Thursday, December 31, 2009

Race to the Top Legislation Summary

On December 19, our state legislature - the same legislature that can't find time to fix school funding - managed to pass a package of bills that were allegedly necessary to compete for Race to the Top (RttT) stimulus funds, although there is no guarantee Michigan will receive any of these dollars. We are continuing to review the requirements for participating in Michigan's RttT plan, including the benefits and potential hidden costs. The Memorandum of Understanding has to be executed (signed by the Board president, superintendent, and association president) and delivered to the ISD by Thursday, January 7, if we plan to participate and hold out hope for these one-time funds with many strings attached.

It is clear that this newest ploy for wresting control of education from local school officials is to literally starve us to death financially and then offer a free meal. For a government that can't even handle a Christmas day airline terrorist attack by a single individual who was on their watch list and was reported by his own father ahead of the attack, it is indeed a scary proposition that they want to expand their control over thousands of local school districts as well.

Regardless of the MOU and RttT, the new legislation does impact our district and I am continuing to review the language in the bills to assess just how we will be affected. I do want to draw your attention to a summary of each bill, reminding you that these now are state law even though implementation procedures have to be worked out:

HB 4787: Failing Schools - if any of our schools are in the 5% of the lowest achieving schools in the state, the provisions of this bill will kick in. At present, none of our schools fall in this category but we will be keeping an eye on it. The bill also will now allow school staff to initiate a personal curriculum modification of the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC). Previously, only the parent could request a personal curriculum. It provides greater flexibility for modifying the math requirement - specifically, Algebra II.

This bill also modifies the legal drop-out age raising it from 16 to 18. It is effective beginning with the current 6th grade class. Parents still have the option of signing a waiver if they want their teen to drop out at 16.

HB 4788: Public Employee Relations Act (PERA) - most modifications in this bill pertain to failing schools identified by the act, above, but it also contains language that requires our district to first receive a bid for non-instructional support staff services from the current bargaining unit (GLSSA in our case) before privatizing the service. Essentially, it allows the union to bid on the services being considered for privatization. It does not require that the district accept the bid, even if it is the lowest offer.

SB 926: Teacher Data System/Basic Instructional Supplies - this bill requires the state to create and implement a teacher identification system with the ability to match an individaul teacher to the individual students that teacher has taught, essentially linking pupil records for the MEAP and MME to specific teachers. The system must also enable student academic achievement data, including growth in academic achievement, to be correlated to each teacher who has taught the student. School board members, teachers and administrators must have access to this data.
The bill also included a provision for teachers and principals to file a complaint with the state whenever they feel they are not being provided with necessary basic instructional supplies (to be defined by the Department of Education in the near future). If the district does not satisfactorily respond to the complaint (also to be defined), the Department of Education is required to take corrective action.

HB 5596: Alternative Teacher Certification - this simply mandates an alternative pathway to teacher certification. Rules, guidelines and procedures have yet to be developed.

SB 981: Schools of Excellence - this expands the number of charter schools including those centered around on-line learning (cyber schools). Five of the ten new schools must be high school and can only be located in a district with graduation rates of 75% or less. There is a provision included to allow conversion of an existing public school to a charter school.

The bill also includes the return of administrator certification that was ended in 2000. Existing administrators are grandfathered in but must comply with the current continuing education requirement to keep our contracts.

Teacher an d principal evaluation systems must now include measures of student academic growth using local and statewide assessments. A significant portion of the annual evaluation must be based on student data. We'll have to revamp our new teacher evaluation system to include this component and also building it into our principal evaluation system.

The bill also requires that we use student achievement data to evaluate teacher and principal effectiveness, determine eligibility for promotion or retention, grant tenure, and use during dismissal procedures as necessary.

Merit pay is required by this legislation. We will have to pay teachers based in part on job performance and job accomplishments, measuring accomplishments based significantly on student growth data.

The bill also provides additional flexibility for the Algebra II requirement in addition to that stated above.