Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Colleges add or subtract majors because of funding


Capital News Service

LANSING — Budget cuts are triggering the discontinuation of academic programs at public universities across the state.

Areas of study are being eliminated, causing students to switch majors or even campuses.

Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, said programs are dropped because of a combination of financial pressures, downsized operations and insufficient market demand.

Boulus said the most commonly discontinued programs are in liberal arts. Musical therapy, humanities, stage management and Asian language studies are examples of dropped programs.

Meanwhile, engineering and health fields are experiencing more demand and, therefore, are where programs are commonly added.

Provost Max Seel of Michigan Technological University said, “We first shelve programs for five years, then make a decision to discontinue or not.”

“Examples of programs we are currently considering to shelve are a BA in theatre and entertainment technology and a BS in industrial technology because there are no students currently enrolled.”

“For last academic year, the change of about 160 courses represents approximately 6.5 percent of the total course offering,” Seel said.

The last programs Michigan Tech shelved were a wood science minor in 2000 and a minor in speech in 2004.

Michigan Tech added a graduate certificate in sustainable water resources and a graduate certificate in hybrid electric drive vehicle engineering, as well as Ph.D. programs in environmental and energy policy and geophysics, Seel said.

Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at Northern Michigan University (NMU), said programs have undergone a major reorganization by faculty experts in the past year or two to gear classes toward where professional fields are headed.

Duby said lots of small programs tended to mesh together in the clinical laboratory sciences area.

NMU dropped some two-year and four-year programs including plastic injection technology, manufacturing technology, and human and physical geography.

Radiography and respiratory therapy were added in the last two years, and pre-surgical technology was revamped because students are working with local surgeons.

As resources get tighter, experts are focusing on educating students for exactly what will get them jobs.

They added mechanical engineering technology and electronic engineering technology, and Duby said the Biology Department is currently under review.

Boulus said every Michigan public university has different student needs, so discontinued and added programs vary throughout the state.

“An interesting one is teacher education. We had 30 percent fewer graduates in teacher education in the last five years, showing a sign of the times with fewer available jobs.”

Boulus said many teachers will retire in the next five years, so there’s no way institutions will discontinue education programs, but some may downsize them.

“There are roughly 25 to 50 programs dropped and maybe an equal number added, depending on the year,” Boulus said.

Programs are generally phased out, rather than summarily ending, warning students they have a fixed amount of time to complete the program, Boulus said.

He also noted that before eliminating a program, a university can downsize large ones as long as it doesn’t compromise on quality.

Each institution decides whether to downsize a program before the Presidents Council becomes involved.

Annual reviews and restructuring of programs are necessary so students learn what they need to be successful, he said.

Boulus said it’s a long process because of pressure from all sides. University officials considered the impact on faculty, students, alumni and employers of graduates.

Boulus said engineering colleges are rethinking what and how they teach, including battery power, auto manufacturing and fuel cells.

Also, some institutions used to offer entrepreneurship classes, but now it’s a major or minor at schools.

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



Filed under: Education

Proposal would cap class sizes to promote better learning


Capital News Service


LANSING– Underperforming public schools may soon be forced to reduce class sizes to boost student performance.

A bill by Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, would allow the state superintendent of public instruction to order districts to cut class sizes in underperforming schools to a maximum of 17 in grades K-8 and 25 in grades 9-12.

Schools that have been unaccredited for three years, or that have failed to meet the federal standard for student achievement for at least four consecutive years, are considered underperforming under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The bill comes at a time when Detroit Public Schools are discussing the possibility of high school class sizes reaching 60 students.

Jackson said large classes make it tough for students to learn, especially without one-on-one attention from teachers.

“Success starts in the classroom,” Jackson said  “Smaller class sizes will help our children get the close attention they need to learn, reach their full potential and become the next generation of talented Michigan workers.”

In the Cheybogan Area School District, classes average about 23 students in elementary schools and 29 in high school, according to Superintendent Mark Dombroski.

