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 Article of Interest - NCLBA

Group wants to cut list of failing schools by changing standards

by Judy Putnam, Booth Newspapers, July 31, 2002


Michigan has 1,513 schools that are targeted by a new federal program to start paying to transport students this fall to schools with better test scores. A plan by a Michigan coalition of education groups would cut that number in half.


The groups say the new program is unfair because Michigan's standards are higher than other states'.

"Clearly, it's unfair to suggest that Michigan has 1,500 failing schools while Arkansas has zero,'' said Ray Telman, executive director of the Middle Cities Education Association, representing mid-sized urban school districts.


The 1,513 represent one-half of Michigan's 3,000 elementary and middle school students and three-fourths of the 2,000 Michigan schools receiving Title 1 money to serve disadvantaged students. Michigan already has a school-of-choice law. But under the new law, districts must pay for transportation if schools haven't improved adequately for two years.


If they've failed to improve over three years, they must also offer to pay for private tutoring and after-school services.


Michigan educators are crying foul, saying the earlier standards were set at a high level to drive improvement and now are being used to punish schools. Schools winning the state's Golden Apple and Blue Ribbon awards for excellence are among the 1,500 targeted.


Michigan now requires 75 percent of students to score at a proficient level in math, reading, writing and science, or close the gap by 10 percent each year between the highest- and lowest-achieving groups of students.


The national standards focus only on math and reading, and on schools with the lowest-scoring students.

Telman's group, six major educational associations and unions, and a Department of Education committee recommend that the state follow the national standard.


"We're perfectly comfortable with keeping our old standards, but when we're looking at ourselves against our national counterparts, it's only fair we use the same standards,'' said Charles Anderson, executive director of the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.


Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins agrees.


"Michigan stretches to do what's right with our children, but we're not going to shoot ourselves in the foot,'' he said.


Watkins said he would present the plan to the State Board of Education Aug. 8, but it's unclear if the board is required to vote on it.


It's a touchy issue. Educators say they aren't lowering standards by falling in line with national guidelines, but others disagree.


"It seems to me we ought to be looking at increasing that number rather than lowering it. The focus is going in the absolutely wrong direction,'' said Greg McNeilly, executive director of Choices for Children, a conservative Grand Rapids-based educational group.


Meanwhile, parents will have to wait to find out if their children's schools are offering transportation and other services. A federal Web site tells parents to contact local principals or state departments of education about the services, and states are supposed to provide an approved list of providers.

Watkins said Michigan is trying to comply, but the U.S. Department of Education has been slow in giving guidelines. "It's like trying to land an airplane before the airport is built,'' Watkins said.


Contact Judy Putnam at (517) 487-8888 or e-mail her at


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