Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Children need better preparation for kindergarten

Capital News Service

LANSING – Children who are unprepared for kindergarten may be unable to catch up in later education.

It’s hard to pin down what the estimated third of unprepared children lack when entering kindergarten, said Lindy Buch, director of early childhood and family services at the Department of Education.

“That varies from child to child. There’s no complete pattern, but children are unprepared to succeed and unprepared for the rigors of school,” she said.

Some children lack necessary language skills, while others don’t have enough experience with school-like activities such as drawing, writing, taking turns or playing games.

Buch said it’s not like 18-year-olds going to their first week of college and needing two or three weeks to transition and catch up.

Kindergarteners who missed a chunk of preparation won’t be able to catch up easily.

Cheryl Bloomquist, the child development program coordinator at Northwestern Michigan College, said most unready children are ill-equipt with social and emotional skills.  They need help focusing, sitting down to participate in group settings and mastering basic skills that allow them to self-regulate.

Bloomquist said some children lack basic literacy skills.

“Children need to be talked to, read to, have conversations, sing, hear rhymes in books and prepare for the ability to translate letters to words to sounds. That’s when it clicks,” Bloomquist said.

Buch said everything that children do before they go to school affects their development.

The two most important tools are parents interacting with their children and high-quality preschool.

Buch said, “Parents have a big role to play in getting children ready for school. However, many parents are stressed with providing necessities and concentrating on other things for their families. They are unable to help their children.”

Most 4-year-olds in Michigan have some pre-care or preschool experience, but many don’t receive high-quality care, she said, because parents can’t afford it.


“It’s not hard to read to children and play with them, but there are an awful lot of adults who can’t read or are not comfortable reading to their kids. It’s so important to spend quality time with children, but that’s something we don’t teach everyone in our culture.”

Buch said most children in Michigan go to half-day kindergarten so there’s less class time for teachers to focus on the third of them who are struggling.

And Bloomquist said children who can’t fully cooperate by sitting still and listening create problems in the learning environment.

It’s difficult for teachers to enrich the learning experience when they must handle behavioral problems, Bloomquist said.

Rob Spohr, vice president for academic affairs at Montcalm Community College, said, “There are so many other factors that play into actually determining a cause-and-effect relationship between not being prepared for kindergarten and effects later in life. It’s almost impossible to gauge without a massive longitudinal study.”

School district, socioeconomic status, the area children live in, and parental involvement and expectations must be considered.

“As a matter of fact, being underprepared for kindergarten is likely a symptom of one of these other factors, and the actual cause of being underprepared will also hamper the student’s efforts to catch up and succeed later in life,” Spohr said.

Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, said such situations create a downward slope for children.

The chances of graduation decrease and without a diploma, they are more likely to end up in prison, Byrum said.

Buch said the effect of starting school unprepared can eventually lead to dropping out.  A child who is not ready and doesn’t do well in the classroom may be held back or fail a grade, and that can lead to more serious negative impacts.

Buch said, “Sending children to school when they aren’t ready is an issue the state needs to think about.  If you start out behind, it’s harder to catch up. These young kids are our force of the future.”

Bloomquist agreed, “If children aren’t prepared for kindergarten, they aren’t prepared for first, second and third grade. It’s a domino effect. Success leads to more success, so we need children to be prepared young.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Education

Bill would require taped police interrogations

Capital News Service

LANSING — A new House bill would require audiovisual recording of major felony interrogations by law enforcement officials.

Under the proposal, juries would be notified of the requirement if police fail to comply and could consider the absence of a recording when evaluating evidence.

Videotaping should be encouraged for all law enforcement agencies and funding for equipment should be provided, said Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan President Ron Schafer.

But Schafer, who is the Ionia County prosecutor, said he opposes any sanctions for violations.

“You’re calling in the credibility of the officer, but you wouldn’t do that to the jailhouse snitch,” he said.

Because of some past methods used to extract confessions, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said recorded interrogations should be a part of Michigan’s judicial process.

An audiovisual recording would encourage law enforcement officials to follow all proper procedures, she said.

“Having a permanent recording also protects law enforcement officers from false confessions. More and more we’re finding out through DNA that we have people incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit,” Tlaib said.

The main sponsor, Tlaib said Michigan’s lack of a statewide public defense system makes videorecording essential.

