Gov’s not given up on schools

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Ijacques@de­troit­news.com Twit­ter: @In­grid_Jac­ques

Gov. Rick Sny­der isn’t ready to throw in the towel on school re­form. He plans to pur­sue an am­bi­tious ed­u­ca­tion leg­isla­tive agenda over the last 18-months of his ten­ure.

Ac­cord­ing to a source close to the gov­er­nor, Sny­der will fo­cus on sev­eral agenda items in­cluded in the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion re­port. The 25-mem­ber com­mis­sion, which Sny­der brought to­gether, came out with its de­tailed rec­om­men­da­tions in March.

But since then, the re­port hasn’t gained trac­tion. It was start­ing to look as if this re­form blue­print would sit on a shelf col­lect­ing dust as so many other past reports have done.

This fall, Sny­der aims to part­ner with law­mak­ers on im­prov­ing how stu­dents learn and hold­ing schools and state lead­ers ac­count­able for how schools per­form, items in­cluded on the com­mis­sion’s to-do list.

The first piece cen­ters on a con­cept called com­pe­tency-based learn­ing. Sev­eral mem­bers of the com­mis­sion have told me this is one of the most vi­tal as­pects of the re­port, and Sny­der has em­braced its value.

“It will be a hard lift, but it’s im­por­tant for the gov­er­nor,” says the source fa­mil­iar with Sny­der’s plans.

In ed­u­ca­tion lingo, com­pe­tency-based mod­els fo­cus on the “stu­dent’s demon­stra­tion of de­sired learn­ing out­comes as cen­tral to the learn­ing process,” ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion’s re­port.

“This is a model whereby stu­dents ad­vance in the cur­ricu­lum only once they have mas­tered the con­tent. This is in con­trast with the cur­rent sys­tem, whereby stu­dents are ad­vanced af­ter the pas­sage of time, for in­stance, a school year.”

Some school dis­tricts al­ready have this strat­egy in place, and law­mak­ers should look to these schools to see how it works. In putting to­gether the re­port, com­mis­sion­ers vis­ited sev­eral of these dis­tricts, lo­cated in the Up­per Penin­sula and west Michi­gan.

Sny­der also wants to make ac­count­abil­ity a fo­cus, as do com­mis­sion­ers.

“The lessons from high-per­form­ing sys­tems are clear,” the re­port stated, calling ac­count­abil­ity the “back­bone for all Michi­gan ed­u­ca­tion.” “There must be a place where the buck stops.” That’s a miss­ing piece in Michi­gan. Too many play­ers are in­volved in ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy and over­sight. And that has led to a con­fus­ing mix of di­rec­tives from dif­fer­ent branches of gov­ern­ment, cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where poor- per­form­ing schools can avoid con­se­quences.

One of the bold­est rec­om­men­da­tions in the re­port was to over­haul school gover­nance, and mak­ing the gov­er­nor “ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for ed­u­ca­tional out­comes in our state.” The sys­tem cur­rently gives the gov­er­nor no say over the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Michi­gan De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, putting Michi­gan in a small mi­nor­ity of states with that bi­fur­cated model.

Sny­der doesn’t want to pro­mote chang­ing the sys­tem, which would re­quire al­ter­ing the state con­sti­tu­tion, but he would sup­port other ef­forts to do so.

What the gov­er­nor does in­tend to do is col­lab­o­rate with Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Town­ship, on his work to fix how the state deals with low­per­form­ing schools. The cur­rent law, in place for seven years, cre­ated the School Re­form Of­fice. Yet the added bu­reau­cracy has had lit­tle to no ef­fect in help­ing schools im­prove. And that is true when the of­fice was un­der the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment, as well as the two years it’s been un­der Sny­der’s di­rect over­sight.

A poorly-ex­e­cuted plan ear­lier this year to close 38 of the state’s worst schools — 25 in Detroit — back­fired. All those schools re­main open and a new plan to re­vamp them doesn’t hold much prom­ise. The state needs a sys­tem that will ac­tu­ally make schools ac­count­able for stu­dent achieve­ment.

On the House side, Rep. Daniela Gar­cia, RHol­land, who spon­sored key parts of last year’s Detroit Pub­lic Schools bailout, is re­port­edly open to part­ner­ing with the gov­er­nor.

These are wor­thy goals, and law­mak­ers should work with Sny­der to hold ed­u­ca­tion to a higher stan­dard.

The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Sny­der plans to pur­sue an am­bi­tious ed­u­ca­tion agenda in his last 18 months in of­fice.

IN­GRID JAC­QUES

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