Children's needs must come before adult issues when bringing change to education system
AnnArbor.com file photo
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 Tdwatkins88@gmail.com.