State schools chief: Michigan is 10 years behind leading states

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has concluded that Michigan is “10 years behind” states with high-achieving schools.

In a blunt, at times stunningly self-critical review of his performance as schools chief, Flanagan told Bridge that his office was “perplexed” by Michigan’s poor performance on national tests, too slow to question the performance of charter schools and “frustrated” with the legislature. He said he wondered, after nine years as superintendent, whether he’d overstayed his welcome and reduced his influence with political leaders.

“I’m the longest-serving state superintendent in the country,” said Flanagan, who took office in 2005. “I think the sweet spot is about six years. After that, it’s like a president after six years ‒ everyone hates you.”

On Michigan’s tepid performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests students in 4th and 8th-grade math and reading, Flanagan said, “It’s a mystery to me.”

“You can’t deny it,” he said of the scores, which now place Michigan among the lowest-ranking states nationally. But, he said, “I think that’s going to take care of itself” over time.

Flanagan’s office contacted Bridge last week to make Flanagan available to talk about his office’s success over the past decade. The call was in response to a recent Bridge series that chronicled education reforms taking place in states that have reached higher or grown faster than Michigan in student achievement.

For the series “The Smartest Kids in the Nation,” Bridge visited Massachusetts and Minnesota, considered national leaders in student learning, and Florida and Tennessee, two states that had lower test scores than Michigan a decade ago, but have since seen student learning skyrocket. Michigan, where NAEP test scores have flattened, now ranks among the bottom tier of states for student learning, both among low-income students and students of color, and among higher-income and white students.

Defending his record

In a phone interview, Flanagan talked with pride about the state’s 2006 passage of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which raised high school graduation requirements for all Michigan students and which Flanagan credits with increasing state scores on the ACT, which is taken by high school students.

But Flanagan was by turns reflective and self-reproaching when discussion turned to the state’s lack of progress in raising student achievement on the NAEP, while other states are receiving accolades for bold education reforms.

“The series itself helped me quantify what we’re doing here,” Flanagan said. “We are clearly a decade or so behind Massachusetts and some of the other places.” Even so, Flanagan added, “the plan (for Michigan education reform) is largely in place.”

Flanagan said he sees promise in two areas: rising third-grade reading scores on the test given in Michigan known as the MEAP, which the state is phasing out; and steady progress on the ACT.

“Our third-grade reading scores are going up, and our ACT scores were up 10 percent this year,” Flanagan said.

On reading, Flanagan was likely referring to state MEAP reading tests that were actually given to 4th-grade students in the early fall of the 2013-14 school year, which tested what students learned in third grade. That year, 70 percent of students were rated proficient or higher in reading, compared with 63.5 percent reaching proficiency the previous year.

The percentage of Michigan students considered “college ready” on the ACT increased from 17.3 percent of those taking the ACT in 2011 to 20.0 percent in 2014. (That’s still well below rates nationally, where 26 percent of students were considered college ready in 2014.)

“It takes patience,” Flanagan said. “It’s not magic.”

Baffled by scores

What about other states that have captured some magic and experienced rapid improvements, some over the course of just a few years?

Flanagan said his department has no empirical insight into why students in Michigan are lagging behind much of the nation on fourth and eighth-grade reading and math. Flanagan said he is skeptical of states like Tennessee and Florida that have witnessed stunning improvements in NAEP scores.

“I’m suspect of some states that made overnight gains,” Flanagan said. “We don’t teach to the NAEP. Maybe other states do? That’s one theory in-house (in the Michigan Department of Education). I could write it off as our kids blowing off the test...but they probably blow off the test in other states, too. I don’t know if they’re giving them donuts or what. It’s perplexing. I don’t fully understand it.”

Flanagan also acknowledged that Michigan’s plans don’t yet include some key elements of successful reform in other states, highlighted in the Bridge series. In Massachusetts, Tennessee and Florida, for instance, state government has invested heavily in teacher training. In Tennessee, more than 70,000 teachers have been trained in how to effectively teach to the Common Core State Standards through state-sponsored programs. In Michigan, which has also adopted Common Core, the number of teachers trained through state-sponsored programs is zero.

“The teacher P.D. (professional development) thing, we’ve got to catch up,” Flanagan said. “That’s an area we’re weak on. The locals and the ISD’s are struggling,” he said, referring to local and intermediate school districts in Michigan. “I’m never been one for (requesting) money for money’s sake, (but) in the case of teacher training, that needs to be a state allocation of money at some point.”

Slow to check charters

Flanagan also said his department should have done more to monitor low-performing charter schools in Michigan, instead of reacting only after a lengthy investigation of charter school practices was published last summer by the Detroit Free Press.

As Bridge noted in the Smartest Kids series, state officials in Massachusetts keep a tight rein on charter schools, which they say explains why Massachusetts charter students, on average, outperform students in traditional public schools on standardized tests.

Flanagan said that Michigan has lagged on efforts to hold charters accountable for student performance.

Flanagan recently announced a proposal to ban additional charter schools from opening under the umbrella of charter authorizers that are underperforming.

Why did it take nine years?

“It’s a fair criticism, I could have jumped on that earlier,” Flanagan said. “I met with them (charter school authorizers) last February and put them on notice. And candidly, the Free Press series gave us good timing.

“We’re going to do it in a fair way, this isn’t a gotcha. (But) they’re not managing themselves.”

The Bridge series also highlighted how in leading states, including Minnesota, state leaders emphasized that reforms only work when there is the political will to see them through long-term. That hasn’t always happened in Michigan, where the legislature “stuck with” Common Core, but got cold feet over approving a new state standardized test that is aligned with Common Core, called Smarter Balance, leaving the state’s testing landscape in limbo.

Frustrated by lawmakers

Flanagan said he is “frustrated” with the Legislature’s refusal to approve the aligned test.

