Is Michigan delivering quality public education?

Apr 22, 2013 by

tom_watkins2Tom Watkins – Our top priority must be to focus on the children

Let’s be clear, a child who does not receive a quality education today will become an adult without much of a future tomorrow. If we allow children to rot in historically failing schools, we all will suffer.

The Education Trust Midwest released a harsh report last week on how Michigan’s education system stacks up.

The report, “Invest in What Works: A Call to Michigan Leaders,” spells out six steps Michigan should take to catch up with other states. There’s much catching up to do.

The report states Michigan is below average on most educational metrics — and is falling further behind other states and nations.

While much focus has been on Michigan’s “brain drain” — students receiving a college education and fleeing our state — perhaps the greater problem is those we fail to educate who are staying behind.

An uneducated child does not disappear. He or she will be coming to your place of business, be that as a potential customer, employee or with something more nefarious idea in mind.

Holding onto the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive, collaborate and compete on the world stage.

Having just returned from China where I have been traveling for nearly a quarter of a century, I can assure you they are not slowing down while we have prolonged ideologically driven, political debates about reforming our schools. Be clear, while we stall and debate — protecting adult interests at the expense of students — the world is moving on.

Gov. Rick Snyder spelled out his educational policy initiative in April 2011, identifying the problems he saw in our educational system and the solutions to address them in a message on education reform.

Two years later, House Democratic Leader Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills announced that the Michigan House Democrats have formed a task force that will find “real solutions for Michigan’s struggling schools.” While commendable, they need to act with a sense of urgency, as though their child was trapped in these schools. Every year adults don’t get it right, children suffer.

For those that say the governor and Legislature are “moving too fast,” ask this: “If this were your child trapped in a failing school — in many cases for a decade or longer — would you come to the same conclusion?”

If the governor’s plan is not the answer, then what? Doing nothing is not an option. Pointing to islands of excellence in local school districts around the state even while other children drown in a sea of despair is not a plan.

As the second decade of the 21st century knowledge economy unfolds, Michigan is going to be dependent at every level on bold leadership with the courage to cast off the anchors of the past and set sail to create a new future.

Those education and political leaders who believe we can go “back to the future” are selling fool’s gold. What we once had in Michigan is gone and is not coming back. Change and progress are needed in these school buildings that we have neglected for far too long.

When it comes to providing the education that children need and deserve — not merely to survive but to thrive in a hyper-competitive, disruptive knowledge economy, where ideas and jobs move around the globe effortlessly — the focus has deteriorated into adult power, control, and politics.

The viability of our society, the strength of our economy, the quality of our collective lives, the vibrancy our democracy, and our place in the world are sitting in our classrooms today.

Let’s get the educational focus in Michigan back on TLC — teaching, learning and children.

Quality education for all our children remains a vital link to the future prosperity of Michigan and our country.

Tom Watkins is a former Michigan mental health director and state superintendent of schools. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. Reach him at

via Tom Watkins: Is Michigan delivering quality public education? | Lansing State Journal |

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