In Legislative Update, Press Release

American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker, along with Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, appeared before the State Board of Education in Lansing today. The two leaders, whose unions represent nearly 175,000 education professionals, were invited by the board to share ideas that will help make Michigan public schools among the best in the nation. Both presidents provided specific recommendations to achieve that goal.

Cook stressed the need for coherence in education policy and decision making.

“First and foremost, if Michigan is to again become a leader in education, we need education policymakers to make a fairly simple commitment—agree on what you want taught to Michigan students; then provide us the training, resources and time so that we can make that happen; and finally, hold us accountable as professionals for following through on those decisions,” Cook stated.

Cook was critical of roller coaster ride off changing policies, changing expectations and changing learning conditions educators, students and schools have experienced over the last decade.

“Educators can’t help but feel a bit like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football—only to have it yanked on us every time we try,” said Cook.

The myriad of changes has not only resulted in a lack of cohesion in education policy has also brought about a tremendous loss of morale among teachers.

“Educators are demoralized. They feel they have been blamed and ostracized when ever changing policies do not produce intended results. This explains why enrollment in teacher preparation programs is at an all-time low and turnover among new teachers is at an all-time high,” said Cook.

Hecker also stressed the need for stability in both education policy and funding.

“A district’s revenue changes based on student enrollment, but having fewer students doesn’t necessarily change what’s needed to be spent on a well-rounded education. Unfortunately, important programs that expose students to the arts, literature, physical education and multicultural curriculums are often the first to be cut to make way for test prep or in response to budget cuts,” Hecker stated.

President Hecker also stressed the need to address the increasing rate of childhood poverty in Michigan as part of the solution to increase educational achievement.

“Research is telling us that if we don’t address the impact of poverty, we are stunting the ability of kids to achieve. Too often, teachers are blamed for not being able to teach around poverty, but the simple fact is, hungry kids can’t learn,” Hecker said.

In light of the less than stellar academic performance and billion dollar plus state investment in charter schools, Hecker also felt policy makers should look at reforming the way charter schools are created.

“For-profit charter schools are part of Michigan’s public education system, but we need authorizers to be held accountable for improving schools, and we need a coordinated charter system. Requiring a “certificate of need” to open a new charter would help create that coordinated system. It would ensure that a new charter is adding value to a community’s educational landscape, not simply profit to its corporate owner.

Both President Cook and President Hecker applauded Superintendent of Public Instruction, Brian Whiston and the board for their recent decision to decrease the amount of classroom time spent on standardized testing, citing it as clear evidence that policy makers are not only willing to listen, but to act on input from education professionals.

See a transcription of their testimony below:

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