Letter: Criticism won’t help fix Michigan education
This op-ed was co-authored with Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, and Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association. It originally appeared in The Detroit News.
This month in CNBC’s annual ranking of the Top States for Business, Michigan suffered a dramatic tumble, going from the nation’s 13th best state for business to the 24th. Just two years ago Michigan was the most improved state in the ranking. Now we’re barely in the top half. So what changed?
For one, our national ranking in education toppled from 28th to 43rd. Given the choice, who would want to move here for a job if they don’t think their children can get a quality education? Fortunately, many of us are already hard at work figuring out how to boost educational attainment. Launch Michigan has brought leaders together, from across sectors and ideological spectrums, to coalesce around a shared long-term plan to improve education statewide.
On the same day this study came out, we were disappointed to read former state representative Tim Kelly’s criticism of our coalition. Diverse by age, race, gender and the size and scope of each organization on our steering committee, we’ve been working for just over a year trying to fix a problem that has been decades in the making. We’ve already prioritized six areas that will have the biggest impacts on improving student outcomes and are finalizing recommendations we intend to share with the Governor, state Legislature, State Department of Education and others this December, with hope for bill introductions and committee meetings to take shape in early 2020.
Launch Michigan was formed because we were tired of seeing Michigan’s students continue to fall behind those in other states – each year another decline. We were tired of seeing Michigan pass one piece of legislation after another trying to fix the problem often in a piecemeal fashion. We were tired of constant changes being made in standards, assessments and policies that affected our teachers and students. All of it because Michigan never had an education agenda that was clear, transparent and dedicated to improving attainment for every student in the state. Notably, CNBC’s #1 ranked state Virginia – both overall as well as #1 in education – has made use of a similar advisory council.
We’re taking a different approach – one that Rep. Kelly admits helped states like Massachusetts and Tennessee achieve lasting improvement. That approach puts students in the center, listens to educators, bases our approach on what research from other states proves actually works, and builds support among all key stakeholders so the work can be adopted and sustained.
It’s been 25 years since Michigan last approved major education reforms. We know that our system is broken, and getting through behemoth amounts of research and data to arrive at consensus recommendations to reshape it from the bottom up takes serious time. But we’re committed to it, because the greatest results come from the hardest work.
Michigan has a history of not working together to fix our problems. That’s what’s been going on in education in Michigan for years. We aim to change that. It’s a shame that Michigan’s business, education, labor, philanthropy and civic leaders get criticized for working together to fix a problem. Support and input from outside experts and stakeholders will help us solve this. Further criticism won’t.
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Our business partners that we brought into the schools to mentor and work with groups of kids saw first hand the outcomes of the piecemeal work mentioned in the opinion letter. They not only saw the impacts that approach had on the kids, but also saw how that approach affected the teachers and administration who were responsible for these kids. I believe this will be welcomed news to those companies who are facing a huge skills gap now and far into the future due to this fragmented strategy.