Dombroski said that the district is unable to provide the best instruction for every student due to large class sizes.

“So many kids have so many needs,” Dombroski said. “We can’t possibly provide the ideal individualized instruction to that large number.”

Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said research shows that a reduction in class sizes has a “powerful effect on student learning.”

The bill’s maximum class sizes fits the range that would provide an increase in learning, Floden said.

However, Floden said that reducing class sizes would require hiring more teachers, a costly step, adding that in some instances that money could be used elsewhere to benefit the schools.

According to Floden, increased professional development or improved technology could be a better use of the money for certain schools.

It isn’t enough simply to limit class sizes. “To have an even  bigger effect, things need to be done to help teachers figure out what to do differently now that they have fewer kids,” Floden said.

For example, teachers need to know how to implement individualized instruction for their students.

Also, Floden said any reduction in class sizes must be carefully implemented, keeping in mind the expense of hiring teachers, as well as classroom space.

While smaller classes would help students, Cheyboygan’s Dombroski said lawmakers in Lansing are out of touch with public education, especially in the area of funding.

“They can mandate the heck out of us, but until they provide funding, I just laugh,” Dombroski said.

Jackson said she is open to changes in her bill, as well as discussions about funding.

According to Jackson, the bill will spur dialogue, but “the question isn’t how are we going to pay for it, but how can we not pay for it?”

Jackson said the state needs to spend more on education so proposals like hers can work.

“This should be part of a comprehensive solution for our students and our state,” Jackson said. “We need to figure out how we can incorporate something like this into the governor’s plan.”

The co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.

This bill is pending in the House Education Committee.


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


Filed under: Education

Arts budget cuts called short-sighted

Capital News Service

LANSING — Art and music may not seem essential in schools’ academic achievement.

Rather they’re considered costly extras and, thus, prime prospects for elimination when schools face increased budget cuts, according to studies.

But the arts do more than invigorate the economy — they strengthen children’s cognitive development and enhance learning through increased hands-on, creative thinking, according to a presentation at an arts and culture forum in Lansing.

“Children motivated by the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other academic subject areas, such as math and science,” said Kenneth Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, a performing arts group affiliated with the University of Michigan.

Fischer also said the arts – music, creative writing, drawing and dance – provide the critical thinking and problem-solving skills required by employers, citing a report by the Conference Board, a business performance research association in New York City.

“One of the top-five applied skills sought by employers in today’s market is creativity, and we need to embrace the arts which are the indicators of innovation and ingenuity,” he said.

But budget cuts are limiting the variety of art education programs offered by schools and institutions, such as the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which coordinates state grants.

John Bracey, the council’s executive director, said that while state appropriations for art school projects fell from $26 million in 2006 to $2 million this year, the council is working harder to ensure that schoolchildren are exposed to the “transformative” life experiences created by the arts.

Among successful projects is the year-old school bus grant that awards up to $500 in gas money for educational arts and culture trips, Bracey said.

This month, the council announced the approval of $43,878 in such grants to 118 schools to support trips for more than 13,000 students across the state.

“If schools’ budgets have been cut to the point where our arts and cultural learning is diminishing, somebody has to step up to the plate and offer something,” Bracey said.  “These are experiences that make our children’s lives as fulfilled as can be — they complete a child’s growth and development.”

Although academic priority goes to core curriculum subjects like the sciences, Bracey said exposure to arts and culture lays the foundation for the focus and critical thinking needed in such studies.

“Some of the most successful engineers or doctors are going to have, somewhere in their education, participated in theater or school bands or played musical instruments,” he said.

Fischer’s presentation at the forum cited studies that reveal high performance among students who consistently participate in the arts.

For instance, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that students who play musical instruments have higher math test scores than those without musical involvement.

Studies also show that students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates and even better civic engagement.

The decision by some districts to eliminate art programs is creating a public outcry, said Mike Latvis, director of public policy at ArtServe, a Wixom-based statewide art education advocacy group.