“In essence we have to get with the times in Michigan. We have to use technology to make our judicial process fair and just. It’s extremely important that we get with this trend,” Tlaib said.

Schafer said, other states, including Illinois, have variations of the law in place. Michigan does not mandate sound or visual recording or transcripts of interrogations, Shafer said.

The bill has been in development since 2006, when the State Bar of Michigan created a task force of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, judges and others.

The task force oversaw three pilot programs in Washtenaw, Eaton and Jackson counties which worked out the kinks of a videotaping policy before the legislation was drafted.

The task force was co-chaired by Nancy Diehl, a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County for 28 years.

“We’ve ended up with convictions being overturned. We want to make sure interrogations are done correctly. When done correctly, it’s the best evidence that the prosecution can have,” she said.

She cited a Detroit rape-murder case where a wrongful conviction was overturned on appeal. The defendant, Eddie Joe Lloyd, also won a civil suit requiring Detroit police to tape all interrogations of homicide suspects.

Diehl estimated the expense to outfit one interrogation room at $2,500 or less. She said many law enforcement agencies have already bought the equipment on their own.

“We’re hoping the cost won’t be overly burdensome,” she said.

Tlaib said the requirement would eliminate many high costs in the judicial process by reducing wrongful convictions and subsequent appeals.

Co-sponsors include ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Reps. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing; and David Nathan, D-Detroit.

The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Legislation

Cities, state look to greener buildings

Capital News Service

LANSING – From Farmington Hills to Lansing, construction of green-certified state and local buildings is becoming a critical source of long-term budget savings, environmentalists say.

Savings on operating costs could free up money to facilitate economic growth, such as building new businesses, Michigan Environmental Council energy program director David Gard said.

“Traditional energy sources like coal are going to get more expensive, and if you invest in these buildings right now, then you are going to save taxpayers money,” Gard said.

“Generally this is a really important thing for governments at any level to be putting forth as a priority,” he said.

Farmington Hills City Hall has been operating on green technology since last year when it underwent a total revamp of energy and operational facilities.

New systems include rooftop solar panels and an underground geothermal network that keeps the building heated and cooled intermittently.

The $8 million renovation took the city four to five years to finance, said city management assistant Nate Geinzer.

The building is expected to save $30,000 a year on natural gas, with a 20-year payback on operational costs.

Operational savings will be substantial because the new systems mean more work can be done with fewer people, Geinzer said.

Since the solar system was installed at the end of January, the building has created 528 kilowatts of its own energy, enough to run 19 average U.S. households per day.

The city took on the project as an example for residents to consider green technology for their own homes and businesses, Geinzer said.

“The building was designed with public education in mind. We want to showcase sustainable development,” he said.

State facilities are also adopting sustainability and developing new technologies. One example is the cogeneration project, where two airplane engines will power a state building complex, according to Department of Technology, Management and Budget public information director Kurt Weiss.

An $11 million grant will have the new turbine system up and running by January. Annual savings of $1.6 million will provide payback in approximately seven years.

Reduction of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide because of the system will result in the equivalent of removing 1,715 vehicles from the road per year, Weiss said.

The state has also installed pilot solar panels on the State Police forensics lab and is waiting to evaluate savings at the end of the summer before deciding whether to expand to other buildings, said Weiss.

After completion, such projects can seek a Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC). The standard at its highest level rates water use, air quality and health, community impact and resource management, and looks at use of sustainable wood and recycling during construction, among other factors.

Grand Rapids rates in the top 50 U.S. cities with LEED-certified buildings.

Grand Valley State University has 11 buildings certified, with more in the process. It recently announced plans to construct a new library that will exceed the LEED energy efficiency standard by 50 percent, USGBC West Michigan Chapter chair Renae Hesselink said.

“That’s what LEED does — we continuously improve the rating. Every two to three years, we’re going to raise the bar because technology has changed to make things more efficient,” she said.

Buildings designed with such certifications in mind generally are less toxic and make for increased efficiency among employees, said Department of Natural Resources and Environment green building representative Maggie Fields.

“A lot of designs encourage use of daylight. Studies indicate that the more daylight in a structure, the more folks tend to have a better sense of connection to community and are productive.

“You don’t feel like you’re living in a dungeon,” Fields said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Uncategorized

Higher prices feed food-versus-fuel fight

Capital News Service

LANSING—As the United Nations announced record-high food prices in January, a new round of debate in Michigan centered on the connection between food and energy.

