Governor cites 'misperception' on Michigan school closures

AP News
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Posted: Aug 26, 2016 4:07 PM
Governor cites 'misperception' on Michigan school closures

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday urged calm before next week's release of a list of Michigan's lowest-performing schools, saying it is a "misperception" that any would be slated for closure at this time but not ruling out the possibility of it happening in the future.

Snyder said the state will, as required, publish the bottom 5 percent of schools next Thursday. But it is wrong to assume that schools on the new list and a separate one being made public this fall will receive closure notices, he told The Associated Press in an interview.

"There's a lot of misperception and misinformation out there," the Republican governor said.

Associations representing school boards, school administrators and urban districts said this week that Snyder's administration told some school leaders this month that if their schools are on the list for three straight years, they may be subject to closure for the 2017-18 academic year. It would be the first state-mandated closings of Michigan schools, which are allowed under a 2009 law.

Natasha Baker, who heads the state office charged with school turnaround efforts, was quoted in recent media reports as saying schools identified for closure will have been chronically poor-performing.

The rankings are based on test results, students' improvement over time, and the gap between the best and worst pupils.

Snyder sought to downplay talk of school closures. While he did not dismiss closures as a "legal option," he said "that's different than saying that's what's going to happen."

"This list being published doesn't mean you're going to close by any means. It means theoretically that option could be applied to your school at some point in the future if there's not improvement."

The law also allows for the appointment of turnaround CEOs to assume leadership of bottom-ranking schools, moving them into an unutilized state reform/redesign district or "theoretically" chartering the schools, Snyder said.

"You don't want to see a school close if you can help it," he said.

The list coming next week will have "a lot" of caveats, Snyder said, because the data is based on 2014-15 tests and is not "the end-all answer." The numbers have been reported slowly because that was the first year that Michigan students took an entirely new assessment, the M-STEP.

Schools administrators had been led to believe they would not be penalized for those initial exams. But that changed after Snyder took control of Baker's office, which is in a department that reports to him instead of the Democratic-controlled state Board of Education.

Snyder said Baker was notifying districts on the impending list beforehand to discuss "constructive things that can be done to help" while also explaining what could happen if there is no improvement.

"If you're on the list, what it essentially means is hopefully there's an opportunity for the schools — the district themselves — to figure out what they can do to improve," he said. There is an opportunity, he said, to bring more resources from intermediate school districts, the reform office and the state Department of Education to "help the school on the list get off the list."

The list for the 2015-16 academic year is due out in November.

Asked about critics' arguments that closing schools to improve academic achievement doesn't work, Snyder said students in such schools may fare better if there are nearby higher-performing traditional or charter schools.

"It needs to be all about the kids," he said.

Since 2010, the state has identified 331 "priority" schools in the lowest 5 percent.

Seventy-three were closed, but not by the state. Rather, they were shuttered by their districts or, in the case of charter schools, by their authorizers or boards.

There have been indications that Snyder wants to more aggressively address the worst schools. The state has named an academic CEO for the East Detroit school district, though the move is being challenged in court.

In June, Snyder signed a GOP-backed state bailout of Detroit's school district that also orders the closure of any public school in the city that is among the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools statewide for the preceding three years.

Snyder said while the "dust is still settling" on whether Detroit schools cannot be closed until 2019, he is hopeful that the new school board — once elected — will begin studying which schools to keep or close.

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert