Editorial: Lansing take note, parents want better schools

The Detroit News
A classroom.

Michigan faces competing challenges that deserve lawmakers’ attention, from fixing the roads to reducing outrageous auto insurance rates. Parents in the state believe that improving schools is even more important, however, and that should serve as a wake-up call to elected leaders.

A poll released this week by school reform advocacy group Education Trust-Midwest found that boosting the quality of education in Michigan is the highest priority for parents here.

And lawmakers should take that to heart. Just like repairing pothole-riddled roads, there are concrete reforms the state should harness that could place Michigan’s students on better footing.

Most interesting in this poll is how parents overwhelming support measures that elected officials and other education leaders have either dismissed or downplayed.

"Over the past several years, widespread reporting on the quality of education in Michigan has helped raise public awareness of the challenges that we face," stated Education Trust-Midwest Executive Director Amber Arellano. “To get better, Michigan needs to adopt evidence-based practices and improvement-oriented systems of support for educators.”

In Michigan, that’s easier said than done.

The poll, conducted earlier this year by EPIC-MRA, surveyed 600 parents of varying races and incomes.

Some of the highlights from the survey:

  • “Nearly two-thirds of all parents would support a ‘proposal to provide more state and local funding than average for school districts that serve students with the greatest need, including high rates of low-income and minority students.’”
  • “Three-quarters of parents support using data on student learning as a significant factor in evaluating teacher performance, as either ‘the only factor,’ ‘a major factor,’ or ‘one of several factors.’ This includes 77 percent of white parents and 74 percent of black parents, and 61 percent of respondents who are members of a labor union.”
  • “Parents support transparency and accountability for performance. When asked, 84 percent of parents support the concept of an A-F letter grading system for schools. The idea of an A-F accountability system enjoys the most support among black parents (93 percent), Republican parents (90 percent) and non-black parents of color (88 percent).”

Michigan now has an A-F grading system in place, passed late last year after a long debate. Yet state school officials are doing everything they can to ignore the law — even though such grading systems have proven very popular in other states that use them. And Michigan’s parents clearly want the same.

Similarly, the state had a robust teacher evaluation law in place — that included student data as a central factor in grading teachers. But before the law could fully take effect, Republican lawmakers this year dumbed-down the framework, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently approved the change.

A poll can only go so far. Parents who feel this strongly about reforms they want to see should pick up the phone or head to Lansing and let their lawmakers know exactly what they want. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.