A path through the political thicket for Bridge journalism

A persistent problem in politics in Michigan (not to mention in Washington, D.C.) is that it’s tough to get anything meaningful done.

Think fixing the roads here at home. Think immigration reform in Washington. Think the many holdups over the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River.

All these – not to mention other subjects far too numerous to name – keep getting caught up in the sticky webs of politics, ideology, budget, ego, ambition, money and rampant special interests, not to mention the effects of gerrymandering and term limits.

Result? Expensive, continuing, frustrating gridlock.

But fortunately not always – nor for everything. Last week, the legislature gave final passage to the state budget, and in the process showed that in two cases, two significant reforms managed to survive – and even thrive – despite the political wars.

The first one means that we may soon have a way of making sure Michigan has better teachers. The budget just passed allocates an extra $1.8 million to speed up the timetable to revamp many of the state’s out-of-date teacher certification tests.

Making teacher certification better and tougher is widely seen as one of the keys to improving teacher quality in Michigan schools, where student performance lags that in most other states.

Troubles with the teacher certification tests were detailed last fall in Bridge’s Building a Better Teacher, a series examining our state’s teacher preparation system. Bridge reported Michigan was shortchanging its children by setting low standards for beginning teachers. Those ranged from schools of education that accepted academically iffy students, to state certification tests that didn’t weed out poorly prepared teacher candidates.

Bridge discovered many Michigan certification tests were way too easy, with some having pass rates of 90 percent, about the same rate as candidates for a cosmetology license.
But when Michigan’s department of education beefed up the certification test all would-be teachers must take, the pass rate plummeted from 82 percent to 26 percent!

Teachers are also required to pass additional certification tests for various specific subjects, such as math and science. These tests have not been brought up to date in years, and education authorities had figured it would take nearly a decade to fix them.

Now, with the extra $1.8 million, state education officials estimate they can finish the job in a year or two.

And the legislature also broadened and deepened another significant reform, providing extra money for the state’s Great Start Readiness Program, a pre-kindergarten program aimed at poor and vulnerable four year-olds. The legislature last year approved an increase of $65 million; this year’s budget adds another $65 million, which raises the total budget for GSRP to $239.6 million, more than double what it was in fiscal 2013.

The latest increase should make it possible for an additional 10,000 Michigan four-year-olds to get into free, high-quality pre-K classrooms this fall.

This latest step means that Michigan is now a leader among states increasing support for early childhood programs. Again, Bridge last fall published a series detailing how 30,000 Michigan children eligible for GSRP weren’t admitted because of insufficient state funding, poor coordination between programs and inadequate transportation for strapped, often hard-working but poor parents.

The extra money will pay for more early childhood classrooms to open and help pay for transportation – a real help for stressed parents trying to juggle work and get kids to pre-K programs. Although official numbers won’t be ready for some time, experts are predicting this extra support for GSRP will go a long way to providing slots for the “forgotten 30,000” who in past years couldn’t get in.

This is vitally important. Long-term studies conducted by the High Scope Educational Research Foundation showed that children who participate in GSRP programs are 25 percent more likely to graduate from high school than children who don’t.

Plus, they have lower dropout rates and higher incomes as adults than children who do not attend preschool.

Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed expansion of GSRP in his State of the State messages in both 2012 and 2013. And I’m proud to say he cited the Center for Michigan’s research and journalism as a major factor. This year’s budget result was hailed nationally in a tweet from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

All this was especially gratifying to me. One reason I founded the Center for Michigan back in 2006 was to see if we could figure out a way through the persistent gridlock that has stymied progress through the political system in so many areas.

Now, it’s beginning to look as though this is paying off.

