Michigan’s business community must lead charge for better schools



Leaders of the business community care about education in Michigan not just because they’re trying to be good corporate citizens.

It’s also because business leaders are connecting the dots between investment in education and its impact on the economic future of the state.

Michigan’s educational landscape, and its more than decade-long decline, is well documented in a report issued this month by The Education Trust-Midwest.

Over the last fifteen years, Michigan’s relative rank has fallen dramatically in early reading and math achievement compared with the rest of the country. Data suggest Michigan’s K-12 education system is witnessing a systemic failure. Michigan African-American students are at the bottom nationally in both fourth-grade reading and math. But the crisis doesn’t just affect students of color.

As recently as 2003, Michigan was among the top states for white student achievement in fourth-grade reading, but now ranks 49th compared with peers across the country. Furthermore, data show white students in Michigan’s higher-income communities now rank 50th in early reading. Indeed, Michigan is in free fall, on the way to becoming ranked among the worst education states in the country.

In short, in a global economy – and an increasingly global talent pool – Michigan’s faltering K-12 system puts students at a huge disadvantage when it comes to having college- and career-ready skills needed to compete and flourish in the 21st Century. Michigan’s young people are already missing out on college opportunities because of their broken education system. Their families and the state are spending billions on remediation each year, too, to make up for what the K-12 system did not do.

Money alone will not solve this crisis. It will require thoughtful, sustained and committed leadership – particularly from the business sector.

Other states have shown the way, and show us how Michigan can turn around its schools and soar. In global leaders like Massachusetts and high student-growth states such as Tennessee, sound practices and high-leverage strategies have produced impressive results. In both of those states, business leaders and organizations were critical to those states’ successes.

In recent months, major business leaders and organizations across the state have committed to making Michigan a top-10 education state for all students in our great state. Michigan has Great Lakes and an increasingly strong economy. But we cannot be great, by any definition of greatness, if our leaders provide our state’s students with one of the worst performing public school systems in the United States. And that in a country whose schools underperform much of the industrialized world.

The business community has been an essential voice in systemic change and investment in closing achievement gaps and raising achievement in leading education states. We need business leaders and organizations in every corner of the state to work to bring our state’s education policies in line with our goal of better schools.

It’s time for Michigan business leaders to help provide leadership in advancing a thoughtful, research-based strategy to ensure our system is teaching all children at the high levels of achievement that they so deserve. It’s crucial to their futures -- and to Michigan’s economic competitiveness and future.

Michigan business organizations and leaders can take concrete steps to support better educational outcomes for all children in our state. To find out how to get involved visit michiganachieves.com. And consider signing on to the campaign to make Michigan a top ten education state at edtrustmidwest.org/michigan-achieves-letter.

Michigan students are just as talented, bright and capable of learning at high levels as the children of other states. Getting all children in Michigan up to speed, compared with their peers in other states, is key to our long-term capacity to attract and retain talented employees. It also will help us create an environment that will encourage businesses to locate here and expand operations, and ultimately create good jobs for our citizens.

