An educational system doomed to keeping failing

It’s way past time to start thinking seriously – very seriously -- about what we’re going to do about Michigan schools. That is, if we want to have any serious hope of a better future.

The utter silliness and dabbling our leaders have been guilty of in recent years just won’t hack it.

In the last two months, two powerful reports have provided clinical details behind the rolling debacle that is Michigan’s school performance. It’s clear that if things aren’t corrected, we will be condemning too many of our children to a hobbled life, and our state to economic mediocrity or worse.

The Education Trust- Midwest, a leading nonpartisan education research and policy outfit, reported this spring that Michigan school performance is falling further and further behind other states. Unless things change, Michigan will rank 48th in the country by 2030. Importantly, this applies both to schools serving poor, mostly minority students and those with middle-class kids.

Michigan already is in the bottom 10 states for fourth-grade literacy and math and one of only a few states which posted learning losses in overall student performance in fourth-grade reading.

Then last week, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education found that over the past three decades, Michigan increased spending on prisons more than five times faster than it did on public education. The report shows that from 1979 to 2013, Michigan increased spending on schools by 18 percent, while the state increased spending on corrections by 219 percent.

Only six other states – all of them small and largely rural -- showed the same kind of increases for prisons at the expense of education. Most humiliating of all: Michigan also increased spending on education less than any other state in the nation.

There’s nothing new about the general thrust of these reports -- although the details should scare the lives out of state policymakers.

Nor is it pure coincidence that Michigan’s education achievement keeps plunging compared with other states while we keep cutting our resources devoted to learning and teaching.

So what has gone so wrong? These horrifying statistics provoked me to take a look at the basic organization of Michigan’s apparatus of governing our schools. What emerged is truly shocking.

The Michigan “system,” if you can call it that, is a chaotic, disorganized structure that virtually guarantees a lack of accountability for consistently poor results.

It’s almost as though those who designed the governance system for Michigan schools intentionally set things up so as to create an unaccountable, incoherent and rigidly unchangeable structure that assures the same bad results decade to decade.

Consider these facts:

The Michigan Constitution designates the governor as the state’s chief executive officer, responsible for providing for a system of public education on the grounds that, “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” (Article VIII, Sec. 1).

The governor develops and submits the state school budget for approval by the legislature; the successive budgets set out by various governors say how money should be spent on schools. Governors come and governors go, and each occupant of the office is free to adopt his or her own priorities. In recent years, we’ve had both Democratic and Republican governors each bringing to the office his or her particular mix of preferences, priorities and biases. Basic education policy over the years is captive to gubernatorial personality and circumstance.

The Constitution (Article VIII, Sec. 3) also establishes an eight-member state board of education, which has “leadership and general supervision over all public education. … It shall serve as the general planning and coordinating body for all public education.”

Candidates for the board are elected statewide on the partisan ballot, nominated by the political parties at their conventions. In recent years, the state board has had a Democratic majority, who may or may not agree with the governor or the legislature on matters of educational policy or practice.

From time to time, the board does issue pronouncements about education policy, which, however, are often largely ignored.

The State Board also appoints “a superintendent of public instruction” who “shall be responsible for the execution of its policies.” He shall be the principal executive officer of the state department of education.” There is, however, no constitutional requirement that the superintendent agree in policy or politics with the governor, with individual members of the State Board or with legislative committee chairs or powerful lawmakers.

Often, in fact, they have not. The legislature conducts its business through a system of committees in both the state Senate and the House of Representatives. Some of these committees deal with issues of state education policy and some (“appropriations committees” or subcommittees) determine details of state spending on schools. These committees review and act on the governor’s recommendations on the level of per-pupil state funding.

Again, there is no requirement that the chairs or members of these committees agree with each other, or with the governor, or with the state board of education or the superintendent of public instruction.

Yet they have vast influence over a huge student population. As of last year, there were 1,507,743 traditional public school students enrolled in Michigan. Our 540 local school districts (plus 57 “intermediate” districts) are each governed by a locally elected nonpartisan school board. These school boards determine education policy, practice and detailed budgets for their particular districts.

Remarkably, there is no constitutional requirement that any local school board agree with any other state official on educational policy.

According to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, there are also about 300 “public school academies” (charter schools) serving 145,000 students in Michigan.

Each of them also receives an annual “foundation grant” from the state, roughly the same as the $7,511 each traditional public school student will receive next year.

But many charter schools are owned and controlled by for-profit corporations, which are frequently private and not subject to public scrutiny. The legislature has determined that the number of students and the location of charter schools is solely the business of the charter school companies.

In some districts (Detroit, for instance) there are now probably more students in charters than in traditional public schools.

