Democracy Tree: The Devil is in the details for petition drive challenge


Democracy Tree:

The Devil is in the details

for petition drive challenge

Michigan law does not require petitioners to accurately state the nature of a petition to potential signers, though there are strict rules about other forms of misrepresentation in terms of the mechanics of the signing process.

Legal provisions of that nature are now being invoked by the group Protecting Michigan Jobs, asserting that more than 100,000 signatures collected in the petition drive to repeal the Prevailing Minimum Wage law are invalid, thereby negating the ballot proposal. The union-bashing petitioners submitted about 390,000 signatures, with a requirement of almost 253,000 needed to secure a place on the ballot. Challengers are claiming that people signed the petition multiple times.

Ironically, the legal challenge to the petition is spearheaded by the same individual who championed the union-bashing Emergency Manager law. Yes, John Pirich is the same guy who failed with his 2012 challenge on the font size (font-gate) of the petition drive to repeal the Emergency Manager law. At the time, many viewed his challenge as a disingenuous attack on the democratic process.

The 2012 incident did spur the Secretary of State to clarify font requirements. This latest petition challenge is similarly tricky in terms of the law, and surely will spur the Secretary of State to toughen the rules again.

The effort to repeal Michigan’s Prevailing Minimum Wage law may well be on the rocks, but it all comes down to a review by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. Backers of the petition drive paid $1.1 million to a Las Vegas organization to gather the signatures to put the initiated law on the ballot in 2016. The group, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, padded the total to ensure they passed the standard sampling test of the Board of State Canvassers.

Accusations from a couple of months ago that petitioners were misrepresenting the intent of the petition may play heavily in the board’s decision — but, not because of the most obvious reason. It was reported that paid petitioners were purported to be saying the petition was to “ensure transparency in government.” (I can personally verify I overheard a petitioner in Traverse City saying just that to a potential signer.)

Michigan law says that petitioners may not illegally certify a petition they did not personally circulate, and they may not knowingly allow someone to sign the petition twice. The law also provides that signers may not knowingly sign a petition more than once — that’s the catch that may create a legal mess. Signers could be found to have been under the impression that they signed two separate petitions — one for “transparency in government” and another to repeal the Prevailing Minimum Wage law, that’s a possible legal point.

Pirich asserts that more than 20,000 people signed at least twice, but the Board of State Canvassers could determine that the majority did so inadvertently. While several individuals were reported to have signed up to ten times, that fact may not play into the calculation as to whether to validate the numbers because a certain amount of deceit is present in all petition drives, including opponent’s attempts to sabotage the effort by invalidating entire pages this way.

Whatever the decision, Michigan voters will not see the question on their November 2016 ballot.

The petition drive itself was a complete farce — with its sole purpose being to allow the legislature to enact a veto-proof law based on gaining enough signatures, as they may do so according to the Michigan Constitution — meaning it will never go to a popular vote.

Since the GOP assumed control of the Michigan House nearly five years ago, they have abused this initiated law loophole as a matter of practice — effectively bypassing the democratic process two times out of the six occurrences in the past half century.

Michigan Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-23) introduced legislation late last month designed to regulate and provide penalties for false statements made by petition gatherers on ballot questions and recall attempts. The bill would make it a misdemeanor for someone who “intentionally makes a false statement or misrepresentation concerning the contents” of a petition.

If enacted, it could create a litigation quagmire for all ballot question committees, forcing them to spend thousands fighting legal challenges. Protecting Michigan Jobs has already shelled-out $136,000 to Pirich for his services — clearly, challenging petitions is a lucrative pursuit for the lawyer, who incidentally is the former chair of the Michigan Board of Ethics, appointed by Gov. Snyder.

Update: It should be clarified that the Board of State Canvassers is an appointed body of four — two Republicans, and two Democrats, and therefore may deadlock the vote, as happened with the Emergency Manager petition certification. That spurred a court challenge that eventually led to the question earning a spot on the ballot, in spite of Pirich’s efforts otherwise. Initially, the Court of Appeals applied the “substantial compliance” rule to their order for certification. That ruling was subsequently rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court. However, in a 4 to 3 ruling, the high court instead found that the petitions fully complied with the letter of the law.

The precedent now is that there remains precious little, if any, grey area in the compliance decision process. The ruling took the whimsy out of the mix.

If the Prevailing Minimum Wage question similarly deadlocks (which it likely will), it too could end up in the courts. The precedent set by the Supreme Court could cut both ways though.

