Commentary
11:06 am
Thu April 28, 2011

Snyder and the Schools

There was lots of reaction to Governor Rick Snyder’s special message on education yesterday, some of it within minutes after he stopped speaking. What isn’t clear is how many of those doing the reacting had actually listened, or read what he had to say.

Actually, he proposed a number of things that liberals and  progressive education experts should have been happy with. Chief among them was paying more attention to childhood development.

“Early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth that affects a child’s development and readiness for school,” he said.

He added that our goal should be to create a “coherent system of health and early learning,” to nurture and watch over these children from before they are born, through the third grade.”

Snyder went on to address the threat of alcoholism and premature birth. Hard to see how progressives could fail to agree.

But if he is serious, how is he going to pay for any of this? The governor didn’t explain that, or offer any new money to accomplish what he wanted done. I expected Democrats to say something like “Great ideas. But we don’t need more unfunded mandates.”

However, while the Dems bashed the governor, they seemed to virtually ignore his actual education proposals.

Instead, they continued mostly reacting to the proposed  budget cuts for public education we’ve known about for weeks.

“He’s trying to balance the budget on the backs of our children,“ said State Representative Lisa Brown of West Bloomfield, who said the proposed per pupil cuts would “devastate our schools.”

Well, we knew about these cuts already. What about the governor’s actual proposals for reshaping education? About the only reaction I heard was from the two big teacher unions, the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Like virtually all unions, they hate the concept of paying some workers more than others -- merit pay -- and love job security.

Naturally, they don‘t like Snyder’s plan, because he is proposing paying the best teachers more while making tenure harder to get.

The unions also hate that the governor wants to make it easier to fire ineffective or incompetent teachers, even tenured ones.

None of this goes to the core of the problem.   To my way of thinking, both sides are short-sighted. Our traditional system of public education clearly isn’t working for many of the 1.7 million school aged children in this state.

Our test scores and graduation rates are sad proof of that.

Yet neither zealously stripping teachers of their benefits, nor protecting the status quo, is going to do a thing to help educate kids.

Now, the governor has produced some interesting ideas for reinventing teaching and learning that might be exciting to anyone willing to put their ideological blinders down.

However, it’s hard to see he can be serious about a “performance-based education system that will meet the 21st century education needs of all students,” while cutting drastically the money the schools get from the state.  What we really need is a system that will put our children and their futures first by properly educating them.

Whatever that costs, or takes. This is a debate we all need to have, and the governor’s education message is a good place to start.