Apply brainpower to get better results from billions spent on education

The education industry in Michigan is facing a coming tidal wave of change -- and the landscape is going to be re-arranged.

Money may seem to many to be the major issue, but it’s not. According to Gov. Rick Snyder’s message to the Legislature, the newly adopted state budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 proposes to spend a total of $15.1 billion on our K-12 schools, community colleges and public universities. That’s nearly one-third of the entire $49.5 billion the state plans to spend on everything.

But that huge figure masks serious and growing problems with teaching and learning at all levels. Everybody knows the system isn’t working, but there is wide disagreement as to why.

Though the Snyder administration says spending on schools is up 3 percent over last year (for a per-pupil minimum state aid grant of $7,076), critics say that’s not enough, and that schools have been shortchanged for years. But community conversations conducted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Michigan last year found citizens deeply dissatisfied with the results the schools achieve, especially those serving poor and minority communities.

Moreover, Michigan’s patchwork of small school districts – for the 2012-13 school year, there were 549 local districts, 256 charters and 57 intermediate school districts -- is costly, inefficient and slow to change.

Already, Michigan faces a record number of school districts in deficit, with two – Buena Vista and Inkster – all but certain to be dissolved in the near future.

State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is proposing two far-reaching reforms. One would sharply decrease the number of local districts by merging all local schools in each of Michigan’s 83 counties into county-wide districts. His other idea is to consolidate all non-instructional services (busing, construction, maintenance, human resources and so forth) into the state’s ISDs, a step he says would save a lot of money, while leaving decisions about how and what to teach up to existing local school districts.

Challenges on campus

Higher education faces a very different problem. For starters, according to the respected group Business Leaders for Michigan, state spending on our public universities has fallen more than 50 percent over the past decade, when inflation is taken into account.

Sharp cuts in state spending have led to ominous increases in university tuition – Wayne State University’s 8.9 percent jump for 2013-2014 is the largest – and an unprecedented rise in student debt. According to Bridge Magazine, Michigan college debt jumped 49 percent or $600 million between 2007 and 2010.

That brought it to a staggering $1.8 billion for the academic year 2009-10.

Nobody thinks it has declined since. Universities contend they have no choice, that they simply can’t manage the squeeze between rising costs and reduced state support without increasing tuition.

Yet this means students are being priced out of the higher education market. Accordingly, academic leaders are now nervously debating how to “bend the cost curve,” including, possibly, adopting Massive On-Line Open Courses (MOOCs).

The only bright spot appears to be in the area of preschool. There, the Legislature added $65 million to state spending for next year for the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP), the state-funded pre-K program aimed at poor 4-year-olds.

That should provide thousands of slots for the 29,000 children who are currently eligible but cannot enroll for lack of resources. The main issue is finding effective ways to reach out to poor, often broken and vulnerable families who often have no idea early childhood programs exist. Doing this is crucially important; studies have demonstrated that children enrolled in GSRP are 25 percent more likely to graduate from high school than children who do not.

One persistent problem is the state’s long-time habit of dividing educational activities into separate “silos” -- pre-K, K-12, community colleges and universities – each with separate governance and funding mechanisms. For example, even though the state spends around $1 billion per grade for the K-12 system, pre-K education is not included in the state aid formula. That probably goes a long way to explain why funding has been so poor over the years.

The governor has proposed a K-20 model for learning and teaching in Michigan, in which all learning and teaching activities from preschool, through schools, community colleges and universities would be considered as parts of one complete system.

That suggestion makes sense, although I wonder whether it might be easier to achieve this needed reform by creating a new term for investing in the skills and capabilities of Michigan citizens: “Human capital” – a phrase which should be used to focus the high returns proper such investment is bound to deliver.

For Michigan’s education industry, these are all major concerns. But there is one more thing they need to grapple with: The rapid, inevitable rise in new technology for student learning.

