Lesson one for Michigan schools: We’re doing it wrong

Over 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “the answer to all of our national problems comes down to a single word: Education.”

Shaun Black

Shaun Black has a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Wayne State University. 

Despite President Johnson’s prophetic opinion, an education crisis has developed in Michigan over the past 25 years, due to poorly conceived education policies leaving children living in poverty the most vulnerable. In Michigan: only 28 percent of students reached proficiency on the M-Step (the state's standardized test); Detroit teachers felt compelled to conduct “sickouts” to bring national attention to the deplorable conditions in some of Detroit’s state controlled schools; and there is current litigation pending against the state where several Detroit students will argue literacy is a fundamental right, and the state will argue literacy is not a fundamental right despite passing a mandatory 3rd grade reading bill last year.

Questionable education policies

Since the 1990s education policies in Michigan focused on unproven fads, and not improving the quality of teaching in the state. Collectively, Michigan’s education policies are not grounded in educational research, so therefore, student achievement across the state has declined where just 34 percent of high school graduates are deemed college ready.

The schools of choice policy was designed to give Michigan parents additional educational options for their children, but this policy has intensified racial and socioeconomic segregation in Michigan’s schools. This policy also created fiscal losing districts where these districts have been forced to close schools and layoff teachers. For example, Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS) has lost 43 percent of its student population to schools of choice.

It has been documented how troubling the charter school landscape in Michigan is due to a lack of state oversight, and the highest percentage of for-profit education management companies (80 percent) in the nation. In addition, charter school authorizers receive three percent of state per pupil funding for granting charters. These financial factors explain why capitalism and public education have not universally resulted into improved student achievement.

Currently, the most contentious education policy in Michigan surrounds school accountability, especially about what to do with failing schools due to poor scores on the M-Step. The renewed attention on standardized testing could have severe unintended consequences in Michigan.

According to Campbell’s Law, the overuse of just one quantitative metric to measure the quality of education in the decision-making process could subject the M-Step to corruption, thus, distorting the very educational progress it’s intended to measure (i.e., juking the stats). This school accountability approach has the potential for an “Atlanta-like” cheating scandal to save their schools and their livelihoods.  

The U.S. Department of Education’s research shows Michigan is one of seven states where corrections spending has outpaced education spending over the past three decades. In Gov. Rick Snyder’s latest budget proposal, $2.0 billion was recommended for the corrections department while only $317 million was recommended for the education department. In contrast, Massachusetts allocated $6 billion for K-12 education and $602 million for corrections in 2016.

In July 2016, a school adequacy study was completed for the Michigan Legislature which recommended an increase in the basic per pupil funding to $8,667 from $7,552. To date, the Michigan Legislature has not taken any action on the study’s recommendations. Michigan’s disinvestment in education has contributed heavily to the current education crisis, poverty levels, and it explains why more corrections spending is needed here compared to Massachusetts.  

Learn from the best

In 1993, policymakers in Massachusetts decided to enact reforms based upon educational research, which resulted in the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA). The MERA created a framework for: student learning, teachers’ professionalism, instructional leadership from principals, funding equity, a rigorous standards-based curriculum, reforming failing schools, and an investment in early childhood education.

The MERA transformed Massachusetts into one of the leading education states in the nation, because resources were allocated directly for student instruction and the support of student instruction. The dichotomous approach to education policymaking in Massachusetts and Michigan since the 1990s yielded the following national academic results on the NAEP test: Massachusetts is ranked 2nd, and Michigan is ranked 45th.

If Michigan’s education system is going to experience a road-to-Damascus conversion the following should also occur:

  • Amend the Michigan Constitution to establish an independent education department where the State Superintendent is an elected official, which would remove education policymaking from the Michigan Legislature and Governor;

  • Invest in education to: train current teachers in the Common Core, increase teacher salaries to attract talented millennials to the profession, address the structural debt issue regarding the teacher retirement system freeing up monies for the classroom; and

  • Redo the per pupil funding formula where high poverty districts receive additional funding to support the educational needs of impoverished students.

Politicians have failed to make Michigan a top education state. It’s time for a shift in education policymaking in Michigan, because our students only get one shot at a quality education. And now is the time for bold action from state leaders to save our students from the education crisis in Michigan.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

About The Author

Shaun Black

A guest author for Bridge Magazine.

