You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Mar 29, 2012 : 7 p.m.

Ann Arbor area weighs in on statewide education reform

By Danielle Arndt

Michigan’s public education system needs improvement. But still unclear is the best way to go about it.

That was the agreement among participants when the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber (A2Y) welcomed The Center for Michigan Wednesday for a 90-minute discussion on the state of preK-12 education in Michigan.


The Center for Michigan — a nonprofit, nonpartisan, “think-and-do” tank located in Ann Arbor — is hosting a series of discussions around the state on Michigan's public preK-12 education system.

The topics ranged from whether taxpayers were receiving a good return on investment to cyber learning to parental and business community involvement in schools.

The Center led attendees through a series of questions, asking them to rate options for raising the bar on educators and for improving student learning.

In 2010, the Center launched “Michigan’s Defining Moment,” a public engagement campaign. Its purpose was to identify the public policy issues that resonated most with Michiganders.

Of the top 10 issues citizens identified as most important, three pertained to public education.

So for 2012, Amber Toth, outreach coordinator for the Center, said education is the sole topic of Community Conversations the Center is hosting throughout the state. The goal is to reach 5,000 people by October via small, intimate town hall meetings — limited to 25-50 people — with students, parents, teachers and employers giving input.

After the Community Conversations have wrapped up statewide, the Center will compile the data and feedback generated and analyze it, creating a citizens recommendation plan for education policy makers on what the state’s “customers of education” believe they should do, Toth said.

Wednesday’s event drew about 25 people, the majority of whom were past or present teachers or administrators. The school districts of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Washtenaw Community College and the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation were represented.

The opening question asked attendees to grade the public education system in Michigan. Most gave it a “C.” However, when asked to grade the local preK-12 programs, “A” was the most popular choice.

Everyone voted using handheld devices and the results were tabulated instantly.

Eleanor Shelton of WCC and Mary Tanenbaum of the Douglas J. Aveda Institute in Ann Arbor talked about how students are coming to their institutions for post-secondary training and lack certain necessary skills.

“That’s the reason (my co-worker and I) wanted to come tonight — to learn what’s going on with education in Michigan,” Tanenbaum said. “We’re having challenges with the students we’ve enrolled — behavioral and students who have graduated from high school without mastering the basics of reading and math.”

According to the Center, 19 percent of Michigan high school graduates are academically ready for college, ranking Michigan 37th in the nation.

Three options were presented for increasing teacher effectiveness. They were: improving teacher preparation, providing stronger support and ongoing professional development for teachers and holding teachers more accountable for student success, such as through a pay-for-performance compensation system.

The Center states Michigan currently has the 12th-highest paid teachers in the nation, with an average teacher salary of $57,958.

Finland’s education system was discussed in tandem with improving teacher preparation. According to the Center, in Finland, new teachers are required to have a master’s degree.

Some state education policy makers believe making it more difficult for students to enter and complete teacher certification programs, as well as requiring a deeper mastery of subjects teachers intend to teach, would improve overall effectiveness.

While the majority of Wednesday’s attendees rated improved teacher preparation as “important” to increasing effectiveness, they did not express that it was “crucial.” Many said the smartest people are often the worst teachers, as they are less likely to think creatively or to deliver lessons in ways that appeal to a spectrum of learners.

Members in the audience thought continuous professional development was more crucial to creating effective teachers than accountability, citing the role that parents inadvertently play in their child’s success as something teachers cannot control.

Expanding preschool and early childhood programs, changing the school calendar, reducing class sizes and increasing choice (the number of charter schools) and any-time-any-place online learning opportunities were discussed as possibilities for improving student success.

Of the five ideas above and the three ideas discussed for increasing teacher effectiveness, attendees of the A2Y chamber event were asked to select the one they thought would have the greatest impact on student learning. The majority, 44 percent, of people selected provide stronger support and ongoing professional development for teachers. The second highest response was expand early childhood programs. Reduce class sizes came in third.

According to the Center for Michigan, the ratio of K-12 students to teachers in the state is 18 to 1, ranking Michigan 43rd in the nation.

Download a copy of the Center for Michigan's "Education Issue Guide" here.

This guide contains the topics that were discussed at Wednesday's A2Y chamber event, separate learning and earning "report cards" for the state and several graphs showing how Michigan invests money in education.