That will be the topic of my column next week.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Eunice Burns
Tue, 07/09/2013 - 12:18pm
Phil, thank you for the Center and the Bridge. It is one place that I think has its' facts straight. I have recommended it to many of my friends. And, by the way, your new picture is much better!
Tue, 07/09/2013 - 12:48pm
I think reducing the number of districts is a good one from a financial standpoint but would be an administrative nightmare given the wide differences of opinion held by individual districts now. Trying to get them to all agree on a single county administrative structure and philosophy would be a major challenge. A reservation I would have is that district administrations are often out of touch with their individual school needs now, I am afraid this would get even worse under a larger county-wide district. I wonder how they would handle charter schools, which currently are tremendously inefficient as individual districts. Would each charter become part of the county-wide district? I bet there would be some big time for profit education lobbying against that idea! Similarly, combining pre-K through college funding into a single package may make economic sense, but sadly as our current Michigan legislature has shown, they can't even come up with even close to adequate funding for roads which are visibly decaying before our very eyes. What would they do to schools? Would they propel schools down the same defunding path as they have done to colleges? I am afraid they would. Also, combining all these together reduces the power of the advocacy for each and pits them against each other as they compete for the inadequate, measly funding likely in the years ahead. Unfortunately, ideas which may make sense from a financial standpoint will be twisted by the anti-gov't, anti-tax crowd into a perverse destruction of public education.
Rita Casey
Tue, 07/09/2013 - 1:56pm
You've covered a lot of ground in this piece, Phil. I'm pleased to see you raising these issues. It's great to see business leaders placing greater emphasis placed on preschool education, particularly if they will follow their words with actions. There is ample evidence that children start first grade at vastly different levels of preparedness, and that few children are able to "catch up" to those who fortune has favored with more of life's blessings, including educated parents, absence of poverty, excellent preschool education, and high family literacy. Moving to consolidate some functions in regional/county ISDs has some promise. However, having as many regional service agencies as we do is also inefficient, particularly in areas where population is sparse. We have over 70 of these in the state - each with their administrative staff absorbing a degree of funds. In Kentucky, a state with about half the population of Michigan, there are 9 regional service agencies, all cooperatives rather than state-mandated entities.* There are real economies available to larger scale purchasing of commonly needed resources, such as paper, school busses, even gasoline, not to mention textbooks and electronic equipment. Those economies as well as powerful, shared educational resources motivated many KY school districts to join the cooperatives, while retaining their local control. There has to be a way to maintain local input and transparency, however, something that is already being reduced due to the proliferation of charter schools, and the top-down dissolution of some school districts. What you don't touch on is the extensive inequality in funding that the state provides. Can we have true systemic consideration of education from preschool through college, if we retain the disparities in public support that produce sharp contrasts between districts? I think not. As for suggesting that we refer to children as "human capital", it seems to me that this has already taken place in our state. We have already commodified children, as being worth far more public support in some locations than is the case for children in other locations. *Full disclosure: One of my parents headed a KY RESA for many years. That RESA purchased vast quantities of school supplies, from construction paper to computers to fuel for buses, at highly competitive rates due to economies of size.
Ed Haynor
Tue, 07/09/2013 - 2:38pm
I hate to be a spoilsport regarding Mr. Power’s article, but public schools have been dealing with many “tidal waves of change” since “A Nation at Risk Report, The Imperative for Educational Reform” was released in 1983. That’s right public schools have been in continual change mode for 30 years. What organization, public or private could possibly flourish when law, policies, rules, regulations, etc., are constantly changing? You’re right, not many. There are few organizations let alone persons, who can run the 100 yd. dash and change their clothes at the same time, but that is what is expected of our public schools. Teachers work their hearts out in the best interest of our students. Local school policy makers conduct their business with the best of intentions of teaching and learning. So what’s wrong? What’s wrong with Michigan schools and many other schools in our nation is that citizens have allowed state elected lawmakers to politicize public education to the point of chaos. The art of teaching requires the application of constants, not constant change. The planned chaos of our state elected leaders has become the new child abuse of the 21st century. Now comes another politicization proposal from State School Superintendent, Mike Flanagan, who wants to either remove all local control from school districts to a county-wide system, presumably run