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 Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Children's needs must come before adult issues when bringing change to education system

By Tom Watkins

0517122_schoolbusing.JPG file photo

Education should be about TLC — teaching, learning and children.

Yet, once again, when it comes to providing the education our children need and deserve, to not merely survive — but to thrive in a fast-paced, hyper-competitive, disruptive, knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can an do move globe effortlessly the focus quickly deteriorates into power, control, politics and adults.

It was the desire to place the focus on TLC which prompted Gov. Rick Snyder to create the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to reconfigure Michigan's most dysfunctional schools that have been failing students for years into learning centers of excellence.

John Covenington, the EAA Chancellor and his team currently are transforming 15 formerly chaotic, under-performing Detroit schools into orderly buildings, where students are learning at their own pace using individualized education plans instead of standard grade-level curricula.

The EAA could take over the management responsibility of up to 40 schools across Michigan next year that have a history of failing our children.

With the defeat of Proposal 1 — the emergency manager — law at the polls the Detroit Public School Board has renewed its bid to quit the EAA and pull the schools back into DPS. This fight is about power, control, politics and adults and must not be allowed to succeed.

The GOP lawmakers are right to be taking steps to codify the EAA in state law and short-circuit the legal challenge by the Detroit Public School Board.

To disrupt the EAA system would be all about adult power issues and has nothing to do with quality education for children.

Carol Goss, EAA board member and Skillman Foundation president is absolutely right when she says, "Real education reform takes five to seven years to show success. These children deserve stability, and we believe the EAA will give that stability. These 15 schools have been failing students in Detroit for generations — something had to change."

Covington and his team are not miracle workers. The work to turn around a failing institution, especially one as complicated as an urban school takes dedication, focus, talent, energy and persistence-- all of which he and his team have in spades.

Will there be problems and setbacks along the way? Absolutely. Yet, as FDR said during the Great Depression, " Do something." And if that does not work — do something else. " But, for God's sake — DO SOMETHING!"

Gov. Snyder is to be commended for doing something to address the needs of the children of Detroit and others trapped in failing schools for far too long.

"Innovate, create, change…or die," needs to become our mantra as individuals, communities, educational institutions and as a state.

Holding onto the past and protecting the status quo are not prescriptions to help us thrive and be competitive on the world stage.

As the second decade of the 21st century knowledge economy unfolds, Michigan is going to be dependent at every level on bold leadership with the courage to cast off the anchors of the past and set sail to create a new future.

Those education and political leaders who believe we can go “back to the future” are selling fool’s gold. What we once had in Michigan is gone and is not coming back — and change is needed.

The EAA has a longer school day — 71/2hours, an hour longer than a traditional public school. The school year is also longer — 210 days, compared with 170 days in traditional public schools.

The old system was not working for students.

Let's be clear, a child that does not receive a quality education today will become an adult without much of a future tomorrow. If we fail the children of Detroit, we all will suffer.

While much focus has been on Michigan's "brain drain" — students receiving a college education and fleeing our state — perhaps the greater problem is those we fail to educate that are staying behind.

A uneducated child does not disappear. They will be coming to your place of business, be that as a potential customer, employee or with some more nefarious idea in mind.

So, because of adult power and political games the future of the EAA, including its 15 schools, 467 employees and 10,000 students, is in jeporday. The Detroit Board of Education has threatened to take the EAA schools back. The question is, back to what?

Some argue the EAA is a new state system run by the governor and exists outside the authority of the state superintendent and the elected state board and the state Department of Education. They absolutely are correct.

But, the point is, this historic structure, which I led as state superintendent from 2001 to 2005, has put adult needs in front of teaching and learning for far too long. Real change, requires just that — real change.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same manner and expecting a different result.

State Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, introduced a bill two days after the election that would codify the EAA by making it part of state law.

As policymakers consider this bill and other changes to our system of learning they need to decide if they will come down on the side of teaching, learning and children or power, control, politics and adults.

Vote as though our collective future depends on your action-- because it does.

Tom Watkins served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He is a US/China business and educational consultant and can be reached at



Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

This being the Christmas Season....."This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." Charles Dickens

Alan Benard

Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

This article is a desperate lie. This is about a state grab of local education resouces and the dimantling of the public scool system.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 2:21 a.m.

Absurd arguments. Private schools with incredible success rates very typically have shorter days and fewer days in school. Adults can barely concentrate through an 8 hour day, and adults have more built in breaks than school children. Have you ever set foot in a Detroit school? Do you have any idea whatsoever what it is like to teach there? Teachers are confronting issues over which they have no control and yet are routinely punished by people who have no idea the constraints under which they work and have no idea what it is like to teach kids with true needs. Kids routinely fail to arrive to school any near the time to start. Many are vastly unprepared to learn. They come unfed or poorly fed, with no sense of schedule, and very often with severe sleep deprivation. Why don't you ask how many parents show up for parent-teacher conferences? Then go ahead and compare to how many parents show up for field trips, especially the ones with a promise of entertainment and food. Teachers have become waitresses, feeding the kids in their classrooms 2 and 3 times per day. Teachers are required to create IEPs for every student in their class every two weeks, and class sizes have blossomed. And teachers are working under the constant pressure, harassment and hate of so many arrogant people who, without stepping foot in the classroom, think that they surely know better than anyone else. I'm amazed that they are standing. You want to do something different - let's call on parents to step up to the plate. Politicians are incapable of doing that because they don't want to lose votes, so we come with utter stupidity like this. It is shameful.

Basic Bob

Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 4:05 a.m.

Equally absurd - expecting the parents to change. Do you think we should make examples of a few or just round up the whole lot and throw them in jail?


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 11:59 p.m.

Are the students with "individual education plans" exposed to a curriculum that includes all the K-8 MI grade level content expectations? Do those students take all the classes of the MI Merit Curriculum so they graduate with a diploma? Do they earn college ready scores on the EXPLORE, PLAN, & ACT tests - all things students in public schools do? Or do these plans merely reduce expectations so politicians can say they are successfully graduating students?

Patti Smith

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 9:25 p.m.

"...the focus quickly deteriorates into power, control, politics and adults." I agree 100%. Only in this case, the adults who are in politics want to use this rushed, poorly considered legislation into law to destroy teachers' unions and further the agenda of the corporate, for-profit schools (and right wing extremists). So yes, this *has* deteriorated into adults using power and control for their own, short-sighted gains.


Fri, Nov 30, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Not a persuasive argument. These look like schools that won't take special needs children, won't document the children's performance via data, (which is something they should want to do, and be proud to do so) and are looking to generate career ready individuals. That's a pretty specific criteria for a school, that doesn't sound like it's looking to help the needy kids in the neighborhood, it's looking like it's going to start poaching smart, kids from whereever they can, and run a private school, without pesky,expensive problems like( and I'm not referring to unions and their contracts), needy, high resource requiring, children who might not be off to an Ivy League one day. What a scam.


Sat, Dec 1, 2012 : 2:23 a.m.

Agreed. Charter schools are allowed to dump kids who can't make it or are a problem. And giess where they land? Let's not have a two-tier system.