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Names of the people killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February are read during the March for Our Lives in Naples on March 24, 2018.

We never learn.

Just as many people immediately pointed to southeast Michigan’s lack of a mass transit system as the main reason Amazon chose elsewhere to build a second headquarters, a new business report on the state of the state’s schools still refused to recognize what really ails our schools: Many business leaders refuse to invest where the state won’t – in the education of poor children.

Not just black children, but all children of all races whose families cannot supplement their educations the way wealthier parents can. Everyone calls for more investment, but not enough actually invest.

And we keep claiming that we have an equal education system.

It’s not rocket science. 

Any system that refuses to acknowledge that some children need more investment, more help, more resources than others – and expects all children to perform at the same level – is a system operated out of simple delusion and a belief in magic.

That business report, released last week by Business Leaders for Michigan, a self-described roundtable of chairpersons, CEOs and most senior executives in the state’s largest job providers and universities, describes a plan to raise the bar by shining a light on a statewide problem that we lament but won’t change.

They want to create a coalition of leaders to raise awareness of the problem and champion initiatives to improve education, thus improving the state’s economy.

Hasn’t this been done? Bridge magazine recently studied 12 of hundreds of reports that describe ways to fix Michigan’s schools, reports so numerous that the state education department “now has a committee assigned to write a report about the reports.” A Detroit coalition spent months on a landmark report that sits on people’s desks.

But Business Leaders for Michigan says it plans to go further: Rally businesses to make truth of their recommendations and: “invest in teaching training, adopt a stronger rating system for schools and ensure classroom funding is adequate and equitable,” according to a Free Press report.

The group didn’t go so far as to pledge the dollars the state won’t, and there’s the rub.

“We’re not sure exactly how much this is going to cost,” said Doug Rothwell, the group’s president.  “The first thing we need to do is get everybody on the same page, by announcing a coalition of groups that join this effort. We need to build it broader. We need to get more education groups on board because if we go into different directions, then we’re not going to be helping anything.”

That means their coalition better have a majority of teachers working with them to unravel chaos. Rothwell’s hope is mine.

“What we’re doing is not stopping with the issuance of a report,” he said. “We’ve hired public sector consultants to help organize that effort. We intend to work towards raising public awareness over the course of the summer and approach candidates for office with these ideas to make sure they’re aligned with this direction as well. We’re not stopping with (this report).”

I couldn’t help but think what could be done in a classroom with the money the group paid to consultants. I don’t know how more studies, besides the group’s plan to find out how how private donations to the district are being used now, will make a difference.

“Do you know how much I could do with more direct resources and more supplies in my classroom,” asked my friend Michelle Davis, a junior and senior English teacher at Davis Aerospace High School in east Detroit, who spends about $2,000 a year on average for student uniforms, bus fares and food for students who come to school hungry. Real money could pay for the textbooks that my students need (right now, the kids share and cannot take the books home). I could expose them to the arts.We would have college tours on a regular basis.”

Rothwell said it is possible that private dollars already going to the schools could be spent in a different way.

“My hope would be that we could redirect some of the private money that’s being donated to things that matter most as opposed to what people think is important that is not. We need to really dig into how we’re spending money in the schools and why isn’t it getting into the classrooms?

The business group’s effort is commendable. But what the group – and all CEOs and political leaders — must understand is that this is no longer a marathon. It’s a sprint.

And until we have all children starting the race at the same point, which means putting more money into urban and rural school districts, where many children need it most, this latest report will become one of the hundreds of reports on what’s wrong that doesn’t offer the best solution.

No one in this state should be alarmed by the state of our education system; it’s been shabby for some time.  Reading scores have been below standards for nearly a decade. And last year wasn’t the first year that nearly 90 percent of the third-graders in Detroit’s public schools weren’t reading at grade level.

And few people cared.

As a matter of fact, state and local officials have been focused on third-grade education – especially reading, in an effort to improve test scores and graduation rates —  since I arrived in Detroit 17 years ago.

I could list the various attempts, which all had names. But why bother?

So if the CEOs and leaders of the state’s largest and/or most important companies really want to fix the schools and thus improve the economy, the first thing they must do is commit to what the state won’t: Spend the actual dollars needed to fix the problem.

And they need to know that it begins with services for kids who do not have the same advantages as others and some kids whose parents cannot or will not provide the support they need away from the classroom.

Criticizing those parents is fruitless. Those who care and are doing the best they can don’t deserve it. Those that are absent do not care.

What we must do now is focus on the children. And they need more help than the state will ever provide.

I now await those further recommendations – and those checks.

Contact Rochelle Riley: rriley99@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley. For a list of Rochelle’s upcoming appearances for her book “The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery,” visit www.rochelleriley.com.

 

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