by ISDs or consolidation of ISDs or have ISDs take charge of all non-instruction services such as food service, maintenance, transportation, technology, etc. None of Mr. Flanagan’s proposals come with any research showing that implementing it even works. Apparently in all frustration, Mr. Flanagan wants to role the dice regarding our children’s education and future. Knowing that Maryland and Florida have county-wide systems is not a reason for Michigan doing it. Maryland’s system is not a pure county-wide system because it has carve-outs for large districts and Florida’s county-wide system has so politicized education there, that school board members spend thousands of dollars running for board seats, which reportedly pays board members upwards of $20,000 annually each year. Is that what Michigan wants, more politicization and bureaucracy? It’s been reported that Mr. Flanagan’s proposal would require amending or creating nearly 200 additional state laws to implement. Does public education need its own Lame Duck chaotic scenario to better public education for students in Michigan? I think not.
Scott Baker
Wed, 07/10/2013 - 11:07am
"Everybody knows the system isn't working" Really? Our education system seems to work fine in wealthy communities with advantaged students. Maybe it's not the educational system you need to look it. Perhaps it's an economic system that concentrates wealth and its advantages in the hands of a few while leaving more and more citizens out in the cold. And my children are not "human capital" (which is not a new phrase, but has been used by the National Business Roundtable and Achieve, Inc. for quite some time). They are humans. Education is not an industry. Dehumanizing (other people's) children using jargon and data, and viewing their education is simply a manufacturing process has devastated education during the past decade. Mr. Powers, if you truly wish to understand the problems facing education, get out of your office and into an elementary classroom, preferably one in an impoverished district. Watch, listen, and, finally, talk to teachers and principals. They are the real experts.
Wed, 07/10/2013 - 3:11pm
Phil, I think you touched a soft spot and got the teachers all riled up. There is still a refusal by the education community to recognize the system is broken and its always someone else's problem that is the cause. All the brilliant minds at our universities won't come up with a fix because it is not in their best interest or inline with their liberal philosophy to fix the system and save the children. The parents that care, raise their children and instill in them a desire to learn. Accomplished parents equal accomplished children. It is not impossible for impoverished parents to raise their children out of poverty but it takes work and a desire to instill that mind set that opportunity exists for everyone. Economic success in this world comes as the result of sacrifice. Study, learning, responsibility and accountability are all rewarded financially and are available to anyone willing to work toward those achievements.
Scott Baker
Wed, 07/10/2013 - 11:46pm
How much research must you see before you understand the incredible disadvantages of growing up in poverty? There is more than enough out there (Turkheimer, Berliner, Guo and Harris, Bradley and Corwyn) to refute your "the poor just need to work harder" platitudes. We've turned education into a race. The wealthy show up for it wearing the best footwear and get a 10-yard head start. The poor start five yards behind everyone else wearing snowshoes and strapped to a refrigerator. Perhaps you should try some crushing poverty. Wal-Mart is probably hiring. Do you honestly believe Bill Gates would have risen to the position in the world he holds today had he been born into a poor family? Read the account of his youth and education in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers to see the advantages he enjoyed. He admits that he was very lucky. Now if poor children would just start doing a better job of choosing their parents... Our education system, incidentally, was put into place in the U.S. 150+ years ago by businessman, politicians, and social engineers in an attempt to create an orderly (read "obedient") society. Its design runs counter to nearly everything we know about how humans learn. Teachers, in essence, have been asked to guide children across an ocean, and then provided a car for the journey. When the car sinks, the teachers are to blame - not the folks who provided the car. And now, and a stunning bit of history repeating itself, businessmen and politicians want to "fix" education. Please. They've had their way for the past decade and accomplished nothing but enrich testing companies and for-profit racketeers. Yes. I am a teacher. And, even more importantly, I am a parent. I have spent the last 20 years of my life in the service of children, and during that time I have watched as a clique of wealthy and powerful elites have used lies, damn lies, and statistics in a continuous attempt to wrest control of education from parents and locally elected school boards. I'm here at Ground Zero witnessing the damage that is being done to children while Mr. Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, Michael Bloomberg, and company sit high above looking at "data" and demanding changes in the "industry" to maximize "human capital." But, hey, blowing up public schools isn't a big deal if your kids are going to private schools, right? Besides, there's money to be made once the public schools are de-funded out of existence. Bring on those for-profit charters! By the way Hardvark, I notice everyone who has commented here has used their real names (or at least initials), except you. Why is that?
