Collaboration aims to improve K-12 outcomes


A group of Michigan leaders across several fields announced their collaboration in a new alliance to improve K-12 education outcomes.

Launch Michigan is comprised of business, education, labor, philanthropy, and state and community leaders, including organizations such as Business Leaders for Michigan, Kent ISD, Michigan Department of Education, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Steelcase Foundation, Talent 2025 and The Education Trust-Midwest, among more than two dozen others.

Also involved are Thomas Haas, Grand Valley State University president and chair of the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission, as well as Doug Ross, commissioner of the education commission.

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, an organization made up of leaders of businesses that account for nearly one-third of the state’s economy, said the work of this organization is “essential.”

“The reality is today, Michigan faces a talent shortage,” Rothwell said. “We’re creating jobs faster than we’re able to develop the talent to fill them. This problem is only going to grow worse because too many of our kids are graduating without the skills they need to be successful.

“And our failure to address this situation not only hurts the businesses that are involved. It also hurts the communities, and most importantly, it hurts our kids.

Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, which represents 26,000 businesses across the state, said talent is the issue keeping business owners “up at night.”

Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, said in states like Massachusetts and Tennessee that have made significant education system improvements, long-term movements and collaborations like Launch Michigan were involved.

The goal is not to create another comprehensive plan, Rothwell said.

Rather, the group will support good work already being done but mainly focus on identifying a series of issues the leaders think will make the “greatest impact on improving student outcomes and develop specific action plans to advance that work,” based on research and facts, he said.

Initial areas of agreement and focus include:

1. Supporting educators by leveraging existing research and using a statewide educator survey and other tools to guide Launch Michigan’s work

2. Supporting shared, statewide, research-driven strategies for delivering effective education to all students, and maintaining those strategies beyond politics and election cycles to determine what really works

3. Supporting a fair and comprehensive accountability system that includes everyone who influences education — not just teachers

4. Working together to ensure resources are available to provide for an equitable, student-centered education system and funding model

5. Elevating public awareness and inspiring action about the state of education

The quality of the teaching is one of the “most important predictors” of outcomes, Arellano said, and the state has neglected to invest in the support systems teachers need, which she said she saw firsthand during her time as a teacher at the beginning of her career.

Derek Shinska, board member of the Detroit Economic Club Young Leaders group, said the rapidly changing market will need to be kept in mind as leaders are deciding how to improve education.

“The students of today are facing challenges that we never faced,” Shinska said. “With technology advancing, they’re going to have to learn, unlearn and relearn many skills throughout the course of their career to remain competitive in the workplace. It’s imperative that we create a model that allows for this and helps them maintain lifelong education.”

While some of the groups involved may not always agree on certain issues, Arellano said there are a lot of issues they do agree upon, like the focuses of the new organization.

Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent of Oakland Schools, said she has lost “many nights’ sleep” worried about that issue. “I could probably sell tickets to the meetings,” she said.

“However, the difference is that we have made a commitment to work together,” Cook-Robinson said. “That means we set the parameters; we have our goals that we’re going to work on.”

As the group discussed courses of action and funding in coming meetings, Rothwell said the goal is to move with a “sense of urgency” to make Michigan a top 10 state in education, getting as much as possible done by the November elections.

Rothwell asked those running for elected office to “keep enough of an open mind” to be able to “embrace” the recommendations that come out of this collaboration.

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