MAKING THE GRADE: We need to clarify issues if we want to solve problems

By Daily News • Last Updated 10:16 am on Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

A recently released report from Education Trust Midwest, which describes itself as a nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization, expresses concern that Michigan students are losing ground on national exams when compared to their peers in other states. They believe Michigan’s strategies need retooling and more focus.

Space does not permit me to give a more complete summary of the report here. However, the article I read said that the report touches on two key themes — the expansion of school choice options and previous cuts in funding for education. According to the article, the report said expanding charter schools and other school choice options alone have not improved Michigan’s student achievement levels. It goes on to note that there are some high-performing charter schools, but said Michigan taxpayers also are subsidizing the expansion of failing charter schools.

In other reading, I learned from a Detroit News article about a “secret” work group that has been meeting since December to develop a lower-cost model for K-12 public education with a funding mechanism that resembles school vouchers. The group includes top aides to Gov. Rick Snyder

According to the report, the group has dubbed itself a “skunk works” project working outside of the government bureaucracy and education establishment planning to create what they call a “value school” that would cost $5,000 per child annually to operate. They want to open a technology-centric charter school by August 2014 hoping to get higher value for less money. They expect to use fewer teachers and more long distance video conferencing.

Again according to the article, Gov. Snyder has confirmed the existence of the work group. He told the newspaper that there is not a specific outcome for the project.

Every parent, citizen and educator should be interested in searching for the best way to teach our students. An educated workforce is essential to the economic health of our state, to attracting new businesses and residents, and to preventing our young people from fleeing the state.  But these articles illustrate the problem we have with finding that answer. At the root of the issue is an attack on public education.

In 1995, David Berliner and Bruce Biddle wrote “The Manufactured Crisis: about Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America’s Public Schools.” The preface included these comments about what they had learned while writing the book.

“We are concerned that the answers to these questions are not simple. Some of those who have accepted hostile myths about education have been genuinely worried about our schools, some have misunderstood evidence, some have been duped, and some have had other understandable reasons for their actions. But many of the myths seem to have been told by powerful people who — despite their protestations-were pursuing a political agenda designed to weaken the nation’s public schools, redistribute resources for those schools so that privileged students are favored over needy student, or even abolish those schools altogether. To this end, they have been prepared to tell lies, suppress evidence, scapegoat educators and sow endless confusion. We consider this conduct particularly despicable.”

I submit that many of their concerns continue to exist today. Until we sort them out, we will continue to deal with confusion that is unfair to educators, unproductive in problem solving and does a huge disservice to students.

Next week I will discuss the genius of public education to finish this discussion.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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