Our editorial: Snyder is backing smart school agenda

The Detroit News

As Michigan seeks to improve the standing of its schools, there are many lessons this state can learn from others. That’s why we’ve devoted space in these pages to our series, “Fixing Michigan’s Schools.” And we will continue to do so in coming months.

There are positive efforts already underway in this state. Gov. Rick Snyder is on the right track in backing some common sense legislation that could help propel the state’s education system. These are smart priorities for the governor in his remaining months in office. And he’s looking to act on pieces of the 21st Century Education Commission report from March, which he commissioned.

Even though some lawmakers are struggling with school reform fatigue after pushing through major bills — including bailing out Detroit Public Schools last year — the Legislature should work with Snyder.

Part of the school legislative reforms were introduced this week and more will be coming this fall.

Here’s what to expect:

Skilled trades emphasis: State Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, and Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, are among the lawmakers on board to introduce legislation that would boost career and technical learning in schools. They announced the bills Wednesday.

For too long, these important skills have been put on the back burner as all students were pushed to attend a four-year college. While higher education is becoming increasingly vital in this new economy, the skilled trades still hold an important place in the job market, and there aren’t nearly enough young people getting prepared to step into good-paying careers. Thousands of jobs remain unfilled.

Snyder wants to change that, and these bills would make it easier for students to start pursuing the trades in middle and high school. A great example of how this can work is on display in Detroit. The Randolph Career and Technical Center went from basically abandoned to hosting more than 300 students this fall, thanks in large part to an investment from the city of Detroit and the business community. And the students are learning hands-on skills in everything from carpentry and masonry to electrical and plumbing.

A-F school grading: Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, is working with Snyder on legislation to bring some transparency and accountability to the state’s convoluted school grading system — currently based on the colors of the rainbow. Offering parents an honest and clear picture of how schools are doing could help families determine what school is best for their children.

Kelly, chair of the House Education Reform Committee, has been frustrated with the governor for not being bolder with his school reform proposals, but he is willing to work with Snyder on this measure. Kelly says the bill language is still in the drafting stage but is expected soon.

Teacher professional development: Snyder has long supported giving teachers more paths to advance their careers. He also wants more focus on professional development and pairing new teachers with “master” teachers. He’s working with Rep. Daniela Garcia, R-Holland, who sponsored the DPS bailout legislation, on this piece.

Competency-based learning: The governor is also committed to rolling out a pilot program to test competency-based learning. As the name suggests, it’s a model that places utmost importance on students mastering content. Students only advance to the next level (grade) when they show they understand the subject. Some districts have already embraced the model, but Snyder wants this to be used widely in the state.

The state has much work to do to address its lackluster school performance. But these are straightforward proposals that could help.