Letter: Stick to plan for Michigan schools

The Detroit News
Generic classroom photo with kids learning at Madison Elementary School.

The recent Detroit News editorial headline was right on point — “Stop revolving door of school reform" (April 18). 

The problem is, many of the points made after that in the editorial are off-base.

The state’s strategic plan to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years, which launched in 2016, established a powerful direction of education ideas and initiatives that were developed by thousands of Michigan stakeholders, including business, educators, parents, administrators, legislators, philanthropy, traditional and charter schools, and think tanks.

The Top 10 in 10 state education plan has been embraced by former Gov. Rick Snyder and current Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; the broad coalition of Launch Michigan; the statewide-elected State Board of Education; and education leaders across Michigan.

When it was adopted, then-State Superintendent Brian Whiston’s wish was to move forward with that plan and “leave it alone for 10 years, and let it work.”

The editorial claims the Michigan Department of Education is either ignoring or poorly implementing the state’s new A-F school accountability and the Read By Grade Three laws.

The Read By Grade Three law is being implemented with great fidelity across the state, with the assistance of intermediate school districts.

The A-F school accountability law, which only passed late last December and took effect last month, is being designed now and will bring schools and their families an additional accountability system to decipher.

The state already had a federally-mandated and approved school accountability system, when the state legislature enacted this additional A-F system on schools.

The editorial then resurrects old arguments about education leadership in Michigan. The state Constitution is crystal clear on this. The statewide-elected State Board of Education is “the general planning and coordinating body for all public education.”

Michigan is not alone in this governance model. It is one of seven states that has a publicly-elected State Board of Education that appoints its state superintendent; and one of 16 states where the governor has no role in appointing its state superintendent.

The state Legislature and governor make laws, including laws that can impact the state’s education system — like educator evaluations, which the editorial cited. With term limits for both the legislature and governor added to the state Constitution by the people of Michigan, there always will be the chance that new leaders will change the laws of the former leaders. That’s how our government is designed.

As the current interim state superintendent, I vowed to stay committed to the late-Superintendent Whiston’s vision of staying true to the Top 10 in 10 plan.

As the State Board of Education fulfills its constitutional responsibility to select the next state superintendent, I genuinely expect the five candidates being interviewed this coming week to be asked how they will keep Michigan on its current Top 10 in 10 course.

The best we all can hope for is that the next state superintendent, and the state Legislature, will embrace Brian Whiston’s hope that we leave Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 education plan alone, and give it time to work, for the sake of Michigan’s children.

Sheila Alles, interim state superintendent

Michigan Department of Education