Last year, the group received more than 30 phone calls from concerned teachers and parents complaining about the elimination of art programs in their children’s schools.

Latvis said that his organization is working towards legislation to stop the elimination of essential art programs.

Currrent law gives districts authority to choose how to spend their dollars, according to State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for K-12 Education.

Kathleen Hubbard has taught visual and fine arts for 19 years and said that with a reduced art education budget, she has become more innovative by recycling materials into projects.

Hubbard, who teaches at Thunder Bay Junior High School in Alpena, said she has witnessed the “wonderful’ breakthroughs” that art subjects have on students with cognitive or emotional impairments.

She was the 2006 winner of a Michigan Association of School Boards award for creating a humanities course that incorporates seven fine arts subjects.

“I believe art humanities should be a requirement because that’s what develops a whole person,” she said.  “When districts reduce the budget to fine arts, the cost to the students is higher than what they are going to save.”

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

Filed under: Education

Proposal would require concussion guidelines for school sports

Capital News Service

LANSING — Lawmakers are jumping into the game against concussions by pushing for treatment guidelines for public school athletes.

A bill by Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center, would require districts to develop guidelines and a fact sheet to better inform athletes, coaches and parents about the risks of head injuries.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) already has similar rules in place that apply to both public and private schools.

Under Hooker’s legislation, athletes who suffer a head injury during a competition, practice or tryout must be removed from the activity until they receive medical clearance.

While there would be no penalty for noncompliance with the guidelines, Hooker said it would provide a pattern for schools to follow.

Hooker said the bill “will provide a process of determining what a concussion is. It’s a good thing to have a standard of care, a standard of not putting an athlete at risk.”

According to Hooker, the proposal is based on an outline developed by the National Football League, which wants similar legislation across the country.

“The goal is to make sure our legislation in the state models all the other states,” Hooker said. “We are trying to have some kind of uniformity in that way.”

Hooker said that guidelines would bolster existing rules of the MHSAA.

John Johnson, the MHSAA’s communication director, said that the organization’s rules can provide a template for statewide legislation

Those rules, adopted last year, require students to be removed from competitions after an apparent head injury, allowing reentry only after medical clearance.

However, MHSAA imposes penalties on schools that don’t comply.

After a first violation, schools are placed on a two-year probation in the sport where the concussion occurred. If a school commits another violation during that probationary period, it’s banned from MHSAA tournaments in that sport for that year.

After almost a full year of implementation, no schools have been cited for a violation.

“It speaks volumes to the attention that our schools are giving concussions,” Johnson said.

Sometimes concussions aren’t noticed initially.

Steve Babbitt, athletic director at Blissfield Community Schools, said the worst such case in the district happened after a student suffered a mild concussion that went undetected.

Babbitt said that only after the athlete was hit again was a concussion diagnosed, forcing the player to miss a longer period of time than if the first concussion has been promptly spotted.

Athletes who reenter an activity before a concussion heals risk another concussion that may cause long-term damage or even death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency estimates concussions in 5-to-18-year olds cause 135,000 emergency room visits annually.

Both Hooker’s bill and MHSAA’s rules also aim at educating parents in hopes of helping them spot concussions.

Johnson said parents are pivotal in the safety of injured athletes because symptoms can manifest themselves after an incident.

“Everybody thinks that a concussion is a knock-down, laid-out-on-the-field kind of thing, and it isn’t,” Johnson said. “That’s why it’s important that all parties involved are up to speed and know what to look for.”

Blissfield’s Babbitt said that beyond parents and coaches, trainers are key in concussion treatment. Babbitt said that his trainer has educated coaches on what to look for and signs of symptoms.

According to Babbitt, guidelines in dealing with concussions benefit trainers since they allow diagnosis without backlash from players or coaches.

“They take the pressure off of trainers,” Babbitt said. “It gives them guidelines to follow and it prevents them from being the bad guy.”

While trainers are an effective tool in dealing with concussions, many schools have only one trainer for the entire athletic department.

