Michigan leaders join forces to reform schools. Can it work this time?

A new group has set its sights on reforming Michigan schools, which rank in the bottom half in the nation. (Bridge file photo)

A Who’s Who of Michigan civic leaders announced Wednesday a joint effort to try to reform Michigan’s struggling schools, focusing first on early literacy and routing more money to high-poverty and rural schools.

The organization, called Launch Michigan, may be the most ambitious collaboration of philanthropy, education, labor, business and community leaders in the long, stumbling history of education reform in the state.

It’s also an effort that is most similar to organizations in other states — such as Massachusetts and Tennessee — that have successfully steered education reform.

“This is the kind of consensus you have to develop around big-picture ideas to make real change,” said Adam Zemke, president of Launch Michigan and former Democratic state representative from Ann Arbor. “It’s even more important in Michigan because of the amount of political upheaval we have every two, four, eight years because of term limits. We can’t ever have a consistent direction because we don’t have anyone guiding us.

“The idea behind Launch is to provide that guidance,” Zemke said.

By most measures, Michigan is in the bottom half of states in academic achievement. Michigan fourth-graders rank 32nd in reading in the latest National Assessment of Academic Progress, often called “the nation’s report card,” and 42nd in math.

Michigan ranked last in the Midwest in every category measured by NAEP, and Detroit ranks last among the nation’s big city schools.

“For how many years now, there have been all kinds of efforts to improve education, and our results have been stagnant,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan and a co-chair of Launch Michigan. 

“The fundamental motivation for Launch Michigan was to try to find a common agenda and work together.”

That hasn’t always been easy. The group includes leaders representing teacher unions, parents, traditional public school districts, charter schools, chambers of commerce, and Michigan foundations. Rothwell said it took a lot of hours of meetings for the members, who have often been on opposite sides of education policy issues, to coalesce around reforms all agreed would improve Michigan schools.

“We said, ‘Let’s see if we can all get on the same page,’” Rothwell said. “It took us a lot of (time) to build trust among groups that weren’t used to working together.”

Members of Launch Michigan include representatives from three chambers of commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan and the Small Business Association of Michigan; the state’s two biggest teacher unions; several education associations, a parent-teacher organization and Michigan Schools Superintendent Michael Rice; the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools in the state; several major charitable foundations and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. 

Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District, said it is an encouraging sign that such disparate groups have coalesced around education reform. 

“After years of talking at each other,” Koehler said, “we’re actually talking with each other.”

“After years of talking at each other, we’re actually talking with each other” — Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent Kent Intermediate School District

For now, the group isn’t pushing Lansing for an increase in school funding. Instead, it hopes to start by transferring money from existing education programs in the state budget and looking for efficiencies in Michigan’s sprawling, financially disjointed K-12 system.

That money, which would be in addition to the per-pupil foundation allowance schools now receive, would be doled out in a weighted formula, with schools with higher proportions of low-income students getting more money. Rural districts would also receive extra money.

It’s a plan similar to one that was proposed by Gov. Whitmer in the 2019-20 budget and rejected by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The group said it wants to focus on improving literacy in early grades as its first effort.

Just how much money the group hopes the Legislature and governor will put in that equity fund will likely be announced in early 2020, Rothwell said.

The group said it will begin lobbying members of the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in January, hoping to move money within the 2020-21 school budget to create what it calls an “equity fund.” Leading that effort will be Zemke and Lindsay Case Palsrok, former senior director of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, who will be executive director.

Rothwell said Launch Michigan is patterned after Tennessee’s SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education), a nonpartisan organization that has helped steer education reform through Republican and Democratic governors. Tennessee’s student performance has increased rapidly in the past decade.

“We asked them (SCORE officials) how they did it,” Rothwell said. “They said, ‘We got everyone around the table and came up with a common agenda and we stuck with it.’ That was really the key. If we’re zigzagging between (policies) you’re not going to make as much gain as if you make a plan and stick with it.”

Business organizations and philanthropies are funding the organization, Rothwell said.

