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MASB Responds to SRO’s Bottom 5% List Update

Aaron Keel

By Aaron Keel, MASB Assistant Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, Jan. 25, 2017

Last Friday, the state School Reform Office issued the most recent bottom 5% list while, at the same time, releasing 79 schools from the Priority School List. According to the state, this is the first time more schools were released from the list than added. In publishing the new list, however, the SRO has also identified 38 schools that now move to the "next level of accountability," which could include closure. Twenty-four of those schools are in Detroit, either the public school district or the Education Achievement Authority.

The SRO stated the 38 schools identified are at risk for closure because they've been on the bottom 5% list for at least the past three years. Additionally, the SRO has acknowledged that school closure could cause undue hardship, particularly if there are no other educational opportunities available to the students, and therefore, may not be possible. If it is not possible to place the students in a different building, the SRO would look into another turnaround option for the school, such as naming a CEO, changing the redesign plan or placing it into the State School Reform District. Over the next few weeks, the SRO will be examining the schools on the list and reaching out to those districts for further conversations. More information on possible closures is expected to be announced Feb. 28, 2017.

Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), recently introduced Senate Bill 27, which would repeal Section 1280c of the Revised School Code—the section of law that established the School Reform Office, noting that the current system that ranks schools is subjective and flawed. While this legislation does not replace the SRO with any new provisions, Sen. Pavlov has indicated a willingness to talk with the Michigan Department of Education and other stakeholders, including MASB, on how best to assist low-performing schools. Unfortunately, the SRO has sent a letter to parents of pupils in the at-risk schools informing them their building could be closed causing further disruption.

In our eyes, it is unclear at this point if the SRO has the data required to legally make these types of decisions as the state assessments that were used to create this list has changed every year for the past three years. This means there is no consistent data to use to determine what action, if any, could be taken against struggling schools. Basic research standards dictate that multiple years of consistent data be collected for a reliable accountability system.

We are asking the state of Michigan to remain committed to quality processes for the assessment of school districts, especially with its testing processes. It is difficult for schools to adjust to ever-changing testing schedules, software switches and content differences when assessing school districts.

Further, closing a neighborhood school will create hardship for students and their families. For instance, students would have to travel longer distances to get to school, making it more difficult to engage parents and for the students to participate in extracurricular activities.

It is also important to point out that poor-performing schools often have fewer financial resources than wealthier, higher-scoring districts and a greater number of at-risk, limited English-speaking and special education students. Naturally, schools with these demographics will always underperform when compared to their suburban, well-funded peers.

“It’s important to realize there are many nonacademic factors that impact a student’s performance—poverty, language barriers, learning disabilities and developmental disabilities, for example,” noted MASB Executive Director Don Wotruba. “Merely moving students to another school does not address these issues and could create more problems down the road by taking them out of their community. While we recognize underperforming schools have important work to do to improve, they need support and resources, not punishment from the state. Collaboration with other local districts, the ISDs or even the state would allow these districts to make the best choices on how to turnaround a school’s performance.”

MASB will continue to monitor these issues and provide updates as they are available. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Government Relations Team at masbgov@masb.org or 517.327.5900.

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