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Issues and Ale: What's working, what's not, in public schools in Michigan

Tony Brown
Michigan Radio
Panelists from left to right: Michael Rice, Dan Quisenberry, host Doug Tribou, Matinga Ragatz, and Gary Miron.

As the sun began to set at Kalamazoo’s Arcadia Brewing on Wednesday night, Michigan Radio’s Doug Tribou started a conversation with pub-goers about the future of public education in our state.

Tribou was joined by:

Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Wednesday's full house.

  • Michael Rice, superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools
  • Matinga Ragatz, instructional innovation consultant and a 2017 National Teachers Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies
  • Gary Miron, professor of educational leadership, research, and technology at Western Michigan University

As host of the Issues & Ale event, Tribou began by checking in with the panel on a goal the state announced at the end of 2015: to become a top ten state in education in ten years.  

Tribou gave Rice the floor first, as Kalamazoo is Rice’s home turf.

“If we’re going to get to the top ten in the next nine years, we’re going to have to get a lot more serious about literacy early, and particularly literacy for our working class and poor children,” he said, “and particularly our working class and poor children in urban areas.”

He said Michigan needs to “get more serious” about school funding, too.

“We need to pour more into [our young people] on the front end to get more out of them on the back end,” he said.

In general, Miron said high objectives like the “top ten in ten” are important to set, but that Michigan’s numbers so far “are going in the wrong direction.”

Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The event took place at Arcadia Brewing in Kalamazoo.

To make progress on that “top ten in ten” goal, he said Michigan needs to set intermediate objectives, ones that are more attainable.

Quisenberry said part of the issue is that Michigan is still deciding what success should look like, and an undefined goal is a hard one to meet.

Ragatz, however, said there’s a fundamental issue with the “top ten in ten” goal.

“What every teacher knows is that a lot of the science of ranking is really not a science at all,” she said.

She said students come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their brains.

“To rank our students by this really bizarre, artificial measurement and work towards that goal, I can tell you every teacher in the audience will tell you that is just not a good way to measure whether or not our kids are prepared for their future," she said.

Listen to the full conversation above. You’ll hear these experts debate the value of school choice and charter schools, and discuss how schools could change to better prepare kids for the world beyond the bus route. You’ll also hear other pub-goers, our audience members, add their questions to the mix.

For information on upcoming Issues & Ale events, click here.

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