Michigan has recently made the smart investment in early childhood programs meant to increase the number of our students who enter kindergarten ready to learn at high levels. Unfortunately, we have not yet adopted a statewide kindergarten readiness assessment that will tell us if our investment is paying off. Ed Trust-Midwest encourages state leaders to monitor kindergarten readiness in future years. We will track our progress when the data become available.
Governor Rick Snyder rightfully has made early literacy a top priority. One of the most telling indicators of whether Michigan’s students are being prepared for success is how well our young students read. Reading proficiency is tied to all kinds of academic and life outcomes, and improving early reading is much more cost-effective than intervening with older students, when they are many years behind in school, or dropping out. Michigan must drastically improve our early literacy achievement for all students and close the achievement gaps that keep far too many of our low-income children and students of color from fulfilling their significant potential.
In addition to basic reading skills, math skills are essential for all students. Basic algebra is the foundation for high-level math courses. When students have not mastered this foundation, they are forced to enroll in remedial courses when they begin college. But eighth-grade math skills are not just for those students who are college-bound. A study conducted by ACT found that along with reading skills, math skills are essential for vocational jobs including those as a plumber, electrician or an upholsterer.
About 27 percent of all Michigan students are required to take at least one remedial course in college. That’s more than a quarter of our students who are forced to pay for additional instruction in college before moving on to credit-bearing courses. Having to enroll in remedial courses actually increases the likelihood that students will drop out of college. We must prepare many more of our students to succeed in whatever they choose to do after high school.
In order for Michigan’s students to fulfill their true potential and be the leaders of tomorrow, more of them must enroll in postsecondary training, whether that be at a technical trade school, community college, or a four-year university. On this measure, Michigan is near the national average, with about 62 percent of high school graduates attending some form of postsecondary training in 2010. In order to reach the level of top ten states in ten years, Michigan must increase college enrollment by more than two percent every year for the next decade.
Michigan ranks 33rd of 45 states in the percentage of adults 25 or older with at least a bachelor’s degree, at 27 percent. Yet, only 16 percent of African American or Hispanic Michiganders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Showing that high performance in the earliest grades can foretell high performance later in life, Massachusetts leads the country with 40 percent of its adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. In order to join the top ten states by 2030, Michigan must increase its bachelor’s degree attainment by almost one percentage point every year through 2030.