There’s no central body to determine the best balance between charter and public school locations and enrollment, and the legislature this year killed a sensible attempt to establish one for Detroit. Advocates for charters argue that it should all be up to the free market. Critics of charters charge they are cherry-picking the easiest-to- teach students and the best areas and are diverting scarce public resources from public schools.

Policy is also affected by a number of interest groups with a vested interest in Michigan schools, some of which are quite powerful. Included in this group are teachers’ unions, associations of various kinds of school officials, advocates for charter and public schools.

Political ideologies also affect – often very substantially -- policy debate on school matters. Democrats by and large favor traditional public schools and increasing school funding, while Republicans are generally hostile to teacher unions.

So what shall we do about this terrible state of affairs?

Step one: If my description wasn’t clear enough, try drawing up the organization chart describing Michigan’s structure for governing schools. On one page, please.

Step two: Readers who care should phone folks they know and ask them simple questions: “Are you personally responsible for the lack of performance of our schools? If not, who is? Who should be held personally accountable for this terrible situation?”

The point of this is simple: A very big reason our kids don’t learn very well is the very structure of our education system blurs responsibility and eliminates accountability.

Common sense says that organizations whose basic structure defuses authority, fuzzes responsibility and ignores accountability are virtually certain to produce poor results.

Sound like what we’ve got here in Michigan? Yup.

Expect any meaningful change in the near future? Nope.

Governor Rick Snyder did announce last month the appointment of his 21st Century Education Commission to put into place an education system that positions Michigan as a national leader in developing talent to address today’s economy.

But sadly, I don’t expect any particular result from this or any other education commission, other than merely another report that gathers dust on a state library shelf. Nobody I’ve talked with expects anything different, either.

Now ask yourselves -- is what we have now really the way we want our schools to be run?

