Michigan's big plan to improve its schools has been deemed "insufficient" by federal education officials, but the state's top educator said Tuesday evening he expects to resolve the problems within a week.
"The department has determined that the information provided by Michigan was insufficient ... to adequately review" the plan, Jason Botel, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said in a letter sent Friday.
Michigan was among 16 states and the District of Columbia that submitted plans for complying with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act – the law governing elementary and secondary education in the nation – earlier this year. Other states plan to submit their plans in the fall.
States are required to detail how they plan to comply with the law, which Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed into law in 2015.
A key feature of the plans: States must show how they're going to identify schools for improvement and how they're going to hold schools accountable.
Part of Michigan's problem? The plan it submitted included three options for an accountability system. The state has since decided on one – a transparency dashboard that will give parents and the community a host of data on every school in the state.
What's left to explain to the feds is "how that transparency dashboard is going to work in terms of identifying struggling schools and how we're going to use that to then release struggling schools once they've improved," said Brian Whiston, Michigan's state superintendent.
"We will refile within the next week," Whiston said.
The other options included what's called an A-F grading system – one would have assigned a single letter grade to each school in the state based on a number of factors, including test results; while the other would have assigned a letter grade to each school in six categories, but would not have provided a single, overall grade.
Whiston said he wasn't surprised by the letter deeming the state plan insufficient. It's what he and officials from the U.S. Department of Education discussed during a phone call a week ago.
"We knew it wasn't a resolved issue," Whiston said.
Of the 17 states that filed their plans, only Delaware has had its plan approved by the federal department. Twelve states are now responding to feedback letters, but Michigan is the only state that was told its plan was insufficient to even review.
The other states were asked for clarifying information, additional information or asked to address issues identified by the federal agency.
Michigan's feedback letter follows a critical review of its plan released in June by a group of K-12 policy experts, with much of the criticism centering on the lack of a clearly defined accountability system.
"Michigan’s plan lacks the clarity and detail necessary to give the state the best opportunity to improve outcomes in the classroom,” Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, which was part of the review process, said in a news release at the time.
Whiston said he doesn't care much about what a group of national policy experts have to say.
"This plan was built for Michigan and for Michigan schools and Michigan students," Whiston said. "It was built ... with input from teachers, parents, the business community. That's more important."
There has been criticism in Michigan from key figures, including Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who raised concerns about the state education department backing away from the A-F grading system and the way the state planned to count special education students.
Meanwhile, the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based education research and advocacy group, has also been critical, saying there are troubling aspects to it, including plans to change the testing system in the state.
Whiston said he hopes that the state's plans to address the issues raised by the U.S. Department of Education next week will mean the latter will approve the plan by the end of the month.
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