[Photo of Michael Van Beek]

Michael Van Beek

Director of Research

Michael Van Beek is director of research for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He joined the Mackinac Center in June 2009 as director of education policy. He has authored several studies for the Center as well as analysis and commentaries that have been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, The Grand Rapids Press, The Oakland Press and elsewhere.

For four years prior to working at the Center, Van Beek taught political philosophy, government, economics and history at North Hills Classical Academy, a private primary and secondary school in Grand Rapids. He also served one year as a North Hills assistant administrator.

Van Beek obtained his Master of Arts in American history from Purdue University and his Bachelor of Arts in history from Hope College.

He lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife, three children, a dog and an assortment of semi-domesticated creatures, including a coyote named Gandalf, a fox named Felix and the Harrisons, a family of red-tail hawks.

Show Us the Savings

In response to Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's plan to, among other things, reduce public employee pay by 5 percent, the Michigan Education Association is repeating a claim they've made in the past. This time around, the MEA asserts that they've saved taxpayers $1 billion by accepting reduced compensation packages through their locally bargained contracts. The statistics tell a different story. … more

Kids in Head Start Still End Up Behind

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows the limited effectiveness of early education programs. Students in the nation's most extensive pre-kindergarten program — Head Start — were shown to have lost all cognitive gains by the end of first grade. Proponents of universal and state-run pre-K should take notice. … more

How to Remove an Ineffective Tenured Teacher in 13 Easy Steps

Recent Michigan legislation hypothetically makes it easier for schools to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. However, some districts are claiming they already have good evaluation systems in place. For a glimpse into how the current process works, here's a step-by-step look at how one school district handles ineffective teachers. … more

A Lost Decade for School Budgets?

A recent Gongwer story (subscription required) paints a dreary portrait of Michigan's education funding over the last decade, or what they term the "lost decade." The article states that since 2000 education "was one of the first budgets hit with cuts and freezes." When it comes to K-12 schools, a broader perspective reveals a different story. … more

Allow Full High School Access to Two-Year Colleges

Michigan pays twice when high schools and community colleges overlap services and offer the same courses. In addition, studies estimate that community colleges spend one-third of their time providing remedial education, essentially doing the job that high schools are supposed to do. Allowing students to skip some high school extracurricular courses and move on to college earlier would lessen this redundancy and give many students a jump start on job training or a four-year degree. … more

That Same Old Story

Michigan schools once again are said to be facing a "funding crisis," and the apparent solution boils down to rounding up more revenue to feed them. The only problem with this simplistic solution is: It. Won't. Work. … more

'Race to the Top' Realities

Now that the Michigan Legislature finally passed some school reform bills in its attempt to get a potential one-time payment of $400 million from the federal government, let's put this "Race to the Top" program into perspective. … more

High-Flying Home-Schoolers

A recent Detroit News article, inappropriately titled "Lax home-school laws put kids at risk," states that current Michigan law prevents us from finding out how well home-schooled students are doing academically. Home-schoolers in Michigan aren't required to take standardized tests, as they do in other states, but Michigan home-schoolers sometimes take them voluntarily. The results from these tests are very impressive. … more

Welcome, MDFER!

A new school choice group calls Michigan home. … more

Charter School Expansion: House-Style

Gongwer reports that Michigan's House Education Committee approved a charter school expansion bill Thursday, but only after shackling it with some debilitating amendments … more

A Capital Idea

Following news of Detroit Public Schools scoring record lows on a national test, an editorial in The Detroit News recommends following the lead of Washington, D.C., which adopted a mayoral control system. The editorial cites the effective control that resulted as the recipe for success. Unfortunately, The News bypassed the most effective reform in the nation's capital: The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. … more

Bloomfield Hills Sings the Blues

A recent rally at West Bloomfield High School was apparently arranged by "madder than hell" parents, who are responding to contacts from school employees requesting their support in opposing reductions to state funding. Since all school districts are experiencing cuts, it's rather surprising that such a rally would come from some of Michigan's most luxuriously funded schools. … more

Is That Your Final Answer?

