Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder yesterday unveiled a sweeping education reform package for his state, becoming the latest governor putting a stake in the ground on education reform. Snyder’s plan includes across-the-board changes in funding, early childhood education, curriculum, and school choice and teacher reform. In defending his plan, Governor Snyder said, “This plan is about moving away from the outdated model of the past and giving teachers and schools more freedom to find solutions, measuring performance, holding districts accountable for results and giving students more options to succeed.”
The governor pointed to statistics that indicate low-performance among Michigan students, noting that fewer than 50 percent of students in the state are proficient in writing and a total of 238 Michigan high schools have zero college-ready students based on the spring 2010 ACT test. There has been significant attention cast upon the Detroit public school system and the efforts of emergency financial manager Robert Bobb in trying to overhaul that big city public school district. Bobb’s Renaissance 2012 plan has become a lightning rod with a centerpiece being the conversion of 45 public schools into charter schools. In the last decade, the Detroit Public School System has lost half of its student population and closed 130 schools since 2005. The problems in the Motor City are echoed in many school districts across the state.
Governor Snyder’s plan proposes financial incentives for school districts that can demonstrate an average of one year academic growth per year of instruction, with a $300 million set aside in the state’s School Aid Fund for these bonuses. Individual schools might also be eligible for these incentive payments. The governor’s plan, like those proposed in other states, makes tougher standards and accountability as the centerpiece, and Governor Snyder also ties funding to student achievement and not enrollment or pupil headcounts. He unveiled an education dashboard to monitor academic and fiscal performance. Additionally, the governor has proposed making it mandatory for school districts with excess capacity to accept students from other districts, and having dollars follow the student. The governor is pushing to allow more charter schools in districts with at least one academically failing public school and wants to allow charter school boards to oversee more than one school.
Citing the need to create a streamlined and integrated public education system, the governor is calling for the consolidation of multiple early childhood development programs that are now spread across state agencies into a singular Office of Great Start-Early Childhood within the state Department of Education. Snyder is calling for the state to work with the private sector to develop programs for preschool children and to improve reading skills through third grade.
A former technology executive, Governor Snyder has also proposed more computer-based teaching that would permit students to take up to two hours of online instruction per day without requiring a minimum of hours in a classroom. In addition, Snyder is calling for all schools to offer college credit that could be applied to community college or university matriculation, and mandating that institutions accept each others credits.
The most controversial aspect of the governor’s reform agenda might be his set of proposals around improving teaching. Governor Snyder’s proposal calls for improved teacher education, new state certification standards for teachers and more in-class training before teachers are certified. He is also suggesting the creation of a new Master Teacher category that would offer more pay and focus on mentoring other teachers. Snyder wants to tie tenure to performance reviews and make pay raises contingent upon evaluations. Teachers would be granted tenure after five years of probation if they are rated “effective” by administrators for three consecutive years. He is also proposing to end seniority as the criteria for layoffs, effectively ending the last in, first out or “LIFO” methodology to determine which teachers would lose their jobs in the case of budget cutbacks.
Governor Snyder also called for a renewed effort to end bullying in school and wants the state to establish standards upon which local schools can build their own anti-bullying initiatives.
All of these proposals are likely to become part of a contentious debate as elected officials, unions representing teachers and administrators, and education advocates circle the wagons. Governor Snyder might be able to use the momentum from reform efforts in Detroit but will first have to identify his choice for emergency financial manager to replace Bobb. The governor might be able to leverage the on-the-ground experience in Detroit to convince skeptics on both sides of the political aisle that his proposed reform measures are necessary and grounded in a commitment to better serve students.