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Article of Interest - Supt. Tom Watkins

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Bridges4Kids LogoState Supt. Watkins Inspires Condemnation and Confidence
Betsy DeVos: Aside from impressive public relations efforts, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has a very spotty education record. Paul Masseron: There she goes again. I am talking about Michigan State Republican Chair and public school opponent, Betsy DeVos.

by Betsy DeVos, The Detroit News, February 8, 2004
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Aside from impressive public relations efforts, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has a very spotty education record. Let’s look strictly at the record.

First, Granholm cut per-pupil funding. Then, incredibly, Granholm rejected a $200 million education gift from a respected Michigan philanthropist. This generous gift would have resulted in new charter high schools across Metro Detroit.

But the one major, albeit unnoticed, problem with the governor’s record on education is her tolerance of the total lack of results from our state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins. If we are to have real reform in our schools, any improvement at all, it will require leadership from our superintendent. Today there is none.

Obviously the Michigan Constitution doesn’t permit the governor to fire the superintendent, but everyone knows the governor could move him aside and demand real action.

Why is replacing Watkins important to Michigan’s children? Simple. He is blocking the doorway to school progress and accountability.

Since starting Watkins has stalled and manipulated the state’s process of accountability, preventing Michigan’s families from knowing which schools are falling short and which kids are most at risk. Ignorance is not bliss.

Watkins stalled the release of the accreditation report for all of Michigan’s public schools, then he engineered a new criteria, then he stalled it again. And a week ago — three years later — he issued an incomplete report.

Today’s education problems are epitomized by Watkins’ highly compensated tenure as superintendent. The talk is good, the public relations amazing, but the academic results are mediocre.

To be sure, Watkins is perhaps the best cheerleader our schools have. He is tireless in his promotion of teachers, kids, schools and the necessity for strong public education in Michigan.

But I am interested, as are all parents in Michigan, in results — and the only result that matters is student achievement. Everything else, including how people “feel” about their schools is secondary. If our schools produce ignorant, unprepared graduates who feel good about themselves, we are doing them a disservice.

Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test scores have fallen each year since Watkins took charge. Not an assertion, a demonstrable fact.

Graduation and drop-out rates in some of our metro areas hover at frightening levels. Tens of thousands of children have left our schools without graduating and there is little to no progress in sight. All facts.

Perhaps the most insidious problem we have in the education debate today is the tactic Watkins employs when responding to his critics. He condemns those who have the temerity to point out our lack of progress with the damning assertion that they are “just talking down our schools.”

Michigan taxpayers have rightly placed the education of our children as our number one budget priority. While we have proven that throwing money at the problem does not equal success, it is a good indicator of priorities. Our priorities are right, now we need results.

As long as nearly two-thirds of our schools score average or below average, we are failing our kids; no amount of public relations can turn that into a good result.

Michigan needs a superintendent who will put aside personal agenda’s, political views and aspirations and focus on what he was hired to do: Guarantee Michigan’s schools are accountable to parents and taxpayers and that our children have equal opportunities for a quality education.

The job is not getting done. Tom Watkins should go, and the governor should lead the charge.


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