Michigan needs a child-focused education system

Reimagining education does not have to be adversarial, nor should it be

If media reports are to be believed, one of the biggest public policy conflicts over the past two years is that between parents and public school boards over curricula.

But those arguments are just the symptoms of a larger problem. The remedy will require a diligent overhaul that focuses on the educational needs of the child.

The nation needs to allow for competitive services in education, driven by the family. We are at a crossroads in education. A major upheaval in the K-12 educational system is not on its way, it is here. The homogenous nature of the system, perpetuated with an unwillingness to change, is one of the driving forces that has led to a decline in academics.

Educational leaders think that changing the curriculum while adding new values and ideologies will solve the problem. It has never solved the problem, nor will it.

The school system is backwards, inside out, and upside down. In the private sector there is not an industry that survives (absent monopoly power or government subsidy) by making its employees the main priority of business. Employees are instrumental and crucial to the success of any operation. But customers keep the bills paid. No customer, no business.

An employee-centered mindset is why taxpaying parents are losing faith in their public schools. Educators are not interested in child-centered solutions. They are trying to preserve an archaic power structure.

The solution to the conflict is to move power from the school bureaucracies and put it where it belongs — with parents.

Either those in the education system realize this and work with parents to create a client-driven experience, or they will continue to lose students and the funding that comes with them.

Reimagining education does not have to be an adversarial process, nor should it be. We have an opportunity to root out what is no longer working for students, so we get them on track to once again become competitive in a world workforce.

When public schools in Michigan were closed by official mandates, families adjusted. They found private and religious schools. They turned to homeschooling. They realized that their neighborhood school was replaceable.

These reactions left a conundrum for the public education system: Flip the system right-side up or suffer catastrophic losses of students whose families opt for alternatives. While the authorities in the public school system think this is a power struggle with parents, they do not realize that parents have already won. Parents understand that they have numerous options now. Two years of pandemic policies gave them no choice but to figure this out.

What a waste, then, that the big question in education right now is “How many rights should parents have?” Parents can end this game any time they want by pulling their kids from schools, which must show themselves worthy of trust.

In a reimagined school system, there could be different academic and social models.

A young adult who decides to attend a university, has many paths to choose from. A child-centered K-12 system should look similar. Every family has its own particular needs and goals. Most people agree that the one-size-fits-all model has failed.

Some kids do not have the best support system at home, and they need a school that can provide one.

Some families want their children to be taught a particular curriculum and value system in school. If parents want that option, it is their right. Children can attend schools where a particular values system or ideology is taught, if those are the values upheld at home. The parents are the ones who get to decide, and educators can work in harmony with them, because they have the same objectives.

Families do not want to feel their child’s school is encroaching on their values. They won’t tolerate that

The magnet school model is one idea worth expanding. Some larger school districts already do this, offering, for instance, one high school for the arts, and another for STEM. All have minimum state requirements for graduation, but their elective classes focus on a student’s strengths and future career path.

In a reimagined education system with many options for students, everyone wins.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.