Bill would give parents more power over low-performing schools

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Capital News Service
LANSING– Parents whose children go to a low-achieving public school would have a chance to redesign its administration under a proposal by Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.
Currently, “priority schools” that perform in the bottom 5 percent as identified by the Department of Education are required to implement one of four intervention measures under the the state School Reform Office.

The intervention measures are progressively severe, according to the department: transformational, in which the principal is replaced and comprehensive reform strategies are implemented; turnaround, in which the principal and 50 percent of the school’s staff are replaced, a new governance structure is adopted and new or revised reform strategies are implemented; restart, in which the school closes and reopens as a charter; and closure, in which students move to a high-achieving school in the same district.
Parents whose children attend such a school and want to convert it would have to file a petition with signatures of 60 percent of parents, or 51 percent of parents plus 60 percent of teachers.
At the same time, they must submit an application with the plan they would use to convert their school. The plan must comply with the four measures provided by the department.
Michigan has 146 priority schools that had 66,414 students in 2011, according to the department. The Detroit school district accounted for 41 percent of them.
Robertson said that his legislation would empower both teachers and parents to bring about necessary improvements in the quality of education and the performance of their schools.
“These are the worst performing schools in Michigan, and the parents know it.” he said. “And rather than being trapped in school just because of where they happen to live, I believe the parents have the right to demand more.”
However, Lamar Lemmons, the president of the Detroit School Board, said he is concerned that student mobility would make the plan impractical.
“There might be 60 percent of parents who want the school to be converted this year. But next year, maybe more than 10 percent of parents whose kids are in the upper grade are going to graduate, and you may have another group of parents who are willing to go back to the old system,” he said.
He also said he is worried that the bill is unconstitutional because parents who want their children’s schools converted may not represent the majority of the taxpayers of that district.
“The citizens and taxpayers who support those schools, who do not have any children, also are critical stakeholders,” he said.
Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, a member of the House Education Committee, said the Department of Education would have difficulty verifying signatures on the petitions.
Another of her concerns is whether Robertson’s legislation, which passed the Senate, is necessary because Michigan already has laws regarding raising schools’ performance and already provides options for dealing with persistently low-achieving schools.
The House Education Committee has begun hearings.
Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, the chair of the committee, said that the issue involves serious public policy so that everything needs to be fine-tuned before a final decision.
“I want to take a look at some of the specifics of the bill and make sure there aren’t any unintended consequences,” said Lyons, who supports it.
“If parents and teachers in that area feel it’s important to do something new with their schools, I am supportive of that concept,” she said. “If parents are willing to work to change those schools that are failing them, I think they need to be given that opportunity.”

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