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 1:14pm
I appreciate your reply Mr. Baker. You have just reinforced my contention with your comments. You point out that for 150 years, the system was ill-designed and yet remains in tack. As for education to control the masses, I find that statement most bazar. Education allows the productive inter-action of citizens in our society. It is the failure to obtain the most basic skills that has perpetuated the welfare state. You point to Bill Gates and others and suggest their success is the result of a silver spoon. I would point to an equal number of very talented athletes, performers and entrepreneurs that came from poverty to become very successful members of society. I can't imagine the legislature just passing educational requirements and accountability standards without a lot of input from experts in the field. Responsibility and accountability is a new concept for the education community and it is going to become a much larger factor in school funding. I would suggest the system needs to re-assess its effectiveness and embrace changes that will optimize effectiveness. If you are so opposed to the system, why would you continue to be part of a system that for 150 years was set up to fail? Perhaps some reflection in in order to determine if you are part of the solution or part of the problem.
Scott Baker
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 3:47pm
Hardvark, Um, it's "intact" and "bizarre," not "in tack" and "bazaar." But on to the rest of your reply: "I would point to an equal number of very talented athletes, performers and entrepreneurs that came from poverty to become very successful members of society." First, athletes and performers succeed due to physical talents, not academic ones. Secondly, I challenge you to point to "an equal number" of these people arising from poverty. Regarding Mr. Gates and silver spoons, here is an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers: "Gates's father was a wealthy lawyer in Seattle, and his mother was the daughter of a well-to-do banker. As a child Bill was precocious and easily bored by his studies. So his parents took him out of public school and, at the beginning of seventh grade, sent him to Lakeside, a private school that catered to Seattle's elite families." Later we learn the Mothers' Club at Lakeside had a rummage sale and used $3000(!) to put in a computer terminal in his school in 1968(!). These are just a few examples of many silver spoons that surely aided Bill Gates in achieving the success he's had - advantages that children growing up in poverty would never see. Mr. Gates never experienced the disadvantages of growing up in poverty that are also well documented - poor pre-natal healthcare, nutritional deficiencies (both pre- and post-natal), stress, exposure to environmental toxins, community violence and/or violence in the home, lack of access to books, reduced exposure to spoken and written language, etc.. All these affect development during those most important first years of neural growth which is why, as Gerald Bracey put it, "Poverty is poison." Take some time and read the research. And read John Taylor Gatto's work to learn the origins of compulsory schooling in the United States. You can find much of his work on the internet. Look for the "The 7-Lesson School Teacher." The "ill-designed (education) system" survived its early years because it was backed by large amounts of money from wealthy businessmen and their foundations. Here is a quote from the Rockefeller funded General Education Board in 1903: "In our dreams... people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present education conventions fade from their minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own goodwill upon a grateful and responsive folk." "We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from them authors, educators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply." "The task is simple. We will organize children and teach them in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way." (After reading the above quote, do you understand my skepticism/concern regarding current efforts by businessmen (and their foundations) and politicians to "reform" education?) Within a generation or so, the new education system could totter on through momentum and increasing government funding. Now it carries on because the current system is all most of us have ever known. We can't even imagine education without age-segregated classrooms, grading systems, and lesson plans though that was the norm throughout most of human history. The thing that obstructed the business/political dream of a perfectly docile, perfectly manageable populous is our history of strong local control of public schools. Family and community tend to have higher hopes for children then those outlined by General Education Board. We want to raise up statesmen, scientists, poets, musicians, and artists, even if that runs counter to the plans the wealthy and powerful have for us. To have their way with our children, even Carnegie and Rockefeller would have had to go through our local school boards, and even these two titans of business weren't willing to directly take on angry parents. During the past two decades the National Business Roundtable, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton family, and others have employed their wealth and power to undermine local control, using government at both the state and federal level as their cat's paw. We are told we must surrender our right to guide the education of our children for the good of the economy. This is wrong, of course. There is no economic cause that can justify this intrusion by government and businessmen into our schools and the upbringing of our children. The past decade of education reform has been an expensive disaster, presided over by politicians and businessmen whose wealth and hubris blind them to the damage and suffering they cause other people's children. It needs to stop. Now. Scott Baker
