Jacques: Michigan public schools earn failing grade

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Michigan residents’ perception of their public schools is far from rosy. In fact, the statewide opinion of K-12 education is downright ugly.

A poll to be released today by Target-Insyght highlights strong dissatisfaction with Michigan’s schools. Here’s a snapshot of what residents think:

■Less than 30 percent believe Michigan’s school-age children have access to or receive the highest quality education possible.

■ Sixty-three percent say it takes more than money to improve education. States that spend roughly the same as Michigan — Minnesota for example — post much higher standardized test results.

■The vast majority (76 percent) believe that education is not a top priority of state government.

■Less than 30 percent feel public high school graduates are prepared for college.

The survey was spearheaded by the nonprofit Your Child organization, which is committed to educating state residents about the performance of schools and engaging them in demanding change from state policymakers.

Your Child is backed by Eileen Weiser, a state board of education member, and Ed Sarpolus, founder of Target-Insyght and longtime Michigan pollster and strategist. The initiative is a revival of an effort by the same name a decade ago to raise public awareness of the importance of a college education.

In its second life, Your Child is seeking action on K-12 school reform. Michigan has been steadily falling behind in education performance, consistently ranking in the bottom 10 of states in national test scores.

Business leaders have asked for a major education overhaul and are frustrated with lack of action.

“They are getting tired of this,” Sarpolus says.

Parents and citizens aren’t happy either, as the poll results show. Weiser and Sarpolus want to tap into that discontent to push lawmakers for widespread changes.

While Sarpolus anticipated some frustration with schools, he was startled by the level of displeasure. That only a third believe students are getting a good education is especially distressing.

“That freaked me out,” says Sarpolus, who previously worked as government affairs director for the Michigan Education Association. “This poll scared me.”

Sarpolus says he’s looked to successful states like Massachusetts and Tennessee to see what works in education reform. While more money is always welcome by schools, it’s more a matter of how that money is spent — and how much actually makes it into the classroom.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston didn’t seem surprised by the poll’s results.

Since he took office last year, he’s worked with a variety of stakeholders to put together a plan for making Michigan a top 10 state for education within 10 years.

“We know we need to change,” Whiston says. “We all understand we have a long way to go to be where we want to be.”

Similarly, Gov. Rick Snyder is putting together a statewide commission to determine the roadblocks that are preventing Michigan from becoming a leading education state.

The Your Child campaign hopes to build on these efforts. It is looking to get parents, students, teachers and business leaders aware of the need for comprehensive school reform.

Sarpolus says the campaign’s goal is not to lobby lawmakers for any specific action but rather to provide the information necessary for them to act.

Staying silent is not an option.

“We’re all to blame,” Sarpolus says.

“Education is the Flint water crisis for the whole state.”