Guest commentary: Educators ready to join governor in open discussion of school reform

By William Mayes/Michigan Association of School Administrators

On April 22, leaders from the education, business, manufacturing, government, and nonprofit sectors gathered for Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2013 Education Summit. The day’s events focused on ways Michigan could better serve its students while boosting the economy by creating a smoother transition from school to career. Those of us who participated left with a common belief:  Michigan will become a vibrant place to learn, work, and live only when all sectors work together.

That conviction is what drives my organization and the school administrators it represents. It is visible in our planning, in our policies, and in our practices. All reflect not only willingness, but also a passion for connecting with other sectors and thinking together about how we can move Michigan forward through educational leadership.

That’s why we applaud Snyder and Superintendent Mike Flanagan for recognizing that this important conversation should continue in a transparent way with a representative task force that includes the voices of experienced educators. In fact, I already know the type of school leader I would invite to the table.

I’d look to superintendents of local districts like Fraser, who are taking risks and bringing technology innovations to all facets of their school districts.

I’d consider intermediate school district leaders in Traverse City and elsewhere who are making meaningful connections between students and local partners from industry, business, and nonprofit worlds.

Finally, I’d pull ideas from the overworked, remnant of school counselors who juggle caseloads of 500 or more students each year on how the system might support them better in advising the students who will flow into Michigan’s talent pipeline.

We agree with the Governor that this pipeline is key to Michigan’s economic health. In fact, at last week’s Summit, school leaders in our workgroup defined the essential skills students need for success — goals that resonated with business partners in the room. We agreed that all graduates should be able to:

--Communicate (using both verbal and writing skills)

--Solve problems

--Think critically and creatively

--Use technology as a tool

--Get along and work together

When public schools — or any schools — send those kinds of job candidates into the workplace, employers will be well positioned to deliver specialized on-the-job training. Because an effective education system should prepare students for available careers that will move Michigan forward. Educators share that belief with Governor Snyder.

But we also believe that a vibrant system of public education will do more. For Michigan to excel, public education must:

1. Unleash potential and motivate excellence
2. Continue the legacy of the American Dream
3. Protect freedom and democratic ideals
4. Foster creativity, innovation and ingenuity
5. Even the playing field
6. Open doors to opportunity
7. Create community gathering spaces
8. Provide safe havens and helping hands

And it should do it for every Michigan child and citizen.

Our beliefs allow for technology tools that make us more efficient only if they also make us more effective in meeting our goals for all children.

They drive our passion for protecting and improving our public education system. Because, as the governor contends, Michigan’s system is broken in that it allows funding inequity, erects barriers to collaboration, limits capacity and stifles innovation.

Yet despite the odds, most of our schools still patch together programming, find ways to collaborate, uncover capacity, and innovate like crazy. And they produce graduates who still lead the world in creativity and innovation.

So, in the spirit of the governor’s 2013 Education Summit, we invite government and public-sector partners to join educators in thinking together about how we can create a vibrant education system for generations of students.