The legislature also has yet to move forward in developing statewide standards on teacher evaluation, or provide a credible way to tie evaluations to student growth on standardized tests. While states such as Tennessee and Florida have been able to tie student learning to teacher evaluations for years, Michigan's schools are left to figure out on their own how to meet the state's teacher evaluation requirements through at least 2016.

“We’re going to have lame duck,” Flanagan said, referring to the unpredictable legislative session after November elections and before new legislators take office in January. “What’s going to happen? If they let us continue the path, I think we’ll be just fine. If they pull the rug out from under us, like with testing, that will be problematic.”

Flanagan was named school superintendent by the State Board of Education in 2005. A former former superintendent of Wayne county’s intermediate school district and the Farmington/Farmington Hills school district, he also served as an advisor to then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Flanagan’s three-year contract expires on July 1. The state board expects to have a list of candidate names by December and his replacement under contract by March, according to reports last week in

When asked what Michigan’s goal should be for public education, Flanagan said the state and its children may need to “settle” for trying to compete with the best states in the nation, while top-achieving states have goals of competing against the top student learning countries in the world, like Finland.

“Massachusetts wants to compete internationally. What I would settle for now, and that’s not “an attractive word, but I’d settle for catching up with Massachusetts. We’re 10 years behind.”

Flanagan said improving education in Michigan has not been easy.

“I’m a little frustrated at times,” he said. “They (other states) didn’t go through a depression like we did, they don’t have the poverty numbers we have. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress. … We need to keep the progress, keep patience.

“Bad news is helpful,” he said, “because it keeps our feet to the fire.”

