Education is a foundational pillar to the flourishing of our people and the prosperity of our nation. Through education, we grow in knowledge and form lifelong habits. A quality education instills in students the values of honesty, humility, and teamwork, and forms young men and women into mature adults who can thrive as individuals and contribute towards a peaceful society.
But is this what’s really happening in schools? Are these objectives and outcomes being achieved?
Despite the U.S. possessing the most advanced technology and spending more per-student than almost every other country, many school districts across the nation are failing. Michigan is no exception. We have school districts throughout the state in which over 50% of students measure only “partially proficient” or “not proficient” on standardized tests; violent juvenile crime is on the rise; and overall levels of literacy are lower. U.S. News and World Report ranks Michigan 32nd in the nation.
Clearly, we have a problem.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but blaming doesn’t fix anything. Instead, our state and national leaders need to shift the focus of their efforts back to the #1 priority: kids. It’s our responsibility to provide our children and grandchildren with a solid educational foundation upon which to build a successful life.
Children begin learning from the moment they are born. Having raised four children, I now get to enjoy watching the growth of my grandchildren as each stage of development unfolds. Children naturally do the work of achieving these steps, but every child needs help along the way. Because parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s learning, it’s essential that they are involved in all ongoing educational efforts, and that those efforts be made transparent.
Once a child heads off to school, the vast majority of teachers devote themselves to the same goal as parents: guiding young people toward the truth and helping them grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially. The same cannot be said of administrators.
Action item #1: Cut the administrative state by 90%.
Between 2000 and 2019, the number of students grew by 7.6%, teachers by 8.7%, while district administrators grew by 87.6%. This monumental shift in the approach we take to the education of our children has not resulted in better educational outcomes. Whenever district, state, or federal administrators usurp the authority of local teachers and principals, students always suffer. Why? Because administrators prioritize systems over students. States operating under locally-controlled educational systems vastly outperform states whose systems are mostly federally controlled. Studies show as far back as the 1990’s that students attending schools in the ten most locally-controlled and funded states have significantly higher achievement and graduation rates than students in the ten least-locally administered states. Unfortunately, Michigan is among the ten most centrally-controlled states. Local school administrators have always provided the best for their students. They know the students and families personally and best understand the unique needs of their respective communities. Power and funding must be restored to local communities.
Action Item #2: Eliminate the Bureaucratic Layers to Fix Broken Schools
Michigan’s educational organization system is convoluted, dysfunctional, and bureaucratically redundant. It’s impossible to clearly identify and hold accountable those responsible for failures. The fix begins by removing redundancy and increasing accountability. Eliminating the State Board of Education and giving the Governor the power to nominate a State Superintendent who is confirmed by the legislature allows for greater accountability when it comes to our children’s education. It also returns more power to local districts, schools, and their locally- elected boards.
While the principle of subsidiarity is an essential element of maintaining a balance of power and responsibility between local and central authorities, local leadership must also be held responsible for ongoing failures. In such cases, both the state and county-level ISD Board must intervene. The local board should be immediately disbanded and replaced by a new superintendent, chosen by the ISD. The ISD will remain as the responsible organization until such time as the district reaches the 50% threshold.
Many districts and schools have failed generations of children. It’s difficult to comprehend the number of children who may have been doctors, engineers, or teachers themselves if they’d only been given a fair opportunity.
Action item #3: Amend the Constitution to Allow True Educational Freedom in Michigan.
My wife and I are thankful that our children were able to attend nationally-ranked schools while living in Novi. We also met several families who’d enrolled their children in Novi schools to escape failing school districts nearby.
This was an excellent example of parents making the best choice for their children. Unfortunately, many families who would like to do the same are unable to do so. Thinking of kids first: parents should have the freedom to enroll their children in schools that are safe and provide acceptable performance levels. Kids should not be locked down into failing schools.
Action item #4: Reevaluate Funding Priorities
If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that money isn’t the solution to the problems facing students. Michigan has tried implementing programs using both federal and state funding, with little success. Many schools that received no funding did much better, whereas others that did receive funding showed no substantial improvement. This isn’t a money problem, it’s a performance problem.
Instead, Michigan should focus on creating a truly equitable school funding system, simplifying the Education organization chart by eliminating the bureaucratic bloat, and increasing transparency and accountability when it comes to leadership positions and appointments.
Additionally, by reevaluating curricula to increase rigor and removing political ideology and indoctrination, we can redirect all efforts such that students become again and remain our #1 priority. Children are the purest beings we have; it is our sacred duty to care for them. Their formation in knowledge and virtue is essential for a life of flourishing.
We can, and must, do more.