The Craig Fahle Show

Great Lakes Education Project Back to School 2013 Editorial: The Most Important Issue

As students head back to school, WDET asked some of Michigan's most influential experts and policy makers to answer the question: What is the most critical issue facing education in Michigan and how can it be solved? Here is an editorial from Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director, Gary Naeyaert:

There is no question our public education system is failing too many children, since less than 20 percent of Michigan’s high school graduates are considered college or career ready. If our students are going to be competitive and succeed in the 21st century global economy, Michigan needs to adopt a combination of rigorous standards, high expectations, accountability and fair funding in public education.

First, we need to continue implementing the Common Core State Standards for Math and English Language Arts, as is being done in 45 other states. Far from a federally mandated curriculum, the standards are a rigorous, streamlined and more relevant framework to prepare students for real world application beyond high school. These internationally benchmarked standards will challenge students to read, write and solve math problems at greater capacity, raising the bar for all students and resulting in a more valuable education . While the Common Core State Standards clearly define what our children need to know, they do not tell our teachers how to teach. States, communities and schools maintain flexibility to determine how to help students meet — and exceed — these new expectations. GLEP supported adoption of the Michigan Merit Curriculum to create high expectations for our high school graduates, and we continue to resist efforts to weaken the curriculum. The results in Michigan since adopting the Michigan Merit Curriculum have been increased performance and a reduction in dropouts.

Rigorous standards won’t improve education quality without careful implementation which includes an aligned curriculum, solid instruction, meaningful assessments and excellent teachers and leaders. There should be more widespread use of technology for teaching and learning, and the next generation of student assessments, called computer adaptive testing, is to be encouraged.

The right testing and assessment tools will not only provide real time information that can inform classroom instruction — these tests measure both proficiency and individual student growth. This information not only leads to better outcomes for students, it is a much fairer method of evaluating teachers and school leaders.

If we expect to engage more parents in education, we need to provide simple and straightforward information about how our schools are performing. That’s why GLEP supports a new system to provide A-F grades for individual schools based on student academic performance. Such a letter grading system will increase transparency and accountability for all public schools, further empowering parents to make informed choices.

When it comes to funding public education, which is another critical issue facing us, we strongly believe Michigan should continue working to fulfill the promise of Proposal A, which was to reduce our reliance on local property taxes and eliminate the per-pupil funding gap in districts across the state.

While we’ve made progress in narrowing the funding equity gap there is still a 20% gap between districts at the bottom and near the top of state funding. It doesn’t make sense to have more than 150 different per-pupil foundation grants across the state, where your zip code determines how much the state invests in your education. We should work to ensure that all Michigan students, from Bobby in Benton Harbor to Alice in Alpena, or from Debbie in Dearborn to Tommy in Traverse City – receive equitable state funding as well as access to quality educational opportunities.

We should prioritize the per-pupil foundation grant and draft our School Aid budget on a post-it note rather than a 300-page document full of winners, losers and categorical spending run amok. A few modest changes in the budget would bring equity to over 85% of all Michigan students without reducing base funding for any district.

The Great Lakes Education Project strongly supports efforts to improve academic achievement, increase accountability, empower parental choice and provide equitable funding in our public schools. We urge the Governor, legislators and state policy makers to adopt these important policy initiatives.

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