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MDE Offers Proposal for Bottom 5% Schools to Retain Local Control

Stacy Bogard

By Stacy Bogard, CAE, MASB Assistant Director of Communications, PR & Marketing

DashBoard, March 8, 2017

The Michigan Department of Education threw out a “lifeline” to the schools on the state’s potential closure list last Wednesday. In a letter to the affected districts, State Superintendent Brian Whiston provided an option to enter into a partnership model agreement with MDE to turnaround their chronically failing schools. This partnership would give the districts and MDE 18 months to show improvement in the affected schools.

In January, the SRO issued letters to 38 schools, including a message to parents with children in the district, that have chronically been in the bottom 5% in terms of academic performance that closure of the school at the end of this school year was a possibility. A determination of next steps was pending review as to if that action would cause unreasonable hardship on students and whether a top-performing school was within a reasonable (a.k.a., less than 30 miles) distance.

Over the last two months, other factors have come into play, including the introduction of legislation to change how the SRO operates and a request from Gov. Rick Snyder to delay any decisions on closure. Additional concerns were raised last week during a House Education Reform Committee meeting, particularly around how transportation would be handled for the affected students if their current school closed.

According to the Detroit Free Press, a 60-day window for developing a partnership agreement began March 1. If an agreement can't be reached, options such as closure could still be considered. The agreement would be specific to each school in terms of goals and benchmarks that need to be met during the 18 months. The affected districts are Benton Harbor, Bridgeport-Spaulding, Detroit/Education Achievement Authority, Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac, River Rouge and Saginaw.

MDE has been working on the partnership model as part of its compliance plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act. In addition to working with the department, the model recommends partnering with other entities, such as MASB/education associations, social services, mental health, the business community, community college/universities, etc. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, Venessa Keesler, MDE deputy superintendent, said the department believes working directly with districts, rather than schools individually, is the best option. Change must happen at the district level in order for it to impact schools, she said.

MASB Government Relations staff will continue to monitor how this proposal progresses. If you have any questions, they can be reached at masbgov@masb.org or 517.327.5900.

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