The Board of State Canvassers will employ the standard sampling test, and if the petitions are within compliance by that measure the board is compelled to certify. Otherwise, they would have to demonstrate that the petitions wereabsolutely not in compliance as to the number of valid signatures, meaning they would have to go through more than 50,000 pages of signatures and definitively disqualify roughly 140,000 signatures. That’s a tall order.

Either way, there are ten months for litigation, and plenty of money to be spent.


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The epic failure of Michigan Republicans on road funding

Eclectablog has posted a new item, ‘The epic failure of Michigan Republicans on
road funding in 101 news headlines’, at Eclectablog.

You may view the latest post at

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The Obama Administration’s (Smoke and Mirrors) Calls for “Less Testing”

VAMboozled! [new post] The Obama Administration’s (Smoke and Mirrors) Calls for “Less Testing”

Link to VAMboozled!

The Obama Administration’s (Smoke and Mirrors) Calls for “Less Testing”

Posted: 27 Oct 2015 11:59 AM PDT

For those of you who have not yet heard, last weekend the Obama Administration released a new “Testing Action Plan” in which the administration calls for a “decreased,” “curbed,” “reversed,” less “obsessed,” etc. emphasis on standardized testing for the nation. The plan, headlined as such, has hit the proverbial “front pages” of many news (and other) outlets since. See, for example, articles in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, CNN, US News & World Report,Education Week, and the like.

The gist of the “Testing Action Plan” is that student-level tests, when “[d]one poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose…take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms.” It is about time the federal government acknowledges this, officially, and kudos to them for “bear[ing] some of the responsibility for this” throughout the nation. However, they also assert that testing is, nevertheless, still essential as long as tests “take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success.”

What is this “necessary time” of which they speak?

They set the testing limits for all states not to exceed 2%. More specifically, they, “recommend that states place a cap on the percentage of instructional time students spend taking required statewide standardized assessments to ensure that… [pause marker added] no child spends more than 2 percent of her classroom time taking these tests [emphasis added].” Notice the circumlocution here as per No Child Left Behind(NCLB) — that which substantively helped bring us to become such a test-crazed nation in the first place.

When I first heard this, though, the first thing I did was pull out my trusty calculator to determine what this would actually mean in practice. If students across the nation attend school 180 days (which is standard), and they spend approximately 5 of approximately 6 hours each of these 180 days in instruction (e.g., not including lunch), this would mean that students spend approximately 900 educative hours in school every year (i.e., 180 days x 5 hours/day). If we take 2% of 900, that yields an approximate number of actual testing hours (as “recommended” and possibly soon to be mandated by the feds, pending a legislative act of congress) equal to 18 hours per academic year. “Assess” for yourself whether you think that amount of testing time (i.e., 18 hours of just test taking per student across all public schools) is to reduce the nation’s current over-emphasis on testing, especially given this does notinclude the time it takes for what the feds also define as high-quality “test preparation strategies,” either.

Nonetheless, President Obama also directed the U.S. Department of Education to review its test-based policies to also address places where the feds may have contributed to the problem, but might also contribute to the (arguably token) solutions (i.e., by offering financial support to help states develop better and less burdensome tests, by offering “expertise” to help states reduce time spent on testing – see comment about the 2% limit prior). You can see their other strategies in their “Testing Action Plan.” Note, however, that it also clearly states within this plan that the feds will do this to help states still “meet [states’] policy objectives and requirements [as required] under [federal] law,” although the feds also state that they will become at least a bit more flexible on this end, as well.

In this regard, the feds express that they will provide more flexibility and support in terms of non-tested grades and subjects, and the extent to which states that wish to amend their NCLB flexibility waivers (e.g., in terms of evaluating out-of-tested-subject-area teachers). However, states will still be required to maintain their “teacher and leader evaluation and support systems that include [and rely upon] growth in student learning [emphasis added]” (e.g., by providing states with greater flexibility when determining how much weight to ascribe to teacher-level growth measures).

How clever of the feds to carry out such a smoke and mirrors explanation.

Another indicator of this is the fact that the 10 states that the feds highlight in their “Testing Action Plan” as the states in which educational leaders are helping to lead these federal initiatives are as follows: Delaware, Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington DC. Seven of these 10 states (except for Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island) are the 7 states about which I write blog posts most often, as these 7 states have the most draconian educational policies mandating high-stakes use of said tests across the nation. In addition, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New York are the states leading the nation in terms of the national opt-out movement. This is not because these states are leading the way in focusing less on said tests.