“No matter where you are in Michigan, our kids are not performing as well as in comparable districts elsewhere in the country,” Rothwell said. Education reform “should be something we all agree on.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Wed, 12/18/2019 - 9:01pm

Will what worked in Tennessee work in Michigan? It depends on what the history of the relationship between all the parties involved was and I don't know the Tennessee situation but I know what the history is in Michigan and it has been very bad. I wish the Michigan effort the best, I'm not optimistic but maybe they can make a breakthrough in getting something done.

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 8:22am

Remember we had in Michigan anti- Educational republicans controlling Lansing for over 28 years!!! And GrandMOLD was an Engler clone a closet republican<<< Just look what she did to MI.. Closed down the oldest State Fair in the USA and Illegally sold it, let Ice Mountain pump water out of MI for FREE, tried to make the people i the UP pay to pick Blueberries in the National Parks, help bankrupt the Detroit Schools

Jim Ross
Fri, 12/27/2019 - 1:36pm

Please keep in mind, enormous amounts of federal "Race to the Top" funding facilitated Tennessee outcomes. (Just saying)

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 9:46am

Collaboration and dialogue of all interested parties is the only way to get things done in the 21st century. I am anxious to see how this group performs. Michigan has a long way to go in improving their overall performance in education. Michigan in the 20th century was one of the best performing states in the nation. I am looking forward to seeing them again join the ranks of the best performing states.

tom delaney
Thu, 12/19/2019 - 9:50am

Until the trauma in poverty stricken districts is addressed none of the other will matter. The K-12 needs an immediate and deep infusion of counselors and social workers. If you look at the caseloads those professionals are seeing on college campuses, you can understand the need at the yoiunger level.

Fri, 12/20/2019 - 3:03pm

This group sounds like every previous claim about improving Michigan education, all they care about is money, they are already ‘lobbying’ politicians for more money. There is nothing about learning, nothing about what is the learning process, nothing about what it takes for a student to learn, nothing about the role/responsibilities of the student in their learning. It seems that they believe that money for adults to spend is more important than how students learn.
Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan and a co-chair of Launch Michigan, sets the tone for this ‘launch’, when he says, “No matter where you are in Michigan, our kids are not performing as well as in comparable districts elsewhere in the country.” He denigrates every district and every student in Michigan. Mr. Rothwell is telling the students and parents of students in Midland and those in Saline the same thing, they are telling the parents in Oakland and Washtenaw and Kent counties and others across Michigan, they are failing no matter their learning or academic success and their successes at colleges/universities across our state and the country. The reality is that students in most schools across Michigan are succeeding because of their efforts, their sacrifices to learn, and they studying.
Mr. Rothwell has undermined the credibility of the ‘launch’ with this one quote that there no Michigan students they can perform at the level found anywhere else in the country. We have thousands of students that having learning and academic success every year that would be at the top in every State.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/22/2019 - 11:50am

You are right.

Sean Lancaster
Fri, 12/20/2019 - 3:20pm

I notice the absence of higher education (e.g., teacher preparation programs).

Sat, 12/21/2019 - 11:19am

You can have the various groups talking but what really counts is who has the most influence with the Michigan legislature? They may agree about something but give in to the old patterns of the past when the legislature objects to some aspect of an agreement which will end up being dropped in favor of what the legislature wants. Teacher preparation programs are important since those people are on the front lines every day and face to face with the students, until we can figure out how to get more people even interested in being teachers this is going to be a tough row to hoe.

Paul Jordan
Sat, 12/21/2019 - 4:21pm

I'm not optimistic. Michigan has indulged in top-down politically driven educational planning since the Engler administration. The result has been steady declines (relative to other states). What makes sense and has worked elsewhere always takes second place to political goals, minimizing cost, and ideological correctness. Until planning decisions are pried away from the legislature and adequate funding is provided nothing will change, and that probably would take a constitutional amendment to restore the power of the State Board of Education, restore local control, and change the funding mechanism.

Paul Jordan
Sat, 12/21/2019 - 4:27pm

I am not optimistic. 35 years of Republican control has resulted in cost shifting to local districts, centralized planning, disempowering the state Board of Education, promoting charter schools (without oversight) and starving districts of adequate funding. We see the results. It is as if the plan that has been executed over time by the state was intended to ruin public education and degrade academic performance.