What’s clear is that the Center’s public “community conversation” engagement programs, policy research and fact-based journalism through Bridge, is providing effective and successful example of ways through the political thicket.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 06/17/2014 - 8:52am
In the past the tests for updating teacher certification included questions about subject matter that individuals were not educated in. Higher math and science courses were not required for every major. This does not seem fair. Wouldn't it make sense to test teachers in the subject area they will be teaching? That could be part of the reason scores were so low. Hope that has changed.
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 9:31am
As a board member of a non-profit child care center which qualified for GSRP funding last year I have had the opportunity to see how effective this program is first-hand. Our board is grateful to Bridge Magazine, the legislature, and the governor for supporting this valuable effort to bring preschool education to a previously underserved population - those children from families which are too far above the poverty line to receive DHS support for preschool costs, but which are also too financially fragile to be able to pay for even low-cost high-quality preschool for their 4 year olds without a program such as this. Regardless of our political bent, I think we can generally agree that we benefit as a society when all of our children are nurtured and educated, and this program helps achieve those ends. The GSRP program, in my view, is well designed and administered, and most importantly it widens the world for preschoolers and sets them up for success in their later school experiences.
Mike R
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 11:14am
Another reason why I read each issue of Bridge with great care and interest. The thoughtful reporting, the rigorous investigation, and the scrupulous adherence to non-partisan principles are refreshing. The Center For Michigan deserves credit for the role it played in encouraging passage of these laws. I hope it can and will continue to fight the good fight in all of the areas that deserve its attention.
Phil Power
Thu, 06/19/2014 - 10:53am
Mike: Thank you for your very kind words in your post about my column. May we use your comments in a testimonial? Phil
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 12:43pm
Phil Power, Long ago in a classroom far away, I learned a simple lesson. If you want to confuse an issue, and stop it utterly, you send it to a committee for "study". Here in Michigan we have 'a congress.' We used to have a gas tax that was used only for our roads, and it was dedicated for our roads. The money was used only for roads and Michigan had the best roads in the world. Then things changed and the money went to the 'general fund', where it has to be 'studied' or politicized and stopped ever since. Maybe the answer is simple. Send the original gas taxes back to the original dedicated account. Build the best roads in the world again. By the way, a logging truck just rolled by my house creating a new line of rubble along the right hand side. One day my neighbor and I pick up the rubble. Yesterday, it lines the road again. My family does this. If we want something, we create a new account for it. It is visible. It is untouchable. It gets done. A simple solution for roads, for example, is to restore the simple solution we had. A simple solution for the many things you say are 'stopped', is to create a separate new account for each. Untouchable. You might want to try this approach to your journalism activism here at Bridge. Recommend creating dedicated accounts for the major political footballs. Now when Rick Snyder creates a $130 million account for Pre-K education, guess what? Things get done. You are happy. I am NOT happy. Why? This was a political solution, that just happen to strike on my recommendation to dedicate an account to it, that is not, and will not be good for the economy. It may be good for the political class, as a class. You may feel it is good for you at this minute. You have some very vocal people, some vocal 'economists' saying some very large return on investment numbers, that are going to profit from this, telling you how good it is. But it will not be good for students, as individuals. It will not be good for the economy. Let me anticipate your question, "Why?" I have written a set of standards intended for public education. They are possibly too simple. They are voluntary. They respect the student as an individual. They train the individual to make his or her own decisions as a student. I have briefly looked for and found the standards for this pre-school effort. I will discuss below. The key issue is tyranny vs the free individual. Many articles here on Bridge have to do with teacher training and one has to do with 5 steps to achieve 'A Master Teacher.' Where are the articles about how to become 'A Master Student?' If we have a teacher trained for a four-year degree, then a year of teacher training, and possibly a year of 'Master Teacher Training' and then a year of student teacher indoctrination. How much training does the student have to be 'a student.' I have asked about 500 people if they have ever had a course in how to study and you can probably guess at the answers. Nearly all took a good hard look and said, very simply, 'None.' Some say, 'Does Library Science count?' By the time a student graduates from a four-year college he might have 13,000 hours of K-12 class-time and possibly 8,000 hours of study time on college courses. 21,000 hours or so, say 20,000 hours, with no courses in how to study. (How to study from his own viewpoint, like how to acquire a skill. Isn't that an ability business would like to see in 15 years, an employee that knows how to acquire any new abilities on the job?) Now we present 1000 hours, or so, more at pre-K level? Shall we teach this child to stand on his or her own two feet and make their own decisions, acquire skills quickly from their own viewpoint, or shall we tell him or her how to behave, how to sit, how to line up, just how to do things. In other words, do we teach him just how to fit into 'a compulsory education system,' a tyranny or do we teach him how to be a free person, 'an individual?' A person that has a choice in things. In reviewing the PK standards I find that their concept of 'Standard' is very vague. To me a standard is 'a definite level of quality suitable for a specific purpose.' For example, in my standards I have a little course for the student to take to learn that standard. It has a set of demonstrations that the child must do to show he can demonstrate a sequence of things that add up to the ability of the standard. The standard is learned as an ability the student acquires with the knowledge that goes with that. So the level of quality here is to complete each of the demonstrations, over and over, until he can do them quickly and easily. In this way he learns the concept of 'standard' as an ability with a certain level of quality. Also, the demonstrations require the student to apply the idea to something in his life, some purpose he has. So one purpose that such a standard might achieve is that the student can demonstrate how it applies to something important to him. These demonstrations can include how it applies to work situations or how he might apply it to a business of his. Here are my recommendations for PK standards: Observe Ability Decide Industrious Intelligence Creativity Demonstrate Knowledge Understanding Initiative Individual Brain Basic Purpose By learning to Observe the student can learn new knowledge create abilities more or less instantly without previous teaching. Ability here is defined as Observe, Decide, Act. The student is required to demonstrate that he can acquire a new ability by Observing it, Deciding to acquire what he has observed, and acting on that decision to demonstrate the skill. The child is taught to be Industrious and what it means. He learns to acquire skills more or less instantaneously and to get results, products, very quickly. I was able to teach senior level Engineers with such a method and increase their work rate 4X. Four times faster than other Senior Engineers. Intelligence, Initiative and Creativity come from Adam Smith's book, 'The Wealth of Nations' written in 1776. He says, on his first page, how the wealth of a nation is created. My standards are intended to relay this capability to 3 and 4 year-olds.
