The primary election is over, and to no one’s surprise, Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos are the Democrat and Republican candidates for governor. Both have spent a great deal of time during this election season talking about jobs, Michigan’s future and education – and how the three are so closely related. Both want to make education in Michigan better, but both have very different ideas on how to accomplish that goal.
Granholm gets MEA endorsement
"No one’s education should end at high school"
Granholm, 47, was part of the driving force behind the state Board of Education’s push for new high school graduation requirements, which include 16 credits of math, science, social studies, English and foreign language. Because of the high-level math and science classes that will soon be required in high school, some concern exists about the number of teachers qualified to teach those subjects.
"The governor is very supportive of Superintendent (Mike) Flanagan’s efforts to bring a mission-driven approach to Michigan’s colleges and universities that certify teachers," Chuck Wilbur, Granholm’s education adviser, told Michigan Education Report. "The question remains as to why we’re turning out more phys ed teachers than physics teachers."
Wilbur said Flanagan is addressing how to work with the colleges and universities to meet the state’s specific needs for teachers.
"When it comes to recertifying them as teacher trainers, it’s not automatic," Wilbur said. "They have to earn it."
Wilbur said Granholm also is open to the concept of alternative teacher certification, as long as there are specific standards in place and the process is not too heavily relied upon.
"We have this whole elaborate system set up for training teachers," he said. "We don’t want to solve things overall through alternative certification."
Wilbur said people who want to change careers and go into teaching would still have to learn how to teach.
"There are essentials on knowing how to teach," he said. "It’s not just knowledge of a subject."
Although more than a dozen years old, the issue of charter public schools in Michigan can sometimes cause consternation. The Michigan Education Association school employee union, which endorsed Granholm in June, did not bother to interview any other gubernatorial candidates before voting unanimously to back Granholm, according to the union’s Web site. The MEA for the better part of a year has been locked in a court battle attempting to defund 32 public charter schools authorized by Bay Mills Community College.
"Everyone needs to realize that charter schools are in the public school family," Wilbur said. "Anyone who thinks otherwise is just wrong."
Granholm in the fall of 2005 sent a letter to an advisory committee overseeing the Detroit Public Schools transition back to an elected school board that indicated she would not support any discussion from DPS calling for a ban on charter schools.
"The committee put together a draft letter that called not just for a cap on charter schools, but eliminating them altogether," Wilbur said. "The governor thought that was a very extreme solution."
DPS at the time was moving back to an elected school board after five years of state control.
"The governor basically told them the focus needed to be on having more good schools and giving more options to parents on where they want to send their kids," Wilbur said. "Talking about eliminating the competition would not have been a good thing."
Wilbur said Granholm’s support of new graduation requirements will help more people earn what she calls "tickets of value."
"No one’s education should end in high school," Wilbur said. "That saying pretty much drives our policy. There aren’t many jobs that are suited to just a high school diploma alone."
Wilbur said the new high school graduation requirements will help expose more students to more options.
"No ninth or tenth grader should be making decisions about their future that limits their options," Wilbur said. "They can end up closing off whole areas of life."
While Granholm in the past has said she would like to see a higher percentage of Michigan residents earn college degrees, Wilbur said she realizes a bachelor’s degree is not for everyone.
"Whether it’s a four-year degree, a Ph.D., an associate’s degree or a six-month training course for phlebotomists, people need some broad sweep of specialized training."
Toward that goal, Granholm supports a change in the Michigan Merit Award scholarship. Rather than giving $2,500 to high school graduates who score well on the MEAP to use toward college costs, she wants $4,000 available for students who pursue some type of post-secondary education, including community colleges and vocational training programs. The money would be awarded in stages, with $1,000 for each student in their first two years of school, and another $2,000 after completing two years.
"That way, the students have some sweat equity in their education," Wilbur said. "There are lots of people who continue on in school and have great success, but they’re never going to score in the top half of a standardized test."
While Granholm has not publicly come out in support of the November ballot measure that would require mandatory funding increases for public schools, she has worked with the Legislature to boost the minimum foundation grant. She does not, however, favor mandating a certain percentage of that money be spent in certain ways.
"The 65 percent issue is really an artificial distinction," Wilbur said. "It’s not as if you can say that some spending in schools is for the kids and others is not. We don’t believe you can accomplish more in the classroom by eliminating a bus driver or a school social worker."
Granholm also disagrees with individual merit pay for teachers, as well as any sweeping changes to the way districts acquire health insurance for employees.