There are successful models in other states, but all require things that Michigan is not prepared to provide--including the legislators looking in the mirror to identify the root problem.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 7:17pm

Under the current system is it realistic to expect the legislature to appropriate funds without oversight? Why would education be different than anything else?
Why do you believe there will be one answer and one way to address our education problem?

The Real Answer
Sun, 12/22/2019 - 6:23am

How many committees have been established in Michigan the last 20 years to "fix education"? How much money has been spent by those committees? Ask yourself the questions, "Who knows what the problem is with children who are performing below grade level? Who knows what those children need to succeed? The answer is THE TEACHER IN THE CLASSROOM! In the makeup of the "Committee", I do not see classroom teachers, only other interested groups. The teachers' unions are not always representative of the teachers. They are both big organizations with huge offices in Lansing with employees, who have not been in the classroom for a long time if ever. This whole process should begin with a survey of all certified teachers in the state, who are currently in the classroom. Ask the teachers, who are actually with the children day to day. Ask what problems they see with the children who are underachieving and what those children need in terms of support.

Chuck Fellows
Sun, 12/22/2019 - 7:54am

Getting all the stakeholders together is an important first step. Next, and even more important, is listening. But to who? Definitely not those at the top of their respective organizations, well intended as they may be, their mindsets are not receptive to the imagination and creativity required to produce effective (not efficient) learning environments for our children. Notice I did not say reform since "reform" is tinkering around the fringes, not making the substantive changes required to the basic structure of education (Basics like large concentrations of students, isolated silos of academic disciplines, focus on compliance and conformance, pedagogy intent on delivering content from the sage on the stage, standardized testing, and ignoring the individual - all wrong ). Listening really hard to the people that actually do the work in classrooms, teachers and students, lots of them and the parents.
Money is important, not the amount but how we use it. Budgets for operations developed at the classroom/teacher level instead of administrative dictates. Legislature. MDE, ISDs and local administrations playing a supporting role, not a deciding role. Facilities being funded at a state, not local , level, with standards applied to provide equality across the state, rural and urban. Operational expenses determined at the local level, legislature tasked with finding the money, not determining how to appropriate it.
Otherwise the good intentions of many power brokers will be for naught. Reflect on past efforts and keep in mind those success stories you reference are based upon meaningless measure - and by the way the NAEP and PISA results are not to be used for comparative purposes. Do that and you have failed out of the gate.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/22/2019 - 11:51am

Your are spot on.

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 8:17am

Do away with 80% of them no meaning test that the over paid educational professional are forcing on the teachers and kids!!!

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 12:27pm

Don, I normally wouldn't do this but you are an example of simplistic thinking. If you had taken more "no meaning test" in English and Grammar, you might have written a more cogent statement. It would have gone like this...

"Do away with 80% of unnecessary testing that overly compensated education researchers are forcing on the teachers and students."

To be clear though, the State Legislature, who sets policy and standards in education, have done a poor job. Many of them who work on Education, have no background in the field, other than the years they attended school.

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 11:52am

I was in Tennessee last year working with some of their school people. The republican managed schools based on right wing ideals and strict Christian ethic had the most money and as a result became over crowded quickly and completely. The other less republican school had little money so the families wound up on waiting lists to get into the good, over crowded schools. It is still a mess and a huge fight between neighbors and neighborhoods and churches etc. etc. etc. It wouldn't be my recommendation for Michigan.

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 10:46pm

There are many good ideas , many thoughtful comments, and a diversity of perspectives,
I think that with these commenters and a few readers we have base for a structured conversation to develop a purpose and strategy for Michigan education [learning].
The disappointment is that Bridge won't consider hosting an online structured conversation session to address the issue in this article and facilitate readers creating a concise reflection that offers new perspectives and ideas.

