Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 9, 2013

Forum: Stop political tinkering in education

BY MICHAEL HAYNES

---- — The education community is battered and bruised following years of economic decline, inequitable funding and public and political scrutiny of our public education system. While it is difficult to find a downside to greater accountability and transparency in our education system, continued tinkering needs to stop.

In the course of 24 hours I learned of two politically-driven initiatives in two bordering midwestern states that threaten to derail an enormous amount of effort over the past two to three years.

In Michigan, legislative action is on the rise that would block the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a state-led effort to establish a single set of educational standards for grades K-12. Forty-five states have voluntarily adopted the standards and committed millions of dollars of taxpayer money to do so.

Decisions to adopt the standards in each of the 45 states did not occur quickly. Educators, lawmakers and parents have been actively engaged in the process and countless hours have been spent in schools across Michigan, and indeed the nation, preparing to utilize the standards to ensure all students are successful. Despite the fact that educators everywhere are experiencing “initiative fatigue,” establishing a consistent set of academic standards across our nation makes sense.

In Wisconsin, a multi-year effort to align data systems so educators, students and parents can have ready access to information that will increase public schools’ effectiveness resulted in a legislative decision to select a single vendor for a statewide student information system. That decision presented many challenges and continues to do so as hundreds of school districts prepare to manage the transition from existing systems to the statewide system - and many contend that decisions regarding the tools schools adopt in order to operate should be locally-driven and not mandated through the political system.

After engaging in a lengthy process to determine the vendor and managing subsequent controversy regarding the decision, including a lengthy appeal process, districts are preparing for the transition. Difficulties and differing views aside, the education community in the state has again stepped up to meet the challenges and make it work.

However, legislative action by the Joint Finance Committee suggests there is legislative support to move away from the single-vendor system for which districts across the state have spent significant time and resources preparing. The uncertainly that is now created because of further legislative tinkering promises only to add frustration and wasted time to the list of barriers schools face on behalf of students.

From my perspective, the education community has responded enthusiastically to the urgencies of accountability and transparency. Now it is time to allow the highly-qualified practitioners in our schools to do the important work ahead. Shifting priorities and expectations in the 11th hour has incredible ramifications and, like a moving target, is not an effective way to drive improvement.

Whether it is the common core, statewide student information systems or any number of legislatively-driven initiatives, the division of responsibility between the education community and politics needs to be resolved.

About the author: Michael Haynes lives in Altoona, Wis., where he is the Agency Administrator for Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10 in Chippewa Falls. From 2000 to 2008 he was middle school principal in East Jordan and from 2008 to 2012, Superintendent of the NICE Community School District in the Upper Peninsula.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.