Fixing Education in Michigan: What Skills Should We Be Teaching?

Michigan’s entrepreneurs and venture capitalists made big strides in 2015—homegrown startups attracted more investment from both local and out-of-state investors, at least one company that originated in the Great Lakes State had a big IPO, and the startup community across the state continues to grow and become more vibrant as we look for ways to diversify the state’s economy.

Amid all that growth and innovation, however, lurks a troubling set of statistics about education in the state. The Anderson Economic Group, an East Lansing-based think tank, found that schools in Michigan are increasingly failing—urban schools, suburban schools, and rural schools alike. (That was perhaps the most troubling thing to come out of the report: the problem is so widespread, there isn’t even a pattern to blame.) Michigan students continue to lag behind their counterparts elsewhere in the country on national standardized tests. The state also has dropped from having the 13th-highest rate of college enrollment in 1992, to 25th in 2000, to 34th in 2008, the most recent year available.

With that dichotomy in mind—a rising startup scene that prizes innovation in a state where educational achievement is steadily dropping—we reached out to our Xconomists and a select group of sources to ask them what skills Michigan needs to focus on teaching its students. (We also asked a series of other questions pertaining to innovation across our network, and several answers have been posted already, with more to come.)

Here’s what we got:

Rich Sheridan, co-founder and CEO of Menlo Innovations: I am going to suggest three skills every high school student should have before graduation, and if they did, we would change the world.

One, the ability to present ideas with effect and presence to groups of people who don’t know what they know. In short, public speaking with grace, comfort, respect, and ease, combined with the empathy to translate the subject matter into words that inspire and take into account the audience’s goals.

Two, the ability to discuss with another human being a subject that is of great importance to both people, especially if there is disagreement. In short, the ability to handle interpersonal disagreement without harming the other person.

And three, the ability to manage their money for both the short and long term. This will involve teaching the importance of delayed gratification.

If you doubt this could change the world, imagine we started this initiative 50 years ago and everyone in Washington had been through the curriculum. [Editor’s note: I see your point.]


Ted Serbinski, Managing Director of Techstars Mobility: The skill we need to teach every student in Michigan is entrepreneurship, exposing students to how businesses are created—not just the Googles of the world, but even the pizzerias.

How does one create a business? How do you raise money (whether venture capital, bank, or friends and family)? What are accelerators and incubators, and how can they help your business? What is VC?

General exposure to entrepreneurship could drive the next generation of great minds.

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