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School Reform Office explains school closure system to education committee

a classroom of empty colorful chairs
Flickr user Frank Juarez
Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Cuts are in the works for Michigan's K-12 public schools.

As the state School Reform Office moves closer to potentially closing multiple schools across Michigan, a bill ending the law is being hotly debated in the Legislature.

Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee, Phil Pavlov, is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the law allowing the SRO to close consistently low performing schools.

During last week’s meeting about the new bill, the School Reform Office was criticized by school administrators and parents. They said there is not a consistent method for measuring school progress and quality.

But State School Reform Officer Natasha Baker said having multiple methods for testing schools is beneficial.

“The goal is for parents to understand they do have options,” she said. “And the SRO’s mission is to turn priority schools into the highest performing schools in the state.”

“However, while we’re going through that process, parents have to choose the best options for their children and they can’t do that if they don’t know what they are,” Baker said.

Pavlov and the committee have been working on a plan to not just repeal the so-called “failing schools law,” but to also replace it. They said they want a more consistent method for determining school progress.

Pavlov said they would like to partner with the School Reform Office, but the current system for evaluating schools isn’t working.

"We heard a lot today about process and systems and accountability, but we didn’t hear much about what’s happening in that school building, in that classroom, with the direct student centered education that’s so necessary,” he said.

The SRO isn’t perfect, Baker said, but they are able to be transparent with districts in ways they haven’t been before.

When asked what she would like to see if there is a replacement to the current law, Baker said, “I would like for the State of Michigan to clearly define what they – what we see as high performing.”

“Growth is not enough,” Baker continued. “Kids have to be able to be proficient, however we define that.”

Meanwhile, the Detroit Public Schools Community District’s Board of Education has authorized the school district to take legal action, “when timely and appropriate” to explain why they feel the school closures cannot legally happen.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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