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Comments

Norman
Fri, 03/17/2017 - 1:57pm

FACTs!!!!

E
Fri, 03/17/2017 - 2:13pm

Informative! Dr. Black is on target as it relates to Michigan's education budget. Our teachers and students need respect AND dollars to improve achievement. We know what the problem is, so why isn't the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) making our schools a top priority. I'm hopeful that policy makers will address the practice of enabling charter schools to flourish versus adequately funding OUR public schools! Let's take the profit phenomena out of education!

Paul Jordan
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 2:08am

You can't blame the schools. Proposal A shifted the power firmly to the state and the legislature as far as education in Michigan is concerned. At this point, we should be concluding that the Michigan schools are being 'reformed' to death by people with power who don't in their hearts believe in public education and know nothing about what works or doesn't works.

Karen
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 9:03am

I think you mean "impoverished" rather than "improvised" students in the last bullet point before the final paragraph. Good article!

Nancy Derringer
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 10:51am

Good catch! I made the fix, and thanks for pointing it out. 

Richard Burke
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 10:51am

This really is OUTRAGEOUS. Our future depends heavily on education. Without an adequate educational system, the future of our state is dim.

Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 11:01am

I seem to disagree with every premise, author Shaun Black, PhD, has proposed, and the federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan referenced.

These actions will not improve poverty in Michigan, and they will not improve education for any students in Michigan, or Detroit. They will not improve the literacy level of any student. They will not improve the ability to work of any future employee in Michigan. They will not improve, or even preserve the initiative, the intelligence or the creativity of any person in Michigan. In fact they will cast down any hope of change for the student, for parents and for future employees and the economy of Michigan down into solid concrete.

I think they should be opposed.

An ACLU class action lawsuit with an identical purpose was lost in Michigan in 2015. The courts found that The Michigan Constitution and The Compiled Laws of Michigan provided no word that supported the student learning anything, or having the right to learn. The purpose of the state was to provide funding and programs, only. I believe this is true for the U.S. Constitution as well, so the lawsuit is a lost cause or a forlorn hope that the courts may choose to legislate from the bench.

What is workable? What was the actual situation in 1992? In 1983 A Nation at Risk was published and it said that if this much damage had been done to American Education by a foreign power it would be considered an act of war. It said things were very bad. In 1992 Michigan adopted a set of standards based on the recommendations of such educational leaders.

I read the underlying text referenced in the Framework for Language Arts of those standards and it said the standards were the result of a book by S. L. Vygotsky called "Mind and Society". He promoted something called Mediated-Stimulus-Response. This is the way that Vygotsky proposed for Stalin in Russia, to teach Russians to be more compliant to Marxism. It promoted Marxism, the kind that Stalin loved. Stalin froze all educational research in Russia and it remained frozen until his death in 1953. Only Vygotsky's mediated stimulus-response could be used in Stalin's Russia. It was designed to produce a student that would comply with any wishes a cruel tyrant might want. This technology was incorporated into the standards and something called The Proficiency Test that measured the degree to which a student had come to agree with Vygotsky's aims. It was so hated by families in Michigan that it had to be changed. It was changed, in name only, to The High School Test.

A tyrant could be defined as "someone that places their ambitions before those of any other, and crushes any ambitions others might have." I believe this is effectively what is envisioned by such an educational system.

Sal Khan in his book, "The One World School House" quotes one framer of The Prussian Model system which has continued forward as a part of these other systems. That person was Fichte and he said, "If you want to influence a person you must do more than merely talk to them, you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he can simply not will otherwise than what you wish him to will."

What is effective? I would say two things, one, if we require a teacher to have a contract that is approved by a local school board, it might contain a clause that requires each child to learn. Such a clause might read, "I certify that I have taught this child to the requirements for this grade level." "If any child is not at grade level, when they complete my class, then I will fund a tutor to bring that child up to grade level by the beginning of the next school year."

Now this clause is not compatible with social promotion, where a child is promoted to the next grade even if they have not learned the things required by state standards for that grade level. Let's say, that a teacher was not willing to sign such a contract, because the students they have been given by the Principal of the school were not at "grade level" to begin with? Then the school board would have to have these students tutored up to grade level, before asking a teacher to sign such a contract. Or they could hold them back. The teacher is then being asked to accept a student that has acquired the skills and knowledge of the previous grade level and teach only her grade level requirements, 100%, so the child can move onto the next level, without the need of tutoring. If a teacher can not do this, or sign such a contract, to provide such a benefit to each student, then they would not be hired. (Period!)

