Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Michigan Effect by Akindele Akinyemi

I am fully convinced that the plight of the State of Michigan will boil down to education. Any lawmaker that does not understand that educational reform is the #1 issue facing Michigan voters next year should probably reconsider about running for any office.

This is why we need to change the discussion on education.

On Monday, I attended the first Michigan preview screening of "The Providence Effect," the award-winning documentary about an amazing inner-city school in Chicago, IL. This movie, for 30 years, 100% of the seniors from Providence St. Mel have been accepted to college, and the school model was replicated as a highly successful public charter school in 2006.

I got a chance to meet with Angela Williams-Johnson who is the powerhouse Principal of the Providence Englewood Charter School in Chicago, Illinois. After watching the movie with a group of educational stakeholders her style reminded me of another powerhouse principal right here in Detroit named Shawn Hill, who is the Principal at the University Prep Math and Science Academy here in Detroit. Both are young, engaging and innovative in their leadership styles. Both are observant with their instructors and are leading great institutions.

Our panel discussion was a very interesting one as well. Led by Mike Tenbusch of the United Way, panelists included Dan Quisenberry, President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Rachele Downs, Leadership Detroit Education Support Committee, Jessica Rauch, The Generation Project, Angela Williams Johnson and Reginald Turner who sits on the State Board of Education. They discussed policies, as well as alternative teacher certification.

One thing we saw coming out of both the movie presentation and the panel discussion was a need for change. An evolution must take place in our state if we are serious about educational reformation.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the charter movement “one of the most profound changes in American education -- bringing new options to underserved communities and introducing competition and innovation into the education system.” However, there are still resistance in this state when it comes to educational quality and reform.

Williams-Johnson believes that education in the 21st century needs to be radically different from the 19th century models of education we have become accustomed to. This is the reason why universal values should embedded in the framework of education itself. Becoming "good" or virtuous is given more importance than becoming "smart" or competent, though both are considered important aspects of education in this new century. She has taken a charter school whose state test scores were rock bottom and have taken the scores to the top. Her vision for the children goes past college. She is building future careers for her students and staff.

After attending the screening of the Providence Effect and looking at the Detroit elections yesterday I am fully convinced that our city needs to re-create a new educational atmosphere that will challenge the way people think, vote and analyze information. Our children must be well equipped to demonstrate the ability to think global without fear or intimidation.

Charter schools are educational and economic incubators in urban communities nationally. Here in the State of Michigan we need to lift the cap off charter schools. This is why I support Senate Bill 925 by State Sen. Buzz Thomas to authorize the establishment of “schools of excellence,” which would be charter schools authorized by either a local school district, Intermediate School District, a local community college or a state university. Existing charter operators in Michigan or other states that for three years have been given the state's highest designation would not be subject to existing state caps; up to 25 new or other schools (without a three year top score) could be authorized.

I also support Rep. Tom McMillin's bill (HB 4490) to  to eliminate the 150-school cap on the number of charter schools (public school academies) that can be authorized by universities.

I support SB 965 by State Sen. Wayne Kuipers to authorize an “interim teaching certificate” for individuals who have a college bachelors degree with at least a 2.75 grade point, and who are taking a 12 credit hour alternative “intensive teaching program” that meets standards set by the state superintendent of public instruction. This bill would help strengthen alternative teacher certification requirements already in the Michigan School Code.

Sen. Kuipers also introduced SB 636 which is a bill that is designed to authorize “neighborhood schools” run by parents and teachers under contract to a sponsor, such as a mayor, a city or the state board of education. They would have to meet certain standards, but would have more flexible rules than existing public schools (they could institute merit pay and would not be bound by strict seniority “tenure” mandates, for example). Teachers and parents at existing public schools could vote on whether to go independent, and applications to “secede” from a failing a failing school district and create a “neighborhood school” would have priority.

And while Rep. Phil Pavlov introduced HB 5236, which is a bill to eliminate the Detroit school board, and place the Detroit school district under the control of the mayor, I have discussed with Rep. Pavlov directly to think about eliminating the school board but allowing Wayne RESA to run DPS.

Rep. Pavlov also introduced HB 5237-5238 which is to authorize the conversion of individual Detroit public schools into a form of charter school called “conversion schools,” if half the teachers or half the parents in a school submit a petition for this. The petition would have to be filed with the school district first, but if it was not approved within 60 days it could be sent to one of the other entities authorized to grant a charter (a university, community college or intermediate school district). If the school district became the chartering body then employees would be subject to the same union contracts as regular Detroit schools, but if it was chartered by a university, community college or intermediate school district the union contract would not apply. Plus, they would get the lesser of the per pupil foundation allowance of the surrounding conventional school district, or the minimum foundation allowance plus $300.

Rep. Tim Melton introduced HB 4787 to to authorize the conversion of failing public schools into “turnaround schools,” which would be charter schools managed by a private charter school management company with a successful record. This would be one of the options the Department of Education could exercise when a school has failed to meet performance standards for four years in a row. Another would be to replace a failing school with a charter school within five miles. Reportedly this would apply to 30 to 35 schools statewide, mostly high schools.

What we want to do with traditional public, private and charter institutions is to make them more global to create an effect like no other. We will not need things like Proposal S (that passed yesterday in Detroit for building new schools in Detroit Public Schools) because our primary objective would be to raise awareness and support the implementation of relevant, sustainable and scalable national education sector plans on a global level through the increased engagement of the private sector. By developing unprecedented partnerships and the continuous commitment and support of the partners and members of various think tanks and economic forums, our Michigan Effect aims to scale education partnerships globally.

There are many reform efforts going on in the State of Michigan today. The question becomes when do we, as grassroots educational activists, get involved in policy making decisions as well as electing qualified officials statewide to give our own version of the Providence Effect statewide? We must push for quality education, hold parents and faith-based leaders accountable, and scrutinize educational policies that hurt students and communities.

This Michigan Effect must now embark on a process aimed at addressing the relevance of education for economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship at the global agenda. This includes launching a workstream with the objective of advancing educational entrepreneurship as one of the key drivers of sustained social development and economic recovery. Not one policy maker discuss this openly for fear of retaliation from the teacher unions. However, in the global educational arena, the teacher unions are obsolete.

We need to run candidates for elected office who want to consolidate existing knowledge and global good practices in entrepreneurship education across three focus areas, which cover the lifelong learning process of an individual: youth, higher education, and social inclusion. The report also outlines specific approaches that are needed for each one of these areas, as well as opportunities, challenges and practical recommendations for key stakeholders.

Are you ready for the Michigan Effect?

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