Finley: Why are we waiting to fix schools?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Talking and planning will not solve Michigan’s education crisis.

Plans are beginning to stack up like cord wood, and the talk is unceasing about the dismal performance of our schools when compared to the rest of the nation.

I was encouraged again this week by some education advocates for whom I have deep respect to sound the alarm about the dangers of allowing Michigan to fall so far behind in training its kids, to create a sense of urgency among parents and the public.

Glad to do it. But once people wake up to the need to rapidly improve our schools, once they commit to board the reform train, then what? What to we tell them to do?

Right now, we got nothing. We’re stuck in planning mode, with no clue how to begin the march, or who will lead us into battle. And so we wait for a magic formula that will cure our paralysis.

The idea that we still need to figure out what to do is a load of manure. What we need is the will to do something, anything, and now.

Gov. Rick Snyder empaneled a 21st Century Commission to develop a blueprint for education reform. Its recommendations were released last spring. It’s not perfect, but it is a solid document that would duplicate most of the things successful education states are already doing.

And because it was put together by teachers, education advocates, unions and business representatives, it has the huge advantage of already enjoying the broad consensus required to bring it to life.

Some pieces are beginning to move through the Legislature, including the absolutely critical call to kill the elected state school board, which operates independently of the governor and thus blurs the direct line of authority and accountability for the schools.

There is still more than a year left on Snyder’s tenure, and that of a Legislature generally friendly to his agenda. If we marshal our resources over those 13 months, if the governor fights every single day for his own plan, we can get this done

Instead we’ve fallen back to our old habit of waiting — for the next administration, the next Legislature, the next plan.

Now, the wait is for the education reform plan being drawn up by Business Leaders for Michigan. I’ve been a loyal supporter of that group’s priorities, believing them to be right for reviving our state.

But I see no point in issuing another school reform plan that is bound to duplicate 80 percent of the governor’s proposal, and those of Michigan Future, Education Trust-Midwest and the myriad other blueprints that are on the shelf.

Having so many plans will confuse citizens and allow the politicians who will be seeking their votes next year to avoid committing to a specific reform path.

Pick one plan, preferably the governor’s. Move quickly into a strategy for pressuring the Legislature and local school boards to adopt it. If a ballot measure is necessary, gather the funds and signatures needed to get it passed in 2018.

And then present it to candidates and condition votes, endorsements and financial support on their commitment to continue its implementation.

Stop planning and start moving.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.