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Opinion | Michigan schools falling further behind. Our kids need new approach

Michigan is at a crossroads in education.

We can continue down the path charted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Democrats that removes standards and sidelines parental involvement, or we can try a better approach that focuses on access, achievement and accountability.

Sen. Mark Huizenga headshot
Sen. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, represents Michigan’s 30th District.

Ensuring all Michigan students have access to an education that enables them to be successful and achieve at a high level begins with putting a priority on the fundamentals of reading, writing and math and holding everyone accountable — including rewarding highly effective teachers.

A quality education that best meets a student’s goals and is rooted in the basics remains a proven way for children to reach their full potential — both in life and academically.

Sadly, several studies have found significant and consistent decreases in educational achievement by Michigan school children.

Despite record funding for schools each year for over a decade, Michigan students are falling far behind kids in other states.

Students in our state rank 43rd nationally for high school graduation rates and fourth-grade reading proficiency. Additionally, less than one-third of Michigan fourth graders are proficient in math, and the average SAT scores in our state are the lowest since the test became statewide in 2015.

These results are alarming and unacceptable.

Simply put, when it comes to education, our state is failing our kids. 

While this is bad news for the future of our state, it’s terrible news for the kids themselves — because they are the ones who will most directly face the long-term impact of these failures.

Unfortunately, Lansing Democrats have fought to weaken a state law designed to ensure students learn to read by third grade, ended required annual evaluations of teachers, allowed teachers to be rewarded regardless of how their students are performing, eliminated the easy-to-understand A-F grading scale for schools and blocked Republican efforts to give families greater access to education resources like tutoring.

Senate Republicans are offering a better solution.

We refuse to accept failure or sweep these problems under the rug by watering down standards. Our MI Brighter Future plan would give students and parents the help they need and raise the bar for everyone. 

The Senate Republican MI Brighter Future plan would:

  • Set the bar high. Our plan strengthens key provisions of the third-grade reading law, requires student progress to be part of every teacher’s evaluation process, and restores the A-F grading scale that makes it easy for parents to understand how their child’s school is performing. 
  • Attract good teachers to where they’re needed most. Our plan would provide bonuses to highly effective teachers who take positions in schools where they can have the biggest impact. 
  • Give every kid a chance. No student should ever be left behind because of their means or their ZIP Code. Our Student Opportunity Scholarships would help families afford educational assistance for their children, like tutoring. Our reading scholarships would help with the cost of summer or after-school reading programs. 
  • Stress the basics. Reading is the foundation of a successful education, yet too many schools have gone away from teaching the basics and reading scores have plummeted. Our plan will ensure teachers are trained in proven phonics-based reading methods that have worked for decades. 

Education is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and the Senate Republican plan is structured to provide the standards and expectations while giving schools and parents flexibility on how best to meet the needs of different schools and different students.

So far, the governor and Lansing Democrats have shown little interest in working together to find common ground on anything.

However, I am focused on solving problems and remain optimistic that we can come together on an effective, data-driven plan to provide all Michigan students with an education that prepares them for success. 

Our kids deserve nothing less.

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