[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.

Measuring Charter Public School Performance

Measuring charter school performance is fundamentally different than measuring conventional school performance. … more

Saline Schools’ ‘Last in, First out’ Victims

Union's interests trumps those of teachers, students and parents. … more

Michigan School Spending Hits All-Time High

Per-pupil public school spending set a new record in 2010. … more

School Districts Ignoring Labor Market Signals

Schools need to apply law of supply and demand to teachers. … more

Should Education Money Only be for K-12?

The truth behind the School Aid Fund. … more

Average Teacher Salary in Michigan Rises Again

According to new data just released by the Michigan Department of Education for the 2009-2010 school year, the average teacher salary in Michigan has risen for the 13th consecutive year. This most recent data puts the figure at $63,024. … more

'Controlling' School Health Insurance Costs, Local Style

Four days after Gov. Rick Snyder recommended a 2011-2012 budget that would reduce state aid for schools by $300 per pupil from this year’s levels, the Petoskey school board proposed a plan to reduce the district’s teacher and support staff health insurance costs. Its timidity reveals why the public school establishment finds even the prospect of modest state funding reductions so traumatic. … more

Michigan Schools Still Well-Funded Under Governor's Plan

Even if Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed spending reductions on K-12 schools passes the Republcian Legislature, Michigan taxpayers will still supply schools with more money per pupil than taxpayers in 28 other states. … more

The MEA's Mob Mentality: If We All Strike, You Probably Won't Be Fired

In contemplating a statewide teacher strike, the Michigan Education Association appeals to peer pressure in advising its members on whether to approve an illegal strike. … more

Michigan Ain't Wisconsin, But Their Teachers Unions Share a Playbook

Gov. Rick Snyder has stated that “Michigan is not Wisconsin,” and that he doesn’t want to pick a fight with unions. Yet when it comes to the costs of school employee benefits, Michigan is eerily similar to Wisconsin, and in both states the root cause is also the same: government employee union collective bargaining privileges. … more

Update of New Teacher Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate current contracts or negotiate new ones with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to recently. … more

Fact Check: Warren Schools' False Budget Cut Claim

The practice is widespread. Teachers union officials and even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have employed similar "creative" definitions of fiscal terms to support their talking points. … more

Benefits or Jobs: Schools, Legislature Must Choose

School districts and the Legislature have a choice: Protect bloated benefits, cut staff and eliminate programs, or enact reforms that make it possible to put benefits in balance while preserving educational services. … more

Can School Choice Work in Detroit?

Critics of school choice often complain that parents aren’t capable of making wise decisions when selecting a school for their children, and so the government should choose for them. Many parents in perhaps the nation’s worst urban school district, however, recently showed that they are eager to find good school alternatives. … more

National School Choice Week

National School Choice Week kicks off today. Michigan, once considered a school choice leader, should continue expanding learning opportunities for all students. … more

Michigan Spends More on Teacher Benefits Than Most Other States

Of all the funds spent on “instruction” in Michigan public schools in 2008, 28 percent went to employee fringe benefits. Only five states devoted more of their resources to benefits; the national average was 22 percent. … more

Poor ROI for K-12 Schools in Michigan and the US

The United States spends more on K-12 schooling than any other industrialized nation save for Switzerland, but gets mediocre results at best on internationally benchmarked standardized tests. Michigan mirrors this same situation: This state spends the 16th most among the states on schools, but its students consistently score near the bottom on national standardized tests. … more

Update on New Teacher Contracts

Three Michigan districts recently signed new contracts with their teachers union. All three include across-the-board pay raises for teachers for this year and the next. Each district also modified the type of health insurance package it offers teachers, all which are still much more generous than than can be found on average in the private sector. … more

Plymouth-Canton Teacher Contract Summary

Teachers in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums, and in 2009 received an average salary of $66,644. The local school union president is also carried as a full-time employee on the district's books, but is not required to teach or provide any other service — she collects a salary and full benefits but is granted full "release-time." These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

How to Save $500 Million on Michigan Schools

Michigan could save around $500 million if public school employees contributed the same percentage toward their employer-provided health insurance benefits as federal workers do, on average. The reform would generate savings of more than $300 per pupil. … more

