Wrong track on education policy

Readers of these posts know that we believe education attainment is what matters most to future economic success of both individuals and communities. That our system of preparing human  capital –– teaching and learning –– is economic growth priority #1.

Unfortunately Michigan seems to be headed in the wrong direction on both k-12 and higher education policy.  (The one bright spot that both Governor Snyder and President Obama deserve lots of credit for is the move towards universal quality early childhood education.)

On both K-12 and higher education there is disinvestment. Particularly in higher education. Just as education attainment matters more and more to economic success we are reducing state support. Not smart!

But almost certainly more worrisome is the push by policy makers to undermine the purpose and structure of our education system. Serious proposals to substitute an open market place of just about any education provider without quality standards which will create an existential threat to all local public school districts. And proposals to make education institutions primarily suppliers to meet the immediate  job demands of Michigan employers.

Two terrific newly published commentaries explore the dangers of these proposals. On k-12 education MSU Professor of K-12 Educational Administration, David Arsen has written an open letter to Governor Snyder. Arsen’s open letter is an analysis of both the so-called super choice legislation (2012 House Bill 5923) and the Oxford Foundation proposal to radically alter the way k-12 schooling is funded. On higher education Patrick O’Connor, Associate Dean of College Counseling, Cranbrook-Kingswood School, is the author of a terrific Huffington Post blog entitled “Why Governor Snyder Is Wrong About College Access”. Each is a must read!

Arsen writes:

The Oxford funding proposal and HB 5923 represent a truly dramatic strategy to shift the provision of Michigan’s educational services outside locally-governed school districts. They would establish the closest approximation to a universal statewide voucher system ever implemented in the United States. It does not fix foundation grant inequalities or align them with costs. It simply divides foundation grants among course providers based on their share of a student’s total classes. Course providers would have a great incentive to attract low-cost students into low-cost classes — not special education, for example, or high school science labs. Inexpensive online classes with large enrollments would be preferred. Schools losing students to such ventures would see average costs rise, undercutting their ability to continue offering high-cost classes and other services.

Good schools now offer an array of additional services—libraries, reading specialists, transportation, student newspapers, sports, assemblies and so on. By failing to allocate revenue to cover the costs of such services, the Oxford proposal would discourage schools from providing them. Over time, these incentives would force district programming and operations to progressively converge to those of stripped-down online vendors.

Whereas participation in Michigan’s school choice policies is currently concentrated in urban areas, participation would grow substantially in suburban and rural districts under the Oxford and HB 5923 choice plans. Indeed, districts with per-pupil foundation grants thousands of dollars above the basic level would be prime targets for external course providers. (Hello, Detroit suburbs.)

… the Oxford funding proposal and HB 5923 fail to solve the actual problems facing Michigan schools. Instead they would worsen those problems and create a host of new ones. While claiming to advance a plan for globally competitive schools, the drafters propose a set of policies found in no high-performing nation’s educational system. While claiming to advance a modern 21st Century system to replace the old “factory” model of schooling, they in fact offer a plan based on the grim principles of 19th Century piece work production that relied not on collaboration but rather on the coercive measurement of individual effort. The proposals are not based on empirical evidence of what works but rather on faith. This is a plan to privatize Michigan’s public schools. The Oxford proposal and HB 5923 explicitly seek to undermine local school districts as the providers of education services. (Emphasis added.)

O’Connor writes about what he describes as “… Governor Snyder’s plan to realign Michigan’s schools to meet the state’s job demand curve …” He takes on the increasingly popular notion that state policy should turn Michigan education institutions into suppliers to meet Michigan employers immediate employment demands. O”Connor writes:

… This apparent mismatch of supply and demand was too much for the governor to take, so he summed up the efforts of the college access movement of the last four decades in four simple words: “How dumb is that?” And that got me thinking:

I thought about how last year’s national unemployment rate for people with bachelor’s degrees was 4.5 percent, while the unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma — including those in the skilled trades — was 8.3 percent. I thought about how workers with bachelor’s degrees bring home more pay compared to workers with a high school diploma — $414 more every week.

I thought about how school counselors don’t “send” a student anywhere, because post-secondary advising is based on the needs and interests of the individual student, not on the predetermined assumptions of the counselor, the shifting needs of the marketplace, or anyone else for that matter.

I thought about how college readiness isn’t about “making” a student go to college, but preparing each student to be as successful as possible if they choose to go, and how that preparation in higher learning skills — critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, social responsibility — might come in handy if a student forgoes college to work with, say, heavy machinery.
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