Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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