November 30, 2012
An Open Letter to Governor Snyder and the Michigan Legislature
To meet the challenges of the 21st Century, Michigan must be a world leader in growing and retaining talent. Accomplishing that goal requires a world-class education system, one that is well-coordinated and aligned with the needs of employers, families and students.
As superintendents of school districts serving several hundred thousand students, we must express our concerns at the reform agenda currently under consideration in the Legislature today, and in concepts being proposed for the next session.
Michigan needs a reform strategy that recognizes and celebrates our strengths, exposes our weaknesses, and addresses the gaps in a way that does not alienate, erode or destabilize structures that are working. In short, we need a reform strategy that is efficient, effective and economical. We cannot leave the reform strategy to chance, as our resources are far too scarce to squander on untested and unproven tactics.
The legislation proposed to codify the Education Achievement Authority (HB6004 and SB1358) is a prime example of untested and unproven reform. While we all hope the Education Achievement Authority is wildly successful in improving the lives of students in the 15 schools it operates, it has a track record of fewer than three months. It also has an achievement strategy severely questioned in the previous district of Chancellor Covington, where his instructional methodologies were abandoned when the district lost accreditation following his departure.
In addition, are we concerned at the proposals forwarded by the Oxford Foundation for school funding and the accompanying policy legislation, HB5923. These proposals are founded in school choice and make no mention of quality or demand a track record of success. If school choice were the answer, Michigan would lead the nation in achievement because it has been a leader in choice for nearly two decades.
Instead, the choices we have created through market-based reform have produced cookie-cutter public school academies serving middle class students while creating a permanent underclass in our inner cities. Why? We believe that families struggling to maintain a roof over their head and food on their table simply do not have the resources to shop around for educational opportunity. What they need is an equitably funded neighborhood school with the local control necessary to recognize and fulfill the specific needs of the population it serves.
We cannot leave reform and improvement to chance. None of our state’s leading manufacturers would publish their specifications and accept any supplier with no track record of achievement. They demand more of their supply chain, and so must we, as our students are the future for our employers and our economy.
Research-tested reform tells us we need to start early with preschool education. Students need more time on task, they need extended day learning opportunities to master core competencies and they need exposure to the arts, music and cultural enrichment activities.
Our existing schools are funded at 2005-06 levels and have eliminated many of the programs students need. The answer to that problem isn’t to invite any for-profit organization to open a competing school next door, nor is it to eliminate local control by creating a statewide school system operated from Detroit with no elected board and no accountability to the neighborhoods they serve.
Coherent reform would involve the business community and higher education, not to point fingers at K-12 districts for their failures, but to work together to identify the gaps in student preparation, to better understand the needs of a rapidly changing job market, and to recommend structural reforms that will fill those gaps. Throwing state coffers open to anyone who would like to open a school will not accomplish those goals.
We are the educational leaders your communities hired to lead their education system. Improving education is our passion and our life’s work. We cannot endorse the reforms now before the legislature, but we are willing to work together to achieve a coordinated, coherent and comprehensive educational system from preschool through college. Our children, our economy and our state deserve nothing less.
On behalf of children in our Region, the following school leaders are issuing this collaborative message on behalf of each of our respective school districts:
Alba Public Schools
Thomas K. Martin
West Ottawa Public Schools
Lowell Public Schools