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Thu, 05/26/2016 - 9:46am
"Money alone will not fix the problem" is pretty rich coming from the folks who have enjoyed over a billion dollars in tax cuts at the expense of public education.
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 10:07am
Not impressed with these so called "business" leaders in Michigan who let political ideology rule over all legislation coming out of Lansing relating to education issues. We see the results of that.
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 1:12pm
Several weeks ago, I attend a panel presentation on improving Michigan's public schools. One of the panelist was representing The Education Trust-Midwest. I asked her to describe the funding per child the State of Massachusetts allocates for public education, compared to Michigan. She responded that Mass. spends more than two times the dollars per child, when compared to Michigan! Now, I will be the first to say that State funding for our public schools is not the only factor to improving our public schools, but if Michigan is to be compared to Mass., our funding per child must increase above the status quo. Over the past 10 years, the State revenues per child, that was allocated directly to the classroom(foundation allowance), has been less than the cost of living. For the past 27 years, I have had the privilege of serving the Rockford community, as its superintendent of schools. Our students do very well in the classroom, in the fine arts, and on the athletic field, but Rockford is a minimally funded school district($7395 per student). Our success comes from outstanding employees, motivated students, involved parents, and a supportive community. With that said, we have a responsibility to improve on a continuous basis. And if Michigan is to become a "top 10" public education State, adequate funding must be a part of the improvement schedule. Thank you. Dr. Mike Shibler. 4 4
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 3:43pm
When I began teaching in 1972 Michigan was ranked #3 in the country. Then came one "school improvement" action after another from both state and federal politicians. Add that to tax cuts which led to cuts in school funding, unlimited charter schools, and unregulated and unaccountable "home schooling" (which may or may not have taken place) and you get a state ranked in the bottom tier of public education. More testing equals less time for teaching. Politicians, through their ignorant micromanaging (don't ask a teacher...they don't know what they're doing!!), have created a system where we are losing our children's minds to teaching to a test rather than an excitement for learning...lifelong learning...which is what education is all about. Note to our politicians: Yes, teachers DO know what they are doing and want the best for the children in their charge. And yes, money does matter. Ask any teacher how much he/she takes out of his/her own pocket to provide materials to do their job...
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 6:55pm
We spend plenty of money on education in Michigan. Sure, there may be pockets of districts that need additional money at certain times for certain expenses. Need to consider that college is not for everyone and that public colleges exploit taxpayers and tuition paying customers. Also, in urban areas like Detroit, an education is not a priority for students that are part of a majority student population that comes from Generational Poverty. Generational Poverty is different than Poverty. Districts like Detroit are seeing the effects of Generational Poverty that translates into Comfortable Poverty. These students are coming from generations without a family structure with a household income. I truly believe that there is not an educational model anywhere that can successfully educate these children in the traditional sense. We need to have different Definitions of Success for various demographics. Increased funding is not the answer and if you study the Michigan Stats, you will see that. These points that I raise should all be part of the discussion.
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 8:20pm
We hear this over and over from Edtrust. 15 years or so of testing - NCLB/Race to top - and no improvement. I have an idea. Businesses should look for the top 5 requirements they want from employees. Then go and look for these characteristics in standardized tests. Do the decisions made in business come in A.B.C.D. formats? Choose the best answer? Yes, some of it is money, but most is not. Need another model.
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 9:00pm
I am afraid that the headline is a misnomer; it is more about a lost opportunity than finding leadership to change. Here was an opportuntiy to announce the kick off of a series of conversation with business to talk about how they could help to change building student success, help students learn and see the value of learning, to become committed to learning and applying their knowledge and skills and experiences to student learning. What we got was a report on the symptoms of problems we have all heard before. If Michigan businesses apply what they have learned in their successes with customers were applied to the educational systems customers [the students], I believe our students would learn and succeed. I am disappointed in what these authors are focused on; they seem to see only the symptoms of problems. My industrial experience taught us to learn what our customers were trying to achieve, to focus on their success and to make our services/products an important part in their success. We were taught to investigate success and the root causes of the problems. We were to ensure that success was sustained before we addressed the root causes of problems. I believe that businesses’ understanding of how to support and help customers succeed if properly applied could help the students learn and succeed. The authors seem to see ‘better schools’ as the goal [the educational system, the people managing that system, even the State as the customer] rather than seeing the students [as customers] and their learning as the goal.
Kenneth Earl Kolk
Thu, 05/26/2016 - 10:53pm
I taught in Michigan's public schools and community colleges (which refuse to hire the best available instructors full time, but instead pay "Adjuncts" poverty wages without benefits) and I have no doubts why the quality of Michigan Public Schools and Community Colleges has declined so much. When Governor Engler was elected and the Republicans gained control of all three branches of our government the first thing he did was to attack "overpaid" public school teachers as being the cause of all of the problems faced by Michigan. Cars weren't selling because teachers were not being held "accountable" in their classroom, not because the "Big Three" were building crappy cars! Michigan cities had massive sewer overflows when it rained because elementary teachers let their students use the school's restrooms when they asked to use them (Okay that is false but that is how ridiculous the "let's blame the teachers game" became. Now we cannot get high quality teachers to fill our classrooms. Why would anyone want to become a teacher and either work for sweatshop wages paid by the for profit charter school operators or have to work in classrooms infested with roaches, rats, mice, etc. as the AFT teachers are working in in Detroit. In the 50s and 60s we got great teachers to go into the profession, because that and nursing were the only professions open to women and men in my generation went into teaching to avoid going to Vietnam and being shot at. (We didn't have wealthy father to buy our way out of the draft like Trump and G W Bush had). But now I can not see any reason a bright young student would want to become a teacher. There are so many other professions out there that don't require that you accept being tared and feathered by political Radicals looking for someone to blame because "Johnny can't read!" They just need to look in a mirror!
Fri, 05/27/2016 - 8:36pm
Mr. Kolk, With your long experience in teaching have you found that the student has a critical role in their learning process? Have you seen that the individual student's desire to learn could be an important factor in their success or failure to learn? Does it seem that there has been a lowering of expectations of student sacrifice/studying to achieve learning success? Has there seem to be a shifting to more emphasis on graduation student graduation [graduation rates] and less on student learning [lowering of academic requirements]? I ask these questions because having grown-up in the education system of the 50s & 60s, raising daughters in the 70s into the 90s, and now watching the grand children in school it seems to me that there has been a shift in expectations, support, and emphasis. And as I recall my K-12, our daughters K-12, and now my grandchildren’s' K-10 there has always has seem to be in each classroom a distribution of student learning successes. Have you notice any of this in your years of experience?
Donna Anuskiewicz
Sat, 05/28/2016 - 9:13am
I would welcome the help of anyone who wants to help improve the condition of Michigan's K12 education system on the condition that there not be a political or self-serving agenda. Should business have a voice? Certainly. Should the needs of business determine curriculum? Not exclusively. We need good employees, but we also need responsible citizens who have a knowledge of how government works. We need citizens who can civilly question authority. We need citizens who when they become legislators and governors think in terms of what's good for Michigan, not what's good for a narrow and shallow ideology.
Sun, 05/29/2016 - 6:55pm
Where and how to help? I have to admit a bit of skepticism since your questions/answers seem more about recruiting people to continue the current approach and less about change and changing results.
Bill VanHorn
Sat, 05/28/2016 - 10:46pm
Our schools don't need to be fixed. Parents need a kick in the butt. Parents that support the education of their child from birth to graduation are successful. Many students are successful and doing well, why because they have a support system and their parents put education a priority!!
Mon, 05/30/2016 - 6:46am
Bill- Amen! For some reason the so called Education Experts with Masters and Doctorates fail to emphasize this point. Well-intentioned Business and Political Leaders fail to emphasize this point. And, surprisingly, Teachers / Unions fail to emphasize this point. How many more decades can we continue to have School Districts like Detroit that every year have less than 5% of the Seniors College Ready! As I said in an previous post, we need to discuss a lot of issues related to this subject to be honest about solutions and expectations. More Money is Not the Answer.