Three high schools -- Osborn, Henry Ford and Cody (including its freshman academy) -- will each house several independent specialized schools under phase one of the what is being called the Turn Around Schools plan. Vetal Elementary will also be restructured.
"Phase 1 of the Turn Around School initiative is intended to transform the curriculum, classrooms, technology, staff, buildings and grounds in these five schools," Calloway read from a prepared statement. She added that the plan is in the early stages and she hopes at least one of the reconstructed campuses will be open by fall.
The high school restructuring means, for instance, that each building will contain three to four smaller schools that could concentrate on preparing students for specializations such as technology or engineering. Each school within the building will have its own staff, administrators and possibly sports teams. The small school communities will each enroll 450 students, Calloway said.
Battle Creek Central High is in the third year of a federal grant to do the same thing, and is already seeing results.
Battle Creek teachers said failure rates had plummeted among freshmen because of the small learning communities and a program called No Choice But Success, in which students who do not receive a grade of 'C' or better are required to relearn material and try until they pass.
"If you let (students) fail, a lot of them will choose to fail because it's easier," said Meredith Shabani, a freshman social studies teacher. "It's easier than studying for a test or doing a project."
Battle Creek's after-school study sessions, graduation coaches who hound students about their homework and the smaller teams of teachers and students were impressive, Granholm said.
"This model is a great lesson for me and for our team, so we can say 'Look, here is an example of a school that's doing it in Michigan, that has seen the kind of results we want to trumpet,'" she said.
Smaller high schools in the Chicago area have also had success, although test scores still needed improvement.
The report found that the reform works when it comes to keeping students involved in school: 20 percent of the students enrolled in the first cohort of five new small schools dropped out by the end of their junior year, compared with 27 percent of similar students at large high schools. Author Joseph Kahne notes that “graduating from high school makes a huge difference in terms of employment and earnings. If the promising lower dropout rates noted in this study translate into improved graduation rates, this reform will substantively improve the lives of these students.”
Attendance was also better: The students in small schools spent nearly a week longer in classes than those in large schools because their absence rate was lower, 25 days compared with 28 days at larger schools for juniors and 20 days for CHSRI freshmen compared with 26 days for similar students at larger schools.
In order for any school reform to be effective, researchers contend that students need more academic rigor. When compared with students in larger schools, this study found that juniors in the small schools felt more challenged by their teachers than did similar students in other schools. The small schools also had both juniors and freshmen more focused on goals for their lives after high school.
Grand Rapids joins the trend, but the Republicans have something else in mind, of course.
The Grand Rapids Public Schools also have plans to break up two of the four large city schools into specialized learning environments.
City educators plan to merge four comprehensive high schools into two buildings, even if voters reject a $250 million plan to renovate those schools and others, saying the moves are driven by academics, not facilities.
All four of Grand Rapids Public School's main high schools have failed to meet No Child Left Behind testing goals for four years and face state-mandated changes unless they show dramatic improvement -- or the district restructures them first.
They plan to ask the voters for the money.
Figuring out what to do with the small schools within Union and Ottawa Hills also is on the task force's agenda. Union's Arts, Communication and Technology School might get folded into the new Ellington Academy, approved by the school board Tuesday.
Board members said the program changes would help them decide what should be included in the schools should voters approve the tax increase, expected to be on a ballot in 2009.
They would like the state to help out, the governor has suggested this very thing in her 21st Century Schools plan, and at first, Senate Republicans were receptive to the idea after a bipartisan trip to Chicago to see how it works.
Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he thinks the plan will get a positive reception among Senate Republicans, who dominate that chamber.
"The driver in all of this is giving kids a good education," said Kuipers, who was among those who accompanied Granholm to Chicago. "We have to be about creating options for parents and kids to choose from, and from that standpoint this is a good proposal."
Looking good for common sense school reform, right? Well, something happened on the way to sanity, as it usually does when the Senate Republicans are involved.
A quarter of Michigan's high schools have failed to meet goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for at least two years, and Granholm said studies show smaller schools have better results.
State Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman recently traveled to Providence, R.I., where she says she saw how successful a small, state-funded high school can be compared with larger, impersonal schools.
"We've got to offer something different," the Detroit Democrat said. "We cannot continue doing the same thing and getting no progress."
But Senate Republicans have a different opinion on how the state should use the money. They want to give every district another $19 to $20 per student to spend on buildings.
And that is exactly what they did, cut the funding for smaller high schools in the education budget they passed last week. Guess they weren't serious about reform after all.
Republicans rejected Democrats' attempts to set up small high schools in districts with failing students. The GOP instead supported giving every district another $20 per student to spend on buildings.
Detroit and Grand Rapids will go ahead with their plans anyway; not sure how Detroit will pay for it, but Grand Rapids intends to turn to the taxpayer - and once again, Republicans dodge all fiscal responsibility.
Something to keep in mind next time they complain about the public schools.