The Most Important Back-to-School Issue in Detroit

As students head back to school, WDET asked some of Michigan's most influential experts and policy makers to answer the question: What is the most critical issue facing education in Michigan and how can it be solved? Here is an editorial from Oakland County Schools Superintendent, Vickie Markavitch:

The primary problem facing public education is the legislated diversion of time, talent and resources to things that do not improve student learning - a reliance on silver bullet, bumper sticker market driven reform ideas instead of focused, research-based hard work and effort. Specifically:

1) Merit Pay and performance evaluation: Debated last year, debated and legislated this year, even though study after study and the Michigan Teacher Evaluation Committee commissioned by the Michigan legislature, led by University of Michigan's Dean Dr. Debra Ball, have said repeatedly this will not work to raise student achievement and has been proven to decrease student achievement.

Solution: The Teacher Evaluation Committee mentioned above has piloted four models for sound teacher evaluation and has recommended the most productive use of these strategies. I suggest we follow their recommendations - which included NOT using evaluation for merit pay.

2) Introduction of bill to grade our schools A-B-C-D-F: Why would we want another change, and why would we choose a system that has not been shown to offer any advantages to raising school or student performance?

Solution: Keep the newly developed system that MDE is using (which meets the requirements of the federal waiver Michigan just received), and work with the MDE to improve on those areas of the system that need adjustments or better explanations. Evaluating schools is complex - it is not as simple as a nine week grade in Chemistry and should not be portrayed as such.

3) Choice is expanded as the reform of the day (decade): Choice has been marketed as the solution that will raise student achievement. Well, it hasn't and it has been available for decades.

Solution: If we are going to put our eggs in the choice basket (even though no other high performing country has done so), then we need to ensure quality, transparency, fairness in funding and integrity.

4) High Stakes Testing: Thinking that testing kids with single statewide high stakes tests will either punish or reward folks into success is just silly - yet we spend outrageous sums of money and time on pretending that testing drives achievement.

Solution: Stop annual, subject specific statewide testing. Let teachers and schools do what they do best, which is to use assessment of student achievement as part of the teaching learning process. Student achievement is made up of many things that go beyond recall and basic understanding; one statewide test cannot cover all that needs to be assessed: a student's daily work, weekly work, class participation, group work, homework, quizzes and exams. When we report on a student's learning to a parent it is about all these factors and one state test should not be weighted heavier than these other components for students, teachers or schools. The state should STOP testing every child in every subject every year or so, and should leave annual assessments to the local schools. The state should benchmark, with nationally or internationally normed assessments, how the students in those schools are doing in reading, writing and math at periodic grades - for example, fourth, seventh and tenth. This would keep the local district tests on target, allow the state to know how their kids were doing compared to other states and countries, while NOT allowing those periodic assessments to be misused in student, teacher or school grading/evaluation systems. This will also drop the cost of state level testing so that funds can go to districts to enhance their own assessment systems.

5) Funding: Funding has not kept up with times and inflation and that has been exacerbated by the charters and cyber schools that take the average in funding even though they spend less that the average on students.

Solution: Instead of debating this forever, why not do the school funding study that organizations and experts have been calling for, forever?

This post originally appeared on WDET's "The Craig Fahle Show." Read more editorials on the state of education in Michigan at "The Craig Fahle Show" website.