"There are competing interests in the health insurance debate," Wilbur said. "One side feels it’s important to offer good benefits to attract the best and the brightest, while the other side feels a need to control costs. That’s what the bargaining process is for, to sort out those issues."
As for merit pay, Wilbur said Granholm does support it if done in a "collective" manner for teachers.
When you use merit pay, it should be something that pulls people together and encourages teamwork," Wilbur said. "Like challenging a whole building to improve."
DeVos favors merit pay, insurance reform
Vouchers: "I have set that aside"
DeVos, 50, is most well known in education circles for his involvement with the failed voucher ballot initiative in 2000. The measure, which would have allowed parents to spend a portion of the state perpupil allowance to send their children to an independent school, was defeated by a 70-30 margin.
"The Constitution of Michigan is what it is," DeVos recently told The Grand Rapids Press. "The people of Michigan spoke clearly on their concern about the voucher proposal we put forward. I have set that aside."
DeVos has said he will not pursue the voucher issue if elected governor, although he and his wife, Betsy, have remained active and involved in school choice issues over the years. According to The Press, the DeVos family has given some $7 million since 1999 in their fight to expand school choice issues, including support for vouchers, tax credits, charter schools – and the candidates who support such reform policies. All Children Matter, a Grand Rapids-based foundation DeVos founded, has given money to those candidates nationwide. The privately-funded Education Freedom Fund, which gives scholarships to low-income families who want to send their children to independent schools, has spent about $3.6 million over the past three years, according to the Grand Rapids Institute for Institutional Democracy.
"Dick is a practical guy," Greg McNeily, DeVos’s campaign manager, told Michigan Education Report. "As far as Michigan is concerned, the voters have spoken decisively about vouchers. Now it’s time to fix education for all kids and it has to be done in a context that doesn’t include vouchers."
McNeily said DeVos is "passionate" about education, and does pay attention to the nuances of education reform that is occurring in other states.
In his "Turn Michigan Around Plan," DeVos lays out several education policy ideas and initiatives without once mentioning vouchers or tax credits. The 64-page document, which covers everything from jobs to agriculture to taxes, discusses what the candidate thinks Michigan needs to do to promote a competitive, successful educational atmosphere for the new century.
For example, DeVos supports incentive-based pay for teachers, as well as reforming the way health insurance is made available to public school employees, two areas where the Michigan Education Association union and DeVos disagree strongly.
"Dick knows that changing the way health insurance is delivered to teachers can be done so that we not only maintain the same high quality they’re getting now at a more competitive rate, but that $200 million dollars a year that can be saved can be directed toward the classroom, or maybe even toward more teacher compensation," McNeily said.
Aside from merit pay, DeVos also supports alternative certification and other incentives for people who want to teach math and science, especially for working professionals who have real-life experience in those fields.
"The fact that a Nobel laureate can’t teach in a Michigan high school is just insane," McNeily said. "We don’t live in a single-career environment anymore. People change careers four, five, six times now. And with early retirement, a lot of people could bring some phenomenal life experiences to the teaching profession."
DeVos, who served on the Michigan State Board of Education and the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees, did support the changes made by the Legislature that put in place mandated curriculum requirements for high school graduation.
The increased graduation requirements is just the beginning," McNeily said. "They have to be supported now, and there’s a lot of recruitment to do in getting the most qualified math and science teachers in the schools to teach these subjects."
McNeily said alternative certi- fication can be a short-term solution to that problem.
"It’s really going to hit us in the fall of 2008, when those eighth graders roll over into high school," he said.
Although the idea behind the change in graduation requirements was to make Michigan more competitive by increasing the number of students who leave high school ready to go to college, McNeily said DeVos supports enhancing opportunities for those who do not plan on attending four-year universities, including community college programs, trades and technical training.
"College is certainly a goal, but it’s not for everyone," McNeily said. "We still have to help those who don’t go, so they can have the opportunity to realize all of their potential and talents."
While Michigan continues to spend record levels of public dollars on public schools, DeVos’s plan calls for guidelines to spend more of that money in the classroom. His "Turn Michigan Around Plan" says that only 57 percent of the tax dollars allocated to public schools actually reach the classroom, which ranks Michigan 49th in that category. Often called the "65 percent solution," DeVos’s plan sets that amount as a minimum for the amount of funding spent on classroom needs.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, "classroom" spending includes teachers, aides, supplies, field trips and activities. It does not include administration, operations and maintenance, food service, transportation, teacher training or support staff such as nurses and counselors.
"That should be a bare minimum," McNeily said. "Spending most of the money on teachers and students only makes sense."