Is Michigan’s ESSA Plan Working to Improve Education or Politics?


Last week, the Michigan Department of Education submitted its final plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the U.S. Department of Education. Governor Snyder signed off on the plan (his letter is linked here), but voiced significant concerns. As an advocate for better Detroit schools, Ishare his concerns. But ultimately, we’re disappointed that he didn’t encourage the education department to go back to the drawing board.

For more than a year, Superintendent Brian Whiston promised an A-F school grading system. MDE proposed one based on nationally recognized best practices: Giving parents a single overall score for each school with additional info in an easy-to-read report; basing it largely on academics (i.e., students testing on grade level, academic growth, graduation rates), and keeping a strong focus on equity. Then, two days before public comments end, he caves under pressure from special interest groups—groups more worried about taking care of adults, than kids—and ditches the system. He didn’t even bother to let the public know about the changes until after public comment was officially over.

Watered Down Accountability

In his letter, the Governor reiterated his support for an A-F school accountability system because it would provide clear, honest and meaningful accountability based largely on academic outcomes. This plan was included in the first draft of the ESSA plan, but now that it’s been abandoned by Superintendent Whiston, it’s unlikely we’ll get it back in.

Now, instead of a straightforward plan for tracking our schools, the final plan includes a report with 24-50 metrics (way too many for most people to keep track of or make sense of), and it does not focus on priorities like how much progress students are making or if they’re academic skills are where they should be. Research on this is clear–when schools are accountable on a few critical metrics, they focus efforts on moving those metrics.

Not Counting Students

Under the final plan, schools will only be required to report on the performance of a subgroup of students when the school has 30 or more students in it. We’re talking African American, Latino, low-income, special education students. As a result of this proposal, about two-thirds of Michigan schools will not be required to report on the learning of special education students.

Low Goals

Additionally, Ed Trust-Midwest, an education advocacy organization, is concerned the goals established under the Michigan ESSA plan are unambitious. For example, Michigan would consider it a success if in School Year 2024-25, nearly half of students in 75 percent of Michigan schools are proficient in math. This raises serious concerns. We should expect more of our schools and our students than to only have half of them performing on grade level. Our kids are capable of so much more. Our goals should be ambitious and achievable. We should be shooting for becoming a top-ten state, not for marginal improvement. We also can’t sign off on a plan that ignores the performance of a quarter of schools and students.

The plan has now been submitted to the U.S Department of Education, which has until mid-August to review the plan and either approve it as currently written, or ask for amendments or more information. Parts of this plan would also be impacted by any changes in state law made by the Michigan legislature.

Unlike every other state that submitted their plans this Spring, Michigan refused to release a revised plan after public comment. This prevented everyone from knowing what changes were made. It also prevented all of us or advocating/reporting around it.

What we’re left with takes what we currently have and makes it worse. While it does focus on student learning, new system employs a rainbow-colored report card, labels and top-to-bottom that are not transparent or understandable. It doesn’t count as accountability if families, community leaders and schools have to strain to understand it.

Despite voicing real concern, the Governor signed off on the plan—even though he had more than a week longer to review it and negotiate. He talks a big talk in the letter, but If he felt so strongly about accountability, why not negotiate improvements with MDE or withhold his signature. Now, instead of focusing on improving the quality of education in Michigan, we’re just setting ourselves up to make it harder to see the difference between schools that are working and schools that just aren’t. And if we can’t see which schools are really struggling, and how they’re struggling, we can’t do anything fix it. #EdtrustMidwest #ESSA #KidsMatterHere #Edu_Post




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