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Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:53am
Note the Legislature's reneging on Smarter Balance and expecting some new test this spring to replace the MEAP, the very year when a high percentage of teacher evaluations. were supposed to be based on these tests results. Everyone in testing knows the first year of any test is not a valid one. There's declining revenue to classroom teaching and the requirements aren't just more, but rather, ever-changing. It's a persona non gratis, "what have you done for me today?" environment. Declining performance? No surprise to me or other educators. It take 3-5 years for substantive changes to occur the body of research tells us; Michigan doesn't sustain its initiatives for more than a year or two at best. Truly sad to see. No surprise to me that Michigan would be so low. When Mike came in to the MDE, he badgered us in to that Algebra II requirement, which I knew would be eliminated as soon as enough middle class parents' kids were faced with passing Algebra II! (It's great for engineering majors!) This obsession with "rigor" took too many Michigan educators eye off any one ball; there were changes every year, and you could scarcely keep up with the changes and being "yo-yoed" around.
John Bracey
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:57am
It isn't a coincidence that in Minnesota and Massachusetts there is stronger support, throughout the pre K-12 system, on arts education. It impacts most every part of learning and Michigan is far behind other states in recognizing this fact. Arts Education isn't concerned with creating new artists... it is concerned with building better students... and better students = better scores.
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:58am
I am just asking for clarification. How many States are suffering from the economic downturns that Mi. is. How many States are experiencing the school funding challenges as Mi. is? How many are pushing the Charter School alternatives like Mi is? How many States are testing all kids? How many States are requiring the same graduation requirements as Mi? Many if not all of our issues in this country are societal issues not just the schools We have some serious issues and they are not going to be easy or cheap to resolve. R.L.
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 6:32pm
Yes, Michigan is having to reinvent itself. I recently returned from Boston and discovered there are over 300,000 college students in undergrad and graduate schools. Colleges in the area are among the most elite in the nation - Harvard, MIT, Boston University, etc. If students have families think of the support their children receive. Plus the schools are a hotbed of innovation and incubation. Their charters actually follow the charter paradigm - attempting to innovate and not merely "counsel" students out of the schools if they don't obey (Zero Tolerance). Supt Flanagan is comparing apples and oranges. Mass. is an anomaly.
Carol Waltman
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 2:56am
Wondering what percentage of students now take the ACT compared to ten years ago. Is the rise in scores possibly related to a number of students self-selecting out? I see an increasing number opting for alternative education because of the loss of vocational classes and societal rejection of standards that don't seem to apply to the future of many kids. More technical education might be the answer to those we are losing now. Michigan needs tradespeople... at least where I live... as well as academic stars.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:41pm
Carol Waltman October 26, 2014 at 2:56 am All students in Michigan, all 11th graders I guess, now take the ACT. You said, 'Is the rise in scores possibly related to a number of students self-selecting out?' Since they all take it, I don't think that is the case. I think more students are aware now, that they can take it more than once. I talked to a parent whose daughter wanted a 24 on her ACT to get into a certain college. She did not make it the first time. The second time? Bingo.
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:00am
Perhaps Michigan lagging behind other states educationally has nothing to do with educational institutions, testing, policy or matrices. Why does Michigan lag? Maybe it's because many Michigan households lag socio-economically. When education isn't supported by behaviors at home, learning will lag. When mom and dad don't have jobs that provide living wages, and access to health care, learning will lag. It's not ALL about schools. It's not ALL about teachers. Kids will learn more, kids will perform better, when there's support at home, and in many cases -- particularly in areas of high unemployment -- these elements so important to a child's wellbeing and ABILITY to learn are absent
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:10am
An interesting thread runs through this whole interview - the notion that Michigan is partway through a wake-up call, and it still has a ways to go, but "it takes patience" and "that’s going to take care of itself over time." “Our third-grade reading scores are going up" and "ACT scores are up" while "they (other states) didn’t go through a depression like we did, they don’t have the poverty numbers we have." I live in Michigan, but my job is to run teacher-training workshops - more than 300 all-day workshops since 1990, in more than 20 states as well as Brazil, Japan, Korea, and Russia. That perspective suggests that there are even more factors to consider. For example, Michigan was somewhat unique throughout the middle 20th century - it was a place where prosperous auto-assembly and auto-parts industries made it possible for many people to achieve a good standard of living with only a high-school education. That raises an intriguing question - does that historic fact have an influence on community and parental attitudes today? If so, where would that influence be strongest in the state, and is that reflected in the test scores? As I said, that's an intriguing question. What I do know is what I posted a few weeks ago - the spectacular increases in 4th-grade reading scores achieved in some other states between 2003 and 2007 did NOT seem to persist when you look at the 8th-grade scores for 2007 and 2011 (when the 4th-graders of 2007 would have been in 8th grade). That fact lends support for Flanagan's suggestion that those states may have "taught to the test" too well, and actually harmed students by putting too much focus on the specific skills needed in the 4th-grade test. Education reform is a complex and difficult task - and perhaps we should heed another of Flanagan's messages, namely to think very carefully before stirring the pot again - as he said, "If they pull the rug out from under us, like with testing, that will be problematic."
Charles Richards
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 3:49pm
PG makes a very good point when he notes that at one time it was possible to earn a pretty decent living in Michigan with a high school education. "That raises an intriguing question – does that historic fact have an influence on community and parental attitudes today?" The answer seems to be yes. A paper (“Parenting with Style: Altruism and Paternalism in Intergenerational Preference Transmission) posted on VOX ( maintains that there is a definite relationship between economic inequality and parenting styles. It says, "In an economy where education and effort are highly rewarded and where people with little education struggle, parents will be highly motivated to push their children hard. • Thus, we expect economic inequality to be associated with intensive (authoritarian and authoritative) parenting styles. In contrast, in an economy where there is little inequality and artists and school dropouts earn only slightly less than doctors and engineers, parents can afford a more relaxed attitude, and permissive parenting should be more prevalent."
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:38pm
