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 Article of Interest - Education

Reform education agency to help Michigan students
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 of Oz.


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 two-thirds.
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 students.

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.


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