Letter: Michigan’s schools should be top priority

A recent opinion column ( “Why are we waiting to fix schools?” Oct. 29) indicated Business Leaders for Michigan is developing an education reform plan that may be used as an excuse to delay action to boost K-12 achievement, or is a duplication of existing plans. We take issue with both points of view.

We have not asked any group to stop fighting for changes they feel would improve our state’s K-12 education system. Quite the opposite. Our organization encourages every Michiganian to get involved and advocate for strong schools that meet the growing needs of our children. However, we do believe Michigan has engaged in a series of episodic attempts at school reform for too many years. While some actions have been taken, this piecemeal approach over multiple decades, governors and legislatures has unintentionally, but regrettably, achieved few positive results.

Today Michigan ranks below average in nearly every measure of education performance – from fourth-grade reading and math to college and career readiness upon graduation. We are shortchanging our kids. Yet, too many people in Michigan are still unaware of these troubling facts. A survey we conducted earlier this year found that a majority of residents believe our schools perform at similar levels to other states. Meanwhile, data shows our education performance is getting worse.

To be fair, many Michigan schools are doing tremendous work to prepare our students for what’s next. But that doesn’t change the fact that most Michigan schools lag behind other states at nearly every level. Just supporting more patchwork action is not the way to help our children get the education they need and deserve.

That is what BLM’s work is all about. BLM has long supported policies fundamental to improving our K-12 performance, including establishing high standards with a rigorous aligned assessment. These aren’t revolutionary ideas – states that are making progress on education, like Massachusetts and Tennessee, have made sustained commitments to implementing these policies. Unfortunately, in Michigan, we haven’t – instead we’ve bounced from one reform idea to another failing to stick with any long enough to see the intended results.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, we are working to identify a prioritized set of actions that have the greatest potential to improve our schools. Rather than creating another plan, we are identifying a handful of strategies that have been used successfully in other states to generate strong results that are backed up by solid data.

We are currently doing the necessary, strategic work before we ask our elected leaders to support changes that are likely to take years to implement. Picking the wrong priorities will not help our children and will take years to unravel. So yes, it is imperative that we improve and fix our state’s K-12 education system. But let’s also make sure we do it the right way.

Doug Rothwell

president and CEO,

Business Leaders for Michigan