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 8:49pm
Mr. Baker, I must take exception to your assessment of "athletes and performers succeed due to physical talents, not academic ones." Our physical existence is comprised of body and mind and I would suggest that success in athletic and performance endeavors requires a dedication to training and condition of the body and mind. Tell Tiger Woods that his success is based on an inherent skill he was born with and his hour of practice and mental conditioning has nothing to add to his success. If Wood's effort at developing his golf skill was applied to academic pursuits, I'm sure he could be just as successful. Duane has referred to Dr. Ben Carson as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins as our hero from Detroit who rose out of poverty to become an exceptional contributor to society. There will never be equality in academic performance due to the variation in each individual's mental capacity and the teacher / student relationship. That's the reason we have doctors, engineers, teachers, plumbers, used car salesmen, store clerks and politicians. In your theoretical perfect world, we would be surrounded by Bill Gates clones, if only we could provide everyone with the same educational experience. I believe we would be better served to understand how Dr. Carson navigated the Detroit public school system to achieve his success.
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 3:03pm
Mr. Baker, As best I can tell you have low expectations for the kids growing up in poverty. It seems you equate poverty with academic inabilities. I can understand that because failure is the focus of the political discussion on education. The reality is when people only focus on failure that is all they see, when they have an excuse for low expectations they look no further, when they have low expectations people perform down to them. You might invest some effort in trying to understand ‘success’ then looking for excuses for failure. You talk about Bill Gates and attribute his success to his family’s wealth and his being ‘lucky’, and you ignore any effort he invested in his success. You also ignore a world renowned pediatric surgeon who came out of poverty being raised by an illiterate single mother in Detroit. (His siblings have academic and financial success.) Was the fact that he was in poverty that you ignore his successes, what it that his success breaks down your excuses, was it simply you don’t know how to investigate ‘success’ and can only see ‘failure’? It would seem to be more valuable to learn why and how that one individual succeeded when you suggest it can be done. If we understood his and his siblings’ success there maybe something that could be shared with others so they could learn to succeed. The reality is that those who only look for failure will only find failure and they can only talk about failure. It is when you start investigating success that you begin to be able to help others succeed.
Scott Baker
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 5:39pm
Duane, You name one success story about someone from an impoverished background and that is the basis for your entire argument? And I'll bet he got some help along the way. We all do, whether we care to admit it or not. Provide me with a name and let to check out the story for myself. By the way, how could I "ignore" a story I'd never heard? Poverty doesn't doom anyone to failure, but it certainly makes the road harder. I know this because I have worked with children from all walks of life for the past 20 years, and I read the research. We all come from different backgrounds, and the situation of our birth, while not locking us into a predetermined fate, provides us opportunities and denies us others. It is up to each of us to make the best of the opportunities we receive, but we definitely do not start life's race on equal footing. I was fortunately born white, and raised in a two-parent family in a time when well paying manufacturing jobs were always available in our locale. Those were a few of my advantages and I'm thankful for them every day. I know I was lucky in life's lottery. Not as lucky as some, but luckier than many. I had many opportunities that poverty denies many other people. Did you read Outliers as I suggested before making your comment? I'm certain you didn't because there is no way you could have read the account of Bill Gates' formative years and not recognized the extraordinary opportunities he had that were unavailable to others. He admits so himself: "I had better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events." Here's Malcolm Gladwell sums it up nicely: "We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that's the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today? To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success - the fortunate birth dates and happy accidents of history - with a society that provide opportunity for all." I do not have low expectations for students born into poverty. I have high expectations for those with the ability to mitigate the effects of poverty on children - politicians and businessmen. Until they step up to make a serious effort in that direction, all this talk of education reform is simply hot air. And expensive hot air at that. Scott Baker
