Michigan’s future at stake in fixing public education

We know how to improve our public schools; the governor’s education commission and numerous studies provide the blueprint. What we need from state leaders is the political will.

john austin

John Austin is the former president of the State Board of Education, and directs the Michigan Economic Center

The latest news from Michigan’s classrooms continues to disturb. The state’s 2017 M-STEP student test scores show academic performance flagging.

Relative to other states, Michigan’s education performance has been plummeting for years. We are now 41st in the nation in 4th grade reading, 37th in 8th grade math. Our African-American fourth graders have the lowest reading scores in the nation. Governor Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission, on which I served, concluded last spring: “Michigan’s public education system is failing our children.”

So what’s broken and how do we fix it?  We actually know the answers.

Reports have been stacking up like cordwood in recent years, including that of the governor’s commission. Numerous credible examinations of Michigan’s education system have reached similar conclusions about both problems and solutions. To reverse Michigan’s educational freefall we must do two things.  

  • Overhaul the way we finance schools to provide the resources needed to meet the very different learning needs of every student, and

  • Bring quality and performance to the educational chaos engendered by Michigan’s free-booting school choice and charter policies.

We were told the same thing two years ago by Massachusetts’ Paul Reville ‒ leader of the business coalition that drove that state’s reforms, who then implemented them as State Education Commissioner. Reforms that have put the Bay State first in the nation in school performance.

At a Lansing educational policy summit organized by Michigan State University, Reville laid out their recipe. Key to Massachusetts’ success was high learning standards for all students (which Michigan does have)—but followed by a funding model that sent different resources to schools based on the cost and needs of helping differentially situated students to meet high standards.

Massachusetts also couples new state demands ‒ whether high school exit requirements, 3rd grade literacy, or school turnaround efforts ‒ with the tools, training and support for educators to deliver. Finally, he was flabbergasted that we would allow new charter schools to open if they did not deliver better learning outcomes, and weren’t part of a coherent plan to improve a community’s education system.

Publicly he told the assembled group, which included representatives of Michigan charter and choice school lobbies ‒ “Why would you do this? These are your taxpayer’s dollars being wasted.” Privately he told me. “John, I had no idea what you were up against here.”

The recent governor’s commission reached consensus on most of these same common sense solutions. We echoed the calls made in every credible report for an adequate level of funding and a differential funding model like Massachusetts where more money flowed to meet greater learning needs of poor children, special needs and non-English speaking learners.

We said state reform priorities had to be backed with resources and tools so teachers could get the job done. We even proposed abolishing the State Board of Education (on which I then served) to provide stronger accountability through the governor for education improvement.

But the Commission backed away from a necessary recommendation to bring quality and order to the chaos of our “marketplace” of educational choice – chaos that is demonstrably hurting educational outcomes, and embarrassing us nationally.  

Michigan’s school choice policies make no financial nor educational sense. For example, while Michigan’s school age population has declined by more than 200,000 students over a dozen years, hundreds more schools have opened. Result: 70 percent of all school districts, including dozens of charter schools, have lost students. Losing students, schools lose dollars, cut staff and programs, and learning is diminished.

It would be one thing if the new schools competing for students educated kids better. But according to Education Trust Midwest, charter enrollment has grown 75 percent in the last decade, but more than 80 percent of charters perform worse than the state’s anemic averages in both math and reading. The U.S. Department of Education also says Michigan has an “unreasonably” high representation of Michigan’s charters on the state’s failing schools list. And while Detroit Public Schools rank last in the nation in 8th grade math scores for African Americans ‒ 67 percent of statewide charter districts perform even worse than DPS.

New unlimited cyber schools aren’t helping. Since caps were lifted, cyber-only charter enrollment has quadrupled despite growing evidence of poor educational performance, particularly among poor and minority students (though they still pocket $7,000+ per student with a much less costly delivery model). And recent studies indicate that while there may be non-academic reasons for cross-boundary school choice (which now is practiced by over 100,000 Michigan students, or 1-in-16) there are no academic benefits.

Given the consequences of this educational “wild west,” there was majority support on the governor’s commission for a recommendation that would establish ‒ as in our healthcare system – a community driven certificate of need process that would allow communities to have a say in who gets to open a school in their backyards, and some assurance that it would deliver quality learning.

Why was this recommendation derailed?

