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DFER Michigan

Education in Michigan is failing.

In recent reports, including December's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Michigan's education performance is declining to new lows.

We are at a crossroads in Michigan and now is the time to act.

Systematic reform and innovative approaches are the essential ingredients towards solving this state's most serious issue.

Michigan Democrats for Education Reform recognizes that a unified effort is required to provide Michigan families with better opportunities for quality public education, while improving the state's chances of winning up to $400 million dollars in "Race to the Top" federal funding.

Join us in our effort to put political posturing aside and fight for our children's future in Michigan.

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I'm a Democrat, a DFER, a strong supporter of collective bargaining
June 25, 2014

By Harrison Blackmond, DFER-MI State Director

It’s easy to get caught up in the debate happening across the country between teachers unions and education reformers when it comes to enacting changes to our education system. But while these often contentious conversations might suggest to some that one cannot be a strong supporter of collective bargaining while also being an education reformer, that is simply untrue. I am living proof that you can be both!

During my years as a union representative for over 900 teachers in five school districts, and later a staff attorney for the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teachers union, I advocated strongly for teachers’ collective bargaining rights. I negotiated contracts, represented teachers in front of school boards, and even organized strikes. Individual teachers needed a voice loud enough to be heard by those who had power over their work lives. I was that voice.

The essence of collective bargaining is that teachers can choose a representative to negotiate “wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment” with their employer. During my stint at the MEA, we focused on the professional development of our teacher members, treatment of minority students, and the overall quality of education in the state. But at the end of the day, my job was to represent the teachers, not the students and not the parents. Which is one of the reasons why I eventually left.

Now, as state director of DFER Michigan, I advocate for every child’s right to a quality education. But that doesn’t mean I no longer believe in the right of teachers to unionize. If I’ve learned anything from working in both the union and reform camps, it’s that they’re not mutually exclusive, despite the often heated rhetoric on both sides.

The reality is that there is no real war between teachers unions and Democratic education reformers. At least there shouldn’t be. Many Democratic reformers will tell you they support unions in the traditional sense of the word: teachers should be able to elect representatives that look out for their best interests in the workplace, and they should be able to use collective bargaining to ensure fair treatment. And, many teachers will tell you they want to do what’s best for their kids and that they believe in education reform. Problems arise when unions chip away at management rights, build school boards that operate in the interests of the unions themselves, and use their resources to elect policymakers who are required to listen only to them when it comes to education policy. That’s not good for educational quality, and that means it’s not good for kids. Unions are disingenuous when they claim to represent the interests of the students. That’s not what they were created to do and is not what they are paid by their members to do.

As a former union staffer, I understand the importance of protecting the rights of employees, whether teachers or factory workers. I also believe that so-called “right to work” laws are a thinly veiled attempt to destroy unions and collective bargaining. Unions are required to represent every employee in the bargaining unit, whether they pay dues or fees or not. “Right to work” laws mean some workers are receiving union protection and benefits without paying for them. But when unions overreach to stretch their powers and erode efforts to maintain accountability for what’s happening in classrooms, it’s time to take a second look at what’s working and what’s crossing a line—at what’s good for America’s students and what’s good for teachers unions. Believe me, what’s good for one is not always perceived as good for the other.

For more than 35 years, Harrison Blackmond has dedicated his life towards helping children achieve the education they deserve. Harrison has served a multitude of roles within Michigan's education system, including Chair of the Marygrove College Board of Trustees, President of the Business/Education Training Alliance, Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Detroit Black Alliance for Education Options. Read more about Harrison here.

Democrats for Education Reform Michigan Commends State Senate for Reinstating Funding for Common Core State Standards Implementation
October 24, 2013

Devin Boyle | 202.445.0416 | Devin@dfer.org
Harrison Blackmond | 248.229.4157 | Harrison@dfer.org


Democrats for Education Reform Michigan Commends State Senate for Reinstating Funding for Common Core State Standards Implementation

Lansing, Michigan, October 24th, 2013 - Democrats for Education Reform Michigan (DFER-MI) released the following statement by State Director Harrison Blackmond commending the Michigan State Senate for passing its version of HCR-11, reinstating funding for state implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

“Today marks a triumph of good sense and thoughtful policymaking over politics. I applaud the Michigan Senate for approving a resolution today to advance the Common Core State Standards and make state funds available for their implementation. This bipartisan vote is a win for all Michigan students.

“A broad coalition of organizations from the business community, labor, government and the education sector all came together behind this very important set of standards. That’s not something that usually happens in education policy, but when Michigan students’ ability to compete with other states and countries and be prepared for college and their careers is on the line, it’s critical that different groups can come together to do the right thing.

“In this case, legislators really saw the value of having high standards for Michigan students. This is the kind of getting-things-done approach Michigan voters are looking for. The decision lays the groundwork for making sure the next generation of students has the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in college and the workforce."