Mon, 07/15/2013 - 7:41pm
Mr. Baker, Rather than ask for more about that person’s success you simply deny his existence. The most likely reason you can't find successes is because you don't look. The person I mentioned, Dr. Ben Carson, in February or March shared the dais with President Obama. Start with the Wikipedia link, As I recall ‘Outlier’ was a book about people who invested at least 10,000 hours of their time to achieve the pinnacle in their field. Simply having access isn't all that it takes, Bill Gates had to make the effort/have the desire to use that access and invest 10,000 hours of his time. That was true of the Beatles, ballet stars and the rest. You seem to focus on money as a metric and risk missing the children that succeed in spite of their surroundings. It is far better to try to learn from those who succeed then whining about what you can’t control. In my town, a teacher and the former athletic direct at local high school, tells of how he came out of poverty to academically succeed when he decided to change his friends and learn. He isn't the richest man in the world but college and the financial security seems like a success. Before you can find success you need to define it and then look for it. If your definition of success is Bill Gates you are missing out on a lot of other successes. Once you find success you need to investigate and learn the why and how it happened. Only then can we help others to achieve their own successes. With regard to ‘poverty’, it is something we will always have for it is relative to the community. What people in poverty have today only a generation or two ago wasn’t even a dream that the wealthy could have. Education isn’t about politicians and businessmen, it is about kids and what they can do to learn.
Jack Matthias
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 9:19am
Not sure granting more power to ESDs is wise. Ours is funded by local millage and seems to be under very little cost pressure compared to our local districts.and pays some pretty high salaries across the board, and already covers most of three counties. There are few checks and balances - the ESD Board is largely hand picked and self perpetuating. Hard to vote against a millage that covers services to the mentally impaired. In low income, low population rural counties like ours - some kids would spend upwards of 2 hours a day on buses with a county wide system - expensive and not a very productive use of student's time. The Republican legislature initially has done a lot to help level the playing field or bargining table especially for small districts like ours that have been totally outguned historically by the MEA. But now they seem determined to destroy the MEA and AFT even if it means destroying piblic education in the process. Local control is a really mixed bag in small rural low income districts. It is hard to find and retain knowledgeable well quaified people to maintain well qualified board on a consitent basis.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 11:33am
I think Ed and Scott covered the real issues much better than the column. The long time coming tidal wave is toward even more divisions between rich and poor, white and minority districts. What is important is what goes on in the classroom. Politicians are making the education of students much more difficult.
Sun, 07/14/2013 - 3:18pm
Mr. Power seems to only see education in terms of dollars. He never seems able to describe what the education system should be achieving, he never seem to talk about the student's role in their education, be never seems to care if taxpayers' are getting value for their money. Mr. Power never seems able to describe what educational success could/should be, he only ever talks about money and politics of education. And he now has an excuse to avoid talking about education, he seems to want to change it to 'human capital', something the business consultants created years ago to sell more services. All of that does is simply ignore the student and contnue to focus on money, other peple's money. The reality is that until we have a common understanding of what we mean by education and we deal with the need for the student to want to learn, nothing will change. Spending more, reorgainzing school districts, reograinzing the schools' will do nothing to improve the quality education the kids entrusted to the public school system.
Scott Baker
Mon, 07/15/2013 - 10:42am
Hardvark, You're kidding, right? The conversation was regarding equality of opportunity, the disadvantages of growing up in poverty, and the ability of school as it is currently structured to help students overcome them. You respond with Tiger Woods? From Wikipedia: " He was a child prodigy, introduced to golf before the age of two, by his athletic father Earl, a single-figure handicap amateur golfer who had been one of the earliest African-American college baseball players at Kansas State University. In 1978, Tiger putted against comedian Bob Hope in a television appearance on The Mike Douglas Show. At age three, he shot a 48 over nine holes over the Cypress Navy course, and at age five, he appeared in Golf Digest and on ABC's That's Incredible." There is simply no denying that Tiger was born with a gift and into circumstances that allowed him to make the most of that gift. Dr. Carson's story is more impressive, but again he had some things going in his favor. Most important of these - his mother: "Ben was 8 and Curtis, Ben's brother, was 10 when Sonya was left to raise the children on her own. The family was very poor, and to make ends meet Sonya sometimes took on two or three jobs at a time in order to provide for her