Matthew Baum and Jacob Pinsel's Proposal on Vocational Training in Michigan Schools

Context

Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:    

THE REVISED SCHOOL CODE (EXCERPT) Act 451 of 1976

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(hzka3q2cfmj4r0vc4mdmp055)/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-380-1278a.pdf

The Revised School Code (Act 451 of 1976) designates the requirements towards graduation that high schoolers in the state of Michigan must fulfill. If our proposal were to go into effect, changes to graduation requirements that accommodate students who have received vocational training would have to be made. We would hope that a revision would be made to the school code mandating that students shall receive credit towards graduation (and possibly college credit) upon completion of their vocational training.

Additionally, we believe that in order to enroll in a vocational training program for credit, students must pass basic math, science, and reading tests in order to ensure they are qualified to receive such training. We would advocate for this inclusion in the Michigan School Code.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

  • In the long run, our proposal has the potential to make a difference in the lives of students spanning all subgroups throughout the state of Michigan. To begin, our proposal calls for vocational training pilot programs to be tested in one inner city Detroit School. The pilot program would positively impact specifically students with poor economic status, who are unlikely to attend college in the future, or even graduate from high school. Many high school students in this situation have very little hope for their future, and eventually give up on their  education. A vocational training pilot program would keep these kids involved in school, both physically and mentally, as they now will be learning skills for their future. Also, the program will in the ensure the kids are at school rather than disengaging in their education. If the pilot program proves successful at one struggling school, the school board can look into expanding it to other schools throughout Michigan with low graduation and college placement rates. Eventually, this pilot program can expand into a statewide vocational training program that impacts high school students from all subgroups and backgrounds.


 

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

  • Our knowledge relating to this issue comes from a combination of research, consultations, service work, and discussion with our peers within the caucus. The breadth of our research went into finding an issue worthy of our consideration for the proposal. We scoured the internet for an issue that affects and has serious implications on Michigan residents across the state, and after looking into the educational achievement of Michigan youth, we knew this was what we wanted to focus on. We came upon a number of studies, articles, and research that outlined the struggles of Michigan students, and found just how poorly these students were performing in the classroom. In particular, I stumbled upon a report that evaluated the well-being and educational achievement of youth across the country named the Race For Results Report. In this report, we saw that Michigan consistently ranked in the bottom 10 in terms of the state’s youth’s reading levels, math scores, overall well-being, and more. We spent time digging deeper into this issue and identified a number of causes that prevent Michigan’s youth from excelling in the classroom (funding, teacher quality, lack of resources in supplement to class). After we had built up a greater understanding of the issues that factor into the lack of achievement in school for Michigan’s children, we were able to then delve into a solution and plan of action for our proposal.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

  • Our service activity, volunteering at Food Gatherers, has influenced our thinking about this proposal by exploring the idea of “making something out of nothing.” Our work at Food Gatherers involved recycling old food that otherwise would have been thrown out for hungry people in the greater Ann Arbor area. In our time at Food Gatherers, we met a nice lady who was very attentive to the serious issues Michigan is facing. Having kids, she talked about the state’s woeful education system, and how it fails to keep enough students engaged through seeking their own education. We then applied the idea of “making something out of nothing” to students who give up on their education, making it extremely tough for them to attend college or even graduate high school. We figured that many of these students were uninterested in the typical high school education, as that those skills may not translate to what they intend to do in their future. In an effort to accommodate Michigan high schools’ educational experience to this large group of students, we came up with the idea of starting a statewide vocational training program. Our goal is to start small scale with one inner city Detroit school, and eventually expand to other struggling schools throughout the state.

  • In addition, our service work at Food Gatherers afforded us the opportunity to talk with everyday individuals about their personal experiences with Michigan’s public education. These interactions, usually with people who have first-hand experience with the struggles of being a Michigan resident, proved extremely valuable when it came time to formulate our proposal. While reading informational articles or data-infused studies can help build up one’s knowledge of an issue like educational achievement, actually talking to these individuals was incredibly influential in our research and proposal.

