Week In Review

Week in Review: Chilling news

It was a busy week on the education beat with news emerging from a schedule packed with education town halls, state and city school board meetings, and a hearing on a controversial education bill. It was also a week with Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, Pączki Day, and, most important for Michigan educators, Count Day.

Among stories to emerge are the “chilling” news that Detroit’s main district has been using an outdated curriculum, and the announcement that the state is about to start assigning a score, from from 0 to 100, to every school in the state. The new scale comes as lawmakers push instead for an A-F grading system that some critics say will hurt poor schools.

Also this week, we have a story about an east side elementary school that slashed its chronic absence rate, in part by installing a washing machine. We wrote about a study that questions whether schools should be evaluated on criteria such as student absences. We have the news that three new charter schools could be coming to the city, and that a large charter network is growing.

Amid all of that, of course, our thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones in the tragic school shooting in Florida on Wednesday. The shooting elicited both terror and anger across the country — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe. As we head into the weekend — and what, for some, will be the start of mid-winter break — let’s take some time to give our dear ones some love. Thanks for reading.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

School board, Detroit edition

  • An audit found that the main Detroit district’s reading and math curriculum is so poorly aligned with state standards that the literacy curriculum got only 3 out of 21 points. The math curriculum was so outdated auditors didn’t give it any points.
  • Education Week called this news “a story that makes you want to weep with despair about policymakers’ priorities.”
  • Detroit isn’t the only district in the state with a curriculum that’s not aligned to state standards. “We are finding a lot of school districts that were never aligned for whatever reason,” the state superintendent said.
  • Superintendent Nikolai Vitti plans to solicit bids for a new curriculum that would be rolled out across the district in the fall.
  • The Detroit district took advantage of the fact that the state’s crucial “count day” fell on Valentine’s Day as a way to make sure children came to class. Michigan has two count days a year — in October and February — when students are counted to determine how much money their schools will get from the state.
  • The board — in a vote split 3 to 3 with 1 abstention  — shot down a land deal that would have paid the district $200,000 for a sliver of land that would have been part of a Wayne County jail project.

School board, state edition

  • The state’s soon-to-be-rolled-out new 0-100 school rating index will give each school a single number based on seven factors, including test scores and graduation rates, the availability of classes like art and music, and proficiency rates for English learners. The index was part of the state’s plan to comply with the new federal school accountability law.
  • Some GOP lawmakers have no interest in a rating index. They want letter grades and held a second hearing this week on a bill to create report cards that would assign schools six A-F grades. The push for A-F grades has members of the state board of education steamed, including one who charged that it will discriminate against poor schools.
  • Though Michigan is one of 36 states that plan to use chronic absenteeism as a measure of school quality under the federal education law, a recent Wayne State University study questions whether that’s a good idea.
  • Bridge Magazine has yet another way to measure schools. As the online magazine determined which schools to include among its 2018 Academic State Champs, Bridge this year used a formula that measures how much students progress academically from third to eighth grade. The magazine’s analysis found that students from poor districts might have lower test scores than their more affluent peers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not learning. They just started out farther behind.
  • Here’s how Michigan districts compare on academic growth and an interactive chart that shows how wealth affects achievement in Michigan schools.
  • State Superintendent Brian Whiston will decide this month whether he should step down due to health concerns. He revealed this week that he’s had kidney and liver failure, cancer and a heart attack in the last two months.
  • Wayne county officials told state school board members that a school tax increase approved by voters in 2016 helped raise Detroit teacher pay. Other districts used their money to pay off debt or upgrade buses and technology.
  • Charter schools did not get a cut of that Wayne County tax hike but a law signed this week by Gov. Rick Snyder means charter schools will get a piece of the next one.
  • The Detroit News, meanwhile, doesn’t think the elected state board should exist at all.

Charting ahead

  • Three new charter schools could be coming to Detroit in 2019.
  • As it takes over two schools this summer, the city’s largest non-profit charter school network will grow to nine schools, making it one of the two biggest networks in a city where charter schools are run by many different entities.
  • Among those who spoke at an education justice town hall was a high school student who recalled that after her elementary school was shut down, she was sent to a school that absorbed many displaced kids. “It was like a barnyard and they just stuffed us in there,” she said.
  • A school founded nearly 30 years as an innovative way to serve low-income children in a private-school setting is ending its traditional tuition-based program to focus on running charter schools.
  • A writer at pro-charter school news site refutes pundits who’ve suggested it was Michigan’s poor schools that cost the state its shot at Amazon’s second headquarters. He suggested a different reason: political hostility toward charter schools.

Laundry, literacy and largesse

  • The arrival of a washing machine at a Detroit school not only improved attendance, suspensions also declined. “They don’t have to avoid school … and not have clean clothes, deodorant, or not feel good about themselves,” the school principal said.
  • A financial guru who worked as Vitti’s top financial adviser last year has launched a $25,000 scholarship and internship program for graduating seniors of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, his alma mater.
  • A nonprofit organization that provides creative writing and tutoring help to students in Detroit and other Michigan cities has a new executive director.
  • Mayor Mike Duggan hinted that a grant program for small business owners may soon expand to award funding to student projects.

Funding and policy

  • Weeks after a group of prominent education and business leaders released a study that called for major changes to the way Michigan schools are funded, advocates are hopeful that a new governor and legislature next year will take up the cause.
  • A member of the group behind the study, meanwhile, pushed back against a critic who questioned its merits. “Our current, cookie-cutter school funding system is failing,” she wrote.
  • A former state superintendent lays out a long list of challenges facing state schools and asks: “Is there someone willing to take the lead in re-imagining Michigan’s educational system?”
  • A new poll shows most Michigan parents — including those with kids in district, charter and private schools — have doubts about the education their children are getting.
  • Michigan is one of nine states that require a legislative change before parents can take advantage of new changes to federal tax law that allow some college savings fund dollars to be used for private school tuition.