The MHSAA’s Johnson said that ideally schools would have more trainers to deal with concussions.

“In a perfect world there would be a trainer at every event,” Johnson said. “The reality is that it’s not possible. Schools don’t have the budget.”

Without additionally funding, schools will have to rely on guidelines and better education.

“We are just trying to do our best to ensure kids are safe,” Hooker said.

Co-sponsors include Reps. Ken Yonker, R-Caledonia; Dave Agema, R-Grandville; Barb Byrum,  D-Onondaga; and Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City.

The bill is pending in the House Education Committee.

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

Filed under: Education

Long work hours for high schoolers can hurt college success, study finds

Capital News Service

LANSING—High school students who work more than 15 hours a week are less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees than those who work less, a new University of Michigan study found.

The study, Monitoring the Future, shows that “working a lot in high school may be shortchanging students’ futures and risking long-term education and health.”

The research by U-M’s Institute for Social Research, tracked more than 68,000 young adults nationwide from 12th grade to their 30s. It suggests that long hours working during the 12th grade hurt students’ chances to complete college.

According to the study, the completion rates for those who worked 15 or fewer hours remain stable at around 52 percent, while the rates drop dramatically with the increase of working time.

Only 20 percent of high schoolers who worked more than 31 hours completed their bachelor’s degrees.

Professor Jerald Bachman, the lead author of the study, said, “At least some students during high school are trading off long-term opportunities for short-term earnings.”

Bachman said, “Most do not save much of their earnings for college. Instead, they treat their earning as spending money.”

Another factor in long hours working, Bachman said, was that some students consider it a way to show “success” in a different sort of environment.

He said the study doesn’t mean high school students cannot work. “I have some advice for high school students. First, limit your paid work to 15 hours per week, preferably less.

“Second, if you do work, you can save a lot of your money for long-term things, such as college, a down payment for a house or an apartment,” Bachman said.

His last advice is that they should use their job as a chance to build a credential as a good and reliable worker. They should also arrange in advance for their supervisor to provide regular ratings and recommendations.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, minors 16 years and older may work fewer than 48 hours per week and six days in one week.

Generally, school districts don’t impose additional restrictions on working hours.

The Community High School in Ann Arbor has no extra restrictions on students’ working hours beyond the state maximum, according to school counselor Diane Grant.

“If we find out students who work a long time, we will talk with them because they are not supposed to do that,” Grant said. “Study is their priority.”

“The reasons for them to work vary from person to person, such as earning money for college, supporting their families and buying their first cars,” she said.

Christine Swadley, a counselor at Marquette Senior High School, said her district also doesn’t have any restriction on working hours.

“Some students work a longer time because they want to earn money to pay for their college tuition fee,” Swadley said.

When told about the U-M study, she said she wants to put it in the school’s newsletter so more students become aware of it.

Cherie Stafford, a counselor at Greenville High School, said her district has no additional restrictions on working hours.

She said it is students’ choices how long to work. “The economy here is very bad. Some students need to earn money and they don’t have another choice.”

Stafford said some students, whose parent or both parents are out of jobs, need to work longer to support the family.

As for the relationship between longer working hour and lower college completion rates, she said, “Not all the students plan to go to a four-year college.”

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


Filed under: Education

Lawmakers want school health costs online

Capital News Service

LANSING – Public school districts would be required to post their employee health care expenses online under a new House bill.

The information would have to include annual health care costs, the cost of providing full family coverage for an employee and the amount the districts contribute to an employee’s health care coverage

A co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Patrick Somerville, R-New Boston, said transparency is the main goal of the proposal.

“These costs are taxpayer-funded and those taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going,” said Somerville.

But David Hecker, president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers in Detroit, said the legislation is unnecessary because it would force districts to release information that is already available.

“These costs are already in the budget, which is made public and available to anyone who wants it,” Hecker said.

He said, “If the intent is to highlight health care costs, it’s going to show what we already know: Health care is expensive.”

