Michigan Schools: An Example Of Needed Vigilance Nationwide

Misguided state education policy extends further than just the budget.

True vigilance occurs not when something has happened, but when it’s about to happen. Recently there has been a flurry of criticism on Michigan education policy in particular to school funding and private sector involvement. The Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ explained a report detailing how Michigan schools are being chronically underfunded. The Macomb Daily details how the issue of school funding impacts beyond Detroit and into suburban schools. Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce and The Huffington Post blogger Alan Singer  picked up on a New York Times article by Kate Zernike discussing how charter schools in Detroit has turned into a wild west of private enterprise leaching off public school money.

Misguided state education policy extends further than just the budget. I participated in a rally and press conference with the district I teach for opposing the placement of a CEO as reported by The Detroit Free Press and Michigan Radio.  This is not the first time though that I have raised concerns about Michigan education policy. In 2014 I wrote an article for Bridge Magazine explaining that even if you take out the debate of how much money is being spent on schools, the way schools are being funded hurts financial stability. Starting in the fall of 2014 and through the summer of 2015, I wrote for The Detroit News’ Dvoice blog where I touched on topics of unionization in schools, teacher pay, teacher led school reform, maternity leave, outsourcing of services, substitute teacher shortages, teacher layoffs, expanded state control over local schools, irony of early financial warning systems in the education budget, and opposing any talk of impacting the school fund for road repair. Also in 2015 The Detroit News published a letter of mine explaining how the constant fluctuations of state mandated testing creates a swirl of pressure on educators.

More recently in January of 2016, I published in The Huffington Post urging readers to stand up for kids in Michigan and oppose the governor on issues of The Detroit Public Schools, Flint’s water crisis, and taxes. The intent was to widen the issue.

With the intensity of recent reports, someone might ask if it is too late for Michigan schools? If there is a future, then the present is never too late for change. Singer wants to “make sure Michigan and Detroit are not the future of education in the United States,” but Michigan should not be seen as a canary in the coal mine. Pierce connects Michigan with Georgia and Florida demanding “education is not a damn marketplace.” Zernike points out that the issues Detroit faces have been building for a long time.

We can debate the effectiveness of past, present and future policy, but take a step back and look at the larger picture. What is the philosophy that pushes this kind of policy through? I cannot speak for other’s convictions, but when handling the lives of children, America should always take on a philosophy of caring. The primary demonstration of caring is to first listen. Leaders should listen to the children, listen to the parents, the teachers, principals, staff, and neighborhoods.  Together is what defines an educational community and communities are built on the commodity of people who care.

Leaders do not need to have all the answers. They do not need to save communities from themselves. Leaders should facilitate not dictate. They should connect communities to 21st century research and information. Local schools carry on the American tradition of self governing, but this does not entail isolation. More than 100 years ago John Dewy wrote, “all waste is due to isolation.” The role of politicians in education should be to integrate the knowledge of caring communities for the most efficient system possible. Vigilance starts with making noise and ends with being heard.