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service

For Michigan farmers, the issue is the use of a growing proportion of the corn crop to make ethanol.

Michigan has five operating ethanol plants and two more under construction, according to Jeff Sandborn, vice president of the Michigan Corn Growers Association. In 2009, approximate 27 percent of Michigan corn was used to produce ethanol.

Sandborn recently told the association that the argument that “if we use corn for ethanol production, there won’t be any corn left to feed livestock” is a misconception.

He said, “All the nutritional value of corn is maintained in distillers grains,” a byproduct of the ethanol production process, “and is returned to the livestock industry as high-quality feed.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization, a UN agency, reported that in January, the Cereal Price Index was the highest since July 2008. The Sugar Price Index was up 5.4 percent from December. And the oils/fats price index was nearing the June 2008 record. The World Bank described food prices as being at “a dangerous level.”

In addition, other factors like extreme weather, imports and fuel prices lead to the fluctuation of food prices.

The Corn Growers Association calls criticism that biofuel will increase food prices “patently false and misguided.”

It said, “Ethanol production uses only the starch portion of the kernel, which is abundant and relatively low in value. Also ethanol is produced from field corn fed to livestock, not sweet corn grown for humans.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation said that without increased biofuel production, oil and gasoline prices would be 10 to 15 percent higher.

Ethanol, as one of the most common biofuels, saves U.S. consumers at least $38 billion in fuel costs each year, the federation said.

In a report, Joachim Von Braun, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington D.C., said increased biofuel demand accounted for 30 percent of the increase in grain prices between 2000 and 2007.

If food prices rise, the report also said, low-income households will lose benefits on the food consumption side but gain little on the energy side if energy prices decline.

Scott Swinton, an agriculture economist at Michigan State University, said he is unaware of any studies of the latest price rise. But its causes are probably the same as in 2007 — a combination of supply and demand factors.

About two-thirds of the 2007 price spike could be attributed to a rising standard of living and improving diets around the world, he said.

Another important factor that accounted for 30 percent of the rising food prices was biofuel demand, Swinton said.

“The biofuel demand is driven by two factors, and the first one is oil prices. When oil prices arrive at a high level, ethanol and biodiesel become cost-effective substitutes,” he said, adding that U.S. policies spur the demand for biofuels, which is the second factor.

“The key debate is about the effect of corn grain ethanol, because corn grain is not a very greenhouse gas-efficient biofuel,” Swinton said.

Swinton also said it’s inefficient for government to say a particular industry is the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “It is a good idea to encourage research, and it is a bad idea to require the use of certain kinds of alternative energy,” he said.

The World Bank has warned that the continuous rise of food prices will drive more people into poverty and said using “less food-intensive biofuel technologies” will be a high priority to mitigate higher prices.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Agriculture

New spending targets summer travelers

Capital News Service

LANSING — Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency, and its allies are focusing on advertising to boost visitor numbers and spending this summer. Efforts include development of new farm attractions such as on-site farm markets and petting zoos.

Dave Lorenz, managing director at Travel Michigan said his agency plans to boost the tourism industry through a media tour.

“Our tourism plans for summer consist of a media tour where we bring travel writers to help spread the message of things to do in Michigan,” Lorenz said. “We try to feature each season and things to do that are unique to the state.”

According to Lorenz, a recent Travel Michigan tour ended in Marquette, where the state brought 20-30 media writers to capture the essence of the area.

Another session is planned for August.

“In Michigan, we will push for great water tours to promote eco-tourism,” Lorenz said. “Our main goal is to promote the state in the summer by capturing events that are usually overshadowed by snowmobiling and other winter activities.”

Lorenz said summer event planning wouldn’t happen without the expected $25 million budget for Pure Michigan advertising.

The Legislature has approved another $10 million for Pure Michigan, and Gov. Rick Snyder has promised to sign the measure.

The new money will help reach in-state residents and out-of-staters, according to Lorenz.

“The budget would be split between $10 million for advertising and $15 million for in-state and regional marketing, which would really help the agency branch out to other states,” Lorenz said.

Promotion for summer events includes water-related activities near the Great Lakes, like waterfalls, beaches and shipwreck tours.

Mike Norton, media relations director at the Traverse City Visitors Bureau, said advertising to out-of-state residents is necessary when planning summer events.

