By Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton
“Old school” is a term I find myself referencing more and more often as the state struggles to address its funding shortfall without negatively impacting our education system. The debate seems to have become entrenched in the “old school” way of thinking.
Yet this “old school” format has not solved the chronic funding shortages or dampened the cries for new money from the state’s unions. Continuing to follow this same path will only lead to the same result. I propose it is time we change the debate, do away with old school thinking and start to look at solving the problem from a “new school” perspective.
Old school thinking uses threats and scare tactics to bully the state into funding concessions. It frightens parents by telling them that teachers will be laid off, class sizes will increase and sports and other extracurricular activities will be cut. This old school thinking seeks to punish our students and teachers rather than enact true reform to our education system.
We need to enact a new way of thinking about school reform. This “new school” thinking places the focus on educating students, rewarding quality teachers and cutting costs through compensation and structural reforms that do not adversely impact the classroom.
There is a national movement to reform our schools led by former Washington, DC public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee that I believe embodies this “new school” way of thinking. Known as Students First, the organization seeks to put the needs of students and teachers first instead of the special interest groups or wasteful bureaucracies.
The policy agenda of Students First can serve as a blueprint for real reform in Michigan. The premise is simple: elevate the teaching profession by valuing teachers’ impact on students, empower parents with real choices and real information and shift spending of taxpayers’ money to get better results for students.
Our current system of teacher retention and compensation is outdated and unsustainable. It does not recognize and reward excellent teachers. We need to shift the focus away from tenure, last-in first-out policies and automatic step increases and onto teacher performance and effectiveness. Excellent teachers should be rewarded and encouraged.
In addition, we need to increase opportunities for parents to be involved in the education of their children. Expanded school choices, greater transparency in education spending and insight into school and classroom operations will allow parents more input in the system.
Finally, we need to reexamine how our tax dollars are being spent. The problem is not insufficient funding; the problem is an ineffective use of our education dollars. An analysis by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University found that higher spending does not result in a better education.
In fact, the study concluded that “expenditures per student have increased over time, and the distribution of the expenditures has been according to popular emphasis: The level of teacher education has increased, teacher experience has increased, and student-teacher ratios have fallen. But the desired outcome—student achievement—has remained flat.”
The analysis concluded that it is not a lack of resources but rather the way the money is being allocated that is preventing real improvement in education and suggests that by rewarding high performing teachers through a more effective compensation plan our students will benefit from a better education.
Governor Snyder’s budget proposal includes $12.2 billion for the school aid budget out of a $45.9 billion overall budget; meaning over 25 percent of the state’s budget would go to school aid. We don’t need to spend more, we need to spend smarter.
This leads us back to the concept of a “new school” approach to education in Michigan. A new school approach will focus first and foremost on our students, reward good teachers and channel dollars more effectively into our classrooms. Over the next several weeks, I will be laying out a more detailed plan to achieve these results as we move Michigan away from the “old school” style of education management and toward the new and I look forward to a productive discussion about the best way to achieve educational excellence in Michigan’s schools.