As published in the Detroit Free Press
August 13, 2022
By Jeff Donofrio and Paula Herbart
Historically, our public education system was designed around an agricultural and manufacturing economy where only a high school diploma was needed to enter the middle class, and students moved along their academic careers year after year, like parts on an assembly line.
But our world has changed dramatically, and our education system needs to evolve to keep pace.
There have been many well-intentioned attempts at reform over the last few decades, but none has proved to be enough. Despite the work of dedicated educators and administrators, our students are woefully behind.
New data from Kids Count shows Michigan ranked 40th in the country for education, with nearly 70% missing proficiency standards for reading in fourth grade and math in eighth grade. About one-in-five Michigan high schoolers aren’t graduating on time, with larger gaps for kids in poverty.
Surveys show voters think Michigan schools are average and their own districts are excellent or above average, but the reality is that our schools are underperforming their peers around the country.
It’s clear that nothing short of thoughtful, interconnected solutions will provide students with the quality public education they deserve. All Michigan’s children deserve better — and our future economic competitiveness depends on it.
With historic labor shortages and slow population growth, we need every student to achieve their full potential. States with the highest rates of education attainment have the highest quality of life and the largest incomes. If we don’t act now to transform public education, we face long-lasting consequences for Michigan’s economic future.
That’s why our business, education and philanthropic leaders came together to form Launch Michigan — to take on our toughest educational challenges. That includes collaborating on a framework of transformational change that addresses the interconnected areas needed for true system reform: reinvention, resources, and responsibility.
We must reinvent our model by establishing clear and rigorous standards for college and career readiness, with multiple pathways that include college and career tech instruction, individualized support matched with improved data collection, and interventions to catch students up when they are behind.
Students aren’t widgets in an assembly line. We must allocate greater resources, including a higher base for per-student funding plus additional weighted funding to equitably meet each child’s needs. We also must create career paths for educators to provide professional advancement in and out of the classroom.
We must ensure greater responsibility through effective governance, accountability for performance, reliable measures of student growth, and ways to have educators’ voices heard about their profession.
These areas must be handled holistically if we want our kids to be successful in the coming decades. Ignoring how reforms are interconnected is why other attempts to change the education system have fallen short. It’s not just about revamping standards for student success or providing more funding for schools or developing new accountability measures. It’s about all those things, together.
Michigan now has the momentum to make needed transformative change. Gov. Whitmer and Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature made investments in the bipartisan 2023 budget to help address some pressing education challenges. This is a great first step toward actions Michigan must take to build a world-class education system, but there is more to be done.
States that have prioritized education reform and investment like Maryland, Massachusetts and Tennessee aren’t waiting for Michigan to act — they’re leaving us in the dust. We know this is complex work that will take both trust and time, and concepts must be refined and implemented in transparent and inclusive ways. But Michigan can’t afford to wait.
We need all Michiganders — parents, students, educators, business owners, community leaders and more — to speak out and demand more from our education system.
Launch Michigan’s framework for change is the foundation upon which a comprehensive plan can be built to make Michigan a top performing state. It is our guide to start developing the talent we need and creating the opportunities our kids deserve to compete on a global stage.
Together we can change the trajectory of Michigan and our children’s future by supporting transformative, systemic change for our schools.
Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, and Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, are both co-chairs of the Launch Michigan coalition.