More than 100 members of the University and Ann Arbor community gathered in the Michigan League on Thursday night for a public education forum held by the State Board of Education to encourage discussion about the state of public education.
In response to recent education reforms and budget cuts proposed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, including a 15-percent cut to higher education, the SBE planned an education forum series to promote conversation about education in the state. The University was one of multiple hosting sites for the symposium, along with Grand Rapids, Clinton Township, Detroit and Mount Pleasant.
According to an address delivered by Snyder to the Michigan Legislature on April 27, he plans to reorganize the education system to increase the quality of teacher training, including instating a requirement for more in-class experience during their preparation. Additionally, he said he hopes to shift the focus of education to the quality of student learning and test results.
Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the SBE, said the organization plays an important role in recommending methods for implementing top-quality education programs in Michigan to the state legislature, adding that ultimately they have little power in determining the end result of state budget reforms.
“One of the primary things we don’t have authority over is the budget … but we do have constitutional responsibility that we take very seriously to advocate on behalf of education to the legislature and tell them what we think investment needs to look like in order to have the system that’s going to be the most productive, efficient and effective,” Ulbrich said.
During the discussion forum, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education,
said problems arise due to the lack of both an established national training system for teachers and guidelines of what constitutes an effective educator.
“The problem that I can’t overemphasize to you is that we have no system in this country for producing skillful teachers,” Ball said. “But we have no agreement on what it is that people have to know to be teachers.”
Many other education quality advocates took turns addressing the SBE about funding various aspects of the teaching field, including a personal finance class, project-based learning, innovative technology and tenure.
Brit Satchwell, president of the Ann Arbor Education Association teacher’s union, argued that education reform has taken on the implication of budget cuts rather than initiatives to improve the quality of education.
“For many years now, we’ve started with the assumption that we have to take money we’ve gotten, cut back from there rather than starting with the needs of students and funding forward from there on,” he said.
Chuck Fellows, a former Democratic candidate for Michigan state Senate, said modern education policy is straying away from the goal of allowing children to effectively learn by instead focusing more on standardized testing and funding.
“Current educational positions are about ranking and reading, winning and losing, command and control, policy and procedure, and money,” Fellow said. “Nowhere can we find in there the true purpose of education, which is learning. All children know how to do that, and somehow we beat that ability out of them.”