Paul Mitchell, Times Herald guest writer 7:45 a.m. EST January 10, 2016
(Paul Mitchell’s opinion piece appears in today’s Times Herald at http://www.thetimesherald.com/story/opinion/columnists/2016/02/10/lansing-school-reformers-start-top/80165922/ )
Over the last several weeks and months we have witnessed the Detroit Public Schools closing their doors because of “sick out” protests staged by teachers who are clearly defying a state law prohibiting teacher strikes. As a result, parents are forced to scramble to find care for children who lose valuable learning time. We have also seen the validity of complaints that DPS facilities are in horrible state of disrepair.
Whose job is it to stop this from happening?
The district rakes in nearly $13,000 per child — 33 percent more than the $9700 state average — yet is choking on $100 million of delinquent pension debt. Just 8 percent of Detroit eighth-graders can read proficiently, making an otherwise substandard 71 percent high school graduation rate seem either miraculous or a case of serious grade inflation. All of this creates a long-term burden on these children as well as the taxpayers and businesses in Michigan.
Responsibility stretches from Detroit to the state capitol, as politicians in Detroit blame Lansing for the failures, and Lansing politicians blame local officials. This cynical political game might play well in the competing constituencies of the politicians, but it does nothing to help educate our children. Governors and Lansing politicians have repeatedly created “reform boards” and “authorities” — which have become nothing other than new layers of bureaucracy to the already dysfunctional local bureaucrats while problems grow worse.
The Washington bureaucracy further complicates the issue, filling the in-boxes of state and local bureaucrats on every issue from school lunch menus that children refuse to eat to the disastrous Common Core standards that makes parents and students cringe. This adds massive costs while doing little to actually educate.
While we must rein in Washington bureaucrats, we should also rationalize our failed education bureaucracy in Lansing. The Michigan Constitution gives the state Board of Education the responsibility to exercise “leadership and general supervision over all public education” including the hiring of the state superintendent. In theory, the state board has the authority to direct education policy. However, since the governor and legislature are responsible for K-12 spending, voters overwhelmingly (and rightly) hold them responsible for education policy.
As a result, K-12 education policy has been a jumbled mess for decades as those truly seeking reform are drowned out as partisan politics and special interests overwhelm the effort to ensure a quality education for our children.
Our goal should be to have those in Michigan with the best ideas and solutions to the many challenges we face in education in the position to take action to ensure our children receive a quality education. Here’s my prescription for what real leadership looks like: Lawmakers should propose a change to the Constitution that would have state board members appointed by the governor, confirmed by the legislature, and thus held accountable by both, and sell this needed reform to the people. This change would force everyone at the state level responsible for educating our children to work together to find solutions instead of current practice of continual cynical political games getting in the way of providing solutions.
Michigan’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve the educational leadership we’re paying for and guaranteed by our Constitution. If Lansing lawmakers are more serious about reform than they are about political games, then they would start at the top and bring real accountability to our system of public education.
Paul Mitchell is former director of Ross Education and a candidate for the 10th District Congressional seat.