Time to row in same direction for schools, says Michigan business group

Business Leaders for Michigan takes note of how business, education and civic leaders work together to improve education in leading states.

The most obvious question about the latest report on Michigan school reform is also the easiest to answer.

Why is a business group writing about education?

For Business Leaders for Michigan, “it’s about building the talent right here at home,” BLM President Doug Rothwell said. “We want to hire Michigan students – yet we can see first-hand that too many younger workers lack the basic skills they need in literacy and math to succeed in the workforce.

“That’s why we engaged in this study; to prompt an important dialogue about how to improve student outcomes.”

Related: College funding cuts in Michigan have led to fewer students, greater debt
Related: Michigan income growth hindered by lack of college graduates 
Related: Demand for Michigan workers is very high, but many have given up looking

The business group’s latest report, “Business Leaders’ Insights: Leading Practices in K-12 Education That Can Improve Student Outcomes in Michigan,” surveys the best practices of leading education states and makes recommendations for changes that could help turn around Michigan’s flagging K-12 system.

Detroit conference: Getting past politics to give Michigan the schools it deserves
Grand Rapids conference: West Michigan leaders join chorus for state education reform

The BLM education report, released Tuesday, calls for:

  • High, consistent standards. Michigan changes its standards way too often, according to the report.
  • Investment in professional development for teachers and school leaders, by giving them better access to data and recognizing top performers.
  • Money spent on policies that are proven to be effective, and making those strategies uniform across the state.

“Some of these ideas are not new, but they have not been adopted consistently in Michigan like they have in states with high student outcomes,” Rothwell said.

The business leaders plan is the latest in at least a dozen education reform reports published by various groups in Michigan in recent years.

Related: We read 12 reports on fixing Michigan schools. Here are 4 things we learned.
Got 6 minutes? Highlights of a dozen studies on Michigan schools​

“We have talented people spending countless hours trying to fix our education system,” states the BLM report, “but their efforts are rarely coordinated.”

Rothwell said he hopes that changes now.

“The states that have been successful have had a group of business, education, foundation and philanthropic organizations aligned behind concerns about student performance and putting forth a consistent and unified effort to improve outcomes,” Rothwell said.

“Today, we are announcing the beginning of a group of Michigan organizations committed to working together toward better student outcomes.”

Included in that group are: Business Leaders for Michigan, Detroit Regional Chamber, The Education Trust-Midwest, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Skillman Foundation, the Small Business Association of Michigan, Talent 2025, Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, and Tom Haas, Grand Valley State University President and Chair of the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission.

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John Q. Public
Wed, 03/21/2018 - 9:34am

Take a crack at the second-most obvious question, will you?

Why is it that employers in other states are so satisfied with Michigan-educated talent, and are willing to pay them so much more than Michigan employers are?

Spending "(m)oney...on policies that are proven to be effective, and making those strategies uniform across the state" is akin to having every NFL team implement the New England Patriots' offense. It works great as long as you have Belichick and Brady.

Nearly all the groups mentioned in the last paragraph are committed to paying as little tax as possible, then demanding more and better services funded by taxes. Bridge gives them way too much credit for knowing how to build a car just because they know how to drive one.

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:21am

I have 3 sons who are currently looking for jobs. All were great HS students and currently hold AA degrees in various technical programs; 2 are currently studying to earn engineering degrees. They are all hunting internships and eventual full-time jobs. Where are these employers who pay so much more for our well-qualified workers than in Michigan? From what I can see, most places nationwide are offering entry level employees with less than a BA/BS and interns the same $10-$12/hour I earned when I was a college intern 30+ years ago, if they pay interns at all. Worse, many paying internships are limited to students of color or those from impoverished families. Real-world work experience is important for all learners, especially those who aspire to design new products or lead new organizations.

Wed, 03/21/2018 - 1:40pm

All these business people think they understand education, where are the teachers?

Tom Watkins
Wed, 03/21/2018 - 4:22pm

Where are the front line educators in this group? We need to be actively engaging teachers, administrators in school building in education reform efforts from the get go— not as after thoughts to validate or critize after the work is done. A working with vs. a working on strategy would go a long way.
The biggest problem is getting the various dispirited groups to drop the ideology, political spin, break down the silo’s and forge a shared vision and common agenda that folks from the left and right can rally around, support and adequately fund.

Without bringing folks together around a single plan of action we will be like a one armed guy in a rowboat.

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 10:47am

Well said Tom. Good leaders know it companies are only as successful as their employees. This plays out in all aspects of the economy, from business, to education, to healthcare, etc. It is not that there are not well intentioned people working on this problem, it is true leadership we lack.

We all need to forget about looking to state government for help and do what is possible at the local level. There are so many innovative educational possibilities, and each district must do the best they can, utilize resources wisely and create a vision for the future.

Fri, 03/23/2018 - 9:08am

Other comments indicate very clearly that almost all Michigan's teachers and school administrators remain in denial about the breadth and magnitude of the failure in Michigan's education system over the past 20 years. We do need to involve *effective* teachers who have succeeded in helping all children to learn at a rate of at least one year of progress per year of school attendance in revising the standards and practices in the majority of schools, while retaining and better supporting school choice for families who want or need it. The problem is not that schools need more money, although a few, especially those in rural and high-poverty areas do. The main problem is that the majority of money in our school systems is being spent on the wrong things.

We urgently need Michigan schools to adopt techniques like Mastery Learning, where a student doesn't move on to the next instructional unit until they have mastered the current one, and where a student who has already mastered that material can move on to the next unit immediately. Kindergarten entry criteria should be standardized across the state, and age/birthdate limits eliminated. Elementary school literacy and numeracy instruction should be conducted in small, leveled groups without regard to calendar age or standard grade levels.