Breaking Down (and Apart) Snyder’s Plan for Education.

If you you haven’t read Governor Snyder’s plan for public education, you should.  Some people believe Governor Snyder is an expert on education because he holds several degrees.  However, none of those degrees are in the field of teaching or educational leadership.  Sure, the Governor has spent a lot of time in school, but that doesn’t make him an expert on schools.  The chronically sick are not experts in medicine, and frequent fliers are not experts in flight.  I doubt either have written position papers on how to improve those industries.  Most people know their limitations.  Some people may think the Governor has credibility on the subject of education because he is a self proclaimed “nerd.”  I am a self-proclaimed jock, but I am not an expert in all areas of athletics.  Despite having spent some time in the pool, I have no plans to create a swim training program, invent a new swim stroke, or design an aquatics facility.  I too know my limitations.  I believe the Governor has little credibility when it comes to reinventing education in Michigan.  Just to prove me right, he handed in a failing paper on the subject.  Let me hit the low points.   

The Governor praises the “rigorous set of content and assessment standards and high-school graduation requirements” that were adopted under Governor Granholm.  He says the “results are promising.”  After acknowledging the promising results, he gives a list of reasons that we are not getting a good return on our “investment.”  For example, he says that only 16% of students are college ready based on the ACT taken as part of the MME test.  That isn’t a good number.  However, these students haven’t even finished their junior year.  They still have over 25% of their high school course work to complete.  Should we be surprised that they are not college ready?  At least the Governor used actual numbers rather than the fictional A.L.E.C. data that he used in his campaign.  So the Governor uses this data as fodder for a plan that creates more unfunded mandates.  Actually, we lack a term for mandates that are not only unfunded, but that come with funding cuts.  Maybe the term “Ricktaker” should join the term “Ricktater” in our new Michigan vernacular.  Let’s dig deeper into the “Ricktaker’s” plan.

Snyder’s emphasis on the importance of early childhood education is right on.  He notes that “only 65% of children entered kindergarten classrooms this year ready to learn the curriculum.”  However, instead of ponying up money to make preschool available for all children, his big idea is to consolidate a bunch of governmental departments.  The reality is his funding plan is forcing schools to scale back or eliminate pre-school opportunities when we should be mandating and funding pre-school for all.  Even though he says “we know too much about the first five years of life to continue to invest as though learning begins at the kindergarten door rather than at birth” his plan will do little to remedy the problem.

Of course, the Governor calls for greater school “choice” for  parents and students.  We all know “choice” to be a code word for the privatizing and profitizing public schools.   His plan will “increase the number of charter schools in Michigan” and he hopes to attract the top “charter operators from across the nation.”  He praises “free market ideas” and suggests that we allow “online educators.”  He says that “every child in Michigan who needs or wants up to two hours of daily online education must receive it.”  This is just a way to circumvent the voters wishes.  The voters turned back a privatization initiative via vouchers in 2000.  I already vented on that idea.  But to summarize, the use of online instruction will not only turn education into a for-profit business, it will export our jobs.  Can you say Gateway?   

The Governor talks a lot about funding public education.  He notes that we are 21st in the nation in total expenditures per pupil as if that is something to be proud about.  However, when it comes to business, having the 17th best state to do business in isn’t good enough so he has proposed a massive tax cut.  So 21st is good enough for schools but 17th isn’t good enough for businesses.  He also proposes that “a portion of state school aid be tied to the academic achievement of a school district.”  So good luck to schools that have a greater percentage of students who come from disadvantaged homes.  You know, the ones the Governor noted that come to school not ready to learn.  Those schools will now have less funding to implement interventions.  This is great example of why some “free market” ideas fail to work in the not-for-profit world.

The Governor says his proposals can “all be achieved in our present system of collective bargaining for teachers and other school employees.”  Later he goes on to say “I propose that in fiscal year 2013 a portion of the state foundation allowance be allocated to school districts that pay no more than 80% of employee health care premiums.”  This proposal circumvents collective bargaining and basically creates a mandate without calling it a mandate.  The legislature is working a bill that would mandate an 80/20 plan.  If the Governor signs it we will confirm the common belief that the he does not believe in the collective bargaining process.

The Governor wants to make college classes available as early as 9th grade.  However, many schools are considering scaling back such programs because of funding cuts.  Also, how many students in 9th grade are really ready for the rigors of a college class?  Not many students are as gifted or as motivated as our Governor was in school.  Many do not want to  begin college instead of finish the last semester of their senior year in high school as the Governor did.   Maybe it is ok that we don’t remake every student in the Governor’s image.  Maybe it is ok if high school kids take high school classes and college kids take college classes for the most part. 

The Governor’s suggestion that teachers need to be monetarily “rewarded” for excellence in teaching is wrong.  A teacher’s reward is intrinsically motivated.  When we see a student succeed, often despite many obstacles, we feel good about our accomplishments.  That is all the reward we need.  Besides, anyone who took Intro to Psychology knows that giving external rewards, such as bonuses, for an intrinsically rewarded behavior, like helping a student succeed, actually makes it less likely to reoccur.   

Perhaps the most contradictory part of the Governor’s plan is his ideas for training teachers.  He notes that “nearly half of all teachers quit during their first few years.”  To remedy this, he intends to make it hard to become and remain a teacher, at least for people who plan to commit their lives to do so.  His plan calls for teacher preparation to include “more in-classroom clinical experience.”  That could mean the addition semester of student teaching.  The governor proposes higher cut scores on teacher certification tests and higher requirements for continuing education.  He also suggests that 40% of teacher’s evaluations be based on student achievement, a plan that will hurt teachers in poor districts more than affluent ones.  As noted earlier, his plan for education also includes lowering teacher compensation by making teachers pay more for health care.  How will all of this recruit and retain better teachers?    After proposing that people have to walk through the fires of Hell if they want to become a teacher using the traditional path, he gives other people a free pass.  He suggests an “alternative certification system” to quickly get a “qualified businessperson” into the classroom.  So the Governor’s plan is to create both students and teachers in his likeness.

The Governor’s belief that schools need to be more like businesses is wrong. We are not for profit, we are for students!  We refuse to cast aside our faulty parts.  Most businesses fail, and we refuse to fail.  Too many businesses foster nepotism and cronyism.   The tenure and seniority system the Governor would like to weaken or eliminate minimizes those things in our public schools.  Public schools have no glass ceiling, and reject the type of systems that still allow such problems to exist in the private sector.  Perhaps the private sector should adopt more public sector ideas rather than the other way around. 

Governor Snyder started out thinking he was an expert in all things.  Then he read a lot of conservative think tank propaganda and found some talking points to back up his ideas.  Now he is enlightening us on how to fix the problem.   How fast he has become just another politician. However, that was to be expected.  The hardest pill to swallow is that he was educated in the public school system he now wishes to destroy.  That mentality reminds me of the American Taliban.  Governor Snyder is fast becoming the public school equivalent of John Walker Lindh.

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