Charles Richards
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 1:55pm
Congratulations to Mr. Power and the Center for Michigan. Both achievements are of considerable consequence. And ignore Mr. Hulett. First, he complains that the current education system just tries to teach students " just how to do things. In other words, do we teach him just how to fit into ‘a compulsory education system,’ a tyranny or do we teach him how to be a free person, ‘an individual?’ A person that has a choice in things." Then he goes on to advocate the same thing. He says, "The standard is learned as an ability the student acquires with the knowledge that goes with that. So the level of quality here is to complete each of the demonstrations, over and over, until he can do them quickly and easily." This is a distinction without a difference.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 5:31pm
Charles Richards June 17, 2014 at 1:55 pm There is a distinction, as big as a mountain. It might be you do not wish to see it. Can a student, now 15 years later, apply what he has learned to the world of work, or his own business? Yes or No. As a Chief Engineer I assign major projects to Engineers. Each project has tasks. It takes knowledge and skill to do them. A Senior Engineer will not be able to do some of them at first because they require skills he does not know. A new Engineer may not know any of the skills needed. He or she may not be able to do the simplest task in the whole company. What if he also does not know how to acquire a new skill easily? What if he requires constant 'teaching' when he comes to a new skill, instead of 'doing?' It may be that you can see why he or she can not do the tasks he has to do to be a valuable asset to the general direction of the company, or let us say the economy. Please tell us what distinctions you see? What difference does it make? If a teacher does not ask the student to apply what he is learning to what he will be doing, how does he learn this? If the student does not ask himself to apply what he is learning to what he will be doing, how will he learn to do this? Now if he is never taught, and if he never learns to apply what he is learning to anything in life, what difference does it make? Kindly, please, tell me what difference it makes? The owner of the company looked over the 'plan' one of my Engineers submitted on how long it would take him to do each task he did know how to do. The owner, said respectfully, 'I could do each of these tasks in one third the time you have here.' I was shocked. So I trained my Engineers to be faster than him. 4X faster than before. Faster than this man who was tops in his field. What if American, or Michigan, students are slower at learning new tasks than the rest of the world? What if they are 4X slower than the competition? Will you please see the difference? Who will teach them to work industriously, quickly and easily? To work competitively in a world where the work goes to lowest bidder? The smartest bidder. Is this still 'a distinction that makes no difference' to you? Is this an issue you still wish to advise Mr. Power to ignore?
Tue, 06/17/2014 - 8:49pm
Mr. Power has created a tool with great potential for Michiganders to impact our communities. I hope Mr. Power can see that potential and will allow it to happen. Currently Mr. Power and Bridge have only used this platform express The Answer they have gleaned as important. The potential for this tool is opening it up to readers and to use them as a source of ideas and perspectives on Michigan issue. Where Mr. Power and Bridge column authors express their perspective and allow reader to reflect on what they have decided, they are missing the opportunity to draw in the readers to enhance those ideas, they avoid engaging the readers and trying to understand their thoughts and reasoning, they avoid using the readers as a resource of new and innovative approaches to the issues Bridge staff feel are important. Mr. Power through Bridge could create an opportunity for Michigan to have its own think tank on our issues and problems, turning to readers to become in affect a public (or at least Bridge Readers) think tank for a diversity of perspectives and developing innovative approaches/solutions to achieving a better Michigan. Congratulation Mr. Power on you creation and the success of Bridge, now is the time to build on such success in a new way. Please think about Bridge creating a readers think tank.
Phil Poweer
Thu, 06/19/2014 - 11:02am
Duane: Interesting comments. Could you give me a call at your convenience so we can discuss? 734.665.4081. Phil
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 06/22/2014 - 2:03pm
These two successes do seem like successes, but only time will tell because so much depends on how they are implemented and evaluated. What seems strange to me is that there only two examples since the Republicans own all branches of government - the house, senate and governor. Hmmm.
Sun, 06/22/2014 - 2:20pm
Up to 35,000,000 gallons of water per well sounds like a lot of water and it is. But keep it in perspective. We have about 800 golf courses in Michigan and while I don't know the average consumption - our 18 hole course is probably pretty typical and uses 20 - 35 million gallons a year EVERY year depending on rainfall and how hot it gets - some from wells and some from surface waters. Most of this water evaporates. And golf course use is minor in comparison with the water used to irrigate farm fields. You could frack every square mile of Northern Michigan and the impact on the level of Lakes Michigan and Huron would be so small as to be hard to measure. I have no respect for the oil and gas industry - they are among the most unethical businesses, but we need the development and we will become energy independent even if some product is exported. They should be more closely regulated. Cheney and the other neo-cons are war criminals, have done tremendous damage to our country and much of the rest of the world and should be in jail. Gas may still be at $4 a gallon and unlikely to decline much, but most of us are driving vehicles that get twice the mileage of 10 years ago, That mileage will likely double again in the next 10 to 15 years. As we also convert power plants to natural gas from coal and commercial vehicles from diesel to natural gas - we will have cut pollution and CO2 significantly. Hopefully we will be able to transition to more wind and solar electricity and electric vehicles.