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Gov's education commission lays out "blueprint" for schools

a man stands in front of a classroom at a white board
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Michigan needs to “invest with urgency” in some “high-yield” education strategies, or risk falling even further behind other states.

That’s the gist of a new report from Gov. Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission, which lays out a “blueprint” for that effort.

Those recommendations run the gamut. Among the most prominent or controversial:

·        Determine the base funding amount for K-12: “The Commission is recommending that Michigan adopt performance outcomes that are bench-marked against the highest-performing states and nations. If the state is going to be successful at meeting those benchmarks, schools need to be provided with the resources necessary for success,” commission members wrote. They also recommend the state allocate additional funds for “disadvantaged students.”

·        Support universal access to community college for all Michigan students.

·        Support universal preschool for all four-year-olds.

·        Move toward a competency-based learning model: The commission describes this as “an approach that focuses on the student’s demonstration of desired learning outcomes as central to the learning process.” Some people interpret this as the possible abolition of traditional grade/credit structures, with students advancing by proving “competency” on some sort of test.

·        Assist poorer communities with funding for school facilities, and provide state funding for charter schools to do facilities improvements.

·        Overhaul or eliminate the state board of education: “Michigan must ask voters to decide how best to align state educational policy with accountability through the Governor,” the commission wrote, noting there are “several options” for doing this, including putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot to eliminate the elected board.

There is also a big focus on recruiting and keep top teaching talent, though the path to getting there is vague.

“We have to recruit and retain outstanding educators. It is the top recommendation of pretty much every top-performing nation is, we recruit and retain outstanding educators, by creating a system that sharp people want to be a part of,” said commission member David Campbell, superintendent of the Kalamazoo Regional Education Services Agency.

But Campbell says there are a lot of things “chasing good educators out of the classroom right now.”

Among other things, the state needs to stop “moving the goalposts” by constantly  changing the benchmark tests it uses, and school districts need to do a better job eliminating “distractions” from the classroom, Campbell said.

The commission also takes pains to point out that while a lot of education policy has focused on closing the so-called “achievement gap” between black and white students, or high and low-income students, even Michigan’s highest-achieving students don’t hold up well in comparison to other states.

While the recommendations emerged from the commission by “overwhelming consensus,” not all had unanimous backing.

Some commissioners, including state board of education president John Austin, think the recommendations are “missing a few big things” — namely, more oversight and accountability for the state’s charter and cyber schools.

“We came close to agreeing on a “certificate of need” [for opening new schools], but in the end we didn’t get there,” Austin said. 

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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