Contents of this issue:
  • Delaware’s largest district begins teachers merit-pay pilot program

  • Analysis suggests Michigan schools inflate self-grading system

  • Poll: Public offers conflicting views on No Child Left Behind Act

  • Schools trim budgets to stay in the black

  • Insurance costs hold up teachers contract talks

  • Saginaw school offers single-sex classrooms


DELAWARE'S LARGEST DISTRICT BEGINS TEACHERS MERIT-PAY PILOT PROGRAM
NEW YORK, N.Y. — The largest school district in the state of Delaware announced last week that it would begin a pilot program to pay teachers based on their students' achievement in school.

Christina School District Superintendent Joseph Wise said new teachers salary increases should be commensurate with student achievement to reward the most successful teachers. Middle and high school achievement there has been stagnant, and district administrators hope the new program will give teachers the incentive needed to improve students' education.

The program, which will begin in September 2005, follows a similar Denver pilot program that began last year.

SOURCES:
New York Times, "School District Ties Pay to Performance," Aug. 25, 2004
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/25/education/25teach.html

Michigan Education Report, "Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality: How Do They Relate?" Spring 1999
http://www.educationreport.org/1681

Michigan Education Report, "Increase teachers' pay the right way," Early Fall 2000
http://www.educationreport.org/3084

Michigan Education Report, "Diverse Viewpoints: Should teachers be paid based on merit?" Summer 2004
http://www.educationreport.org/6725


ANALYSIS SUGGESTS MICHIGAN SCHOOLS INFLATE SELF-GRADING SYSTEM
DETROIT, Mich. — Education experts in Michigan say that many schools in the state pad their overall grades in the state's report card by giving themselves high marks on the self-review section, defeating the purpose of the state government's grading system.

The state publishes an annual report card that grades each school in Michigan using data from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program and from a school's evaluation of itself in several categories. According to a Detroit News analysis of the state's latest batch of school report cards, 83 percent of schools that failed federal standards for more than four years gave themselves A's on the self-assessment portion of the grade. This number is up from 70 percent last year.

One example is George Ford Elementary School in Detroit, which gave itself a perfect score for its facilities just before it was closed because the school began to sink into the ground. Ford Elementary is "an example of why we need to firm up the system," said state Superintendent Tom Watkins. "[Schools] better have ... appropriate justification on why they gave themselves an A."

School administrators, however, dispute that there is distortion in the schools' self-assessments on such criteria as the number and type of state-mandated programs that exist in a school. "The state tells you the criteria," said Pontiac Superintendent Mildred Mason. "It is not that we go out and give ourselves a grade. We just tell the truth as it is. All it means is you have those [programs] in place at your buildings."

SOURCES:
Detroit News, "Metro schools pad rankings," Aug. 30, 2004
http://www.detnews.com/2004/schools/0408/30/a01-257920.htm

Michigan Education Report, "State superintendent launches plan to grade schools," Winter 2002
http://www.educationreport.org/4083

Michigan Education Report, "State Board of Education adopts school grading plan," Spring 2002
http://www.educationreport.org/4270


POLL: PUBLIC OFFERS CONFLICTING VIEWS ON NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT
DETROIT, Mich. — Results released last week of a survey focusing on the No Child Left Behind Act suggested that American adults have conflicting opinions on the act's methods and results.

For instance, over two-thirds of polled adults said they believed using test scores in math and reading were an incorrect way to judge school performance. But almost as many agreed with the statement that schools give the right emphasis to tests or don't give tests enough emphasis, according to poll results. Over half said the act will bring improvement to public schools.

The number of people who consider themselves uninformed about the law dropped from 2003, but remained high, at 68 percent of those polled. Fifty-five percent said they didn't know enough about the law to form an opinion on it.

The poll was administered by the Gallup Organization and Phi Kappa Delta International, an education professionals group. It is conducted annually with a statistically representative group of American adults.

SOURCES:
Detroit News, "Poll: Views on schools clash," Aug. 25, 2004
http://www.detnews.com/2004/schools/0408/25/a05-253615.htm

Michigan Education Report, "President signs 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" Winter 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4082

Michigan Education Report, "No Child Left Behind law demands 'adequate yearly progress' and offers school choice options for parents," Fall 2002
http://www.educationreport.org/4846


SCHOOLS TRIM BUDGETS TO STAY IN THE BLACK
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Michigan school districts are finding more ways to save money after their income from state sources dropped during the economic decline in the early 2000s, reports the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Many districts have opted to increase class sizes somewhat, making the statewide average for class size larger this year than in the last several. "Class size increases are slight, but definitely on the rise," said Gail Braverman, spokeswoman for the Michigan Association of School Boards. Even small increases in class size can save districts noticeable amounts of money.

Other districts, including some rural districts, are shortening the school year by not starting until after Labor Day and ending the year earlier, as well. Cost-saving measures such as combining student field trips, having students pay to play on sports teams and limiting new capital outlays are all popular with districts trying to stay in the black.