 

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

https://docs.google.com/a/umich.edu/presentation/d/1iv7uE1NQ94KkTv0vXUU-XEp1AWZ_qHQFqJR5HIRrDbo/edit?usp=sharin

 

Consultations

Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1:

  • Our first consultation was with Matt Eriksen, Principal of Edgewood Middle School in Highland Park, IL. Mr. Eriksen was actually my middle school principal and I always admired his ability to handle certain situations and create a personalized and comfortable learning environment for all students. When we decided to focus on educational achievement, I knew that Matt would be an awesome person to reach out to. His experience and perspective within the field of education were of enormous help to us when crafting our proposal. Here is what we were able to take from our conversation with Matt:

 

  • There are many contributing factors to a student's educational success. A lack of educational achievement cannot just be attributed to one thing.

 

  • Every student has their own personalized needs/accommodations. In order for them to experience success and purpose within their education, it's important that these are met.

 

  • Quality of teachers is so important when it comes to meeting the personal needs/goals of individual students.

 

  • For those who work within education, being conscious of diversity and one's cultural differences is essential in establishing a safe and comfortable learning environment

 

  • Through his own personal experiences, Matt affirmed that ALL students could benefit from vocational training.

 

To see a full transcript of our conversation with Matt, use this link:

https://docs.google.com/a/umich.edu/document/d/1jXMd0a9xFJN5PoiegGnTFGip2nHUOh05-fpHGaTEMuI/edit?usp=sharing

CONSULTATION 2:

 

Our second consultation was with a student at the Michigan Career and Technical Institute. We reached out to the institute's administrative offices in order to connect with a student who had first-hand experience in a vocational training program. Our thought process was that neither of us had any experience in a trade school setting, so hearing an actual student’s perspective could serve as inspiration to our proposal. This student, one who preferred to stay anonymous, spoke to his struggles on the general education track, and how the vocational training program he’s in was catered more towards his specific interests. His case is similar to many of the students in the school’s where we would potentially run the pilot program. His family struggled financially, meaning his chances of attending college were to slim to none. Although he had interest in subjects like math, science, and social studies, he was unable to learn at the pace of much of the majority of his class. Eventually, this student lost his focus and drive in school, going down a path both parents and administrators fear. For a student to think they’re less intelligent than most people their age is fine, but it’s another story for a student to accept their future as a person who fails to be a contributing member of society.

This student, from the moment he stepped on campus was fully thriving at the Michigan Career and Technical Institute. It was an opportunity for him to learn and expand on skills that were natural to him. Given his low chances of attending college, and interest in vocational training, attending the Michigan Career and Technical Institute was an easy move and transition. Vocational training is a much less expensive track than traditional colleges, which serves as a major benefit to many of the students who attend. Also, the track is oftentimes shorter, which means students can transition to full-time paying jobs earlier on. From talking to this student, we could tell that he and his peers were extremely happy with their time spent in vocational training. He explained them as going from “people who felt they had nothing to offer, to people motivated to prove their vocational skills would earn them a stable living.” Our talk with this student allowed us to completely grasp the potential impact vocational training school’s could have on a struggling population. We told the student about our plans to pilot a vocational training program in a struggling high school in the Detroit area. He found our idea to be very encouraging, and said it came to his mind before. To conclude our call we thanked this student for his help, and credited us for being a part of the fight against Michigan’s struggling school system. He appreciated how we noticed those students who are sometimes forgotten, but have the ability to have a tremendous impact on society.

CONSULTATION 3:

For our third consultation, we wanted to get an idea of the effect that vocational training can have on an individual over the course of their lifetime. We called up a number of businesses that would require some sort of vocational training (electricians, plumbers, hair stylers) and ended up forming a connection with an electrician at Vedder Electric. While most of the people we talked to either were unwilling to contribute to our project or weren’t sure they could be any help to us, an electrician named Jeff was immediately responsive to our request. He seemed to have a genuine interest in our research and said he’d gladly answer a few questions for us. We met Jeff at Vedder Electric on State Street and had the chance to speak to him about his experience with vocational training. In his words, vocational training was a “godsend”. He explained to us that he was a troubled student in high school who was largely unfocused in school and found himself getting into trouble with the law and his parents. He struggled to keep up with the academic rigors of general high school curriculum and found himself at a crossroads. Jeff had a choice, to apply to college and have to work a considerable amount of hours to pay his way through school, or pursue an alternative route. Jeff chose the alternative route. He spent a year doing odd jobs and accumulating cash so that in the prior year, he would have enough money to put himself through vocational training. “My first month at vocational school opened my eyes to the fact that I could excel and have success in something. My whole life I had been told I was an underachieving student and someone who would never make it in life. But when I was at vocational school, it just felt right”. Jeff, now happy and in control of his future, graduated from trade school and became an electrician. Currently, he now has a family of his own with three kids. “I owe a lot of my happiness and ability to succeed to my time in vocational school” said Jeff. “I always knew that I would find my niche, and I found just that in my training to become an electrician. I would definitely advocate for the pilot program you are advocating for and think this is a great idea for individuals who are struggling in school”.