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David
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:35am
Education is not a high-priority item in Michigan. This applies across the board, from elementary schools to universities. In addition to the bizarre organization outlined in this article, the Legislature continues to cut aid to higher ed, aside from schools in the vicinity of Grand Rapids.
Carl Ver Beek
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:43am
This essay describes the problem, but not a solution. Is there a state which has a model to which we should aspire. The plethora of local school boards is unmanageable, but seems inherent in our operating politics. Is the public willing to allow them to be combined on a county or regional level? Probably not, so don't expect much.
Rich
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:26am
You have hit the nail on the head. "Is there a state ......." It's called benchmarking. All the auto companies and most other large organizations do it. Compare your product (education system) to the one ranked the best. See how their organization (school administration) is different from yours and make changes as necessary. Dig deep into how they became ranked #1. My opinion is that any study that does not compare your situation to a better ranked situation is just another waste.
Sun, 07/24/2016 - 8:28am
I guess we did not read the same article, Rich. I found this, for example: "Only six other states – all of them small and largely rural — showed the same kind of increases for prisons at the expense of education. Most humiliating of all: Michigan also increased spending on education less than any other state in the nation." I think that's ample comparison to other states, and it puts our state's efforts into stark contrast.
Cynthia Miller
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:40am
As a retired teacher, I found I was frustrated with the fact that, while well-trained and supposedly highly effective, with excellent rapport with students and parents, what was going on "above me" in the legislature frustrated my working conditions, the design of a futuristic and rigorous curriculum, and the very daily lives of my students. In effect, the legislators (using very expensive private schools) and their friends on the school boards (often business leaders who owned large companies and who provided enrichment for their own children at every turn,) seemed in collusion to function with the least resources possible! I would like to see an acceptable state model as well. Michigan was once proud of a quality public school system but now seems hell-bent upon destroying public schools for capitalistic personal gain of a very few who seem to have cloudy agendas.
David Waymire
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:26am
Yes. Massachusetts. And Education Trust-Midwest tells you how and why it is the leading education state in the nation by outcomes and on a part with top nations worldwide. But it spends 40 percent more per student, and doesn't allow unlimited chartering. We give lip service to success, but choose to ignore the state that is recognized as doing it better than anyone. https://midwest.edtrust.org/resource/massachusetts-fact-sheet/
Cynthia Miller
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:15pm
Thank you to David Waymire!
Matt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:33pm
I think the point is that there isn't one approach or model that will fit every student. The Europeans seem to have most effective approach as I understand it. But their system largely resembles becoming an Eagle Scout, where each student is largely independently working on and passing a series of subject modules, not an arbitrary 180 days of class time for 12 years program (with 3 months off for summer each year!!) , all based on a zip code based school assignment. Where students progress through modules and take classes as far as they believe is needed for their occupational interests and will be needed to allow entering apprenticeships to further those job interests whether this is 10, 12 or 14 years. Between teacher union hostility to this amount of public/student choice and parent's disappointment at losing the local high school sports program atmospherics, I doubt we'll see it.
Tom Bleakley
Thu, 07/21/2016 - 5:23am
I need to comment on this article because I have the privilege of representing the 47,000 children of the district of the now-defunct Detroit Public Schools. The state, through three different governors, has essentially controlled the DPS since 1999 (except for a 2 year period in 2007-8) and this state control has run the district into the ground taking student average test results in 1999 from the middle of the pack to the bottom in the country the last 3-4 years while, at the same time, creating a three billion dollar deficit for which the legislature refuses to take responsibility. Instead, the legislative 'solution' has been to create a pre-charter situation, eliminating the DPS, and setting up its replacement for failure in the next 2-3 years by permitting the new district to hire uncertified and unqualified teachers and dumping the three billion dollar debt on the taxpayers of the citizens of Detroit. Every school district in the state, including charter schools, must by law use certified teachers to teach their students, all except for the new hapless district in Detroit. In a school district that consists mainly of children of color, black (87%) and Hispanic (7%), the message from the Republican-controlled legislature is loud and clear; These former DPS children are now formally second-class citizens, somehow not entitled to the same quality of education as the rest of the children in the entire state. Jim Crow is alive and well in Michigan and the big-money charter companies are licking their chops, waiting for the multi-billion dollar windfall coming their way.
Mary
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:55am
We know what the governor, Legislature and various special interests want our edycation system to look like. They are the ones telling ordinary citizens what they should want and what choices they should have. And they spend a lot of money crafting and disseminating that message. As you note, the education system is so complex that it defies description, much less understanding. Absent all the PR and marketing spin, what do citizens really want? Why don't we find out and let the citizens tell their elected representatives what they want, rather than the other way around? Why doesn't Bridge start that process by makimg K-12 education the subject of its next statewide community conversation?
Steven Smewing
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:15am