Thu, 12/26/2019 - 3:53pm

Mr. Rothwell and Mr. Zemke and their associates on the ‘Launch’ make the fatal mistakes of any self-proclaim leaders, they fail to ask and listen.
Mr. Zemke confirms is lack of understanding with this simple remark, “The idea behind Launch is to provide that guidance.” True leaders listen to those who they want to help succeed, they ask about the future, they ask about what they want to see achieved, they ask about expected results. An effective leader takes what they hear and turns it into a purpose, a vision, a rally point and a pathway to desired results for those they want to lead.
Mr. Rothwell, Mr. Zemke, their whole ‘Launch’ crowd, and even Bridge should start by asking people with children what they want for their kids, their grandkids, what they want from the schools for their children. They should ask those who have gone through Michigan schools what they needed from the schools. By listening to the answers they will learn what the purpose of Michigan education should be, they will find out what learning success should look like, and they will hear how people across Michigan can help [such as ‘Launch’] achieve learning success today and tomorrow.
Bridge could learn much to provide much more helpful articles on education if they asked readers three questions; what knowledge and skills does a student need to have when they graduate to function as an adult, what choices will they have to make when they graduated [or soon after], and what will they use after graduation for the rest of their lives.

I hope we hear from more readers, learning is such an important issue we need to hear from more people about their concerns, ideas, and desires, we shouldn't leave it to a self proclaimed few to make the choice.

middle of the mit
Sun, 12/29/2019 - 2:26am

[[[Mr. Rothwell and Mr. Zemke and their associates on the ‘Launch’ make the fatal mistakes of any self-proclaim leaders, they fail to ask and listen.
Mr. Zemke confirms is lack of understanding with this simple remark, “The idea behind Launch is to provide that guidance.” True leaders listen to those who they want to help succeed, they ask about the future, they ask about what they want to see achieved, they ask about expected results.]]]


Wed, 10/16/2019 - 11:53pm

This leads us back to ‘fact’ and ‘truth’, see numbers as facts or as truths? Or does it matter how the number are captured? Are the numbers of 3rd graders able read the state collects fact? And yet we hear many claim that they prove the ‘truth’ that schools’ reading programs are underfunded, and yet we hear nothing about the means and methods use by those schools where student fail and students succeed. ]]]

Yeah fly boy..I am still waiting for your more established and well funded educational facilities to take a page out of the book of Northerners and do with LESS!

Don't worry. I am not holding my breath. Although I am STILL WAITING for an ACCEPTABLE ANSWER to Why has FOX NEWS not left the liberal taxhole of Manhatten for the safer confines of rural Kansas and Brownback experiment!



Yeah, I know it's Salon, but.......ALL the links are local. Kansas Local that is.

Forgive me, but I KNOW that you, Kevin and Arjay have ALL told us that biznizz WILL leave if they can find a better and cheaper place to do biznizz. Sooo? Why hasn't Fall Street left Manhatten? Why is the Chicago mercanitle exchange in Chicago and NOT rural Kansas?

It is time to put your money and your tax cuts where your mouth is! If you can't back it up, then your opinion is just that. And it is an UNEDUCATED OPINION. Or a Willfully ignorant position. You refuse facts. As per the link and the previous conversations we have had.

Happy New Year!

Wed, 01/01/2020 - 10:25am

I struggle to understand what you are interested in, what issue you want addressed, what problems you want solved. My comments here are about leadership, but you claim are returning to old articles and comments. I have no hesitation in returning to those comments and problems, but let’s take them individually and focus the conversation.
The ‘Launch’ is about Michigan educational leadership; I think that would be important to you and to the problems you are concerned with. What specifically do you think the ‘Launch’ should be addressing to establish their leadership? What are the learning issues that ‘northern’ schools are struggling with that concern you most? What do you think the ‘northern’ schools are doing well that only need more of other people’s money to solve their learning problems?

middle of the mit
Sat, 01/04/2020 - 12:15am

I struggle to understand what you are interested in, what issue you want addressed, what problems you want solved............


What are you talking about? You struggle to to understand what I care about or am interested in, yet everything I hammer you on is literally the SAME THING!

Funding! You think that wealthy areas should be able to put as much mammon behind their children's educations as they can, but then you tell the rest of us that we don't need FUNDING or MAMMON to be able to compete against better funded children in their education....all the while telling us that we should be able to do better with less than you are willing to allow your kids to do with.

IF you can't understand that, then common sense is not one of your possessions.

Get it?

Sun, 01/05/2020 - 4:14pm

My struggle starts with you never showing any interest in what we are getting for the money. You only seem to see dollar signs and never caring about whether there are more effective ways to spend that money. If you had ever looked past the money you would learn the difference in the learning successes of students both in the 'wealthy' and 'poor' districts was the students and what they did.

