Local Comment: Make
Public Education A Priority
Michigan's Next Governor Must Set Specific Goals - And
by State Superintendent Tom Watkins, September
4, 2002, Detroit Free Press
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It's Dick Posthumus vs. Jennifer Granholm in the race for
Both have proposed that education is a top priority. Thus it
is important that the citizens of Michigan examine the
candidates' respective records and plans, and independently
decide which one will advance high quality, accountable
neighborhood public schools.
Our public schools are the bedrock of our democracy and
economic future for Michigan. The true "statute of liberty" in
America is the neighborhood public school. Think about it: No
other institution truly takes in the tired, hungry, poor,
huddled masses and children with disabilities, and creates
hope and opportunity. That dream is lived by 1.7 million
children who attend Michigan public schools. We need a
governor who will support public education.
These issues, and more will require the next governor's
Boost school readiness. We need greater investment in high
quality preschool education. Research indicates that 85
percent of the brain is developed before age 4. Guided by this
fact, we must invest our time, energy and resources to ensure
all children have access to optimal learning opportunities
during these crucial young years.
Eradicate illiteracy. Reading is fundamental. Eighteen percent
of adults in Michigan and 47 percent of those in Detroit alone
are functionally illiterate. How can we expect our children to
read and start school ready to learn given these unacceptable
statistics? Greater resources and collaborative efforts are
needed to reduce and ultimately obliterate this waste of human
capital and subsequent drain on our economy.
End state-sponsored stupidity. Thinking for living has
replaced lifting for a living in Michigan. Yet we still have a
law on the books that says it is OK to drop out of school at
16. Drop out to what?
The auto industry has not hired a dropout in decades, you
cannot enlist in the military without a diploma, and I doubt
that kids are dropping out to work on the family farm.
To maintain this policy and practice is state-sponsored
stupidity at best, and institutional racism at worse. If the
white middle-class suburbs suffered the staggering dropout
rate that the poor African-American, Hispanic and Native
American communities do, the problem would be seen as an
outrage. We can and should do better.
Stop teacher bashing. We need a governor to lift up, not beat
down our public schools and the people who work in them. We
need to highlight educators who are succeeding and replicate
their success. We need a leader to set the tone that it is as
unacceptable to bash public education as it would be to tell
an inappropriate religious, sexual or racial joke.
Denounce vouchers. Stop seeking "silver bullets" to improve
our schools. Private-school vouchers, privatization and
tuition tax credits will not address the problems confronting
our schools. We know that investment in early childhood,
reading, after-school and summer programs will help our
struggling students and schools. Stop seeking easy solutions
and cutting the investment in these successful programs.
Realign education policy. Over the past decade, education
policy and programs have been scattered around state
government like the scarecrow's stuffing in the "Wizard of
For example, the MEAP test and Merit Scholarship Awards are in
the Department of Treasury; educational data collecting falls
under the Department of Management and Budget; adult literacy,
GED and vocational education are under the Department of
Career Development; and educational technology is in its own
orbit outside state government. We need an educational
structure that builds bridges, not digs moats.
Our next governor needs to realign education policy to better
meet the needs of Michigan citizens. In today's world, we need
an educational system that meets our needs from the womb to
Not all these suggestions require resources, but they all
require leadership. The state Board of Education and I stand
ready to help the new governor lift up our schools, teachers
and, most important, our children.
TOM WATKINS is state superintendent of public instruction.
Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W.
Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.