The Detroit News. November 9, 2017

Too many teachers skipping class

Students aren't the only ones skipping class, according to a new report. Many teachers are, too. That poses problems for obvious reasons. As Michigan looks to improve its standing in education, this is something the state simply must solve.

The report, "Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools," was published by the Fordham Institute, and took a deep dive through teacher absenteeism numbers collected by the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.

The state's Education Department doesn't collect or track those same numbers. But clearly it should. The report indicates a quarter of the state's public school teachers are chronically absent.

Education reform and policy advocates often point to student attendance as an important measure of a school's performance, and attendance is closely linked to a student's likelihood of graduating. Students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District have one of the highest rates of absenteeism in the country, with around 60 percent of kids missing 15 days or more a year.

But not much attention, at least on a statewide level, is put on teacher attendance.

Michigan teachers aren't the only ones taking extra time off. It's a nationwide problem.

In their introduction to the report, Fordham's Michael Petrilli and Amber Northern ask: "Why would we hold schools to account for the attendance of their students but not of their own teachers? How can anyone expect students to learn when their teachers are absent?"

Those are excellent questions, especially in light of what the numbers show. Petrilli and Northern also point to the strong link between teachers and their students' learning. If teachers skip 10 days of school in a school year, then students are missing out on 10 days of learning, they write.

That's a significant loss, considering most school calendars are 180 days.

School districts and unions are to thank for negotiating perks into teachers' contracts that allow for so many days off. For instance, most teachers get at least 10-12 sick and personal days per year, so why not use them?

That's also why teachers at traditional public schools are on average nearly three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, where most teachers aren't unionized.

Here's some of the report's key findings:

?"28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss 11 or more days of school for illness or personal reasons. For teachers in charter schools, 10.3 percent are frequently absent." And those days missed are in addition to the summer and holiday breaks and federal holidays.

?In Michigan, 24.7 percent of traditional public school teachers are chronically absent, compared to 12.4 percent of charter school teachers. Eleven other states have similar discrepancies.

?"Nationally, teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in non-unionized charters."

So collective bargaining and unions that protect teachers from the consequences of skipping school may be behind the trend.

This isn't meant to cast a bad light on teachers. Most work hard and likely have valid reasons for taking the occasional day off. But taken as a whole — and given their integral role in student learning — this is too much time for teachers to be missing.

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The Mining Journal. November 9, 2017

NMU buoys on Lake Superior give good information

Currently, as you sit, stand or casually lounge around reading this editorial, there are a number of buoys on the Great Lakes that are collecting valuable data and information that can be put to good use.

During the Oct. 24 storm that pounded the Upper Peninsula coastline with powerful waves and winds, which damaged roadways and altered some Lake Superior frontage, buoys owned by Northern Michigan University captured some interesting data.

Some of that information included the recordings of hurricane-force winds, as well as what's been deemed a record-setting 28.8-foot wave height.

With the information provided by the buoys and other sources, the hope is that we'll be able to make better projections as to the severity of storms that could impact our shoreline.

A few of the buoys operating in Lake Superior are located at Granite Island and Munising, as well as the Stannard Rock weather station. According to a recent article in the Journal that addressed the matter, NMU's project to operate the buoys along the southeastern shore was established in 2015 with a grant from the Great Lakes Observing System.

The real-time, precise data promotes greater preparedness for coastal weather events and were heavily used in the late October storm by the National Weather Service, U.S. Coast Guard and other entities, according to NMU officials.

This data provides researchers with a pretty nice picture of the conditions on the lake, and in the long term can also help when forecasting future weather events and the development of large storms.

That information could prove extremely useful from the perspective of emergency responders and others who spread cautionary signals to the public.

Many of us are familiar with Lake Superior's might, and understand how dangerous the great northern inland sea can be.

Allowing as much time as possible to prepare for a major storm event can only make it easier for all of us. With foresight, we can take the necessary precautions and send out the proper warnings to the public so that preparations can be made to hopefully lessen the impact on all of us.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). November 10, 2017

Snyder must veto ballast bill

On July 11, state legislators from Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania sent a letter to President Donald Trump calling from the prompt release of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' report on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Illinois.

The Brandon Road Lock is one of the weak points in the Chicago area system of streams and canals that could allow Asian carp to leave the Illinois and Mississippi river systems to invade the Great Lakes. The Corps had tentatively decided on upgrades for the lock, but was delaying the release of its report.

