Students who don't speak English fare poorly on M-Step

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Michigan Student Test of Education Progress (M-Step) introduced last spring was difficult for most students, according to their test scores, especially for one group: English-learners. The M-Step’s first results were low, with 3rd grade English language arts showing the highest proportion of student proficiency at only 50 percent. It only got worse for English-learners, said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). “The M-Step last year was given to students that didn’t know English,” Cook said. “Guess how they did on the M-Step?

Vocational, technical programs draw more student interest

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The education pendulum that directed so many students toward college degrees is swinging the other way, education experts say, now pointing students more toward skilled trade training as well as college. The push for young students to attend college, which negatively affected those who weren’t interested in it, went too far during former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA). The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school employees. Vocational and technical programs eliminated due to lack of funding and interest by local administrators and school boards were important for students, Cook said. “The need is still there — it’s probably bigger now than it was before,” Cook said.

More funding ahead for jail mental health projects

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Health and law enforcement professionals are increasingly recognizing the importance of innovative mental health jail diversion programs, working to implement them in their own counties with state and locally funds. The Department of Health and Human Services will fund expansion of jail diversion efforts in January 2016 through Gov. Rick Snyder’s Mental Health Diversion Council. The program will award about $1.2 million in total to two new agency projects and current pilot projects. Steven Mays, the diversion administrator at the department said, said this year’s program will be a little different from previous years’. To give agencies enough support and time to establish their programs, the council will continue to fund existing projects instead of a large number of new ones, Mays said.

Special lane designations would increase mass transit efficiency

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new bill to allow local transit agencies to construct Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes on state highways would make mass transit more efficient, advocates say. The bill would qualify any highway marked as a M-, U.S.- or I- route for BRT lanes. Rep. Sam Singh, an East Lansing Democrat who introduced the bill, said the BRT concept is relatively new to the state and the proposal would help designate the personal bus lane required for rapid transit and allow the state to work with local agencies in creating such lanes. “We need to make sure we have some vibrant public transit in all of our metropolitan areas,” Singh said. As a former member of the Lansing Capital Area Transportation Authority board of directors, Singh said he has a first-hand perspective on public transit as an economic development tool in mid-Michigan.

Michigan farmers struggle to fill seasonal jobs

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The fall farming season in West Michigan has ended, but the future need for migrant workers remains. The Michigan Farm Bureau said migrant workers fill about 40,000 seasonal jobs on fruit and vegetable farms but the number is decreasing. Migrant workers are starting to see education and a permanent job as necessary, leading them away from temporary jobs that depend on time and place, Craig Anderson, manager of agricultural labor and safety services at the Farm Bureau said. “When you look at the jobs that agriculture has available, they’re unfortunately based on climates. Those three-to-six-week jobs are the types we are having a very difficult time filling,” Anderson said.

New evaluation system overlooks school counselors

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new law creating a statewide teacher evaluation system was a win for many educators because it limits the effect of standardized tests, but it left out a group of important players — school counselors. Although counselors have expanded their role in schools, many find it difficult to receive an appropriate progress report, which is essential to continued improvement, according to the Michigan School Counselor Association (MSCA). Shawn Bultsma, MSCA director of headquarters in Grand Rapids, said he worked as a school counselor for 10 years and administration assessed him with ill-fitting teacher evaluations. It started in 1995 when he was in New Jersey. “I was evaluated with a teacher’s evaluation that took, probably, 50 percent of ‘the variables do not apply,’” Bultsma said.

Changing preferences challenge transportation agencies

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Increased fuel efficiency, an insufficient gas tax and younger generations’ disinterest in owning cars have created a complicated combination of financial concerns for Michigan transportation agencies. Experts predict it’s not likely to change soon. Department of Transportation (MDOT) Director Kirk Steudle said younger generations increasingly depend on other forms of transportation as they put off a major car purchase. That trend “showed up in a survey in the mid-2000s, where it said the public wanted more access to move around and they wanted different choices on how to move around. In fact, we had never gotten that response before, and we’d been doing the long-range plan for decades,” Steudle said.

Job creation cuts unemployment rate

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The unemployment rate in Michigan had a significant drop of 1.6 percent from September 2014 to September 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The creation of additional jobs cut Michigan’s unemployment rate to 5 percent. That is less than the national average and 9.9 points below the state’s unemployment peak during the Recession. One of the sectors leading the charge in job creation is manufacturing. Manufacturing took a hard hit during the Recession but it has its highest number of jobs since 2009, said Michelle Wein, a labor analyst for West Michigan at the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives in the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Women are largest growing group of entrepreneurs

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
The Capital News Service
LANSING — The largest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in the U.S. is minority women, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Business Report, a report commissioned by American Express. While some women may not go through college in search of entrepreneurial success, their changing life experiences or personal influences may shape their decisions later on. LeCathy Burston, director of membership and corporate development at the Great Lakes Women’s Business Enterprise Council in Livonia, said women tend to expand their perceptions based on changing life courses. “What I have found is that women evolve into business,” Burst said. “There are very few women that say, ‘Well when I get out of college I’m going to build a logistical or manufacturing company.’ They evolve into it from husbands, fathers, divorces or job challenges.”
Additionally, Burst said being a second-generation business owner gives women the confidence and wisdom to be entrepreneurs in their own fields.

Don't know much geography

By STEPHANIE HERNANDEZ McGAVIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Three-quarters of eighth grade students in the U.S. aren’t proficient in geography and their test scores have shown no improvement since 1994, according to a new report by the General Accountability Office (GAO), an investigatory arm of Congress. One reason is middle school geography has an image problem: the stereotype of students coloring in maps and labeling state capitals. And that often leads people to ask, “What are you going to do with that?” said Benjamin Ofori-Amoah, chair of the Geography Department at Western Michigan University. Ofori-Amoah said the study of geography in middle school and beyond goes further than finding places on a globe, but many people don’t understand the importance of the subject. “Most of the time we get students coming into the major after they’re here and they take a couple of general education courses and they’ve realized that this is more than state names and capital cities and mountains and rivers.