boys. Most of the jobs she had were as a domestic servant. There were occasions when her boys wouldn't see her for days at a time, because she would go to work at 5:00 a.m. and come home around 11:00 p.m., going from one job to the next." "Carson's mother was frugal with the family's finances, cleaning and patching clothes from the Goodwill in order to dress the boys. The family would also go to local farmers and offer to pick corn or other vegetables in exchange for a portion of the yield. She would then can the produce for the kids' meals. Her actions, and the way she managed the family, proved to be a tremendous influence on Ben and Curtis." "Determined to turn her sons around, Sonya limited their TV time to just a few select programs and refused to let them go outside to play until they'd finished their homework. She was criticized for this by her friends, who said her boys would grow up to hate her. But she was determined that her sons would have greater opportunities than she did." "She required them to read two library books a week and give her written reports, even though with her poor education she could barely read them. She would take the papers and review them, scanning over the words and turning pages. Then she would place a check mark at the top of the page showing her approval." This, sadly, is the kind of parental support many children living in poverty aren't provided. Benjamin Carson has reason to be proud of his accomplishments, but he also has reason to thank his lucky stars that he was born to Sonya Carson. You are grasping at straws in an attempt to comfort yourself with the idea that poverty is the fault of the person born into it. There's no reason for you to lend a hand because those in poverty just need to work harder to escape it. Unfortunately we've turned "education," a satisfying,cooperative, natural part of being human into "school" - an artificial, coercive, competitive, joyless race that, with very rare exceptions, goes to the advantaged. Scott
Tue, 07/16/2013 - 7:37pm
Mr. Baker, It seems you only see luck as the reason kids succeed in school. First it was the luck of being 'wealthy', then is was the luck of 'access' (Bill Gates), now it is the luck of being born to a single illiterate mother. Do you ever see the child having a role in their education? I would offer that there are kids that are born into 'wealth' that fail, kids who have 'access' that fail, and kids born to parents that put the same restriction on their children as Dr. Ben Carson's mother did that fail. Don't you believe the students have a choice of whether they learn, do their homework, listen in class, are not distruptive in school? When do consider the student and what part they have in their education. You seem to feel Dr Carson is an exception. If you define educational success as being the best in the world in you chosen field then I would agree. But what about those kids coming out of poverty that goes to college or some post K-12 certificate, raises a family whose kids go for additional education. Don't those fit into you idea of success, don't you wander how and why they were able to do that? Do you ever consider asking why a classroom of kids that start together (from the same neighborhood and being poor) some drop out, some graduate high school but don't go any further, a few go to college and even fewer get degrees?
Scott Baker
Tue, 07/16/2013 - 11:07pm
Duane, Not really sure what you're trying to say here. "I would offer that there are kids that are born into ‘wealth’ that fail, kids who have ‘access’ that fail, and kids born to parents that put the same restriction on their children as Dr. Ben Carson’s mother did that fail." That's pretty obvious. In fact, you've made my point. There is no one magic bullet to "cure"education. Simply saying everyone needs to work harder is simplistic and useless. The problem is far more complex than that. "Do you ever consider asking why a classroom of kids that start together (from the same neighborhood and being poor) some drop out, some graduate high school but don’t go any further, a few go to college and even fewer get degrees?" Duane, I have spent the last 20 years working with children from all walks of life. What I write here is the result of that experience, combined with the countless hours I've spent reading about the history of education in an attempt to understand why the system isn't working. The simple answer is this: The system does work. It is working exactly as it was designed to, and it was designed by social engineers to create obedient workers and an easily manipulated citizenry. That was the original dream driving compulsory education. Separate children from their families, lock them away from the life of the community, keep them penned up with children their own age, ladle out a tedious curriculum lacking relevance, and make them compete with each other for meaningless prizes. The real lesson of school was to be, "Sit down, shut up, and get to work." Fortunately, parents' refusal to give up control of their local schools kept this nightmare from being fully realized. Do you understand my concern with efforts by politicians and businessmen to undermine local control of education? Read John Taylor Gatto's "The 7-Lesson Schoolteacher" for starters. It's widely available on the internet. Though you might disagree with some of Mr. Gatto's conclusions, you can't but help look at our school system in a new light, and from there, perhaps we can begin to envision a system that works for everybody. Regards, Scott
Thu, 07/18/2013 - 1:32am
