Education reform must assure changes within system to promise progress
Governor Rick Snyder did not clean his plate during the 2012 year end legislative flurry. He left a portion of his education reform agenda on the table.
The legislature, in spite of its effort, was unable to move the Education Achievement Authority, or EAA, through the lame duck legislative session.
The EAA currently includes 15 historically low-performing Detroit public schools. Many more from across the state could be added from the 5 percent lowest-performing schools in academic achievement.
EAA is focused on delivering a “student-centered”, individually-designed, learning model with the goal of making significant academic gains for historically underperforming students.
The EAA bills were stopped dead in their tracks by an education community fearful of the impact on local control and a belief that the EAA is untested at best and bad public policy at its worse. Are their fears legitimate? Or simply an attempt at protecting the status quo?
The EAA has been described as a life raft picking up students who have been tossed overboard by sinking schools.
The Governor has stated “education reform” is his top priority. It is expected the EAA bills will be reintroduced and acted upon early in the new year.
Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township and chairman of the state’s Education Committee said, “The problem isn’t going to go away... the reality is that there are kids that are trapped in failing schools across the state.”
Sadly, for far too many of our children, this is tragic and true.
There may be disagreement about the solution, but there is no doubt the problem exists - some schools and communities are failing our children for a variety of reason.
Where is the sense of urgency about doing more to assure children trapped in underperforming schools have an escape route? Imagine that your child, niece, nephew, grandson, or granddaughter were not receiving the education they need and deserve — how would YOU respond? Doing nothing is not an option.
The debate must be broader than “change for change sake” and simply “spending more money”.
If the EAA is expanded it certainly would include schools from Lansing, Flint, Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor, Pontiac and many other communities. Altogether, with the renewed Emergency Manager law passed in the lame duck session, the EAA is feeding fear, if not downright paranoia, of the state completely taking over local schools — not just in struggling, urban areas, but also suburban and rural districts as well.
Tradition-based education groups lobbied lawmakers to hit the pause button on the EAA plan, if not to reject it out right - and they believe they were, at least temporarily, successful. There is a strong belief they have the strength and votes to prevent this legislation being passed in 2013.
My hope is that the education community does not simply play defense in attempting to poke a stick in the Governor’s reform agenda, but will put forth thoughtful, educationally- sound alternatives to addressing the needs of students whose educational needs have historically not been met by the existing public school-system.
We must demand that the focus on the upcoming debates be on TLC: Teaching, Learning, and Children and NOT on PCPA — Power, Control, Politics and Adults.
We need to stop the partisan ideological battles and jointly conclude that the only adjective that matters before school is "QUALITY!"
The EAA will not be the only “reform” on the legislative battle field in 2013. Revising how schools are financed in addition to school choice bills, expanding e-learning, and increased opportunities for “profit-making” educational enterprises to compete with local schools will also be on the front-burner.
Originally, the goal was to have the 400-plus-page school financing plan that lays out a new school funding distribution system based on performance measurements, ready to be included in the administration's budget proposal due out in early February. But Gov. Snyder decided himself to slow the process down.
Richard McLellan, a State Capitol fixture and constitutional expert, the plans architect is continuing to tweak the draft plan that has been used as target practice by a disgruntled education community.
Our schools are critically important in helping reinvent Michigan and the nation. It is critical to us all to get these reforms right.
We need leaders who will help forge a shared vision and common agenda to help prepare our children for the hyper-competitive, disruptive, technologically-driven, knowledge economy we live in. Today, it is all about ideas and jobs that can and DO move around the globe effortlessly.
Reform is necessary — engaging educators in constructive ways to help enact change will produce better results. Gov. Snyder and the legislature have laid their solutions on the table. Educators owe it to the students to do more than simply oppose these bills. Where is their plan of action?
Clearly, there will be change. It should be our collective goal to assure change equals quality and progress.
Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools from 2001 to 2005. He is an advocate for public education and sensible school reforms, and a 2010 Upton Sinclair Award winner from Ednews.org. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com