunity now; many students cannot afford to wait. But a grand school choice program would clash with the justifiable desire to downsize the role of the federal government in education. It is true that states could use the dollars to create new ways to help students. Some would benefit from having the doors to private schools open with new money, while others would gain from their public schools having to improve to stay competitive.
That scenario would be highly appealing, especially in a state like Michigan that has strict constitutional limits that tie the hands of lawmakers who want to help. But there are also wide-ranging consequences to consider. Private schools, tutoring companies and others that take federal money could become more dependent on the regulations and whims of the federal bureaucracy. Even if the first batch of money came without strings, what guarantee is there that future administrations would continue to offer money with a loose hand?
There will be other issues for DeVos to address, such as considerations of flexibility for states in dealing with the recently passed federal education law and the department’s inclination to intervene in contentious social issues such as the bathroom wars. But a more important result of her appointment may be that it will open the door to important conversations about the best way to serve children through educational freedom.
Mackinac Center analysts offer insights on ridesharing, pension, energy and economic development bills
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016
MIDLAND, MICHIGAN — Analysts at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are available to discuss several bills likely to move during the Michigan Legislature’s lame duck session.
Expertise is offered on the following issues and bills:
“Michigan should join the rest of the country and officially legalize ride-sharing so all residents can benefit from this new innovation. The ride-sharing regulations the Legislature is considering are very good, as they provide uniform safety requirements of the companies and create a level playing field for taxis, limos, Uber and Lyft to compete for our business.” – Michael Van Beek, director of research
Teacher Pensions/SBs 102, 1177, 1178
“The underfunding in the school retirement system hurts employees, schools and taxpayers alike. Offering new employees benefits that will not be underfunded will eventually stop the state from deferring retirement costs to the future.” – James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy
“President-elect Trump has said he will kill the Clean Power Plan and step away from the Paris agreement, which effectively removes a significant impetus for the continued closures of Michigan’s coal-fueled generation assets. Although DTE and Consumers Energy have publicly stated they are pushing forward with the coal closures regardless of what the Trump administration does, they can’t reasonably claim an absolute need to close down every coal plant on the schedule they have laid out. SB 437 would effectively eliminate the limited electricity choice that exists in Michigan and ultimately hurt ratepayers.” – Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy
Economic Development/SBs 1061-1065
“Politically connected private developers are asking taxpayers to subsidize their deep-pockets under the guise of economic development. These publicly funded projects rarely live up to their promise and do not justify their costs.” – James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy
To set up an interview with any of the experts, please contact:
Mackinac Center experts comment on the deal in state media
Detroit’s four professional sports teams will soon be housed within walking distance of one another, but that close proximity will come at a hefty cost to taxpayers.
The Detroit Pistons announced this week they will move to Little Caesars Arena next season, joining the Detroit Red Wings who already play there. The Tigers and Lions play at Comerica Park and Ford Field, respectively.
Taxpayers will fork over $34.5 million to subsidize the move through arena improvements. According to Mlive, that’s on top of the $250 million taxpayers paid toward construction of the arena.
Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, spoke with a number of media outlets across the state about the deal. He told the Associated Press that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund private business ventures or take on the risk associated with such deals. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, LaFaive said subsidizing the stadium means tax dollars cannot be spent in other places where they may be more necessary.
“If it's reasonable, then they should have no trouble raising the money through private means,” he said. "What is the opportunity cost to building these stadiums? Is it a library not funded? Is it a school underfunded?”
The Detroit Metro Times noted that believing corporate welfare is wrong and a bad deal for taxpayers is something on which people from a wide range of ideologies can agree. The outlet quoted Mackinac Center Vice President for Marketing and Communications John Mozena and pointed to a study that finds sports stadiums fail to cause new businesses in the area to open.
“Instead of creating new demand and new customers for bars and restaurants, subsidized stadiums unfairly compete for a consumer’s entertainment dollar with those businesses,” Mozena said.
The Metro Times went on to note that when entities that don’t typically find themselves on the same side of an issue agree, there’s reason to listen.
“Let's just say that when MT and MCPP agree that something is wrong, it's hard to dismiss it as a fringe complaint.”
Read the full AP article here.
Read the full article in Mlive here.
Containing and curing pension underfunding benefits retirees, workers and taxpayers
Unions are supposed to look out for the interests of their members. But the well-being of their workers is forgotten when it comes to pensions.
In the Lansing State Journal, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 legislative director Nick Ciaramitaro argues that the state needs to keep its hands off worker retirement systems.
He ignores the billions in debt these pension systems have incurred. The failure to adequately fund pensions has drained taxpayer resources, forced employee concessions and left pensioners to question their retirement security.
Few of Michigan’s government pension systems have set aside enough to pay for the pension promises they have made. The largest system — the one for school employees — has promised $68 billion in pension benefits, but saved only $41 billion.
