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Amid DPS chaos, MI looks to become a top 10 education state

classroom photo
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The potential bankruptcy of Detroit Public Schools is dominating education headlines, but Michigan officials are trying to look beyond the current emergency and put the state on the track to becoming a top 10 education state by 2026. Current State talks to the president of the State Board of Education, John Austin, about what it will take to do that.

Michigan’s educational performance has flatlined in recent years. Once a leader in student achievement, the state is now falling behind traditionally underperforming states like Tennessee and Florida. But State Superintendent Brian Whiston and the Michigan Board of Education have plans to turn the ship around. They recently released a set of strategies to make Michigan one of the top ten states for education in the next ten years.

Current State talks with John Austin, president of the State Board of Education, about what it would take to accomplish this ambitious goal.


What are some of the biggest challenges that Detroit Public Schools currently faces?

“Lifting the debt and repurposing DPS so the debt is not dragging resources out of the classroom. Returning local, democratic control to DPS. The missing piece is some version of a Detroit education commission, or some entity that can manage all public schools in Detroit to make sure they’re quality and accessible. More kids in Detroit don’t go to DPS than do go to them.” -- John Austin

How far would these proposed changes go towards facing these challenges?

“They would go two-thirds of the way. They will leave the financial challenges of declining enrollment in DPS, and of charter schools who don’t educate kids if they continue to proliferate. Lifting the debt, though, will mean resources can flow. Restoring local control will do a lot to restore confidence and end the tension, while placing accountability back where it belongs.

The symptoms of what we’re seeing in Detroit is happening all over Michigan too. We need a statewide plan to manage for quality. Public schools, charter schools, virtual schools - and traditional schools. Where we have a market that already exists - like Detroit - we need to manage all those public schools and insist on quality.” -- Austin

On some of the “top ten” strategies

“Enhancing early childhood education dramatically. Making sure we’re doing better to prepare support and reward excellent teaching. At the other end of the continuum, making sure our kids get early college credit and have post-secondary education opportunities in high school. That can fast track their post-secondary learning for all kids. Continuing the path we’ve been on for high learning standards, and providing a different way of funding schools. These are the kind of strategies that top performing states - that are blowing by Michigan - have put in place.” -- Austin

On the future of education in Michigan

“Our goal is to a move a family of high-yield strategies that can work to get us where we need to be - in the top ten in academic achievement. We’re not there right now. We’re down at 35th or so. Michigan, with our great schools and universities, needs to be the education state. We need to focus on what moves that needle, and the “top ten” strategy does a long way in putting us in that direction.” -- Austin

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