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Michigan Preschool Enrollments Rising

An enrollment increase of over 16,000 4-year-olds in preschool programs across Michigan has come as a result of expanded funding for the initiative. The state dedicated additional funds of potentially $65 million to the Great Start Readiness Program, making it one of the nation’s largest preschool programs available to low-income families.

The increased funding puts Governor Snyder and the legislature in line with President Obama’s vision for expanded, possibly universal preschool. The issue has inevitably become highly politicized as critics from the right and left have argued over the dedication of large sums of federal funds for the early schooling. Most sound research, though, points to modest positive academic gains as a result of high-quality preschool programs. The question then becomes: How do we effectively use the available resources to achieve positive results on a large scale?

Michigan connection: one of the most often cited examples of preschool’s effectiveness is the Highscope Perry Preschool Study, which studied the effects of a highly intensive program in the 1970’s in Ypsilanti. Unfortunately, though the program is put forth as conclusive evidence of the effectiveness of preschool programs, any large-scale implementation in today’s schools would not likely be nearly as intensive or well-funded.


Teacher Evaluation and Merit Pay Up For Debate

Debate will begin Wednesday in a joint meeting of the state House and Senate education committees on the issue of Michigan’s teacher evaluation system. At the center of the debate is a report (PDF) issued earlier this year by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, which outlines proposed evaluation strategies for districts.

I’ll once again applaud Michigan’s practical restraint in tackling the overhaul of teacher evaluation. Though some lawmakers have attempted a hard-line approach, tying teacher pay to test scores has not yet been implemented as a false panacea as has been the case in other states. My home state, for example, took the idea and ran with it, despite criticism from the architect of the evaluation model. Time will tell of the unintended consequences of placing so much at stake on so few points of measurement.

By contrast, Michigan has seemingly embraced the evaluation changes with an honest motivation of improving student achievement. As long as the legislators continue to listen in good faith to the concerns of educators, we may stay avoid disastrous outcomes.

From the Annals of Common Sense – Later HS Start Times Advocated

Not a very hard-hitting or controversial topic here, but good to see that MLive picked up on Duncan and Flanagan’s endorsements of later start times for high school students. You don’t need to be a social scientist (though studies exist) to know that teenagers need more sleep to function and are not entirely active and attentive in the early hours of the morning.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how higher authorities can compel districts to set later start times. 

“…a way to broaden knowledge without leaving the building.”

WILX 10 had a good general interest piece on the rise of online learning in the state of Michigan and the different methods in which it is implemented. Definitely worth a quick view.

Online Education on the Rise in Michigan

A piece by Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press today details the impact that new state legislation will have in regard to schools and districts offering online learning options across Michigan. The state has long been at the forefront of the online movement in K-12 education, but this year’s legislation offers even more choice to parents and students seeking different options.

Though the movement toward online courses has not been without controversy, I believe Michigan has been a perfect example of manageable growth and adherence to best practices. A push for online ed as a money maker in the for-profit education world has sometimes produced disastrous results. And when virtual charter school enrollment numbers aren’t capped at reasonable capacity, troubles typically ensue. Michael Barbour, a researcher and professor of instructional technology at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, is quoted in the Free Press article: “When those decisions are being driven by economics… that’s a problem.”

Here’s hoping that Michigan can continue to lead by example by grounding its online ed efforts in sound research and a moral motivation.

Creativity Being Kept Alive in Grand Rapids by WMCAT

A story from earlier this week by Michigan Radio provides a very personal look at how the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology is giving kids an outlet for creative expression and exploration. As art programs have been slashed in nearly all of Grand Rapids public schools, WMCAT has been able to fill the void. Keontay Seymour, a Grand Rapids public school student, and his mother discuss the impact the arts program has on his personal demeanor as well as his academics.

Perhaps when the pendulum swings away from the current reform and standardization ideals, districts will again realize the importance of a good arts education program in producing well-rounded and creative students.

Common Core on Trial


A new round in the ongoing battle over implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Michigan ensued today, with testimony from the Ottawa Area ISD and a classroom teacher in the district of Kentwood. 

Troy Vanderlaan, a teacher of U.S. History at East Kentwood Freshman Campus, argued that the CCSS “teaches our students a relevant application of the skills needed to be leaders in our global market.” Vanderlaan presented evidence of CCSS-based curriculum improving student achievement at a school he helped create.

Political opposition to the CCSS has been increasing with the rise of groups like Stop Common Core in Michigan, whose members claim that the effort to implement the standards is an attempt at “progressive indoctrination.” The cause has become a hobbyhorse among those on the political right who look to block federal involvement in the educational sphere. 

The politicization of the argument was likely inevitable, but it unfortunately diminishes opportunities for substantive discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the standards. I’ve yet to hear one valid point made against raising standards in poorly performing states (I’m looking at you Louisiana). Though the transition will be a costly one, a reexamination of the proportion of government dollars that go to education is a long overdue one. 

However, states like Massachusetts have genuine concern over whether implementing CCSS will effectively lower the bar for their already high-performing schools.

From a general interest perspective, I suggest reading this 2012 profile of David Coleman, the architect of the CCSS. It will certainly provide some insight on how his personal beliefs and experiences have helped shape the standards.