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The Saboteurs

From today's editorial page of the Detroit News, Michigan's largest daily:

It's hard to argue with the White House's decision not to include Michigan among the 16 finalists for the first round of federal Race to the Top education grants. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said repeatedly that heavy weight was given to applications from states where all parties were committed to reform.

Michigan can't even pretend to qualify under that standard.

Headline: MEA's Sabotage kept Michigan out of Race to Top Finalists.

So much for rooting for the home team, eh?

Is it like this in the other 25 also-ran states? Blame and reproach? Reducing the messy, incredibly difficult work of school reform--in a state plagued by negative economic indicators--to just another contest lost and scapegoat identified?

Sabotage is a strong and damaging word. I'm wondering about the ultimate outcomes of charges like these. What happens when the biggest statewide newspaper condemns100,000 teachers, reprimanding them for refusing to adopt (unspecified) "modern education practices," as well as "derailing" and "obstructing" progress on (also unspecified) reform? Who benefits from this kind of nebulous name-calling?

Instead of vague accusations, it might be illuminating for the News to opine about actual changes legislated in December: charter school caps were lifted, a plan for tying teacher effectiveness to student test scores established, and the standard RTTT turnaround options for failing schools are now available by law. There is a mechanism for alternate teacher entry (in a state which exports two-thirds of its trained teachers because there are no jobs for them--including certified math and science teachers).

Michigan's unique twist? Raising the dropout age to 18, presumably in the belief that we can legislate kids into staying in school. Good luck to the educators who will teach this new coalition of the unwilling.

All of these issues are worthy of serious, ongoing dissection, examination and discussion--and not just in Michigan. Instead, we get the equivalent of Little Leaguers beating up the outfield for losing by a big margin, when there's no pitching, lousy batting and most of the players don't even understand the game.

Tomorrow, more about the Kalamazoo Promise, a bright spot-- what can happen when collaboration and hope override skepticism. But tonight, I'm discouraged by the trash talk that follows when school reform becomes a competition.

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