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A comprehensive strategy for improving Michigan schools

Brian Whiston

Aligning goals and strategies to improve educational outcomes for Michigan’s children will sharpen our focus, create a shared education vision, and continue to move our state forward.

The foundation for this work over the past two years has been Michigan’s plan to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

The strategies span the breadth of a person’s educational experience — from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary opportunities for all children; to the important role of parents and guardians; ensuring a strong workforce; and nurturing responsible and informed citizens.

When the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) took effect in 2016, states had the opportunity to design their own plans for school improvement and accountability. As with the Top 10 in 10, Michigan’s ESSA plan is designed to do what is best for Michigan and Michigan’s children, based on input from thousands of stakeholders. It is built to tightly align with Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 goals and strategies.

Michigan’s ESSA plan provides:

■A parent dashboard to give them a clearer understanding of where their child’s school is performing on things like student achievement, academic growth, attendance, and graduation

■Rigorous and attainable academic achievement, growth, and graduation goals for students

■An improved assessment system to show a student’s academic growth throughout the year; put data in the hands of teachers so they can develop a plan for meeting the needs of each student; and provide parents with timely information on how their child is progressing

■A well-rounded and whole child focus — academics in the core subjects, as well as access to the arts, libraries, and physical education are key

■Support, not punishment. Michigan’s accountability system no longer will be a top-down hammer for low-achieving schools. It will identify “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” and “Targeted Support and Improvement” schools and provide them varying levels of support and assistance.

■The continuation of the Partnership Model that the state has instituted to help schools and districts most in need — developing locally-driven solutions and measures of success, with the help of other state, local, and regional partners.

■A greater focus on developing the best educators, providing targeted professional development for teachers; honoring and supporting Michigan educators; creating a stronger teacher preparation and development system with Michigan colleges and universities and other partners.

This ESSA plan is a key component of making Michigan a Top 10 education state in 10 years. Educators, parents, legislators and community members across the state devoted significant time and effort to this plan.

The purpose and strategies in Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 and ESSA plans are collective truths in which everyone in Michigan can agree:

■Construct a solid and sustainable P-20 system to educate all children for success.

■Meet and support the learning needs of ALL children.

■Meet and support the professional needs of ALL educators.

■Design systems to overcome the disparities experienced by children and schools.

■Empower parents and families to actively participate in their child’s education.

■Partner with employers to develop a strong, educated, and highly-skilled workforce.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission developed recommendations to provide long-term strategies that focused on improvements to enhance student achievement and better prepare students for a global economy. His recently-announced Marshall Plan for Talent connects education and training programs with Michigan’s high-skilled careers. These, too, are aligned with the goals and strategies of Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 plan.

Other organizations have offered recommended strategies to improve Michigan’s educational outcomes, as well. All want to do what they think is best for Michigan’s children. I commend and appreciate that.

I have convened a Shared Education Vision Workgroup, with representatives of the many partners and interests to improve Michigan’s educational outcomes. Together, we are engaged to find a set of actions in which we can move forward together with one voice. That is how we can work collectively and continue to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

Brian Whiston is the state superintendent of Michigan.

Fixing Michigan’s Schools

This is part of a series of editorials and commentaries exploring ideas for improving our state’s schools. Follow along at