In memorium

Michigan school Superintendent Brian Whiston, who helped keep threatened schools open, dies at 56

PHOTO: Youtube

The state education department is reporting this morning that state Superintendent Brian Whiston has died of cancer at 56 years old.

Whiston, who led the state education department for three years, is best known as the architect of the partnership agreements that last year prevented the closure of 38 struggling Michigan schools.

Those schools — including 25 in the city of Detroit — had been targeted for closure by a state law requiring the shuttering of any school that had been in the bottom five percent of state rankings for three years in a row. Parents were notified by a state agency called the School Reform Office that their children’s schools were in danger of closing. 

Whiston at the time had no control over the School Reform Office, which reported to Gov. Rick Snyder, but it was Whiston who gave Snyder an alternative to closing schools.

Instead of forcing thousands of children across the state to scramble for new schools that likely would not have been much different from the schools they were leaving, Whiston proposed that the schools enter into “partnership agreements” designed to keep them open.

With Snyder’s blessing, the schools signed agreements that required them to work with partners such as local universities and community groups to improve instruction. If the schools are unable to meet improvement targets over three years, they could be subject to consequences like closure.

Snyder then returned the School Reform Office to the control of the state Education Department.

Since then, dozens of other schools have also signed partnership agreements, and Whiston has been an advocate for school improvement, rather than punishing schools for poor performance.

Among people who have sent condolences since news of Whiston’s death emerged this morning is U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Snyder also issued a statement saying:

“It is with a heavy heart that I learned the news of the passing of State Superintendent Brian Whiston. Brian’s dedication and work on behalf of all Michigan students and teachers was exemplary. He was an outstanding partner who understood that, just as teachers work every day to challenge their students to do better, we all need to challenge ourselves to do better for students. The partnerships to help struggling districts, his work to help implement the Marshall Plan for Talent, his Top 10 in 10 program, and many other initiatives he undertook during his career will be part of Brian’s longstanding efforts to make Michigan a national leader in education. I will miss working with him greatly.”

For more about Whiston, who previously served as superintendent of Dearborn Public Schools, here’s the press release the Education Department issued this morning:

And then there were two

Michigan’s governor’s race will be Whitmer vs. Schuette. Here’s where they stand on education

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will face Republican Bill Schuette on November 6 in the race to become Michigan's next governor.

Former state Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Bill Schuette will face off in November in the race to become Michigan’s next governor.

The Associated Press called both races before 10 p.m. Tuesday as Whitmer coasted past two opponents in the Democratic primary and Schuette easily topped the four-candidate Republican field. 

The winner of the general election on November 6 will likely have an enormous impact on education across the state in coming years.

The next governor, who will replace term-limited Republican Rick Snyder, could preside over school closings. He or she could influence how schools are funded and measured, and could make crucial decisions about whether to expand preschool or address the rising costs of higher education.

Before the primary, Chalkbeat joined with a team of reporters from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative to interview six of the seven major-party candidates on a range of topics. We published their answers to key education questions, along with videos of the candidates’ education responses.

Schuette declined to participate in those interviews but later sent written answers to the questions. Unlike other candidates, his answers were not subjected to follow up questions.

Scroll down to read Whitmer and Schutte’s responses, edited for clarity and length. A full transcript of Whitmer’s answers to all of the questions in the hourlong interview is here.

Where they stand

Where candidates for governor in Michigan stand on major education issues

There’s a lot at stake for students, parents, and educators in this year’s Michigan governor’s race.

The next governor, who will replace term-limited Republican Rick Snyder, could determine everything from how schools are funded to how they’re measured and judged. Some candidates are considering shuttering low-performing schools across the state. Others have called for charter schools to get some additional oversight.

To see where major party candidates stand on crucial education issues, Chalkbeat joined with our partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative to ask candidates for their views on school funding, early childhood education, and paying for college.

All seven major-party candidates on the ballot in Michigan’s August 7 primary were invited to sit down with the journalism cooperative, which also includes Bridge Magazine, WDET Radio, Michigan Radio, Detroit Public Television, and New Michigan Media, to answer a range of questions.

Six candidates — three Democrats and three Republicans — accepted our invitation.

The one candidate who declined was Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is generally considered the Republican frontrunner. Schuette later submitted written answers that were added below, slightly edited for length. Because Schuette wasn’t interviewed in person, there was no opportunity, as there was with other candidates, to ask follow up questions or to insist that he answer the specific question he was asked.

The candidates were largely asked a standard set of questions. Read some of their answers — edited for length and clarity — below. Sort answers by candidate or see everyone’s answer to each question.

Or, to see the full responses to the education questions from candidates who were interviewed in person, watch videos of the interviews here.

(Full transcripts of the interviews, including answers to questions about roads, the environment and other issues are here).