“Michigan used to have low numbers of tourists because no one knows a lot about Northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula,” Norton said. “With the help of Pure Michigan’s television and advertisement campaigns, we can now extend our events outside the state.”

Norton said Pure Michigan provides great economic benefit for the tourism industry.

“Northern Michigan has really benefited from the campaign,” Norton said. “It is our region’s landscape that’s advertised on those commercials and that intrigues people who’ve never been here before.”

Norton said there are challenges in attracting out-of-state or southern Michigan residents because their ideas of Michigan are either focused on urban settings like Detroit, or that northern Michigan is all farmland.

Pure Michigan offers a chance for people to change their minds. With the advertisements, the numbers have finally begun to grow, and tourism activities and agri-tourism events have been extended, said Norton.

Traverse City hosts the National Cherry Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival, along with other outdoor summer activities and agri-tourism events, said Norton.

Heather Throne, public information officer at the Department of Agriculture, said the department works with the Michigan Farm Marketing and Agri-Tourism Association to promote agri-tourism.

“In this season, there are markets offered on-site and in urban settings so they can attract a larger amount of people,” Throne said.

Val Vail-Shirey, executive director of the Michigan Farm Marketing and Agri- Tourism Association said the group are working on many different ideas to promote tourism in the summer.

“We are working a lot with electronics to reach out to the public,” Vail-Shirey said. “We’re creating a new iPhone application that will give directions and locations to farm markets throughout Michigan.”

California has started this application and Michigan will be the second state to use it, Vail-Shirey said.

“We’re also working with welcome centers in the state to advertise our summer activities like petting zoos and cider mills,” Vail-Shirey said.

She said there are challenges when it comes to combining agriculture and tourism.

“For individual farms, we have problems with local zoning, which prohibits these opportunities,” Vail-Shirey said. “Local zoning could stop us from creating parking lots or having large crowds at our events.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Uncategorized

Climate change confronts songbirds

Capital News Service

LANSING – Climate change impacts songbird breeding and distribution patterns and could potentially lead to health problems in birds.

“Climate itself doesn’t really impact them – it’s the indirect effects that they cue in on,” said Chris Hoving, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment endangered species coordinator.

Hoving said climate change is a natural phenomenon. “It changes every 100 years, 40 years, every decade and even yearly with seasons. There is no one steady climate and animals are constantly adapting.”

He also said humans are another principle cause of climate change.

“In Michigan, we can see a pretty strong signal that the climate has been warming for about 80 years. We’re partway into global warming. We’re moving off to new realm that poses a planning challenge and stresses wildlife,” Hoving said.

Unlike most plants and animals, birds can move as the climate changes, Hoving said.

“They are plastic in how they migrate at different times further north, south, east or west to find habitat, compared to salamanders or butterflies that cannot move across the landscape.”

Hoving said studies have noted that birds now migrate north earlier and south later.

Migrating birds return when insects hatch, but because of the climate change, birds are coming back too early or too late to feed, he said.

Bill Porter, a fisheries and wildlife professor at Michigan State University, said, “We don’t know the mechanics, but it’s pretty easy to recognize that birds are noticing a change.”

“They’re here to nest and feed the young. If the schedule of when plants emerge and seeds ripen changes, the songbird population shifts as well,” he said.

Audrey Mayer, a Michigan Technological University forest resource and environmental science professor, said collisions, habitat loss to urbanization, competition with other birds for nesting and cat predation are other factors in the decline of songbirds.

Mayer said, “A late cold front in the spring can force birds down into the Gulf and kill them. They’re trying to time their crossing with beneficial warm fronts coming up from the South when spring bugs emerge that they can eat to refuel.”

Porter said birds spend a lot of time in Michigan, coming from the Ohio and Indiana borders, as well as from Canada.

“North and south species are occurring in Michigan. It’s one of the places where we see the most change,” Porter said.

Mayer said, “As Michigan’s winters become shorter, warmer and wetter, I expect more pest species that used to be killed off by cold winters to become more problematic.”

“On the other hand, we may start to see birds more regularly that previously were quite rare. There are reports of species such as sandhill cranes and some songbirds arriving earlier,” she said.

Porter said it isn’t one particular type of bird that is changing — it’s a wide array of species, including warblers, cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers.

For example, the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, which nests in jack pines in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, are at risk if the warming climate damages the trees.

