MASSP Submits Testimony on House DPS Bills

wendyz@michiganprincipals.org's picture

MASSP recently submitted written testimony to the House Appropriations Committee on the package of legislation they are currently considering regarding Detroit Public Schools. In developing our testimony, MASSP reached out to our members in the city of Detroit to make sure that we were accurately reflecting the challenges and concerns they face in their buildings. As you will see, we have focused on the issues that affect students and the impact that the proposed changes would have on instruction at the building level. We believe that is where the focus should be as legislators consider this situation.

Below, you will find the full text of the letter we submitted to committee members. In addition, we submitted as part of our testimony an article from Dr. Deborah Jenkins, Principal at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School and MASSP Region 11 Representative. You can download a copy of our testimony here.

March 18, 2016

Representative Al Psholka, Chair
House Appropriations Committee
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48823

Dear Representative Psholka:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on HB 5382-5387 on behalf of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. MASSP represents approximately 1,700 principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders from across the state including traditional and charter school principals in the City of Detroit.

As building administrators, our focus is on students and the policies and decisions that impact them at the building and classroom level. Thus, while our feedback addresses some governance and financial issues, it is because of their direct influence on students' learning.

In developing our feedback on the proposed legislation, MASSP spoke at length with our Detroit members to develop an understanding of how this proposed legislation will impact their buildings and the students in their classrooms. What we consistently heard from them is that one of the biggest problems faced by principals in Detroit is the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers due mainly to the low starting salary, the pay freeze that has been in place since 2011, and the blanket negative attention focused on the city that denigrates the hard work of every student and educator.

The number of unfilled teaching positions has lead to overcrowded classrooms and buildings, even though the district is operating significantly under capacity. Students in Detroit can go through an entire school year without a permanent teacher. Because no single in-school factor has a larger impact on student achievement than teacher and administrator quality, this should be particularly concerning.

Given that, MASSP would like to offer the following feedback on some of the specific proposals put forward in HB 5382-5387:

  • The alternative certification proposal does not provide the supports and protections necessary to ensure that students have access to quality instruction. Like every student in Michigan, Detroit's students deserve qualified, highly-skilled teachers. As we identified above, the obstacle to this in Detroit is financial. While alternatively certified teachers can be excellent, Michigan already has pathways available that allow quality alternative certification programs to operate.
  • We urge the legislature to avoid creating any further disincentives for educators to work in Detroit. Proposals such as eliminating MPSERS for newly hired employees and adding more explicit performance compensation requirements and applying them exclusively to Detroit would exacerbate the challenges of recruiting and retention. Additionally, given the size of the local district workforce in Detroit, the proposed MPSERS changes have the potential to create a ripple effect that will negatively impact the budgets of other school districts across the state.

We would also like to echo the Michigan Association of School Administrators, the Michigan Association of School Boards, and others who have stressed the importance of creating a stable and reliable governance structure for all schools in the City of Detroit. That means returning the local district to a well-trained, publically elected school board as soon as possible and putting in place an oversight mechanism—for example, a DEC—that can ensure that the State of Michigan does not end up back in this same situation five years from now.

Finally, we feel compelled to respond to the continued assertion that the Detroit Public Schools is "the worst district in the nation." Detroit faces myriad challenges and yet still provides an excellent education to many students. The continual negative focus and broad, sound-byte assertions about school quality denigrate the work of exceptional students and staff in Detroit and every Michigan school district. This does not mean adopting a Pollyannaish attitude, but rather acknowledging the problems faced by schools in the City of Detroit and engaging Michigan's educators as partners in solving those problems rather than attacking educators as barriers to student learning.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed legislation and for your ongoing efforts to address the challenges faced by students and educators in Detroit. We are hopeful that these endeavors can begin to solve the problems that are impacting the learning of so many students.

Sincerely,

Wendy Zdeb
Executive Director

AttachmentSize
MASSP Testimony on 5382-7.pdf3.18 MB