Cook in Detroit News: Lawmakers must take swift action on Student Safety Act

MEA President Steve Cook took to the editorial page of the Detroit News on Wednesday to urge state lawmakers to pass the Student Safety Act, which is stalled in the House Appropriations Committee. 

The legislation would create comprehensive communications infrastructure to provide students, school employees and parents with a way to anonymously submit tips about threats to student safety.

“Recent violent attacks in schools — including last week’s shootings outside Sexton High School in Lansing — emphasize the need for a comprehensive system for addressing threats to student safety,” Cook wrote.

MEA urges state Legislature to take swift action on Student Safety Act

EAST LANSING, Mich., Sept. 19, 2013 — The Michigan Education Association is urging state lawmakers to take immediate action and pass the Student Safety Act, which would establish a new tip line and an online interface to allow students to anonymously report safety threats.

This week’s shooting near Lansing’s Sexton High School emphasizes the need for a comprehensive program to address threats to student safety.

The state Senate in June unanimously passed legislation to create the program, dubbed “OK-2-SAY.” Since then, Senate Bill 374 has sat dormant in the House Appropriations Committee.

 “Safety is one of the most pressing issues facing our schools, and indeed our society,” MEA President Steve Cook said. “Teachers and education support professionals can’t help students reach their full academic potential without a safe learning environment in place. MEA strongly supports the Student Safety Act and urges Michigan lawmakers to make its passage a top priority.”

MEA members sound off on Facebook about upcoming opportunities, challenges

With the new school year finally upon us, MEA asked members via its Facebook page what they were looking forward to most in the 2013-14 school year. Here are just a few of the many responses:

  • Cherie Wade Honeycutt, teacher, Alpena Public Schools: “I look forward to being back with an amazing staff at Besser Elementary in Alpena. We are facing a financial crisis, as are many schools. But we are a group of passionate, caring professionals who strive every day to face the challenges that come with being an educator and to work towards giving our students a top-notch education.”
  • John Pakledinaz, teacher and president of the Farwell Education Association: “As president of our union, I am looking forward to the opportunity to discuss membership with new teachers hired in our district, Farwell Area Schools. In the classroom, I am looking forward to the flipped classroom model I will be experimenting with in my chemistry class.”
  • Bonnie Adams, food services ESP, Thornapple-Kellogg Schools: “I look forward to a great year at Thornapple Kellogg Schools in Middleville. Although times are hard, the children still come in smiling. When they graduate, they know T.K. put everything into teaching and they have learned everything they need to know in life. We work together (parents, teachers and support staff) to help all kids succeed.”
  • Brad Wenz, teacher, Romeo Community Schools: “Romeo Community Schools is implementing the technology that our community provided via a tech bond last fall. I’m looking forward to training and slowly integrating the tech into my daily class life.”

Fair and reliable teacher evaluations: Can it happen in Michigan?

MEA supports the majority of the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness’ recommendations for creating what it calls a “fair, transparent and feasible” system for evaluating teachers and school administrators.

If implemented by the state Legislature, the MCEE’s recommended system would replace the more than 800 different evaluation systems employed in districts across Michigan.

“The report constitutes an improvement over what educators are currently experiencing in our public schools,” said MEA Vice President Nancy Strachan, a veteran teacher with nearly 40 years of classroom experience. “The report provides a strategy to improve educational outcomes by focusing on student learning objectives.”

“The evaluation process should be focused on professional growth as an educator — not simply a tool to terminate employees,” Strachan said. “We need to add a support system of professional learning.”

State releases new ‘accountability scorecard,’ which replaces AYP system

The Michigan Department of Education's new accountability scorecard.  Click to enlarge.The Michigan Department of Education released its new 2013 accountability scorecard today, along with its so-called “top-to-bottom” list of schools and corresponding list of “reward,” “priority” and “focus” schools.

The new scorecard replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress measurement, as Michigan received a waiver last year to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that allowed it to scrap AYP in favor of a new system.

The scorecard uses a color-coded system to indicate performance in math, reading, writing, science and social studies. Green is given to the top schools, followed by lime, yellow, orange and red. The scorecard also includes a variety of accountability ratings, such as graduation and attendance rates, and student performance categorized by demographics and content area.

The old AYP system only measured reading and math.

Buena Vista School District to dissolve following budget cuts and mismanagement

Calamitous cuts to education funding and gross financial mismanagement by state and local officials have led to the official dissolution of the Buena Vista School District.

The exact fate of Buena Vista students and school employees remains unknown.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan had given Buena Vista officials until 5 p.m. Monday to find outside financing to help operate the Saginaw-area district for the upcoming school year. The deadline came and went, and the planned dissolution will proceed.

