New Concerns in Michigan’s Fourth Take at an ESSA Plan
This year, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), and states across the nation, have put together new education plans describing how the state will implement the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015. This process has presented a tremendous opportunity for state leaders to set ambitious goals, learn from the educational successes of others, and shape how schools and educators will be supported to better meet the needs of their students.
Despite the opportunity and early promising signs, the MDE has opted to squander this chance for improvement and to dig deeper into the failed policies of the last decade. After declaring that Michigan would reverse the tragic academic declines of recent years and become a top ten education state, this plan for Michigan education helps to ensure just the opposite.
Twice, the U.S. Department of Education has deemed Michigan’s plan incomplete. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor have openly criticized central provisions of the. Civil rights leaders, business associations, education advocates and independent experts have all raised concerns. But the MDE has charged ahead with a plan that remains inadequate.
Michigan’s most recent proposed plan is cause for new concerns around missing and hidden accountability, and expecting the bare minimum from our lowest-performing schools and schools with the widest achievement gaps.
Missing and Hidden Accountability
The MDE has announced that they will move forward with a data dashboard only, instead of a transparent accountability system that provides a clear signal to parents on how well a school is serving their students, through a single rating of school performance. While a wide range of educational data should be available to parents and other stakeholders, it is not a replacement for accountability, as it does not actually hold schools accountable for student learning.
In addition to the wide range of stakeholders who have made this point, the U.S. Department of Education has as well. Which is why the MDE has been forced to propose an “identification system.”
Using mostly the same metrics from MDE’s draft ESSA plan for an A-F accountability system, the MDE will use a hidden accountability system to rank all Michigan schools and identify which schools are in need of support. Unfortunately, this identification system will be hidden from the public, so the vast majority of parents will have no idea how their neighborhood school compares with a school on the other side of town.
Michigan has a long history of dodging accountability when we don’t like the results, and using multiple accountability systems that sow confusion. Now, instead of taking the opportunity to make a more honest and meaningful accountability system, the MDE is making the problem worse.
Expecting the Bare Minimum
Schools that are particularly low performing, or have particularly large achievement gaps between groups of students, will be identified by MDE’s hidden accountability system and designated to receive additional supports. Until this month, however, the MDE has not detailed how a school will exit this designation.
Unfortunately, instead of requiring that schools are on a sustainable path toward lasting improvement, the MDE only requires that schools exceed the bare minimum. If a school’s ranking improves just enough to not meet the criteria for needing additional supports, they will no longer be identified. This is no different than the ineffective way that Michigan has addressed low performing schools over the last several years.
After years of educational decline, now is the time to outline an ambitious plan to use data and research to ensure that every Michigan student has access to the high-quality education that they deserve. The MDE’s current proposal sets our state up for continued decline by standing firmly with past failure, rather than with future success.