The same reason the key piece of a bipartisan legislative package to fix Detroit’s schools was torpedoed last summer. At the last minute, the Republican House of Representatives wiped out a provision creating a Detroit Schools Education Commission ‒ to have been appointed by Detroit’s mayor.

That commission would have managed for quality and accessibility all public schools, both charter and traditional public schools. The proposed commission was essential in a community where most schoolchildren attend a crazy quilt of charters and cyber schools, opened by outsiders ‒ most of which perform worse than DPS itself.

The political interests, allies and money of now U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos simply could not allow any constraints on who gets to “sell” education to the children of Michigan and Detroit ‒ even if those schools fail to educate. The overriding motive of the DeVos’ and those who promote unfettered school choice is unfortunately political, not educational.  By building up a parallel for-profit school market place and financially disabling the public education “establishment,” including teachers unions, they have (successfully) advantaged Republicans and made real in Lansing an anti-spending, ‘starve the beast” approach to governing.

Well, Michigan citizens have a deep and abiding commitment to and affection for our public schools. In Michigan, we were the first in the nation (Kalamazoo in 1858) to come together to tax ourselves to provide a free high school education for everyone ‒ at a time when high school was reserved for children of elites (Note that the Kalamazoo community has now done the same thing for college-going with the Kalamazoo Promise). We call our schools Community Schools because, starting in Flint, we came to view the schools as the “lighthouse,” the center of  community life.

We must rebuild that leadership and commitment to a free, quality public education for all children. It won’t happen through more studies, or distractions like abolishing the State Board of Education. It will happen when any candidate looking to be our next governor runs on a clear plan to fix our broken school funding model, and make our school choice and charter system work to educate kids, so they will have a clear mandate, once elected, to get the job done. Our state’s economic future is at stake.

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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.

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Comments

Anonymous
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 9:18am

Conservative govt is hostile toward public ed

Martha Toth
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 9:19am

As Gov. Brownback’s Kansas “experiment” showed what NOT to do in state budgeting, Michigan’s generation-long experiment with making our children into profit centers has shown what NOT to do in public schooling. Both have been abject, objective failures by any measure, but too many are afraid to say aloud that the emperor has no clothes.

Rob Kinsey
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 7:19pm

I have never cared for the Billion Dollar Hair-Do calling the shots for anything to do with education. She cares for power, not students. I am ashamed for our country to have had her influence wrecking Michigan schools and then move to the country as a whole. I weep for our children and their children.

Mary Ellen Howard
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 9:22am

If we don’t soon fix this, we can just turn out the lights on our State. We don’t need another study; we need a Governor who will act. Maybe in 2018...

Rob Kinsey
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 7:22pm

It's the gerrymandered Congress that is the worst. The Republicans have gotten caught up in their power-hungry ploys (local, state and federal) so much that they have forgotten about the real needs the public has. They need to be GONE!

Mark
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 9:54am

Wow, talk about a partisan piece closed to ideas. Let's get back to basics especially in our inner cities where the demographic of Comfortable Poverty is growing. Generation after generation of children born into poverty have a very small chance to break that cycle no matter how much money and curriculum is put into education. The answer resides with "the home" - putting education as a priority and stop accepting poor academic results from your children. If the child sees that nobody in the household values education and there is no punishment for poor grades....why bother? These school systems have become more of a Childcare Center than a Learning Institution. No easy answers because the problem worsens every year with generational Comfortable Poverty. The test scores, the poverty rate, the single mother homes and all the data support this and most are afraid to admit or talk about it. I applaud the parents that took the initiative to transfer to a charter school because of the hope of better outcomes and a safer school.

David Waymire
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 11:54am

"Comfortable poverty." What a disgusting and irresponsible concept. The reality is that states that seek to beat the poor out of poor people -- mostly southern states -- have higher poverty levels than those who seek to provide a hand up. I challenge you and a child to live for a month on what a poor mother and child have to live on in Michigan. I don't think you'd make it a week. And of course, you say this is an "inner city" phenomenon...when the poorest counties in Michigan today are rural counties. Read this story and tell me how "comfortable" you think these folks are. http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/local/2017/07/21/how-disability-benefit...

