Poet researched Great Lakes’ wrecks for new collection

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — A 200-pound ship’s radiator interrupted a funeral in 1922 when it plunged from the sky and into the Falk Undertaking Parlors on Military Street in Port Huron.

It came from the Omar D. Conger, a ship blown to pieces when its boiler exploded while docked at Port Huron.

“That part is accurate! It happened! And that’s just bizarre!” said poet Cindy Hunter Morgan, an assistant professor of creative writing at Michigan State University. “When I read that, I thought, I’ve got to build a poem around that.”

And she did. From that poem: Continue reading

Debates persist on best way to assess schools

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — What’s the best way to measure school performance?

Standardized testing? Which tests? How often?

Michigan is awash in contentious disputes over whether to repeal the basis for its standardized tests (Michigan’s Common Core standards), questions about the Common Core-based testing system, threats to close low-performing schools, the possibility of cuts in federal education funding and debates about the very effectiveness of statewide standardized testing

Education experts remain at odds over what educational success in Michigan would look like, how to best measure that success and how to achieve it.

Tim Webster, superintendent of Reed City Area Schools, said there needs to be better consensus on testing policies and priorities about which assessments schools should focus on. Continue reading

State, schools track bullying of minorities in Trump era

By CHAO YAN
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Civil Rights is working with local school districts to deal with racial and ethnic bias incidents arising after the November election.

In November, Civil Rights and the state Department of Education released a statement encouraging schools to review and revise their harassment policies and increase dialogue about diversity.

The election of Donald Trump as president was followed by high-profile incidents of intimidation that matched his political statements. Such rhetoric allows for more harassment to happen, said Roberto Torres, the executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.

Some people see Trump’s statements on immigrants as permission for them to unleash long-held biases. Continue reading

Common Core defenders call out misconceptions

By LAINA STEBBINS
Capital News Service

LANSING — As bills to repeal Common Core school standards move through the Legislature, educators are trying to correct misconceptions they believe may have motivated the legislation.

The Common Core state standards – which set out what K-12 students should know at specific grade levels – were implemented across Michigan after the State Board of Education’s unanimous approval in 2010.

The proposal would terminate the current academic standards and replace them with standards used by Massachusetts schools from 2008-2009.

Supporters of the repeal, including 29 House members, say this switch would bring Michigan up to par with Massachusetts’ consistently high educational attainment scores – although after 2009, that state did join Michigan and 43 other states in implementing Common Core standards. Continue reading

Educators debate Snyder’s proposed cyber school cuts

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget pledged more state money to education, but that doesn’t apply to all schools.

Under Snyder’s proposal, online charter school funding would be reduced to 80 percent of the per-pupil subsidy that physical schools receive.

About $22 million would be transferred from publicly funded cyber schools to conventional brick-and-mortar institutes, a foundation grant exchange that has created controversy among Michigan educators.  

“The notion is, does it cost the same when someone is taking a class virtually compared to someone who is taking a class in a brick-and-mortar school?” Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston said in explaining the rationale for the funding differences. Continue reading

Bills could mean even higher tuition at Michigan universities

BY LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING– Proposals in the House and the Senate to eliminate the state income tax could devastate Michigan’s public universities, already coping for years with dramatic drops in state support, a higher-education consortium says.

“You would see continued increases in tuition,” said Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer  of the Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU). “The sky would fall.”

Funding for public colleges and universities in Michigan has declined for decades, and the institutions have raised tuition to maintain high-quality programs.

The state income tax represents 67 percent of the state’s general fund and 22 percent of public school aid fund, Hurley said. Phasing out the tax with no plan to replace the revenue could force universities to scale back on enrollment and new initiatives.

“Often when you have a discussion about higher ed, it’s about affordability,” Hurley said. “Quality is so important.” Continue reading

Income tax proposal could hurt community colleges

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Things were different in the 20th century. Back then, there were all sorts of trade jobs available to high school graduates who just needed some extra training, and those careers were especially abundant in the thriving Michigan manufacturing sector.

Finish up school, learn the craft and trickle into the workforce -– that was the course for a happy middle-class existence.

But, for most people, it isn’t like that anymore.

“Michigan’s still a very heavily manufacturing-based economy. There’s still a lot of manufacturing in Michigan,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. “It’s just that manufacturing has changed, where it has become more automated, more technical, more complex and requires therefore higher levels of skill. Continue reading

School Reform Office, under scrutiny, releases failing schools list

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s controversial School Reform Office announced its updated list of “failing schools” on Jan. 20, even as legislators move to eliminate it.

Thirty-eight schools, most in Southeast Michigan, were identified as being in the bottom 5 percent for three years. The School Reform Office will review the failing schools over the next several weeks to decide if they should be closed. Geographic, academic  and enrollment capacity of other public school options for children attending one of the 38 failing schools will be examined.

The office, overseen by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, has been supervising identified “priority schools” since the Llegislature passed the “failing school” law in 2010.

Each year the Department of Education (MDE) releases a “top to bottom” list, which ranks schools on student performance in mathematics, English language, arts, science, social studies and graduation rate data. Continue reading

Education nominee Betsy DeVos gets Michigan educators talking

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan lobbyist and business executive Betsy DeVos’ nomination as U.S. secretary of education has been met with criticism from Michigan educators and public school advocates who have been sparring with DeVos for decades.

But some educators who have worked in Michigan charter schools, for which DeVos has been an aggressive advocate, argue that school competition has helped the state.

Those who have been pushing back against the billionaire GOP donor’s influence on state politics and legislation, including the Michigan Education Association (MEA), say that DeVos’s persistent advocacy for charter schools could prove detrimental to public schooling across the country if her nomination is confirmed.

“There has never been in [DeVos’s] history – and you only have to look at her history here in Michigan – much concern at all about the public schools,” said union President Steven Cook. Continue reading

Lack of school supplies affects schools throughout state

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s school districts face a constant supply problem caused by lack of funds, but advocates and state agencies are working to fill the gaps.

“We have situations where we don’t even have textbooks, where we’re having to utilize those free materials that are available for students,” said John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools. “Or if we have textbooks, they’re more than 10 years old.

“It’s a challenge for the teachers in preparing to do the instruction, it’s a challenge for the students who are expected to complete the tests and do the homework. It overall has a dramatic impact on…everyday teaching and learning.” Continue reading