"China beats the United States in standardized testing and will graduate seven times more engineers than we will this year. Those engineers in China can perform some of the most difficult calculations flawlessly. But almost none of them can create anything."
With that quote from then-MSU Professor Dr. Yong Zhao during a Michigan House Education committee hearing in 2010, I began to question high-stakes testing. I mean, I knew that China, with its communist system where most lived way below American standards, wasn't the engine of innovation. But if they had that many more engineers who did excellent on international standard tests, how could those engineers not be great? Great test scores equaled great students...right? Wrong. Just the opposite could be true. Within three years I would go from being one of the legislature's strongest advocates for high-stakes testing ("gotta hold teachers accountable") to one of the leaders opposing and stopping them.
Looking further into the work of Dr. Zhao and former Texas State Superintendent, Robert Scott (who did a 180 on high-stakes testing), brought me to the understanding that the more a state makes their statewide tests high-stakes, the more effort is made to focus instruction on whatever is on the test...to the detriment of all other instruction. What happens is a child no longer gets a well-rounded education. I've talked to superintendents. They tell me that with greater focus on the MEAP, they have seen band, art, sciences and many other classes disappear. If it's not on the test, the state is saying that it's not very important. And what school or district wants to be seen as having declining test scores?
Bottom line: Creativity is killed.
The drama over corporate welfare has already begun to play out in Lansing.
Scene 1: Senator Mike Kowall files SB25, that expands corporate welfare and state government picking winners and losers.
Scene 2: Representative Dan Lauwers files HB4122, that would eliminate taxpayer-paid film subsidies to Hollywood millionaires and billionaires.
Subplot #1: Governor Snyder. Though he was the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's first president, after it was created by Governor Engler in the 90s, candidate Snyder in 2010 ran against the government picking winners and losers via corporate welfare. To his credit, he pushed for corporate welfare subsidies to go through the appropriations process, instead of the uncapped, unlimited "tax credit" scheme that Governor Granholm used. He's also reduced the amount of money going to these schemes, though the residual Granholm promises still haunt Lansing. Lansing, though, still gives out hundreds of millions of extra handouts every year.
Subplot #2: Democrats. There are enough Republicans in the House opposed to corporate welfare to at least stop increased handouts, IF the Dems would unite against them. That hasn't happened yet, though there does seem to be some rumblings that Dems may start opposing crony capitalism. Then-state rep Justin Amash and I would regularly team up with MEA Democrats in bashing corporate welfare in floor speeches. The MEA back then wanted to stop the outflow to the well-connected businesses in order to refocus the money on schools, while Rep. Amash and I just wanted to use that money to cut taxes. Here's to hoping the MEA ramps up their anti-corporate welfare bonafides (they even paid for a wonderful Anderson Economic Group study that showed the harm of corporate welfare schemes in 2009).