Saturday, November 17, 2007

C’mon… one more bite… it’s good for you!

I found this opinion piece from Amber Arellano to be important – not only because it's accurate – but also because it's a clever and timely way to “lure” Michigan’s residents into paying attention to education. (The hook is the ongoing football rivalry between the University of Michigan and Ohio State, with the annual contest being played today.)

Detroit News: Ohio beats Michigan on field of education (11/16/07)

It’s clever because the reference to football in the opening paragraph might catch someone’s attention, and prompt the reader to learn a little about the declining condition of Michigan’s education system; a system that's not doing a very good job of preparing our children to compete globally, yet somehow manages to consume nearly HALF of the taxes collected at the state level.

It reminds me of trying to hide a few vegetables behind the more desirable food as I was spoon-feeding my children. Without those tricks, they'd refuse to eat their vegetables.

Similarly, many Michigan parents and taxpayers seem to refuse to understand or acknowledge the problems facing our education system in both achievement and in fiscal responsibility.

I have no clue whether this was an intentional strategy when Amber crafted the article. But regardless of the intent, I suspect the article was peppered with enough football talk that it might’ve held a few readers who otherwise might never have read an article about education.

C’mon… one more bite… it’s good for you!

As I reflect on the article, I’m not sure which is more alarming… the fact that Michigan’s education system continues it’s downward spiral, or the thought that we need to consider more communication strategies that will spoon-feed a complacent state.

I have pasted below the whole article in case the link doesn’t work.


Amber Arellano:
Ohio beats Michigan on field of education

Ohio State University has defeated the University of Michigan football team for the past three years and is favored to win again tomorrow at the Big House. And the athletic field isn't the only place where Ohio is beating Michigan.

On the academic field, Ohio is outpacing Michigan in student achievement. And we should be paying attention: As much as we love our college football rivalries, it's our educational competition that will revive our economy and make our state a future viable place to live. There are lessons Michigan can learn from Ohio.

Once the two states were closely matched in student achievement. Now Ohio is beating us on multiple fronts.

In fourth and eighth grade reading and math, Ohio is surging while Michigan falls behind, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress, an important federal test.

State policymakers and educators often like to argue money is the difference. However, the states have almost identical per-pupil expenditures. Ohio spends $9,064 compared with Michigan's $8,953.

Ohio and Michigan share similar demographics. Both have white, African-American and Hispanic residents. Their urban areas are struggling with economic decline and middle-class flight.

As in football, what appears to be the difference is leadership. In the mid-1990s, Buckeye leaders developed a smart plan to raise education standards -- testing to make sure the strategy continues to be carried out; and professional development and state guidance to move the plan forward in classrooms.

Ohio also works more collaboratively with its major urban school districts, national observers say. State experts assess weak points in instruction and develop appropriate guidance for districts.

In comparison, Michigan failed to make major headway in education reform in the 1990s. More recently, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state legislators' shared plans have stalled since they passed one of the best high school curriculums nationwide. Since then, they have fought over who's to blame for the state deficit.

Michigan has been moving backward. This fall, state legislators cut end-of-course exams, the mechanism that states use to ensure schools are teaching more rigorous courses.

By contrast, Ohio is one of 33 states moving in the opposite direction. It is part of 13 pioneering states that are working to jointly develop and pay for an end-of-course exam to make sure their schools are teaching rigorous Algebra II classes, an important class for college preparation and success.

"Ohio is the leader of that effort," says Sandy Boyd, vice president of advocacy and outreach of ACHIEVE Inc., a nonpartisan think tank created by the nation's business leaders and governors to raise academic achievement. "Michigan isn't part of that effort."

The Buckeyes likely will continue to beat our state educationally unless Michigan's political and business leaders join together to create effective strategies.

Let this be the last year Ohio beats us on the academic field. Some football success would be nice, too.

Amber Arellano is a Detroit News editorial writer who also writes a weekly online column. Reach her at

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