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Guest commentary: Focus on quality of education, not on structure of schools

By Wendy Zdeb-Roper/Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals

Whether it was the debate over charter and cyber schools or, most recently, the Oxford Foundation report and the Educational Achievement Authority,  the conversation about education reform has been focused almost exclusively on who should educate Michigan students -- rather than on the quality of the education being provided.

This is both startling and troubling.

Research tells us clearly that the type of provider means very little and that the key to closing the achievement gap is to focus on education quality and high expectations.

Why then is the Michigan Legislature debating changes to the Michigan Merit Curriculum that would lower the bar for student performance in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is the wrong direction for our students?

Study after study — from the Cherry Commission report in 2004 to last month's Business Leaders for Michigan review —points to our state needing more college graduates in order to meet future economic demands. In today's economy, let alone tomorrow's, students will not get well-paid jobs with just a high school education. Schools must focus their efforts on preparing kids for post-secondary education and the MMC is the tool they need. By focusing on graduating students who are career and college ready, the MMC helps ensure that graduates leave high school ready to enroll in a two- or four-year technical or degree program without needing remediation.

The best part is that the MMC is not only working, it's a success!  Since our state adopted the current graduation requirements in 2006, graduation rates have increased by about 1 percent, while dropout rates are down over 4 percent. In real numbers, that means that, in 2012, approximately 12,500 more students graduated and 69,300 fewer students dropped out!

Since the state started giving the ACT exam to every student in 2008, scores have increased steadily each year, as has the percentage of students graduating career- and college-ready. This includes marked gains among most minority students, particularly those who identify as African American and Hispanic. ACT data also tell us what may seem self-evident: Students who take more rigorous coursework get better scores.

Why then is the Legislature considering changes to this successful program?

One argument being put forward is that the MMC makes it too hard for students to take career and technical education courses. This just isn't true.

Data compiled by the Center for Education Performance Information shows that CTE enrollment from 2007-08 to 2010-11 actually increased slightly from 7.53 percent of students enrolled in CTE courses in 2007 to 7.60 percent in 2010-11. Further, programs in areas such as finance, health science, information technology and engineering have seen huge increases.

So what does this mean for education reform in Michigan? Simple. We should continue down our current path of high expectations and improving performance.

We should have the same high expectations of our schools as we do our students and insist they provide students with a rich, high-quality education so they graduate career and college ready.

Finally, we need to resist the urge to circle the wagons and shoot inward by changing the focus from what type of institution teaches our children to the quality of what they are taught.

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. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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