Business leaders urge changes to K-12 education

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Give teachers more access to technology, data and high-quality professional development as well as maintain current K-12 state assessment tools. Those are among several recommendations from Michigan business leaders in a new education report released Tuesday.

Business Leaders for Michigan issued its review of best practices in K-12 education and recommendations for better student performance in its report, Business Leaders’ Insights: Leading Practices in K-12 Education that Can Improve Student Outcomes in Michigan.

The report, business leaders say, is aimed at prompting a public dialogue that leads to effective fixes for the state’s poor student outcomes.

“The idea behind all of our efforts is to amplify the discussion, to get more people engaged, as we move toward the November election,” said Doug Rothwell, BLM president and CEO.

According to the report, only one in four Michigan students leaves high school ready for college and career and student achievement in math. Michigan also ranks among the nation’s poorest in reading.

“Too many younger workers lack the basic skills they need in literacy and math — and the problem seems to be getting worse,” Rothwell said. “It’s time for all of us to come together, learn from other states, and make things right.”

In the 44-page report, five similar states were examined to discover initiatives that might be replicated to improve Michigan’s K-12 performance. Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Tennessee were comparable to Michigan in student demographics, per capita income, economic base and governance structure, the report says.

The report’s assessment focused on student outcomes in reading and math and graduation rates and included a review of state reforms, analysis of student performance over time and interviews with educators, policy leaders and stakeholders.

Effective schools set standards for each grade level that are high and clear, and they use assessments that are aligned with them, the report says. The report complimented Michigan for adopting the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP), a test aligned to nationally recognized benchmarks for success after high school.

“Michigan is imperiling its progress, however, by implementing frequent changes to the test — currently proposed adjustments would move the state’s assessment goal posts for the third time in six years. These changes make it difficult to measure progress, because the assessments are different,” the report says.

States scoring well or improving results on achievement measures consistently invest in teacher development, the report found.

“Michigan has raised standards for its teachers, with reforms in tenure and certification and more rigorous evaluation. But the investment in teacher training, professional development and access to technology and data in Michigan has lagged,” the report says.

Authors of the report called Michigan’s intervention system “relatively weak and its governance system partisan and political.”

“While Michigan has a framework for accountability in place, it is complex and inconsistently enforced. More positively, the Michigan Department of Education has begun to acknowledge the need for changes to oversight and intervention practices,” the report says.

BLM is asking for Michigan to keep and strengthen the M-STEP; effectively train teachers on Michigan’s standards; empower professional development; improve access to technology and data; provide leadership training for principals; recognize performance; implement teaming culture; e-assess costs to educate Michigan students and support and maintain a uniform set of performance and accountability standards for all stakeholders in the K–12 education system.

If Michigan is going to address its K-12 education crisis, a large majority of its stakeholders must unite in support, the report says.

“As the leaders in the states that have raised their K-12 student performance rankings have pointed out, with great clarity reform is hard. Michigan needs to be prepared to stick with an initiative because it takes several years to see results,” the report says.

Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, noted State Superintendent Brian Whiston has included BLM in work to “develop a shared education vision for Michigan.

“BLM’s focus on supporting Michigan educators; having high standards for students; exploring competency-based learning; and funding the true cost of educating students are keystones in driving Michigan to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years,” Ackley said.

Two educational leaders in Michigan — Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, and Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest — said BLM brings an important voice and leadership to the state’s future and the future of thousands of K-12 students.

“I am pleased to see so many Michigan stakeholders pulling together for the change young learners need,” Allen said. “If we can continue to collaborate around effective solutions for students, we will almost certainly move the needle on K-12 achievement.”

Economic consequences of Michigan’s current system are that too many younger workers lack basic skills in literacy and math and employers can’t find the talent they need will go elsewhere, BLM officials said.

“We need to actively help both parents and the business community become aware of the need to improve our education system,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “If our state is serious about boosting entrepreneurship and growing opportunities for more jobs and higher incomes, we need to find meaningful solutions for addressing K–12 academic achievement.”