Gov. Jennifer Granholm
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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."