Warren Woods School District Pays Nearly Double the Private-Sector Average for Health Insurance

Three school districts in the state recently agreed to new contracts with their teachers union. Warren Woods continues to pay an exhorbitant amount for health insurance, while Saugatuck saved money by just switching insurance providers. … more

ISD Bloat Redux

My recent analysis showing that staffing levels at intermediate school districts grew significantly over the last decade — even as the number of students in Michigan public schools fell — drew some criticism from Dr. David A. Spitzley, an employee of the Washtenaw ISD. Dr. Spitzley points out that the data provided by the Michigan Department of Education's Center for Educational Performance and Information are inconsistent over time in some respects. Nevertheless, no matter how one slices the data, it still shows that ISD payrolls expanded while enrollment contracted. … more

Traverse City Schools Set Transparency Precedent

Traverse City Area Public Schools is raising transparency to a new level, and setting an example that other Michigan school districts should follow. … more

Brighton Teacher Contract Summary

Brighton Area Schools is one of only 32 Michigan districts currently operating with a budget deficit, even though it takes in more than $8,000 per pupil. According the Michigan Department of Education, the district overspent by 17 percent last year. A good place to start looking for ways to get out of the red would be the teachers union contract, since the costs contained therein consume almost 70 percent of the district's general funds. … more

Detroit Students Hostages to the Union

A "multidimensional" crisis that's been unfolding for decades may finally be coming to a head in the Detroit Public Schools: The district is virtually bankrupt, the schools are unsafe and they generate the worst student achievement results in the nation. And now, Robert Bobb, the governor-appointed emergency financial manager, is waving the white flag, asking the state to borrow against future revenues to bail out the district. Doing so would be unfortunate for both students and state taxpayers. … more

Saugatuck School District Saves Big on Insurance

The Grand Rapids Press reports that teachers in Saugatuck Public Schools will no longer be provided with health insurance from the Michigan Education Special Services Association, an arm of the state's largest teachers union. The district instead will purchase employee insurance from Priority Health, a move that is said to save $3,800 per teacher annually. If similar savings were extended to all of Michigan's teachers it would amount to $394.4 million. … more

More on the School Employee Concession Myth

In a recent Detroit Free Press article, Doug Pratt of the Michigan Education Association argued that school employees have become victims to considerable budget cuts. Check out this latest video for more information. … more

Huron Valley Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Huron Valley Schools was $62,439 in 2009, and teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums. The district pays about 51 percent more than the average employer in the state for employee health insurance. Huron Valley also pays teachers who opt-out of health coverage $3,281 annually. The local union president is fully released from all teaching duties (without loss of pay or benefits) to conduct union business. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Harbor Beach Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Harbor Beach Community Schools was $58,229 in 2009, second highest in Huron County. Teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance premiums, which cost the district $19,761 per teacher for a family plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Cadillac Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Cadillac Public Schools was $55,617 in 2009, and teachers contribute nothing to the cost of their health insurance. The district pays $220 to employees for simply not enrolling in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Is College Accessibility Really a Problem?

Both of Michigan's gubernatorial candidates favor spending more on higher education and claim more students need to gain access to college. Yet more students are enrolled in Michigan colleges than ever before, and a larger portion of Michigan residents are enrolled in college than other similarly sized states. … more

ISD Bloat?

The number of school employees for each student in Michigan's public school system has been rising for most of the past 15 years, and stands now at one employee for every eight students. This is surprising given Michigan's declining economy over the last decade, and the school establishment's perpetual complaints of being underfunded… more

Virg Bernero on Education: Was Lost, But Now He's Found

In an interview with The Detroit News, gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero said, "One of the reasons we lose kids to the private school system is because of discipline."
"Losing" kids is an interesting way for Bernero to describe families who choose to opt-out of the public school system, since he himself was primarily educated at a non-public school, and also chose one for one of his children. … more

Recaps of New Teacher Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate contracts with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to recently. … more

Charlotte Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Charlotte Public Schools was $52,408 in 2009, and most teachers paid less than 2 percent of the cost of their health insurance premium. The district also pays between $300 and $500 per month to employees for simply not enrolling in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Forest Hills Teacher Contract Summary

