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.

Mackinac Center exploits Michigan Teacher of the Year to push its radical agenda

Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud

It should have been a completely positive experience: Late last month, Grosse Pointe North High School science teacher Gary Abud Jr. was named the 2013-14 Michigan Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education.

Abud, a young teacher with six years in the classroom, is working hard to develop innovative methods of educating his students, incorporating project-based learning, technology and social media into his lesson plans.

At a time when teachers and education support professionals are under constant attack — even being referred to as “hogs” by one top state legislator — Abud’s story provided some positive news about all of the great things happening in schools across Michigan.

Then the far-right Mackinac Center for Public Policy and its extremist allies got involved.

The Mackinac Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Abud’s school district to obtain details of his salary (which is lower than that of some of his colleagues), and then posted it for the world to see — all to make an ill-conceived point about so-called “merit” pay. Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and other powerful right-wing mouthpieces continue to bat the story around, making Abud an unwilling poster child for merit pay.

What they probably didn’t expect is for Abud to fight back.

“They have not been given permission to use my name, photo, story, words, or any ideas,” Abud told Eclectablog.com’s Chris Savage.


House rams through bills to dissolve school districts without transferring employees

House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, referred to school employees as “hogs” in a floor speech late Thursday night.

After the chair of the House Education Committee referred to school employees as “hogs,” Republicans in the state House rammed through legislation late Thursday night that would dissolve the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts and leave employees in those dissolved districts without the right to a job in the receiving districts.

Under House Bill 4813 and House Bill 4815, the state superintendent and state treasurer could decide to dissolve a troubled school district if the district fails to submit a deficit reduction plan or is financially incapable of implementing such a plan; lacks the funds necessary to run a K-12 program for a year of required instructional hours; and has 2,500 students or fewer and lost at least 10 percent of its students over the course of a year.

The legislation is crafted so that only Buena Vista and Inkster qualify for dissolution. Initially, it would have applied to any school district in the state, but MEA successfully fought to have it narrowed.

A dissolved district’s students and property would be transferred to one or more nearby districts.

School employees in the dissolved districts would not have rights to jobs in the receiving district — even though their district dissolved through no fault of their own. The legislation initially protected school employees in the dissolved districts by providing them with the right of first refusal for jobs in the receiving district, but an amendment by state Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, stripped away all employee protections.

Franz’s amendment was fully supported by House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Lyons, R-Alto. In response to school employees’ concerns, Lyons said from the House floor: “Pigs get fat — hogs get slaughtered.” 

House passes curriculum flexibility bills

The state House overwhelmingly passed legislation supported by the MEA Thursday that would provide more flexibility and local control in establishing graduation requirements for students.

House Bills 4465 and 4466 maintain high graduation standards while providing local school districts with flexibility through “personal curriculum committees.” These committees would be able to customize standards to meet the needs of individual students.

Under current law, students can fulfill the algebra II requirement by completing a program or curriculum in electronics, machining, construction, welding, engineering or renewable energy, provided it features an “appropriate embedded mathematics requirement.” The legislation passed by the House eliminates the “appropriate embedded mathematics requirement.” Instead, students would have to successfully complete “the same content as the algebra II benchmarks assessed on the department-prescribed state high school assessment.”

Snyder must veto proposed ban on Common Core or every school will fail to meet AYP

Every school in Michigan will fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress and will lose federal aid unless the governor vetoes a part of the budget passed by the Legislature that strips funding for implementing the Common Core State Standards.

MEA members are asked to contact Gov. Rick Snyder immediately and urge him to restore funding for Common Core implementation. Call him at (517) 373-3400 or email him via the form on his website.

School employees have spent the better part of three years preparing for the launch of Common Core. Unless Snyder vetoes the Legislature’s budget language and restores funding for Common Core implementation, all of the prep work put in by educators will be for naught.

MEA members successfully push for increased investment in early childhood education

Thanks to the hard-fought efforts of MEA members, the state Legislature on Wednesday voted to increase the state’s investment in early childhood education funding.

More than 1,400 MEA members called and emailed their legislators in recent weeks to urge them to support more funding for early childhood education. Because of the outreach conducted by teachers, education support professionals and higher education employees, the Legislature sent an education budget to the governor’s desk that includes $65 million in additional funds for early childhood education.

“The MEA has long championed greater investment in early childhood education programs, because these investments help prepare our students for success,” MEA Vice President Nancy Strachan said. “The additional investment for early childhood education is a critical step to help our low-income students have access to high-quality preschool opportunities and enter kindergarten prepared to learn.”

“Research has clearly shown the direct correlation between early childhood education programs and increased graduation rates, reduced crime and a healthier economy,” Strachan said. “The MEA will continue to support this and other increased early childhood investments so that all Michigan children have the opportunity to succeed.”     

Michigan Teacher of the Year awarded to Grosse Pointe North High School science teacher

Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Harwood, Trustee Cindy Pangborn, Trustee Brian Summerfield, Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud, and Trustee Judy Gafa pose at an event Thursday honoring Abud.

Grosse Pointe North High School science teacher Gary Abud Jr. has been named the 2013-14 Michigan Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education.

Abud, who received the 2012 Science Teacher of Promise award from the Michigan Science Teachers Association, is a proponent of project-based learning, combining service experiences, digital learning and social media to provide his students with a broad palette of learning experiences.

“It has been my philosophy that all students can learn and achieve in the classroom,” Abud said. “Finding the right combination of strategies to match various learning styles is essential.”

Grosse Pointe Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Harwood said Abud is “a teacher amongst teachers; an innovator of instruction, a supportive guide of knowledge, and a creator of dreams for students who wish to further explore their understanding of science.”

“Gary displays every day in his classroom what great teachers in Michigan do — lead by example and help every student find the ways to learn,” state Superintendent Mike Flanagan said. “He sets a high standard not only for himself, but for his students and fellow educators.”

“He has followed his passion to continue learning and share what he learns with others,” Flanagan said. “I cannot think of a greater gift a person can give to Michigan’s next generations.”

Despite help from state, Buena Vista School District refuses to pay its teachers Friday

Without warning, the Buena Vista School District did not pay its 28 teachers Friday — despite it being a pay day and despite the state of Michigan’s sending $400,000 to the struggling district to keep it open for the remainder of the school year.

“The teachers in the Buena Vista School District have made numerous sacrifices on behalf of their students, and they deserve to get paid for the work they do so they can feed their families,” MEA Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz said. “Teachers and their students should not be made to suffer for the school district’s financial mismanagement and Gov. Rick Snyder’s lack of support for public education.”

Friday was a scheduled pay day for the teachers, who haven’t been paid since May 10.

Sick teachers have also been barred by the district from calling substitute teachers, resulting in crowded classrooms.

Students and school employees in the Buena Vista School District are innocent victims of gross financial mismanagement by district and state administrators, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder’s reckless $1 billion in cuts to school funding.