Michigan education leaders say the system is working against children.
That was the consensus from several leaders at a recent gathering hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The system is designed so poorly that we are not prioritizing the needs of children above the wants of adults,” said Dave Campbell, superintendent of Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency.
That’s only natural, he said, because Michigan’s State Board of Education members are voted in through conventions.
Once they’re in office, they get calls from those who helped that happen, and that’s where the trouble lies, said Eileen Weiser, State Board of Education member.
“It’s our fault for voting in term limits 25 years ago,” Campbell said, adding there are “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Weiser said people need not lose sight of the reason they are involved in education — the children.
Even unconsciously, that changes the culture of those organizations, and she sees that sometimes on the state board.
“We zigzag between making adults comfortable and thinking about what the best things are for children,” Weiser said. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
In the last 55 years, since the state board and other educational entities have been established, Campbell said the local patrol model has shown varying successes based on what different communities can afford.
“There are massive inequities,” he said, a theme of the meeting.
“It was a series of decisions — poor decisions — that now our kids have to live with, and it’s time for a fundamental systemic change, top to bottom,” he said.
Some at the meeting even suggested abolishing the state board, though it’s not likely that would happen.
The premise for a state board of education is to include the voice of the people, Weiser said.
She questioned whether voters would give up that voice. She has suggested having the board contain some elected and some appointed members. There should be representatives from other state departments on the board, she said, including treasury and health and human services.
Campbell said he would disagree with abolishing the board, but he would like to “fundamentally reconstitute” how board members are elected.
Amber Arellano of The Education Trust-Midwest said the state’s education system has been steadily declining over the past 15 years, and Michigan’s third-graders now are the lowest performing readers of their level in the U.S.
She said Michigan’s biggest education faults are in equity, teacher investment and accountability.
“Even if we have the perfect governor that makes public education the top priority and only pursues evidence-based practices and investments, it’s these three things we have to tackle if we’re going to move the ball for all students,” Arellano said.
Kids in Michigan are not “innately inferior” to those in other states or other countries, she said.
“These are systemic issues,” Arellano said.