- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

Midland Daily News. May 6.

Road fixes still need to be lawmaker priority

Proposal 1 failed miserably in yesterday’s election, a 4-1 ratio of no votes to yes votes, but what message does this send to lawmakers?

We think it says lawmakers should look elsewhere to fix the state’s roads. Voters obviously did not see a regressive and massive tax hike as the solution to our crumbling infrastructure.

The plan was convoluted and fundamentally broken.

Attorney General Bill Schuette had a good take on the proposal, albeit a bit punny.

“On a policy basis, Prop 1 has a lot of potholes,” he said. “There’s too much under the Christmas tree that goes beyond roads.”

To gain bipartisan support for the tax proposal, the Republican majority in the House and Senate added 10 additional laws to the proposal. That complicated matters and made voters confused and angry.

So what is the solution?

For starters, our lawmakers need to prioritize a fair fix. Forget pet projects and issues and focus on the issue that affects nearly all residents and visitors of this state.

Our roads and bridges are failing. The Detroit Free Press reported that only 17 percent of the state’s roads are in good shape, 45 percent are in fair condition and 38 percent are in poor shape. Those are not passing marks no matter how you grade.

Back to the drawing board, Lansing. That is, if you can make it there on Michigan’s decaying roads.


The Detroit News. May 6.

Finish work on grading teachers

Michigan continues to lag the nation in the performance of its students. And since teachers play the biggest role in determining how well their students do, one of the tools to boost these results is a strong teacher evaluation program. The Legislature has worked on evaluations for four years, and now it should finish the task.

The most recent attempt to finalize this work comes from Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair. His legislation strikes a fair compromise between state and local control, and it would give school districts the final direction they need to put effective teacher evaluations in place.

The bill has passed out of the education committee and awaits a full Senate vote.

Crafting a model teacher evaluation was tied to 2011 teacher tenure reforms. Those sweeping changes tightened the law, setting a higher bar for teachers to earn the job protections of tenure - and making it easier to lose them if they didn’t meet performance standards.

At that time, lawmakers laid out some basic requirements for evaluations, including using student growth as a significant portion of a teacher’s performance review.

But understanding that evaluation models need to be handled with care, the Legislature tasked a council of education experts to create a model for Michigan. That’s partly why this process has taken so long. The council took two years to turn in its recommendations, and since then lawmakers have been at odds about the details.

The longer the Legislature waits to approve evaluation standards, however, the longer it will take to realize the full impact of a better system for grading teachers. While many districts have taken it on themselves to put good evaluation models in place, others have waited on Lansing.

Pavlov’s bill would instruct school districts how to go about evaluating teachers, without being too prescriptive.

It would require at least one unscheduled classroom observation for a teacher, and it would mandate that administrators offer teachers feedback within 30 days of an observation.

The bill doesn’t tell districts to choose a specific observation model, but they would have to pick one and be consistent about its implementation.

In addition, it would delay requirements that annual year-end evaluations use student growth and assessment data until the 2017-18 school year. In 2017, 25 percent of the evaluation would be based on student growth. By 2018, it would jump to 40 percent. Half of the student growth must be assessed based on state standardized tests, but the other half can come from a local test.

That’s going to be a relief for school districts, since the law currently sets the student growth measure at 50 percent of evaluations starting this fall.

Finally, this bill would require school districts to post information about their evaluation tools online.

The school reform group Education Trust-Midwest says this bill would offer progress, although it’s concerned it would still give local districts too much leeway.

In the end, no legislation can force districts to use tools they’re given. This bill would give schools a framework to ensure their teachers are doing good work - and to help them improve their craft.


Times Herald (Port Huron). May 6.

Thanks to police for drunken driving crackdown

Michigan police took more than 500 dangerous drivers off the streets during a drunken driving crackdown that began March 17. The effort was paid for by a federal grant and coordinated by the Michigan State Police.

Blue Water Area agencies that participated included the police departments in Clay Township, Marysville, St. Clair, Port Huron and Richmond and the St. Clair County Sheriff Department. They worked together to put drunken and impaired drivers in jail.

Critics sometimes question federally funded seatbelt enforcement campaigns. That criticism is mostly misguided. Keeping drivers and passengers safe, even inside their own vehicles, serves all of us by keeping roadways safer and by limiting the toll that accidents take on our communities.

