Opinion: Providing quality education for all students

By Kathleen Lomako, David Hecker and Don Hubler

According to projections from SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments), our region will have 25 percent fewer K-12 students in 2028 compared to 2002. This lower number of students will continue relatively unchanged through 2045. Fewer students means fewer new employees flowing into our workforce. This, coupled with the mass exodus of baby boomers due to retirement, will create major challenges for our region’s economy. Challenges that can only be overcome with a highly skilled, well- trained workforce.

Future economic growth in Southeast Michigan depends on preparing all students for success, beginning in preschool through post- secondary education.  Quality education – whether this means K-12, 2 or 4 year college, or training programs that lead to industry certification or apprenticeship – provides a foundation for lifelong achievement.

International Academy of Macomb students work on their assignments, Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in Clinton Township, Mich.  U.S. News & World Report listed IA Macomb as the top magnet school in the nation.

SEMCOG and the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition (MAC) convened business, labor, education, workforce development and government partners to identify strategies for addressing critical challenges in education. The report Providing Quality Education for All Students identified five significant areas of reform needed to “Provide every child access to an aligned, high-quality education from early childhood through post-secondary attainment to prepare for academic, career, and lifelong success.”

The recommendations focus on:

Providing high quality instruction by developing teachers that are qualified to provide child-centered instruction including early childhood programs; elevating the teaching profession by making it an attractive career choice; providing professional development opportunities, fair evaluation, and compensation; and partnering with parents to create a stronger learning environment.

Redesigning funding to create a more equitable - not just equal - state funding system that focuses on meeting the needs of students, provides stability for districts with declining school populations and strengthens funding for students with special needs.

Promoting Career Technical Education by expanding and strengthening programs with more counselors, instructors and equipment; promoting awareness of growing career fields and in-demand jobs; increasing employer involvement; and integrating work based learning through internships and  apprenticeships.

Serving at-risk and special needs populations by reducing the impact of poverty through increased access to wraparound, community-based support services such as transportation, nutrition, and other health and social services; and addressing chronic absenteeism.

Ensuring governance structure supports accountability by requiring the same transparency and standards whether local district, charter, education management organization, home school or cyber school.

Any meaningful reform will require collaboration and coordination of efforts with other stakeholders.  SEMCOG and MAC are partnering with the Michigan Department of Education, the Governor’s office, Business Leaders for Michigan, Education Trust – Midwest, Michigan Association of School Boards and several others to develop a Shared Vision for Education in Michigan. We are also supporting the work of the School Finance Research Collaborative. The Collaborative recently presented the results of an in-depth study on the basic cost of providing quality education for students – as well as the additional costs for educating economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners, students with special needs and those in geographically isolated areas.

Education must prepare our students for an unknown future where there will be occupations and jobs we cannot even imagine today.  For students to succeed, we must provide them with a sound academic foundation, and teach them skills like critical thinking and problem solving to help them adapt to a changing economy.   

Education is fundamental to improving our quality of life and increasing jobs and prosperity to ensure southeast Michigan’s future success.

Kathleen Lomako is executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and president of the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition.

David Hecker is co-chair of the SEMCOG/MAC Education Reform Task Force and president of AFT-Michigan.

Don Hubler is co-chair of the SEMCOG/MAC Education Reform Task Force and secretary of the Macomb Intermediate School District Board of Trustees.