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Tennessee — not traditionally a high-performing education state — recently made national headlines for becoming the nation’s leading state for student learning growth in some key subjects.

The country was surprised, but Tennessee leaders were not.

Tennessee’s education community, lawmakers, policy and advocacy groups, and business leaders have worked together in recent years to put the state on a path to dramatic educational improvement. Through a research-based comprehensive strategy and targeted investment, the state is gaining a new reputation as a model for raising achievement for all students.

Tennessee is hardly alone. Other states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey are proving that schools matter when it comes to student learning — and that poverty is not destiny. In these states, children of color and low-income children are making major gains in student learning. They stand in stark contrast to Michigan.

Each year, our organization publishes an annual State of Michigan Education report. It is based on months of analysis of state and national data about student learning. It also reflects a year of our organization’s efforts to monitor where Michigan is making progress in its efforts to improve our public education system.

This year, our findings include:

? Michigan now ranks in the bottom five states for student learning progress in fourth-grade reading and math over the last decade.

? Michigan is one of only six states in the nation that actually postednegative student growth in some subjects. That means our students are learning at lower levels today than they did in 2003 in fourth-grade reading, an important predictor of future learning success.

? Learning levels are similar in both Michigan’s charter school and traditional public school sector.

? White, black, brown, low-income, higher-income — no matter what group or background, our children are faring terribly compared to their peers in other states. Across all groups of students, Michigan’s student achievement rank has fallen in the last decade.

Despite these devastating data, our organization is hopeful.

We’re hopeful because we’re Michiganders, and valuing public education is part of our collective cultural heritage. We need to reignite and preserve that tradition.

We’re hopeful because a growing number of citizens and organizations are coming together to work on education in Detroit, west Michigan and beyond.

We’re hopeful because despite friction on a number of contentious education issues, there is an emerging consensus across K-12 education organizations, Republicans and Democrats, the business community and policy leaders about supporting some core strategies that have been proven to be essential to raising student learning.

Massachusetts — the country’s leading education state — and Tennessee are among the states that adopted higher college- and career-ready learning standards and invested significantly in educator training, coaching and a system of support and thoughtful evaluation to ensure their schools would teach at those higher standards. Their leaders say these efforts laid the foundation of successful efforts to turnaround their public education systems.

This month the Michigan Legislature will consider whether to make major new investments in these proven strategies: the development of the state’s first system of educator support and evaluation, along with a new career- and college-ready assessment system.

The question is not whether our leaders should invest. The question is, why in the world wouldn’t they?

Michigan has begun to overcome our painful, decade-long economic recession. Today we are facing an education recession that is no less damaging — and it will hurt our state and our children for decades.

We must address together this great challenge of our time. The know-how is not the problem; leading education states provide a blueprint for us. It’s a question of political will and commitment.

We did it with our economy. We can do it for our students.

Amber Arellano is the executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan statewide research, policy and advocacy group. Sarah Lenhoff is the group’s director of policy and research.