Hoving said people need to get used to seeing different birds at feeders and when hunting.

“Who knows if we will have many loons in Michigan in 30-40 years, and that’s a problem.  When you hear loons up north, you know you’re really in the wilderness,” Hoving said.

“If they’re not there because of us, that’s a huge loss of experience in Michigan even though they can fly elsewhere.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Environment

Snyder proposes big cut in state aid to libraries


Capital News Service

LANSING—Michigan may cut state aid to libraries by 40 percent next year, in addition to cuts in state money for local schools and public universities.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would cut support to libraries by $2.3 million for 2011-12.

“It’s an urgent cut,” said Gretchen Couraud, the executive director of Michigan Library Association. “We have seen a 40 percent cut this year, but a 76 percent cut since 2000.

“The 11 regional library cooperatives will close in two years because of this cut, and people in those cooperatives will lose their jobs,” she said.

In addition, people rely on libraries as resources to find jobs, Couraud said.

“People now are worried about a 15 percent cut to public universities,” said Couraud. “But libraries are 40 percent.”

And she warned that some libraries may be forced to close for budget reasons.

Meanwhile, Snyder’s plan includes $950,000 to support the Michigan eLibrary.

The Michigan eLibrary is an online catalog that allows users to borrow from more than 43 million items such as books, audiobooks, music and movies and have them delivered to participating libraries. The system covers more than 400 state libraries.

As for the proposed e-Library funding, Couraud said, “It’s a wonderful thing. We are grateful for the governor for recognizing the value of the eLibrary and put it in the budget for the first time.

“People need the e-resources and it should be funded,” she said.

Nancy Robertson, state librarian at the Department of Education, said, “State aid is providing only a small portion of public libraries’ budgets.

“Although they will feel the cut, it’s not their main source of income,” she said.

“It will have a little bit of an impact on library collaboration,” Robertson said of Snyder’s proposal.

But Tara Conaway, the director of Flat River Community Library in Greenville, said, “This kind of cut will hurt the small libraries. There are growing needs for people under this bad economy to use libraries.

“Some people told me they cannot afford the Internet, so they come to us for help. They come to our libraries to apply for employment and do other things on the Internet,” she said.

Conaway also said, “We understand that at this time the governor needs to have a choice in what to cut, but we don’t think it’s wise to cut something that people stand for.”

Gail Parsons-Doughty, assistant director for human resources and finance at the Traverse Area District Library, said libraries are losing revenue from other sources as well.

Her library’s budget won’t be affected too much by Snyder’s plan.

“We will have $36,000 from state aid and we have a $4.7 million budget, so it is a small percent of our budget,” Parsons-Doughty said.

Josie Parker, director of Ann Arbor District Library, said she is grateful that “Snyder’s proposed budget includes some money for libraries,” which shows that he understands their importance for Michigan residents.

“However,” Parker said, “the statewide resources cannot function with this level of funding. State aid for Michigan libraries has been cut for years, even when the budget was healthy.

“The money being provided for maintaining state resources is not sufficient,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Budget

Push renewed for cyberbullying law

Capital News Service

LANSING — As more young people turn to technology as a social tool, the boundaries that once confined bullies to the playground and classroom are disappearing.

According to Big Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Langdon, cyberbullying is just as disconcerting as being bullied at school or physically bullied and can have devastating effects on children who regard the Internet as safe territory.

He said that while cyberbullying may not take place at school, it disturbs the school environment, and it’s the schools’ goal to make children feel safe there.

Michigan is one of five states without anti-bullying laws, according to Bully Police USA, a national watchdog organization that was co-founded by East Lansing resident Kevin Epling.

According to the Research Center for Cyberbullying, 30 states have laws that include electronic harassment. Five specifically mention cyberbullying.

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said she hopes to make the law reflect objectives like Langdon’s.

The State Board of Education has recommends anti-bullying policies that cover cyberbullying, but districts aren’t required to follow them.

The Department of Education doesn’t track which districts have anti-bullying policies.

Bob Higgins, safe schools consultant for the Department of Education, said that legislative inaction partly led to the board’s decision to create the model anti-bullying policy.

Whitmer along with Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and other lawmakers introduced a package of bills that would make cyberbullying illegal and would require schools to establish anti-bullying policies with specific mention of cyberbullying.

