Attorney General Bill Schuette has been part of the team running the state of Michigan for the past 8 years. Why anyone would think he has suddenly come up with some new, out-of-the-box ideas on how to improve the state’s schools, just because he’s now running for governor, is simply beyond me. But the good folks over at Bridge took one for the team, and spent an hour with Mr. “Schuster”, asking him some softball questions about public education in our state as part of their series of interviews with the candidates for governor recently.
Here are Mr. Schuette’s answers to some questions about education in Michigan, with a comment or two and a final grade on each answer from me…
1. On how Michigan funds schools: He called for a “review” of state K-12 education spending, adding “we need to focus on outcomes.”
Calling “for a review” is what politicians say when they don’t know how to answer the question. The guy is running for governor, and has no idea what he’d do about funding the state’s schools. Also, all we’ve heard from Schuette and Company for the past 8 years has been “outcomes.” Turn the page, Bill. How about some actual ideas for improving funding for the state’s schools? Like revisiting Proposal A, which switched school funding from a system based on property taxes to a “foundation allowance”; sending more money to schools with a higher proportion of students living at or below the poverty line; expanding funding for early childhood education, wraparound services, more school counselors, social workers, school nurses, and psychologists, restoring art, music, and physical education positions that have been cut over the past decade or so, especially in urban schools. Come on, Mr. Schuster–show some imagination. Grade: F
2. On whether schools serving children with greater needs should get more funds: “(W)e have to look at how we can provide greater training for teachers and for those who have a challenge in terms of their student population.”
Again with the “we have to look at that” nonsense. It’s a pretty simple question, Bill…and the answer is “yes.” There’s no greater measure of a society’s decency than how they treat those among their population with the greatest needs. This should have been a slam dunk. Instead, it’s another whiff. Grade: F.
3. On school accountability: Schuette called for an A to F grading system that would lead to improving schools getting extra funds. “I believe in incentives,” he said.
Grades are not incentives, Bill. Incentives are carrots; grades are sticks–you don’t start with the stick. And external incentives, like merit pay, don’t work with higher-order tasks that require critical thinking…like teaching. So Schuette’s entire approach here is based on treating teachers like lazy bums who aren’t already giving their best effort every day. Which, if you know any teachers, is a ridiculously insulting way to approach working with teachers in our state, who have been treated like garbage by Mr. Schuette’s party for the past 8 years, and even worse by Schuette himself, who fought to deny Michigan teachers the 3% that had been stolen from them by the Snyder administration for several years. So, even though assigning each school in the state an A to F grade is a simplistic solution to a complicated question…in the spirit of Bill’s thinking about school accountability…Grade: F.
4. On whether Michigan should provide pre-K to all 4-year-olds: He said he’ll consider it. “We ought to look at every idea and if it doesn’t work then try something else,” he said.
One of the real no-brainers in education circles is that if you want the most bang for your educational buck, then directing spending at our youngest learners is the way to go. Universal pre-K makes so much sense, and would be such a boon to the state’s families, children, and economy, that it should come as no surprise that the best Bill Schuette can do here is another tepid suggestion to “consider it.” Which in Schuette-ese, is an unequivocal “No freakin’ way! That would divert precious school tax dollars from charter schools, or private school vouchers, or closing public schools to open casinos, or private prisons, or for-profit brothels!” Grade: F.
Final Assessment: It’s hard to imagine that a candidate for governor would have given so little thought to basic, obvious questions about a topic as important as education–but here we are. In all of his public comments about education policy, Schuette has shown himself to be monumentally uninterested in the issues surrounding kids, teachers, and schools in our state. If you thought Rick Snyder and Betsy DeVos have been a disaster for Michigan’s schools (Narrator: “And they have…”), Bill Schuette would make Snyder look like the love child of John Dewey and Diane Ravitch. Who, by the way, if she or he existed, would make an awesome State Superintendent of Public Education!
If you care even a smidgen about public education, Bill Schuette would be the worst possible choice to be the state’s next governor. He’s earned the grade of F for his curious combination of disinterest and active hostility when it comes to education in our state. Michigan’s schools are not failing–Michigan’s political leaders have failed our schools, our teachers, and our children. We can do better, and that starts tomorrow.
Vote like your children’s education depends on it–because it does.