Thursday, December 12, 2013

EAA expansion up for a vote in the House

 Please read this important notice from Michigan Parents for Schools
This may be our last chance to stop unlimited expansion of the unaccountable Education Achievement Authority. Yesterday, the Senate passed a version of the EAA bill that doesn't even mention the EAA, but makes sure that the EAA would be eligible to run schools placed in the state "reform district." It's hard to imagine, but they have made the bill even worse.
The bill:
  • Removes all limits on the size of the EAA
  • Removes all limits on the number of new charter schools the EAA could create
  • Removes a provision that would have let schools ask their local ISD to help them instead
  • Removes criteria for deciding when a school can "exit" this nonsense
  • Changes the law to remove any legal doubt that the EAA could be asked to run state "takeover" schools
  • Allows the Legislature to avoid taking any responsibility for the failures of the EAA without actually changing anything.
The bill returns to the House today. They can do one of three things:
  1. Reject the Senate changes, in which case the bill goes to a proverbial "smoke filled room" for behind-closed-doors negotiations and rapid passage of whatever comes out; or
  2. Accept the Senate changes, placing this mess in state law; or
  3. Simply throw the whole thing in the trash and start over in the new year with something that actually works for kids.
We favor option 3, and I think you would, too. Please ask your State Representative to let this mess drop in the garbage can and work to create real, lasting change for our struggling students and schools!

Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our children and schools!

Steve Norton
Executive Director

 click on this link to send an email to Representative MacGregor.
Contact Rep. MacGregor!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Urgent Legislative Alert re: Third Grade Retention, School Grading, EAA 12/4/13


Things have been relatively quiet this fall on the Lansing front but we are shaping up to have one heck of a week for our community schools.  We need your phone calls and emails TODAY AND TOMORROW MORNING (vote could be as soon at 10:30 am or early next week----so keep calling throughout tomorrow 12/4/13) please please read on and stay tuned!  I know this is long....but this is our only plea this semester and now is the time to jump to action. There are three important items that we are reaching out to you about.  They will require (1) a phone call or email to your State Representative and (2) a phone call or email to your State Senator.  We are asking for 5 minutes of your time for our kids (and please spread to word to your parent networks).  Given how fast these bills are moving (votes possibly tomorrow), we ask that you even call after hours and leave voicemail messages.  

1.  Third Grade Retention.  Several weeks ago, a bill was introduced that would require that public schools automatically flunk any third grader who did not test "proficient" on the MEAP (or other standardized test).  There were zero exceptions (not even for special ed kids or kids learning English).   Those exceptions (and a few others) have been added after hard work by some folks, but the bill still has serious problems.  I heard in testimony countless examples of kids who struggled in reading but excelled in other areas (and were not "special ed"---just late bloomers who "caught on" in 4th or 5th grade).  Flunking those children would have forever devastated them socially and emotionally (and they were ready to move on in other subject areas).  With zero research to back up the "retention argument" (there is ZERO proof that flunking students leads to success and in fact the research shows the dropout rate skyrockets), it is baffling why we are debating this.  About 35,000 students would be held back (stretching across every district in our state), regardless of their ability in other areas, based on a single test score.  A bill has been introduced, tied to the Third Grade Flunk bill, that would offer early intervention programs for kids.   The amended bill also offers some alternative assessment tools, but the end result is still very likely "you flunk--regardless of what is really in your best interest" (especially since the bill has no exception for kids who are just getting accommodations and are not true "special ed").    We as parents ALL know the key to helping struggling kids is early intervention.  You won't find one district in this state that disagrees.   The problem is that many of those excellent intervention programs have been cut along with the severe decrease in school funding.   We have no problem with early intervention (and in fact have fought hard in EGR to maintain it at the best levels possible, despite severe cuts....many other districts have not been so fortunate).    Interventions will now be mandated---with NO extra money.  

Message to your legislator:  Oppose HB 5411.  (1) Tell Lansing to stop mandating more programs while cutting our money at the same time (resulting in cuts to the exact programs they are now going to mandate).  Unfunded mandates mean that every school district in the state will have to cut (yet again) from programs that provide for well-rounded children.    (2) Tell them that parents working directly with their child's teacher---not Lansing--are in the best position to decide if a child should move ahead to the next grade. 

