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Posted at 03:03 PM ET, 11/25/2011

Michigan’s embarrassing school reform legislation

Michigan sometimes gets short shrift in school reform news, what with all of the publicity given this year to Wisconsin — where some Democratic legislators left the state to avoid a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to restrict collective bargaining rights of teachers — and to Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich just saw voters repeal his effort to curb collective bargaining for public sector workers.

But it shouldn’t. Michigan’s legislature this year has been considered a host of Republican-sponsored bills that public school advocates see as attacks on schools and teachers.

The most controversial are a bill that lifts the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and another that does the same for virtual schools. The legislation, includes very little, if any, quality controls on charters and virtual schools. In other words, just about anything goes.

Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post wrote in this story detailing Michigan Republican legislators’ reform efforts, that even big supporters of charters and virtual education are opposed to the legislation and that efforts to improve the bills have so far been unsuccessful.

She quoted Harrison Blackmond, who heads the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform efforts in Michigan, as saying: "Our organization and other organizations that we're working with are not against lifting the charter-school cap. The other side is trying to paint us that way. Our issue is: How do you go about doing this in such a way that it protects children?”

Meanwhile, there is no research showing the effectiveness of full-time virtual schools anywhere, and some critics are opposed to for-profit companies having a big role in public education. Most of the charters in Michigan are now operated by for-profit businesses.

Both bills, having passed the Senate, are now up for a vote in the House, where highly conservative Republican Rep. Tom McMillin now runs the education committee. He stepped in when voters earlier this month recalled panel chair Rep. Paul Scott, who had pushed through legislation that reformed teacher tenure earlier this year and won K-12 funding cuts. McMillin is expected to continue Scott’s agenda.

The tenure legislation, among other things, makes it easier to fire teachers and requires that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on student standardized test scores by 2016, an assessment method that experts say is not sophisticated enough for high-stakes use. It also ends using seniority as the basis of staffing decisions.

But that’s not all. Michigan’s legislators are also considering bills that would strip local districts of their local control and further erode collective bargaining. They include one that allows private and home-schooled students to take elective courses in any private, charter or public school in their district — a move that critics say is nothing more than a voucher scheme. The bill that would have required that school districts admit out-of-district students — which is now voluntary — has stalled in committee.

There are other bills, some less controversial than others. But all in all, Michigan is right up there in the category of really bad school reform legislation.

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By  |  03:03 PM ET, 11/25/2011

 
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