Education proposals this year could further harm Michigan students

student waiting

Whatever you think about President-elect Donald Trump, it’s clear that he has signaled a dramatically new direction for the role of the U.S. government in public education—one that will push ever-more decisions to the states.

That means the importance of state-level leadership and policymaking will grow dramatically this year. And it means Gov. Rick Snyder, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and state legislators have both an enormous responsibility and an opportunity to make sure their work is focused on the most pressing K-12 issues of the year — and advancing an equity and excellence agenda for our state’s public schools.

Yet there are many proposals on the state policy table that would take Michigan back decades in terms of best practices. Disinvestment, back-pedaling on accountability, proposals that would gut Michigan stakeholders’ access to honest K-12 information —all of these issues will be decided by state leaders in the coming weeks and months. It’s truly a high-stakes year for students.

Given Michigan’s growing education crisis and what’s at stake in 2017, here is a list of the five top policy priorities that Michiganders should watch for this year. These issues have huge implications for Michigan students — particularly students of color and low-income students — and the state’s economy for decades to come.

Amber Arellano

Amber Arellano is the executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest

1.  Making Third-Grade Reading a Real Priority

There is perhaps no more important skill that students need for school and life success than reading well. Indeed, third-grade reading is a predictor of everything from high school graduation and college success to long-term employment. That’s truly troubling given that Michigan’s early reading levels are in a free fall, moving from above average in 2003 to a rank of 41st compared with other states.

The good news is, there’s widespread agreement across the political spectrum about making early reading proficiency a top state priority. However, progress has been slow on this front.

Policymakers have invested roughly $50 million in early literacy but implementation has been weak compared with leading states. The MDE has implemented with a lack of attention to what’s worked so effectively in the highest-performing states, and has had no accountability for the millions of dollars in checks that it has cut for work on this initiative.

It’s time for the state to re-think its approach, informed and guided by leading states’ best practices.

2.  Proposed K-12 Disinvestment

Late last year, Gov. Snyder proposed a massive tax shift that would divert $430 million from K-12 education—about $300 per student. For a public education system in crisis, the idea that the state would lead such a massive disinvestment effort is stunning. Yet the proposal is expected to be included in the governor’s budget recommendation due out early next month.

The data suggest how particularly devastating this proposal would be for low-income schools. According to national research, Michigan is one of only six states that provides substantially less funding to its high-poverty districts than to its low-poverty districts.

Expect much more conversation about this — and heated outcry from stakeholders across the state — if this proposal moves forward.

3.  Michigan’s ESSA (Every Students Succeeds Act) Plan

Like other states, MDE is working feverishly in preparation to submit a vast plan to the Trump administration on arguably the most impactful policy levers of this decade:  the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The ESSA plan likely will dictate everything from the honesty and transparency of Michigan’s K-12 school data; the quality of accountability for educators’ and schools’ performance; and the state’s vision for support and interventions for low-performing schools. Despite the high stakes, the MDE has still not released its draft plan, which MDE is expected to submit to the feds in early April.

A more robust statewide debate is needed on ESSA — one that includes many more parents, leaders of color, civil rights organizations and business organizations — and one that makes equity and excellence a true priority.

4.  Accountability

In every leading education state, both targeted investment and more accountability for the performance and effectiveness of K-12 teachers, schools, districts and other actors such as charter authorizers have been essential.

In Michigan, we are expecting just the opposite to be proposed this year. Gov. Snyder’s disinvestment proposal would gut K-12 school funding. And so far, details on the MDE’s school accountability plans signal a back-pedaling from a state accountability system that’s benchmarked against the nation’s highest standards for teaching and learning today.

Together, these plans would set Michigan back for decades to come. The state cannot afford to continue to go backward. If we want to be a top-10 education state, then we need top-10 education practices and policies.

5.  Honest K-12 Information

For many years while Michigan’s student achievement declined, parents and educators had no idea it was happening. That’s because the MDE continued to tweak its state assessment and reporting, which led to the misguided belief that everything was just fine in our public schools.

Today for the first time, Michigan has an assessment system that no longer allows state leaders to fudge the data. Our current state assessment is aligned with the nation’s highest performance standards for teaching and learning, minded by a trusted external vendor. This means Michiganders can honestly see now how our schools are performing compared with over 15 states’ schools around the country. It’s a game-changer for teaching and learning.

Yet the MDE’s early ESSA plans have proposed to gut it, and go back to the days when they could lower the performance standards. The result would be terrible for transparency and students, especially those in low-performing schools where access to high-quality instruction and rigorous coursework is often a challenge.  

