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Stateside: Study surveys the state of education in Michigan


The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio file.

A recent study called “The Public’s Agenda for Public Education” surveyed more than 5,000 Michigan residents to learn how to best improve public education.

John Bebow, president and chief executive of the Center for Michigan and Amber Toth, outreach director for the Center for Michigan, were both involved in the study.

They spoke today with Cyndy about the survey and the state’s future goals for education reform.

“Those who most need that economic ladder that a great education provides, are feeling least well served by today’s system,” said Bebow.

One student with whom Bebow spoke was using dated textbooks.

“We had a student in a community conversation say, ‘my government textbook says Ronald Reagan was the last president.’ We had other people at the opposite end of the spectrum concerned about how we spend money. There are so many concerns expressed. This survey is by no means a lambasting of the education service industry. People are concerned…” said Bebow.

According to Toth, both teachers and students are interested in making improvements.

“It was striking how close the customers of the education system were to those who are providing education to our students on issues of educator treatment issues,” said Toth.

Bebow then emphasized the importance of early childhood education.

“The public recognizes a need for more attention to the idea that school doesn’t begin the first day a child walks into the kindergarten classroom. There is a thirst for more attention to early childhood [education]. In contrast to early childhood, where we see a lot of policy development, the second issue we heard about was teacher preparation. Educators are some of the strongest proponents of this themselves,” said Bebow.

According to Bebow, people are beginning to look elsewhere, places such as Finland, for models of educational systems.

“What we heard is raising the bar in college, tougher to get a certificate. People are beginning to become taken with other models around the world such as Finland, where teachers are treated by society with a considerably higher level of respect and they are expected to produce higher results... That’s going to be a tough one to implement,” said Bebow.

“There is a sense that educators have been beaten up and there’s need for more support, meaning- better ongoing training, that we develop a system of true master teachers and that we reward them for reaching that level,” he continued.

During her community conversation, Toth discovered several items that were considered to be of lower importance to citizens.

“We asked Michigan residents about eight specific topics that were either research driven or things that had been policy priorities. Two of those eight, increasing school choice and expanding online learning, weren’t the highest priority for our participants in these conversations. There was skepticism about total online learning,” said Toth.

“The issue of school class sizes is probably the toughest issue that we’ve dealt with in this report. The problem with the debate is: the solution is extremely expensive. The research data on whether class size matters or not is also pretty mixed. It seems to matter at the early grades the most, but once you get passed grade school, there isn’t a lot of difference in school achievement based on class size,” said Bebow.

In a week, the Center for Michigan will host “The Future of Education” in Lansing.

“On January 29 we will be hosting an event at the Lansing Center. It’s completely sold out and we will be talking about what we found in this report and how citizens can become involved in the policy agenda. We have a robust lineup of speakers and we’re extremely excited to talk about the findings of this report and what it means for the future of Michigan,” said Toth.

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