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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

September 17, 2018

The Detroit News. September 12, 2018

Don’t ditch teacher grading model

It took the Michigan Legislature years to fashion the state’s current approach to teacher evaluations. The framework was a bipartisan effort, and highly incorporated the input of experts in the teaching field. Three years later, however, teachers unions are having second thoughts.

Lawmakers shouldn’t bow to pressure to change it.

In late 2015, when Gov. Rick Snyder signed the evaluation legislation into law, the Michigan Education Association (the state’s largest teachers union) and plenty of Democrats praised the effort.

Former MEA president Steven Cook hailed the legislation as a “major improvement over the present haphazard process” and said the legislation changes the focus of evaluation from “punishment” to “improving classroom instruction.”

That was then. The MEA has since changed its tune, now that the full impact of the evaluation law is kicking in. So have lots of Democrats.

Republicans, who spearheaded the initial overhaul, are also working to roll back some of the requirements. Term limits are undoubtedly to blame, as many of the lawmakers who worked on the initial law are no longer in office. And this is a complicated policy discussion.

A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, is getting traction in the House Education Reform Committee, and a hearing was held last week.

Essentially, this latest bill is about lowering the stakes of the evaluations. The law had mandated that starting out, 25 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation would be based on student growth and testing data. Half of that included the state standardized test — the other half could be a test decided on locally.

This school year, however, that measure jumps to 40 percent, and the unions are worried this is an unreliable way to grade a teacher’s performance. Miller’s bill would freeze the 25 percent standard.

Business and education advocacy groups are sounding the alarm that this would be a backward move for Michigan as it seeks to improve its public schools.

In a strongly worded letter to House Education Committee Chair Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, the heads of three top business groups in the state cautioned against making the proposed change.

Doug Rothwell of Business Leaders for Michigan, Sandy Baruah of the Detroit Regional Chamber and Rick Baker of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce all signed the letter.

The business leaders pointed out how this year Michigan ranked 49th in the U.S. for third grade reading scores — across all socio-economic backgrounds. Yet that doesn’t match up with how teachers are graded. In the past six years, they say 98 percent of the state’s teachers have been ranked as “highly effective” or “effective.”

“A quality teacher evaluation tool is one of the most sophisticated and powerful tools a school district has for not only accountability, but to catalyze change,” they wrote.

The Education Trust-Midwest also testified against weakening the law.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, and chair of his chamber’s Education Committee, sponsored the original legislation and worked tirelessly to get it done three years ago. He took criticism at that time for giving local districts too much leeway in how they fashion their evaluations. Apparently it wasn’t enough.

Pavlov is unlikely to take up the matter unless there’s good reason. And so far, we haven’t heard a convincing rationale for why it’s necessary to alter what had been welcomed as a fair and meaningful way to grade Michigan’s teachers.

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Times Herald(Port Huron). September 13, 2018

Neglect and abuse likely worse than we imagine

There is an addition to the Times Herald building, although it remains unoccupied for the moment. The tent atop the building at Military and Water streets is hard to ignore.

Unfortunately, it is way too easy to ignore child abuse and neglect.

In 2016, there were 586 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect in St. Clair County. Seventeen of every 1,000 children aged 17 or younger were found to have been neglected or abused by the state Department of Health and Human Services. That is only slightly lower than the statewide average.

If 586 seems like a lot, you don’t want to read the next sentence. Criminal justice authorities, university researchers, health officials and child welfare activists estimate only about 1 in 10 child abuse and neglect cases come to the attention of authorities.

If they’re right, a sixth of St. Clair County’s 34,557 children needed our help in 2016, but only a fraction of our most vulnerable got the protection and support they needed and deserved.

Worse, those same experts warn that while physical and sexual abuse of children is grossly under-reported, neglect — the maltreatment that killed 5-year-old Mackenzie Maison — is ignored far more often. Nationwide and in St. Clair County, there is a conspiracy of silence and we are all complicit.

The first thing we must all do is speak up and stand up for those who can’t fight back. If you see or suspect child abuse or neglect you must do the adult thing and report it. One theory to explain why more people don’t act is that we fear being wrong. Being right about your suspicions but doing nothing has to hurt more than being wrong.

Anyone who suspects child neglect or abuse — and that includes children as well as adults — should call (855) 444-3911. If you’re not sure about remembering that number, call 911.