The naysayers may be right, however, when they ask the next question, the one involving motorcycles and helmets.

But there can be no criticism of the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign. Police officers witnessed criminal behaviors - from drivers ignoring traffic signals to traveling in the wrong lane. And they arrested real criminals for committing real crimes.

In the Blue Water Area, cops stopped 131 cars. They arrest six people for driving drunk, including two who were “super drunk” with blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit. Eleven were jailed for other alcohol violations and six were arrested for drug crimes. Outstanding warrants, invalid licenses and other violations sent others to jail.

There can be no question that all of them needed to be arrested, punished appropriately and stopped from making our roads and streets any more hazardous.

“Enforcement efforts like this save lives by putting extra police officers on the road to stop and arrest impaired drivers,” said Michael Prince, of the Office of Highway Safety Planning. “During this campaign, these officers removed 500 impaired drivers from our roads who otherwise might have gone undetected.”

The police have done their job. Now it is up to the courts and the rest of the judicial system to make sure that those arrested get fair trials and appropriate treatment commensurate with the gravity of their offenses. Those found guilty must get both sentences and rehabilitation that teaches them to not drive drunk again.


The Holland Sentinel. May 3.

Home school proposal unfairly assumes guilt

News reports out of Detroit last month told of the horrific torture and deaths of two children, aged 9 and 13, at the hands of their mother who then hid her crimes by placing their bodies in a freezer. Sadly, Stoni A. Blair and her younger brother, Stephen Gage Berry, were not alone. A 2014 USA Today review of FBI homicide data from more than 30 years found that on average 450 children in the United States are killed by their parents every year.

Observers might conclude that some element of mental illness must be at play to allow someone to do such unspeakable things to their children. That may be the case for Michelle Blair, Stoni and Stephen’s mother, but she also had the presence of mind to withdraw her children from public school under the guise of home schooling. By doing so, she kept her children away from mandatory reporters such as teachers, guidance counselors and other school administrators. She had previously been investigated by the state on allegations of abuse in 2002 and again in 2005. The result of those investigations? Referrals to counseling.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, has proposed regulations that would tighten restrictions on home schooling, stating “we all failed Stoni and Stephen because Michigan does not maintain a list of homeschooled children, and so we have no way to identify and then protect any child who could be at risk for abuse.”

Chang’s bill would require homeschooling parents to provide the names and ages of their children and their name and address to the superintendent of the school district in which they reside. Additionally, the bill requires that at least twice a year, the home schooled children are seen by mandated reporters.

Supporters of this legislation cite what they view as lax regulations around home schooling as a loophole for abusers. In Michigan, registration with the local school district by home schooling parents is voluntary.

Opponents see it as the start of legislative creep, allowing the state to have more and more control over decisions that should be left to parents. With regards to education, it could mean limiting curriculum, materials that can be used, teaching techniques and standardized testing.

More chillingly, it makes broad-brush assumptions about home schooling parents. These children suffered and died needlessly because of the direct action taken by their mother who had a history of abuse allegations. They did not die because they were being legitimately home schooled. Family members, friends and neighbors could have called an abuse hotline at any time in the two years these children were hidden from view. Blair’s aunt, a retired Detroit police child abuse investigator, visited the home and knew the children were trained to not answer the door.

There is no question that a civilized society should look out for and protect its most vulnerable members. Child abuse and the death of a child at the hands of the very people who are trusted to protect them is never acceptable. We should have safeguards in place to watch out for those instances when it happens and safe havens where those victims can go to be cared for and nurtured.

There is also no question that in a free society, parents should be the first, last and only authority on what serves the best interest of their children. In the area of education, we discover more and more that children learn differently and what works for some is not effective for others. Parents are in the best position to determine what environment their child is most likely to thrive in and should be given the latitude to choose it, whether that choice be public, private, religious, charter, cyber or home schooling.

Child abuse needs to be addressed separately from home schooling. Legislators in other states have proposed home schooling rules that apply to parents that have had contact with child protective services in the past. Requiring these parents to communicate their intentions to the school district and have some regular contact with mandatory reporters would keep potentially at-risk kids on the radar without presuming the guilt of all parents who make this choice.

Making the 48,000 law-abiding home schooling parents responsible for the death of Stoni and Stephen is unfair. Place the responsibility where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of their mother, who violated any number of laws already on the books in her mistreatment of them and her other children.

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