Education Conference Thursday in Kalamazoo

Feb 5, 2013

Last month the Center for Michigan released a report on what citizens want from the education system in the state. The Ann Arbor-based think tank’s President John Bebow says a year and a half listening tour was followed up with two scientific surveys. The Center for Michigan is holding a conference on the future of education Thursday in Kalamazoo. 

John Bebow spoke with WMUK’s Gordon Evans about the center’s education initiatives. Some highlights:

Credit The Center for Michigan


The Center for Michigan found support for improving childhood education, and better pay to attract higher quality teachers. Bebow says people were asked if they thought it would cost more to improve student learning. He says the response was “yes”, but they also want the money spent differently. Bebow says while school administrators might quarrel with that, it’s important to hear from the voice of the customer.

Important issues

Bebow says the Center for Michigan found that some issues which resonate with citizens have gained little traction in Lansing. Until recently early childhood education was an issue that the public was concerned about, but in the last few years the state Senate had considered zeroing out its funding. Now Governor Snyder and legislative leaders are in support of more money for early childhood education.

Bebow says teacher evaluation and teacher preparation are both issues that people talked about around the state. He says citizens want more training for teachers and more accountability. Bebow says the center consistently heard that people want to make it tougher to become a teacher, and have teachers know much more content material when they enter the classroom. Bebow says that is a reform that is not on the “front burner” in Lansing.

On the flip side, Bebow says some hot button topics don’t register with citizens in surveys, or attending public meetings hosted by the Center for Michigan around the state. He says even some things the center has worked on in the past, such as the length of the school year, don’t have much traction with the public. While lawmakers have made school choice a top priority, Bebow says it is not at the top of the list among citizens. Governor Snyder has said he wants to expand online learning. But Bebow says the survey indicates leaders have a long way to go to show the public that online learning is a top priority. Bebow says the survey indicates that people don’t oppose online learning, but don’t want it to replace brick and mortar schools.

Rating Michigan education

The Center for Michigan survey finds respondents give education in Michigan poor grades. Bebow says data backs up those concerns. He says that’s why education reform is a hot topic right now. Bebow says the Center for Michigan survey shows that the toughest critics of system were those that needed it most. He says people in lower-income areas and minorities were most likely to be critical of the current education system in Michigan.

Bridge Magazine, the Center for Michigan’s online news service accompanied the survey with a story about parental involvement. Bebow says that was a major topic of community discussions, and there was general agreement that parental involvement is important. But he says there was not consensus on what to do about it.

What’s next

Bebow says the Center for Michigan is airing the issues. Thursday’s conference in Kalamazoo will include state lawmakers Margaret O’Brien and Sean McCann. Bebow says the goal is to “turn these listening tours into positive change that people want.”