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