Education challenges

MARQUETTE – Members of the Michigan House Democrats Education Task Force held their fifth in a series of meetings – this time in Marquette Monday morning – to hear testimony from Lake Superior State University President Anthony McLain on the problems with Michigan’s public school system.

“Somewhere there’s a disconnect between what we say is going on and what’s really happening,” McLain said, addressing the panel of legislators seated in the Marquette City Commission Chambers in city hall.

The panel was comprised of Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette; Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, co-chairman of the task force; Rep. Theresa Abed, D-Grand Ledge; Rep. Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor; and Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor. Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, the panel co-chairwoman, participated via the Internet.

McLain, who formerly was superintendent of Superior Central Schools in Eben, spoke for more than an hour, telling the panel that many of the problems discussed in the public – low test scores, poor achievement, school violence – were not as bad as everyone seemed to think.

Specifically, McLain addressed the problem of standardized testing, saying not only are standardized tests poor tools for evaluating what a child has learned, they are designed poorly, ensuring roughly 50 percent of students likely won’t meet or exceed their “grade level” averages.

McLain said since the grade level averages are calculated by averaging the scores of all students in a particular grade, it stands to reason a large portion of students won’t be able to hit grade level.

McLain also argued testing should be used as a teaching tool and not as proof of a student’s knowledge in any particular subject.

“We’ve made test scores the result of education, the end result, the goal of education, not what it used to be – a measurement tool to just kind of help you along in the process,” McLain said. “It’s now the gold standard.”

McLain also argued for better state funding for public education, both at the K-12 and secondary level.

“We’ve never really tried what happens if we really do invest considerable sums in education,” McLain said. “It’s never happened.”

McLain also made the argument for more local control of school systems, saying the more control a community has over its schools, the more invested the community is in it schools.

He also argued that state-mandated programming does not work in Michigan, where large urban areas and small rural communities often face vastly different problems.

“The answers for Detroit Public and the answers for Superior Central, you don’t even have the same questions,” McLain said.

The panel also heard testimony briefly from three local school district superintendents, Gwinn Area Community Schools Interim Superintendent Stephen Piereson, Negaunee Public Schools Superintendent James Derocher and NICE Community Schools Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine.

The panel is expecting to compile a report evaluating the state’s education system and offering ideas on how to improve it later this year.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.