Phil, I will start with a section of your piece. I have to copy and paste as there are not any real editing tools available. Then last week, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education found that over the past three decades, Michigan increased spending on prisons more than five times faster than it did on public education. The report shows that from 1979 to 2013, Michigan increased spending on schools by 18 percent, while the state increased spending on corrections by 219 percent. Only six other states – all of them small and largely rural — showed the same kind of increases for prisons at the expense of education. Most humiliating of all: Michigan also increased spending on education less than any other state in the nation. I love data, it does not lie but it can deceive when it is used with that intent. I am not at all saying you have intent but, you left out a compared qualifier to truly use the presented data. Saying things like Michigan increased spending less than any other state, but not saying where it rates in spite of that, is more sound bite than proper statements of current situations. Everyone would agree I would think there is no accountability. The whole system is such a joke that it is not funny, using a very spot on cliche. Fiscally, there are decades of hardship ahead. Budgeting was not controlled at any level for all districts. Districts used their pension system as way to spend tomorrow money for today expenses that paying that back will be all that can be done with any additional funds. Districts even used tomorrow money and paid seniority educators to retire. Fiscally this increase their tomorrow liability with even more tomorrow money and sent their best educators out of the building. For a fiscal example because some may not understand what I meant as I am not a trained writer. Say you have a family and your family has a set income. You are currently getting buy, but it is difficult. You have a looming future issue. You have a huge mortgage. Currently you are barley making a dent in the balance, but it has to be paid off, no getting out of it. There is a small chance that more money may come your way. But you have no choice in paying off this mortgage, so every extra penny for the foreseeable future has to go to paying your 100% must be paid mortgage. Fiscally this has to be made the 100% known reality. I think that many of the districts that got in big trouble money wise thought for sure that the spending of tomorrow money would be covered eventually by the state if everyone did it. The state does not have it. To get it, the state will have to increase taxes to get it. So, if you as person or group want more money for schools, know that more taxes will be needed. Also know that the money will not land in the classroom until the pension system is funded. So, you will pay more and see nothing. The money for today's education was spent already, a long time ago.
David Waymire
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:44am
Actually, the state ... the people and businesses of the state...have the money. We've just chosen to use it for tax cuts. In 2000, we spent about 9.49 percent of personal income on state taxes. Today it's about 6.75 percent. The difference is $7 billion. If we cut that in half, we would have $3.5 billion more to invest in education across the state...or our roads...or better parks...or our cities...all investments that would pay off over the years.
Observer
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 4:24pm
Perhaps Mr. Waymire missed the recent issue of Bridge that explored the adequacy report commissioned by the state in 2014. That issue said in part, "According to a little-notice passage in the study, an extra $1,000 in spending per pupil would increase reading and math proficiency on state tests by only 1 percent. That’s moving one-kid-in-100 from not meeting state grade-level standards to meeting those standards at a cost of $1,000 more for every student – a figure unlikely to encourage legislators to open the state’s wallet." While the report itself didn't calculate how much that would be for the state as a whole, Bridge calculated the figure to be $1.4 billion. If $1.4 billion would improve our educational results by one percent, then $2.8 billion would improve our results by two percent. And that improvement would leave only $700 million out of the $3.5 billion for roads, parks and cities. The study indicated that that rate of improvement per thousand dollars more for each student seemed to be pretty typical across the country. And, within broad limits, there doesn't seem to be much correlation between money spent and educational results. So perhaps a large part of Massachusetts's improvement was due to other factors. And while it may be true that the legislature would be very reluctant to increase spending on that scale, it is also abundantly true for the Michigan electorate. The voters had an opportunity last spring to provide more money for education, roads, and revenue sharing as well as substantially increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. I was among the distinct minority of twenty-five percent of the voters who voted for it. So that kind of increase in educational funding is just not going to happen.
Martha Toth
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 1:06pm
Steven Smewing, some of your assertions or assumptions are mistaken. Public school districts are required by law to participate in the MPSERS pension system, yet they have zero control over it. Not long ago, the legislature chose to "save money" for districts by mandating an early retirement incentive, increasing the multiplier and thus the Unfunded liability of the pension system for decades to come. Unlimited charter schools, the vast majority of which do NOT participate in MPSERS, greatly reduce the number of members paying into the system, thus further destabilizing it. These are all state-level policies. A recent MSU study, "Which Districts Get into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan's Story," finds conclusively that local governance has almost nothing to do with district financial distress. Rather, it is almost entirely caused by state policies such as those I just cited.
Cynthia Miller
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:21pm
You do know that when teachers were given "incentives" to retire (actually forced out) the districts were able to save enough money the first year to pay the incentive. They hired new teachers at half the salary of the old teacher and gave the old teacher $10,000 to leave. Net result: money for the district, but a disaster for children.
Brokengovt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:31am
Voucher system....
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:35am
Spot on! Many longitudinal studies of the impact of charter schools on the public systems have pointed to the same fracturing of the various districts - but there is simply too much money to be made by these for-profit entities. The widely promoted "choice" options have not had accountability or strategic planning required - if you have the money, you can open a school. Therefore, there has not been an enforced accountability - resulting in the current mess and everyone fighting over the money, rather than allowing educators to truly educate.
Gene Markel
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 10:56am
A message from an Oracle: A Nation that fails to educate its youth and see to the health and wellbeing of its citizens will collapse under the weight of ignorance, riot and disease.
Karl D. Gregory