Why don't you ask about what we are getting for our money, why don't you ask if the students in 'wealthy' districts are doing something different than those in the 'poor' or rural districts and if so how can it be leveraged across all districts?

middle of the mit
Sun, 01/05/2020 - 9:44pm

Then I am going to hit you with a hammer you may not wish you ever hit with. Are you ready?

[[[My struggle starts with you never showing any interest in what we are getting for the money. You only seem to see dollar signs and never caring about whether there are more effective ways to spend that money. If you had ever looked past the money you would learn the difference in the learning successes of students both in the 'wealthy' and 'poor' districts was the students and what they did.]]]

The money that WE are getting for OUR money? Do YOU EVER ask that question when it comes to defense? NO? Suck it.

Where is the questions when it comes to how much waste, more effectiveness, and better ways to fund DEFENSE?

If you learned and understood you too would understand than The wealthy FUND THEIR CHILDREN'S EDUCATION and poor districts can't AFFORD THAT FUNDING.



Why doesn't someone with YOUR INNATE ABILITY TELL US WHAT WE NEED? Besides new found thinking that YOU CAN NOT DEFINE?

I am simply telling you what the Bible has taught me.

Mammon is what people Will WORSHIP. There are no ifs. There are no buts. And from what I have seen........It's all I need to KNOW that is what the WORLD IS.

You might not believe it, and it really doesn't matter to me. I KNOW it!

And it is coming! And your side are the capitalists. And what is capital? It's either the seat of the nations interests or the economic system that Nations run on, and if you are now going to run away from your system of economics when the Lord comes calling...........

I am glad I am not you.

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:30am

It maybe your lack of experience because you don’t seem to understand the value of assessing the performance money pays for through programs/organizations. The value of assessing performance helps find what works and should be shared with others, it helps individuals recognize what is working and how they can enhance it, it allows people to recognize the value they are getting for their money and why to support what is being done. You seem overly concerned with waste, that is known by those spending the money and they will fix when that becomes important. Performance assessment is about effectiveness and success. Why are you so resistant to identifying success through performance assessment?
As for ‘DEFENSE’ I have no clue of what you talking about as it relates to Michigan education.
One of the most common justifications we hear about why kids should stay in school is because additional education, such as a college degree, helps increased personal wealth. The wealth you are jealous of is simply a benefit from learning. What you fail to understand is that the difference between the learning successes in schools is what the students do not the money that is available. If the students don’t study, if they don’t apply what is presented by the teachers they will not learn, they will not stay in school and earn a degree. The parents who make those districts ‘wealthy’ learned how to learn while earning their degrees. One of the obvious reason you see more learning success in the ‘wealthy’ districts is what students learn from their parents about learning.
You want more and more money, but you don’t seem to have a clue of what to spend that money on. You don’t even wonder what the ‘wealthy’ districts are spending their money on that might be contributing to their success. I have found that if you don’t know what you are paying for before you buy it you will never get the value you need or want. You should start by asking questions so you can learn how to ask for more money. And just as importantly you need to learn how to listen so you can learn.
A good example of how you can use questions and listening to change things, is wondering why ‘capitalism’ survives, how it facilitates the improvement in the quality of our lives, and what elements of ‘capitalism’ could be used to improve student learning.

middle of the mit
Mon, 01/06/2020 - 12:26am

Then why don't you, as the arbiter of what IS.... TELL the rest of us in the rural area that WE rurals are unworthy?

We Can not compete with you. SAY IT!

Tell your conservative compatriots THEY ARE NOT WILLING TO PAY FOR OR ABLE TO DO WHAT YOU ARE.

That's literally ALL I am asking for.

Why are you OHHH superior one, unwilling to TELL the REST OF us how WE should SERVE YOU?

That IS what the LESSORS of American Society are SUPPOSED TO DO FOR OUR BETTORS?

It literally is YOUR WORLD.

And why try to be magnanimous when you aren't?

Take your mammon where you can get it.

And don't deny it!

It might bite you in your arse if you aren't careful of who you trust.

