The Educational Fiscal Cliff

Dec 8, 2012 by

Simply opposing legislation will not prepare our children for the hyper-competitive, disruptive, knowledge driven world they will inherit — where ideas and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly.

The vitriolic response from the public school establishment to reform options before the legislature and to my recent column on these pages (“QUALITY” Should Preface All Our Schools) is nothing short of the classic “shoot the messenger”.

It’s playing defense, not offense.

Opposition to the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) is reminiscent of that old saying, “Closing the barn door after the horses are out.”

No, I do not support every aspect of this plan. There is much room for change and compromise. Yet, clearly something must be done to address the needs of the children we have historically failed to educate.

Complaints from the traditional education community center on the direction Governor Snyder wants to take education — with no comprehensive counter plan to address the shortcomings of our schools (both traditional and charter).

One response: “We have zero proof that the EAA is providing quality education. Why would we allow continued experiments on our students … especially experiments that are proving around the nation to be failures?”

My response: We have been experimenting and failing kids for far to long. EAA began educating students three months ago. Yes, you are correct there is “no proof” yet. Yet we have years of proof that the schools the kids have been attending have been failing them. Where is the protest about this fact?

The governor is right to forge ahead where previous leaders hesitated or failed to act.

I ask: If you don’t like the governor’s plan to address the needs of students that have been trapped in failing schools, where is your plan? Responses have ranged from blank stares, to retorts like, “Just send us more money and leave us alone,” to: “That is not my job to develop education policy”.


Governor Snyder clearly spelled out his educational policy initiative in April 2011, laying out the problems he saw in our educational system. He set forth an agenda to address it – SEE

Where Is The Beef?

If not this, then what? Doing nothing is not an option.

There are a slew of educational organizations in Lansing: The State Board of Education, The PTA, Michigan Association of School Administrators, The Michigan Association of School Boards, The Principals’Association, the Michigan Education Association, The Michigan Federation of Teachers — the list goes on and on. They have grouped themselves into an “Educational Alliance.” There are even local school districts and intermediate school districts with educational experts, data, and experience. In the metro area, these have coalesced into an organization representing schools educating nearly 40 percent of Michigan’s kids in the tri-county area — the Tri-County Alliance.

I have heard from many of these groups — they do not like what the governor is “doing to public education.” I have yet to see their alternative solutions.

A group of superintendents from the west side of the state wrote, “Michigan needs a reform strategy that recognizes and celebrates our strengths, exposes our weaknesses, and addresses the gaps in a way that does not alienate, erode or destabilize structures that are working.” They continued, “… we are willing to work together to achieve a coordinated, coherent and comprehensive educational system from preschool through college. Our children, our economy and our state deserve nothing less.”

Agreed, let’s set about laying out a plan — and then acting on it.

Beyond not developing a proactive plan, the educational establishment has thrown a tantrum, sending a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Secretary of Education. They oppose the fact that the EAA was selected as a finalist to potentially receive substantial money from the U.S. Department of Education from the competitive Race for the Top educational funding. (SEE:

Yep, you heard me right. The educational establishment wrote a letter OPPOSING Michigan students attending EAA schools from receiving a return of some of our federal tax dollars that help the most educationally needy students in our state.

Now, that is a great plan!

“Relentless Positive Action”
I appreciate hearing from teachers, principals, PTA members, and the Lansing educational lobby in opposition to my support of the EAA and other reform measures. But please — If you are going to write again, include your own detailed plan on what you propose to do to meet the needs of students who have been historically trapped in failing schools.

And educators, here’s your challenge: Stop playing defense and start playing offense. Gather together over the upcoming holiday break. Do the hard work to hammer out a comprehensive reform agenda to meet the needs of ALL Michigan students. I am sure the governor and legislature would welcome your constructive ideas.

Our schools are a vital link to the future prosperity of Michigan and our country. The debate is critical but it must be larger than shooting the messenger, hands-out asking for more money or complaining about what the other side proposes.

Our students await your ideas and action.

Tom Watkins is former state superintendent of Michigan’s schools, state mental health director and is a US/China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at:

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