News

Michigan schools must play catch up

Publication date: May 23, 2015

The Detroit News

New report should startle schools, lawmakers into following the lead of successful states in adopting effective education reforms

Education leaders and policymakers can’t afford any further dawdling. The longer Michigan waits to put in place effective, proven policies, the farther young people will fall behind.

That places Michigan students, which includes white, black and Latino children, at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive economy. Without an educated, talented workforce, the state will fail to attract and sustain quality jobs.

The Education Trust-Midwest, an organization dedicated to school reform and closing achievement gaps, has come out with a comprehensive look at the state of Michigan’s education system and the road it must take now to reverse distressing trends.

The group’s report, released earlier this week, is called “Michigan Achieves.” It outlines an approach the state should follow to go from being one of the lowest-performing states in the country to one of the top 10 by 2030.

But that’s going to take a lot of work, and Michigan has barely started. Here’s a look at the current state of schools, according to the report:

Michigan’s young students are struggling with the vital benchmark of fourth grade grading. If the state continues on this trajectory, Michigan will be 44th in the country in fourth grade reading before 2030.This isn’t just a problem that affects poor or minority students. Since 2003, Michigan’s white students have fallen from 13th to 45th in fourth grade reading achievement compared to the rest of the country. Those white students are on track to perform 49th out of 50 in fourth grade reading by 2019, ahead of only West Virginia.

Michigan has the third-highest rate of out-of-school suspensions for African Americans in the U.S.

Students are missing too much school, especially African-American students. A national assessment found 21 percent of Michigan’s eighth grade math students said they had been absent from school three or more days in the last month.

Too many teachers are skipping school, too. In 2012, nearly half of Michigan teachers were absent from jobs 10 or more days. That is equivalent to a year-round employee missing more than three weeks of work, in addition to vacation time.

Michigan currently ranks 29th for access to Advanced Placement courses, which are integral to increasing a student’s success in college.

The report points to effective strategies in states that are now leading the country in academic results and student growth, including Tennessee, Florida and Massachusetts. Those policies revolve around targeted investments in teaching quality, higher standards and school accountability.

Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder have begun some of this work, but the education establishment is still wasting time fighting over essential and inevitable reforms. Michigan is in an education free-fall, and cannot afford further delays in fixing its schools.

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