The letter to the president begins with this paragraph:

"As members of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus (GLLC), we are writing to request swift action in the federal government's efforts to help to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species in the Great Lakes. The GLLC is a nonpartisan, binational organization of state and provincial legislators representing the eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces that are home to the Great Lakes. One of our principal goals is the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes, with aquatic nuisance species being one of our greatest concerns."

At least one of the state legislators who signed that letter didn't mean it.

Michigan Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township, is a member of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus and one of the people who signed that letter.

Keeping aquatic nuisance species out of the Great Lakes is not one of his greatest concerns.

Since his election to the Legislature, he has worked to weaken Michigan's ballast water protections for ocean-going vessels. This time, he has come dangerously close to success. A bill he sponsored that would expose the Great Lakes to greater risk of new invasive species has passed both the Senate and House of Representatives. Only Gov. Rick Snyder stands between the Great Lakes and the next invasive pest — the next quagga mussel, lamprey eel, spiny water flea or next goby or Asian carp.

Michigan has the most stringent ballast water laws on the Great Lakes. We can't afford to relax our vigilance. If anything, our neighbors need to step up their games. Too many aquatic nuisances have invaded out lakes. We can't afford any more.

Gov. Snyder has vetoed earlier ballast bills intended to open the gates for foreign invaders. He must do so again. A broad coalition of environmental and conservation groups, from across the political spectrum, are urging him to veto this threat to our environment and economy as well.

They also ask that voters contact the governor's office (517) 373-3400 to request a veto on HB 5095 when it reaches his desk.

To do otherwise, as Lauwers wrote in his July letter, would put "at grave risk the largest surface freshwater system in the world and an economic driver for our entire nation."

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. November 9, 2017

Homeless shelter may provide step off the street

The Nov. 4 opening of Safe Harbor's emergency homeless shelter marks a crucial milestone in Traverse City's battle against homelessness.

The 72-bed facility on Wellington Street will allow a significant portion of the area's homeless to eat a warm meal and sleep under a roof each night from November through April, the months when frigid temperatures make spending a night in the open a dangerous endeavor. Guests need to leave by 8 a.m.

The facility won't offer overnight accommodations during the warmer months. But it will offer other services throughout the year, including a clinic and offices for partner agencies that strive to get people off the street permanently.

People who don't have a home face huge obstacles to living safely and productively.

Even if a person can hang onto a job while sleeping on the street, the logistics of such living conditions make climbing the economic ladder almost an impossibility.

But homelessness is the stark reality for more than half a million people in the United States.

In 2016, 549,928 people were experiencing homelessness on any particular night, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress.

About 68 percent of those folks were staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs or safe havens. The remaining 32 percent were sleeping in unsheltered locations, the report said.

Sleeping in an unsheltered location in the middle of a northern Michigan winter is downright dangerous.

The Safe Harbor group's coalition of churches did its best to shelter people from previous Traverse City winters. The new shelter's fixed location and improved conditions are sure to provide an even safer and more restful environment. That is likely to result in people better equipped to survive a day in the cold — and better equipped to work toward improving their personal situations. Safe haven from the frigid night may allow more of the city's homeless to land a job and find a more permanent place to sleep.

Providing that more permanent place to live is one of the Safe Harbor organization's next goals. It plans to build between 50 and 60 studio and one-bedroom apartments intended to help homeless people transition into an independent life. The public perception of homelessness seems to center on the chronically homeless, people who haven't had a stable living situation for years, don't now and likely won't in the future.

But those folks in 2016 accounted for only 22 percent of the nation's homeless, according to the federal assessment report. And that figure was down from 29 percent in 2007. The remainder were temporarily homeless, for whatever reason.

The nation's struggle against homelessness appears to be making progress. The number of homeless people declined from 647,258 in 2007 to 549,928 in 2016, according to the report. The total declined 3 percent between 2015 and 2016.

But there still are half a million people living on the street in the United States. And more than three-quarters of them are not chronically homeless. Instead, they've been forced onto the street temporarily by a variety of circumstances — job losses, rising rents, etc.

It is telling that the decline in homelessness between 2015 and 2016 was composed almost entirely of people who had been staying in emergency shelters or other locations. Such shelters may help people transition from homelessness to home.

The new Traverse City emergency shelter — staffed by more than 2,000 volunteers, 19 people per day in four shifts — should empower some people to escape the street.

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