Public education’s big challenge: Innovate or die

Nov 27, 2012 by

By Tom Watkins –

Education should be about TLC: Teaching, learning and children.

Yet when it comes to providing the education our children need and deserve, to not merely survive — but to thrive in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive, disruptive, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs move around the globe effortlessly — the focus quickly deteriorates into power, control, politics and adults.

It was the desire to place the focus on TLC that prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to create the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to turn Michigan’s most dysfunctional schools, which have been failing students for years, into learning centers of excellence.

EAA chancellor John Covington and his teamare currently transforming 15 formerly chaotic, underperforming Detroit schools into orderly buildings, where students are learning at their own pace using individualized education plans instead of standard grade-level curricula.

The EAA could take over the management responsibility of up to 40 schools across Michigan next year that have a history of failing our children.

With the defeat of Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, the Detroit Board of Education has renewed its bid to quit the EAA and pull the schools back into DPS.

This fight is about power, control, politicsand adults. It must not be allowed to succeed.

TheGOP lawmakers are right to be taking steps to codify the EAA in state law and short-circuit the legal challenge by the Detroit school board.

To disrupt the EAA system would be all about adult power issues and would have nothing to do with quality education.

Carol Goss, EAA board member and Skillman Foundation president, is absolutely right when she says,”Real education reform takes five to seven years to show success. These children deserve stability, and we believe the EAA will give that stability. These 15 schools have been failing students in Detroit for generations — something had to change.”

Covington and his team are not miracle workers.

The work to turn around a failing institution, especially one as complicated as an urban school, takes dedication, focus, talent, energy and persistence — all of which he and his team have in spades.

Snyder is to be commended for doing something to address the needs of the children of Detroit and others trapped in failing schools for far too long.

Innovate, create, change, or die. This needs to become our mantra as individuals, communities, educational institutions and as a state.

Holding on to the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive and be competitive on the world stage.

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 educational 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 not coming back.

Change is needed.

The EAA has a longer school day — 7 1/2 hours, an hour longer than a traditional public school.

The school year is also longer — 210 days, compared with 170 days in traditional public schools.

The old system was not working for students.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 fail the children of Detroit, we will all suffer.

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. They will be coming to your place of business, as a potential customer, employee or with some more nefarious idea in mind.

But because of adult power and political games, the future of the EAA — and its 15 schools, 467 employees and 10,000 students — is in jeopardy. The Detroit Board of Education has threatened to take the EAA schools back. The question is, back to what?

Some argue thatthe EAA is a new state system run by Snyder and exists outside the authority of the state superintendent, the elected state board and the state Department of Education.

They are absolutely correct.

But, the point is, this historic structure, which I led as state superintendent from 2001-05, has put adult needs in front of teaching and learning for far too long.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same manner and expecting a different result.

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, introduced a bill two days after the election that would codify the EAA by making it part of state law.

As policymakers consider this bill and other changes to our system of learning, they need to decide if they will come down on the side of teaching, learning and children or power, control, politics and adults.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s former state superintendent of schools.


From The Detroit News:

via Watkins: Public education’s big challenge: Innovate or die | The Detroit News |

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