In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state, to among the nation’s bottom ten states in critical measures for student learning. It’s a devastating fall. And students of color and low-income students—long poorly served by the state—are suffering the most from the system’s terribly low performance. Governor Rick Snyder and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Whiston have joined many organizations across the state—including The Education Trust-Midwest—in envisioning a new horizon for Michigan public education by setting a goal of becoming a top ten education state. As globalization accelerates economic change and Michigan’s students are increasingly left behind other states’ children in being prepared for college and career success in a global economy, it’s never been more critical to get serious about addressing the state’s growing educational crisis.
This winter, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) has one of the most important leadership opportunities of this decade in making that urgent goal happen. And state leaders are more empowered—and responsible—for providing the critical leadership, improvement systems and levers for dramatic statewide performance gains like never before. In 2015, the United States Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which handed down vast authority to state leaders, including most of the decision-making on the improvement systems that have been so effective in raising achievement in the nation’s leading education states. This year, the MDE is required to turn in its ESSA plan to new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in order to plan these essential statewide improvement systems. Once the federal government approves this plan, it will become binding for the state—and Michigan and its students and educators will be expected to live with these improvement systems, or lack thereof, for years to come.
The question is whether the state is making the most of this extraordinary and urgent opportunity? And is it putting students—especially vulnerable students—at the forefront of that decision-making? The Education Trust-Midwest has spent months working alongside MDE, K-12, major business and civil rights leaders to understand the needs of Michigan students; the opportunities provided by ESSA; and the major components of Michigan’s ESSA plan. In this report, we share our analysis of the plan from both the lens of national best practices and Michigan-based expertise. The plan was released to the public on February 14th. Presently the MDE plans to submit its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3rd. This is a critical moment for Michiganders to provide their input on the plan to the MDE. Find more information and submit public comment here.