WE HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO
September 4, 2012
By Harrison Blackmond, DFER Michigan State Director
If we are to see serious efforts to address the critical problems facing education in Michigan, we have to begin by ensuring that the voting public understands the problems and demand accountability on behalf of Michigan policymakers and education providers. Although the majority of voters may not have school-aged children in their homes, they are all impacted by our failing education system. Falling property values, quality of life issues, and the inability to attract employers are all exacerbated by our poor education system. It is time we begin to develop a serious and robust campaign to educate the public regarding the problems facing our education system and what state policymakers and education leaders could be doing to address those problems.
Here in Michigan we are still licking our wounds and trying to discern the meaning of the August Democratic Primary results. Four out of our five endorsed candidates lost their primary.
One incumbent we endorsed, Maureen Stapleton, was pitted against another incumbent because of Republican designed redistricting. The United Auto Workers (UAW) initially endorsed Stapleton, along with her opponent. However, after learning that Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentsFirst endorsed Stapleton, the UAW withdrew its endorsement just days before the election. Moreover, Stapleton was greatly outspent by her opponent.
The other incumbent we endorsed, John Olumba, who was also running against an incumbent, was successful. Olumba was pitted against a two-term legislator who was a member of the House Democratic leadership and a former President of the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education. We are excited about Olumba’s leadership potential and his desire to be more independent on education issues. Olumba has already introduced legislation that allows for the creation of a residential charter school for children from low-income families. We look forward to working with Olumba for the next four years to further a reform agenda.
At the same time, one of the other three races we endorsed involved a new candidate challenging an incumbent. Our candidate, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, was heavily endorsed by many organizations and influential individuals but was unable to overcome the name recognition and organization of her two-term opponent.
Endorsee, Carol Banks, finished a close third in a hard fought contest for an open seat in Detroit. Michigan DFER’s treasurer, Ted O’Dell, was our last candidate and he finished last in a large fight for an open seat in Lansing.
The only candidate who emphasized education in her campaign was Gay-Dagnogo. Otherwise, education was not a central issue. Despite this, anyone who has paid any attention would know that education is at a critical juncture in Michigan as a whole and, the Detroit metropolitan area specifically. The overwhelming majority of the state’s failing schools are in Detroit and its surrounding communities.
We must continue to press for quality and the elimination of the achievement gap in all of our schools, traditional public and public charter. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan recently filed a lawsuit against the state and Highland Park School District citing abysmal reading scores for Highland Park students. Despite these problems, the voting public has not demanded answers from its elected officials.
Education reform groups like DFER Michigan, StudentsFirst, EdTrust Midwest, and Excellent Schools Detroit, supported by the philanthropic and business communities, must seize the moment to develop and implement a campaign to inform the voting public and offer solutions. That, perhaps, will be the way to persuade our leaders to seriously address this critical problem.
For more than 35 years, Harrison Blackmond has dedicated his life towards helping children achieve the education they deserve. Harrison has served a multitude of roles within Michigan’s education system, including Chair of the Marygrove College Board of Trustees, President of the Business/Education Training Alliance, Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Detroit Black Alliance for Education Options. Read more about Harrison here.
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