The legislation would also expand the use of the Michigan School Violence Hotline to include cyberbullying reports.

Whitmer introduced similar legislation last year, but it stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Whitmer’s press secretary, Katie Carey, said she anticipates the bill’s success this session because of the urgency of the issue.

“We are constantly hearing more and more problems about cyberbullying,” Carey said.

“The more we hear about it, especially at a national level, the more important it’s going to become,” she said

Carey said Whitmer focused attention on cyberbullying legislation to ensure that steps are in place to help students victimized by cyberabuse trends.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, between 10 to 30 percent of teens are bullied online.

Glenn Stutzky, a cyberbullying specialist and social work instructor at Michigan State University, authored a study that labeled cyberbullying the fastest-growing trend in bullying among teens.

Stutzky suggested that cyberbullying can be more invasive than schoolyard bullying because technology prevents the bully from witnessing the consequences of his or her actions.

While the Big Rapids district has an anti-bullying policy, it doesn’t specifically include cyberbullying.

Langdon said that every district has some degree of cyberbullying. He said that the problems he’s dealt with, however, have been less consequential than some reported in the national media.

For example, he said the district has had minor disturbances with social media sites, like Facebook.

While Langdon acknowledged that bullying is a serious issue, he said an anti-bullying law should be broad enough to allow each district to create its own policy.

“You can make generalities like physical bullying is designed to instill fear in a student and verbal is to humiliate somebody, but both of those could be interchanged. For one person or one group of people to decide the specific policy for anyone else’s school is problematic because there’s different values in different districts across the state,” he said.

Whitmer’s legislation calls for each district to “adopt and implement a policy prohibiting harassment intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying”.

Districts would also be required to include in their technology policies language that prohibits cyberbullying and would require students and their parents’ signatures to acknowledge those policies.

Whitmer’s legislation is pending in the Senate Education Committee and Brown’s is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Proposed mandate to teach freedom stirs debate

Capital News Service

LANSING — Public school students may be required to study American freedom in honor of Veteran’s Day if new legislation passes.

The bill would designate the week of Veteran’s Day, or Nov. 11, as “Celebrate Freedom Week,” and require social studies teachers to provide instruction  “concerning the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.”

Gladwin schools superintendent and Michigan Council for the Social Studies question the need for a legislative mandate.

The sponsor, Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, wants to provide children with a broader, deeper understanding of the reasoning behind the rights that veterans fought to guarantee, said his chief of staff, Jennifer Murray.

Murray said the bill would give school boards the option to designate an alternative week as Celebrate Freedom Week.

That would give boards flexibility in how they would implement the legislation.

But Gladwin Community Schools Superintendent Rick Seebeck said it wouldn’t give local boards enough control.

“Michigan schools are designed to be run by local boards of education, so let the local boards of education run the schools,” he said.

“I believe when the state came along with the standards and benchmarks in each of the core content areas that we teach, those were all great ideas and we need to have them,” he said.

“But rather than just telling us, here are the standards, go teach them, they pile on the mandates, and that’s when it starts to get out of control,” he said.

Seebeck said he doesn’t take issue with the senator’s motives or the intentions behind many mandates, but they often lead to adverse effects.

“You won’t find an educator out there who will tell you understanding the American Revolution and the abolitionist movement are bad things. We all believe that learning more about our country is good,” he said.

“But when the legislative body takes these good ideas and starts to mandate them with little or no understanding of how those mandates would actually impact the schools, they turn us into slaves of the bureaucracy,” he said.

Seebeck said that most requirements proposed in the Celebrate Freedom Week bill are already incorporated into the State Board of Education’s social studies curriculum standards.

“I can’t speak for any other schools, but I can tell you that here we celebrate freedom all the time. Our schools say the pledge in the morning. Our kids have lessons within their curriculum that talk about American history,” he said

“We talk about all of those things in our school every day.”

According to the state board and the Department of Education’s Michigan Curriculum Framework, students must be able to explain the meaning and origin of the ideas and the core democratic values of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and other foundational documents of the United States.

That’s required under the social studies civics standard.

Tom Webb, president of the Michigan Council for the Social Studies, said he believes in the concept of the legislation but — like Seebeck — is wary of the negative impact of requiring that American freedom be covered in a particular week.

“If you look at the Michigan social studies curriculum, there’s plenty of focus on our freedom,” he said.

