How many times do Michigan residents have to absorb disastrous policies before we decide a change of course is in order?
How many times do high-handed technocratic systems that usurp elected control have to fail before we demand a government "of, by, and for the people"? These are the questions that come front and center to anyone who has read the latest revelations about the Flint water disaster and has even a passing familiarity with our state's other experiments with technocratic central control. While we at MIPFS focus on education, the implications are much wider: how do we ensure that our policymakers serve and protect the people of our state? This is a crucial question to keep in mind as we go into an election year.
As Michigan Parents for Schools begins its tenth year, and since we're in the holiday season, I thought it might be a good moment for a retrospective on what has been done to public education over the last decade. Think of me as the "Ghost of Policy Present," offering to introduce you to the "Ghost of Legislation Past" and a tour down memory lane. Please stay for the tour.
The new state Superintendent of Public Education, Brian Whiston, invited a number of state organizations - including MIPFS - to make presentations to the State Board of Education. He asked the groups to offer the three to five ideas which would help Michigan become a "top 10" state in educational outcomes.
MIPFS executive director Steve Norton and board member Elizabeth Welch presented our "five key ideas" at yesterday's SBE meeting. An outline of our presentation appears below; attached at the end of the article are PDFs of the documents we shared with the State Board members and MDE officials.
For a while, it was gratifying that school funding issues took center stage in the recent election for Michigan's governor. Unfortunately, the amount of spin and, well, dishonesty, left the situation more confusing than before. Now that the election is over, our choices about school funding need to be based on facts, not confusion.
Here are three basic facts that everyone needs to understand. The evidence for them is indisputable:
Starting with the 2012 fiscal year, the Governor and Legislature together took away roughly $1 billion that would normally have gone to K-12 education.
Schools took a major cut that first year, but they didn't have to: the tax cuts that year made the school cuts necessary.
The slow growth in school funding since that first year had nothing to do with the Governor or Legislature or any decisions they made. It was all automatic.
"Come again?" you might say. That's not what we were hearing from all the campaign commercials. But it's the reality we need to come to terms with. So let's go over it in a little more detail. (Go to article >>>)
Let me tell you a little story about the Mitten & Rabbit. Some twenty years ago, the people of the Mitten (and their northern cousins in the Rabbit) were convinced to try an experiment: to see if they could make their public schools better by introducing competition. At the same time, they also wanted to make sure schools were funded adequately and more fairly than in the past. So the leaders of the Mitten passed laws and made changes to get the experiment started, and they expected that future leaders would closely follow the experiment to see how it was working, and make
corrections as needed.
Times changed, the economy worsened, and newer, less experienced, leaders of the Mitten were more concerned about making things cost less than about making them work well. Competition, it turned out, was rigged and didn't help schools improve so much as it allowed some new players to make a profit while existing schools struggled. Funding that was generous in the beginning failed to keep up with rising costs, but leaders were afraid to ask the people to pay more for their community's schools - or to let them do it themselves. And after twenty years, no one had had the courage to see if the experiment was really living up to its promises. The children of the Mitten were the ones who lost the most from this downhill slide, but then they don't vote (or make campaign contributions).
familiar? That's where we find ourselves today. The experiment with competition has not made schools better or stronger; it has taken the public voice out of many supposedly "public" schools and lined the pockets of a few investors. Many people have been conned into believing that you can make schools better by starving them of resources. And as any magician knows, the key to a good trick is to get people to focus their attention somewhere else. (Cont'd...)
Proposals for organization & funding of K-12 education in Michigan
Prepared for State Board of Education, 13 May 2014
Pres. Austin, Supt. Flanagan, and members of the Board:
Michigan parents value their local public schools and appreciate the hard work being done by all those who bring life to public education. No institution is perfect, and local public education is no exception. But parents are painfully aware of the struggles faced by our schools, driven in part by policy decisions at the state level - which have reduced our direct investment in K-12 education - and in part by changes in the Michigan economy, which have put our families and communities under tremendous stress.
Michigan public education is not "broken;" it has weathered tremendous blows over the last 15 years that have reduced its ability to serve all students as well as we want it to. Any proposals to change the structure and funding of our public schools must address this fundamental fact. >>>>Click below to read more
Strategies to turn around troubled schools need to address specific local challenges and be owned by the local school and district community
With the recent push to pass a bill on the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) before the winter 2013 legislative break, it’s more important than ever that parents start talking about real alternatives that work. For the last year, MIPFS has worked with parent groups, educational leaders and lawmakers to develop a positive program that will actually help struggling schools. This article outlines our proposal.
Existing law does not provide enough assistance to local schools in diagnosing and solving their difficulties. To compound the problem, the law provides for complete state takeover as the only remedy for schools which fail to improve. The parents’ alternative is based on these core ideas:
Any effective school improvement strategy must focus on the particular circumstances of the school or district that is a candidate for intervention, and be tailored to address local needs and shortcomings.
Diagnosis of educational problems is best done by experienced and disinterested specialists, but the solutions to those problems will be most durable if they are hammered out and implemented by all relevant stakeholder groups.
Unilateral state intervention must be a last resort, and must be focused solely on implementing the changes identified as necessary in the independent review.
The goal of state intervention for school improvement is not to take over management of the school but to identify and see implemented educational and organizational changes, which are critical to the long-term growth of student achievement.
MIPFS and affiliated groups’ statement on the latest “skunk works” revelations
The evidence is piling up that the Snyder administration was closely involved in the effort to construct an alternative “education” system whose top priority is to minimize public school costs, not improve education. According to emails obtained by the Detroit News, top advisers to Gov. Snyder helped put the so-called “skunk works” group together or approved of its creation as early as September 2012.
From the parent perspective, one of the most disturbing discoveries was a statement by Gov. Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore. “Frankly, there’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing the education community in a fratz,” Muchmore wrote not long after the “skunk works” story first broke.
Thousands of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens who care about quality public education expressed their outrage at the secrecy and narrow vision of the “skunk works” project. Since when did we become the enemy? What kind of distorted lens must members of the Snyder administration be using that they see in concerned parents an opponent to be overcome rather than a constituency to be heard?
We released this open letter on the occasion of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s visit to southeast Michigan. Sec. Duncan visited two schools in Detroit, one of them an EAA school, and the Perry Child Development Center in Ypsilanti. Our letter points out the conflict between the educational values Sec. Duncan has espoused, and which are the foundation of Perry’s High/Scope model, and the urgent direction of education policy in Michigan.
Open Letter to US Education Secretary Arne Duncan
Dear Secretary Duncan,
On behalf of Michigan parents and others concerned about public education here, I would like to welcome you to our state. Michigan is home to some of the best ideas and programs in education as well as some of the most serious challenges our schools, and communities, face. We welcome your effort to learn more about the hopes we cherish and the obstacles we confront in our local efforts to educate our children.
Unfortunately, I fear that your tour may leave you with an incorrect impression of what is in fact happening in our state. The current direction of state policy is not to offer an excellent education to all children. Instead, key Michigan policy makers have adopted an extremely narrow and barren notion of “education” and have focused on how to deliver it at the lowest cost possible. These proposals take us in precisely the wrong direction.
Last week, Governor Rick Snyder unilaterally stripped the Michigan Department of Education of responsibility for intervening in struggling schools.
His executive order moved that responsibility to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, on the specious grounds that DTMB's role in running the state's school database somehow gives them expertise on turning around troubled schools. In fact, as the text of the order makes clear, Gov. Snyder is impatient with MDE - which answers to the elected State Board of Education - for not acting faster to take over schools. So, by moving that authority to DTMB, the governor also places that function directly under his own control.