Economic Development

BLM makes education policy proposals

Report outlines suggestions based on educational best practices from other states to address Michigan’s ‘crisis.’

March 23, 2018
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Business Leaders for Michigan released a review of the country’s K-12 best practices and outlined a set of principles the organization’s members believe can lead to better student performance.

BLM, an organization made up of leaders of businesses that account for nearly one-third of the state’s economy, examined K-12 systems in five states — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Tennessee — comparable to Michigan in student demographics, per capita income, economic base and governance structure.

The assessment focused on student outcomes and graduation rates, and included a review of state reform initiatives, student performance over time, and interviews with hundreds of educators, policy leaders and stakeholders.

The information gathered reveals trends and ideas capable of “re-invigorating” Michigan’s public education system and “delivering the results students and families deserve,” the report said.

“The reason we did this report is because Michigan is in an educational crisis,” said Kelly Chesney, BLM’s vice president of marketing and communications.

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.

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.

“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 said in a press release. “It’s time for all of us to come together, learn from other states and make things right.”

The end goal is for Michigan to be a top 10 state for student learning and talent development, but it will take commitment, Chesney said.

Based on information about best practices discovered during the study, BLM outlined several key recommendations for improvement:

  • 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

There have been three changes in state testing in the past six years, which is confusing for everyone, Chesney said, so that’s an example of an area that would benefit from consistency.

Based on these recommendations, the organization will support policies that set high standards for teaching, outcomes and student growth, as well as establishing adequate, equitable and sustained classroom funding.

The report said the latter piece should be achieved by starting with the adequacy study published in January by the Michigan School Finance Research Collaborative and then performing another study to determine the true cost of equitable education and the effectiveness of the current spending model. It also said any significant new funding should be allocated based on “relative school progress, performance and equity.”

The report said the main funding issue may not necessarily be the amount — which it cited as slightly above average among states — but how it is used and how much of it is reaching classrooms.

In fact, BLM found “there are states that spend a comparable amount less than Michigan and achieve superior results,” and “there are states that spend more than Michigan and achieve inferior student results.”

However, funding alone is not driving the low outcomes, it said.

The three other “myths” BLM wants put to rest is placing blame for the state’s outcomes on low Detroit scores, poverty and charter schools. While each of these is not without blame, none of them is singlehandedly driving down outcomes, according to the report.

“This is a statewide issue; that’s what we’re trying to illustrate,” Chesney said. “We wanted to make sure we put those myths at bay so we can focus on solutions.”

Besides BLM, the recommendations for improvement have backing from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Education Trust-Midwest, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Skillman Foundation, Small Business Association of Michigan, Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, and Thomas Haas, Grand Valley State University president and chair of the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission, which released a report last year with recommendations on how to improve the system based on information from top-performing states and nations.

As an educator, Haas said he understands the importance of tackling these issues so students have the skills to be ready for college or the workforce.

“My job is to help create and shape that talent, and without a continuum of individuals who have those skill sets to perform, then we will all suffer,” Haas said.

The suffering already is beginning, according to business leaders in the area. Talent is a top concern expressed in surveys for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said Andy Johnston, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs.

“We can’t just expect 500,000 highly skilled people to come to Michigan. We have to grow our own talent here,” Johnston said. “Otherwise, we can expect emerging industries to leave the state or not come to the state.”

While the governor’s recently announced Marshall Plan is “directionally correct,” Chesney said there needs to be action taken to improve the entire educational issue.

As reported by the Business Journal, the Marshall Plan calls for investing $100 million in new funding dedicated to “innovative” programs, including competency-based certification, assistance for schools to improve curricula and classroom equipment, scholarships and stipends, and support for career navigators and teachers.

Its goal is to enable Michigan workers to lead the nation in filling the more than 800,000 job openings projected between now and 2024.

Haas said he would encourage gubernatorial candidates to use the recent educational reports to help determine their priorities.

“There’s been a disinvestment, frankly, in education,” he said. “This should be an urgency.”

Johnston would advise business owners and residents to pay attention to those candidates’ priorities.

“With it being an election year, we’re encouraging the business community as they interact with candidates to ask them what their plan is to improve K-12 achievement,” he said.

Haas compared the issue to potholes that remain in roads when there’s a “disinvestment” in infrastructure

“The holes in our talent are going to be so evident. We’re leaving young people behind, and I find that to be very, very troublesome,” he said.

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