“By prescribing a week of instruction, are you actually going to reduce the amount of time overall spent on that kind of a topic that can be integrated into almost any lesson we teach as social studies teachers?” he said.

A co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said that instead of limiting the time spent addressing American freedoms, the legislation would complement state curriculum standards.

“This is something that really highlights American heritage in a way that is very compatible with what the standards and benchmarks are for Michigan. Individual teachers and administrators would have the ability to implement Celebrate Freedom Week thematically,” said Moolenaar, a former charter school administrator.

Other sponsors are Republican Sens. Howard Walker of Traverse City; Thomas Casperson of Escanaba; John Proos of St. Joseph; Phil Pavlov of St. Clair Township; Mike Nofs of Battle Creek; Judith Emmons of Sheridan and Michael Green of Mayville.

Webb suggests that legislators look beyond complementary legislation for the curriculum standards in Michigan if they believe there is a void.

“You can achieve the same ends by working toward making sure the social studies curriculum is being taught and that there’s some way of accounting for the fact that these things have been addressed in the classroom,” Webb said.

“If it’s in the curriculum, then it should be being taught. If it’s not being taught, let’s find out why and take steps to correct it,” he said.

The bill is pending in the Senate Education Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

Proposal would regulate amateur mixed martial arts events

Capital News Service

LANSING – “Someone’s going to get killed.”

That’s the worry of Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, which led him to propose a new regulatory body to oversee amateur mixed martial arts (MMA) events.

The proposal would also make it a felony to arrange a fight between an amateur and a professional MMA fighter.

However, several people within the sport call the proposal heavy-handed and unenforceable.

MMA is an increasingly-popular sport in Michigan and around the country. Participants use a wide variety of martial arts to compete in fights.

Joseph Battaglia, a promoter with Birmingham-based Triple X Cagefighting that arranges professional and amateur events, is heavily critical of the bill.

The Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth regulates only professional MMA events.

“We have three to four pro matches (in Michigan) each year,” he said. “We have two to four amateur events every weekend. There’s no way the state can do it.”

Battaglia said it’s necessary to regulate amateur events, but Agema’s legislation will never work and never get passed.

Agema, Battaglia said, went to fight promoters to write his proposal, but ignored professionals who regulate events.

He said the costs in funding and manpower would be prohibitive if the state were to regulate both amateur and professional events.

The problem isn’t just the number of events that the state body would have to regulate, but the number of locations where they’re held, according to Archie Millben, a co-director at Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, a MMA organization in Waterford.

Millben said that when he oversaw pro boxing enforcement for the state, most bouts were held in the big cities. That’s not the case with amateur MMA competition.

But Agema said it’s necessary to standardize the sport across the state and get rid of promoters who ignore safety.

“There are a lot of bad actors out there,” he said. “They’ll just have a fight in a bar or a restaurant.

“We need to get qualified people in the ring.”

Ironically, the bill to increase state regulation comes at a time when GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature are calling for fewer such regulations.

The co-sponsors include Reps. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland; and Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit.

Forlini said the state should create “proper safety requirements for amateurs,” because there’s nothing protecting them right now.

The proposal would set membership fees and payments, with the money paid chiefly by promoters. Amateur fighters would pay $20 for official registration and would need to submit to physical screenings. It would require a doctor’s okay before a fighter comes back into the ring following a concussion.

“Right now you can have someone knocked out with a concussion and they’ll be back fighting the next week,” Agema said. “You used to be able to just flail around, but you can’t do that anymore.”

Battaglia said higher fees and fines would be a more effective way to encourage safety than Agema’s proposal.

He also said that the proposed 2 percent ticket fee, or $300 per event, whichever is higher, would hurt bigger, more reputable organizations.

Smaller events would hit the $300 cap, but larger events, such as one that attracted 5,000 spectators to the Palace of Auburn Hills, would have to pay the 2 percent fee.

Al Low, a co-director of Mixed Amateur Martial Arts, who once served as chair of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission, called the proposal the same old story of a legislator trying to do something when he doesn’t fully understand the repercussions.

He said his organization can effectively regulate the sport if the state allows it to.

Low also said he’s talking with legislators, including those who helped establish Michigan’s boxing regulations, to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make this right,” he said.

Low said the proposal, if passed, could stop the sport’s growing popularity and eliminate the professional leagues’ farm system.

The legislation is pending in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Legislation

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