Section » Michigan Schools
In a previous post I explored the nearly two decade bipartisan addiction Michigan policy makers have to cutting taxes. The latest evidence of the continuation of the addiction is the near unanimous vote by both houses of the Michigan legislature to impose the sales tax on the difference between the sale price and trade in price of motor vehicles (mainly cars). As usual the “justification” for the tax cut is that it will create more jobs. As usual that claim was made without any real evidence.
Where there is evidence is that the tax cut will reduce spending. According to a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis “the revenue loss under the bills would grow roughly $23.3 million per year, eventually reaching $233.4 million in FY 2022-23 and lowering School Aid Fund revenue by $152.8 million, General Fund revenue by $43.9 million, Comprehensive Transportation Fund revenue by $8.7 million, and constitutional revenue sharing to cities, villages, and townships by $28.1 million.”
As I wrote in my previous post, this tax cut, “just like those of the last two decades, would have the same effect: diminish the state’s ability to make public investments in education, infrastructure and quality of place. The things that matters most to growing the economy. Saying you are in favor of these public investments while proposing large tax cuts with no replacement revenue means you are not really in favor of increased public investments in education, infrastructure and quality of place.”
Once again what is most discouraging is the lack of debate about the consequence of the spending cuts. There is a strong case to be made that public investments, not tax cuts, are the policy levers that matter most to the more and better jobs that Governor Snyder has set as the goal for the state.
Michigan has been trying to tax cut its way back to prosperity for nearly two decades. It hasn’t worked so far and almost certainly won’t in the future. At the very least its time for a robust debate about whether to move to a public investment led economic growth strategy.
For decades there has been widespread concern on a bi-partisan basis about how lousy American kids perform on international math and science tests. Those test results have been the basis for much of the critique of American public k-12 education.
There is real concern that the lack of math and science competency is a real threat to the future of the American economy.
Now comes evidence as reported by the New York Times that American kids can do well on these tests. Turns out if Massachusetts were a country their kids would be global leaders, not laggards, on international math and science tests. The Times reports on the 2011–most recent–TIMSS tests Massachusetts 8th graders ranked second in the world in science and eight in math.
The TIMSS results are consistent with numerous other rankings with Massachusetts at or near the top of all states in k-12 student outcomes. This, of course, raises the question “how did they do it?”
The Times reports:
“Ed reform” was the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Republican governor, William F. Weld. The three core components were more money (mostly to the urban schools), ambitious academic standards and a high-stakes test that students had to pass before collecting their high school diplomas. All students were expected to learn algebra before high school. “It was a combination of carrots and sticks,” said David P. Driscoll, deputy education commissioner at the time. Also noteworthy was what the reforms did not include. Parents were not offered vouchers for private schools. The state did not close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure for teachers or add merit pay. The reforms did allow for some charter schools, but not many. Then the state, by and large, stayed the course.
What jumps out if this is best practice policy–what leads to the student achievement everyone in Michigan claims they want–is how, by and large, Michigan policy makers have done the exact opposite, particularly the last three years.
- More money for k-12 education there, less here
- Set high academic standards in 1993 and stay the course there. Here it is set higher standards later–still not as high as in Massachusetts–and then backslide. With efforts to reduce high school graduation requirements and not to implement the common core.
- Not offer vouchers for private schools, close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure and add merit pay, and only allow a few charter schools there. The exact opposite of what has either been done here or is on the to do list of the many state policy makers and the business community.
State policy makers have been great at lecturing local schools districts–and it is primarily districts and not charter schools that are lectured–on the need to follow so-called best practices. Going so far as to tie some funding to implementing best practices. Seems like it is time for us to adopt best practice state policy. Policies that are getting the student achievement outcomes we all want. Massachusetts has developed the framework for best practice state k-12 policies. Its time we reverse course and follow their lead.
Michigan Future Schools (MFS), an initiative of Michigan Future Inc., a non-partisan, economy-focused think tank based in Ann Arbor, announced that four new Detroit high schools it has invested in opened this fall, joining three others previously launched with investments from Michigan Future Schools.
The four new schools are:
- Detroit Leadership Academy High School (YMCA)
- W-A-Y Academy West
- University Yes Academy High School
The three original schools are:
- Dr. Benjamin Carson School of Science & Medicine
- Jalen Rose Leadership Academy
- Detroit Edison Public School Academy
Each school opens with a freshmen class and adds a grade per year. The four new schools welcomed their first freshman class this fall. Dr. Benjamin Carson School of Science & Medicine and Jalen Rose Leadership Academy go through the 11th grade and Detroit Edison Public School Academy Early College of Excellence will have its first graduating class this year.