Staff reporter Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Joe Kidd

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

It's the class size. The teachers are capable. I made a comment to one teacher a week ago about how big the classes are and she told me they are considering classes going over 30 students. That is just way to many for a single teacher. If the class sizes do not get to the level all students can be assisted when then have difficulty, there will be children left behind. It will be unavoidable.

John Campbell

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

While smaller class sizes seem logical, research has consistently shown they have little positive impact. The biggest impact tends to be family economics, which is difficult to address, and teacher quality, also difficult to address. Rather than blaming the teacher, if we started to pay teachers like they are highly valued as some countries do, I suspect we would impact teacher quality signficantly. Given the financial challenges right now, we have to look at systemic changes: focusing on early childhood because the gaps generally increase over time if not addressed, and experimenting with flipping the classroom where students do the lecture at home (Khan or otherwise) and do the homework in school, where the individualized attention could be made available where it is sometimes not available at home.

Joe Kidd

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

I disagree. There is no proof higher pay will improve teacher performance. My other point is directly below, what I think is a major issue. We need more funding, but for more teachers, or teacher aids which may be less expensive, but a single teacher in a large class just does not work.

Dog Guy

Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

My students over the decades have shown me that going home daily to your father and mother is an extreme help to learning. This traditional homelife has now been replaced for many American schoolchildren with a mother and a loving government, but with lessened average academic success. I have observed several students benefit from logging on to Khan Academy, where Uncle Salman guides them through conceptual labyrinths. Khan Academy is a no cost school choice supportive of public school systems


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

This article mentions the requirement of masters degrees for teachers in the Finland model, and that dove-tails nicely with the carefully created myth that teachers are to blame for any failures in our public education system. However, there's MUCH more that differentiates the Finnish system from ours. The whole philosophy of education was turned on it's head by authorities there about 30 years ago, in an experiment aimed at turning around the same kind of problems we have. The result looks more like Waldorf schools. The surprise (though not to anyone who's witnessed the successes of the Waldorf system) is that the Finnish kids (who aren't subjected to mind-numbing, education-stealing "testing-testing-testing" until they are 16!) are consistently out-scoring other countries' students in international standardized tests. Amusing (The Young Turks) video explains the finer points, not mentioned here.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 12:48 p.m.

Can tenure and let teachers have to justify their jobs like the rest of us....


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 11:26 a.m.

In response to SH1 (commenting on Technojunkie's posting): I don't know about creating winners and losers--I don't think that is by any means a logical necessity--but certainly it creates choosers and non-choosers. To the extent that the former are those who pay attention to the sort and quality of education they're seeking for their children and the latter are those who do nothing to ensure that their children are receiving a good education, it may indicate that the 'winners' and 'losers' have for the most part already sorted themselves into those categories. If, however, the existence of a 'schools of choice' option resulted in the shutting down of poor schools, even non-choosers would end up with something better than they might have sought on their own. For that reason, if for no other, school choice (including homeschooling) ought to be permitted, IMO. Monopolies rarely work to the benefit of the consumers or end users.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

But then its the child (who really doesn't have the authority to choose) who 'loses", right? What a tough sitch. Who knows how any of our lives would have been different if our parents would of striven even more a for a higher quality education than we received, or how our lives would have been different if our parents would have settled on a education option that was below what we received. Tough tough... Child pays for sins of parent, and then cycle begins/continues (usually).


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 2:16 a.m.

Increase school choice enough and everything with sort itself out. Or homeschool, if it's an option. The more the government monopoly grip on education is loosened the more problematic schools will be forced to shape up or close down. No need for top-down handwringing.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

What about the students who are left?


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Yes it does. Schools that do a good job educating children win and schools that don't are abandoned by parents and lose.


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 11:11 a.m.

Can you elaborate on your first sentence? Doesn't increasing schools of choice create a system of "winners" and "losers"?


Fri, Mar 30, 2012 : 12:46 a.m.

What a joke! Improve teacher effectiveness, and actually demand that parents/students also must show an effort. The system is a joke now, just like this article. Students right now can do absolutely no work k-8 and get passed forward. How about the students don't come to school and don't do work, mandatory summer school/after school learning. Right now, there are too many parents and students that don't value education.