The second thing you can do is support the work of the St. Clair County Child Abuse/Neglect Council, which works to raise awareness of the dangers facing our kids, to hopefully erase that appalling gap between the abuse and neglect that is seen and the abuse and neglect that is reported, and to end child abuse. Because it shouldn’t hurt to be a kid.

Starting Sunday, the agency’s largest fundraiser makes it easy to donate and hard to ignore. That white tent atop the Times Herald building will be WSAQ radio personality Matt Markham’s home for the week while he calls attention to the undeniable need for the council’s services.

The first day of the roof sit kicks off with Sunday Funday, a free event for children that includes a petting zoo, pony rides, carnival games, balloon art and more from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at 911 Military St.

Donors can contribute at 911 Military St. or by calling (866) 852-KIDS.

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Lansing State Journal. September 13, 2018

Gov. Snyder directive to ‘ban the box’ is good for Michigan

Job seekers with criminal pasts got welcome news last week when Gov. Snyder issued a directive to remove the question of a criminal record from initial screenings for state jobs.

This “ban the box” initiative applies only to state government jobs, but it’s a step in the right direction for the about one in three adults with an arrest or conviction in their past who face many obstacles to re-entering the workforce.

Bills to eliminate the box on all job applications - in the public and private sectors - have been introduced in recent years but have not passed the Michigan Legislature.

That’s the logical next step as the unemployment rate is low and the need for workers high.

But let’s pause first to celebrate Snyder’s appropriate decision.

“While a job applicant’s criminal record is certainly a relevant consideration in an employment decision, applicants who are filtered out of the process at the beginning simply for having a record are denied the opportunity to show their qualifications,” Snyder said in the directive.

Well said, Governor.

Eliminating the box doesn’t dismiss the relevance of a criminal record in determining employment. It gives applicants a chance to sell themselves based on the combination of their qualifications and experience, rather than being defined by one aspect of their life.

The ability to get a job is “an essential part of successful re-entry” for those being released from prison, according to Snyder.

Snyder and Michigan are not unique. Michigan joins 32 states and 150 cities across the nation that have implemented ‘ban the box’ or ‘fair chance’ policies for their own hiring practices, according to the National Employment Law Project.

In at least 11 states, there are state laws that prohibit private sector employers from asking about a criminal history during initial candidate screening.

Yet, in Michigan, legislators not only failed to pass such statewide legislation, they also passed a separate law that prevents Michigan cities from implementing their own “ban the box” initiatives.

That is a backward approach to a very real problem.

People with a criminal record deserve second chances.

Without employment, they can’t support themselves or their families. They’re also more likely to re-offend.

Employers still have the right to conduct background checks and ask pointed questions of potential candidates. Snyder’s directive offers the opportunity for candidates to prove they’re more than a criminal record - by focusing on experience and qualifications first.

Gov. Snyder has set a good example. Michigan lawmakers should follow suit.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. September 13, 2018

Plan on caring today — that’s how the job is done

More than 150 people today will show up to work, ready to volunteer.

They will swap their business-casual attire for boots and T-shirts and head over to a local nonprofit with their colleagues to knock out a honey-do list. More than 38 projects will be punched out in a few hours this way — and that takes a significant amount of planning.

“You have to plan. You want people to have the proper supplies for the job, to know where they’re going, to have a schedule to make sure you make the most of the volunteers’ time,” said Jessica Tibbs, an AmeriCorps VISTA leader with United Way of Northwest Michigan.

She will work in a group of 10 to complete the Great Lakes Children’s Museum’s task list.

Others will be winter-weather sealing, clearing TART trails, breaking down garage sales and organizing food pantries.

United Way of Northwest Michigan’s annual Day of Caring — today — is a planning feat of strength. It connects businesses, faith groups and individual volunteers to the projects they like, and sets them up to do successful work.

Planning around a certain day both allows United Way to showcase their year-long volunteer placement program and get a significant amount of needed work done, said Day of Caring coordinator Michelle Krumm.

Some organizations wouldn’t be able to keep their doors open without it, she said.

Day of Caring can also stretch into weeks, months and years, as the singular activity can inspire ongoing relationships between businesses, organizations and volunteers.

It also allows for one-and-done-types to play a role.

Either way, you can count on Day of Caring to be a worthwhile way to spend some time — no matter the amount.

In fact, you can plan on it.

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