15 Sep 2014
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Are We Sure About This?

This morning I read about the Nexus School in RO.  Last week it was the Branch School in Livonia, both touting their unique approach to offering education--their innovation, their caring for each child.  And as I read about them, I was deeply saddened by what is happening to public education.  Both of these schools may be very good.  I want to believe that they truly have the best interests of each student at the core of their philosophies and practice.  As a former public school administrator I know that the desire for innovation; for project based learning; for smaller class size to focus more on individual needs is present in EVERY public school in Michigan. I know that public school teachers  go to work every single day hoping to reach each student, make a difference in each young person's life.  But, public schools have always struggled for enough resources to do the job they wanted to do.  In the past ten years or so, this struggle has reached epidemic proportions.  Public school teachers are hamstrung with rules, regimented curriculum, evaluations based on unrealistic expectations, declining resources, reductions in pay, health insurance and increased class size.  Their heads are spinning and the thought of introducing new ideas is not supported.  They are struggling to maintain even the tried and true methods that they know will work.  And on top of these issues, is the overwhelming attitude of the majority of the legislature and many community members, that teachers make too much money and don't do enough work.  They are often disparaged and disrespected.  Their motivation is suspect and instead of supporting the very people whom we want to care for and educate our children, we demonize and mistrust them.  And we ask them to do more and more with less and less.  We ask them to innovate and then we don't give them the tools they need to do so.  For example, in Farmington, we voted down an important bond issue that would have supported some of the very things that charter and for-profit schools will be able to provide.  We don't hold charter and for-profit schools to the same standards and yet without any proof that some of the advertised innovations work, we divert critical public school funds for experimentation. 
I am not against experiments.  I have always been an "early adopter" of promising educational trends.  But, this current fad of taking dollars away from public schools for non-proven charters and for-profits is frightening.  Why not shore up our public schools, give them the money they need to do a good job and demand that they show us the results?  We don't always have to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Let's save what is good and improve what isn't working.  We have thousands of bright, motivated, professional educators in MI, who would just love the opportunity and flexibility to do what the charters and for profits are doing.  We've invested in these professionals.  It would be wise to let them do the things they know how and want to do....make MI schools the best they can be. 

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