Matt
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:05am

Dave, You must admit that poverty is a very relative term and our poor live with luxuries and yes, comforts that only the very wealthiest would have dreamed of having in the past. I work with the poor on a daily often intimate basis. This isn't to minimize the chaotic existence in that many live their lives, largely because of other people rather than lack of material goods. But again in conditions that weren't uncommon for a much larger part of our society in the past. The fact still remains that many of our current poor find situations you would find absolutely disturbing, acceptable and tolerable.

Mark
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 2:23pm

Duane- One has to distinguish between the Poor and the Comfortable Poor. The Comfortable Poor demographic in Detroit is growing by generation. That is to say that very few children break the cycle. I am reminded of what former Michigan Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former Michigan Dept of Human Services Director often said as she visited Detroit Schools. She would ask students if anybody in there families were married, often response was none raised there hands. Then she asked if they knew anybody that was married, again very few acknowledged they knew anybody married. This is all part of the breakdown tied to govt assistance. I challenge you to look more closely at this demographic because it makes up most of Detroit. Hand up is great, generational Hand outs are bad and as a society rarely can be reversed.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:21pm

The fact is that other states, such as Massachusetts, are effectively teaching poor children. While Mark is right in noting that wealth and poverty are powerful predictors of educational achievement, it is very possible for poor children to achieve if provided rich learning opportunities in a stable and well-equipped educational setting.

Matt
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:17am

I read many of the same articles, you may want to check your facts. The main improvements I understand are coming from the top half and the achievement gap has in fact grown.

Steven Smewing
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:01am

This is where this opinion piece went off the rails and into yet again a piece that creates facts to support an opinion. The exert is below.

The political interests, allies and money of now U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos simply could not allow any constraints on who gets to “sell” education to the children of Michigan and Detroit ‒ even if those schools fail to educate. The overriding motive of the DeVos’ and those who promote unfettered school choice is unfortunately political, not educational.

The Devos family joined the Michigan education fray because of the history of systematic education failure. With that fact, I repeat, that fact the assertion that Devos is in for any other reason than to shake things up and slam a stake in the ground and say enough, is purely wrong.

Anonymous
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 1:43pm

BS - The 'joined the fray' to earn profit. The decline in our students' performance is highly correlated with DeVos' 'efforts'.

Matt
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:22am

You are delusional! Devos' are already billionaires giving away many millions. What evidence do you have that Michigan charter schools are making a dime for their founders? Please provide.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:23pm

Nonsense. If Betsy DeVos and her minions were generally interested in quality education they would have championed closing failing charter schools. As it was, they effectively opposed every effort to cull failed charter schools.

John Saari
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:12am

Community Schools with the help of volunteers. Pay-it-forward volunteers. Larger class size

Nancy Osborne
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:15am

Thank you for an excellent article. As a long time teacher I have watched with horror what has happened to our educational system. The more "choice" Michigan has offered in terms of charters & cyber schools, the more our system declines. This must stop and we must insist on bringing back community based and not "market" based schools. The for-profit school model must end.

Jenny Smith
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:31am

John, you were on the State Board of Ed for many, many years and president for about four of those last years. Clearly, the current system is not working.

We need a new plan. Our teachers are paid the highest in the nation and our scores are among the lowest. This is shameful and shame on you. Time to move on in your political career, you have not been successful in helping our kids get a decent education--YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

David
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 4:12pm

John IS advocating for a new plan; one that is modeled after a state (Massachusetts-with whom we USED TO BE favorably compared) with proven success. Much of Mr. Austin's time/leadership with the State Board was spent watching a republican-dominated state government legislate and/or executive branch mandate most aspects of the very "current system" that you (along with the rest of us, including Mr. Austin) say is not working. As for our teacher pay being "highest in the nation," (in my attempt to verify that claim) the sources alleging this rank (i.e. Capcon, John Locke Foundation, etc.) are packaging "bias by statistic" consistent with their espoused "anti-big government" agendas. Determining such a generic ranking is extremely difficult and rife with many, many variables (vs. predicating a claim on "cost-of-living," for example). WE are the PROBLEM; here's looking forward to having those whom we have elected find the fortitude in moving beyond partisan-dogma-fueled decision-making into supporting educational reforms with proven track-records.

Ed Haynor
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 12:13pm

I believe this is excellent commentary, because Mr. Austin has a unique perspective, from being on both the state board of education and Governor Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission. To deny his experiences over the plight of public education over many years, is to deny reality.

