This past year, Governor Snyder assembled a 16-member gubernatorial education commission, known as the 21st Century Education Commission, which studied the state of education in Michigan, currently ranked 48th in the United States, and presented Snyder in February with an exhaustive report called “The Best Education System for Michigan’s Success: A Blueprint for Educating Michigan’s Residents to Build the Best Businesses, Win the Best Jobs, and Achieve the American Dream.” The report is frank in its assessments, that to succeed in today’s world, we as residents must provide not only more comprehensive education to our students, but we must begin educating children earlier and continue to educate them longer. It also emphasizes a reality: educated students are an economic necessity in today’s world, and that by providing appropriate and applicable education for real world jobs, Michigan will reap the economic benefit long term.
Unlike many other education reports in the past, this one is succinct, and spells out exactly how to get to the finish line. The blueprint recommends creating a K-14, rather than the current K-12, education system in Michigan; providing qualified universal access to early education for four-year-olds; determining the developmentally-appropriate readiness of children for kindergarten; focusing on learning to shift towards a student’s progression through the curriculum at their own pace, rather than at grade levels; provide post-secondary access to community colleges and other skill training to all students by providing access to two years of community college or trade school for all students; elevating education as a profession; and investing in an efficient and effective system of public funding to become a world leader in education.
The report spells out in detail – and the Oakland County education experts who met to discuss it for our education roundtable in this issue emphasized – that to improve Michigan’s education success, which will ultimately translate into jobs, everything begins with better, and universal, early education, followed up by the ability of students to easily attend community college or technical school, going in the words of Oakland Schools Superintendent Wanda Cook-Robinson, “womb to tomb.” Further, there has to be not just adoption of the blueprint, but follow through that lasts, rather than a reaction on the part of the state legislature to jump from ideology to ideology, most recently with Common Core. Ten years ago, the province of Ontario set the education priorities of literacy and numeracy, and left educators alone, with great success. As Doug Ross, former state legislator, cabinet member under former President Clinton, now an education expert and a member of the education commission, said of the state legislature, “As long as they’re changing standards every two years, we have no standards.”
The experts pointed out that the Michigan Department of Education is currently a test-giving department, which drives the changes in standards. What Michigan students, parents, and educators need is for legislators to step away from their micromanagement of education in order to leave it to the experts, and allow for the innovations and vision that can only come from when creativity is allowed to flourish, and when wisdom is respected.
Likewise, legislators must revere education enough to recognize that it costs money, and rather than pushing silly tax cuts without any thought as to where revenue will be replaced, think about the state of Michigan, rather than their next election. It is expensive to teach our next generation, to prepare teachers – who deserve our respect, rather than denigration – in a world where a high school diploma is just the beginning of advanced education. In a post-World War II world, it was a ticket to the middle class. In our 21st century world, post-secondary education is the admission to economic prosperity. In fact, in Michigan, since 2009, 99 percent of jobs have gone to people with at least some post-secondary education.
Let’s advance from the bottom of the educational and economic heap, both for our children, and for the economic potential of our state. We have the blueprint right in front of us that can help lead us towards success. It’s up to Gov. Snyder, and all of us, to move in the right direction.