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Michigan Education Association tells teacher unions not to sign 'Race to Top' agreements

Ohanian Comment: Kudos.
It's heartening to see that not all unions are rushing to get a seat at the table. You'd think local districts would have learned from NCLB that, from just a practical viewpoint, leaving aside all pedagogy, ethics, whatever, these federal boondoggles cost more than they bring in.

By Tom Gilchrist

Michigan Education Association union leaders have advised teachers not to sign "memorandums of understanding" in connection with the state's "Race to the Top" application for federal money, even if such signatures could bring dollars to school districts.

In a Monday letter to MEA members, MEA President Iris K. Salters wrote that "we cannot recommend to our local association presidents that they sign memorandums of understanding that commit their members to implementing the stat'ΓΆ€™s incomplete and flawed 'Race to the Top' plan."

Several area school superintendents said they signed the memorandums for their school districts to receive any federal money Michigan might get if the state succeeds in getting up to $400 million under President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative, which seeks to reform education.

Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan reported this week that 703 local school districts and charter schools have signed memorandums of understanding to participate in the state's "Race to the Top" application.

The more districts supporting the state's application by signing the memorandums, the greater the state's chances of receiving federal grant money, state Department of Education officials said.

Flanagan said leaders of teacher union locals in 41 school districts signed their districts' memorandums.

Salters, however, cautioned in her letter that a signed memorandum of understanding "is a binding, legal document that commits your district and local to adhere to every aspect of the stateΓΆ€™s 'Race to the Top' plan -- even though the plan is not final."

Last week, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation designed to reform education in Michigan and to allow Michigan to apply up for up to $400 million in federal money.

The legislation requires an annual evaluation of teachers and administrators using data on student growth, raises the stateΓΆ€™s legal dropout age from 16 to 18 and allows the state to "intervene" in the lowest-performing schools.

Linda K. Wacyk, spokeswoman for the Lansing-based Michigan Association of School Administrators, said that "the measures embedded in the law, in large part, are the right things to do for kids."

The State Department of Education originally required teacher union leaders in local school districts, along with superintendents and school-board leaders, to sign memorandums of understanding for any local district to receive "Race to the Top" funds.

State leaders later made signatures of union leaders optional, though the deadline to sign the memorandums was on Tuesday for school districts hoping to receive federal grant dollars.

"The vast majority of superintendents and school boards in the state have signed the memorandums because they didn't wait for the unions," Wacyk said.

Salters wrote that the laws signed by the governor left "many things to local control, including decisions over evaluation and compensation." But the Michigan Department of Education's "incomplete plan" on how to implement the new laws "usurps that control in many ways," Salters alleged.

"The exact wording of the final plan will determine what control those districts who have signed (memorandums of understanding) are agreeing to hand over to the Michigan Department of Education and the state superintendent," Salters wrote.

"Your right to bargain your wages and working conditions would be stripped away by signing what is essentially a blank check."

— Tom Gilchrist
Saginaw News


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