Mr. Austin offers two main reasons for educational decline in Michigan that has gone on for too long; the way we finance schools, not providing the resources needed to meet the very different learning needs of every student, and the lack of quality, performance and accountability, particularly among charter and cyber schools, who don’t but should, operate within the same rules as traditional public schools.

Even Governor Snyder agrees in part with Mr. Austin in this first point, since this is the first time that I can recall, where high schools are funded at a higher level than elementary or middle schools, since it’s more costly to educate students in high school than the lower grades. Although this helps, it still doesn’t alleviate the problem that poor students or lower-functioning students not having the necessary resources needed for improvement that students of means and well-functioning students have.

I’ve experienced first-hand the decline of special education funding going on in Michigan for many years. Most people don’t realize that special education students in Michigan, at present, get more special education funding from the federal government, than they do the state. As it appears now, Trump and DeVos now want to cut the federals funding commitment to draconian levels. So, unless adequate funding of poor children or disadvantaged children improves, student outcomes in Michigan are going to get worse.

Michigan’s charter school experiment on children has been a total failure. There’s just too much research out there that proves that. Now, some charter schools have done well, I don’t deny that, but that doesn’t outweigh the vast amount of charters and cyber schools who have failed our children and are allowed to profit from our tax dollars without any accountability and transparency of how tax dollars are used that Michigan’s republican government fails to acknowledge or address.

Charter schools were never designed in Michigan for performance or accountability. The very most are cookie-cutter operations designed to be cash cows to make money for corporate profiteers.

It’s amazing to me how voters can keep re-electing or electing the same republican government, with the same warped ideologies, who continue in essence to abuse children. This is likely the greatest reason/sin of all why our school children aren’t doing well in school, because citizens/voters regardless of their reasons and many even claim to be Christians, have allowed this abuse to go on. Shame on them.

Ken Jackson
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 1:04pm

John Austin. Really? You presided for how long on the State Board of Education and to further your rather odd political career facilitated everything you here deride? You failed and lied to parents for years about the threat of charters and choice and have moved test and punish to the norm. You hired cartoonish Superintendents of ed and banished actual educators. You supported the EAA. How you have the nerve to try and speak now? You are the problem. You and EdTrust. Now it is not just Devos style Republicans but it is educrats and profiteers like yourself who don't teach, drive a bus, or serve a burger. Get a job. Teach in DPS for a year. Then come back and tell MI parents what you think.

Chris Carpenter
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 1:19pm

Sounds like a verypolitically biased Union, Democrat bashing of school of choice and charter schools. If parents were so happy with the existing public schools, they would not be yanking their children out of public schools and sending them to Charter Schools. While I do think poorly performing schools should have some over site from state government, including charters, I think that more charter schools should be allowed. Or even better yet, would be vouchers like they have in Indiana. Most poor performing charters are in areas like Detroit and other down trodden cities. State needs to look at improving things like Head Start, early kindergarten and making sure kids are ready for first grade in those areas.

Tonja
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 3:20pm

The labeling of any school public, charter, parochial, or otherwise with a blanket statement is wrong. Just as every district performs different, so does every charter. I had six children in a charter school for K-8th grade. When they went to the public high school they repeated much of the same information, tested out of many classes, and upon graduation told me that the charter school prepared them better for college than high school. That speaks volumes about what choices should be available to families. I am grateful to have my family is one of the top performing schools in my county. Out of the eight houses of children on our private dead end road, not one attended the local public school. They all chose alternate schools to attend. That is not the problem with public schools, that is the result of public school's problems.

Ed Haynor
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 4:36pm

I believe this is excellent commentary, because Mr. Austin has a unique perspective, from being on both the state board of education and Governor Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission. To deny his experiences over the plight of public education over many years, is to deny reality.

Mr. Austin offers two main reasons for educational decline in Michigan that has gone on for too long; the way we finance schools, not providing the resources needed to meet the very different learning needs of every student, and the lack of quality, performance and accountability, particularly among charter and cyber schools, who don’t but should, operate within the same rules as traditional public schools.

Even Governor Snyder agrees in part with Mr. Austin in this first point, since this is the first time that I can recall, where high schools are funded at a higher level than elementary or middle schools, since it’s more costly to educate students in high school than the lower grades. Although this helps, it still doesn’t alleviate the problem that poor students or lower-functioning students not having the necessary resources needed for improvement that students of means and well-functioning students have.