GR Press Editorial advocating for early intervention and opposing 5411-

2.  Letter Grades for all Public Schools.   Sounds reasonable, right?  I mean, our kids get graded, right?  Yes, except that our child's letter grade reflects work over an entire semester (attendance, homework, quizzes, tests, class participation, etc).  HB 5412 would grade every school in the state on one criterion:  test scores.  We believe this is dangerous since it will inevitably lead to emphasizing test subjects only in school and certainly does not offer parents information they need to make an informed choice about the schools they may be choosing.  For example, some schools have high poverty (and thus low test scores) but in fact are making incredible progress against tremendous odds on their test scores.  Some schools are strong in the arts or offer a specific curriculum area.  Ultimately, we believe parents need more than just a letter grade based on a standardized test to measure a school.  Further,  the Department of Education just implemented its color coding system a few months ago.   Just a few months later, the legislature wants to again change the rules.  Public schools are treated like ping-pong balls and have to constantly figure out what system is going to be used.   

Message to your legislator:  Oppose HB 5112.  Metrics are fine, but "grading" our schools based on one test score is misleading.   We support a full dashboard that shows many different aspects of a school (such as student progress, test scores, access to the arts, extracurricular programming, safety record, etc) so that parents can make a truly informed decision.  Either implement a truly useful dashboard or just keep the Department of Education system in place (which is at least flexible and can be modified to adapt to better measurements as they are developed).  Stop changing the rules every few months.   

Steve Norton at Michigan Parents for Schools does a great job summarizing this issue.  I have cut and pasted his email at the bottom for any of you that want to read it.

3.  Education Achievement Authority (EAA).Okay, this is a blast from the past.  Remember when the state was going to possibly be able to take over ANY empty building in any school district?  That was the EAA. One year ago to be exact.  

Bottom line:  EAA = mega statewide school district with the unprecedented ability to take over schools everywhere.  Because of your great work, we stopped the EAA.   That's the honest truth.  YOU stopped it.  While it was rammed through the House, it stalled in the Senate because of all your work last year.    Well, it's back.  The Senate Education Committee actually still does not have enough votes (thank you Sen. Judy Emmons in Greenville for recognizing the danger of this bill) to get this out of committee.  Using a rare procedure, the bill is now slated to be dumped on the Senate Floor directly without hearings and without a committee majority.   We have learned that moving the bill is critical since the EAA is getting nervous.  The current partner for the EAA is Eastern Michigan University.  Given how non-transparent the EAA has been, many folks there would like to see the charter yanked (making this vote all the more urgent for this mega-statewide district).  In fact, the EMU Education Dean resigned from the EAA Board.  Interestingly, parents have chosen---in droves---to not stay in the EAA.  They lost 27% of their students from last year to this year.  The EAA has well-documented failures regarding staffing, enrollment, serving special ed students,  and lack of transparency.  And yet the state wants to continue expansion.  The response:  "The EAA can just grab more schools to make the EAA viable."  That's pretty appalling in the age of "parent choice."    The State Superintendent plans to grab 10-15 more schools outside of DPS.   Last year, the legislature proposed creating this massive new statewide school district all on an untested idea.  We said "at least pilot it."  Well, turns out the test failed.   And yet they are still demanding expansion.

Message:  Tell your Senator that you oppose the expansion of the EAA and that we don't need Lansing taking over schools all over the state.  While limited to 50 schools, that would still make the EAA the largest school district in the state (with about 50,000 students).     The EAA is not a model that works.  We don't need more of Lansing running our schools.  

Our sincerest thanks for all you do,

Lucy & Elizabeth

Cut and Paste Letters for Your State Representative and State Senator

Find Your Representative here:
If your are in the 73rd District, 

Michigan Representative Peter MacGregor, 73rd District
Phone: (517) 373-0218
Toll Free: (855) 347-8073

Hello Representative MacGregor--

I am writing to tell you that I oppose HB5411, The Third Grade Retention Law, currently coming up for a vote in the House Education Committee.  I see this as mandating programs while cutting money going to public schools.  Our district had to cut programs for early elementary learning.  While these programs will now be mandated under this law to prevent large numbers of third graders from flunking, our schools will have to take money from other programs that provide for well-rounded children.
Many factors go into a child's education.  Flunking a child who tests poorly could be damaging.  Whether my third grade child moves on to the next grade should be a decision made between me, my child's teacher and the school.  Lansing should not be poking its nose into this decision. 

I am also writing to tell you that I oppose HB 5112, The School Grading Law, currently coming up for a vote in the House Education Committee.  Metrics are fine, but "grading" our schools based on one test score is misleading.  A full dashboard which shows many different aspects of a school would receive my full support.  This dashboard could include student progress, test scores, access to the arts, extracurricular programming, safety records and other areas.  If a truly representative dashboard can't be implemented, please keep the more flexible Michigan Department of Education system in place.  Please stop changing the rules every few months.

Thank you for considering the opinion of your constituent.


