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Join the ESEA Week of Action, Feb. 16-20; tell Congress a new bill must mean more opportunities and learning for students

Since its adoption more than 12 years ago, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has made no significant progress in closing achievement and opportunity gaps for students. It hasn't leveled the playing field for students in poverty, students with disabilities or English-language learners so they can have an equal opportunity for a quality education. NCLB has only made it more impossible for educators to help students be successful. 

Right now, Congress is moving fast on a rewrite of NCLB-also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And from the looks of it, the reauthorization is no better than the original bill. It's focusing on more testing, labeling, and punishing schools for their test results, instead of concentrating on student learning and closing those achievement gaps.

We have a chance during NEA's ESEA Week of Action (Feb. 16-20) to influence Congress and tell them to pass a new ESEA bill that gets it right this time. That means a reauthorized ESEA must:

  • Create more opportunities for all students to receive a quality education by eliminating the one-size-fits-all and top-down approach to education reform.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent on testing so there's time for students to learn and more time for teachers to teach.
  • Ensure every student has qualified educators who have the authority to do their job and lead on behalf of their students.

MEA’s 2015 Bargaining, Public Policy and Professional Development Conference

 

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Along with added sessions, this year’s attendees will enjoy many new Conference features. The theme is new—“Preserving Public Education for the Future.” The look is new—MEA members are super heroes keeping public education safe from those individuals and groups who want to destroy it. And the opportunities for interaction are new and fun—from MEA Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, stickers and buttons, and a photo booth.

What hasn’t changed are the member benefits this Conference provides. MEA members will still get the valuable knowledge, skills and strategies needed to make sure public education will be strong in the future. Some sessions qualify for State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECHs) and Michigan ESP Center of Professional Learning (MECPL) credits. And there are opportunities to network and hear from colleagues at lunchtime activities and at the PAC reception.

There’s still time to register at a reduced fee so don’t miss out! We believe in public education and this Conference will help us defend our beliefs. Go to www.mea.org/bpa to download the Conference announcement.

Supreme Court dismisses school districts’ suit claiming state underfunding

Last month, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit alleging that school districts were underfunded for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. More than 450 local school districts brought the suit.

Using the Headlee Amendment, the districts claimed that the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Education, state budget director, state treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction didn’t provide enough compensation to school districts for the new and increased costs of reporting information to the Center for Educational Performance and Information (CEPI). Under the Headlee Amendment, the Michigan Constitution prohibits the state from requiring new or expanded activities by local governments and school districts without full state funding.

The Supreme Court dismissed the cases on the grounds that the districts didn’t attempt to prove a specific amount of underfunding. The Court’s ruling agreed with the decision of a special master appointed by the Michigan Court of Appeals to review the case before it went to the Supreme Court.

In its opinion, the Court said, “A plaintiff claiming that the Legislature’s appropriation failed to fully fund the cost of a new or increased service or activity must allege and prove the specific amount of the shortfall. Plaintiffs failed to offer any proofs that could entitle them to relief.”

2011 guidelines in place since evaluation bills die in lame duck

HB 5223 and HB 5224, which would have established a statewide evaluation system for teachers and administrators, did not survive the Legislature's lame duck session. While the bills may be reintroduced next year, the evaluation guidelines from 2011 will be in place.
 
The bills, sponsored by Rep. Margaret O'Brien (R-Portage) and Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor), passed the House and had strong bipartisan support. MEA lobbyists were instrumental in fashioning the legislation that created an evaluation system that supported rather than punished teachers. 

However, the bills could not get out of the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair Shores), Committee chair, called the bills flawed because they did not give local school districts enough flexibility.

MEA also supported legislation that would have instituted much needed charter school reforms. Unfortunately, those bills also did not make it through lame duck.

However, bills that MEA opposed that would have held back third graders who weren't reading at grade level, assigned letter grades to failing schools, expanded the Education Achievement Authority, and established an early financial warning system for school districts died in lame duck. 

MEA members earn NEA Foundation grants

Educators and MEA members from New Haven, Swartz Creek, Redford and Saginaw Valley State University received $2,000 and $5,000 grants from the NEA Foundation. The grants support proposals that have the potential for enhancing student achievement and for delivering high-quality educational professional development activities.

Tod Wolfgram, a New Haven High School social studies teacher received a $2,000 Learning and Leadership grant to attend the National Council for Social Studies Annual Conference. There he will learn more about the college, career, and civic life framework for social studies state standards. He will bring back information to his social studies colleagues and share ways to promote civil instruction in the modern classroom.

Kayla Trundle, a special education teacher from Swartz Creek Middle School, received a $2,000 Student Achievement Grant to improve community-based instruction opportunities for students with cognitive impairments. With help from the grant, their students will learn functional skills that apply to the Common Core Essential Elements through trips to a grocery store, post office, bank, restaurant, library, nature center and pet adoption center.

Kara Clayton, a Thurston High School language arts educator in Redford, earned a $2,000 Learning and Leadership Grant to learn more about the use of digital tools to improve students’ literacy skills. She will use the grant to attend seminars at the University of Rhode Island’s Institute in Digital Literacy. Clayton will attend seminars on assisting students to choose reliable and credible sources, reading comprehension, and using digital tools to conduct research. At the end of the Institute, Kara will create a collaborative lesson to be shared with other attendees and colleagues in Redford.

Dr. Marlena Bravender, an assistant professor at Saginaw Valley State University, received a $5,000 Learning and Leadership Grant to research effective ways to integrate virtual language simulations into middle school Spanish lessons. Using the lessons, students will understand authentic situations involving food, clothing, culture, common phrases and study lessons. The grant will also allow Bravender to track the impact of the virtual simulations.