What can be done for the student? A second idea is that, a student could be taught how to study, well enough, so they can complete a grade level 100% either by themselves, or with tutoring. Let's say we want them to study well enough to learn at least one grade level in one year. Now my research shows that in 1994 the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) said this: "Each year, in America, 50% of math students drop out, and by graduation only 5% are at grade level." I believe that "social promotion" and "proficiency testing" have essentially hidden this fact. So a 50% drop out rate per year is a lot lot different than 100% pass each year. So am I talking about a lot time on learning how to study? My son exceeded this with 25 hours of tutoring on Reading and study skills. He was able to increase at 2-grade levels per year after the tutoring with no assistance from tutors, remedial teachers, regular teachers or the school. He was self studying.

We have been taught to believe this is not possible. I am saying it has been demonstrated. It is possible for schools to achieve this with no additional outlay of money.

- Leon

Evege James III
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 8:08pm

Leon, you raise some interesting points in your response. I know many teachers would take that challenge and as a principal I would take that challenge for any school I lead. But there is one key thing most people outside of education don't understand. Kids are different. How they learn is different. If each child that walks through my door were the same I could give you the same results every time. For the sake of time, I will leave you with the Jamie Vollmer story about the teachers and the blueberries....

http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/csmce/755/3329

Melanie Kurdys
Tue, 03/21/2017 - 8:45am

Every child is different which is one reason Common Core does not work.

Doug
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 11:11am

Shaun, your main point is correct-Michigan needs to update its school funding system. However, you make an incorrect comparison when you note that the Governor's most recent budget recommends $2 BILLION for Corrections, but only $317 MILLION for the Education Department. You've forgotten the $12.3 BILLION in the School Aid Budget. As one of the staff folks responsible for helping develop Prop A and administering all of the Education budgets, including School Aid, I have frequently noted that school finance systems are "generational" and should be completely re-structured or at least given a major "tune-up" about every 20 years...we're now overdue.

NoSpinJustFacts
Thu, 03/23/2017 - 9:40am

@ Doug. You have pointed out why the media continues to lose respect and trust from readers. The fact that author mislead readers by comparing Massachusetts' $6 Billion spent on education to Michigan's $317 MILLION for the Education Department, and leaving out the $12.3 BILLION Michigan taxpayers spent is consistent with the usual media spin. *

The common element that most folks can agree when it comes to education is each student is unique in there learning style. This is where the conversation on education needs to begin in looking for solutions. The money chase is not where it should begin.

*If one wants to dive into the Michigan -Massachusetts educational spending detail, the reporter would have done well to sourced where they were getting their information. I will direct readers to the following links to provide a little insight on into a more detailed look:
https://ballotpedia.org/Public_education_in_Michigan
https://ballotpedia.org/Public_education_in_Massachusetts

Aldon Maleckas
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 2:50pm

Eliminate M-step and all the other metrics. We became the greatest nation in the world without government interference. Let the local communities take care of their own schools. Government influence always causes mediocre results.

AAmato
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 4:53pm

When a single supposed "fact" can be so far off, it is clear that this PhD author didn't even do the most cursory review of his own research and writing and that likewise, the editors of Bridge seemed to have not checked a single "FACT" included in this article. Ditto for another commentator who merely pronounces "FACTs," as if by stating something so, makes it so.

This article presents as either a shameful display of laziness (from what should be considered a “scholar,” given the degree), or intentional "spinning" of the facts that were in fact, woefully missing. As it seems to be the latter, this article fails to meet the most basic academic standards for writing and should be viewed as nothing more than propaganda. Consider this, taken directly from the Governor's budget proposal, as it pertains to the school aid budget amount for 2017: "Despite continued declining enrollment, the governor recommends $12.1 billion in state funds for K-12." This is a far cry from the $317 million the author claims, and more than twice as much as what Massachusetts allocated, though such a comparison is meaningless anyway since it does not take into account major differences between the two states with the most obvious two being total student school-age populations and cost-of-living. Further, for the same year, the Governor’s recommendation for corrections is right around $2 billion, which is 1/6th of the K-12 education budget without including funding for higher education.

