Reform education agency to help
by Supt. Tom Watkins,
The Detroit News, November 14, 2002
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Connections are important in all aspects of our lives. This
fact is more important when considering educational policy for
the citizens of Michigan. Currently, there is a serious
disconnect in our state. During his 12-year reign, Gov. John
Engler has scattered educational policy functions around state
government like the stuffing from the scarecrow in the Wizard
Consider that the administration
of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and
Merit Award reside in the Department of Treasury. Vocational
education, GED and adult literacy programs and post-secondary
education are in the Department of Career Development.
Education data collection is in the Department of Management
and Budget. The Commission on Asia in the Schools is domiciled
in the Department of History, Arts and Libraries with no
representation from the Department of Education in spite of
the fact that the highest-ranking Chinese-American in state
government serves as one of the department's deputy
superintendents. The Michigan Virtual University and High
School operate in their own orbit.
This disconnect has transpired in spite of the fact that our
State Constitution states, "Leadership and general supervision
over all public education including adult education and
instructional program in state institutions ... is vested in
the State Board of Education."
This misguided restructuring is like building a
transcontinental rail system starting at different latitudes
on different sides of the continent using different gauge
rail. No wonder our system of education is out of alignment.
This alignment should build bridges that connect the various
educational islands. As an example, Gov. Engler transferred
adult literacy programs out of the Department of Education to
the Department of Career Development. During the last decade,
the Department of Education's budget has been slashed by
In Michigan, 18 percent of adults are illiterate. In Detroit,
47 percent are illiterate. School readiness is a major push in
the Department of Education today. Research indicates that 85
percent of the brain is developed before the age of 4. Yet,
can parents who are not literate be expected to ably prepare
children to start school ready to learn? This is one example
of Michigan's choice to be moat diggers rather than bridge
builders over the last decade.
I encourage Gov.-elect Jennifer Granholm to align education
policy in Michigan. In fact, our educational policies should
be closely linked to our economic initiatives as well. The
viability of our society, the strength of our democracy and
our place in the world depend on the strength of our
neighborhood public schools. The best economic development
investment we can make is in our children, our families and
our public schools.
With the generous support of the Mott Foundation, the Michigan
Department of Education has engaged the nonpartisan Citizens
Research Council, the respected public policy research
organization, to make recommendations regarding the
structuring of education governance that will serve Michigan's
citizens from womb to tomb.
Its work will be presented to the governor's transition team.
This is not an attempt to recreate the Department of Education
of the past. We know that we cannot get to the future by
looking into the rearview mirror. Citizens Research Council
has sought out the best national models and will recommend
restructuring that aligns educational policy. Only then will
Michigan's citizens have optimal opportunities to obtain the
education they need and deserve.
In January, Jennifer Granholm will become our new governor.
The State Board of Education and I stand ready to work with
Gov.-elect Granholm to lift up our schools, teachers and
The state that gets its system of education right will have
"No Child Left Behind." I want Michigan to be that state. As
Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve the problem with the
same thinking we used to create it." For the sake of our
children, let the revolution of new thinking begin.