More than 100 MEA and AFT Michigan members and leaders held a candlelight vigil outside the Capitol on Wednesday evening and later went inside to lobby their representatives and watch from the gallery as a controversial A-F school grading bill narrowly passed the state House in amended form.
In other action, the chamber approved HB 5707 to lower the percentage of student growth measures factored into educator evaluations to 25 percent, instead of the 40 percent mark that it had risen to this school year. Read more about the measure which has been pushed by MEA and other education groups since last spring.
Both bills now head to the Senate for their consideration. Contact your senator and urge them to oppose more emphasis on testing by voting YES on HB 5707 and NO on HB 5526.
“Thank you to our union sisters and brothers for showing up to protect public education for all,” MEA President Paula Herbart told the crowd at the vigil. “We are not stepping down, we are not stepping back, we are not going away!”
Owosso educators Lance Little and Josh Dewley were among many vigil participants who attempted to sway their representative on HB 5526, a Betsy DeVos-backed bill to assign A-F letter grades to schools.
Little said it is important for educators to fight back against bad lame duck legislation. “I think it’s important for legislators to know how we feel and to know we’re watching them closely,” Little said.
The two teachers submitted a written request to speak with Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) from the hallway outside the House chamber.
“I told [Frederick] we have a lot of moderate teachers and this is an opportunity that he has to flip some of those people and prove he’s not just going to be going with the flow,” said Dewley, a social studies teacher and president of the Owosso Education Association.
The A-F plan would be the third school performance rating system since 2012 and carries with it the potential of attaching school closures to the ratings.
A more broad-based school performance measurement system just began operation this fall. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) spent more than a year developing the “School Transparency Dashboard” (which meets federal “Every Students Succeeds Act” requirements), to provide a breadth of information on every school building in the state.
Last-minute amendments to the A-F bill during the 18-hour House session on Wednesday would attach letter grades to schools in several categories, rather than one overall grade.
Under the revised bill, the MDE would develop and implement the letter grading system to be published in September 2019. Schools would be labeled A-F based on proficiency and individual student growth on the math and English portions of the state assessment. The department could use benchmark assessments instead of student growth percentiles under the current version of the bill.
Grades for chronic absenteeism and state assessment participation were moved from grades to rankings under the bill.
Little said he spoke to Rep. Frederick about his concerns related to an unelected 13-member commission of political appointees included in the original bill to have oversight of school performance measures and closures – taking power from the elected State Board of Education.
In the final version of the bill, the commission was scrapped and replaced with a five-member peer review panel of the A-F rating system, with three members appointed by the governor.
HB 5526 passed 56-53 – the minimum votes necessary – with seven Republicans joining all Democrats in voting no. Republicans Rep. Gary Glenn of Williams Township, Rep. Shane Hernandez of Port Huron, Rep. Gary Howell of North Branch, Rep. Martin Howrylak of Troy, Rep. Steve Johnson of Wayland, Rep. Dave Maturen of Vicksburg and Rep. John Reilly of Oakland voted no.
According to the legislative news service, MIRS: “During debate on the legislation, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) claimed Republicans were working the bill all night because the DeVos family wanted it, to which the presiding officer, Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston), responded with the gavel.
“When Ms. Gay-Dagnogo continued to speak, he tried to move to a speech from Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor). Ms. Gay-Dagnogo continued to speak and Mr. Tedder opened up the board for voting.”