By Dan Quisenberry
---- — The country’s education spotlight was shining bright on Michigan last month, as NBC’s acclaimed “Education Nation” program came to Detroit for a series of town hall meetings.
One event was a televised Student Town Hall meeting. It was a fascinating discussion, as students from throughout Michigan talked about their schools, their teachers and their future.
Among the panelists was Unique Bailey, a sophomore at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. Unique was asked what drives her to do well in school. “What motivates me is proving people wrong,” she said. “One thing I don’t like is when people limit you because of your background. What really makes me want to try harder is to show people that you don’t have to be this type of person to do great things.”
Unique clearly doesn’t want any limitations placed on her education. That’s why her parents chose the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy for her - it has an innovative approach that requires students to attend school year-round. At most public schools in Michigan, students go to class about 180 days. At Unique’s school, they go 211 days - including many Saturdays and most of the summer.
That’s the kind of innovative approach schools should be allowed to try. As we try to dig ourselves out of the educational hole we’re in, Michigan’s schools should be able to innovate so they can do what’s best for the students and communities they serve. We should collect the data, see what’s working, and share the results with every school in the state - but what’s best for one school might not be what’s best for another.
Consider the innovation taking place at the Concord Academy charter schools in Petoskey and Boyne City. At those schools, academics and the arts are intertwined. In addition to the core academic classes, students also take classes in visual arts, vocal and instrumental music, dance and drama. Students are achieving at a high level while they grow academically and personally.
Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan’s public schools should be able to deliver an education “Any time, any place, any way, any pace.” In order for this type of educational environment to succeed, the state must fund the student. Creating pools and smaller pots of money with several different regulations attached does not drive the innovation the state seeks to encourage.
The state must also fund every student equitably regardless of zip code, grade level or type of school. We need to hold schools accountable for achievement, while allowing schools and students to reach those standards in the way that best fits their needs. This will provide the means and incentives for good schools to become great schools. By doing this, you’re encouraging every school to be the best that it can be.
Let’s give schools an incentive to do things differently in the education world of “anys,” and hold them accountable for outcomes.
About the author: Dan Quisenberry is president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state charter school association. A graduate of Michigan State University, he’s been the president of MAPSA since 1997, and is one of the leading education policy experts in the state. MAPSA represents more than 90 percent of charter schools in the state.
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