More wrong direction k-12 policy

Insightful Stephen Henderson Detroit Free Press editorial entitled: “Snyder hasn’t earned more leeway over troubled schools”. Henderson is writing specifically about the Governor’s decision to transfer the state school reform office from the Michigan Department of Education––which he doesn’t control––to the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget––which he does control.

The case Henderson makes is far broader than where one office should be located. Its a broader indictment of the Governor’s k-12 eduction policies. which has resulted, as we have explored in previous posts (for instance here and here), in some of the worst student outcomes in the country.

Henderson writes: Here’s the problem: Snyder has earned zero points for successful education reform efforts in Michigan, and the state’s worst-performing schools reflect that failure more brilliantly than any others. What has he done to indicate he should be given more power?

… The governor gets A’s for pushing and stretching and trying different approaches to fixing our schools. But he gets a gentleman’s D for the outcomes, so far.

… He’s more than entitled to those frustrations, but political differences are not sufficient reason to end-run around endowed authorities. This is choosing ideology over outcomes, pushing the doctrine of choice as a panacea to improve educational performance, despite a lack of evidence to back up this belief. (Emphasis added.)

… Take the Education Achievement Authority reform district in Detroit. That’s already being operated outside the auspices of regular Department of Education oversight. It was a fine idea, modeled after at-risk districts that have made schools better, over time, in several other states.

But the execution was flawed, overall, and atrocious in some instances. Many of those 15 low-performing schools were awful 20 years ago, when I covered Detroit schools for the Free Press, and they’re not much better today, despite years of EAA oversight.

Its almost certain that capturing control of the state education reform office to speed up implementation of policies that have not improved student achievement will not significcantly improve student achievement in the future.

What matters is a willingness to change policy. As Henderson writes to move away from “choosing ideology over outcomes”.

So what would an effective k-12 policy look like? As I wrote in a previous post:

So Massachusetts has achieved the nation’s best student achievement through:

  • setting rigorous standards for all kids and not lowering those standards when kids had trouble meeting them
  • testing aligned with those rigorous standards
  • developing teachers prepared to teach all kids the standards
  • state funding that provides more resources for poor kids
  • a limited number of charters that must meet rigorous quality standards to be able to operate (open, stay open and replicate) in the state. 

Michigan, of course has gone in a completely different direction. We have been ambiguous at best about rigorous standards and aligned tests. Have not invested in developing educators to teach rigorous standards. Moved away from preferential state funding for low income students. Instead we have relied on parental choice as the prime lever to drive student achievement. Culminating in the elimination of the cap on charters without any quality standards.

The bottom line: the Massachusetts approach has worked, Michigan’s hasn’t. The United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on Educational Effectiveness gives Michigan an overall grade of D. For academic achievement a D and for academic achievement low income/minority an F. Maybe more concerning, the report gives Michigan an F in both categories for progress since 2007.

Massachusetts received an overall grade of A. For academic achievement an A and for academic achievement low income/minority an A. In terms of progress since 2007 the report gives Massachusetts a B for academic achievement and an A for academic achievement low income/minority.

Seems like its time for Michigan … to learn from the state with the highest student achievement in the country.


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