Virtually everyone who doesn’t have a political reason to pretend otherwise would agree that the Detroit public schools are a dreadful failure.

More than three-quarters of its students have fled the district in the last 14 years. Test scores remain appallingly low, and a succession of emergency managers has failed to stabilize the finances. Most children in the district now go to charters, private schools or schools in the suburbs, a clear vote of no confidence by Detroit parents.

I’ve said more than once that it isn’t fair to expect teachers to solve all the problems of educating our kids. When a child is hungry, or has a chaotic living situation and no support at home, the best curriculum and the most effective teachers may not be able to make enough difference.

Sarah Hulett/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

You’ve heard the impassioned arguments about public transportation in Michigan. Let’s start with the rational. Our roads are among the worst in the nation. Our lawmakers have clearly demonstrated that they are not up to the task of maintaining our aging infrastructure. Michigan, a state known for producing automobiles, has become a place where it is increasingly difficult to drive one.

The education community was all a-flutter yesterday over the news that Governor Snyder had moved the school reform office from the Department of Education, which he doesn’t control, to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which he does.

That may not sound like the most exciting development in the history of American government, but it is significant in this sense. This is the office that oversees the state’s worst-performing schools. 

Awards for 2014

*Awarded in 2014 for 2013 News Coverage

Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB)

Station of the Year (Group 2)


First Place- Best in Category

Congresswoman Candice Miller surprised a lot of people a few days ago by saying that this would be her last term in Congress.

Her seat is pretty safely Republican, and I knew that within days there would be a slew of contenders trying to line up money and endorsements for a race.

But I was taken back to a key moment in history by the name of one of those potential candidates: Former State Senator Alan Sanborn. 

I don’t know if you know this, but journalists don’t have any more right to seek out information and publish it than the guy selling Slurpees in the Seven-Eleven.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The right to know and to express ourselves is guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Politicians never like to admit that life will go on if one of their programs is rejected. Many years ago I remember seeing Richard Nixon asked what he would do if by some chance he wasn’t elected president.

Michigan must divide in order to conquer

Mar 9, 2015

The Next Idea

When people think of Michigan, a number of iconic images come to mind – a long assembly line, acres of cherry orchards, miles of gorgeous coastline. This wide variety of industry, agriculture and tourism contributes to the resilience of our $400 billion economy and is what makes Michigan special. But these industries and regions also have very different requirements to help them grow. The challenge lies in how to foster growth in each one without competing against each other so that some Michigan residents win only when others lose.

Terrence Berg was taking his trash out in Detroit Thursday night, when two young men approached him. One said they didn’t want to hurt him; they just wanted to go inside his house. When Berg said no, they shot him in the leg.

Two months ago, I said it was possible that the best day of Governor Rick Snyder’s second term might very well be his first day, and that it would go downhill from there.

Flickr/Martha Soukup

The Next Idea

Living in Michigan, we experience incivility on a daily basis, from simply driving down pot-hole filled roads to attending public meetings to logging into our social media accounts. This has to change, and not just so our Facebook feeds can feel more like a cocktail party -- though that’s not a bad place to start.

Well, Governor Rick Snyder and the legislature are close to accomplishing another economic objective – a negative one. They are about to kill the film industry in this state, a move I am convinced will hurt our economy in the long run and has already hurt our souls, at least when it comes to quality of life in Michigan.

If you think we’ve got troubles now, flash back eighty-two years ago today. Unemployment in Detroit was more than forty percent – and there was no social safety net.

Years ago, the Green Party in Germany was torn by a split between two groups nicknamed the “realos” and the “fundis.”

The realos believed you had to compromise to achieve anything in modern, consumer-oriented capitalist society.

Last week I got a check for a thousand dollars from a nonprofit organization for which I do some occasional consulting. However, they had already paid me out of a separate fund.

Twenty-one years ago, Michigan voters drastically changed the way public education is funded by adopting what we still call Proposal A. That shifted much of the burden of paying for the schools from each local community to the state itself.

