Michigan State Superintendent Mike Flanagan hopes to reboot a discussion about technology and school reform that has recently generated controversy for the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder.
Last week, the Detroit News exposed a secretive education reform group, led by the governor's Chief Information Officer David Behen, that was developing a voucher-like system of high-tech low-cost "value schools." Although school vouchers are not permitted by Michigan law, the system reportedly would have allowed tuition to be paid with a "Michigan Education Card" that could also be used to pay for services like music lessons and online services. Under the plan the "value schools" would have operated at a cost of around $2,000 below the $7,000 per-pupil level utilized by normal public schools with taxpayer funding.
The governor denied authorizing the project, but has defended the group's efforts to brainstorm new ideas about education. Now, he's given Flanagan approval to head up a new working group on the topic.
“At my urging, I believe the Governor felt these issues are best served by being in an open and public process, and he asked me to be directly involved,” Flanagan said in a release. “The Governor still is very interested in studying how current and future technologies can improve education delivery and outcomes for Michigan students.”
The state superintendent is not without controversy himself. He's drawn fire for dismissing "education for education's sake," and also for his enthusiastic support of charter schools earlier in his career. In 2010, Flanagan also acknowledged making mistakes in a failed bid for federal education reform money.
But Flanagan has set some ground rules for the new think tank: it will be transparent, school vouchers won't be discussed and savings generated by the use of technology will be reinvested into schools.
Although the recently-exposed education reform group was made up Snyder administration staff members, charter school backers, and tech company employees, Flanagan wants to make the new body more diverse. He said invitations to participate are being sent out to State Board of Education members, K-12 and early childhood education stakeholders, school business officials, teacher preparation programs, education technology experts, career and technical education leaders, post-secondary programs and the public.