Over the last fifteen years, Michigan’s rank has fallen dramatically in early reading and math student achievement compared to the rest of the country. While the impact is felt across the K-12 spectrum, our most vulnerable students are ultimately most disadvantaged. With nearly half the students in our public K-12 schools identified as economically disadvantaged, it is evident that Michigan will need to shift course – and fast – if the future economic well-being of these students and the state is to be secured.

Our low-income students don’t just perform below our higher-income students: they often perform below low-income students in other states. As recent as 2007 Michigan ranked 35th for low-income students nationally, but has since fallen to 45th in fourth-grade reading. Similarly, in eighth-grade math, Michigan is among the bottom five states in the nation for low-income students.

Far from moving in the direction of a top ten state, if Michigan does not change its current trajectory, the state is currently on a pathway to becoming a permanent spot in the bottom states nationally. That’s never been a Michigan education tradition, and it should not be today, either.

Both Tennessee and Florida are examples of leading states Michigan can learn from. Despite having similar rates of poverty for children, Tennessee’s low-income students outpace Michigan students in fourth-grade reading, including among low-income African American and Latino students. Similarly, Florida, which has comparable rates of poverty to Michigan, was among the top nationally for gains in fourth grade reading for low-income students from 2003 to 2015.

The data are clear: poverty should not water down Michigan’s efforts to close achievement gaps but instead, spur greater focus, effective strategies and commitment.

Michigan can take a lesson from the experience of leading states to better support our students. In addition to more equitable funding, high expectations for all students need to be in place, equitable access to effective teachers is a must, and accountability for school performance are critical for raising achievement for all students.

It will require thoughtful and strategic implementation to move the needle and ensure all students in Michigan are set up for success beyond high school.

Michigan Among the Bottom Five States in the Nation for Low-Income Students in Eighth-Grade Math