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It's time for Michigan to close failing schools

Ohanian Comment: The first sentence reveals how corrupt the editorial is. Drive through Detroit's streets and then tell me this devastation is the fault of inneffective school personnel.

That said, it may well be that Detroit needs to shut down some schools. As Rich Gibson has documented, Detroit officials have inflated their numbers for years--by 15,000-20,000. For a variety of reasons, including economic, nobody wants to admit that the schools have lost so many students.

I don't deny that there are ineffective teachers in Detroit, but I do insist that replacing all of them will not transform Detroit into "a globally competitive talent."

For starters, are those ineffective teachers responsible for the collapse of the auto industry? Should all the auto workers who lost their jobs blame schoolteachers? Or maybe, just maybe, is corporate-politico greed and incompetence at work here? Forces the editorialists dare not name.


Michigan's long-term economic recovery depends on its ability to revolutionize its schools and rapidly build a globally competitive talent pool. Powerful forces are threatening to hurt that transformation.

As Congress debates the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, the National Education Association (NEA) and its allies have lobbied successfully to begin gutting the federal act's accountability measures.

The latest version of the No Child legislation includes what backers call a Local Assessment Pilot, which would allow 15 states to evade their own state assessments and let school districts evaluate their own schools' success.

On its face, the local assessment pilot seems reasonable. School districts should determine how to improve their students' progress.

Already, however, too many troubled school districts have demonstrated they lack the political will or ability to undertake such responsibility. According to analyses from the Center for Education Policy and the Hoover Institution, most of the Michigan's low-performing schools have failed to make dramatic governance reforms to improve their performance.

Under the original No Child Left Behind law, schools that fail to meet basic federal standards for five consecutive years are supposed to take such aggressive actions. The No Child law allows schools to use multiple options, including closing and reopening as a charter school; replacing relevant school staff; and implementing any other major governance restructuring.

More than 133 Michigan schools were eligible for such restructuring by 2004-2005. Yet just 28 schools replaced ineffective staff. A majority, 76 schools, chose the vague "any other major reform" option. And 13 schools offered no plan for reform at all.

While we are strong advocates of local control rather than federal intrusion into education, too many school districts use that mantra as an excuse for local negligence.

Michigan school Superintendent Mike Flanagan has promised the state will devise guidelines for such schools by December.

In an interview Friday, Flanagan said he wants to close schools if they have failed to make the No Child act's Annual Yearly Progress for six consecutive years. Now he needs the Legislature to give him the authority to do so.

"I'm leaning toward complete closure," Flanagan said. "We've sent all the help in the world. We've used ISDs (Intermediate School Districts) to coach teachers, identify weak spots and come up with strategies to change. If you've done all of the above, in fairness, we're planning there will be at least one closing next year."

"We, the state, should be held accountable," he added, "and we should be holding every district accountable in making progress."

Lansing needs to step up and grant the superintendent this authority. Students cannot continue to wait year after year, decade after decade, for their schools to improve.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, must not bow down to teacher unions and support the local assessment loophole.

China and Europe are preparing their citizens to win in globalization. We must, as well.

— Editorial
Detroit News


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