Schools Face Tight Deadline
by Christine MacDonald, The Detroit News, March 5, 2004
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More than 100 of
Michigan’s chronically failing schools have six months to
outline a major overhaul that could include replacing entire
Educators and experts say the September deadline is too tight to
come up with a restructuring plan, one of the most severe
penalties schools face when consistently failing to meet federal
The next round of achievement results are due out late this
summer, and if the schools fail again, they will have to put the
plans into action before the new school year starts.
The state Department of Education is being blamed for the time
crunch because it released the latest progress reports in
January — about six months late. State officials agree there is
not enough time to come up with restructuring plans and say they
likely will ask the federal government for an extension.
If schools do not get it, parents at 70 Metro Detroit schools
next school year could see major changes, from new teachers to
“It’s unrealistic,” said Ken Siver, spokesman for the Southfield
school district, where MacArthur Elementary is headed toward
reorganization. “It will be too rushed. These things don’t
Compounding the problem, administrators are uncertain what
constitutes restructuring under the law. MacArthur has a new
principal as of last September, is working on a school
improvement plan and wants to create an advisory committee. But
it is unclear if that is enough to fulfill the federal
Generally, replacing the school’s principal would not be enough,
said Jo Ann Webb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of
Education. That move would have to be paired with significant
changes to the school’s operation and curriculum, she said.
State education officials plan to meet with superintendents this
month to outline their options.
Zaria Clinkscale, whose son Hakeem is a fifth-grader at
MacArthur, is all for making improvements. She would like to see
all-day kindergarten and outside tutoring. But she knows a major
overhaul would take time to plan.
“They may be starting something they didn’t think through
properly,” Clinkscale said.
Michigan is the first state to have so many schools go through
restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act and likely will
set a nationwide precedent, experts say.
The law requires schools that fail to meet the standards for
five straight years to develop a restructuring plan and outlines
a series of choices including reopening as a charter. If a
school fails for a sixth year, it has to implement its plan.
Only schools that receive federal money for low-income students
have to adhere to the penalties.
Though the law is 2 two years old, Michigan has schools that
have failed for five years because it and about a dozen other
states began tracking achievement when the federal government
first required it in 1997.
“There is so much that goes into (reconstruction),” said Jeremy
Hughes, the state’s chief academic officer. “I don’t think it
can be done between now and next fall.”
With 53 schools that need restructuring plans, Detroit is
significantly affected by the time crunch.
Board Chairman Bill Brooks said forcing the district to quickly
restructure those schools with no new money is “crazy” and puts
the improvements already made at risk. The district has
implemented a number of changes including a new reading program
and has focused attention on struggling schools.
“We’ve got people fired up and a plan in place,” Brooks said.
“To force you to do something you can’t do doesn’t make sense to
Lansing leaders need to demand that the federal government give
schools another year, said Susan Neuman, the former assistant
secretary for elementary and secondary education for U.S.
Department of Education.
“This is a very, very critical point in our history,” said
Neuman, now a professor of early childhood education at the
University of Michigan. “If we don’t do this well, we risk
Neuman was responsible for implementing the law until she left
the post in January 2003. She says parts of it are unworkable
and the federal government needs to be more flexible with its
requirements. Not everyone believes more time is the answer.
Highland Park’s Superintendent Theresa Saunders has been working
on ideas for an overhaul of two of her schools since she joined
the district last summer. She thinks districts should have been
planning for change all year.
“We need to get beyond the moaning and groaning and get on with
the work,” Saunders said.
In Redford, Hilbert Middle School already has undergone changes.
The school has a new principal and in September switched from a
junior high to a middle school.
It took a year to make the change, said Donna Rhodes, the
school’s executive director of curriculum and instruction.
Having only a few months to come up with a plan is unrealistic,
“You need a year to really investigate ... to get the buy-in of
staff and parents,” said Rhodes. Without that, “it could be a
Schools need time to make sure parents and others in the
community feel they are a part of the process, Neuman said. For
many urban parents, the school is one of the last places they
can turn to. If it goes through a major change, without their
input, they may feel betrayed, she said. “They will just give
up,” Neuman said.
Pamela Gallon of Pontiac wants to be a part of any overhaul of
Lincoln Middle School, which her sixth-grade son attends. She
said the school needs to improve. Her son, Richard, often comes
home without homework and is behind in his reading skills.
“It’s our children being affected by the change,” Gallon said.
“It would be terrible if (the change) is not good for children.”
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