This column originally appeared in the Midland Daily News.
While lawmakers wrap up their summers, they and their staffs are constructing the reforms and priorities that will dominate their discussions once they return to Lansing.
Ensuring parents get report cards from their kids’ schools — a school transparency requirement under the state’s critical new A-F grading system for schools — should top their list. Lawmakers’ action is needed, because the state’s Department of Education is only days away from violating state law and abdicating its requirements for accountability to families.
The first school report card is required by law to head home to parents just over a month from now.
Our students bring home report cards each year so parents can monitor their progress. Families deserve the same level of transparency and accountability from their children’s schools. Unfortunately, many of our schools are failing our students in critical subject areas like reading and math, but empowering parents with more information will drive improvement across the state. Where schools are succeeding, they deserve the credit.
That’s why lawmakers last December approved a new reform to hold the state’s schools as accountable to parents as our schools hold students for their work.
It’s an innovative approach to school accountability, and it’s designed to foster transparency and spur local growth. Parents count on our schools to prepare their kids for college, careers, and a brighter future. They also pay for the privilege, pumping thousands of dollars per pupil each year into our public schools.
Families deserve to know how their schools are performing.
The truth is, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. According to the National Assessment for Education Progress, Michigan ranks 35th in the nation on fourth-grade reading and 38th on 4th grade math. The numbers aren’t much better in 8th grade, where the state ranks 33rd in math and 30th in reading. Michigan is last among Midwest states in every category. Improvement can only begin with an understanding of how each school performs for our kids.
It is important to understand that this isn’t just a problem in our urban or economically disadvantaged communities. This is a problem across Michigan, including our “good” suburban school districts. Parents deserve the truth about school performance and with that information can demand better results for their students.
Each year, the state has pumped millions more into the school aid fund. USA Today recently ranked Michigan as one of the top states in America to teach, with public school teachers the 9th highest paid in the nation.
That investment is great, and more may be needed, but parents deserve to know what it’s producing. School report cards are a critical new transparency tool to empower parents and spur growth, but now at the eleventh hour, the Michigan Department of Education is standing in the way.
The Department is required by law to develop the system for assigning and delivering the grades by Aug. 1, a month ahead of their due date to parents. That deadline is only days away, and thus far, the Department has dragged its feet. Without quick action, parents will be kept in the dark.
Parents and reformers across Michigan are demanding the Department comply with state law, and provide parents with the transparency they deserve. As lawmakers work through the summer, we’re encouraging them to hold the Department accountable, as well.
Beth DeShone is the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project