Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Whitmer was right

Sunday’s editorial in The Press began well enough, unpacking the proposed structural changes to the States public schools. Even from the cursory comments, it is clear these will be substantive. Then in something of a Parthian shot, the editorial turned to the Democratic response, noting

Democrats already are attacking the plan, with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, calling it a “voucher plan that would end public schools as we know them.”

But for too many Michigan students, the public schools they know are failing them.

The difficulty is that the last and righteous statement, that we are failing our students now, does not negate Whitmer’s substantive point.

If this reform is about traditional public school districts, how they are funded, which students they should accept, then how is Sen Whitmer wrong saying that it “will end public schools as we know them?”  Substantively, her concern is correct: the Governor is looking at a plan that will in fact alter the public schools substantially. With the opt-out provisions, it becomes a program of a two tier system. Forest Hills and Rockford get one kind of (traditional) plan, Kentwood and Northview something quite different.

As the recent discussions around the closing of Creston revealed, the schools can not simply be disaggregated into a collection of individuals or families (the anytime anyplace fallacy), but also function as important pieces of our social and economic fabric, linchpins for neighborhoods and communities.

The consideration of this social dimension will be one if not the central battleground on this so-called school reform proposal. The underlying question is to whom do the schools belong: are they merely to be considered as a instrument of the State, a deliverer of (social) services? or as expressions of particular communities and so accountable to those communities? This is the heart of the conflict.

Filed under: Education Policy, , , , ,

Timing is Everything

Michigan’s Rick Snyder has his sites set on Michigan’s ramshackle educational system. Goodness, there is enough work to be done, much of it the legacy of Prop A.

The big news how ever is the timing:

“I’d say in the next year or two I’d actually like to say ‘Let’s step back, let’s look at the broad picture, the formula,'” he said.

Now there is a practical reason to taking this step — the system is certainly complex enough to warrant such a step. Then again, for an unusually active administration, one that has radically overhauled Michigan’s tax code, this appeal to “modesty” seems a touch less persuasive. This is not a modest administration.

By his proposed timing, the Governor admits that an incoming Legislature will be better suited for the task. The current legislative team cannot handle this task — something that Democrats have long held. Snyder’s timing for reform is not only an implicit rejection of the present austerity-minded, Tea Party madness of Lansing, he practically asks that it be the core issue of the coming election.

For education advocates this is a gift. The question that can now be asked of every candidate, D or R, is whether they support the Governor’s upcoming reforms. By making education reform the big project for the next legislature, Snyder opens the door for a significant conversation.

Of course there is political risk here. After all, those in safe districts may still be elected on the old Tea Party ways and so have no stake in the Reform outcome (see the DRIC mess). More subtly, by advocating reform but not specifying it, the educational community may have an opportunity to lay down markers to further restrict his options. A more education-focused Legislature is not any more likely to take the Governor’s lead on reform; they will bring ideas of their own.

For now, let’s call the Governor’s appeal for what it is: Michigan needs a new Legislature if it is to reform its schools.

Filed under: Education Policy, Michigan, , ,

More School Please?

Just a note here on length of school days. We often hear about the advantage of longer days, so the question naturally is whether such a policy would work. And the answer is? Sort of.

Data from the Hechinger Report reveals a mixed performance when time in seat is compared with educational accomplishment. Of course, this points us back to the other reality, that it is not the day per se, but what fills the day that counts. There is an interesting intersection here with the question of class size, another favorite of reformers. Again, as Julie Mack at the Kalamazoo Gazette remarked,

If, as a high school parent, I had the choice between putting my kid in a class of 17 with a mediocre teacher or 34 with a great teacher, I’d choose the latter, hands down.

So our reform efforts keep coming back to the reality of what happens inside those four walls, and what we can do to improve that interaction. It’s the teacher. And that makes the continual sniping at teachers rather frustrating. There is a political point here, after all the teachers are typically in the Dem camp, although it escapes how the sniping and destructive language particularly helps toward better schools. The danger has been that the partisans latch on to nostrums — structural fixes — while assaulting the soft part of the equation; we actively lop off the very branches we stand on, the platform we need for success.

Filed under: Education Policy,

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