Educational Urgency Needed

Mar 3, 2017 by

Tom Watkins –

A child without a decent education today, is an adult without much of a future tomorrow.  Unless we get serious about changing the trajectory of education achievement in this state, we will sink to economic backwater and stymie the comeback that has launched since “the lost decade.”

The recent article: “Michigan test score gains worst in nation”  ought to send a chill down every thinking person’s spine.  The analysis of results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), shows Michigan students have continually made the least improvement nationally of NAPE scores since 2003.  The article points out that Michigan students were at the bottom of the list when it comes to proficiency growth in the four measures of the exam

Don’t get smug thinking this decline is only in inner city schools like Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw.  As only six months ago the release of the Michigan’s Talent Crisis report by Education Trust-Midwest found, Michigan’s students are falling far behind their peers across the nation.  The ETM report found that Michigan is in the bottom 10 states for key subjects and grades, including early literacy.

This data ought to provide a clarion call to all who care about the future of our state to stop the finger pointing; to find a way to establish a shared vision and common agenda to arrest this more than decade-old educational slide and find a sensible way forward.  Perhaps the most frightening comment in this article filled with bad news about our schools was a quote from Madison Public Schools superintendent Randy Speck: He said that there is “zero urgency” to address what plagues our schools.

Policymakers ought to act with the sense of urgency that we would demand if it were their child stuck in a school that is failing far too many of our children.  The age old battle between the Legislature, Governor, State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Schools, local school boards, superintendents, teachers and the unions that represent them over control of schools, needs to cease.

The arguments from the Left that this is only about money and the “lack of investment” is just as specious as the Right proclaiming that money does not matter.  Standing in their respective ideological corners like the old Miller Lite Commercial where one side screamed “Tastes Great!” and the other responded, “Less Filling!” is not stopping this educational avalanche.

Nor is the age old debate over Charter Schools.  Let’s be clear: A lousy charter school is no better than a lousy traditional public school.  We need to get to the point where the only adjective that matters before the word “school” is, “QUALITY!”

It is the collective job of policymakers and educational leaders to clear out the under-brush of any debris that gets in the way of teaching and learning.  Everything we do should be measured against this statement: “Show me how this helps a teacher teach and a child learn.”

Statue of Liberty 

We need to embrace our great teachers and support public education in all its forms.  Our public schools are the true “Statue of Liberty” of this great country of ours, taking the tired, hungry, poor, children who speak English as a second language—as well as children with disabilities—and give them hope and opportunity.  Our teachers are the torch lighting the way for us all.  While many focus on Michigan’s “brain drain,”—young people leaving the state after obtaining their college degrees—we ought to be petrified about those that are not educated and staying behind.

A New Covenant 

It was the right decision by Governor Snyder to hit the “pause” button on the pending actions to close over two dozen schools in Detroit.  Governor Rick Snyder announced last week that more time and work are needed to determine the best course of action for the 38 schools on the state’s potential closure list.  “The entire team at the School Reform Office (SRO) has worked diligently to analyze data, visit schools and review potential options, but we need to do more before any final decisions can be made,” Snyder said.  “Any action we take will have long-lasting consequences and we need to take the time to get this right.  That’s why I want our SRO team to work closely with State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Michigan Department of Education to reach out and coordinate all the latest information with local superintendents and districts.”

As a sign of a new day for education, Governor Snyder should pledge to partner with Mayor Duggan and the new board for Detroit’s Public Schools Community District to forge an educational, child-centered covenant.  Don’t close low-performing schools; help them work for the children of Detroit and across the state.

While much of the focus in Michigan has been on the “brain drain” — the young people who leave the state after obtaining their college degrees — we ought to be petrified about those without a quality education who are left behind.  We cannot rebuild the City of Detroit, the region or the state on a crumbling educational foundation.  Our collective economic futures and the quality of education we deliver to ALL of our children are inextricably linked.

Governor Snyder is to be commended for continuing the reinvestment in public education in our state.  We are also awaiting the results of his “21st Century Education Commission” that has been charged with thoroughly assessing our current educational system, and to make recommendations for improvement. 

We have no shortages of reports on the state of education in Michigan.  I recommend that once Governor Snyder’s “21st Century Education Commission” issues its report, that legislative leaders, the Governor, the state board of education, state superintendent and the various educational associations, labor and business leaders lock themselves in The Henry Ford Museum—with the ghosts of innovators and entrepreneurs as inspiration—and not be allowed out without a coherent plan of action that prepares ALL Michigan students for their future…and not our past.  

We are living in an age where knowledge and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly.  To be uneducated is to be left behind be it as an individual, city, region, state and nation.  As the old United Negro College Fund slogan reminds us: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Time is wasting. 

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