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. 

Ways To Connect

flickr/brandijordan

Closing the achievement gap between kids from different economic backgrounds  is one of the most important challenges facing the U.S. education system today. It is also an expensive undertaking. With all the preschool programs, tutoring programs, afterschool programs and social service programs directed at helping kids from low-income families, the United States easily spends billions every year on this problem. 

Which is why a new research paper published today by the National Bureau of Economic Research holds such promise. The paper analyzes results from a randomized experiment of a reading program put in place in 463 North Carolina classrooms. The results were striking: At a cost of just $250 - $400 per student, the program raised reading scores for third graders enough to take a significant chunk out of the achievement gap. Other programs with similar results can costs thousands per student. 

The program is called Project READS. And though its results seem hugely promising, there is one catch. 

The positive effects of the program only applied to girls. Boys who participated didn't see much improvement. 

flickr/_chrisuk

Two years ago, Michigan raised taxes on the working poor. It was reported plenty at the time; it should be no surprise. 

If you want to be technical about it, the state didn't so much raise taxes on the working poor. It reduced the tax credits that went to the working poor. The Michigan League for Public Policy estimates that prior to 2011, the average low-income family in Michigan received a tax refund of $446. In 2012, that refund dropped to $138. The MLPP says the change means that about 15,000 fewer families were lifted out of poverty as a result of the credits. 

None of this is news. The change happened two years ago. 

Why bring it up now? Because right now Michigan leaders are considering another tax increase that will have a disproportionate impact on the state's working poor.

Flickr user Schlüsselbein2007

$29,583. 

That is the average amount owed by each student who graduated college in Michigan last year. The number comes from a report released today by the Institute for College Access & Success's Project on Student Debt. The report reveals that 63% of college graduates in Michigan last year had at least some debt when they graduated. Michigan ranked eighth in the nation for the average size of that debt. 

And the institutions where students graduated with the highest amount of debt may not be the ones you'd guess. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Head Start is one of the most important, and confusing, anti-poverty programs in existence. It serves nearly a million kids a year, at a cost of about $8.5 billion dollars this year to the federal government. It's been in place for a half century. And we have no solid idea if it really works. 

Which is not to say that there isn't research on Head Start. There's a pile of research on Head Start. But the findings of various studies are contradictory. And the biggest, most-widely cited study of Head Start's effectiveness is routinely misinterpreted

One of the problems with assessing Head Start is that Head Start isn't one thing. It's run as a grant program. That means the government sends a check to a local group to operate its own Head Start classrooms. There are rules for how those classrooms should be run – lots of rules – but each Head Start grantee does have flexibility in choosing a curriculum, offering certain services, and in hiring its own teachers (actually, Head Start parents get a big voice in choosing teachers, but that's another thing altogether). 

That creates a challenge for researchers, because there can be wide variation between different Head Start centers around the country. And some Head Start centers seem to provide much bigger benefits to kids than others. 

courtesy Erick Moya

This spring, a wave of children showed up at the southern border of the United States, with no adult to care for them. The children were labeled “unaccompanied minors.”

The number of unaccompanied minors at the border was much higher this year than in previous years. But children with nowhere else to turn have long sought refuge in the United States. Many of them end up staying to make a life here.

Today, we have the story of one young man who arrived here years ago, when he was 17 years old.

His story begins like this:

Bueno, mi nombre es Erick Moya

"My name is Erick Moya, I came from Honduras," continues his translator, Wilson Soliz, who works at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, the organization that helped Moya when he reached the United States. 

"The reason I left Honduras was because my father killed my mother," Soliz continues. "And then we were left alone."

Michelle Parolini / Park Journeys, Inc

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

We’ve all heard the saying. But for young people who come to the United States as immigrants, getting to know people can be a challenge.

Language barriers, cultural barriers, sometimes class barriers can prevent young people from meeting the people who can help them be successful in life.

Today’s story is about a young person trying to make those connections.

The story begins very early one recent Friday, as Daniel Lopez hears his alarm go off. 

He wakes up, zips ups his suitcase, feeds his fish, and heads for the airport for an important trip. 

flickr/the_justified_sinner

There were four children, brought to the U.S. under falsified records. They came to live with a man in Ypsilanti. He said he brought them to the U.S. to give them an education, and improve their lives. The children said the man beat them regularly. He beat them with whatever he could get his hands on: a broomstick, a toilet plunger, an ice scraper, even a phone charger. They were beaten and deprived of sleep whenever they failed to do their "chores."

The Detroit Free Press carried the story of how federal prosecutors tried to get the man put in prison on charges of "forced labor" – basically, modern slavery. And of how his conviction on that charge was overturned. Forcing a child to do "chores," and even beating them when they failed to do so, isn't enslavement, the federal appeals court decided. It's just plain child abuse. 

Today, the man, Jean-Claude Toviave, was charged with child abuse, this time in state court, rather than federal court. 

The four children may yet see justice served against the man who allegedly brought them to the U.S. to a life of torture and abuse. But the case highlights the flaws in a justice system still struggling to keep up with the heinous and often hidden crimes associated with human trafficking. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Yesterday, I reported a story about a community meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to help parents and children in Grand Rapids avoid potentially violent encounters with police. The meeting was organized by the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, and most of the people who attended were black. The issue of police violence is relevant to the black community, in particular, because black people are more likely than other racial groups to be subjected to the use of force from police officers. Especially deadly force.

So, that's an issue, and it's one we think is worth covering. 

But several people who commented on the story online wanted to know why no one was paying attention to what they deemed a far greater threat to young black people: so called "black on black" crime. In one comment, this was deemed a "less publicized problem."

These comments struck me as odd, because I know we've done plenty of stories on that topic in the past, and I've been to plenty of community meetings meant to address community violence, including "black on black" crime. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The gymnasium at the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids started filling up a little before six Monday night. Dinner was provided. Parents and kids loaded up Styrofoam plates, then sat down with their meals at the rows of tables. It was a full house.

As the meal finished, napkins folded on plates, a man in a dark grey suit took hold of the microphone and began his presentation.

In front of him were families. Parents. Children. Young children.

The man talked for a while. Eventually, he got to this:

"They have more power than you do," he said. "They have guns. They have legal authority to kill you."

flickr/ginnerobot

Today, we have a story about the time one of the most famous television characters in history re-enacted one of the most famous psychology experiments in history.

The character is Cookie Monster. And the experiment, well for Cookie Monster, it was called a game:

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