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Coalition launches new vision for education

Mark your calendar and cross your fingers.

Business leaders, school management organizations, teacher and school staff associations and philanthropic groups are joining forces to make public education the cornerstone of Michigan’s continued economic recovery.

Launch Michigan, “a diverse, never-before assembled group of business, education, labor, philanthropic state and community leaders,” announced their desire to set aside differences and create a common agenda to improve and better support Michigan’s education system, in a news conference June 20 at the Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing.

So what, you may ask.  What’s so unusual about all groups coming together to solve a problem?  Unfortunately, it’s quite unusual.

School leaders could be criticized for having a bunker mentality, hunkering down in the face of criticism.  Business leaders sometimes criticize without really trying to find a solution. Policy makers sometimes react to headlines without trying to determine the root cause of a problem.  There is no one place or institution to draw disparate parties together, which makes it difficult to come together for a common purpose — or even to identify a common purpose.

Fortunately, we have a new set of leaders who have set the past aside in hopes of forging a different future.  Rob Fowler of the Small Business Association of Michigan led the way by joining the School Finance Research Collaborative, asserting it is essential for all to have a common understanding of what the experts say is necessary — financially, at least — to achieve the standards Michigan has set for its students and schools.

The Business Leaders for Michigan took a leadership role by saying education is too important a piece of the essential infrastructure for economic growth to allow the current conditions to continue.  Both recognized the states that have significantly improved their educational outcomes found business leaders were the catalyst for change.

So, to “Launch” this initiative, the new partners came to the podium two-by-two, with Business Leaders for Michigan’s Doug Rothwell and Michigan Education Association’s Paula Herbart joining together to proclaim the new partnership “a nonpartisan issue … critical to making Michigan a place that we can all live, work, raise a family and call home.”

Broad and Bipartisan Representation

Members — ranging from the American Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Kent ISD and all of the major Michigan education organizations — vowed to develop an agenda for implementing research-driven strategies for a student-centered system that will extend beyond politics and election cycles to give educators the support necessary to encourage, inspire and improve student performance.

Since this is nonpartisan, and the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers were invited to the party, I suppose it’s safe to paraphrase Democratic political consultant James Carville, best known for his advice to Bill Clinton during his presidential campaign against incumbent George H.W. Bush. “It’s the economy, stupid,” Carville said in 1992 and, were he in Michigan today, he’d likely say something equally pithy about education.

Thanks to Business Leaders for Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the regional chambers that have signed on to this coalition for recognizing we need all segments of the school community, and the communities they serve, to rebuild our education system.

Teachers, be they affiliated with a bargaining unit or not, are our most important investment in the education system.  They are an integral part of any reform, and it’s reassuring our business partners recommended their inclusion in Launch Michigan.

We’ve been divided too long.  Superintendents and their associations shouldn’t be negatively judged for trying to work cooperatively with the associations representing their staff.

To bring 100 percent of Michigan’s 1.5 million students to proficiency, we must stop pointing fingers and instead extend our hands to forge relationships and partnerships to better understand, and resolve, the inequities and misplaced priorities that result in underachievement.

It’s difficult to predict exactly what will come of this new alliance.  We can hope it resembles the close working relationship developed between business and education in West Michigan, where school superintendents and the captains of industry are working to better understand the skills students need to build successful careers, and to make sure they attain those skills.

It’s great to see our work recognized and modeled across the state. Godspeed.

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education.


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