Transforming Education: Quality Standards

As bad as the current results are from our entire k-12 education system, I’m optimistic that we can get big gains in student achievement. My optimism is based on a decade of progress made by schools here and around the country in student achievement – primarily in new high quality urban schools.

These are the students many thought high education achievement was not possible. Think again! We now know that all students can meet high standards. There simply are too many schools around the country getting high graduation rates, high college attendance rates and test scores that look like all but high income suburban high schools to ever believe again that some kids can’t learn.

This innovation has been made possible here by a combination of state policy that provides parents and students the choice of attending schools (both charter and public outside of their home district) and Michigan foundations’ substantial and growing funding for creating more high quality schools.

Its not all peaches and cream. Greatly expanded choice has a mixed record. Most charter schools and schools in traditional districts who are taking students from other districts are low quality schools. Not much better, if at all, in terms of academic achievement than the schools students come from. But there are terrific schools that have been created because of expanded choice – both charters and schools operated by traditional districts.

The challenge going forward is how do you design a system that get far more students across the state (not just urban) enrolled in high quality schools. Getting the standards right is the first step. What is the level of student achievement we want to hold all schools accountable for?

My answer: students leaving a school able to move to the next level without remediation. So leaving preschool/early childhood programming ready for kindergarten, leaving elementary ready for middle, leaving middle ready for high and leaving high school ready for college.

Its a tough standard that most schools cannot meet today. But without remediation is probably the single best predictor at all levels of a student’s ability to ultimately develop the skills she will need to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy.

Once we build a consensus on the standard and a reliable, real time, data system that allows us to measure compliance with the standard we can then begin to build policy and accountability systems that allow us to better meet that standard.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. One thing pre-college education system needs to do is make kids realize how important it is to obtain a poste secondary education to have any reasonable chance of prospering in the 21st century. I see so many kids in Michigan who graduate or drop out thinking they are going to make a good living in a factory, even in today’s economy. How can we changer this distructive mindset which is so common in Michigan?

    1. Couldn’t agree more. We say that culture (attitudes and beliefs) trumps policy. This is an area where our community DNA is not aligned at all with new realities. How to fix it is hard to figure out. Not getting a college degree (either two or four year) didn’t matter in Michigan last century. As you say you could make a good living in a factory here from Henry Ford’s $5 a day until now. And that old reality is now deeply ingrained in our culture.

      The schools I am working with in metro Detroit – largely serving high school students from the city of Detroit – have been making some considerable progress by helping the students create a personal vision of themselves in the knowledge economy. Going to/succeeding in college becomes their vision, not that of adults. That’s the most promising strategy I have seen. It requires schools to change their approach to teaching and learning. Its not all about teaching content.

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