For years, the tag line of our messages to school advocates has been: "together, we can make a difference." Well, today is proof that together we have made a difference.
Legislation introduced today in the Michigan House of Representatives would enact the "Parent Proposal to Assist Struggling Schools," a policy recommendation developed by MIPFS after extensive consultations with parent group leaders, educators, policy experts, and advocates like you.
House Bill 5268, introduced by Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods, would set up a system to assist academically struggling schools in tackling the problems that they face. Teams of experts would review the situation on the ground, district policies and procedures, and the challenges students may face outside of school. This review would produce a set of critical changes needed to ensure that the school serves all students well. With those ideas in hand, key stakeholders in the district - including the elected board, teachers, administrators, parents, and other community members - would work with state officials to hammer out a practical plan to put those changes in motion. No school or district would be taken over, and local stakeholders would decide how to implement the necessary changes. The Michigan Department of Education would provide resources and technical assistance to make this whole system work, and intermediate school districts would help organize the review teams.
We're grateful to Rep. Lipton for working with us and for embracing the idea of turning our proposal into actual legislation.
Why is this important?
First of all, our proposal is the first step in shifting the discussion about public schools and how to make sure they offer everyone a quality education. Education "reform" proposals popular over the last decade have focused on measuring and punishing disappointing performance. These policies have done little to actually help schools serve their students better, and it's not clear that they were ever intended to do so.
Second, our opponents have frequently challenged us to offer our own solution. This proposal will be one of many designed to do just that.
At MIPFS, we believe that strong and vibrant local public schools are essential to the health of our communities. Where schools and students are struggling, we need to make assistance and targeted resources available so that problems are correctly identified and constructive measures taken. Beyond that, all schools need adequate resources to educate children so that they become thoughtful citizens and productive members of the community.
This bill shifts the focus away from punitive measures for struggling schools - ranging from public shaming to complete takeover - to actions that will actually help students, their schools and their communities. A companion bill, HB 5269 introduced by Rep. Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids, tackles the problems from a different direction. This bill would require that Michigan perform a careful study to determine the true cost of providing the kind of public education we expect from our schools - something several other states have done.
The path that our state's education policy has been following for some years now is a path that leads nowhere. It's time for those of us who know exactly how much is at stake to set Michigan in a new direction.