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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: Bridge Examines How Other States Handle Struggling Schools

Sehvilla Mann

When it comes to dealing with failing schools, Bridge Reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey says Michigan is in a class all its own.

Pratt-Dawsey recently wrote about how other states deal with struggling schools. In 2010 the federal government encouraged states to do something about failing schools. But Pratt Dawsey says Michigan went further than other states by setting up a plan where dozens of schools are going to be facing closure.

Nine states in all have adopted laws that allowed for the closure of persistently low performing schools. But Pratt Dawsey says in other states closure is an option where communities were on board with shutting down their local school. She says Michigan’s law does not allow for public meetings for school officials and parents of students to plead their case, or hear the explanation of why their school could be closed.

Interview with Chastity Pratt-Dawsey

Pratt Dawsey says other states are choosing to reform schools. That can include replacing school staff, leadership, or changing curriculum of the schools. Pratt Dawsey says schools close for various reasons, especially in big cities. Detroit has more closed schools, than open ones. New Orleans closed several schools after Hurricane Katrina. Pratt Dawsey says most New Orleans schools were placed in a state recovery district and became charter schools. She says studies have found that leaving kids in a familiar setting, and gradually closing schools works better than a sudden change. New York closed 40-plus high schools, and opened up a couple of hundred small, themed high schools. Pratt Dawsey says studies found very little change in graduation rates.

Asked about a state to emulate, Pratt Dawsey says Massachusetts is considered the “gold standard” of school reform. She says the Bay state focuses on turning school around. Pratt Dawsey says if closure is considered, it has to go through the local school district and school board with a long public engagement process. Pratt Dawsey says there’s a prescribed step by step procedure for improving schools, and if those are not met, the school could go into receivership.

There’s currently a bill in the state Senate that would repeal Michigan’s School Accountability law. Pratt Dawsey says Michigan’s law is vague and open to interpretation. She says changing it is all about “political will.” Pratt Dawsey says other states have come up with school reform plans, and stick to those plans regardless of changes in political control of legislature and the governor’s office.

On Friday, the state announced that is giving the 38 Michigan schools on the list for possible closure, including two in Kalamazoo, 60 days to come up with a turnaround plan. The plans would have to be approved by the state Department of Education and the School Reform Office. Schools that reach a deal with the state would avoid being closed – at least for now.

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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