By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder called Monday for lawmakers to update Michigan’s school accountability law to set the stage for more “partnership” agreements, through which the state and K-12 districts will try to turn around chronically low-performing schools without closing them.
The state and nine districts struck deals in recent weeks to delay the potential state-ordered closure of 37 schools that have ranked in the bottom 5 percent for three straight years. Starting with the next academic year, the schools will have to make progress at 18- and 36-month intervals or risk further state intervention, including potential closure.
“We think what we’ve done works within current law, but it’s not as clear as it could be. I think there’s an opportunity to put some clarity” to the “outdated” 2009 law, Snyder said while briefing reporters about the partnership agreements.
In February, the Republican governor delayed closure decisions after facing widespread pushback over a January announcement by the state School Reform Office that threatened to shut up to 38 schools around Michigan, including 25 in Detroit. Instead, he ordered collaboration between the reform office, which reports to him, and the state Education Department — which he has less control over and from which he had transferred the reform office in 2015 in a bid to get tougher on failing schools.
“The partnership model has got a lot of merit and deserves a fair opportunity to work,” said Snyder, who also wants to implement a system to more quickly detect schools that are not making the grade.
Other schools in the lowest 5 percent have exited the list in recent years after showing improvement. They received some extra support and resources from the U.S. Department of Education, the Michigan Department of Education and local intermediate school districts.
What is unique about the partnership model, said state Superintendent Brian Whiston, is how the districts will not largely be “doing it on their own.” Local universities and colleges, the business community and nonprofits such as the Boys & Girls Club “sat at the table and helped set the goals and then helped set the 18- and 36-month benchmarks. They bought into (how) they have to be part of the solution.”
Districts that signed the agreements include Detroit, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Saginaw, River Rouge, Bridgeport-Spaulding, East Detroit, Muskegon Heights and Kalamazoo.
Central Michigan University, the authorizer of the lone charter school among the 38 that faced closure, is issuing a closure notice for the Michigan Technical Academy’s elementary school in Detroit.
A GOP-led Senate committee has been exploring how to replace the accountability law.
School rankings are based on test results, students’ improvement over time, and the gap between the best and worst pupils. Schools in the bottom 5 percent must develop a reform plan and, if they are not successful, could be put into a state turnaround district and possibly be closed.