Guest column: Why is education establishment resisting school reform?

By Peter B. Ruddell/Wiener Associates

It’s about the kids, not the district.

Despite the Center for Michigan’s recent report and Michigan’s mediocre (but improving) education achievement, the entrenched education establishment is arguing the status quo is good for kids. This time the arguments come high atop the traditional education establishment’s ivory tower – from David Arsen at Michigan State University’s College of Education. Speaking for the education establishment, Arsen makes three relatively simple points:

* School choice is destructive;

* More money is needed (at the schools Arsen likes, while less is necessary at the ones he doesn’t); and

* Real-time data systems “generate inefficiency” and are a waste of taxpayer resources.

In addition to these three points, the education establishment continues a barrage of distortions regarding the actual proposed language of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act (PEFA). Every reader of our preliminary reports and bill draft, who truly believes that all students should learn at high levels and be fully prepared to enter the work force or attend college, rejects the hyperbole and misstatements by those readers whose opinions are paid for by education interest groups.

What does PEFA really do?

Despite the distortions presented by the traditional education establishment, PEFA presents expansions on current law and modernization to reflect new innovations in education delivery, such as:

* Create "Early Graduation Scholarships" for students able to accelerate successful completion of high school.

* "Membership" in district of residence is no longer controling, meaning a child’s ZIP code will not determine their education opportunities.

* Change from the concept of "in regular attendance" to "receiving instruction," meaning removing archaic “seat time” requirement to further allow innovative methods of teaching and learning.

* Change student counting system to "average daily membership" from existing two-membership count day model, providing resources where students are learning.

* Create a new "performance count day" as part of the move to performance-based funding.

* Create an "enrollment district" concept to implement unbundling.

* Improve Michigan's education data system to: consolidate reports, create a master reporting calendar, truly leverage improved teaching and learning, and make data available to parents.

* Encourage district consolidation by allowing a consolidated district to receive the highest of foundation allowances among merging districts.

* Create incentives for year-round school to fight "summer regression."

Stop looking in rearview mirror

Does PEFA answer every issue involved in public education? No, nor was that the objective. PEFA looks at one – and only one – state law. Gov. Rick Snyder assigned us to update the School Aid Act of 1979 and propose changes to reflect his education policy objectives. We were not asked to recommend policies, but to implement what the governor had already announced and was working on. Because our assignment was narrow and limited, we did not address:

* Specific funding issues related to the various funding buckets.

* Tax and revenue level issues, inequities among districts or overall funding of public education. These are for the governor and Legislature to address each year.

* Specific limitations on special education or pre-K funding.

* Proposal A issues or constitutional issues.

* Other pending legislation amending the state’s school code.

The 1979 funding law is seriously out of date. Significant changes need to be made to alter the status quo and place Michigan students on a more assured path for career or college readiness. The structure of funding does not provide the flexibility or education tools to equip Michigan students to compete in the global economy in an information age. We need to shift the paradigm of education.

It is unfortunate that the entrenched education establishment is not looking out for the best interest of the kids, but for protecting their turf.

Will PEFA initially make budget planning for districts more complicated? Sure. But this temporary adjustment is well worth the investment necessary.

While the education establishment continues to beat the drum that we should not make changes because they are “untested,” the traditional methods and mindsets only can take us so far. Dramatic global technological changes demand a more prepared, skilled and sophisticated work force. It is our obligation today to equip tomorrow’s workers with the tools to master these critical skills.

Our education establishment must shun complacency and mediocrity. It’s about the kids.