Who is pushing through legislation without even a plurality of votes?

OHHHH it goes in your favor so you don't really care?


And you worry about me...........

Scott Baker
Thu, 01/09/2020 - 1:43pm

Another reform effort. Heavy sigh.
Reformers have worked to improve the U.S. public school system almost since its inception in the 1850s. Despite all the effort, school has never quite fulfilled its promise, and we continually tinker with it in the hopes that just the right tweak will cause the school machine to hum, and all the children will learn what they are supposed to learn when they are supposed to learn it. I know there is not much demand out there for de-motivational speakers, but I’m going to be blunt - it’s never going to happen. Look at it this way: If you are tasked with carrying passengers across the ocean, but provided a car to do it with, no amount of modification is going to help you succeed. A car fails to obey the laws of physics that make sailing possible. Go ahead - swap out the engine, hang fuzzy dice from the mirror, and put on different tires. The end result will be the same (though you might get nowhere faster). After roughly 200 years of repeated drownings, everyone realizes that something is wrong with the car, yet we keep trying to make it float. We obviously need a boat, yet the secrets to boat building and sailing have eluded us.

More accurately, we have forgotten them. To understand the problem inherent in “schooling,” we need to first recognize a basic shortcoming we all suffer - everything we know about school is based on our brief personal experience with it - our time as students and, for some of us, as teachers. But learning has gone on far longer than school has existed. Homo sapiens have been present on the planet for about 200,000 years, and the Homo genus for about 2.8 million years. School, in its present form, has only existed for about 200 years. What went on before?

Fortunately, researchers and writers like Jared Diamond, Peter Gray, Daniel Quinn and others have provided an overview of education as it occurs among “primitive” cultures. Basically, children spend much of their time in free, physical, cooperative play in multi-age groups, driven by their curiosity to explore the world and copy the activities of the adults in their community. What they choose to do is immediately useful or fun. Their myriad questions are answered when asked. They are rarely offered rewards or threatened with punishment, yet by about the age of 14, nearly all of these children develop the skills necessary to survive in their environment.

Contrast this primitive educational model with our modern school where herds of children, grouped by age, are moved in lock step through an externally developed curriculum. Constant coercion in the form of rewards and punishments are used to “motivate” them. They are shut away from the community, and ordered to keep still in chairs for long periods of time. They compete against their classmates to earn the best grades, creating groups of winners and losers. Their questions, if they don’t pertain to the day’s topic as dictated by the curriculum, are dismissed. At the end of it all, they will have near-zero survival skills, and will require additional schooling to improve their chances of obtaining a decent livelihood.

We have created a largely artificial world and tried to replace the natural drive of curiosity with curriculum, but our children’s boundless curiosity refuses to be bound. All young humans want to learn. They are hard-wired for it. That does not mean, however, they want to learn what you want to teach them when you want to teach it. Curriculum kills curiosity. Curriculum frustrates the natural drive of curiosity, and when our students rebel our reaction has been to pound harder on these square pegs in order to drive them into the round holes strangers have designed for them. The pegs, to their credit, often pound back (cue the behavioral consultants). Perversely, this failure of curriculum has been used as the justification for the imposition of still more curriculum, the assumption being that if we just press on the accelerator hard enough, the car will float.

Most of the problems that teachers encounter in our artificial world are artificial as well. As an example, look at all the children medicated for attention deficit disorder. In a primitive setting, where young people are actively playing much of the time, it doesn’t exist. If you place the same child in an environment that requires him to sit still for extended lengths of time, a perfectly natural behavior is now a problem requiring medical intervention. This is just one consequence of turning our backs on a natural system of education that evolved over millions of years. It was successful, obviously, and the proof is that we are here. Like a swimmer caught in a rip current, we can choose to keep fighting the natural drive of curiosity, or we can work with it to help all children reach their potential.