“We reached out to banks, entrepreneurs ... philanthropists,” Buena Vista School District Superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill told the Detroit Free Press. “We have not been able to get anyone to say they’ll give us a loan. It’s as simple as that.”

Inkster Public Schools will also dissolve after officials there were unable to secure financing to keep the district running.

Officials in the state Department of Education and the state treasurer’s office will now work with the intermediate school districts that cover Buena Vista and Inkster to move students to receiving school districts.

The Saginaw Intermediate School District will hold a public hearing Wednesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. at Buena Vista High School, 3945 E. Holland Road in Saginaw, to discuss transfer plans.

Students, school employees and families in the Buena Vista School District are the innocent victims of what’s been a tragic combination of fiscal irresponsibility and misplaced budget priorities.

U.S. House narrowly passes flawed ESEA reauthorization

Members of the House of Representatives on Friday passed the “Student Success Act” (H.R. 5), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The measure passed 221–207, with no Democratic votes in support and 12 Republicans voting no on final passage.

The National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million public school educators, opposed the bill in committee and raised concerns that it would erode the historical federal role in public education of targeting resources to marginalized student populations as a means of helping to ensure equity of opportunity for all students.

MEA members are encouraged to contact their members of Congress and urge them to pass fair and flexible legislation that provides a good education for all students.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel issued the following statement in response: 

State superintendent proposes mass school consolidation

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan is proposing the consolidation of  local school districts into countywide districts.

Countywide school districts and service consolidation were mentioned a lot in the news this week, as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan floated those ideas as a way to trim costs and help financially struggling schools.

While details haven’t been released yet, Flanagan told multiple media outlets moving to countywide districts — or some hybrid system that gives intermediate school districts more power — could save millions.

He contends streamlining non-instructional functions like transportation, food service and administration would be more efficient, and the dollars saved through consolidation could be streamlined back into the classroom.

Florida, Virginia and Maryland have countywide school districts in place, but a one-size-fits all model of school consolidation in Michigan is receiving some criticism and skepticism.

“Before I can embrace it or be opposed, I really need to see the data to see if it does indeed save significant resources and if it will indeed help improve instruction,” said Chris Wigent, superintendent for the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency, the intermediate school district for Wayne County, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Plymouth-Canton teachers help blaze a path for foreign-born students

Hagda do Patrocinio-Volpe and Julie Barr 

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles profiling recipients of the 2013 MEA Human Rights and Excellence awards.)

Julie Barr and Hagda do Patrocinio-Volpe know first-hand what it’s like to live in a foreign country and not know the language or the culture. Barr lived in Israel for several years and Patrocinio was born in Brazil and came to the United States as an adult.

With their patience and spirit, these two teachers at Salem High School in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools have created a safe learning environment, so English language learners can be successful.

And that’s why MEA has honored them with MEA’s Excellence Award for Bilingual Education.

Salem High School’s P-CEP English Language Learners’ Program teaches students from around the world the academic English they need to be successful in high school and beyond.

Barr and Patrocinio’s program is unique in that their students are placed by levels based on their English skills. Students can earn their credits through the program and also become proficient enough to go on to earn their credits in regular academic classes.

Michigan Merit Exam is outdated; state leaders must implement new Common Core standards

“The Michigan Merit Exam is outdated and doesn’t reflect the curriculum that is being taught in classrooms throughout the state, yet students and educators are unfairly being evaluated based on MME scores,” MEA President Steve Cook said.

EAST LANSING, Mich., June 25, 2013 — This week’s release of the Michigan Merit Exam results reinforces the need for lawmakers to scrap the obsolete standardized test and instead fully implement the Common Core State Standards, the president of the Michigan Education Association said today.

The MME results showed a slight decline in student test scores this year, yet a trend of improved scores over the last four years. Proficiency scores in reading, writing, social studies, math and science have swung back and forth each year, making the exam unpredictable and unreliable.

“The Michigan Merit Exam is outdated and doesn’t reflect the curriculum that is being taught in classrooms throughout the state, yet students and educators are unfairly being evaluated based on MME scores,” MEA President Steve Cook said. “It’s time for our state’s leaders to get rid of the Michigan Merit Exam and implement the Common Core State Standards.”

Michigan educators, administrators and policymakers began the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards in 2009. States must adopt the national standards in order to receive federal education funds.

Despite the fact that educators have spent the better part of three years preparing for its launch, the Legislature earlier this month irresponsibly stripped funding for Common Core implementation. Legislators left Lansing last Thursday to begin their summer vacations.