The measures of our educational shortcomings are stark indeed; most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in either reading or mathematics.
We decided on the following goal: to grade all 50 states and Washington, DC, on their K-12 school systems in order to identify both leaders and laggards in the tough business of school performance.
Only about two-thirds of all 9th graders graduate from high school within four years. And those students who do receive diplomas are too often unprepared for college or the modern workplace.
Liberal, conservative groups agree: school reforms critical
Michgan's -- and America's -- schools need reform in improving management, collecting data, fostering innovation and improving teacher quality, according to a report from a liberal and business group working togehter.
The Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, and the United States Chamber of Commerce worked together on the presentation, "Non-traditional Approaches to Education Reform."
The stakes are high, according to Arthur J. Rothkopf, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber and head of its Institute for a Competitive Workforce.
"What's at stake is no less than the continued viability of the American economy and the American dream ... the gradual decline of America as an economic and technological superpower," he said.
Rothkopf said Michigan earned mostly C's among the states on nine criteria in the study's report card. Michigan got a C in the overall report, and in the sub-scores for performance of low-income and minority students, return on investment, truth in advertising on student proficiency, the rigor of its education standards and post-secondary and work force readiness.
It earned B's in having quality teachers and flexibility of school management, but a D in data quality in terms of what's available datawise to judge schools upon.
Podesta presented the four areas the two organizations are focusing on for improvements.
First, he said "much of what ails schools these days is a matter of management, organizational and communications discipline.
Michigan is doing some things well here," with principals having a lot of influence on school hiring, a strong charter school law and a virtual school, but could be doing better in giving principals more control over their local school budget. He also called Michgi's new graduation requirements "a great achievement for the state."
In terms of data, Podesta said Michigan's school achievement data is "alarmingly limited" except as regards individual students. "You're in business -- can you imagine running your business without key metrics of success?" Podesta asked the crowd. "Yet that's what's happening in schools today."
In terms of the third area, encouraing innovation and exprimentation, Podesta said Michgian needs to experiment more with apprenticeshps, smaller learning communities and increasing learning time -- though it's doing well in areas like the Freedom to Learn program and being the first state in the nation to require passing an online course for high school graduation.
The final area for improvement, teacher quality, is critical for Michigan, Podesta said. The negative impact of an inexperienced, out-of-subject teacher vs. a very good one can be a full year of achievement.
Overall, Podesta said, the reforms called for in his report "will require nothing less than recreating the apparatus of American education."
Both men said teacher unions also have to be drawn into the effort, despite initial suspicions and opposition. In Chicago, for example, teachers are helping design a pay-for-performance system, and there's also a federal bill with bipartisan support to break up the lockstep nature of teacher pay.
For the full report card, visit www.uschamber.com/reportcard.