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Every day it’s getting harder to fill good paying jobs in Michigan. We see this first-hand as our 80 members employ nearly 400,000 people in our state.

That is the reason, over the last five years, we’ve championed expanding early childhood education and reading programs, adopting high student standards and aligned assessments, and improving college affordability. But despite these efforts, Michigan’s education results continue to lag other states. Fewer than one quarter of our state’s high school students are career or college ready at graduation. Our rankings have plummeted to the bottom third of states nationwide on too many essential skill areas, like reading and math proficiency.

That’s why, Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) recently released a report aimed at identifying best policies and practices to further improve K-12 education in Michigan.

We identified five states — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Tennessee — that have high student performance or are making significant gains and face at least some of the social, political and demographic challenges that we do.

We found that successful, improving schools have:

High standards and aligned assessments that are maintained consistently over time. While Michigan has effective benchmarks and exams, we have moved the goal posts too many times to allow them to work well.

A strong track record of investing in teacher training and development. Michigan has raised standards for its teachers, with reforms in tenure and certification and more rigorous evaluation. But the investment in teacher training, professional development and access to technology and data in Michigan has lagged.

Accountability measures that are meaningful and easily understood. Michigan has a Parent Dashboard for School Transparency that provides meaningful information and a percentile rank for how schools perform against others in the state, but it is less clear and requires more interpretation than a simple A–F scoring system.

Corrective action and remediation for schools that are not meeting standards. While Michigan has a framework for accountability in place, it is complex and inconsistently enforced. More positively, the Michigan Department of Education has begun to acknowledge the need for changes to oversight and intervention practices.

With these best practices — and Michigan’s progress toward them—in mind, BLM has identified the following key recommendations for boosting K–12 achievement:

Maintain college and career readiness standards.

Keep and strengthen the M-STEP. The Michigan Department of Education plans to make changes to the M-STEP in 2018, the third time in six years.

Michigan’s education stakeholders must focus on improving learning outcomes in the classroom by effectively and consistently training teachers on Michigan’s standards; providing relevant and effective professional development; improving access to technology and data; providing leadership training for principals; recognizing performance; and implementing a team-based culture.

Adequate, equitable and sustained classroom funding is needed. Michigan must re-assess the cost of providing a quality education to all learners, and undertake a comprehensive study of education expenditures to determine how schools can channel more resources into the classroom.

Support and maintain a uniform set of performance and accountability standards for all stakeholders in the K–12 education system. All levels of authority need to be held accountable for delivering results. It is important to establish clear lines of responsibility from the governor and legislature to the education department, Intermediate School Districts, charter school authorizers, districts and schools.

Ensure a consistent,sustained effort. Reform is hard. Michigan needs to stick with an initiative because it takes several years to see results.

Before Michigan can revitalize its K–12 education system, it needs a goal — a benchmark for K–12 excellence and accountability. It needs business, educators, labor, philanthropy and parents working together.

To reclaim its heritage as an innovative and vibrant economic hub, it must ensure that every child will be prepared for a successful life and career.

It’s a tall order, but we think it’s eminently doable.

Fixing Michigan’s Schools

As part of our year-long series, we are publishing summaries of major plans put forward over the past year to rebuild the state’s public school system. Two weeks ago, we highlighted the plans from the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission, and from Michigan Future, a non-profit that studies state problems. Today we are running summaries of the reform plans of Business Leaders for Michigan, an organization of the CEO’s of the states largest corporations, and Education Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to improving education achievement in the state. Catch up at detroitnews.com/opinion.

About the author

Doug Rothwell is president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.

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