Business Ethos Blog

Can You Hear Me Now? It’s Education!

Dr. David Mielke, Retired Dean of the College of Business at EMU

Middle skill jobs, those requiring education and training beyond high school, but less than a 4 year degree are in high demand by employers.  Democrats in the Michigan House want to amend the state constitution to include a right to literacy for all children.  The State Superintendent of Public Schools has proposed another life line for the 38 failing schools in Michigan.  The state passed a rescue for Detroit Public Schools with $617 million authorization to pay off its debt and to fund improvements.  The Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission released a sweeping list of policy proposals to transform an education system closer to the bottom than the top in student achievement across the US.  If the state is to grow and prosper, what is needed to improve K-12 education and education beyond high school?  Is it more money?  Is it a renewed emphasis and prioritization of the time and efforts of the governor, the legislature, school districts, the teacher unions and the business community?  What is the “Right Thing to do?”  Let’s look at some issues:

  1. According to a report released by the nonprofit Education Trust Midwest, Michigan’s education quality is falling further behind.  Michigan’s ranking on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell from 28th in the US in 2003 to 41st now.  The group projects that the state will fall to 48th by the year 2030.
  2. The state was 38th in eighth grade math and 46th for low income students.  Michigan fourth graders rank 41st in reading and Michigan was dead last in the nation in four grade literacy among African American students.  44% of third graders in Detroit and surrounding 10 counties read at the third grade level in 2016.  In Detroit, just 12% of third graders were proficient in reading last year.  Statewide the percentage was 46%.
  3. The State Superintendent of Public Schools, Brian Whiston, said he won’t close any of the state’s 38 failing schools if they enter into a partnership agreement with the state and enlist the help of other partners to help improve the schools. The 38 schools have already been failing, the bottom 5% of all schools, for 3 years.  Supposedly, those schools in the bottom 5% already have been required to provide plans of improvement.  The Superintendent has not provided any detail as to what those partnership agreements are to include or what benchmarks or goals are to be set or the methods to track accountability.  The proposed agreements are to be filed by May.
  4. The Governor initiated the Education Achievement Authority in 2011 between the Detroit Public Schools emergency manager and Eastern Michigan University.  The EAA took over 15 chronically failing Detroit schools in 2012 with rocky results at best.  The EMU faculty union strongly opposed the initiative and the public school union worked to boycott student teachers from EMU.  Public school teacher attendance ranks 41st in the nation.
  5. The Governor appointed a 21st Century Education Commission to transform K-12 education.  The commission proposed an annual increased taxpayer investment in education topping $2 billion, including up to $900 million a year in additional funding for high risk poverty areas like Detroit.  It also encouraged the consolidation of the 540 individual school districts in the state.  In addition, the commission said students need universal free access to 4 year public pre-school and community college.
  6. The state is ranked 42nd in the nation for college affordability. The 6 year average graduation rates for the state’s supposed 4 year public universities is less than 50%.  The 6 year graduation rates for community colleges average less than 35%.  27% of Michigan students entering college need remedial classes.  Student loans per student continue to rise with a national total now over $1.2 trillion.  Rising faster is the number of students defaulting on those loans.
  7. The Governor’s budget proposal for next year includes an extra $128 million in K-12 school funding, comprised of $50 to $100 extra per student.  Districts will also receive another $50 for each high school student to cover higher costs. He also proposed increasing funding for Michigan’s 15 public universities by $36.6 million, or 2.5%, if the universities limit tuition hikes to 3.8%.  Together the increases would be about 5%.  Skilled trade programs would receive $40.9 million, a 32% increase from the current year.  The budget would also help K-12 districts update equipment in their vocational education programs through a $20 million grant program.
  8. House Democrats have said K-12 education and higher education, as well as vocational education, will be among their budget priorities, but they have not provided any proposal.  The Senate Education Committee is working on legislation that would repeal the state’s failing school law and would replace it with something that would be more effective to turn around poor performing schools.  No legislation to do this has been proposed.
  9. The Detroit Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Business Leaders have released reports emphasizing the need to improve Michigan education at all levels, K-12, vocational training, community college and at the university level as key to the economic future of Michigan.

We have seen numerous reports pointing to the deteriorating state of education in Michigan.  At the same time there seems to be a shortage of workers caused by education levels and skills of Michigan adults that are not keeping up with the changing demands of the workplace.  Lansing’s biggest initiatives over the past 4 years have been centered on business climate improvements.  Should there be an intense focus on talent and education if Michigan is to sustain its recent economic progress?  Is the answer, as proposed by some, to dramatically increase funding at all levels, K-12, including a new emphasis on vocational training, community college and universities?  Do we need more plans of improvement for our failing 38 K-12 schools?  Do we need more commissions and studies to propose solutions to our educational problems?  What is the “Right Thing to do?”  The Governor’s proposed budget includes some additional funding for education, but lacks a focus on new initiatives and innovations to deal with the dramatic problems in K-12 education.  There are no goals for improvement and there continues to be a lack of accountability for poor performance.  The lack of accountability continues with the State Superintendent’s 18 month reprieve for the 38 failing schools for another set of improvement plans.  State universities will receive an increase in funding of at least 5% with the state aid plus tuition increases.  Funding should be tied to improving graduation rates.  We have not seen any proposals from the legislature, business leaders or the unions to focus on education and make it the number one priority for Michigan.  It’s time, in fact overdue for changes, innovation and new initiatives with accountability.  Throwing money at the same system without changes is not the answer.  Can you hear me know?  It’s Education!