Income, education level should be part of "education reform" debate

More schools failing to meet AYP, a huge jump in child poverty, and an increase in the jobless rate—what’s the impact on education and “education reform” in Michigan with a new legislative session and a new school year getting ready to start?

Next year the bar for a passing grade on standardized tests will be raised and so is the concern over an increase of schools and school districts not making the cut. The new education information site, MI School Data at www.mischooldata.org , post scores that indicate a 7 percent increase in the number of schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress this year. 

So far, lawmakers have addressed the issue of low-performing schools by making sure test scores identify “ineffective” teachers and make it easier for ineffective administrations to get rid of staff. Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair) has indicated that “we need to look at what’s wrong with the system and offer choices that drive innovation” as a way to deal with failing schools. Again—not true education reform based on best practices, but more of the “blame game” when schools don’t measure up.

The debate over how to fix Michigan’s education system usually centers on arguments about budgets and benefits. While those issues may affect student learning, recent Census figures indicate differences between school districts’ performance and low student test scores revolve around income and education levels.

The annual Kids Count Survey shows that one in every four children in Michigan is living in a family with income below the poverty level and more than 36 percent of all Michigan children younger than 18 live in a household where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Couple those statistics with Michigan’s July jobless rising to 10.9 percent and it’s no denying that student performance is impacted.

So, rather than dealing with these startling realities and the influence on education reform, lawmakers consider forcing school of choice on all school districts and consolidating school districts which have the potential to create bigger school districts and larger class sizes.

This week the Education Reform Workgroup considered consolidation of school districts and services—one of Gov. Snyder’s “best practices” which school districts can try in order to get more state aid. While workgroup members were intrigued by the idea of setting a statewide salary schedule or eliminating union positions, Dr. William LeTarte, Executive Director of Michigan Small and Rural Schools Association, cautioned the group that school district consolidation means bigger school populations, larger class sizes and higher administrative costs—all of which destroy a community’s desire for neighborhood schools that foster individual student attention, parental involvement and local control.

Some lawmakers have chosen quick fixes and political payback as “education reform”—slash education funding, gut collective bargaining, eliminate tenure. But issues which truly impact student achievement and school performance—poverty, unemployment, parental involvement, class size are being ignored.

You can show the way to real education reform. Make signing a petition to repeal undemocratic legislation or to recall politicians who don’t share your passion for kids and education high on your list of things to do as you get ready for another school year.