Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Public funds for private schools

The state budget which went into effect October 1 allocates $2.5 million to fund private schools.  Regardless of whether this is a wise policy choice, it clearly violates the Michigan Constitution. Governor Snyder recognize the dubious legality of the measure when he signed it, but said he would let the matter be litigated. Now the Michigan Supreme Court has declined to issue an advisory opinion, clearing the way for a lawsuit.

The budget's multi-million dollar allocation of public funds to private schools is meant to be a reimbursement for state-mandated requirements such as background checks for employees, immunizations and even compliance with building, health and fire codes. 

The Michigan Constitution seems to, in no uncertain terms, prohibit this funding:
No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. [1963 Const, Art 8, § 2.]
Governor Snyder acknowledged as much in signing the budget: "With respect to the non-public piece of this bill, it's to address mandates put on by the state.  There are some potential legal issues associated with that . . . but I thought it was appropriate to move ahead and then address the legal question."  Detroit Free Press, June 28, 2016.

The Governor then asked the Michigan Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the measure.  In such a proceeding, rather than having an adversarial process where a challenger can argue against the constitutionality and the state could defend it, the court may simply opine without the benefit of argument.  Or, as happened early in Governor Snyder's first term, the Attorney General may present both sides to the court.  However, the court declined the governor's request for an advisory opinion Oct. 5.  Detroit Free Press, Oct. 5, 2016

The governor's spokesman opined that payments now should proceed to private institutions. Id. That process is likely to proceed unless a lawsuit is filed.

SBE adopts voluntary guidlines to support LGBTQ students

The State Board of Education adopted voluntary guidelines aimed at creating a supportive environment for LGBTQ students on September 14. 

A 2015 survey found that 8.4 percent of Michigan students identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.  Those students were more than twice as likely to threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than non-LGB peers, and more than twice as likely to skip school because they feel unsafe.  Forty-one percent report being bullied on school property. 

LGB students are 4.5 times as likely to attempt suicide.

The guidelines are part of the State Board of Education's commitment to "promoting a safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environment for all students and ensuring that every student has equal access to educational programs and activities."  State Board of Education Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.

The document really has two parts, the SBE's best practices, and a list of recommendations to comply with federal law.  The best practices are the SBE's recommendations to districts regarding how districts can provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students.  They are voluntary.  The recommendations are not enforced by the SBE or the State of Michigan.  However, the SBE recommends districts comply in order to comply with recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights and their interpretation of federal law.

The SBE's best practices include:
  • Adopting and implementing policies protecting students from harassment, violence, and discrimination for any reason including based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identify, and / or gender expression.
  • Provide professional development opportunities on issues affecting LGBTQ students to district staff and board members.
  • Support formation of clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances or Gender and Sexuality Alliances in middle in and high schools.
  • Designate a building-level staff member who is conversant in issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The recommendations to comply with federal law include:
  • "Names and Pronouns. When requested by the parent/guardian and/or student, school staff should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity. . . ."
  • "Student Records. When requested, schools should engage in reasonable and good faith efforts to change current unofficial student records (e.g., class and team rosters, yearbooks, school newspapers, and newsletters) with the chosen name and appropriate gender markers to promote consistency . . ."
  • Privacy and Confidentiality Regarding Disclosures
  • Gender-Segregated Activities and Facilities.  The gist of this recommendation is that students should be able to use the facilities and participate in the activities consistent with their identity.
    • Further, any student should be given access to single-user restrooms if they have a desire for increased privacy.  Also, any student who has a desire for increased privacy regarding locker rooms and changing facilities should be able to request options such as 1) adjusted schedule, 2) use of a private area in the facility, 3) use of a private area nearby the facility.
    • Students should be able to participate in the interscholastic sport in accordance with their gender identity.  However, participation in interscholastic events is ultimately likely to be governed by the MHSAA.

"Read or Flunk" is law

Lawmakers have been pursuing a third-grade reading retention bill, also called "read or flunk" by some, for years.  It has finally become law.

Governor Snyder signed the legislation Oct. 6.  The new law will require schools to hold back third graders who are more than a year behind in reading.  The law does contain exceptions:
Not all third-graders who are behind would be held back, though. The new law allows parents to request an exemption to allow their child to move on to the fourth grade.
And there would be exemptions for a student who is new to a school and hasn't yet had time to catch up. [Detroit Free Press, Oct. 6, 2016.]
Snyder tried to downplay the centerpiece of the reading retention bill--the retention:
"Many people will view this as a third-grade issue or a promotion issue," Snyder said after the ceremony. "It's much broader than that. This needs to be about pre-K through 3 reading, and it needs to be about all the positive tools ... to help these young people be successful." [, Oct. 6, 2016.]

Children will have three methods of demonstrating their proficiency in order to move on to fourth grade: "Through Michigan's state standardized test, an alternative assessment, or multiple work samples that show competency on all third-grade English language art standards." 