I’ve experienced first-hand the decline of special education funding going on in Michigan for many years. Most people don’t realize that special education students in Michigan, at present, get more special education funding from the federal government, than they do the state. As it appears now, Trump and DeVos now want to cut the federals funding commitment to draconian levels. So, unless adequate funding of poor children or disadvantaged children improves, student outcomes in Michigan are going to get worse.

Michigan’s charter school experiment on children has been a total failure. There’s just too much research out there that proves that. Now, some charter schools have done well, I don’t deny that, but that doesn’t outweigh the vast amount of charters and cyber schools who have failed our children and are allowed to profit from our tax dollars without any accountability and transparency of how tax dollars are used that Michigan’s republican government fails to acknowledge or address.

Charter schools were never designed in Michigan for performance or accountability. The very most are cookie-cutter operations designed to be cash cows to make money for corporate profiteers.

It’s amazing to me how voters can keep re-electing or electing the same republican government, with the same warped ideologies, who continue in essence to abuse children. This is likely the greatest reason/sin of all why our school children aren’t doing well in school, because citizens/voters regardless of their reasons and many even claim to be Christians, have allowed this abuse to go on. Shame on them.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 5:19pm

The author is absolutely right. Those who have directed public education for the last 30 years in Michigan have been more interested in creating a marketplace than they have in educating children in the belief that a marketplace would magically result in educational improvement.
They have succeeded in their efforts--as far as creating a marketplace is concerned. That success and the tremendous decline in the educational achievement of Michigan's children shows that this experiment has been a total failure.
It is time to reject this unfettered and unaccountable failed educational free market.

Tom
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 9:59pm

After 40+ years in public education I am still optimistic but less so in recent years. Some of the comments to this piece are what cause me to doubt my own optimism. Kids haven't change all that much over the course of my career, at least not as much as the world we create. Mark, Steven and Jenny. There is so much I would like to say about the comments you made and why I feel so strongly about that you are missing some important points and how much I disagree with you. I know parent s are frustrated with our declines in our schools and our communities, but there are no ready scapegoats or easy fixes. Having recently served on a panel with the School Finance Research Collaborative, I am slightly, cautiously hopeful that our State will make some changes which will restore the value we place on public education and the commitment we make to supporting great schools for all of our kids.
My great hope is that we can turn the page on the toxic politics of the past decade and accept that the world has changed and that we must too.

duane
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:17pm

What is surprising and disappointing is that Mr. Austin can only talk of failures in Michigan and only see success in Massachusetts. His desire to make Michigan like Massachusetts prevents him from seeing the successes in Michigan, he only talks about fail because he must only be looking for failures in Michigan schools, in charter schools, and in students. Unless he believes that Michigan colleges/universities are somehow sub par nationally or they have extremely low standards then he doesn't see that the enrollment in those schools [with their enrollment mostly Michigan educated residents] of 10s of thousands of Michigan students shows Michigan successes. How can we have so many successes from a system that Mr. Austin says is a failure?
The reality that Mr. Austin seems unwilling to see is that we have success here in Michigan and we should be learning from those successes to see what we can share with other students to help them succeed.

Mr. Austin appears to think that adults either as administrators or as teachers simply open up the heads of students and pour in the knowledge, administrators are simply the support function for teachers who are the academic coaches that offer outlines/game plans for students to fill in with their efforts, their studying, their thinking. What Mr. Austin needs to do is talk to the students who are succeeding asking them what are the barriers they face in learning, how they overcome those barriers, why they overcome them, what learning will do for them, and he should 'listen' [not just sit there] to them because in reality they are the most knowledgeable people about being a student in their situation. He should then talk to the students that aren't succeeding, asking them what are their barriers to learning, what would it take for them to overcome those barriers, do they want to overcome those barriers and why, what to they thinking learning will do for them, and he should 'listen' for they are the 'experts' of their situation. By comparing the those answers and suggesting they make then we have a basis for changing what the schools, the communities can be doing to help the students succeed.

The other disappointment in Mr. Austin's approach is he fails to understand Michigan is different from Massachusetts, its size [does he realize that there is not UP or Northern Michigan in Massachusetts], its culture , its history.

Michigan education is succeeding, just not with every student, and we should using the Michigan successes to spread learning successes across Michigan.

