Watkins Prioritizing Services to
Gongwer News Service, April 7, 2003
For more articles like this
Department of Education down to about 240 people and about 60
percent of the general fund budget it had four years ago,
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins is working to
further focus those people and funds ensure the schools in most
need of assistance are receiving help.
To shift more people and money into programs that provide
assistance to schools, Mr. Watkins told Gongwer News Service in
a recent interview that he had discontinued some services the
department once provided, such as reviewing blue prints of new
school buildings, as well as cutting back on how some services
are provided, such as no longer reviewing the curriculum vitae
of professors at schools of education up for recertification of
Looking at priorities for the department is increasingly
important as it gears up for the requirements of the federal No
Child Left Behind Act. Though the department will not release
names or final figures for the number of schools not meeting
adequate yearly progress until April 14, estimates put that
number at about 400 with expectations that it will grow in the
While the federal legislation provides sanctions for schools not
meeting adequate yearly progress, such as providing
transportation to schools that do meet the standard and tutors
for students who remain at the school, the department is also
expected to provide some services to those schools to help them
catch back up with their goals.
Mr. Watkins said the department is working to prioritize the
schools that need assistance in improving, but said it could
still be stretching resources thin without either more resources
from the state or more collaborative efforts with educational
and non-educational entities.
"The question is not how many are on the list but what are we
collectively doing to get them off the list," he said. "We've
got to be able to prioritize the energy and collective efforts."
It is particularly important to look at collective efforts
because schools struggling to meet standards usually mean
students struggling with home issues. "If the child didn't eat,
if the child saw mom getting beat up by her husband or
boyfriend, if mom or the child is using drugs, that impacts
education," he said.
Mr. Watkins said Governor Jennifer Granholm's coming Children's
Action Network, a collaborative of the human services and other
departments with some connection to children or education, would
bring support for some of those out-of-the-classroom issues that
affect children's ability to learn.
While former Governor John Engler had a similar effort in his
human services cabinet, Mr. Watkins said that effort did not
have the strong backing that Ms. Granholm is giving to this
effort and to education in general.
Mr. Watkins said Governor Jennifer Granhlom's attention to
education and especially early childhood efforts have already
begun to attract some philanthropic money to the state for those
He said the effort also could make less relevant some of the
proposals for executive order movement of some educational
efforts. "Whether anything comes back to me is irrelevant," Mr.
Watkins said. "Their collegial partnership is to not worry about
bureaucratic lines or organizational charts."
But he said he did expect at least that the Michigan Educational
Assessment Program would return to the department from its
current home in Treasury. And he said he may be asking that some
accounting functions to be moved to Treasury.
If additional funds can be found, Mr. Watkins said he would like
to add to his field services staff. "I would like to be able to
provide additional technical assistance to the locals," he said.
"We exist to support the local schools."
But he said the department would provide what it can with the
staff remaining. "The easy way to do it is with appropriated
dollars, but we have a legal and moral obligation to do what the
state can do," he said.
That focus on what the state needs to do means discarding many
of the activities that are not essential to the focus of
improving instruction, he said. For instance, the department cut
back its reporting requirements on continuing education to mesh
with requirements of the National Association of Teacher
Education. "Eighty-five percent of the stuff they ask for was
stuff we ask for," he said.
The department also is no longer reviewing school building blue
prints. Though state law requires that schools submit them and
the department review them, Mr. Watkins said he does not have
staff with either the qualifications or the time to review the
documents and he said in most cases local building officials
were the more appropriate reviewers of the plans.
In the same vein, Mr. Watkins said he is looking for rules and
regulations that might be excessive or unnecessary. "If there's
a goofy rule or regulation that impedes teaching and learning we
don't want it," he said.
Through a series of forums around the state, he has also been
seeking input from local administrators and teachers on
recommendations for changes to state regulations. He said he
expected to have that list compiled in the coming weeks.
He said he welcomes the legislation Sen. Wayne Kuipers is
developing to further restructure the School Code, including the
provision to eliminate the Education YES! accreditation system.
While many hours of staff time have gone into developing the new
system and selling it to local school officials, Mr. Watkins
said that was driven by statute, not by personal goals.
He did, however, request that the Legislature consider its
timing as well as overall public policy before implementing
changes to the state's accreditation requirements. The process
will take additional staff time to compile all of the
information into the grades that schools would eventually
receive, and he said it did not make sense to put in that time
for a system the Legislature is eliminating.
He also said that, while Education YES! and No Child Left Behind
could be seen as duplicative, the former provides a
broader-based look at school activities. "What Ed YES! does is
helps us refine what schools are most in need," he said. If the
system is eliminated, the Legislature needs to give the
department at least guidance on what system should replace it.