We have written about this bill repeatedly:
It's terrible policy, and terrible law.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Read or Flunk" is back

In 2013 we wrote quite a lot about a package of bills which proponents called "third grade reading retention" bills and critics called "read or flunk."  The gist of the legislation is that third graders would have to pass a standardized reading test or they would be held back.  The bills fizzled in 2013 but are back and rolling through the legislature.

To catch you up, here are our previous stories:

The bill, now HB 4822, has only two exceptions: "special education students who aren't able to take the state exam, a special education student who has already received intensive intervention in reading but is still struggling, and a student who has had less than three years of instruction in a program for students who have limited English speaking skills.", October 15, 2015. All others are subject to the mandate that they pass a standardized test or repeat third grade.  Michigan has moved on to a new standardized test, the M-STEP, so it's unclear how many children would be impacted.  However, under any existing test a great number would be impacted:
During the 2013-14 school year, 30% of the fourth-graders who took the now-defunct MEAP exam failed it. The fourth-grade exam tests third-grade material. Meanwhile, on a more rigorous national exam — the National Assessment of Educational Progress — nearly 70% of Michigan's fourth-graders were not proficient. [Id.]
HB 4822 passed the House in a mostly party-line vote, 57-48.  Among the most stunning no votes was original co-sponsor Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor.  Rep. Zemke asked his name be removed from the bill:
"This bill, without that amendment, then tells Johnny none of that (work) matters," Zemke said. "We're going to hold you back regardless. I am not going to remove the hope of a 9-year-old, period." [, October 15, 2015.]
We contacted Deputy Superintend Trelstad to see if her opinion of HB 4822 differs from her opinion of previous bills.  She said her opinion is the same and encouraged us to refer folks to the excellent Q and A she did in 2013.  
Q: There is some intuitive appeal to tying promotion from 3rd grade to an objective benchmark like a score on a standardized reading test.  Do you see problems with this approach?
A: Those of us who work with children on a daily basis know the limitations of utilizing one assessment measure to determine the full picture of a student’s academic skills.  Given the complexity of reading and the multiple skills that are involved in becoming a fluent reader, it is critical that we use multiple measures to assess a student’s on-going growth and development.
. . .
Q: If HB [4822] becomes law, what positives/negatives will OPS students experience?
A: The biggest negative is that teachers and parents will be forced to retain students who might be negatively affected in the long-term by such a decision.  There are no positives that I can see.
. . .
Q: Do you think there is one policy regarding retention that makes sense for all Michigan schools (big, medium, small; rural, suburban, urban)?
A: This “one size fits all” policy, dictated by Michigan law would be inappropriate and ineffective for grade retention.  As mentioned previously, the responsibility for making decisions about grade retention should held by the parents and educators of the individual students being considered.
Q: If the Legislature asked you what it could do to help kids read satisfactorily by the end of third grade, what would you say?
A: The legislature might consider providing more funding for the things that can truly make differences…instructional coaches, staff to deliver interventions, software to track and analyze student achievement data, intervention materials, and summer programming.  They could set the expectation that each district establish a multi-tiered system of support for all students and provide adequate funding to accomplish it. [Okemos Parents for Schools, November 16, 2013.]
Okemos Parents for Schools opposes HB 4822.  We encourage you to reread the entire Q and A with Deputy Superintendent Trelstad.  We will try to alert you if HB 4822 moves in the Senate. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Guns in schools

A recent push to change gun laws in Michigan is being presented as a compromise, but has also been characterized as a manufactured crisis meant to leverage a pro-gun position.

The current state of the law in Michigan is that holders of a concealed carry license may carry hidden firearms in most places, but are prohibited from doing so in some gun free zones including schools.  However, those same license holders may openly carry firearms in schools.  MLive, Oct. 13, 2015.  Those without a license are prohibited from carrying in schools whether openly or concealed.  

This ability of concealed carry license holders to openly carry firearms into schools has created controversy in districts including Ann Arbor and Clio.  In both instances, people tried to carry firearms openly onto school grounds citing state law.  Both districts tried to denied entry, and both wound up in court.  In the Ann Arbor case, a Circuit Court upheld the school's ban while in the Clio case a different Circuit Court said the school's ban conflicted with state law., Sept. 23, 2015; MLive, Aug. 10, 2015. The matter is likely headed to the Michigan Court of Appeals which dealt with a similar matter in 2012.

In 2010 and 2011, gun rights activists staged events where they openly carried weapons into Capitol Area District Libraries.  Michigan Open Carry.  CADL's policy prohibited the firearms, but Michigan Open Carry pressed the matter in court.  A Circuit Court threw out MOC's case, but the Court of Appeals reversed in a 2 to 1 decision.  Capital Area Dist. Library v Michigan Open Carry, Inc., 298 Mich App 220 (2012).  The Court of Appeals reasoned that MCL 123.1102, which prohibits local units of government from restricting the use and possession of firearms, applied to CADL.  The controlling question for Ann Arbor and Clio may be whether they are "local units of government" under the statute.  