In addition to these existing schools, MFS is working to restart Schools for the Future and open the Delta Leadership Academy in 2014. This will bring the MFS network to nine schools, which at capacity should serve around 4,500 Detroit high school students. All the schools were selected based on quality, not governance. The winners were chosen through a competitive process open to traditional public, public charter, and private schools. The network will ultimately consist of one DPS school and eight charter schools.
The MFS philosophy is to let the schools design their own approach to teaching and learning, while requiring them to: (1) be open to all Detroit students, (2) enroll no more than 500 students, (3) commit to high student outcomes: 85% of seniors graduate, 85% of high school graduates go on to college, and 85% of college students earn degrees (4) hire college transition and college success counselors to help students go to and stay in college and (5) where applicable, have union agreements that allow for open hiring, no “bumping,” and no work rules that interfere with innovative teaching and learning.
These investments in new college prep high schools are made possible by the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the McGregor Fund, the Skillman Foundation and the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation which combined have contributed more than $15 million to the initiative.
Conventional wisdom is that college educated Millennials are being crushed by student loans. A burden that will weigh them down economically for a lifetime. Its nonsense.
Using data from The Ladders.com, Business Insider demonstrates the value of a four year degree or more, even if it includes student loans. They conclude: “Student loan debt is obviously a concern. On average, today’s students graduate with $28,000 in debt. Average tuition per year is above $21,000. But for all of the near term hardship, college is very clearly the right long term investment. And for those recent graduates thinking about graduate school, the initial debt load might be higher, but the long term payoffs are even bigger.” (Emphasis added.)
For those interested in a more detailed analysis of the value of investing in a college degree I highly recommend the Hamilton Project (at the Brookings Institution) report entitled Where is the best place to invest $102,000 –– stocks, bonds or a college degree?
Let me be clear, we think that tuition should be lower. We have argued for years that state disinvestment in higher education –– particularly in Michigan for more than a decade –– is not smart. It is the prime cause of tuition going up. As universities are forced to charge students the costs that have traditionally paid for by state funding. The connection between state support for higher education and tuition is explained well by Catherine Rampell of the New York Times in this Economix blog. Rampell writes:
There’s a lot of debate about why college costs have risen so much. Many people assume that schools are spending too much money on frivolous things like climbing walls and Jacuzzis. That’s true for a handful of elite schools, but not for a vast majority. Some of the rising cost has to do with other services schools have been adding over the last few decades, like mental health counselors and emergency alert systems. And certainly there are other inefficiencies that have crept into the system as higher education has become more things to more people. But at least at public colleges and universities — which enroll three out of every four American college students — the main cause of tuition growth has been huge state funding cuts.
But until and unless public policy changes, student loans are going to be a important part of how college is financed. And we need to portray it accurately: it is a good –– probably the best –– long term investment. As the Business Insider article makes clear it has huge and growing payoffs over a career. The data are clear: rather than a crushing burden and/or an unfair cost imposed on college students, students loans are a good investment that leads to much higher future earnings.
One area where public policy has been moving in the right direction is in now providing the ability to finance college loans as a proportion of your earnings. Bloomberg Businessweek explored this kind of loan in an article entitled: The U.S. Has a Really Helpful Student Loan Repayment Program—and No One’s Using It. Its a way to make taking out college loans an even better long term investment.
Terrific study by Noah Berger and Peter Fischer for the Economic Policy Institute entitled A Well-Educated Workforce Is Key to State Prosperity. Sound familiar? That four-year degree attainment is increasingly what determines which states and regions are prosperous has been the central tennant of Michigan Future’s work for years.
Berger and Fisher use median wage as their metric for prosperity/higher standard of living. We have used per capita income and lately private sector employment earnings per capita as our metrics that best measure state prosperity today and tomorrow. But no matter which metric you use the findings are the same: college attainment is the best predictor of a state’s standard of living.
Berger and Fisher found: “Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are states that have a well-educated workforce, … . The correlation is very strong and there are very large differences between median hourly wages in states with well-educated workforces and hourly wages in states with less-well-educated workforces (as measured by the share of workers who have at least a bachelor’s degree). … There are no states with a relatively well-educated workforce and relatively low wages and virtually no states with low levels of education and relatively high wages. There are two outliers: Alaska and Wyoming. Their locations on the graph suggest that states with valuable natural resources and a very limited number of people may be able to offer reasonably high wages without a well-educated workforce.” (Emphasis added.)
What about taxes, the current lever of choice in Michigan and most states to drive economic growth? Comparing median hourly wage and state and local taxes as share of personal income, Berger and Fisher found: “no clear relationship between state taxes (as a share of state personal income) and median wages. Higher-tax states appear to have slightly higher median wages, but that correlation is not significant.”
