He Said/She Said August 2015

Aug15 She-SaidPreparing Students for the Future

By Sheila Pilmore

Amidst the educational issues in the state, public schools continue to offer a quality education to all students. Public schools are plagued by bad press about teachers, low test scores and lack of fiscal planning. But public schools are doing their part to educate all students, whether they are advanced students or need remedial services. Public schools continue to push for quality curriculum by moving to the Common Core State Standards, continuing to evolve as the state changes testing practices and preparing students for life outside of school by teaching skills that are necessary in today’s world.

How are they accomplishing these daunting tasks? Professional development for teachers has become more intentional and focused with the goal of improving teaching and learning for all students. Michigan, along with 43 other states, has moved to the Common Core State Standards, which establishes uniform educational standards across states. The Common Core Standards are based on English and math, and also promote college and career-ready students as they graduate from high school. Intertwined with the Common Core is the new Michigan Student of Educational Progress (M-STEP) test, which 3rd through 8th grade students, as well as 11th grade students will take on an annual basis. This test will monitor student achievement and growth through the years, giving us item analysis and trend data to utilize in the area of curriculum development.

With the digital age upon us, teachers are learning to use technology in creative ways that enhance their lessons, which in turn are more engaging for students. Many public schools have gone to, or are moving in the direction of 1:1 devices, which means one electronic device per student. Students are taught digital citizenship along with digital skills that are, and will be, utilized now and in the future. Students are also expected to use the technology available for projects, papers and homework on a regular basis. Technology also lends itself to a plethora of information that is readily available to students at any time of the day or night.

In rural schools, students are encouraged to take advanced classes offered by the district or online. Many more options are offered online for advanced students who may not have had those options even five years ago. This is also an option for students who are credit deficient and need credit recovery to get back on track for graduation.

Public school students who are interested in occupational trades have options for vocational classes such as cosmetology, building trades, health occupations, small engines, web design, culinary trades and many more.

Public schools continue to cater to all students, regardless of their learning styles. Public school teachers are dedicated individuals who spend hours planning to prepare students to be career and college-ready when they ultimately graduate and move on to their adult life.

Aug15 He-SaidCharter Schools Provide Choice, Quality & Accountability

By Gary Naeyaert

It’s clear that our entire public education system is failing far too many of Michigan’s 1.5 million school-aged children, especially when you consider that only two-thirds of our K-8 students are proficient in math or English, and less than 20 percent of our high school graduates are considered college or career ready.

Rather than point fingers and assign blame, we believe everyone in public education needs to do a better job, and this includes traditional public schools and charter public schools.

Charter public schools and schools of choice were created 20 years ago due to public dissatisfaction with the performance of some traditional public schools and the desire for other K-12 education options.

Today, more than 140,000 students are enrolled in just over 300 Michigan charter public schools, while another 110,000 students participate in schools of choice within traditional public school districts. This means nearly one in every five students and families in the state are exercising choice in public education. This competitive environment has created a dynamic K-12 education marketplace for innovation and creativity, and should raise the bar for all schools.

Even though charter schools have been around for 20 years, there are still a number of myths and misconceptions about charter schools that should be addressed.

First, charter schools are free public schools that do not charge tuition and must accept every applicant without any special entrance requirements. If the number of student applications exceeds the number of available seats, a random selection lottery is held to determine which students will be enrolled. Charter schools enroll a higher proportion of poor, minority students than
traditional districts.

Second, charter schools must use state-certified teachers, and they enroll nearly the same percentage of special needs students as traditional schools.

Third, charter schools must adhere to the same laws, rules and regulations as traditional public schools, with the exception of teacher tenure and the ability to contract for instructional services.

Charter schools are unique public schools that are independent from the traditional school district model, but are held accountable for student achievement. More than 80 charter public schools in Michigan have been closed for poor performance in the past 15 years, which proves they are accountable to their authorizers (usually a state university) and parents.

Charter schools often will be developed around a particular theme or mission, such as college-prep, STEM, Performing Arts, Environmental Studies, Aviation, Montessori education and other formats.

The biggest difference in charter public schools is that they tend to have a longer school day and a longer school year, largely because their teacher’s are much less likely to belong to a teachers union. This additional time on task likely explains why a Stanford University confirmed that students in charter public schools in Michigan are gaining 2-3 months of additional learning per year when compared to their demographic peers in traditional public schools.

Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students. They create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are allowed to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn.

Every child deserves a chance to succeed in college, careers and life, which starts with a great education. Michigan students deserve better educational outcomes and recognition of this problem is the first step towards a solution. The Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) won’t rest until that solution is achieved and every family has available to them the quality school options that fit their children’s educational needs.

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