The victory today in advancing Common Core came after months of hard work by DFER and others including the Detroit Regional Chamber, Great Lakes Education Project, The Education Trust-Midwest and the Michigan Association of School Boards, who educated state legislators on how Common Core has the potential to drive fundamental reforms in Michigan's education system. We look forward to the Senate and House resolving the small differences between their bills in conference.

About Democrats for Education Reform
Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is a political action committee with 13 state offices whose mission is to encourage a more productive dialogue within the Democratic Party on the need to fundamentally reform American public education. DFER operates at all levels of government to educate elected officials and support reform-minded candidates for public office.


MI House Approves Resolution Enabling Continued Funding of Common Core
September 26, 2013

Michigan House Approves Resolution Enabling Continued Funding of Common Core

The Michigan House approved a resolution today that would enable further state spending on the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The resolution, which passed by a vote of 85-21 will, now move to the Michigan Senate for approval.

Director of Democrats for Education Reform Michigan (DFER-MI), Harrison Blackmond, made the following statement after the House vote:

"The House exercised bi-partisan common sense by moving this resolution forward," stated Blackmond. "This is the right move for Michigan and the right move for our kids. We urge the Michigan Senate to join the House by voting in favor of this resolution to improve the quality of education received by Michigan students."

Michigan Democrats Strongly Support Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment
September 24, 2013

By Harrison Blackmond, DFER-MI State Director

On Thursday, September 19, 2013, Democrats in the Michigan Senate offered an amendment to a supplemental spending bill that would eliminate a budget provision banning the State Department of Education from spending state funds to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) test. Despite numerous groups, members, and voters supporting CCSS, the amendment was defeated on a party line vote, with all 11 Democrats voting in favor of eliminating the ban and all 25 Republicans voting against lifting the ban.

An informal poll of Democrats in the Michigan House showed all but a handful of members support removing the ban, including House Minority Leader Tim Griemel. In addition, Democrats and, according to a recent poll released by Ed Trust-Midwest, over 70% of the public support Common Core, believing high standards along with a locally-developed curriculum will help Michigan children become college and career-ready.

Michigan educators and boards of education will continue to decide what and how subjects are taught, so long as student learning meets standards agreed upon by the governor and top state education officials.

Extreme Republicans in opposition to CCSS are engaging in scare tactics and conspiracy theories, even going so far as to label the Common Core “Obamacore.” This shows that what is in the best interest of our children, our state and its economy is NOT what matters to them.

The Common Core is clearly not a partisan issue. Republican governors even helped develop the standards and continue to be supportive. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder has said he believes adopting the Common Core is a high priority for a state still recovering from the recent depression. National Republicans like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Michigan Governor John Engler are strong supporters. The state and national business communities have also been extremely active in trying to convince legislators that the standards are necessary if our workforce is going to compete with those in other industrialized countries, including China.

Scare tactics, threats and name-calling should not prevent Michigan lawmakers from doing what the overwhelming majority of Michiganders know is in our children’s and the state’s best interest: implement the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Lawmakers should vote to eliminate the ban on funding the implementation of CCSS for the sake of our students and the future of our state. The House Education Committee is meeting tomorrow and may consider a resolution. House Speaker Jase Bolger (R) said yesterday that a vote by the full House on the Common Core could come this week.

For more than 35 years, Harrison Blackmond has dedicated his life towards helping children achieve the education they deserve. Harrison has served a multitude of roles within Michigan's education system, including Chair of the Marygrove College Board of Trustees, President of the Business/Education Training Alliance, Vice Chairman and member of the Executive Committee of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Detroit Black Alliance for Education Options. Read more about Harrison here.

Michiganders Support Common Core and Restoration of Funds for Implementation According to New Education Trust Poll
September 11, 2013

The Education Trust - Midwest released the results of a poll of Michigan voters today demonstrating overwhelming bi-partisan support for the implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the restoration of funding for CCSS that was blocked by Michigan lawmakers earlier this summer.

The poll shows 74% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans support the implementation of CCSS across the state; and 64% of voters overall—72% of Democrats, 59% of Republicans—believe funding for the standards should be restored. These results negate the unproductive arguments being made by those at the margins who oppose CCSS and pretend to speak for the majority of voters.

"There are those on the fringes that have hijacked the debate around the implementation of college and career ready standards,” stated Director of DFER-MI, Harrison Blackmond. “But, as this study shows, Michiganders on both sides of the aisle support Common Core and believe these standards will help put our students on the path to success.

“With bi-partisan support from the majority of voters, it is now time for Michigan lawmakers to move forward with implementation and restore funding,” continued Blackmond. “It is not only what their constituents want, but CCSS are what our students need most.”

Michigan lawmakers are likely to vote on the restoration of funding for CCSS before the budget goes into effect on October 1st, the start date of next fiscal year. The Education Trust - Midwest poll makes clear that both Michigan Democrats and Republicans overwhelming support Common Core. This time around, we should expect our state legislators to stop pandering to extremists and vote in the interests of parents, students, and taxpayers to restore CCSS funding.

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