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Michigan Has a Plan to Fix Education – Will It Work?

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

Michigan’s ‘Top 10 in 10’ strategy aims to make the state a premier destination for education by 2026.

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By most accounts, students in Michigan are among some of the lowest performing in the country. But the Michigan Department of Education has a strategy to reverse that trend. The question is – will it work?​

Click the playhead at the top for WDET’s radio coverage​

The goal is simple – Michigan wants to be a ‘top ten state’ for education in ten years’ time: a Top 10 in 10. Of course, some things are easier said than done. So, what exactly is Michigan’s strategy?

As the state puts it, the Top 10 in 10 plan is a strategic framework to enact seven goals, using 44 strategies, under four “Focus Areas.” It’s a broad document that functions as a mission statement, giving specific roles for teachers, parents, school districts and state departments to play. 

WDET reached out to the Michigan Department of Education for an interview, but a spokesperson for the agency said no one was available to comment on the plan. 

I see this as an effort by the state board to establish a longer term trajectory that’s been lacking,” says David Arsen, an education policy professor at Michigan State University. Before the Top 10 in 10 plan, Arsen says the Michigan Department of Education didn’t really have an overarching plan for education.

In my view, they have been in a more reactive role. Certainly, the Department reacting to policies that have been advanced in the state legislature.”

David Arsen, education policy analyst

For decades, state governments have taken more and more control of education policy from local boards, not just in Michigan, but across the U.S. Michigan and Massachusetts had the same level of student performance and per-pupil funding in 1980, but policy changes in the 1990s put them on different trajectories. Now, Massachusetts leads the nation in education.

Michigan had Proposal A for our funding system, a state control of funding and also the establishment of charter schools and introduced district choice,” Arsen says. “Massachusetts meanwhile had a thorough going education plan that was led by the business community. They tried to do many of the things that we’re now looking to do [with] Top 10 in 10.”

And that’s what the Michigan Department of Education says too. The state admits there are not a lot of new ideas in the Top 10 in 10 plan. It’s a declaration, that the agency will take the lead on education policy.

Arsen is cautiously optimistic about the feasibility of meeting the Top 10 in 10 goal by 2026. “But it really depends to a large extent on the executive and legislative branches,” Arsen says. “It may help to create some quiet time for the department and the system itself to try to work on elements of this.”​

On the other hand, Arsen says there are certain Top 10 in 10 goals that can be met sooner with the right political decisions.

In the end, it just depends who’s in office. ​

WATCH: Michigan Department of Education Chief Deputy Superintendent Sheila Alles on Top 10 in 10 plan


READ: Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 Strategic Plan in Full


Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

Policy Meets the People: MI Voice, MI Vote

This post is a part of Policy Meets the People: MI Voice, MI Vote.

The Policy Meets The People – MI Voice, MI Vote series gives metro Detroiters an opportunity to find out how key legislation, laws and policies created in Lansing affect their daily lives.

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