Michiganders deserve honest information about their public schools. The state’s new ESSA plan should stick with proven best practices from leading states — and its current state assessment.

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Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:08am

If one studies election data, one finds a strong correlation between lack of educational achievement and voting Republican. Believing that there is a causal relationship, Republicans are doing everything they can to stay in power by working to minimize everyone's educational prospects.

Patricia Cooney
Sun, 01/29/2017 - 8:23am

Gov. Snyder has said that high-paying jobs go unfilled in Michigan because there aren't enough qualified people to fill them. So how can he defend gutting the budget for K-12 education, which would prepare students for higher education, which means, Governor, Michigan could have "qualified people" to fill those high-paying jobs! Duh!!!!!
Perhaps if he paid his own legal defenses there would be more money for education.

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 8:07am

Similarly and even stronger is the correlation with public sector emloyment and voting Demoratic, maybe that explains the Demcratic push to grow government?

Dave T
Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:37am

A very interesting article. Some of this we already knew, some we didn't. But as stated, "Michigan\'92s early reading levels are in a free fall, moving from above average in 2003 to a rank of 41st compared with other states" is not the states fault. It is the parent's fault.What disturbs me is the onus placed on schools. It is a fact that if a student comes to Kindergarten knowing the A,B,C's and they have books in the home; and parents read them to their children; and the children learn to read before third grade; we wouldn't have to deal with reading problems in the first place.Nip the problem in the bud. Put the money into books for preschool reading programs at home, not Head Start. Give them to parents at the hospital when babies are born. Third grade is too late. It's unfair to blame schools. It's hard to "train a dog new tricks." Or said differently, It's hard to learn much of anything if you can't read by third grade. Blame the parents not the schools. Several cultures moving into this country have a different outlook on education than many Americans. School comes first, and it starts at birth. Perhaps that's why we see more foreign sounding names as science fair winners, scholarship winners, doctors and professors. We have too many parents shrugging the importance of reading and homework by giving them too many distractions from school. Just saying!

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 12:13pm

Dave T,How does this work when the parents don't have functional literacy skills? It is estimated that in Washtenaw County, one of the more highly educated counties in the state, one in six adults is considered low-literate.

David Waymire
Thu, 01/19/2017 - 2:18pm

So you are saying that all of a sudden, since 2003, Michigan parents have gotten dumber...or less involved...or something like that than parents in every other state? And that's why our education system has gone to hell? That just doesn't fly. I'd suggest looking at the policies of those in charge of our state's overall education system -- and that means the Legislature.

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 8:23am

Never being one to avoid political correctness, hows this explanation? Durring times of poor economic performance (Michigan's 12 year depression) your more able residents, more aspirational, are the ones most likely to relocate out or not come. The older and the less able, less asperational residents are more apt to remain. These ripples continue to be seen (in this case in educational results) for sometime after the economy turns.

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 6:00am


Thu, 01/19/2017 - 1:26pm

I wonder how the stats would look if charter schools and home schoolers were tested and held accountable, too. The defunding of public education should raise alarms for everyone. I realize Republicans have had a war with the MEA and NEA for decades, but what they don't understand is that those organizations support teachers and students alike. Our public educational system is better when we pay teachers respectably, and respectfully. The system is better when appropriate materials are provided. The system is better when best practices from research are supported and implemented. Public schools have scrambled for years to please politicians so they can remain open, even though many of the political decisions were known to be wrong-headed. Instead of the dictates from Lansing which are politically motivated, highly accepted practices substantiated by qualified research should be encouraged and training provided to implement them. How about instead of bashing teachers and defunding schools, Lansing actually shows it cares about the education of the children of Michigan?Closing public schools and opening for-profit charters is a waste of tax-payer dollars at the least.

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 8:29am

So what correlation do you have showing any educatinal outcome improvement and strength metric for NEA/MEA? I suspect it's a negitive one.

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 5:37pm

Well, it'll start with helping all learn to spell correctly.

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 8:41am

Sorry, didn't read your entire post, so have to address another grievous fallacy you put out, adjusted for cost of living (and that is the critical factor) Michigan's teachers are at or near the top in the nation for pay, Not complaining per se, but this contention that across the board teacher pay has anything to do with Ed. outcomes is pure rubbish. .

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 10:06am

The number of young people entering teaching programs at universities in Michigan has dramatically decreased; some universities report the decline in enrollment as much as 20%. In the coming years, there will be a teacher shortage due to the lack of respect for the profession of teaching and the dismal pay prospects, compared to other professionals with similar levels of education. While I agree that teacher pay does not have a direct correlation to student achievement, now more than ever Michigan needs the brightest and best teachers to help fulfill the promise of a free and appropriate education for all our students. How is Michigan going to attract top teachers while state dollars are continuously being pulled away from education and our teachers are being asked to do more with less?