In addition, all of this was also based (at least in part, see also here) on new survey results recently released by the Council of the Great City Schools, in which researchers set out to determine how much time is spent on testing. They found that across their (large) district members, the average time spent testing was “surprisingly low [?!?]” at 2.34%, which study authors calculate to be approximately 4.22 total days spent on just testing (i.e., around 21 hours if one assumes, again, an average day’s instructional time = 5 hours). Again, this does not include time spent preparing for tests, nor does it include other non-standardized tests (e.g., those that teachers develop and use to assess their students’ learning).

So, really, the feds did not decrease the amount of time spent testing really at all, they literally just rounded down, losing 34 hundredths of a whole. For more information about this survey research study, click here.

If these two indicators are not both indicators of something (else) gone awry within the feds’ “Testing Action Plan,” not to mention the hype surrounding it, I don’t know what are. I do know one thing for certain, though, that it is way too soon to call this announcement or the Obama administration’s “Testing Action Plan” a victory. Relief from testing is really not on the way (see, for example, here). Additional details are to be released in January.


Making Sense of Excuse-Making from the No-Excuses Contingent


By Kevin Welner, Director

National Education Policy Center

BOULDER, CO (October 28, 2015) – This morning’s release of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will report a dip in scores, according to multiple sources. These lower grades on the Nation’s Report Card are not good news for anyone, but they are particularly bad news for those who have been vigorously advocating for “no excuses” approaches — standards-based testing and accountability policies like No Child Left Behind. Such policies follow a predictable logic:

(a) schools are failing; and

(b) schools will quickly and somewhat miraculously improve if we implement a high-stakes regime that makes educators responsible for increasing students’ test scores.

To be sure, the sampling approach used by NAEP and the lack of student-level data prohibit direct causal inferences about specific policies. Although such causal claims are made all the time, they are not warranted. It is not legitimate to point to a favored policy in Massachusetts and validly claim that this policy caused that state to do well, or to a disfavored policy in West Virginia and claim that it caused that state to do poorly.

However, as Dr. Bill Mathis and I explained eight months ago in an NEPC Policy Memo, it is possible to validly assert, based in part on NAEP trends, that the promises of education’s test-driven reformers over the past couple decades have been unfulfilled. The potpourri of education “reform” policy has not moved the needle—even though reformers, from Bush to Duncan, repeatedly assured us that it would.

This is the tragedy.

It has distracted policymakers’ attention away from the extensive research showing that, in a very meaningful way, achievement is caused by opportunities to learn. It has diverted them from the truth that the achievement gap is caused by the opportunity gap. Those advocating for today’s policies have pushed policymakers to disregard the reality that the opportunity gap arises more from out-of-school factors than inside-of-school factors.

Instead, they assured us that success was a simple matter of adults looking beyond crumbling buildings and looking away from the real-life challenges of living with racism or poverty. As a substitute, we were told to look toward a “no excuses” expectation for all children. This mantra has driven policy for an entire generation of students. The mantra was so powerful that we as a nation were able to ignore the facts and fail to provide our children with opportunities to learn.

So schools with low test scores were labeled “failing” and were shut down or reconstituted or turned over to private operators of charter schools. Voucher and neovoucher policies pulled students out of “failing schools” (again, those with low test scores) and moved them to private schools. Teachers whose students’ test scores didn’t meet targets were publicly shamed or denied pay or even dismissed. Our entire public schooling structure became intensely focused on increasing test scores.

But once we admit that those test scores are driven overwhelmingly by students’ poverty- and racism-related experiences outside of school, then “failing” schools are little more than schools enrolling the children in the communities that we as a society have failed.

In the face of the mounting evidence that “reform” policies have come up short, what are advocates saying now? The first sign came a week ago, when Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, heard rumors about lower NAEP scores and pre-emptively announced that the dip was likely caused by the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis. (He neglected to mention that this crisis was due to the same sort of deregulatory policies promoted for education by Fordham and similar advocates.) We must, he tells us, “acknowledge the strong link between students’ socioeconomic status and their academic achievement.” In short, he gave the same “excuse” that “no-excuses” reformers have condemned year after year.

Mr. Petrilli is correct, of course — not about his implicit causal argument for the new NAEP scores — but about the strong link to poverty.

