This column originally appeared in The Alpena News.
More than 175 days and just about as many excuses.
That’s what currently stands between the Michigan Department of Education, where state officials are actively hiding school performance data, and Michigan parents hungry for more information about how their kids’ schools are performing.
It’s also what stands between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proclamation during her nationally televised response to the State of the Union address that “the truth matters, facts matter, and no one should be above the law,” and her own administration, you know, complying with the law.
Two years ago, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a law requiring the Department of Education to provide parents with school performance data in the form of A, B, C, D, or F letter grades in each of a variety of categories related to student proficiency and growth in reading and math, including comparisons to schools serving students from similar backgrounds.
For more than 175 days, though, Gov. Whitmer and her Education Department have stonewalled parents and refused to release the school report cards — school report cards they are required to release by law.
They’ve claimed all along that it was impossible to be transparent with parents until 2018-19 test scores became available (nevermind the law never required the department base the grades on 2019 test scores).
Well, guess what the department posted on their own website recently, hoping no one would notice. That’s right. The 2018-19 school index data (read: the test scores) are available. Still, the department refuses to comply with state law requiring they publish A through F letter grades for Michigan’s schools.
So, what’s the excuse now?
Our kids get report cards, and the law says that every public school should, too. By being transparent with parents about how their children’s schools measure up and offering them easy-to-understand comparisons to similar schools, the state can better drive change, can address problem areas where they’re found, and can fight to make sure every child has access to the resources he or she deserves.
Many schools will receive As and Bs. Successes are worth celebrating. Others won’t measure up. Those challenges are worth addressing. Gov. Whitmer said the truth matters, facts matter. She’s right.
As the department continues to hide report cards from parents, GLEP late last year presented the Board of Education and every member of the state Legislature a new, comprehensive report, including A-F letter grades for public schools in the state, calculated using the Department of Education’s publicly available 2017-18 data found on their School Index. The report cards were created using the guidelines found in the state’s reporting law, demonstrating how simple it would be for the Department to comply with — not break — state law.
The report cards are available for review by parents, policymakers, and voters at glep.org.
GLEP never should have had to publish those grades. That was the Department of Education’s job. The law says so.
But, while bureaucrats in the department make excuses, we’ve used the guidelines laid out in the law to fill the transparency void and empower parents, policymakers, and voters with school report cards.
Now the department has access to the data it claimed it needed to comply with a law for which previous data would have worked. Today, like each of the 175-plus days before it, parents are waiting for the department to comply with the law.
Beth DeShone is executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project.