Hecker said he’s also concerned about the privacy of individual employees. “People’s health is private information. It could still be damaging even if someone’s name isn’t there.”

However, Somerville said he isn’t concerned that the requirement could violate personal privacy.

“The bill wouldn’t require naming of individuals,” Somerville said, adding that a few districts, like the one in Taylor, already disclose their health care costs and haven’t had any privacy problems.

Hecker also said the mandate would cost districts money.

“Work is a cost item. If this information has to be provided in another way, school districts may have to pay someone to do it,” Hecker said.

Somerville disagreed, saying, “The process wouldn’t take a great deal of work hours and would be only a one-time cost.”

Doug Pratt, director of public affairs at the Michigan Education Association in East Lansing, said the mandatory posting wouldn’t show the full scope of districts’ health care expenses.

“This legislation would only show the costs of full-family coverage,” Pratt said, adding that full-family coverage is more expensive than other types and isn’t what every employee receives.

In addition, he said, “Any school district would comply with a request for these numbers, with or without a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Pratt also said the proposal is unfair. “If school districts are forced to disclose this information, then the Legislature should too.”

The bill is in the House Education Committee. Its other sponsors are Reps. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.

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


Filed under: Education

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

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

Tenure protects teachers, hurts kids, Rogers says

Capital News Service

LANSING– Public school teachers may soon see changes, or even an outright repeal, of tenure.

A bill by Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, seeks to eliminate the law that makes it difficult for districts to fire experienced teachers.

Under current law, teachers undergo a four-year probationary period at the beginning of their careers. After which they receive tenure.

Critics of tenure say that it allows unqualified or misbehaving teachers to keep employment, undermining the quality of education. Districts seeking to fire a tenured teacher must go through a lengthy process that costs tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which deters schools from dismissing teachers.

“We need to put the accountability to effectively educate our children back onto Michigan’s teachers,” Rogers said. “The lack of accountability in the classroom harms students for years, and Michigan’s children deserve better than that.”

Mark Dombroski, superintendent of Cheboygan Public Schools, said his district has successfully fired under-performing teachers but he estimates that it cost the district anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 in each case.

However, Dombroski opposes a repeal of tenure since it would leave teachers “with no protection” from a changing administration that may not see eye to eye with certain teachers.

“Things that teachers don’t have control over could impact whether a teacher gets a good evaluation. Without having some protection or a program in place that gives them protection, teachers can’t make changes” in the way they teach Dombroski said.

David Hecker, president of the Michigan affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed that repeal would leave his members vulnerable by eliminating their right to due process in evaluations of misconduct or poor performance.

Hecker said that districts have the right to fire teachers found misbehaving or underperforming, but only after properly reviewing each case.

“We want good teachers in the classroom,” Hecker said. “We don’t want bad teachers in the classroom, and like every other occupation there are some people that just shouldn’t be doing it.”

Critics also argue that repeal would deter teachers from working in the state, making other states with tenure protection more appealing.

However, Rogers said that quality teachers shouldn’t worry.

“The good teachers aren’t going to be affected by it whatsoever,” Rogers said. “If they’re doing a good job, this won’t even faze them.”

The State Board of Education has suggested revisions in the law to Gov. Rick Snyder, stopping short of repeal.
One suggestion by the board is to base tenure on proficiency level instead years of teaching. According to the board, proficiency should be determined using “multiple measures” with at least 40 percent based on student’s academic growth.

Additional pushes have been made to current tenure procedures.

For example, Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, introduced a bill that mirrored the board’s recommendation, requiring tenure to be based on an evaluation of teacher effectiveness.

But Cheboygan’s Dombroski cautioned against evaluating teachers entirely on effectiveness or student performance since they work with a wide range of students.

Student performance can be part of the process because teachers should give all students “ an opportunity to excel at the best of their ability,” Dombroski said. But other factors include outside services students receive and family income.