The nine school districts in Kalamazoo County implemented a cooperative-bidding system this summer that will allow them to combine purchases to save money by buying their supplies in bulk. "More and more of those kind of cooperative efforts are in place or in development," said Jim Rikkers, a consultant for the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency. "It's an attempt to keep budget cuts as far away from instructional programs as possible."

SOURCES:
Kalamazoo Gazette, "Districts save by enlarging class size, trimming days and collaborating on purchases," Aug. 25, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/kzgazette/index.ssf?/base/news-10/ 109344721361440.xml

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "The Six Habits of Fiscally Responsible School Districts," December 2002
http://www.mackinac.org/4891

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Will More Money Improve Student Performance?" June 1998
http://www.mackinac.org/527

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "More Spending Not the Solution to School Woes," December 1993
http://www.mackinac.org/137

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan's Budget Challenge," August 2004
http://www.mackinac.org/4964


INSURANCE COSTS HOLD UP TEACHERS CONTRACT TALKS
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — More than 1,200 teachers in Northern Michigan are without contracts, after yearlong negotiations failed to bring union representatives and school district officials to terms.

One of the largest sources of disagreement in the talks in the six northern districts is the cost of insurance for teachers, which has risen substantially in the recent past. "Our insurance this year has gone from $989 to $1,164 per teacher per month," said Benzie County Central Schools Superintendent David Micinski. "The total insurance increase for the teachers is $215,958 for one year through extending the existing contract."

The district proposed a 10 percent cap on the increase in what the district would pay for teachers' health insurance coverage, so that teachers would pay the remaining 7.7 percent of this year's 17.7 percent insurance hike. But Kathleen Betts, an MEA Uniserv director, said that the union rejected such an offer last year because it was less than teachers had received before. "Teachers historically have had uncapped health insurance," she said. "We feel it's a benefit that keeps people healthy and keeps people working."

The Leland district also reports that insurance is the main sticking point in its contract talks. "It's the same as everywhere else in the country," said Superintendent Michael Hartigan. "It's the cost of providing quality insurance for our employees. We see 15 to 18 percent increases every year, and they're budget breakers."

SOURCES:
Traverse City Record-Eagle, "Teachers wait for contracts," Aug. 22, 2004
http://www.record-eagle.com/2004/aug/22benzie.htm

Michigan Education Report, "MESSA: Keeping school districts from saving money on health care," Summer 2004
http://www.educationreport.org/6742

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "MEA Abuses Public School Health Care Funds," Aug. 7, 2001
http://www.mackinac.org/9404

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Association: The MEA's Money Machine," November 1993
http://www.mackinac.org/8

Michigan Privatization Report, "Ensuring Insurance Competition," September 1998
http://www.mackinac.org/667


SAGINAW SCHOOL OFFERS SINGLE-SEX CLASSROOMS
SAGINAW, Mich. — A Saginaw elementary school this autumn began a yearlong pilot program that offers single-sex classrooms to students, bringing mixed reactions from parents, students and administrators.

Schools across the country are starting to offer single-sex classrooms, which proponents say are less distracting for students, who then do not have to deal with the social pressures of mixed classrooms. "John Kerry, George W. Bush, his father and Al Gore all went to all-boys schools," Dr. Leonard Sax, a Maryland physician and psychologist, told USA Today. "We don't think that's a coincidence. We think single-sex education really empowers girls and boys from very diverse backgrounds to achieve."

Complaints lodged against the practice state that public schools should not be allowed to offer the classes, as they might be seen as discriminatory or unequal. "We think segregation has historically always resulted in second-class citizens," said Terry O'Neill, a vice president for the National Organization for Women.

Principal Janice K. Anderson, who leads the Webber Elementary School in the Saginaw city school district, said she has heard few complaints about the program and remains confident of its merits. "Overall, parents have been very supportive," said Anderson. "They're taking a wait-and-see attitude, but we can't wait to get started. We see the potential to do some good things."

If successful, district administrators plan to expand the program to encompass two buildings, turning Webber Elementary into an all-girls school and making another elementary school into an all-boys school. But Saginaw Superintendent Gerald D. Dawkins said single-sex classrooms are not a silver bullet for providing a quality education. "If we don't change the way we instruct students, we won't improve," he said.

"Single-gender classrooms will not magically transform academic achievement."

SOURCES:
Saginaw News, "Experiment begins with single-sex classrooms," Aug. 25, 2004
http://www.mlive.com/news/sanews/index.ssf?/base/news-12/ 1093443618283640.xml

USA Today, "More states offer single-sex schools," Aug. 24, 2004
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/ 2004-08-24-single-sex-schools_x.htm


MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report ( http://www.educationreport.org), a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 130,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Neil Block at
med@educationreport.org.

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