John Austin directs the Michigan Economic Center and previously served as president of the State Board of Education.
Gretchen Whitmer was elected with a mandate to fix not only the “damn roads” but also to right the ship of our sinking education system. Michigan voters deserve that she have that chance.
Serving on the State Board of Education for 16 years, I am well aware of the opportunities and challenges facing Michigan’s public education system. One of those challenges is to better align state accountability to ensure the governor, legislature, the independently elected State Board of Education and its appointed superintendent are all pulling oars in the same direction – a direction that will lift our flagging K-12 education system.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission, on which I also served, explored a variety of ways our school governance system could be improved. Legislation that outgoing Republican lawmakers are trying hard to ram through the lame duck session is decidedly not one of them.
Not only is the A-F school accountability system bad on the merits, as my former State Board colleague Casandra Ulbrich notes here, the provision to create a commission with new powers over education - appointed by an outgoing Governor and Legislature - is a transparent attempt to keep control over schools in the hands of Republican lawmakers from the political “grave.”
This is the same group that has presided over the decline of Michigan’s once-vaunted public education system by cutting support, while unleashing a Pandora’s box of unfettered largely for-profit new school “choices” to compete for students and dollars among a declining school-age population.
The abrupt closure earlier this fall of the Detroit Delta Preparatory Academy for Social Justice charter school, leaving hundreds of students and parents high and dry, is just one symptom, along with falling test scores, of the systemic failure of Michigan’s education “strategy” over the past eight years.
If one felt a commission to better manage accountability for Michigan public schools was important, at least center that accountability with the incoming governor.