However, proposed legislation might render that debate moot.  "Senate Bills 442 and 561 would essentially swap those existing rules, prohibiting open carry but allowing permit holders to seek an exemption to carry concealed weapons in schools, college dorms, sports stadiums and other regulated venues."  MLive, Oct. 13, 2015.

Proponents of the legislation offer it as a compromise:  
"We're actually trying to do (schools) a favor," sponsoring Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, said after the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his bill in a 4-1 vote that fell along party lines.
"We, as gun owners, have every right in the world to carry in gun-free zones, most of them, and so are we going to give that up? We're taking a step back and saying we'll cover them up if you guys are willing to do it, and they don't even want that." [Id.]
Opponents of the legislation criticize it as a manufactured crisis meant to force the issue.  

Okemos Parents for Schools is not currently taking any position on these bills. While they undoubtedly impact schools, the arguments for and against these bills are likely to be the same arguments for and against any legislation involving guns.  While these do impact schools, the policies behind them are not really about education.  As always, this position is subject to input from members of Okemos Parents for Schools, which is defined very broadly.  Please let us know if you have questions or comments. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

M-STEP and opting out

Michigan has a new standardized test this year--the M-STEP.  There is a lot to be said about standardized testing and the high-stakes associated with it.  We hope to talk to you more about that in the future.  For now, since M-STEP testing is nearly upon us in Okemos, we thought we would share the option of opting out.

Your children are not required to take the M-STEP test if you opt them out of it.  In theory, the federal No Child Left Behind Law threatens consequences for schools where less than 95 percent of kids take a standardized test.  However, changes to the law have essentially made that requirement irrelevant., Sept. 15, 2014.

Across the country, parents are increasingly opting their kids out of the test in numbers far greater than five percent.  In New York, last year more than 60,000 kids opted out of the test, and that number is expected to grow this year. The Buffalo News, April 14, 2015.  In West Seneca near Buffalo, 2,074 of 2,976 eligible students refused testing.  Id.  In another district, 1,534 of 2,740 eligible students opted out., April 11, 2015.  Here in Michigan, some parents are opting out in Grand Ledge., April 14, 2015.  Further, some parents are opting out here in Okemos.  In particular, Michigan State University Professor Mitchell Robinson, who has written on this blog before, and his wife opted their children out.  He wrote on his blog about the ease of opting out and the painless response from the district:

Having read and heard about much more hostile responses from schools around the country to similar requests, we were both relieved and encouraged by our school's reply. Not only was our request for our child to opt out greeted with respect, but provisions for our son's attendance on those days when the test was scheduled were provided without argument or hassle. The approach was understanding, positive and student-centered--everything we have come to expect from our school district.
I also believe that this response is an indication of a tipping point of sorts when it comes to the issue of opting out and school testing. More and more, teachers and administrators are understanding the negative impact of these tests on students, teachers and schools, and are joining the fight with parents and other groups advocating for a reduction in the number and uses of these tests. [, March 25, 2015.]

It's worth noting that the M-STEP is considerably different from the MEAP you took as a child.  The test is taken on computers, and the questions are of a very different format and content.  You can see sample questions here: Michigan Department of Education.

If you choose to opt out, you should be able to accomplish it with a phone call or letter to your school.  Sample letters can be found  at United Opt Out Michigan.

Mitchell Robinson - Pull the plug on standardized testing.

By Mitchell Robinson

As a parent, I sit down and talk to my children's teachers at least twice per year at parent-teacher conferences about their work in school, and receive regular updates about their academic, social and musical development.
Mitchell Robinson

I check their homework, help them with projects and talk to them about their studies every day.

I can check their grades online any time of the day or night.

I attend their soccer games, band concerts, piano recitals, and school events, so that I know not just what they are doing, but have the chance to meet their friends and their friends' parents--many of whom have become good friends.

As a teacher, I engage in continuous formative assessment, tracking my students' progress as learners, and using the information gathered to improve my practice as a teacher.

I provide formal and informal updates on my students' development, and offer mentoring and guidance whenever asked--and often when not asked.

I know my students as persons--their strengths and challenges, their goals, their aspirations--and am fully committed to helping them achieve their dreams.

Why would I need standardized tests to tell me anything about my children, or my students when I already know so much about them?

The only purpose for these tests is to evaluate teachers and schools--even though we know that these tests are neither valid or reliable for those specific purposes--and to make millions of dollars in profits for the corporations that develop them.

Stop the madness. Let kids learn. Let teachers teach.

Pull the plug on standardized testing.

Mitchell Robinson is associate professor and chair of music education at Michigan State University. Prior to his current position, Dr. Robinson taught music for 10 years in the Fulton (NY) City School District, and held collegiate appointments at the University of Connecticut and the Eastman School of Music. Dr. Robinson recently concluded a term as Academic Editor of the Music Educators Journal, and has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Music Teacher Education, Arts Education Policy Review, the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, the International Journal of Education and the Arts, and Research Issues in Music Education. His research is focused on education policy and the mentoring and induction of new music teachers.