When modern schooling was developed in Prussia, its purpose was to engineer the common populace into a mass of blindly obedient soldiers for the military and workers for the factories. We can no longer afford to waste human potential in such a manner. The decline in manufacturing jobs due to outsourcing and automation, rapidly changing technology, and our increasingly global network requires a model of education that helps all students reach their potential. We can’t afford to keep drowning children in repeated attempts to float a car

I love teaching, and have had the good fortune to work with special needs children for over 25 years now. For these young people, the standard model of education hasn’t worked and I have had the freedom to design something different for them. Basically, I tore a fender off the aforementioned car and pounded it into a rough boat. By giving my students more choice and autonomy, focusing on immediately useful skills, relying less on rewards and punishments, providing them the tools to explore their world and the time to do so, I try (as much as possible in our current setting) to make use of their natural drive to make sense of the world. It works remarkably well.

What I’m proposing is not a radical experiment. The radical experiment in education is going on right now in the form of our present system. This artificial machine, put in place by strangers, runs counter in every way to basic human drives and has no possibility of being reformed in any substantive fashion. Instead, let’s follow the principles of the innate natural system that was so effective for the vast majority of human history so that all our children are truly educated, rather than simply “schooled.”

The education reform merry-go-round goes nowhere, and the ride has cost us much more than a quarter. It’s time to get off.

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 8:47pm

I believe strongly in change and including those to be served in creating the change. What I struggle with in your lead up to change suggested the current scheme of schooling is failing all the students but it seems thousands of students each year are learning in the current system, there learning successes across the state in many districts if not all. My concern is your approach doesn't recognize or explain those successes, creating the risk of your approach preventing such successes.
I am no sure that simply because one method worked long ago when civilization and the nature of knowledge was much simpler that that approach won't have to be changed to accommodate our current and future knowledge and skills.
Simply saying what is being done without saying why so we can verify that the new old way will avoid those flaws makes it a more difficult sell.

Scott Baker
Fri, 01/10/2020 - 8:54am

Student achievement strongly correlates with socioeconomic condition. The student successes you write of are largely due to the advantages (i.e. better health care, nutrition, and access to books) they had before they ever walked through the school door, and they would likely be successful in just about any system. They'll be fine. I'm concerned with the students who enter school without those advantages and are never allowed to reach their potential because of an artificial system that treats learning as a competitive event and children as empty vessels to be stuffed with pre-packaged swill labeled "curriculum."

I'm not talking about "one method" of education either. I am talking about principles of learning that are hardwired and "proven" by millions of years of evolution. And most anthropologists would tell you that the skills and knowledge of primitive peoples was anything but simple.

Read "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, "Free To Learn" by Peter Gray, "The World Before Yesterday" by Jared Diamond, "My Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, "Punished By Rewards" by Alfie Kohn, and "Dumbing Us Down" by John Taylor Gatto. Then we can begin to have a serious and productive discussion about what education could and should be.

Sat, 01/11/2020 - 12:09am

A common omission I find in comments about education is the student role/responsibilities, my concern is the student is the one that is expected to do the learning and their exclusion from the solution seems to ensure another failure.
Commonly we hear that increased wealth/income is a common benefit of learning success, that suggests that the culture in the ‘wealthy’ districts is made up of people with learning success and who promote a culture of learning in both word and deed.
You mention factors that can surely impede a student’s learning, but good health and nutrition aren’t drivers of learning. However, having a social environment that is built around studying [such as kids meeting at the library to study together, or at each other’s home to study] is a driver to learn/to study, elimination of a barrier to learning is not a driver of learning.
I would offer the old saying, ‘what you do speaks so loudly, that I can’t hear what you are saying.’ I use myself as an example, my parents had limited education [Dad, 8th grade, Mom GED in her 60s] they didn’t know how to study, and I was a disappointing student. Our daughters, whose parents both have college degrees, used the learning skills every day in both their work and their everyday lives, our daughters saw not only the benefits of an education and the regularly application of learning, they also learned how to learn. When we moved to a wealthier community where the majority of the students and their friends were living and reinforcing that learning environment working at learning was the norm.
I agree with you that we need to change the expectations of the students and the practices of the students across all districts. I ask about successes because what the successful students do or what influences them should be effective for others to fulfill their learning potential. If the successful students learn how the learning process works and what their role/responsibilities are in that process, then we should be trying to help others gain that understanding. If learning success is contributed to by the social [peers] reinforcement of learning then we should be trying to figure out how to facilitate that social environment. Another factor maybe as simple as having a quiet place to study and the opportunity to regularly use it then we should be see how to incorporate into the education process. If we better understand how/why students succeed then we will have guidance on what to work on.
I have read the Outlier and many others of Malcom Gladwell’s books, and will look at the books/authors you recommend.