Our experience with Jeff was definitely of value and opened our eyes to what trade school can do for individuals who struggle academically or are in pursuit of a stable career.

Prospectus:

*The vision and scope of our project changed drastically after the completion of our prospectus. While this prospectus explores the issue of educational achievement, it does not reference our proposal of a pilot program focusing on vocational training; we came upon this idea later on in our research process.

 

Michigan’s broken school system has failed in providing quality education to generations of Michigan youth, and with little legislative response to combat this issue, the future seems bleak.

Michigan’s public school system has been criticized for it’s lack of turning out individuals ready to contribute to the workforce for decades. For the amount of money the state pours into education, the success of Michigan’s youth is extremely underwhelming, and Michigan ranks among the lowest in a number of areas measuring the success of state education. Earlier this year the state threatened to close 38 schools, 16 of which were in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Shockingly, fewer than 10 percent of children in Detroit can read proficiently by 4th grade, and just 14 percent of the state’s low-income eighth graders test as proficient in math. While many are quick to attribute lack of educational success to race, socioeconomic status, bad parenting, and more, this is simply not the case. In fact, 34 percent of the state’s white eighth graders are proficient in math. The statistics referenced above qualify as some of the worst in the nation and cement Michigan’s status as one of the worst states in the country in terms of educational achievement.

Among the reasons for these low marks is the absence of quality teachers, inequitable funding for schools across the state, and an inability to connect with students and provide them with a purposeful and fulfilling educational experience. While all of these issues are major issues themselves, they seem to stem from one central issue within the state government.

The major contributing factor to the state’s educational achievement woes is the lack of accountability and absence of leadership when it comes to finding solutions and fixing the issue at hand. The Michigan Constitution, a document drafted in 1835 and last approved in 1963, is mostly to blame. The state constitution mandates that Michigan employs a state board that oversees all public education. The problem with this is that while the state board of education can make conjectures and proposals to state legislature, they have zero power when it comes to actually passing legislation that impacts the state’s public education. With a state board of education and a state legislature that have significantly different values and interests in mind, this has created a state of political gridlock in which changes and amendments to our education system have been almost non-existent. The terms of the constitution have prevented the state from linking the state’s leaders in education with decision-making power and influence, and this has created enormous issues for the state when it comes to enacting change.

In the interest of being realistic, we understand that Michigan’s government cannot be counted on to make major changes to its education system based on the proposal of two twenty-year olds. On top of this, a requirement that has been outlined in the state constitution for 150 years isn’t going to be easy to amend, as many Michigan legislators have already been unsuccessful in their efforts to resolve this issue. With our proposal, we are looking to be ambitious and not limit the impact that we can have on an issue as important as public education. To start, we are attempting to increase awareness of the effect that this inclusion in the state constitution has on educational achievement, and hopefully spark some sort of change, Yet, if issues arise pertaining to the wide-scope of this issue and we find ourselves lost in a problem that lacks a feasible solution, we will narrow our scope to an issue within education that is more realistic (like per-pupil allotment or the lack of quality educators). For now, we are excited to learn more about this issue, speak to individuals who have first-hand experience with Michigan’s education woes, and hit the ground running with our proposal.


 

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

 

SOLUTION 1:

Our first solution would be to integrate a trade school program into a struggling Detroit area high school. Michigan’s education system has failed generations of its youth and left them unprepared for the professional world once they graduate from high school or college. Implementation of a program in which kids are taught technical skills useful in vocational jobs could potentially change the lives of youth who might be primed for poverty or crime. These skills would enable students to follow a career path would provide them with a steady source of income once they finish their education.

We would pilot this program at a failing inner city school for a couple of years in order to see the impact having vocational skills has on student’s job search. The school would allow struggling students to develop a confidence they wouldn’t gain from being at a typical school, where they’d most likely be uninterested and inattentive. If the pilot program worked successfully, we would expand vocational programs into other struggling schools throughout the state. With this solution we’d expect to see an increase in the amount of productive young adults in Michigan, which will positively impact the state in various ways.  

