You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Rutledge and Zemke on task force looking at ways to help Michigan schools

By Ryan J. Stanton

Two state representatives from Washtenaw County — David Rutledge and Adam Zemke — have been appointed to a task force charged with finding solutions for Michigan's struggling schools.

The task force was created by House Democrats in response to Republican efforts to expand the Education Achievement Authority statewide.

The EAA has been described as a statewide "super district" that has the power to take over schools in the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools in Michigan.

David_Rutledge_ headshot_2010.jpg

David Rutledge


Adam Zemke

Both Rutledge and Zemke voted against the EAA legislation when it was considered by the House last month, but House Bill 4369 passed on a 57-53 vote.

"I truly believe that there is no issue more pressing to future generations, or more vital to economic development, than education," said Zemke, D-Ann Arbor.

"Districts throughout the state are struggling, and this issue needs deliberative discussion by state leaders and experts, so for that reason I'm very happy to be able to serve with my colleagues on this task force."

The 10-member task force will investigate education reform measures taken in other states, evaluate their success and determine whether those solutions can be implemented in Michigan.

"I am so honored by the opportunity to serve on this important board," said Rutledge, D-Superior Township. "After years of disinvesting in public education, some state leaders claim to be surprised when schools and districts are struggling. As state and community leaders, we should be coming together to find solutions and work toward education quality for all of our students."

Republicans argue Michigan has more than 4,000 school buildings and the EAA would cover a maximum of 50 of the worst-performing schools, and only after they’ve been failing for three years.

Democrats fear expanding the EAA will compromise local control and impose untested learning techniques on struggling schools. Zemke joined fellow House Democrats on Wednesday in voicing opposition to the proposed budget for Michigan's K-12 schools and colleges.

MLive reported on Wednesday that Michigan lawmakers so far appear to be generally on track with Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal to increase education funding by roughly 2 percent on average overall in the next state budget year, with some versions calling for much of the increase at the K-12 level to help cover school employee retirement system costs.

Republicans say they're being responsible with the budget and making investments in education where they can, but Democrats — pointing to past cuts — argue it's not enough.

Though the House Republicans will claim they are putting a small amount of money back into schools, Zemke and other Democrats argue the budget actually takes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the School Aid Fund, and it contains no increase in the per-pupil foundation allowance, meaning there's no reversal for cuts that schools have faced over the last two years.

Democrats complain the higher education budget only increases by 2.2 percent, and much of that funding is tied to various performance metrics, while universities like the University of Michigan that renegotiated labor contracts prior to right-to-work could see a 15 percent cut in funding.

Additionally, Democrats argue the budget retains language that places onerous restrictions on research and denies health care benefits to university employees' partners and their dependents.

The community colleges budget also ties funding to performance standards. Zemke, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Community Colleges, offered amendments to increase the overall funding in the budget, and to replace money taken from the School Aid Fund with money from the general fund, so the School Aid Fund could be freed up for use in K-12 schools.

In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, Zemke expressed disappointment in his colleagues for choosing not to adopt those amendments.

"Whether it's a stepping stone to a four-year school, entry into a trade program or training for a new career, community colleges play a pivotal role in creating the talented workforce that we need to meet the demands of Michigan's 21st century economy," Zemke said.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

Like many other school districts around the country they are now feeling the effects on maintaining adequate funding to pay out pensions without increasing hire taxation on the public that it serves. It'll be a matter of time (shortly) if not in the near future AAPS will fall under the same financial armageddon that has hit Chicago, then what. I guess this what they refer to a struggles and not being forthcoming of what really is happening behind this facade they are trying to hide.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

They continue to mention struggling, OK what is it that struggle, more money, more teachers, more schools, more administrators, more superintendents, more blame on the republicans. I thought if you can make a statement at least back it up with some facts.

Basic Bob

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 3:11 p.m.

When you break it down, Zemke always advocates for one and only one thing - increased funding to the MEA. Sorry, this constituent expects your advocacy on a broad range of issues. What about the other "platforms" you supported as a candidate? Have they become unimportant since they don't raise PAC money for your reelection campaign?

G. Orwell

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

Get rid of the Department of Education and let the states manage the education system. Ever since the D of E was created, it has been all down hill. Our kids are getting dumber and dumber. We now rank 19th in the world in math and science. We were number one prior to the creation of the D of E. You have to wonder if it is intentional.

