It's the beginning of a crucial year for Michigan because stringent, systemic changes are headed to all 800 school districts and charter schools.
A financial crisis means many students will head back to schools where class sizes are larger, programs have been cut, their favorite teacher may have been laid off and where services are being privatized. Some children may have to walk farther to catch the bus -- if bus service is offered at all. Some are paying more to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Some teachers have taken pay cuts and are paying more for health insurance. All are faced with higher standards under a new evaluation system whereby student test scores will soon weigh significantly in their performance evaluations.
And, this year, it will be harder to earn a passing score on the MEAP test and Michigan Merit Exam.
"We need to do a better job getting all students prepared for 21st-Century careers," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan. "Recent reforms, combined with those under consideration, will transform the way teachers instruct, students learn and schools perform."
Budget cuts, bigger classes cloud first day of school
This school year is expected to bring the kind of change that marks the start of a new era -- with widespread budget cuts that will be felt in the classroom and parents' wallets, legislative changes that have teachers feeling demoralized, a more intense focus on the worst-performing schools and several new schools opening in Detroit.
"There's a lot going on at every level," said Judy Pritchett, chief academic officer for the Macomb Intermediate School District. It's the kind of transformative change happening in one year that Pritchett has never seen before.