Last Chance to Fix Public Education

Jun 13, 2019 by

By Tom Watkins –

It is past time for the powers that be to come together to address the systemic and structural flaws facing our schools today.  Education holds the key to our collective future. The city, state and nation that create an effective system of learning will thrive.  Our goal should be to make Michigan and America the brain bank of the world where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdrawals.

Are the Stars Aligned?

Let’s congratulate and welcome the new State Superintendent, Dr. Michael Rice. I hope and trust he is up to the challenge – assuring that the focus remains on what Michigan can do to assure that our children receive the education they need to be prepared for their future, not our past.

Our paths crossed in the mid 90’s when we both were part of a small cohort of leaders aspiring to lead public education as superintendents of schools, Superintendents Prepared.

My memory is of a man with wit, intelligence, integrity and a passion to help ALL students learn and prepare for our hyper-competitive, disruptive, technologically-drive global economy where ideas can and do move around the globe effortlessly. His positive record of achievement in Kalamazoo underscores the man I met back then.

Michigan’s collective future is now tethered to his leadership and success. We all need to rally around a shared vision and common agenda that is focused on lifting up our schools, teachers and more importantly; our students.

Michigan needs Dr. Rice to build coalitions with public education friends as well as adversaries in order to produce academic results that are immersive rather than shallow.  Purpose-driven;  not simply a test-driven learning experience.

Half of the jobs for 16-24 year-olds will be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence in the coming years. Automation will rule.  If we are going to talk about the future of work we should also be talking about the future of public schools. We must redefine the foundations of education to equip the next generation with the skills required to solve problems, innovate, and succeed. Be clear, we are failing to adequately prepare the next generation for the future.

Whitmer needs to prepare Michigan for the AI revolution ⋆ Michigan Advance

Unless we are serious about changing the trajectory of educational achievement in Michigan, we will sink into an economic backwater.

Be Bold:  Lead!

We need Rice to fulfill a reputation that will push back against those who claim to care about teaching and learning, but whose rhetoric does not match actual educational outcomes or assessment data.

We can’t allow political ideology to substitute for evidence-based approaches, especially when the evidence shows what is being proposed is dysfunctional – not producing desired results.

Many know all too well that we are living in a teach-to-test culture. Others clearly know our schools, teachers, and especially our students, are more than a single test given on any single day.

We need to stand up for the classroom teacher to make sure their ideas and experiences are heard and incorporated into developmental policies. Let’s ask: “Just how does this proposed policy help teachers teach and children learn”? If it doesn’t meet the standard then eliminate and re-create. Setting a single quality standard and holding all our schools – whether traditional, charter, blended or e-learning – to this standard should be the goal.

As the 21st century unfolds, new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) will permeate our world.  We need strong leaders like Dr. Rice to support learning communities so that evolving research on human development – along with the best educated teachers – can help our students push the learning needle in a more holistic direction.

Preparing our children with the abilities to learn, unlearn, and relearn, will help them navigate the tsunami of automation and technology that offers potential for even greater disruption of our traditional ways of living and working in the coming decades.

The need and variety of jobs that humans work in continues to evolve daily. Not as immediately transparent is exactly HOW artificial intelligence and robotic or machine learning will significantly disrupt – and likely make obsolete – a wide range of knowledge jobs that people may think of secure. How does what is happening today in our classrooms prepare students for the realities of tomorrow?

Stand Tall for Public Education

We may need to take a hammer that has been used to beat down public education and break it – turning it into a ladder that lifts our schools, teachers and students. Start by embracing our teachers.

Rhetoric and ideology have never educated a single child. Quality teachers who have mastered their subject areas, know learning pedagogy, and are passionate about teaching, learning, and children, – when equipped with learning materialsand support – are the ingredients necessary for learning to occur.

Continue to embrace our public schools as the true Statue of Liberty of this great state and nation. Name another institution that truly takes the tired, hungry, poor, and children who speak English as a second language, or children with a disability to give them hope and opportunity. It happens – often against all odds in public schools across our state.

Let’s not allow negativity to drown out the great things happening in our schools. Instead, advocate for necessary funding and even greater accountability. We know there are some schools across this state that are not making the cut and our children are failing academically. A child without a decent education today becomes an adult without a future tomorrow.

In spite of public schools’ past achievements, the current system is leaving far too many children behind. Embrace the fact that based on many objective standards, we are at the bottom of the pool and must do much better in order to prepare our children academically.  Some of the steps we can take are as follows:

Funding students based on need, targeting special education and those from low-income families, English-language learners, and high school students – these should be given top priority.

Investing in early childhood education creates a HUGE payoff down the road.  Supporting global education and building educational exchange programs that expose our teachers and students to the world.

Investing in teacher development. We need better teachers in struggling schools. Let’s incentivize teachers to work in schools where students are falling behind. Good teachers are crucial to improving student achievement.

Use technology to digitalize and personalize learning

Rather than “school to work,” let us encourage businesses to create “school AT work?”

Focus on improving the quality of university teacher preparation programs– as the #1 variable to a quality education is a quality teacher.

Support Michigan Opportunity and Reconnect, GovernorWhitmer’s signature education and workforce preparedness initiative aimed at increasing our postsecondary attainment ratesfrom 45% to 60% by 2030.

When it comes to our schools, we need to move beyond political rhetoric. Whether from the left or the right, focus instead on TLC – Teaching, Learning and Children. NOT power, control, or politics. When we do this, good things will happen for our children.

These are some of the things we can do to make Michigan one of the nation’s top 10 states for student learning and talent development.   Dr. Rice’s role will be invaluable in achieving it.

Make no mistake – improving educational outcomes is key to the foundation upon which our state’s collective future will be built. Quality education and workforce preparedness is key to what ails our state and nation.

Michigan NEEDS the new educational investments proposed by Governor Whitmer. Workforce preparation – from the cradle to the grave – is what is needed if we want to remain relevant as a state.

Michigan cannot lead in the 21st century without casting off the anchors of archaic laws, policies, and beliefs that bind us to 20th century education models. We are living in a world transformed by globalization and technology, education in Michigan and America needs  to catch up and help lead this change that will produce progress for our children, state and nation.

Global Opportunity/Threat

Our leaders have the ability to reimagine and reinvest on our educational systems from the cradle to the grave, the only question that remains: “Will they?”

Our children are not simply competing against the child in the next seat, district, or state—they need to be able to compete and collaborate with the children of the world. As you read this I am returning to China to build educational bridges with a nation which is home to one-fifth of all humanity—let me assure you—the Chinese are not slowing down and waiting for us to catch up!

My personal message to Michigan’s newest Superintendent:

“Welcome to your vitally important new role as Michigan’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Rice. At perhaps no time in the past three decades has there been as much potential alignment for educators, teachers’ unions, the Governor, state legislature, the State Board of Education, and the business community to develop a shared vision and common agenda that assures educational support and reform in Michigan. My hope is that you can harness this energy in ways that truly help our teachers teach and our children learn.

Be bold. Lead. Everyone in Michigan needs you to be successful!”

More Reading:

Teachers are the foundation of public education/ Give teachers respect for their integral work

The New Education (R)evolution- -e- and Blended Learning For Michigan Achiols

Future of state, nation inextricably linked to quality of our teachers

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

Source: Last Chance to Fix Public Education  | Dome Magazine

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1 Comment

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    Public schools cannot be fixed!

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