Michigan’s prosperity depends on improving education

Doug Rothwell

Ask any employer what matters most when choosing a place to build or expand a business and one of the first answers you’ll hear is the availability of an educated and skilled workforce. In fact, workforce quality has been consistently ranked as one of the most important site location factors to employers.

While the link between prosperity and education has been well understood for generations, if Michigan truly wants more good paying jobs, it needs to produce more talent with the education and skills these jobs require.

Each year Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) compiles a wealth of data, benchmarking our state’s performance against that of other states on a variety of metrics. This tells us how well we’re doing relative to our competitors, not just our past performance. It also gives us the information we need to close the competitiveness gap and achieve BLM’s goal of making Michigan a “Top Ten” state for jobs, personal income and a healthy economy.

While there are amazing results achieved every day in schools across Michigan, on a broader scale, the benchmarking results show a different picture. For too many years, we have seen Michigan’s K–12 academic achievement lagging that of other states:

¦Just 28.6 percent of Michigan fourth-graders scored proficiently on their reading assessments — ranking 46th in the U.S.

¦Michigan eighth-graders fared little better on their math scores, with just 28.5 percent scoring proficient, for a ranking of 37th in the nation.

¦In 2016, just 23 percent of Michigan students taking the ACT met the career and college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (math, English, science, and reading). That’s up slightly from 22 percent in 2015, ranking Michigan 29th nationally.

¦The overall educational attainment of our workforce ranks in the bottom half of states.

What’s more alarming is that Michigan’s results are generally headed in the wrong direction. We’re not getting better, we’re falling behind. As the state’s largest employers, we see first-hand that too many of our students are graduating without the skills they need to enter the workforce and too few with the education they need to fill more advanced positions. Virtually every study shows that the best paying jobs require more education and training. Our benchmarking results show that Michigan isn’t giving enough of our kids the quality education and training they need to compete for those jobs. The risk of not correcting this situation is having those jobs filled elsewhere.

If Michigan is to have a powerful economic future, we need to act and act now. To that end, BLM is embarking on an effort to help foster critical discussion on how we better prepare our children for the future. Research is underway aimed at identifying best practices used by other states that have achieved high student outcomes and strategies we can use to close our performance gap.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a BLM member, is conducting the study. Like all of our work, the report will be based on data to determine how Michigan compares to other states.

States with superior education performance will be studied in depth to understand the practices and factors that most strongly impact K-12 outcomes. The product of this research will outline policy principles to guide Michigan’s education improvement agenda and several high impact priorities to jump-start action.

We expect the study to be released in early 2018 — but that’s just the beginning of our work. We will collaborate with other business, education and civic organizations to build the support for an education agenda that we can advance together.

Student achievement is attributable to many different factors — some of which are beyond the control of the schools.

But we can’t let the magnitude of the challenge stop us from acting. In fact, improving our state’s education achievement may be the single biggest factor in determining if we can become a Top Ten state for jobs and personal incomes.

We look forward to helping make this a reality.

Doug Rothwell is president & CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

An ongoing series

This is part of a series of editorials, columns and commentaries that will appear throughout the school year exploring ideas for improving our state’s schools. Follow along at detroitnews.com/opinion.