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CFM leaders point to early childhood, teacher improvement out of public opinion report

In presenting the results of a year-long listening tour on public schools, the president of the nonprofit Center for Michigan says there’s a “real opportunity” to advance reform in the Legislature this year.

“We see real opportunity this year to act on what the citizens want in a couple of key ways,” explained John Bebow during a Lansing press conference Tuesday unveiling the report, “The Public’s Agenda on Public Education."

“You will see in this report a real public mandate for expanding early childhood. The governor, speaker of the house and Sen. Roger Kahn (chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee) are all working on this …” Bebow explained.

“A second issue that’s coming up in the next few months that we think gets to the heart of a lot of the things in this report is a new teacher evaluation system … People want more support for educators. People also want more accountability of educators. And we think the crossroads of those two priorities is evaluation.”

The nonpartisan Center for Michigan conducted more than 250 townhall meetings and two scientific opinion polls to assess the public’s interest in a variety of reform topics. In the end, more than 7,500 people participated in the discussion.

Bebow, in outlining the results, emphasized the consistently strong majorities in favor of:

* A bigger investment in early childhood funding.

* Greater accountability for teachers in the classroom.

* Greater career assistance to teachers to meet higher standards, such as designation as “master teachers.”

“This is the largest attempt ever to solicit public attitudes on public education (in Michigan),” said Phil Power, founder and chairman of CFM. “Customers of the industry are not usually involved in all the arguments (in Lansing).”

Power noted that while Michigan’s K-12 spending is now about $13 billion, spending on Great Start Readiness is just below $110 million – a comparison he described as a “rounding error.”

The public support for early childhood investment, in particular, is finding an audience at the State Capitol.

“It appears there is a strong alignment with what the public is asking for and what the legislation is trying to accomplish. People clearly think that education is important,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “We need to provide support in a lot of different ways in terms of financial and accountability. It’s not just about spending dollars in the classroom, but making sure those dollars are used well. If you have a strong investment, then you can help teachers succeed and you can help students succeed. It’s not just about providing more money.”

“We think that that is very important right now because one of the major topics for discussion in Lansing is what to do about the schools and we think that bringing public attitudes into this discussion at this point is constructive because it gives people who are going to participate in all of this a sense of what public views are,” Power said.

CFM is hosting an Education Summit in Lansing Jan. 29 to solicit expert comment on the views collected in the report.

Taylor Trammell is the 2012-13 Center for Michigan journalism student fellow. She is pursuing a journalism degree at Wayne State University.

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