China’s not waiting while we fall behind on education

Nov 25, 2018 by

Tom Watkins –

I read with interest the comments of Consumers Energy CEO Patti Poppe on education while sitting on a tarmac waiting to return to China.

She believes school consolidation would free up more money for classroom instruction and supporting educators. She is right.

I made similar observations in a 2004 report to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the State Board of Education while serving as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools.

They failed to act.

Pretending to fix a hole in your roof does not keep the rain out. These issues are going to need to be addressed if we are going to invest in education that will prepare our children for their future and not our past.

The viability of our society, the strength of our economy, the quality of our lives and our place in the world are inextricably linked to the quality of education provided to our youth. We are living in a hyper-competitive, disruptive, technologically driven (think AI) global economy where ideas can and do move around the world instantaneously. We need to educate far more of our youth to higher and higher levels, to be able to collaborate and compete on the world stage and fill the jobs here at home.

Education Week‘s rankings of state education systems ought to scare any thinking policymaker — Michigan comes in at 33 of the 50 states. While this fact might hurt some feelings, the first step to solving the problem lies in its identification.

The individual, family, city, region, state and nation that prepares for this future will prevail, while those that don’t will fail. It is that simple.

We need leaders with the political courage and will to reimagine and redesign education to ensure that all students are prepared for the disruptive world they are inheriting and targeting additional funding, particularly for non-affluent kids across the state.

While fixing our “damn roads” is necessary, investing in our education system from the cradle to the grave is mandatory, critical and an urgent issue for our state leaders to address.

However, as I lay out in the 2004 report, making additional investment in public education without substantial change in the structure of our schools is folly and unsustainable.

These thoughts come flooding back to me as I remember the ideological battles being fought over several decades all the while we are failing far too many of our children.

Reading Patti Poppe’s comments while boarding a flight to return to China to attend a Global Education Summit — the global hub for education thought leadership — the irony was overwhelming.

China understands knowledge is power, and they are striving to enhance the educational opportunities for their citizens. We need to be smarter about our educational investments if we don’t want to see China’s continued rise come at the price of our demise.

Having a lifelong interest in China and having traveled and worked there over the past three decades, the Chinese understand at the individual, family and government level that those that control knowledge will prevail as the 21st century continues to unfold. They are investing in what will make them strong, while we disinvest in our people.

Let me assure you, China is not sitting back waiting for us to get our act together.

While our roads need to be fixed, smoothing out the pot holes in our system of education and investing in quality education from pre-K-12, vocational education, community colleges, workforce preparedness, and our university system will be the true legacy of the new leadership that occupy seats of power under the Capitol Dome.

Source: China’s not waiting while we fall behind on education

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