If you are in the 86th district, your Senator is Mark Jansen.  
(517) 373-0797
Hello Senator Jansen—

Please oppose the expansion of the EAA.  We do not need Lansing taking over schools all over our state.  While limited to 50 schools, EAA is still the largest school district in the state with about 50,000 students.  The EAA model is not working.  EAA parents are not satisfied.  Too many resources are being diverted to this district.  Please keep Lansing out of our schools.  We elect local school board members to oversee our schools.
Thank you for considering your constituent.


A Superintendent's Perspective on Third Grade Retention

Boosting Early Reading is Good, But What is the Real Cost?

When the concern came up that early elementary kids struggling with reading don't get help anymore due to budget cuts, the solution is mandatory help.  this is great, but will it come with more money?  This looks like another unfunded mandate which will take resources away from other important services.

Here is an article from early Novermber 2013

MLive article on EAA Expansion. Vote in Michigan Senate Soon! Look for an alert on this soon!

In other legislative issues, the Michigan Senate is looking to vote to on the House Bill that will expand the EAA.  The EGRPS PTO Legislative Committee feels that the EAA diverts too many resources away from traditional public schools and their overseeing, publicly elected school boards.  The EAA has not shown it is the entity to save students from poor schools.  We advocate increased support and resources to schools to provide the services needed for Michigan's public school students. Lucy

Legislative Update From Michigan Parents for Schools


I hope you all had a warm and joyful Thanksgiving holiday, and that the school year has been going smoothly for your families.

Things have been a little quieter this fall on the education front in Lansing, but we wanted to contact you about a couple of proposed measures that we think are simply counter-productive.
  • One bill would require that children who don't test as "proficient" in reading in third grade be held back until they do.
  • The other would institute a simplistic "A-F" school rating system based totally on standardized test scores.

Things are rather fluid right now, so we're not asking you to write your lawmakers just yet. But stay alert, because we might need to take quick action if these bills move to a vote in anything like their current form.

Getting all children to read is easy, right?
We at MIPFS absolutely believe, as I am sure you do, that we should do all we can to ensure children are able to read - and to understand and evaluate what they read. Steps to catch children who are having trouble should start early. This kind of effort takes smart people and resources for quality programs.

The bill now in the House Education committee, HB 5111, doesn't address any of these things. It's based on the idea that getting any child to read "proficiently," no matter what struggles they face, is a simple and clear task. Schools and teachers who don't accomplish this feat are simply "not doing their jobs." The answer? Punish kids - and make their parents angry.

They've softened the bill a bit since it was first introduced, but the basic thrust is still the same. Instead of helping schools serve challenged students, instead of providing the resources schools need to run quality reading programs, the bill proposes simply to hold students back. Does this make any sense to you? It certainly doesn't to us.

Why bother helping schools when you can just label them?
Ok, if you're like me, when the Michigan Dept. of Education announced their new color coding system, you went to look up your local school. Was it confusing? Sure - but not because of the colors. Sometimes it was just hard to figure out where your school did well and where it might need improvement.

Now we have HB 5112, which proposes to scrap that whole (brand new) system and replace it with a simplistic rating that gives every school and district a letter grade from A to F. Not only that, but this "grade" would be based almost entirely on standardized test scores and would grade schools "on a curve," ensuring that some will always "fail."

We're not shopping for toaster-ovens here. Trying to tote up all a school's characteristics into one color or letter is a bad idea to begin with, and basing it all entirely on one or two days' worth of bubble tests makes it even worse. As parents, there are lots of things we want to know about our local schools - everything from academic achievement to access to the arts and music, from hallway safety to classroom technology, from bus routes to teacher expertise.

If they want to require schools to post information, fine. Just make it the kinds of key information that parents and other citizens really care about, and stop trying to turn it into a single rating. We're not looking at small appliances. We want to know where our schools shine, and where they need help to become better for our children and our communities. We're not shopping - we are looking to support and improve OUR schools.

Your voice is important on these issues. You can help remind our lawmakers that we want to help our schools, not just beat them down.Please keep your eyes peeled for an urgent call to action!

Steve Norton
Executive Director, MIPFS

Are You Having Trouble Deciding What You Think About Third Grade Retention?

Here is a link Steve Norton shared in an alert from Michigan Parents for Schools

A friend who is a Reading Intervention teacher in Ann Arbor recommended this article for non-specialists. It describes the chasm between what researchers know works to help kids read and policies which have actually been implemented. Hint: money doesn't help if it's used to buy mandated, but unproven and ill-advised, commercial programs.
Richard L. Allington, "What Really Matters When Working With Struggling Readers." The Reading Teacher, April 2013.