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:12am
I hope there will be a part 2 suggesting the best of alternative structures and procedures for rationalizing effective responsibility and establishing meaningful accountability with community participation which will lead to much higher student performance for all offsetting the current inequities.
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:21am
To get to a better education for our kids the necessary steps are clear: 1. Begin with good management, a well-designed and well-run system. Phil Power's article describes some of the ways in which we have failed to plan or manage the basic business of school. It goes further. Michigan, Detroit, and other failing school systems have been manipulated by adults in leadership positions for their own economic and political benefit. They have consistently failed our children. 2. Develop schools with a positive culture, in which adults work well together, employees are treated with respect, students feel safe and connected to the school, and parents are welcome partners. Without good culture schools will not attract and keep quality educators or become problem-solvers with the capacity for improvement. 3. Redesign schools for the modern world. Our one-size-fits-all instructional delivery system is based on a pre-industrial design from a century and a half ago, and will never serve the needs of disadvantaged students. But lacking good management and a thoughtful organizational culture, we lack the capacity for the kind of deep thinking that must go into redesign. For the last few decades Michigan schools have floundered, while some states and nations have found the leadership to do the hard work of developing a much more thoughtful system of education. For me, there is always hope. There are plenty of good people left in Michigan, capable of creating a system for the future. But the lack of a well-designed and managed system, the lack of thoughtful and respectful school cultures, and the complete lack of a learning system that tracks progress and personalizes the development of essential skills for each student are a mighty combination of forces to overcome. Only with a new quality of leadership can we deal with the issues that face Michigan schools. Without thoughtful change, Michigan students are doomed to experience ineffective schools for decades to come.
duane
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 2:13pm
Bob S., Why would you think it is about leadership before you see it being about student learning? How can we find the right leadership if they don't what they are to achieve? What does organization matter if you don't have an individual and organizational understanding of the expected results? How do people create a positive culture if they don't what the culture the students need to achieve learning success? Think back to you learning years, why did you learn, what were the barriers you had to overcome, who and how did people influence you [culture], and what did you do to learn?
***
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:25am
TV commercials are now bombarding us with a K-12 online school with over the top language of every kid being a genius in their own special way and they just need a system to bring that out which of course is this utopia online school. Good grief.
Bob Moreillon
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 11:38am
Excellent analysis of our school debacle. Two nuggets in your piece are telling: "Republicans are generally hostile to teacher unions" and the legislature's control of the purse strings. That explains the decline in our schools. But it brilliantly supports the aims of the conservative control of our State: starve the public schools and break the teachers union while allowing the wealthy to have their own private schools to grow new conservative leaders.
Matt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:01pm
Bob, So are you saying that there is any evidence correlating the strength of teacher's unions with educational outcomes? Or while you are at it, any correlation between advanced degrees held by teachers and say student ACT scores? I see no evidence that the MEA etc have been anything positive for education and definitely hostile to any reform or evaluation ideas.
duane
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 2:07pm
Matt, Did you notice that Bob M. never mentioned student learning, student success, student anything? It seems he only sees the Michigan educational system as a place for union employment and a system for adults.
Matt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 4:00pm
Of course not. If you bring up those subjects it could lead to testing! And we know how the teacher's union crowd wants nothing to do with that. My biggest question is that after 30 to 40 years of wandering in the dark and considering that education is entirely between the student, the parent and the teacher, why is it that Phil and Co are so insistent that the state be made responsible for whether your kid learns something or not. Isn't there something that the state would be more effective at directing its efforts at?
duane
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 5:52pm
Matt, Those that think the State can be responsible, can make students learn are delusional and are simply unwilling to consider any other perspective. They need someone to blame [government], they need someone that can get other people's money without providing results [government] so without the current education system they wouldn't know what to do. If you notice Mr. Power.s article is not about results, it is all about blame and having those same people spend more of other people's money.
Teacher Girl
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:14pm
You state, "It’s almost as though those who designed the governance system for Michigan schools intentionally set things up so as to create an unaccountable, incoherent and rigidly unchangeable structure that assures the same bad results decade to decade." I would argue it's not "almost as if", rather it's a completely intentional course embarked upon to destroy public schools and create a system where business people profit off of children through tax payer money, and the majority of citizens are intentionally provided with poor education in order to create a society of worker bees who cannot think for themselves so that they will not question the status quo and the rich will get richer and the middle class will be completely destroyed. Quality education will be reserved for a select few--relatives of the upper class. It is a national agenda, happening in almost every state.
Martha Toth
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 12:59pm