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 7:42pm

Again Lorraine, Michigan's teachers are at the high end of teacher pay nationally, so we should be in a good position reletively speaking. Maybe the coming shotage has other causes, maybe it is the fact that most end up leaving the state to lower paying locations because of a lack of openings here in MI? I seriously doubt the "respect" acccorded to any occupation determines any individual's career choice, if that's the case how do you explain all the lawyers we continue to produce? It's much more complicated than that.

Sat, 01/21/2017 - 8:32am

The number of people entering the law profession has dropped in recent years.

Ben DeGrow
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 10:59am

Charter school students take the same tests as other public school students, and charter schools are held to the same or greater accountability (including closure in cases of academic failure).

Eric Schertzing
Thu, 01/19/2017 - 3:28pm

Quality public education is at the core of the American experiment and experience. There is a role for determining responsibility, but ultimately a dermination to use all tools in the tool box to improve the situation is key.

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:33pm

" focused on the most pressing K-12 issues of the year \'97 and advancing an equity and excellence agenda for our state\'92s public schools."This is such a detach load of 'fluff' that makes me wonder does anyone 'educational' higher hierarchy have any touch with reality.Right now we need to recognize that it is the kids/student that determines whether they learn or not, we need to understand how and why those who succeed do so and leverage that so others can be successful.Kids in the same classroom in the same neighborhood have different levels of learning, it isn't the school it is the child, it is what interests them, it helping the recognize the personal value in learning, it is teaching them the willpower to learn. With Ms. Arellano's approach we would do better to have Starbuck's hire them and put them through their training program. They would learn willpower that would help them learn/succeed academically and personally.1. Reading can make learning so much easier and enjoyable [the reality from a very poor reader], but to truly learn how to be a good reader the student needs to want to read, to practice reading, to enjoy reading. It would be nice by the third grade, but it is more important that they are wanting to read. If they want to read they will find ways to read, except the school libraries are few and far between.2. When the first thing said is for money, you know their priority is money and not results. In my whole career when I needed money I start with results what have been achieve, what would be achieved, and how it would be achieve then I was asked how much money would it take. Ms. Arellano asks for money with no description of what it will achieve [that is how it has been for generation and that is how we have the lack of results we have].3. I notice Ms. Arellano shows no interest in including parents of children that have succeed [much as my local school district does]. She show no interest in finding out about how students succeed she only cares about the system. Reality is that learning is a personal thing, it is the individual that decides whether they learn or not.4. Before you can have true and credible accountability you must define the results that to be achieved and have established metrics for those results and a process with public reporting that reports those results. It isn't about position accountability it is about results and the identifying success and how and why it happens. Comparing to states and schools to national standards is a fools errand, the accountability is in the classroom and the learning of the individual students. The system nor the teacher can open up the head of student and pour the knowledge in, it is the student that decides whether they will drink from the fount of knowledge. To find that out we should be starting with the individual students accountability, this is not an 'I gotcha' it is about finding whether they want to learn, they are willing to do what it takes to learn, if they have effective encouragement to learn.5. Ms. Arellano wants to blame others for where we are today. If we want change, if we want better results, if we want our children to learn we have to stop trying to blame someone, some system, some politician, and investigate the children, learn how and why they succeed in spite of or because where they are and leverage that knowledge to others, and we need to learn what are the personal barriers to learning are from those who succeed, fail, and who are in between so we can develop the means to overcoming those barriers and leveraging that to other students.Education is not a top down process as Ms. Arellano wants us to believe, it is a bottom up approach that is built on the individual student. Where Ms. Arellano gives the impress of education/education system is a pyramid where the national standards set at the top and flow down in a uniform way, the reality is that it is an inverted pyramid with the student being the tip of the pyramid and all else there to facilitate a customize support for that student.I apologize to you Ms. Arellano for my blunt and terse remarks, you are simply repeating what we have heard for generations and it has kept us on this declining path for those generations. I suspect you are truly dedicated and passionate person about education, but your perspective and my reality are skewed.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 01/20/2017 - 6:34am

I'm at a bit of a loss on the whole Donald Trump/US Government involvement in education aspect at the beginning of this piece?Exactly where does Ms. Arellano think that the federal government has any authority whatsoever to be involved in education?I'd be curious if she could provide the relevant section of the US Constitution to back up her assertion.I would also be curious regarding her second bullet point on the so-called "connection" between school funding and educational achievement.Michigan Taxpayers have literally been shoveling disproportionately large amounts of money into districts like Detroit Public Schools (now DPSCD), with IMHO, criminal results.<a href=" rel="nofollow">96% of students NOT proficient in Math.</a><a href=" rel="nofollow">93% of students NOT proficient in Reading.I would like to hear Ms. Arellano's defense of those numbers given the amount of state taxpayer dollars Detroit had received, and continues to receive on a yearly basis.

