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MEA Fights State's "Blatantly Irresponsible" School Closure Threats

Sep 01, 2016

MEA is working with partners to push back against state threats to close schools based on test scores that districts were promised would not be used to rank, label, or penalize schools until three years of consistent data was available. 

Last week, the School Reform Office (SRO) first confirmed plans to close as many as 100 Michigan schools identified as low-performing by next June. Officials said they would use standardized test scores from 2014-2016 to make those determinations. 

However, amid a growing backlash from a variety of education advocates, the SRO has publicly backed away from that aggressive stance. Now a smaller yet unknown number of schools will face closure, "nowhere near 100," SRO Director Natasha Baker told the Detroit Free Press. 

Regardless of the number, it is wrong to use fundamentally flawed information to make decisions of such enormous consequence, said MEA President Steven Cook.

During the three years of data the state will review to determine closures, three different tests were used to measure school performance - the old MEAP and two different versions of the new Common Core-aligned M-STEP. 

In addition to shifting tests, districts were moving from paper-and-pencil tests to digital versions that resulted in lower scores everywhere - even in the highest performing districts. 

"It is blatantly irresponsible to base these drastic decisions on inconsistent, inaccurate data," Cook said. "Public schools are the backbone of their communities. Closing schools and threatening dedicated school employees does nothing to help children or improve struggling schools-most of which operate in impoverished areas in need of investment and support."  

The SRO has said the schools in danger of closing are those in the bottom five percent of school rankings for three consecutive years. Officials have said they would not close schools where "unreasonable hardship" would be created for parents, or where no better alternative exists.  

Various organizations representing Michigan school administrators and school boards are fighting the SRO's plans, along with MEA and AFT Michigan and other organizations aimed at fighting privatization of education in our state. 

The SRO has not forced school closures since the Legislature granted the authority six years ago. Instead it has focused on the failed state takeover model - emergency managers, consent agreements, CEO's, the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), privatization (charter operators), and dissolution of districts. 

However, the SRO's management has changed in the past 18 months. 

The office once operated out of the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) under the oversight of the Democrat-controlled State Board of Education. In March 2015, Snyder moved the SRO to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget under his control.