INTRO: Michigan’s k-12 schools are in trouble. The Council of Michigan Foundations brought experts to Lansing to find out why and what the solutions could be. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
In twenty years, Michigan 4th graders dropped from 19th place to 42nd in Math. In reading they dropped from 21st to 38th. Katie Haycock is president of Education Trust, a national advocacy group.
“Michigan’s been using a set of measures that actually aren’t honest. That even affluent children in Michigan aren’t doing as well as their counterparts in other states. So you actually have reason to be worried about your personal children even if the data have not convinced you that so far.”
Florida is pouring money into teacher training. Their kids are better in reading. Massachusetts pours money into everything. Black kids in Massachusetts are performing three grade levels higher than those in Michigan.
“Michigan has large numbers of children who are way far behind,” says Haycock. Michigan is stuck in a trap set hundreds of years ago.
“We give the kids who arrive at school behind less of everything. And I mean everything. And when they don’t perform well on standardized tests we blame it on the kids. We blame it on their parents. We blame it on their race. We blame it on their culture. We never ever talk about what we did.”
Haycock says “you can’t afford to say ‘we’re spending $8,000 per-pupil in Detroit and look what we’re getting.”’
Mitt Romney’s state spends twice what Michigan does per-pupil. Foundations like Skillman and Kellogg are spending money on education. They wanted lawmakers down the street at the capitol to get the message. Here’s State Superintendent of Education Mike Flanagan.
“And part of the tactic? Call it an investment. Somehow we call it an investment and we’re good. But don’t call it taxes.”
The education experts also agree on Common Core standards. Teachers, parents and students can see what must be done semester by semester, from K-12. 46 states have adopted Common Core, though parent opposition in some states is strong. Mike Flanagan is saying to…
“Talk about and not be afraid that somehow is it because the word Common Core sounds like communism or something that we’re all worried about it or some people are worried about it?”
Flanagan and Katie Haycock of Education Trust also agreed that Massachusetts is the best model. Even Tennessee is better. Still, Haycock was encouraged by Michigan’s improved early childhood education. Credit former Governor Granholm with the Great Start Program. Says Haycock:
“High quality preschool, and I mean HIGH quality preschool, is the best investment we can make. The most conservative economists are saying for every dollar we invest returns at least seven in later expenses saved. So it pays. Common sense tells you this: to prevent problems rather than try to fix them after the fact.”
Economist Jeff Guilfoyle of Public Sector Consultants in Lansing says Michigan’s education system still has problems.
“We went from spending significantly more than the US on average to slightly less on average. And our ranking has fallen from tenth in the nation to twenty-fifth in the nation.”
Guilfoyle says the loss of manufacturing jobs led to budget cuts and sending expensive, but skilled teachers off to retirement. 20 years ago, proposal A made things worse. It lifted the tax burden on new suburban communities built in township cornfields. The next new community siphons people off and leaves the old ones to rot. Jeff Guilfoyle doesn’t say it like that. But his dry economic policy version matches up.
“Michigan’s enrollment peaked and it’s falling. We’ve had the largest enrollment decline of any state in the nation by a fairly significant factor. We have 2/3 of our districts losing students. That’s important because our school aid formulas are poor at handling declining enrollment. When you lose a student you lose the full per-pupil aid amount. But you don’t lose the per-pupil cost.”
Since Proposal A, Flint and Detroit lost 70% of their students. Grand Rapids and Saginaw lost almost half. Carlton Jenkins is the Saginaw Superintendent. He’s tired of low expectations.
“Children can’t learn from poverty, children can’t learn because they’re African-American. Children can’t learn because they’re Hispanic. Children can’t learn because they’re special ed. That’s baloney.”
Low expectations mean government underfunds schools that contain those kids.
Parents in Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, Grand Blanc, Portage and East Grand Rapids should also be worried about what happens in Saginaw. State and local governments refuse to tax suburban sprawl. Rich towns can be cannibalized too.
Katie Haycock of Education Trust makes a moral plea for poor white kids and kids of color.
“No matter who you are in the state of Michigan you have strong interest in making sure they catch up. Whether you’re selling widgets or selling cars or anything you need people to be able to pay for it. You need informed consumers who will know your product is better than others. You need voters who have the ability to think through issues. Our country was founded on a promise that even if you’re born poor if you work hard you can become anything you want to be and when that promise gets hollowed out all of us are the worse for it.”