The average teacher salary in Forest Hills Public Schools was $64,460 in 2009, and teachers contributed nothing towards the cost of their health insurance (the state average is about 20 percent). The district also pays $41 per month to teachers who do not enroll in the school health insurance plan. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Garden City Teacher Contract Summary

The total compensation for 165 teachers in the Garden City Public Schools exceeded $100,000 in 2009, and employees make zero contribution to the health insurance provided them by the district, which for a family plan runs about $18,400. These are among the highlights in the current collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the district and the local arm of the Michigan Education Association union. … more

Teachers Picket as One of Michigan's Wealthiest School Districts Faces Big Deficit

Michigan and local taxpayers provided the West Bloomfield School District with more than $13,500 per student in 2008-2009, yet it still faces a $1.7 million deficit this year and $3.8 million next year. Employee compensation makes up 85 percent of the budget, so the district has asked teachers to help close the gap with revisions to their union contract. Their response was to picket, which they did Monday night. … more

How to Fix Flint Schools

The Flint Journal reports that members of a newly formed group called Flint Area Congregations Together (FACT) recently traveled to California, Virginia and New York looking for successful schools in areas with demographics similar Flint. While the aim is noble, the group could learn from a number of high-performing schools right at home in Flint. … more

Pseudo School 'Cuts'

Whenever faced with the possibility of lower revenue, Michigan's public school establishment perennially cry they've already been "cut to the bone." Many people find the claim plausible given the state's "lost decade," so they may be surprised to discover how many school districts have consistently cut costs in recent years: Five. … more

Recaps of New Teachers Union Contracts

Many school boards around the state are attempting to renegotiate contracts with their local teachers unions to contain costs. Here's a brief recap of some of the new contracts agreed to this last month. … more

MEA: Merit Pay Works!

The Michigan Education Association opposes bonus pay for teachers who excel at improving student performance, but supports a merit system for teachers who excel at raising money for MEA politicking. … more

We Still Need to Reform Teacher Pay

A study released this week shows that merit pay didn't improve test scores for students in Nashville, Tenn. While they're no panacea for all that ails public schools, merit pay and other differential pay systems are improvements over the "single salary schedule" — the method by which nearly every school in the country pays its teachers. … more

Detroit Public Schools Students Bear the Pain of Limited Educational Opportunities

A freshman at a Detroit high school experienced a disturbing first day: Two fellow students were shot on their way home from school Tuesday. Not surprisingly, he doesn't want to return to the school, but the state has effectively limited his chances of finding a better and safer learning environment. … more

Michigan Public School Health Insurance Costs Soar Above National Trends

A new annual survey of health insurance shows a slowdown in rising costs of premiums, yet in Michigan's public schools, premiums are skyrocketing. … more

Merit Pay in Mt. Clemens?

A new union contract in Mt. Clemens ties satisfactory teacher evaluations to pay raises. To be sure, this represents a move towards breaking from the assembly line mentality of the single salary schedule in favor of a compensation model based in part on performance. But this is a very small baby step, and it's unlikely to have any impact on raising student achievement. … more

Plagiarism at MSU? You Decide.

Take a look at the MSU study and decide whether this should be considered plagiarism or not. … more

MSU Consolidation Study Seriously Flawed

A new Michigan State University report on school consolidation appears to contain a substantial amount of plagiarized material, as reported by the Mackinac Center on Aug. 18. Diligent reviewers shouldn't stop there, however, because the study's methodology is also deeply flawed. Even if one believes that all districts would save money through consolidation, the conclusion that they could save $612 million is wildly exaggerated. … more

Plagiarism in MSU Study?

A recent study commissioned by Booth Newspapers and conducted by Michigan State University's Education Policy Center concludes that Michigan would save $612 million by consolidating school districts at the county level. While the methodology remains highly suspect, the study suffers from a far greater problem: It appears to contain significant amounts of plagiarized material. … more

'Edujobs' Will Hurt Public Schools

The public school bailout bill, doling out $318 million to Michigan, will ultimately do more harm than good. … more