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It is certainly a welcome sign when Business Leaders for Michigan want to engage in order to help propel our schools and state forward.

The ongoing decline in student achievement across Michigan — not just in poor, urban school districts — should sound alarm bells for all. With technology, artificial intelligence, automation, and globalization coming at warp speed, jobs can and are moving effortlessly across the globe. It’s past time to get serious about educating children to higher and higher levels. Let’s be clear: our children are not simply going to be competing against kids in the next city or state — they will be collaborating with and competing against children across the globe. Far too many of our students are simply unprepared.

Gone are the days where a high school dropout or graduate could join the military or find a job alongside a parent or family member on the factory floor and expect a middle-class life. Rather than preparing students for a “career ladder,” today’s teachers are preparing students for lifelong learning — ongoing education, training, and expectations of multiple jobs in a lifetime, in many different fields of work.

My own career seems like a proverbial rock climb, encompassing among other fields — education and business while serving as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools (2001-05) and president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County (1996-2001), a council comprised of top CEOs in the region.

With that experience in mind, here are my recommendations to the business community in their work to formulate a “plan” for reform:

Schools have a different mission than business.

Forget ideology and political spin. Instead, do the hard research about what works. Invite key educators, teachers, principals, and superintendents to the table. Smart business leaders don’t lay out a change strategy without engaging frontline workers and we won’t get buy-in from educators if a plan is developed without their input.

Develop a shared vision and common agenda to encompass the multitude of current silos that exist. A unified, adequately funded direction for education is needed with a goal of helping teachers teach and children learn to prepare them for their future — not our past.

If we want to remain relevant as a state and nation, education and workforce preparation is the answer alongside massive new investments in education and workforce preparation from the cradle to the grave.

Tom Watkins

president and CEO,

TDW and Associates

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