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

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Earl Newman
Tue, 04/30/2013 - 11:08am
One can not help but be impressed by the goals for education expressed in William Mayes' article, that our graduates should be able to : –Communicate (using both verbal and writing skills) –Solve problems –Think critically and creatively –Use technology as a tool –Get along and work together What would happen if our educational leaders decided to scuttle our reliance on teaching youth to pass standardized tests, and instead worked extra hard to build a program and an assessment system based on the laudable objectives stated here?
div buegeleisen
Tue, 04/30/2013 - 11:13am
What needs to happen is for the laws we passed in Lansing to be implemented. School principals and teachers need to be supervised by a qualified person who understands how to teach. The supervisor needs to give the teacher a DETAILED evaluation and a DETAILED remediation plan. The teacher should have an opportunity to have some help in achieving these goals and a reasonable time to do it. This should not be done in an adversarial manner, but with an attitude of helpfulness to the teacher.
Chuck Fellows
Tue, 04/30/2013 - 2:14pm
Ah, the separation of education into this stand alone universe where we all knowing adults select the knowledge and skills children need and magically transmit our pearls of wisdom through pedagogy we design will solve all the problems that education is experiencing today. Was it Einstein that said doing the same thing over and over again and expected an different outcome was the definition of insanity? Stop tinkering on the fringes and include the voices of the teachers and the students in this dialogue. Senior officials, politicians and academic professionals have been talking in circles long enough and task forces have deliberated long and hard - but none are qualified to assess or resolve. Get the professionals out of the way and put the students and the employers in a room and don't let them out until they have determined a mutually agreed upon solution with timeline for implementation and agreement to "Plan, Do Check and Act".
Jim Pearson
Wed, 05/01/2013 - 9:54am
Earl Newman is spot on. The essential skills listed in this commentary are not on the state's standardized tests. Michigan educator's livelihoods depend on their ability to produce skilled test takers. We have yet to see any want ads seeking skilled test takers. Compounding this disconnect, the Legislature has driven down the financial incentives and working conditions of educators to the point that the business cannot adequately attract the talent that would have a chance at achieving those listed essential skills anytime soon.
Sun, 05/05/2013 - 3:17pm
I"m glad you want to invite government and public sector partners to join educators to create a vibrant education system for generations of students. How about inviting parents? They are stakeholders too. Inf fact, we have to live with decisions a lot longer than educators and public sector partners. But somehow we get left out of the discussion. Why is that? We understand that businesses have a desire for skilled employees but none of our students are yet employed by them. We understand that the government officials have a job to do in creating good schools. but they work for the taxpayer AND parents. I"ve been asking Gov. Snyder for several weeks for an answer to a simple question aobut Common Core and his opinion of it. Yet, I am never given an definitive answer on whether he believes the "state-led" standards adopted in 2010 before he took office are a good step for Michigan students. Let's have a discussion about education but let's invite ALL stakeholders to participate. And that MUST include an invitation to parents. Whether they show up is their decision but they ought to be included on the guest list.
Ed Haynor
Sun, 05/05/2013 - 4:53pm
I don’t disagree with Mr. Mayes commentary, but being from the educational community, I’m surprised that he is so naïve when it comes to identifying where problems REALLY lie. I realize its proper political etiquette to write a “feel good” article from an executive director from a Michigan school administrator group in an attempt to draw attention from Governor Snyder and legislative republicans, but I doubt they’ll pay one ounce of refection on his perspectives. Michigan elected republicans are destroying public education. And they have been doing this since the Engler administration. Just consider that K-12 funding levels, considering inflation, are down to 2002-03 levels. In next year’s budget, legislative republicans and the governor are proposing to take another $400 million dollars from K-12 and give to higher education. Michigan republicans have de-marketed public education by creating an economic culture of reducing salaries, health care and pensions of public school employees. They have so demoralized citizenry where today’s graduates rarely consider teaching as a worthy career goal. Yes, testing of school children has gotten out-of-hand and become more of a hindrance than help when determining student achievement. Many of today’s standardized testing has neither merit nor validity. Yes, state-wide elected republicans are the child molesters of the 21st century. If Mr. Mayes had real courage, that’s what he’d be writing about. Lack of this courage from Michigan school officials including school board members and administrators as well as citizens in general have also contributed mightily to K-12 public education’s decline.
Cheryl Matas
Sat, 05/11/2013 - 1:33pm
A good idea, but experience has shown that in practice teachers are rarely brought into these discussions. If the governor truly wants to hear us, he would put an immediate stop to bills coming out the legislature (and clearly plagiarized from ALEC) and the continued cuts in funding until he understands the actual issues facing teachers daily. When I attended the Bridge sponsored summit, I noticed that what was missing in the equation were teachers. I do expect most of his "educators" to be administrators. That would be a pity, but it's the face of reform. Something done to us, rather than with us.