The NEA Foundation awards its grants to educators three times a year. In this round, 42 educators across 22 states received $168,000 in grants to support efforts to improve teaching and learning. The next education grant deadline is Feb. 1, 2015. Go to www.neafoundation.org for more information. 

NEA President talks to Detroit Economic Club about educating the whole child

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 16, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia will be telling the Detroit Economic Club why we must invest in the education of students for work and society in the 21st Century. She will be promoting an approach that favors policies that nurture creative thinking and meet the needs of the whole child.

Prior to her luncheon policy speech, she will be meeting with 80 local area high school students, including students from Gibraltar's Carlson High School, Grosse Pointe North, and Harper Woods. The students will hear a preview of Lily's speech and be able to ask questions on any topics they choose. They will also be guests at the luncheon program.

Lily's speech will be live-streamed at www.neatoday.org and you can tune in from 12:35 to 1:15 p.m. to watch and follow @NEAToday and @NEAmedia. If you can't tune in live, the speech will be archived at www.neatoday.org to watch later. Lily will also be a guest on Paul W. Smith's WJR Radio show from 5:30 to 9 a.m. You can listen at http://p.cmlsdet.com/player/?feed=49&id=12869

Michigan’s ranks low on its record of charter school oversight

Michigan may lead the nation in the number of charter schools it authorizes, but it ranks at the bottom among states when it comes to oversight of those authorizers. That finding in a report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) supports efforts by some lawmakers and the state school Superintendent Mike Flanagan to strengthen the oversight and accountability of the state’s charter school operators.

Currently, Michigan has 136,850 students attending 297 charter schools with 39 authorizers. The number of charter schools, along with student enrollment, has grown rapidly since the authorizing of charter schools 20 years ago this year. 

The report, “On the Road to Better Accountability: an Analysis of State Charter Schools,” specifically faults the state for not automatically closing academically failing charters; for not setting quality standards for authorizers; for not requiring annual reports on academic performance; and for not having an evaluation process in place for authorizers. 

NACSA recommends a revamping of the state’s charter school laws that includes the ability to revoke the authority of a charter school authorizer to open any new schools; enforce oversight standards of current charter schools; and strengthen requirements for charter renewals. 

Flanagan threatened to suspend the ability of authorizers to open new charter schools unless they met similar standards. And a package of House bills—HB 5852HB 5915HB 5918—would keep authorizers from giving a contract to charter schools that have been closed for academic performance, and prohibit authorizers from giving contracts to new charter schools if the authorizer is not doing enough oversight on current charter schools.

It’s American Education Week—Thank you for all you do!

Nov. 16-21 is set aside to celebrate public education and honor the school employees like you who make a difference in the lives of children every day. You’re committed to making sure every child receives a quality education. You believe in public education. And for that you deserve our gratitude and admiration. Follow MEA on Facebook for special messages all week. 

NEA has been a sponsor of American Education Week for the past 93 years and this year, the week’s theme is, “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.”  NEA is sponsoring various events to recognize the hard work of students, the professionalism and commitment of educators, and to show appreciation for parents and community members who all contribute to great public schools. 

State extends deadline to opt out of electronic MEAP

In an effort to meet the Legislature’s requirement to revamp the MEAP test in time for next spring, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) continues to make changes to the MEAP. The latest change requires administering the test online and school districts have until Nov. 14 to file an online waiver request with MDE to offer a paper and pencil test option.

This last requirement has left districts scrambling to prepare teachers to give the test, to ensure that students are prepared to take the tests using an online format, and to have the necessary working technology. Many districts feel they don’t have the time to make the changes required by the new test and are choosing to file a waiver request. 

MDE had been counting on using the Smarter Balanced assessments because they aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but when lawmakers made it a requirement in MDE’S budget to offer the MEAP, it signaled the end to Smarter Balanced and a race to turn the MEAP into an assessment that would measure growth using CCSS. 

Last spring, when some school districts piloted the online Smarter Balanced, there were system crashes, computer screens frozen, or students needing to re-log in after they were kicked out of the system. Online testing had to be rescheduled which ultimately cost instructional time and unfairly penalized students for issues out of anyone’s control. 

These same concerns still linger with this new MEAP format.

In addition to changing the testing format of the MEAP, MDE has designated third through eighth and eleventh grade students to take the test and moved administration of the new MEAP from the fall to the spring.

 

Detroit News wrong about Dziadosz as a potential State Superintendent

MEA Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz made it clear in a news release last week that she’s not a candidate for the position of State Superintendent despite claims made in a Detroit News editorial. Current State Superintendent Mike Flanagan will be retiring in June 2015 after 10 years in the position and the search is on for his replacement.

“Contrary to the News’ unnamed source, I am not a candidate for State Superintendent, nor have I had any conversations with anyone about a possible candidacy. I would have been happy to clarify that ahead of its appearing in the Detroit News, had I been given the opportunity. Unfortunately, I was not,” said Dziadosz.

The editorial claims that “cementing labor’s influence over the direction of education in Michigan would be a wrong turn.”  Dziadosz said, “Of course, as MEA works on behalf of the learning conditions of our students, we have a deep interest in the qualities and skills of the next superintendent. The column focused lots of attention on the perceived positon of potential candidates on charter schools. But this shouldn’t be a question of pro- or anti-charter—it should be a question of standing up for quality and transparency.” 

In addition to Dziadosz, the paper names Vicki Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland Schools; Scott Menzel, superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; and Dan Varner, a current State Board of Education member and the CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit, part of a charter school network as possible candidates.

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