PG October 21, 2014 at 10:10 am The results did not persist because they tested a special cohort (an elite group of students) in that state. That made the state, just one grade level, look good. The students (in a single grade) that had been promoted by social promotion were held back, and only the smaller group remaining were tested. So if we were to compare NAEP results for two groups; one including 'social promotion' students, and one not including 'social promotion' students, we can anticipate that that the comparison itself will be unfair to all, can't we? It would also be unfair of Bridge to use such test results to say Tennessee is better than Michigan wouldn't it? I think it would be unfair to readers to continue this comparison once it is known, and it is known. But there is another assumption that is much more misleading by far. Before 'social promotion,' all students were expected to complete the requirements of a grade level before graduating from that grade and moving on to the next. That was the assumption long ago. A high school graduate was expected to have completed all the requirements for graduation. I understand that to mean, they met the 12th grade quality requirements in all required subjects per the Michigan Constitution. Obviously that is not true with 'social promotion'. But, what is not so obvious is that students that meet the NAEP or MEAP 'Proficiency' requirements also do not meet this standard. They may not be at grade level in all required subjects, or any subject. I challenge Mr. Flanagan to come clean on this issue. He is at the end of 10 years. Why not say the truth now? Here is a way. I asked my local school to publish a chart showing what grade levels our students had actually achieved in basic subjects. According to a NAEP quote from 1994 only 5% of American students are at 12th grade level in Math when they graduate. I asked my school to publish a chart for Reading, Math, Science and Writing. That is four charts. Publish it to the local community. For Mr. Flanagan, that would to the state of Michigan. The 1994 quote from NAEP also said, 50% 'drop out' of Math each year. So I made up a sample chart for my local school, starting at 100% for first grade with a straight line down to 5% at graduation. Across the bottom would be the current grade level of the student, 1 through 12. Up the side would be the percentage of students in each class that actually meet the grade level requirements for each grade. Then anyone can see how close the data comes to my straight line, my guess. I hope Mr. Flanagan will have the courage to say what the state of education in Michigan actually is. Now, I'm not saying, Mr. Flanagan is responsible for this. It was that way when he took office. He may use the data from that year, if he wishes to show what he inherited, if he wishes. We have a Constitution. We have standards. We have laws. We have Grade Levels. Each teacher has a contract. Each student (1.5 million) have to attend by law. We have a state education budget, $19 billion per year, that we each invest our treasure into. The challenge is to say the truth. Tell us, how well are our students are doing by their Grade Level, Mr. Flanagan.
Al Churchill
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:50pm
Some states hold back students in the third grade if they do not display enough "rigor" the first time around. That being the case, it is predictable that those students will do better in fourth grade, thereby raising the states test scores.
David Britten
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:14am
Yes, and we're 20 years behind on the Proposal A promise of more equitable and adequate school funding to support raising achievement levels for all students regardless of their circumstances. But have no fear, if funding increases at the rate it did this year, we only have 38 more years until all students are being funded just at the same level (not equity), that is if public schools financially survive that long.
Richard McLLellan
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 11:47am
David Britten's comments reflects a common theme I hear from eduators -- not only do we not have all students "funded at the same level," we don't have "equity." When pressed, you will find out that "equity" always means more money for a favored group, -- early education, gifted, rural students in large districts geographically, districts with lower incomes, high concentration of minority students, special education, arts funding (see above), dual enrollment -- the list is endless. We will always have a tension between uniformity and equity and this will be resolved in the political budget process.
John S. Porter
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:27am
Thank you Mr. Flanagan for your service. Your candid remarks are welcome. There is a very long incubation period for educating a child. The depression in Michigan started before the national crash in 2008. We were seeing it in Michigan much earlier, perhaps coincident with your terms of office. It's hard to patch holes in the hull when you are busy bailing. Gridlocks between Urban Detroit and Metro Detroit, East and West Michigan, Republican and Democrats, and the Urban and Rural all have taken their toll. What really baffles me is how people can be so negative toward so many initiatives, and justify their inaction to the voters. It's not just the State of Massachusetts school system that is competing internationally. It's everybody competing in a networked world. Education is a part of it, but only a part. It starts with self-criticism and collaboration. If you aren't baffled by the current political terrain, you don't even know what questions to ask.
George Ranville
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:48am
I was a small publisher of young reader books and visited lots of schools in Michigan for reading events from 2004 to 2011. In the later part of the decade, when we visited suburban schools, especially on the east side of the state, we found that enrollment had dropped dramatically in some of the schools, A principal told me that the people who were leaving and getting jobs in other parts of the country were the professionals - CPA's, engineers, surveyors, bankers, legal specialists - and the like who were easily employable elsewhere. They took their families with them. These were the families who placed a high value on education, and their students were leaders in their schools. Anecdotal, but it seems that it had to impact test scores and will take some time to recover from the long Michigan recession.
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:31pm
George, that doesn't surprise me. When Michigan went through a recession, I got many calls from out of state looking for IT professionals. Not only could they offer a better job, but I could also receive a better education for my children. People who are in the top 10% of the workforce often have children in the top 10% of academics. Michigan offers nothing for these children and No Child Left Behind has meant they are ignored in most classrooms. Many other states have mandated gifted education and funded it. When they have a choice, where will parents of intelligent kids send them? It won't be Michigan's public schools! Michigan needs to meet the needs of ALL students. If we choose not to, many families will choose alternatives, whether it be home schooling, private schools, or out of state. Like George, this is anecdotal, but I've known many high-performing students who have been pulled from Michigan's public schools. This can't help our test scores!
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 10:54am
The giant mistake, was taking money out of the School Aid Fund for Community Colleges. This was not the will of the voters in 1994. The School Aid Fund is for K-12. Gov. Snyder needed to make the case for a seperate fund for Community Colleges. He also failed to prioritize K-12, over the disproportionate dispursments to Universities. When college football icons outweigh K-12 education in State Funding, kids will be shortchanged.
Gene Markel
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 12:32pm
The industrial education process is obsolete and the progression of K thru 12 doesn't work. The student must become an explorer using the digital age tools to find a productive place in the 21st century. In the digital age a teacher has to become a facilitator and mentor of knowledge and its application to 21st century employment. This will require that the best and brightest of the digital age to be recruited to be purveyors of knowledge and its application. Until such time as the facilitator / mentor becomes a reality and receives adequate compensation and benefits to enter the profession, Michigan and the United States will languish in the back waters of affected ignorance.
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:45am
Mr. Markel: You have hit the nail on the head. All children can learn. From the poorest to the richest. Refer to the "School in The Clowd" Ted Talk by Sugata Mitra. Not only did he prove this fact, he did it with some of the poorest children in the world, who did not speak English and learned it all themselves, including learning English...digitally. While we whine and complain about economics, our children languish with lack of learning. As long as the "big people" look for excuses, the children will be lost.
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:46am
School in the Cloud (I do know how to spell!!)
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 1:18pm
