Week in Review: Yet another change to M-STEP as testing stakes mount

The city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a new partnership this week during an event at Gompers Elementary Middle School to provide free eye exams to 5,000 Detroit children and eyeglasses to kids who need them. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District).

Education officials are plowing ahead with plans to change the state’s standardized tests, despite concerns that Michigan’s exams have already seen too many changes in recent years.

"We've changed tests so many times in so many years that it seems difficult to me to support something that changes it again — even if it's an improvement."Kathleen Straus, member, Michigan Board of Education

The changes are being considered at a time of when students and their schools are facing unprecedented consequences for poor test scores. Third-graders will have to prove their reading skills to advance to the fourth grade, and schools could face closure if they can’t raise scores.

That makes changing the exams a risky proposition at a risky time. But advocates say a new kind of test could give teachers a better handle on what their students need to learn. Read on for more details, plus the rest of the week’s headlines.

M-STEP it up

State education officials say their proposal for overhauling the state’s testing system wouldn’t eliminate the M-STEP — just limit how many times students take it, to once in elementary school and once in middle school. “Think of it more as a modification,” one state official said.

Students in other years would be given a test at the beginning and at the end of the school year that would give teachers feedback they can use to drive instruction. Those tests would determine students’ ability to solve problems and think critically.

The state schools superintendent argued in an op-ed that the M-STEP has done its job of bringing Michigan out of the paper-and-pencil testing era, but says that the state now needs a new, “more useful, informative and flexible” exam.

Members of the state board of education, who will vote on the plan later this year or early next year, remain skeptical. Business groups have also launched a lobbying campaign calling for the M-STEP to continue for the sake of consistency and accountability.

But some education leaders say they support the changes. Among them: the head of an Upper Peninsula district who writes that while it’s “aggravating” to hear the state is again thinking of changing its testing program, tests that give teachers better information are a “better solution.”

In Detroit

  • The Detroit News spoke with legal experts about the prospect of the federal right-to-literacy lawsuit that was filed last month on behalf of Detroit students. One said the suit’s arguments are a “stretch” and another said the case “could be a landmark.”
  • A Virginia economics professor blasted the suit, saying Detroit students face so many impediments to educational success that poor schools can’t be explained by insufficient funding. “Here’s my prediction,” he wrote. “If the Michigan lawsuit is successful, it will line the pockets of Detroit’s teaching establishment and do absolutely nothing for black academic achievement.”
  • A columnist warns against choosing candidates based on name recognition, since some of the better-known contenders have dubious track records.
  • DPS enrollment is slightly down but stable. While that’s good news for the district, the teachers union warns that this could mean some overcrowded classes.
  • An eastside school is the first in the city to house a new $5 million community center that will provide services to students as well as the surrounding community.
  • A suburban school board treasurer knocked the proposed $480 million school tax on Wayne County’s ballot this fall as a “wealth transfer from western Wayne County, mostly to Detroit Public Schools.”
  • A former DPS emergency manager has a new job helping to “rescue” a Virginia city.
  • This Detroit kindergarten teacher says her school has a serious rat problem.

Across the state:

  • A federal audit found cozy relationships between charter schools and their management companies in Michigan and across the country that created conflicts of interest and opened the door to fraud and waste.
  • Gov. Snyder announced a “statewide listening tour” that will allow the public to meet with members of his 21st Century Education Commission.
  • A schools advocate says that holding teachers and principals accountable for poor performance doesn’t make much sense when the quality of the district offices is the main thing that affects student performance. “If we want to use accountability as a key lever to drive improvement in student outcomes, the system should be designed to primarily hold those who manage schools accountable,” he writes.
  • A western Michigan superintendent says the state’s tough new promotion requirements for third graders will only penalize kids. “The bill contains no substantial provisions for actually raising student reading levels by the end of the third grade, just whips and chains for students who have not yet progressed to this level,” he wrote.
  • School administrators have concerns about a bill that would expand the rights of student journalists in public high schools and universities.
  • A western Michigan school leader says a solution to the crisis undermining Michigan schools is allowing local communities to pay more for local schools. “If there’s a crisis worthy of dramatic response,” he wrote. “It’s more likely to come from parents of children in their neighborhood schools than it is from legislators and lobbyists.”

In other news:

  • A suburban high school student was arrested for threatening to shoot his classmates.
  • Twenty-nine Metro Detroit schools have been recognized as prepared to respond to cardiac emergencies.

More from Chalkbeat:

  • Leaders of a national teachers union “panicked” when they heard a former NYC school boss might join the Clinton campaign.
  • With a new website, Indianapolis inches toward a single application for charter and district schools.


Extra credit

The city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a new partnership this week during an event at Gompers Elementary Middle School to provide free eye exams to 5,000 Detroit children and eyeglasses to kids who need them. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District).
The city health department and the Vision To Learn nonprofit announced a new partnership this week during an event at Gompers Elementary Middle School to provide free eye exams to 5,000 Detroit children and eyeglasses to kids who need them. (Photo: Detroit Public Schools Community District).

Week In Review

Week in Review: Discount houses — and new faces at the top of Detroit schools

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The big news this morning is the announcement from Mayor Mike Duggan that Detroit teachers and school employees — district, charter and parochial — will now get 50% discounts on houses auctioned through Detroit’s Land Bank Authority. That could help draw more residents to the city — and possibly give school officials another perk they can use to attract teachers in their efforts to address severe teaching shortages.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future. It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.

— Mayor Mike Duggan

New schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti has said that hiring teachers is a priority. He’s also busily hiring a team of top advisors to help him run the Detroit schools. To do that, he’s drawing heavily from his Florida contacts. Of the 16 cabinet members he’s identified, five are people he worked with in Jacksonville or Miami. Want to learn more about them? We’ve assembled a gallery of who they are, what they’re doing and how much they’ll be paid.

