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State must respond to education decline

Publication date: May 24, 2015

Crain’s Detroit Business

State must respond to education decline – Crain’s Detroit Business

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Many of us link underperforming public schools to low-income neighborhoods in big cities.

But the truth is that many of Michigan’s schools are underperforming — and we’re in an unintended race to the bottom that cuts across race, geography and income.

According to the Education Trust-Midwest, if Michigan continues on its current path, it will be 44th in the country in fourth-grade reading before 2030, where it will keep company with Alabama and Arkansas. We’ll be in the bottom 10 overall.

More money needs to be spent on better training and feedback for teachers and leadership. More money needs to be spent to retain good teachers in challenged school districts, where salaries are often lower.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s support for early childhood programs — and setting a firm goal of reading by the third grade — is another step in the right direction to benefit the entire state, not just Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and other major cities.

Consider these statistics:

  • Michigan’s white students are on track to rank ahead only of West Virginia in fourth-grade reading by 2019.
  • The state’s African-American students are among the lowest-performing black students in the U.S. Latino students also are seeing significant declines compared with the rest of the country.

These are shocking numbers that should shake us out of any complacency that we have about how we’re educating our children.

The Education Trust has launched a campaign to make Michigan a top 10 state by 2030 by recommending that the state target four key areas for investment: teaching quality, higher standards, school accountability and increased learning opportunities for students through increased funding equity.

All of these are critical, but the first three, which involve accountability, are key. Teacher quality matters, principal quality matters and standards matter.

To that end, funding needs to be strategically deployed.

We also need sustained commitment. We have an opportunity now as school districts are implementing state career- and college-ready standards. So far, training on how to teach the standards has been spotty. That’s not right. Accountability without training and tools is unfair.

The good news is that such training need not be expensive. The report estimates that by spending $4 million to $5 million a year, all the state’s teachers could be trained on the best teaching techniques for the new standards within three years, starting with K-3 instructors.

There’s more that needs to be done, but other states — Tennessee, for one — have made improvements, and we can, too.

To read the report, visit midwest.edtrust.org.

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