Issues: Education

Greetings!

This post will focus on the relatively contentious topic of education. A great deal of my life has involved education, from student to educator. To ensure Michigan has a competitive economy and to increase the quality of life, we must ensure that everyone has access to an affordable education. Support of our public schools, universities, and community colleges are vital, as are investing in training and education for green, high-tech, and other skilled jobs.

What’s really striking is that Michigan spends nearly $2 billion on its prisons systems. Ted Roelofs, in his article on M-Live, notes that “In 1980, corrections spending consumed just 3 percent of the state budget. That soared to more than 21 percent by 2013. Prison population stood near 15,000 in 1980. It was more than triple that 25 years later. On average, prisoners today cost the state $35,000 a year. And they are growing more expensive as they age.”

Further, according to the Business Leaders for Michigan Political Action Committee, the Michigan General Fund for fiscal year 2015 is about $10 billion. They contend that we dedicate 67% more dollars in discretionary spending to prisons than we do public universities, about $1.2 billion, which they report is a 33% drop from its $1.8 billion level in 2001. Why do we spend about $800 million more dollars on prisons than we do on funding for higher education?

I believe that Michiganians want to reduce the debt burden on college students (Michigan is among the states with the most student debt), and make college more affordable by reducing tuition costs. One of the best ways to do that is for our students in higher education is to increase funding for our public universities by directing more of our general fund dollars to universities and other training and educational programs and away from prisons by instituting prison reforms that will reduce the cost of maintaining our prisons.

Along with that, we should also expand access and opportunities for preschool, further developing early childhood development programs. These programs are essential for building a solid educational foundation that the children will carry with them through their lives.

A major concern of mine is the rapid expansion of cyber schools, which have a really shoddy education record (as reported here and here), and are often owned by private companies with a profit margin. I have had experience with online classes, and I know that they are no substitute for face-to-face learning experiences. In fact, I believe that they are disadvantageous to a student’s ability to learn. I am very strongly opposed to using public education funds to pay for cyber school programs as they are not sufficient replacements for public school systems. Traditional, public schools offer much better opportunities for children. While I do support having a variety of educational options for students, replacing face-to-face education with online cyber schools is not the way to go.

I also feel strongly that we should not use public education dollars to fund or subsidize private or religious schools. Maintaining a healthy separation between church and state, and properly funding our public schools, is conducive to the best learning environments. I am also a strong advocate of teaching science in science classes, and basing the subject matter of those classes on the best, most current scientific knowledge. While I respect the diversity of religious beliefs throughout the state, I also acknowledge that to produce the best students in STEM fields we need to provide the best science educations.

We should also make sure that the cornerstone of education, teachers, are well-supported with training to implement new standards. I think the profession of teaching is one of the noblest callings that there is, and we should recognize that by rewarding our best teachers,  and providing incentives and pay to attract the best and brightest to this profession. But more than that, teachers should not be used as scapegoats for education shortfalls that can be traced by to administrative issues or bureaucratic nonsense. They deserve the dignity and respect that their profession necessarily confers on them as educators.

I would also like to take this time to touch on the Common Core standards. This article, written by Nancy Kaffer, provides background information on the topic of the Common Core standards. Common Core provides a set of rigorous educational standards to match 21st century requirements, and sets benchmarks for learning that are uniform throughout the country. It was not devised by “Washington insiders” as some have claimed, but instead by the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, as well as by teachers and parents across the country. Education and curriculum are largely left in local hands as long as the standards are met. Former Republican Governor John Engler supports the Common Core Standards. It’s a completely voluntary set of standards, and I support Michigan’s involvement in them as they teach critical thinking and problem solving skills. The incumbent of the 93rd House Seat, Tom Leonard, voted against adopting the Common Core standards. I believe that this puts him on the wrong side of this vital education issue.

I support lowering the caps on charter schools, as well as holding them and the authorizers more accountable for the schools’ performance. The charter school authorizers have proposed setting up their own accreditation regime, which would judge authorizers on nine metrics, but I do have concerns about the potential for abuse in a self-regulation scheme.

Finally, I would like to also state that I would like to scale-back the recent push and focus on standardized testing. I feel that we run the risk of making our schools about nothing more than test-prep, and if this happens, students will lose.

Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts on education policy, please write your thoughts in the comments or email me at jderke2014@gmail.com.