And to do that, voters raised the sales tax from 4% to 6%. Now, on May 5th, they’ll be asked to raise the sales tax another penny to fix our disintegrating roads.

New immigrants are crucial to Michigan's future

Feb 26, 2015

The Next Idea

Every American family has a genesis story about how they came to be in this country: escaping a cruel despot, searching for elusive riches, or enslaved by brutal overlords. Only the few that were made foreigners in their own lands can claim to be the original Americans. Somewhere along the way, you or your ancestors had to overcome the perils of the journey, the acquisition of the language, the challenges of employment, and the stigma of prejudice and intolerance. Regrettably, some are still struggling to this day.

When the news came yesterday that Northland Mall, that early suburban icon, would close forever in 30 days, I was with former State Senator Jack Faxon.

Faxon, who once represented the area in the legislature, said, “How ironic. It was the start of the end of Detroit, and now it is the end of Southfield.”

Paul Welday, a deeply conservative former candidate for Congress, called it the most disturbing election in the Michigan Republican Party’s history.

No, he wasn’t talking about President Obama, but about his party’s choice of a man named Darwin Jiles as the party’s new ethnic vice chair. Jiles, who is 29, was arrested a year ago and charged with shooting a man in an Auburn Hills trailer park.

Robin Deits

The Next Idea

The success of Michigan’s future economy will rely on more of our children engaging with science and technology. Their personal futures will depend on it too.

Twenty years ago this fall, Curtis Ivery was appointed chancellor of the oddly named Wayne County Community College District. The place was a mess. One of its campuses was closed, funding and facilities were wretched, and many thought it wouldn’t survive. But as Ivery, who had grown up poor and black in Amarillo, Texas, once told me, “whenever anybody told me I couldn’t do it, I did it.”

Innovation is not always the answer

Feb 19, 2015
Flickr/Paul Hamilton

The Next Idea

Innovation is a big word. 

I must confess I haven’t given it much thought in more than a decade, since I was in the last semester of my MBA program in India. Probably that’s because, back then, the word came up too often. Innovation this, innovation that. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. 

It now seems certain that we will have the needed new bridge over the Detroit River.

That’s because Canada is going to pay for it – all of it – up front -- even the U.S. government’s inspection and customs plaza, something that should have been Washington’s responsibility.

That became officially clear with an agreement announced yesterday. 

Canada, which is already picking up all Michigan’s costs, will pay for building our customs plaza too, which will amount to an estimated $250 to $300 million. 

I gave a speech to a large group of retirees a few years ago. Afterwards, a woman came up and asked me if I were single. When I told her no, she said that was too bad, because I had what every woman wanted.

That’s not something I hear every day, and I have to say it was flattering, even though the lady was at least 20 years older than me.

Jim Townsend knows something about business.  He has an MBA from the University of Michigan, has been a brand manager for Ford Motor Company, and ran his own strategic marketing firm.

He also knows something about frustration.

I suppose I must have been one of many who, years ago, went to see Congressman John Conyers in his Detroit office and was greeted by a pleasant receptionist who looked vaguely familiar until I was stunned to realize who she was:

Rosa Parks.

Technology pushes companies to work for us

Feb 16, 2015

The Next Idea

The world is rapidly changing, in case you haven’t noticed.  How we fundamentally interact with businesses, with government, and with each other is moving in directions that we are only starting to comprehend.

Flickr/Brian Flickinger

The Next Idea

Technological innovation alone doesn’t improve education. We often assume that the latest gadgets and software will change everything — that they will make things easier and better and solve larger problems. The truth is that technology is just one aspect in a larger web of cultural issues, and new breakthroughs by themselves will not have a broad effect on overall learning.

Many years ago, I used to write about the federal budget when it was released in Washington. Ronald Reagan was president then, and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. The moment the massive document was released, Speaker Tip O’Neill would proclaim it dead on arrival.  And then the negotiating began.