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Thu, 02/28/2013 - 9:25am
I'm not sure where the notion of professionals working in education somehow wanting/accepting/working toward complacency and mediocrity came from, but it is a gross misstatement and assumption. The vast majority of people working in education are striving every day to make things better for kids, their classrooms, their buildings, and education as a whole. I believe the problem with the "education establishment resisting school reform" centers around the belief and perception by those in education that, as so often has happened in the past, "school reform" means, in the simplest of terms, do more with less. People working in education have been doing more with less for years now, especially in Michigan where our economy has struggled for over a decade now. I also believe that the "education establishment" would like to test any drastic changes first, especially to funding, to ensure that funding is not again decreased, and to ensure that funding is as accurate as possible. What most people (both in education and outside of education) do not realize about "funding" and "count days" is that official counts for districts take weeks after actual "count days" to make official and to certify prior to submitting to the State. It's not as simple as merely counting heads on any given day and just sending the attendance report to the State. Obviously, changes and efficiencies need to be made in many parts of education, but we need to ensure that any changes enacted do not adversely affect already strained schools and school districts.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:39pm
It seems for those old enough to remember the quality of learning started declining before funding began losing support. Maybe if the educators developed their own set of metrics to help the public see the value that is being delivered for their financial support this may not be such a battle. What do you believe the schools be assessed on or do you believe that all school should recieve blind and unconditional support?
David J.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 2:28pm
Your link is Mr. Arsen's "Faculty Viewpoint" with which Mr. Ruddell takes issue. However, like jlb's post expressed; after reading it, one would wonder why the governor did not give this EDUCATIONAL PROFESSIONAL the "charge" for developing a Public Education Finance reform proposal (vs. lawyers such as Mr. Ruddell and his cohort Richard McClellan -- who has a storied history in his espousal of a voucher system). Thankfully, there are enough voices out there (and NOT JUST FROM THE "educational establishment," as Mr. Ruddell frequently cites in a pejorative fashion) to EXPOSE Mr. Ruddell and his Oxford Foundation plans for what they are -- rife with unintended consequences and unsubstantiated, in terms of research-based validation.
Jon DeWys
Fri, 03/01/2013 - 8:26am
Thank you for those perspectives. Contrary to what some believe, public schools are ready for change. I appreciated your letter to The Gov on some of the holes in the Oxford Foundation proposal. I like the Massachusetts model where they created a cross functional team to identify what is working, not working, and a road map to the future state (using a Lean Manufacturing buzzword), I am a business owner employing 150 team members along with being on a rural diverse school district. If I had to run my business with all the rules and regulations and limitations placed on the school district, I would not be in business. Our Governor is a smart man and one would hope that before we through the baby out with the bath water we truly get a plan in place using school finance as one of the key topics.
Kate Dupuis
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 11:21am
As a parent of a child who has intellectual disabilities , I find your editorial, Mr. Rudder as discrimatory. Not only do I find it discrimatory but many of my friends, some civil rights activist (some who practice law) also find it discrimatory. My child is a student, period. So all of the changes you proposed to make means she has the exact right to those changes also, period. There is not court in this state or in any state that will say my child is separate student from other students. So you are illogical in your statement to say that your limited report was not to look at special education limitations. Your report must include those limitations because not to include them means that you are stating that my child is not a student under the that way you are implying, that my child is a second class student then the students you were looking at? I mean you did say that " it's about the kids" my child is a kid also. If PEFA is adopted without looking at special education limitations you folks very well will meet me personally in court along with thousands of other parents of children with disabilities that you have dismissed as not " part of your report".
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 11:35am
Does Gov. Snyder and his team really think it persuasive or helpful to have Peter Ruddell insulting a whole host of professionals in the state -- including university faculty -- and not to mention thousands of parents who have serious reservations about this plan and its consequences?
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 11:48am
I believe Ruddell grossly oversimplifies Arsen's excellent detailed critique. A similarly informed and detailed rebuttal would have been far more appropriate. Instead we are treated to Ruddell's tone which reveals both a lack of understanding about what goes on in the classroom and expresses complete disdain for the professionals who have dedicated their lives to education. The education system today is turning out a wealth of spectacular students. Are there areas for improvement, particularly for disadvantaged and disabled students? Yes, but the approach advocated by Ruddell does nothing to address these real concerns.
Mike R
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:19pm
I agree with these criticisms of Mr. Ruddell's diatribe. His name-calling directed toward the "educational establishment" is no more valid, constructive, warranted or germane (and perhaps less so) than the opposing view, i.e. that Mr. Ruddell and his ilk are merely kowtowing to the conservative agenda of dismantling public education in favor of a purely private, balkanized system whereby public dollars go to whatever "trendy charter school du jour" offers the best reinforcement of a particular ideology. He would do well to lose the attitude of self-congratulation for being so smart while the opposition is so worthless, stodgy, and desperate. As to the substance of the Act, while many of the ideas and proposals appear to have merit, the proponents' deliberate refusal to address the key underpinnings of any education system--"specific funding issues, tax and revenue level issues, inequities among districts, overall funding of public education, specific limitations on special education or pre-K funding, Proposal A issues or constitutional issues, and other pending legislation amending the state’s school code"--as being the province of the Governor and legislature threatens to render the whole scheme nothing more than an out-of-context academic exercise (irony intended).