And from where did I get my info? I cite the exact same report that the author cited who obviously failed to read and understand with any deliberate effort the true details and facts contained in that very report. (see page A-4 and B-15, http://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/FY17_Exec_Budget_513960_7.pdf) I haven't bothered to check the other so-called "facts," in this article. Perhaps others will have the time to do so. Suffice it to say that this one huge, glaring mistake, which the author then inappropriately uses to conclude that Massachusetts’s much better student achievement on NAEP is caused by a difference between school aid and corrections funding differences between our two states, is a gaping hole that should call into question the entire piece.

Contrary to what the author would want us to believe, determining how much a state should budget for education is not simply a dichotomous choice between education and corrections. But moreover, there is plenty of research over many years now -- that I would expect any PhD academic to be familiar with -- which leaves us still wanting and searching for clear and significant evidence that increasing spending (and therefore resources) to schools leads to increased student achievement. If the answer were this simple, we could easily and quickly solve the critical problem we have: much too few of our youth being prepared and ready for adult life in our ever-increasingly complex and competitive global society.

The Author
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 9:12pm

I appreciate your comment, but you failed to understand my comment. I said the budgets for the "departments", not the monies appropriated for education. In my 1,200 word version of this document, I list out the $1 billion shortfall caused by Gov. Snyder's budget cuts in 2009. I know how much money the state spends and the different sizes of Michigan (9 million people) and Massachusetts (6.5 million people), but if you want a further point of comparison here you go: Massachusetts spends $14,000 per student compared to Michigan's $7,500. Those figures represent how the MDE is not able to support teaching and learning across the state, which is unlike the approach to supporting schools that the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education undertakes.

The point you fail to understand is the investment Massachusetts has made in its educational system, which is partially the reason why the state is successful. If you take time to read the MERA of 1993, you will understand other reasons why that state is successful. Am I arguing that funding solves the problem: No! The research does not support that assertion (Coleman Report et al., 1966). The research does support invests in education can increase educational outcomes overtime (i.e., Perry Preschool Project, Tennessee School Study, smaller high schools). The additional funding creates conditions where students can get the additional support they need to be successful, but per pupil funding in and by itself does not simply equate to increased tests scores via standardized tests.

The bottomline is the approach used since the 1990s in Michigan has this state at the bottom with the likes of West Virginia. Maybe this approach is acceptable to you, but for someone like myself who has dedicated their professional life to serving children this is unacceptable and doing more with less is a recipe for the current disaster on our hands.

Anonymous
Mon, 03/20/2017 - 12:09pm

I very clearly understand the investment that Massachusetts has made in their educational system. They've spent the past 18 years on improving public school education across their small, generally wealthy and well-educated state. Their "manufacturing crash" happened nearly 75 years ago, and the high-tech boom that created Route 128 as a predecessor and alternative to Silicon Valley provided both a reason and a funding source to improve education across the entire state. They've imposed significantly higher tax burdens on their population than Michigan has in order to do that.

However, your comparisons on school or Department of Education spending are comparing pineapples to hand grenades - they paint an extremely misleading picture. The ~$14,500 Massachusetts spends per public school student includes all the funds raised by local MA property taxes (the major source of MA school funding - the state intervenes to "top up" funding to districts with very low local property values from the general fund) plus Federal spending for students at risk and students with disabilities. Neither of those very significant sources of funds are included in the ~$7,500 that you credit Michigan with allocating per student. If you include Federal Title funds, county or ISD-wide special education millages, technology bonds, sinking funds and construction bonds, Michigan spends an average of over $12,700 per student.

Truly it's been commented that figures don't lie, but liars figure.

Evege James III
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 7:38pm

Excellent commentary about needs to be done. We need a framework for excellence and achievement minus the political traps that perpetuates uncertainty for schools who are trying to do it right and the dedicated people who fight everyday to educate kids despite the obstacles.

duane
Mon, 03/20/2017 - 2:06am

I am still waiting for someone to describe what learning success looks like and how and why individual students of all situations succeed?