If Mr. Austin needs a model for Michigan education I would encourage him to look to high school athletics, the structure of coaches creating the online that identifies what the students need to do [the knowledge/skills for their position on the team], showing them how to do [describing what to practice and how, and practice again], knowing full well that it is the player and not the coach or teacher that has to make the effort to learn so at game time they are ready to play. For if nothing else learning is about desire and persistence, just like athletics, just like life.

Wayne O'Brien
Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:28pm

Whether Michigan statewide educational institutions appear to be falling short when compared to other states (or countries) has been a topic of concern and debate for some years. What is actually "known" about the underlying facts and what is supposed about causation? Are salient but uncomfortable aspects of the controversy being acknowledged openly? Can science-based interventions be pointed to that could work in Michigan? Rather than "trusting" so-called contemporary educational research (or state to state or country to country comparisons), it appears that a kind of trust or faith in the so-called market's "hidden hand" may be increasingly gaining upper-hand status by Michigan policy makers and law-makers as is evidenced by the charter school vs. traditional district school vs. cyber school narrative. It is almost is if these new educational inflections have become a growing and entangled part of Michigan's educational DNA......are they viral or cancerous or evolutionary?

When calls for additional funding/spending are not carefully aligned to highly specific qualities of the intended purchase, questions and doubts ought wisely to be raised. Why are current educational funds being spent as they are? What qualities are lacking, or seem to be lacking, in current educational purchases?

Are Michigan taxpayers wisely spending money to prepare only very high achieving candidates to become teachers for the state as is done in the country of Finland; owners of world class, highly successful, educational institutions and practices; evidenced multi-years on the PISA test? Might Michigan taxpayers be currently helping to fund too many colleges and universities; too many local school districts; too many superintendent salaries; too many intermediate school districts; too many intermediate school district superintendent salaries? Are too many Michigan teachers leaving their profession before completion of their fifth year of teaching?

State policy makers, lawmakers and erstwhile thought influencers seem to be collectively groping for a coherent strategic educational plan, a trustworthy message and a relevant change campaign of truth and integrity. In order to fill what appears to be a rationality vacuum, citizens observe competing assaults on what different groups perceive "the problem" to be. The results manifest as an array of scattered and redundant, ill focused, attempts to remake, reform, re-conceptualize varied alternative state educational paradigms appearing mostly as less-than-successful forays into costly under regulated "schooling/testing" experimental schemes. So long as less than carefully conceived institutional or charter or cyber educational experimentalism remains profitable why ought Michigan citizens expect to own (or even put a downpayment on) a first class state-wide educational system comparable to world class educational leaders like Finland? [Many citizens remember too vividly the years-long institutional experimentation history of whole-language vs. phonics instruction, new math and then newer math, debunked intelligence-based curricula, inadequately established mainstreaming, accountability, testing, testing, testing...etc.] The real work in Michigan seems to have only just barely begun. Ultimate success may prove to be less predicated on any additional funding or insufficiently informed political will but on first acknowledging the difficult work of disclosing the hidden but salient features of the costly "system" already in place. It is not inconceivable that too much money is currently being spent too unwisely....possibly it is time to call for wisdom? What might be hiding in plain sight? What needs to be disclosed? We may need to wisely call for an open campaign of disclosure......this may then precipitate a climate of truly open discussion about what has been denied and must be uncovered, disclosed, debated, denounced, defeated and finally, finally rectified. This may be work that is just barely begun, but, if conducted with integrity, it represents what might be the first real step into a successful future for Michigan's schools, students, and economy; statewide well-being and multi-faceted growth.

R.L.
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 7:29am

That's right keep the emphasis on the schools and the teachers. This is a societal issue. 30 kids in a kindergarten class. Good idea. Put kids in a classroom that are a total disruption to the rest of the class. Make charter schools fully accountable. Pay a starting teacher a living wage. Love to hear the comments on this. R.L.

Matt
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 8:17am

The US (with Michigan in the middle of the pack) leads the developed world (OECD) in per student education spending, yet exhibits middling to lower results in comparison. What is the difference in how we approach this verses our worldwide competitors? Guaranteed it is not that that we give too many ed. options vs. our worldwide competitors. You are not relegated into a school because of your zip code. You don't see the public mega schools you see here. Nor do you see the Blankville HS Football with all the community rah rah. (Not that they aren't as football crazy as us, - probably more!) Mr. Austin et al offers nothing additional than doubling down on the same. Why is this?

