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Keep the Focus on Education

Page 12

By Joseph Welch

2013 Conference Chair calls for continued education reform


Congratulations to the Detroit Regional Chamber and all the dedicated people who worked so hard to put together another promising Conference this year. Under the leadership of CEO Sandy Baruah and Conference Chair Hank Cooney, we are presenting another best-in-class event through the Chamber’s mission of fostering economic development, education reform and regional collaboration.

I’m glad to see education remain as a Conference pillar, and with a sharper focus on STEM education. Together with entrepreneurship and making an impact on the economic transformation in Michigan and Detroit, these pillars comprise an overall mission that challenges us to strive beyond this event to further these goals every day.

To accomplish our goals, we must stay totally focused on education because changes and results take a very long time to accomplish. Our education system as a whole has failed to keep pace with the needs of our economy. Furthermore, these failures are amplified in the inner city and rural school districts across the country.

The modernization of our education system is vital to both our state and our nation’s future if we intend to continue to be an economic leader in the world. We are slipping badly in our ability to prepare our children to be able to compete in math and science. As a state and nation, we cannot allow this to happen.

Even in areas with greater financial resources, there continues to be a gap between the needs of businesses and the skills of graduating students because of the increasing demands being placed on us by the global economy. Today, too few students are graduating with the basic skills necessary to enter the next step of education or training programs for 21st century jobs.

There are, however, some encouraging developments to note. The state is attempting to inject support into the lowest performing schools in Michigan. Consistent academic standards are being rolled out across the country, which gives us an agreed upon measuring stick to track how we are doing. Other solutions I advocate for include: getting more technology in classrooms, reenergizing the skilled trades, promoting strong character traits, and injecting competition to drive continuous improvement in our schools. We can’t afford to politicize these issues, but rather come together for honest dialogue under a common purpose.

Michigan’s business professionals, government leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs and regional champions all have a role to play in driving these urgently needed changes. ITC has focused its support on several areas of education. First, we have invested in elementary education programs to help develop new and improved ways to educate all of our elementary school children. Second, we have collaborated with major universities to help them improve their power engineering programs. Third, we have worked with our community colleges to develop and train our skilled trade employees.

There is a lot of work to do. Let’s think of this Conference not as a four-day event, but rather a continuing, daily mandate to help revitalize the state and strategically position it and our country in this global economy.

Joseph Welch is chairman, president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp., the 2013 Mackinac Policy Conference Chair and current Chairman of the Detroit Regional Chamber Board of Directors.