I am not enamored with excellence in education, in teaching, I want to know how and why students succeed at learning when they are in the same classroom, in the same school, in the same district, any where in the state. I believe it is the student that creates their own success and that it is when we understand how and why they succeed we will be able to help others create their own successes,

Charlie S.
Sun, 03/19/2017 - 10:33pm

I find some of the comments totally missing the point... education in Michigan sucks just like every other aspect of state government. Did you know that this state can imprison innocent people and then not compensate them for being wrongly incarcerated? We live in a backwards state and the author does a great job explaining why one state is a leader in education and why education in Michigan is like having on two left shoes. I'm not understanding how people can defend anything other than it's time for a real change or our children are doomed. Michigan K-12 education sucks and that seems like the only fact that matters not looking for stats that don't change that fact!

The Author
Mon, 03/20/2017 - 7:44am

I noticed several comments questioning my funding figures. For clarification, here are the details numbers for Massachusetts and Michigan. Also of note when you take the Chapter 70 funding ($4.5 billion; leaving $1.5 billion) out of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's budget, the Massachusetts still out spends the Michigan Department of Education ($317 million) by $1.183 billion.

Massachusetts
K-12 funding: $12.9 billion
Average per pupil allowance: $14,936
K-12 enrollment: 940,103
Boston Public Schools: $18,372 per pupil and $1.1 billion budget

Michigan
K-12 funding: $11.7 billion
Average per pupil allowance: $7,529
K-12 enrollment: 1,540,005
Detroit Public Schools: $7,529 per pupil and $671 million budget

I think it's obvious that there has been a disinvestment in Michigan K-12 education. Massachusetts has fewer students, spends more money on their students, and their department of education has the financial backing to support teaching and learning across the state.

In short, Michigan spends more on prisons than Massachusetts; Massachusetts spends more on education than Michigan. If education in Michigan was priority like it is in Massachusetts those numbers would be reversed, point-blank-period.

Nancy, if you would like to make any corrections to the figures in the article you are more than welcome.

Matt Pearson
Mon, 03/20/2017 - 4:18pm

If we were to cut to the chase and seriously address the issue of education in the state of Michigan we would face the truth of the matter which is, the focus on denying the most impoverished areas of the state with the highest population of school age children, (the major minority cities) the same quality education as the areas where there is a lesser minority population ( cities with major Caucasian school age children) has always been and continues to be the reason for Michigan's failing education system. Instead of placing State controlled managers over the major minority school systems there should be an appointment of local, capable, qualified persons to manage the school system. If Michigan has some of the best schools in the country and some of the best educational talent in the country, why are those assets not being used to create the best educational system in the country?

Mark
Tue, 03/21/2017 - 6:27am

A well written article and I think most is pretty thoughtful. A huge issue is the marginalization of teachers today; they get very little say in the process. The majority of teachers in Michigan are well trained, multi-degrees professionals who deserve more involvement in running schools. The top down management style is antiquated and really is inefficient. It's been years since most administrators have taught a class. They should be required to teach a class or two, and go through the evaluation process. This will help them evolve as administrators. Lastly, the funding shells game needs to better fun schools in at-risk areas and upgrade aging infrastructure.

Melanie Kurdys
Tue, 03/21/2017 - 8:43am

I follow your logic until you jump to supporting Common Core. Check the data. MA student achievement, for all student groups, improved under the old MA standards but have stalled under Common Core! Repeal & Replace Common Core in Michigan with the proven MA standards & assessments.

Kelley Vilenski
Tue, 03/21/2017 - 11:26am

I agree with all but the second point. Common Core needs to go. It's the worst thing to happen to education, ever. It does not teach algorithms, it only confuses, which is the point. Dumbing down kids so they will be good little working toads.

teacher
Wed, 03/22/2017 - 8:26am

As an educator of more than 25 years....I have been at the top, currently at the bottom.
All I have to say is , the cuts have proven this ...it is not helping us achieve more with less.
Teachers have become the excuse for failure. Let us keep in mind the home life of many of our students. Lt us remember not ALL kids are math minded and science minded. Not ALL students will succeed and go to college. There is nothing "wrong" with this . We need them in society just as much as the next doctor. To base the end all be all on one state test is ridiculous. To base funding for schools and their results is also ridiculous. All I can say what we are doing and have done the past ten years is NOT working ! We need support and people in charge of this change with an educational background...

Memorybank
Wed, 03/22/2017 - 1:58pm

Who penned the M-STEP and other "achievement" tests? Have Michigan schools been held accountable to the CORPORATIONS that want them dismantled?