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2 thoughts on “Issues: Education

  1. Hi Josh. Overall, your positions on education are in line with what has been shown to work well on behalf of students. But there are a couple of things we hope you’ll give further consideration.
    1. People keep wishing away all the data around community colleges, hoping they’ll work… that they are part of some solution. Look at the data. You’re paying twice to educate students on things they should have learned in high school. Nation-wide, 4-year college completion rates are higher (generally much higher) among students who go straight to 4-year institutions rather than first to community colleges. If we had a magic wand, we’d make community colleges disappear. We’d replace some of what occurs in CC’s with quality vocational schools, but we’d direct Most of our efforts into figuring out what’s going wrong in high schools (and before that) resulting in so many kids not mastering basic reading, writing and math skills by the time they graduate from high school. CC’s now have a huge lobby, a steady pipe flow of money, and thus a life of their own in the world of politics. But they are a COLOSSAL waste of money and have allowed legislators such as yourself to turn their attention away from the real problem: the failure of our K-12 schools.
    2. Common Core is a bust. The idea (fantasy, notion, misperception) that curriculum reform can or will in any meaningful way spur sustainable school reform is an idea that has been tested and tested and tested for the past 60 years with nothing but a track record of failure.
    3. If you Really want good schools, you will focus on holding administrators accountable. School boards do a lousy job of this. The task requires meaningful, vigorous legislative oversight. We’ve seen it over and over again: Failing school. Suddenly a new, competent administrator takes the helm, and within months the school has effected a turn-around. Competent administrator leaves, and the school goes into decline again. Josh, when a unit of our Unites States Navy isn’t performing, who do we look at? Leadership. When an NFL team isn’t getting it done, who do we look at? Leadership. When Toyota, Apple, or any other business is sub-par, who do we look at? Leadership.
    Community colleges, standardized testing, Common Core and other curricular changes… all of it background noise. A distraction.
    If you give a damn about our kids, you will work with your colleagues to figure out away to hire good school and district leaders and hold them accountable. Sincerely, Jack & Barbra Donachy

    • Hello!

      Thank you for taking the time to reply.

      I’m not aware of the data you talk about with regard to community colleges, and you might have a point about some kind of reform that shifts the focus from high school/university learning at community colleges to vocational education. If you know of any resources that could provide more information about community colleges and the problems you’ve outlined with them I would be very appreciative if you could direct me toward them.

      I do know a number of people that have certainly benefited from community colleges here in Michigan, however. A number of my friends have gotten GEDs and pursued education at universities, or came from homeschooling to universities through community colleges. I, myself, found great value in two community colleges here in Lansing and one in Ann Arbor that have great programs that train people in the medical fields, from nursing to physical therapy, by providing pretty good math and science educations to prepare them for entering those fields, not to mention the vocational education programs they have (HVAC, plumbing, etc). I’m sure this doesn’t give me a complete picture of community colleges in general, so I’m definitely open to your arguments about them.

      I do agree with you about the problems regarding K-12 education, especially with the lagging math and reading skills.

      With regard to Common Core, I don’t see it as a panacea that’s going to fix all of our problems. Rather, I see it as one small step in a long path of working toward the right reforms. It might not be the right one, I don’t know that yet. I’ve heard concerns from teachers that I know about how some of the requirements might be inappropriate for certain grade levels. But I don’t see curriculum reform, alone, as being anywhere NEAR enough to fix the problems with our schools. It’s just that–the people that voted against adopting the standards in Michigan don’t really have any good ideas of their own (and some have ideas that would really damage education).

      I do completely agree with you about holding school administration accountable. In Michigan there’s been a pretty big issue made of charter schools that are underperforming, and holding the people who authorize them accountable for their poor performance, but I think we should do this as well with public schools to a great extent. I like the idea of coming up with some regime of legislative oversight to hold the school leadership accountable. With the problems we’re seeing with Michigan’s charter schools I think we might have a real opportunity to do this. And, you know, I get frustrated when I hear people put the blame only on teachers when schools fail or children have poor education outcomes.

      I’ve heard stories about school boards that have people on them that don’t know much about education and that has a detrimental effect on education outcomes. Ideally, I’d like to find a way to make sure that we have qualified people with real educational experience in these positions.

      Again, I’d like to thank you, Barbara and Jack, for the feedback.

      P.S. I love your blog, and the wonderful wildlife photos. And those wagon wheel baby back ribs look delicious.

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