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Michigan education in a stall

February 28, 2012
By Richard Clark , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Airplanes fly because air flows faster over the top of the wing than the bottom of the wing. If the air flow over the top of the wing is disrupted the airplane can stop flying. Aviation folks call this condition a stall.

When approaching an airport to land pilots might find their aircraft heading short of the runway. If the aircraft is already slow and the pilot pulls up on the controls, the nose lifts, air flow is disturbed and flight ceases. The pilot must consciously fight the impulse to just lift the nose. It is counter intuitive, but it is reality.

Michigan education is in a stall. The governor and legislature withhold support of public education and dictate policy that defeats effective education.

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Richard Clark

The governor's budget calls for increase funding for law enforcement in Flint because crime is rampant. In contrast the governor is not coming to the aid of Michigan's children. If students do not score as well enough on standardized tests he has told them them to fend for themselves. He tied school funding to students' performance on tests.

Education policy and funding is dictated by state government. Local boards and administrators are required to do more with less and face their local communities when they need to cut cherished programs. The state refuses to fund districts sufficiently to provide adequate and effective 21st Century education. The governor knows better. For his child's education he pays three times more than he allotted to public school children.

The governor and the legislature took money - my recall is about $600 - from each student to pay for a tax cut for corporations. Unlike the burden he has put on children to do better on tests with less money, he placed no strings on corporations for their tax cuts. They do not have to expand their work force. They do not need to be more productive, pollute less, or make better products. They do not need to show they have invested in Michigan or its citizens. They just need a bank account.

Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. As it circled the earth we could feel Russia's presence flying above our heads. Americans felt earth bound. Corporations didn't come forward to extend America's reach into space. The nation stepped up. Government was our tool. As a result the American flag was the first and only flag planted on the moon.

Americans need to feel their own worth and be able to make sufficient money to live. Jobs requiring repetitive tasks have or will soon be eliminated. Computers, robots and off shore labor will perform repetitive labor.

Worth, in economic terms, will depend upon imagination and the ability to problem solve, creativity.

Once, China implemented the one size fits all/highs stakes testing education now in vogue in Lansing. A few years ago China shifted course. It was concerned that it would not be competitive in the knowledge based economy. China chose to move towards creativity. As fast as China moved to increase creativity, Lansing moved in reverse.

Look to Finland, a country that in 2010 Newsweek picked first in the world for quality of life. The "Atlantic" magazine reported that Finnish children test near the top in reading, math and science.

Finland reformed education several decades ago when it's citizens determined that manufacturing jobs were leaving and its natural resources were limited.

It needed to excel in the knowledge based economy where creativity is essential.

Finnish schools assign less homework and involve children in more creative play than their their counterparts from stereotypical east Asian school systems.

Finland's educational system is more successful than its neighbor Norway. Norway, a small homogeneous country, sends its kids to school in a system more like ours than Finland.

Interesting notes about the Finnish system: no private schools, no standardized testing, educators are held in high esteem and cooperation is the keystone, not competition. Teachers are unionized.

Michigan education policy is a plane about to land short but we must resist pulling back on the controls. We must add power to increase lift. Considering the Finnish model would be a good beginning. Failure is not an option.


EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at



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