Dustin Dwyer

Reporter/Producer

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.

In 2010, Dustin left journalism to be a stay-at-home dad. Now that his daughter Irene is turning two, he's happy to be back at Michigan Radio, where there are far fewer temper-tantrums. 

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed April 16, 2014

How do you get a kid out of a bad situation? Start with one person who cares.

Portrait of a family that overcame obstacles. Jamie Alexander, second from right, credits her Grandma Bobbie Lee, far right, with stepping in to help raise the kids when her mom, third from right, struggled through addiction.
Credit courtesy Jamie Alexander

Stories on State of Opportunity are all about ways to help disadvantaged kids find success in life. But when you meet a successful adult who grew up disadvantaged, they have a story that is like many others.

They didn’t get where they are by accident. They worked hard, of course, but usually, they also had some help.  And often, that help can be traced back to one person who decided to make a difference.

Today, we're starting an occasional series about the people who make that decision. We’re calling this series, "One Person Who Cared."  To share your own "One Person Who Cared" story, click here

I met Jamie Alexander a couple of years ago. She’s a social worker for a program in Grand Rapids called Strong Beginnings, which helps African-American moms have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

But on the car ride to one of her client’s homes, Alexander told me her own story.

"My mom was a drug addict, an alcoholic," Alexander said. "And my dad was not around."

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Education
2:07 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Tennessee once lagged Michigan in education. Now it's a national leader, while Michigan falls behind

Credit flickr/Brad Montgomery

Going to college may soon get a lot easier – if you live in Tennessee. 

The Tennessee Legislature is moving forward on a proposal that would offer two free years of community college enrollment to any high school graduate in the state. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam first introduced the idea during his state of the state speech in February. Haslam calls the plan the "Tennessee Promise" (sound familiar?). According to a fact sheet released by Haslam's office, about 25,000 students are expected to apply, at an annual cost to the state of about $34 million. Haslam proposes paying for the Tennessee Promise through an endowment created with state lottery funds. 

"Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees along with the support of dedicated mentors," Haslam said in his state of the state address. "Net cost to the state, zero. Next impact on our future, priceless." 

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed April 2, 2014

New report says outcomes for African-American kids in Michigan are among the worst in the country

The Annie E. Casey Foundation created an index of child-well being indicators, broke the results down by race, then ranked each state. This chart represents scores for African-American child well-being. Michigan is all the way on the right, third worst in the nation.
Credit Annie E. Casey Foundation, Race for Results report

  

This week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a national report that caught our eye. 

The report is part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count series. Kids Count tracks a number of indicators – things like birthweight, school test scores, poverty level, and college attendance.

This new report includes 12 indicators in all, and they’ve been combined to come up with an index score for overall child outcomes. Those scores were then broken down by race, and each state was ranked.

For Michigan, there was a surprise. 

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Families & Community
9:21 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Want to get in on the hot new trend for middle-class parents? Just act like a poor parent

Credit flickr/PurpleLorikeet

Like many other college-educated, NPR-listening, middle-class white parents in America, I've read the latest cover story in The Atlantic, "The Overprotected Kid." In it, Hanna Rosin argues that American parents put too much emphasis on safety, and it's killing kids' creativity and courage. 

The solution Rosin offers is a more adventurous kind of play, a kind of play that is possible in an entirely different kind of playground. The example she gives is an "adventure playground" known as The Land in Great Britain's North Wales:

The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It's only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. 

The Land has already inspired a documentary film, and Rosin isn't the only American who's flown across the pond just to see it.

But here's the thing: You don't have to go all the way to Britain to see creative kids playing independently among piles of junk. Poor kids in America do that all the time. 

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Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed March 26, 2014

Home visiting programs for young children: solid benefits, not so solid funding

Credit flickr/_-o-_

Before Aurora Ducket was even born, her mom Angela signed up for every program she could.

"I did the MOMS program through Spectrum Health," she told me. "I really liked them a lot. They would come to my house. They would listen to the baby’s heartbeat. They would give me pamphlets upon pamphlets of what to expect, different things that I could do." 

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Technology
6:00 am
Wed March 19, 2014

What do you get when you ask teenagers to design an app? You get an awesome app

A group of Grand Rapids teenagers discusses their idea for a new app during class at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The app design has been months in the making. But on this day – Thursday of last week – the teens are nervous. 

"And we’re scared because we have to present in front of a board of people," says Viviana Farfan, a sophomore at University Prep Academy in Grand Rapids. She’s sitting in the window-lit offices of the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology, or WMCAT. Next to her is her friend, Imani Akbar, both of them trying to avoid thinking about their presentation.  

"Have you guys, any of you ever done a presentation like this in front of a business person, a downtown development person?" I ask.

"No," says Akbar.

"Not at all," says Farfan.

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Research
6:00 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Can the American Dream be revived?

Credit flickr/Matt Elsberry

The American Dream is an idea that has a long history in this country. For immigrants in the 1800s, America was seen as a land of opportunity, a place where anyone could achieve anything. All that was required was hard work.

There has been a lot of discussion among policymakers in the past few years about how to make the American Dream more of a reality. But at the same time, new research shows that opportunity in America hasn’t changed much in a long, long time. 

So, what does that research tell us about the policy of improving opportunity? 

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Research
8:53 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

What a massive land lottery in antebellum Georgia tells us about wealth and opportunity today

In the early 1800s, the state of Georgia set up a lottery as a way to transfer land from Cherokee Indians to new white settlers.
Credit wikimedia commons

In the early 1800s, the newly formed state of Georgia had a lot of new land under its control. The land had been taken mostly from the native Muskogee and Cherokee people, and leaders of the young American state were looking for ways to transfer the land to white settlers. What they ultimately decided on was a series of lotteries. 

The forced transfer of property from native people to white settlers was common in America during the 19th century, but the lottery system was not. It meant that basically any white male adult in Georgia, rich or poor, had the same shot at winning a valuable piece of land. And, while the system itself was unjust and just plain wrong on multiple levels, it also set up an ideal research experiment.

If you're a social scientist looking back, what you see in Georgia in the early 1800s isn't just a lottery, it's a randomized controlled trial. And it allows economists to ask a question that's still relevant today: What happens to a family when it suddenly comes into wealth? 

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Education
6:00 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Five months after students take MEAP, rest of Michigan learns what many teachers knew all along

Renee Howard, third-grade teacher at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids, coaches her students on writing.
Credit Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Today we have an update from a story we brought you in January. For that story, a documentary we called "The Big Test," I spent six weeks following a third-grade class at Congress Elementary in Grand Rapids. I watched as students got ready to take the state-mandated MEAP test for the first time. Students took the test in October. But the results of the test didn’t become public until last week.

So now, we're going back to Congress to see how students did.

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Education
11:48 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Outtakes: Why one education expert believes video may be best tool to improve teacher performance

Credit flickr/jsawkins

Yesterday we had a story about teacher evaluations, and how the process might be changed to make evaluations less about punishing bad teachers and more about giving feedback so all teachers can have ideas for how to improve.

For that story, I interviewed Thomas Kane, a researcher at Harvard who's been one of the driving forces behind the teacher evaluation movement in the U.S. – though he hasn’t been entirely pleased with how evaluations have been implemented in most places.

As part of his research, Kane led a $45 million study called Measures of Effective Teaching. The study looked at not just how to set up good evaluation measures, but how to use that information to drive teacher improvement.

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