 

SOLUTION 2:

Another potential solution to Michigan’s failing education system is to change the structure of per-pupil funding, which is at the base of the state’s public school’s financing issue. Per-pupil funding ties a school district’s funds per student to the area’s property taxes. This creates a disparity between the opportunities and resources that children get from high and low income areas and has fostered inequity in the educational experience of Michigan’s youth. Michigan’s APA identified 58 “successful” school districts in the state with above average academic performance. Those schools all spent an average of $8,667 per student. Schools that tested worse were funded at a similar rate, but lost out by an average of $378 more per student in local revenue from property tax millages, according to the study.

We believe that instead of linking a school’s funding with their district’s property taxes, we must find a more innovative and equitable approach to education funding. We propose that the state of Michigan allots a percentage of their tax dollars to education (maybe 10%). In order to spread their funds to schools across the state, our state government needs to get a better idea of which districts/schools really need these funds, and which might not. What if the state did a district-by-district analysis to determine which schools are in need of these funds. State officials would need to visit schools across the state, talk to teachers, students, families, and get a real idea of the education kids are receiving in different areas.

 

SOLUTION 3:

A major contributing factor to the woes of Michigan’s education system is the lack of accountability and absence of leadership when it comes to finding solutions and fixing the issues at hand. One solution to Michigan’s struggle with educational achievement would be an amendment to Michigan’s constitution that could potentially fix this.

The Michigan Constitution, a document drafted in 1835 and last approved in 1963 mandates that Michigan employs a state board that oversees all public education. The problem with this is that while the state board of education can discuss solutions for education reform, they have zero power when it comes to actually passing legislation that impacts the state’s public education. With a state board of education and a state legislature that have significantly different values and interests in mind, this has created a state of political gridlock in which changes and progress in our education system have been almost non-existent. The terms of the constitution have prevented the state from linking the state’s leaders in education with decision-making power and influence, and this has created enormous issues for the state when it comes to enacting change.

An amendment to the Michigan constitution that awards the state education board influence over educational reform would allow for a more insightful and attentive approach to fixing this issue. We could potentially propose to Michigan legislators this amendment in order to advance the state’s education system and make a difference in the lives of Michigan youth. While it’s ambitious to think that we could influence Michigan legislators to make such a powerful change to the state’s most important document, even raising their awareness of this issue with our proposal could turn heads and impact their decision making in the future.

 

Reaction or advice from a Faculty Member or Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a faculty member or a topic coordinator, whether in a proposal check-in meeting, a discussion during office hours, or in comments made in response to your actual proposal document, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

When we met with MSC instructor Michael Fahey for our proposal check-in, we were nowhere close to where we stand currently with our proposal. At the time of that meeting, we were set on advocating for an amendment in the Michigan constitution, a document drafted in 1835 and last approved in 1963, that would allow legislative power to the Michigan State School Board of Education, which currently has no influence on actual decision-making and reform on education. This solution wouldn’t have done anything to combat the failures of Michigan students except for placing binding power in the hands of the school board, and for us to think that we could persuade Michigan’s government to make changes to the state constitution was certainly ambitious. Michael advised us to consider other ideas, and so we set out to find a better and more feasible solution. It took probably a week, but we narrowed our focus to vocational training for underachieving youth. We are very thankful that we received the advice from Michael when we did and I’m not sure what our proposal would look like without it.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

Our research process was difficult in the fact that we did experience a few so called “dead ends” in our quest to create a proposal to combat the educational downfalls of Michigan, and accommodate to the student better fit for vocational track. At first our group was trying to tackle a beast larger than we could handle, the state’s board of education. We knew we wanted to talk about how public schools in Michigan had been struggling for decades, but we ran into trouble narrowing our focus to one topic we realistically could take on. Throughout the process, we came across multiple people who were knowledgeable in Michigan’s education system and the process of vocational training. Early on we spoke to a kind lady at our service project, Food Gatherers, who harped on the issues she had experienced with Michigan’s education system. This gave us our initial idea to look into the downfalls of Michigan’s public school system. From there, we consulted with a Middle School Principal from Chicago on his experience accommodating to students who were genuinely interested in their academic progress and general education track they were on. We came upon our legislation in looking for bills related to the state’s policies on education. After consulting with an MSC instructor, we concluded that although this bill was loosely related to vocational training, the overall high school graduation requirements and process would need to be amended if our pilot programs worked successfully. In short, we are not directly attacking the bill, but the bill will inevitably have to change in the case our proposal works as planned.

