Opinion: Welcome, new state school superintendent

Tom Watkins

Congratulations and welcome, new state Superintendent, Michael Rice. You now play an important role to assure that our children receive the education they need to be prepared for their future, not our past.

Kalamazoo Superintendent Michael Rice

At perhaps no time in the past three decades has there been as much positive alignment between educators, teacher unions, the governor and state legislature, the State Board of Education and the business community to develop a shared vision and common agenda that assures educational support and reform in Michigan.

My hope is that you can harness this energy in ways that truly help our teachers teach and our children learn. 

Michigan needs you to build coalitions with public education friends as well as adversaries in order to produce academic results that are immersive rather than shallow. Purpose-driven — not simply a test-driven learning experience. 

Unless we are serious about changing the trajectory of educational achievement in Michigan, we will sink into an economic backwater.

We can’t allow political ideology to substitute for solid educational evidence-based approaches, especially when the evidence shows what is being proposed is dysfunctional — not producing desired results.

We need you to:

  • Fulfill your reputation that will push back against those who claim to care about teaching and learning, but whose rhetoric does not match actual educational outcomes or assessment data.
  • Stand up for the classroom  teachers to make sure their ideas and experiences are heard and incorporated into developmental policies. Let’s ask: “Just how does this proposed policy help teachers teach and children learn"? If it doesn’t meet the standard then eliminate and re-create. 
  • Set a single quality standard and holding all our schools — whether traditional, charter, blended or e-learning — to this standard should be the goal.
  • Prepare our children with the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn, will to help them navigate the tsunami of automation and technology that offers potential for even greater disruption of our traditional ways of living and working in the coming decades. 
  • Embrace technology technology, understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI) will permeate all we do as the 21st century unfolds.
  • Stand tall for public education and not allow negativity to drown out the great things happening in our schools. Instead, advocate for necessary funding and even greater accountability. We know there are some schools across this state that are not making the cut and our children are failing academically. 
  • Strive for funding students based on need, targeting special education and those from low-income families, English-language learners, and high school students — these should be given top priority.
  • Invest in early childhood education  as it creates a huge payoff down the road.
  • Invest in teacher development. We need better teachers in struggling schools. Let’s incentivize teachers to work in schools where students are falling behind. 
  • Prohibit negativity from drowning out the great things happening in our schools while you advocate for necessary funding and even greater accountability.
  • Support Michigan Opportunity and Reconnect, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature education and workforce preparedness initiative aimed at increasing our post-secondary attainment rates from 45% to 60% by 2030.
  • Embrace the goal of making Michigan one of the nation’s top 10 states for student learning and talent development.

Rice, you know a child without a decent education today becomes an adult without a future tomorrow. Act and lead with a sense of urgency each day you hold the title of state superintendent.

Make no mistake — improving educational outcomes is key to the foundation upon which our state’s collective future will be built. Quality education and workforce preparedness is key to what ails our state and nation. 

Michigan’s collective future is now tethered to your leadership and success.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools from 2001-05.