M.E.A. Calls For School Audits as Part of Reform Plan

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The Michigan Education Association agrees with the call to improve the state's lowest performing schools, said spokesperson Doug Pratt, but the state needs to provide those schools with a picture of what is going wrong and some ideas for fixing those problems before removing the staff or closing the building.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires audits of a school's program to assess its needs, but Mr. Pratt said information the MEA has collected shows of 48 schools that appear to qualify as failing under bills under consideration in the House (see related story), 39 have not had such an audit.

And he argued the audits the Department of Education is now using because of staffing shortages do not provide the information schools would need to improve.

"These audits aren't even being completed and where they are they are the sub-par audits," Mr. Pratt said. "In most schools, the faculty and staff at those schools are ready and willing to do something different (to improve performance)."

Martin Ackley, spokesperson for the department, said many of the audits were still in process. "In many cases the final audit responses from the districts aren't due until mid-May," he said, adding that the reports alone are not the only contacts the department has with the schools. He said the process included ongoing conversations.

Mr. Pratt said the department has converted to an audit that is largely made up of check boxes indicating who is charged with making certain decisions within the school. He said schools, and the state, should go back to an older format that provides more descriptive information about the decision-making processes and relationships in the building.

The audits that are being done are also limited to Title I schools, where a larger percentage of students are considered at risk because of poverty, because those are the buildings with separate federal funding to cover the costs, he said.

Mr. Ackley said that process would not likely change. "We can only use federal Title I dollars to do this," he said, so only those schools receive the audits. He said he was not familiar with the different audit forms Mr. Pratt discussed.

Mr. Pratt said the MEA is urging that some of the federal stimulus money targeted to education be used to perform the audits on the schools were they are not yet completed, and especially the non-Title I schools.

"We've got tools and processes in place to help a broader slice of students if we just have the support from Lansing to get these audits done," he said.

The information also has to actually make it to the buildings, Mr. Pratt said. In some districts, the audit results are being held by the district administration and not being passed to the school buildings to be used in their school improvement plans.

"We want all schools that are struggling to get audits done and then have that information used to create a good dialog," he said. "You can't use the teachers as a scapegoat; you cant lay it all at their feet."

Of the schools MEA expects would be on the failing schools list based on the criteria in the House bills, the largest number, 14 schools, are from Detroit Public Schools. And nearly all of the schools across the districts are high schools, including 10 alternative high schools.

And 22 of the schools do not qualify for Title I funding.