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Change, for Change’s Sake


The new session of the Michigan Legislature started recently and it didn’t take long for populist priorities to start flowing. Eliminate the income tax. Eliminate prevailing wage laws. Eliminate the Common Core, er, the Michigan Content Standards.

Why eliminate the Michigan Content Standards, which guide the work of teachers and student learning? Because they’re too much like the Common Core State Standards which, among some, are akin to Lord Voldemort, or “he who must not be named” of Harry Potter fame.

Why? Because the Common Core standards represent “federal” standards, except they don’t, because they were adopted by the Council of Chief School Officers and individual states.

In any event, it’s unpopular these days to confuse the truth with facts. So the Michigan standards must go.

In their place Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland would have us call up the Massachusetts standards of 2009, paste them into a Microsoft Word document, go to the “Find” tab and replace all references to Massachusetts with Michigan.

Yep, that’s it. Got standards!

Here in Michigan, we never stop reminding anyone who’ll listen that we put the world on wheels, but our legislators have turned a deaf ear to the wisdom of Henry Ford, the man credited for making that happen.

Ford’s best known quote is “You can have any color you want, as long as it is black.” His unflinching commitment to putting a Model T in every driveway was so complete that he eschewed even minor alterations that could slow down assembly line production.

“We do not make changes for the sake of making them, but we never fail to make a change once it is demonstrated that the new way is better than the old way,” said Ford. He further opined that “an imitation may be quite successful in its own way, but imitation can never be success. Success is a firsthand creation.”

It is a shame the patriarch of today’s Ford Motor Co. isn’t around these days to lecture our Legislature, for whom change is a constant. Standards have changed many times in Michigan. By contrast, the states our legislators long to emulate set standards and assessments and let them stay in place for years — decades even — to give educators the stability and certainty necessary to develop curriculum and instructional practices to help students attain desired proficiency levels.

High Cost of Needless Change

These changes come at a cost. They come at the expense of students, whose proficiency suffers because teachers cannot use our ever-changing state assessment as an analytic tool to alter instruction.

They come at the expense of districts that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on teacher professional development, and on data analysis on standards and tests that are here one year and gone the next.

A single school district of fewer than 3,500 students in February told a House committee it had spent nearly $1 million over a five-year period on professional development to implement the Michigan Content Standards. A recent analysis indicated the cost to abandon our current standards and implement new ones could range from $41 million to as much as $289 million statewide.

And, these changes could also come at the expense of talent development, as the Massachusetts standards were upgraded in 2010 to reflect even greater rigor and student mastery of content. Kevin Stotts, president of the CEO-driven Talent 2025 group seeking to upgrade West Michigan’s workforce, told a House panel studying the change that adopting the 2009 Massachusetts standards would be a huge step backward for Michigan.

Educator Travis Hedrick is credited with the quote that Ford, today, would likely use to describe the proposal to cut Michigan’s standards and paste in Massachusetts’ standards.

“Change, for change’s sake, is a recipe for failure.”

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education. Read Ron's full bio

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