Michigan risks falling behind traditionally low-achieving states in public education, report says
By Kyle Fedscher, MLive
LANSING — Public education in Michigan is at risk of falling below low-achieving states that have traditionally ranked below the Great Lakes State in national rankings, according to a report released Tuesday.
Education Trust-Midwest’s annual Michigan Achieves report reflects the non-partisan education interest group’s concern about the direction public education in the state is going.
Amber Arellano, executive director of Education-Trust Midwest, said the state is at a crossroads in regards to public education. She remains hopeful Michigan can become a Top 10 state, but sees the trend heading in the other direction.
“We’re now on track to perform lower than the nation’s lowest-performing states, like Arkansas,” she said.
According to the report, the trend of declining student achievement in Michigan transcends racial, income and geographical boundaries.
According to the report, white students are on track to be 49th out of 50 in fourth grade reading by 2019. African American and Hispanic students are seeing significant drops in student achievement. If the current trend holds, the report states Michigan will be in the bottom 10 states for student achievement by 2030.
The picture of the present painted by the report isn’t exactly rosy either. Michigan ranks 47th in college affordability, and 45th out of 47 for low-income students. The state is also in the bottom 10 for funding equity, or the funding gap between low-income school districts and high-income school districts.
The state also has the third-highest rate of out-of-school suspensions for African American students in the country and white students have fallen from 13th to 45th in fourth-grade reading.
Terry Gallagher, a senior leader on the Michigan Achieves campaign, said he was surprised by what he found in the report.
“I’m a Michigander too, and — I know it’s a terrible stereotype of ours — but I really am shocked to see Michigan ranked below historically low-achieving states,” he said. “I had a different picture, and we need to paint a different picture.”
The Michigan Achieves campaign launched on Tuesday by Education Trust-Midwest hopes to reverse the trend they identified in their report.
The plan recommends specific improvements to teaching quality, increasing standards, having more accountability for schools and increasing learning opportunities for all Michigan students with improved funding equity.
Arellano pointed to pushes in the Michigan Legislature and by Gov. Rick Snyder toimprove teacher evaluation standards and third-grade reading proficiency, respectively. She said initiatives like that are necessary if Michigan has any hope of stopping the decline in public education rankings.
“This is about our state’s economy and our state’s revitalization,” she said. “But, it’s also about our kids, to make sure they’re well-positioned to succeed in the rest of their lives.”
Arellano said the campaign took many ideas from high-achieving states such as Massachusetts, Florida and Tennessee. The comparisons between Michigan and Tennessee were particularly intriguing for the researchers because of the similarities in demographics between the two states.
She said Tennessee implemented tougher standards and set out to tackle systemic problems, something Michigan failed to do for many years. However, the state is starting to recognize the issues and address them, she said.
In Michigan’s process of raising standards for student achievement and teacher effectiveness, leaders need to strive for data-driven, common-sense solutions, Arellano sid.
“This is not about ideology. This is a conversation that shouldn’t be about special interest groups,” she said. “This is about what needs to happen for kids and what we should focus on in schools.”
Despite the decades of reluctance to address Michigan’s education issues, Gallagher said he has confidence in political and education leaders to right the ship.
“This is Michigan. We are a state that has a history of ‘can-doism,'” he said. “I think our future depends on it. Other states have done it, we can too.”
Kyle Feldscher is the Capitol education and MSU reporter for MLive Media Group. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at