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:48pm
I notice you don't seem to mention the purpose of the schools or the students, it seems you only see it as a competition for funding. The reality is that those who's money you want spent on education are losing confidence in the providers of education, and as the haranging over funding carries on without the inclusion of learning, students, and accountiblity (as most of those taxpayers are held to in their work) the battle for those taxpayers support and money is being lost. Belittle and attack others all you want, but the most important people are not even part of the conversation.
Mon, 03/04/2013 - 8:48am
Duane - the article is about funding, not about the purpose of the schools or the students, hence the focus of many of the replies. I completely understand the public's interest in how their (and my) money is spent by the school systems and the State in the education of students today. Unfortunately, I think there are some major categories of problems that are inflicted upon school systems today: - the constant threatening of cutting of funding (hence the knee-jerk reaction by the "education establishment" to fight to keep funding from being cut) - the escalating disengagement of parents from their childrens' education (and many parents downright fighting against the school, to the detriment of their own child) - the continual layering of legislation upon school systems that makes efficient and effective operation that much more difficult (often darn near impossible) - the misalignment of such legislation that forces the left hand to be working separately (and sometimes against) the right hand - the (blind) reliance on statewide and other standardized assessments as the true and only measure of: student achievement, staff effectiveness, quality schools, etc.
Bob Allen
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:42pm
Speaking as a parent who has heard both sides of this argument, I think that the so-called education establishment has done an infinitely better job at articulating its perspective. Whatever Mr. Ruddell's virtues, he simply cannot articulate his position in a way that doesn't sound like a prospectus. And, yes, that is a problem.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 1:21pm
Very well said. I want to point out that no one thinks the boots are on the ground are working toward status quo, but the establishment refuses to change. Teachers are hard working, well meaning, professionals. The establishment refuses to let them change with the times and uses scare tactics like being replaced with computers to argue against change.
Peter Bennett
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 4:21pm
Read the comments posted here, Mr. Power. People like Mr. Ruddell and the conservatives in Lansing are extremists - out of touch with the citizenry of Michigan. They are peddling ideology, not science or change supported by facts. We need to make education decisions based on carefully tested plans and stop abusing our state like a petri dish for every untested, or tested and failed, idea that pops into someone's head.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 4:51pm
Mr. Bennett, you bemoan the "peddling of ideology." Let me tell you someone that I am sure you will refuse to acknowledge: Liberal ideology has been entrenched in public schools for over 40 years now. By ANY measure, has public education improved in 40 years? To the contrary, schools are failing miserably, and not just in the inner cities. I have sat in on classes that teach Darwin's theories as fact, when in reality it is a belief system that has become religion to left wingers today. I have heard Malcolm X and Che Guevara and Karl Marx and Fidel Castro held up as heroes. If a student comes from a conservative family and speaks up in class, he/she is ridiculed by teachers and the drones that they are indoctrinating. The MEA is in bed with the Michigan Democratic Party which is far out of touch with main street Michigan. Thank God there are still SOME teachers left who haven't bought into the leftist doctrines, but they are being a small minority. Don't tell me that good conservative people are extremists. We are NOT the ones who have corrupted public education in Michigan to the point that it reeks.
David J.
Fri, 03/01/2013 - 12:18pm
Sorry, SBR; but your anecdotal personal experiences "sitting" and "hearing" what's happening in public school classrooms belies your claim that "good conservatives are (not) extremists" -- presuming that you see yourself as a "good conservative." What the tone and content of your post reflects is that of a "reactionary" (extremist) on the definitive political spectrum -- at least that's what I learned in government class. But then, by your standards, I must have been taught by one of those left-wing, indoctrinating, corruptors who taught broad-based, established theories, postulates, critical thinking skills and fact-supported analysis of the issue being studied. Speaking of which; could you please cite some of those "ANY" measures by which you're measuring the "miserable failure" of our schools, over the past forty years?
Tue, 03/05/2013 - 7:44pm
SBR, your argument, based on ideology proves my point.
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 10:09am
SBR, I respectfully suggest that you try to attain your knowledge of the world through sources other than Rush Limbaugh. And please don't continue to blame the "liberal professors" for your lacking in knowledge and intelligence. Are you a product of public education? I ask because your reasoning truly does "reek."
Fri, 03/01/2013 - 11:51am
Mr. Ruddell says "it's about the kids." Yes it is, and the so-called reforms that he and other like-minded folks have been energetically imposing on our local schools are decidedly NOT about the kids. It's about ideology, and the overriding priority to take public education out of the control of the public. I'm a parent, the volunteer executive director of a statewide school advocacy group, and I am certainly not paid to espouse any opinions. Nor are the close to 5,000 advocates who participate in our work. I have no interest in defending the status quo, especially since the current situation reflects the kinds of changes Mr. Ruddell and his colleagues advocate. I do want strong and vibrant local public schools for my kids, and I have watched as the policies of the so-called "reformers," combined with the declining commitment to fund education, have forced even successful school districts to dismantle programs and narrow the curriculum to meet state mandates and consistently shrinking resources. Struggling districts have been devastated. The Governor has his policy priorities, and Mr. Ruddell is being paid to draft legislation which enacts them. That is a legitimate part of the overall policy debate. But it borders on hypocrisy for Mr. Ruddell, and many others, to claim the mantle of "caring about the kids" while advocating for policies that are primarily designed to shift control over schools rather than make any real improvements. Rather than pointing fingers at those he labels the "education establishment," Mr. Ruddell and his like-minded colleagues should actually talk with those involved with our schools at the ground level: the parents, students, teachers and concerned citizens who work hard every day to make our local, community-governed schools as successful as possible. They might even learn something.
