Monday, November 19, 2012

Oxford Foundation and Michigan Legislature: Hands off my District

Improving student performance. That single idea should be at the focus of anyone involved in public eduction. The just released Oxford Foundation proposal and House Bills 5923 and 6004 do little to directly address improving student performance. These bills simply propose an experiment in alternative delivery systems. That’s not good enough; worse, these bills are potentially dangerous to Michigan’s K-12 students. 

Of the 302 pages in the Oxford Foundations bill only 6 pages speak to student performance at the “district” level, 7 pages address performance at the Michigan Virtual School and 4 pages address performance related to the Michigan merit exam -- so roughly 6% of this 302 page rewrite of the school funding act address student performance. The bulk of this proposal (94%) is all about delivery models and the ability to expand charger school operations. The word “performance” is most used in the context of student count days and funding, and typically in the context of getting more funds for meeting objectives, and getting less funds for missing objectives (which creates it’s own downward spiral).  

House Bills 5923, 6004, and the Oxford plan add additional layers of administrative bureaucracy and management structures, much of it privately controlled. The changes brought by these bills irrefutably dilutes the amount of money directed towards teaching children. The proposals massively expand the number of “districts/charters/alternative schools” in Michigan - each requiring administrative support, state level support, and legislative administration. What happened to the idea of being more efficient through consolidation of districts? Why propose a system that imposes costly increases in overhead?  Why be so unclear regarding your biais?* The law of unintended consequences is in full force with these changes, and we will all be poorer because of it. 

Experimenting with alternative delivery models is not a bad idea. Implementing an experiment on a massive scale without any empirical data to support the effectiveness of the proposed changes, is a risky experiment using my children as test subjects. There is no quantifiable support offered by proponents of these plans to suggest they will improve performance. In fact there is significant evidence which demonstrates some of the alternatives are LESS effective than traditional models. Take the example of the Oxford’s Foundations financial expert Mary Kay Shield’s former employer White Hat Managment. On a zero to four scale (four the best) White Hat’s schools earn a 1.07 GPA in Ohio. This is the model supported by the Oxford Foundation and House Bills 5923 and 6004. Alternatively in Birmingham we are implementing online courses and blended models which seek to expand the time and place learning experience for our students, all while supporting students with certified teachers engaging in face to face learning. We also provide summer school options that stretch the school year and provide additional time to pickup course credits, or to remediate courses where a student might have struggled. We monitor results of these changes, we implement improvements, and we produce some of the best test scores and graduates in the Great State of Michigan. 

Here’s a suggestion, if the Oxford Foundation and the Michigan Legislature are serious about improving student performance -- VISIT one of the MANY excellent public school districts in our state. Take our best practices (we have many) and find ways to disseminate those to other districts. Fix MPSERS (the recent changes were only a bandaid) and our healthcare cost burdens so money can return to the classroom. Don’t ignore our excellent results for the promise of unproven alternatives being pushed by the very people that stand to gain financially. Work together with successful districts to disseminate the models that are PROVEN to work. Keep standards high. Elevate expectations. Allow recent changes in the law (tenure, performance, financial changes) to be fully implemented before pulling the rug out from underneath local school boards. Improving student performance should be the main focus of any discussion about K-12 education, not just 6% of an experiment to change the delivery system. 
*Directors of the Oxford Foundation:
  • President: Kimbal R. Smith, III (also Chairman of Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs - Tax Tribunal; also President of Cornerstone Foundation)
  • Secretary/Treasurer: Richard D. McLelland (also Secretary/Treasurer and Chairman of the  Cornerstone Foundation; also founder of Mackinac Center and current Board Secretary)
  • Vice President: Charles Perricone (also former Republican Speaker of the Michigan House; also Executive Director of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Ownership [ goals are to allow handguns in college dormitories, classrooms and other campus facilities - and eliminate existing Michigan gun laws]; also a registered Lobbyist)
  • School Finance Expert:  Mary Kay Shield - Chief Deputy Director of The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. Also former SVP/Chief Program Officer for White Hat Management (an operator of charter schools: Schools under White Hat Managment in Ohio have the following state ranking grades: 9 C’s, 11 D’s, and 7 F’s; GPA 1.07), also founding President and CEO of the National Charter Schools Institue.

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