Jacques: Parents are best drivers of ed reform
You may be feeling overwhelmed by all the reports and studies detailing the poor state of Michigan schools. The problem is clear. But what can the average parent do about it?
A new poll, which will be released Thursday by the Insyght Institute, targeted parents to find out what they feel is lacking in their child’s school. And the sponsors want to turn the frustration they discovered into action.
Here are some results that stand out:
■Only 30 percent of parents see education as a “top priority” in the state, and only 31 percent believe that necessary changes will be made.
■12 percent of Michigan parents say the current teaching practices used in the state’s K-12 schools meet the needs of today’s learners.
■Just 16 percent of parents support continuing the approach of advancing students based on the school year, rather than individual achievement.
■Only 20 percent of parents say their children find their schoolwork and homework assignments interesting.
The survey was sponsored by the nonprofit organization Your Child, which is backed by Eileen Weiser, who sits on the State Board of Education. Longtime Michigan pollster Ed Sarpolus conducted the poll. The mission of Your Child is to educate state residents about the necessity for education reform.
This latest poll follows one the group did two years ago. That survey found widespread dissatisfaction with Michigan’s schools and that most citizens felt schools were not delivering a high-quality education — nor one that was adequately preparing young people for college.
Your Child began more than a decade ago with a mission to raise awareness about the value of higher education.
The focus of this latest poll was on informing parents about the need to reshape how children are taught and introducing them to better ways to engage students in the classroom.
One of those concepts is called competency-based learning, a wonky way to describe a pretty basic premise: Students must demonstrate mastery of a subject before moving to a higher grade. Right now, most students are shuffled to the next level based solely on the calendar year and not what they actually know.
Gov. Rick Snyder has made competency-based learning a priority, and the governor’s 21st Century Education Commission, which released a detailed report last year, also found this to be an essential benchmark of a quality education system.
Yet when parents were asked about it in this poll, only 22 percent were familiar with the concept. When they were given a brief rundown, most parents said they supported the idea, along with a more individualized approach to learning.
Your Child also wants to remind parents and residents of how far Michigan has fallen behind in education performance. It consistently ranks in the bottom 10 of states in national test scores.
As this report details: “The 2015 Nation’s Report Card ranks Michigan fourth-graders 41st in reading and 42nd in math. The reading scores are even worse for fourth-grade boys who are middle class or above. Michigan’s wealthier fourth-grade white boys are 49th in the U.S., African-American boys are 50th. Ninety percent of Michigan’s school districts have at least one failing school.”
Not good news.
“This is an awareness and advocacy campaign to connect with voters across the state,” Weiser says. “We want to emphasize the need for change that works for children.”
Weiser says that most schools haven’t altered their method of teaching from the days when agriculture and factory work dominated Michigan jobs. Now technology is driving many new careers. Even students themselves have changed.
But schools haven’t.
It’s an important election year in Michigan, and Your Child wants parents to know what to ask of those seeking office. Weiser and Sarpolus are also working behind the scenes to get business and education leaders on board.
“People are coming together,” says Sarpolus.