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U.S. facing crisis in education, reformer says on Mackinac Island

From Detroit Free Press

By Kathleen Gray and Matt Helms

May 30, 2013

MACKINAC ISLAND — At a time when the nation is spending a record amount of money on public education, the results in student achievement are disappointing at best, education reformer Michelle Rhee said today at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

“We are facing a crisis as a nation,” she said. “The children who are in school today will be the first generation who are less well educated than their parents.”

Rhee, who was chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public schools and now heads the StudentsFirst group in California, calls herself a lifelong Democrat; but she’s been a controversial figure in education circles, especially among teachers because of her support for vouchers and the Educational Achievement Authority.

“We have to begin to see education as a bipartisan issue — one that we can all come together on,” she said. “The politics of education have become more polarized than anything else.”

Three things are needed to help boost public education and student achievement, she said: valuing teachers for their performance, not their seniority; developing education policy with children, rather than politics, in mind, and giving children realistic goals instead of rewarding them just for showing up.

“We spend more time trying to make our children feel good about themselves, that we’ve lost sight of actually making them good at anything,” Rhee said.

Michigan has become a leader in education reform, she said, ranging from a recent bill that would base teacher salaries on performance, to turning failing schools over to the state-run Education Achievement Authority.

“As we look across the nation, Michigan has been one of the most aggressive states on education reform,” Rhee said. “These are some of the innovations and initiatives that are going to lead the country in the next few years.”

Also on Mackinac Island:

Westland mayor tests a run for county exec

The annual Detroit Regional Chamber policy conference has launched many a political career, and 2013 is no exception.

Westland Mayor Bill Wild, a 45-year-old Democrat, was up on the island this week testing the waters for a possible run against Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

“We’re getting organized. We’re getting our team together,” Wild said. “There are a lot of people looking for an alternative.”

Wild isn’t the only one thinking about a new job. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing didn’t discount a run for county executive during a session Wednesday on the island.

“I’m putting a committee together to explore a run for Wayne County executive,” he said. “I’m open-minded. And I’m healthy, physically, anyway.”

Wild has been the mayor of Westland for seven years and was a city councilman for six years before that. He also ran an auto recycling shop in Wayne for more than 20 years.

“We’ve been really successful in Westland, and a lot of things we’re doing would translate well to the county,” he said.

Ficano, whose administration has been embroiled in a corruption controversy for the past two years, also is up on the island and made the rounds of radio programs today. Although he hasn’t officially announced it, he is expected to run for re-election.