[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, Felix the fox and the Harrisons, a family of red-tailed hawks.

The Great Early Education Gamble

Another study castes doubts on what many are hoping will save Michigan's economy: schooling for 4-year-olds. … more

Utica Teacher Contract Summary

For most Michigan schools, 70 percent of their operating expenses go to paying employees covered under a teacher union contract. This is a summary and analysis of the current teacher contract for Utica Community Schools, the second largest district in the state.  … more

Average Teacher Salaries Continue to Rise

A new report from the Michigan Department of Education shows that average teacher salaries in Michigan grew by 3 percent to $58,721 in 2009. However, the average salary for unionized teachers in conventional school districts (93 percent of all teachers) was $62,556. … more

Leaders of the PAC

What happens when school employee groups are pitted against each other? Usually, the teachers are the champs. … more

Breaking News: House Vote Would Force Charter Schools Into Underfunded Pension System

Moments ago, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill that would force every charter school in the state to enroll its teachers in the underfunded and hugely expensive "defined benefits" pension system to which conventional public school employees belong. This year, conventional school districts are required to pay an amount equal to 16.94 percent of their payroll into this system, which promises its members lifetime monthly pension payments and health insurance upon their retirement. To deal with the increased cost pressures, next year, school contributions are expected to rise to 19 percent of payroll. … more

Saline Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every aspect of a teacher's job falls under the provisions of a union contract. The following is an analysis of the current contract in Saline Area Schools. … more

More Money for MESSA

Things are about to get much tougher for the 440 or so Michigan school districts that buy employee health insurance from the Michigan Education Special Services Association. MESSA recently reported that it's predicting a statewide average increase of 13 percent in the price of its premiums. … more

Can We Build Better Teachers?

Michigan law requires that all teachers participate in professional development programs even though recent studies show that professional development does nothing to help teachers improve student achievement. Instead of fruitlessly trying to transform ineffective teachers, schools should focus on hiring and retaining high-performing ones. … more

Farmington Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every aspect of a teacher's job falls under the rules of a union contract. The following takes an in-depth look at the Farmington Public Schools teacher contract. … more

East Lansing Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every aspect of a teacher's job falls under the rules of a union contract. The following is an analysis of the current collective bargaining agreement for teachers and a few other employee groups in the East Lansing School District… more

Proposal Would Punish Prudent School Districts

House Bill 5963, sponsored by Rep. Tim Melton (D-Pontiac) would force schools to spend down their general fund balances to 15 percent of their current operating expenditures. This attempt to micromanage their budgets isn't likely to help schools become more fiscally stable or deal with dwindling enrollment and the resulting declines in revenue. … more

Fruitport Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every aspect of a teacher’s job falls under the rules of a union contract. The following is a synopsis of the agreement for Fruitport Community Schools. … more

Little League Advice for Schools

School districts in Michigan would benefit from some advice from a Little League coach. … more

A Case for Private School Choice in Detroit

A Detroit Free Press columnist inadvertently makes strong case for universal tuition tax credits and a free school market in Detroit. … more

Western (Jackson) Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every aspect of a teacher's job falls under the rules of a union contract. The following is a synopsis of just one of those agreements in Michigan. … more

Superintendent, Teacher Pay

Senate Bill 1148, introduced recently by Sen. Bruce Patterson, R-Canton, would limit the total compensation of public school superintendents to 75 percent of what the governor is paid and prohibit districts from paying any teacher more than what a state legislator makes. … more

Walled Lake Teacher Contract Summary

Nearly every single aspect of a teacher's job falls under the rules of a union contract. The following is a synopsis of just one of those agreements in Michigan. … more

Separate and Equal

A new teachers union-funded study trying to pin charter schools for being "segregative" falls flat. … more

Teachers and Taxpayers

The president of the Michigan Education Association stated on the radio recently that school employees have "given and given and given and given." Comparing teacher salaries to personal income demonstrates that the taxpayers bearing school employee costs have "given" a lot more. … more

Michigan School Funding Problems Solved!

Incessant poor-mouthing is a staple of the public school establishment's perennial effort to extract more revenue from taxpayers. However, as described in a previous post, total state funding for Michigan public schools has actually increased by 14 percent this decade in real, inflation-adjusted terms. When combined with a 50,000-student decline in school enrollment, it adds up to our schools spending $2,000 more per pupil in 2008 than at the start of the decade.
From the AnnArbor.com news site comes additional evidence that our schools very well funded indeed. … more

School Choice: Polluting Our Planet?

A new study published in Environment Science and Technology analyzes the environmental impact of school choice policies in St. Paul, Minnesota. The authors found that eliminating school choice would lower emissions rates by 3 to 8 times and curb the "significant environmental consequences" of providing more educational opportunities for children. … more

Detroiters Yearn For Tuition Tax Credits

A brand new survey shows that parents of school children in Detroit overwhelmingly desire more school choice. Every single one of the 600 Detroiters surveyed support more scholarships and financial aid for private schools, and 95 percent of the respondents favor tax incentives for businesses to fund those scholarships. … more

Growing Special Education Enrollments in Charter Schools

Although public charter schools are required by law to admit all students that apply, a common criticism is that charters fail to enroll enough special education students. Statistics show that public charter schools have proportionately smaller special education enrollments than conventional public schools, but recent trends suggest the difference will continue to wane. … more

Charter School Demand Continues to Rise

Parents are demanding more public charter schools according an annual survey conducted by the Center for Education Reform. Demand grew by 21 percent over the last year, and for every public charter school in the country, there are 239 students denied the opportunity to attend. … more

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