Editorial

This broken record needs to be fixed

March 23, 2018
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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Michigan’s K-12 education system needs to be fixed. Not just an overhaul but a rebuild from the ground up.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce says so. Business Leaders for Michigan says so. The Small Business Association of Michigan says so. Education Trust-Midwest says so. College and university presidents say so. Every gubernatorial candidate with an eye on the top office better be saying so.

A BLM report reviewing the country’s K-12 best practices reveals some startling — and sad — statistics.

Currently, only 1 in 4 Michigan students leaves high school ready for college and a career, and student achievement ranks among the poorest in the nation, according to the report.

For those who might be mathematically challenged, 1 in 4 is equivalent to 25 percent.

The BLM 2017 benchmark report ranked Michigan 46th in fourth-grade reading level, 37th in eighth-grade math, 32nd in technical education, 29th in college and career readiness and 30th in higher education attainment.

Some may argue this is not a business problem but an education problem. They are wrong.

Think of the K-12 education system in relation to business the same way as minor league baseball. The good players have to learn somewhere and be ready to perform on the big-league stage upon arrival.

That is not happening in Michigan.

“Too many younger workers lack the basic skills they need in literacy and math — and the problem seems to be getting worse,” BLM President and CEO Doug Rothwell is quoted as saying. “It’s time for all of us to come together, learn from other states and make things right.”

BLM is a consortium of business leaders throughout Michigan who are responsible for approximately one-third of the state’s economy. They are used to solving problems, long-term planning and producing successful results.

They’re also the group most dependent on the students/workers produced by the state’s education system.

BLM’s best practices seem reasonable, simply because Michigan has to start (over) somewhere, and business is all about recognizing good ideas and implementing them for yourself.

Those recommendations include:

  • Maintain high standards and existing state assessments

  • Provide teachers and school leaders high-quality professional development that includes greater access to technology and data, as well as recognition for strong results

  • Ensure more effective spending

  • Set uniform accountability and performance standards for all K-12 levels

  • Keep a united, sustained effort behind strategies that work

A longstanding mantra in business is consistency. Continue to provide the best product or service at a reasonable price and success usually will follow. Deviate from that best practice and run the risk of losing ground to competitors.

Michigan’s education system is losing ground. Being among the bottom five states in the nation for fourth-grade reading skills is unacceptable.

Just like with minor league baseball, a lack of talent on the farm will come back to bite you in the end. The lack of a solid foundation always leads to a structure’s demise. Michigan businesses need talent, and it’s time to put every effort into growing our own.

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