Headline News
Viewpoint: Our public schools: The True Statue of Liberty
From The Muskegon Chronicle
Article by Tom Watkins

Nothing is more dreaded and excitedly anticipated than the start of a new school year. Once again, our great teachers will be touching our collective futures.

I believe strongly that our neighborhood schools, whether traditional public or charter, are the true Statue of Liberty of this great country of ours.

If you take a moment to reflect, you will see that there is not another institution that truly takes the tired, hungry, poor, children with disabilities and those who speak English as a second language and gives them hope and opportunity. Our capable teachers are the torch lighting the way for us all.

Having said that, there are many teachers heading back to their classrooms, as one expressed it, "feeling like gum on the bottom of a shoe."

Clearly, the winds of change are impacting our schools and teachers of late. From tenure reform to budget cuts, calls for additional schools of choice to increased co-payments for benefits, change has come fast and furious.

Let's be honest, the only person who likes change is an infant!

Along with change, our schools and more importantly, our children, deserve progress.

One progressive idea that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is promoting is using technology to help jump start teaching and learning. Snyder clearly understands there is an inextricably link between a high quality education and Michigan's economic vitality. In his special message on education last April, the governor reinforced the need for our schools to institute the new 3 R's: Restructure, Reform and Reinvention.

As a state, we are at the crossroads of re-imagining learning. How will we blend science, technology, and research to help make Michigan the brain bank of the world ó where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdrawals?

Much of the focus has been on the Michigan brain drain ó kids with college degrees leaving the state. Perhaps our greater challenge is the kids who are not educated that are staying behind. This is not a foundation on which Michigan can be rebuilt, let alone be reinvented.

Prior to the new governor and Legislature's arrival in town, there has been a whole lotta talk about change in our schools, but as the great country singer Toby Keith bellows, "not much action.î

In 2005 I wrote a report The New Education (R)evolution ó e-learning for Michigan (www.inacol.org/research/docs/e-learningreport.pdf) which spelled out how technology can be aligned in our schools to advance learning, maximize the teachers' skills and save precious resources.

Today, learning can take place around the clock and around the world. We need to understand that public education can no longer be your father's Oldsmobile.

We must find ways to integrate technology into our schools as a way to offer the ability to fit education to the interests and needs of individual learners. Technology has a unique capacity to support investigation and research, bringing people together through social networks to engage in learning activities. We have yet to truly tap the power of technology to advance learning. I have written about one such innovative new model, The WAY (Widening Advancement For Youth) Program, (www.wayprogram.net) in the past.

Whether as a teacher, student or parent, when it comes to teaching and learning we need to adapt to the realization that the only thing that remains constant as the 21st century unfolds ó is change.

Let's work with our great teachers to help them lead change ó realizing rhetoric from our state and nation's capitol never educated a single child. We must equip our teachers with the right tools, training and support to help our children and state can thrive in the 21st century.

It is our collective responsibility to assure change equals progress!

So, welcome back to a new school year ó and buckle up, as Bill Cecil, the 2003 Michigan Teacher of the Year, says in his wonderful book, "Let's Make This The Best Year Ever!"

Tom Watkins is a business and educational consultant in the U.S. and China. He served as Michigan's state superintendent of schools, 2001-05. Watkins can be reached at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com