Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. Sept. 1, 2021.

Editorial: New test scores fail to show full COVID impact

Recently released standardized test results highlight the damaging impact of “pandemic learning” on Michigan’s children. Scores are down nearly across the board and should serve as a wake-up call to keep kids in the classroom.

Too many districts were not prepared to switch to an online-only model in spring 2020, and consequently the quality of learning offered to students was sub par.

This is even more true in urban districts like Detroit, where numerous students checked out completely when they couldn’t physically go to class.

Some takeaways from the 2021 Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, (M-STEP):

— Math scores dropped across the board for every grade tested (3-8 and 11).

— In sixth-grade math, only 28.6% of students tested proficient or above, compared to 35.1% in 2019.

— In third-grade reading, 42.8% were proficient or better, compared to 45.1% in 2019.

Unfortunately, the scores offer an incomplete picture, thanks in large part to a lack of leadership at the Michigan Department of Education. They are likely much lower.

According to the department, 64-72% of students took the test and SAT (offered to 11th-graders) this year. Typically, federal law dictates that 95% of students take the exam, but officials waived that requirement due to COVID.

State Superintendent Michael Rice devoted too much time trying to land a federal waiver from the annual summative test rather than helping prepare districts to offer the exam, despite less than ideal circumstances.

The M-STEP test is the best way to gauge district-wide performance and compare districts to others. And it’s why education experts across the political spectrum advocated for keeping these tests in place.

The U.S. Department of Education offered waivers from the test in spring 2020 to all schools, given the onslaught of COVID-19. Yet the MDE then sought a waiver for the 2020-21 school year as well. When the Trump administration denied the waiver last year, Rice tried again with the Biden administration and was also shot down.

He then made it clear to schools that they didn’t need to encourage students who were remote to come in to take the test. It’s required for testing to be done in-person in Michigan. So districts that were completely or largely remote — including Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing — this spring when the test took place, had little incentive to ensure students participated.

“Students who took the state assessments were more likely to be from districts that offered in-person or hybrid learning and less likely to be students of color, economically disadvantaged students, or English learners,” the MDE admitted in a statement.

It’s baffling why the state and any district wouldn’t want to have a clear picture of how students were doing, regardless of how bad the scores may look.

As we’ve said before, given the pandemic, the results shouldn’t be used to punish or shame teachers or students. But unless education officials know where students are academically, they won’t know how best to direct resources to help at-risk kids.

Michigan schools are flush with cash, with about $6 billion in federal virus aid. They should gather all the data possible to know how to spend those dollars. It’s a huge oversight.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Sept. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Trojans Athletic Complex may spur economy

It took 26 years, but Traverse City Central’s soccer, baseball and softball players now have a place to officially call home.

The Trojans Athletic Complex opened Wednesday.

Plans for the outdoor sports facility began taking shape a quarter century ago, before any of the players on the field in Wednesday’s inaugural match were born.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak in 1995 introduced federal legislation that enabled the transfer of 27 acres from the U.S. Coast Guard to Traverse City Area Public Schools. Four years ago, a bond campaign raised $107 million for construction. Work began in 2020.

Soccer long has been played at the site. But the completed complex now includes soccer fields and baseball/softball diamonds — and lights that enable night games.

The LED lights, specifically designed so they don’t interfere with pilots’ vision for landings at nearby Cherry Capital Airport, may prove crucial to futures uses of the complex. Very few softball/baseball fields in northern Michigan have lights.

Incoming Trojans Athletic Director Justin Thorrington said the lights could earn Traverse City Central High School consideration to host Michigan High School Athletic Association regional and super regionals playoff games in baseball and softball.

Grand Traverse County administrator and Trojans softball coach Nate Alger said hosting such regionals could be a boon to Traverse City’s economy.

“If you get district draws and regional draws, we have teams that travel quite a ways for that kind of business,” Alger said. “They would be in hotels, restaurants to eat and places to stay. So this is a premier facility that’s going to draw some attention and bring people into this area.”

The baseball and softball fields should be ready for play in the spring. Wednesday’s soccer game marked a new chapter in the site’s utility for Central. The addition of lighting to enable night play could be a game-changer for Traverse City’s economy.

Central’s athletes may not have been around when TCAPS took possession of the land next to the Coast Guard station. But they can be proud to compete at today’s first-class facility.

“A kid doesn’t have to feel like maybe they’re not getting the same quality of environment educationally and athletically as a metro Detroit school,” TCAPS superintendent John VanWagoner said. “We have everything here for the benefit of our kids that would match up to any of those schools.”

The community as a whole also will benefit from the existence of the new sports complex. It’s one more batter in our roster of facilities that will attract visitors who spend time and money in Traverse City.

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Alpena News. Sept. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Get involved in redistricting

It’s hard to overstate the importance of maps to the future of this state and this nation.

For various reasons (cultural, economic, generational), we Americans tend to self-segregate politically. Progressives tend to congregate in bigger cities or urban areas, while conservatives tend to congregate in more rural areas.

When officials carve up the Michigan map into political districts for the U.S. House and the state House and state Senate, where those lines fall can heavily pack one group of people or another into a district, all but guaranteeing who will win the next election (which makes primaries especially important, but we’ll save that for another day).

Carve up the map just right, and you can secure which party will control the majority of the Legislature for years to come, and that controlling party then steers the ship for all of us.

With 2020 census numbers now released, officials have to create new maps, which will go into effect with the 2022 election.

For the first time in Michigan, thanks to a law voters approved in 2018, lawmakers will not draw those maps. Instead, the task will go to a new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

And residents can now tell that commission how they think the new maps should look.

At Michigan.gov/MICRC, residents can even draw their own suggested maps.

We urge all readers to take a look at the commission’s website and offer some insight.

Those maps determine the makeup of your Legislature, your Congress, and your future.

Make sure you get involved.

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