State Superintendent Expects ‘Tough Negotiations’ on Help for Failing Schools

“We’ve had a couple phone calls that I would say have gone a little stressful, a little combative,” says Brian Whiston.

Michigan’s education chief forecasts some contentious negotiations with federal officials on the state’s plans for identifying and helping struggling schools.

It’s part of an overhaul of state and federal education policies as the Every Student Succeeds Act replaced No Child Left Behind. It includes rules on grading schools so parents can get a sense of how schools are performing, and for intervening in struggling schools.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston says there are differences between what federal officials want and the plan developed by Michigan educators, parents, and business leaders.

“Well, we’ve had a couple phone calls that I would say have gone a little stressful, a little combative,” he said. “So we are anticipating some tough negotiations with the feds, but we’re looking forward to that because we believe we’ve put together a plan that will help Michigan become a Top 10 state.”

Whiston said the state is still waiting on a letter that formally outlines the concerns of the U.S. Department of Education. But he said the phone conversations made clear federal officials are skeptical of the state’s decision to abandon an A-F grading system for schools in favor of a “dashboard” that compiles data in a variety of categories.

Proponents of the letter grades say it’s an easy and simple way for parents to get a sense of how well a school is performing. Critics say the singular measure may not reflect what families actually care about.

Whiston says the state may also have to explain its plan for “early intervention” when schools show signs of problems. Whiston says it’s patterned after the state’s plan to step in sooner when schools show signs of financial trouble.

“So we want to use the same kind of concept with early warning on districts’ academic end, so that’s one place where we’ll have to give more information to the feds on how we’re going to implement that.”