Education — March 19, 2015 at 10:05 am

Michigan tea party Republican Todd Courser creates phony homeschooler outrage over education bills


Once again proving that reading comprehension isn’t a requirement for being a legislator…

Lapeer state legislator Todd Courser, a self-described “Constitutional, Conservative Republican”, is an ardent defender of “the freedom of parent’s choice in education for their children”. This is code language for homeschooling children, something Courser and his wife have done with their own kids. There are myriad reasons for parents to homeschool their kids and it’s a noble endeavor that requires an enormous commitment of time and resources to do it right.

Recently, Senate Bill 169 and Senate Bill 170 were introduced to allow high school graduates, including those who are homeschooled, to receive a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) endorsement on their diploma. This isn’t a requirement. It’s simply something that the Republican sponsor of the legislation, Senator John Proos, thought should be available to students who have met certain criteria. The bill enjoys bipartisan support with several Democrats signing on as cosponsors. The legislation was first introduced in the last legislative session where it never left the Education Committee. If passed, it would make Michigan the first state to offer such an endorsement.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the House by Republican Amanda Price – House Bill 4284 and House Bill 4285.

Here’s what Sen. Proos has to say about his bills:

Michigan students would get a leg up on earning a job in a high-skilled career or continuing their education under legislation turned in on Thursday.

The Senate and House measures would allow a student to receive a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) certification on their high school diploma. The STEM endorsement would also be visible on student transcripts for future technical training, community college and college application review.

“Michigan’s economy is growing and creating jobs, yet many of these positions remain unfilled. This initiative is the next step in ensuring Michigan students are prepared for success and to meet our growing skilled-workforce needs,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “We worked together to enact legislation last year that encourages schools to establish programs that award credit toward a college degree or an industry-recognized professional certificate.

“I am proud that we are giving students a chance to receive on-the-job training, and this certification is an excellent way to highlight a student’s accomplishments.”

In order to receive the endorsement, students must complete these credit requirements:

  1. All applicable requirements of the Michigan merit standard for a high school diploma under Sections 1278a and 1278b of the Code.
  2. At least six credits in mathematics approved by the Department of Education.
  3. At least six credits in science approved by the Department of Education.

That all seems pretty reasonable. It even specifically includes students “educated at home or in a nonpublic school.”

Cue the completely unwarranted outrage by Courser. Via his Facebook page, Courser says the bills “will create a framework for homeschoolers to be regulated in Michigan”:

This, of course, is absurd and has nothing at all to do with the actual intent of the bills which simply create a new STEM endorsement and give homeschooled students the ability to earn one as well.

After being mocked on Facebook for his misreading of the bills, Courser doubled down, quoting someone named Lisa Kiessling as if she is an expert he can rely on to interpret legislation for him based on her reading of an MLive article:

The bills do NOT “require high school students to take six credits of math and six credits of science approved by the Michigan Department of Education” nor will they “lead to centralized control of education.” They simply convey a STEM endorsement onto the diplomas of students that meet the requirements. Period. It’s like getting a “cum laude”, “magna cum laude”, or “summa cum laude” endorsement for getting super high grades.

Courser has gotten his loyal followers so outraged that one of them created a Facebook page solely dedicated to stopping this legislation that they perceive as an assault on their “liberty” and “freedom”.

Another person posted a “legislative update” on the Tea Party of West Michigan Facebook page decrying the legislation as setting up a “class system” and linking to a [facepalm] Glenn Beck YouTube video. The bizarre paranoia displayed in the post the Courser links to and calls “A Really Important Read!” is pretty incredible. Here’s an excerpt:

An unfortunate turn of events in Michigan. Our “conservative legislators” including John Proos, Phil Pavlov, Amanda Price and Holly Hughes are sponsoring bills we have been warning people about for quite a while.

*SB 169, SB 170, HB 4284 and HB 4285*
Will award a state endorsed certificate to a high school diploma for taking 6 math and 6 science courses approved by the Department of Education. I have attached testimony I gave at the Senate Education Committee yesterday. As I have said before, there are four key reasons not to support this:

1) It is unwise to create a “class system” in Michigan which is not supportive of all students. Having a STEM diploma creates a “better” path, leaving the students not on this path to believe they are on the “failure track”. A high school diploma should carry the full credibility of a robust education for all graduates regardless of their preferences of study.. This is especially important as we consider renewing our commitment to Career Technical Education as a respected alternative course of study.

2) All specific course information is already provided on high school transcripts. Colleges and universities currently use high school transcripts to determine the coursework and student achievement in their determination for entering freshman. In this manner, employers determine the courses appropriate to preparation for their field.

3) Michigan Department of Education should not control diploma designations and course requirements. Control of the diploma designation becomes a politically driven process based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards rather than an educationally sound process controlled locally by teachers, parents, community members and employers. (Approved courses will be based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, not traditional, highly effective and highly regarded courses.)

4) The alternate pathway designation begins in 7th grade, limiting a student’s ability to change their mind. 7th graders are typically 13 or 14 years old, perhaps aware of their personal preferences, but not ready to make career defining decisions.

This is a complete and utter distortion and misrepresentation of this legislation by Courser. The question is whether it’s a willful distortion intended only to create outrage in his tea party supporters or whether he is simply incapable of sufficient reading comprehension to understand the legislation he is tasked to vote on.

Given his history and his rhetoric over the past few years, I’d say the odds are about 50:50 that it could be either one.

[STEM logo by Motstravail | Wikimedia Commons]