Thus the need to make extra payments into these pension systems. Most of the money now being paid into this system now goes to catch up on past underfunding, not to build a nest egg to cover the new pensions current employees are earning.
Ciaramitaro isn’t the only union official that refuses to acknowledge the burden of these unfunded liabilities. In response to a bill to offer new employees defined-contribution benefits, MEA spokesman David Crim told Mlive, “This provides a solution to a problem that does not exist.”
But the $26.7 billion in unfunded liabilities are a problem. Payments by school districts to catch-up on unfunded pension liabilities have swollen from 4 percent of payroll in 2006 to 15 percent today. This is forcing school layoffs and salary concessions across the state. It means today’s school funding increases are merely covering deferred expenses from yesterday’s classrooms, rather than providing value for the children sitting in today’s classes.
Mr. Ciaramitaro claims taxpayers will be forced to pay perilous “transition costs” if new employees are no longer enrolled in school pensions, meaning the system’s debt needs to be paid off more quickly. While putting more money in the system would pay down unfunded liabilities, no law requires this. Other states have closed their government pension systems without triggering these phantom costs.
Not enrolling new hires into the underfunded pension systems – instead giving them employer contributions to retirement savings accounts – would contain and eventually cure the underfunding problem. That would benefit retirees, workers and taxpayers alike.
Include comparisons, tie growth to standards and issue grades
The Michigan Department of Education will soon launch a listening tour for school employees and citizens to chime in about how to implement the new federal education law. The recently adopted Every Student Succeeds Act gives states some greater flexibility in setting several policies, including how they measure and report school performance.
Michigan should use the law as an occasion to revamp its school rating system and change how it’s reported to parents. It needs a fairer measuring tool that doesn’t punish schools for enrolling a lot of kids with learning struggles. The state can both acknowledge the challenges facing students and schools and uphold high standards.
For years, Mackinac Center analysts have criticized the state’s Top-to-Bottom Rankings, which too closely tie school quality measures to rates of student poverty. The Center’s Context and Performance Report Cards – including a forthcoming new edition of the high school version – grade schools on how well they do in comparison with their predicted performance based on the average socio-economic status of their students.
ESSA will require Michigan to rank most schools based on a combination of raw achievement scores and student academic growth. (High schools can substitute or complement a measure of growth with graduation rates.) As the state updates its system, an extra component that compares schools of like demographics could add some needed balance.
The quality of reading instruction at a school like Kent County’s North Godwin Elementary looks mediocre or weak when compared to the state proficiency rate. But matched up against other Michigan schools serving students with similar demographics, North Godwin is at the top of the chart.
By the same token, a full portrait of school performance cannot lean too heavily on comparisons, especially not in the upper grades. Students entering society and the job market will not be strictly compared to others from the same strata of family background. A ranking system needs to be designed so that it both recognizes the challenges students bring in the door and pushes schools and students to close achievement gaps over time. It also needs to raise the bar for everyone.
A key way to balance these concerns is to adopt a better metric of academic growth. The student growth percentile being promoted by the Michigan Department of Education creates real limitations. This metric is rooted entirely in comparing a student’s yearly change to that of his academic peers, not to a fixed standard. Nearly all kids of a certain proficiency level could fall short of the trajectory they need to be proficient but still be deemed successful for growing at a faster rate than half of their peer group.
A school should measure how much students in every demographic group learn. But it should also get credit for how well the lowest and highest performers improve. Students who are the most challenged or most academically accomplished often are the most easily neglected.
Florida has made good use of a system that credits schools for moving individual students up the proficiency scale. Michigan education officials have invested time and resources into grading on the curve, so there’s a temptation to keep what they have built. But the Florida-style approach is better, and it offers the added bonus of being less technically challenging to implement and oversee.
Under ESSA, Michigan also is encouraged to move beyond standardized assessments and graduation rates and give some other measurement a small but real role in measuring school quality. Many options are on the table. Officials should look for ways of measuring how achievement gaps are closed in the early grades. They also should look for ways to measure how well schools prepare students for a post-high school career, such as passing Advanced Placement tests, dual enrollment college courses or industry certifications.
All students need meaningful and easily understandable information about how well schools perform. This is especially true for parents whose children are stuck in failing schools. They need to know what better alternatives exist, such as a charter school or a Schools of Choice option that would benefit their child. Michigan can help these parents by giving each school a single, easy-to-understand, overall grade and then report these results regularly.
It won’t be enough to give grades to schools. The state also ought to clearly report how each school earned its grade. Did it get a C because its well-off students are relatively high-achieving but coasting along? Or is the middling grade the result of a school overcoming challenges and making some strides, but not quite where it needs to be yet? The state should keep and enhance its education dashboard to facilitate the judgments of parents and school leaders.
These are broad guidelines for a new school ranking system, and there are still a lot of details that need to be considered. But Michigan needs to shine a clearer spotlight on its schools if it wants to have an earnest attempt at improving them.