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Educators react to Gov. Snyder's reform act for 'career-ready' students
West Michigan educators have mixed reactions to the draft of the Michigan Public Education Finance Act, which lands on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk today.
The draft, put together by Richard McLellan, education advisor to Snyder, urges the governor to develop a new statewide education system, stressing five concepts that allow students to learn “any time, any place, any way and any pace.”
Questions arose when McLellan presented the plan yesterday before West Michigan educators and business executives in Grand Rapids.
Wendy Falb, Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education member, asked McLellan about the true cost of education, saying it’s naïve to believe the $7,000 given by the state per pupil is what it truly costs to educate each child. Learning challenges such as language and physical barriers must be taken into account.
She asked whether the plan addresses funding for special education, private and non-public schools or early childhood issues.
It doesn’t, McLellan answered, saying that although special education was important, it was not part of his charge for this draft and requires a separate focus.
Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Pete Haines called leaving special education needs out of a statewide education plan “unconscionable.”
“I feel we’re recommending experiments on children with truly untested reforms without any tested results,” Haines said. “I’m as concerned about the process as the product, right now. We’re not having open debate. . . . We’re really ramming legislation through. That’s dangerous.”
Falb said if the plan were implemented immediately, it would be chaos. She would have no clarity on implementation, budgets, teacher retention, student proficiency rates or building requirements.
Besides, Michigan educators are already trying to implement parts of the plan on their own, she said, calling McLellan’s comment that the current education system is agrarian a “straw horse” argument.
The No Child Left Behind Act implemented under the Bush Administration in 2001 already gave such detailed accountability, so educators do not need Snyder’s interference, Falb said.
The 1979 School Aid Fund needs revision, she agreed, but it needs to develop out of bipartisan and public collaboration.
“One thing that was problematic in the plan was how (McLellan) seemed to be unaware of how much is already going on in education with technology, the relationship between public and private sector and online learning,” she said. “I found his ignorance troubling.”
Kevin Stotts, president of Talent 2025, supported McLellan, saying the plan primarily helps prepare students to be “career ready,” meaning students would be more prepared to pursue a necessary education after high school.
The plan does not transfer the ownership of students from school districts to the ownership of businesses that would tell educators what they want in their workforce, Stotts said, calling that implication an “over reach.”
“(The plan) actually puts the ownership more in the hands of the parents and the students. I don’t think the business community would agree with or want that direct (control),” Stotts said. “The business community can work with educators to describe what’s relevant in the workplace, so educators can prepare kids, but employers won’t be controlling the curriculum. That’s for the educators.”
Although businesses are not constitutionally allowed to control curriculum, they could have more of a voice in the process, McLellan said.
“In a few cases, you do have that where a particular business, let’s say a hospital, comes in and funds a health curriculum. Arguably, the business would have more of an impact on that cohort of students, but they can’t do it unless they want to set up their own schools,” McLellan said. “There’ll be more partnership with business, more listening to business but listening both ways. The ownership means that no one school district owns them, but the public school system has a responsibility to those kids without owning them. And that’s a very different model.”
Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said he particularly liked the portions of the plan discussing providing equitable funding for students across the state as well as a statewide student database.
A new measured student performance suggested by the plan is also important, he said, calling the current Michigan Educational Assessment Program unhelpful diagnostically.
“I think we’re going to look back and say, ‘Good, it was a thing this governor got us talking about it back in 2012,’” he said. “It’s an uncomfortable talk but a necessary one.”
A slow implementation, however, would be necessary for it to work, Quisenberry cautioned, saying if Snyder pushed the recommendations in place too fast, it would do more harm than good.
“I don’t think Michigan is prepared yet. The unbundling is going to be hard to implement,” he said. “We certainly agree it makes more sense for schools to be paid on performance over time, but the mechanics for that are not in place yet. The timing will be critical.”
Jason Schueller, coordinator of academic placement and enrollment center services at Grand Rapids Community College, agreed that a slow implementation would be necessary.
In a business, results of change can sometimes be seen overnight, Schueller said, but education results take time, meaning educators can’t simply push an entire new system through.
“From a business standpoint, it’s easy to allocate money . . . but you need to bring the educational aspect into play,” he said. “We really need to bring teachers into the discussion, talk to people who do this every day.”
With these implementations, Snyder would be taking power away from state districts and placing it in the hands of state government, Schueller said, which is an ironic twist for a Republican governor adamantly against government prying into local legislation.
Quisenberry, however, felt the plan could do the opposite, putting strategies in place for educators to explore, essentially untying teachers’ hands from overregulation.
“You can’t have government dictate innovation, but you can allow opportunity. This governor is trying to create that, and it makes sense,” he said. “It needs to be organic, however, and that comes from allowing it to happen, not directing it from Lansing.”
Quisenberry said his understanding was that more plan details were still to come, filling in the blanks of many unresolved questions. He’ll pass judgment then, he said, and as long as Snyder allows educators to remain flexible, he'll remain hopeful it could work.
McLellan said major opposition for any education plans come from the education system’s own unwillingness to change, based on monetary fears.
Schueller said it’s not fair to place such blame on educators, who are constantly under pressure to keep growing and adapting to the needs of students.
“That’s a tough thing to say that schools are holding back the change,” Schueller said. “Schools do a lot to (keep updating). Look at how many requirements there are for teachers to keep up their certification. They must keep up on a regular basis. I have a teaching degree, and my sister’s a teacher, and to say (educators) are not out looking for ways to better it . . . that’s a tough thing to say.”