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It's lame duck, and that means mischief!

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It's lame duck, and that means mischief!

Haven't we been here before?

As my "gap year" comes to a close, so does the current legislative session. Mischief is most likely to occur during the "lame duck" session, after elections but before the legislature adjourns and all bills not yet passed are void. I'd hoped this one would be quiet on the education front, but that was not to be.

  • Innovation strikes again: HB 6314 & HB 6315 go to the Senate
  • Letter grades for schools still fail: HB 5526 lurks in the House

Everybody loves "innovation"

I love innovation in education, don't you? What do I mean, you ask? Honestly, no idea. "Innovation" is one of those words that stands in for our hopes and ambitions but means something different to each person. Strangely, among self-styled education reformers, it seems to have become code for using technology to replace teachers. Financial savings, "student-centered" instruction, and profits for vendors - it kills three birds with one stone!

But that's not what a quality education means to me, nor, I suspect, to most Michigan parents. Humans teach humans; technology is simply a tool. Can you pre-program software to encourage children to ask interesting questions and come up with new ideas? Or do you just expect them to regurgitate memorized "facts"?

What about "competency," some may ask. Well, what about it? What does it mean? Does it mean knowing the right answer, or being able to ask the right question? Does it mean preparing for the jobs of today, or having the skills and habits of mind needed for the jobs and communities of tomorrow? Are we training workers or nurturing citizens?

Well, Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.), the term-limited chair of the House Education "Reform" committee, knows the answer: education means absorbing facts, delivered and assessed by machines. His two bills (HB 6314 & HB 6315) would help make this a reality, by allowing any public school or district to become "innovative" by offering machine-taught bits o' education that you can consume anywhere there's a screen.

Even better, these districts would be overseen by a new, unelected, Education Accountability Policy Commission, appointed by politicos and not answerable to anyone in particular. What could go wrong? (For more, see this article by Bridge Magazine that makes disturbing reading.)

If you agree this is a fundamentally flawed proposal that special interests are hoping will get rammed through in lame duck, join us in opposing these bills!

A-F school grading - an idea that doesn't get better with time

Rep. Kelly is also pushing for passage of his bill requiring A-F letter grading of schools, which has been languishing since last winter. HB5526 is still awaiting action on the House floor, and as far as we are concerned, that's where it should stay.

MIPFS and many other stakeholders participated in the MI Dept of Education's process to build a school accountability system which met Federal requirements and might actually inform parents and citizens. The end result was the "parent dashboard," an imperfect but still valuable effort to put information in the hands of the people so they could improve their schools.

Rep. Kelly and his allies think that's too complicated for regular folks, so he wants to create a system that "grades" schools mostly by test scores. Supporters call letter grades intuitive. Honestly, most of us take more details into account when we buy a toaster. Should we settle for someone's pre-digested "grade" to tell us about our own schools?

No. This is a barely disguised effort to help paint all public schools as "failing" so that the DeVos family, Mr. Kelly, and their allies can push to replace public education with taxpayer-funded private education. Just to seal the deal, the grading system will be overseen by an Education Accountability Policy Commission (sound familiar? scroll up) appointed by politicos and answerable to no one in particular.

It's time to dispense with this idea once and for all. Join us in letting your House members know A-F is a failed idea that doesn't help us make our schools better.

Here's hoping we can get through the rest of the year without any more mischief!

Steve Norton
MI Parents for Schools

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