I try very hard not to demonize those with whom I disagree, or to ascribe to them evil motives. Although it does, indeed, look as if much of the policy decisions destroying Michigan public schools were deliberately aimed at doing so, I cannot go so far as to say the motive was simply to destroy unions or to make money. Instead, I believe that most of the decision-makers have been driven by sincere but mistaken ideological beliefs. Specifically, they share the core beliefs of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics: that privatization, deregulation, and cuts in the size and scope of government services will result in prosperity for all. The repeated and uniform failure of this ideology to achieve its aims anywhere has not dented their naive faith in the mystical (and mythical) power of "market forces." In reality, massive wealth inequality has resulted in every single place that the Chicago School precepts have been applied, as have corruption, influence-peddling, and oligarchy. When the inequity gets great enough to threaten the enterprise, scapegoats must be found to divert the dissatisfied and disenfranchised: immigrants or racial groups for a nation, "greedy" teacher unions and "incompetent" school leaders for the public school system. Representative democracy is messy and cumbersome, but the alternatives, as Churchill noted long ago, are all worse.
Teacher Girl
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 1:25pm
Were that true, we would be changing course now that we've seen that the market-based plan isn't working. However, even with the data pouring in, states are digging in their heels. Sometimes people in power and with money do not have pure intentions, I'm afraid.
***
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 4:15pm
The man from the Grand Rapids area who wants to sell the world a bunch of lame cleaning products has a lot to do with the current state of education policies in Michigan. That is not news to anyone I'm sure.
Matt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 4:41pm
While I'm not sure what you are referring to as a "market based" system for education, since no "buyer" is actually paying anything, my question is what's wrong with letting parents and their kids choose the educational option they feel is most effective? I always thought it was all you folks on the left side of the fence who claim the "pro-choice" label? Or are you just sloganeering or do you just think they are too dumb??
Observer
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:14pm
Matt is exactly right. People opposed to school choice assume that parents are not capable of making competent judgments about education. They are by far the best enforcers of the accountability that Mr. Power calls for.
***
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 8:46am
Most parents are not that competent in making decisions about education judging by the results we have seen so far. Many have a chip on their shoulder attitude because their kid is not succeeding in school and they think some other alternative is better with often the same or worse results.
Matt
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 9:28am
As exhibited by *** above "most parents" are incapable of making these decisions so we're better off have a distant bureaucrat or having your kid assigned their school by zip-code than letting their stupid parents make such decisions. But of course we have to ignore the fact that this is how we've doing things for the last 40 years of disappointing results. Maybe we should just take children away from their parents at birth and have them raise by the state and their experts? It is another fascinating picture how the two philosophical sides view humans and their potential. Thank you ***.
duane
Thu, 07/21/2016 - 1:50am
*** is correct, it is obvious that most parents aren't making the right choice on education, they have been trusting to the 'professionals' and we are getting comments much like what Mr. Power wrote. Should we be trying to figure out why 40-50 years ago the results were better rather than keep blaming people [parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, etc.]?
duane
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 2:01pm
Mr. Power, like so many others, has a demonstrated bias about education, he can only see from on high looking down. He has no appreciation of the individual student and how learning is achieved from the bottom working up. The reality is that all of the education systems in the US were at one time the same and they were built on the learning, they were built on the expectation that the student has to work at learning. Mr. Power has the obvious perception that education is something akin to opening the top of a child’s head and pouring in information and if the pourer has enough money they will pour better than anyone else. The fallacy of that belief is demonstrated in classrooms across America, it is demonstrated every high school commencement. There is a stratification of demonstrated results from the valedictorian to each classroom where some are most successful, some are least successful, and the spread of those in between. The nature of that spread has to do with the individuality of each student, their desire to learn, their willingness to sacrifice and study, their expectations for what learning will provide for them. If you wonder if our education is a failure ask each university if they have residents that they admit and graduate. Do we have Michigan K-12 graduates that are earning STEM degrees from our universities? Do we have Michigan students that are using what they learned in our state educational system that are succeeding academically, financially, socially in the global economy? If the answer is yes then the system has a proven capacity to deliver the necessary knowledge and skills our students need, then we need to refocus our efforts on the students and try to understand how to spark their interest, their willingness, their value of learning. Mr. Power’s approach will do nothing more than perpetuate what we have had for the past decades, a shuffling of adults, of money, of words. Mr. Power can only see, hear, and talk to adults, if you notice he doesn’t show interest in the students. It’s as if he sees them only as an excuse for having a system to spend other people’s money on and to blame adults for disappointments. He never talks about asking students and listening, he only talks about adults, he shows no wonder at how kids succeed academically, socially, and after graduation financially. He never talks about asking them why they succeeded, asking them about the barriers they overcame, asking about how they succeeded, and since he not interested in asking he shows no interest in listening to those who are succeeding in a system he deems a failure. Mr. Power seems to have established a habit of denigrating the people/system that it has so tainted his thinking that he has no vision of what the results we want for the children, for the students. We need to first describe the results we want [students that have learned and learned how to learn], then we can build the system up from the how and why students succeed. This will require a bottom up change in the educational system, not a discarding of it but changing it with a focus on the students. This habit Mr. Power has created for himself is probably his biggest barrier to change and his willingness to see the student and their learning as most important than the adults and the system.
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 4:02pm
