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It’s Count Day for Michigan’s schools.

But this being 2020, it’s a little different this year.

Twice during the academic year, Michigan schools count the number of students in class. The resulting number determines how much state aid schools receive.

But with many students spending class time at the kitchen table instead of in the classroom, Count Day is going to be different this year. 

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At this point, nearly all Michigan students are back in class for the fall semester, through Zoom meetings, physically distanced instruction, or shepherding from grownups at home. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces teachers and families to navigate a new world of education, Stateside checked in with parents feeling their way through the first days of a back-to-school season unlike any other.

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Some school districts that are teaching online only are adding limited enrollment drop-off programs this fall to help ease the burden on working parents.

The students can be dropped off at school buildings, or in some cases, community centers, where they will be supervised by non-teaching staff as they attend online school, just like the students at home.

Fees typically range from about $30 to $60 a day. At Lake Orion Community Schools, the fee will be $40 a day for K-5 students.

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Today on Stateside, on Tuesday, Michigan State University announced it was transitioning to remote learning for undergraduates and urged students to stay home. Meanwhile, faculty at the University of Michigan are protesting the university’s decision to continue with in-person classes. Conversations with professors from both universities tell a tale of two schools. Plus, how the pandemic highlights racial inequality in college access.

Courtesy of Owen Bondono

Owen Bondono, Michigan’s newly named Teacher of the Year and a ninth-grade English language arts teacher at Oak Park Freshman Institute, works to create a classroom community in which students feel comfortable sharing their experiences and ideas with eachother. But as a fall semester unlike any other approaches, and some schools lean toward virtual learning to limit the spread of COVID-19, Bondono is having to rethink the way he conducts meaningful class conversations with his students.

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Today on Stateside, hospitals and health workers are still looking for ways to safely interact with patients following the first COVID-19 surge in Michigan. We check in with an epidemiologist who’s researching how plasma from recovered patients might help those at high risk of infection. Plus, we continue to look at what school might look like in the fall as the governor's Return to Learn Task Force wraps up its work and recommendations next week. 

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Today on Stateside, we talk to a Republican state senator who says that Governor Whitmer’s extension of the emergency stay at home order goes too far. Plus, how students with disabilities who rely on schools for important services are faring at home. 

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Charter school groups and state lawmakers are complaining about how the Michigan Department of Education plans to count students enrolling in cyber schools.

All Michigan schools must provide a minimum of 1,098 hours of instruction throughout the school year, under Section 101 of the State School Aid Act.

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The faculty union at Eastern Michigan University has filed a grievance against the university's administration over a controversial online degree program. 

Many faculty members are outraged, according to faculty union leaders, that they weren't consulted before the university contracted with an outside group called Academic Partnerships. 

Eastern Michigan University
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More details have emerged about Eastern Michigan University's contract with Academic Partnerships, a company that helps universities offer degrees online.

On December 21, 2016, Eastern Michigan University disclosed that it had entered into a five-year contract with Academic Partnerships, an outside group that will help the university launch four online degrees.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

College students should stop surfing the internet in class and start paying more attention to their professors. That’s the finding of a new report from Michigan State University.

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Online learning. Make no mistake about it: It is here and it is growing.

The number of students taking online courses has grown 52% in the past three years. In the 2012-2013 school year, some 55,000 students in Michigan took a virtual course.

A new report from the Michigan Virtual University looks at virtual learning for K-12 students –who’s taking online classes, what kinds of classes and how effective the classes are.

The results are mixed.

Jamey Fitzpatrick is president and CEO of Michigan Virtual University, and he joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Courtesy: Michigan Virtual University

A new study by Michigan Virtual University is calling for schools to do more to adapt online learning to students' learning needs.

MVU is a non-profit set up by the state in 1998. It offers online courses and professional development to Michigan's K-12 schools.

MVU interviewed dozens of state and national education leaders about the future of education and the best role for technology.

Officials at a southwest Michigan school district are asking the state’s superintendent to return close to half a million dollars. The state deducted the money from the Gull Lake Community Schools district last school year over mistakes the state says the district made with its new virtual school.

