Opinion | Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s rebellion hurts our kids

Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is the Michigan Senate majority leader and state senator from the 16th district

This column was originally published in The Detroit News.

Senate Republicans believe we can and must do better when to it comes to teaching our kids to read. Our children deserve better. The roughly 5,000 children that are projected to fail their reading benchmark should be a rallying cry to us all to do more to help our children succeed.

Instead, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose to use these children as a rallying cry to amass support from community leaders to help schools and parents circumvent our reading law.

We are embarrassed by this display of unlawful resistance from our governor.  Michigan’s third-grade reading law was passed in 2016 with bipartisan support. As written, the law contains provisions for legitimate exemptions to retention along with substantive latitude for judgment by parents and educators. These exemptions are intended to be the exception, not the rule.

To blatantly and unabashedly demonstrate complete disregard for the law, and by doing so, continue to set too many of our kids up for failure is disturbing and embarrassing for our state. Our governor’s call to ignore the law and essentially abandon these children is outrageous.

What is even more infuriating is the fact that a few short months ago, Whitmer vetoed funding for programs to help children learn to read. The hypocrisy on the part of the governor is off the charts.

Senate Republicans take this issue very seriously. We will be reviewing the third-grade reading law for ways to improve it. We will explore what can be done to minimize the number of children who are not promoted to the next grade. We will listen to educators and parents on how we can work together to accomplish what should be a non-partisan and universally aligned goal.

Leadership requires problem-solving.  We should be focused on how we ensure our education system does not fail our children, rather than throwing in the towel and inciting rebellion.

We know our teachers are faced with a difficult job. Their jobs are made even more challenging by onerous state mandates, distractions from outside the classroom, and issues that once were only within the realm of parents. Student reading deficiencies are not an indictment on our teachers. It is an opportunity to work with educators to help find solutions that ensure our children succeed. 

No law is perfect. Laws are made by people and we are all uniquely flawed.

Whitmer must reconsider her irresponsible strategy to ignore the law and instead roll up her sleeves and join us in making reading the top priority for our education system. Our governor can begin by making a passionate call to parents and guardians to encourage early literacy experiences. 

We must carve out time to read and talk with our kids. That simple act will pay the highest dividends for our children and our society and will help ensure our kids are ready to graduate third grade.

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David Sernick
Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:12pm

I am so tired of reading op-eds that don't explain the other side AND THEN argue why they are wrong. He does neither here.

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:18pm

Question for Sen. Mike Shirkey was Gov. Whitmer responsible for this 3rd grade reading fiasco? Did the Public School teachers who are so valued by the republicans in Lansing agree and support this GOP program? Problem solving by GOP, no law is perfect and to be human is to err whilst making laws. Laws are made by people and all uniquely flawed according to Senator S. Well perhaps when you make these laws use real teachers please and put more money behind your students while you are at it. The teachers of public school have been worked over quite regularly for so many years by your party republican Sen. S. maybe time to fix all these flaws. Thanks for this forum.

Bruce Haffey
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 9:07am

Sure, anything except spend more money.

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 7:45pm

Bruce, it seems the dems answer for everything is SPEND MORE MONEY! That's seldom a good strategy and may overlook deeper problems that need addressing. It may work for roads and bridges but as someone who worked in public education for 34 years I can attest that the amount of money that's simply WASTED is staggering. More accountability would be more prudent and productive.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 9:39am

I am so tired of the Republican party preaching about how we must do better to serve our children when they make these insidious laws that never have any support to them. You claim to love our teachers but I see no real support for them. Sen. Shirkey, you say, "We must carve out time to read and talk with our kids." I can tell you that any person who read that comment is likely a parent who is already doing that with his or her child/children. The people who need to do this do NOT read newspapers or editorials. Furthermore, how much time have you and your peers spent in today's classrooms? And I do not mean for 10-20 minutes. I mean day in and day out. You haven't. You have absolutely no idea what teachers face today when it comes to teaching reading, let alone trying to teach everything else. I can tell you this, when your great leader John Engler declared that "all children will read by third grade," I laughed at him on the TV. My response? "Sure they will John. Some will read at fifth and six grade levels, some will read at a kindergarten level, and some might even read at a third-grade level, but they will never ALL be reading on the same level at the same time." That's what happens when people make these laws that have no knowledge of the situation and the reality of it actually happening. Since his great declaration, the situation in classrooms have deteriorated greatly, and at no fault of the teachers. Blame society or blame spineless administrators who do not support their teachers and are afraid of parents, but do not blame the educators who are breaking their backs and banging their heads against the desks in an effort to try and reach this unattainable goal. In addition, the testing structure is all wrong and is skewed against students, as well as the teachers, but that's another issue. It's high time you stop digging your partisan lines and get to work with Gov. Whitmer to find a solution for this problem. Do you even have any idea how few young people pick up books today? Probably not. Instead of criticizing, actually do your homework by spending time with those who have to deal with this situation: THE TEACHERS, and then find attainable ways to make this work.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 10:12am

So now the party of small government wants to say which kids pass third grade? First of all, only poor kids flunk. Rich kids have tutors or their parents influence the schools. Secondly, I would think a child's advancing to the next grade is a decision best left to parents and teachers.

