Mike Shirkey: I’m open to changing Michigan’s third-grade reading law

Shirkey

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has opened the door to changing Michigan’s “read-or-flunk” law.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says he is open to making changes to the state’s controversial third-grade reading law after hearing concerns from teachers and administrators.

That law, passed in 2016 but only taking effect this school year, recommends that third-graders who are more than a year behind in reading be held back in grade. The Michigan Department of Education projects that about 5,000 students will be flagged for retention under the “read-or-flunk” law.

The law was passed primarily on the support of Republicans in the Legislature and signed by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Democrats have generally been critical of the law, as have most education leaders and teachers.

On Tuesday, Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, told Bridge he’d be willing to revisit the law in 2020. The majority leader said he wasn’t considering a full repeal, though he intimated changes could soften the law in some way.

“When we see a problem, when we try to attack it, it's more often than not we overshoot, then we have to bring it back,” Shirkey said. “It's never going to be perfect. I think it's a character flaw to think that any legislature can pass a law, and then never have to be re-looked.” 

Shirkey declined to say what changes he’s considering. 

“I don't know that I can give you a formula for what I want to see happen,” Shirkey said. “All I know is, I'm getting sincere feedback from teachers and administrators. These are not folks who don't believe reading's not important.”

The majority leader also declined to say whether he’s considering delaying implementation of the law.

 “I want to have the opportunity to really talk about it,” Shirkey said.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, was noncommittal about changes to the third-grade reading law, but said he was “open to any ideas that the majority leader and others would have on how to improve our education system.”

Students who are poor readers in third grade struggle to catch up with their classmates, impacting rates of high school completion, college enrollment and future earnings. 

Advocates of the law say holding children back until they read at grade level better prepares them for the future and incentivizes schools and families to give extra attention to struggling third-grade readers so they can move on with their classmates.

The primary sponsor of the law, former state legislator Amanda Price, recently wrote a guest commentary in Bridge defending the law.

“Michigan’s Read by Grade 3 Law isn’t some scary new policy looming over local students – it’s an essential reform that’s already yielding real results that benefit Michigan kids,” Price wrote.

Educators disagree with the retention portion of the law, and studies have found that grade retention has negative academic effects.

The governor’s office could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Bridge is following four third-grade classrooms during the 2019-2020 school year to chronicle the impact of the law on teachers, students and families.

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Comments

Cindy Miller
Wed, 12/18/2019 - 9:51am

The third grade retention law will be even more harmful than legislators can imagine. The reading intervention should be in the front end, long before third grade.
Children should be in strong preschool programs, with professional educators on site.
Class sizes should be smaller with sound resources available. Buildings should be safe, clean, and bright.
Counseling should be available to parents as well as children, especially as recommended by professional staff.
Children should have ample time to play, especially guided play. They need sandboxes, water tubs, art paints, and books, books, books. Teachers should have ample time to read to their children daily.
Random testing needs to be reduced, especially using computers at such as early age. Fine motor development in the face and hands make for errors which cannot be managed well by many preschools day early education students.
I would like to see more oversight and follow up on charter school and homeschooled students. This is area of great concern.

james katakowski
Wed, 12/18/2019 - 2:11pm

Cindy Miller has it right. Prevention is the cure with good schools, educators, play, ample time to read. I also liked her statement regarding charter schools and homeschooling and their oversight. So many times we blame public schools who pick up the pieces after kids have attended charter schools or have been homeschooled. Then people yell when their test scores are horrible when tested in the public schools.. This oversight would be nice to know like what percentage of homeschoolers are failing either at home or when they return to public schools because that does happen. Useful information with all the money spent or wasted on charters Prevention will not solve for 100% but at least we will catch more kids at an earlier level.

james katakowski
Wed, 12/18/2019 - 3:15pm

Cindy Miller has it right. Prevention is the cure with good schools, educators, play, ample time to read. I also liked her statement regarding charter schools and homeschooling and their oversight. So many times we blame public schools who pick up the pieces after kids have attended charter schools or have been homeschooled. Then people yell when their test scores are horrible when tested in the public schools.. This oversight would be nice to know like what percentage of homeschoolers are failing either at home or when they return to public schools because that does happen. Useful
information with all the money spent or wasted on charters Prevention will not solve for 100% but at least we will catch more kids at an earlier level.

Steve
Wed, 12/18/2019 - 11:36am

It's good that they may revisit the law, but they should have listened to educators in the first place.

Dave P.
Thu, 12/19/2019 - 6:33pm

Always good to revisit a dumb idea and change it! Wouldn’t it have been better to think it through before passing it? The usual great legislative thinking we’ve come to expect...

Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/22/2019 - 8:09am

What a bunch of adult BS. Refuse to fund preschool, train and support teachers is identifying individual learning differences, refuse to pay attention to the learning needs of individual students and act on the life context they bring to the classroom - and your solution is to shame and punish the individual. Are we really that stupid or just that cruel? I vote for stupid since the foundation of society is learning and we have chosen to ignore that and continue to "educate" since its cheap and "efficient" (short term. Long term it will cost the future, its future).

middle of the mit
Sun, 12/29/2019 - 12:31am

What is this?

Mike Shirkey...a Republican who we all know think things through BEFORE they act, is going against what he was for and is now rethinking?

Hey MIKE!

Maybe you should have thought BEFORE YOU VOTED!

Do you really want to be known as a flipper?

Because right now, you're proving yourself as being full of Schutte.

Gravel roads my man!

Going back to Gravel roads.....

Is that progress? OHH you don't like progressives!

Gravel roads it is!

Regressive!!!!

Abe Bubush
Sat, 01/18/2020 - 5:56pm

Typical Republican backpedal when their idiotic shame-based idiology is about to blow up in their faces. Thanks for wasting everyone's time in the first place. Now properly fund the schools.