Fri, 03/01/2013 - 1:04pm
Just because Peter was hired to do a job doesn't mean he doesn't care about kids. As a father, he too has a vested interest in the State's education system.
Fri, 03/01/2013 - 3:34pm
Perhaps so. But in the body of the article, Mr. Ruddell said that anyone who truly cares about kids' education
rejects the hyperbole and misstatements by those readers whose opinions are paid for by education interest groups.
The implication is that anyone employed by schools does not actually care about kids - and further, that anyone who disagrees with the proposal is also "paid" by those "interest groups." I find both assertions both absurd and insulting.
Rod Rock
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 1:05am
To suggest that informed educators' lack of support for the Governor's "reform" agenda is based upon an unwillingness to change shows a complete lack of knowledge. The fact of the matter is that these "reforms" are not grounded in research or evidence. This is the reason for the lack of support. If research or evidence suggested that these "reforms" worked, we would gladly consider them. Since there is no evidence or research to support them, and since these "reforms" are not used in any of the highest achieving countries, it would be unconsciounable for informed educators to endorse them.
Ed Haynor
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 11:10am
This guy, Ruddell from Wiener Associates is crazy. Educational reform has been ongoing since public education was formally established in Michigan, reaching it's zenith starting with Engler. Unfortunately, most of the reform has been baseless because it has not been based on any credible research in regards to what works and reforms have been politically motivated. It's been unfortunate that the public has allowed their children and grandchildren to be used as pawns. There has been a constant tug of war since Engler between those who want public schools to be truly public including local control and those who want to make money off the backs of children. This tug of war also includes those who support employees having a voice in the workplace, being able to join and participate in unions, versus those who want employees who are under the heavy hand of management, with employees making low wages and minimal employee benefits. Most local school districts are the centers of their communities, where education, cultural activities, sports, etc., thrive. Destroy schools as a center of their communities and the destruction of their communities will surely follow.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 12:28pm
The "educational establishment" versus "school reformers?" Who exactly are these people or what do these labels really mean? Why would anyone believe either one of these "groups" even if we did know what they mean?
Jack Panitch
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 6:00pm
Anyone who cannot faithfully characterize their opponent's arguments and meet them head on, on the merits, is engaging in wholly unreliable advocacy. I have been waiting to view a thoughtful rebuttal to Professor Arsen's Open Letter to Governor Snyder, and it appears as though I will have to continue to wait until someone with a better background in the fields of education and education finance can better explain how the proposal could achieve legitimate objectives without completely destabilizing public education.
Tue, 03/05/2013 - 9:44am
Mr. Panitch, You're missing the point. Completely destabilizing public education is the intent of these people. That is their agenda.
Mon, 03/04/2013 - 11:49am
"It is unfortunate that the entrenched education establishment is not looking out for the best interest of the kids, but for protecting their turf." Of the many confrontational, condescending, and sickening statements in this article, this one by Mr. Ruddell is perhaps the worst. The "turf" of the "entrenched education establishment" IS looking out for the best interest of the kids, ALL kids, regardless of where in Michigan they live. I would ask Mr. Ruddell, what is YOUR turf? Were I to be as insulting and denigrating toward Mr. Ruddell as he is to public educators in Michigan in this article, I might question his motives. I might suggest he is merely a tool of a governor and Republican legislature that is hell-bent on dismantling public education in Michigan, and replacing it with some form of for-profit, corporate owned and run "education", run on a "business model" that maximizes profit for some, at the expense of educating the many. I might also ask Mr. Ruddell what his background in education is. Where did he earn his education degree? How many years did he teach, or serve as an administrator in public education? Based on his statements regarding the "entrenched education establishment" I can only assume he has vast and personal knowledge of said establishment. Surely he's not just parrotting the same old tired lies of the right wing privatizers? There are thousands of caring, hard working public educators in Michigan who work ever harder each year, for less money, with fewer resources, in a public education system that has had it's funding reduced annually to the point that the rug has been pulled out from under them, who are then told by the very people removing that funding that public education doesn't work; public educators who continue to come to work each day, despite the complete lack of respect and accusations of greed, stupidity and lack of caring by the likes of Mr. Ruddell. These people continue to do their jobs, and do them well, because they love kids, ALL kids, and care about the future of our state, our country, and the world. I doubt that a thorough examination of the motives of our governor and his lackeys, such as Mr. Ruddell, would result in similar conclusions.
Mon, 03/04/2013 - 9:58pm
Why is the establishment opposing the dismantling of public education? That should be a pretty easy question to answer. Education professionals are committed to the education of all children. The Mackinac Center and the Oxford Foundation have a different agenda. I recently wrote about the flawed thinking behind rushing students towards a piece of paper that ultimately will be worthless. Check it out here: