VIDEO: Improving Education in Michigan

July 16, 2012

How can we attract and retain good teachers in Michigan, and what can be done to improve our state's education system? It's a question that was raised at a June 19, 2012, virtual town hall with Governor Rick Snyder, and the governor had some answers. (See video above.) Here are some key quotes from the governor's response:

On the Importance of Teachers and Reforming the System

Having good teachers is really important, and I can appreciate how they might feel put upon because we've done a lot of what I would describe as education reform. And we've talked a lot about challenges in our education system because our education system does not work well when you look at the whole system.

On the Performance of Our Schools

Only about 17 percent of the kids when they get out of school are truly college ready - and again it should be college or career ready - in terms of how they're performing. That's only one score I'll give you. But the other one I use to sort of make sure I wasn't missing something - another metric that I also use to sort of tie into that, another measure - and the other measure is we start looking at the community colleges. And I love community colleges. I started at community college before I went off to the University of Michigan. I started at Kellogg Community College. We started looking at community colleges across Michigan asking them, "What percentage of your kids have to take a remedial class before they're ready to take an entry level class?" You know what that percentage runs typically? It runs about 60 to 70 percent. That's a travesty to say that you have kids who have a high school diploma and they have to take a remedial class before they can take an entry level class. That's not right, either.

On Empowering Teachers

Our system doesn't work the way it should. We spend a lot of money, but we're not seeing the outcome, the student growth that we should get. The issue is not the teachers though. It's the system. How we're doing things. And that's part of the reform focus that we have - is how do we restructure our education system to get the best outcome. And part of that is empowering teachers more.

So one of the things that I called for in our education message was actually creating a "master teacher" category. And that's really the point. Think about this. If you're a great teacher, what do you look to today for your career path, quite often, in terms of you want more money or rewards to keep moving up the so-called ladder? In some ways, they're almost forced to say they want to be a principal or go into administration somehow. Think about how kind of goofy that is. You take the very best teachers and say, "OK, now we want you to move on up so you're not teaching anymore." That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me because we didn't create another path for them. So can we create a "master teacher" category to say the very best teachers can continue to teach, but as part of this master concept, they would be mentors to other teachers. They would help develop other teachers, or they could help go around and do evaluations and reviews of other teachers.

So one of the things we just put in this last budget is a whole program that's being led by the deans of -- many of the deans of the schools of education in Michigan. It's a teacher effectiveness tool to say how do we develop a system to help teachers improve their own performance in a thoughtful, good way.

On Innovations in the Classroom

The other one is - I'm really excited about - there's some new great things coming about education. And one of the terms is - I don't know if you've come across the term - it's called "flipping the classroom," which is to turn things around from the days we went to school, which is basically say, "You're going to end up doing homework when you go to school, and you're going to learn stuff when you're at home." And they're going to leverage technology to be able to track how you're doing. And I'll use math as an illustration. With technology now - literally they could keep track if you do everything on the computer. And again, there's a question of access of the computers or netbooks or tools for all our kids. But you can track all that.

So right now a teacher traditionally has to teach to sort of the average of the class. They have to pick one point they want to teach to, and it's hard for them to keep up on one student getting in trouble in a particular area versus another student in another area, knowing where everyone's at - at every moment. Now with technology, you can literally see every problem they got right, every problem they got wrong, how long it took them to get an answer, and be able to work with those kids more individually, then. And I think that's a lot more rewarding for a teacher to be able to actually start coaching more on the individual basis rather than sort of saying, because they're feeling compelled to keep with the lesson plan, they have to keep moving along.

I think there's some cool things. Again this is very early stage, but there's a lot of exciting things I think we're going to see over the next five and ten years that hopefully are going to get teachers all fired up through this phase of making the transitions and the reforms.

Read more about Governor Rick Snyder's plan for reinventing Michigan's education system.