Mr. Baker, For all of your years have you asked and then actually listened (not simply heard what you expected/wanted to hear)? In all of your comments you talk about luck, but never about the kids doing for themselves. You can even hear what I am saying, any/all systems fail when they do define what they are trying to achieve in such detail that all can understand it and when they ignore the people (kids) the are trying to deliver to. Dr. Carson and his brother did the learning not his mother, Bill Gates did the learning not his access or the wealth of his parents, every child that learns does so because they want to inspire of the system and the bad teachers ( I had more bad then good). Until you ask those kids that are learning 'why' at least to the 5th level (for each answer you ask another 'why') and findout what caused them to want to learn, to sacrifice to learn, to be persistent to learn whatever system, whatever teacher, whatever subject you will not be able to leverage their success to others. Ask youself when do you rememberfirst wanting to learn, was it one teacher, was it a parent, was it a subject, was it the system that caused to learn? Then ask yourself why. And ask why again and again. I will take a look at Gatto's work, but I doubt that I will disagree with anything if it trys to be from the kids perspective. I read a recent article about a better telltail for kids success, ability to organize and the look to the future not just react. Those aren't the kids view but they are more informative then simply claiming being able to recogize colors, knowing numbers and letters early will determine the academic success of a child.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sat, 07/20/2013 - 12:58pm
I thought my letter to Mr. Power, which he answered separately, was to be transferred here, so I guess placing a copy here now would not be out of line: Mr. Power, I liked your article laying out the probable direction of school changes in Michigan, if Mike Flanagan's proposals move forward. I recently did some research and wrote a paper for a local History Prize here in Kingsley, Michigan. The title of my paper was, 'A History of Education in Our Area.', but I guess it was a bit too critical of education for the retired teacher-judges. I did not win the prize. The title of your article suggests you might be inviting others to provide some additional brainpower. Please let me try. My paper was about purpose. When an individual is working on his own basic purpose in life, he is most successful and he is the happiest. He feels the most 'on purpose' and he does his very best work. When such an individual is not working on his basic purpose, he is not likely to be so successful nor be very happy. When an individual subject loses its purpose and that purpose is not known to or taught by a school then it really will not teach that subject. Take Arithmetic as an example: When schools taught and students were taught a high purpose for Arithmetic a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago (One can solve most any situation one encounters in life with Arithmetic), the subject flourished. It didn't get lost because of funding cuts or progressive school consolidations. It got replaced by core mathematics because schools lost track of the purpose and no longer taught it that way. It had no purpose for them. So what would happen if this principle were not known to Education? What if Education did not know its own 'basic purpose' in our culture, or what would happen to our schools if this purpose was not clearly delineated and known to all? What would happen to students if they were 'educated' in a K-20 system without a personal reason to guide their study? Here is a real life experience from my life to illustrate how simple this idea can be. I am a Professional Engineer, but I have done substitute teaching. In a classroom of 4 tenth-grade students doing second grade level math at Forest Area Schools, a boy said, 'I Hate Reading.' He was doing the Math exercises, so I asked him to set that aside. I asked, 'Write on the board 3 ways you can use Reading in Life.' It took about 5 minutes of agonized work for the boy, and the result was like an electric shock going though his body. He exclaimed while slapping his head with one hand, 'I could get a job!' 'I could get a Job!!!' He had finally connected what he was doing to what he was going to be doing in Life. He had a purpose for Reading. I think this is the first time in his life he had a personal reason to learn Reading. In my paper I presented the basic purpose of education presented to Thomas Jefferson by Pierre DuPont in his letter of April 1800. I read it in his book, 'Public Education in the United States.' The purpose of Education is 'Work.' Now that is a big concept expressed as a single four-letter word. As a Professional Engineer it represents 40 years of work experience training new engineers and condensed down to what might be wrong with education in America, or Michigan. Each thing taught, and each thing learned by a student has not been directly connected to what they will be doing in life: they will be working. They will be working 70% of the time according to one source. I have written 10 Standards for Public Education written with this viewpoint. I presented them to Cadillac Public Schools and Kingsley Public Schools as from Business and Industry. The Cadillac School to Work Program President said, 'These are the only written standards (for Public Education) provided by Industry that I have ever seen!' My standard number 5 presents the definition of 'Standard', not as 'a statement about quality' as is used by the State of Michigan Standards. I use 'A Standard is: A definite level of quality suitable for a specific purpose.' Neither school has expressed an interest. Maybe you will be different.