Saturday, April 30, 2011

Snyder: Degrees Matter, Except When They Don't

Coverage of Rick Snyder's education plan has mainly consisted of a few quotes grabbed from the document followed by a laundry list of changes he called for in Michigan schools. The media usually coupled that with a sidebar with reaction from "educators" who usually were administrators and called it good.

That approach overlooks the internal inconsistencies within the "plan," its inconsistencies with other parts of the way Snyder wants to remake Michigan, and comparisons with some things Michigan already allows for that he merely repeats with a little window dressing.

For example, on p. 2, Snyder declares:

"Preparing children for optimal learning and quality achievement in school actually begins at conception. Brain development begins early in a pregnancy. Threats, such as alcohol or malnutrition, can have a negative or even irreversible effect on the developing brain. Premature birth and low birth weight also can have lasting effects on a child. Early childhood is a time of remarkable brain growth that affects a child’s development and readiness for school.

"According to Michigan kindergarten teachers, on average, only 65% of children entered kindergarten classrooms this year ready to learn the curriculum. This 'readiness gap' often begins at birth and continues until school entry. It can lead to an achievement gap that persists through each year of school."

If Snyder believes that, why then does he propose condemning more and more children to poor starts in life by getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a proven way of keeping working families out of poverty? Isn't he setting these children up for failure, based on his own criteria of what children need to have to succeed in school?

On p. 4, under "Performance-Based System of Schools," Snyder proposes basing a portion of a school district's state aid on school performance. Notice that he did not say a charter school. Charter schools, which have proven to be no better than the public school districts in which they are located, will have no such performance requirement since they are not a "district." How is that consistent?

On p. 5, Snyder also talks about "dashboards" that will report data on school districts. How a "dashboard" differs from the annual reports that school districts already must prepare for the public is not clear. It sounds like giving a new name to something we're already doing in order to look innovative.

On p. 6, Snyder complains that 23 school districts have deficits of more than $1 million and threatens to apply his new emergency dictator legislation to them. However, he fails to mention how much worse off these districts will be made by his own plan to cut state aid per pupil by $470. How many more school districts will be in deficit next year?

On p. 8, Snyder wisely says under the caption "Degrees Matter:"

"I am asking for the legislature to approve a seamless 'Degrees Matter' system that values and demands a post-secondary degree or skilled trades credential for all Michigan residents."

Well, apparently degrees don't matter all that much because on p.11 he says:

"The mere receipt of a master’s degree should not mean automatic increases in pay."

So degrees matter and people should get them but don't expect to be rewarded for doing so.

Furthermore, on p. 11, he says the state should allow more people without
teaching certificates into the classroom, such as all those business people who supposedly are dying to give up their high-paying jobs and spend the day in a classroom except they don't want to bother to get a teaching certificate. Michigan allows such alternative certification in fields such as math and chemistry. I'd like to know how many chemists have actually given up their jobs in order to move to a high school classroom in the 15 or so years this has been allowed in Michigan. A few years after the legislation was passed, hardly anyone had done so. I doubt many business people will want to do so either.

So degrees matter for people in the skilled trades, but when it comes to teaching our students, degrees don't matter so much after all.

Snyder's plan doesn't add up to much that is really going to affect student performance. It mainly is a call for "efficiency" and "innovation" without offering any ideas of what things are out there that schools aren't doing that would be more efficient or innovative.


Douglas said...

Fascinating that he says that non certified folk should get into the classroom but at the same time, now wants to make it "tougher" for those who do get a certificate to get one. as well as keep it. Again, the man says one thing to appease one group and another to appease the opposite group. Are these "tougher " requirements designed to offset the 15% cut in higher ed aid? Sounds like a plot here!

Jodi said...

Previous comment was not written by "Douglas"