Michigan Schools Face Uncertain Futures

Written by: Connor Berdy

Primary Source: Michigan Policy Wonk Blog, April 17, 2017

January 20th, 2017 marked a pivotal day for the future of thirty-eight schools across the state of Michigan. Parents received letters from the Michigan State School Reform/Redesign Office (SRO) that spelled out dire consequences for their children’s schools.  The SRO announced publicly that these thirty-eight schools had been identified as chronically low achieving and had entered next level accountability, which meant state forced closure.  Months later, the future for these schools still hangs in the balance and educators, administrators, and policymakers are attempting to uncover just how the education system has reached this point.

In 2010, Michigan passed legislation that is commonly referred to as 1280c.  This law mandates that the lowest achieving schools across the state must be identified each year as priority schools.  The policy sets the lowest achieving schools as the bottom 5% of schools as measured by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE).  Priority schools have become an important aspect of Michigan’s education system over the past seven years.  There are hundreds of schools that have been identified over he course of 1280c and they truly shine a light on the inadequacies of education across the State.

Schools Identified as Priority Status

Year

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Number of Schools

92

40

88

51

60

51

45

*20 schools were identified in multiple years

Source: State School Reform/Redesign Office Website

 

What is the SRO and what role does the MDE have in the matter? This is where the policy becomes complicated and potentially politically divisive.  When 1280c was first enacted, the SRO operated out of the MDE and acted as the accountability office for priority schools.  The MDE was responsible for identifying the priority schools, allocating resources to them, and finally holding them accountable through the SRO. This implementation remained the same for the first few years of 1280c, but in 2015 a radical change occurred.  The SRO was moved out of the MDE and placed in the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget through an executive order from Governor Snyder.  While this may have been done to provide autonomy in accountability, it also fragmented the system.  It marked a symbolic end to coordination and communication between the SRO and MDE.

When the thirty-eight schools were contacted by the SRO, many principals and superintendents immediately called the MDE.  The MDE however, had been held in the dark and could offer little to no help to administrators who were being swarmed with the worried and irate requests of parents asking what would become of their school.  The breakdown in communication and coordination became immediately evident.  It was clear that there have been two separate state entities each working within the education system with the same subset of schools, but through radically different means.  While the MDE was focused on providing resources and building school capacity in priority schools, the SRO was focused on imposing accountability measures that deterred schools from achieving the same poor results. Finally on January 20th, the SRO could no longer ignore the inadequacies of certain priority schools and the announcement was made that they may be closed.

Today, the future remains uncertain for these thirty-eight schools.  Lawsuits have been filed by affected school districts challenging the SROs authority.  The Michigan Senate has introduced a bill to repeal 1280c, but it’s passage and what a potential replacement law may look like remain inconclusive.  The SRO is currently making site visits and calculating whether closing the school may force unnecessary hardship.  Finally, the MDE has announced a district partnership plan that may potentially keep schools from immediately being closed by the SRO.  Ultimately, this all illustrates that there are multiple actors working in the education system with little coordination or communication; an irony that may be tough for some parents and educators to accept.

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Connor Berdy

Connor Berdy

Connor Berdy is a junior at MSU with a major in World Politics. He is a Political Science Scholar and ISSPR fellow and serves as the Legislative Affairs Director for the Michigan Federation of College Democrats. Government and Public Policy has always been a passion of mine and I look forward to one day running for office.
Connor Berdy

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