Mich Res and Alum

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:55 a.m.

I wonder how many teachers are on this task force...

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

I missed Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, D-Saginaw, on the above list.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

I'm sure their work will involve reaching out to teachers. Zemke indicated he did just that before he voted against expanding the EAA last month, saying he invested a considerable amount of time on the issue and reached out to local education leaders and talked with students during a tour of some of the schools already in the EAA in Detroit. He saw potential in the EAA but wasn't ready to expand it. Here's part of what he had to say: "What I have found is a lack of quantifiable improvement data existing with the current EAA, some significant long-term sustainable funding concerns posed with expanding the system – concerns that have not been refuted – and a current system that is clearly in its infancy and needs to have some existing problems ironed out. This being said, I have also found a current EAA that offers some potentially amazing educational opportunities: lower student-to-teacher ratios, innovative uses of technology in classrooms and a student-centered learning model allows for children to have flexibility in their curriculum throughout the same grade. These are things I would like to see in all Michigan schools." He added: "The EAA offers potential for good improvement to our children's education, so let's fix the funding problems and let data prove that potential before expanding it to the lowest performing schools."

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

Other task force members include state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, who is the Democratic vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee; Education Committee member Rep. Thomas Stallworth, D-Detroit; and state Reps. Terry Brown, D-Pigeon; Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids; John Kivela, D-Marquette; Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores; and Andy Schor, D-Lansing.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 10:26 a.m.

If this committee wants to investigate reforms that have proven to work in better educating students, the following ought to top their list: 1. Encourage the use of the "balanced calendar" and scrap the traditional Summer vacation. The lengthy summer vacation is well known to damage the educational progress of low and moderate income students according to many professional educators including President Obama's Secretary of Education. See: 2. Send students to school later in the day, so they are in school from 9am to 5pm, matching the hours that their parents work. Students do better with a later start to the day. See: 3. Educate young children in age cohorts of not more than four months difference instead of the current practice of putting children together whose ages vary 12 months. See: Malcolm Gladwell's #1 best seller Outliers, for an excellent review of the scientific literature discussing this important issue.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 12:17 a.m.

Another big predictor of success in school is class size. With budget cuts because of more state business tax cuts, how do we add teachers for smaller class sizes? How much will it take to air condition all the schools if they start holding classes during the hot summer months? I agree about the later hours, especially for high schoolers. But transportion costs will go up.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

@AMOC: I agree with your post and was the beneficiary of a learning environment like that in 4th and 5th grade when I completed four years of textbooks in all fields available for me to study over that two year period of time. There is another issue however that I am concerned about, which is kindergarten round up and when do kids start their academic career. Now even some teachers I know are holding their kids back to age 6 before starting kindergarten because they've seen the statistics that indicate that kids who are in the top four months of their class age cohort have a much higher chance of persistent academic success. So, I suggest if there are three classes of kindergarteners, instead of sorting them into classes using A-Z, to sort them into three classes grouped oldest to youngest so no child is more than four months apart in age from their peers. I do think a combination of your idea, resorting the kids every three to four weeks based on to subject achievement groups after they get started, with my idea to get them started timely and eliminate many parents' concerns about when to start their kids in school, would work best and thank you for you excellent comment on my own comment!


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Stephen - I'm right there with you on the first two. We would see better academic achievement for the same number of hours in school if we made those changes to the "standard" schedule in Michigan. However, creating an even tighter age-grade lockstep for student cohorts will contribute far less to improved academic results than if we were to require elementary schools to adopt schedules to facilitate school-wide ability grouping for reading/English and math, and use curriculum materials adjusted to the needs of each group. Even the studies cited by educators to condemn "tracking" admit that academic performance is improved for ALL groups when the curriculum, assignments, and presentation is adapted to the current level of student performance. In this model, the kids who are behind the expected level for their age are taught in small groups or even one-to-one by the most skillful or senior teachers, while those who are ahead of their age mates can be taught in groups of 30 or more, because these students are more able to be self-directed and self-disciplined. Students in a school using this model are evaluated and re-assigned to subject achievement groups every 3 or 4 weeks. The progress kids can make when they are all taught at their optimum "challenge" level is astounding. Many kids can master 2 or 3 years worth of curriculum in a single school year by using this process. The only caveat is that the secondary schools will also have to reorganize so as not to undo all that progress by forcing all kids the same age into the same classes without grouping them by their previous performance.