Chuck Fellows
Fri, 01/20/2017 - 10:45am

The Hearings on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education highlighted a basic fault undermining opportunities for incremental continual improvement in learning. Especially in Michigan since we seem in love with meaningless statistics and archaic methodologies.Senator Franken\'92s questions regarding proficiency and growth highlight this fault. In his perspective proficiency is a student achieving a target value and growth is measured as the comparison of student scores over time. These definitions promote a binary world view, pass or fail paradigm, a child is either a success or a failure, smart or stupid. No consideration of the child\'92s individuality or life context is allowed. Reality does not matter! We have more numbers than ever before yet we have no real idea what they mean. Third grade reading scores are a good example, time bound testing that totally ignores an individual child's development and life context.No matter how many times we change the target value, revise the testing protocols, introduce technology or move money around we remain clueless. Despite cloaking these efforts in words and phrases such as rigor, competency, standards, work harder and scientifically based we spend thirteen billion a year and remain ignorant.The kids? They long ago figured out we are irrelevant to their learning and treat us accordingly. There are exceptions though, many teachers that recognize this fallacy and lead their students in learning, You can meet some of them at!Proficiency is defined as a high degree of competence or skill, or mastery. It comes from the latin, \'93proficere", accomplish, make progress; be useful, do good; have success, profit.The definition of growth used is based on comparing a score to a preordained target value identified as the meaning of proficiency. How the target value is determined, what criteria is used, is unknown. The means to obtaining a score is constantly changing.If Senator Franken\'92s questions are an accurate representation of our education policy meaningful change improving learning opportunities for all children cannot happen. This conclusion is supported by the work of several statisticians, Shewhart, Tribus, Chambers and Deming and educators such as Piaget, Dewey, Pestalozzi, Esquith, Sizer, Langer, Darling-Hammond, and many, many others.Oddly enough recognition of every child\'92s individuality came from the nominee! One tiny glimmer in the darkness that is our one size fits all factory model of school. Sadly the nominee lacks the leadership skills necessary for a Cabinet level office. Real improvement in learning (not education) requires the recognition of the skills and abilities of those that actually do the work, teachers, student and parents. Their voices must be heard and their wisdom heeded. Mother nature gave us two ears and one mouth. Those who control education choose to use only their mouth.This is not just idle chat. A current success in learning is the Finnish system whose cornerstones are recognition of a child\'92s individuality, their life context and the highest degree of respect possible for their teachers.If we are to improve learning outcomes we must abandon our current definitions and the policies they support. We must listen with intensity and support teachers, students and parents - not dictate and prescribe failure using failed paradigms and definitions.

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 10:14pm

I appreciate Mr. Fellows wise thoughts. When will Michigan listen and be supportive of education experts who know how students learn? Accountability is important for public schools and charter schools. Learning opportunities are important for ALL students; pre-K through career readiness. Collaboration and setting realistic learning goals should help all Michigan students.

Sat, 01/21/2017 - 9:27am

Ellen,If you know any of those who understand how students learn would you encourage them to consider writing an article on Bridge that would help readers like me better understand what the science of learning tells us so we aren't simply relying on anecdotal experience?For me and mine learning has been about personal willpower/self-discipline, about persistence, and about interest. I suspect this is to simplistic and would like to better understand the mechanics, the science of learning. By learning about how to learn I can make better informed choices when it comes to supporting my community schools and judging if they are spending new moneys effectively.

Tom Caulder
Sun, 01/22/2017 - 6:56am

Does anyone know what is all about. Michigan advertises for this site as a replacement for attending High School but I can find nothing about it. It's probably a way of making money for private entrepreneurs using state money. This state is in a gold rush along with the rest the states in new territory for privatization of public schools using public funds. Is K-12 part of the gold rush?

Richard McLellan
Mon, 01/23/2017 - 11:00pm

One word that Ed Trust and others use to argue for more money for education is "equity." I have tried to determine what they mean by the term. "Equity" has very specific meaning in legal proceeding in equity and equity is a well known concept in accounting and business. But its meaning by Ed Trust probably use of equity might relate to the synonyms for equtiy: Fairness, reasonableness, righteous, even-handed. The truth is many groups use the term equity as shorthand for "give us more money to be equtable and take it away from someone else."