So what do we do? I think we should adopt a model of one of the best State school programs and pursue it with vigor. We would also have to assure funding for same. Massachusetts comes to mind as one candidate. A major review of tax polices and revenues is also a must.
Matt
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 5:11pm
Guess what Jim? We've done it! School spending even exceeds what they spend in Mass per kid in Washington DC! AND, AND.... oh wait ... not such great results,.in fact more like a failure. The point being that you can't say money is the primary driver of success, culture is far more important and you can't say Michigan is Minnesota is Massachusetts is Washington DC,. this just doesn't bottle that easy. This Agnosticism leads one to say leave it to the parents and their kids to choose what they feel suits best .and let the state fix the roads!
Observer
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:08pm
Bravo for Matt! Thanks for his good sense.
Observer
Tue, 07/19/2016 - 9:05pm
Mr. Power says, "Then last week, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education found that over the past three decades, Michigan increased spending on prisons more than five times faster than it did on public education." What is supposed to be the significance of this? We often find ourselves increasing spending on something out of necessity. I suspect everyone would be much happier having put that extra money in education, but what if it wasn't possible? Would Mr. Power have found substantially larger numbers of murder, robbery and rape acceptable? Is there any number of these incidents whose prevention would have justified the extra prison spending? Mr. Power gives us an extensive description of the structure of our education establishment, but to what end? As I recall, that structure was established by our 1964 constitution. It would have been illuminating if Mr. Power had provided the history of our educational performance since that time. From all accounts, our poor results are of recent vintage. In that case, we can hardly lay the blame for that performance on our educational structure. Yes, we changed our financing method in 1994, but that was 22 years ago; that could hardly account for our recent failures. It is just not the case that "A very big reason our kids don’t learn very well is the very structure of our education system blurs responsibility and eliminates accountability." Just how much does our educational organization differ from other, more successful states? He says of the superintendent of education that "There is, however, no constitutional requirement that the superintendent agree in policy or politics with the governor, with individual members of the State Board or with legislative committee chairs or powerful lawmakers." Why should there be? How could there be? Who would be required to agree with whom? If he wishes to simplify things however, the best thing to do is eliminate the State Board of Education or make it a purely advisory outfit appointed by the governor. He says, "Critics of charters charge they are cherry-picking the easiest-to- teach students and the best areas and are diverting scarce public resources from public schools." However, he can't be troubled to investigate the charges and see if they have any merit. They do not. How would charter schools "cherry pick" the easiest to teach students? Do they compel their parents to enroll them in their schools? How would they do that? And if they do open schools in the "best areas", how do they entice parents to switch schools? Surely, their parents wouldn't take them out of a superior school? He says they divert scarce public resources from public schools. But don't they also relieve the public schools of the expense of educating those students? He goes on to say: "Common sense says that organizations whose basic structure defuses authority, fuzzes responsibility and ignores accountability are virtually certain to produce poor results." Is he aware that most things that happen in this country do so without the benefit of government organization? Has he thought about the fact that the seven million people in New York City are supplied each day with the quantity and quality of the large variety of food that they desire without the benefit of government organization? Has he contrasted that with the misery and starvation visited upon the Venezuelan people by their government?
Kevin Grand
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 11:33am
Here's an aspect of Mr. Power's piece that no one is willing to address: Exactly how was it that America not only thrived, but grew during the nearly first century and an half of its existence WITHOUT a huge, top-down edutocracy calling the shots on not only what was taught, but how schools should run itself internally? Students were able to read, write and do basic arithmetic well before the government (state & federal) decided that it knew better on how to educate them. Go view any museum exhibit which has examples of educational material from that time period to see what I mean. Better yet, thumb through a copy of a McGuffey Reader which was the predominant source of that educational material Those books were the /b> foundations of the what worked during that period. I highly doubt that the students of today could complete most of the exercises contained within them, much less promote the system the so-called educational experts who strenuously advocate for (and obviously isn't working). And that material is geared towards grade through middle school students. It should be noted that during that period, America revolutionized communication (i.e. telegraphy, audio reproduction and even television...conceived by someone who wasn't even out of high school yet). America saw the rise of numerous industries (i.e. steel, oil, automotive, and aeronautics...the latter envisioned by two people who didn't even finish high school). America saw the rise of entrepreneurs such as Carnegie, Westinghouse and Edison. Better not read up on the highest level of public education those examples had received, you might be disappointed because it doesn't fall into your narrative. I'm going to toss out the suggestion that Mr. Power is too close to the problem to see the solution. More top-down leadership isn't the answer. More money isn't the answer. The problem with education here in America today is that the government had injected itself into what was historically a local matter. Promoting the concept local citizens do not need to follow the happenings within their local schools is the crux of the problem that we are facing today. It should be readily acknowledged that government oversight/control only precipitated the decline of the American educational system. The solution, even for Mr. Power, should also be readily apparent.
David
Sun, 07/24/2016 - 12:12pm
A few additional factors are that the actual number of students being educated in earlier days was quite small. Now, it is commonly believed that education is for all. A second factor is that things have become much more complex by several orders of magnitude. It was once sufficient to learn to read & write, some math and perhaps a smattering of Latin and Greek. Now, the good jobs require an advanced college education. The State is also short-changing the colleges, leaving families to somehow cope with ever-rising tuition costs.