Scott Baker
Mon, 01/13/2020 - 9:12pm

If you read Daniel Quinn's book, Ishmael (the first one, not My Ishmael) you will see the parable of the hapless aviator, a man who builds a flying machine based on an incorrect understanding of the physics that make flight possible. It is pedal powered, with flapping wings. He takes it to the top of a 90-story building , climbs in, and goes over the edge. He is pedaling, the wings are flapping, and he believes he is flying as he passes the 70th floor, saying to himself, "So far, so good." He eventually notices that the ground is approaching at a rapid pace and thinks, "Well, I'll just pedal harder." But pedaling harder isn't going to work. His craft is doomed because of fatal flaws in its design. Quinn was writing about "civilization" but I believe his parable illustrates the history of schooling quite well. The design of modern school is fatally flawed, and has been since it's beginnings. Pedaling harder won't work. Still, if Michigan's business and education leaders want another round of "lather, rinse, repeat," by all means, carry on. They think the flying machine can be tweaked, though no one in 200 years has been able to turn the trick. And I've learned not to expect "out of the box" thinking from people who don't even realize they are in a box. And don't get me wrong. I support public schools, but I do not support the way are currently treating children. It is, and I mean this quite literally, inhuman.

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 10:17pm

It seems to me that the current model of education was designed about 100 years ago to improve the efficiency of the teachers rather then on the effectiveness of learning by the individual students, that being the 'fatal flaw.'
I wish that there is an article that describes the learning process for the student, including the student's role with responsibilities in the process.

Scott Baker
Wed, 01/15/2020 - 10:47am

You're not wrong there, Duane. There has always been a social engineering aspect to schooling, whether it was church-sanctioned or government sanctioned. I would say the current model is business-sanctioned, and it still runs on a factory model. We are trying to fit square pegs into round holes as efficiently as possible to create widgets that fit neatly into the economy. In my early days as a teacher, we had more freedom to re-shape the hole for our kids. Now, thanks to Common Core and similar efforts, the hole is the same for everyone, and we pound harder on the kids to make them fit. To their credit, some of them fight back. My argument is that "schooling" was never designed around the way humans learn, and thus wastes an incredible amount of human potential. I see it every day, and I've watched 26 years of reform efforts fail utterly and expensively. Time to think about this problem differently.

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:09am

How can we start a conversation about what would help students to learn that involves a diversity of perspectives; current students [2], graduated students [2 with additional training (certification/college), 2 with/without diploma], parents of students [2], parents/grandparents [2] of successful graduated students, current teachers [2], school administrator [1], retired teacher [1], school board member [1], employer [1]?

Scott Baker
Thu, 01/16/2020 - 8:46am

And how would this group be able to come with anything original? This isn't a diversity of perspectives. The people you have selected all have the same experience with school. To them (to us) school has always been this way - children segregated by age, coerced through an externally imposed curriculum, tested, graded, etc. - and each generation then complains about the next. Humans have been "educated"for tens of thousands of years, but only "schooled" for 200 years or so. Perhaps it's time to admit that intrinsic human curiosity has been and always will be the prime driver of learning, and any attempt to replace with an externally imposed curriculum is doomed to fail.

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 11:14am

The same experience doesn't mean the same perspective, the student, the parent, the grand parent, the teacher, the administrator each have a different role and person experience of using learning, in addition to the personal interactions at different times and places. The commonality of problem is only a point of focus of for their thinking not a determinate of their perspective. It is much like I have had where people working on the same process in the same company had different perspective because of their geographic local, the size of the facility, the nature of their tasks, etc. It is that diversity when offering those slightly different perspectives in a group that opens up everyone's considerations.
The most important thing for change is the quality of the questions and the ones who are most personally impacted by the results can be the best sources of questions because they will be least tainted by history [though they need some tempering with system knowledgeable and understanding.

Curiosity is much under appreciated because it is most commonly perceived as an individual trait rather a broad American cultural trait, and needs to be taught and utilized.