Mr. Flanagan is a symptom of the state of Michigan’s education system. He never mentions learning. He doesn’t see the immediacy for change. He offers excuses by blaming others states successes on how they teach. He questions his political impact by saying it is due to his longevity not his actions. He doesn’t see that he should be the facilitator of innovation, the driver of change, the incubator of success. He can’t see or hear past those who surround him, he has given up, he epitomizes a government mentality of rationalizing failure, of tolerating mediocrity, of not risking for success, and of avoiding program accountability. Michigan’s education system needs a turnaround team, a leader who is experienced in turning around a failing organization, one who can recruit a team dedicated to achieving success, who are focused on results, and willing to sacrifice to turn the educational culture in Michigan into one of student focus and learning success. We need people that will to break with current thinking and educational structure, and focus on learning and the students. Michigan isn’t 10 years behind, it is a generation of self-serving culture behind. Michigan isn’t learning focused, it is political games focused. For Michigan to change for student success, people/educators/politicians have to stop telling us all the reasons schools are failing and start finding how and why individual students are succeeding in spite of the reasons for failure. I don’t trust the current people/politicians to do the investigation for success. I do trust Mr. French to report on the investigating of success. He asks questions and is willing to report the findings even when they don’t fit his expectations. I would encourage him to first talk to a few who are experienced at investigating for the root causes of issues/problems/events, especially where the workplace/local culture can be a factor. Michigan can succeed, but if first has to decide what success should be, student learning or support for current practices. When you think of Michigan education which comes to mind first, more money or students who have succeeded? Lansing or students? Failure or success?
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:02pm
You add many good points, but when you work in the Education System in Michigan for 32 years, you see how Education has become a political football. There are many issues that have been researched over and over to show increased learning CAN happen, if certain things are changed. Educators will continue to fight for our students. They deserve more than 'teaching to the test'. All politicians want are good test results! Enough said. If you want good results, look to the private schools and emulate them. Small class size - Learning everywhere - lots of parental involvement - and very little testing! If you did this for EVERY CHILD on a public scale, you would have very happy, educated students. Keep Art, Music, and Gym. But, we Educators are always ignored. Politicians, actors, millionaires, business men and women know best, right???
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 8:49pm
Cindy, If the topics on the test are the are the right ones then it would seem teacing'studying/learning for the test is the right thing to do. Rather then the current testing being used as a measure for the education system, what would think to be better measures? I don;t think the polticians want scores, they want something to use as leverage for more money to spend. I don't see private schools as the model of success, I would offer it is the students that make the success. As for smaller class size, I am not so sure of that. My wife and daughters and me had classes that were in the mid to upper twenties even 30 class sizes and that did not seem to affect their success, my intermittent success in K-12 was self inflicted. I suggest you read David and Goliath' by Malcom Gladwell start with page 44-50 and then 55+ it offers interesting information about class size. Parents can surely be valuable, but I've seen success without parental paticipation. If teacher don't want to be ignore then they must get engaged, they must decide what needs to be done, they must identify and analyze success, they must break from conventional educational 'wisdom' and make a case for their value and knowledge. My best guess, a bit of experience, is that people who resist developing performance metrics will always be disappointed in what they get by not participating. A better approach would be for teachers to get together and develop a set of performance metrics that are good measures of performance. They should be used by the teachers to develop credible data and then present/sell them as more accurate alternative for current testing. Teacher need to appreciate that all the adults have developed their preception of the education system based on personal experience. That is a high barrier to overcome and it won't be change by relying on the same old story and especially not if the first words are asking for money.
Valorie Melow
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:21pm
Duane, I am a first grade teacher in Ithaca, Michigan. I know many educators who would agree our educational system is flawed. We are striving every day to be better educators. I find it beyond frustrating that no one seems to think teachers can be part of the solution. Why do you need to bring in non-educators to solve our problems. Classroom teachers are innovators. If anyone in power would listen, we could solve many of the issues faced by our students and staffs. Some areas where change needs to take place: parents need to be held more accountable. They need to be educated on the importance of an education for their children. They need to want more for their children than they had or have. They need to want their child in school everyday. We need to have smaller class sizes so we can meet the needs of EVERY student. We need to have a Department of Human Services that isn't overworked, to the point of not being affective, to handle the family issues that schools are left to handle. We need administrators who aren't afraid to honestly evaluate a teacher, put courses of action in place to improve teachers, and be willing to follow through on those plans. We need teachers who don't feel threatened by the lack of professional compensation. (Non-educators do not understand what it is like to spend $70,000 for an education and then be told by their government that you don't deserve to EVER make more than $32,000, give or take a few thousand.) We need more training for our teachers. We need our government to quit changing the rules every year so we can have some consistency. Standards and testing enter and leave our classrooms like a revolving door. My final thought: Would someone please ask the classroom teachers to help turn things around. We are the experts!!
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:17pm
Valerie, Teachers are preceived to be part of the solution because they don't explain what they see as the solution and how they can contribute to it. I have found that 'experters' build a box to define their area of expertise and are unwilling or unable to look at issues from a different persecptive. People who have been successful at change have learned how to open up to new and innovative approaches. They have found that first they define the purpose and then they challenge everyone on everything, asking questions that make people uncomfortable, defensive, even confrontaional. They ask questons, and question the answers. They have a strength of success that keeps pushing even when people are upset and deny that any could be better. They also learn how to listen to what is said not listen for what they want to hear. I wonder is you were in a meeting with your peers how comfortable a peer of yours be in questioning a practice or what an individual is saying? How easy is it to challenge those who you will be working with for years into the future. You feel parents should be held accountable, but what do you offer for holding teachers accountable? That is the type of question a person experienced in change will ask. Is that the kind of questoin your peers would ask in a meeting of the teachers in the school the work? What is a smaller class? is it less than 18? is it 12? is it 8? You say smaller and I ask how small and why? Have you ever seen a one or a few students dominate a class with their attitude? is it easy in small class or in a large class? is it easier to bully in small groups or large groups? Is is mor elikely for the most likely academically successful kid will intimidate others in a small or large class? Why are you so sure small is better and what is small? You might want to read 'David and Goliath' by Malcom Gladwell starting with pages 44-50 and 50+ where it presents information on class size. It is about challenging conventional wisdom. I would ask the teachers, but when will the teachers ask the students? What do you see as the prupose of a teacher, is it teaching or the student learning? The difference is will determine spending. As for the cost of an education and the salary paid are well known before anyone starts college so the choice is made with the eyes open so why do people choose to become teachers? I ould like to hear more and especially about how I misunderstand the issues.
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:15am