They conclude: ”States can build a strong foundation for economic success and shared prosperity by investing in education. Providing expanded access to high quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for residents, but also likely do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do. …
States would do well if they focused their resources on their historic role as the guarantors of high quality education for all, while broadening the scope of that role to include universal preschool and other early childhood education programs, and beginning to view high quality postsecondary education and training as the standard for all students. In most states that would mean reversing recent cuts to, and even elimination of, publicly funded preschool, and declines in public investments in postsecondary education. From 1990–1991 to 2009–2010, real funding per student at public colleges and universities declined 26 percent, and the share of state personal income going to higher education fell 30 percent, while tuition at four-year institutions more than doubled and at community colleges rose 71 percent (Quinterno 2012). Instead of improving access to higher education in response to the needs of a changing economy, most states have restricted it.”
Nearly two years ago I wrote a post entitled Unlimited charters: not smart. Using data for charter schools serving Detroit students –– then and now the epicenter of charters in Michigan –– it made the case that authorizers had not earned the right to charter an unlimited number of new schools. Student achievement was too low.
I wrote then:
From their inception in the Nineties Michigan Future, Inc. has been an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools and public school choice. Still are. We have been involved in helping create charter schools for more than a decade. But our support is tempered by the reality of student performance in charter schools. It is mixed at best.
The ideological rhetoric is that traditional public schools with elected school boards, strong unions and big centralized bureaucracies face permanent gale force winds that make it almost impossible to deliver effective teaching and learning leading to high student achievement. And that freed from all those evils plus having parents and students choose their school, charters will get far better student achievement. And that university authorizers, not having local elected schools boards, will police quality far better so only high quality charters will be allowed to operate long term. Sounds great in theory, but the reality is much different.
Two years later there is little if any progress. Lets look at how all the charter high schools either located in Detroit or with substantial number of students from the city to be ranked by Excellent Schools Detroit are performing. The data are a three year average ACT score for those opened that long. When you look at the scores remember that an ACT score of 21 is a surrogate for admission to a four-year university without remediation and 16 is 8th grade competency.
- Detroit Edison Public School Academy: 18.8
- University Preparatory Math and Science: 17.1
- Cesar Chavez Academy: 16.9
- Crescent Academy: 16.7
- Chandler Park Academy: 16.4
- Advanced Technology Academy: 16.3
- Winans Academy: 16.3
- HEART Academy: 16.1
- University Preparatory Academy: 16.0
- Conner Creek Academy East: 15.9
- Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies: 15.8
- W.A.Y Academy: 15.8
- Universal Academy: 15.8
- Old Redford Academy: 15.6
- Bradford Academy: 15.4
- Plymouth Educational Center: 15.3
- Allen Academy: 15.0
- Oakland International Academy: 14.9
- Detroit Community Schools: 14.8
- Academy for Business and Technology: 14.6
Is an ACT score –– or even a three year average –– the only way to evaluate whether a charter school is of quality? Of course not. And an ACT score is not the only measure universities use to determine who is admitted and who needs remedial courses. And these are March of the 11th grade scores –– which ignores progress that students can and should make in the last 1.5 years of high school. But it is the public data we have available for all schools. And these scores are so far below college ready that they provide a compelling case that the charter high schools –– except DEPSA (see previous post here) –– serving Detroit students are not preparing most of their students to meet what I believe is a reasonable minimum standard for charters: that students meet the requirements to be admitted by the authorizer to their university without remediation.
The excuse for years has been that no urban school –– traditional public or charter –– can meet a college ready standard. Here the DEPSA Early College of Excellence –– with its first 11th grade class –– is starting to take that excuse off the table. And in Chicago the Noble Network of now 12 charter high schools with an average ACT score of 20.7 is demonstrating that open enrollment choice urban high schools can prepare students to be college ready.
I concluded the post two years ago with an alternative to eliminating the cap. I wrote:
A better idea, that we proposed nearly a decade ago, is to give authorizers the ability to earn the right to exceed the cap based on the student achievement of the schools they authorize. The better their students do, the more schools they can authorize. We want innovation and new entrants so a fixed cap is not ideal. But we also want schools vetted for quality before they are allowed to open and held accountable for student achievement once they are open so no cap is not ideal either. We need something that gives us the best chance of more good schools and fewer bad schools. Seems to us that a system that rewards authorizers for good student achievement gives us the best chance of doing that.
With two more years of experience still seems like a better alternative.
Phil Power, the terrific founder of the Center for Michigan, recently wrote a column for Bridge entitled: Schools, colleges aren’t preparing students for careers in Michigan. I find the title quite troubling. It assumes that the purpose of schools and colleges is preparing Michigan students for Michigan jobs and careers. It is the same thinking behind the increasingly popular notion that education should be the supplier of workers to meet the demands of Michigan employers.
As we explored previously it seems to me that the education system that we should want for all of our kids is the one the affluent want for their kids. As I wrote, the common characteristics of the k-16 schools most of their kids and grandkids attend are: “An education that prepares students for adult life in all its dimensions, not just for a job or even a career. An education that prepares students to pursue their dreams any place on the planet, not just here in Michigan. An education that is about being a lifelong learner, not just someone that scores well on a standardized test today.” Those –– not preparing students for Michigan careers –– should be the goals of our education system for all Michigan students.
