Michigan’s Snyder Shifts Control Of State School Reform Office

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed an executive order that would move the state school reform office from under the control of the Michigan Department of Education to the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, a department Snyder controls.

“The governor feels like there needs to be a more proactive approach to addressing these most struggling schools, to benefit the kids that are in them,” said Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for the governor.

Wurfel went on to say that improvement plans for schools would be heavily scrutinized to determine how well they are working.  If it is determined that they are not, a number of options will be considered including closing the school, changing the school to become a charter school, replacing the principal or other staff members, or even moving the school from their current district to a state reform district.

The decision will affect 138 schools that have been ranked in the bottom 5% of schools across the state due to their academic performance.  According to current state laws, those schools must create an improvement plan.  The state reform office keeps track of those plans and holds the schools accountable throughout the process.

The order is targeted in particular to 54 schools who have been operating under an improvement plan for the past three consecutive years, writes Lori Higgins for The Detroit Free Press.

“Despite not achieving satisfactory outcomes, the current structure has neither implemented the rigorous supports and processes needed to create positive academic outcomes nor placed any of the identified low achieving schools” in the state reform district, the executive order says.

The Michigan Department of Education is not under the direct control of Snyder, but is rather overseen by the soon-to-retire State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. The position is decided upon by the elected eight-member State Board of Education.

“The question is what is he going to do that’s different, that’s going to be better,” said Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University. “It’s a challenge, considering the greatened financial circumstances, to get these schools to improve.”

Many people, including president of the State Board of Education John Austin, are criticizing the move. Austin said that while he agrees with Snyder concerning the pace of reform in the state, saying “effective action is long overdue,” he added that moving the office “is unfortunate and counterproductive,” making any reforms within chronically failing schools harder to achieve.

David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, agrees.  He argues that the move ignores voters in the state “by stripping the elected State Board of Education of its oversight authority.”

“Moving an office with an educational focus from the Department of Education, which understands education policy and has expertise, to a department focused on budgets is bad public policy,” Hecker said.

Meanwhile, Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, applauded the decision.  The MAPSA is a charter school advocacy group.  Quisenberry argued that the decision helps to keep schools accountable for their actions.  “Our students only have one shot at an education, so it’s vital that each of them is in a school that’s delivering a quality education,” he said.