Tag Archives: michigan

Choice is Coming – But for Pre-K, It’s Already Here

Betsy DeVos is top-of-mind right now, particularly after her tense confirmation hearing on Tuesday night. Front and center in most of these conversations is DeVos’ strong support for school choice. What’s getting little attention, however, is what DeVos could accomplish on early childhood issues.3969866244_b02e13b9fb_o

We don’t know much about DeVos’ views on early education, but I’m personally hopeful that she takes a lesson from her home state: Michigan has a strong state-funded pre-k program that utilizes “diverse delivery.” “Diverse delivery” is another way of saying “school choice for early childhood.” In this system, parents of young children pick from a range of early childhood providers — including for-profit centers, churches, nonprofit community-based organizations, and school districts — based on whatever factors they deem most important. And in Michigan, unlike many other states, charter schools are included in the pre-k program. That model is something DeVos should bring to the national stage.

Michigan’s state-funded preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), is a good example of diverse delivery in action. Funding for the program goes to intermediate school districts (ISDs); ISDs then contract with a variety of providers, all of which must meet a state-determined standard of quality, to actually serve preschool children. GSRP is targeted to families that make less than 250% of the federal poverty level, so if children are eligible to participate, their parents can send them to any GSRP center that has space for them.

And research suggests that Michigan’s program is effective. A 2005 study of five states, including Michigan, showed that children who participated in state-funded preschool had better vocabulary, early math skills, and understanding of print concepts than children who did not attend. GSRP is also growing. Between 2013 and 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder upped the investment in GSRP by $130 million. The program currently serves 32 percent of four-year-olds in the state, more than 35 other states.

And many of those children are served in charter school pre-k programs. Michigan is one of the more hospitable states for charter schools to serve preschoolers. In fact, Michigan has 76 charter schools that serve preschoolers, which is the fourth highest in the country behind California, Florida, and Texas.

This type of charter school/pre-k synergy is rare even though most states already have pre-k systems that incorporate a range of public providers. Diverse delivery may be old news in the early childhood world, but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to certain providers — specifically charter schools. States that have offered pre-k choice for decades struggle with how to best incorporate charter schools as an early childhood option for parents.

Even so, early childhood is already more supportive of choice in ways that are controversial in K-12 — as evidenced by Tuesday’s hearing . In a column for U.S. News earlier this month, Andy Rotherham astutely noted that with Betsy DeVos at the helm of the country’s education agenda, “More choice is coming to education — it’s a question of when and how rather than if.” DeVos should take a cue from Michigan and start by expanding choice in early childhood.

To read our other coverage of Betsy DeVos, click here.

Questions for Betsy DeVos Inspired by Education Outcomes in Michigan

Tonight is Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of Education. Because DeVos doesn’t have a track record as a government official or leader within the public school or higher education system, as most of her predecessors do, analysts are looking at her role as a funder, GOP donor, and board member of education organizations to understand what she might do as Secretary. This scrutiny has drawn particular attention to DeVos’ engagement in education advocacy and political causes in Michigan, where her donations and advocacy have touched many major education policy decisions over the past 20 years.

In many ways, the education system in Michigan is a microcosm of the challenges and opportunities facing the broader U.S. education system — and the next Secretary of Education. In both Michigan and the U.S. as a whole, there are large, persistent achievement gaps for disadvantaged student groups; rural, suburban, and urban schools with unique (sometimes competing) needs; and a long history of hotly debated education reforms that have had mixed success. To help analysts, journalists, policymakers, and practitioners make sense of the education landscape in the Wolverine State — and what it suggests about the perspective and positions DeVos would bring to the role of Secretary — Bellwether has compiled a comprehensive fact base about the education policy landscape in Michigan that we will release next week after the Inauguration.

In the meantime, here are a few Michigan fast-facts to know as you watch tonight’s hearing:

Demographics of Michigan K-12 students by race/ethnicity, family income. Source: MISchoolData.org

Demographics of Michigan K-12 students by race/ethnicity and family income. Source: MISchoolData.org

  • There are over 1.5 million students in Michigan and nearly half of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunch; more than 33 percent are students of color.
  • Michigan ranks 41st in 4th grade reading performance in the U.S. and 42nd in 4th grade math.
  • 35 percent of Michigan 11th grade students are college-ready according to the SAT; there are substantial gaps in college-readiness rates among black, Hispanic, English language learner, and low-income students.
  • Michigan has one of the nation’s largest charter sectors, with 10 percent of students enrolled in charter schools, about 300 charter schools, and over 40 charter authorizers.
  • Over 70 percent of Michigan charter schools are operated by for-profit education service providers.
  • Detroit is the lowest performing urban school district in the country.
  • Detroit charter schools generally outperform Detroit Public Schools, but there are still concerns about the overall quality of the sector.

