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* The Michigan Virtual University has some ideas on how to reform K-12 education. In microcosm, the description of said report reveals just how difficult it is to get education professionals and parents and citizens into an earnest discussion of the topic.

For example:

"Teachers: Michigan must create a statewide system of support for teachers as they transition their instructional practice to methods that allow for full implementation of personalized learning."

Teacher performance, training and support are key issues for the public. The Center for Michigan noted that fact in its own K-12 reform report released in January. Parents want good teachers in classrooms, bad teachers out of them and are willing to try new ideas to help teachers do a tough job.

So if a parent reads the MVU sentence above, what is he or she to take from it? What should said parent advise their elected representatives?

This is not meant as a knock on MVU, but as an observation that as the science of teaching (pedagogy) progresses, it creates a political barrier between educators and parents. And this helps explain why there’s so much heat – and so little light – coming out of the political debates in Lansing and elsewhere over school reform.

* In a critique of the suburbia genre of American novels, writer Ian Stansel notes demographic and economic trends that are largely missing from the general political discussion: “The fact is that the American suburbs are diverse and complex in ways that contemporary novels rarely acknowledge. According to 2010 census data, the suburbs are home to more minorities, especially Hispanics and African-Americans, than ever. The ‘burbs are also older, as baby boomers age and remain in place while their children move to the cities.

"And perhaps most significantly, the median income for families in the suburbs has dropped. According to the Brookings (Institution), even before the housing/economic crisis of 2008, the percentage of suburbanites considered poor has grown by 25% just since the turn of the 21st century, which makes suburban areas home to a greater increase in poverty than cities." (Hat tip to andrewsullivan.com.)

* In 2012, the Michigan Legislature – at the strong urging of Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley -- revamped insurance law to ensure autism coverage, including the creation of a state assistance fund. “Today all insurance policies deny coverage for autism. Even those insurance policies that cover mental health therapy generally still exclude or bar treatment for autism. And they do so based on old, outdated and discredited views that you can’t help kids with autism,” Calley told Michigan Radio.

But the Gongwer News Service (paywall protected) reported recently that a Senate committee chairman, of the same party as Calley, wants to cut some of the autism aid -- $1 million to be precise.

Sen. Mark Jansen’s reason? The funds aren’t being used. Only about $12,000 out of the first $15 million in aid has been claimed. Jansen wants to continue the program, but appropriate $14 million for the coming year – bringing the fund up to a total of $29 million.

In these days of tight budgets, that might seem an odd state of affairs – to continue funneling money into a program that hasn’t used what it already has.

Science has an answer.

Rachel Best, a sociologist who is joining the faculty at the University of Michigan, did a study published last year of federal disease research. As the Los Angeles Times described, she found: “The more (political) advocacy, the more research dollars for specific diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.

“But because there is only so much money in the (National Institutes of Health) budget, research funding tends to be a zero-sum game. So Best also found that the overall portfolio of NIH funding moved toward those with the money to lobby, and away from groups that did not.”

* The state Transportation Department is trying new signage to reduce that scourge of traffic constructionthe late-merging vehicle. The signs, went active, warn drivers to move over to the appropriate lane or risk a ticket. MDOT sees this as a safety measure. Plenty of drivers probably see it as a social justice tactic. (Admit it, how many times have you merged in a construction zone only to see – and curse – dozens of other drivers who zip past you to claim a “better” spot in the line?)

The funny thing is, a growing body of research says that early merging is bad for traffic flow and late merging good – if properly executed.

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