A-F education bill makes the grade in Senate

Gov. Rick Snyder at his year-end press conference, Dec. 11, 2018 | Ken Coleman
Updated, 2:30 p.m. Dec. 19

The GOP-led Michigan Senate this evening in a 21-17 vote passed House Bill 5526, a measure that would require state government to give each public school A-F letter grades in areas related to student performance.

The vote on the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.), came after Gov. Rick Snyder made a trip to the Capitol tonight to meet with lawmakers about supporting the bill.

Sheila Alles

However, Michigan Department of Education interim Superintendent Sheila Alles sounded off in opposition in a letter to the Senate. She wrote that the legislation “undermines two years of investment and stakeholder input” and could violate federal law.

“HB 5525 (H-3) would be disruptive to local school districts and create confusion for families, students and parents across Michigan,” Alles concluded.

The bill passed the House last week after jettisoning a new education oversight commission that would have curbed Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s power.

Under the plan supported by charter school groups, schools would be graded in five separate areas: English and math proficiency on a state test, growth in English and math scores, growth among English language learners, high school graduation rates and academic performance compared to similar schools.

“Michigan has made a good step forward to increase transparency for parents,” said Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based education reform group. “I encourage parents, educators, the business community and education leaders to continue working together to help all Michigan students succeed. We commend Representative Tim Kelly for his leadership on this critical issue.”

Last week, Kelly said “the left” was ginning up controversy about his bill.

Tim Kelly

“Aside from the hyperbole and hysteria on the left, I think that this is a good thing for Michigan,” Kelly said. “I think it’ll help not only parents, but it will also help schools identify their weaknesses and try and focus on bringing those areas of weakness up.”

However, Dr. George Heitsch, Tri-County Alliance for Public Education president and superintendent of Farmington Schools, called the legislation “misguided.”

“This is yet another instance in which legislators have ignored the needs of our schools and our students to instead push forward with a plan that will only make it harder for schools to succeed,” said Dr. Russell Pickell, superintendent of Riverview Schools and TCA’s immediate past president. “This legislation will result in schools being arbitrarily assigned grades that don’t take into account their own unique circumstances & stigmatize them without offering any recourse for them to actually improve.”

The state’s leading teachers’ unions, American Federation of Teachers and the Michigan Education Association, both opposed the legislation.

Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) general superintendent, told the Advance that HB 5526 was developed without consulting teachers or administrators.

“You’re disrespected and you’re disregarded,” he said Monday. “That’s just part of the K-12 Detroit experience.”

The original version of Kelly’s bill created a new commission that wasn’t accountable to the next governor, the state Department of Education or the state Board of Education.  

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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