In another post I explored more directly the notion that Michigan schools and colleges should be about preparing Michigan students for jobs with Michigan employers. I wrote then (October 2011):
For more than a century what it has meant to be a Michigan resident and taxpayer is access at affordable rates to a world class system of public higher education that prepares students to better take advantage of life’s opportunities no matter where you choose to live and work after college. It was one of the great benefits of being a Michigan resident. And it served us well – both as individuals and as a state.
… Our Governor, Larry Page and Eli Broad are among the thousands of kids who grew up in Michigan, graduated from a Michigan public universities and made their fortune elsewhere. Were they well served by our public higher education system? Of course they were. Did they do something wrong – rip off Michigan taxpayers – when they decided to use their terrific education someplace other than Michigan? Of course not.
Limiting public higher education to just focusing on the current needs of Michigan employers or what some government analysts think Michigan jobs of the near future will be will inevitably reduce the quality of our public higher education system. Courses and other programming that make a university great will be eliminated because they are not aligned with the needs of Michigan employers. The consequence: the same proportion of the next generation of Snyder’s, Page’s and Broad’s will still choose to live and work outside of Michigan but now they will be far more likely to go to college outside of Michigan as well. They will want an education – as you do for your kids and grandkids – that prepares them for global opportunities, not just those available in Michigan.
Bloomberg Businessweek just published their New Rules for the modern workplace. Their list:
Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control.
Rule No. 2: Do not let your job description confine you. … While you’re managing your role, you should be acquiring new skills to help carry you to your next role.
Rule No. 3: Your Rolodex is more important than your knowledge base. We’ve moved from the information economy to the social economy. Companies are hiring based on cultural fit, connections, and soft skills over a candidate’s ability to get the job done.
Rule No. 4: Your experiences matter more than your title.
Rule No. 5: Your personal reputation is your greatest asset.
Add these to the non job specific attributes that we have explored in previous posts that employers are increasingly looking for and that will most define who has successful careers in the future. And then ask yourself whether policy makers in emphasizing standardized test results, job specific skills and online learning are moving k-16 education towards or away from the economy of the future.
Harvard’s Tony Wagner in his interview with Thomas Friedman I wrote about in my last post clearly thinks the answer is no. Friedman writes:
“We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over,” said Wagner. … More than a century ago, we ‘reinvented’ the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.” (Emphasis added.)
… “Teachers,” he said, “need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need ‘Accountability 2.0.’ All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students’ work through the year — instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based ‘merit badges’ in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have ‘residencies’ with master teachers and performance standards — not content standards — must become the new normal throughout the system.”
Jack Lessenberry in a Michigan Radio commentary entitled Education for education’s sake also would answer no. (In the column Lessenberry is critical of remarks made by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. Mike –– a terrific member of the Michigan Future Leadership Council –– responds in a podcast that you can find here. I know they both agree that we need an education system that provides all students with broad, rather than narrow job specific, skills building.)
There’s nothing wrong with education for education’s sake—if that means teaching people how to think, and how to learn. There is also nothing wrong with knowing lots of things that are part of culture and civilization, even if they aren’t knowledge that can immediately be converted into cash. The schools cannot possibly teach students how to cope with the technology or the tax structure that they’ll need to know in the year 2035, because we have no idea what that technology will be.
The woman with whom I share my life spends her days digitizing archives and designing and creating online catalogs for special library collections. These are not things she learned in high school or college, because the technology hadn’t been invented, and partly because she hadn’t developed an interest in that field. Instead, she studied languages and comparative literature. She didn’t learn how to do modern computer coding till she was in her 50s. I didn’t study journalism until graduate school. But I studied other things that equipped my mind with a set of intellectual furniture and the tools to try to keep learning and figuring stuff out.
… whenever I hear people say that education should be geared to the needs of a particular set of employers or a specific job, I think of Aldous Huxley’s nightmare novel, “Brave New World,” where humans were rigorously selected for certain tasks before birth, and the lower orders kept dumb and ignorant.
… Doug Rothwell, the CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan does understand what education is, and said so yesterday. “We need people with the skills to adapt to changes in their careers,” he said, adding, “A lot of that comes from a good liberal arts education.” From where I sit, I couldn’t agree more.
Our policy makers have a lot to learn from folks like Wagner, Lessenberry, Rothwell and so many others –– including most importantly many employers –– who understand that it is broad skills –– many not cognitive or job specific –– that matter most to success in the economy of the future. Until they learn those lessons we are in real danger of preparing our children and grandchildren for an economy that no longer exists with a huge cost to both them and our economy. Not smart!