Area Public School Officials Speak Out Against Charters, Test Standards
The state Board of Education is raising standards while the Legislature approves more charter schools.
Farmington Public Schools and West Bloomfield School District administrators are bracing for the passage of a package of bills that would strip local control from public schools, erase school district borders and allow parents and teachers to vote to force a conversion of their failing school into a charter school.
At the same time, the state Senate Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday to allow an unlimited number of charter schools to open.
“It’s unfortunate that they’re looking at increasing the charters,” FPS school board member Karen Bolsen said at a Sept. 13 board meeting, adding that she feels charter schools do not have to operate under the same constraints as other public schools.
WBSD Superintendent JoAnn Andrees echoed the sentiment against the increased cap on charter schools. "Can we compete? Surely, I do believe we can compete very well with charters, but uncapping that and allowing anyone to open schools without having that same criteria for assessing that you have in all states schools is not right and not fair," she said Monday.
Bolsen said charters “can be successful in some areas,” such as in some urban areas or areas with underperforming schools, but she added that she worries about pulling more resources away from public schools.
“Instead of supporting public education, which has been the strength of our nation, they’re looking at dismantling it,” Bolsen said.
The Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday that voting was split down party lines for the bill supporting charter schools. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Seven bills up for consideration by the Legislature — Senate bills 618-624 — aim to increase the number of charter schools; allow for the privatization of public school teacher positions; and require public school districts to accept students from any other district in the state.
Lawmakers also have fast-tracked a House bill that would prohibit the deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks.
Senate Bill 624 would require schools to accept applications from students in any Michigan district — an extension of Schools of Choice provisions that allow students to enroll in contiguous intermediate school districts.
While Michele Harmala, FPS assistant superintendent for student support services, said SB 624 is “almost a moot point because capacity is defined by the local school district,” the district opposes such mandates. “Farmington Public Schools has had schools of choice for years,” she said.
Andrees went a step further, saying the bill might be a smoke screen to allow for the passage of the charter schools bill.
"I think the one of choice that’s out there is probably a smoke screen," she said. "I think the issue is charters, and that makes me uncomfortable. In any district, capacity is capacity, and we already have a choice process in place."
Test standards also a concern
Officials are also concerned over a Sept. 13 Michigan Board of Education vote to raise the bar for "passing" Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) exams.
Under the old standard, students are considered proficient in seventh-grade social studies MEAP, for example, if they answered 52 percent of the questions correctly. The new standard requires 70 percent correct to be proficient. Likewise, the old requirement for 11th-grade social studies was 39; the new standard is 63.
WBSD Assistant Superintendent Robert Martin offered the explanation that the effort is being made as a response to pressure from the federal government's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment. Martin said NAEP shows that scores from the state as a whole are too low for the government's liking, whereas WBSD consistently scored above the state average.
"The remedy is in (the federal government's) mind to raise the cut scores about 40 percent across the board in one fell swoop, so our state scores will reflect more closely with the federal scores," Martin said.
Catherine Cost, FPS assistant superintendent, said the district is coming up with a plan to help students meet the new requirements.
“What I worry about is the students on an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or the ELL (English Language Learner) students,” she said. “Those students struggle now to meet the requirements, and I don’t know how the state is going to treat them.”
Andrees said a truer measure of the district's success for now would be in ACT scores. "Our ACT scores remain steady," she said. "Our curriculum is our curriculum, and we like it."
— Carol Lundberg contributed to this report.