J
Sat, 11/04/2017 - 6:01pm

The average per pupil spending may be in the middle of the pack; however, there is a great disparity between both ends— low end is around $7000 with top end around $14,000 per student. Typically, rural communities with a much higher “at risk population” and free and reduced lunch percentage receive the low end of funding while those communities like Birmingham in Oakland County (one of the wealthiest counties in the nation) receive the high end of per pupil funding. Receiving more funding- in some cases even double the per student funding- allows for lower class sizes, ability to select teachers with ample experience due to offering higher salaries, more administrative support, more extra-curricular offerings, and more money for curricular programs. The difference in opportunities offered are vast, so to compare our “average” student funding to other states says nothing u less we were truly giving every school per pupil funding based on the actual amount a student costs to educate depending on his/her needs.

duane
Mon, 11/06/2017 - 9:03am

J,

Rather than focusing on the money, why are we talking about who succeeds and why? I suspect there are students that are succeeding in the rural schools, should we be asking the students why and how they are succeeding, what are the barriers they have to overcome and why and how they are doing that? Similarly there are urban schools where students are succeeding and failing, should we be asking the students the same questions? And shouldn't we be listening?
When we start with money we risking only focusing on money and for getting to ask what the students need to learn.
Is it only the teachers and the schools that make students learn, or does a student learn only when they want to learn?

Kevin Grand
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 10:59am

"And recent studies indicate that while there may be non-academic reasons for cross-boundary school choice (which now is practiced by over 100,000 Michigan students, or 1-in-16) there are no academic benefits."

Ummmmm, yeah?

Try using that argument on a parent who has pulled their child/children out of an unsafe school district.

duane
Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:22am

Kevin.

Have you ever heard that 'perception is reality' or 'the grass is always greener...'?
If the perception is that students at another school are doing better than why not try the other school?
As long as people like Mr. Austin claim it is the educational system and the schools that are failing then it makes sense to sent your kids to the perceived better school. When people don't even acknowledge the student's role/responsibilities for success than changing schools is the only option left.

Charles M
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 4:20pm

What's stunning about this commentary is that it neglects to mention the pitiful scores that students from wealthier backgrounds and districts achieve. According to a Detroit News article written by Daniel Howes: "And Michigan’s white middle-class and wealthy fourth-graders don’t score much better, ranking 49th in the country in reading. Michigan is just one of three states whose fourth-grade reading scores have declined since 2003 (the others are South Dakota and West Virginia)." I am inclined to think that few if any students from these backgrounds are attending charter schools yet they are failing miserably. Furthermore, they come from wealthy backgrounds. Wouldn't it stand to reason that there is something else at play in the Michigan curriculum that has nothing to do with charter schools nor school funding generally? And has anyone bothered to examine what that might be?

***
Wed, 11/01/2017 - 5:33pm

The education process in Michigan has been so poisoned by political ideology and free market ideas, I don't see anything really changing. The whole idea was to "punish" teachers for supporting Democrats in elections so the charter thing was started and is now out of control with little visible improvement in education.

Jim P
Thu, 11/02/2017 - 1:21pm

To my fellow Michigan citizens, John Austin's piece is the truth. If we want our children to be successful and leaders in America's future, his prescription will get us there.
40 year veteran teacher, MA Education from the University of Michigan, current school board trustee. JP

duane
Fri, 11/03/2017 - 9:07am

Jim,
With all of your experience, in the classroom do you see a distribution of student learning performance or do they all perform equally [within a narrow range]? Are there some at the top, some at the bottom and the rest in between, if so what do you attribute?

I ask these questions of you because my experience is limited to my time in school [and my wife's], our daughters time in school, the current experiences of our grand children. I believe that each performance was different and yet similar and each has most to do with the individual. However, my data is limited so I would appreciate your reflection/impression looking over your experience.

Steve
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 10:00am

I sincerely hope this call to action is widely circulated among concerned, thoughtful Michiganders, and ignites conversations and actions that cause things to start moving in the right direction in a sustainable way. Way too much time and money have been wasted, with little or no seeming positive effect. My guess is that it starts with holding our State Legislatures and individual Legislators to account, but other than that, what can be done to make public preschool-12 a plus for Michigan, not a liability?

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 12:09pm

Nothing like reading Bridge and comments on a Sunday morning to be convinced that Michigan will do nothing to improve education or infrastructure.