Letter: Criticism won't help fix Michigan education

The Detroit News

This month in CNBC’s annual ranking of the Top States for Business, Michigan suffered a dramatic tumble, going from the nation’s 13th best state for business to the 24th. Just two years ago Michigan was the most improved state in the ranking. Now we’re barely in the top half. So what changed?

For one, our national ranking in education toppled from 28th to 43rd. Given the choice, who would want to move here for a job if they don’t think their children can get a quality education? Fortunately, many of us are already hard at work figuring out how to boost education. Launch Michigan has brought leaders together from across sectors and the ideological spectrum to coalesce around a shared, long-term plan to improve education statewide.

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy teacher Shauntay Frazier adjusts the desks in her classroom.

On the same day this study came out, we were disappointed to read former state Rep. Tim Kelly’s criticism of our coalition ("Fund children, not broken systems," July 11).

Diverse by age, race, gender and the size and scope of each organization on our steering committee, we’ve been working for just over a year trying to fix a problem that has been decades in the making. We’ve already prioritized six areas that will have the biggest impacts on improving student outcomes and are finalizing recommendations we intend to share with the governor, state Legislature, state Department of Education and others this December in the hope that bill introductions and committee meetings will take shape in early 2020.

Launch Michigan was formed because we were tired of seeing Michigan’s students continue to fall behind those in other states — each year another decline. We were tired of seeing Michigan pass one piece of legislation after another trying to fix the problem often in a piecemeal fashion. We were tired of constant changes being made in standards, assessments and policies that affected our teachers and students — all because Michigan never had an education agenda that was clear, transparent and dedicated to improving attainment for every student in the state.

We’re taking a different approach, one that Kelly admits helped states like Massachusetts and Tennessee achieve lasting improvement. Based in research from other states that proves what actually works, the approach puts students in the center, listens to educators and builds support among all key stakeholders so the work can be adopted and sustained. Notably, CNBC’s #1 ranked state, Virginia — both overall as well as #1 in education — has made use of a similar advisory council.

It’s been 25 years since Michigan last approved major education reforms. We know that our system is broken, and getting through behemoth amounts of research and data to arrive at consensus recommendations to reshape it from the bottom up takes serious time. But we’re committed to it, because the greatest results come from the hardest work.

Michigan has a history of disunity when it comes to fixing our problems. That’s what’s been going on in education in Michigan for years. We aim to change that.

It’s a shame that Michigan’s business, education, labor, philanthropy and civic leaders get criticized for working together to fix a problem. Support and input from outside experts and stakeholders will help us solve this. Further criticism won’t.

Launch Michigan co-chairs:

Doug Rothwell, CEO, Business Leaders for Michigan

Tonya Allen, president, Skillman Foundation

Paula Herbart, president, MEA