Michigan schools need local control – as printed in the Huron Daily June 18, 2015

There’s a raging debate in Lansing, about how much to regulate our local schools — specifically how schools evaluate their teachers and administrators.

The New York Times has decided to weigh in on the issue. They are critical of Michigan’s local control tradition, and of my work to ensure some balance in the laws we write about these evaluations.

They and others argue that local control is a quaint, outdated notion that does more harm than good. They point to unrealistic reports from the University of Michigan that say our local school boards and superintendents must be told what to do by bureaucrats in Lansing.

Since when is local control a bad idea? And what is the alternative?

Some in Ann Arbor and New York think the alternative is rigid state and federal control over pretty much every education decision — from evaluations in this case, to curriculum and tests and even school lunches.

Critics think a perfectly crafted law, with micromanagement from Lansing or Washington, can regulate every school district into what they consider model behavior. I’ll be direct: poorly performing and financially bankrupt districts in other parts of Michigan are already breaking laws. Why would this be different?

They hold up examples of other states, like New York and Tennessee, that have strict statewide evaluation systems. Yet, those states are rife with legal and logistical problems, are constantly changing and fixing their systems, and fighting off costly lawsuits. Why would Michigan want to replicate their mistakes?

When the New York Times weighs in, you can be sure powerful interests are at work. They don’t know our students and teachers in the Thumb. They’re motivated by money and power, not what’s best for our children.

Their ideas would also be very, very expensive. When fully implemented, the U of M report would cost taxpayers $150 million – every year. That’s a lot of money sucked out of classrooms all across Michigan and sent directly to vendors and bureaucrats.

I believe our schools are perfectly capable of this work, and should be allowed to make the decisions that work best for them. Many are already performing admirably, and getting great results for students by ensuring they have the best teacher possible in every classroom and a strong principal in every building. The fact is, our local schools are already coming up with ways to provide critical and thoughtful feedback, and they’re helping good educators become great educators.

I strongly believe we should hold schools accountable for outcomes. Are students being given every opportunity for learning? Are the results good? These are the questions we need to answer, rather than micromanaging local personnel decisions in ways that burden our schools with unnecessary costs and regulations.

There is a reason Michigan has relied on the idea of local control of schools and not state control or, God forbid, New York Times control.  For generations, local leadership has served Michigan’s children well.

We face new challenges now, and our students are being pushed to learn more than ever. We all need to raise our expectations and our effectiveness.

I support local control, and school leaders like the Michigan Association of School Administrators and Elementary and Middle School Principals support my bill. We need to empower and entrust local educators so they can continue to give our kids a great education.

State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Twp, is chair of the Senate Education Committee and represents the 25th District in Lansing.