Jonah 212
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 10:30am

Perhaps the non education minded like Shirkey should bring in teachers from around the State to help address educational issues. Unfortunately, he tries to hard be to an expert. Shirkey's "education expertise" reminds me of the comments of a late governor of Colorado who defined an "expert" as someone who could jam a stick of dynamite up the bum of a bull and blow off the bull's horns without bringing tears to the eyes of the bull.

Perhaps Shirkey should sit down with the Governor along with the House Speaker and come up with decent plans to address the education problems in this State as well as the roads and bridges.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 10:41am

Aha!! Now the GOP is "outraged". We finally have a governor who is really concerned about education and teachers and they "outraged". Welcome to the club.

Over the last decade the GOP has had total control over the government and might remind you "illegally" due to gerrymandering. Our state is the laughing stock throughout the nations for Flint, which is still not fixed. Thank you GOP. The GOP has been the most obstructionist, non collaborative presence in Lansing for this past decade and MI is paying for this. Why? Because the GOP doesn't even know what the electorate experiences every day. Working hard everyday on wages that don't cover the cost of living. The GOP have their own circles of high minded, know it alls who have their own agenda to get rich.

Now that a Democratic governor is using every means available to her to protect the kids and teachers they are "outraged". What a surprise. Your outrage does not help those in MI who suffer everyday. Look around and see what you have really created and appreciate the anger and frustration of citizens in this state.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 12:18pm

When the Republican Party starts acting as if it were really interested in working with the new governor and the Democrats, then perhaps they will have something worth listening to. Just look at the lame duck period of Gov Snyder and the attempt to curtail power. Just a pack of lies and excuses for their desire to stay in power.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:37pm

Well said

Catherine Wheatley
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 12:46pm

Disagree. The ones hurting our children's futures are the GOP and their attempts to stymie anything they view and democratic. Time and again. You, Mike Shirkey and your obfuscation are obvious.

Kathi Geukes
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:32pm

Okay Mikey.....now we know that you are "so concerned" about 3rd graders in MI schools….where was that concern when Snydley decided to cut programs that would help them succeed?? Your Faux concern is about as believable as tRump's concern for anyone but himself!!!!! Why don't you just stick to what you know best?? Which is what by the way??

Catherine Wheatley
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:36pm

It's telling the term "rebellion" was used and clearly infers your resentment of Governor Whitmer's attempts at progress. Progress that the republican's party has blocked for over a decade. As a former republican it has become increasingly clear the GOP purpose is control at all costs, dam democracy and those who need it most.

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 1:41pm

Mr. Shirkey, your name say's it all. Shirk responsibility for years while your party is in office then denounce others who clean up your mess. For the sake of all our futures, please shut up and sit down, You sir should be ashamed, the teachers and others who really work for the children are under fire from the GOP, typical, just emulating your boss take it out on the children who can't speak for themselves?

Enough already
Thu, 02/13/2020 - 3:14pm

I'm no fan of Whitmer and the Democrats nor am I a fan of the executive branch skirting legislative authority, but the GOP has eroded every bit of trust and I simply can no longer believe that they are acting honestly or in good faith.

Chuck Jordan
Fri, 02/14/2020 - 9:05am

Sad. So sad that reading and education is a political issue.

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 4:56pm

GOP at it again; Michigan Senate Republicans blocked the governor’s appointee to a panel that regulates hunting and fishing. It’s payback because state Republicans are upset the governor refused to pull a separate nominee who is opposed by gun-rights groups.
It’s the first time in nearly 10 years that a governor’s nominee was rejected by the Senate.

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 8:14am

I feel that this law is helpful in ensuring children can read. I also feel as if the other subjects should follow. As for the governor, her tantrums have accomplished two things. 1st-She's proven she's not fit to be governor. 2nd- she'll be a one term governor because she doesn't govern well. I appreciate Mr. Shirkey reaching out to the general public. It helps squash a lot of rumors that Republicans aren't doing anything.

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 2:36pm

As a retired teacher, I know failing students is the least effective way to help a student grow in their learning.

K Dowd
Sat, 04/11/2020 - 11:27am

If one looks at the accumulation of research on retention, the inescapable conclusion is that it doesn't help, and is more likely to be detrimental. If Republican legislators were really interested in helping children learn to read, they would actually talk to teachers and parents. No teacher wants a child to fail. As a 30+ year veteran teacher in Michigan public schools, I have watched class sizes soar, and resources for teaching decline, at the same time that problems in homes and communities make parent involvement a challenge. Testing has become more important than teaching. The retention legislation is flawed. It punishes children for the failures of the Michigan legislature to adequately address the issues in Michigan public schools.