A point comparable to Petrilli’s is made by Matt Barnum in “The Seventy Four,” who tells his readers that “schools have an extremely important impact on student learning, but out-of-school factors have an even greater effect on student test scores.” Indeed, he continues, “The many out-of-school factors driving achievement — the economy, access to healthcare, etc. — mean we can’t even be sure that changes in NAEP scores had anything to do with changes in schools.” The co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Seventy Four is Campbell Brown, whose primary advocacy is for teachers’ tenure protections to be based on students’ test scores. She has very little tolerance for teachers’ excuse-making about how the students’ poverty undermines their ability to drive those scores up.

A similar publication called the “Education Post,” which advocates for standards-based testing and accountability policies, also came out with a pre-release article, reminding people that the general trend on NAEP scores is up. (What they neglected to mention is that the trend was up before the reform era as well; there has been steady growth for 30 years.) That article also suggests that lower NAEP scores may be because Common Core’s focus has shifted teaching away from the sorts of test items included in the NAEP. Chad Aldeman of Bellwether

Education Partners, a consultancy think tank that advocates for the same testing and accountability policies, pointed to the changing demographics of NAEP test-takers and to Simpson’s Paradox and the need to focus on subgroups.

Yes, it’s possible that NAEP scores could be impacted by Common-Core-induced changes in what’s taught. And as noted above, those scores certainly are impacted by poverty. But why are “no excuses” reformers suddenly so busy making excuses?

It seems that the only lesson the new excuse-makers are asking us to draw from their nod to the importance of poverty is something like, “Don’t worry. The status-quo reform policies are probably still working.” Even though these advocates are now vocally recognizing the crushing impact of poverty, the policy implication of their epiphany remains beyond their grasp. Can they really be asking policymakers to keep focusing on test-based accountability in hopes that we might detect a small uptick in 15 years (at the cost of broad and engaging learning)? Won’t they acknowledge that our outcomes will continue to be disappointing unless and until we address poverty itself?

In terms of educational policy, this points to continued investment in, and research about, community schools and other wrap-around approaches. But more broadly, it points to the need to think about educational improvement within a broader set of policies addressing housing, employment, wealth inequality and the social safety net.

It’s long past time to recognize that any benefits of test-based accountability policies are at best very small, and any meager benefits teased out are more than counterbalanced by negative unintended consequences. Judging by the rhetoric of this past weekend from the Obama Administration and others, there’s a growing recognition that the American people are ready to move on. But we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for status-quo reformers who have ridden the “no excuses” bandwagon for a generation to accept this reality and start advocating for policies that focus on inputs and close opportunity gaps. We also shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for them to call upon states to undo those voucher and turnaround and charter-conversion policies based on “failing schools.”

But maybe they could at least stop making excuses.


The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. You can learn more about NEPC and sign up for publication updates by visiting


William J. Mathis, (802)
Kevin Welner,

URL for this press release:


National study shows cyber schools failing their students

I smell the blood of failing cyber schools,
Be they alive, or be they bust
Let us grind their bones into dust.

Here’s my short-list on what to do about public cyber and public charters…

  1. Close all public cyber charter schools not authorized by traditional public or intermediate school districts.
  2. Close all public charters not authorized by traditional public or intermediate school districts.

Online charter school students

falling behind peers

Students attending online charter schools nationwide are lagging far behind peers who attend traditional brick-and-mortar schools, according to groundbreaking research released today.

The National Study of Online Charter Schools looked at achievement data for online charter students in 17 states and the District of Columbia, finding that cyber students had the equivalent of 72 fewer days of learning in reading and 180 fewer days in math. The study is the most comprehensive look at online charters to date.

Michigan students in the state’s handful of full-time online charters fared slightly better. There was no difference between online and traditional students in reading, but cyber students in Michigan lagged in math — though researchers said the difference wasn’t significant.

Overall, the results show that while online charters may be a good fit for some students, the schools “are not serving them very well when it comes to academic growth,” said Lynn Woodworth, a research analyst with the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, one of three research organizations that released studies today that were part of the report.


e study looked only at schools where students receive all of their instruction online. In Michigan, the two that have been open the longest —the  Michigan Connections Academy and Michigan Virtual Charter Academy — have a poor track record.

The last time the state released a top-to-bottom ranking of schools — based largely on test scores — Michigan Virtual Charter Academy was ranked at the 3rd percentile, meaning 97% of the schools in the state performed better. Michigan Connections Academy was ranked at the 26th percentile.

More here —