Introduction by Ryan S. Olson, D. Phil.

Angus McBeath, the former superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools, has a powerful story to tell Michigan school officials and school boards. Faced with budget battles, declining enrollments and tense contract negotiations, Michigan school leaders could seize upon the advice of a superintendent and educator who has faced the very same issues for 30 years and who now consults with school districts. If they do pay close attention, they will be in good company. McBeath’s work is touted by educators and scholars around the world, and he has been featured in stories in The Economist and Education Week.

McBeath (pronounced "McBeth") advocates giving meaningful professional support to teachers, who have, he argues, "the power to change lives." Drawing on his experience leading an 80,000-student urban district, McBeath encourages public school districts to "out-compete" private schools and charter public schools by attracting parents to send children to district schools. He suggests that districts move to a "site-based management" model, where important budget and operational decisions are made by principals and school leadership teams. He exhorts districts to have a "sense of urgency" about student achievement and graduation rates, and he talks about what galvanized Edmonton’s teachers and administrators to help more students perform at grade level and graduate from high school.

On the morning of Sept. 13, 2006, McBeath made a presentation at Grand Valley State University to superintendents and business leaders from Kent and Ottawa counties. Winning strong support from those leaders, McBeath also delivered his speech to legislators and media in Lansing at a noon Issues and Ideas Forum hosted by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

This publication is a transcript of his presentation at the Lansing forum and his responses to questions from the forum’s attendees. The transcript has been lightly edited, but his remarks otherwise appear as they were delivered. A final section on Page 17 provides Web addresses for articles and audio clips related to McBeath’s visit to Michigan and his work with public school districts.

One final note: Regular readers of Mackinac Center publications will see that McBeath expresses himself differently than Mackinac Center analysts would on a few topics, such as the desirability of having public schools absorb private schools. But it is worth remembering that McBeath speaks both as an analyst of the education marketplace and as a competitor and supplier within that marketplace. For instance, as a marketplace competitor, he talks about trying to drive private schools out of business, while as an analyst, he freely admits, "I love charter schools and private schools because they keep us on our toes." Similarly, as a supplier of education, he refuses to assume that parental choice alone will make his teachers better and insists on internal quality controls, while as an analyst, he acknowledges the power of parental choice to force school officials and teachers to improve the education they provide.

It’s a rich perspective, and it’s one we think you’ll profit from, whether you’re reading as a school administrator, a teacher, a parent or a taxpayer.

Ryan S. Olson
Director of Education Policy
Mackinac Center for Public Policy