Given the above facts, here are a few questions we’d like DeVos to answer at tonight’s confirmation hearing:

  • What should be the role of the federal government in addressing longstanding achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color, like those that exist in Michigan?
  • As you know, Detroit students have struggled academically and gone through numerous failed reform efforts over several decades. Given your work in Detroit, what turnaround strategies would the Department of Education encourage for chronically low-performing school districts?
  • What did you learn from advocating for expanded school choice measures in Michigan and how might you enact those measures at the federal level as Secretary of Education?
  • The presence of multiple charter school authorizers in Michigan has decentralized charter responsibility in the state. What quality-control and accountability measures are necessary for charter school authorizers? What should be the federal role in setting that bar?
  • What has your experience and observation of school choice and school turnaround efforts in Michigan taught you about potential strategies for improving low-performing schools? How would those lessons be applied to this spring’s review of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans?

Betsy DeVos’ hearing begins at 5pm and can be watched here. Check back here tomorrow for a recap of major events (and anything about Michigan education that needs a fact check).

To read our other coverage of Betsy DeVos, click here.

Detroit Schools Bill Passes, Misses Huge Opportunity

Deflated balloon

Image via Pando.com

The Michigan legislature passed a bill last night that provides $617 million in debt relief and restructuring for Detroit Public Schools; calls for the creation of an A-F school grading system; prevents “authorizer shopping;” allows DPS to hire non-certified teachers; and includes penalties for teachers who engage in sickouts. Here’s a good Washington Post overview and two Detroit News write-up’s. The bill summary is here.

Notably, the Detroit Education Commission (see below), was not included in the bill. Instead of being a big step forward for Detroit, it’s a huge missed opportunity.

Here are my quick reactions:

  • Without the DEC to bring order to Detroit’s chaotic education landscape, the current bill falls WAY short of what’s necessary to improve options for all of the city’s families. While imperfect, the DEC was a good first step in modernizing Detroit’s education governance model. Detroit could have joined the ranks of DC, Denver, and New Orleans as cities taking proactive steps to manage their dynamic city-wide systems of schools. Instead, the idea of the DEC has been reduced to a toothless advisory council that produces one report per year on facilities, siting, and transportation. It’ll be part of the new DPS.
  • Read between the lines and you’ll see the empowerment of the State School Reform/Redesign Office (SRO), which was created when Michigan competed for Race to the Top funds but lay dormant while the precarious Education Achievement Authority (EAA) ran under-performing schools instead. The SRO will lead the A-F grading system and intervene when DPS  and authorizers fail to act on chronically under-performing schools. This is important because it signals a shift in power from the state board of education, the state superintendent, and the EAA to an office under the direct control of the governor — a good thing when difficult decisions have to be made quickly.
  • The politics behind the passage of this bill are ugly. I’m not on the ground in Michigan and I’m more interested in policy design and implementation, so I’m not going to get too far into it. But it seems like the bill — which had widespread bipartisan support, including Michigan’s republican governor, Detroit’s democratic mayor, and the Detroit Caucus — should have trumped the one bankrolled by two far-right special interest groups that put ideology over compromise and pragmatism.
  • Governor Snyder helped get the current bill passed by showing lawmakers how much a DPS bankruptcy would cost the state (and their home districts) should legislation fall apart, but one has to wonder why he didn’t take a more commanding posture to get his version of the bill passed by members of his own party.
  • Standing up an A-F grading system for Detroit schools and eventually the entire state is a good thing if designed well.
  • Preventing authorizing shopping is good, but the provision was used as a low-stakes bargaining chip for the far-right charter lobby. It could have been part of a more comprehensive charter law improvement bill that’s been discussed, but deprioritized in favor of this one.
  • The provisions around hiring non-certified teachers and penalizing teachers engaging in sickouts just seems like a stick-in-the-eye for Detroit democrats. Nothing more.

So what’s next? The difficult work of getting an accountability infrastructure in place and setting up a new district in Detroit will begin immediately. And I wouldn’t put it past Mayor Mike Duggan to keep pushing for the DEC or something like it when the timing is right. In the meantime, Detroit’s leaders should be thinking about what they can do on their own to rein in their charter sector’s authorizer environment and make sure the new DPS doesn’t look like the old DPS.

Follow me on Twitter @jasonweeby

The Definitive Ranking of 2016 Candidates… by Charter Performance

Note: Several candidates are missing from this chart. The states represented by Rand Paul (KY) and Bernie Sanders (VT) do not currently have charter laws. The states represented by Martin O’Malley (MD), Lindsey Graham (SC), Jim Gilmore (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Scott Walker (WI) were not included in the 2013 CREDO study.

Charter schools are growing. The number of charter students has grown from 1.2 million to 2.9 million in less than a decade. Within two decades, a third of public education’s students – or more – could be educated in charter schools. That’s why the next president’s perspective and record on charters matters.  But what can we tell about the candidates based on how their states do with charter schooling?

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