 

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

Both Matthew and I took on an equal amount of work for this project. Since we both live in Chicago, we were able to meet up over Thanksgiving break and work on the proposal. To start, Matthew handled the creation of the media artifact. His design and creativity skills allowed for him to focus on that aspect, while we both spent time finding the issue we wanted to combat. Matthew and I worked on all of the context, solutions, and prospectus together. For consultations, both of us reached out to a few people with personal connections to us, and a few people within various fields of Michigan education. We each met with the instructors of MSC multiple times, making instrumental improvements from the experience and advice they had. We’ve both put an equal amount of effort into this project, for the most part completing all of it together. This helped us stay on the same page and avoid confusion relating to a disconnects in our timing and approach.

Formal Proposal

This is your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

WHEREAS.... The state of Michigan does not have offer vocational training options in public schools for students uninterested in a general education track.

WHEREAS....Michigan students consistently rank towards the bottom nationally in terms of their achievement in math, science, reading, etc.

WHEREAS....Michigan’s public education fails to prepare youth for higher-level education or give them experience to pursue a career/profession out of high school.

WHEREAS.... Michigan’s economy is built on vocational jobs, but the state has a lack of young adults trained to work them.

Operative clauses

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....

  1. Vocational training be instituted into underperforming Michigan schools, allowing students who may not excel in general education an opportunity to pursue skill-based careers.

 

  1. Students who exhibit the lowest test scores at their particular school, or may not have the money/resources to pursue a college education, are targeted for participation in these vocational training opportunities.

 

  1. Michigan schools allocate and more efficiently use money previously devoted to students genuinely interested in a general education track, to trade schools which will allow for more students to engage in careers they desire and become a contributing part of society.

 

Counter-arguments:
  1. Michigan’s youth’s competency in general education is already below average. Given this, why should Michigan devote less money to general education and spend more on opportunities for vocational training? Wouldn’t this have a negative effect on educational achievement?

 

  1. If students already know that they intend to enter their schools vocational training program, they are likely to be uninterested in their other courses and school curriculum. These students already know they want a vocational/trade occupation, so accumulating knowledge and skills in other areas seems like a waste of their time.

 

  1. Pouring money into vocational training is not worth it because of the low-paying jobs students with vocational skills typically work. The government’s money for education should be put towards students who will work prestigious and high-paying jobs, as they are the ones destined to control enough money to positively impact the state’s economy.    

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

There wouldn’t be too many costs for a pilot program at one Michigan school that focuses on vocational training, however, if this program were to be effective and worthy of consideration at more schools, then obviously costs would increase.

The main costs associated with this pilot program would include:

  • Personnel costs (hiring of teachers)

  • Costs of instructional equipment, materials, and supplies

  • Costs of scholarships and student welfare

  • Costs of training (Anything from transportation to experiential learning)

In order to fund this pilot program for vocational training, taxpayer dollars would have to be involved. I don’t think it’s fair to raise taxes in the district that this program is being implemented in, so the cost of the program would be tied to the general pool of taxpayer money that the state has to work with. I would think that the state of Michigan would be willing to provide grants in order for this program to be established and could even provide students who can’t afford the training with scholarships. Additionally, maybe some of the equipment and materials necessary for such a program could be donated to the program.

The opportunity cost of instituting this program would be lost opportunities within education. If this program were to be enacted on a wider scale, allotting time and money into vocational training would mean taking away from funds that go into general education. In terms of the opportunity cost for the pilot program, the taxpayer dollars that fund this program could go to fix up our infrastructure (roads, bridges), Medicare or Medicaid, or other state-funded programs.

 

References:

http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(hzka3q2cfmj4r0vc4mdmp055)/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-380-1278a.pdf

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2017/09/06/michigan-education-crisis-doug-ross-schools/105342806/

http://michiganradio.org/post/education-suffers-michigan-because-no-one-accountable

http://www.annarbor.com/business-review/why-does-michigan-have-77000-unfilled-job-openings/

http://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2016/09/01/failing-schools-priority-list/89707998/

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.577.9006&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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Total votes: 23

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