Research already shows what works in the classroom, and teachers WANT to use those best practices. The problem is that their hands are tied by bureaucracy. This is not an excuse--it is fact. The problem is the whole system, not just any one part of that system. If you take time to research the history of American education, it will quickly become apparent that educational decisions have been made by politicians from the very beginning. If we want to see educational reform, the politicians need to start listening to trained educational experts who have already done the research to show what works. Trained experts making the decisions? Now that's innovation!
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:56pm
Lori, I never doubted that politicians make the decisions that control money. Why do you think the politicians will change? What do you think is the best class size? Why do you think size matters? Do you think all 'trained experts' should be listen to or just a few? Which ones and why? Why do you think the 'experts' don't play to the politicians? What are the 'best practices'? What have you found out about learning when you ask the students why and how they learn or don't learn? The reality is we have change how we do things if we want different results. What would you like to see change other than giving more money to the education system?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 7:17pm
Lori October 22, 2014 at 9:15 am You said, 'If you take time to research the history of American education, it will quickly become apparent that educational decisions have been made by politicians from the very beginning.' I don't agree with that. I read, 'National Education in the United States of America.' by Samuel DuPont, based on a letter to Thomas Jefferson, April 1800. He said the United States had the highest literacy rate in the world, only 4 people in a thousand can not read well, write well and do math well. He said this was done by Fathers reading to their children 45 minutes a day, or sending them to effective Grammar Schools (3 years). The fathers, the family, made these decisions, not politicians. What data do you have that says otherwise?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:36pm
Al Churchill October 22, 2014 at 8:50 pm I understand in the case of Tennessee that the 'elite' kids, the ones not held back, went on to fourth and scored higher on the NAEP for just that one year. It was just one grade, not all grades. Then the next year they did the same trick with their 8th graders. Just the one class that was going to take the NAEP that year.
Fri, 11/07/2014 - 8:27am
You have hit a Bullseye. Teachers need pay that reflects their level of education, they need support and they need to be represented in every committee in education. Otherwise, we are blind to the reality of the classroom.
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:01pm
The weakest link in Michigan education is at the administrative and political levels. We need a long list of major reforms starting with holding our students strictly accountable for test scores and real achievement as they do in every other advanced Western country (Japan, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Italy, etc). Also we have to invest in more and better professional development, educational technology and the arts (in addition to science, math, reading, writing, etc). We should be looking to Massachusetts and beyond to other advanced countries. We need more foreign languages and perhaps foreign exchange programs. As a culture we need stronger families, which everyone has a role to help improve. The high turnover of school administrators and the nasty politics at the state level have cause many problems for real progress. Our state leaders have too often looked to places like South Carolina and other southern states for ideas, as many of their GOP financiers have pushed. The hostility towards educators needs to end immediately along with following the foolish ideas of ALEC, Dick DeVos, the Mackinac Center and the Koch Brothers. There is so much that needs to be done! This needs to be bi-partisan and focused on having ONLY non-profit K-12 education with locally elected school boards for better taxpayer accountability. The last four years in Lansing have been a disaster for Michigan education (meaning the politicians, not necessarily Mr. Flanagan). its time for a real change for the better!
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:49pm
Micheal: Sorry, but you are barking up a couple of wrong trees. You have specifically disqualified some individuals that loom rather largely in Republican Party politics, and then proclaim the need for bi-partisanship. The reason the aforementioned people have so much clout is not because they have/give so much money, it is because there are so many people that agree with them. You, obviously, are not one of them. The other wrong tree is your point about locally elected school boards. I think this is laudable, but I must point out that the state constitution grants the state's Department of Education oversight over all public primary and secondary schools. What I have found appalling, myself, is that this authority has been exceeded to include private schools, where it has no legitimate authority.
Mary Jo
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:46pm
Why is Flanagan still here? If I were a mediocre teacher, I would be gone. Where is the Board of Education's leadership? I was an educator for 32 years. The changes that are sifting down to the classroom are inconsistent and unrealistic at best. Go ahead, teach to the test, just tell us which test we are teaching to this year? I see a lot of excuses from the top down, and a lot of blaming from the bottom up. Who gets squished in the middle? The teachers and students. We all need to be accountable for learning (ALL meaning: students, teachers, parents, administrators,legislators, community, etc.) It is easy to blame others, it is harder to take on the responsibility and follow through to the end.
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:56pm
What percentage of educational dollars are spent on teacher salaries and benefits in other states? Michigan is #42 in per pupil spending, but #11 in teacher salaries and #1 in salaries when adjusted for cost of living. Perhaps other states have put the money in professional development and programs instead.
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:24am
Did you know that Michigan's newer teachers' families are eligible for food stamps and WIC? After having earned a college degree that trained them for a profession? And that they are required by law to continue taking college classes they cannot afford to take in order to remain certified? Teachers obviously do not go into the profession to make money, and to insinuate they make too much money is insulting.
Tyler Durden
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 8:18am
Don't feed the trolls Lori!
Valorie Melow
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:24pm
I am a first grade teacher in Ithaca, Michigan. I know many educators who would agree our educational system is flawed. We are striving every day to be better educators. I find it beyond frustrating that no one seems to think teachers can be part of the solution. Why do you need to bring in non-educators to solve our problems. Classroom teachers are innovators. If anyone in power would listen, we could solve many of the issues faced by our students and staffs. Some areas where change needs to take place: parents need to be held more accountable. They need to be educated on the importance of an education for their children. They need to want more for their children than they had or have. They need to want their child in school everyday. We need to have smaller class sizes so we can meet the needs of EVERY student. We need to have a Department of Human Services that isn’t overworked, to the point of not being affective, to handle the family issues that schools are left to handle. We need administrators who aren’t afraid to honestly evaluate a teacher, put courses of action in place to improve teachers, and be willing to follow through on those plans. We need teachers who don’t feel threatened by the lack of professional compensation. (Non-educators do not understand what it is like to spend $70,000 for an education and then be told by their government that you don’t deserve to EVER make more than $32,000, give or take a few thousand.) We need more training for our teachers. We need our government to quit changing the rules every year so we can have some consistency. Standards and testing enter and leave our classrooms like a revolving door. My final thought: Would someone please ask the classroom teachers to help turn things around. We are the experts!!
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:49pm
