MAKING THE GRADE: Important changes and studies deserve our attention

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:48 am on Thursday, July 10, 2014

By Janet Ralph

Although summer is finally in full swing, there are developments in education that deserve our attention.
I want to call your attention to two of them.

Michigan Merit Curriculum
Educators, parents and members of the business community have been expressing concern about the courses high school students have been required to take for some time. At issue was the inability of students to incorporate career and technical education courses into their schedule.Legislators have been listening and recently sent Gov. Rick Snyder a law that addresses these concerns.
The bill that the Governor signed changes the Michigan Merit Curriculum to allow for career and technical education courses to substitute for the Algebra II class requirement if those courses incorporate the algebra material. Students will also get more information on how to use the “personal curriculum” option to structure their high school schedules to incorporate career and technical education courses.
Another area of concern has been foreign language credits. Students must have successfully completed at least 2 credits of a language other than English during grades K-12. Students graduating in year 2015-2020, can fulfill one of these credits by successful completion of a course in either a formal CTE (Career/Tech Education) program or visual / performing arts program.
I think these changes will be welcomed and will increase the opportunities available to students. We will want to monitor them and see if they are sufficient to address the concerns of the business community.

Yearlong investigation of Michigan charter schools
The last week in June, the Detroit Free Press published the findings of a yearlong investigation of Michigan’s charter schools. Personally, I feel this is an important study. I am certain that there will be follow ups to this work and hopefully this will lead to some changes.
Some of the key findings were wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, poor performing schools and a failure to close the worst of the worst. It is important to note that not all charter schools should be criticized. Just as in all schools, there are those that are doing an excellent job.
The real question is why are we tolerating allowing charter schools that are not successful to continue even as we monitor regular public schools and take action to help or close those that are not succeeding.
Interesting points from the report are:
• Charter schools spend $1 billion per year in state taxpayer money.
• There is often very little transparency in the use of the money.
• Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes, but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.
• A majority of the worst – ranked charter schools have been open for 10 years or more.
• Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.
• Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.
• members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.
• State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools.
Both of these topics need to be followed. The fact that the legislature has acted or a newspaper has done a study should be viewed as the beginning not the end of the discussion.
Research and data collection need to continue as we relentlessly pursue the goal establishing the best way of helping all students be successful.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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