Farmington Area Residents Share Ideas, Concerns About Education
A mix of educators, parents and other community members makes for a 'highly engaging discussion'.
A more rigorous curriculum.
More support and resources for teachers.
Finding a better way to fund Michigan schools.
Those ideas and many more came from more than 20 Farmington school district residents who attended a community conversation on education, held Thursday at the district's Ten Mile Building in Farmington. The Center for Michigan, based in Ann Arbor, facilitated the meeting, one of 250 that will be held this year around the state.
Facilitator Tanya Upthegrove said the combined group of educators, parents, elected officials and other community members made for a "highly engaging discussion".
"It's good to have a mix," she said. "We want to make sure we're reaching a variety of audiences."
The Center for Michigan will gather ideas and comments from the conversations and share them not only with state lawmakers, but with local elected officials, Upthegrove said, so they can use it to inform local decision-making.
In addition to open conversations, attendees were given hand-held devices that allowed them to respond anonymously to questions outlined in a guide published by the center. When it came to giving Michigan's system of education a letter grade, for instance, 64 percent gave it a "C" and 32 percent voted "B".
Farmington schools got slightly higher marks, with 27 percent giving the district an "A" and 45 percent giving it a "B". Parent Tina Yoder, who chairs the Together for Accelerated Learners parent group, said she thinks there are "a lot of wonderful things about the district", but felt there is a need for more academic rigor.
Richard Lerner, a parent and Farmington Hills city council member, pointed out that over the last five years, most of the decisions the district has made have to do with money, rather than what's in the best interest of the students.
"A lot of what's really hurting us is there's not enough money," he said, later adding that Michigan needs to find a better way to fund schools than through property taxes.
Ideas for improving schools ranged from upgrading education in technology to better prepare students for the jobs that are available, to setting the bar high for students with a rigorous curriculum.
"I think we, as a district, tend to jump on the latest and greatest ideas, without vetting them properly," Sue Burstein-Kahn said, adding she felt the district is not transparent enough about what's being taught.
Participants also voted on the importance of some pre-selected ideas for improving the quality of teachers and school leaders and for improved learning. Majorities favored providing stronger support for educators and holding them more accountable for student success.
While increasing school choice, through options like online learning or charter schools, wasn't considered critical when it came to voting, quite a bit of discussion centered around offering more educational choices to meet students' needs.
Burstein-Kahn felt there is something to be said for charter schools, because even in better school districts, "competition always forces you to be better." Others suggested offering more choice within public schools, to address differences in students' needs and learning styles.
Former school administrator Lasenia Jones said providing a menu of options would ultimately serve more people. Karen Butler said she would like to see schools become community-based resource centers offering "anytime, any place learning technologies".
Many acknowledged that education has dramatically changed, even for the youngest learners.
"What we used to learn in kindergarten, they need to come in knowing," parent Tammy Luty said. "The bar has been raised."
Co-hosts for the meeting were the City of Farmington Hills, Farmington Public Schools and Patch, which is partnering with The Center for Michigan to hold more community conversations. The next will be held in Troy, on March 20.