Sound advice on k-12 education

Two recent editorials laid out the path we should be on when it comes to k-12 education. The first from Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Free Press, entitled “State must get tougher if charter schools fail to make the grade”. The second for the Detroit News by Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber (and a member of the Michigan Future Board) and Amber Arellano, Executive Director of EdTrust-Midwest, entitled “Don’t lower Michigan grad standards”.

Each deals with essential education policy. And both address areas where the state may be moving away from its commitment to high standards and quality schools. Both would be a big mistake!

Baruah and Arellano are responding to bills introduced in both chambers of the Michigan legislature to weaken the high school graduation standards passed in 2006 with bi-partisan and strong business support. They write:

For Michigan’s students to earn family-sustaining wages, they need to leave high school fully prepared for post-secondary training or education. That may take many forms, but to succeed they need the foundation provided by Michigan’s Merit Curriculum. Similarly, if Michigan is to attract and retain employers that provide good, high-wage jobs, we need to provide the highly educated work force they need to prosper. Dumbing down our graduation standards just as competitors in the global economy are increasing theirs would be an egregious mistake. We urge legislators to oppose any bills that would weaken the Michigan Merit Curriculum and leave our students less prepared for an increasingly competitive and demanding job market.

Exactly right! The high school graduation requirements for the first time aligned what we expect of every high school student with the economy of the future. It lays out the foundation skills students will need to compete for good paying jobs today and, most importantly, tomorrow. It was a major step forward. Now is not the time to backslide.

Equally important is insuring that the schools our children attend are quality schools. Here one can make a strong argument that we have gone backwards. Henderson makes that case well in his editorial on the new unlimited charter school law. He writes:

Last year, the Legislature lifted the state’s longtime cap on charters, arguing that the ceiling was hindering interest in Michigan from some of the nation’s most successful charter school operators. But lawmakers failed to take that opportunity to put real teeth into the mechanisms for dealing with failing charters.That’s unacceptably lackadaisical, and Gov. Rick Snyder ought to take another run at getting the Legislature to be more rigorous in the way it handles these schools. I should admit here that I’m a big advocate for charters, and not just in a policy sense. My children attend a charter school in Detroit, one that’s not just an alternative to public schools, but a high-performing one that also is constantly striving to be better. My misgivings are about so many of the other charter schools in Detroit and around the state that aren’t hitting high marks at all, and are not being forced to get better or else to shut down. Michigan does not require charter operators to have a proven record of success before they open schools here. Nor does the state require that those charter operators maintain any performance level, by any measure (test scores, graduation rates, college placement, etc.) after they’ve opened. And it does not consider a charter operator’s track record before allowing that operator to open more schools. … Ground zero for charters sounds just fine. But it’s up to the governor and the Legislature to be sure that doesn’t lead to Michigan being ground zero for failing its children.

Once again, exactly right. Like Henderson I too am a charter school supporter. From the beginning more than fifteen years ago. Of the 11 new high schools Michigan Future Schools will help launch in the city of Detroit nine are charter schools. We have made a big bet on quality charter schools. But like Henderson we are very concerned that the new legislation that eliminated the cap on charter schools without quality standards has a real chance of reducing school quality for lots of kids across the state. That would not be good for our kids.

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