Column: How to rebuild public education in Michigan

Lou Glazer

Michigan Future’s education policy recommendations are built on two core principles:

First, that all children deserve the same education no matter who their parents are. Without that we cannot live up to the core American value of equal opportunity for all. We are on the opposite track at the moment as both a country and a state.

The education that is provided for affluent kids is, by and large, designed and executed differently than it is for non-affluent kids. One system delivers a broad college prep (dare we say liberal arts) education, the other delivers an increasingly narrow education built around developing discipline and what is on the test or to narrowly preparing non-affluent children for a first job.

The second is that none of us have a clue what the jobs and occupations of the future will be. Today’s jobs are not a good indicator of what jobs will be when today’s K-12 students finish their careers in the 2050s or 2060s. We simply don’t know how smarter and smarter machines are going to change labor markets. So the purpose of pre K-12 education (maybe even pre K-16) is to build foundation skills that allow all Michigan children to have the agility and ability to constantly switch occupations.

To thrive in the new economy, workers have to be adaptable, have a broad base of knowledge, be creative problem-solvers and be able to communicate and work well with others. In other words, workers need to be really good at all of the non-algorithmic skills computers aren’t good at yet. There are many names used for these essential higher order thinking skills — we like to use the term 6Cs: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence

If Michigan is going to be a place with a broad middle class, if employers are going to have the supply of skilled workers they need and if Michigan is going to be a place once again where kids regularly do better than their parents, it will happen because the state made a commitment to provide an education system for all from birth through higher education that builds rigorous broad skills that are the foundation of successful 40-year careers.

What follows are the areas in which transformation needs to happen. It is written mainly from the perspective of K-12 education, but a similar transformation is needed in all our education institutions.

■Standards: From an almost exclusive focus on narrow academic content to Common Core content standards plus rigorous standards for the other 6Cs skills

■Assessments: From one right answer standardized tests, focused mostly on math and reading, to measures of whether students can work with others to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real world situations and problems — a critical ability for success in both college and career. Standardized tests also have driven out of far too many schools the arts, music, a rich array of electives and free extra-curricular activities, all important elements in building 6Cs skills.

■Pedagogy: From rote learning to problem-solving/project-based teaching and learning

■Accountability: From closing low-performing schools to holding management of education institutions and systems at all levels accountable for high-bar standards of student success at the next level

■Talent: From far too many blaming teachers to valuing, developing and holding accountable all professionals who impact student outcomes.

■Funding: Substantially increasing funding for non-affluent children from birth through college. To us the evidence is clear: The formula for ending what is increasingly becoming an education caste system — where for the first time in American history your parents’ education attainment is the best predictor of a child’s education attainment — is both far higher quality education providers and substantially more funding for children growing up in non-affluent households starting from birth through college.

■Segregation: Incentives to integrate neighborhoods and schools by race and class. We have known for more than a half-century that the most powerful lever to improving outcomes of non-affluent students is attending school with lots of middle class students and yet we are going in the wrong direction.

■Operators: From letting the market decide who operates schools to giving parents choice but only from operators who meet high quality standards and where supply and demand is balanced. States where choice is working best to improve student outcomes combine increased parental choice with much higher quality bars to be able to operate schools.

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Futures Inc.