Cities and schools again

Following up on my last post about the importance of quality schools and local governments I thought it worthwhile to rerun a post I wrote nearly two years ago. Its as relevant to Michigan’s future success today as it was then. I wrote:

“Included in my standard presentation is this quote from Harvard economist Edward Glaeser: In the long run, America will be richer than China only by having smarter citizens, and that requires the skills that come from schools and cities, not dispersed factories.

It is great summary of our approach to economic development. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, human capital/talent is the asset that matters most. And the policy levers that have the greatest impact on prosperity at the state and regional levels are those which prepare, retain and attract talent. So schools (from early childhood through college) matter most for preparing for the economy of the future. And cities are essential because increasingly that is where mobile young talent wants to live and work after college.

I’ve recently read two pieces that lay out well what we need to do to have the kind of schools we need to prepare our kids for the economy they will live in and the kind of cities we need to attract mobile young talent. Both highly recommended. And both with visions that are widely different than the path we are on now, as a nation and, even more so, here in Michigan.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate and a partner at SHoP Architects, wrote for the Design Observer Group an essay entitled “Building Hyperdensity and Civic Delight“. It makes a compelling case why we need much more dense cities. He writes:

Because hyperdensity — defined as density sufficient to support subways — contributes to the health, prosperity, and sustainability of cities, the densification of our built and social environments will to a large extent determine our strength as a nation. Compared to most forms of human habitation, dense cities are the most efficient economic engines; they are the most environmentally sustainable and the most likely to encourage joyful and healthy lifestyles.

Talk about a vision contrary to conventional wisdom––particularly here in Michigan! Where most citizens believe cities are a drain on the economy, rather than the engine they are. And those who do believe in vibrant cities want low density. Chakrabarti lays out the reasons why hyperdense cities are the direction we need to go in.

On schools, Elizabeth Green’s Building A Better Teacher is terrific. Probably the best book I have read on k-12 eduction. Its a must read. Green makes the case that teacher quality is the ingredient that matters most to student achievement. And that teacher quality is dependent on the profession being viewed as a craft developed over a career. That great teachers are developed, not born with innate skills. That pedagogy matters and can be learned.

Much of the book is about cutting edge work done at the Ed Schools at Michigan State University first, and now the University of Michigan. And how those ideas have been implemented far more in Japan than here. Here, by and large, both traditional schools and what are labeled reform schools, don’t pay much attention to improving the quality of teaching. With very predictable results: little improvement in student achievement. No matter what the policy, testing or assessment changes/reforms.

Like Chakrabarti, Green lays out a vision that is contrary to the path that we are on. A different way of organizing teaching and learning; a different way of preparing educators; and a much different way of assessing and holding teachers accountable. But a vision that is far more likely to lead to much higher student achievement than the path we are on now. If you care about k-12 education please read this book.”

 

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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.

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