Also this week, we featured the latest installment in our Story Booth series: An educator who says the inspiration she received from teachers in the Detroit Public Schools helped her guide one of her own students through a personal tragedy. If you know a student, parent or educator with a Detroit story to tell for a future Story Booth, please let us know.

In Detroit

  • Mayor Duggan is planning to announce details of the Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program at a press conference this morning.
  • The Floridians in Vitti’s cabinet are joined by veterans of the Detroit Public Schools and several officials who worked for the dissolved state-run recovery district. Among them are former teachers and principals, lawyers and a real estate developer.
  • This weekend’s March for Public Education — tomorrow in Clark Park — was organized by a local resident who couldn’t get time off work to attend the march in Washington.
  • Students who attended Southeastern High School last year won’t have to take a test to return in the fall — but new students will. The school will become the city’s fourth exam school. “I’m not going to suggest that in one year Southeastern is going to be Renaissance and Cass,” Vitti said, “but I think we can make it successful.”
  • A revived local restaurant association is working with Detroit schools to train students and grads for jobs in downtown and Midtown restaurants.
  • A Detroit schools advocate explains why the relationship between Detroit and the state is like that of a child and her abusive mother.
  • Detroit’s former “rebel lunch lady” now has plans to shake up school food in Houston.
  • Here’s how the work formerly done by the defunct Excellent Schools Detroit organization will be divvied up among other groups.
  • A convicted former Detroit principal has been given more time before she has to report to prison.

Across the state

  • Districts that sued the state to stop the forced closures of struggling schools are close to reaching a settlement. The state backed down on 38 proposed school closings but maintains the right to close persistently low-performing schools in the future.
  • Michigan is one of 23 states that did not meet all the federal requirements for educating its students with disabilities.
  • A fiscally conservative Michigan think tank has issued a helpful, comprehensive guide to how school funding works in Michigan.
  • These three early childhood centers demonstrate how schools can be community hubs. They offer medical and dental clinics and services such as job training for parents.
  • Michigan schools are changing their zero-tolerance discipline policies to comply with a new state law.
  • A state science and technology advisory council has chosen to invest in six STEM programs that have been proven effective for Michigan schools.

Teachers united

  • The state’s largest teachers union used a collection agency to force teachers to pay $241,000 in delinquent dues between 2013 and 2016.
  • A state teachers union leader says teachers getting summers off is a dated myth. Teachers “work second and even third jobs to support their families, while finding creative ways to prepare for the next school year,” he wrote.
  • A critic of teacher pension changes says the bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed last week will squeeze teachers and cost the state more money.


Week In Review

Week in review: Could Detroit’s main school district be entering unchartered territory?

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
New Detroit school superintendent Nikolai Vitti addresses reporters outside a teacher hiring fair on his first full day in the job.

Even as new superintendent Nikolai Vitti plows ahead with shaking up district leadership in his quest to improve the city’s 100-plus traditional schools, much of the focus this week has been on the future of the district’s charter schools.

The district has been overseeing charter schools for more than two decades. Now, Vitti says it potentially should get out of the charter school business to focus on traditional schools. That could lead to charter schools closing — like this one that the district quietly closed last month amid concerns about its poor financial footing.

Read on for more on these stories. And, if you have five minutes of your time to donate today, please give us some honest feedback. Help improve our journalism by taking Chalkbeat’s annual reader survey.

Chartering new territory

The shakeup

  • Vitti has overhauled the district’s executive leadership team, bringing in people he worked with in Florida, educators and leaders from the Detroit area, and former officials with the EAA.
  • Nearly all the people he’s hired have been teachers or principals — and he said at this week’s school board meeting, they’re “mission-driven.”
  • The changes have sent some longtime district administrators packing: Vitti has so far eliminated roughly 70 administrative positions. He also cut multiyear contracts and perks like car allowances from those who remain.
  • The district will run more efficiently now, he said. “I found that there were one and two positions within departments that were duplicated or responsibilities shared that could be streamlined,” he said, adding that the network structure that principals used to report to “led to communication and work product backlog.”

In Detroit

  • A year after Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that created the new Detroit Public Schools Community District, one former GOP leader writes why he thinks the “fresh start is working,” arguing that Detroit is “not the ‘wild west’ that defenders of the status quo say that it is.”
  • Plans to change the name of Southeastern High School hit a snag at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
  • District officials will try to renegotiate the controversial lease, signed by a state-appointed emergency manager on his last day on the job in December, that turned a west-side elementary school over to a nonprofit group. That negotiation isn’t likely to satisfy the biggest critics of the deal.
  • The district says this year’s graduates have collectively earned $170 million in college scholarships and grants.
  • Limited access to quality early childhood education has a high cost in Detroit.
  • A state health and safety agency has fined the district for unsafe water at one school.
  • A water main break closed one of the schools serving this week as a “summer fun center.”
  • One of the city’s Head Start providers has picked up a $12.5 million grant to serve 168 more west side children and their families.

From the capitol

  • The state’s top education official says conversations with the federal government have been “combative” since the state abandoned plans to assign letter grades to schools in favor of a “dashboard” that compiles data in a variety of categories. The state is preparing to begin discussions with the U.S. education department over how it complies with new federal education laws.
  • The Detroit News is unimpressed with Snyder’s school improvement efforts, saying they’ve “ended up being more about optics than the substantial changes Michigan families deserve.”
  • Snyder signed a controversial teacher pension overhaul into law. The plan will take effect next year.
  • An advocate says the state’s 56 intermediate school districts need to be more transparent about how they collectively spend $1.6 billion on special education and other services.
  • Another advocate makes the case for why schools should focus on a broad-based education — rather than career readiness.