Editorial: ‘Launch’ lasting school reform in Michigan

The Detroit News

A new coalition of business, labor and philanthropic groups has come together with one mission: leading a long-term effort to improve Michigan’s schools. Launch Michigan officially launched on Wednesday, and the alliance is hailing itself as “historic.” We applaud this effort, and hope it leads to real change in this state’s education system.

A broad coalition, led by Business Leaders for Michigan, is spearheading a long-term education conversation.

This is not the first coalition to come together with a mission to address Michigan’s lagging school performance. The group’s success depends on maintaining its momentum and ability to work together on promoting meaningful, tested policies and reforms.

Business Leaders for Michigan, following a report it issued in March on K-12 education, led the effort to bring this group together, and it worked hard to get a diverse cross-section of organizations to sign on, from other business groups to unions to school administrators. More than 30 have joined so far, and BLM says more are likely to be added in coming weeks.

At their announcement in Lansing, featured speakers all agreed that something needs to be done and that Michigan is failing to prepare its future workforce adequately.

The sticking point in discussions about education, however, is always how to best go about making changes. And the challenge for this group will be finding consensus.

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of BLM, says this effort is not a “comprehensive plan” for education reform, but that he envisions the group highlighting a few specific measures that can make the most impact.

“We all recognize we need to do more to help our kids succeed,” Rothwell says.

Starting out, the alliance aims to promote the following:

  • "Supporting educators by leveraging existing research and using a statewide educator survey, among other activities, to guide our work."
  • "Supporting shared, statewide, research-driven strategies for delivering effective education to all students and sticking to those strategies beyond politics and election cycles, to determine what really works."
  • "Supporting a fair and comprehensive accountability system that includes everyone who influences education—not just teachers."
  • "Working together to ensure that resources are available to provide for an equitable, student-centered education system and funding model."
  • "Elevating public awareness and inspiring action about the current state of education in Michigan."

That's a sound agenda.

Launch Michigan is also forming in a pivotal election year, and this is intentional. Members want to influence candidates’ views about school reform. Rothwell says he would like those running for office to keep an open mind about an education agenda and be willing to listen to the group's ideas in forming their school platforms.

“Education should not ever be a partisan issue,” Paula Herbart, president of Michigan Education Association, said in an interview ahead of the announcement.

Yet some alliance members have strong political leanings, which could make avoiding partisan fights challenging. For instance, Herbart has openly endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer. So Republicans may be hesitant to embrace an agenda the teachers union supports.

The best chance this coalition has is for business leaders to be the vocal champions of why reform is necessary.

At the announcement, Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, talked about why he is on board. His group represents 26,000 businesses, many of which are feeling the pinch of a talent shortage.

“Talent is something we need now,” Fowler said. “But education is the long-game. These stakeholders will be here when the next elected officials are gone.”

Long-term visions for school improvement, led by the business community, have reaped positive results in other states, such as Massachusetts and Tennessee. Michigan’s children deserve the same.