Michigan has been blessed with an abundance of outstanding teachers and school administrators. The question is, Why have they not achieved the success they deserve?
A decade ago, those who argued that the system was the problem, that it needed to be opened up to the rigors of the marketplace and customer service, were voices in the wilderness. Today that view predominates, and serious reformers differ only in terms of how far they are willing to go in this direction. The advantages of the market now drive the debate. Those who favor monopoly, centralization, lack of choice, and bureaucracy are confined in number to those who derive benefit as vested interests in the status quo, and have been largely discredited in the eyes of thinking people.
The ultimate goal of reform ought to be full educational choice, a system that does not limit choice only to government schools. Parents who choose private schools, by electing to pay twice for the education of their children, have taken the notion of "parental involvement" literally and often at great sacrifice. They are choosing schools that, with few exceptions, are marked by success at remarkably low cost. Unfortunately, many parents are unable to afford this choice.
Accordingly, the Mackinac Center believes the principal order of business must be to clear the decks of artificial barriers to a full choice system that would involve both public and private schools. Repeal of Article 8, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution – which prevents any sort of publicly-funded full choice system – is the means to accomplish that.
At the same time, it is important that measures be implemented that will improve the public schools by making them more competitive, responsive and accountable in a way that does no harm to the goal of full choice. This is the backdrop against which the Mackinac Center's following plan is framed.
Organized under four "pillars," the Mackinac Center education reform plan for Michigan seeks to infuse marketplace virtues into the provision of education in our state. Those virtues include parental choice, diversity, competition, accountability, cost containment, privatization of support services, local control via empowered parents and school management, entrepreneurial opportunities for teachers and administrators, decentralization, and the creation of new schools.
Michigan's educational industry costs too much and produces too little. It is resistant to change and bound by excessive bureaucracy. It too often serves the provider, not the customer. Indeed, the message it sends to parents again and again is, the system is more important than the children. Its inherent bias against choice bears striking resemblance to the sentiments expressed by the builders of the Berlin Wall for 30 years: "We can't take the wall down because someone might leave." Any effective reform today will, by definition, move us toward a market-oriented arrangement.
The Mackinac Center plan stands in stark contrast to punitive, top-down, mandate-laden proposals that fail to treat teachers and administrators as the professionals that they are. It does not employ the rhetoric of the school-bashers. It is not saturated with mandates from state or local governments. It does not see teachers or administrators as the problem; rather, it views the system as the problem, with teachers and administrators victims of it almost as often as parents and children. The plan seeks to liberate those who can teach, those who can manage, and those who have children, to achieve their fullest potential in a new system that rewards excellence, innovation, and sound choices.
Following are the four pillars of the Mackinac Center plan, each explained in outline form. Additional technical details for implementation will follow in subsequent presentations.