I am a parent of a 6th and 4th grader and a preschooler. We live in a good school district and have paid the price to do it. Why is school set up around the idea that it is still 1955? Why does school start late, and end early, without study hall time for homework or other extras? My kids bring so much work home it is obvious the school day is not long enough for us to keep up with the world. Nobody but other teachers are home at 3:30 when kids get out of school, and nobody starts work at 9:00 anymore. The school system will have to change either by force or willingly. Either way, 10 years from now this antiquated structure we are propping up by politics will be killed by the marketplace. More and more parents are tired of excuses about their kids educations and are choosing alternatives. Get a clue. I am frustrated, not angry or militant. I just think people are so afraid of change they cannot see some the simple solutions that could really change outcomes.
Jen Laz
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 4:50pm
Mike Flagagan has done a great job balancing the political agendas of various board members and has been as fair as possible in keeping Michigan moving forward. I would like him to be specific on what needs to be reformed and he did not do this in this article. Republicans say..charter schools and Democrats say more money, so let me offer something pretty basic. There are 180 days of school. Teacher walk in the door not prepared to teach (especially new teacher to the districts-there is no training), books are not on desks, teachers are not familar with IEP's --which take 4 weeks for special education to get it together, schedules are still being worked out still, etc. In the real world, if you were not prepared to teach or did not know your customer (IEP kids), you would be fired or if you did not have course materials, you would be fired. This is not the teacher's fault..they are not trained. Every day, including DAY 1 matters. READY TO TEACH, READY TO LEARN DAY 1. Each day needs to be effective--not two weeks into the school year or with IEP's 4 weeks in. Testing should not cut into educational time. 180 days is not a lot of time. High Schools should be organized like college classes. Plans for the semester including what is due should be clear. Video taping lectures so kids who are absent can see what is going on. This is just a start.
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 8:50am
Jen you are on point! The teachers are not educated on how to teach ALL Children. This isn't their fault. They are coming out of a teaching program that doesn't require them to learn about the most common disabilities BUT are expected to be able to teach each and every child. MA recognizes ALL children and teaches ALL children. Why wouldn't a child not have what they need per the IEP on the first day of school? If a child needs a special computer, laptop, healthcare aide they should be in place for the very first day of school. Everyone else will be supplied a pencil and paper if needed. The SKY is Falling on Education.
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 12:43pm
Cindy, unfortunately educators have little to no training in high-ability children either and aren't providing the supports they need. Public education has been designed to be one-size-fits-all, but that doesn't hold true for all children. Making education flexible enough to meet the needs of all learners is vital reform.
Laurel Raisanen
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 7:29am
Talking about education in Michigan is depressing, depressing, depressing. What we need, what our students need, is enthusiastic leadership that supports the teachers in the trenches. Really!
Michael Morin
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:14am
Is it just me or this a really scary situation? I didn't get the sense there is a plan to fix this problem. And shouldn't that be job-one for the State Superintendent - vision and a plan? Or is the seemingly lack of direction the fault of the Legislature getting in the way and wanting to micro-manage the schools for political reasons? Maybe they could get out of the way and just figure out how to fund them and let the Education Department, principals and teachers figure it out. Good thing there are still some private schools showing good results. Unfortunately, there's not a way for many to avail themselves of the option, they're simply unaffordable for most families. But wait. Maybe that's the solution - give state money to any school that can show success, whether private or public? Just a thought
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 2:35pm
Valorie Melow October 21, 2014 at 4:24 pm You said, 'I find it beyond frustrating that no one seems to think teachers can be part of the solution.' I have been an Engineer some 40 years or so, and I have to train a lot of young Engineers, newly hired people. I have the responsibility to bring them up to speed from day-one, that means to make them highly productive and effective in the world of work. My boss might say, 'Leon, I could do those tasks in one-third the time you say it will take.' I might reply, 'Okay, I will train them to work faster.' I would like you to say what your solutions, as a teacher, are for the problems in our economy, as I see them. New hires seem to have no concept of 'work.' Now, what I mean by work is that an employee does tasks quickly and easily. He does them more competitively than some others, like people from other countries. The amount of work a person can do per unit of time determines not only his value to a company, but also to himself. New hires seem to have no concept of how to learn new skills quickly. I might have lots of things to do, they require different skills, a person might not know how to do that one thing. How does he pick it up quickly and get the job done? New hires don't seem to know how to use a dictionary to define concepts quickly, and with certainty, so they are no longer troublesome. They seem to rely utterly on 'context clues' which always leads them into trouble one way or the other. I researched 'context clues' and it seems that a man named Robinson did a vast amount of research on this topic, 30 or 40 years worth at Ohio State. Then all that was trash canned and someone substituted what is being used today. No research that I can find on that at all. And even the simplest test of it, proves it is worthless. The student will get into trouble, instantly or later, or much later, and have no idea how to get out of it. He is left adirft. New hires don't seem to know how to get themselves going. They don't know how to acquire a purpose for themselves or what they are doing. They wait for someone else to work this out. No one has taught them this skill, how to acquire a reason to do something. I talked to an old farmer, a friend since we were 5 years old. He says, 'I can always find something to do.' Do you know what this means? I'm looking forward to your response. Don't leave me high and dry on this. Leon
Jay L
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 8:48pm
The NAEP is a poor measure and not a lot emphasis should be place on it. Visit Diane Ravitch's blog or read her book Reign of Error.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 10:52am
Instead of clarifying the purpose of a system of public education and determining if that purpose is being achieved all flounder by addressing symptoms for an alleged problem(s) that has never been clearly defined. Until all understand what the purpose is, learning, and focus on that purpose evaluating every action and reaction on the contribution made to achieving the purpose all effort is futile. If you don't understand learning you can never comprehend the purpose. All is lost! Lack of profound knowledge starting with understanding that interdependence and variation are the rule. We ignore interdependence completely and instead take pot shots at narrow slices of the process and its participants. Next we seek the magic metric that will guide us to nirvana. Learning is qualitative, a characteristic shared by all from literally inception. We continue to try and ascribe a numerical value to this qualitative process. Idiocy! Plato's Allegory and Ghost of Pythagoras are good starting points for all who wish to constructively address opportunities for children to learn. By "learning" you may become "educated". Asking the question "why?" of every conclusion drawn might help too.
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 7:09pm
Chuck, I give my full support to your remarks about the importance and need for purpose. My questions are where the purpose of the Michigan education posted (is it in entry way to each office building, each school, and in the room for each meeting)? If not, then when do we start writing that purpose? I think the lack of interdependence is more of a resistance to relinquishing position because of a lack of common purpose. The lack of common purpose is also a reason for lack of appropriate metrics. Another reason is of a fear of accountability and a lack of understanding of how to use accountibility to achieve the desired results. So when do we start work on developing a desciption of a purpose for the education system in Michigan, since no one else will?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:27pm
