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Opinion | Michigan schools must improve. That will take reinvention

Brian Calley Punita Dani Thurman
Brian Calley, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, and Punita Dani Thurman, vice president, program & strategy for The Skillman Foundation, are co-chairs of the Launch Michigan coalition.

Here in Michigan, we've watched academic scores sink over the past two decades. Today, we rank 41st in 4th grade math and 39th in 4th grade reading. Only 28 percent of our high schoolers are prepared for college, according to recent SAT data.

Brian Calley Punita Dani Thurman
Brian Calley, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, and Punita Dani Thurman, vice president, program & strategy for The Skillman Foundation, are co-chairs of the Launch Michigan coalition.

Is it a sign of the times? Yes, if you live in Michigan. While other states are strengthening and soaring, we haven't shown the political will required to make the needed changes to reinvent our education system that others have.

Michiganders are clamoring for action. The quality of education was the number two state problem cited by voters on an August statewide EPIC-MRA poll. And on a recent Business Leaders for Michigan poll, Michiganders indicated that improving K-12 public schools should be the top priority for state leaders to focus on to make Michigan more competitive.

Our teachers want action. In a survey last year of more than 5,000 Michigan educators, responses were pessimistic about public education in the state, with fewer than half (47 percent) saying they believe Michigan schools are delivering results that are good or excellent. Just three in 10 educators would recommend education as a career field, citing lack of support from policymakers and politicians as the top impact on that recommendation.

Our businesses want action. In a recent survey, 84 percent of Michigan business leaders said they are struggling to fill jobs, and 67 percent say candidates lack the necessary skills.

And our kids want action. They want to be able to fill — and create — well-paying jobs now and into the future.

We are urging parents this fall to push candidates to outline their solutions to improve the reading, writing and math scores for our students. And we would like to see candidates skip the rhetoric, stop politicizing public education, and commit to making the changes our school systems need to serve kids today.

There are no silver bullet solutions to modernizing our education system. Michigan needs a roadmap to overhaul the state’s education system from top to bottom, with an eye toward implementing the proven practices high-achieving states are using.

The work of forming a comprehensive, researched, bipartisan framework is what Launch Michigan has been up to. A cross-section of Michigan’s education, business, and philanthropic leaders, Launch Michigan is calling for the reinvention of education in Michigan to prepare our kids for success in an ever-changing global economy.

Launch Michigan has already had some accomplishments. We pushed successfully for a boost in per-student funding and have seen some modest steps in that direction. We advocated for additional support for the nearly 1 million students in the state who face special challenges, due to their need for special education or because they come from families with low incomes. We have backed funding for mental health support, and for fellowships to entice more professionals into teaching. Now we are preparing to offer even more substantive revisions to our state’s education system.

But research, recommendations and plans mean nothing without collective will. We need parents, grandparents and neighbors to speak up and demand more from our elected leaders and policymakers.

We need policymakers to act bravely and in the best interest of all Michigan residents, including those who can’t hold them accountable in the voting booth but to whom they are entirely accountable to — our children. And we must pay particular attention to kids who currently have the least, giving them the supports they need to turn the tide for their future and for our collective future.

Our economy demands better than what our current education system is built to provide. We ought to demand better for the sake of our children, too.

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