For example, Dombroski said some students in northern Michigan lack high-speed Internet access at home, which puts their teachers on an unfair playing field when it comes to academic performance.

“So much of the students’ success is outside of school,” Dombroski said. “Granted, we have a huge part in students’ success, but we aren’t there to give them support from childbirth to school readiness and then at home.”

According to Hecker, the union president, changes in the tenure law should include student performance, but urged other measures like peer-evaluation for a better, well-rounded perspective of the educator.

Hecker said if the state decides to base tenure partially on student performance, evaluations should be done on a local level, rather than statewide.

“This way you have an evaluation system that fits that school district and what that school district does,” Hecker said.

Rogers said he’s still willing to hear suggestions from all sides of the issue.

“If they want to come to the table and give us compelling evidence that modification would be a better course, I’m all ears,” Rogers said.

According to Rogers, either repeal or modification is urgently needed.

“It will enhance students’ ability to get good-quality teachers,” Rogers said. “If we lose a whole classroom or a couple of students we haven’t done our job.”

The tenure bills are pending in the House Education Committee.

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



Filed under: Education

Program brings water, woods and wildlife into Northern Michigan classrooms

Capital News Service

LANSING — Wheeling big boxes of skulls, feathers and posters into a classroom and exciting children about nature in the Great Lakes region is the best part of the job, Jeff Dykehouse says.

Jeff Dykehouse, curator of natural history for the Mackinac State Historic Parks, with schoolchildren. Credit: Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

As curator of natural history at Mackinac State Historic Parks, Dykehouse visits an average of 50 schools within 75 miles of Mackinaw City during the course of a winter. Most students involved in the Water, Woods and Wildlife program are third- and fourth-graders.

“I try to convince these kids about how lucky we are to be living in the Great Lakes area with all this clean, fresh water we take for granted,” he said. “I tell stories and give examples about when people who are not from Michigan come here and are amazed at the varieties of plants and animals we have.”

So far this winter, he has visited a number of elementary schools including, Shay, Central and Ottawa in Emmet County; Rogers City in Presque Isle County; Pickford and St. Ignus in Mackinac County; and Cheboygan Eastside, Bishop Baraga and Onaway in Cheboygan County.

Showing artifacts while jumping around like a child himself excites the children about the program and encourages them to care about natural history, Dykehouse said.

Presentations vary according to the curriculum of the classes. And he said it excites students that someone in addition to their teachers thinks that what they learn is important.

“The missions of the program include getting across the message of the Mackinac State Parks – that we’re here to teach people and protect the cultural and natural history of the parks –and getting the value of natural resources across to the kids so they can continue to enjoy it and protect it,” he said

His agency administers attractions on Mackinac Island and in Mackinaw City: Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island State Park, Historic Downtown Mackinac, the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Michilimackinac State Park, Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.

Dykehouse’s biology background helped him develop the program about 17 years ago.

“Other similar programs existed which were led by historians and archeologists and talked about the history of our sites,” Dykehouse said. “Those guys were having all the fun. So being the only biologist on staff, I decided to design something similar with natural history.”

This education outreach program reaches about 8,000 students a year.

That means reaching more than 180,000 children so far, said Steven Brission, chief curator at Mackinac State Historic Parks, “We hope to continue it indefinitely.”

The program goes hand-in-hand with the Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations, said Sue Gimble-Crandell, who teaches third grade at nearby Cheboygan East Elementary School. Her students study the habitats of local ponds, the Great Lakes, forests and food chains.

Dykehouse brings those lessons alive, Gimble-Crandell said. “He talks about the watershed, passes around models of the animals, which really brings it home for the students.”

Dykehouse said, “I hope to bring awareness to these kids so that they would want to preserve and protect these natural resources and wildlife in the future. I want them to know about nature and not fear it.

“What would be the point of preserving a forest or a bird or a watershed if it’s something I wouldn’t care or know about?” he said.

Shaheen Kanthawala writes for Great Lakes Echo.

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

Filed under: Education

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