By RACHEL IOVAN
Capital News Service
LANSING–A data collection mandate for public schools would get some financial support from legislation awaiting the governor’s approval, but some superintendents worry it won’t be enough.
A provision to reassign $25.6 million to cover the cost of collecting and reporting data to the state and federal governments is part of larger supplemental school aid for 2010-11.
The data includes information such as students’ home phone numbers and ethnicity, and square footage of classrooms.
The money results from a 2008 Michigan Supreme Court ruling that the state unconstitutionally mandated the program without funding to carry it out.
More than 450 school districts filed the suit to either eliminate the mandate or provide funding.
Superintendent Rick Seebeck of Gladwin Community Schools said the state required all districts to provide data for programs such as the Center for Education, Performance and Information, but pay the expenses themselves. That means school districts had to cover the cost of collecting data and reporting it.
But Seebeck said even if the program is funded, it’s still a waste of resources because such data as birth order and whether a student is a twin is unnecessary.
“The whole thing is useless. We don’t need any of that data,” said Seebeck.
He said schools have hired temporary replacements for secretaries who work on the data for two to three weeks, several times per year, which costs his district $6,000 to $7,000 annually.
“It’s the biggest pain in the neck since the last pain in the neck the state came up with,” said Seebeck.
Doug Pratt, the communications director for the Michigan Education Association (MEA), said data collection increased last year when the state made changes that demand more information to track student progress.
“It’s more bureaucracy and more paperwork,” Pratt said, “We need to balance the need for data to track student progress with the need to focus on working with students.”
Pratt said even if the money becomes available, it would merely reallocate existing funds.
“The legislation would pull money out of one pocket and put it in another,” said Pratt.
He also said $25.6 million isn’t enough.
“That amount in one-time money doesn’t deal with the cost of ongoing data collection,” said Pratt, “If you get $25 million divided among 525 school districts, that’s less than $50,000 for each.”
Superintendent Peter Haines of Greenville Public Schools said he suspects the reporting requirements hurt every district in the state.
“The most significant negative impact of these additional responsibilities is the increasing redistribution of precious financial resources away from the classroom,” said Haines.
Haines said he hopes the Department of Education will issue more standardized requirements to prevent information overlaps.
Gladwin’s Seebeck acknowledged that some of the mandated data could be useful but called the demands excessive.
“I’m sure the state has the best intentions, but they’ve gone too far to the point where it’s ineffective,” said Seebeck, “If there were tangible results that helped guide instruction, then I could see the value of the database, but we don’t use any of that data for educational purposes.”
Seebeck said he and several other superintendents considered not complying, but received a letter from the department warning that they’d lose state funding if they didn’t turn in the information.
He said, “I’m all for educational accountability, but when you’re too busy filling out forms to monitor students, there’s clearly a problem.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By RACHEL IOVAN