Opinion | Benton Harbor’s school crisis needs more than a bandage fix

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins was state superintendent from 2001 to 2005.

The Benton Harbor school crisis is ground zero for a dysfunctional educational funding model and a state government that has been pretending to address the problem going back decades.

I foreshadowed many of these issues in a report I wrote in 2004.  

If you have a hole in your roof, pretending to fix it does not keep the rain out. Our system of funding our schools is fundamentally, structurally unsound and follows economist Herbert Stein’s old adage: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” 

Related: Anguish in Benton Harbor as years of mistakes lead to a school's likely demise 

Addressing the Benton Harbor crisis should not be a Band-Aid, but a systematic cure. We need to ask: Are we going to prepare our students for their future and how do we create a rational system to do so?

Benton Harbor should be the 21st-century Kalkaska that forces the state to fundamentally change how we deliver and fund our schools. The Band-Aid request for Benton Harbor schools should be the impetus to spark an “Educational ‘Me Too’ ” movement.  We need to demand that the system be fixed. The problems in Benton Harbor should be a canary in the coal mine moment for education across Michigan.

Without a “real” systemic fix, the tragedy of failing the students of Benton Harbor is coming to a community near you. A child without a decent education today is an adult without much of a future tomorrow.

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Thu, 07/18/2019 - 9:43am

Here we are again, another 'educator' that only sees the money. Mr. Watkins makes no mention about how to spend the money, he just wants to give every school district more of other people's money. He makes no mention about how the money can help learning, he doesn't even mention the students, its as if more money is given to Benton Harbor or any school district the kids will magically be academically successful.
As long as the talk of education starts with and is all about the money, other people's money, and the role of the student in their learning is ignored there is no hope for improving student learning success.

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 12:54pm

It would benefit you to actually read the article rather than to jump to conclusions about the content. Mr. Watkins is calling for systematic reform to how schools are funded in our state. Students in Benton Harbor, Flint, Detroit, and Pontiac deserve the same quality education as students in Birmingham and Ann Arbor, without penalizing the staff and others who support their climb. If you are a Michigan resident and plan to continue to be a Michigan resident, you should care about how well educated our future leaders and professionals, skilled tradespeople and such will be, because they will be the people helping you in your old age.

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 9:59pm

I took your advice and reread the article, all I found was his preoccupation with funding. He made no comments how the funding will or should change the learning success of students. Aside from using student learning disappoint as a justification for funding he failed even to acknowledge that the students have a role in their learning.
Do you honestly believe that the only difference between Ann Arbor learning results and Benton Harbor, or Flint or Detroit is money? Do you believe that giving the schools in Benton Harbor or the other district more and more money will make the students do better, will it make the same teachers better teachers, will it make the staff better at their jobs, will it make the parents more engaged? How will the money change the learning process, how will it change the students. how will it make them more like the Ann Arbor students?
The reality is that the key factor in a student's learning is the student, simply look in any classroom where all things are equal there will be a distribution of successes to failure and the only difference is the student. Even in Ann Arbor schools not all students get A's or over 100% scores. What distinguishers the students starts with their desire to learn, their willingness to sacrifice for learning, the doing the work need to learn, and the micro culture they have created around them that is supportive or resistant to learning.

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 4:16pm

Where's the rest of this op-ed? Did it get accidentally cut off or something? Because as is, this piece provides no details about what the problem actually is in Benton Harbor and what policies need to change in order to provide the "real" fix that is needed.

I'm surprised a piece with such little substance was deemed fit to print.

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 11:09pm

I agree Lachen. The Bridge has published several well written articles on this topic. This one was not one of them.