Substitution of Merit for Tenure.
In place of the existing, statewide Tenure Act, individual schools should be free to develop their own tenure and seniority systems, or adopt employment-at-will (subject to the same wrongful discharge law that applies in the private sector). This will free schools to reward teachers based on merit.
In other parts of the nation, schools are beginning to explore new opportunities for hiring teacher entrepreneurs. At least one private firm based in Birmingham, Michigan is already selling its tutorial services directly to parents. The Reading & Language Arts Center, begun less than two years ago with just two tutors, now employs 20 part-time tutors and is planning to expand to neighboring communities.
Michigan public schools should be encouraged to contract with such firms to help meet their instructional needs. Rather than being bound by district-wide collective bargaining arrangements, schools should feel free to engage the individual teachers or instructional firms of their choosing. This would inject a healthy dose of competition and entrepreneurial thinking into teaching, and provide new opportunities for superior teachers to perform at their best.
At the start of each school year, it seems inevitable that children somewhere in the state will become the pawns of politics as schools are threatened with shutdowns. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan, though the law is not enforced. School management should be allowed to fill any positions left vacant by absent teachers, so that education can continue as scheduled. Our children are too important for their education to be dealt with otherwise.
School-based certification should be emphasized and the current state certification rules should be relaxed or eliminated. School administrators should have greater freedom than under current rules to hire people they regard as both knowledgeable and effective teachers, whether or not those people have certain credentials from the state. Currently, it would be illegal for Albert Einstein to teach in a Michigan public school.
This opens the door to individual schools establishing their own "certification" guidelines as to who they will hire, which likely would be tailored to the school's particular needs and make much more sense than state rules.
Wise Use of Resources.
Containment of costs through appropriate privatization of support functions should become a normal business procedure for schools. Food services, custodial work, and transportation are prime candidates for improvements in quality, efficiency, as well as cost control, by contracting out. Schools should adopt an open, competitive bid process that maximizes accountability and other benefits derived from utilizing the marketplace.
Competition for Health Insurance.
Teacher health insurance should also be subject to a competitive bid process. The current arrangement in more than 300 districts, whereby a single provider who refuses to make its actuarial data available makes non-purchase of its service a strike issue, is poor public policy.
Cut State Bureaucracy.
School-based management might be further enhanced by an appropriate downsizing of the state's Department of Education, where three employees presently reside for every one school superintendent in the state. Its function as a distributor of federal funds might be handled by the Department of Management and Budget. The Governor should appoint a blue ribbon commission to study ways to reduce and streamline the state's duties in education, so as to enhance local school autonomy.