Kevin Grand
Sun, 07/24/2016 - 12:46pm
Still missing the part about why parents shouldn't have any involvement, or more importantly...responsibility, with their children's education? And the "advanced knowledge" argument also falls short. I know people who do IT work out of their homes. What their kids can do at their age, and w/o an "advanced college education", is a little scary. Another example off of he top of my head, the mechanic that I take my car to has his kid "working" in the shop (no, I won't give out the name).. I can tell you that they're learning things that you won't pick up sitting in a desk all day. Finally, exactly how did colleges & universities ever survive before they managed to finagle their hands into the public purse? It's a little difficult to consistently raise your tuition when you don't have a stable source of revenue to rely upon.
Chuck Fellows
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 1:24pm
How if we stop ranting about symptoms and get to the root. We do not allow our children to be responsible for their own education! Change the purpose and focus of the educational endeavor from how much to spend where dictated by whom to letting children learn. Let the learners lead learning. Let them be responsible. Remove the how, when, what, where and why of education from the pols, pundits and academic experts. Start the operational budget process (planning) at the level of the individual student based upon each individuals learning needs. Teachers then develop a classroom budget which is aggregating into a building/district budget which is then given to the legislature to find the money to support every child learning. That's their job, not prescribing what an education will be. Capital (infrastructure) budgets are the responsibility of the state, not the locals, to insure that all children have infrastructure and equipment at the "Bloomfield Hills" level. It is the state's job to insure that happens. Learners leading learning instead of out of touch and often willfully ignorant adults. This means learning that follows the child's cognitive strengths and interests with teacher as coach, mentor, guide & co learner. Assessment of the outcomes after the K-12 experience, not the current tinkering with the disjointed and disconnected elements of our current process. Here is something that reinforces the hypothesis that children know how and what to learn to progress their journey to adulthood becoming productive members of a thriving society: "At that moment, it all came together for the LEGO team. Those theories about time compression and instant gratification? They seemed to be off base. Inspired by what an 11 year old German boy had told them about an old pair of Adidas, the team realized that children attain social currency among their peers by playing and achieving a high level of mastery at their chosen skill, whatever that skill happens to be. If the skill is valuable and worthwhile, they will stick with it until they get it right, never mind how long it takes. For kids, it was all about paying your dues and having something tangible to show for it in the end - in this case a pair of tumbledown Adidas that most adults would never look at twice." From "Small Data" by Lindstrom. The real leaders are here, the children. Let them lead their learning journey with our support, not our prescription. By the way, our current "system" of education evolved from the Committee of ten in 1892, eight elementary, four secondary with emphasis on academically prescribed and separate academic disciplines. Worked for the 19th century, not the twenty-first!
J. A. Herzrent
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 1:30pm
The cost of benefits for retired teachers is a major part of the problem. Districts pay ORS an increasing percentage of payroll and the unfunded liability of that pension system continues to increase. Thus "more money for education" does nothing but transfer district funds to people who are no longer working. The corollary is less money for current teachers and infrastructure. One response is more money from taxpayers but take a look at property taxes in Chicago and the corresponding exodus of workers and business from that city. Further, teacher unions -- which have contributed in a major way to this problem -- keep asking for more and fighting sensible efforts to bring pay and benefits in line with private sector workers. There will be little progress in finding solutions to this problem unless the compensation and benefit structure for teachers and administrators is fixed and the unions should cooperate in that process. Of course, unions have a duty to represent their members but representation consists of more than asking for more each time they come to the table and carrying out illegal strikes when they don't get what they want.
Tyler
Wed, 07/20/2016 - 9:55pm
If you want to fix K-12 education in Michigan you must first fix the colleges of education that train the teachers and administrators that work in our schools. It has been sixteen years since The National Reading Panel studied the scientific research on how best to teach reading. Not one of the teachers colleges in Michigan trains students in the findings of the NRP. Several southern states have begun to train teachers properly while the professors in Michigan stick to the Whole Language/Balanced literacy methods they were taught in undergrad school during the 1980's and '90's. Throwing more money into the system without changing how we teach will accomplish nothing.
Charles
Thu, 07/21/2016 - 10:36am
This paper reports that private schools can save Michigan $750 million dollars, and deliver a much better education in the process. It should be obvious that big dysfunctional organizations, led by self-serving public employees and greedy unions that have literally bankrupted many of our cities can not possibly deliver the 21st Century educational excellence our kids need. http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/22581
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 07/24/2016 - 10:27am
It is clear from reading the comments than nothing is going to change. I say build more prisons. We're going to need them.
Karen
Sun, 07/24/2016 - 11:40am
Our past shows that for-profit schools are not required for better learning. Losing manufacturing jobs and population have certainly had a negative effect on our children and our schools. The "bubble" of baby boomers has moved through our state and our school systems. We're still searching for the best way to "shrink" school districts where neighborhood school buildings are no longer supported by student numbers in the neighborhood. Our state income tax percentage has continued to decrease even as family earnings have decreased through the loss of manufacturing jobs (thus lower state revenues). It seems there are many factors at work causing our K-12 education problems. It's likely there will be no simple solution. However, it is a problem that deserves some really serious thought.

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