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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan schools’ march to the bottom requires wholesale reform

As our state continues its recovery from the Great Recession, now is the time to double down on the one investment that will yield the greatest benefit for our state: our public education system. If we want our recovery to be complete and robust, we must be clear and disciplined in our focus to create a public education system that’s rooted in quality.

Over the last decade, our students have fallen further and further toward the bottom. In fact, our fourth graders across the state of Michigan are now reading at lower levels than they did ten years ago. If we stay on our current path, Michigan will be 44th in the country in fourth-grade reading before 2030, playing catch up with the nation’s chronically low-performing education states, such as Arkansas and Alabama.

The problem transcends geography, race and income level. Michigan’s white students are on track to perform 49th out of 50 in fourth-grade reading by 2019, ahead of only West Virginia. Our African-American students are among the lowest performing black students in America. Our Latino students are also seeing significant drops in student learning rank, compared to the rest of the country.

Ken Whipple, former CEO of CMS Energy and executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, is chair of the leadership council of the Michigan Achieves campaign. Ken Whipple, former CEO of CMS Energy and executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, is chair of the leadership council of the Michigan Achieves campaign.

In order to get our state fully back on track, we need to address the most pressing issue that will define the next generation. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the task of lifting our entire state’s education system up from the bottom but we can’t afford to get discouraged.

That’s why we have spent many months learning from leading education states such as Massachusetts, and from high improvement states like Tennessee, to see what they have done to dramatically improve their public schools.

We’ve seen a path forward ‒ and we believe that change is possible.

A new plan, Michigan Achieves, lays out concrete steps we can take to start making the fundamental changes our state sorely needs.

Tennessee, for example, underwent a remarkable turnaround in education. It shows us that targeted investments in key areas can reverse losses of the past decade and start giving our kids, and our teachers, the tools they need to succeed.

If we focus on four research-backed areas: teaching quality, higher standards and accountability, and improving learning conditions – such as teacher and student attendance – we can get our kids back on track.

It will not be easy. Small state investments, such as in tutoring or summer reading camps, may produce marginal improvements, but they just can’t cut it in terms of taking us where we need to go. Michigan’s educational performance is so abysmal, the state needs a comprehensive change. Only a systemic shift will transform the current system to a dramatically better system that’s more accountable and higher performing.

The path forward is there for us to see. Now we just need to put in the hard work and get there together. We ask Michiganders to join us in this journey at:

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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