"For an online course there has to be two way communication a number of times during the semester. And what happened is that – well they weren’t able to meet that requirement. They weren’t able to show us there was two way communication,” Ellis said.

Richard D. McLellan
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An overhaul of how Michigan pays for public schools could be on the way. Gov. Rick Snyder wants that to be a big part of his budget proposal in early 2013.  The governor has named Lansing attorney Richard McLellan to lead the process.
    
McLellan says the state’s funding system is overdue for a shakeup.

“This is a 1979 law. It’s quite out of date," he said. "It’s a school district-centric model that doesn’t necessarily provide the flexibility for parents and for students that people are now demanding."

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Beginning this summer, the University of Michigan will offer a number of online classes that anyone from anywhere in the world can take…for free.

A professor from the U of M business school will teach a class on finance. Want to know about electronic voting in time for the November presidential election? You can take a course called securing digital democracy.

U of M English professor Eric Rabkin will teach a class on fantasy and science fiction, which is scheduled to go live this summer:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Five state lawmakers took tough questions from parents in East Grand Rapids Wednesday night. The legislative committee of the schools' PTA hosted the lawmakers; four republicans and one democrat. Hot issues included a proposed bill on cyber schools and the governor’s proposed k-12 budget for next school year.

Cyber charter schools

Last year Michigan lifted the cap on how many charter schools public universities can run. Now, there’s a bill proposed that would allow more cyber charter schools to operate.

Many parents asked the lawmakers why cyber schools get the same amount of state money per child as brick and morter ones. State Representative Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) said cyber schools shouldn’t get as much, saying the savings should be passed on to the taxpayers. Cyber charters can be run by national for-profit companies.

Tina Murua has two kids enrolled in East Grand Rapids schools. “I fear that they’ve couched the whole thing in terms of parental choice because…who can argue with that? It’s a brilliant strategy but it was a false choice,” Murua said. She worries companies are pushing states to allow more cyber schools just to make money.  

The state senate already approved the cyber charter school bill. It passed the State House Education Committee in late February.

More online K-12 schools coming to Michigan?

Jan 25, 2012

The debate over the effectiveness of K-through-12 cyber schools is ramping up at the state Capitol.

A state House panel is considering a measure that would allow more "cyber schools" to operate in Michigan.          

There are currently two cyber schools authorized in Michigan.

Former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins supports allowing more cyber schools to operate in the state. But he cautioned lawmakers to take careful consideration of how well individual schools are performing.  

“I would invoke an old Chinese saying; that once you open the window, all the flies can come in,” said Watkins.

Those opposed to more cyber schools in the state say not enough is known about their success rates.

Democratic state Representative Rudy Hobbs, playing on Watkins' flies metaphor, said he wants to make sure new cyber schools operating in the state meet high performance standards.

"Once we pass this, we open up the window. All the flies can come in; every single one of them," said Hobbs. "And then we have to try and figure out which ones are good, which ones are bad, get our fly-swatter out and kind of kill the ones that are bad. Why get the fly-swatter out? Let’s just make sure we let the good ones come in and be done with it."

Supporters of online learning say kids and parents should be afforded more education options and opportunities in the digital age. And they say wait-lists for cyber schools are long.

Republican state Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee.

"Education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. But if we don’t change, the world’s not waiting. And we can’t be stuck in some of the older ways of doing things and our kids are going to be left behind and our state is," said McMillin.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants traditional public schools to incorporate more cyber-learning. But he has not called for more online-only schools.

Sarah M. Stewart / Creative Commons

A report out this week shows more than half of high school freshmen and sophomores failed the first semester of the new blended-online courses at Grand Rapids Public Schools. GRPS is Michigan's third largest K-12 district.

The program launched in the fall of 2010. At the time it was (and may very well continue to be) incredibly controversial. Like any new program, Grand Rapids schools spokesman John Helmholdt says there was an adjustment period the first semester.

“There was both a district-wide layoff but also a huge early retirement incentive where we had more than 400 teachers, principals, and support staff retire; and so that first semester was a little rocky,” Helmholdt said. The retirement incentive was offered by the State of Michigan to try to save districts and the state money.

Test scores improved in the spring 2011 semester, but the failure rate was still 44-percent.