Our editorial: Businesses should lead school reform

The Detroit News

Business Leaders for Michigan joined the fray this week of groups calling for the state to become among the top 10 for its schools and talent development. The challenges and shortfalls facing Michigan’s K-12 schools are already well documented, but getting business to back reform efforts is essential to long-term success.

As this new report reminds us, only one in four Michigan students leaves high school ready for career or college. The state is consistently in the bottom 10 of states in math and reading proficiency, according to national standardized tests, regardless of race or income.

That should worry everyone, but it should especially concern business leaders who must be able to find and attract a talented workforce.

In its report, Business Leaders did go beyond the dreary statistics and called for Michigan to look to what other states have done to boost student learning and raise performance at a time when students here keep sliding.

But the biggest contribution the group could make is putting together a coalition of business groups that will demand the changes they call for get done. That will take time and dedication, but it’s what’s needed for this report to turn into action.

Business leadership has proven essential in states like Massachusetts and Tennessee that are often highlighted for the progress they’ve made. That kind of intensive push from employers has been missing in Michigan, despite the clear need to improve schools.

And given the dearth of leadership over K-12 schools in the state, it’s up to the business community to jump start these efforts. We’ve often written about how Michigan is one of just a handful of states to give the governor no direct control over education, and that lack of unified vision has contributed to the current crisis. Changing the leadership of schools here will take a constitutional amendment, so realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

School reform can’t wait. Some of the ideas the Business Leaders report put forward could help schools get on a better track. They include:

■“Maintaining high student standards and existing state assessments of student progress.” It’s important for the state to have a consistent record of measuring student achievement. State Superintendent Brian Whiston hopes to once again shake up standardized testing, but that would be a disruption the state can’t afford.

■“Effectively preparing teachers and school leaders through high quality professional development, by giving them greater access to technology and data, and by incentivizing strong results through professional recognition.” The state House recently introduced a package of bills that address this, focusing on preparing teachers for more challenging classrooms in low-income areas and creating a class of master teachers who could work with their younger or struggling colleagues.

■“Making sure dollars are being spent effectively to educate all students.”

■“Keeping a united, sustained effort behind strategies that work.” In reality, this is the most important contribution Business Leaders can make.

“Too many younger workers lack the basic skills they need in literacy and math—and the problem seems to be getting worse,” said Doug Rothwell, Business Leaders president and CEO, in a statement. “It’s time for all of us to come together, learn from other states, and make things right.”

Now, the challenge will be keeping the pressure on lawmakers and state education leaders to ensure effective and proven strategies for improving schools are put into action.