Sunday, January 3, 2010

REGARDING The RTTT Legislation- from the MEA

MEA Voice Online -- Dec. 22, 2009
Various school reforms make the cut in 'Race to the Top' legislation
Five-bill package passed by Legislature on Saturday puts Michigan in competitive position for additional federal funds
It took marathon sessions this past weekend, but state legislators passed legislation required for Michigan's entry in the "Race to the Top" (RTTT) competition. Passage of these bills clears the way for Michigan to attempt to win millions in additional education funding from the federal government.

It took hard lobbying by MEA members and staff to turn the various RTTT-related proposals around from their original forms, many of which could have been very detrimental to both students and school employees.

The main points of the five-bill package include:

Allowing student test scores to be used as one factor in teacher evaluations. The evaluation process and what other factors should be taken into account are still a subject of bargaining at the local level. The language to implement this in the School Code was lifted from the federal guidelines for RTTT.

Taking over the state's lowest-performing schools and placing them under a reform officer from the Department of Education. See below for more on this provision and the collective bargaining issues surrounding it.

Expanding alternative certification for teachers to fast-track them into classrooms. MEA worked to ensure that these alternative paths maintained high standards for teachers entering the profession, including requiring a 3.0 GPA for admission into a fast-track program.

Allowing approximately 30 new charter schools to open--subject to greater oversight and accountability. High-quality charters could become Schools of Excellence, in turn allowing a new charter to open in their place. Also on the charter school front, 10 additional Schools of Excellence can be opened in the next five years to be run by high-performing charter operators from across the country. MEA stood by our long-standing position of controlled growth of charters in exchange for greater transparency and accountability.

Opening two cyber schools designed primarily for high school dropouts. Student population would range from 400 to 1,000 students each. MEA helped close significant loopholes in this bill that could have allowed unlimited cyber schools with unlimited enrollment and very little accountability for providing a quality education to the students attending them.

Increasing the mandatory attendance -- or dropout -- age from 16 to 18. This policy will begin with this year's sixth-grade class. While MEA believes this change is a good one, it is only a first step. Districts now need to begin the work of keeping students engaged during these extra two years to ensure all students are successful in making it through to graduation. To assist in this process, greater personalization of the rigorous high school curriculum also passed as part of the package.

There are several components of this package of bills that are supportive of MEA members and their rights. For example, the Legislature passed a "Teacher Bill of Rights" to address the need for adequate classroom supplies and books. If teachers don't have what they need to educate students, they can call a state hotline. If the district doesn't provide the supplies and books, the Department of Education will deduct the expense from the district's state aid payments.

Even though bills had been introduced to change teacher tenure, they did not make it into the final package. The argument that the current School Code adequately addressed the requirements of RTTT won out.

In a major victory in the battle against privatization, legislation now requires a school district to get competitive bids before privatizing school support services. This can prevent situations like Durand where the district accepted concessions from the ESP and then turned around and privatized custodians at the very same meeting.

On the other hand, the most disappointing aspect of the final legislation affects members in so-called 'failing schools.' According to the new bill, a 'failing school' is one whose students fall into the bottom 5 percent of proficiency in math and language arts. Under a state takeover of a "failing school," the appointed school reform officer can impose some contract provisions on employees -- with this assault on collective bargaining rights, educators in these buildings are stripped of their voice in helping students.

MEA and AFT-Michigan worked together to help legislators meet every necessary aspect of RTTT. In a joint statement released Saturday, MEA President Iris K. Salters and AFT-Michigan President David Hecker expressed their displeasure with this provision of the law, which had been fended off in negotiations until its re-insertion in the bills at the last minute.

"The overreaching of the Legislature with regard to the collective bargaining rights of employees in struggling schools taken over by a state school reform officer is simply a step too far--and one not needed for RTTT," they said in the statement.

Thorough analysis of all these bills and their implications will be completed by MEA staff during the holiday break and shared with MEA local leaders to help guide them as Michigan takes the next step in competing for RTTT funds -- State Superintendent Mike Flanagan's submission of a state plan to the U.S. Department of Education. That plan is what will implement the various reforms passed by the Legislature -- understanding how that plan is structured is critical to making decisions about RTTT at the local level. MEA is among several statewide school organizations advising members to wait until more details are available before signing on to any local RTTT plans.