Snyder implements bad approach to education reform

By: Dave Palmer

Friday the 13th has always been associated with strange, and sometimes eerie things happening. Heck, there was an entire series of movies dedicated to that idea. As it turns out, this Friday the 13th is no different, according to an article on Governor Snyder’s most recent attempt at school reform in the Detroit Free Press.

According to the article, Snyder has signed an executive order “transferring the state school reform office — and its staff — from the Michigan Department of Education to a state office that is directly under his control — the state Department of Technology, Management, and Budget.” In other words, Snyder is taking the education of students in the states worst performing school districts out of the hands of the government agency charged with providing them said education.

I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from the floor.

Snyder’s main claim to fame is that he’s a “tough nerd.” A business guy with a no-nonsense approach to politics and life in general. He was educated as a business person, starting with the first business class he ever took at Kellogg Community College when he was 16, according to Wikipedia. He earned a Bachelor of General Studies and a Master of Business Administration from U of M. He went to work in the business field, eventually making his way up to Chief Operating Officer at Gateway. In other words, he has ZERO experience in the field of education.

So, how exactly is a guy who has taken no teaching methods classes, never had to serve an unpaid day in the classroom as a student teacher, and never labored for hours in the evenings and weekends trying to assess student work for accuracy, understanding, and critical thinking skills going to improve the education of students in the state’s poorest performing districts? How is the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget going to assist teachers in these poorest performing school districts considering they have ZERO educational mandate?

Snyder seems to think that if he has more direct control over these schools by requiring that schools that don’t square themselves away to possibly replace the principal, go through the staff rosters and only rehire half of existing teachers, or completely close the school and reopen it as a charter school that they will magically turn around based on these threats. Nowhere in the article is anything about improving school funding, tying less of school funding to student enrollment, or changing teacher education programs at colleges to reflect the administration’s goal of school turnaround mentioned.

In point of fact, he, and Michigan Legislature, seem to be approaching school reform in the same manner as one might approach reforming an ailing business. We’re going to can the managers (principal), fire half the staff (teachers), or close the place for a year for remodeling and rebrand it when it reopens (charter conversion.)

This approach may or may not be destined for failure, but just like any other business decision made by people whose jobs are secure, no consideration is given for the amount of education is required to become a teacher or administrator. No effort is made to correct the problems internally and help a few people save their careers and thus avoid even more educational expense. No additional funding to make the desired improvements is actually allocated. Anyone who is not able to do more with less is going to be out on their collective asses, and we’ll just make it easier for those who have zero teacher education or experience to enter the field. (Check out this September 2014 Press Release.)

Snyder’s latest decision is bad public policy at best, and a minimally obfuscated attempt to engineer the failure of public schools for the purpose of turning the system over to for-profit privatizers. The evidence for the “worst” end lies in the for-profit Educational Achievement Authority charged with overseeing some of the worst-performing schools in the state and the fact that closing a poor-performing public school and turning it into a charter is in the options list for potential school turnaround. (Let’s not forget about the EAA’s recent attempt to hijack students from public schools by sending them phony enrollment confirmation letters.) The evidence for the “best” end simple lives in the decision to remove the education of students who are in greatest need of a good education from the department charged with giving them that education.

Until Snyder and the Michigan Legislature can be convinced that school expenses do not change based on the economy, unlike the level of funding they receive does by tying it directly to the state sales tax, nothing will change. Until Snyder, et al, can be convinced that poor school performance is not entirely the fault of teachers and administrators, nothing will change. Until these politicians can be convinced that schools and students are not pressed out of cookie cutters and each one is different with different needs, and cannot be measured  with uniform tests that do nothing other than occupy time that could otherwise be used for classroom instruction, they have doomed our schools to failure.