Chuck Fellows October 26, 2014 at 10:52 am I believe to have a common purpose, we would have to clarify just what a purpose is, what the word means first. In my recommendations, I use this definition: 'a purpose is a short term objective one intends to achieve.' And a goal is a long term objective one intends to achieve. Now, my recommendations are basically given directly to children. So one would have to also clarify who we are talking about that would be having such a purpose. I asked two eighth-grade girls for their purpose for study. A half hour later, I found what it was; 'If we don't get a C, our mom yells at us. So we study to get a C.' So these students did not have a personal reason to study they studied for 'mom' and that standard was not very high. I think if you define 'a purpose' only in Lansing for 'public education' you will miss the children. But I think we could, and must clarify the word, and who has to acquire 'the purpose' for it to be effective, directly with each child. I think someone is going to have to spend that half hour with two students, or however long it takes to clarify what purpose the child is doing. Then help them to find one they personally intend to achieve. I think one of the best ones, would be one that brings the subject alive for the individual student. I have written a true goal for education, if you would like to see it sometime. Now if we can accomplish that in Lansing, we will be successful.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Mon, 10/27/2014 - 4:15pm
Chuck Fellows October 26, 2014 at 10:52 am Chuck, If you are saying the purpose of education is or should be, 'learning' this is too general. My local school said their goal was 'to educate.' That was also too general. Such statements may have a specific meaning to you or an individual, but anything under the sun could be acceptable in such a broad, general, all encompassing, blase statement, so it would just disperse all activity in Michigan education. It could mean all, or any of those things that we hate most about Michigan education right now. Someone could argue, but we are 'educating', the children are 'learning.' Maybe all the wrong things, but they are learning. Now if you had a specific meaning for 'learning' that we all knew and loved, including the children, and that solved that solved all our problems, and people knew we meant your definition of 'learning' when we invested $19 billion in K-12 education year after year, and saw the lights suddenly turn on in all our children's eyes and the economy was seen to flourish because people now knew how to do things. I do not see that happening with a super-general statement for a goal like, 'learning.' Tell us how you could make that statement of a goal work?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:10pm
Chuck Fellows October 26, 2014 at 10:52 am Here is an example of purpose or goal that is more specific. It has two parts. One part is what we must not do. The second part is what we should do: "To preserve the Intelligence, Creativity and Initiative of the individual while increasing the Social, Moral and Cultural level of society." I don't think 'learning' should be done in such a way as to reduce the intelligence of the individual. Actually, this is what is being done now. The highest IQ's are measured at about the age of 12. After that, apparently, IQ's in the current education system go down. I believe the technology exists to preserve these high IQ's at age 12. Since it applies to any any age, we could probably have smarter students at age 12 as well. Creativity. This should be preserved, not reduced. There is a story of an author present at meeting of a group (New York Literary Guild) in 1938 that contained writers and editors. None of these top writers in New York had completed college. Some had dropped out. Their combined income in 1938 dollars, was $250,000 per month. Creativity should not be reduced by 'learning.' The second part highlights what we should be focusing on more specifically.
Mon, 10/27/2014 - 7:04am
Really? That perplexing? He and the government set schools up to fail. Blamed teachers. Crushed morale and the incentives to succeed. Changed the rules, blamed teachers again. See the trend. He and this legislature need to go away and go away fast. Can't keep treating people like dirt and children as if they are simply numbers, not people and expect anything more.
Capt. Obvious
Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:44pm
Two words.....Charter Schools.
Fri, 11/07/2014 - 8:04am
Michigan needs a new vision. The 2006 requirements for additional math and science classes devastated technology electives in schools around the state. Computer Science related jobs are the fastest growing segment of the economy and yet, education ignores the real world and puts it's energy into theoretical courses that are difficult for working class kids because they lack connections to how these theories are applied. Computer Science is hands on, with kids creating programs that reflect the world around us (like the Internet). Michigan needs to change with the times. The average car contains 100,000 lines of code and Detroit cannot find enough programmers to design and engineer all the new features in the next generation cars. How many Michigan schools have an articulated K-20 curriculum for Computer Science? When you look at the basics, reading and math the data at 4th compared with 8th grade shows that by 8th grade more kids have fallen behind. This means that over four years and millions of dollars of programs have not met the goals of improving learning. This data means it is time to change. Our children deserve good support. Every day millions of Michigan children come to school wanting to learn and the system is failing them. One of the first areas to change is financial support. The legislature needs to step up and stop playing politics with the lives of kids. When a starting teacher with a 4 year degree is offered 35,000 a year and Coca Cola is offering new drivers 59,000 a year with benefits and you only need a high school diploma, this illustrates how little we value the dedication of the teaching profession. This has to change. When a kid is sent to prison, the state pays six to seven times more to support them in prison that what is paid to support their education. This is INSANE. We need to invest in children and give them all the support they need to keep them learning and to prevent so many children from ending up in prison. Education funding needs to be a fixed item (automatically adjusted for inflation) in the state budget. Lottery money should be added as a bonus instead of deducting it from the fund for a public relations ploy. In some areas of Michigan more than 75% of the students drop out and when research says that if a kid can connect to just one teacher or adult in the school, then 98% of them go on to graduate. This is another powerful argument for dramatic systemic change in education. The school calendar was created based on a rural farming economy and needs revision to reflect an urban two parent working economy. Schools need to be open from 7am until 7pm and provide a safe place for kids to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Administrators who lack vision will complain and blame teacher unions and say, they won't let us change. Rubbish. We need to pink slip a bunch of short sighted administrators who have led the decline in Michigan education and we need to collaborate and partner with teacher unions and the community and effect real change. How long would a retail store remain open if management lost money year after year? Yet, we have schools where the academic achievement of students is a disaster and little is done to change and nobody, especially the administrators take responsibility. Time for accountability. Michigan's economic recovery depends upon diversification and the foundation of a long term plan to diversity the state should begin with changing education to prepare children for THEIR future, instead of our past.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 11/13/2014 - 9:50pm
Vic November 7, 2014 at 8:04 am You sound very sincere. Would you support placing a clause in all Teacher Contracts in Michigan that says effectively, 'I have have the knowledge and skills to teach each child in my class the knowledge and skills of this grade level. If the child does not have the knowledge and skills of this grade level, by the end of the year, I will personally pay a tutor to bring them up to grade level before the start of the new year.' (Initialed by the teacher.) If teachers and teacher unions have not signed on to this quality standard then they are planning to do something less aren't they? I would agree to pay them as other professionals if they plan to have the same quality standards as other professionals.