GRPS provides model for Snyder and concerns to be addressed

May 2, 2011
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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder at long last provided details of his dramatic plan of all-encompassing education reforms for K-12 public school districts, which also extend as guidance for charter schools. There is much to agree with in the governor’s plan, but funding and the manner in which state funding for public education would be distributed are not “inventive” enough.

Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor responded to the governor’s plan with more insight than the Business Journal has seen reported in reactions across the state. Taylor, who has shepherded massive changes at GRPS from school and service consolidations to union contract concessions, is right to note that Snyder’s formula is a “one-size-fits-all” model, ignoring the uniqueness of Michigan’s varied districts — exemplified by the more than 80 languages spoken at GRPS and the poverty rates that create obstacles to learning for the city’s children.

In delivering his written outline to legislators last week, Snyder appropriately noted, it is past time to change education from “a farm-based society model to one that prepares students for the technological age of today and jobs of tomorrow.” But he also made this point: “We have to start looking at students as individuals with different abilities that need to be taken into account, but also as individuals with unlimited potential to achieve.”

So, too, are there tremendous differences between rural and urban districts, differences between East Grand Rapids or Forest Hills and Godfrey-Lee, where economic disadvantage is the same rate as GRPS and where average ACT scores are lower. Snyder made a point of parental involvement — which is already measured by the GRPS “dashboard” and more comprehensive than Snyder’s model. Recall that criticism of Taylor included his parental involvement policy, which required involvement even from convicted felons, bringing them into the schools. That as much as anything illustrates Taylor’s point.

Taylor has made across-the-board and systemic changes at GRPS and, in leading such changes long before Snyder was elected, is certainly a model for the governor’s plan and how to accomplish it. Taylor’s concerns about “one-size-fits-all” should be heard and answered by Snyder and the legislature.

Taylor’s strongest statement to Michigan legislators: “We can’t expect schools to prepare our students to compete in the global economy and then fund them with a Third World budget.”

If Snyder and business leaders are serious about assuring an education for every Michigan child in a world of a dwindling work force, Taylor must be heeded for his experience and wisdom.

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