More wrong track on education policy

Two important editorials highlight how far off track too many state policy makers are when it comes to education policy. And that the consequence of bad policy is harmful not just to Michigan kids (what matters most) but also to employers and the economy. Both are must reads!

The Detroit News in an editorial entitled Michigan kids deserve a strong educational foundation: Weakening state curriculum would make Michigan students less competitive makes the case against lowering high school graduation requirements. Adoption of those standards seven years ago was one of the signature accomplishments of the Granholm years. They passed with broad bi-partisan and business community support. They represent a major step in educating all Michigan kids for the economy they are going to live in rather than the one their parents and grandparents lived in which is in irreversible decline.

That is now under attack in the legislature where bi-partisan legislation is under serious consideration to roll back the standards in favor of reemphasizing vocational training. Not smart! As the News writes:

High school is about preparing young people for the next step — and offering them a strong foundation no matter what path they take. It shouldn’t be about locking a teen into a specific trade. Research shows an increasing number of jobs require some post-secondary education. Since 1989, the number of workers with an associate’s degree or some college increased by 42 percent; and the number with at least a bachelor’s almost doubled, to 48 million from 26 million, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. So even though not all students will (or should) go to a four-year university, they ought to have the tools they need to continue their education.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal in an editorial written by Carol Valade –– Gemini Publications’ editor –– entitled Current education policy creates another generation unfit for jobs makes a powerful case that preparing college students for specific occupations that policy makers believe are in high demand is not good for either students or employers. Valade writes:

What matters most is that Snyder (and politicians everywhere) is attempting to set long-term public policy, believing that the government can solve the problems of business and force colleges and universities deplete their dwindling state revenues to pump up student levels and programs the politicians believe are necessary to fill the “skills gap.” It is especially embarrassing — and inexplicable — to see Snyder, especially given his business background, walk this state into such an abyss. … But the bottom line is that no one knows — especially not politicians — what skill sets will be needed next. Such is often the theme of columnist Thomas Friedman, who cites “the curiosity quotient” as being more important than IQ in a “world guaranteed to change in unpredictable ways” and the continuing suddenness of such change as has been witnessed for more than 10 years.

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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 4 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more Lou!

    These kind of decisions show just how far astray we can go when actions clearly don’t reflect critical systems thinking.

  2. Agreed. There is way too much focus on quick fixes for today’s challenges, rather than what is best long term–which is what k-16 education is all about–for students and our communities.

  3. This is a highly charged issue and one that has a great deal of validity on both sides. Does “reemphasizing vocational training” inherently mean lack of preparation for of higher education or “having the tools they need to continue their education.”? I have seen a body of work that argues just the opposite. Vocational training, now more politically correctly referred to as career and technical ed, has evolved just like other education matrices. There is a body of evidence that it speaks to certain kids who do not learn well within traditional settings. The hands on/practical approach it is more heavily weighted in speaks to some students in ways that traditional teaching methods don’t reach; and it can inspire them to ultimately seek higher academic levels.

    There is a body of evidence on this subject and it certainly appears to be bi-partisan. See the May 14, 2012 TIME article, by Joe Kline, “Learning that Works”, Not being currently in Michigan, but housing an unemployed son (recent graduate of a CMU, with a very in-demand degree) there may be elements to the Michigan initiative that are unknown to me, but assuming that a traditional higher education is the path for every student, and that it will result in success lacks the recognition of the change society Carol Valade and Thomas Friedman reveal.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. No one is arguing that our k-16 education system should only prepare students for a four year degree and the professional and managerial occupations that it leads too. Or for a particular style of education: book learning over learning by doing.

      But rather, that government is not good at predicting future jobs and even if they were they shouldn’t be in the business of picking or steering students into what they consider to be “favored” occupations. And that no matter what the occupation a student ultimately chooses there are a set of foundation skills that everyone needs. That watering down those standards in favor of get an immediate job after high school skills is not in the best interest of the student, employers and the community all of which need workers to have a foundation to build a forty or more year career.

      Where I have ended up is that the goal of high school should be every student leaving with a real opportunity to pursue a four year degree or more. Whether they choose to do so or not. To do less is to substantially narrow the possibility of having a middle class career. Post high school students should have the opportunity to pursue an affordable and quality education to prepare for whatever occupation and career they choose.

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