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"Shame on us" if we're not a top 10 school system in 10 years, says Michigan's school superintendent

Sep 23, 2015

The state's new schools superintendent Brian Whiston started a series of discussions seeking ideas to make Michigan a “Top 10” education state within 10 years.

Just about every measurement shows that all groups of Michigan students – black, white, poor, rich – are losing ground academically compared to their peers in other states.

The latest report from the nonprofit group The Education Trust-Midwest finds if things don't change, Michigan will be ranked in the bottom 10 states for student learning for 2030.

Whiston attributes part of the decline to Michigan’s economy.

“Michigan has a new economy that has brought an increase in poverty,” he said.

Whiston says schools only have kids 12% of the time, so it’s important to work with parents and family members to ensure kids are learning when they’re not at school.

The state board of education is holding a series of conversations with education groups, business leaders, and others in order to reach their goal of being a top 10 school system in 10 years.

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"If you look at other countries around the world that are doing very well in education, they don't test their students as much as we do."

“We’re taking all that input now. We’re compiling it. And we’ll be prepared to make recommendations to the state board and the Legislature by the end of the calendar year, so that next year our focus is laser-like at improving our educational system and making us that top ten state,” says Whiston.

Lansing has not exactly been sending schools a clear signal in terms of how they evaluate students.

The MEAP test was tossed out for being old and outdated. Smarter Balanced testing was brought in as it was aligned with Common Core standards, but then that test was jettisoned in favor of the stop-gap M-Step test.

Students have taken three different tests in three years.

“If you look at other countries around the world that are doing very well in education, they don’t test their students as much as we do,” says Whiston.

He says we need to test students in a balanced way that spends more time on instruction and less time on assessment.

In terms of teacher evaluation, Whiston says he thinks teacher evaluations are important, but districts should choose what evaluation system they like. He says if districts choose one of the four evaluation systems mentioned in the Ball report, the state will help them implement those them.

"If 10 years from now we're not a top 10 performing state, then shame on all of us."

Whiston says poverty does count, and he thinks school districts in high-poverty areas should get more resources to turn them around.

And he says politics shouldn’t get in the way of improving the state’s school system.

“If 10 years from now we’re not a top 10 performing state, then shame on all of us,” he says.

We’ll be following the recommendations Whiston puts forward, and whether new education policies move the state closer to being a top 10 state in education.