Snyder and Whiston: In defense of state school reforms


Re: Greg McNeilly’s July 27 column, “Gov, keep fighting for Michigan students”: As the 21st Century Education Commission grimly reminded us, even if we remove the effects of poverty, Michigan’s students score third from the bottom on a national test of fourth-grade reading skills, which, of course, is unacceptable. However, recent suggestions that either of us have given up on Michigan students couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Michigan Department of Education’s Partnership Model is built to improve student academic achievement by identifying schools in need of additional support and drawing up a partnership agreement with the school and community partners to generate a plan for success. It also represents the first time that schools will agree to meet specific and measurable student achievement outcomes and that failure to meet those outcomes will result in significant consequences. It also is the first time local communities are being directly included in the school’s success in this way. Having the School Reform Office in MDE will align the work to empower, engage, and improve the focus of local school districts, and locally elected school boards, with more tools to increase student achievement in struggling schools.

As we wrestled with how to best improve the academic achievement of students, we found that each school’s case was different and unique. In many instances, students would have been left with no viable options or transportation to more successful schools. We also recognized that the law did not provide the clarity or tools necessary. For example, who would protect student records and what would happen to the physical building?

But with multiple partners at the table, including local elected board members, the intermediate school district, education organizations, tribal education councils, business leaders, community members, parents, higher education organizations, and state and local foundations, the Partnership Model ensures a plan of support and intervention is implemented that will improve student outcomes.

The Partnership Agreements, which already have been forged with nine local school districts, are not letting the struggling schools off the hook. If at any point a district fails to meet agreed-upon benchmarks or implement the plan, the state will implement the next level of accountability.

We cannot stand by while our students flounder. That’s why we are working with our partners in the state Legislature on a better accountability system that sets high expectations for our students and provides the tools necessary to ensure that every student has access to a high-quality education. We encourage every individual and organization claiming to be interested in student success to join us in improving things for all students at all Michigan schools.

Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan

Brian Whiston, state superintendent