Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Creating A Covenant For Michigan Through Renewing Education by Akindele Akinyemi


When people here in Michigan think about the economic security they look at two things. One their money in the bank and two the diplomas on the wall. It goes back to one thing.

Education.

By the middle 1980s, education began to show up consistently among the top three issues in national opinion surveys.

As an issue, education has consistently favored our Democratic counterparts over Republicans. The public has unfortunately accepted the endlessly repeated insistence of the teacher unions and other interest groups that the schools fail because they are starved of resources. Well, if that is really the case then how come educational spending has doubled over the years with no real significant increase in test scores and quality?

In the spring of 2006, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings delivered the first report required by No Child Left Behind. She announced that more than 1,700 U.S. schools have consistently failed to meet state standards for five consecutive years. About 170,000 children in Los Angeles attend failing schools right now, 125,000 in New York City and 122,000 in Chicago where President-elect Barack Obama calls home.

I cannot fully understand why any Democrat or liberal would think that spending more on what does not work is a concrete solution for our educational woes.

Our teacher unions here in Detroit and elsewhere (along with our local leaders) have built school systems almost perfectly designed to repeal the talented and attract the unattractive; to repeal the best and reward the worst. The Michigan educational system pays its highest salaries and most generous benefits to the oldest teachers even though research shows that it is the worst teachers who stay in the classroom the longest. A high-quality teacher is only about half as likely to make it to the five-year mark as a low-quality teacher. What happens here is young and talented people are extremely discouraged by very low starting salaries from teaching and normally move on to a new career.

Of course in the poorest districts here in Michigan, where parents are the least effective, the worst teachers enjoy the greatest protection. Sounds like Detroit or Benton Harbor.

What happens here is while the poorest children suffer the most, the low quality of Michigan schooling destroys the prospects of the middle class. You ask where is the middle class? If you do not have an educated populace you do not have a middle class.

In order to renew Michigan we have to renew education. There is no way around it. Our educational strategies must become learner-focused instead of teacher focused. For example, in a learning society your choices might range from a class taught in a traditional classroom to a counselor-led interaction to an apprenticeship with a master. You could consult an expert, either by computer bulletin board, audio or video. If we place more emphasis on this it would be lifelong, twenty-four hours a day. The amount of learning going on would increase while costs would be cut.

In order to renew Michigan and get our state moving again we must be able to establish a scholarship program in which for every year you graduate ahead of your class with a B or better the school district gives you 80 percent of what it would have spent in educating you for one more year of high school.

What would happen here in Michigan is 20 percent of taxpayers money would be saved, while students and their families would save on tuition. Schools within the inner city would become more learning focused as students concentrated on advancing their lives and moving on. Guess, what? We can now go to our students in the classroom and share with them how their schoolwork matters, since there grades now have real consequences.

School districts such as Detroit, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Flint or Saginaw should pay for remedial education for graduating students who were never mastered the skills necessary to compete on a collegiate level.

However, there is little talk in our community about moving education outside the classroom. This becomes more important when we consider adult education. In fact, federal unemployment insurance and some disability programs should be recast as adult education or learning. For example, people who are recovering from job-related injuries on worker's compensation should use the time to learn new skills.

None of this is likely to happen under the current Granholm Administration here in Michigan. We must be able to change course. The average school system in Michigan invests less than 1 percent of its budget in technology. While on the other hand major corporations invest over 20 percent. Of course, with all public bureaucracies it pays to hire people and pay large salaries rather than invest in time and labor saving technology.

Maybe Michigan needs a bail-in instead of a bailout when it comes to education.

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