Friday, January 13, 2006

Education Forum

Last night I attended an education forum hosted by Michigan State Senator Bruce Patterson. He featured Michael P. Flanagan, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The audience was made up primarily of local school board officials and teachers. Most appeared near retirement.

After listening to his 45 minute presentation it was obvious to me why our public schools are having trouble. He said a storm was brewing on two fronts. The auto industry is in trouble and parents in our state don't understand the importance of higher education. Dr. Flanagan spent his time articulating the state's plan for revitalizing our schools and our economy. He called it "Rigor with Relevance". But it was a repackaging of the same old scenario. Set standards, hire teachers (but this time let's make sure they know math), and testing.

He said that the state needs a "collective vision" for our children. That employers desire the state to "produce kids that employers will want to hire." When asked by an educator how they can motivate parents to get involved, he said once the collective vision is established it will become "self-evident to the parents" what they need to do. (Read: We're in charge the parents follow us.) Another local administrator in the audience then stated, "We need to get into the homes and educate parents about what to do with their children." The rest of the audience nodded in agreement. Not me.

The idea of universal preschool came up a few times. It was generally agreed that the sooner the states "got the children" into the system the better the children would do long term. Dr. Flanagan admitted at one point that within school reform was a "hidden early childhood initiative".

He was excited about the new requirement of an online course for graduation. He seemed to think this was cutting edge. He said it could be any course as long as it was online. His recommendation: a course in how to take the ACT since it is now required for graduation. He talked about the changing graduation requirements to include Algebra 2.

I had the opportunity to ask one question. It is my favorite question to ask because how it is answered tells a lot about how a person thinks. "What is a well educated child?" He fumbled worse than the Detroit Lions on their own 1 yard line. He mumbled something about reading the great works, synthesizing information, problem solving, and visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts. And then told me he never gets a question like that. To be fair, it is a tough question to answer on the spot. But I would expect the head of our state's school system to have atleast some idea of what "well educated" meant. He clearly didn't.

According to state leaders jobs is the real answer.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm maintains that the new companies she wants to attract -- alternative energy, life sciences and advanced manufacturing firms -- won't move to the state unless it has skilled workers, particularly those with a strong foundation in math.

"Michigan's economic future depends on having the best-educated work force, period," said Chuck Wilbur, Granholm's education adviser. "If we aren't that state, we aren't going to thrive."

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