According to a recent poll, 60 percent of 600 Michigan voters believe schools are underfunded and another 83 percent think teacher pay is about right or too low.
As much as anything, polls like this measure respondents' knowledge of the particular issue. Studies show that when respondents know the facts, their opinions on public education issues change significantly.
If told that total school revenue increased by 33 percent in the last 15 years even after adjusting for inflation — the 2008 Michigan school district average was $13,000 per student — would 60 percent still think schools need more money? Would people still think teachers need higher pay if informed that average teacher salaries in Michigan are among the nation's highest? … more

Unions Nix Job-Saving Plan

Union leaders seek to prevent teachers in a West Michigan school district from taking pay cuts to save their co-workers' jobs. … more

Alabama Blows Away School Funding "Crisis" Smoke

While Michigan's school funding "crisis" rages on, the Alabama Board of Education just came up with a plan to balance the state's education budget in one day. … more

Some Perspective on '20j' School District Funding Cuts

Funding cuts for Michigan's wealthier school districts isn't as bad as some make it sound. … more

Our Educational Investment

Since Proposal A of 1994, inflation-adjusted total revenue for public schools grew by 33 percent. What have we got for this investment? The chart below provides some answers. … more

School Funding Myths

With much talk about school budgets and per-pupil costs of public education in Michigan, there's bound to be plenty of questions and assumptions made about our school funding system. Here's a breakdown of two common myths about one of the most misunderstood concepts — the foundation allowance. … more

Cuts to the Classroom

Assuming an average class size of 25 students, the $292 per-pupil cut currently debated in the Legislature means that each classroom in the state will have to make do with $7,300 less funding. It’s easy to picture classrooms without enough textbooks, pencils or chalk. The reality, though, is that comparatively schools spend very little on classroom supplies such as these. … more

Not As Good As You Think

A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics contains some bad news for Michigan schools. When compared to proficiency standards on national tests, Michigan's self-proclaimed "proficient" students score near the bottom in the country. … more

Assumptions and Realities

The"Center for Michigan" group has released a study showing that not all Michigan school districts are meeting the federally suggested 180-day school year. Underlying the length of the school year debate is the assumption that more time in school increases student achievement. Unfortunately, it doesn't. … more

10,000 Teacher Layoffs? Let's Try Zero Instead.

The Michigan Education Association is trying to scare the public and the Legislature by claiming that a $218 per pupil reduction in the state school aid fund would result in 10,000 teacher layoffs. Looking closely at teacher compensation shows that we could achieve the same savings with exactly zero layoffs, and even if savings came directly from layoffs, it would be less than a quarter of what the MEA threatens. … more

Pupil Count Day

For public schools and their employees, "pupil count day" is one of the most important days on the school calendar. Judging by the actions of some large school districts throughout the state, count day trumps the first day of school, MEAP testing days, and graduation day. Many schools go all out trying to corral as many students as possible to show up on this day-of-days. … more

Faux Savings

The Michigan Education Association union is leading the education establishment's attacks on lawmakers plan to pass a no-new-taxes budget that among other things reduces state spending on public schools. In a podcast posted yesterday, MEA president Iris K. Salters repeated a claim she made in an Aug. 26 Detroit News Op-Ed, that school employees "probably have saved over $700 million" in health care costs. Salters does not disclose the source of this figure. … more

Michigan Parents Choose Choice

Do parents really want school choice? Ab-so-lutely. According to a Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency report titled “Explaining School Choice,” when given the ability to choose their children’s school, Michigan parents are exercising that choice at increasing rates. … more

State Tested, State Approved

Michigan law mandates that nearly all teachers pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification. The state claims these tests are “criterion referenced and objective based,” but reading through some of the sample questions provided on the MTTC Web site, I wonder how “objective” these tests really are. It’s well known that universities are disproportionately staffed with men and women of the left, but it’s rather startling to find the same type of ideological bias in state-mandated teacher certification tests. … more

Longer School Year Won’t Improve Student Achievement

Voices around the state and prominent education officials are calling for Michigan to lengthen its school year and increase the amount of time students spend in class. … more