Community members relay concerns, suggestions for Michigan’s education system

Sanda Vazgec

From preschool to college, there are many aspects of the U.S. education system being called into question, especially in the current political atmosphere in the country.

Michigan residents, parents and community members gathered in the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center Thursday, Nov. 3 to discuss their concerns and suggestions about the current state of the education system.

The discussion was part of the 21st Century Michigan Education Commission Listening Tour, where West Michigan served as the first stop.

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas serves as the commission chair. Haas and other commission members joined the community in small groups to discuss their concerns and come up with potential solutions for how to improve education in the future.

“The goal is to create a 21st century education system with initiatives that work and that will continue to work 30 years from now,” Haas said.

Groups were asked to discuss their responses to questions, including: What does a 21st century education system look like to you and how is it different from that of today? What outcomes should the commission strive for? How should the system be governed and how should it be held accountable?

After the discussion time, the groups were asked to report what they reviewed.

John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for Grand Rapids Public Schools reported his group’s considerations and ideas to the rest of the crowd.

“(We talked about) what students really need to gain all of the skills and experience in order to become future leaders,” Helmholdt said. “Also creating support for teachers and encouraging them to work together. (We also discussed how) assessment is too focused on proficiency and not development.”

Other groups shared their thoughts about assessments and standardized testing, feelings of the system being outdated, how to provide a functioning system tailored to different students and learning styles and how to provide more support and professional development for teachers.

The floor was then open for community members to ask questions to the commissioners about how their suggestions will be utilized and how a new system will be enacted.

Those in attendance were asked to write notes about their concerns and suggestions for solutions and submit them to the commission. The notes will be reflected in the final report given to the governor in February.

The 21st century Commission for Education was announced by Gov. Rick Snyder in January during the State of the State address and officially legislated via Executive Order 2016-6 Monday, March 28.

The commission aims to make fundamental changes to the Michigan education system, which has not been updated for 20 years.

Along with listening to community members, commissioners are also actively examining research on education, different systems, their effectiveness and how to implement change.

There are currently no additional listening tour stops officially scheduled but commission members said they plan to meet with additional communities in the state to gain more insight on what Michigan residents expect from their education system.