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Education Groups Largely Support Whitmer K-12 Order

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This article was originally published by Gongwer News Service on April 2, 2020.

Lansing, Mich. — Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order suspending in-person K-12 education for the rest of the 2019-20 school year was greeted Thursday with support from numerous state education associations and leaders.

In a flurry of statements in response to the governor’s lengthy order, officials acknowledged quickly developing, obtaining approval and enacting distance learning plans will be difficult as each district has different levels of resources.
Favoring the executive order were the executive directors of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, the Michigan Association of School Boards and the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

“This is a challenging time, but learning has never been limited to the school building or the school day,” the four executive directors said in a group statement. “While there is no substitute for in-person instruction, we are confident that in the face of great challenges, Michigan’s students and educators will rise to the occasion.”

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti thanked the governor for the decisions she has made on K-12 schools, saying her leadership is the type needed in the current situation.

“She listens to leaders, considers different viewpoints, and then acts decisively,” Mr. Vitti said. “Our district staff has been working hard since school was closed to develop a new learning framework that will offer learning opportunities for PreK-12 students in literacy, mathematics, science and social studies. This will include lessons for physical education and art as well.”

He said the district’s new learning platform will be released April 14. Efforts to work with the business community are underway to provide all families with internet access and a tablet with a goal to have things in place sometime in May.

Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools board members said they have been working hard to keep students’ lessons going. MANS Executive Director Brian Broderick said the governor has done a good job given the extraordinary circumstances facing the state.

“Her job has grown exponentially, and we know she cares deeply about Michigan’s students,” Mr. Broderick said. “Similarly, MANS looks forward to a continued partnership with its public school colleagues during this
difficult time.”

Dan Quisenberry, executive director of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said the governor made the right decision in finding a balanced approach to addressing education.

“While students and teachers might not be returning to their buildings, teaching and learning will continue,” Mr. Quisenberry said. “We owe nothing less to our students. What we’ve seen throughout this difficult period is that students still want to learn and teachers still want to teach. We applaud Gov. Whitmer for making the right decision to allow that to continue.

Some organizations, while understanding the need for the order, had concerns over elements of it and made suggestions for future education policy changes.

Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director Beth DeShone expressed concern that by allowing for attendance and measurement requirements to be waived in the order, some students could fall through the cracks and parents may not understand the education gaps their children face in the fall.

Ms. DeShone said the state should as a result of the outbreak consider a shift from seat-time requirements for students to a mastery-based system to have them demonstrate subject mastery through various assessments. These could include portfolios, testing and showing knowledge through various assignments, she said.

“Now is the time to embrace meaningful changes that put the unique needs of students first, by making comprehension of content a priority instead of focusing on arbitrary calendar or seat-time requirements,” Ms. DeShone said. “Allowing for a balanced calendar and online learning will support this move to mastery, but we need to also ensure that every student receives the education they need and deserve during this crisis and for the years that will follow.”

Some groups pointed to the need for improving equity between districts.

“Just as it will take months or possibly years for the world’s families, health systems and economies to recover from COVID-19, the educational recovery for students also will take months and probably years,” Education Trust-Midwest Executive Director Amber Arellano said. “For thousands of Michigan students, future academic outcomes are at stake, as well as life outcomes such as lifetime job earnings.”

Ms. Arellano said the outbreak is pointedly showing the wide differences between districts across the state in what services they can provide to students. She said policymakers need to address these disparities when the crisis is over.

Michigan Virtual President and CEO Jamey Fitzpatrick also touched on equity.

“Concerns about not being able to reach all children equally today are warranted and justified,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said. “We need to educate the children we can with the systems we have in place while urgently building the capacity to serve more students as quickly as possible, assuring both access and equity. Our educational structure has been forever changed by this pandemic: we are addressing the many challenges and defining the ways in which remote learning can be implemented.”

School Finance Research Collaborative Project Director Robert McCann echoed statements by other groups on equity.

“For schools to be successful in supporting Michigan students through the crisis, they will need lawmakers to step up, provide badly needed funding immediately, and fix Michigan’s broken funding formula to ensure schools have the flexibility they need going forward,” Mr. McCann said.

Officials with the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education said working to meet the requirements of the governor’s order will be difficult.

“Educators have already stepped up to provide essential academic and emotional support to our students and our focus will remain on helping them through this ongoing crisis and successfully welcoming them back to their classrooms in the Fall,” Walled Lake Schools Superintendent Kenneth Gutman said.

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About Michigan Virtual

Michigan Virtual™ (formally known as Michigan Virtual University®) provides online courses for Michigan students, professional development for educators and is the parent organization of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute®. As a nonprofit organization with more than 20 years of experience, Michigan Virtual is Michigan’s leading voice in online education. Visit us at michiganvirtual.org.

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