School Reform Office, under scrutiny, releases failing schools list

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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.
The School Reform Office’s job is to look at the bottom 5 percent on the list and take measures to see that those schools improve. Each school on the list is required to submit a redesign plan. The SRO approves, disapproves or requires changes to the plans. Schools on the list could face closure, turnaround, restart or transformation.
It typically takes four years of scrutiny to be removed from the list but there are ways to be removed earlier.
Once failing schools are identified, “we will be doing our job to determine what’s the next course or action with regard to accountability,” said Kurt Weiss, a press officer for the School Reform Office.
The process has many critics. Sen. Phil Pavlov, a St. Clair Republican, has introduced a bill to repeal the law regulating underperforming schools. In a statement, Pavlov described the law as “deeply flawed” and called for public conversation on possible solutions.
Weiss said the School Reform Office supports changes to the process.
“We definitely agree with Sen. Pavlov,” Weiss said. “The current law has lots of challenges in it. It definitely is something we would like to see updated and improved.”
Weiss declined to go into detail about specific problems, saying the office is working on solutions with the Legislature.
Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, said the process fails to actually help struggling schools.
“Closing down the continually low-performing [schools] can be done, but it doesn’t solve anything,” Cook said. “First of all we need to know where the problem is; that is something the state doesn’t tend to care much about.”
Among the districts facing scrutiny from the School Reform Office is Lansing, which has six schools on a list of lowest-achieving schools, dubbed “priority schools,” as of September.
Yvonne Caamal Canul, superintendent of the Lansing School District, said she supports repealing the underperforming schools law and agrees it doesn’t help struggling schools.
“There is a lack of consistency in measures, testing and monitoring strategy,” Canul said. “Testing results are overvalued in this system,” she added, noting that the state keeps changing how tests are structured.
Canul also said the system requires extensive paperwork with limited feedback.
“They require quarterly reports” Canul said. “We’ve produced 65,000 to 100,000 data cells every quarter. This is incredibly massive workload to our staff. ”
For the 2016-17 school year, the SRO has reduced the reporting requirements for districts and public school academies. The number of reported fields dropped from 57 to 38.
Additional resources for CNS editors:
The School Reform Office map of priority schools:,5916,7-340-78635_78726—,00.html

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